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THE MYSTERY OF .. MAISMORE…

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(ALL BiMn NUMaTzbl THE MYSTERY OF MAISMORE MANSIONS. By •URrOIID DCUKHNOY. < GHAPTBR III. HSR LAST SHOT. AT nine o'otock that Wednesday night a second man's finger-he was true to his appointment too—rested for a moment on the push of the electric bell outside the door of Mrs. Easton's flat. The astonishment of the second visitor was as great as had been that of the first one. In response to his ringing of the bellt the door was opened by miatress instead of maid I She ad- dressed him pleasantly; ignoring His look of surprise, said: You are punctuality personified, Mr. Grey —to the minute. Wtft in." It was a doubtful look he threw at her. He was in no way reassured by the cheerfulness of her manner. In their intercourse he had got to know something of her temperanent. However, he walked through as directed, into the room where he had so often been before. She was close behind him a's he did so had closed the outer door and followed him. If his apology came a triAe late, he made it; even as the other man had done, said: I am sorry I had to trouble you to open the door for me." Laughing at the recollection-the similarity of the men's speeches—she answered Not at all. Pray be seated. You see, my maid is out. I am alone here to-night. I thought, perhaps "—her eyes looked up from beneath their heavy fringes—" you might appreciate that! "I!" The tone of suggestion in her voice startled him into use of the pronoun. Yes; you may have things to say that you would not care for listeners to overhear. Is not that so ? Am I not deserving praise for my thoughtfulness ? He laughed; a strain of nervousness in the mirth. Her reception was not the kind he had looked for. I don't know that I have anything to sav to you, Mrs. Easton-" Mrs. Easton I She echoed his last words mockingly-her own name la<ighed, and continued It ronies quite M a sJaock-a. cold douche— to hear you addressing me like that. Mrs. Easton Mimicry of his tone. How curi- ous the formality sounds It used to be' Sybil.' A frown puckered his forehead. Somewhat brusquely he responded That is a thing of the past. No good is likely to result to either of us by reference to it. It will bo better if we realise that it is dead. Let it remain buried." You mean, let the dead past bury its dead sort of thing The sneer in her voice was plainly audible. How very nice of you, Mr. Grey, to talk like that! The frown remained on his face, nor did the gravity leave his voice, as he said I have not come here, Mrs. Easton, to talk nicely. Please realise that. Had I not gathered from the tone of your letter that all that sort of thing was dead and buried, believe me, I should not have turned up in response to it at all." That means, I suppose "—there was an alloy of mockery in the silvery tone of her laughter— that I ought to feel myself much flattered by your being here Being a man of strong passions, he experienced a difficulty in answering her quietly. Her derision was disturbing. He said The meaning of my visit is surely sufficiently plain In your letter you expressed a willingness to hand me back some papers you have of mine." Of yours The ostentatious lifting of her eyebrows, the boldness of the questioning stare, deepened the frown on his face as he answered You said as much in your note to me." Did I really ? I have forgotten the actual wording of my letter. But I am awfully sorry if I conveyed that impression." What impression ? The one you have just voiced—that the papers are your's." Quietness for a moment. He kept so, control. ling himself, and seeking to discover the hidden meaning in her utterance; then said You have not brought me here to play the fool, Mrs. Easton, have you ? Understand, please, I do not appreciate jokes of any kind atir less those of a persoual description." Almost any kind of joke falls flat with you. doesn't it ? Her lip was curled. You are that sort of man I remember that. The phreno- logist able to locate your humour bump would deserve a medal! Am I to understand, then-from that—that you have no papers ? A lame and impotent conclusion. Don't jump at it. I wrote to you that I had letters. Not belonging to you belonging-so far-to me. Letters which you had written-iffty-two in number as many as there are weeks in a year. I have them all tied up in one little packet. In quite portable form." My letters to you ? Precisely. All in your own spider. crawling- over-the-paper style of writing. Your warmly- worded, ardent, affectionate, breathiag-lon-in- every-line-of-them letter to me." His teeth:.veat into his nether lip. Her tone of banter; and the air she wore positively grated on him. He ever detested sarcasm—save of his own titterawe then the flavour soemed different. Tentatively he asked, doubtful as to the nature of her repiv You mean that-you are going to give them