It was big news, which meant more than at first sight appeared, since
the implication was of depths below depths and veils behind veils. To
be quite plain, the unexpected flight of the fortune-teller, for it
was nothing else, hinted at the truth of Towton’s suspicions. Had
there been nothing but the mere assault Diabella could have faced that
and could have even counted upon the Colonel doing nothing, since an
unbiassed witness was lacking. The flight was not caused by the
incident which had taken place in the Bond Street rooms, but by the
fear that something dangerous might peep out from behind it. And what
could this something be–on the grounds of Diabella’s story and the
Hindoo’s attempted strangling–but a dread lest The Spider should be

“I am perfectly certain that you are right, Towton,” said Vernon,
sitting sideways on the table and swinging his legs. “Only the fear of
her connection with that blackmailing scoundrel being traced could
have scared her into disappearance.”

“She has really gone?”

“Really and truly. Remember, she had three days to make herself
scarce, but so afraid was she lest you should take action that she
decamped on the morning of the second day.”

“How decamped?” questioned Towton, laying down his pen.

“She sent the Hindoo to surrender the lease. Bahadur his name is.”

“The native who tried to choke me?”

“No; the doorkeeper. I was precise to ask if he was lean or stout.
The lean one came to surrender the lease.”

“And his name is Bahadur. Well, that’s something worth knowing. But
how did you get your informant to talk, and how did you find any
person in authority to explain matters?”

“That was easy.” Vernon slipped off the table and into a chair. “I
called on the plea of wanting my fortune told by Diabella. Instead of
Bahadur opening the door a neat little maid-servant made her
appearance and informed me that Diabella had retired from the
business, which had been taken over by a certain American prophetess.
I asked to see the lady, and I did.”

“You don’t think she was Diabella unmasked?”

“Not from your description. You told me Diabella was tall; this woman
was short, and the voice, instead of being metallic, as you described
it, was rather musical, although disfigured by a Yankee twang. This
new sorceress, from New York City, as she told me she was, could never
have spoken English without the twang.”

“It might have been assumed.”

“Not it. I can tell the true from the false,” said Vernon
emphatically. “Mrs. Hiram G. Slowcomb is a genuine American,
sure enough. Besides, her ideas of surroundings and those of
Diabella differ. The last desired weird decoration and furniture,
a mask, an Egyptian dress, Oriental attendants, and so forth.
Mrs. Slowcomb’s idea is that people should not be frightened, but
should have their future told in a motherly, old-fashioned way amidst
rural-fireside-granny-scenery. She intends, so she told me, to
transform the Egyptian rooms into the semblance of a rustic cottage
interior, with a cat and a humming tea-kettle, rafters with strings of
onions, and flower-pots on the ledges of Bond Street windows turned
into casements. It’s rather a clever dodge,” reflected Vernon, “as
people will be at their ease directly and so will talk freely and
listen comfortably.”

“And Mrs. Hiram G. Slowcomb herself?”

“A motherly old thing in a mob cap and a stuff dress with a voluminous
apron and a woollen shawl over her shoulders. I daresay she has
dressed for the old cottage interior part, for she was seated in a
wooden chair which didn’t fit in with the Memphis decorations, and
knitted a homely stocking.”

“What did she tell you about Diabella?”

“Very little, because she knew very little.”

“Do you believe that?” asked the highly suspicious Colonel.

Vernon shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone tells such lies nowadays that
I never believe anyone. But Mrs. Slowcomb seemed to be genuine enough.
However, I’ll soon prove that, as I intend to have her watched by a
man upon whom I can depend. I shall learn in that way if she has
business relations with our masked friend.”

“What did she tell you?” asked Towton again.

“Well, it seemed that she heard about Diabella wishing to retire from
business and went to see her. Diabella denied that the rumour was
true, but promised Mrs. Slowcomb the first refusal of the rooms and
goodwill, though how one can transfer fortune-telling clients beats
me. However, Mrs. Slowcomb retired and left her address–somewhere in
Pimlico, where she was wasting her talents on maid-servants and
suburban people. Diabella sent Bahadur to her there and the lease was
duly transferred for a sum of money. I believe Bahadur took Mrs.
Slowcomb to the City and interviewed the landlord’s lawyer. However,
it was all done fair and square.”

“But Diabella must have signed the consent to the transfer?”

“So she did, under the name of Isabella Hopkins, which may or may not
be her real name. At all events, she took the rooms as Miss Hopkins
and signed that name on the transfer. Mrs. Slowcomb never saw
her–at least, without the mask. She was as you saw her when Mrs.
Slowcomb called at the rooms, and didn’t show in the lawyer’s office.”

“But the lawyer must have seen her?”

“Well, he did, and I went to see him. He’s a stiff old buckram
creature, who declined to impart anything about Miss Isabella Hopkins
as he wanted to know why I wished to know; and, of course, on the face
of it, you can see, Towton, that I couldn’t gratify his very natural

“But why not, if we are to catch Diabella?”

“We haven’t got enough grounds to go upon,” said Vernon, shaking his
head. “I think it is best to let her fancy we don’t suspect anything
and then we may be able to capture her unawares. She’s connected with
The Spider, if not that gentleman himself, I am sure, and your visit
and behaviour, which led to the strangling attempt, have given her a
fright. But if we keep silent her suspicions will be lulled and she
may reappear.”

