She fired another shot

There was a long pause, a sinister lull in the tempest of passion
which was raging in that quiet, prosaic room. Gasping with impotent
passion, Maunders lay, resting his head against the door, an obstacle
which prevented the guilty woman from escaping. Not that she attempted
to escape. With a deadly white face, with steady, cold, malignant
eyes, like those of a snake, and with a contemptuous smile on her thin
lips. The Spider, visible at last in all her brazen wickedness, stood
defiantly at bay. Towton, with Ida clinging to his arm almost
terrified out of her senses, stared aghast at the evil being who had
been such a curse to many. The ominous silence was like the year-long
moment before the bursting of a bomb.

Ida, with chattering teeth and trembling limbs, was the first to
recover the use of her tongue; but she could scarcely form the
words. “Oh, God! oh, God!” she whimpered, hiding her face on her
lover’s breast; “it’s too awful. I never thought–I never
thought–oh–oh–oh!” She broke down with a strange, hysterical,
choking cry, and would have fallen to the ground but that the Colonel
placed her gently in a near chair.

Then he turned with military precision to face Miss Hest. “You are The
Spider?” he asked in dry, precise tones, and now entirely master of

“Yes,” she replied coolly, and her mouth closed with a triumphant

“You infernal fiend—-”

“Gently! Gently! Hard names break no bones, Colonel. You should be
more of a man than to throw words at a woman.”

“Are you a woman?”

“Yes,” gasped Maunders, raising himself on his elbow and wiping the
froth from his pale lips; “she is Frances Hest right enough. Her
brother is a myth invented by herself to mask her devilries. But
Frances or Francis–she is The Spider!”

“I did not mean that exactly,” said Towton in his hard voice; “but I
asked if one capable of the enormities credited to The Spider can
possibly be a woman.”

“I am The Spider,” said Miss Hest with a shrug. “There is your

“You are a demon.”

“More names! Really, Colonel Towton, you are very childish. You sink
to the level of that fool,” and she pointed scornfully to Ida, who was
weeping in the chair as though her heart would break.

“To think that I should have been her friend,” moaned Ida with a fresh
burst of tears and hiding her face.

“You little fool,” said Frances in a gentle, dangerous voice. “I have
been a better friend to you than you think. But that I pitied you as
being a poor, weak, silly worm, I would have murdered you long ago.”

“You murdered my father,” shivered Ida, not daring to meet the cold
eyes which rested on her prostrate form.

“Martin Dimsdale was not your father.”

“You–you–you murdered him.”

“Yes, I did.”

“What!” Towton could scarcely believe his ears. “You admit the crime?”

Frances yawned ostentatiously. “If I admit that I am The Spider it
follows that I must have murdered Dimsdale.”

“Well, no,” replied Towton, truthfully and justly. “You may have
employed Hokar to strangle him.”

“That is very good of you,” said Frances satirically, “but I don’t
place my own sins on the shoulders of others. Hokar taught me how to
strangle in the Thug fashion certainly, but he did not kill Dimsdale.
I did.”

“Still, I don’t believe that the murder was premeditated,” insisted

“Upon my word,” said Miss Hest good-humouredly and as coolly as though
she were gossiping over a cup of tea, “one would think you were
counsel for the defence. No, you are right. I did not intend to murder
Dimsdale. Having got you out of the way—-”

“You mean that you got Vernon out of the way?”

“Of course,” assented Frances, sitting down and crossing her legs in a
gentlemanly fashion; “but you must excuse my bad memory, as I have so
much to think of. I got Vernon out of the way, as I overheard, and
Maunders there overheard, the arrangement for a trap. We were both on
the verandah.”

“And I was with you,” wailed Ida, shivering again. “So you were,” said
Miss Hest raising her eyebrows, “but you heard nothing. Maunders
caught a word or two through the open window of the library and warned
me. While you, my dear Ida, were talking to him I stole round the
corner and listened. Knowing all about the trap, I had Vernon decoyed
to the Kensington house, and at the appointed time I went into the
library, masked and cloaked, as were the other guests at the ball.
Dimsdale was waiting for me. I stole up behind him and slipped a
handkerchief round his neck.”

“Oh!” The Colonel was revolted. “And you say that the crime was not

“I say truly. I simply prepared to strangle him slightly should he
have made an outcry. Remember, I was in a dangerous position and could
not stand on ceremony. Had Dimsdale given me the money and permitted
me to leave by the window I would have spared his life. As it was, he
saw me in the mirror, which was directly in front of him.”

“But you were masked: he could not recognise you?”

“I am coming to that. He waited for a moment, until I made my demand
for the money, then suddenly threw back his hand, and before I guessed
his intention he tore the mask from my face. When he recognised me I
was obliged, for my own safety, to strangle him. As the handkerchief
was in position I simply tightened it, and he was soon dead. Then I
searched for the money, but, not being able to find it, I resumed my
mask and returned to the ballroom. Maunders, of course, was with me
all the time, and awaited my return.”

“I did not know that you had committed a murder,” said Maunders

“No, I did not tell you at the time: it would have spoilt your
pleasure. But when Ida learned the truth by entering the library you
guessed what had taken place. I kept you with me for your own sake, to
provide an _alibi_ should you be suspected, as I feared Vernon might
be clever enough to guess that you had something to do with it. As a
matter of fact, he did hint at it when he called many days later, but
I was enabled to say that you were with me all the time, and so he was
put off the scent.”

