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r<X>0<KXX>-0^0-G<><>CK><><KKH>-0-G-G-eH>-Q [ALL RIGHT. RJoSUVD.) THE FLAMBARDS MYSTERY g 11 2 By SIR WILLIAM MAGNAY, BT., 0 ? Author of The Heiress of the Season," "The Red Chanwllor," &c. i. I SYNOPSIS. fÎ CfcOSTou, an architect, it commissioned by Mr. Lake Rixon of FlqMatwl-ds, a presumably wealthy man, to rtstore a chapel in the p-nsh cburoh tit Morningford. Rixon's object is to spend iuoney, 110 that there nsay be the less to leave to hit! nephW, Wallace It'xoii, and hie niece, Rotse Archer. who, so Crutten hnx hears, tue lovers. A irnui named Jurby, a new- comer to tht: district, makes Crofton1 r acquaintance, Bad invites him to dinner on New Year's Eye. Crofton accepts for himxelf tuiu his friend, David Gtbton, an artist, who is coming from London. OeløtolÙ, lujOfaffe tativea, but the artivt, vpka iias chosen to "walk from the xtfLtioa, is so long in coming tkat Crofton goes to Jarby'a houoe alone, lraring word for (Jelston to follow. The other guest*, with the exception of Mwa Archer, are strangers to Crofton. Miss Arehac 18 a late arrival, and apptaie to be not quite herself. Dinner i* in progTeas when (iewan turns up. Be had 3ost 'himself and gone mileø out Of his way. Crofton notices that he seems out of sorts, a ad, watching him, sees a sudden look of horror on his face when lie tirt thatches sight of Rose Archer. After dinner Jurby is called ent of the room, and rciutii5 with the uews thit Mr. Kixon has been found dead. I'oal play is suspected. The newsis a shock to tli) guestm, and Crofton notiees that Oiteton takes no part in th: eonvcncition which follows. It is decided that Mitw Archer-shall way the night, and that tLe news diail not be told her UU next morning. Wilen the party breaks up Crofton and Gelstju leave together, (ielaton "behaarjpur, combined with his story ot having: itet his way, is a pu%sle to Crofton. Next mojtinjg, u, Crofton s astonish- ment, Gelston announces hit intention to zeturn at once to town He explains that he if out of sorb. Crofton sees him off, and then ifoee to meet Jurby at Htunbujda, where they hear all that ia known of the tragedy. The police are making inquiries, but at present theie is no clue. Atter luncn at Jnrby's house, Crofton 18 on his woy home, when he meets ^Uoa Arouer. CHAPTER v. I ROSB ARCHER tfEEDS A PRIMRD. I It was evident the girl was there with the intention of waylaying me, and her first words made that certain. "Mr. Crofton, tell me what is happening about this terrible affair at home. Have they found out anything?" Sl,)e looked very handsome as she stood there facing me, her colour heightened by the excitement which showed, in her eyes, and the gold in her hair touched and deepened by the glow of the westering sun. "'Nothing had been found out when I left FI?unbards," I answered. "They seemed to regard the affair as a complete mystery." fer d eyes were eagerly nxcd on my face as I epoke, and behind them there seemed to be a lively fear. "They have no idea as to who committed the crime ? "No; none that I am a "rare of." And then an impulse, perhaps somethin in her manner, made me add "Have vour-" I had studiously refrained from putting the question pointedly. Nevertheless, the colour left the girl's cheek as with an obvipiis effort to steady her voice she re- plied "I? No; I know nothing." "I should not for a moment imagine you did," I said gently. "All you might be able to suggest is someone w hom your uncle might have had cause to fear: someone who might possibly have nUiH>d a grudge against him; someone who had perhaps roused your suspicions." No, no; none," she declared promptly. "Your uncle appears to have had no visitors yesterday, with the exception of a man who came to pay him money." "Is he suspected?" she asked with a curi- ously painful eagerness. 'I'he police are at "I should say not. The police are at present unaware of the person's identity." "l should have thought Oram- would know," she said unsteadily. "It is awful this uncertainty—my poor uncle; to have died like that." There was a break in her voice, and she turtwd a little aside to hide the tears in her eyes. I murmured a sympathetic remark and waited till she should speak. When she faced me agaip it was with the appearance of self-mastery. "Mr. Crofton," she said in a voice that I carried a note of pleading, "you have been in these last davs my uncle's friend. He liked you, and there were few people whom he liked. And so we had few friends. I want to ask you She paused as though hesitating how to frame her request. "You won't think it very extraordinary and im- pertinent of me to ask you to be our friend in the trying business and inquiry which must follow what has happened. 