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O-O-(}-()-OO-O-O'Q-D-{3-Ç'Ç 0 R '(?A.L? L THE FLAMBARDS MYSTERY ??j X By SIR WILLIAM MAG NAY, BT., 6 X Anihor of "The Heiress of the Season," "The Red Chancellor," &c. CHAPTER 1. I AN INVITATION TO DEtTKra. I It happened many years ago, to be pre- cise, in the winter before Gelston became an A.R.A. I am an architect, and I had got a commission from a certain Mr. Luke Rixon to restore the chapel of St. Gregory in the parish church of Morningford. This chapel, an interesting example of Early Decorative work, having been in disuse for many years, had been partitioned off from the body of the church and allowed to fall into decay. Exactly what induced Mr. Luke Rixon to take upon himself its restoration I never could make out. He lived about a mile from the little town in a big, rather gloomy house on the way to Mornimtgford Road Station. He was reputed to be a. rich man and to have inherited from his father a considerable for- tune. Certainly, he gave one the idea of being well-to-do, although he kept a very small establishment at Flam bards. Stilly he treated me liberally enough in the matter of the chapel's restoration, giving me practic- ally a free hand, and, indeed, rather brush- ing aside the questions of cost which I was ?Fund sometimes to put to him. At the same time, I could not help feeling whenever we met that he was one of the last men in the world to whom I should have looked to put such a work in hand. Let me come to my story, which opens on the morning of a. New Year's Eve. I was at work with my assistants in the St. Gregory's chapel, opening out the cor- belling and tracery, when my name was called from below. I looked down and saw a man whose acquaintance I had lately made Mr. Jurby, of Morningford Place. He was, I understood, a newcomer in the neigh- bourhood, a man who had made, as was re- rrfced, a fortune by speculation in oil shares, I shouted, back that I would be with him in a moment, and began to clamber down from the platform. "Hard at it as usual," was Jurby's greet- ing, as in my dusty smock-frock I stood ti;re him. "I like to see young men work hard. And you are getting on famously, eh? I see you have uncovered some pretty work tip there." He was a genial fellow, this Jurby; a man of five-and-fiftv, with the full, deep-coloured cheeks, the redundant chin and the comfort- able figure of the habitual high-liver. "Yes, we are getting on, Mr. Jurby," I answered, knocking the plaster-dust from my sleeves; "but there is, as you see, a deal of rubbish to clear awav before we can start restoring." Jurby nodded appreciatively, although it Was plain that his interest in the scheme Was, to put it mildly, quite superficial. "No doubt, no doubt. And you are going to give us in the end something to be proud of. Curious idea this, of old Rixon's, eh? How came he to think of it? Got more money than he can spend, or what? I protested ignorance of his motive. "He is doing the thing well, eh? Jurby continued with a. certain soft amusement on his squarely plump face. "Sparing no ex- pense—I hope, for your sake?" "No; I am happy to say he is giving me a free hand." "Good," Jurby responded. Then, with a change to neighbourly inquisitiveness, "I PPOs-e our friend is quite a rich man, eh? Vaddo(l. I shrugged. "Presumably. But beyond the fact that he is having this work done on a liberal scale I have no knowledge of his means. "No, no; of course not," Jurby responded half apologetically. "Well, I didn't come here to interrupt, your work with gossip, but to ask you to excuse short notice and come to us this evening. It is this way. I and cer- tain old and dear friends have a compact- have had since we were young men-to dine and see the New Year in together. As I say, We have done this for many years, though our numbers have dwindled sadly-but that's onlv inevitable; and it makes the survivors all the more thankful that they have been spared to meet once more. It comes to my turn to entertain this year, and it only occurred to me this morning that the host has now. the privilege of inviting guests of his own, outside our little band, I mean. We don't often avail ourselves of this right, for reasons which are perhaps obvious; but in this instance, Mr. Crofton, a man of distinc- tion like yourself, if you will allow me to say so, and one whom we regard with such in- terest, is not to be overlooked. So, I hope you will come, if only to brighten up our little party which is apt in the long evening to grow dull." The man was evidently sincere in his wish to have me, and I could but feel flattered by the broadly implied compliment. Neverthe- less, I had to decline. "It is very kind of you to have thought of me, Mr. Jurby, and I should have been delighted to come. But, as it happens, I