“I remember,” murmured the Colonel to himself, but not so low as not
to be overheard by Miss Hest’s marvellously sharp ears. “Vernon was
quite satisfied when you provided the _alibi_ for Maunders. He never
suspected _you_.”

“No one ever suspected me,” said Frances coolly. “There is no need for
me to speak of my own cleverness. Anyone who can baffle the police as
I have done has no need to boast.”

“But why, in heaven’s name, with your abilities, did you embark on
such an evil course?” asked Towton amazed at her _sang-froid_.

“Fate, Fortune, Destiny: what name you will,” said Miss Hest
carelessly. “But you have tried to exonerate me, Colonel, and because
of that you shall hear the whole story,” and, leaning forward, she
pulled the bell-rope.

“Remember, I shall repeat all you say to the police,” warned Towton.

“I am not afraid of the police,” retorted Frances with a shrug; “all
my plans are made–to escape. As that fool,” she pointed to Maunders
lying sullenly on the floor, “has betrayed me twice I give him to you
as a sacrifice. But I shall never stand in the dock, you may be sure.”

“Will you kill yourself?” cried Ida, terrified at this strength of

“No, my dear. I am too much in love with life. You shall know my plan
presently. Meantime, you shall hear how I came to be a blackmailer, as
you have already heard why I murdered Dimsdale, to my misfortune.”

“To your misfortune, indeed! sharply.

“You may well say so, Colonel. I never intended to soil my hands with
blood, least of all with that of a man whom I liked and who was kind
to me. Don’t sigh, Ida; after all, I did not shed his blood, as I
merely strangled him. But that death brought you and Vernon in chase
of me, Colonel, and so I am hunted down. Still, had Maunders been
true, I should have been safe. You knew Francis Hest as the criminal,
thanks to Maunders. I merged the brother in the sister and made
everything safe. Now,” she shrugged her shoulders, “I must flit.”

“You shall go to prison with me,” panted Maunders furiously.

“I think not,” rejoined Miss Hest contemptuously. “Don’t you know me
well enough yet to be aware that I provide against all contingencies.
Come in!” she added, raising her voice, and, when the door opened,
looked at Towton. “I shall ask my old nurse, Miss Jewin, to relate the
beginning of my career; at a later time I can take up the tale, and
then our tumbled-down friend yonder can finish the story. Sarah, enter
and close the door.”

Miss Sarah Jewin was peaked-faced and white, with thin lips, scanty
grey hair and cold grey eyes. She was thin and bony and very tall, so
that in her plain black dress she looked like a line–length without
breadth. As she entered Maunders with a groan hoisted himself into a
chair. Miss Jewin had already pushed him aside when she entered the
room and, in place of replying to her mistress, stood looking at his
scowling, haggard face with a look of consternation. Maunders replied
to the look with petty triumph.

“Yes, I got out,” he said, rubbing the ragged beard which disfigured
his well-moulded chin. “I wrenched a bar out of the window and climbed
down by the ivy. Now the murder’s out, and you and your hellish
mistress are about to be brought to book.”

“Don’t mind him, Sarah,” said Frances lazily and leaning back in her
chair to light a cigarette; “you are safe and so am I. Let the fool
talk. In the meantime, tell Colonel Towton here how I came to England
and how you knew that Ida was merely Dimsdale’s adopted daughter.”

“I thought you wanted these things kept secret,” said Miss Jewin in
dismay and turning pale with dread at the situation in which she found

“The time for secrets is past, Sarah. Shortly, thanks to your having
allowed Maunders to escape and to Colonel Towton’s sense of justice,
the hue and cry will be out against the whole of us. Is Hokar at his

“Yes. He went away when you gave orders.”

“That’s all right. I’ll escape, sure enough, and so will you. We’ll
leave Maunders behind to face justice: he can declare himself to be
The Spider instead of me if he chooses.”

“Oh!” Miss Jewin started back looking terrified. “Do they know—-”

“Maunders has told them, you dear old idiot. But there’s no time to be
lost, Sarah; tell your story.”

“And be frank,” broke in the Colonel, who was truly amazed at Miss
Hest’s cool composure. “If you turn King’s evidence you may receive a
short sentence for your complicity.”

Sarah Jewin folded her arms primly. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I
won’t receive any sentence at all. I am quite sure that Miss Frances
will save me from going to prison.”

“I fail to see how she can save herself, let alone you,” said Towton
coldly. “My horse is at the door. After placing Miss Dimsdale in
safety I shall ride to Gatehead and send for the police. You needn’t
chuckle, Miss Hest, and think you will escape meantime. I shall raise
the village and you will be carefully watched.”

“You can act as you please,” said Frances coolly. “I am not The Spider
for nothing, and I shall baffle you as I have baffled others. Meantime
since you were so just to me, I shall satisfy your curiosity, which I
am sure is very great. Sarah, tell your story.”

“One moment,” said Towton, turning to the prim woman, “you lured
Vernon into the kitchen of that empty Kensington house?”

She dropped an ironical curtsey. “Yes, sir. Miss Frances was pleased
that I managed so cleverly.”

Ida stared wide-eyed at the shameless looks and speech of the
housekeeper, and Towton frowned. That these creatures should so
audaciously confess their crimes when they knew he would shortly
summon the police puzzled him greatly. Also, remembering the wonderful
craft of The Spider, he felt uneasy as to what might happen, but he
could not conjecture in what way she could extricate herself and her
accomplice from the trap in which they were safely caught. However, he
made no comment on Miss Jewin’s insolence, but merely ordered her to

“About thirty-five years ago,” said Miss Jewin, plunging into her
story without any preliminary explanation, “I was in India and nurse
to Mrs. Hest, who was the wife of Captain Theodore Hest, stationed at
Bombay. The Captain’s father, who lived here, was angry when his son
went into the Army, and cut him off with a shilling, but my master
believed that if a son were born to inherit the estates his father
would relent. When my mistress’s baby proved to be a girl he was much
disappointed. However, as his father was old and might die before he
found out the trick, he sent home news that the baby was a boy, and
had her baptised Francis.”