“Surely not.”

“Oh, I think so. Fortune-telling is an invaluable way of learning
secrets, and Diabella must be very useful to The Spider, or to
herself, if she is him. She won’t surrender her position without a
struggle. It’s too paying all round, my dear fellow.”

“But she did surrender it.”

“Only because she lost her head for the moment and thought you might
bring the police on the scene for the assault. That would lead to
unpleasant questions being asked, which might result in heaven knows
what revelations. Fortune-tellers are not in good odour since the
campaign of a certain halfpenny paper against them.”

The Colonel leaned back in his chair, reflecting, while Vernon rose to
walk up and down the room for the purpose of stretching his long legs.
He lighted a cigar and went on talking lightly.

“You never saw such a heap of clever dodges as this Diabella has to
impress the weak-minded. Those mummies–they are all faked, by the
way–have reeds inside them leading to their mouths, and Diabella, by
pressing on the arms of her state chair, could send a stream of wind
along to make them squall.”

“And they did squall,” said Towton musingly. “I never heard such a
devilish row in my life. What else?”

“Oh, some arrangement by which when the room was darkened the interior
of the painted walls were illuminated to reveal the Egyptian figures
as walking and sitting skeletons. Then there’s an apparatus to make
thunder, and flashlights for lightning, to say nothing of ingeniously
arranged draughts calculated to make anyone’s hair rise in the
necessary darkness when he or she felt a cold breath fanning him or
her. I wonder Diabella didn’t send her clients stark, staring mad.”

“It sounds like a fraudulent spiritualistic medium, Vernon, and only
confirms my suspicions that Diabella was not a genuine occultist.”

“But do you really believe anyone has such powers?” asked Vernon

“I really do,” said the Colonel promptly, “strange as it may appear.
In India I have seen too much of the Unseen to doubt. There are
certain gifted people who can see and who can control forces of which
the average person knows nothing. Oh, yes, I believe, and–but what’s
the use of talking? I can never make you believe, and I don’t want

Vernon shrugged his shoulders again and buttoned up his coat. “As you
say, it doesn’t matter,” he answered. “However, Diabella has vanished
with her two satellites, so there’s nothing more to be done at

“You give up the hunt?”

“I said, at present. No. I shall lie quiet until Diabella reappears.”

“She won’t, if she’s wise.”

“She will–if she’s daring, and I shrewdly suspect that she is.”

“Do you believe her to be this Spider?”

“I do, and I don’t. I really can’t say. But if not the rose, she is
near the rose. All I can assert with safety, Colonel, is that if we
can lay hands on this witch in grain we’ll learn who murdered poor

“God grant that.”

“Amen! to that pious prayer,” was Vernon’s reply as he left the room.
Towton duly finished his letter of inquiry to Venery, of Singapore,
and having posted it went cheerfully about his usual business of
pleasure–that is, as cheerfully as a man in love well could do. At
the Colonel’s age love was rather a serious matter, since he had taken
the disease badly, as is invariably the case with middle aged men.
Some individuals constantly let their emotions trickle out to expend
themselves in trifling love affairs, amusing for the moment; others
dam up the passions for years until they burst through the barrier, to
sweep everything before them irresistibly. Colonel Towton was one of
the latter. But, not being entirely blinded by his late-born
infatuation, he did not deem Ida perfection, as a hot-headed youth
would have done, and he foresaw that, as Mrs. Towton, she would need
guidance and firm control. Hitherto, for want of both, she had run
wild; but the materials were there, out of which, as Towton put it to
himself, he could build a model wife. That she was frivolous, rather
than strong-minded, was a point in her favour, as the Colonel desired
to mould wax rather than to hammer iron. So if Ida only consented to
marry him he hoped for a calm and contented domestic existence,
undisturbed by aggressive romance. And with his home-loving,
self-controlled nature, Towton infinitely preferred the outlook from
an unemotional point of view.

As to the money, he cared little for the possible loss of that,
although he could not deny but what Ida’s yearly thousands would have
come at the right moment to effect improvements on the Bowderstyke
estate. Towton was too prosaic and level-headed to despise the power
of the purse, but on the other hand he was not at all grasping, and
was quite satisfied to marry a girl with no dowry but her beauty and
sweet nature. All the same, he intended to inform himself fully of the
truth by inquiring, as he had done, from the man Diabella had
mentioned as her authority. The Colonel had no notion of letting Ida’s
money benefit Lady Corsoon if he could help it. Of course, if it was
proved to be legally hers he would be the first to see that she had
her rights. On the other hand, should Ida turn out to be Dimsdale’s
daughter, Towton made up his mind that the ten thousand a year would
be joyfully used for the improvement of his family property. With
these thoughts to employ his mind he waited very patiently in
London, considering that he was a man of actions rather than a
dreamer of dreams. Later on, when Vernon had coaxed Diabella from her
hiding-place, Towton intended to travel to Bowderstyke-to see his
beloved. He had every belief that during his absence Vernon could
manage the affair which interested them both so greatly.

