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IP V [ALL RIGHTS BBSBEVKD.]…

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IP V [ALL RIGHTS BBSBEVKD. ] T t THE FLAMBARDS MYSTERY $ X By SIR WILLIAM MAGNAY, BT., 6 I Y Author of "The Heiress of the Season," "The Red Chancellor," &c. Y SYNOPSIS. I OaoMOf, an architect, is commissi on ed by Mr. Luke Rixoa, of Ftambardit, a presumably wealthy man, to reøt.c.ee.chapeJ in the parish church at Morninglmd. Hixon^s object is tc spend money, so that there may be the less- to leave to hij nephew, Wallace RlXon, and hiB nieoe,MOW-Azcher. who, so Crofton has heard, are lovers. A man ouBcd*Jurbjf a new- comer to the district, makes Crofton's acquaintance, and invites him to dinner on New YesYs Eve. Crofton accepts for himself and his friend, David GaintentAn artist, who ii doming from London. Gelston's luggage arrives, but the artist, who has chosen to walk from the station, is so long in coming that Crofton goes to Jurby's house alone, leaving "word for Uelston to follows The other guests, with the exception of Miss Archer, are strangers to Crofton. Miss Amboer is a late arrival, and appears to be not quite herself. Dinner is in progress when Geiston turns up. He had losl ^himself and gone miles out of his way. Crofton notices that he seems out of sorts, and, watching him, sen a sudden loob Of horror on his face when he first catches might of Itoec -Archer. After dinner Jurby is called out of the room, and returns with the news that Mr. Rixon has been found dead. :Foul play is suspected. CHAPTER III. I GELSTON'S STRANGE TT-AVIOUP- I At the tragic announcement there was a ditir as of an electric shock round the table. J sprang to my feet. Mr. Rixon dead?" Jurby nodded gravely, and a broad, genial face can, perhaps by contrast, look on occasion very serious. "I fear it is only too true," he responded. "A shocking affair. Found dead in his dining-room. Knowing that Miss Archer, poor girl, was dining here, they sent up one of the local police with the news. He is still here. Shall we have him in and hear what he has to say ?" "If you aon't mind," I answered. "Yes; let's have him in," said Errington. Jurby went to the door, and spoke to the butler, who waited outside. "It will be a terrible shock to that poor girl," he remarked, as he came back to us. I don't know how the awful news is to he broken to her. Oh, come in, sergeant. I Shut the door, Tweedy." I The officer advanced, and proceeded to give in the officially emotiontz rooeeded to box manner an account of the tragic dis- covery. "About eight fifty-five a message was Ibrought to the station that we were wanted at Flambards; the deceased gentle- man, Luke W. Rixon, Esquire, having been discovered by a domestic lying presumably dead under the dining-room table. Accom- panied by two constables, I went up there at once, and found matters as stated. Dr. Spackman arrived about the same time, and examined the unfortunate gentleman. He could only pronounce life to .be extinct. The body remains there under the charge of two of my men, and I came on here, having been informed that the deceased gentleman's niece, Miss Archer, who resides with him, was dining here. "It was very considerate of you, ser- geant, and I am sure we all appreciate your thoughtfulness," Jurby declared. "But tell me, sergeant, what was the cause of death? Is it known?" "Well, sir," the man answered, with signs of official restraint, "I have no autho- rity to speak to that, but I understand the doctor found a small wound in the de- ceased gentleman's neck." Jurby's expression grew more serious. cCSo it points to foul play—naturally ? "I am afraid so, sir. But I can so far 8alc nothing officially." o, no; of course not." I had been so startled and shocked by the news as to take no notice of anything around me. A pause in the questions and answers enabled me to rouse myself from any preoccupied state of mind, and as I "withdrew my eyes from the police officer they fell on David Gelston. He was staring to front of him with a look of such in- tense horror in his eyes that his expression gave me, even in that stress, quite a shock. I laid my hand on his arm. "Awful business, isn't it?" I remarked. "But don't let it grip you like this, David. Sou'll be ill." The port wine decanter was by me. I filled a glass. "Drink that, and don't worry," I said, insistently, for he looked as though he was going to faint. I'm all right," he answered. "But it's leather horrible—enough to give one a shock." And he drank off the glass of wine. The sergeant, having told all he had to say, was given some refreshment and dis- missed. Then Jurby addressed us. "Before we join the ladies I should like to say that it will be best if we mention nothing of this terrible business. They "will know it soon enough, but they may as Well go to bed in peace, and