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- - - - -,-.- em BIGHTS KKSKEVID.]…


em BIGHTS KKSKEVID.] THE LADY IN THE BLACK MASK I BY TOM GALLON, "Th? Author Tatterley." "Meg the Lady, 40'n, Great Gay Road, Gee, CHAPTER XrtL I TEX WOLF AT BAY. I t would be difficult to say exactly what bd been in the mind of Morris Loader when ) dispatched that note to Damia. For one ling, the mad desire to set this woman who ad tricked and deceived him, and for whom, ;ven yet, his passion was not dead; and for another, the desire, in some indefinite way, to be revenged upon her. Perhaps also he realised that for him things were closing in, and the end was near. He worked very late at the office; bo II seemed to be clearing up a great many mat- ters of one sort and another. And while he I worked he thought of those men he had seen —outside the building here, and at his cham- bers in KuiLhtsliridge-lounging men who were watching him.. He began to wonder just when one of those men or another would step quickly up to him, and say the one thing he was dreading to hear. Well-the thing was not ended yet; there would be a 10117 fight before any end could be achieved. Last of all, when he had finished work, he I unlocked that drawer in his desk in which Cleiaent had found the key; took out that key, and put it into his pocket, and locked I the drawer again. Then he .put on his hat, and lighted a cigar, and prepared to set out. He had made up his mind to walk with an air of bravado past that man who must be outside, and to take no notice when the man swung round and prepared to follow him. But it was a little disconcerting to find that there was no man lliere. It was late, and the street was empty; he looked to right and to left, as though he could scarcely under- stand it. But for some reason or other the watching had been abandoned. He got a cab, and went home to Knights- bridg k'. He was quite certain in his own mind that he would find a man waiting there; but again there was no one. He went tip the stairs with a lighter heart, emilingi to himself. "They're off on another tack," he muttered as he went. "I wonder what the new game is? His manservant handed him a note, and he tore it open eagerly. It was the note which Damia had written at the suggestioa of Bellamy, confirming the appointment for two o'clock that night. He smiled quietly as he locked the note away; things were going very well for him. After all, he need not have troubled; things always had gone well for him. He went out to his club and dined; he met one or two men there whom he knew, and chatted carelessly with them. Usually he was not a man to talk much with his fellows or give anyone more than a curt nod; but I this evening he even went out of his way to talk to men he scarcely knew. It was said of him afterwards that he seemed strangely excited. It was near to midnight when he went back to his rooms, and found that his manservant had gone to bed He lighted another cigar, and drank one or two stiff sses of whisky-and-soda; then, at the last moment, before sitting down to kill the time .that still remained, he unlocked a drawer in la cabinet, and took out a heavy revolver. He shook out the cartridges, and saw that the thing was in working order; reloaded it. and put it into his pocket. As the clock nointe.d to half-past one he got up, extin- guished the \lights. and went out. It was a fine, clear night, and at that hour ;here were but few people about. It was no -,ei' y great distance to Umber Square, and Loader walked. He came to the mews be- hind the house, and glanced quickly about him to see if by any chance there was any- one watching there; walked quickly along in the shadow of the wall, and let himself in at that back door with his key, closing the door (carefully i,-a-in afternvirds. Meanwhile, in the house itself, Damia. had" been sitting in her room, starting at shadows, watching the little silver clock on the mantelshelf, and wondering what was going to happen. She had been expecting that Bellamy would arrive, but she had seen nothing of him. Surely-he would not be likely to fail her; as much depended on it for him as for anyone else. If only Bellamy were there, as he had promised, she would feel so safe. It was horrible to wait like this through the weary hours, with no one to help her or to support her. She wished over and over again that she had never sent that note at all. A clock in the house boomed out two; but she knew that that clock was invari- ably fast. She had still a minute or two longer; and even then she might wait, per- haps, and put off the meeting a little. And then she heard a movement in the b use. A stealthy movement—just the creaking of a stair that to anyone less watchful would not have been noticeable. She gripped her hands tightly on the arms a-f the chair in which she sat, and felt as though she must scream out. Suppose, after all, she made up her mind to lock her dour, and defy anyone to come in. The man coul<L. not do anything then; be would not dare. He would wait perhaps an hour or so, and the-, go away again. Yet, on the oVher hand, Bellamy would 3urely keep his wOIrl. and the matter could I be done with and seitled to-night. How foolish of her Perhaps it was Bellamy she had heard moving in the house, and he was now in the library. She was fri°ghten- ing herself for nothing. She opened the door of the room, and 'rept out ou to the landing; then began to teal downstairs. It