The news was as horrible as it was unexpected. Vernon had anticipated
blackmail, he had even believed that in the absence of a third person
The Spider might show fight. But he had never dreamed that murder
would take place, as such a crime was entirely contrary to The
Spider’s methods. With a gasp he pulled himself together.

“Have they caught the man?” he demanded anxiously.

“What man?” questioned the constable suspiciously.

“The murderer.”

“No, sir; it’s not known who killed Mr. Dimsdale. He was found
strangled in his library, some time after eleven o’clock. The alarm
was given, the police were called in, and the ball came to an end.
Now, sir,” added the man in a friendly way, “I haven’t any right to
tell you more, and as what I have told you will be in the papers
to-morrow, no harm’s done. You go home now, sir, and you’ll learn all
about your friend when the inquest takes place.”

Vernon thought for a second. “Is your Inspector in the house?”

“Yes, sir, but you can’t see him.”

“I must see him, and at once. I believe I know who killed Mr.

“Oh, you do, do you?” said the policeman with a subtle change of
manner. “Then you come along with me.”

“Wait till I pay my cabman,” muttered Vernon, and, the policeman
making no objection to this, he gave the chauffeur the promised fare.
When the vehicle had disappeared down the road, diminishing blackly in
the moonlight, he returned, to find that the constable was holding
open the gate.

“What name am I to give?” asked the man gruffly, for it was evident
that he regarded Vernon with suspicion owing to what he had admitted.

“My name doesn’t matter; the Inspector does not know me,” said Vernon
impatiently. “Hurry up, man! hurry up! Every moment is of value.”

Impressed by his imperious manner, the policeman knocked at the closed
front door, which was immediately thrown open by a second constable on
guard in the hall. By this individual Vernon was introduced into the
Jacobean dining-room, after a few hurried words of explanation.
Inspector Drench–the constable had informed Vernon of the name–was
seated at the table taking notes, and Miss Hest, looking pale and
anxious, stood at his elbow. She was the first to speak.

“Mr. Vernon,” she exclaimed hoarsely, “you have come at last. Poor Mr.
Dimsdale was asking for you all the night. And now—-” she broke

“How did you get in, sir?” questioned Inspector Drench imperiously,
and nodding to the policeman that he should leave the room. “I gave
orders that nobody was to be admitted.”

“I insisted upon seeing you,” said Vernon quickly. “This evening–or
rather yesterday evening–I had an appointment with Mr. Dimsdale in
his library, but I was decoyed to an empty house in West Kensington,
and have only managed to get away.”

Inspector Drench stared. “What do you mean by all this, sir?”

“What I say,” rejoined Vernon tartly, for his nerves worried him. “I
understand that Mr. Dimsdale is dead.”

“Mr. Dimsdale has been murdered,” cried Miss Hest, clasping her hands
and speaking in a thick, emotional voice. “Murdered in his library. No
one knows who strangled him.”

“I know.”

“You!” Drench stood up alertly. “Take care, sir. Anything you say now
will be noted,” and he shuffled his papers like a pack of cards. “Who
is guilty?”

“The Spider.”

“The Spider!” echoed Miss Hest. “Who is The Spider, or what is The

She looked puzzled, but the Inspector, better informed, looked
open-mouthed at the young man. “Do you mean to say that The Spider
perpetrated this crime, sir?” he asked, scarcely able to speak from
sheer amazement.

Vernon, thoroughly worn out from what he had undergone, dropped into a
chair listlessly. “Yes.”

“But this Spider?” broke in Miss Hest volubly; “I don’t know who he is
or what he is. Tell me if—-”

“Allow me,” interrupted Drench sharply. He was a military-looking man,
something after the style of Colonel Towton, and spoke aggressively.
“Allow me, for I am in charge here, miss. The Spider is the name–if
you may call it so–of a well-known blackmailer, for whom the police
have been looking, and are still looking. Perhaps, Mr. Vernon–I think
you said that this gentleman’s name is Vernon–will explain how he
comes to be possessed of such precise information.”

“There is no difficulty in explaining,” retorted Vernon, annoyed by
the suspicious looks of the officer. “Listen!” and he rapidly detailed
all that he knew, all that had taken place from his interview with
Dimsdale in Towton’s chambers to the moment when he leapt from the
taxicab to be met by the constable at the gate with the news of the
murder. As the recital proceeded Drench tried to conceal his
amazement, but scarcely managed to do so, while Frances Hest, for once
startled out of her self-control, uttered ejaculations. It may be
noted that Vernon suppressed for the moment the fact that The Spider
was blackmailing Mrs. Bedge, as he did not wish to spread scandal. But
Inspector Drench and the lady were put in possession of all other

“What was Mr. Dimsdale’s secret?” asked Frances curiously.

“I can’t tell you, as I don’t know. After the capture of The Spider he
promised that I should be told. Now I shall never know.”

“This comes,” said the Inspector bitterly, “this comes of amateur
detective business. If I had been informed of the appointment I should
have made arrangements to capture The Spider.”

“If you had been informed,” retorted Vernon heatedly, “The Spider
would never have kept the appointment.”

“Why not? He was ignorant of my plans?”

“He learned mine easily enough, and would have learned yours. You seem
to forget, Mr. Inspector, that we are dealing with a genius in the way
of criminality. The Spider, whomsoever he may be, seems to know
everything. I believe that he is the head of a gang and has his spies
all over London. No one person could be so well posted up in secret
arrangements otherwise.”

“How did he come to know of the secret arrangement between yourself
and Mr. Dimsdale?” asked Drench abruptly.