For the next few days the Colonel saw nothing of Vernon, but, while in
the tablinum of the Athenian Club, he unexpectedly came face to face
with Mr. Maunders. The scamp looked singularly handsome, and was
dressed carefully, as usual; but the sight of a snake would have been
more pleasing to the worthy Colonel. He did not like Maunders, and,
moreover, resented him as a somewhat dishonourable rival, for no one
could respect a man who pointedly wooed two women at one and the same
time. Towton therefore nodded coolly and crossed to the central table
to pick up a Service Magazine. As he did so Maunders sauntered to his
side and slipped into a chair near to that one which the Colonel had

“Have you had any news of Miss Dimsdale?” asked Maunders amiably.

“No,” retorted Towton, opening his magazine as a hint that he wished
to be left alone.

“She is still in Yorkshire with Miss Hest,” persisted Maunders.

“So I understand,” was the stiff reply.

“I believe she will remain there for one month.”

“Possibly she will.”

Maunders was not discouraged. “Have you any message for her,” he

“Why do you ask?” demanded the Colonel, sitting up abruptly.

“Because Francis Hest–you know, the brother of Miss Dimsdale’s
friend–has asked me down to Gerby Hall. I am going there at the end
of the week for a few days. I thought you might have a message for
Miss Dimsdale.”

“There is such a thing as the post,” said Towton, exasperated by the
young man’s cool assurance. He took up the magazine again, then
hesitated and threw it on the table. Averse as the Colonel was to
discuss his private affairs with anyone, and least of all with
Maunders, whom he so frankly hated, he felt that he ought to take
advantage of this chance to learn exactly what was Maunders’ attitude
towards Ida. “Am I to understand that you are engaged to Miss
Dimsdale?” he asked sharply.

“Why should you think that?” asked Constantine negligently.

“Why, indeed! Considering that one day you profess to be paying
attentions to Miss Corsoon and the next pay your addresses to Miss
Dimsdale. But as you are going down to Gerby Hall it looks as though
you inclined to marry the latter young lady.”

“No,” said Maunders indolently and looking at Towton through
half-closed eyelids. “I am going to see Francis Hest, who is a friend
of mine. But I daresay Miss Hest and Miss Dimsdale find it dull, so I
may be able to amuse them a trifle.”

“I am quite sure of that,” said Towton sarcastically; “your social
qualifications are well known. But I asked you if you were engaged to
Miss Dimsdale.”

“No, I am not, nor am I likely to be.”

This was good news, but Towton could not be sure if Maunders was
speaking honestly. “Then you intend to marry Miss Corsoon?” said the

“I do. But I don’t see why you should trouble yourself about my
private affairs,” said Maunders, insolently cool.

“It was not I who sought this interview. But as you chose to speak to
me I have every right to mention a subject which concerns us both.”

“And concerns Vernon also.”

“Precisely,” said Towton with great emphasis. “It is useless to
disguise the fact, Mr. Maunders, that we are rivals, and—-”

“Pardon me, no,” interrupted the young man quickly. “I have been
refused by Miss Dimsdale, so the field is open to you.”

“Ida refused you?” muttered the Colonel stupefied. “Strange, is it
not?” replied Maunders lightly, “but such is the case. I asked her to
marry me and she hinted at a previous attachment. I presume she

Towton threw up his hand and coloured through his bronzed skin. “We
will not mention names, if you please.”

“I don’t mind. But you know how the land lies–so far as I am
concerned, that is. But you will have to reckon with Francis Hest.”

“Miss Hest’s brother?”

“The same. Francis and Frances–twins, with twin names, you might say.
She is devoted to this more than brother, and wishes him to marry

“Do you mean to say that Miss Hest has taken Miss Dimsdale down to
Gerby Hall so that she may meet Mr. Hest?”

“Yes. He’s not a bad-looking fellow: exactly like his sister, who is
handsome in an imperial way, as you have seen. In fact, if you see
Frances you have seen Francis. The brother isn’t very well off, as he
has spent all his available cash in philanthropic works, and
constructing some confounded dam to supply water to several villages
has nearly ruined him. Miss Dimsdale’s money will therefore come in
very acceptably. But I fear Hest will waste it in helping the poor;
he’s ridiculously crazy about doing what he calls good.”

“It’s ridiculous,” muttered the Colonel crossly. “Miss Dimsdale
doesn’t know this man Hest.”

“Frances will see to that. Now that Miss Dimsdale is at the Hall she
will have every opportunity of seeing him. Miss Hest will throw them
together on every occasion. Upon my word,” Maunders rose and stretched
himself, “were I you, Colonel, I should go down to Gerby Hall and look
after matters.”

“Thanks for your advice,” said Towton picking up the magazine again,
“and good-day to you, Mr. Maunders.”

“This is what comes of my trying to help you,” observed the young man
with a shrug. “I do what I can and you throw my philanthropy in my

“No! no!” Towton’s conscience smote him, for really Maunders had done
him a distinct service, and also he had announced that Ida had refused
him, which was excellent news. “I thank you for what you have told me.
It is probable that I shall go down to Gerby Hall at the end of the

Maunders nodded. “I may meet you there,” he yawned, and sauntered away
with a bored air, which was rather overdone. As a rule he was alert
and full of life, so it looked as though this languor was assumed for
some purpose, and not a good one, if the man’s selfish nature was to
be taken into account.

It wanted three days to the week-end, so Towton really intended to
take the northern journey. He had never trusted Miss Hest, and it was
quite probable that as she had discouraged the wooing of both himself
and Maunders her intention was to secure the heiress for her too
philanthropic brother.