seemed to take a long time for her to get down; and once she almost started and cried out as a clock clobo Ho her struck the true hour. She got to ie door of the library at last, and opened j very slowly, inch by inch; everything was dark within. She -felt round the edge of the doorway, and switched on the light; Tnd then went quietly into the room, and ¡ looked aboiat her. There was no one there. fihe heaved a little sigh of relief, and w.cnt further into the room, leaving the i<or partly open. She did not sit dowa ?e moved restlessly about near the big ?sk in the middle of the room, touching ,Ihe edge of it, and always watching the loor. And now she heard distinctlv that /Movement again in the house-just ? faint ?ootfall. She drew herself upright, and ? ;huddercd, and waited, watching the door. ? It opened very slowly, and eh? could feel ier heart thundering in her breast, while yet she did not see the man. He came in it last, with a ghostly tread on the thick iarpet; he did not speak until he was quite lose to her. He carried his hat in quite his land; and he set it upon the table, and so :tood for a moment or two, looking at her vith a curious smile upon his lips. Well, my dear," he said &t last in a whisper, with his faco scarcely a foot from lers. At last! "I'm glad you've been ab? t? com V j he faltered, thinking with dismay of the alse Bellamy. I "You're not glad at a?; vou'M d?ad- I UIIY afraid," he said. "Ton v.,>v*r ";d I ell the truth, I^smia; I j ing lias always ( .een second nature to you. It used to msM ,.9 once to see how you could dcdc Gund the truth!—it was funny. I usvd to we you for it then, just as I loved you for very thing elft you did. They say that len can be fools over worm \s flete ver a greater fool than I have been, do you hink1 I don't know what you mean," she faneved, kaff in a nk)od tD A ,d away from him, and y4 held by the fas- cination of hia eyes. I've always told the truth to you." He laughed, and suddenly fhrng out his hands and caught her. and drew her close tohim. He kissed her again and again full upon the lips; she struggled a little, but only in a weak fashion, and not with any deliberate intention of getting away from him. When at last he let her go, he thrust her into a chair beside the great desk, and sat on the desk, and so looked down a..her. We've lots of time, and there's quite a great deal I have to say to yOQ-now, for the last time," he said. I think I would do it all again—every bit of it, on your account, Damia; a man such as I am only plays the fool once for the sake of a woman, but he plays it thoroughly. This is a heart to heart talk, my dear, and for once we'll tell the truth without any reserve. Have you seen that husband of yours? "I have told you before, Morris, that I am not married," she began; and then, at the look in his eyes, faltered and began again. "Well, it wasn't my fault. My guardian arranged that I should marry you, and I had to do what he said." "The truth! he cried a little wearily. "You leved me before ever I spoke to Verinder; you told me so. If you changed afterwards, that's another affair, but you know that you love me." "Paul was so insistent; he drove me into it," said Damia poutingly. "I'm always doing things on the spur of the moment like that. "Well, the spur of the moment, as you term it, has cost you pretty dearly, hasn't it?" suggested Loader. "It's been pretty much of a crash all the way round for all of us. Has that husband of yours got any money? She shook her head dismally. "His people wanted him to marry someone else," she said. "There'll be a lot of trouble over that, and he thinks they may not even ack- nowledge me, or have anything to do with me He laughed disagreeably. "That seems a cheerful prospect, doesn't it? You'd better have stuck to me, after all; I've been through quite a lot for you, my dear, and I nearly lost you once." "Nearly lost me?" she asked, bewildered. "Yes. It's been touch and go right along. Look at those hands." He stretched out his hands, palms upwards, towards her, and she looked at them in a dazed fashion. He bent a little nearer to her. "There's blood upon them," he said. She pushed her chair back a little, looking at him with horror; she could not speak. The man went on in a quiet, tense voice, and obviously enjoying her terror. Do you know who killed Daniel Yerinder? Do you know who has been look- ing on, end watching all that has been hap- pening, and seeing the newspapers? Do you know who has stood outside it all and seen them hunt that wretched girl who had no- thing whatever to do with it?" "Don't tell me," she faltered. "Please— please—I don't want to hear! "You've got to hear; that's why we meet to-night. You were always a coward, Damia; you always fought shy of anything that might startle you or frighten you. This time you've got to hear all about it—:here, alone in this dead hour of the night, and in the place where it happened. Because, you see —he thrust his face nearer to hers and laughed—"you can't get away." She watched him now with but one thought in her mind: that he was mad. His rather jjiominent eyes were gleaming, and his breath was coming fast as he talked; his face was quite close to hers as he leaned down over er. "I've got to begin at the beginning. It's all been done for you-every bit of it; I've sold my soul for you, and to-night I stand, beggared and bankrupt for a worthless doll that belongs to another man. When