The Severed Silk Scarf

By Charles E. Pearce

This story was first published in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald on Saturday 21 May 1904.

The room resounded with applause. Men and women vied with each other in complimenting the dexterous swordsman who, tossing a silk scarf in the air, severed it before it reached the ground.

“I fear your scarf is utterly ruined, Mrs. Verne,” said the young soldier, picking up the two portions and presenting them with a bow to the lady who stood near him.

“I gave you full permission, Captain Calverley, to do what you liked with it,” said she.

“Then,” he went on, sinking his voice and with his eyes full of undisguised admiration, “may I keep half?”

She smiled bewitchingly, and in tones low as his own, replied: “Of course you may, but it is utterly valueless.”

“You are quite wrong. Have you ever heard of the pretty old practice among sailors of splitting a sixpence with one’s sweetheart? This is the same thing.”

An indescribable look of triumph leaped into Adrienne Verne’s enigmatical eyes, which for an instant shone with a brilliancy they did not always possess. She took the portion of silk he offered her, and for a moment her fingers lingered in his.

He turned aside quickly, for he had yet another feat to perform, one that required absolute command over the nerves and muscles, and he dared not trust himself to the witchery of Adrienne Verne.

Harold Calverley, anxious to emulate the highest attainment of the Indian swordsmen​—​the slicing of a lemon while held on another person’s hand​—​laughingly asked if anyone in the room had sufficient confidence in his skill to assist him.

There was a pause and a laugh, when somebody said everyone had the confidence but not the nerve. Suddenly Adrienne Verne exclaimed:

“I once saw the feat performed in India, and I should like to see it again. I’m not the least bit afraid that you’ll fail, Captain Calverley, and I’ll hold the lemon for you.”

“You!” he rejoined hastily. “No, no, I cannot. I won’t run the risk.”

“Then it was a boast?”

“Not at all,” he retorted, stung by her tone. “If you insist——”

“I do. There, see, I am quite ready.”

She held out a hand and arm, both faultless in outline, and, thus challenged, he could not but proceed.

Summoning all his nerve and self-control, Calverley poised the sword, calculated to a nicety force necessary, and, without a moment’s hesitation, brought down the bright, keen blade. The lemon appeared to fall asunder on the little hand.

Again deafening applause, this time as much for the holder of the lemon as for the wielder of the sword.

“You should not have dared me,” he whispered, half reproachfully. “Thank Heaven, it’s over! Your nerve, Adrienne, is amazing​—​astounding, but——”

“Well, finish your sentence. What does the ‘but’ mean?”

“Nothing,” he answered, lightly.

But it meant a good deal. He could not explain why the phenomenal nerve of the woman gave him a momentary feeling of repulsion.

She laughed, and for a brief space they were separated, she the centre of a crowd who were offering her their congratulations.

Adrienne Verne was a woman whom one would call striking rather than beautiful, and yet her face when animated had an indescribable charm.

Her complexion was of that uniform creamy tint which comes from a long residence in a hot climate. There was not a tinge of crimson in it, even after the excitement of dancing. The colour seemed to go to her lips, which were firm, full, and, perhaps, a touch too large for the delicate cast of the rest of her features.

She was fair, so far as her hair was concerned, but her eyes, her eyebrows and eyelashes were dark. The hair was very fine in texture, and was dressed in fluffy masses, which made it look lighter than it really was. At a distance you would almost say she was either grey or had powder on her hair. In certain lights streaks of pale gold could be clearly seen.

Most people began by being attracted by the hair, and ended by being fascinated by the eyes. There was not infrequently a dispute about their colour. Some said they were dark blue, others that they were dark grey. Perhaps they varied according to the light.

But the curious thing about these eyes was that, as a rule, they were perfectly expressionless. They suggested mystery, that was all. When she looked at you, you were conscious she was trying to penetrate your thoughts, but she never betrayed her own.

The occasion was one of Adrienne Verne’s “At Homes.” The scene was her flat near Grosvenor-square. Always on the look-out for novelty, she had persuaded Harold Calverley to give a little entertainment, and he, after much protest about “shewing off,” consented.

It is doubtful whether he would have done this for anyone but Adrienne Verne. The reason is easily stated​—​he had fallen in love with her.

It was not in the least surprising. He was young, impressionable, chivalrous, and had an honest belief in the inherent goodness of woman.