am expecting a friend, David Gelston, the painter. He comes down this evening to I spend a few days with me." Jurby, in his genial manner, brushed aside the excuse. "All the better, my dear fellow; bring- your friend with you. Of course, I know David Gelston's work. His Welcome will be colly second to your own." "But yours is not an ordinary dinner party," I objected. "We really must not in- trude. We shall destroy the character of your gathering." "All the better—all the better. We don't want too many sad memories at the year's end. It won't be a man's party. We'll have some ladies, and be as lively as we can. We prefer looking forward to looking back on the dead- cast, eh? Well, eight o'clock sharp. And now I won't keep you any longer from your work. Time's precious these short days, eh? Ah, here's Mr. Rixon." He had turned to the wooden door in the partition, but stepped back as a man's figure filled the narrow opening. My em- ployer came inside, giving us each a, curt nod. He was a man of sixty-five or more, and a strong contrast to the rather florid Jurby. His face and manner suggested a certain reticent hardness, his. eves were steel grev, his hair and short beard were crisp, his dress plain and serviceable. A masterful man you would say—one to stand no nonsense, who had no sentiment about him, and, I repeat, not a man one would expect to take upon himself a piece of work of which the beauty far exceeded its utility. Still, having put the restoration of tIle chapel in hand, he took, I am bound to say, a keen and intelligent interest in the pro- gress of the work. "I fear I must plead guilty to interrupt- ing our friend's work here," Jurby said, with his native loquacity. "I have just made him promise to dine with us to-night and see the New Year in. No use asking you to come, Rixon?" "Thank you, you know I never dine out." Rixon's tone was quietly decisive, suggest- ing the utter futility of persuasion. To me it seemed that he regarded his effusive neighbour with a touch of contempt. "All right; I won't bother you," Jurby said pleasantly. Then, as by an after- thought, he added, "You will at least let Us ask Miss Archer to join our party? "I don't suppose my nieoe has any en- gagement to prevent her," Rixon answered indifferently. "She shall let yoo know in the afternoon, if that will do." "Oh, we will send over to Flam bards for her answer," Jurby said, with what seemed a shghtly patronismg touch. "No, no," Rixon objected, in his curt, in- sistent manner. "The girl may just as well Walk over to you. I shan't want her. A tnan is coming over to see me on business, to pay me some money that's been out on Mortgage. I shall be busy all the afternoon and glad to get rid 6f her." I looked at the man as he spoke. The father churlish words were unsoftened by 411Y suggestion of humour. And when he P^ntioned the money there seemed a chal- enging, boasting light in his hard, grey eyes. I thought of pretty Rose Archer, who kept house for her uncle, and wondered flat sort of a joyless life she led in that lIDY place, subject to the will of that curmudgeon. 'Jurby had greeted the speech with an it fJpreciative laugh. "V ery well, then. I trJ. sure we shall be delighted to see Miss rcher this afternoon ab well as bo-night. And in the circumstances ycu roenlirm we shall not reproach ourselves with de- priving you of per very charming company. A pleasant occupation receiving money! And so your mortgagor pays you in hard cash, eh? Rixon looked up with a jerk of the head. "Or Bank of England notes. If he wants a diseharge, and his title-deeds back," he returned, almost snappishly. Then in a rather marked manner he turned to me. "So you are getting on, I see, Mr. Crof- ton, as fast as visitors will let you." Jurby took the broad hint, and went off, repeating his invitation to me, and with a genially curt good-bye to Rixon. "These talkative fellows are the greatest nuisance in the world," Rixon observed surlily to me when we were alone. "Com- pany keeping is all very well when a man hasn't a mind above it, but it doesn't pay there's nothing to show for it when it's all done. They say that fellow has made money. He looks as though he had by the way he lives, but it will have been by speculation, and not by solid hard work. Well, each man to his taste arid capabilities, but let me tell you this, Mr. Crofton, you can't make money quickly and honestly. To make a fortune in a hurry you've got to rob someone. I expressed my agreement with the senti- ment enunciated by the old man with the emphasis of absolute conviction. "Look at my good-for-nothing nephew," Rixon continued, with a bitter curling of the lips. "He was going to do wonders on the Stock Exchange. Used to be coming down to me, who began by taking an in- terest in his career, with