MISS WEDDERBURN

“Arthur Ferris the son of Dean!” repeated Gebb, looking alternately at
solicitor and barrister. “Well, I never heard of such a thing. Did you
know of it, Mr. Alder?”

Alder shook his head with unqualified amazement. “Not I!” he said. “I
suggested that Ferris was shielding Dean, only because I am certain
Dean is the assassin; and only the assassin could have given that
necklace taken from the dead woman to Ferris, but I had no idea that
there was any relationship or even acquaintance between them.”

“Nevertheless it is true,” replied Prain, with a nod. “I was Dean’s
lawyer, as you know, and he told me much of his family history. When
his wife died, he placed his son Arthur with some of her relatives,
and went himself as a bachelor down to the Hall, to court Laura
Kirkstone for his second wife and meet with his fate. When he was
imprisoned for the murder of Kirkstone, the relatives of Arthur gave
him his mother’s name of Ferris. I have kept my eye on that young man
all my life–or, rather, all his life of twenty-five years, and have
even assisted him on occasions with money. He is the son of Dean right
enough, although he still keeps to the name of Ferris.”

“Oh! he knows who he is, then?” said Gebb, sharply.

“Certainly! He has known it for many years.”

“Has he any idea of the whereabouts of his father?” questioned Alder.

“No; he would have told me if he had, as he is well aware that I
consider his father innocent, and would not give him up to the law
even if I knew of his hiding-place.”

“Do you believe that Dean is innocent in this instance, Mr. Prain?”

The little man moved restlessly and evaded a direct reply to the
inquiry of Alder. “That is a question I cannot answer,” he said
dubiously. “I asked Ferris if he obtained the necklace from his
father, but he denied that he did, and added that he was ignorant of
his father’s whereabouts. He declared that he had not seen his father
since he was five years of age.”

“Oh, of course he would say all that!” cried Alder, with scorn, “in
order to shield his father, as I suggested; although until you spoke I
did not know who Dean really was. The evidence against Dean seems
clear enough to me.”

“In what way?” asked Gebb, anxious to hear Alder’s ground of
accusation, since he appeared so certain of Dean’s guilt.

“In every way,” retorted the barrister. “Dean hunted Miss Gilmar down
and killed her in Paradise Row. Being hard up, as he must be, seeing
that he is an outlaw and in hiding, he stole the jewels she wore. He,
no doubt, gave the necklace to Ferris, as I know the young man is as
poor as a church mouse, and kept the other jewels to himself. I don’t
say that Ferris knew at the time his father had killed Miss Gilmar,
but when Mr. Gebb here stated that the necklace was taken from her
dead body, Ferris is quick enough to put two and two together, and
guess what his father had done. He therefore holds his tongue and
refuses to say from whom he got the necklace. A man with his life in
jeopardy would not keep silent without a strong motive, and what
stronger motive can Ferris have than one which concerns the safety of
his father? To me the affair is as clear as day.”

“Your case is very ingeniously constructed, I admit,” said Prain,
dryly, “and you argue the rope round Dean’s neck in fine style.
Nevertheless your theory is–theory, and nothing more.”

“Well,” said Alder, with a shrug, “what does Mr. Gebb say?”

“Mr. Gebb says nothing at present,” rejoined that gentleman, after a
moment’s thought. “Least said, soonest mended. When I gather more
evidence I shall speak more freely.”

“Where do you intend to look for evidence?”

“At Kirkstone Hall. I shall ask Miss Wedderburn why she fainted on the
occasion of my mentioning about Ferris; although I did ask her once,
and she lied.”

“I can explain that,” observed Prain, quickly. “I said I would not do
so without the young lady’s permission, but as I have been forced to
tell you about Dean’s relationship to Ferris, I may as well reveal the
rest. Miss Wedderburn knows that Arthur is the son of Dean, so when
you asked her about him, I dare say the thought struck her that you
knew of it through me, and intended to accuse him of killing Miss
Gilmar to avenge his father. With a revulsion of feeling she fainted.
There–you have the explanation from my point of view.”