“I can’t say, unless Mr. Dimsdale, who had rather a loose tongue,
revealed his plan of the trap to someone else. I said nothing.”

“Mr. Dimsdale gave no information to anyone in this house,” said
Frances decisively; “if he had, either I or Ida would have known. As
it is, he apparently met this dreadful person in the library at the
agreed time. And, now that I think of it,” she mused, “I wonder that I
did not suspect something of the sort. Mr. Dimsdale told Ida and
myself that we could have all the rooms for the ball save the library,
as he wished that to himself.”

“There’s nothing unusual in such a wish,” remarked Drench easily.
“When a house is upset by a party a man naturally wishes one of his
rooms left undisturbed so that he can have peace.”

“What happened exactly?” asked Vernon with an air of fatigue.

Inspector Drench signed that Miss Hest should explain, and glanced at
his notes as she spoke, to be certain that she was repeating what she
had already told him prior to Vernon’s entrance.

“It is hard to tell what took place to a minute,” protested the lady.
“Our guests arrived just before ten o’clock, and everything was going

“Everyone was masked, I suppose,” said Vernon quietly.

“Oh, yes. But Mr. Dimsdale stood in the Hall until nearly eleven,
receiving our guests, and made everyone unmask before they entered the

“Why did he do that?” asked Drench suddenly.

“Can’t you guess?” put in Vernon impatiently. “Mr. Dimsdale expected
The Spider, and wished to see if he would come.”

“But he didn’t know what The Spider was like. No one knows.”

“I daresay. But Mr. Dimsdale knew those whom his daughter had invited
to the ball. If an unknown person had unmasked he would have jumped to
the conclusion, and perhaps truly, that he was The Spider. Well, Miss

“Everyone who unmasked were people we knew,” she continued, “for I
stood with Ida near Mr. Dimsdale, receiving the guests. At a quarter
to eleven Mr. Dimsdale went to the library.”


“Certainly. No one, to my knowledge, entered the library during the
whole of that evening until Ida, in search of her father, insisted
upon going in, notwithstanding the prohibition, at a quarter to
twelve. Then she found Mr. Dimsdale seated in his chair, quite dead.”

“Were the windows open?”

Inspector Drench arose. “Come and see the room, Mr. Vernon,” he said,
moving towards the door. “Nothing has been disturbed, not even the
corpse. Everything remains as Miss Dimsdale found it at a quarter to

“And Ida fainted,” whispered Frances in Vernon’s ear as the trio
crossed the hall to enter the library. “Poor child! It was no wonder,
when the sight was so horrid. She’s in bed now, crying her heart out.
Inspector,” added Miss Hest, raising her voice, “you won’t want me any
longer? Let me return to Miss Dimsdale, as she needs every attention.”

“Very good, miss. I shall continue your examination in the morning.”

“I have told you everything I know.”

“One moment,” said Vernon, laying his hand on her sleeve as she moved
away. “I want to know if any guest arrived after Mr. Dimsdale went
into the library.”

“Two. But Ida and I made them unmask. We knew them quite well. Mr. and
Mrs. Horner from Finchley. And I may tell you, Mr. Vernon, that Mr.
Dimsdale came out of the library at five minutes to eleven for a
single moment to ask if you had arrived.”

“I wish I had arrived,” said Vernon bitterly, “I might have prevented
this tragedy. Are you sure, Miss Hest, that no strangers were at the

“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “it is difficult to say, since all were
masked. But no stranger was there to my knowledge, and when the crime
was discovered everyone unmasked. We knew all the guests, as we had
known them when they arrived; still, some stranger might have slipped
in. But I must go to Ida. I’ll tell you anything else you wish to know
in the morning.”

Vernon nodded and released his grip of her sleeve. She flitted away
into the central room on her way to Ida’s bedroom. Vernon mused for a
moment, then followed Drench into the library, where the Inspector,
indeed, had already preceded him. The first glance Vernon threw around
showed him that one of the French windows was open.

“I thought so,” he said pointing out this to the Inspector. “The
Spider did not come as a guest, but watched his opportunity and
slipped in at the window. At what time is Mr. Dimsdale supposed to
have been strangled?”

“The doctor we called in says–so far as the state of the body
shows–that the crime was committed about a quarter past eleven. Miss
Dimsdale discovered it at a quarter to twelve, thirty minutes later.”

“The appointment was for eleven,” said Vernon nodding, “so The Spider
was fifteen minutes late. But he came in there”–he pointed to the
French window–“and he escaped in the same way.”

“With the thousand pounds?” asked Drench drily. He did not like to be
shown his business by this young man.

“I don’t think so,” replied Vernon musingly, and cautiously feeling
his way, as it were, to a decision. “You see, Dimsdale never intended
to pay the money, and therefore was not prepared with the specie from
the bank. The Spider, for once, went without his booty, and did worse
work for nothing than he ever did for reward.”

“Yes,” said the Inspector carelessly; “I believe this is the first
time murder has been connected with his name–publicly, that is. Who
knows what assassinations he may not have to answer for privately?
However, here is the room and the corpse. What do you make of both?”

The other man looked round slowly. The room blazed with the full power
of the many electric lights, which the Inspector had turned on; also,
as the apartment was square and sparsely furnished, there was no nook
or cranny that could not be seen at a glance. The three windows had
neither blinds nor curtains, in accordance with Mr. Dimsdale’s craze
for fresh air; but round the desk, which was on the right side of the
room, near the fireplace, a high screen was drawn, the same which the
girls had used on that morning when they were selecting the guests for
the fatal ball. In a chair, turned sideways from the desk, drooped
the form of the dead man. He was arrayed in evening dress, but his
shirt-front was crumpled, and his face was swollen and discoloured.
There was no disorder round about the desk; the Persian mat had not
even been kicked out of the way.

