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25) The Truth

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Author Topic: 25) The Truth  (Read 316 times)
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« on: February 04, 2023, 06:07:59 am »

GEORGE stared at the triumphant detective in surprise. It seemed impossible that what he stated could be true. Miss Bull was the very last person whom Brendon would have accused. No one had been more candid than she had been, and no one at the time of the discovery of the crime had done more to help the detectives.

"You must mean Margery," said George after a time.

"No, I don't," replied Bawdsey, in a determined voice. "I mean that little white old woman with the black eyes--Miss Bull, or, as you know her, Miss Jenny Howard."

"But what reason----"

"Ah, that's a long story! She shall tell you herself."

"Have you had her arrested?"

"Not yet. But she will be arrested before the end of the day. I have already communicated with Scotland Yard."

George rose and walked to the window. He felt irritable and upset now that the truth had come to light. He wished that Bawdsey had not been so confoundedly interfering, and the detective's next words annoyed him still further.

"It was your idea about Margery that put me on the scent," he said with great complacency; "though, to be sure, I had my suspicions before. It was to watch Miss Bull that I came here."

"What made you think that she was guilty?"

"She has confessed--in the calmest manner, too--that----"

"I mean before. Why did you suspect her?"

"Well, it seemed to me that she was the only person who could have killed Eliza. She and Eliza hated one another because of their mutual love for your father."

George groaned. What a lot of trouble his father had caused with his handsome looks and charming manners. Even after his death the fatal attraction he exercised seemed to bring about disaster. "She did not kill Mrs. Jersey on that account," he said.

"Wait till you hear. She will tell you. In fact, she asked me to send for you, as she wishes to speak."

"Where is she now?"

"In the famous sitting-room playing Patience."

"Doesn't she realize the peril of her position?"

"In a way she does. But she seems quite ready to face the worst."

"Poor woman," said George, thinking of the sad life which the old maid had led; "if she has sinned, she has suffered."

"If people will use knives in that way they must be punished," was the rather harsh retort of Bawdsey.

"Don't talk stuff, Bawdsey. You have your own sins to think of."

"I never committed murder."

"No one said you had, but you may do so before you die."

Bawdsey shuddered. "I hope not, Mr. Vane," he said. "I don't know why you should say such a thing. I am an honest man."

"You say that so often that I shall begin to disbelieve it," replied Brendon, rather cynically; "but if you marry Lola, either you will kill her or she will kill you."

"I'll take my chance of that. And if you----"

George made an impatient gesture with his hand and returned to his seat. "Never mind further chatter. Let me hear how you came to learn that this poor creature struck the blow."

"If you talk that way of a criminal, Mr. Vane, what will you say of a good woman?"

"My good man, there is more joy over a sinner that repenteth----"

"But Miss Bull doesn't repent," said Bawdsey.

"I'll hear the story before I give an opinion on that point. You say that it was some remark I made which----"

"Yes, it was," said Bawdsey, eagerly, and throwing himself into a seat. "Your remark that Margery might be guilty----"

"One moment," interrupted George, in his turn. "I may tell you that I have seen Mr. Ireland, and he declares that he never was near the house on that night, that he knew nothing of the confession, and that he had no latch-key. He is innocent."

"Now that I have heard Miss Bull I know that, sir. She's the one."

"Well, and how did you find out?"

Bawdsey cleared his throat and began, with a most important air: "I rather agreed with your idea that Margery might be guilty," he said, "and when I turned it over in my own mind I thought it more and more probable. I therefore determined to get Margery alone and work on her fears."

"Pah!" said Brendon, with disgust.

"Well, sir," retorted Bawdsey, shrugging his shoulders. "I had to get at the truth somehow, and detective's work is not all so honourable as novelists make out. I got Margery alone."

"And how did you set to work?"

"Well, it was this morning in the sitting-room. Miss Bull had gone out and had left Margery to make up some accounts. The girl was labouring away at them and getting into a hopeless mess. I came to speak with her, and offered to do them. I soon put the accounts to rights and then began to talk of Miss Bull."

"Why of Miss Bull?"

"Why--" Bawdsey pinched his lip--"I thought at the time that Margery was guilty, and that if in talking to her I laid the blame on Miss Bull that the girl would speak out."

"You traded on the poor wretch's friendship. Bawdsey, I'm ashamed of you."

