STRANGE BEHAVIOUR

The day following his conversation with the little solicitor, Gebb
left Waterloo Station for Norminster in Hampshire, and arrived at that
quaint little town about midday. On making inquiries he learned that
Kirkstone Hall was a mile distant, situate amid some woods near the
banks of the Avon.

As it was a fine morning, and Gebb was fond of walking, he used his
own legs to reach his destination; and after a pleasant stroll through
rural lanes, and across flowering meadows, he reached a pair of finely
wrought iron gates which stood wide open. The gates themselves were
covered with red rust, the lodge beside them was shut up, and the
stately avenue, which curved upward between noble oak trees, was
overgrown with grass. Even on the threshold, as it were, of the
estate, Gebb espied the ruinous economy of the late Miss Gilmar.

On coming in sight of the Hall, he found the hand of Time still more
heavily laid upon the works of man. It was a quaint Jacobean building
of red brick, set upon a slight rise, and surrounded by stone
terraces. From the main body two wings spread to right and left, but
the windows of these were all closely shuttered. The hall door was
also closed, and–so far as Gebb could see–no smoke curled from the
stacks of chimneys. The terraces were grass-grown, the gardens
untended and in disorder, and the whole place had a silent, melancholy
aspect as though the soul of the house had departed. It was the palace
of the Sleeping Beauty, enchanted and spell-bound, and it seemed as
though there were a curse on the place.

“And no wonder!” said Gebb, looking at the gaunt mansion, grim even in
the sunshine, “seeing the kind of people who lived in it, and the
crimes they committed.”

He ascended the steps and rang the bell, but before the sound had died
away he was aware of a brisk step approaching, and turned to see a
young lady walking along the terrace on the right.

She was tall and dark, with fine eyes and a handsome face. Her figure
was shown to perfection by the trim, tailor-made costume which she
wore. In her hand she carried a silver-headed cane, and walked smartly
towards the detective, with the air of a woman fully alive to the
importance of time. When she spoke, her voice was deep and full, but
the matter of her speech was remarkably business-like. On the whole
Gebb judged Miss Edith Wedderburn–for he guessed that this was the
young lady referred to by Prain–to be a clever, plain-spoken woman,
with few of the weaknesses of her sex to hamper what she conceived to
be her duty.

“Good day!” said the lady, with a comprehensive glance. “May I ask
what you want?”

“I wish to see Miss Wedderburn.”

“Well, you see her now. I am Miss Wedderburn. Can I do anything for
you?”

“Yes,” replied Gebb, becoming as curt and as business-like as herself,
“you can give me a trifle of information.”

“Can I?” said Miss Wedderburn, dryly. “That entirely depends upon my
humour and what you want to know. Also, why you what to know it. Who
are you?”

“My name is Absalom Gebb.”

“I am no wiser,” interrupted the girl, with pointed insolence.

“Of New Scotland Yard, Detective,” finished Gebb, coolly.

This time his reply made a decided impression on his hitherto cool
auditor. The rich colouring of her face vanished as by magic, and she
became pale even to the lips. Nevertheless, she forced herself to
smile with some composure, and controlled her emotion by a powerful
effort of will. Startled as she was, she even attempted to speak
lightly.

“And what does Mr. Absalom Gebb, Detective, wish with me?” she said in
a low voice, her eyes fixed on the man’s face.

“He wishes to ask you a few questions,” said Gebb in the same vein.

“About what? About whom?”

“About Miss Ligram.”

“Ligram! I don’t know the name,” said Edith, calmly. “Who is Miss
Ligram?”

“The owner of this place.”

“You are wrong there, Mr. Gebb; the lady who owns this place is called
Miss Gilmar.”

“I am aware of the fact. But it suited her to take other names while
she lived.”

“While she lived!” repeated Miss Wedderburn, raising her voice in
surprise. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that Miss Gilmar is dead!”

“Dead!”

“Murdered.”

“Murdered! Oh, God! When? Where?”

“In a suburb of London called Grangebury on the twenty-fourth of last
month.”

Edith looked rigidly at the detective with horror in her dark eyes,
and for the moment seemed scarcely to comprehend his news. She
appeared to be genuinely astonished and shocked; yet her next question
conveyed to Gebb a hint that she was not altogether unprepared for the
information.