“Yes,” said Drench in answer to a look from Vernon, “there could not
have been any struggle, since all is in order. In my opinion The
Spider–if it was that chap, as you seem to think–must have come
silently behind his victim, and strangled him with the handkerchief
before he had time to call out. He came to kill as well as to rob.”

“A handkerchief?” asked Vernon interested. “I thought he did it with
his hands, Mr. Inspector?”

Drench shook his iron-grey head. “There are no marks of hands on the
throat, Mr. Vernon; only a cruel black line, which shows that a cord
or handkerchief must have been used–and used with great force.
Though, to be sure,” added the Inspector reflectively, “Mr. Dimsdale
was so short and fat in the neck that a slight pressure must have
caused apoplexy.”

“Did he die of that?”

“And strangulation; a mixture of both. But it’s odd, Mr. Vernon, that
with those uncurtained windows he should have been murdered without
anyone seeing the performance. There must have been many guests in the
front garden, as people always do wander outside between the dances to
get fresh air.”

Vernon pointed to the screen. “That served the purposes of both
curtain and blind, Mr. Inspector. Behind that the crime could be
committed without anyone being the wiser, even if anyone had been on
the verandah.”

“Provided there was no noise,” insisted Drench.

“Exactly; so that makes me believe that your surmise is correct. The
Spider, for some reason, may have come to kill, as well as to
blackmail. Perhaps, as he learned about the trap–which he must have
done to arrange for my absence–he dreaded lest Dimsdale should prove
a dangerous person, and so got rid of him. If that mirror”–Vernon
pointed to a long, broad looking-glass which covered one side of the
fireplace, and which reflected desk and chair and screen and seated
figure–“could speak it would tell how the crime was committed. I can
guess myself,” he ended.

“Perhaps you will let me hear your guess,” said Drench sceptically.

“The Spider, I fancy, stole in quietly through the French window,
which was open, and came suddenly upon Dimsdale seated at his desk
waiting to keep the appointment. Before the old man could turn The
Spider had the handkerchief or cord round his neck and quietly choked
him. There would be no noise and no struggle. Then he looked for the
money”–Vernon pointed to the desk, several drawers of which were
pulled open–“but not finding any he stole out again through the

“The guests in the garden would have seen him leave the room.”

“What if they did? No one anticipated a crime, and no one but Miss
Hest and Miss Dimsdale knew that the library was forbidden territory.
Moreover, The Spider may have chosen his time to escape when another
dance was in progress, the chances being that everyone would return to
the ballroom. And you may be sure,” added Vernon with emphasis, “that
The Spider made use both of mask and domino, so that he might be taken
for a guest, and might escape notice.”

“But Miss Hest said that everyone unmasked—-”

“Who entered the house as a guest,” followed on Vernon quickly; “just
so, Mr. Inspector. But The Spider entered as a stranger by the window,
not wishing, perhaps, to take any chances. And, of course, we are
agreed that he infernally clever, and well posted in necessary

“I’m with you there,” murmured Drench mournfully, “but it’s a pity you
and Mr. Dimsdale did not warn me of your trap. I should have caught
the man easier than you amateurs.”

“I am not an amateur,” said Vernon unexpectedly; then, when the
Inspector looked at him interrogatively, he added, “I trade as Nemo,
of Covent Garden.”

“Ah, yes; I’ve heard of you,” replied Drench in a less supercilious
tone. “So you are Nemo, are you, Mr. Vernon? I was told that you had
solved several mysteries. In fact, a friend of mine at the Yard said
you’d a head on your shoulders.”

“I’ll need it,” said Vernon with a shrug, “to unravel this mystery.”

“It’s no mystery,” said Drench quickly, “since you say that The Spider
murdered this poor chap.”

“The Spider himself is a mystery, and one which the police would give
much to solve. I intend to hunt him down–not alone on account of my
poor dead friend here, but because he so cleverly decoyed me out of
the way.”

“Ah, your pride is up in arms?”

“Well, yes; I suppose you can put it that way. But I wish to ask you
two things, Mr. Inspector: first, that you will not reveal my trade as
Nemo to anyone in society.”

“Oh, I promise that easily, especially as I don’t go into society, and
I can guess that you want it kept quiet. And the second thing?”

“Will you permit me to place my services at your disposal?”

The dexterous way in which Vernon put his request as a favour to be
granted pleased the Inspector, especially as he knew from what he had
heard of Nemo that such services would be of value. “I shall be very
pleased to let you work with me, Mr. Vernon,” he said cordially. “What
do you propose to do first, may I ask?”

“This house in West Kensington is an empty one, and must have been
taken by The Spider for my temporary prison. I must ascertain from the
landlord who took it, and thus we may learn something about the looks
of The Spider.”

“You think he took the house himself: applied to the landlord, that

“Yes, and no; he may have done so, or one of his gang may have rented
the house. But if we can catch the person who _did_ see the landlord,
we may learn something about The Spider, if indeed the tenant was not
the man himself.”

“Well”–Drench scratched his head thoughtfully–“there is something in
that, Mr. Vernon. But The Spider is so clever that you may be sure he
has made himself safe. You think he heads a gang?”

“I am certain, and the woman who played such a clever comedy to
inveigle me into the kitchen is one of the gang.”

“Perhaps The Spider himself, in disguise?”

“You may be right, as, of course, since I was captured about nine
o’clock, there was plenty of time for him to change and get to
Hampstead by eleven.”