“So you see,” broke in Miss Hest who was smoking quietly, “that my
real name is Francis, and by law I am a man. As a woman I am Frances,
so there is merely the difference of one letter. Go on, Sarah.”

“She,” said Miss Jewin, pointing to her mistress, “was dressed as a
boy and brought up as a boy, so that the estates might come to her. My
master’s father relented when he heard that he had, as he supposed, a
grandson, and made a will in the boy’s favour.”

“The boy, you understand, Colonel, being a girl–myself,” said Frances
for the sake of clearness.

“I quite understand,” said the Colonel frowning. “Go on.”

“Then my master and mistress were carried off within a month of one
another by fever,” continued Miss Jewin. “They died in Burmah, where
the Captain had gone with his regiment. I then took charge of Miss
Hest, who was always called Master Francis, and came to Gerby Hall.
Old Mr. Hest, the grandfather, just lived six months longer, but he
died under the impression that his grand-daughter was a grandson. Miss
Frances thus became possessed of the property.”

“Didn’t the lawyer know that she was a girl?” asked Towton surprised.

“No. As she had always been brought up as a boy the deception was
complete, sir,” said Miss Jewin, using the word with shameless
deliberation. “The lawyer came here and saw Miss Frances in her boy’s

“And in this way,” explained Miss Hest, “it became current gossip in
the village that I had a twin brother.”

“A twin sister, you mean?” said the Colonel doubtfully.

“Well, you might put it that way. At all events, everyone in
Bowderstyke believes to this day that there is a boy and a girl, or,
rather, a man and a woman Hest. I alternately wore male and female

“Why was there any need for you to wear female clothes at all?”

“That was my fault,” said Miss Jewin quickly. “When the succession to
the estates was settled I could not bear that Miss Frances should
masquerade any longer as a boy. I therefore dressed her in girl’s
clothes, to which she was entitled, and invented the twin story.
Sometimes she was a boy, so that the lawyers should not learn the
truth, and sometimes a girl to please me. There’s the whole story.”

“Now it’s my turn,” said Frances, throwing away her cigarette. “When I
grew up and learned how Sarah had muddled my sex in the eyes of the
world I decided to make use of it in order to earn money.”

“Why did you need money when you had the estates?” asked Towton
briefly. “Oh, those were mortgaged up to the hilt, my dear sir. I
wanted to be rich and to restore the Hest family to their old position
For this reason I posed as a philanthropist and spent the money I did.
What with the sums I have given in charity and the buildings I have
constructed, and the dam, which is my work, I think, Colonel, that the
Hests can hold their own with the Towtons. I hated to think that my
family was down while yours was up.”

“Oh,” said the Colonel with contempt, “so it’s a case of jealousy
merely. All your philanthropy was a fraud?”

For the first time Frances coloured and rose out of her chair to reply
with more emphasis. “No; you must not say that. I really have a mixed
nature, and like to help people. My good qualities are the outcome of
my evil ones. I wanted to aggrandize the Hests, certainly, since they
were lords of Bowderstyke Valley, until your family robbed them of
their property. But also I really wished to do good and help people. I
think I succeeded.”

“At the cost of murder,” said Ida resentfully.

“That was a mistake,” replied Frances glibly, “as I never intended to
murder Dimsdale. When I went to London in my woman’s dress, with very
little money in my pocket, I simply intended to earn my fortune on the
stage, and by reciting to make Francis Hest–my other self, who was
supposed to live here–wealthy and popular. I found that the reciting
did not pay and cast about for some better means of making money.
Alternately I lived in London as Frances, and in Bowderstyke as
Francis. But I could not gain my ends by honest means, and so was
obliged to take to dishonest ways. If you wish to know the devil who
tempted me to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, he is before you,” and she
pointed deliberately to Constantine.

“It’s a lie,” cried Maunders, starting to his feet with a fine
appearance of indignation. “I met you three or four years ago in
London and you discovered that I earned my living by telling fortunes
as Diabella. That was all, except,” he added, scowling, “that you
blackmailed me.”

“Quite so,” said Miss Hest quietly. “I tried my ‘prentice hand on you,
and the means of making money in this way was so easy that I took it
up as a trade and adopted you as a partner. Go on, Maunders, you tell
the rest of the story so that everything may be made clear.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” said Maunders doggedly, and casting down
his eyes as he met Ida’s sorrowful look, for he was not so entirely
lost to all sense of shame as were the other two law-breakers. “You
made me find out all manner of secrets from my clients by hinting at
things and asking questions and by—-”

“I know,” interrupted Towton waving his hand. “I am aware of how
fortune-tellers hint at a possibility and so find out the actual truth
from their too credulous clients. No wonder The Spider learned much
that people would fain have kept to themselves. Who told you about

“You know,” said Maunders sullenly, “that woman there.”

“Yes,” said Miss Jewin, still prim and shameless. “When in Burmah with
my master I heard about Mr. Dimsdale’s love for Mrs. Menteith and how,
when her husband died, he adopted the child. But I never said that Mr.
Dimsdale delayed any expedition so as to get Mr. Menteith killed.”