“That’s all very well, Mr. Prain; but I wish to have the explanation
from Miss Wedderburn’s point of view. Where is she now?”

“Still at the Hall,” said Alder, gloomily; “but she intends to leave
it, now that I am master there.”

“Oh!” said Prain, with a smile. “She refuses to be its mistress?”

“Yes! I don’t mind confessing it She is infatuated with Ferris, and
when I went down the other day to ask her for the last time to be my
wife, she refused me, and declared that she intended to marry Ferris.
But I don’t bear him any ill-will,” said Alder, generously. “We both
love Miss Wedderburn, and she prefers him in his poverty to me with my
money. Still, I don’t know how she can bear the idea of marrying the
son of a murderer.”

“Perhaps, like myself, she believes in Dean’s innocence,” said Prain,
dryly.

“If he is guilty of the first crime, he is guilty of the second.”

“Well,” said Gebb, thoughtfully, “there is something in that. Unless
Dean had been guilty of Kirkstone’s murder, he would not have been so
bent upon punishing the woman who accused him of it, and it is just
possible he murdered her out of revenge. However, I believe myself
that Dean is innocent of both crimes. As to the second, I shall see
Ferris again, and try to learn if he got the necklace from his father;
as to the first,” added Gebb, emphatically, “I shall search Kirkstone
Hall for Miss Gilmar’s confession.”

“Her confession!” repeated Alder, surprised. “What confession?”

“Ah!” said Prain, taking no notice of the barrister’s question, and
addressing Gebb, “so you are coming round to my opinion–that Miss
Gilmar killed Kirkstone.”

“It has been my opinion for some time,” rejoined Gebb, coolly, “and I
believe that Miss Gilmar left a confession behind her telling the
truth. I don’t think she would risk its discovery by carrying it about
with her, so it is probable she wrote it out and concealed it in some
hiding-place at Kirkstone Hall.”

“In that case search the Hall,” said Alder, disbelievingly. “You have
my full permission to do so.”

“I shall certainly avail myself of it, Mr. Alder. So Miss Wedderburn
leaves the Hall. What about her _protégé_, Martin?”

“That lunatic! I don’t know. He had better stay where he is for the
present, although I think myself he should be locked up.”

“What does Miss Wedderburn think?”

“She says he is mad, but not dangerous, and asked me to let him stay
on at the Hall until she is settled–with Ferris, I suppose–when she
will take him with her. A nice companion he will be to a young married
couple.”

“I’m afraid that marriage won’t take place for some time,” said Prain,
gloomily; “even if Arthur does escape, he’s too poor to keep a wife.”

“In that case,” said Alder, rising to take his leave, “there may be a
chance for me. While there is life there’s hope, you know.”

Prain shook his head with a doubtful smile. “While Arthur Ferris lives
Miss Wedderburn won’t marry you,” he said positively.

Alder stopped at the door and looked back. “See here, Mr. Prain,” he
remarked earnestly, “I’m all fair, square, and above-board. Gebb here
will tell you that before you came I defended Ferris, because I
consider him innocent. But I believe that his father killed Kirkstone
and my cousin, and I am certain that both crimes will be brought home
to him. In that case I have my doubts as to whether a proud girl like
Edith will marry the son of a murderer. If she does not, she will
accept me, of that I am certain; and I shall do everything to bring
such a marriage about.”

“Well,” said Prain, “I’ve known Edith all her life, and I don’t think
she will marry you.”

“We’ll see about that,” rejoined Alder, confidently, and swung out of
the door with a look of determination in his blue eyes.

Prain shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, for he thought that
the barrister was over-confident for a lover. Then he took up his hat
to go, and addressed a last question to Gebb.

“Well, sir,” said he, grimly, “and what do you intend to do now?”