“Moreover, he was a quarter of an hour late,” suggested Drench, “but
it puzzles me, sir, to think how your trap business came to his ears.”

Vernon looked regretfully at the dead man in the chair. “Perhaps Mr.
Dimsdale may have talked,” he remarked. “I said nothing. But we shall
never know now—-”

“Until we lay hands on The Spider and force him to confess,” ended
Drench, nodding. “By the way, I suppose some reward will be offered
for his apprehension by Miss Dimsdale? I understand she is rich.”

“It’s very probable, as she inherits her father’s money–about ten
thousand a year, it must be.”

The Inspector whistled. “That’s a tidy fortune,” he said meditatively.
“I expect the reward will be a large one.”

“I expect so also,” rejoined Vernon, understanding clearly what was
meant, “and if we learn the truth about this crime and capture The
Spider you can have the reward all to yourself.”

“But you’re a professional, Mr. Vernon, and have to make your money.”

“I don’t want it in this case. The Spider made use of a certain lady’s
name to inveigle me to West Kensington, and I mean to be even with

“Miss Corsoon. I think you mentioned Miss Corsoon.”

“Yes, only you needn’t talk about it outside your office,” said Vernon
hastily. “I don’t want her to be mixed up in this business. Also, I am
not very proud of having been trapped in this way.”

“Only the police will know,” Drench assured him, and led the way out
of the room, after turning out the lights. “You’d better go home now,
Mr. Vernon, as you have done quite enough to-night, and look worn

Vernon nodded. “When will the inquest take place?”

“To-morrow; the sooner it’s over the better. We can work on the clue
of The Spider which you have supplied. We’ll catch him.”

Vernon shrugged his shoulders. He was less confident of success than
Drench, since for nearly two years The Spider had entirely baffled the

The inquest duly took place, but no evidence was forthcoming likely to
lead to the capture of the assassin. That he was The Spider there, of
course, could be no doubt, since the declaration of Vernon went to
show that the late Mr. Dimsdale had made an appointment with the
blackmailer. Naturally, the whole story had to be told at the inquest,
and the public became aware, through the medium of the newspapers,
that the dead man had a secret. It could not have been a dishonourable
secret, was the general opinion, else Mr. Dimsdale would scarcely have
risked a revelation. Using it, whatever it might be, as a decoy to
lure The Spider into a trap, he had lost his life in the attempt to
capture the famous criminal. And if The Spider had been celebrated
before, he was still more celebrated now, and in a more sinister way.
Formerly the police had wanted him as an extortioner; now he was
inquired for as a murderer.

The “Rangoon” crime–as it came to be called–made a mighty sensation,
as there was that about it which appealed to the somewhat jaded taste
of the public. That a man should be strangled in his own library, and
in the very house where nearly one hundred people were dancing, was
truly wonderful, when the sequel was that the assassin had escaped.
The windows of the library had neither blinds nor curtains; guests had
been talking and walking in the garden; on the other side of the tall
laurel hedge cabs and carriages with attendants had been waiting in
the road, yet The Spider had come and gone like a shadow. Behind the
frail concealment of the screen a terrible crime had taken place, and,
far from hurrying his departure, the criminal had actually lingered to
search for the money he hoped to get. It was proved at the inquest
that he did not get his plunder, for enquiries at Mr. Dimsdale’s bank
showed that the thousand pounds had not been drawn. Undoubtedly, since
the dead man had intended to defy the blackmailer, the secret could
not have been one to be ashamed of. But what the secret was the public
never knew.

Vernon, as he had stated to Inspector Drench, was not proud that he
had been so cleverly tricked into temporary imprisonment by The
Spider, and would fain have kept that episode to himself. But for the
rounding off of the case, it was necessary that it should be told, and
thus sensation was piled upon sensation. Vernon, however, contrived to
keep the name of Miss Corsoon to himself and Drench, and it was
vaguely stated in the papers that Vernon had been inveigled to West
Kensington on the plea of helping a woman. Inquiries proved that the
landlord had never been applied to as regards the letting of Number
34. The Spider had simply seen that the house was empty and had gained
access thereto by means of a skeleton key. For one single evening he
had utilised the house as a prison; and when the police searched the
same, which they did from cellar to attic, they found no trace of The
Spider or of the white-faced woman who had played so clever a comedy.
The daring evinced in connection with the West Kensington house was
amazing; the escape of the assassin from “Rangoon” scarcely less so;
and the whole formed a case unexampled in the annals of crime for cool
audacity. And the outcome of the affair was extremely unsatisfactory.

Nothing could be discovered concerning the whereabouts of The Spider,
and whether he belonged to a gang or worked single-handed no one could
say. The man defied both detective and policeman, and laughed at the
attempts of the law to lay him by the heels. Letters were written to
the papers and leading articles appeared, clamouring that immediate
action should be taken against The Spider, who was a menace to
civilisation. The police did all that was possible, and hunted London
in the vain endeavour to lay hands on the rascal, but without success.
The Spider left no tracks behind him, and could not be followed to his
lair. A verdict of “Wilful Murder” was brought against him, and a
reward of one thousand pounds was offered at the instance of the
murdered man’s daughter for his apprehension, but nothing further came
of the matter. The crime was a nine-days’ wonder, but as the days grew
into weeks and weeks into months, public interest dwindled. It seemed
likely that the murder of Martin Dimsdale would have to be relegated
to the list of undiscovered crimes. Even Inspector Drench despaired of
success, and gloomily shook his head. Only Vernon remained firm in his
intention to solve the mysteries of the murder and The Spider, and he
said as much to Mrs. Bedge two months after Dimsdale had been laid in
his grave.