back to me ? Agreeable surprise came with her answer. Some of the satisfaction he felt ghntod in his eyee as she answered simply; Yes." That was why you wrote me She echoed both questions-almost used his words. Said I am going to give them back to you. That is why I wrote you. But "—a monitory finger was uplifted—" there are preliminaries—things to be done before they are returned to you." Preliminaries? Most certainly. You will appreciate that,- because you are a business man, you know. Your business capacity has been your largest-sized boast. I have learnt the lesson from you. To nse your oft-quoted maxim, business is business. Any other feeling between us now-you were mopt careful to point it out-is held down by a heavy tombstone, is dead and buried. I don't propose for a moment to attempt resuscitatign. This interview of ours can be conducted on strictly business lines." You may know what you are talking about, yourself," he said; "so far as I am personally concerned, for all the understanding I possess, you might be propounding conundrums." That is very rude of you. Mr. Grey Is it, perhaps, because you foresee getting the worst of the bargain ? That may cause exhibition of a little temper. Now we will proceed to business," It was plain that there was no loss of temper on her part. Assuming the tone and manner of an auctioneer, she said I have fifty-two letters of yours. What shall we say for them ? The look he wore betrayed incomprehension. He brought the lids of his eyes close together, as does a man in doubt, thinking to see clearer. Said I don't understand your last phrase, What shall we say for them ? No 1 So questioning, she lifted her eye- brows, in an affectation of surprise. I am dis. appointed I I thought to find it fall on your ears with quite a home-like sound You go into the markets, where men sell things. It is part of your business. I have been to Christie's myself, often. There the auctioneer always says, What shall we aay for them That is what I am doing now, True. I have not an auctioneer's licence; still, I am soiling things. Fifty-two letters, and I am aski.ig, ■ What do you say for them ? His character was gaugeable; she had quite correctly summed it up. Touch him in his pocket, and you hurt to the quick. Realisation :>& me to him then. The woman's intent was to blackmail him Di-spite the anger which surged through him, he was inst enough to admire her skill-the con- cealment of the hook in the bait, the clever word. ing of the letter which had brought him to the flat. So framed was it. that there was nothing in- criminating in the document. Then they were together by themselves she had even got rid ot her maid. There could be no one to overhear or wit»es>. It was cleverly planned, the whole thiug. But a rat, finding itself caught, devotes scant time to admiration of the trap. What was left of polite. nest. dropped from the visitor as the sudden falling of a garment. A sneer shaped on his lips as he said This is the nature, the warmth of your affec- tion, is it ? You are assessing it monetarily. Intend trying to make money out of it? The sneer no more affected her than rain does water-fowl. But the emphasis on one word made her answer, still quite pleasantly Not trying without foreseeing the. insult. I am going to succeed." Her confidence—as j et he was not scrap afraid of it—almost ami fed him. Putting a hand down by the side of his chair, he found and lifted his hat. rose to his feet, saying as he did so Mrs. Easton, when I first knew you, I believed all sorts of nice, good things about you. That belief soon wore thin. I don't mind telling you mw-in fact, you almost force the confession from me—that I found you awfully disappointing as our--ohaa 1 call it affection-grew (Iou were such a sham—so very, very shallow." A pleased feeling aro&e from observance of the effect of his words her half-closed eyes, tremb- ling lips and hands. No woman relishes sight 01 her faults—when some other person points them out. No angler views with pleasure fish clever enough to see the hook in the bait. Having said as much," he continued, I may as well confess more. Till to-night I have thought t, —charitably thought—that, although hidden trom me, there might be some good in you. That perhaps I had treated you a little bit-well,I,e shrugged his shoulders—" there is no need to say how, because it is plain that I did not treat you half badly enough As he said that, he walked across the room to the door. Having reached it, he &tot d Miere continued his speech You were good enough to let n: in, Mrs. Easton. I will not trouble you to let me out I can find my own way. I spare you expression of my opinion of this last effort of yours—this attempt to blackmail me. Whatever of politeness might be lacking in what I said, it would not be wanting in vigour and force I have never been robbed in my life, and you may be sure I have not spent years in the womb of the