AN EXPLANATION

It took Gebb some time to grasp the meaning of Miss Wedderburn’s
remarks, for the information it conveyed seemed impossible of belief.
He looked so doubtful, that she repeated her speech with some
impatience.

“I tell you Miss Gilmar gave me that necklace on the night she was
murdered.”

“At what hour?” gasped Gebb, not quite master of himself.

“Shortly after nine o’clock.”

“Did you see her on that night?”

“Of course I did!” said Edith, sharply. “How else could I have got the
necklace?”

“But you told me at Kirkstone Hall that you did not know Miss Gilmar
was in Grangebury.”

“That is perfectly true,” rejoined Edith, colouring; “but I told you
many things that were false. I was forced to do so, to protect Arthur
and myself.”

“So you knew of the murder when I paid my first visit?”

“Yes; and when you inquired after Arthur, I fancied you had discovered
his pawning of the necklace, and that you intended to accuse him of
the crime. Naturally, I was anxious to save him.”

“That was why you fainted,” said Gebb, suddenly enlightened.

“It was. In a moment I saw Arthur’s danger, as I knew well he would
not say that I gave him the necklace; so the thought made me faint.
When I learned later that you knew nothing, I held my tongue.”

“You did, and to some purpose. I congratulate you on your power of
acting, Miss Wedderburn. You deceived me completely.”

“What else was I to do?” said Edith, resentfully. “You would not have
had me betray myself or Arthur? How did you find out that the necklace
was pawned?”

“That I shall explain later,” replied Gebb, annoyed by her attitude.
“And, in my turn, may I ask why you killed Miss Gilmar?”

Edith stared at him in surprise, and laughed. “You are making a
mistake!” she said with haughty coolness. “I did not kill Ellen
Gilmar.”

“But you were with her on that night?”

“So I was; but I left her at nine o’clock, and then she was alive and
well. Why should I kill her?”

“To obtain the necklace.”

“What nonsense you talk, Mr. Gebb. She gave me the necklace for
Arthur, of her own free will. Even if she had refused to give it to me
I should certainly not have murdered her. I love Arthur very much, it
is true, but hardly enough to commit so wicked a deed for his sake.”

“Do you swear that you are innocent?” asked Gebb, looking at her
keenly.

“Yes, I swear I am,” she answered, meeting his look with much
frankness. “If necessary I can prove my innocence, and that of
Arthur.”

“Oh, Mr. Alder has proved his innocence already.”

“Very kind of him,” said Edith, with sarcasm, “for I dare say he was
glad enough to hear of Arthur’s arrest.”

“You do him wrong, Miss Wedderburn. On seeing the case in the paper
Mr. Alder came round at once to see me. He stated that Mr. Ferris was
present in the Town Hall at Mr. Basson’s lecture, and therefore could
not have been with Miss Gilmar at ten o’clock, the hour when she was
killed. He proved your lover’s innocence.”

Edith raised her eyebrows and looked surprised. “Why did Mr. Alder do
that?” she said, half to herself. “He hates Arthur because—-”

“Because he is engaged to you,” finished Gebb. “That is a mistake,
miss; for Mr. Alder is quite friendly with Mr. Ferris, and bears him
no grudge for winning your hand. You may not credit it, but Mr. Alder
is a real gentleman.”

“The leopard can change his spots, then,” said Edith, still puzzled.
“I should never have thought that Mr. Alder was so generous. It is
very strange,” she finished musingly–“very strange indeed.”

The detective quite agreed with her. He thought that the whole affair
was wonderfully strange, particularly as he was ignorant of how Edith
had obtained a valuable necklace from an old miser like Miss Gilmar;
and, also, he could not understand her reason for taking it. He quite
saw that she had deceived him in order to save herself and Ferris from
being accused of the murder, but he was doubtful if she was so
innocent of all knowledge concerning the death as she feigned to be.
With this idea in his mind he addressed her with some sharpness, and
asked her a leading question.