"I'm ashamed of myself," replied the detective, penitently; "but Lord bless you! Mr. Vane, one gets used to this sort of thing. In our business the means justifies the ends far more than in religion."

"I certainly don't think it justifies any end in religion," said George, sharply. "Well, you accused Miss Bull of the crime?"

"In a way I did. Margery denied it."

"What did you say?"

"That she might as well confess. I declared that I had evidence to prove Miss Bull's guilt, and that she would be arrested when she came back. I declare, Mr. Vane, I thought that girl would strike me. She was like a wild-cat."

"I wish she had," growled George, whose generous spirit was revolted by the use Bawdsey had put Margery to.

"She said if I arrested Miss Bull she would kill me. I said, 'As you killed your aunt.' She up and said: 'Yes, I did kill her. Miss Bull is innocent, and you know she is.' Of course, when she admitted the fact I at once began to suspect Miss Bull."

"Why did you do that?"

"Because if Margery had been guilty she would not have owned up. But if Miss Bull was guilty, Margery would certainly take the guilt on herself."

"Poor girl!" murmured George "there is something noble in that dull soul."

Bawdsey could not see this, and mentally disagreed with it. However, he did not want to argue down Brendon's too tender conscience, so he went on with his recital. "While Margery was threatening me and taking the guilt on herself, Miss Bull came in. That stupid girl ran to her and fell at her feet, crying that I knew all, but that she would die for her dear Miss Bull."

"And what did the woman say?"

"She asked me if I knew. I said I did. She demanded how I found out. I told her that that was my business. She began to smell a rat and suspected that I was bluffing. She would have held her tongue, but Margery was in such terror for her friend that she came out with the whole story. Miss Bull tried to stop her, but Margery kept repeating that she would die for her dear Miss Bull, and so let the cat out of the bag."

"The girl is half-witted--all this may not be true."

"Oh, yes, it is. When Miss Bull saw that the game was up she sat down and admitted that she had killed Mrs. Jersey. She also said that she was glad the truth had come to light, that she wished to die, and so on."

"She was raving," said George, incredulously, not thinking any one would incriminate himself or herself so freely.

"No, she wasn't. She told me the whole story in the calmest manner, just as though she were asking me to have a cup of tea. Then she asked me to send for you and sat down to play Patience."

"I wonder you are not having her watched," said George, with scorn.

"Oh, she won't run away," replied Bawdsey, easily, and not perceiving the irony of the remark. "Come along, Mr. Vane, we'll go down and see her. She is desperately anxious to see you."

"Do any of the boarders know?"

"Not yet, but they will when she is arrested."

George shuddered and followed Bawdsey down the stairs. It seemed terrible to him that such a fragile little creature as Miss Bull should be subjected to this disgrace. He did not condone her crime. She had acted wrongly and must take the consequences. But he could not forget that she was Dorothy's aunt, and he wished he could see some way of rescuing her from this dreadful position.

Miss Bull was--as Bawdsey had stated--playing Patience. Seated at the very table where her victim had sat, she dealt the cards, and seemed quite interested in the game. Margery was seated in a chair near at hand, looking with tearful eyes into the face of her friend. Beyond the fact that Miss Bull was whiter than usual, she showed no signs of emotion.

"You have come, George," she said, addressing him by his name. "I am glad to see you. Mr. Bawdsey, you may go."

The detective was taken aback and would have remonstrated, but Margery rose and approached him. "You have done your worst," she said, her eyes flashing. "Go, or I'll twist your neck."

Bawdsey shrugged his shoulders, and with a glance at George went out. After all, he had heard the story before and did not particularly care to hear it again. Besides, Bawdsey was a kindly man, and he felt sorry that he had proceeded to such extremities.

Miss Bull shuffled her pack of cards and laid them away in a box. "I shall play that game no more," she said. "I have been playing Patience all my life, but the end has come, and I am glad it has come. Hush, Margery," for the girl had burst into tears, "I will see that you are left well off and looked after, my dear."

"I don't want that. I want you," sobbed the girl. She slipped to the floor and laid her head on Miss Bull's knee like a faithful dog. Miss Bull patted her head and allowed her to remain in this position while she spoke to George. Margery sobbed for a time, and then remained quiet, listening to every word, and quite content to feel the gentle hand of the old maid smoothing her hair.