“No. I invented that and made Maunders tell it to you, Ida, and to
you, Colonel, with the additions,” put in Miss Hest, with great
coolness. “Also, on finding out that Ida was not Dimsdale’s daughter,
I became alarmed as to the disposition of the property, therefore I
made myself a friend of the family and secured the free run of the

“You intended to get my money?” asked Ida reproachfully.

“Certainly, my dear,” replied Frances, raising her eyebrows. “Ten
thousand a year was far too much for a chit like you to handle. I
intended to get command of the whole lot. First I hunted in the dead
of night for the will, and found it in the library desk. Then I made
Maunders tell you that you were not Dimsdale’s daughter, after the
murder, so that you might be dependent on me, since I knew a secret
which could rob you of the money. I had the secret told also to the
Colonel so that he might learn he would only have a penniless wife
should he marry you, my dear Ida.”

“Did you think so meanly of me as that?” demanded Towton, colouring

Miss Hest raised her eyebrows. “My dear sir, my experience of human
nature has shown me that there is no mean trick which the majority of
men will not commit for money. You, however, were in the minority, and
so was Ida, as you both were honest. This upset my calculations, as I
could not provide against the unseen in human nature. You, Colonel,
still insisted upon marrying Ida, and she wished to hand over the
money to Lady Corsoon. For this reason I was forced to play my last
card and produce the will.”

“But you did not intend to be found out as The Spider?”

“No, I did not,” confessed Frances calmly. “When Maunders betrayed me
at Isleworth you thought that The Spider was a man, which was exactly
what I wanted and what I counted upon should such an event as
unexpected betrayal happen. In the fog I dragged Maunders away, and we
went to the house of a friend of mine whose name I don’t intend you to
know. I wired in cypher to Miss Jewin here to send a telegram to
Francis Hest at Professor Gail’s.”

“We got that,” said the Colonel quickly, “and it threw us off the

“I thought it would,” said Miss Hest coolly. “So while you were
hunting for The Spider as a man in London I went down with
Maunders–he was disguised as an old gentleman and I resumed my
womanly dress. Then I wrote you on the plea of talking about Ida and
asked after my pretended brother to still further puzzle you.”

“You certainly succeeded,” retorted Towton, trying to conceal his
wonder at all this clever trickery; “but Ida was here and must have
known that you were absent from the house as Francis.”

“Oh, no. I appeared before her twice in this room, which is, as you
see, not very well lighted, in my male disguise and with the painted
scar on my face. She was entirely taken in.”

“The very simplicity of your disguise took me in,” said Ida angrily
and wincing at having been so blinded. “Had you worn a beard or a wig
I should have recognised you.”

“I think not,” said Miss Hest quietly and with an amused smile. “As
the man I wore my hair somewhat long—-”

“I noted that,” said the Colonel quickly.

“How clever of you. Well, then, as a woman I merely knitted in false
hair. I couldn’t wear false hair as a man since Ida would then have
been sharp enough to have recognised me. But plenty of women wear
false plaits, so I was safe on that score: she never suspected me. My
sole disguise was the cicatrice, skilfully painted, and the success of
the whole business lay–as Ida has submitted–in its boldness and in
the belief that I had a twin brother. I have always found,” added Miss
Hest musingly, “that the bolder one is the safer it is: audacity
always scores. At all events, I so closely resembled my own true self
that no one thought I was anyone else but what I represented myself to
be. As Francis I told Ida that I was taking my sister away for a week,
and so slipped up to London to meet Vernon at Lady Corsoon’s and to be
nearly trapped at Isleworth.”

“What about Hokar and Bahadur?” asked the Colonel abruptly.

“Hokar,” said Miss Jewin, making the explanation instead of Frances,
“was an old servant of Captain Hest’s and came to England with me and
the child. Later he sent for his nephew, who was Bahadur.”

“Yes. And I gave them both to Maunders when I set him up in those
splendid Egyptian rooms in Bond Street,” observed her mistress. “They
were not engaged to strangle people, as you may think, Colonel, but I
merely wished them to add to the fantastical look of the place when
fortunes were being told. That you were so nearly strangled, and
Vernon also, was your own fault and his own. You should mind your own
business, my friend.”

“I am going to mind it now,” said Towton with a frown; “but first tell
me, since you are so frank, what about Lady Corsoon’s jewels?”

“They are in this house. I gave them into Miss Jewin’s possession.”

“And Lady Corsoon can have them for one hundred pounds,” said Miss

“A very modest demand, Sarah,” said Miss Hest approvingly, “but as the
game is up I don’t think you will get more. I shall leave you to
arrange about getting the money and handing back the jewels. Lady
Corsoon will be safe, and at a small loss. But I am glad to think that
she will not get your money, Ida, dear.”

“Don’t speak to me,” cried Ida starting to her feet. “The more you say
the more I see how shamefully you have treated me.”

“I have spared you,” said Miss Hest coolly. “I could have stripped you
entirely bare had I so chosen.”

“No. By your own showing I was too clever for you.”

“Why, that is true, and simply because you were honest. I always
wished to keep on the right side of the law, or I could have got you
to make a will in my favour, and then you would have been poisoned.”

“How dare you?” shouted Towton, while Ida gave a faint cry.

“You have learned how much I dare,” said Frances with an unpleasant
look. “So, now the story is told, perhaps you will leave my house.”

Colonel Towton walked towards the door with Ida on his arm and roughly
pushed Miss Jewin aside. “I shall place Miss Dimsdale—-”

“Miss Menteith,” sneered Frances.