“If you did not kill the woman yourself,” said he, “who did?”

“I don’t know,” answered Edith, candidly. “She was alive when I left
her at nine o’clock, and when I saw her death in the paper I was as
much surprised as any one.”

“You knew, then, that she called herself Miss Ligram at Grangebury?”

“Oh yes, else I would not have known she was the victim. Though, to be
sure,” added Edith, with a nod, “the description of the Yellow Boudoir
would have made me suspect. I spoke falsely for my own ends when I
told you that I saw no newspapers at Norminster.”

“Well, Miss Wedderburn,” said Gebb, after a pause, “I see no reason to
doubt your innocence, but I should like to hear your reasons for
getting the necklace.”

“I’ll tell you the whole story, Mr. Gebb. Indeed, I am sorry now that
I did not do so when you called to see me; but I was afraid of getting
Arthur into trouble, and so held my tongue.”

“It was your silence which caused his arrest,” said Gebb. “Had you
spoken out, he would not have been arrested.”

“He could have exculpated himself,” protested Edith, earnestly.

“I dare say; but in order to shield you–as I now see–he refused to
speak. However, we can talk of these things later, Miss Wedderburn.
Tell me your story.”

“Certainly; I shall explain fully,” said the girl, quickly, “and
anything you do not quite understand you can ask me about afterwards.
Well, Mr. Gebb, you must know, first of all, that Arthur is the son of
Marmaduke Dean, who—-”

“I am aware of that fact,” interrupted Gebb. “Prain told me.”

“Very good,” said Edith, composedly. “It makes my task the easier.
Yes, he is the son of Dean; and when his father escaped from prison,
some years ago, he came down to Kirkstone Hall to see if the poor man
had returned there. You know that Dean desired to revenge himself on
Miss Gilmar for her share in his condemnation. Well, Arthur thought
that his father might have gone to the Hall to punish her; so he came
down to warn Miss Gilmar and prevent a second crime, if possible.”

“And what did Miss Gilmar do?”

“She was greatly alarmed by the news; and, terrified lest Dean should
really come, she went away, as I told you before, and hid herself in
London under those several names. It was in this way that I became
acquainted with Arthur, and we were very friendly. He used to visit me
frequently, and in the end we fell in love with one another.”

“As was natural,” said Gebb, smiling. “But before you proceed, tell me
if Dean ever came to the Hall, as he was expected.”

“No,” replied Edith, vehemently, “he never did. I don’t know where he
is.”

“Does Ferris know?” asked the detective, eagerly.

“Not he! Neither of us have set eyes on his father. The poor man may
be dead for all we know.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Gebb, thinking of the murder. “Go on,
please.”

“I would not tell you about my engagement,” said Edith, who did not
relish the smiles of the detective, and therefore spoke with some
resentment, “but that it is necessary for the safety of Arthur and
myself that I should speak freely. Mr. Ferris”–she adopted this more
formal style of mention to keep Gebb in order–“Mr. Ferris came to see
me frequently, and confided to me all his troubles. He was greatly in
want of money, as his pictures did not sell, and he had no one to help
him. I could not, as I had no money, and I was simply earning my
living as my cousin’s housekeeper at Kirkstone Hall. In July Ar—-,
that is, Mr. Ferris, was in such distress that I resolved to aid him
by obtaining from Miss Gilmar the diamond necklace which had belonged
to his father.”

“I know,” said Gebb, who was listening attentively, “the necklace
which Dean gave Laura Kirkstone.”

“Yes; it was a family jewel, and Dean gave it to Laura only because
she was to be his wife. When she died, it should have been returned to
Dean–or, as he was a convict–to his son. Miss Gilmar, however,
seized it, and all the rest of Laura’s jewels. With the other jewels I
had nothing to do, but I was resolved to obtain the necklace for
Arthur. Was it not right to do so?”

“Yes,” rejoined Gebb, promptly, “the necklace certainly belonged to
Mr. Ferris, as his father could not benefit by it. But my wonder is
how you got it. From what I have heard of Miss Gilmar, I should have
thought the task an impossible one.”