"I suppose you were astonished when Mr. Bawdsey told you?" said Miss Bull, looking with piercing eyes at Brendon.

"I was. I never thought that you--you----"

"That I would kill Mrs. Jersey," finished the woman, quietly. "Why not? She was a bad, wicked creature, and caused the death of your father. She boasted of it."

"Where? When?" asked the astonished young man.

"In this very room, in my presence. But to make you understand, I had better tell you all."

"One moment, Miss Bull. When you told the fortunes on that night, did you intend to kill Mrs. Jersey?"

"No. The death card did turn up. That was a strange coincidence, George. When I came down the stairs I had no more idea than you of killing the wretched woman."

"What made you do it?"

"I am telling you," replied Miss Bull, folding her hands on her lap. "Wait and hear. Mrs. Jersey was very rude to me on that night. I intended to remonstrate with her. She added insult to injury by locking Margery in her bedroom, so as to keep her from me. I heard her scolding Margery in the passage, and when all was quiet, and Mrs. Jersey had gone down the stairs, I went up to Margery's room and unlocked the door. Mrs. Jersey had struck the poor child, and she was sobbing on her bed. I then determined to go down for the second time and see Mrs. Jersey."

"For the second time? Were you down before?"

"I was," replied Miss Bull, calmly. "I wondered who Mrs. Jersey had coming to see her, particularly after she had lost her courage when she saw the yellow holly in your coat."

"You noticed that?"

"Yes, and I noticed the holly also. I wondered why you wore it. The sight of it put into my mind that fatal night when he--" Miss Bull brushed aside her thoughts--"but no matter. I thought I would see if Mrs. Jersey was seeing any one, and also I wished to talk about the yellow holly."

"But why should you trouble about her seeing any one?"

Miss Bull looked down and then looked up abruptly. "Mrs. Jersey would have sent me back to the asylum if she could, and I was always afraid lest she should see some one secretly about the matter. I crept down the stairs, leaving Margery in my room playing at Patience. Mrs. Jersey's door was closed. I heard the murmur of voices and I put my ear to the keyhole. I heard that dancer--afterward I learned that it was the dancer--I heard her accuse Mrs. Jersey of having killed Percy Vane."

"On what grounds did Lola base that accusation?"

"She said her mother told her."

"I remember," muttered George. "The mother, on receiving back the stiletto, certainly might have thought so. And what did Mrs. Jersey say?" he asked aloud.

"She denied it, and made some sort of excuse. I remained to hear no more. I knew then that Mrs. Jersey had killed my Percy."

"But she did not; it was an accident."

"I know. She explained. But she was the cause. I was right to kill her. But for her Percy would have been alive, I would have been his wife, and you, George, would have been my step-son."

"What did you do next?"

"I went up to my room and resumed my game of Patience. I intended to have a talk with Mrs. Jersey the next morning, but when I found that she had struck Margery I came down at once---"

"That was after eleven?"

"About a quarter past. Mrs. Jersey was in her room. We talked, and I told her what I had heard. She denied it. I pointed to the stiletto which was on the table as a proof that the girl had been here. Mrs. Jersey said that it was the same stiletto with which Percy had been killed, as Lola had received it from her mother. That put the thought into my head that God intended Mrs. Jersey should be slain with the same weapon with which my darling had been stabbed."

"A terrible thought. You should have put it away."

"I did, but it came again. I accused Mrs. Jersey of having killed Percy. She gloried in the fact that it was through her he had died. She declared that if Ireland had not held her hand she would have laid him dead at her feet. She exulted that the accident had fulfilled her intention, and taunted me with the fact that I never became his wife. I was very quiet," added Miss Bull, her eyes glittering, "but my blood was boiling. Mrs. Jersey turned her back on me with an insolent laugh and sat down. The stiletto was on the table, her head was turned away. I softly took the dagger, and----"

"No! no!" cried Margery, wailing, "you never did it--you never did it, dear Miss Bull. It was I who----"

"Don't be a fool, child! I did it, and I would do it again." Miss Bull rose. "George, you now know all, go--no, do not shake hands. I have avenged your father, and I expect I will be hanged."