“Did he kill her?” she stammered, laying her hand on Gebb’s arm.

“He! Who?” asked the cunning detective, trying to trap her into a
hasty speech.

“Dean! Marmaduke Dean!” said the girl, breathlessly.

“What do you know about Marmaduke Dean?”

“Everything! No doubt I know more than you do. Have you never heard of
the murder which took place in this house?”

“In the Yellow Boudoir. Yes.”

“Ah! you know the story!” cried Miss Wedderburn, suspiciously.

“I do; and I have come down to see you about it. Please take me
inside, Miss Wedderburn, and show me the Yellow Boudoir in which Dean
murdered your cousin Kirkstone.”

“My cousin Kirkstone? You seem to know a great deal of our family
history, Mr. Gebb,” said Edith, drawing herself up.

“I know as much as a report of the Kirkstone murder could tell me: and
as much as Prain the solicitor knows.”

“You know Mr. Prain?”

“Yes! I was with him yesterday. But I’ll learn no good from this
desultory conversation, Miss Wedderburn. Please take me indoors and we
can discuss the matter quietly. I am the detective in charge of the
case, so you need have no hesitation in telling me all you know.”

“I know nothing!” cried Edith, vehemently, “nothing!”

“It is for me to judge of that,” retorted Gebb, dryly.

The keen look he gave her, and the significance of his tone and words,
seemed to startle the girl. She glanced defiantly at his watchful
face, and strove to match his gaze with a steady look of her own; but
whether from fear or modesty, her eyes fell, and she turned away to
obey his request and lead him within doors. Gebb followed her in
silence along the terrace and round the corner of the house, until
they both paused before an open French window which led into a
pleasant, sunny apartment of no great size. Before entering, Edith,
who had evidently been considering his last speech, turned to excuse
herself.

“Mr. Gebb,” she said, with an air of great dignity, “your words seem
to imply that I know more than I dare tell. I assure you that such a
suspicion is unjust and unfounded. The intelligence of Miss Gilmar’s
death is terrible and unexpected to me; and any aid I can give you to
bring the assassin to justice you shall have. Whatever questions you
ask me I will answer; whatever you desire to see in this house I will
show you; but in justice to myself, I must ask you not to credit me
with guilty knowledge.”

“My dear young lady, I am the last person in the world to do so,” said
Gebb, quickly. “I do not for a moment suppose that you know anything
of your cousin’s unhappy death. I disclaim the sentiments with which
you credit me; and I must admit that there is no necessity for you to
exculpate yourself as you are doing.”

“I am not exculpating myself in the least,” rejoined Miss Wedderburn,
coldly, “but you detectives seem to be so suspicious that you see ill
where none exists.”

Gebb laughed. “You have been reading detective novels,” said he,
indulgently; “believe me, we detectives are not so black as the
novelists paint us. But, as I said before, this desultory conversation
is not useful. I would rather see the Yellow Boudoir.”

Edith nodded, and led the way into the house. Gebb followed her
through the sitting-room, which faced the terrace, and down a wide
passage, on the wall of which hung many pictures, mostly ancestral
portraits. At the end of this passage his guide unlocked a door, with
a key selected from a bunch which dangled at her girdle, and threw it
open, so that Gebb could pass into the room before her. He did so
without hesitation.

“This is the Yellow Boudoir,” said Miss Wedderburn, following the
detective; “it was in this room that the unfortunate Mr. Kirkstone was
killed twenty years ago.”

“By Dean!”

“Not by Dean,” replied Miss Wedderburn, sharply. “From all I have
heard. Dean is as innocent of that crime as you are.”

“Then who is guilty?” asked Gebb, artfully.

“I am not a detective,” said Edith, moving towards the window, “so I
cannot give you an opinion. If you will permit me I will admit air and
light so that you can see the room to its fullest advantage.”

When they entered, the boudoir had been in a kind of semi-darkness, as
the shutters of the one window were closed; but now Miss Wedderburn
threw these open, and the sunlight poured in. The dust raised by their
feet danced in motes and specs in the sun’s rays, and Gebb, dazzled by
the strong glare, felt his eyes somewhat painful. However, they soon
became habituated to the flood of glorious light, and he looked with
deep interest at the original of the room which he had seen in
Paradise Row.