“It was difficult to obtain it, but I did so in the end. I told you,”
said Edith, with some colour, “that I did not know Miss Gilmar was at
Grangebury. Well, that was not true; for she wrote to me stating that
she was living in Paradise Row under the name of Ligram, and in her
letter she asked me about some business. I resolved to visit
Grangebury, but as I did not know where it was, I asked Arthur to
escort me.”

“Did he know of your intention?”

“No; but curiously enough the week I wrote to him he was going down to
Grangebury to hear a friend lecture. That was on the twenty-fourth of
July; so I came up to town, and went with him on that night.”

“To the lecture?”

“Well, not at first The lecture did not begin until close on nine
o’clock, and I wished to see Miss Gilmar; so I sent Arthur in to the
Town Hall, and intended to join him when I got the necklace. I then
visited Miss Gilmar. She was alone in the house, and admitted me
herself. She was much alarmed at seeing me, and still more so when I
demanded the necklace.”

“I don’t wonder at it. Did she refuse to give it up?”

“Yes; although she was wearing it at the time. I told her then that if
she did not give it up to me for Arthur, I should search for Dean and
tell him where she was. Indeed,” added Edith, reflectively, “I am not
sure but what I did not say that I knew where Dean was.”

“But you did not?” said Gebb, looking at her keenly.

“No, certainly not,” she rejoined hastily; “but I said so to frighten
Miss Gilmar. She was terrified, and implored me not to take the
necklace or tell Dean; but I knew that I was acting rightly, so in the
end she gave me the necklace, which I put into my pocket, and left at
once.”

“About what time?”

“About half-past nine, I think. Miss Gilmar seemed anxious to get me
away from the house, and almost pushed me out of the front door, which
she locked after me. I then went to the Town Hall; but as Arthur was
in one of the front seats, and the lecturer was speaking, I did not
wish to create a disturbance by joining him, so I sat down near the
door. I had some conversation with the doorkeeper as to where Mr.
Ferris was seated; so if you ask him, he’ll tell you that I sat near
him until the lecture concluded, at half-past ten o’clock. Then Arthur
joined me in much alarm, as he thought I had got into trouble. We
returned to London, where I gave him the necklace, and told him to
pawn it and pay his debts. I slept at the Grosvenor Hotel, near the
Victoria Station, and Arthur went back to his rooms in Chelsea. So you
see, Mr. Gebb, both he and I are quite innocent.”

“It seems so,” said the cautious Gebb, not committing himself.

“It is so,” insisted Edith, haughtily. “The doorkeeper can tell you
that both Mr. Ferris and myself were in the Town Hall before and after
ten, and it was about that time Miss Gilmar was murdered.”

“Was any one with her when you called?”

“No. I told you she was alone; but there was wine on a small table,
and with that, and the way she pushed me out, I was sure she expected
some one.”

“Did you meet any one in the street going there?”

“Not a soul. I saw no one. Everybody in Grangebury seemed to be at the
lecture.”

“Did you write and tell Mr. Ferris about my visit to you?”

“Yes, I did; and warned him not to pawn the necklace, as he might be
suspected. But it was too late, for he pawned it the day after I gave
it to him. But he is innocent, as you see, Mr. Gebb. Surely he will be
released.”

“When his trial takes place he will,” said Gebb. “He would have been
let off before if he had told this story to the magistrate.”

“Ah!” said Edith, in a low voice, “he held his peace for my sake.
Good, brave Arthur! No wonder I love him.”

Gebb continued to question and cross-question Edith until he became
thoroughly acquainted with the details of her visit to Miss Gilmar at
Grangebury. When in full possession of the facts he permitted her to
depart, but took the precaution to ask for her London address in case
he should require her further evidence. Edith informed him that since
leaving Kirkstone Hall she had been staying with an old schoolfellow
in Bloomsbury Square, and was likely to remain there for some time, or
at all events until she could find a situation.