Of course, if Towton could prove to the twins that Ida had no money it
was possible that no further plans would be laid to entrap her. Money
was what Francis Hest required for his lord-of-the-manor schemes, and
money was what the sister desired to secure for him. But, considering
that Frances did not get on well with her brother and that they rarely
met, it was strange that she should be so anxious to serve him;
unless, indeed, the two had come to an agreement that if Francis
married the supposed heiress Frances should share the income. On the
whole Towton thought it would be just as well to go down to The Grange
for a week or so and pay a neighbourly visit to Gerby Hall. He would
at least learn how much of Maunders’ tale was true, and perhaps might
induce Ida to accept him, since she had refused his handsome rival.

“Gad! I’ll go down on Saturday,” decided the Colonel.

And it happened that before Saturday he received a letter which made
him even more anxious to visit his family seat. It came from Ida, and
she pointedly asked him to come down and see her. Amongst other
things, she wrote that Francis Hest had gone away and that she had
only seen him twice at Gerby Hall. “Frances and her brother don’t get
on well together,” went on Ida in her letter, “and are rarely
together. When he is in she is out, and _vice versâ_, like the little
old man and woman in the weather cottage. I only saw Francis for a few
minutes each time and I don’t like him much, although he greatly
resembles Frances. But he is more gloomy and is quite a misanthrope.
Nor do I like Frances so much as I did, as she seems inclined to take
the upper hand with me, and wants me to do exactly as she wishes.
Lately she has been urging me to marry Mr. Maunders, and told me that
he was coming down to stop for a time. Besides, there is a
housekeeper, Miss Jewin, who is a double-faced woman, I am sure, and
looks quite dangerous. She fell in ecstacies over a photograph of Mr.
Maunders, which he gave Frances, and told me, presumptuously, that she
thought we made a handsome couple. In fact, I don’t like this place at
all, and I wish you would come down and stand by me.”

At this point the Colonel laid down the letter to think. Apparently
Maunders was lying when he stated that he did not wish to marry Miss
Dimsdale, and that Frances wished to secure the heiress for her
brother. He told one story, and Ida another; and of the two Towton
preferred to believe that of the girl. The letter went into general
details about the beauty of the country and the dismal gloom of the
Hall. Towton gathered indirectly that Miss Hest was keeping a close
watch on Ida, and that the girl was beginning to resent this
over-emphatic influence. In fact, throughout the letter there sounded
a note of alarm, as though Ida was both uncomfortable and uneasy. She
certainly pointedly asked Towton down to stand by her, and when he had
finished the epistle he was quite decided about travelling by the
Saturday train as he had arranged. But the contradictory stories told
by Ida and Maunders puzzled him greatly. More than ever he mistrusted
Miss Hest, who seemed to be playing a deep game for the winning of
Ida’s fortune. But the Colonel chuckled to think of her disappointment
when she learned that Ida was not entitled to the money, always
provided that Diabella had spoken the truth.

As two heads are better than one, and as Towton was working in consort
with Vernon, he promptly sought out his friend and laid the letter
before him. Also he detailed what had taken place in the tablinum of
the Athenian Club between himself and Maunders. Vernon heard the
Colonel’s narrative with great attention, then gave his opinion after
some reflection.

“There is some devilry under all this,” he said, laying a finger on
the letter, “and Miss Hest seems to be working in conjunction with
Maunders. He says one thing and Ida another, so it is difficult to
know exactly how matters stand.”

“I believe Ida.”

“Well, on the whole, so do I. I think,” Vernon paused, then added
abruptly, “I don’t trust Maunders, you know.”

“Neither do I.”

“In that case, let us act exactly opposite to the way in which he

“How do you mean?” questioned the Colonel doubtfully. “Maunders wants
you to go to Yorkshire. As he is going himself he would naturally want
a clear field, if indeed Miss Hest is supporting him in this design on
Ida’s fortune. Therefore he has some reason–and you may be sure that
it is a bad one–to get you down.”

“I can look after myself,” said Towton sturdily.

“Quite so; but we have to look after Ida. Don’t go to Yorkshire.”

“But Ida wants me to go. See how urgent her letter is.”

“I understand. All the same, I think it wiser for you to remain.”

“Until when?”

“Until I can corner Diabella,” replied Vernon, and ended the

Naturally, under the pressure of Ida’s imploring letter, Colonel
Towton was not anxious to remain inactive in London. He wished to go
to Bowderstyke himself and learn the exact truth. Maunders said one
thing and Ida another, so if the two were confronted the absolute
facts of the case would certainly come to light. Towton assuredly
believed Ida rather than Maunders, but it seemed strange to him that
Miss Hest should champion Constantine, and strange also that Maunders
should wish him to come down to Gerby Hall, where, if Ida spoke
correctly, his presence would not be welcome either to Miss Hest or
her co-conspirator. And Maunders was far too clever a man to do
anything without having some object in view. What that object might be
Colonel Towton as yet could not fathom.