Maunders’ aunt was a thin, aristocratic, pale-faced old lady, prim in
her dress and manners. She occupied a quiet, unpretentious house at
Hampstead, not far from “Rangoon.” A note from her had brought Vernon
to see her, and now the two were seated in a pointedly antiquated
drawing-room, talking earnestly. Everything about the house and its
owner was prim, and the whole atmosphere suggested early Victorian
days. It seemed strange that so dismal and old-fashioned a house
should be the home of an intensely modern young man like Constantine
Maunders. But, as Mrs. Bedge informed Vernon, her nephew gave her very
little of his society, as he had engaged rooms in town and lived in
them the greater part of the week.

“He only comes from a Saturday to a Monday to stop here,” sighed Mrs.
Bedge, folding her lean mittened hands on her drab-hued dress, “yet he
knows how fond I am of his company.”

“Constantine was always selfish,” remarked Vernon bluntly.

Mrs. Bedge protested with the foolish fondness of an old woman. “Oh,
indeed, you must not say that. Constantine is high-spirited, and I
daresay that he thinks this place somewhat dull. But when he is here I
invariably find him thoughtful and affectionate.”

This was very probable, since Mrs. Bedge had money, and Maunders
expected to be her heir. It was not likely that so astute a person
would risk the loss of a fortune. Something of this sort must have
revealed itself in Vernon’s eyes, for Mrs. Bedge, with the swift
instinct of a woman, guessed what he was thinking about.

“No,” she said in her plaintive way, “it is not greed of money that
makes Constantine love me, but his own sweet nature which gives
affection, unasked. Constantine knows that I have spent a great deal
on his education and in fitting him out in life. Now I have very
little money left: this house, the furniture, and a few hundreds a
year. When I die he will receive very little, poor boy. I thought it
best that he should enjoy the money while he was young, and without
waiting for my death.”

“Constantine ought to work,” said Vernon, wondering at the blindness
which could describe Maunders as unselfishly affectionate.

“He intends to, when he can find something to his mind. And then, he
is so handsome that he may make a rich marriage. I thought Ida
Dimsdale would have taken him,” sighed the old lady; “she has ten
thousand a year and is also a very charming girl. But there is no hope
for Constantine there.”

“You astonish me,” said Vernon, and meant what he said. “I understood
from Mr. Dimsdale himself that his daughter was in love with

“She was; she seemed to be quite crazy about him, but that was before
the terrible death of her father two months ago. Since then she has
shut herself up with Miss Hest at ‘Rangoon,’ and when Constantine has
seen her, she has been quite different. She loves him no longer, and
as good as told the poor boy so. It nearly broke his heart.”

“I don’t think Constantine’s heart is so easily broken,” said Vernon
grimly, and relapsed into silence. It struck him as strange that Ida
should cease to love the handsome scamp, considering how infatuated
she had been with him for months. But, if things were as Mrs. Bedge
stated, there was a chance that Colonel Towton’s warm devotion would
be appreciated; there was also the chance–and Vernon winced when he
thought of it–that, having no opportunity of marrying Ida, the
pleasure-loving Maunders would prosecute his wooing of Miss Corsoon
with renewed vigour; in which case, and in spite of Lucy’s pronounced
liking for him, Vernon thought dismally that there would be little
likelihood of his own success. A more dangerous rival than Maunders,
when he really put his heart into love-making, can scarcely be
imagined. Mrs. Bedge broke in upon these meditations.

“And what we have been speaking about brings me to the reason why I
asked you to come and see me,” she said, smoothing her dress and
arranging the old-fashioned bracelets she wore. “You see, as I tell
you, I am not rich, and as I have informed you, Ida does not love
Constantine as she used to. Now, I want you to consider if it could
possibly be arranged that I could become Ida’s companion.”

Vernon started with astonishment. He did not think that Mrs. Bedge
would prove a very cheerful companion to a young girl, and moreover it
seemed strange that, at her age, she should wish for such a position.
She must be poor indeed, and considering how Constantine had drained
her, this was scarcely to be wondered at. “Miss Hest acts more or less
as Miss Dimsdale’s companion,” remarked Vernon with some hesitation.

“I think she is a most dangerous woman,” said Mrs. Bedge, a warm
colour flushing her faded cheeks; “she is a public reciter. I may be
old-fashioned, but I do not think it is right that a young girl like
Ida should be so friendly with a woman who appears on the stage.”

Vernon laughed at this echo of early Victorian prudery.

“Miss Hest only recites at concerts and ‘At Homes,'” He explained;
“she can scarcely be called an actress.”

“I look upon her as such,” said Mrs. Bedge primly. “I have known Ida
for years: when her father was in Burmah he sent her to school in
England, and she always spent her holidays with me. That is how
Constantine came to fall in love with her. It has been the dream of my
life to see them married, especially as Ida is rich and needs a man to
look after her money. I wish to become Ida’s companion, not only
because I am one of her oldest friends and need to supplement my
income, but because I hope to influence her again in my boy’s favour.”

“I understand.” Vernon smiled quietly as he thought that if Maunders
looked after Ida’s money there would be little of it left in a few
years. But he quite understood, as he had acknowledged, the
affectionate scheme of the fond old woman, who was a slave to her
adopted son. “I can scarcely advise you, Mrs. Bedge. Miss Hest is a
lady–there can be no doubt on that point–and her character is above
reproach; also, she is clever and strong-minded, the kind of companion
Miss Dimsdale wants. For I should not think,” he added after a pause,
“that Miss Dimsdale was capable of managing her large fortune. I have
seen very little of her since the funeral. I suppose the will was
proved and she is in possession of her money?”