the shock will not be so horrible in the morning. With regard to poor Miss Archer, I have been thinking that the best way will be to make an excuse and keep her here to-night; we must not let her go home to that house. ;with the tragedy in it." We all expressed approval of his sugges- tion. Then the talk reverted to the facts of the tragedy so far as we knew them, and vague surmises as to its author. "The affair seems to have the makings of a difficult mystery," Jurby remaiiked gravely. "By the way, Crofton, is it not rather significant that poor Rixon told us in the chapel that he was receiving a large sum of money this afternoon?" "So?" De la Cour interjected. "Then there is a motive ready made—eh?" "I hope that good-for-nothing nephew, as he always called him, has had nothing to do with it," Jurby said. "After all, it may turn out to be a case of suicide," Errington suggested. "You would hardly say that if you had known the man," Jurby objected. "Does it strike you as being probable, Crofton?" "From my knowledge of Rixon, decidedly not," I answered with conviction. Gelston had taken no part in the talk or the questioning, although he seemed to ahow a keen interest in the answers con- cerning the dead man's mode of life. In the drawing-room no mention was made of the tragedy. A rubber of bridge was played to fill out the time till mid- night, and I confess I had never found an hour and a half pass so slowly. Indeed, I Was bored and disquieted beyond expres- sien. Nor did Gelston's obvious depression tender it easier for me to combat my own. I declined cards, feeling it would in the cir- cumstances be impossible for me to concen- trate my mind on the game, and kept up a rather flagging conversation with the hostess, who was eloquent over the dulness of the country. I presently had a short talk with Miss Archer, getting on better with her, since she took an intelligent in- terest in my work of restoration. It ap- peared that a pretence had been made of sending a message to Flambards, and it was arranged that the girl was to stay at 34orningford Place for the night. I felt horribly sorry for her in anticipation of the morning's terrible discovery. It seemed indeed as though the chilling shadow of the tragedy was already beginning to encom- pass the girl; she seemed, like myself, fighting a depressing influenoe; her talk "Was plainly forced and spasmodic, her in- terest seemed but superficial. Her manner "Was so preoccupied that I began to wonder ,"hether she could possibly have been in- volved in any event which led up to the tragedy. I remembered she had arrived late, and had made a somewhat uncon- vincing excuse. Then a glance at the beau- tiful face and the frank grey eyes made me thrust aside the suggestion as absurd. I Golston was one of the bridge-players. Jtone than once I caught him looking with a strange and unaccountable curiosity at Miss Archer and me as we sat talking. Mid- ht came at last. Champagne had been bought in, and we drank with our host's to the New Year, to absent friends, and tO those who had passed away. We shook hands all round, rather perfunctorily, as perhaps natural, and reciprocated good •^shes. Then, as soon as we decently could, Gel- ston and I bade the Jurbys and their friends good-night and set off for the town. We had gone but a few yards up the drive we found Jurby coming after us.  don'? quite know what is going to jT.^P1 Pen about this terrible affair," he said in ?? voice. "I mean more particularly about Miss Archer in the morning. But perhaps you and I as friends of poor Rixon ought to do what we can. The house ought not to be left altogether in the hands of the police. Would it be agreeable to you to meet me at Flambards, say at ten o'clock? We might take upon ourselves to look after things till someone with more authority comes along." I engaged to meet him in the morning as he suggested, and we went on our way. "I am sorry to have brought you in to this, David," I said as we reached the drive gate. "But who could have foreseen what the evening would bring forth? "It has been a night of dramatic con- trasts, at any rate/' he responded, with a touch of gloomy bitterness in his tone. "It is an appalling coincidence," he added as though speaking to himself. "Coincidence?" I echoed, not taking in his meaning. "This Rixon was the man for whom you were working?