For this last reason, and because his rival so pointedly advised him
to go to Gerby Hall, the Colonel remained in London. Whatever
Maunders’ plans might be, they would assuredly be thwarted by the
absence of Towton, and, later, the Colonel determined to go, even
before Vernon lured Diabella from her hiding-place. Meanwhile, as
Maunders had stated that he was himself going to Gerby Hall on the
invitation of Miss Hest, the Colonel sought the young man’s rooms on
Sunday afternoon in order to see if he had kept his promise, as he
fancied that the proposed visit might be some trick. On inquiry,
however, the Colonel learned that Constantine had departed on the
previous day and had left notice with the caretaker of his chambers
that he would not return until an entire week had elapsed. Evidently
he had meant what he said, namely, to accept Miss Hest’s hospitality.

This knowledge, however, only made Towton the more anxious to go also,
as the idea that Maunders was having it all his own way and was
subjecting Ida to persecution made him restless. He wished to ride
forth like a knight of old to rescue his lady-love, who certainly, if
her letter was to be believed, seemed to be in great peril. It said a
great deal for Towton’s disciplinarian instincts that he obeyed
Vernon, as one more professionally clever at such cases, rather than
his own desires. In the meantime, having satisfied himself with regard
to Maunders’ whereabouts, the Colonel took up his usual life for, at
all events, a week. He relieved his mind by writing to Ida saying that
he would come down to The Grange at the termination of that period.

Vernon had not thought fit to impart to Towton how he proposed to
inveigle Diabella into the open for the very simple reason that he was
puzzled himself how to act. Several times he had been to the Bond
Street rooms, only to find that they were in the hands of decorators,
rapidly transforming the weird Egyptian hall into a cosy English
cottage. Mrs. Hiram G. Slowcomb was already advertising that “Granny!”
would foretell the future after the fashion of the renowned Mother
Shipton, and already had seen several of Diabella’s old clients,
desirous of novelty. To these she told wonderful things in a strong
American accent, which did not suit the thrum cap or the tartan shawl
or the general looks of an ancient rustic dame. However, she was
succeeding very well, and there was no doubt that when her
_mise-en-scene_ was prepared that she would become the fashion for a
few months. She professed to know nothing of Diabella, and as she was
quite frank in answering questions Vernon saw no reason why he should
not believe a story which certainly appeared, on the face of it, to be
true. The lawyer of the landlord still refused to say anything about
Isabella Hopkins since Vernon declined to state why the knowledge was
required. And, of course, as he was suspicious rather than certain he
could say absolutely nothing.

In this dilemma, and wondering how he was to come face to face with
the woman, Vernon decided, on the Sunday when Towton went to seek
Maunders, to pay an afternoon call. This errand took him into the
luxurious drawing-room of Lady Corsoon. By this time the month of
grace allowed by The Spider was nearing its end, and Vernon, having
accomplished nothing definite, considered it necessary to reassure the
millionaire’s wife. Naturally, he expected to find her haggard and
hysterical, but was truly surprised to behold a perfectly composed
person, comely and content. Her brown eyes sparkled when the footman
announced the newcomer, and she swept forward–the word is necessary
to exactly describe Lady Corsoon’s imposing gait–to welcome him with
ill-concealed eagerness.

“How are you, Mr. Vernon?” she asked in her best society manner, and
then dropped her voice to a confidential whisper, “I should have
called at your office to-morrow had you not come.”

“I am quite well, thank you,” replied Vernon, for the benefit of the
surrounding guests, and lowered his voice likewise: “Any news, good or

“Yes; both. Wait till everyone goes,” she said softly, and again spoke
gracefully in her character of hostess. “You poor man, you really must
have a cup of tea. Go to Lucy and ask nicely.”

Vernon needed no second command, but thrust his way through a crowd of
well-dressed people to find a bamboo table covered with tea-things,
over which a pretty, fresh-coloured damsel presided. She received him
with a shy blush, which made her look like a dewy rose. Lucy Corsoon
could not be called lovely, nor would she have attracted attention in
any marked degree. A bright, sweet English girl was all she claimed to
be, and, having the bloom of youth, she really appeared more charming
than she really was. In a very plain white frock and without a single
ornament, she looked like a modest violet, almost hidden by its
leaves. The ardent gaze in her lover’s dark eyes made her blush more
than ever as she handed him a cup of tea.

“Without sugar,” she said in a gentle voice; “I know your tastes.”

“Who else should?” inquired Vernon smiling, and sipped his Bohea.
“This tea is delightful and exactly what a thirsty man requires.”

“I hope you are hungry also. Mr. Hest, please pass the cakestand to
Mr. Vernon.”

The lover wheeled when the name was mentioned, to find himself facing
the counterpart of Ida’s companion. He would have guessed the
relationship even if Lucy had held her peace. Mr. Hest smiled at the
amazed look of the young man, and swung forward the bamboo cakestand
with a soft laugh.

“Don’t say what you are going to say, Mr. Vernon,” he remarked
pleasantly. “I know exactly how astonished you are to see that I am so
like my sister.”

“You are indeed,” breathed Vernon, mechanically taking bread and
butter. “I should have taken you for Miss Hest in disguise but
for—-” he hesitated.

“But for this scar?” finished Hest, laying a finger on a cicatrice
which ran in a thin crimson line from the right temple to the corner
of the mouth. “I got that in Paris years ago; the knife of an Apache
scored me in this way. It is just as well, if only to distinguish me
from Frances. I rarely come to London, but when I do everyone stares
at me, as you did.” Mr. Hest shrugged his shoulders. “It’s rather a
nuisance being a twin.”