The apartment was larger than that which had been occupied by Miss
Gilmar in Grangebury, but in every respect the furnishing and
appointments were the same, as she had carried out her whim with the
utmost care. The furniture, in place of being cane, was Chippendale;
the window and door were differently placed; and the colouring of the
whole room was more subdued and mellowed by Time. But the
predominating hue was the same–the carpet was yellow, sprinkled with
bunches of pale primrose flowers, the walls were draped with costly
hangings of golden tint, and, from a domed ceiling of drawn silk
depended an exact copy of the Arabian lamp studded with knobs of
yellow glass. The furniture was cushioned and covered with yellow
silk; the vases and metal-work were of brass; there was even a brazen
tripod and chafing dish standing in the same position as its imitation
had occupied in Paradise Row. The main difference in the room lay in
the absence of books, knickknacks, flowers and magazines, which showed
that it was not in daily use; otherwise all was the same. Gebb almost
fancied that some genii of the lamp had transported the Grangebury
palace to Norminster.

“It is just the same,” he said aloud, having taken in these details.

“What is the same?” asked Miss Wedderburn, who was standing near the
window.

“This room. It is similar to that in which Miss Lig–I mean in which
Miss Gilmar was murdered.”

The girl looked puzzled. “You are making a mistake,” she said. “It was
Kirkstone who was killed here, not Miss Gilmar.”

“Oh, but I am referring to the room at Grangebury,” returned Gebb,
quickly.

“Miss Gilmar’s lodgings, you mean?” asked Edith, still perplexed.

“Yes. Her room was furnished like this.”

“Impossible. From what I knew of my cousin she would not have spent
the money in furnishing a costly room.”

“Nevertheless she did,” replied Gebb, coolly. “Of course the imitation
was somewhat gimcrack, and done on a cheap scale; but, for all that, I
assure you the resemblance between the original and the copy is
marvellous.”

“Strange!” muttered Edith, sitting down on a primrose-hued couch. “I
wonder why Ellen—- Tell me all about this terrible murder,” she
broke off; “all—from the beginning.”

After some reflection Gebb concluded that Miss Wedderburn was quite
ignorant of the causes which had led to her cousin’s death; also of
the details, and of the death itself. He therefore told her as
concisely as possible the story of the tragedy from the time Mrs.
Presk had been brought to the Grangebury police-station, down to the
visit he had paid to Prain the solicitor. Some points in the story he
suppressed, others he amplified; but, on the whole, he gave her a very
fair and unprejudiced account.

With attentive ears, and her eyes fixed on the face of the narrator,
Edith sat listening, her hands clasped loosely on her lap. Several
times she asked him questions, but as a rule let the account flow on
uninterruptedly. When Gebb ended, she heaved a deep sigh, whether of
relief or pity the detective could not say, and rose to pace up and
down the room. Evidently she was more moved by the tragic fate of her
wretched cousin than she chose to admit. Gebb having told his story,
waited for her to recover, and comment on the matter.

“Poor Ellen!” said Miss Wedderburn at length, but speaking to herself
rather than to her companion. “A miserable ending to a miserable life;
but I am not astonished.”

“How is that?” said Gebb, with a sharp look at her. “Surely the
tragedy is unexpected enough.”

Miss Wedderburn shook her head. “Ellen always said that sooner or
later she would be murdered.”

“By Mr. Dean?”

“Yes,” replied Edith, quietly, “by Mr. Dean.”

“Oh!” said the detective, taking a long breath. “I thought you
believed in the innocence of Dean.”

“So I do; I never said I didn’t. I only remarked that Ellen declared
Mr. Dean would kill her.”

“Well, she has been murdered, and in the most barbarous manner. Do you
say Dean is the criminal?”

“Do you?” said Edith, answering one by asking another.

“I don’t know what to think,” replied Gebb, crossly.

“Neither do I,” responded Miss Wedderburn; and then for quite two
minutes there was a dead silence. It was broken by Gebb.