“Three things, Mr. Prain, and I don’t mind telling you what they are.
I intend to question both Ferris and Miss Wedderburn, I intend to
search Kirkstone Hall for that confession of Miss Gilmar’s, which I
really believe exists, and I intend to call upon Mr. Clement Basson.”

“What about Basson–can he prove anything?”

“He can prove an alibi in favour of Ferris,” said Gebb; and forthwith
related to Prain all that he had been told by Alder regarding the
lecture in the Grangebury Town Hall.

Prain listened attentively, and nodded his head approvingly, for he
was pleased to find a loophole for Arthur’s escape.

“Very creditable to Alder,” he said, when the detective finished. “His
conduct in speaking up for Ferris deserves our praise. Few men would
be so generous to their rival. But if this is so, why did not Ferris
clear himself before the magistrate? He would be free now, had he done
so.”

“Well,” said Gebb, thoughtfully, “so far as that goes, we come back to
Mr. Alder’s belief. Ferris is shielding his father.”

“If he is,” said Prain, “Dean must be guilty.”

“It looks like it. But I tell you what, Mr. Prain,” cried Gebb,
emphatically, “as sure as I sit here Dean is innocent! Whosoever
killed Miss Gilmar was expected by her; was a friend with whom she was
at her ease; that is proved by the smoking and the wine. She would not
have been at ease with Dean.”

“He might have been disguised as a fortune-teller,” suggested Prain.

“No, I don’t believe it. No disguise could have hidden him from the
eyes of a woman who feared him so. Whosoever killed that woman, it
wasn’t Dean.”

“Then why is Ferris shielding Dean?”

“We don’t know if he is; you, yourself, said that he denied it.”

“I know I did; I know he does!” cried Prain, in despair. “God bless my
soul, what a case this is! The more we talk about it the more confused
does it become. I tell you what, Gebb, your only chance of arriving at
the truth lies in either forcing Ferris to confess where he got the
necklace, or in hunting down Dean.”

“I’ll try the first of your suggestions at once,” said Gebb, putting
on his hat. “And if Ferris won’t confess to me, I’ll write and ask
Miss Wedderburn to come to town.”

“What good can she do?”

“She can make him confess the truth. What the man won’t do for justice
he may do for love. However, I’ll see him at once. Justice will make
the first attempt–Love the second.”

“And both will fail!” cried Prain. “You’d better catch Dean, my good
man.”

“That’s easier said than done,” retorted Gebb; and the two parted,
each more or less exasperated. And very naturally, for the
perplexities of the Grangebury murder case were enough to anger the
mildest natures, and those of Prain and Gebb were rather the reverse.

Irritated and puzzled by the complexion of affairs, Gebb did not let
the grass grow under his feet, but at once visited the prison in which
Arthur Ferris was confined. He easily obtained permission to see him
and entered to find the young man looking ill and worn, but as firm as
ever in his policy of silence, Gebb came to the reason of his visit
forthwith.

“Well, Mr. Ferris, you are a nice gentleman to stay here, when a word
from you in the Court would clear you of all this.”

“What word?” asked Ferris, suspecting a snare, and speaking
cautiously.

“Why! word where you were at the time of the murder. I know you did
not kill Miss Gilmar.”

“How do you know that?” asked the young man, with a start.

“Because you were in the Grangebury Town Hall listening to the lecture
on Dickens,” replied Gebb. “Mr. Alder told me.”

“It is very kind of Alder to defend me,” replied Ferris, frankly,
“Yes, Mr. Gebb, it is quite true. I was not near Miss Gilmar on that
night I am innocent.”

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

“I did, several times.”

“But why don’t you produce your alibi?”

“Because I don’t choose to,” retorted Ferris, slowly, and turned sulky
again.

“So you are shielding your father, after all?”

“Who told you about my father?” he asked tremulously.

