Read CHAPTER VII of The Secret House , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on

Two days later, at the stroke of ten, Frank Doughton sprang from his taxi in front of the office of the Evening Times.

He stood for a moment, drawing in the fresh March air, sweet with the breath of approaching spring.  The fog of last night had vanished, leaving no trace.  He caught the scent of Southern lilacs from an adjoining florist shop.

He took the stairs three at a time.

“Chief in yet?” he inquired of Jamieson, the news editor, who looked up in astonishment at his entrance, and then at the clock.

“No, he’s not down yet.  You’ve broken your record.”

Frank nodded.

“I’ve got to get away early.”

Tossing his hat upon his desk, he sat down and went methodically through his papers.  He unfolded his Times, his mind intent upon the problem of the missing millionaire.  He had not seen Doris since that night in the box.  The first paper under his hand was an early edition of a rival evening journal.

He glanced down at the headlines on the front page, then with a horrified cry he sprang to his feet He was pale, and the hand which gripped the paper shook.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed.

Jamieson swung round in his swivel chair.

“What’s up?” he inquired.

“Farrington!” said Frank, huskily.  “Farrington has committed suicide!”

“Yes, we’ve a column about it,” remarked Jamieson, complacently.  “A pretty good story.”  Then suddenly:  “You knew him?” he asked.

Frank Doughton lifted a face from which every vestige of colour had been drained.  “I ­I was with him at the theatre on the night he disappeared,” he said.

Jamieson whistled softly.

Doughton rose hurriedly and reached for his hat.

“I must go to them.  Perhaps something can be done.  Doris ­” he broke off, unable to continue, and turned away sharply.

Jamieson looked at him sympathetically.

“Why don’t you go round to Brakely Square?” he suggested.  “There may be new developments ­possibly a mistake.  You note that the body has not been discovered.”

Out upon the pavement, Frank caught a passing taxi.

He drove first to the city offices which were Farrington’s headquarters.  A short talk with the chief clerk was more than enlightening.  A brief note in the handwriting of the millionaire announced his intention, “tired of the world,” to depart therefrom.

“But why?” asked the young man, in bewilderment.

“Mr. Doughton, you don’t seem to quite realize the importance of this tragedy,” said the chief clerk, quietly.  “Mr. Farrington was a financial king ­a multi-millionaire.  Or at least, he was so considered up till this morning.  We have examined his private books, and it now appears that he had speculated heavily during the last few weeks ­he has lost everything, every penny of his own and his ward’s fortune.  Last night, in a fit of despair, he ended his life.  Even his chief clerk had no knowledge of his transactions.”

Doughton looked at him in a kind of stupefaction.  Was it of Farrington the man was talking such drivel?  Farrington, who only the week before had told him in high gratification that within the last month he had added a cool million to his ward’s marriage portion.  Farrington, who had, but two days ago, hinted mysteriously of a gigantic financial coup in the near future.  And now all that fortune was lost, and the loser was lying at the bottom of the Thames!

“I think I must be going mad,” he muttered.  “Mr. Farrington wasn’t the kind to kill himself.”

“It is not as yet known to the public, but I think I may tell you, since you were a friend of Farrington’s, that Mr. T. B. Smith has been given charge of the matter.  He will probably wish to know your address.  And in the meantime, if you run across anything ­”

“Certainly!  I will let you know.  Smith is an able man, of course.”  Doughton gave the number of his chambers, and retreated hastily, glad that the man had questioned him no further.

He found his cab and flung himself wearily against the cushions.  And now for Doris!

But Doris was not visible.  Lady Dinsmore met him in the morning room, her usually serene countenance full of trouble.  He took her hand in silence.

“It is good of you, my dear Frank, to come so quickly.  You have heard all?”

He nodded.

“How is Doris?”

She sank into a chair and shook her head.

“The child is taking it terribly hard!  Quite tearless, but with a face like frozen marble!  She refused to believe the news, until she saw his own writing.  Then she fainted.”