“In safety,” continued Towton without noticing the interruption, “and
then I shall ride for the police.”

“I shall come, too,” cried Maunders starting to his feet. “She will
lock me up again and perhaps may kill me.”

“Stay where you are,” commanded Frances sharply. “I intend to—-”

Maunders did not wait to hear the end of the sentence. Seeing that
Towton and Ida blocked the door he made a rush at the nearest window
and sprang out of it with a dexterity begotten of sheer fear. Whether
Frances intended to take him with her when she fled, or whether she
intended to murder him he could not say, but he preferred to trust in
the mercy of the law rather than in that of the woman who had been his
evil genius. Crazy with terror, he tumbled to the ground, and Towton,
along with Ida, ran to the front door, to see him speeding across the
grass. A moment later and Frances, with a revolver in her hand, leaped
from the window in pursuit. From the expression on her face she
evidently intended nothing less than murder.

Towton hastily unbuckled the bridle from the ring and flung himself on
his horse. “Place your foot on my toe, Ida,” he commanded; “up you
get. There,” he added, gathering up the reins as she sat on his
saddle-bow and placed her arms round his neck; “now let us alarm the
village. That poor devil will be shot if this fiendish woman is not
arrested.” And he rode forward at a moderately fast pace.

“She’ll catch him,” chuckled Sarah Jewin, who had come to the door and
was looking out from under the palm of her hand. “Shoot, Miss Frances.

Maunders, finding that he was being chased, could not make directly
for the gate and dodged behind some shrubs. Frances sighted him and
fired a shot. It winged him, for he gave a yell of fear and ran
directly towards her in the open. She fired another shot, which struck
him in the breast, and he pitched forward at her feet. Just as she
fired a third shot into his prostrate body there came a noise like
thunder and a terrible cry from Miss Jewin.

“The signal! The signal! The dam’s burst!” and she bolted into the

In a flash Towton comprehended and set spurs to his horse. Frances
strove to fly, but Maunders with a last effort caught at her foot and
she fell heavily, fighting for freedom like a wild cat. The next
moment he had her by the throat. And in the distance a mighty roaring
struck the ears of all as the flood came down gigantically.

Towton could not quite understand the situation, as there was no time
to consider matters. All he knew was that the Bolly Dam had burst, and
even had Miss Jewin not spoken, the appalling noise would have
informed him of the catastrophe. With Ida in his arms he spurred his
horse frantically out of the gate and across the village bridge. He
found the crooked street filled with people, called out by the
unexpected thunder.

“The dam’s burst: get on the high ground,” shouted Towton, and with a
yell of fear men, women, and children began to run wildly in the
direction of the gorge and to disappear amongst the houses in the hope
of gaining some level beyond the height of the down-coming flood. But
there was scanty time for safety. The hollow booming sound of the
waters plunging through the narrows sounded ever nearer and nearer
with terrible distinctness: it seemed as though the waters were
bellowing for their prey. In a moment the Colonel comprehended that it
was too late to skirt the village and gain the winding road, where
they would be safe. Ida gave a cry of alarm as he wrenched round the
now startled horse and clattered through the village street on his way
down the valley. It seemed the only chance.

“I’ll save you yet, my darling,” muttered Towton, setting his teeth.
“We must make for Gatehead,” and he drove his spurs into the animal,
which now was becoming unmanageable with the roaring of the flood.
Ida, almost insensible with terror, clung to her lover’s neck, and the
horse, making no more of the double burden than if it had been a
feather, tore at top speed along the road between the torrent and the
precipice. There was no safety on either side, as the precipice could
not be climbed, and the dry bed of the stream merely offered a deeper
grave. Fortunately, the road sloped gradually to the mouth of the
valley, some two miles away, therefore the downward trend offered
extra means to escape the pursuing greedy waters. A backward glance
showed Towton that a tremendous flood was shooting out of the
bottle-mouth of the upper gorge with terrific rapidity. The whole of
the huge lake, artificial as well as natural, was emptying itself in
one vast outpour, and owing to the narrowness of the valley the
concentrated force was gigantic. If the flood caught them they would
either be dashed to pieces against the rocks or would be borne
onward–horse and maid and man–to be expelled at Gatehead, as if
fired from the mouth of a cannon.

“Oh, God, save us! Oh, God, save us!” was all that Ida could moan.

“He will; He will,” cried Towton, riding under spur and whip with a
mad joy in the adventure, perilous as it was. “He will save the
innocent and punish the guilty. Never fear, never fear, my darling.”

On roared the enormous body of water, curling like a mighty wave
crested with foam and glistening like a colossal jewel in the serene
sunshine. It passed with a hoarse triumphant screaming over the fated
village, and in a single moment Bowderstyke was not. Bearing _débris_
and bodies of cattle and men, women and children on its breast, the
water rolled majestically on its destroying way. Like a wall of steel
it stood up, stretching from wall to wall of the valley, and before it
tore the terrified horse, warned by its instinct of rapidly
approaching danger.

“We are lost! we are lost!” screamed Ida, hiding her face on Towton’s
shoulder. “We can never escape. It’s a mile further.”