Margery burst out into renewed weeping, and Miss Bull soothed her, talking to George the while. "Tell my sister," she said, "that the name of Howard will not be mentioned. I will die under my false name. No disgrace will be brought on her. As to Dorothy--" here Miss Bull's eyes grew tender--"no disgrace will befall her. Marry her, George, love her, make her a good husband, and--take this kiss to her from a sorely tried woman."

Before the astonished George knew what she was about, he felt a pair of cold lips pressed to his own. The next moment she had pushed him out of the room and had locked the door. That was the last George saw of her.

Whether Margery had agreed to die with her, or whether Miss Bull, knowing what a miserable life the girl would lead after her death, compelled her to take the poison, it will never be known. But when the door was burst open the two women were found on the floor in one another's arms. On the table was an empty glass, and it was ascertained that Miss Bull and Margery had taken prussic acid. Bawdsey entered the room an hour after the death, alarmed by the silence. He found that his prey had escaped. Miss Bull was buried under her false name, and Margery was buried with her. Nothing of Miss Bull's sad past or of her killing of Mrs. Jersey came to light. She passed away with her only friend, and her story was told.

Six months later George Vane was seated in the library of the mansion in St. Giles Square. It was after dinner, and Lord Derrington occupied his usual chair. The old man looked brighter and happier than he had looked for many years. Daily George grew a greater favourite with him, and on the morrow George was to be married. Lord Derrington had insisted that as it was his last night as a bachelor George should dine alone with him, and would not admit even Walter. "It's the last time I'll have you all to myself, George," said the old man, piteously; "after to-morrow Dorothy will possess you."

"Not at all," replied George, "you will have us both. We will come back from the honeymoon in a month, and then we will live here."

"That's all been arranged," said Derrington, testily, "but we won't be two independent bachelors."

"All the better," replied his grandson, cheerily; "a lady in the house will make a lot of difference. You won't know this place when Dorothy is flitting about."

"Don't! Her mother is the kind of woman who flits, and I won't have her doing the butterfly business in that way."

"Oh, I don't think we'll be troubled much with Mrs. Ward. Since the shock inflicted by her sister's sad death she has become religious."

"Bah! That's only a phrase. Poor Miss Bull," said Derrington. "I like to think of her under that name. She had a sad life. I don't wonder she killed herself. Do you think she was mad, George?"

"No. But I think the memory of her wrongs, which were all caused by Mrs. Jersey, was too much for her. She was mad for the moment, but she told me the terrible story in the calmest manner."

"And who came in at the front door that night?" asked Derrington.

"No one. After the murder Miss Bull opened it to fly--panic-struck, I expect--but Margery came downstairs and stopped her. Miss Bull closed the door and remained to face the worst."

"Well, she is dead and buried, and the scandal is laid at rest. Unless that Bawdsey revives it."

"Oh, you can trust Bawdsey," said George, smiling; "he and Lola are quite happy, and she has almost forgotten me. I got a letter from Bawdsey the other day. He is acting as his wife's agent, and they are making a lot of money."

"All the better. He won't talk about that business. By the way, I forgot to ask you about Ireland's money?"

"The money he left to me? I have settled that on Dorothy. How suddenly he died," said George, reflectively; "just an hour after I left the house. I hope his end was peace. I think it was, as he felt relieved that you and I had forgiven him."

"There was nothing to forgive. It was an accident, and if any blame is due it is to that Jersey woman."

"Well, she is dead, and the woman who killed her is dead, so let them all rest in peace. But it was good of Ireland leaving me his money."

"I don't see who else he had to leave it to. And five thousand a year is not to be despised. Have you settled it all on Dorothy?"

"Every penny. Don't you approve?"

"Oh, yes, so long as Mrs. Ward doesn't get it."

"She's a reformed character. Why, the other day she told me that she considered Dorothy irreligious."

"Pah! New brooms. She'll soon grow weary of that pose. When the effect of poor Jenny Howard's death wears off she will be as gay and silly as before. Don't have her in this house, that's all."

"You can depend upon that, sir. But Dorothy will be here--Dorothy, whom I shall see to-morrow crowned with orange-blossoms, and----"

Derrington laughed, but not unkindly. "Well, well. Better orange-blossoms than yellow holly."

George nodded. "I hope never to see yellow holly again," he said, and Derrington agreed. So their conversation ended on the threshold of George's new life with that last reference to the old.

THE END

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