Maybe, because a good many ill-natured things were said about Adrienne Verne he was the more inclined to champion her. Anyhow, he was continually applying for leave of absence, and running up to London from Chatham, ostensibly to see his people, but in reality to see Mrs. Verne, to dine with her, to take her to theatres and concerts.

The awkward thing was that nobody who was anybody knew anything about Mrs. Verne, and the fact that she was popular with men did not make her popular with women. Nor, in some odd way, was it in her favour that she was a widow.

Anyhow, Harold Calverley did not consider it necessary to tell his martinet of a father, General Calverley, or his aristocratic mother, an Earl’s daughter, of his acquaintance with the lady.

But some day they would have to know. He was becoming deeper and deeper in love, and he had made up his mind to marry her if she would accept him.

“At Homes” are, as a rule, not very late functions. At ten the guests began to depart. At half-past only a handful remained. By a quarter to eleven the last man, save Harold Calverley, was shaking hands with the charming hostess.

Calverley, at the other end of the room, smoking a cigarette, was meditating over a leap in the dark. He was in the mood to propose to Adrienne Verne and “face the music” of his outraged parents.

The last man had said his adieux, and Adrienne was evidently about to come towards him, when the maid entered with a letter.

Directly she took this letter in her hand he saw a change go over her face, but it was only for a moment. She broke open the envelope, read the letter, and, tearing it into fragments, threw it into the grate. When she approached him a smile wreathed her lips.

“Adrienne,” said he, with boyish impulsiveness, “how beautiful you look to-night!”

“Don’t tell me that,” she returned, in a voice that was almost harsh. “Harold, I want to beg of you a favour​—​go early, to please me. That sword business was too much for me. You thought I was iron-nerved. I wasn’t. I felt horribly frightened.”

“Do you really want me to go? There’s something I should like to say.”

“Another night,” she returned, hurriedly.

“To-morrow? I have two days’ leave.”

“Yes, to-morrow. Come to tea.”

He left her a little dashed in spirits. The evening had begun delightfully, it had ended dismally.

He walked pensively into Park-lane. The night was intensely hot. It was fairly early, and there was no necessity to go direct to the Hotel Metropole, where he always put up when on his flying visits to London.

By the time he reached Oxford-street it was nearly midnight. The last omnibuses were crawling homewards, the horses plodding languidly along scarcely responding to the encouraging “click” of the drivers.

Suddenly he felt a hand laid on his shoulder. He turned and saw a man in evening-dress and Inverness​—​George Gascoyne, an old college chum and now a surgeon. Gascoyne had been dining at his club and was somewhat elated.

“What, Calverley, old boy! One would think you were as melancholy as ‘the drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe,’ as old Jack Falstaff has it. What’s gone wrong?”

“Nothing. A bit hipped. This infernally sultry weather, I suppose.”

“You want waking up. What do you say to looking in at a Soho gambling club? The show is worth a visit​—​once. Just to stick it in the list of things one ought to avoid, you know.”

Calverley was indifferent. All he knew was that he was not inclined for bed, so the two friends walked along Oxford-street and turned into Soho-square.

Gascoyne stopped opposite a quiet-looking house in grimy Greek-street. The street door opened into a small, square lobby, feebly lighted; a partition covered with green baize formed the back of the lobby, and in the centre of the green baize door was an oval hole about the size of a man’s head.

At a few words from Gascoyne whispered through this hole, the door was opened by a dark, foreign-looking man, who entered the names of the visitors in a book. They paid a small amount of money, which constituted them members without any fuss or ceremony. They heard the sound of a piano as they ascended the staircase, and were shewn into a spacious room decorated and furnished quite in the foreign style​—​velvet lounges, mirrors, lace curtains and a good deal of tarnished ornamentation. The whole aspect was cheap and tawdry.

The company matched its surroundings. The dresses of the ladies had a decidedly second-hand look about them; the men might have passed very well for waiters.

Some of the members were waltzing to a piano played by a little old grey-headed German, others were laughing and drinking. The air was thick with tobacco smoke. Not a few cast a somewhat suspicious glance at the two young men, who certainly looked a little out of place in their faultless evening attire and their unmistakable air of good breeding.

“Where’s the gambling you were going to shew me?” whispered Calverley.

“Oh, that’s a floor higher. If this scene of revelry doesn’t take you, we’ll try the baccarat chamber.”

Calverley was not sorry to quit the hot room, with its tinsel of gaiety, its almost fetid atmosphere, and its polyglot sounds​—​a mixture of the harsh, the shrill, the nasal and the guttural.