“There’s a crack–a path–a break in the precipice,” panted the man,
almost despairing of saving what he loved best in the world. “If we
can gain that we can scramble up, and–and—- Great God! How it

From the sides of the valley trees were being wrenched up by their
roots, and even the stones lying in the bed of the torrent were being
lifted and swept onward like pieces of straw. Owing to the increasing
breadth of the valley the shouting and the level of the flood had
somewhat lessened, but the hoarse, steady murmur with which it
smoothly advanced seemed to be even more terrible than its triumphant
screaming. Nearer and nearer it rolled, towering, as it seems to the
desperate fugitives, right up to the high heavens. The horse raced
onward furiously, but there seemed to be no chance of escaping that
rapidly approaching death-wave, which swept along with relentless
speed. The man and woman were both silent, and both prayed inwardly,
as they faced the eleventh hour of death.

And it was the eleventh hour, for there was still hope. Rounding a
corner swiftly Towton rose in his stirrups and sent forth a cry almost
as hoarse as that of the flood. A short distance ahead he saw a streak
of green grass marking the ruddy stone face of the precipice, and knew
that here was the crack to which he had referred. It was a mere chink
in the wall, of no great width, caused, no doubt, by the volcanic
action which had formed the valley in far distant ages. Many a time as
a lad had Towton climbed up that narrow natural staircase to the moors
above, but never had he expected to find it a means of preserving his
own life and the life he valued dearer than his own. Setting his
teeth, he glanced backward and then urged the horse to renewed
efforts. The wall of water was almost upon them, advancing with
terrible and steady persistence. The last moment seemed to be at hand.

Suddenly the Colonel wrenched at the horse’s bit and pulled the animal
up with a jerk. As it fell back on its haunches he slipped off with
the almost insensible girl in his arms and ran desperately towards the
sloping green bank, which showed itself like a port of safety between
the bare, bleak stones. As he gained it the horse, having recovered
itself, rushed past with a loose bridle and with the stirrups lashing
its sides. But Towton paid no heed. Almost in a dream he scrambled up
the bank, bearing Ida as though she were a feather-weight. With
straining eyes and bursting temples, and with his heart beating
furiously, he clambered desperately, dragging the girl rather than
carrying her, as he needed at least one hand free to grip the tough
grasses. Fortunately the slope was gradual, and had it not been there
would have been no hope of escape. As it was, when they were a
considerable way up the mighty wave surged majestically past, and its
waters shot up the crevice with gigantic force. This was rather a help
than a hindrance, as it assisted the almost broken man to mount
higher. But to the end of his days Colonel Towton never knew how he
saved his wife. All he could remember was straining upward, dragging
the now insensible woman with aching limbs and a blood-red mist before
his eyes. When his brain was somewhat clearer he found himself bending
over Ida in a turfy nook, while barely three feet below him the grey
water gurgled and sang and bubbled as if in a witch’s cauldron.

“Safe! Safe!” muttered Towton, and dropped insensible across the
inanimate body of the woman he had so miraculously saved from a
terrible death.

* * * * * *

Nine months later, when the cuckoo had brought summer to the land, and
the earth was gay with flowers, two married men met unexpectedly in
the viridarium of the Athenian Club. They came face to face under the
peristyle, and after mutual glances of surprise and congratulation
burst out laughing. Then followed a warm handshake and merry speech.

“Well, married man,” said Vernon, as he sat opposite his friend at a
small table and ordered a half-pint of champagne to signalise the
happy meeting. “So you are back from your honeymoon?”

“As you see,” said the military benedict; “and you have returned with
Lady Vernon from the classic shores of Italy.”

“We came back last week, and are staying in town for a few days before
going to Slimthorp.”

“Welcome by the tenantry, triumphal arches, addresses, dinners and
speeches, and what not, I suppose?” observed the Colonel smiling.

“Oh, yes. The tenants are delighted to have a master who will take an
interest in their doings and a mistress who can act the Lady
Bountiful. Lucy and I are about to enter into our kingdom, so we
intend to take full advantage of the satisfaction of our loving

“You are devilish lucky, Vernon. I have scarcely a loving subject
left, and Bowderstyke Valley has been swept clean from end to end.”

“As I saw,” replied Sir Arthur with a shudder at the recollection. “By
jove! Colonel, you don’t know what I suffered that afternoon when I
thought that you and Ida were smashed to pieces. Do you remember how
Lucy fainted when you appeared coming across the moorland with Ida
hanging half dead on your arm? It was a meeting of the living and the

“Any woman less plucky than Ida would have died,” said Towton, his
face lighting up with a fond smile. “When we got beyond the highest
level of the water she had fainted, and then I did. It was Ida who
recovered first, and, by Jupiter, sir, she brought me round! How we
climbed to the top of the moor I don’t know, but she was as plucky as
a man, bless her!”

“How is she now, Colonel?”

“As happy as the day is long, although I don’t deny that we both feel
sad when we look at our wrecked property. However, with her money we
intend to rebuild Bowderstyke Village and to reconstruct Gatehead,
which was also destroyed, if you remember. I daresay we’ll be able to
inveigle people to live in the valley by offering land at low terms.
In a year or two we will have plenty of tenants to give you and Lady
Vernon a rousing welcome when you pay us a visit.”

“That won’t be for some time, Colonel, as we have to look after our
own kingdom. I am glad to see that you are looking so well. When was
it that we last met?”

Towton laughed and his eyes twinkled. “You must be happy to have lost
your memory so completely,” he said with a jolly laugh. “Why, after
our mutual wedding breakfast at Lady Corsoon’s; don’t you recollect?
Weren’t we married in great style on the same day, and didn’t you go
to Italy and Greece for a honeymoon while Ida and I returned to The

“It all seems like a dream,” said Vernon absently, and a cloud passed
over his face, “and in my newly-found happiness I have tried to forget
these sad memories. We never had an exhaustive talk over things,
Colonel, and now that our wives are not here I should like to ask a
few questions.”

