Chapter XIII.

The Arrest.

Two days went over, and during that time neither father nor son alluded to their conversation. They met at dinner, but the Earl was as cold as ice, and, beyond a few ordinary remarks, nothing passed between them. The young man was occupied each morning with writing, in the afternoon he rode in the Park, and after dinner again retired to his room. On the evening of the second day two men knocked at the door of the house in Chester Square, and inquired if Viscount Morleigh was at home.

“Yes,” was replied by the footman, “but engaged.”

“Ah,” replied the shorter of the men, drily, “you will, if you please, tell him that we wish to see him on most important business.”

There was something in the tone, quiet as it was, that carried authority with it, and the servant obeyed.

They found the young man seated at a writing table in the room previously mentioned, the walls of which were covered with weapons of different kinds. He looked up as they entered, and quietly motioned for them to be seated. They did not, however, obey, but walked up to him.

“My lord,” began the smaller of the two men, “we have come upon a rather unpleasant errand.”

Viscount Morleigh turned round suddenly at these words and faced the speaker, but said nothing.

“It is no use beating about the bush,” went on Mr. Kraker (for, as the reader may already have guessed, it was he). “The fact is, my lord, we are detective police officers, and we have a warrant for your apprehension.”

The young man started, and the pen fell from his nerveless fingers.

“For the murder of Matilda Rennett, at Hammersmith, on Tuesday, the 25th of May,” continued Mr. Kraker, in a cold, mechanical voice.

“What​—​what can you mean? I the murderer of Mrs. Rennett? You must be mad.”

“There is the warrant.”

Viscount Morleigh glanced at the document, and the colour fled from his cheek and lips. A perspiration bedewed his forehead, and his eyes were wild and staring.

“Great heaven,” he muttered, “this is some horrible nightmare! Matilda Rennett dead? Then I am lost.”

The words were uttered in a low tone, but they did not escape the acute ear of Matthew Kraker. He inwardly chuckled to himself at the singular verification of his surmise.

With a ghastly attempt at calmness, the young man said​—​

“I presume you wish me to accompany you?”

Matthew Kraker bowed.

“I have a cab waiting,” he returned. “Thompson,” he added, turning to the man who was with him, “you will accompany his lordship downstairs. I have some business to do here.”

Viscount Morleigh heard all as if he were in a kind of stupor, and it was only when the man touched his arm that he recovered his consciousness.

“Does​—​does my father know of this?” he inquired.

“No, my lord. If you wish to write to him you are at liberty to do so.”

The young man thought for a moment.

“No,” he said, hurriedly, “he will know it soon enough. I am simply the victim of an unfortunate mistake; that is all.” And then, after a pause, he continued, “I should like, though, to write a few lines to​—​to another person.”

“Certainly,” replied Mr. Kraker; “but I must see the note before it is sent off.”

The Viscount contracted his brows, and said haughtily​—​

“I am not accustomed to have my correspondence overlooked by a third person.”

“Probably not,” replied the detective, quietly, “but in this instance, my lord, you will have to do so. Our duty leaves me no alternative.”

Viscount Morleigh did not reply, but, sitting down to the table, wrote a line or two on a sheet of paper, and tossed it over to Mr. Kraker. The note ran as follows:

“My Dearest F——,​—​Do not be alarmed at anything you may have heard about me. I am sadly beset, but all will come right. As this will be read by the police I can say no more.​—​Faithfully yours, Frank.”

Mr. Kraker read this, and handed it again to the Viscount, who placed it in an envelope and directed it, and without another word he accompanied the officer out of the room, leaving Mr. Kraker in an attitude of extreme watchfulness.

“By Jove!” murmured the latter, “if it is not the neatest take I have had for many a long day. Now, it only remains for me to complete the evidence, and all is done.” He glanced at the walls. “Ah,” he muttered, “foils.” He examined them narrowly. There were many of them, and they were of different sizes. His lordship was evidently passionately fond of fencing. But Mr. Kraker was disappointed; what he sought for was not there. Suddenly his eyes bright-ended. “I knew I was not mistaken,” he exclaimed, as he leaped across the floor by a series of little jumps. The next moment he held up in triumph a foil, about ten inches of which had been broken off.