first 1 went to Daniel Verinder and told him that we were in love with each other and that I wtnted to marry you, I think he was the happiest fellow in the wide world. He shook hands with me again and again; he said what a splendid thing it was. Shall I tell you what he said?" She did not speak she simply looked at him and slowly and mechanically nodded her head. "He said you needed someone like myself to look after you; it seems he knew you as well as I did. He said he would make it binding; he would make a will by which all that he had would go to you, 'on the sole condition that you married me. I suppose he thought that you might change your mind. He showed me that will at the time when we were fast friends, and I saw my life clearly set out before me, with love and wealth, and all that I most desired." lie got down from the table, and took a restless turn or two about the room; pre- sently came back to her. She sat crouched together in the chair, staring at him. "Then I did a mad thing. I was ambi- tious, and I wanted to be richer-with riches that should match your own. I had had business deals with Verinder, over and over again; sometimes in partnership with him, and sometimes in the open market against him. We both had keen wits, and we did our best, in a friendly fashion, each to do better than the other. We used to laugh over those deals, and neither of us troubled a bit about fighting each other. And then I saw my chance, and I did a thing—secretly and behind his back—aiming a blow at him that should stab him, with- out his knowing who the assailant was. I had been losing rather heavily, and I wanted money this was to be one final coup that should make me rich at one stroke." He took out his handkerchief, and wiped the palms of his hands and his forehead he stood silent for a moment, listening as though for some noise in the house. Ap- parently satisfied, he went on again. "I came within touch of the law, if they had found it out it was forgery. Things like that you wouldn't understand. Verin- der found it out, and got hold of the papers that could ruin me. More than that, we had one last interview, and he told me what he meant to do. He would go home that night, and would prepare a new will, with a new clause in it. That will should sternly forbid you to marry me, under the penalty of losing all you had; that will would set forth what my crime had been. It was with that final threat that he left me." A clock somewhere in the house chimed, and from somewhere near at hand a dog barked. Damia, watching the man, thought of Bellamy, and wondered wb&n he would come, or what had kept him away. "I was mad that night; I didn't know what to do. I knew he would keep his word; and I loved you, and dared not lose you. I had arranged to go to the theatre with some friends, and while I was there I saw a scene on the stage that told me instantly what I could do. I got away from the theatre, and I camo back to this house, I half made up my mind to ring boldly and ask for him, and make a final appeal to him. I wpnt back to my rooms, and- I got from there a. Swedish knife- the sort of thing that folds up into 1 handle. I didn't quite know what doing; I came back to the house, arj I ^eot round to the mews. While I was wait- ing about there the back doo- was opened, and that col1tion of yours, Miss Tring- b"?', came oat, and W!Jkc? a>\ .y. That was so^otrt -no o'clock in the morning." "It --rafalt Ruth," sue faltered. "It was I—iu her dnes&. I went out to try and find my husbaasd; I h&dn't seen hila since we I -r, married." "Not yon?" kc aske^ amtzed. "Well- we can talk about that presently," he wenL on impatiAintb,. "'t oceurred to me that perhaps the door kad been left open, if the girl had «t^aked out like that; I went and tried it. I aot in, alid kept still for a long time; then I went to th.e library. I opened the door (jwkrtlj, aDd looked in he was sit- ting with hie back to the door, and he did not hear me. It was the click of the knife as I opened it that startled him; but I was upon him before he eould rise. I struck him twice at the back of the neck, just as I had seen the man do in the play. And he went down—and lay stilL" She was swaying a little in her cha.i1;. with her eyes half closed; it seemed as if she must faint. The man's voice went on inexorably. "I hunted among the papers, but I couldn't find anything. Then I got fright- ened, and I shut up the knife, and took it wrQb me out of the house. I knew I'd got to^^w seen by people who knew me; I went straight off to Lady Woodmason. On the way, from the window of the taxicab I threw the knife over a. wall on to some waste land. I got to 1fu..e bun-and that's the end of it." There was a ghostly silenoe in the room as the man finished his confession. Damia had stirred a little, and had put out her hands as if to stop him once or twice. He was looking at her with a curious, cynical look I upon his face; "I couldn't get the papers, and I was wor- ried about that. When I came the next day II and heard all the talk about the murder, it occurred to me that I might be able to get in again. I managed to get to that back door, and to take the key out; I carried it away with me. Then, about one o'clock in the morning, I crept in; and just as I was hunting through the papers that girl Tringham came down and surprised me. Even then I managed to get away, and no one would ever have suspected me, or would ever have known. You—little