They entered the gaming saloon, where the silence, by contrast to the pandemonium of the room below, seemed strange and unnatural. They approached the long table covered with green cloth unnoticed by the players who sat round. The latter were far too absorbed to trouble themselves about anything save the cards and their chances. Yet the scene in a way was interesting, if only for the opportunity it afforded of studying the varied expressions of the gamesters.

“I’ve half a mind to try my luck, Calverley,” whispered Gascoyne.

“Fools and their money are soon parted,” was the sententious reply of his friend.

“Never mind; the first seat that’s vacant I shall take.”

The opportunity soon came. One man who was either tired or had lost all his money​—​the latter, probably, to judge by his white lips and scowling brow​—​rose, and Gascoyne dropped into his chair.

At that moment a clap of thunder, one single, awful crash, shook the house, and for a moment the startled gamblers looked at each other in affright.

But card-playing must go on though the heavens fall. The banker began dealing out the cards right and left, and the money was being staked when the door suddenly opened and a swarthy-complexioned, dark-bearded man, his face twitching with excitement, rushed straight to the banker and whispered one word. That word was heard by everyone in the room.


Instantly the men leaped to their feet. One croupier gathered up the cards, the other tore off the green cloth, scarcely giving time to the gamblers to snatch their money.

To Gascoyne and Calverley the matter was very serious. If the police took them into custody their names would be published and the scandal would be extremely unpleasant. Indeed, for a time, it would be Gascoyne’s ruination.

“Upstairs,” whispered Calverley. “There’s bound to be a trap-door. It’s our only chance.”

It was a mad idea, but Calverley never stopped to think. All he wanted was to avoid the police.

They dashed up a couple of flights of narrow stairs to the top landing. The glimmer of a gas-jet shewed, as he expected, a trap-door and a ladder hanging on to a hook against the wall.

In a twinkling, the ladder was planted and the rusty bolts shot back with some difficulty. They replaced the trap-door and found themselves in a loft, its floor thick with dirt and dust. A second trap had yet to be raised.

At last they were on the roof, and, to go as far as the corner of the next street was a very easy matter, for the roof formed two triangles running lengthwise with a gutter in the centre. Looking along the channel made by these triangles they could see that some of the houses had attic windows opening on the roof.

“How are we going to get down?” exclaimed Gascoyne. “Phew! There’s a big drop of rain! We’re in for a shower-bath. Pleasant, upon my——”

The words died away in his throat. A cry​—​a cry with unmistakable horror in every vibration​—​burst upon their astonished ears. It was but one scream abruptly cut off, as it seemed. It did not die away naturally.

They listened with beating hearts, but the sound was not repeated. What was there so agonising about that cry, so instinct with an appeal for help, that made both men involuntarily think of murder? Neither could say.

Some three houses away was an attic window faintly lit up. Calverley could hardly say by what impulse he was actuated, but he ran to this window and looked through. A vivid flash of lightning made the whole interior visible.

“Heavens!” he cried. “Look at that!”

The next moment he had opened the windows, which were hung like doors, and was in the room.

A second flash shewed a man lying stretched on the floor, his face congested, his eyes distended, his lips swollen.

In an instant Gascoyne was by Calverley’s side and was stooping over the body.

“By Jove!” muttered the surgeon. “The man’s dead​—​strangled!”

Amid the pattering of the rain was heard a significant sound in the adjoining room​—​the sound of a door closing softly.

The two friends looked at each other. The same thought was in the minds of both​—​the murderer was making his escape. The two rooms communicated, and quick as thought they rushed in pursuit. An obstacle awaited them, the door leading to the landing was locked on the outside!

“A pretty fix,” muttered Gascoyne. “Locked in with a murdered man and no way of explaining our presence but that we were trying to escape the consequences of a police raid on a disreputable gambling club. Nice position for a rising surgeon!”

He took his silk handkerchief from his vest and mopped his forehead. The shock following the effects of the wine he had drunk had thoroughly unnerved him. Calverley, on the other hand, was perfectly cool.

“Perhaps there is a way out into the passage from the other room,” he suggested.

“Yes, yes,” muttered Gascoyne, “I hope to goodness there is. Hang it, I’ve dropped my handkerchief.”

Leaving his friend groping for his property Calverley hastened back. His conjecture as to a second door was right, and he called softly to his companion.

“Found your handkerchief?” he whispered.

“Yes, thank goodness. I dared not leave it behind with my name worked in the corner.”

