Read CHAPTER XXX of The Slave of Silence , free online book, by Fred M. White, on ReadCentral.com.

Meanwhile, absolutely unconscious of the dangers that were rapidly closing around her, Beatrice took her way to Wandsworth. Richford had been ingenious enough to see that Beatrice would go down by rail, as she had very little money to spare, so that if they desired it, the two conspirators could have got there before her. But there was no occasion for that, seeing that Beatrice had the treasure in her pocket and Sartoris was none the wiser.

Richford would have gone far at that moment to spite Sartoris. He had tried to play the latter false over the scheme that they had in hand together, and Sartoris had found him out. The latter made it a rule never to trust anybody, and he had been suspicious of Richford from the first. He had known exactly how Richford’s affairs stood, he had seen that a sudden blow dealt at him now would pull the whole structure down and ruin it for ever. And without the smallest feeling in the matter, Sartoris had done this thing. But for him Richford could have pulled around again, as Sartoris had been aware.

But Sartoris had had enough of his ally and in this way he got rid of him altogether. Richford dared not show his face again; he would have to leave the country and never return. Sartoris chuckled to himself as he thought of this.

He was on extremely good terms with himself when Beatrice called. She had not given the letter from Berrington very much consideration, though she was a little surprised at the address. Doubtless the matter had something to do with her father, the girl thought. The mystery of that strange disappearance was getting on her nerves sadly.

Rather timidly the girl knocked at the door of the gloomy looking house, which was opened after a pause by a little man in an invalid chair. Beatrice looked at him in surprise. She gained some courage from a quick glance at the hall with its electric lights and fine pictures and the magnificent flowers in pots and vases everywhere. It seemed to Beatrice that only a woman could be responsible for this good taste, and she took heart accordingly. No desperate characters could occupy a house like this, she told herself, and in any case a helpless little man in a chair could not prove a formidable antagonist.

“I hope I have not made any mistake,” she said. “If this is 100, Audley Place ”

“This is 100, Audley Place, Mrs. Richford,” the little man said. “Will you be so good as to come this way and shut the door? I have been expecting you.”

“It was a letter that I received from my friend, Colonel Berrington,” Beatrice said. “He asked me to call and see him here. I hope he is not ill.”

“I have not noticed any signs of illness,” Sartoris said drily. “I have no doubt that the Colonel had very good reasons for asking you to come here, in fact he did so to oblige me. The Colonel is out at present. He is staying with me, being fond of the air of the place. I dare say he will be back before you go.”

Beatrice nodded in bewildered fashion. In some vague way it seemed to her that her host was making fun of her, there was just a faint suggestion of mockery in his tones. Was there any plot against her on foot, Beatrice wondered. But nobody could possibly know of the diamonds in her pocket; besides, she had received the letter before she had thought of removing those diamonds from the custody of the hotel people. Again, as to the genuineness of Berrington’s letter she did not entertain the shadow of a doubt. Nobody, not even an expert, could succeed in making a successful forgery of the dashing hand-writing of Berrington.

“If you will come this way,” Sartoris said quietly, “we shall be more comfortable. As the evening is by no means warm you will perhaps not object to the temperature of my room. If you are fond of flowers, you may admire it.”

A little cry of admiration broke from Beatrice at the sight of the conservatory room. She had forgotten all her fears for the moment. Gradually she let the atmosphere of the place steal over her. She found that she was replying to a lot of searching questions as to her past and the past of her father, Sir Charles. No, she had no papers, nor did she know where to find those keys. She wondered what this man was driving at.

“I knew your father very well at one time,” he said. “I saw a great deal of him in India. In fact he and I were in more than one expedition together.”

“What year was that?” Beatrice asked quite innocently.

To her surprise Sartoris gave signs of irritation and anger. He turned it off a moment later by an allusion to neuralgia, but Beatrice was not quite satisfied. Why did this man want the key of a certain desk, and why did he require a bundle of papers in a blue envelope therefrom? Beatrice resolved to be on her guard.

“I will do what I can for you,” she said. “If you can come and see me.”

“I am afraid that is impossible,” said Sartoris, who had lapsed into his bland manner once more. “I am sensitive of people’s remarks and all that kind of thing. I dare say you will think that I am morbidly self-conscious, but then I have not always been a cripple. I was as straight as yourself once. Fancy a little crooked figure like me in a hansom cab!”

Beatrice started violently. The words had recalled a painful time to her. She recollected now with vivid force that on the night of Sir Charles’s disappearance a little crooked man in a hansom cab had been the directing party in the outrage.