“I must work, you know, Mr. Gebb,” she confessed frankly. “I am very
poor.”

“Yet had you accepted Mr. Alder you would—-”

“Accept Mr. Alder!” interrupted Edith, colouring. “I would sooner
sweep the streets than marry any one but Arthur. Mr. Gebb,” she added
imploringly, “now that you are convinced of his innocence, do get him
out of prison.”

“I’ll do my best,” promised the detective. “He will come up for trial
in a week or two, but in the mean time if I place the actual facts of
the case before the magistrate who committed him, I have no doubt he
will be admitted on bail.”

“Anything–anything, dear Mr. Gebb, so long as he is set free!”

The detective proved to be as good as his word, and worked zealously
in the interest of Ferris. As the forthcoming trial would probably be
a mere matter of form, seeing that the later evidence acquitted him,
the magistrate readily accepted bail for a small amount, and, to
Edith’s astonishment, the person who guaranteed it was Mr. Alder. He
came forward in the most friendly way to stand security for his rival,
and would not even hear of Edith thanking him when Arthur was released
through his generosity.

“I knew he was not guilty,” said this benefactor to Edith, “and I told
Gebb it was a shame keeping an innocent man in prison.”

“How can we ever thank you?” said Edith, tearfully.

“There is no need to thank me, Miss Wedderburn. Of course I should
like you to marry me; but as Ferris proves to be the lucky man, I can
only make the best of my misfortune.”

In her own heart Edith could not understand the kindness of Mr. Alder,
for up to the present she had always thought him hard-hearted and
selfish. Perhaps the succession to the Kirkstone estates had wrought
this change, for previous to the death of his cousin the barrister had
been in deep water, as Basson frankly told Gebb.

“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good,” said the Bohemian
lawyer, “and the wretch who killed that old woman put a power of money
into Alder’s pocket. He isn’t the man to live on nothing; and has
rather expensive tastes; so, if he hadn’t come in for that property,
he’d have been in Queer Street. It’s truth I’m telling you.” To which
latter remark Gebb quite assented, as Alder had rather the worn look
of a man who lived hard, and made the most of his life.

“It’s a pity Miss Wedderburn doesn’t marry him,” he observed. “She
might keep him in order. He’s a ship that needs an anchor, in my
opinion.”

“Well, well, Mr. Gebb, Ferris is the better man of the two.”

“But not the richer. Mr. Alder has offered two hundred pounds reward
for the capture of Miss Gilmar’s assassin.”

“And you intend to earn it, I suppose?” said Basson, smiling.

“If I can; but at present I see no chance of finding the criminal.
Upon my word,” cried Gebb, in disgust, “against my better judgment I’m
beginning to believe that Dean is guilty after all.”

“I don’t think so; but if that is your idea, why don’t you find Dean
and tax him with the crime? An interview with him would put the matter
beyond all doubt.”

“I don’t know where to look for him,” said Gebb, grumbling. “I think I
shall look up Parge about the matter. If any one knows where Dean is
to be found, Parge is the man. Yes, I’ll see Parge.”

“You may see Parge,” said Basson, in a tone of contempt, “but it’s
doubtful if you’ll ever see Dean. He has vanished so completely, that
I should not be at all surprised to learn that he is dead. If he was
alive and in hiding, surely the police would have found him out before
now.”

“The police only perform miracles in novels,” replied Gebb, dryly, and
went off to see Parge.

The fat ex-detective received him almost as wrathfully as he had done
on the occasion of the previous visit. Gebb had been so busily
employed in searching for Miss Gilmar’s assassin, that he had
foolishly omitted to pay Mr. Parge the attention which that gentleman
considered his due; therefore he was greeted by his chief in anything
but a friendly way.

“And I don’t want to hear any more excuses,” said Parge, scowling;
“too much time is lost in telling unnecessary lies. Let me know how
much further you have got on with the case.”