Lady Dinsmore took out her lace handkerchief and wiped her eyes.

“Doris,” she continued, in a moment, “has sent for Count Poltavo.”

Frank stared at her.

“Why?” he demanded.

Lady Dinsmore shook her head.

“I cannot say, definitely,” she replied, with a sigh.  “She is a silent girl.  But I fancy she feels that the Count knows something ­she believes that Gregory met with foul play.”

Frank leaned forward.

“My own idea!” he said, quietly.

Lady Dinsmore surveyed him with faint, good-humoured scorn.

“You do not know Gregory,” she said, after a pause.

“But ­I do not follow you!  If it was not murder it must have been suicide.  But why should Mr. Farrington kill himself?”

“I am sure that he had not the slightest idea of doing anything so unselfish,” returned Lady Dinsmore, composedly.

“Then what ­”

“Why are you so absolutely sure that he is dead?” she asked softly.

Frank stared at her in blank amazement.

“What do you mean?” he gasped.  Was she mad also?

“Simply that he is no more dead than you or I,” she retorted, coolly.  “What evidence have we?  A letter, in his own handwriting, telling us gravely that he has decided to die!  Does it sound probable?  It is a safe presumption that that is the farthest thing from his intentions.  For when did Gregory ever tell the truth concerning his movements?  No, depend upon it, he is not dead.  For purposes of his own, he is pretending to be.  He has decided to exist ­surreptitiously.”

“Why should he?” asked the bewildered young man.  This was the maddest theory of all.  His head swam with a riot of conflicting impressions.  He seemed to have been hurled headlong into a frightful nightmare, and he longed to emerge again into the light of the prosaic, everyday world.

The door at the farther end of the room opened.  He looked up eagerly, half expecting to see Farrington himself, smiling upon the threshold.

It was Doris.  She stood there for a moment, uncertain, gazing at them rather strangely.  In her white morning dress, slightly crumpled, and her dark hair arranged in smooth bandeaux, she was amazingly like a child.  The somewhat cold spring sunlight which streamed through the window showed that the event of the night had already set its mark upon her.  There were faint violet shadows beneath her eyes, and her face was pale.

Frank came forward hastily, everything blotted from his mind but the sight of her white, grief-stricken face.  He took both her hands in his warm clasp.

The girl gave him a long, searching scrutiny, then her lips quivered, and with a smothered sob she flung herself into his arms and hid her face on his shoulder.

Frank held her tenderly.  “Don’t,” he whispered unsteadily ­“don’t cry, dear.”

In her sorrow, she was inexpressibly sweet and precious to him.

He bent down and smoothed with gentle fingers the soft, dusky hair.  The fragrance of it filled his nostrils.  Its softness sent a delicious ecstasy thrilling from his finger-tips up his arm.  All his life he would remember this one moment.  He gazed down at her tenderly, a wonderful light in his young face.

“Dear!” he whispered again.

She lifted a pallid face to him.  Her violet eyes were misty, and tiny drops of dew were still tangled in her lashes.

“You ­you are good to me,” she murmured.

At his answering look, a faint colour swept into her cheeks.  She gently disengaged herself and sat down.

Lady Dinsmore came forward, and seating herself beside the girl upon the divan, drew her close within the shelter of her arms.

“Now, Frank,” she said, cheerily, indicating a chair opposite, “sit down, and let us take counsel together.  And first of all,” ­she pressed the girl’s cold hand ­“let me speak my strongest conviction.  Gregory is not dead.  Something tells me that he is safe and well.”

Doris turned her eyes to the young man wistfully.  “You have heard something ­later?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “There has been no time for fresh developments yet.  Scotland Yard is in charge of the affair, and T. B. Smith has been put upon the case.”

She shuddered and covered her face with her hands.

“He said he was going to arrest him ­how strange and ghastly it all is!” she whispered.  “I ­I cannot get it out of my head.  The dark river ­my poor uncle ­I can see him there ­” She broke off.