fool that you are—have spoilt the game for yourself and for me. Verinder hadn't had time to make a fresh will; you would have had the money, and I should have had you What a business you've made of it all." "What are you going to do about it? N she asked. "No one will  to do about it? sho asked. "No one will know—and I suppose you'll get away. I didn't 'mean to do any harm; I never meant to hurt anybody. After all, I shall suffer-and I've suffered a great deal already." "You?. You don't know what suffering means," he exclaimed. "You're just a cold- bloodted, selfish little beast that likes to lie soft in cottonwool and keep out of trouble. I came here to-night meaning to kill you. Do you see this? He drew the revolver from his pocket and held it pointed at her. She crouched down in the chair, looking at him with wide eyes of terror; he laughed as he let the revolvei swing to and fro in his hand. "But you're not worth it. You're wdb a mean and pitiful thing that I'm going to let you alone. And through all your life you can go with that knowledge: that the little white lies you told and the bigger black lies afterwards have been no good to you, and that in the end you've loet. Now I'm going out the way I came; because I know you won't dare to say a word about me, and I know that no one else is likely t. suspect me. Have you anything to say? There was a rattle of curtain rings at the end of the room as the curtain over an al- cove was smartly twisted back; and Bellamy stood there, looking at the man. Damia, as much surprised as Loader, made a little frightened scurry to the other end of the room, and crouched against the wall; Loader drew back, with the revolver held in hit grip, and watching Bellamy. "Mr. Loader-the game's up," said Bel- lamy sharply, with a movement towards the pocket of his coat. "I am armed, and I'm not here to stand any nonsense. I merely wanted to know how you got into this house; and I've been lucky enough to hear more than I bargained for. Drop your weapon; the game is up, I tell you. Loader stood there against the wall of the room, and looked quickly about, him; then, as Bellamy took a step towards him, he swung the revolver straight, and turned like lightning towards the girl. Sold me—have you ? he cried. And fixed straight at her. Without even a cry she went down like a mere crumpled heap of garments. Bellamy sprang forward, but Loader, with a laugh, backed away, and turned the weapon on him- self. There was a second loud report, and Loader reeled', and dropped the revolver; and fell headlong, and lay still. < It has to be recorded that Damia did not die. She was certainly very badly wounded, and lav for a long time in danger, with ample opportunity to think about things and perhaps to come to some new conclusions re- garding them. The story of that dramatic suicide, in the very room in which the mur- der had been committed, was duly told, and proved to be something more than a mere nine days' wonder. In fact, Ruth Tringham was in danger of becoming almost a heroine. But a certain young man, who had occu- pi-ed the position of confidential secretary te Mr. Morris Loader, suddenly found him- self in the unpleasant position of having nothing to do. That position is always particularly unpleasant in a big city; and poor Clement vexed his mind and wore out the soles of his boots by hunting in vain for some situation, of any sort, that might be likely to bring any grist to his par- ticular mill. He hated the thought of Ruth having to work; and yet that is what it ultimately came to, for she hadto fill an uninteresting situation as a nursery gover- ness in order to provide for herself. And all this time there hovered over them the shadow of Lady Woodmason. Lady Woodmason once or twice climbed the stairs of Pomeroy Buildings, Holborn, arriving, scant of breath, at the top, to demand that Clement should accept assistance from her, or that the girl should at all events give up being a nursery governess and come into Lady Woodmason's Tlouse. "Don't I tell you that rm a lonely woman, and that I'm getting old?" she pleaded. "There isn't a soul in the world that cares a snap of the fingers about me; and I care very much for the pair of you." No arguments moving them, the old lady finally went away, in something of a temper, roundly declaring that they were a pair of obstinate young fools, and that she would have nothing more to do with them. And still matters did not mend, and Clement had got to the point of wondering desper- ately what was going to happen to him, and was saying as much to Ruth one even- ing, when a dapper young man climbed the stairs leading to Clement's reoms, and knocked at the door. The dapper young man announced himsolf as the junior partner in a firm of solicitors who had long acted for Lady Woodmason. Most regretfully, the young man informed them that Lady Woodmason had been dis- covered that morning by her maid appa- rently lying quietly asleep; but she -< a? dead. And she had left the wh1e of her for.L})oC, wítllOut restrictions of any kind, to Cieiai^t 2'ngie-toii •?«) ^"rirtf^am. on the ejmttftieo that they were marriod to each other within one calendar njonth. "Oh, I'm sorry exclaimed Ruth, with tears in her "Sciry?" noma" led the ywvr solicitor in as to niskine n v. "Of course I'm sorry," said Iluth irdi^- nantH. "She was the ? t &i?nd 1 ever b?d." TSJs i^MD.


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