Glad to escape further blame, the detective related all he had
discovered in relation to Ferris and Miss Wedderburn. Parge listened
attentively, and was gracious enough to signify his approval of Gebb’s
conduct.

“You have not done badly,” he said, with a nod. “Although your
discoveries have been due more to good luck than to your own
intelligence. If the girl had not confessed about her visit, and her
giving of the necklace to Ferris, you would still be in doubt about
his innocence.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” protested Gebb. “Before Miss Wedderburn spoke I was
quite sure that Ferris was guiltless. Alder’s evidence proved that he
was at the lecture, at the time the crime was committed.”

“It didn’t prove how Ferris became possessed of the necklace,
however,” snapped Parge. “But I don’t see that you are much further on
than before. Have you examined that doorkeeper as to Miss Wedderburn’s
presence in the lecture hall on the night and at the hour of the
murder?”

“I have not had time, Simon. To-morrow morning I am going down to see
him.”

“At Grangebury, I suppose?” said Parge. “Will you find the man there?”

“Yes; the doorkeeper is also the caretaker of the hall.”

“Then at the same time you had better call on Mrs. Presk. I suppose
the goods of Miss Gilmar have been moved by Alder as her heir?”

“Yes! The body was exhumed and has been identified, and now Alder has
taken possession of the estates. Prain is attending to all legal
matters concerning the will, and, by Alder’s direction, he dismantled
the Yellow Boudoir. I don’t see what I shall gain by seeing Mrs.
Presk.”

“You can find out if she has discovered anything touching on the first
or second murder!”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“Bah!” cried Parge, angrily. “Can’t you understand that a woman would
not be left in possession of a dead woman’s goods without satisfying
her curiosity in some way? I’ll bet you, Absalom, that Mrs. Presk has
searched in all Miss Gilmar’s boxes, and clothes, and papers, to find
out what she can about her. Now, it is just possible that Mrs. Presk
may have come across that confession you talk about.”

“Do you think it exists?” asked Gebb, with some scepticism.

“Yes, I do; that hint in the anonymous letter written to Basson shows
that Miss Gilmar had it in her mind to do justice to the man she
wronged.”

“But you declared that Dean was guilty,” said Gebb, recalling his
first conversation.

“So I did; it seemed so at the time,” rejoined Parge, promptly. “But I
have altered my mind; especially since you told me about that letter
written by Miss Gilmar to Basson. Either she or Laura Kirkstone killed
the man. I don’t know which, neither do you; so, for the gratification
of our mutual curiosity and the clearance of Dean, you had better find
that confession.”

“Well, Simon, if that confession is anywhere, it is hidden at
Kirkstone Hall.”

“It might be,” replied Parge, cautiously. “On the other hand, Miss
Gilmar might have written it after she fled from the Hall, and have
carried it about with her from place to place. If Mrs. Presk has found
it, she is just the kind of woman, from your description, to make
money over it, by refusing to give it up until she gets her own terms.
Call on Mrs. Presk, Absalom, and find out the truth.”

“I’ll do so,” said Gebb, making a mental note of this. “But what about
Dean?”

“Well, I believe that Dean is guilty of murdering Miss Gilmar,” said
Parge, “even if he is innocent of the first crime. He committed the
second in order to punish the woman who unjustly condemned him. I am
sure he had every cause to wish her ill. She treated him most
vindictively.”

“It is no use our discussing that matter,” said Gebb, tartly. “I
believe–on arguments I furnished you with before–that Dean is
innocent. You think he is guilty; time and discovery may prove which
of us is right. The question now is, where is he to be found?”

“I can’t say, Absalom. He escaped from prison in 1893, and we hunted
for him high and low, but without success. He vanished as completely
as though the earth had swallowed him up. I thought myself he might
have gone to Kirkstone Hall to kill Miss Gilmar; and I searched the
neighbourhood, but he was nowhere to be found. From that day to this
not a word has been heard of him.”

“I suppose there is no use hunting for him?”