“There was no will,” said Mrs. Bedge unexpectedly. “Constantine
learned that from Ida herself. She merely inherited as next of
kin, which is the same thing. Why poor Martin–I call Mr. Dimsdale,
Martin, because I knew him for years and years,” she explained in
parentheses–“why poor Martin never made a will I can’t say, but he
did not.”

“Strange,” reflected Vernon musingly; “so business-like a man would
certainly have made a will, I should have thought. However, as Miss
Dimsdale has inherited as next-of-kin it doesn’t matter; failing her,
the money, I presume, would have gone to Lady Corsoon?”

“Certainly; but Ida, as a daughter of poor Martin, takes precedence of
Julia as the sister. But think of all that money, Mr. Vernon, being at
the mercy of an adventuress like Miss Hest.”

“I don’t think she is an adventuress, Mrs. Bedge, and I can’t see how
the money is at her mercy.”

“I see it very plainly,” said Mrs. Bedge with asperity. “Miss Hest has
a most extraordinary influence over Ida, and not a healthy one, since
she has permitted her to shut herself up for weeks.”

“The natural grief of Miss Dimsdale—-”

“There are bounds to grief,” interrupted the old lady sharply, “and the
young recover from sorrow quicker than do the aged. Poor Martin was a
good father, and Ida does right to mourn him; but not to the
ridiculous extent of shutting herself up for two months with that

“You don’t seem to like Miss Hest.”

“No, I don’t. Oh, I haven’t a word to say against her character. I
daresay she is a lady and perfectly correct in her behaviour: but she
is not the companion for Ida. Besides, she comes and goes from
‘Rangoon’ at her will, and is not a regular companion, such as the
girl should have. Miss Hest, so Constantine tells me, lives at
Isleworth with a horrid old retired actor and his wife.”

“Professor Garrick Gail. Yes; she told me that herself.”

“So brazen,” sniffed Mrs. Bedge, more prim than ever; “it’s not right,
I tell you, Mr. Vernon. Someone should interfere.”

“No one can, Mrs. Bedge. Miss Dimsdale is her own mistress, being over
age, and has her own money. She has a right to live as she pleases.”

“Not in my opinion, Mr. Vernon; it’s not respectable. Could you not
see her and suggest that she should sell or let, ‘Rangoon’ and come
here to live with me as her paid companion? Also, she could help to
keep up this house.”

Vernon almost laughed, so selfish was the proposition, and thought it
very unlikely that Ida would surrender the charming residence of
“Rangoon” and the intellectual society of Miss Hest, to shut herself
up with a buckram old dame in a stuffy, second-rate dwelling. “I am
not intimate enough with Miss Dimsdale to suggest such a thing.”

“But you are searching for the assassin of her father,” persisted Mrs.
Bedge with the dogged obstinacy of age; “out of gratitude she should
adopt your suggestion. Besides, you would be glad to see your old
schoolfellow Constantine settled for life.”

It was on Vernon’s lips to say that he would be sorry to see any
woman, let alone Ida Dimsdale, tied to a selfish creature like Mr.
Maunders, but out of pity for the infatuated old lady he refrained.
Besides, since she believed Constantine to be an angel, no one would
ever be able to argue her out of that fancy. “Other people are
searching for The Spider also,” he said gently, “so Miss Dimsdale has
no particular reason to show me any gratitude, especially as she has
offered the reward of one thousand pounds.”

“I know. Constantine is trying to earn it.”

“The deuce he is?” sprang from Vernon’s lips.

Mrs. Bedge drew up her spare form and folded her hands. “I do not like
slang, Mr. Vernon.” Then, when he apologised, she continued:
“Constantine wants to earn the money, and also, if he catches The
Spider, Ida will surely marry him out of sheer gratitude.”

“I think he has a stronger reason to catch The Spider,” said Vernon

Mrs. Bedge coloured and looked aside. “I guess what you mean, as I
asked poor Martin to speak to you on the subject of that attempted
blackmail. It was scandalous, was it not? However, I have heard no
more from the wicked creature, and I don’t think I shall. After
committing this crime, it is not likely that The Spider will dare to
continue in his wickedness.”

“Well,” said Vernon, standing up to take his leave. “I certainly have
not heard of anyone being blackmailed lately. Perhaps The Spider
thinks that he has gone too far, and is afraid. I suggested myself to
Constantine that he should capture The Spider if he wished to become
my partner in–that is,” broke off Vernon in some confusion, “he

“I understand,” said Mrs. Bedge quietly; “I know that you are Nemo.
Poor Martin revealed your private business when he suggested that he
should consult you about The Spider’s attempt to blackmail me. But you
can be perfectly satisfied. I shall not betray your secret, having,”
she smiled faintly, “one of my own.”

He looked at her inquiringly. “I don’t understand.”

“I refer to the accusation The Spider brought against me,” went on
Mrs. Bedge, her eyes glittering feverishly and her breath coming and
going in gasps. “Oh, it was shameful that a man should dare to accuse
me of immorality–yes, there is no need for us to mince words, Mr.
Vernon–of immorality. Why, the only man I ever loved was Martin
himself. Then he went to India and I was worried by my family into
marrying Mr. Bedge; my sister married his partner, Constantine

“Maunders, I understood the name was.”

“That was the English name he took, and that is why his son–my
adopted boy, but really my nephew–comes to be called so. I never
liked Mavrocordato, and to think that this Spider should accuse
me–me—-” She clenched her thin hand and all the primness fled. She
was no longer a precise old lady of a precise epoch, but an angry and
insulted woman. “If I could find this man, Mr. Vernon, I should strike
him across the lips. I urged Constantine to hunt him down, both to
gain the gratitude of Ida by punishing the murderer of her father and
because I wish The Spider to be punished for the insult he put upon
me. Should you find him, Mr. Vernon, don’t spare him.”