“Mr. Prain,” said Gebb. “Your father is Dean, who swore to kill that
woman for accusing him of Kirkstone’s murder. He escaped and killed
her and gave you the necklace, and you won’t speak because you want to
save your father’s neck.”

“My father has nothing to do with it, Mr. Gebb. I did not get the
necklace from him. I don’t know where he is. This is my last word,”
said Ferris, firmly. And it was.

Gebb begged and implored and threatened, but to no purpose. Whatever
Ferris knew he kept to himself.

Having failed with Ferris, owing to the artist’s obstinate refusal to
speak, Gebb thought that he would hear what Basson had to say. He knew
from Prain that the barrister had defended Marmaduke Dean, and
although he had not succeeded in obtaining an acquittal, believed that
his client was innocent. Dean, of course, must have known that his
counsel held this opinion; so, on escaping from prison, with a desire
to prove his innocence, it was not unlikely that he might have called
secretly on Basson, and implored his assistance. If so, Basson might
know a good deal about the man, if he could only be induced to speak
out, and it was to gain his confidence in this matter that Gebb paid
him a visit.

“Of course he may know nothing,” thought Gebb, as he walked the next
day towards Blackstone Lane, in which Mr. Basson–according to
Alder–had his abode. “On the other hand, if Dean called on him, which
is not unlikely, he may know a good deal. I wish to learn where Dean
is hiding; how he manages to live; and what his movements were towards
the end of July last. Basson may be able to inform me of these matters
If he can, so much the better; if he can’t, I’ll go down to Kirkstone
Hall to search for that confession, and see Miss Wedderburn before she
leaves the place. If she can’t force Ferris to speak, no one else can;
the man is as obstinate as a pig.”

With this elegant simile Gebb turned out of Fleet Street into
Blackstone Lane, and shortly found himself climbing the narrow
staircase of No. 40. Mr. Basson being poor and briefless, and
evidently careless of his ease, lived at the very top of the high
building. After ascending four flights of steep stairs, the detective
came upon a door with the name “Clement Basson” painted on it in black
letters. Also there was a dingy scrap of paper, on which was written,
“Back in five minutes”; so it seemed, much to Gebb’s disappointment,
as though Basson were not in his office. However, two or three sharp
knocks brought forth a grinning boy in a suit several sizes too small
for him, and this lad, having put Gebb through a short examination,
with the intention of discovering if he had a bill or a writ, or a
judgment summons in his pocket, at length relented, and announced that
Mr. Basson was within. Evidently the “Back in five minutes” label was
used to beguile creditors into thinking that Mr. Basson was absent.
That announcement, and the conversation with the juvenile Cerberus,
gave Gebb an immediate insight into the state of Mr. Basson’s
finances, and his Bohemian mode of hand-to-mouth living.

Shortly he was ushered into a dingy chamber, very barely furnished,
and very dirty. There was a yellow blind pulled up askew on an
unclean window; below this a deal table covered with green baize,
ink-stained and worn-out, which was piled up with dirty papers. An
ancient bookcase, with a brass screen, was filled with an array of
untidy-looking volumes in calf-skin, with red labels; there were two
chairs–one for the lawyer and one for any possible client, a rusty
grate, filled with torn-up papers, and an empty Japan coal=scuttle. In
the midst of these ruins of prosperity, like Marius amid the remains
of Carthage, sat Clement Basson, a tall, jovial-looking man, with a
fine head of grey hair, a quick eye, and a neatly trimmed beard and
moustache. He was carelessly dressed in a kind of sporting fashion,
and wore an old cricketing-cap on the back of his head. The man was
clever, kindly, and quick-witted; he was also thriftless, weak-willed,
and untidy. His worser qualities weighed down his better; and with
many qualifications for climbing to the top of the tree, Mr. Basson
preferred, out of sheer idleness and lack of concentration, to dance
gaily round the trunk in ragged attire. He looked like a survival of
Grub Street; one of the feather-headed crew who wrote pamphlets and
starved in garrets, and naturally belong to the reigns of the early
Georges. He was quite out of place in the late Victorian epoch–an
ironical survival of the unfittest.