“It is waste of time, to my mind,” retorted Parge, crossly. “You
see what Mrs. Presk is doing. Question her; question the servant
who—- By the way, what is the servant’s name?”

“Matilda Crane; but she knows nothing.”

“It’s as well to ask her, however,” warned Parge. “The people who seem
to know least usually know most. Now go away, Absalom, and don’t be so
long in looking me up again. I’m anxious to get to the bottom of this
case.”

“You can’t be more anxious than I am,” replied Gebb, disconsolately.

“At all events, I am more hopeful,” rejoined Parge, and dismissed his
pupil, who went away with the conviction that the old man was worn
out–that he was past work–and that no aid or useful advice could be
expected from him. But Gebb still had sufficient reverence for his
elder not to hint at these things. Besides, Parge might have turned
the tables on him had he been too frank.

The next day he went down to Grangebury, and called at the Town Hall
to interview the caretaker. He proved to be a smart ex-soldier, with
an observant eye and a good memory, which gifts he made use of on the
present occasion for the benefit of Gebb, and also of his own pocket.

“I remember the lady quite well,” he said, after some thought. “The
young gentleman called himself Mr. Ferris, and told me he was going
in, but that a lady, by name Miss Wedderburn, would come afterwards;
and he asked me to bring her up to where he was sitting in the front
seats. She came in about half-past nine o’clock, but refused to let me
take her up to the front, as she did not wish to disturb the lecturer.
She sat down near the door, and when the lecture ended the young
gentleman joined her, and they went out together.”

“Were they in the hall before ten o’clock?” asked Gebb.

“Yes, sir. Before ten and after ten. I saw them both.”

This unprejudiced testimony put the matter beyond all doubt So Gebb
gave the man a florin, and went away quite convinced that Ferris and
Edith were innocent. He next called upon Mrs. Presk, and had an
interview with that lady, and with her servant. What the landlady told
him may be gathered from a conversation later in the day which Gebb
had with Edith.

It was in the afternoon when Miss Wedderburn saw him. She was sitting
with Arthur in the drawing-room of Mrs. Barrington at Bloomsbury, and
they were anxiously discussing the case of Miss Gilmar’s death when
Gebb was announced. Neither Edith nor her lover was particularly glad
to see the detective, as their associations with him had been anything
but pleasant. However, Gebb took black looks and short answers as a
portion of the ills incidental to his profession, and conversed with
the pair in his most amiable and persuasive fashion.

“I have been down to Grangebury to-day,” he said, addressing Edith,
“and I saw Mrs. Presk, the landlady of your late cousin. From her I
obtained a railway ticket, and it is a piece of evidence of such
importance that I have come to you and Mr. Ferris about it.”

“A railway ticket!” repeated Edith, looking puzzled. “From what
station?”

“The ticket,” said Gebb, producing it from his pocket-book, “Is dated
the twenty-fourth of July, and is a return portion from London to
Norminster!”

“It is not mine, then!” cried Miss Wedderburn. “I did not take a
return ticket.”

“But you came up on the twenty-fourth of July from Norminster, did you
not?”

“Certainly; to see Ellen. But I bought a single ticket, second class.”

“Second class,” said the detective, looking at the ticket; “this is a
third class return. Are you sure it isn’t yours?”

“Quite sure” said Edith, decisively. “Why should I deceive you about
it?”

“Why, indeed!” said Gebb, ironically, with a hint at her former
deception. “Is it yours, Mr. Ferris?”

Arthur shook his head. “No. If I travelled at all it would be third
class, I admit. But I did not go to Norminster in the month of July.”

“I thought so,” said Gebb, with an air of relief. “Then as this ticket
belongs to neither of you, some third person must have travelled from
Norminster to Grangebury on the twenty-fourth of July. And I believe
that person,” added Gebb, emphatically, “to be the murderer of Miss
Gilmar.”

“On what grounds?” cried Edith and Arthur together.

“Because Mrs. Presk found this ticket in the Yellow Boudoir. It must
have been dropped there by the assassin.”

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