** "Yea." "And the girl, Miss Archer? She is his niece? "His dead wife's niece. A pretty girl, eh? "Pretty?" Again the note of bitterness which puzzled me. "Oh, yes; pretty enough. Had he any children ?" "None. She and his own nephew were, I believe, his only relations." For a minute or so we walked on in silence. Then David said abruptly, "What sort of man was Rixon ?" "Rather a hard man, a nailer." i "Well off? Yes?" "Fairly rich, from all accounts." My friend's manner was so abnormal that it prompted me to ask, "Did you know any- thing of them before?" Gelston stopped and turned to me. We had entered the town, and the dim light of a street lamp showed me a defiant look in his eyes which was quite uncharacteristic, and that his face was drawn. "Before to-night? Never. How should I? What makes you ask that ?" "Only the interest you seem to take in them," I answered quietly. "I don't know what made me ask you. There was no par- ticular reason." rfIt was a bad shot," he observed with a forced laugh; and we went on in silence to "The George. It must have been the evening's excite- ment which made me sleep badly. Soon after dozing off I woke up to become aware of a movement in Gelston's room which, with a communicating door, adjoined mine. I listened and made certain that my friend was pacing up and down his room, and the idea that he could not rest troubled me. There had been something in his manner when we parted which made me loath now to intrude upon him. So I lay listening un- comfortably to the movement and watching the regular obscuration of the tiny stream of light which came through the keyhole. David Gelston's visit, which had been sc pleasant in anticipation, was turning out rather miserably. Certainly the news of the tragedy at Flambards was enough to cast a damper on any enjoyment; but what puzzled and worried me was the thought of my friend's abnormal appearance and manner before the announcement came. Could he have seen or known anything of the dark deed on his- way from the station? That seemed an easy explanation, and yet upon second thoughts quite out of the ques- tion. For if anything of the crime had accidentally come to his knowledge he, the David Gelston I knew so well, would have been full of it. He would have given in- formation to the' police and naturally told us about it on arriving late at the dinner- party. Instead of that he had seemed unusually gloomy and ill at ease, and had made a not very convincing excuse of having lost his way so far as to arrive two hours late. It was all very mysterious; capable, I tried to assure myself, of a very simple solution— and yet in the absence of any explanation it made me horribly uneasy. From this state of worry I dozed off again, and when I next woke was relieved to find darkness and silence in the next room. I rose betimes, curiosity and concern over- coming the effects of a tiring day followed by a bad night's rest. Gelston was already down, and my surprise at seeing him so early became intensified when he announced his intention of returning to town by a morning train. My expostulations were of no avail. I know I'm treating you badly, old fellow," he said, in running away almost before I've come, but it must be. The fact is I am not at all up to the mark, and this unfortunate affair of last night hasn't exactly improved my condition." He gave an awkward, forced laugh. "My nerves are all wrong; been working too hard, I sup- pose; and I am sure the only thing for me just now is to get back into the hum and the movement of, town where I shan't have much time for introspection. So you must let me go now, and 09me again when I've pulled myself together." I saw he looked ill, and that it would be no kindness to keep him. So, making the best of my disappointment, I arranged to see him off by the 9.40 train, which Would give me time to get back and keep my rather gruesome appointment with Mr. Jurby. With the prospect of getting away, Gelston's spirits seemed to rise, and he be- came more like his old self. We chatted pleasantly enough through breakfast. Then we got into the hotel omnibus and 84ft (e for the station. As we passed the gate of Flambards, about which several loafers were hanging in morbid curiosity, I noticed that after the first glance my companion studiously avoided looking that way, sitting round quickly so that his back was turned to the house. Accordingly, I checked the remark I had begun, calling attention to the place. On the platform waiting for the London train we passed a group of passengers evidently talking of the previous night's tragedy. I could see the stationmaster pointing me out as an acquaintance of the dead man. It will be in all the evening papers by the time I get to town," Gelston observed rather grimly. If it was a murder I wonder what chanoe the police have of lay- ing their hands on the culprit?" "I shall know that. perhaps in a few hours," I answered. Shall I let you know what I hear?" I could not help watching his face as I asked the question. Oft, don't trouble," he said, with, it BeemH, something of an effort. I shall see everything in the papers sooner than you could write it. Here s the train. I'm so sorry to be forced to go, but one of these days you will understand." I wrung his hand, and next moment he was gone. Turning back to the omnibus which would drop me at