“You are not so tall as your sister,” ventured Vernon, while Lucy
laughed at the idle jest of the Yorkshire squire.

“There’s very little difference. Frances looks taller because she
wears petticoats. If I dressed in her clothes and could hide this,” he
laid his finger again on the scar, “you would not be able to tell the

“Your voices are different,” said Vernon after a pause.

“I really begin to think you must be a detective, Mr. Vernon, since
you are so very observant. Yes, our voices are different and in the
wrong way.”

“The wrong way?”

“Ah, you are not so observant as I thought. Yes; Frances has a deep
contralto voice, somewhat heavy for a woman, whereas my voice, as you
hear, is rather thin in quality. Nature mixed up the voices as we are
twins, maybe.”

It was as he said. Hest’s voice had not the volume or the richness of
his sister’s, but it certainly had a less serious note. Vernon,
recalling what Towton had told him of Ida’s remark in her letter as to
Francis being dismal and misanthropic, wondered that she could have
been so mistaken. He was really more cheerful than Frances, and did
not seem to treat life in her aggressively sober manner. Besides, that
he was a philanthropist was in itself an argument against his being of
a gloomy disposition. Vernon judged that Mr. Hest was much more of an
optimist than was his sister, and that he lacked in some measure that
sterling common sense which, to put it plainly, made her company
rather dull. If Frances had been the man and Francis had been the
woman their temperaments would have suited the change of sex ever so
much better. But, perhaps, as Mr. Hest had just observed, since the
two were twins nature had got mixed.

Vernon would rather have spoken to Lucy, but could not do so, and
every now and then fresh guests came to be served. He was therefore
left to the society of Hest, and took advantage of the opportunity to
learn if the man was in love with Ida. “Did you leave Miss Dimsdale in
good health?” he asked.

“Oh, yes. She is ever so much brighter, Mr. Vernon. The air of our
Yorkshire moors has picked her up wonderfully and has brought colour
to her cheeks.”

“And your sister?”

Hest shrugged his shoulders again. “Oh, Frances is always in robust
health, Mr. Vernon. I find her company too exhausting for my health.
She always wants me to be doing something or saying something, and is
never at rest.”

“You do a good deal yourself in the way of philanthropy?”

“Well, I do,” said Hest, his dark face lighting up, “but it is really
selfish on my part. There is nothing I love so well as to help the
unfortunate. I have quite changed the parish of Bowderstyke, and
instead of being a Rip Van Winkle sort of place it is now in lively
touch with the twentieth century. If you are ever down our way, Mr.
Vernon, come and stop at the Hall and you shall see my _opus
magnus_–the Bolly Reservoir. Miss Dimsdale was quite amazed when she
beheld the strength of the dam.”

“I have heard of that great work from your sister. She was quite
enthusiastic over the enterprise.”

“What! Frances enthusiastic over anything of that sort? You surprise
me, Mr. Vernon, you do, indeed. Frances cares nothing about such
things. Poetry and society and a general aimless life is her idea of
living, But then she is a woman, and we must not be hard on women.”

“It’s strange,” said Vernon, musingly, with his eyes on Hest.

“What is, if I may ask?”

“The life you mention would suit your nature rather than hers, I
should think, considering what I have seen of both of you. You are not
so serious as Miss Hest, so far as I can judge.”

Hest laughed. “Well, you see, Frances takes her pleasures seriously
and in a very ponderous manner. I take my work lightly and as a hobby.
That is all the difference, save that I am sure I get more amusement
out of life than she does. Wait till you hear us argue.”

“You are stopping in town long?”

“Only for a few days. I may go to Paris or I may return to Gerby Hall.
It all depends upon Miss Dimsdale.”

Vernon looked surprised. “On Miss Dimsdale? In what way?”

“Well,” Hest hesitated, “it’s rather a private matter to—-”

“Oh, I beg your pardon.”

“Not at all. You know Frances and Miss Dimsdale so very well that I
don’t mind telling you. The fact is my sister thinks that I ought to
be married at my age–I shan’t tell you how old I am because that
would give away Frances, who, like all women, doesn’t want her age to
be known. But the long and short of it is that she wants me to marry
Miss Dimsdale. I saw very plainly that Miss Dimsdale didn’t want to
marry me, so I ran away.”

This explanation appeared to be clear enough, and Vernon drew a long
breath of relief. Ida had been right; Frances had wished her brother
to marry the girl and secure the fortune. Now that Francis declined to
entertain the idea Miss Hest had invited Maunders down to try his
luck. But Vernon could not see what interest the former could have in
bringing about the marriage with the latter. He lifted his eyes from
the carpet to again address his companion, but found that Mr. Hest had
slipped away to talk to an old lady with an ear-trumpet.

“You might speak to _me_,” hinted a low voice at his ear, and he
turned to smile at Lucy’s injured face.

“You are so busy.”

“There is a lull now in the tea-drinking. Why haven’t you been to see
me lately, Arthur?”

“I have been very busy, also I have been out of town.”

“You should be with me–always,” pouted Miss Corsoon.

“What would your mother say to that?” he asked, smiling broadly.

“She would be annoyed,” returned Lucy promptly.