1 feel I have no right to make this request, but if you refuse, there is no one to whom I can turn. I don't care for these people "Ius nodded towards the house—"kind as they mean to be; arid-tlieze is no one else." Naturally I promised; even had I been un- willing, I could have done no less. The ffirl held out her hand with a simple, Thank you." But her tone made the two words more eloquent than the most effusive acknowledgment. "When you say there is no one on whom you can rdy, are you not overlooking your cousin, Mr. Wallace Rixon?" I suggested. It seemed as though a flash of pain con- tracted her face for an instant as the name was mentioned. But she quickly recovered her composure. "Yes, there is my cousin Wallace," she answered quietly, "but I must have someone besides him to rely upon. He will need a friend as well as I." I must confess to being rather puzzled at the urgency of her entreaty. Still, I wa3 nothing loath to engage in the business so far as need might be. The mystery, with its certain indefinable threat of a terrible scandal piqued my curiosity, and then, as a man, I could not refuse, could not indeed but feel flattered at, the appeal of this handsome girl in her distress. So I re- newed my promise to do and be what was so vaguely indicated. "You are go'ng to stay hre for the present?" I inquired to cut short her thanks. "No," she answered, with a slight ges- ture of distaste. "I cannot stay here, nor go back to Flambards yet. I wonder if you would mind calling at the Rectory and ask- ing Mrs. Paynton if she would let me stay there for a day or two." "Of course I will. I'll go there at once, and am sure they will be only too glad to put you up. And after that, is there any- thing I can do for you at Flambards?" "No, thank you," 'she answered. "I have seen Mrs. Oram and told her all I want. You will be going to Flambards?" "Not unless there is anything for me to do. We felt rather in the way there this morning. No doubt Mr. Wallace Rixon will soon have arrived." Again at the mention of her cousin the look of pain and almost of terror came into the girl's eyes. "You will see him if he comes," she said quietly, and then with a touch of earnestness added, "you have pro- mised to be our friend through this." I reiterated my assurance, and we parted, Miss Archer hurrying back to the house. As I walked on towards the town my mind was exercised by the girl's strange desire for my support and help in the business. Up to a point it was, per aps, natural enough. What gave me food for speculation was the appearance of intense urgency and anxiety in her request. Then Wallace Rixon; why had her manner been so constrained when he was mentioned? I had gathered that they were lovers; old Rixon had hinted as much at our last interview. Had this young fellow had anything to do with the crime? It was a monstrous idea, and yet to an imagina- tive mind Miss Archer's manner almost sug- gested it. Then there was David Gelston 9 unaccountable behaviour: his strange ques- tions j;"yut the dead man and Miss Archer. How in the name of all that was mysterious could this threefold connection have come about? For that Gelston and the girl had each some secret knowledge seemed certain. It was in a state of increasing perplexity over this horrible enigma that I arrived at the Rectory and gave Miss Archer's mes- sage- As I had anticipated, the rector and his tvife very readily undertook to receive her, aid a note of invitation was forthwith despatched to Morningford Place. "It will be better for her to stay here," Mr. Pnyntou said. "The Jurbye are very hospitable folk, but their society cannot be exactly congenial in the sad circumstances. Poor Rixon. A terrible end. I hear there is so far no clue to. the perpetrator. Of, course you will be going on with your work 'Jhe chapel as usual. You know that the for the estimated cost has been y paid, and is safe at our bankcre fellow, it almost looks as though he some premonition of his sudden end, was determined the good work should iplet-ed." "He never suggested anything of the sort He never suggested anything of the sort to me. "No? Well, as a level -hca<?ed man he would realise that life is uncertain, and it was less trouble to pay the cost down than provide for it in his will. I suppose his money goes to his nephcv and niece? "I have no knowledge. What sort of a man is Wallace Rixon? "Oh, a decent enough young fellow," the rector answered in a qualified tone. "Too idle to please his uncle—fonder of sport than work, but no particular vice in him." "Was there an engagement between him and his cousin ? Mr. Paynton shrugged and smiled. "We always have thought so. No doubt they were fond of each other, but I fancy the old man did his best to keep them apart." As the worthy Rector's information seemed too vague to promise any elucida- tion of the mystery I asked no more ques- tions, and soon took my leave. It was dark now, and work in the chapel was out of the question. After