Flambards, those last words recurred to me. I fotmd myself wondering apprehensively what they meant. CHAPTER IV. I AN UNEXPECTED MEETING. I On arriving at Flambards I found Mr. Jurby pacing up and down in front of the house, evidently waiting for me. As we shook hands I explained what had kept me. Jurby looked surprised. Your friend gone off already T he ex- claimed. That's ourious." He is out of sorts and thought he might be better at home." Jurby looked at me inquisitively. We all thought he looked pale and fagged last night," he said emphatically. "Rather strange that walk of his in the dark and missing his way, eh? Somehow the man's tone annoyed me. Oh, no," I replied. "It is just the sort of thing Gelston would do. He is a great walker; but in his present state of health it was evidently too much for him." Jurby's smile rather suggested that he accepted my explanation for what it was worth. Well, I am sotry he has had to run off," he said in a more casual tone. "I had an idea of arranging, with your good offices, a commission for him to paint Vl.-k • Jurby's portrait while be was down here. That is his line, isn't it? Yes. It is very good of you. But really he does not seem up to work just now." Well," he said, moving towards the house, "we must talk of that another time. At present we have something less pleasant to discuss." We went into the house, which we found in possession of the sergeant and a sub- ordlinat.e. The body had been removed from the dining-room where it was found, and the officer told us that the doctor was making an autopsy. In the dining-room a local detective was making careful measure- ments and entering them in a notebook. Now, suppose we come and hear what the sergeant has to tell us," Jurby sug- gested, as I began to wonder what good we could do there. The sergeant motioned us with a rather needless air of mystery into the little study, where a bright fire burned. On the rug in front of it lay a fox-terrier with one of its fore-legs bandaged. Poor little chap. What's the matter?" juruy mquirea. "Found outside the house last night with a leg broken," the sergeant explained. "Whether it has anything to do with the matter in hand we don't know, and he can't tell us:" Poor boy," Jurby repeated with an affected sympathy which seemed to suggest he did not care about animals. The pergeant became respectfully com- municative. It looks as though it was going to turn out a very mysterious case, gentlemen," he began. We have been in communication with headquarters all the morning, and I should not be surprised if we got a detec- tive down from London." You regard it as seriously as that?" Jurby remarked. Well, you see, sir," the sergeant pro- ceeded, there is at present no likely clue to any party who may have committed the crime. You don't think it may turn out to be a case of suicide?" Jurby suggested. The sergeant gave an emphatic head-shake. "The doctor has pronounced that to be quite out of the question, sir. And it is upon his positive opinion that we are acting." "I see," Jurby responded. Well, I don't know whether we can be of any assistance to you, sergeant. Both Mr. Crof- ton and I were fairly well acquainted with Mr. Rixon; in fact, we were all three together yesterday mornin g in the parish church." The sergeant pulled out a large notebook. "I shall be glad to have your statements to that effect, gentlemen," he said, putting the pencil to his lips. We proceeded thereupon to give jointly an account of all we had seen of Rixon on the previous morning. An important point, in- deed the onljy fact which bore upon the crime, was the dead man's statement of his appointment to receive a presumably con- siderable sum of money that afternoon, but beyond that bare piece of information we could give none as to the payer of the money, or anything else. That," observed the officer, can no doubt be ascertained without much difficulty. As your evidence may be of importance, gentlemen," he con- tinued, "I'll just ask Mr. Trunch, the detec- tive from Great Rossington, who is on the premises, to step this way, and perhaps you will be good enough to repeat it." In a few moments he returned with Mr. Trunch and, after an explanatory introduc- tion, proceeded to read out the notes he had taken of our statement, to which the detec- tive listened with an air of suspended judg- ment. When the reading had come to an end he began to question us on his own ac- count. After a more or less unsatisfactory at- tempt to arrive at the exact time of our interview with Rixon, he came to the more pertinent question of the hour at which he was expecting the party to call and pay him the money. This we were neither of us able to state. I take it," Mr. Trunch observed, that it is important to establish the time when the crime was committed. It appears that the last time the deceased was seen