Lady Dinsmore looked helplessly across to the young man.

It was at that moment that a servant brought a letter.

Lady Dinsmore arched her eyebrows significantly.  “Poltavo!” she murmured.

Doris darted forward and took the letter from the salver.  She broke the seal and tore out the contents, and seemed to comprehend the message at a glance.  A little cry of joy escaped her.  Her face, which had been pale, flushed a rosy hue.  She bent to read it again, her lips parted.  Her whole aspect breathed hope and assurance.  She folded the note, slipped it into her bosom, and, without a word, walked from the room.

Frank stared after her, white to the lips with rage and wounded love.

Lady Dinsmore rose briskly to her feet.

“Excuse me.  Wait here!” she said, and rustled after her niece.

Frank Doughton paced up and down the room distractedly, momentarily expecting her reappearance.  Only a short half-hour ago, with Doris’ head upon his breast, he had felt supremely happy; now he was plunged into an abyss of utter wretchedness.  What were the contents of that brief note which had affected her so powerfully?  Why should she secrete it with such care unless it conveyed a lover’s assurance?  His foot came into contact with a chair, and he swore under his breath.

The servant, who had entered unobserved, coughed deprecatingly.

“Her ladyship sends her excuses, sir,” he said, “and says she will write you later.”

He ushered the young man to the outer door.

Upon the top step Frank halted stiffly.  He found himself face to face with Poltavo.

The Count greeted him gravely.

“A sad business!” he murmured.  “You have seen the ladies?  How does Miss Gray bear it?  She is well?”

Frank gazed at him darkly.

“Your note recovered her!” he said, quietly.

“Mine!” Surprise was in the Count’s voice.  “But I have not written.  I am come in person.”

Frank’s face expressed scornful incredulity.  He lifted his hat grimly and descended the steps, and came into collision with a smiling, brown-faced man.

“Mr. Smith!” he said, eagerly, “is there any news?”

T. B. looked at him curiously.

“The Thames police have picked up the body of a man bearing upon his person most of Mr. Farrington’s private belongings.”

“Then it is true!  It is suicide?”

T. B. looked past him.

“If a man cut his own head off before jumping into the river, it was suicide,” he said carefully, “for the body is headless.  As for myself, I have never witnessed such a phenomenon, and I am sceptical.”

A train drew into the arrival platform at Waterloo and a tall man alighted.  Nearer at hand he did not appear to be so young as the first impression suggested.  For there was a powdering of grey at each temple and certain definite lines about his mouth.

His face was tanned brown, and it required no great powers of observation and deduction to appreciate the fact that he had recently returned to England after residence in a hot climate.

He stood on the edge of the curb outside the new entrance of the station, hesitating whether he should take his chance of finding a cab or whether he should pick up one in the street, for the night was wet and cold and his train had been full.

Whilst he stood a big taxi came noiselessly to the curb and the driver touched his cap.

“Thank you,” said the man with a smile.  “You can drive me to the Metropole.”

He swung the door open and his foot was on the step when a hand touched him lightly, and he turned to meet the scrutiny of a pair of humorous grey eyes.

“I think you had better take another cab, Dr. Goldworthy,” said the stranger.

“I am afraid ­” began the doctor.

The driver of the car, after a swift glance at the new-comer, would have driven off, but an unmistakable detective-officer had jumped on to the step by his side.

“I am sorry,” said T. B. Smith, for he it was who had detained the young doctor, “but I will explain.  Don’t bother about the taxi driver; my men will see after him.  You have had a narrow escape of being kidnapped,” he added.

He drove the puzzled doctor to Scotland Yard, and piece by piece he extracted the story of one George Doughton who had died in his arms, of a certain box containing papers which the doctor had promised to deliver to Lady Constance, and of how that lady learnt the news of her sometime lover’s death.

“Thank you,” said T. B. when the other had finished.  “I think I understand.”