stories of bulling and bearing, being in this combine, and that squeeze,' and I don't know what tricks for making a fortune in a month. He hasn't made it yet," the old man grinned. "Came to my place this morning down in his luck, and wanting to borrow a twenty-pound note to keep him going. I gave him half what he wanted, and sent him off to find a desk and some sensible work before he'd get any more." I was not greatly interested in the family story, except so far as it revealed the old man's character. So I suggested getting on with my work. "All right. I won't hinder you," Rixon said with decision. "I had gone a few rungs up the ladder when a pull at my blouse stopped me. Rixon had come close to me and was looking up with an expression of shrewd cunning on his face. "I say," he observed in. a low, confi- dential tone, "this precious nephew of mine and my late wife's niece, Rose Archer, are the only two relations I have in the world. Consequently one or other of them is bound to come into what I have, one of these davs. But we know"—he gave a malicious wink— "St. Gregory is going to take his tithe first, and possibly there may be a few more saints brought into the hotch-potch before they share and marry and settle down to spend it. I'll do some good with my money while I'm here to handle it, even though this sort of thing is not much in my line. St. Wal- lace will have to wait till St. Gregory and a few brother saints are provided for." As he spoke his eyes sparkled with humorous malice. I could only return his laugh and remark that he had a right to do what he liked with his own. I "To be sure," he responded bluffly. "Now get on with your work," and with that he turned away and left me. I climbed to the platform in a much amused frame of mind. So at last the motive which had been puzzling me was made plain. Actually this close-fisted old man was munificently restor- ing the ruined chapel from no higher motive than to spite his heirs. No wonder his act, viewed by the light of his character, had been something of a puzzle. Religious senti- ment apart-and there wasn't much of that to consider-I felt rather sorry for the nephew and niece. Of Wallace Rixon I knew next to nothing, but surely Rose Archer was one of the last girls in the world to deserve an uncle's spite. I had heard vaguely something to the effect that the half-cousins were lovers, and hoped for the girl's sake that the young man was not such a worthless character as his uncle sug- gested. I went back to my inn that afternoon rather earlier than usual. I wanted to be ready to receive Gelston on his arrival. I worked at my drawings till dusk, then ordered tea to be ready, and, lighting a fresh pipe, made myself comfortable by a cheerful fire in the old-fashioned panelled room. An hour passed, and I began to wonder what could have delayed my friend, for if he had come by the train he had in- tended, he ought to have reached the town by then. I waited a little longer, then went down to the bar to inquire whether the hotel omnibus had arrived. In the hall was some luggage initialled "D.G." "Mr. Gelston has arrived, then?" I said, wondering why he had uot been shown up to my room. No, sir," the man explained. "That is Mr. Gelston's luggage: he sent it on by the 'bus and said he would walk." "All right; I'll go and meet him. Take the luggage up to Mr. Gelston's room." I rah up for my overcoat and set off along the road leading to the station. There was nothing strange in Gelston's choosing to walk; he was an active fellow, and would have been cold and cramped after the threo hours' journey from town. It w<?s a fairly fine evening, although certain indications seemed to point to the approach of snow. Still, that would be but seasonable. I buttoned my coat against the north wind and walked briskly from the town, keeping a sharp look-out lest my friend should pass me in the darkness. When I had gone about a mile, I began to wonder whether we had not missed one another. Morningford Road Station was only two and a half miles from the town; the train must have been in nearly an hour. Surelv an active young man like David Gelston should have taken hardly twenty minutes to retch the place where I then was. Yes, it was clear I had missed him, perhaps through his turning off the high road. I struck a match and looked at my watch. It was time to be getting back to "The George." Gelston would know nothing of the invitation to the Jurbys. He would need time to unpack and make himself smart, and it was getting late. So I turned about and hurried back to the town, only to find to my astonishment and perplexity that my guest, whom I expected to find waiting for me, had not put in an appearance. I interviewed the omnibus driver. Ho assured me that he had not misunderstood Mr. Gelston. He