“Ask away. It’s just as well we are alone. Ida doesn’t care to talk of
that dreadful day or of her association with Miss Hest.”

“Nor does Lucy. That dreadful woman! What a dare-devil she was, and as
clever as they make them.”

“She was a sight too clever,” replied Towton drily, “as she burnt her
fingers at the last. I suppose you know that Miss Jewin was caught?”

“You wrote me something about it.”

“Didn’t Lady Corsoon tell you anything?”

“No. Why should she?” said Vernon with a look of surprise.

“Well, as you knew the secret of her pawning those jewels, I thought
she would have told you of their recovery.”

“What! Were they recovered? Who had them?”

“Miss Jewin. She escaped, but Drench caught her. She sent for me
before she committed suicide.”

Vernon looked horrified. “Did she kill herself, poor wretch?”

“Yes. She hanged herself by her garters in her cell. I expect she knew
that she would get a long term of imprisonment, and so preferred to
get out of the world. But, as I said, she sent for me and told me
where the jewels were. She also threw a light on the catastrophe of
the Bolly Dam breaking.”

“We knew that Hokar exploded a charge of dynamite,” said Vernon
looking inquiringly at his friend. “Don’t you remember how he could
not get away in time, and confessed when dying that he had been
ordered by Miss Hest to blow up the dam when she gave the signal by
firing a revolver.”

“Oh, yes. I remember that as it all came out in the papers,” said
Towton with a shrug; “and that’s just the point. Listen, and—- Oh,
here’s the wine.”

Vernon sent away the waiter after he filled their glasses, and the two
gentlemen drank to their dear wives and to a happy future for
themselves as married men. When this ceremony was ended, the Colonel
related what he had learned from unfortunate Miss Jewin before she
passed away.

“I, dragged him down in disguise to Gerby Hall, and there locked him in
an upper room. Miss Jewin acted as gaoler, but in spite of her vigilance
the wretched man managed to break one of his prison bars and escape. He
then appeared in the drawing-room and denounced Miss Hest. Always
prepared for further treachery on the part of Maunders, and never being
in the habit of leaving anything to chance, Frances had arranged that
she should have the dam broken down in the event of the police coming
to arrest her, and so they would be destroyed.”

“But she would be destroyed with them,” said Vernon at this point,
“and as a matter of fact she was. Don’t you remember how her body and
that of Maunders clutching one another in a death-grip were found when
the flood subsided? She anticipated her death.”

“She did nothing of the sort, sir, as Miss Jewin told me. The betrayal
of her identity with Francis Hest and with The Spider came
unexpectedly because of Maunders’ escape. But, always making things
sure, she had already posted Hokar at the dam, where he had placed a
charge of dynamite under the wall. Miss Hest didn’t expect trouble, as
she thought she had thrown dust in my eyes by the clever way in which
she had acted.”

“I think she did, Colonel, and very successfully,” remarked Vernon

“I admit it. She was a wonderfully clever woman and extremely
unscrupulous. However, on the chance that some danger might come along
she posted Hokar at Bolly Dam and told him to fire the charge when he
heard the report of a revolver.”

Vernon nodded. “I remember on that day how the wind was blowing up the
gorge and how clearly the sounds came up from the village. Hokar heard
the shots very easily.”

“He heard two or three, and might have guessed that his infernal
mistress was not giving the agreed signal. She was shooting Maunders,
if you remember. It was her intention after we left to have escaped by
a similar crack up the side of the precipice behind Gerby Hall to that
which saved Ida and myself. But she didn’t intend to give the signal
until she was on the upward journey with Miss Jewin; Maunders was to
be left behind to drown in the house. But Miss Hest forgot for the
moment and let her temper get the better of her. By firing the shots
she gave the signal, and Hokar blew up the dam prematurely.”

“I see. But if Miss Jewin escaped why didn’t Miss Hest?”

“Ah, that’s where her Nemesis came in. Maunders caught her by the leg
and toppled her over, then he gripped her throat, and they were both

“Serve her right, and him also,” said Vernon coolly.

“I agree with you. They were a dangerous couple, and it seems like
retributive justice that Maunders should bring all her carefully-laid
plans of escape to grief. Miss Jewin at the first alarm caught up the
box of Lady Corsoon’s jewels and fled out of the back way and up the
crevice, as arranged. She concealed herself for a time, and was warned
by the exhaustive reports in the papers of what was going on.”

“That’s the worst of those papers,” said Vernon with disgust, “as I
found out when I was a detective. They warn the criminals of
everything. I suppose Miss Jewin saw how the whole story of The Spider
was set forth and appreciated the sensation it caused.”

“Of course she did. I was angry at the papers myself, for The Grange
was simply infested with reporters and journalists and photographers.
However, after the inquest the sensation died away. Everybody has,
more or less, forgotten the matter by this time. It’s just as well, as
neither I nor you, Vernon, wished to be bothered with questions.”

“Quite so. That was why I remained abroad with my wife for such a

“And that was why I went back with Ida to Bowderstyke,” said the
Colonel. “However, to continue. Drench caught Miss Jewin and she
hanged herself in her cell, as I have told you. I found the box of
jewels and returned them to your mother-in-law. Thus her husband has
never found out how she pawned them; so that’s all right.”

“I hope it has been a lesson to her.”