Vernon started. “Surely you are mistaken,” he said anxiously, stopping
to almost whisper in her ear. “Your mother gave her consent, and when
I was last here she said in your presence that she did not mind

Lucy interrupted with a flush. “I think she has another opinion now.
For some time she appeared to be pleased that we should marry, but the
day before yesterday she hinted that there might be obstacles.”

“Ah, your father?”

“No. Mother can manage father in any way not connected with money.
Mother has changed her mind on her own account.”

“But for what reason?” asked Vernon, much perplexed.

“I wish you could find out,” mourned Miss Corsoon. “She refuses to
tell me in any way. But I love you, and I won’t give you up. I’d run
away with you if you were not so poor.”

“Shortly I’ll be poor no longer,” said Vernon quickly, “and then we
can run away whenever you like.”

“You will be poor no longer?” questioned Lucy doubtfully.

“No, dear. My uncle, Sir Edward Vernon, of whom we spoke when I was
here last, has become reconciled to me and has made me his heir. I
shall have the title and something like three thousand a year.”

“Oh, how delightful. But perhaps it’s wrong to say that since it means
your uncle’s death.”

“I think Sir Edward will be glad to go,” replied Vernon candidly. “He
has lived a long life, and the latter part of it is very weary and
dreary. He told me himself that he was looking forward to the great

“And then you will be rich?”

“Yes; and you will be Lady Vernon.”

“It seems too good to be true.”

“I don’t think so, dear. Even your father can scarcely object to our
marriage when I have an assured position.”

Lucy looked down at the tea-cups. “It’s mother I’m thinking about.”

“I shall see Lady Corsoon before I leave,” said Vernon compressing his
lips, and sending a glance in the direction of his hostess. She caught
his eye and smiled graciously: so graciously indeed that he bent again
down to Lucy.

“You must be mistaken, darling,” he whispered. “Your mother is quite
friendly, and I am sure will not object in any way.”

“She has changed her mind,” answered Miss Corsoon obstinately, “at
least, she told me not to count on marrying you.”

“Strange. She gave no explanation?”

“None, and was quite cross when I asked for one.”

This view of Lady Corsoon’s attitude was supported by the fact that on
seeing Vernon conversing so earnestly with Lucy she called to the girl
to come to her. Ostensibly this was to present her daughter to a
fashionable countess who had lately arrived, but Vernon guessed that
she really wished to end the _tête-à-tête_. This was curious,
considering the conversation which he had held with his proposed
mother-in-law at the office of Nemo. It was evident that she had
changed her mind once more, and as Lady Corsoon was not a weathercock,
Vernon wondered what powerful cause could have brought about the
alteration. However, he gave up speculation as he wandered about the
room, speaking to his friends, and promised himself a full explanation
when the company departed. As Lady Corsoon had asked him to remain it
was evident that she intended to let him know what was the matter. And
Vernon determined not to leave the house until he _did_ know. Shortly
the young man was captured by a flippant lady, voluble and somewhat
silly, who gave him a surprising piece of information. “Oh, Mr.
Vernon, I am so glad to see you,” she babbled gushingly, “you really
must come to the–the bazaar–the great bazaar.”

“Never heard of it, Mrs. Crimer.”

“You silly man; don’t you read the papers? One of the Princesses is to
have a stall, and no end of actresses and society people. It’s to be
held at The Georgian Hall in aid of Homeless Hindoos.”

“Really!” said Vernon idly, “why are they homeless?”

“Oh, I don’t exactly know,” gushed Mrs. Crimer vaguely; “it’s a flood,
or a fire, or a blizzard.”

“I don’t think they have blizzards in India.”

“Perhaps they don’t; how clever you are, Mr. Vernon. But all I do know
is that the poor things want money, and we hope to make heaps by this
bazaar. There will be lovely things sold, and games and flower stalls
and sweets and fortune-telling,” babbled the flippant lady

“Fortune-telling?” Vernon, paying little attention, only caught the
last word with any degree of clearness. “Of course. What would bazaars
be without fortune-telling? And this time it’s really genuine.

“What!” Vernon spoke so loudly that several people jumped, and the
flippant Mrs. Crimer put her gloved hands to her ears with a pretty
gesture of pain.

“You dreadful man, how you bellow! Yes; Diabella has a tent in the
grounds at the back of The Georgian Hall–we hope it will be a sunny
afternoon, you know–and intends to charge everyone ten shillings. You
know, she usually charges a guinea, but we think we’ll get more by
asking less.”

“But I thought,” Vernon carefully commanded his voice, “I thought,
that Diabella had retired from business?”

“So she has. That delightful Granny has taken her business. I’m going
to see her and ask about my Affinity.”

“Your husband?”

“Oh, no,” said Mrs. Crimer airily; “he’s only my husband, you know.
But I must have an Affinity: someone who is a spiritual lover. And

Vernon ruthlessly cut her short. “How did you get Diabella?”

“Really, I don’t know,” murmured Mrs. Crimer vaguely. “Someone asked
her, or she asked herself. I don’t know which. But she is to be there
in her Egyptian dress and wearing an Egyptian mask and in an Egyptian
tent. Do go and have your fortune told.”