“Was Miss Gilmar unpopular in these parts?” he asked.

“Very unpopular; the people round here called her Mrs. Harpagon, from
her miserly habits.”

“Did you like her, Miss Wedderburn?”

“No!” replied the girl, coolly, “I did not; neither did she like me.
There was no love lost between us. She wanted a caretaker, and I
wished for a home. My staying here is a simple matter of business.”

“But surely you are sorry to hear of her murder?”

“I am not utterly without heart, Mr. Gebb, although you seem to think
so. Yes, I am sorry. I would be sorry for any one who met with so
cruel a death.”

“Had Miss Gilmar any enemies?” asked Gebb, impatient of this fencing
which kept him at a distance.

“I told you she was unpopular,” said Edith, slowly, “but I don’t know
that she had any enemies bitter enough to murder her.”

“Except Dean!”

“Of course,” she replied unmoved, “always except Mr. Dean.”

“Then he must have killed her.”

“It’s not impossible,” retorted Miss Wedderburn, coolly.

Gebb, a rare thing for him to do, lost his temper completely.
“Madame!” he cried in a rage, “will you or will you not answer me
plainly?”

“There is no need to raise your voice, sir. I am answering you.”

“But not plainly!”

“What do you call plainly?” asked Edith, with a provoking smile.

“You know what I mean,” said Gebb, testily. “I call black black and
white white; you call both a kind of grey.”

“I believe they are grey when mixed. However, I see what you mean, Mr.
Gebb, so do not lose your temper. You wish to know why Miss Gilmar
left this place, how she left it, and why I am in charge.”

“Yes, I shall be glad of the information.”

“Very good,” said Edith, calmly; “then you shall hear my history.”

“It will be just as well for you to tell it,” said Gebb, dryly; “at
least, so far as concerns Miss Gilmar. Every detail is of value in
connection with this case. Please go on”–and he took out pencil and
pocket-book.

“I am an orphan,” said Miss Wedderburn, taking no notice of this
action, “as I lost my parents some five years ago. I was then eighteen
years of age and at a school in Canterbury, but on the death of my
father and mother I was unable to continue my education. Therefore, as
I had no parents, no friends, and no money, I was in anything but a
pleasant position.”

“Did your father leave no money?” inquired Gebb, with sympathy.

“If he had I should not be here, sir. My father died so poor that
there was hardly enough money to pay his funeral expenses. I tell you
all these details, Mr. Gebb, so that you may understand my position
here. When I found myself thrown on the world I did not know what to
do, as I was unable to obtain a situation either as companion or
governess. Then I remembered Ellen Gilmar–a relative of my father’s,
who I knew was living a quiet life in this place on the money left to
her by Laura Kirkstone. I wrote to her and explained my position; and,
as she no doubt found life here extremely dull, she asked me to stay
with her as a companion, but without a salary. The offer did not
attract me greatly, nor did Ellen on our first interview; but I was in
that unenviable position when beggars can’t be choosers, so I was
forced to accept her offer. I have been here for the last five years,
and on the whole I have no reason to complain of my lot in life.”

“Was Miss Gilmar kind to you?”

Edith shrugged her shoulders. “As kind as she could be to any one. We
quarrelled once or twice.”

“About what?”

“I don’t see that you have any right to ask that question,” said
Edith, quietly. “Still, to show you how candid I am, I will answer it
frankly. We quarrelled about a certain Mr. Alder.”

“What! John Alder the barrister?”

“Yes,” said Miss Wedderburn, rather surprised; “do you know him?”

“Not personally; but I heard about him from Mr. Prain.”

“Mr. Prain seems to have been very confidential. However, this
gentleman wished to marry me, and Miss Gilmar thought that I ought to
accept him, as he was the heir to the Kirkstone estates and also
because she intended to leave him her money.”

“Without a provision for you?”

“Oh,” said Miss Wedderburn, indifferently, “Ellen was not bound to
leave me her money, seeing that she had provided me with free board
and lodging. But she advised me to marry Mr. Alder, and so make
certain of being comfortable for life. But I did not like him,
so I refused to become his wife. Now I suppose he will turn me
out-of-doors.”