had said he was cold and would walk to Morningford; in fact the 'bus had overtaken the gentleman some quarter- mile from the station, and he was then walking smartly towards the town. "He couldn't have missed his way, sir," the man declared. "I defy anybody to do that, the road is unmistakable. And he knew where he was coming to, for he men- tioned The George' to me when we took up his luggage." Nevertheless, I went for a turn up and down the High Street to see whether my friend had, after all, missed his destination. He was not to be seen, and indeed it was in- conceivable that the keen-witted David Gelston could be lost in the dull little town. It was now time to go back and change for dinner. At the hotel I was again dis- appointed, and altogether mystified by find- ing that even by that time he had not arrived. Although there seemed scarcely room for any serious apprehensions, I yet felt un- easy and put out, especially as Gelston could hardly now arrive in time for dinner at Morningford Place. Of course, there was the explanation that he knew nothing of the invitation, and might have taken it into his head to go off for a long walk- painters are sometimes erratic. I put off starting as long as was possible, and then left a message against Gelston's arrival telling him to change quickly and follow me. I CHAPTER n. MR. JURBY'S PARTY. Morningford Place was a Queen Anne bouse with spacious grounds, on the out- skirts of the town, standing back from a road which forked away from that which led to the railway station. The house was, I understood, let to the Jurbys furnished on a yearly tenancy. They received quite good humouredly my apologies for being late, and for coming alone, and at once set me at my ease. "Extraordinary that your friend has not turned up," Jurby observed, in his genial, expansive way. "Ye51 His luggage is actually in his room at The George.' I can only imagine that he took a longer road to the town and lost his way." "Ah, yes. Possibly, if he is fond of walking he went round by Pelthorpe and took the wrong fork. You say he arrived by the 5.34 at Morningford Road? "Yes—the 5.34; we had arranged it." "I hope you left word for Mr. Gelston to come on here?" "I took that liberty." "I should hope you did," Jurby declared cordially. "Then he may be here at any moment. And, after all, your friend is not the only absentee. We are waiting for Miss Archer—old Rixon's nieoe." "Need we wait any longer, my dear? suggested Mrs. Jurby. She was a hand- some woman of a rather commonplace type of beautv, considerably younger than her husband, dressed in the "last cry of fashion, and bedecked with a remarkable quantity of jewellery. "Oh, we had better give the young lady another five minutes' grace," Jurby replied with' pleasant toleration. "It is a dark night, and old Rixon's horse was not made for pace. It will just give me time to make Mr. Crofton known to our old friends." He took me off and introduced me to the four men in the room. As they were in some way a rather curious quartet it will be well briefly to describe them. First, there was Mr. Fitz-Richard, a tall, rather quiet and gentlemanly person, whom I seemed to know by sight in town. His face, with his large features and sparse, carefully-trimmed beard was, with the rest of the man's smartly got up appearance, a little arresting. Anyhow, it was not a per- sonality to forget—there was nothing nega- tive about it. It seemed he was a bachelor. Then mere was a little, sharp-featured, alert-mannered, boyish-looking man, a Mr. Errington. Beyond a certain insistent smartness and volubility there was nothing remarkable about him. His youthful face and figure, I concluded, were no criterion uf his age, which was perhaps forty. His wife, a merry, good-looking little woman, seemed just to match him. The third man, with a bald head, a pai- ticularly bushy moustache, and brilliant black eyes, was introduced to me as Mr. De la Cour. Obviously a foreigner, and for the moment a character about whom I could not make up my mind, he at any rate kept up rather amusingly the strange contrast for which the men of that anni- versary band were certainly remarkable. I set them down as, to me, unfamiliar types of City speculators. There was a Mrs. or Madame De la Cour, a statuesque brunette with a handsome sphinx-like face. She was gorgeously dressed in a tight-fitting gown of shimmer- ing material, cut very low in the Parisian fashion. Last of all my host introduced me to a man who seemed of all the strangers to be the least out of place, Sir Albert Wood- ville. This one differed decidedly from the others in that he had an absolutely nega- tive personality. He looked a gentleman, and bore himself with a certain well.bred ease which was lacking in the others. At the same time a more