“I can promise you that,” said Vernon very grimly, for the decoying
still rankled in his breast. “Still, as yet we can find out nothing
about him. If he blackmails you again, let me know. Then we can
arrange a trap.”

“So that I may be murdered like poor Martin. No, thank you.”

“I’ll see that such a thing doesn’t occur a second time. But I fancy
you can set your mind at rest, Mrs. Bedge. The Spider is too much
wanted for him to continue his little games: the risk is too great. I
daresay he’ll turn his attention to America or to the Colonies.”

Mrs. Bedge followed him to the door. “Then you think that he has left
England?” she inquired eagerly.

“I don’t think so; I think–well, I scarcely know what to think. Leave
things as they are, Mrs. Bedge, and sooner or later I hope to capture
the rascal. Now I must leave you.”

“Will you see Ida and suggest my scheme to be her companion?”

“I don’t know her well enough to suggest it bluntly. But I shall see
her some day and hint at your idea.”

“And please keep your eye on Constantine. I fear he is ruining his
health with society.”

“I see very little of Constantine, Mrs. Bedge, and I fear he would not
take any well-meant advice I might offer him.”

Finally he got away from the prim house, although Mrs. Bedge was
anxious to keep him in conversation. When on the Heath, breathing the
widely-blown air, he drew a long breath to refresh his lungs. He did
not wonder that Maunders remained as little as possible in that tomb,
for it was nothing else. To a pleasure-loving, lively young man,
accustomed to be petted by pretty women and welcomed by monied men,
the society of his aunt and the atmosphere of her stuffy house would
naturally be abhorrent. And Constantine was not the individual likely
to deny himself a merry life for the sake of attending on the woman to
whom he owed so much. He had absolutely no idea of the meaning of the
word “gratitude.” Most people–and Maunders was one of them–do not
know that there is such a word in the dictionaries.

Walking along musingly, Vernon remembered how Dimsdale had spoken of
Emily Bedge, and how he also had stated, as she had done, that they
were in love when young. Now Dimsdale was dead, and the girl he had so
admired was a faded old woman, cherishing a foolish affection for one
who would never return the same, and who had no intention of returning
it. Considering the lonely life and sad history and dismal present
position of Mrs. Bedge, the young man began to think that, after all,
it would be a charity to persuade Ida Dimsdale to take her as a
companion. In the society of the girl Mrs. Bedge might grow youthful
again. Of course, her presence might be dangerous, as she would
certainly do her best to persuade Ida into marrying Constantine, and
assuredly the infatuation of Ida might revive. Vernon wondered how it
had died away, and what causes had been at work to make Ida regard
with indifference the handsome face of the scamp. From the hint given
by Mrs. Bedge, he began to believe that this was the work of Miss
Hest. If so, it was no wonder that the old woman spoke ill of her. Of
course, Mrs. Bedge was biassed, for Vernon himself believed Frances
Hest to be a clever, capable woman, who was likely to prove a tower of
strength to Ida, since the girl’s character, although sweet, was not
particularly firm. But then there was always the chance that Miss Hest
might become a tyrant.

Thinking in this way, Vernon suddenly stumbled against a man coming
from the opposite direction, also deep in thought. They looked up with
a mutual apology and both burst out laughing. The newcomer was Colonel
Towton, and he explained himself as they shook hands.

“I have just been to see Miss Dimsdale,” said the Colonel crisply,
“and she gave me so much to think about that I was in a brown study.”

“And I have come from Mrs. Bedge, who also made me think,” observed
Vernon with a smile, “hence I ran into you. Where are you going,

“Back to town,” said the military man promptly, “but I am walking. I
always walk as much as possible in London for the sake of necessary
exercise. Perhaps you would rather drive?”

“No. I prefer to walk. I am glad to have met you, Towton, as I wished
to speak with you privately.”

“Curious,” said the Colonel, screwing his glass into his eye. “I had
you in my mind when I ran into you. Let us walk down the hill and
talk: there is more privacy in the open air than anywhere else. Well?”

“Well,” echoed Vernon, as they turned their faces towards London,
“what do you wish to say?”

“I’ll come to the point circuitously,” retorted the Colonel smartly.
“So you have been to see Mrs. Bedge? Poor old Dimsdale told me about
her. My rival’s aunt, I believe?”

“Yes. A quaint old lady of the Albert period.”

Towton shuddered. “I know the style, Vernon. Stiff and prudish and
dowdy. H’m! rather a contrast to our young friend. He’s devilish
handsome and infernally modern. I suppose the old lady gives him
plenty of money: he always seems to be in the forefront of things. Yet
I don’t like him somehow: his voice doesn’t ring true; but there,
perhaps I am prejudiced, since he courts Miss Dimsdale. I’m a man, and
not a saint, so I feel jealous.”

“You have no need to be, Colonel.”

“Eh! what?” The Colonel stopped abruptly and his eyes sparkled. “Do
you mean to say that he has ceased to court Miss Dimsdale? Well,
well,” he went on, without waiting for a reply, “I shouldn’t wonder. I
might have guessed as much, for three or four times I have been to the
Corsoons, and Maunders was always there, making furious love to that
pretty Lucy of theirs. You had better look after her, if you intend to
make her your wife, Vernon.”

“Lady Corsoon always receives me so coldly, that I scarcely dare
call,” confessed the young man dismally. “I daresay Maunders has put a
spoke in my wheel in that quarter.”