alive was at or about 4.15 p.m. The crime was dis- covered at or about 8.30. As to what hap- pened," he added, "between those hours we have at present little or no information. It appears that of the three servants kept by the deceased, the two females had gone out to spend the afternoon in the town, and Oram, the man, was working in the gar- den." "With occasional visits to The Wheat- sheaf the sergeant put in with a restrained touch of the human. Then," pursued Mr. Trunch, there is another party who may be able to tell some- thing—the deceased's nieoe, Miss Archer." Miss Archer is now, as you are pro- bably aware, at my house," Jurby said. She dined with us last evening, and in view of this terrible affair Mrs. Jurby kept her at Morningford Place for the night. The sad news was broken to her only this morn- ing. She is naturally much upset, and I should be glad if the necessary interview with her could be put off as long as possible. "Quite so, Mr. Jurby," the detective re- sponded sympathetically. "Of course, we should wish to spare the young lady's feel- ings as much as possible, although it is, I take it, to her we must look for important evidence, since it is probable that she was the last person to see the deceased. In the meantime "-h re-opened! his note-book— "perhaps you will inform me at what hour Miss Archer arrived at Morningford Place." Jurby glanced at me a little dubiously. "It was shortly after eight," he answered with a slightly hesitating reluctance. "Eight o'clock was our dinner hour, and Miss Archer was a little late." It seemed to me that the characteristic suspiciousness in Mr. Trunch's eyes became i-ii-ten,liiifed. A- little he echoed. "Can you fix the time? Jurby's answer was guarded. "I can hardly take upon myself to fix the exact time." The detective looked from him to me. "Can you tell us, Mr. Crofton?" I shook my head. "No. Only that it was a little after eight." Mr. Trunch considered. "Would you say it was as much as a quarter past? he de- manded. Jurby answered. "I would not like to say positively one way or the other." "The young lady was the last of your guests to arrive?" was the next question. "Practically, yes. But most of our guests were staying in the house." For a moment or two the detective was silent Then he asked, "Did you notice any- thing peculiar about Miss Archer's appear ance or manner when she arrived? Jurby looked surprised, and I began to feel uncomfortable. "Why, Mr. Trunch, you don't mean to suggest- he began. "I suggest nothing, sir," was the uncom- promising retort. "Would you mind answer- ing my question? Jurby seemed to pull himself together aa the seriousness of the position dawned upon him. "No, nothing peculiar in her manner beyond the natural embarrassment at keep- ing the party waiting," he answered. As I rather anticipated, Mr. Trunch re- peated his question to me. "I scarcely noticed Miss Archer when she came in," was all I called! to tell him. Mr. Trunch made a note, and then, con- siderably to my relief, shut up his book. "I don't think we need pursue the mattei farther just now," he observed drily. "Un- less, of course, there should' be any state- ment either of you gentlemen should wish to make." We both disclaimed any such desire, and with that Mr. Trunch left us. "Who discovered! the body, sergeant?" Jurby asked when the detective had gone. "Mrs. Oram, sir. The deceased had been jnissed, and, aooording to her statement, they searched for him for nearly an hour before Oram had to go out with the carriage. Just as lie returned, his wife discovered! the body lying under the dining-room table." "Where it would be practically hidden," ] observed. "Yes, sir," the sergeant assented. "Mrs. Oram states she caught sight of it bj chance." "Then we may suppose," I added, "that Miss Archer would "be quite unconscious ol what had! happened even if she had gone into the room." I. "That might be so," the sergeant agreed in a non-committal tone. "What is being done about the relatives?" Jurby inquired. "There is a nephew, I be- lieve." I "Yes, sir. Mr. Wallace Rixon. We have wired to him." "He was down here yesterday morning, I said unguardedly, and next moment re. gretted my, want of reticence. Was he?" Jurbv exclaimed. Down here? "Is that so?" The sergeant's question came sharply. I have no knowledge of it," I replied. "Only I think Mr. Rixon mentioned that his nephew had been down here to see him." What at the moment made me unwilling to give more information to the police than could be helped I don't know. Perhaps it was the recollection of Miss Archer's troubled face the night before. And onoe more I found myself wondering whether it was a monstrous impossibility that she could have known anything of the crime. The whole affair is, as you say, sergeant, most mysterious," I became in my abstraction aware Jurby was saying. "Well, as1 