“Good day!” he said, in a rich baritone voice, advancing to meet his
visitor. “What can I do for you, Mr. Gabb?”

“Gebb, sir; not Gabb,” answered the detective, seating himself in the
one other chair.

“The boy said Gabb,” retorted Basson, returning to his chair. “He was
thinking of his own gift, maybe;” and he laughed heartily at his
rather feeble joke. “Well, Mr. Gebb, have you brought me a brief?”

“No,” said Gebb, smiling, for the man’s good humour was infectious.
“I’m in a different branch of the law to a solicitor. I don’t deal in
briefs so much as in handcuffs.”

“Ah! You are a detective. A Bow Street Runner.”

“Yes. In charge of the Grangebury murder case.”

“Just so!” said Basson, with a nod, and looking grave. “I read about
it in the papers; and now I remember, your name was mentioned. Well,
and have you caught the blackguard who murdered the poor woman?”

“Not yet I’ve come to see if you can help me.”

“I?” said Basson, much amused. “You’ve come to the wrong shop, then.
How should I know the assassin?”

“If I can believe Mr. Alder, you knew him once,” was Gebb’s reply.

“Ah! So Alder has been speaking to you about me. He thinks that Dean
is guilty, and I was Dean’s counsel in that Kirkstone case. Is it that
you are driving at, Mr. Gebb?”

“It just is. Do you believe that Dean is guilty?”

Basson did not reply immediately. He lighted a German pipe of
porcelain, and, blowing out the match, placed it in a little pile
which lay near the inkstand. Then he puffed out a cloud of smoke, and
through it looked at his visitor.

“Why do you ask me?” he demanded abruptly.

“I want your opinion. I know from Mr. Alder that you did not believe
Dean guilty of Kirkstone’s murder.”

“No. That I did not,” rejoined Basson, hastily. “No more than I
believe Mr. Ferris–poor boy–guilty of this one. I was coming to tell
you that he was at my lecture on the night of the murder, but Alder
said he would speak to you about it. Did he?”

Gebb nodded. “I know that Ferris is innocent, but he had the necklace
in his possession, and that is a suspicious circumstance.”

“I saw about that in the papers,” said Basson, nodding. “Well, and how
does he say the necklace came into his hands?”

“He declines to tell me.”

“Does he? With his neck in the noose, so to speak.”

“Precisely, Mr. Basson; he did not even confess his presence at your
lecture. He said he was innocent, and for the rest held his tongue.”

Basson stared, and pressed the tobacco in the pipe bowl with his
little finger. “Now, that’s queer,” he said. “Why does he act in this
way?”

“I think he wishes to shield his father.”

“I didn’t know he had a father. Thought his father was dead.”

“As good as dead, I am afraid. Dean is his father.”

“What!” Basson’s pipe fell out of his hands, and he looked at Gebb in
amazement. “Dean, the man I defended, Ferris’s father?”

“Yes, Ferris lived with some relations, who changed his name when his
father was condemned. Now, Mr. Basson, I don’t believe Dean is guilty
of this second murder; but on no other ground than that he did kill
the woman, and gave Ferris the necklace to pawn, can I account for the
young man’s silence.”

“Does he say that Dean is guilty?” asked Basson, picking up his pipe.

“No; he denies it, but refuses to confess how he became possessed of
the necklace. Mr. Basson, tell me on what grounds you believed that
Dean did not kill Kirkstone.”

“No motive,” rejoined Basson. “People don’t commit murders without
motives. But a year or two ago I got an anonymous letter, which
strengthened my belief in his innocence. Wait a bit, and I’ll get it
for you.”

He opened a small safe standing at the end of the room near the
bookcase, and after five minutes’ groping in its depths, at length
fished out a dingy bit of paper, which he brought back to Gebb. This
he spread out on the table, and raised his finger to enforce the
attention of the detective.