a stroll, I turned into my quarters. An unusual feel- ing of loneliness was upon me. The atmos- phere of the dull hotel in the humdrum little town seemed horribly depressing. I wished the loiig evenipg and nigR would pass, that I could find occupation and-dis- traction in my work. If only Gelston could have stayed it would not have been so bad. I should have had someone to chat to. I read the day's paper, and then ordered dinner earlier than usual. When I had finished the meal and smoked a pipe it was still much too soon to think of turning in. Also it occurred to me that a good brisk walk might ward off the sleepless night which my uneasy brain seemed to promise. Accordingly I went out and up the High Street, where, behind cur- tained windows, lights and laughter spoke of New Year's night festivities, and made me picture in contrast that old man lying dead in his dark, lonely home. I walked some three miles out from the town along the broad, moonlit road, and then returned. It. struck ten as I reached "The George." Instead of going to my apartment I went into the -r,.om and ordered a drink. There was only one other occupa-nt of the room-a man whom I, at the first glance, set down as a commercial traveller having supper after a late arrival. He was a young, almost boyish looking fellow, with straight hair falling half over his forehead, and a face which, as he glanced up quickly on my entrance, struck me as being one of the types indicating cleverness. "I have wronged our friend," was my inward comment as, sitting by the fire, I let my eyes rest more curiously on the man. He is the cut rather of an artist than a bagman. I wonder what he is, and what he can be doing down here in mid-winter. In my rather gloomy frame of mind I was glad of the chance of a companion for a chat before going to bed, and determined at the first opportunity to address him. Presently the head waiter bustled in to attend the late guest, and stayed talking to him for some time. They were too far off for any of their remarks to reach me. I noticed, however, that by their manner the convocation was not exactly of the usual oommonplaoes which pass between waiter and guest. The colloquy at length ended. The waiter cleared the table, and, as he left the room, the guest rose, and, taking out a cigarette, strolled towards the fire and me. "I suppose at this late hour one may venture to smoke here," he suggested. Decidedly a clever face, I thought, now that a full and clcscr eight couict be had of it. His manner had, however, none of the confident affability one is accustomed to amon g the loungers in country inns. There was in it, contradicting the man's face, a diffident hesitancy, and an almost nervous restlessness, such as one finds sometimes in scholarly recluses. Certainly not a bagman was my thought as I answered: "I shall be happy to join you." And I pulled out my pipe. He lit his cigarette, and sat down oppo- site to me. "You are a late arrival?" I ventured, in some curiosity, as to what my companion's business might be. He nodded and gave a twist in his chair. "Yes, I am glad to find such comfortable quarters without any trouble. Dull place Morningford, I should say." I agreed; wondering more than ever what brought him there. Surely this was not the expected Wallace Rixon. Next moment the idea was dismissed. It seems, though," ho observed, with another wriggle in his chair as he sat clasp- ing a crossed leg, they have got an ex- citement for once." You mean that shocking affair near the town; the supposed murder of Mr. Rixon." He nodded. Why do you say the sup- posed murder? Is there any doubt about it? The question was put so pointedly as to take me rather by surprise. Oh, no," I replied. At i-east I sup- pose not. Only sometimes it is well in serious matters not to jump to conclusions." My companion accepted the sentiment with a nod. Can you give me any particulars of the affair? he asked, relapsing into his original, almost apologetic manner. I told him .all I knew of the broad facts, hot, of course, including any suspicions of my own. He listened with an easy atten- tion which showed he was taking it all in, and at the end, after a slight pause, he asked, You knew Rixon?" Although the words were certainly spoken with an interrogative inflection, they yet suggested that my questioner was aware of the fact. I told him in a few words what my connection with the dead man had been. I dare say you have a theory about the crime," he observed. I glanced at him in surprise. No; why should I? He shrugged. It is natural for people on the spot to form a theory in these cases," he replied with a smile. May I ask when you last saw Rixon alive?" Yesterday morning in the chapel where I am at work. He came to see how I was getting on." The man nodded. "You were alone with him ? These questions were beginning to