“Not a bit of it. I dined with her a week ago, and so did Ida.
Afterwards we went to a bridge drive and Lady Corsoon played
furiously. She’s a born gambler. But Sir Julius does not know, and
never will know, how she pawned his much-prized family jewels.”

“I wonder Miss Jewin didn’t sell them?”

“She had enough money to live on in a small way, and, of course, lived
plainly to avert suspicion. The jewels she kept as a peace-offering in
case she should be arrested. She hoped to make terms by threatening to
denounce Lady Corsoon. However, her heart failed her, and she handed
them over to me.”

“Poor woman. By the way, Colonel, what was your wife’s real opinion of
Miss Hest? I could never quite understand.”

Towton was silent for a few minutes. “It is hard to say. Ida told me
that she really liked Miss Hest for a long time, and thought that she
was a genuine friend. But Miss Hest showed the cloven foot by trying
to get Ida married to Maunders, and—-”

“Why to Maunders?”

“Because he was under Miss Hest’s thumb, and if he obtained
possession of Ida’s fortune by marriage Miss Hest undoubtedly would
have had the spending of it.”

“But this marriage to Francis. How could that be when Francis didn’t

“Oh, I think that was a mere blind to make Ida fancy Francis was a
real person and not Miss Hest in disguise. I can never understand,”
added the Colonel with a thoughtful look, “how it was that Ida didn’t
detect the woman under the man. Women are so quick in these matters.”

“It was the very boldness of the disguise,” said Vernon emphatically.
“I was taken in myself at that Georgian Hall Bazaar. A less clever
woman than Miss Hest would have made herself look utterly different to
her natural self. As it was, she scarcely changed her looks at all
save by wearing a man’s dress and painting that cicatrice on her face.
Anyone would have said that the supposed brother was the sister
dressed up. Such actually was the case, and–well, you know that
everyone was taken in. A thousand pities, Colonel, that Miss Hest did
not apply her splendid faculties to better purpose. She was undeniably
very clever.”

“A criminal genius, as we have often said when we talked of The
Spider. I must say that Professor Gail, although he admired her
talents, was staggered when he found out from the papers that she was
the renowned Spider. I believe he had a fit. However, he has now made
up endless romantic stories about her, and actually got an engagement
with his wife on the strength of having known her. It’s an ill wind
which blows no one any good.”

“If Frances Hest had lived and could have escaped hanging and
imprisonment, Colonel, she would have been engaged at a music-hall to
appear at a salary of hundreds a week. This age likes romantic

“I think Miss Hest’s criminality was prosaic in the extreme,” said the
Colonel very drily. “She couldn’t earn money honestly and therefore
took the left-handed path. All her philanthropy was a sham, and I
really believe that she had the Bolly Dam built less to supply the
villages with water than to protect herself from arrest.”

“But the human lives—-”

“Pooh! She thought nothing of human life, and was a kind of female
Napoleon in that way. She wrung Dimsdale’s neck as though he had been
a chicken the moment she found her personal safety was in danger. Had
he not torn off her mask and thus recognised her she would have spared
him. A marvellously clever woman: she quite took me in. I never
expected to find The Spider in her, and had not Maunders escaped to
betray her I would have believed that the non-existing Francis was the
blackguard. And more, she would have got ten thousand pounds from Ida,
and perhaps in America would have started on a new career of roguery.
However, I recovered the signed document and the cheque from the body,
so nothing was said about that matter in the papers. I was glad for my
wife’s sake.”

“What became of Bahadur?”

“He bolted from the country and has never been heard of. His uncle,
Hokar, as you know, died after the explosion.”

“And Mrs. Bedge?”

“She buried all memory of Constantine with his bones, but I think she
regards him as a martyr who was led astray by Miss Hest. Yet from the
lips of The Spider herself I learned that it was Maunders who induced
that very clever lady to become a criminal.”

“Do you think Maunders himself blackmailed his aunt?”

“He was quite capable of it. But I think Miss Hest did that to protect
Maunders from possible suspicion. For no one would think that the man
had anything to do with the matter of The Spider, who blackmailed his
adopted mother. Simply a smart trick of Miss Hest’s, Vernon, that’s

“Have some more champagne, Colonel?”

“Thank you, no more. Come along and see my wife.”

“I have to meet Lucy at Swan & Edgar’s,” said Vernon glancing at his

“I’ll go with you there first and then we can have afternoon tea

“Right you are, Colonel, on condition that you dine with Lucy and
myself at our hotel and come to the theatre afterwards.”

Towton nodded. “Well, Ida and I are up in town for a frolic, so we’ll

“When do you return to Bowderstyke?”

“In two or three days. I’m seeing about the re-building of the Bolly

“Isn’t that dangerous?” asked Vernon as they left the club. “No. I am
arranging for large channels to carry off the water. Besides, had not
the dam been blown up by that Indian beast the catastrophe would not
have taken place. Any more questions?”

“No,” said Sir Arthur after a pause. “I think you have enlightened me
on every point. We’ll talk no more of the matter.”

“Not in the presence of our wives, at all events,” said the Colonel
bluffly, and stepping out smartly along Pall Mall. “But when I think
of all the mystery and devilish cantrips we have had to do with, and
how narrowly Ida and I escaped a dreadful death, I can only thank God
that we are happily married. There’s one small domestic animal, if it
can be called so, Vernon, on which I can never look without a

“What’s that?” asked Sir Arthur, not following his friend’s train of

“What, sir! What, have you forgotten the past already?”

“Oh!” Vernon laughed, but somewhat seriously. “You mean a spider.”

“Yes,” snapped the Colonel sharply, “I mean a spider.”