Quickly as the capture was effected a sensation difficult to be described went through the household. The footmen in the hall saw the young lord, with the strange man by his side, pass them without appearing to notice their presence. The cab into which they got drove rapidly off, and though nothing was said as to the reason of the unusual proceeding, they instinctively felt that it was but the prelude to something terrible.

“What’s hup?” said the footman to the porter.

“Blest if I know,” replied the latter.

They were startled by the sound of a bell clanging through the house.

“Why, that’s my lord’s bell, safe as ’ouses,” said the footman, turning pale, for he had forgotten the strange visitors were two in number, and his first thought was that the bell was wrung by some ghostly occupant of the chamber.

“Of course it is. Isn’t there one of ’em left behind? It’s the rummest thing hever I heard.”

And the porter blew his nose violently, with an air of profound wisdom, and as if he had all through his life been accustomed to hear “rum” things.

In the meantime Mr. Kraker’s summons had brought to the room the Viscount’s valet.

“You are his lordship’s man, I suppose?” said the amateur detective, sharply.

“Yes; but I don’t see what it has to do with you.”

“No, not much; but I want your assistance in a little matter​—​simply to show me his lordship’s wardrobe.”

The man stared.

“Hang it! I like your impudence.”

“Do you? Most people don’t, but it’s a matter of taste. This door, I fancy, leads to the Viscount’s bedroom? Nothing like having one’s rooms on a floor​—​I’ve got ’em myself.”

Again the valet looked bewildered. Mr. Kraker’s coolness almost took his breath away.

“I don’t know who you may be, mister, but allow me to tell you that I shall do nothing of the kind.”

“Quite right, quite right. But, just to make everything nice and comfortable, I may as well tell you that I am a detective officer, and that his lordship is by this time comfortably lodged in Marlborough Police Station.”

The man’s jaw fell, and his manner changed instantly.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I didn’t know, I’m sure.”

“Very well; now that you do know, please accompany me into the bedroom I see yonder.”

The man obeyed, and looked on in amazement while Mr. Kraker deftly examined the drawers, turned over the bed, and peered in the cupboards, all the while making a running commentary upon his own proceedings in an undertone. Occasionally he asked a question or two of the valet as to his master’s habits, and often refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff from an enormous box which he carried.

“Hum!” said he, at last, “not very much here. Now for the dressing room. You are a methodical man, I suppose, Mr. Valet, and brush your masters’ clothes regularly, eh?”

“Yes, sir, pretty regular.”

“Ah, here is the wardrobe. Very good. Not a bad choice of vests. Yes, that’s a good coat; one of Poole’s, I’ll swear. A whole host of trousers, and all nicely kept. Hallo, what’s this?”

As he spoke he took from the bottom of the wardrobe, where they had been thrown carelessly, a pair of black cloth trousers. The ends were specked with a gravelly mud, and were still damp. The wearer must have been out on a very wet night, evidently. On one knee was a greenish mark, as of moss, and there was a little rent close to the mark. In the pocket of the trousers was a pair of grey kid gloves, the palm of one having marks of moss similar to the one on the trousers; the ends of the fingers were frayed and rough, and from the back some fragments of the surface had been picked. In addition was a pair of thin-soled boots, very muddy, and an umbrella still moist.

“Oh, Mr. Valet, I’m afraid you are not so methodical as you would like me to believe,” said Mr. Kraker, as he drew out one by one the articles.

“I don’t know anything about those things. It is the first time I’ve seen them.”

Mr. Kraker lifted his eyebrows in surprise, and looked keenly at the valet.

“The deuce!” he thought; “I don’t believe the fellow’s speaking the truth.”

“The only way I can account for them being so was one night last week when my lord allowed me a holiday until the next day.”

“Ah! on what night was that?”

The valet thought for a moment.

“It was Tuesday, the 25th,” he returned, after a pause.