uninteresting person than this colourless Sir Albert Woodville ] never encountered. By the time my introduction was finished the five minutes had passed. Just as our nost was about to ring the bell, the door opened, and Miss Archer was announced. She came in hurriedly, evidently possessed by the sense of flurry which is induced by the consciousness of having kept people waiting. But there was no gush about her quietly-made apologies; the coachman had mistaken the time, she said. The girl's evident distress at being so late carried more conviction than a hundred protesta- tions. From my visits to her uncle we were slightly acquainted, and exchanged bows. Next moment dinner was announced, and we fell into line. Naturally, Sir Albert Woodville took in our hostess, Jurby the apparently taciturn Mrs. De la Cour, for which I was thankful, while I was paired off with the lively Mrs. Erringon, There might be the best c hance, I told myself, of finding out from her some- thing to gratify my curiosity about the peculiar gathering. A local girl, the Rector's daughter, had been brought in to make a show of balancing the numbers; she chattered to De la Cour of a recent visit tie town. As soon as was decently possible, I at- tacked my neighbour on the subject of the party, declaring myself to be keenly taken with the idea of the annual foregathering. "And so, one may take it you, or at all events the men here, are all old friends? Mrs. Errington turned to me with a. laugh. "Of course, you know. Friends of many years." "And you keep each New Year together lil-e "Don't- you think it is a good idea? Or arc you too matter-of-fact for sentiment?" "On the contrary, sentiment is, or should be, part of the equipment for my profes- sion." She glanced at me curiously, as though not for a moment comprehending my mean- ing. "Ah, yes; you are an architect. But I did not suppose there was much sentiment about that." I had already divined her doubt. "There ought to be, especiallv in the branch I fol- low, ecclesiastical architecture." It struck me the lady was inclined to make a wry face at the last words. Accord- ingly I returned to my intended catechism. "Do tell me—I am so interested in you all —I mean in this meeting," I added hastily, for she turned a quick, resenting glance on me. She laughed, not quite pleasantly. It was the hard laugh of a woman who has a cer- tain acquired defiance in her character. You want to know all about us; is that what you are driving at?" "You will admit," I replied, "that the nature of the party, so unexpectedly out of keeping with this rural background, is pro- vocative cf interest." "Not to say curiosity," she returned in- cisively. "Yes, I suppose we are rather out of the picture. The girl opposite who was late, she lives here?" My glance followed hers to Miss Archer. I had noticed her once or twice before since dinner began, and thought she seemed dis- traite and bored. I. answered my neighbour's question. "Yes; she is Miss Archer, the niece of a Mr. Rixon who lives here. It is he who is em- ploying me to restore part of the church." "A pretty girl," Mrs. Errington com- mented. "But she does not seem to have much to say for herself. I'm sorry for my husband; he hates a stick." "She seems put out to-night; but on a very slight acquaintance I have found her charming." My neighbour gave an expressive shrug and returned to our former topic. "To resume, you may be interested to know that the men here are directors of a very successful company or syndicate, or whatever it is called. So they are united bv ties of business as well as friendship. I suppose business men are not much in your line?" she added with hard abruptness. I was framing a polite answer when the door was thrown open and my frieud, David Gelston, came in. Jurby rose and welcomed him with char- acteristic effusiveness, silencing all attempts at apology as he took him round the table to present him to his wife. "As it happens, we had" no lady for you, Mr. Gelston," Jurby said, "so there is abso- lutely no one put out." I had risen on Gelston's entrance and said a word of introduction. As my friend took his place he looked over and greeted me again, and I was distressed to notice that he looked ill. The usually alert, fresh- poloured face was pale and drawn; his manner, too, seemed preoccupied and nervous. I was about to ask hin* for an explanation of his belatedness when our host anticipated me. "We have all been concerned as to what had become of you, Mr. Gelston. Did yea really get lost in our wilds? For a moment the talk stopped, and every- one looked curiously at Gelston fur his answer. a "Yes; I am ashamed to say I did go rather foolishly out of my way and wan- dered in the dark, goodness knows where. Not being aware that there was any hurry, I turned into a