The girl’s instinct had led her swiftly to the truth. She felt, as sure as if she had been told, that this man before her was at the bottom of this business. She knew that she stood face to face with the man who had stolen the body of Sir Charles Darryll. For a moment Beatrice fought hard with the feeling that she was going to faint. Her eyes dilated and she looked across at the man opposite. He was lying back in his chair feasting his eyes upon her beauty, so that the subtle change in the girl’s face was not lost upon him.

“I seem to have alarmed you about something,” he said. “What was it? Surely the spectacle of a crooked little man like me in a hansom cab is not so dreadful as all that. And yet those words must have touched upon a chord somewhere.”

“It it recalled my father to me,” Beatrice stammered. “The police found certain things out. They discovered the night my father disappeared that outside the hotel was a black hansom cab with a man inside who was a cripple.”

“You don’t mean to say that!” Sartoris cried.

In his turn he had almost betrayed himself. He could have cursed himself aloud now. As it was, he forced an unsteady smile to his lips.

“I mean to say that the police are very clever at that kind of thing,” he went on. “But surely you would not possibly identify me or my remark with the monster in question! There are a great many people in this big London of ours who would answer to that description. Now tell me, did the police find anything more out?”

The question was eager, despite the fact that Sartoris imparted a laugh into it. But Beatrice was not to be drawn any further. She felt absolutely certain of the fact that she was talking to the real culprit who was picking her brain so that he could get to the bottom of what the police had discovered, with an eye to the future.

“Really, I don’t know,” the girl said coldly. “That is all that I overheard. The police I find are very close over these matters, and in any case they do not usually choose a woman as their confidant. You had better ask Colonel Berrington.”

It was an unfortunate remark in more senses than one. Beatrice did not quite realize how quick and clever was the man to whom she was talking. If his instinct had told him much his cleverness told him more. Berrington was in the confidence of the police. And Sartoris had imagined that the soldier was working out the problem on his own behalf. He had counted, too, on Berrington’s affection for Mary to do as little harm as possible.

“I’ll ask the Colonel,” he said between his teeth. “Oh, yes, I will certainly do that. What are you looking at so closely?”

Beatrice had risen to her feet in her eagerness. She pointed to two cabinet photographs.

“Those people,” she stammered. “Why, I know them. They call themselves Countess de la Moray and General Gastang. They were staying at the Royal Palace Hotel the night of the tragedy. They pretended to know me and all about me. I am quite sure that they are actors in disguise. But seeing that you know them ”

Sartoris turned away his face for a moment, so that Beatrice should not see its evil expression. He cursed himself for his inane folly. But he was quick to rise to the situation.

“A very strange thing,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t know those people. But some friends of mine in Paris were their victims some little time ago, and they were anxious that the police here should be warned, as the precious pair had fled to England. Perhaps they were proud of this guise, perhaps their vanity impelled them, but they had those photographs taken and my friends got copies and sent them to me. They only arrived to-day or they would not be here. They will go to Scotland Yard in the morning.”

Beatrice inclined her head coldly. She knew the whole thing was a quick and ready lie, and she could not for the life of her pretend to believe it. She buttoned her jacket about her and stood up.

“I will not detain you any longer,” she said. “If I can find what you desire I will let you know. I can find my own way to the door.”

“Wait till Berrington returns,” Sartoris urged. “He will not be long. He is not in the house yet, but he will be sorry he has missed you.”

Beatrice stood before the glass putting her hat on straight. She could see over her shoulder in the direction of the door, and there in the gloom with his finger to his lips stood Berrington. There was just a suggestion of surprise in his eyes, surprise and annoyance, but the look which he passed the girl was a command to keep herself well in hand. The mere fact that help was so near gave her a new courage. She smiled as she turned to Sartoris.

“Well, I am afraid that I must be going,” she said. “Please tell the Colonel when he comes in that I am sorry to have missed him. He will understand that.”

There was the faint click of a key in the front door, and two people came noisily into the room. They were a young and handsome man and an equally young and handsome woman, well dressed, smartly groomed, and well bred. And yet, though they were strangers to Beatrice, they were at the same time curiously familiar. The girl was trying to recall where she had seen them both before.

“We are rather late,” the man said with a wink at Sartoris. “Business detained us. Yes, we are also rather hungry, having had no dinner to speak of. Hullo, I say, look here. Do you mean to say that you are fool enough to keep our photographs in our very last disguise?”

Something like an oath broke from Sartoris as he glanced at Beatrice. The girl could not control herself for the moment; she could not hide from Sartoris and the others that she knew now that she was in the presence of Countess de la Moray and General Gastang in their proper person.

“Those are not your photographs at all,” Sartoris croaked. “As a matter of fact I only got them from Paris to-day. If you will ”

The speaker paused as Beatrice was stepping towards the door. All of them realised that she knew everything. Sartoris made a sign and the man Reggie stood between Beatrice and the door.