“Dean declared his innocence to me,” said the barrister, with forensic
force, “and I believed him. But he thought that Laura Kirkstone was
guilty–that in a mad fit she killed her brother. I did not agree with
this, for I held then, and I hold still, that Ellen Gilmar stole that
knife from Laura, and murdered Kirkstone before she went upstairs to
call Dean and inculpate him in the murder. Now, when Dean escaped from
prison I received this letter; read it.”

Gebb glanced his eye rapidly over the scrap of paper, which contained
two lines of writing running thus: “If you see Dean, tell him not to
hunt down a wretched woman. When she dies justice shall be done.” To
this there was no name and no date and no envelope. Gebb inquired
after this latter.

“I’m sorry to say I destroyed it by mistake,” said Basson, with
regret; “but I remember that it had the Norminster postmark on it,
therefore I am sure the note came from Miss Gilmar.”

“But why should she write to you?” inquired the detective.

“She fancied Dean on escaping might visit me to get my aid to prove
his innocence.”

“I thought such might be the case myself,” said Gebb, thoughtfully,
“Did he come near you at any time after his escape?”

“No,” said Basson, emphatically, “I never saw him from the time he
went into prison. I don’t know where he is; I wish I did, as this note
shows that Miss Gilmar knows herself to be guilty, and has left some
sort of confession behind, to be read after her death and clear Dean.”

“Where do you think this confession is to be found?”

“I don’t know. She may have hidden it in Kirkstone Hall, or may have
had it with her. When I got this note I went at once to the Hall to
tax Miss Gilmar with writing it. However, she had fled out of fear of
Dean, and I could not learn her whereabouts. The next I heard was her
murder at Grangebury under the name of Ligram.”

“Do you think Dean’ killed her?” asked Gebb, anxiously.

“I don’t know. He might have found her and tried to force her into
confession, and failing getting her to do so have killed her; but I
don’t know.”

“Well,” said Gebb, getting on his legs, “I had an idea myself that
there might be a confession concealed in Kirkstone Hall. Now, on the
evidence of this note, I am sure of it. I’ll go down and search. But
tell me frankly, Mr. Basson, do you know where Dean is to be found?”

“No,” said Basson, solemnly, “I swear I don’t.”

“I must rely on myself, then,” said Gebb, with a sigh. “I’ll see you
again, Mr. Basson.”

“I shall be glad to help you, sir,” replied the barrister, and bowed
the detective out of his dingy room.

Gebb retired in an exultant frame of mind, as he had discovered beyond
all doubt that a confession by Miss Gilmar was in existence which
would probably exonerate Dean from all complicity in Kirkstone’s
murder. The question was, where to search for it. On his way back to
the office Gebb tried vainly to find an answer to this query, but it
was banished from his mind when he discovered that no less a person
than Miss Wedderburn was waiting to see him. She approached him at
once when he entered, and there was a sparkle of rage in her eyes,
which intimated that the object of her visit was not a peaceful one.

“Here you are at last, Mr. Gebb!” she said, in a wrathful voice. “And
pray, sir, what do you mean by arresting Mr. Ferris?”

“Oh, that’s your trouble, is it, miss?” answered Gebb, coolly. “Well,
my dear young lady, I arrested Mr. Ferris because he pawned a diamond
necklace!”

“And what had that to do with you, may I ask?”

“This much, miss. The necklace was the property of Miss Gilmar, and
was removed from her dead body.”

“Nothing of the sort!” cried Edith, vehemently. “Ellen was alive when
she gave away that necklace.”

“Gave away that necklace!” repeated Gebb, starting up. “What do you
mean?”

“What I say!” rejoined Miss Wedderburn, tartly, “I gave the necklace
to Arthur, and it was Miss Gilmar who presented it to me in Paradise
Row, on the night she was murdered.”