roadside inn and rested." "Where was that?" Jurby inquired'. "I really don't know. But after a long tramp it was very pleasant to sit down and refresh oneself." Watching Gelston closely as he spoke, I was struck by the unusuaj constraint in his manner. The man who made this, to me, patently laboured explanation was so dif- ferent from the easy, amusing raconteur whom I knew so well. I could only set it down to his being out of sorts and, perhaps, a little annoyed at my bringing him out on his arrival to what he considered an uncon- genial party. "Your friend seems to have had a bad time in these wilds," my neighbour re- marked, and the inference was not to be dis- puted. The general conversation was renewed, dinner went on again smoothly, but I found myself constantly watching .Gelston and wondering what could have happened to him. I noticed' that he drank a good deal of champagne as though he needed a stimulant, and presently seemed to pick up and grow comparatively cheerful. ??en a singular and inexplicable thing happened. Gelston s place was between Mr. Fitz- Richard and Miss Archer. He had been talk- ing to the Londoner, who was presumably asking him about his adventure, and he had taken little or no notice of the lady. Pre- sently Fitz-Richard turned away to pay attention to his other neighbour; and after a while of silence Miss Archer made a re- mark to Gelston, who turned to answer her. She was on the side nearest to me, so that when he looked round his face was towards toe. And as he turned and their eyes met I saw him give a palpable start; for a moment he stared at her blankly, with a look of absolute horror on his face, which went deathly pale. Then, as it were with a great effort, he recovered himself, looked quickly away, and replied to her with averted face. The extraordinary phenome- non was just momentary, but verv real and plain to me. It was pretty certain the girl had not noticed it, as' after a slight glance in Gelston's direction when she addressed him she looked away in front of her. But the idea of that unaccountable look on Gelston's face so exercised and worried me that I could take little further interest in the strange company around. They were for the most part merry enough by the time the ladies left us. As the door closed I went round to Gelston and greeted him affectionately. "I am so sorry to have let you in for this, my dear David, if it bores vou," I said quietly. "But it looked like being more amusing than The George' to-night, and the invitation came too late to let you know." "Oh, it's all right, my dear fellow," he answered, speaking, it seemed, with a cer- tain effort. "A rum crowd to meet in the country, eh? I laughed. "Rather. It is a surprise to me." I explained to 'him shortly the anni- versarv meeting. "Now tell me about your- self," i went on. "I'm afraid you must have got into trouble on your way from the station." "Trouble?" A startled, suspicious look leaped into his eyes as lie repeated the word. "I mean you went out of your way and got lost, eh? "Yes," he answered with what seemed to me a strange constraint. "I went out of my way, like a fool, and paid for it." m? By fagging yourself. You look do- tired." "Oh, I'm all right again now," he assured me, with an effort to back up his assertion by a livelier manner. At that moment the butler came in aad said something quietly to his master. Jurby rose with a manifest change of expression and with an "Excuse me for half a minute; someone wants to see me on urgent busi- ness," left the room. "Nice place our friend has here," Erring- ton remarked, breaking the silence which followed on our host's departure. De la Cour shrugged. "Oh, yes, a nice place in the summer, no doubt," he re- sponded in his metallic, foreign voioe. "In the winter givme town, London or Paris; tie country j: too He gave an expres- sive shiver. "And too dark," he continued, clipping the words emphatically through Ins bushy moustache. "The country shuts up at four' o'clock. I have no fancy to wauder about in the dark like our friend here." With a grin he indicated Gelston. "No, it is not much fun," David agreed curtly. "You must have gone miles out of your way," Sir Albert Woodville suggested'. Before Gelston could answer. Jurby re- turned. On his way towards us his genial face was preternaturally grave. As we glanced at him it seemed to strike us all that something serious had happened. He did not speak till he came to the top of the table, about which we had gathered. Then he said, "I am sorry to have had to leave you, but word has just been brought me -of bad news in the place. Our neighbour, Mr. liixon, the uncle of Miss Archer, has been found dead, and there is a suspicion of foul play." (To be Continued.)

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