“Would he be so cruel?” said Gebb, with a glance at her handsome,
haughty face.

“He might, and he might not. He is much liked by his friends, and, I
suppose, has as much charity as most people; but whatever he decides,
I can’t stay on here, now that he is the master. Does he know that his
cousin is dead?”

“I can’t say. I don’t think so; unless, like myself and Prain, he
discovered her death through the newspaper descriptions of the Yellow
Boudoir.”

“He’ll find out soon, I’ve no doubt,” said Edith, “and come down to
offer me a choice of being his wife or leaving the Hall. I shall
certainly go. But to continue my story. I remained with Miss Gilmar,
and got on fairly well with her. She told me all about the murder, and
her fears of being killed by Dean. Often she congratulated herself
that he was in prison.”

“And what did she do when she heard of his escape?”

“She was beside herself with terror; and, thinking he would come down
here to murder her, she determined to leave the Hall. She made all
arrangements as regards money with her solicitor, and asked me to take
charge of this place. I agreed, and she went away over three years
ago. I have never,” said Miss Wedderburn, with emphasis, “set eyes on
her since.”

“Did you know the course of her wanderings?”

“Sometimes, when she wrote to inquire if Dean had made his appearance
at the Hall, but as a rule I heard nothing, and knew not where she
was. The last time she wrote was about six months ago, but she did not
say then where her next resting-place would be, and as she was not
inclined to be confidential I did not ask questions.”

“Did you know that she carried about a duplicate of this room?”

“No, not until you told me. I never see the newspapers down here.”

“Can you tell me why she did so?”

“It is hard to explain,” said Edith, with a puzzled look. “When Ellen
was here she sat constantly in this room, and seemed greatly attached
to it. I do not know why, seeing that it had been the scene of her
cousin’s murder. But I suppose she wanted to keep the threats of Dean
to kill her constantly in mind, and so framed a duplicate of this
room, that she might not forget her danger and run the risk of being
lulled into a state of dangerous security.”

“That would hardly account for her strange fancy for the room,” said
Gebb, shaking his head.

“I can supply no other reason,” answered Edith, reflectively. “Ellen
was very eccentric, and one could not always account for her whims.”

“She was superstitious?”

“Very! Believed in omens and fortune-tellers and all kinds of rubbish.
Yet I fancy she had not always been so weak-minded. It was the dread
of a violent death that made her consult these people.”

“Did she ever drop any hint about the murder?”

“She dropped no hint, as you call it,” said Edith, stiffly, “but told
me the whole story very plainly. She quite believed that Dean was
guilty.”

“Yet she might have killed Kirkstone herself,” said Gebb, after a
pause.

“That is impossible. She had no reason to do so; and moreover if she
had been guilty, she would certainly have betrayed herself to me. It
is no use speaking ill of the dead, Mr. Gebb.”

“Yet you cannot say that your cousin was a good woman.”

“Perhaps not,” retorted Miss Wedderburn. “On the other hand, I cannot
say that she was a murderess. Well, sir, I have told you all I know,
and you see I cannot help you in any way.”

“I am not so sure of that,” replied Gebb, coolly. “I have not yet
closed my examination.”

Edith flushed and looked uneasy. “I don’t like that word,” she said in
irritable tones; “it sounds as though I were a criminal in the dock.”

“That is a strong way of putting it, Miss Wedderburn. Why not compare
yourself to a witness in the witness-box?”

“Oh, call me what you like,” cried the girl, rising impatiently, “but
let us finish our conversation as quickly as possible. I have told you
about Miss Gilmar, about this room, about Mr. Alder; I know nothing
more.”

“Nothing, Miss Wedderburn? Think again.”

“I tell you I know nothing,” said Edith, now crimson with rage. “What
do you mean by your hints?”

“I mean that you have another lover,” remarked Gebb, acting on the
advice of Prain, but quite in the dark as to what it would bring
forth.

Miss Wedderburn sat down promptly again on the couch as though her
limbs refused to support her, and the flush on her face gave place to
a deadly pallor. She shook in every limb, as though overcome with
terror.

“Arthur!” she faltered. “You know about—-” Her voice stopped, and
she fell back in a faint.

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