make me feel uncomfortable. For one thing I hate being catechised,; yet there seemed scarcely ground to resent it here. Not all the time," I answered with a smile of protest. "I hope your theory is not going to be that I killed him." My questioner made a quick, deprecating gesture. Not exactly," he returned with a laugh. Particularly as you say a third party was present. May one ask who that was?" I began to wonder whether my catechiser was an inquisitive crapk or-of course, what an idiot I had been not to have guessed at once—a reporter sent down to* do the affair. My wonder and half-resentment vanished. The person who was with ui, if you must know, was a Mr. Jurby, of Morning- ford Place." "And may one. as a stranger, inquire further who is Mr. Jurby of Morningford i'iaoe? The man's manner had changed with mine. He put the question lightly, with a smile. After all, I thought with a fellow-feeling, if the cha.p has come down here to make copy and earn his living, why should I baulk him by a churlish Becretive- aC." I "I am myself a comparative stranger here," was my answer. But to the best of my knowledge Mr. Jurby is a more or less retired City speculator, who has made money asd settled down here for the time." I fee. You know him welll Morning- ford Place is a fine house, no doubt. You have been there?" I dined there last night." I answered, wondering what took him off at a tangent like that. "A party?" A New Year's Eve celebration," I said, smiling at the man's persistent inquisitive- cees. ) "Local people? was the next question. t "X", The principal guests were old friends of our host's from London." The answer seemed to give my companion food for thought. "When did you hear what had happened?. Before you left?" he asked reflectively. "Just as dinner was over the police-scr- geant came round with the news. "You see, Miss Archer, Rixon's nicce, was one of the party." The man raised his eyebrows and nodded. "A delicate and painful position for Jurby," he commented. "Very," I agreed. "Would it be too much," he said, "to ask you the names of the guests? I gave him, after a moment's hesitation, the list, and was rather surprised that he did not make a note of them. "Mr. Fitz-Richard, Mr. Errington, Mr. De la Cour, and Sir Albert Woodville "-he had the names pat—"they were the old friends from London ? "I bclieve co." My companion rose with a half yawn. "Well, I must be turning in. Perhaps we may meet. again to-morrow. Good-night." He stroiled off, leaving me devoutly hop- .Ic next day and in- ing he would not co vie next day and in- terrupt my work with another string of questions. The head waiter looked in. "Who was that?" I asked. "The gentleman who was in here just now, sir?" He came- close and lowered his voice confidentially. "A person you may have heard of, sir," he said with a touch of importance. "That was the famous Home Office expert and detective, Mr. Rolt." CHAPTER VI. I WALLACE RIXON'S STORY. I Next day I did my best to keep in check the crowding thoughts which surged into my mind concerning the affair of Flambards, and busied myself with my work in the church. The unravelling of the mystery might well be left to the astute Mr. Rolt, the greatest puzzle-solver of the day. It was interesting to recall the catechism to which he had subjected me, although the drift of some of his questions was anything but clear. From another origin they would have seemed altogether futile and imper- tinent. But the idea that an able inquirer would, on the look-out for a chance clue, think well to make the circle of his investi- gation as large as possible, furnished a plausible explanation. After luncheon I returned to the church, and, just as the falling dusk forced me to make an end of the day's work, the rector came ih. I I have a message for you, Mr. Crofton," he said, from Miss Archer." Yes ? Wallace Rixon has arrived, and is now at the Rectory. She has asked me to bring you over to make his acquaintance." I thought of what the girl had said to me the day before and what it all portended. Putting my paraphernalia together I ex- pressed my readiness to go with him at once. • The Rectory was close by, approached by a flagged path leading from the churchyard. Mr. Pnynton took mc into his study, where Miss Archer and "her cousin were evidently expecting us. As we shook hands I glanced at Wallace Rixon with some natural curio- sity. He was a good-looking young fellow, smart in his manner and fashionably dressed, although his dark grey suit was fairly well-worn. If there were in his face possible indications of weakness, there ap- peared in it nothing really vicious, and it was with a certain sense of relief that I realised' the unlikelihood of his being crimin- ally concerned in his uncle's death. Mr. Paynton, after a few remarks, tact- fully left us together; and as the door closed on