“Yes; but, hang it, he can’t mean to marry both girls?”

“You forget what I hinted just now, Towton. Mrs. Bedge assured me, and
with great grief, as she wants the marriage to take place, that Miss
Dimsdale has ceased to care for her nephew.”

Only military self-control prevented the Colonel from throwing his
tall hat in the air. “I thought she was kinder to me to-day,” he said
jubilantly, “and she never mentioned Maunders’ name, now I think of
it. Do you believe that I have a chance, Vernon?”

“A better one than ever you had,” replied Vernon heartily, “and you
may be sure I shall endeavour to aid you in every way. But, by the
way, how is Miss Dimsdale? I have seen her only once since the burial
of her father, and, of course, then she was overcome with grief.”

Towton thought for a moment before replying. “To tell you the truth,
Vernon, I don’t think that dark-browed young woman is a good companion
for her in any way.”

“Why not?” Vernon was rather struck that Mrs. Bedge and the Colonel
should unknowingly agree on this point. “She is clever?”

“Oh, I daresay, and, if you ask me, a sight too clever,” grumbled the
Colonel, shouldering his thin umbrella like a gun. “Ida–well, I can
call her Ida to you, since we have become so friendly–Ida is a
charming girl, but not strong-minded. I shouldn’t seek her for my wife
if she were, as I hate masterful women. Miss Hest is of that sort, and
she seems to have too much control over Ida. In fact–I may be wrong,
and I wouldn’t say this to anyone but yourself–but it’s a kind of

“H’m. Do you remember what the Concini woman said about her supposed
magical influence over Marie de Medici: that she only used the
influence of a strong mind over a weak one?”

“Oh, I don’t think Ida is weak-minded,” said the Colonel hastily; “she
is a sweet, loving, delightful girl, who would make any man happy. But
Miss Hest is what I call a cat: yes, an amiable cat, so long as things
go to her liking, but I’m sure she could show her claws if necessary.”

“Does she support Maunders?”

“She supports no one but herself. It seems to me that she finds that
the reciting doesn’t pay, and so hopes to become Ida’s companion for
life. If Ida married she’d be nowhere. I fancy for that reason she
wishes to keep Ida single, and so doesn’t countenance either Maunders
or myself.”

Vernon mused. He remembered how he had fancied that Miss Hest might
have been the person to undermine Maunders’ chances. Now Towton was
saying the same thing. However, he said nothing, while the Colonel,
walking and talking vigorously, continued his speech.

“Besides,” said Towton, “there’s a queer strain in the family. Gerby
Hall, where the brother lives, is three miles from my place. Brother
and sister are twins and exactly like one another, but they don’t hit
it off together. Gerby Hall is supposed to be haunted, and people
think the Hests to be mad, or queer, or–the deuce knows what.”

“Frances Hest doesn’t seem to be mad,” said Vernon drily.

“Well, I don’t know. Her head seems to be screwed on all right, but
she believes in occultism and all that sort of thing. Her influence is
unhealthy, for she induced Ida to go to Diabella, who—-”

Vernon nodded. “I know. Diabella is a fortune-teller in Bond Street
and is supposed to be very clever. What did she tell Miss Dimsdale?”

“Ah, that I couldn’t find out. But it made her ill; gave her a
headache or something. Ida said very little; seemed averse to speaking
about her visit, and Miss Hest supplied all the information. She was
full of the wonderful things which Diabella had told Ida.”

“What wonderful things?”

“I can’t say. I told you that Ida refused to speak about the matter.
But I intend to find out something about this Diabella, and therefore
I am going to call on her. I have an appointment in three days.”

“She’ll tell you nothing about Miss Dimsdale.”

“Of course not. But I shall be able to see what kind of a woman she
is. I don’t want Ida to get under another bad influence. That of Miss
Hest is quite enough. I am clever enough to read this Diabella’s
character, and if possible, I shall try and prevent Ida from seeing
her again.”

“It’s just as well. Tell me what you hear from this fortune-teller.”

Towton shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, it will be the same old rubbish
about love and money and marriage. I don’t believe in these mercenary
occult people myself, although I have every faith in the genuine sort
I have met with in India. Now, one of those, Vernon, would soon spot
this damned Spider.”

“Why not ask Diabella?”

“I shall do so. Gad! it’s an idea. But, then, I don’t think occultists
who take money are the real truth-tellers. However, it can do no harm
asking her, so I shall do so. By the way, Vernon, have you heard if
the police have stumbled on the track of that rogue?”

“Not yet. Drench tells me that nothing has been discovered. I am
trying to hunt him down myself.”

“You? Pooh! Pooh! Pooh!” said Towton good-humouredly. “Why, it needs a
trained man to do that. The Spider is as clever as the devil, hang
him. To think that I was at the ball, and in the next room, when our
poor old friend was being-strangled by that beast. I tell you what,
sir, the strangling put me in mind of the Thugs.”

“What do you mean?” asked Vernon quickly.

“It’s only an idea. But this Spider strangled the old man so cleverly
and so quietly that I wondered if he was some nigger who had known
Dimsdale in India or Burmah and so had learned his secret, whatever it
might be.”

“It’s a queer way of looking at it,” murmured Vernon thoughtfully,
“and Dimsdale’s secret has to do with the East, I fancy. There may be
something in what you say. I’ll think it over.”

“Do,” said Towton cordially, “and I’ll come to your rooms to report on
my proposed interview with this Bond Street Witch of Endor.”

On this understanding they parted, having had a most interesting
conversation on important subjects.

“There may be something in Towton’s idea,” thought Vernon.