you have sent for Mr. Wallace Rixon, I don't suppose we can be of any use. If we can, you will know where to find us. Now, my dear Crofton, you will come back with me to luncheon. I want you to come and help us in our rather delicate position with regard to that poor Miss Archer. We'll have luncheon early, and you can go down to the church afterwards if you wish." I accepted with rather more willingness than was apparent, for I somehow had begun to feel a strange interest in the girl and her position in regard to the crime. On our way to Morningford Place Jurby told me that his house-party had all gone over to a meet of hounds some five miles away. To my rather blunt suggestion that they did not give one the impression of being hunting men, he repudiated any such intention on their part. "It will be a pretty sight for them; the ladies have gone too. "They are business connections of yours?" I remarked. "Yes," he replied frankly, "and very clever fellows. De la Cour is a great con- cessionaire, a wonderfully able negotiator, persona grata in all the big financial centres of Europe. Little Errington possesses one of "the finest heads for business in the City of London. He is the man to carry through big speculations and to grapple with com- plicated financial problems." I agreed that he seemed smart enough for anything. Fitz-Richard," Jurby continued, "is a capitalist. A good fellow who likes his club and prefers a social to a business life, but at the same time is always ready to assist at a promising financial operation. A man of large means, but who makes no parade of them, and is quite content with the "quiet enjoyment his wealth brings him. Enviable mortal," was my not alto- gether heartfelt comment. Old friends of mine," Jurby proceeded. We have risen together from compara- tively small beginnings and have done re- markably well in co-operation." "And Sir Albert Woodville?" Jurby's tone changed to one of patronage. I I Ali, poor Sir Albert. He is a very good fellow. He is our figure-head, our nominal chairman, but we don't let too much of the work fall on his shoulders. Nice fellow, isn't he? Pity he hasn't twenty thousand a year. He would know the right thing to do with it." Recalling Sir Albert's rather brainless- looking head, I wondered whether the sug- gested right thing would not have been to put the fortune into some of his patron's financial schemes; or whether, indeed, his present condition might not be the result of his having already done so." On reaching the house we found the party had just returned. Jurby anxiously in- quired after Miss Archer. We were told that she had recovered from the first shock, but was still in a state of great distress, and would, of course, not come in to luncheon. "Poor girl, I am terribly sorry for her," Jurby said to me when we found ourselves alone. Then he added in a confidential tone, "I don't know how it strikes you, Crofton, but somehow I can't help wonder- ing whether she does not know something mere of this affair than would appear." "It is hardly possible," I replied, unwill- ing to bring into hotch-pot any of my vague suspicions. How could she have come here to dinner last night if that was the case? Jurby's face was set in a knowing smile. Women are puzzles," he declared jocu- larly. "We don't half understand them. You remember she was very late and looked disturbed when she came in." The natural result of finding herself be- hind time," I argued. Why, you can't mean to suggest that she was in any way privy to the crime." It is inconceivable," Jurby said in a tone of agreement. "Quite inconceivable, and yet Well, we must wait for develop- ments, and then one will no doubt find how absurd one's ideas have been. But such a mysterious affair quite at one's door is quite enough to blind one's common sense and to make one suspicious of anything." The luncheon was, to my thinking, a very stupid affair. Jurby's City friends seemed peculiarly out of place in the country; in- deed they made no attempt to appear other- wise. When luncheon was over there seemed a disposition to sit on indefinitely, drinking champagne and smoking cigars; both, I must allow, of a very fine brand. With an idea that I was rather blocking the business conversation into which there seemed a ten- dency to lapse, I rose and took my depar- ture. It was getting late for work in the church, but I was glad to get out into the fresh air away from that unromantic atmosphere of the rather unpleasant side of our strained civilisation. So I walked up the drive smoking my cigar contentedly enough. Suddenly there was a rustling in the tall laurel bushes which lined the road, and someone came quickly from between them and stood before me. It was the girl who was then much in my mind, Rose Archer. (To be Continued.)

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