him Miss Archer, dropping her re- strained manner, thanked me for obeying her summons. Her cousin joined in the thanks, which called for my assurance of willingness to be of any use. "I came down," young Rixon said, "im- mediately on getting the news of this ter- rible affair. The mystery surrounding the thing seems almost the worst part of it." I half guessed his meaning. "Yes," I agreed. "They have got down Roit, the expert in these matters. He ought to clear it up." While speaking I heard the door close gently, and, looking round, now saw that Miss Archer had left us. Wallace Rixon responded to my remark with an awkward laugh. "There is no know- ing on whom a fellow like that will fix his suspicions," he said uncomfortably. *'Theso experts are sometimes a great deal too clever." "I have seen this man Rolt," I observed f reassuringly, "and had a talk with him, He did not strike me as one who would make an egregious mistake." Watching the effect of my words on my companion, I was glad to see that he looked rather relieved than otherwise. "You don't think so?" he returned, with some, eagerness. That's well. Has he any idea?—any clue T "None that he mentioned. But he would naturally keep it to himself if he had." "Yes." Rixon's face clouded again, and for a few moments he kept silence. "Mr. Crofton," he said at length, speaking un- easily, "I don't know how it strikes you, but it seems to me that I run the risk of finding myself in a rather invidious, not to say awkward, position over this affair." "I hope not. "I hcpe not," he repeated with more serious emphasis. "Still, I can't slmt my eyes to the fact that there is more than a chance of it. You see, I was down here on the day the-the thing happened." "In the morning," I replied. "But there is plenty of evidence that your uncle was alive and well after you left." Rather to my surprise, he did not show the relief at my speech which I looked for. "I don't know about that," he objected gloomily. "You left for town again in the morn- ing? Your uncle told me so," I argued. "Ah, he thought I did, but I didn't," Rixon replied. "I can trust you, Mr. Crof- ton. My cousin said you would stand by and advise me." "Of course I will," I assured him. "You may trust me implicitly." "Thanks." he responded, with a relieved look. "Well, then, I'll tell you just what happened, and how it makes my position precious awkward." He rose and began pacing the room,. evi- dently in sheer inability to face the crisis calmly. "I came down here to ask my uncle for an allowance," he began, with silrns of fight- ing against a growing excitement. "Not a very unreasonable request," he interpolated, witn a deprecating laugh, "considering he had always led me to believe I was his heir. Well, the old' man worked himself into a rage at the idea that I wasn't earning a good living-which, in commercial circles anyhow, Mr. Crofton, isn't such an easy matter nowadays. So I had to come down to asking him for twenty pounds to go on with, but he would give me only ten. I took the tenner for fear he might change his mind for the worse about that, and went off terKbly disgusted at my luck." H'W('ll, I found there were two hours to wait for the next up-train, and that a slow one; you may imagine I was pretty sick altogether. The ten-pound note would not be much good to me, and, thinking this over, I resolved to go back and tee whether I could not find my uncle in a better temper, and get at least a promise of something more out of him. "Accordingly I returned to Flambards and hung about the garden, irresolute and half afraid to meet the old man. Presently my cousin, Rose, came along. We had a talk together, and she said she would go and speak to her uncle and see what she could do to soften him in my favour. We made an engagement to meet a couple of hours later. I hung about for that time, and we were both punctual at the appointment. Mv cousin told me that Uncle Luke was ob- stinate as ever, and, for fear of making matters worse by arguing with him, she had thought it best to leave him alone on realis- ing how hopeless it was to try to soften him then. She advised me to write him a nice letter in a day or two preparatory to coming down here again. There seemed nothing else for it, so we presently said good-bye. Just as we were parting, the old man surprised us; and, as he did not ap- prove of our being on affectionate terms, you may guess the sight of us together was not exactly soothing to him. He sent my cousin off, and bade me come into the house with him. "I anticipated an awful row, but that, our last, interview did not last ten minutes. My uncle was just grimly determined in what he had to say. He told me that he had no time to waste over me, but he would merely let me know, once for all, Uiat if a ever CaJn-o down there again or s poke to my cousin Rose without his