“I shall,” said Vernon grimly, and inwardly rejoicing over the chance
that was placing Diabella in his power. “And do you—-”

“No.” Mrs. Crimer spread out her hands with a shrug. “I really can’t
talk to you any more. Everyone is going and I have heaps and heaps of
dear, delightful people to see. Good-bye! so glad you will come to the
bazaar. Quite angelic it will be–quite–quite.” And the flippant lady
babbled her way to the hostess, who was now taking rapid leave of her
various guests. Lucy had disappeared, as Vernon soon learned by a
glance round the room, so he sat down and waited until Lady Corsoon
could give him her promised ten minutes’ explanation. He would have
liked to have had a chat with Sir Julius, if only to enlist him in
favour of the marriage by dropping a hint regarding the expected
inheritance. But the financier rarely put in an appearance at his
wife’s “At Homes,” finding them far too frivolous for a man of his
capacity. So Vernon decided that if Lady Corsoon’s explanation did not
prove satisfactory he would interview Sir Julius and formally ask for
the hand of Lucy. With the credentials of a soon-coming title, a
lordly mansion and three thousand a year, he hoped to have his
proposals well received. At a former interview the baronet had scoffed
at his pretensions; but now things were changed for the better, and
the chances were that all would go well.

“Now, Mr. Vernon,” said Lady Corsoon, when the last guest had shaken
hands and departed, “we are alone and can have a talk. What news of
your search?”

“I have no news,” replied Vernon placing a chair for the lady. “The
Spider cannot be found.”

“Only seven days remain and I must give my answer then, Mr. Vernon.
You know the terms: either I pay two thousand pounds or my husband,”
she winced, “is informed that I sold those family jewels to pay my
Bridge debts.”

“I am sorry, Lady Corsoon, but as yet I have not caught the man.” She
made a gesture of despair. “Oh, what is the good of being sorry? I
came to you as a practised detective,” this time it was Vernon who
winced; “at least, Mr. Maunders assured me that you were,” she
hastened to say.

“Very kind of Mr. Maunders,” said Vernon sarcastically. “Go on.”

“Well, I came to you for assistance, and you have done nothing.”

“I have done everything that I could do,” said Vernon drily, “but The
Spider is too clever for me. As he has baffled the entire police force
it is no shame for me to confess as much.”

“What do you intend to do?”

“I can’t say,” said Vernon, thinking of a possible meeting with
Diabella at The Homeless Hindoos’ Bazaar. “In a few days I may have

Lady Corsoon shook her head. “I can’t afford to wait, since the time
is so short. Of course, you know that your marriage with Lucy depends
upon your getting me out of this unpleasant position?”

Vernon felt inclined to say that she had placed herself in the said
position, but he restrained himself, as it was useless to make an
enemy of her, and merely bowed.

“Very good,” went on the lady sharply, “if you don’t catch this Spider
and close his mouth and regain those jewels which he got from the
pawnshop you don’t marry Lucy. In any case you are not a good match.”

“I am now, Lady Corsoon. My uncle has been reconciled to me and has
made me his heir. Soon I shall be Sir Arthur Vernon, with a good

“Oh, my dear man,” Lady Corsoon waved a jewelled hand impatiently,
“there are plenty of baronets and knights with moderate incomes who
would be glad to marry Lucy for herself, let alone her expectations
from her father. My conditions are that you should get me out of this
trouble. Can you?”

“I shall try; I can say no more.”

“Then listen to me,” said the lady firmly. “A few days ago I received
a letter from The Spider.”

“Ah!” Vernon nursed his chin and swung his leg. “So that is why you
have changed your mind with regard to my wooing of Lucy?”

“Who told you that I had changed my mind, sir?” she asked abruptly.
“Lucy hinted something, and then I saw that you separated us in—-”

“There, there! I understand.” Lady Corsoon waved her hand again. “You
are right. I have changed my mind, as The Spider has given me another
chance; but, of course, if you can catch him and make him hold his
peace and can recover the family jewels I pawned, I am willing to keep
to my agreement with you and support you in marrying my daughter.”

“The Spider has given you another chance,” repeated Vernon sitting up.
“And what may that be? Have you the letter?”

“It’s locked away. As I did not expect you to-day I did not put it in
my pocket. But I can tell you what he says.”

“The Spider?”

“Yes, of course,” said Lady Corsoon quickly. “He tells me that if I
will pay him ten thousand pounds in twelve months he will place me in
receipt of that amount a year by proving that I am entitled to my late
brother’s money. Strange, is it not, since my niece Ida is Martin’s

“Very strange,” replied Vernon mechanically. This news proved to him
more conclusively than ever that Diabella was connected with The
Spider, and, if not the blackmailer herself, worked in concert with
him. But until he could lay hands on the woman he determined to say
nothing to Lady Corsoon about the matter. “How long does he give you
to answer this new demand?”

“Two months,” said Lady Corsoon, triumphantly; “so at least I have
gained time, and much may happen.”

“As you say, much may happen. How does he propose to place you in
possession of this income. Does he say?”

“No.” Lady Corsoon wrinkled her brows. “He simply makes the offer.
Certainly Ida inherits as next-of-kin, but it may be that this
Spider–who seems to know everything–has found a will giving the
income to me. Then,” she hesitated, “there is another condition.”

“What is it?”

“One you won’t like. If I get this money I am to consent to the
marriage of Lucy with–with—-”

“With whom?” asked Vernon jumping up. “Don’t keep me in suspense.”

“With Constantine Maunders,” said Lady Corsoon coolly.