Mr. Kraker nodded. He had expected the answer. His errand was accomplished. He had already possessed himself of the broken foil, a cigar holder he had found among some trifles in the other room, and now, with the trousers, the umbrella, and the gloves, the chain of evidence was complete. Mr. Kraker went away perfectly satisfied with his evening’s work. As was his wont when at all excited, he sought relief in walking, and though he was anxious to impart the important information he had gained to Superintendent Parkinson, a cab was not to be thought of, and so he set off at a smart pace to Scotland Yard.

Chance enters into life, and guides circumstances much more than some believe, and thus it was that chance threw Mr. Kraker against Edward Preston, who was strolling in St. James’s Park, and with the assistance of a cigar was endeavouring to battle against his disappointed love, which in spite of what he could do still rankled in his heart.

“Well, Kraker, you creeper into other men’s secrets, what’s in the wind now? Any big case on?”

“Yes, indeed, Mr. Preston,” returned the little man, with one of his inward chuckles. “It’s about the biggest we’ve had for a long time. And there’s a tinge of romance about it, too, which quite lifts it out of the ranks of ordinary crime.”

“Ah, there’s a woman in it, I suppose?”

“Of course; that goes without saying​—​in fact, it’s a woman who’s murdered.”

“Oh, it’s a murder, is it?” returned Preston carelessly.

“Yes. If you’ve got time I should like to tell you something about it. We don’t often meet with such an extraordinary chain of evidence. Of course, I wouldn’t tell everybody; but you’re almost one of us, you know, Mr. Preston.”

“Thank you for the honour.”

Kraker took his careless tone for one of acquiescence, and forthwith commenced his story, repressing, with the exception of that of the murdered, all reference to names. Preston at first listened languidly, but as Kraker warmed with the relation, and imparted to the horrible tale a certain amount of dramatic energy, his interest began to increase, and at last he became almost as excited as the detective himself.

“By Jove, Kraker, you’re a genius! But what an extraordinary​—​what a romantic story.”

“Yes, isn’t it? But now I must say good-night, for I want to get to Scotland Yard.”

“Don’t let me detain you. I shall look with interest for the end of this business.”

“Ah, there’s a good deal to come out of it, you may depend upon it.”

After Kraker had gone, Edward slowly sauntered down Parliament Street to the Strand, the frightful recital of Matthew Kraker still vivid in his brain. He reached his chambers in the Temple, smoked another cigar and tried to read, but all to no purpose; the image of the murdered woman would persist in presenting itself before him, and each detail of the hideous crime, given, as it had been, with so much minuteness by Mr. Kraker, came before him with dismal pertinacity. Never had he passed so miserable a night. However, occupied as he was by business, he quite forgot the affair on the following day, and it was only on glancing at the evening paper at his club that his recollection was again called to it by seeing a paragraph headed “The Hammersmith Mystery. Arrest of the Supposed Murderer.”

“The Hammersmith Mystery,” he muttered. “Why, that must be the business Kraker was so full of.”

The paragraph ran as follows:​—​

“At length the police have succeeded in obtaining a clue to the perpetrator of this most mysterious crime. The evidence which will be forthcoming is stated to be of the most startling character, and seriously involves a member of the aristocracy. As the arrest was made last night, there is no necessity to conceal the fact that the person implicated is Viscount Morleigh, son of the Earl of Annesley. He will be brought up before the magistrates to-morrow morning.”

“The deuce!” thought Edward Preston, “this is a singular affair. Kraker certainly did not overrate its importance.”

The talk at the club that evening was, of course, of the murder and its extraordinary sequel, but Preston, though he knew a good deal more than anyone else, did not join in it. That the guilt had been fixed on the right person he had not the slightest doubt, and he felt a curious pleasure in listening to the speculations more or less absurd in which the talkers, many of whom were acquainted with the Viscount, indulged. The next morning, about nine o’clock, when he was in the midst of his work​—​he was an early riser, and, summer time as it was, he had finished his breakfast by eight o’clock​—​one of his clerks tapped at the door.

“What is it, Fermor?” he called out.

Mr. Rabbits, sir, wishes to see you.”

Now, Mr. Rabbits was one of the Treasury solicitors.