permission I should never see another sixpence of his money. With that he bundled me off, and, as it was clearly quite useless to attempt to argue or expostulate with him, I took my departure, with nothing more than a word of protest. "When I had gone a little way towards the railway station in as you may imagine, ni very enviable state of mind, it occurred to me that there would be a good while to wait for the next up-train. Something im- pelled me to turn back towards Flambards; I dare say it was the idea that I might see something of my cousin Rose. It is true our future meetings had been forbidden, but I was just thee too angry at my uncle's treat- ment to care a snap for his prohibition. In fact, my attitude of mind was rather defiant than otherwise. So while the time of wait- ing lasted I hung about the place, without, however, seeing anything of Rose, although once I fancied she appeared for a moment at one of the upper windows. "Well, dusk came on, with the time for my departure if the next train was to be caught, so, shaking my fist at the house, I turned my back on it, and made for the road. I had not gone far when I overtook a hurrying man carrying a small leather bag. When we were abreast he turned and inquired whether he was likely to reach the station in time for the 4.44. I told him we should catch it if we didn't loiter, and we walked on together. "Presently he asked me if I old Rixon,' as he called him, and my answer was that I knew something of him. Per- haps some unavoidable bitterncss in my tone led him to think I had not much opinion of the old man; anyhow, he re- marked, Queer customer, that. As hard as nails. I have just repaid him a sum of eighteen hundred pounds lent on mortgage, and have had to bring it in notes all the way from Stanbridge. Glad to get rid of the responsibility, I can tell you. You should have seen the old man examine every note as though it was likely to be a flaen one. And do you suppose he offered me a glass of wine or spirits? Not he; nor so much as a cup of tea.' I can well believe it,' I eaid, and turned the subject. "That's my story, Mr. Crofton, and it is good of you to have listened to it so patiently. I caught the 4.44 up to town, only to hear last evening of tho terrible deed which must have been perpetrated soon after our departure. Now you can see how I might possibly find myself in a rather awkward, not to say dangerous, position." "I appreciate that, Mr. Rixon. Still, it is unlikely that suspicion would in the circum- stances point to you for long. You could, no doubt, prove that you actually did travel by the 4.44." b?, Oh, yes. I and my acquaintance with the bag were the only passengers from Morningford Road." "Then I should say you need not worry. The man with the bag was probably the last man, bar the actual murderer, to see your uncle alive." Young Rixon made a rueful grimace. Yes. it is unfortunate, though, gtht I overtook him, as it happened, and not he me. I might just as well have started five minutes earlier. Do you think my uncle was killed for th<* ready money?" "'It is quite likely. But I have heard nothing as to that, I mean whether the money has been found in the house or not. But the fact that they have got Rolt down here, the smartest detective in the country, investigating the case, is all the better for you, if you have nothing to fear," I sug- gested. "He is not likely to suspect the wrong man. Now I should advise you to get hold of him and tell him your story as you have told it to me. You can have nothing to lose by being quite frank. Rolt is no ordinary detective, and won't jump to wrong conclusions." He promised to take my advice without delay, and I rose to go. "I am calling at Morningford Place," I said, "and if I hear any news I will let you or Miss Archer know." In the hall Rose Archer waylaid me. I could see that in spite of her deadly anxiety she was at a loss how to question me. "Your cousin has told me his story," I said, answering the pathetic inquiry in her look. "I have piven him the best advice I oould, and don t see that he has anything to fear." It was good to see the look, of inexpres- sible relief which came into the girl's eyes. "You really think that?" she asked, brightening. "You don't' believe Wallace knew anything about the affair? The explanation dawned upon me of much that had puzzled me in the girl's manner. Nevertheless, the mystery was by no means clear. With an assurance that I saw no reason to suppose her cousin had not told me the whole truth, I took my leave, glad to have brought her to a less apprehensive state of mind. But, as I say, the mystery which exercised my thoughtas was as great as ever, and before the evening was out a strange occur- rence was to have the effect of deepening it still further. (To be Continued.)

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