blackmailer —in the City of London—without attempt? oeing made." Putting a hand in his pocket, he drew out the letter sent him-her bait. Glancing over its con- tents, he continued This is distinctly a clever concoction, Mrs. Easton—one wholly worthy of you because there is not a word in it that a lawyer could lay hold of, or a judge talk to you about from the bench. Possibly this is not your first fraudulent attempt to make money out of men's letters The feeling of pleasure in him was added to as he noted her lividity, her failure to suppress a shudder. Experience may have brought about pro- ficiency. Let me tell you that, woman as you arc, so keenly do I resent any attempt to rob me- oh, don't start, rob is quite the correct word —any attempt to Rob me, that had there been anything in this letter which would have backed up and confirmed my statement, I should have gone straight to the police and had you haled before a magistrate for attempting to extort money by threats." The handle was turned he opened the door. Mrs. Easton had gone white to the lips. A per. feet fury was raging in her breast. In the despera. tion of her wrath, she snarled out: One moment! Stop You are going too quickly I Let me tell you what I am going to do.' Sufficiently long a pause to enable him to hear her out; then, bowing politely, he said gravely There is nothing you can do which could possibly interest me. Good night." It wts flight almost—that progress of hers across the room. Before he could open wider the door, her impact on the panels closed it with a bang. She stood there with her back against it, clenching her fists, panting, almost speechless in her rage. Recovering herself a little, she hissed out: You cad I You ire«»,n, despicable, pitiful, contemptible cad To da. tc talk to mb as you have done You, who had led me to believe you were on the point of making me your wife You dare to threaten me My God Now listen Getting control of her breath, she drew herself up; stood there proudly. Then, with an incisive vindictiveness which compelled belief of every word, she said: "Listen to me! You mongrel, cur, yon I learnt the other day that you are engaged to be married to Miss Nellie Hampton." Grey started at that; had not known the extent of her knowledge. As a matter of fact, the so-called society paper was a journal he avoided. He had a contempt for the tittle- tattle paragraphs with which editors tickled palat"-just as much contempt for readers who could digest such mental fare. inellic. Hampton," she continued, has a mother, who is knowrr to me. To-night—this very night-I am going to see Mrs. Hampton. p t,n. I am going to take with me that btindle of letters of yours, and I am going to let her rfead them through, every one! We shall see then how you will stand in the affection of her daughter-you miserable, blackguardly scum of the earth, you His complexion had changed so during her speech as to nearly match her own. His fingers, too, were clenched-so much so, that his hat dropped from them, unnoticed, to the floor. Thea quite suddenly-it was an unpremeditated act, all the devil in him rising to the surface--his.right arm shot out and his hand gripped her by the throat. Y ou- Then he paused: Not being given to the use of foul language—whatever his failmigs, his tongue was clean enough—he abstained from calling her what he thought her avoided the example she had set him of abuse. With positive brutality-so strong was his grip on her throat-he swung her round into the middle of the room then, as suddenly as he had seized her, he let go his hold. She fell in a heap on the floor-panting and frightened now; frightened by what she read in li is eyes. Bending over her, his eyes blazing, his fingers clenching and unclenching in the tension of his passion, he said Listen to me When one comes across a snake with poisonous fangs, the only feeling is a desire to kill the reptile. If an insect worries, the iiisect is crushed I shall adopt this course with you to- night, unless you are very careful You have arranged things so for yourself that they will shape well for me. There is not a soul in this flat save our two selves. Attempt to raise your voice beyondkspeaking point, a there is a devil in hell-I'll render your tongue so that it can nev speak afain I She tried to shudder away from him. But in the paralysis of- Mr fear was powerless to move; wat frightened to her very soul. He seated himself in a chair facing her. Never once took his eyes— which held so fierce a light as to hypnotise her- from her face. In leaning back, he was stopped, by reason of a stick which had been placed across the arm* of the chair. Not removing has eyes from her face, he put a hand behind; drew away a thick, malacca, heavily goM4nobbed cane. This he held, an. 8081081119. baisasad in his hand, whilst he em. tinned to 4x the woman with his eyes. {To to cowHrmtd.) 1

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