They rapidly descended the staircase. The house was silent and dark. They met no one, they heard the sound of no one. Within a minute they were in the pelting rain and racing along the flooded street.


“Please do not come until nine o’clock.​—​Adrienne.”

Harold Calverley threw the telegram on the breakfast-table impatiently. He had to catch the midnight train to Chatham, and he had looked forward to a long evening with Adrienne.

He was feverish and uneasy. He could eat nothing. The exciting events of the previous night were too fresh in his mind. He opened the newspaper with a feeling of dread. Yes, there was an account of the police raid, but not a word about the dead man. Ought he not to give information to the police? But Gascoyne, it would injure him in his profession; besides, he had given his promise not to say a word.

How the day passed he did not quite know. The only thing absolutely certain was that he ate little and had several brandies and sodas. Then he kept his appointment.

The room into which Mrs. Verne’s maid shewed him was dark save at one end where the pale moonlight flooded the balcony. He could see the graceful outline of Adrienne Verne’s figure within the open French windows.

She looked dazzlingly fair in the pale mysterious light. The profile stood out sharp, clear and delicate against the sombre background of foliage, her bosom rose and fell in regular pulsations; the round shoulders were almost visible beneath the diaphanous gauze of her summer dress.

She turned her head towards him. A smile hovered over the coral lips. The long lashes closed languorously, and then half-opened.

“Dear, dear Harold,” she murmured.

Her words, the soft, enticing whisper, the glance from beneath those drooping lids, fired him. His blood coursed through his veins like liquid fire.

“Tell me, Adrienne,” he breathed, carried away by the impulse of the moment and the vehemence of his passion, “do you love me?”

She snatched her fingers away, she covered her face with both hands; her bosom heaved convulsively.

His arm went round her slender waist, and he drew her to him, trying to remove her hands.

“Let me see your face,” he whispered. “I want to read my fate there.”

Suddenly she changed her position, removed her hands, and looked at him. Her face was composed​—​more composed than he expected.

“I am not like other women, remember. I shall worry you to death.”

“Very well, then, I will die.”

A thrill passed over her; he felt her almost tremble.

“Do you promise to love me always​—​ever​—​until death?” she persisted.

“Until death and beyond.”

“That does not matter. There is no beyond,” she returned, hastily.

They sat side by side, silent, for some little time, resigning themselves to the blissful, absorbing passion of a newly-found love.

Was Harold Calverley happy? He could scarcely say. He was infatuated with the witch-like beauty of the woman, but​—​well, there is often a good deal in that fatal but.

Presently she raised her eyes, and those mystical orbs, now soft and languorous, travelled over the young man’s face.

“You have made me so happy, dearest Harold. Tell me now, when did you first love me?”

“How can I answer such a question, Adrienne,” said he, in a tone of forced gaiety. “I do not know. I suppose I gradually grew to love you.”

“By degrees? Ah, that is not my way. With me I either love at once​—​or hate. I think directly I saw you I loved you. I could not help it. Kiss me, Harold. I want to know that you are there, that it is not a dream.”

She spoke with a feverish intensity, every accent vibrating with passion. He kissed her. Her lips seemed to fasten upon his as though she wished to transfuse her nature with his.

“You do love me, darling, do you not?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Of course,” she echoed. “And are you happy​—​as I am?”

“I hope so.”

“You hope so. How coldly you speak! I want you to be sure. I want you to feel that I love you with the only love that is worth anything​—​the love that makes a woman dare anything, do anything, stoop to anything to gain the heart she longs for. That is my love for you, Harold; cannot you understand?”

Her voice sank almost to a murmur. He could feel her thrill with emotion. The lips, usually so crimson, were pallid, and, parting tremulously, shewed her small, white, even, strong teeth.

Harold Calverley left the house in a delirium of the senses which he did not attempt to analyse, nor could he had he so wished. Yet his intoxication of bliss was dashed with shadows, not merely the misgivings as to what the General and his mother would say, but something darker, something absolutely indefinable.

To add to his uneasiness he missed his train. There was no possibility of reaching Chatham before the morning.

While standing irresolutely it occurred to him that Gascoyne’s place was near Victoria. He would get a shakedown there.

Gascoyne, looking pale and wretched, received him in a flurried manner.

“It is as I suspected,” said he, with some agitation. “That man was murdered​—​after the fashion of Thuggism. A handkerchief slipped round the neck and the thumbs ground into the windpipe, one each side. It was all over in half a minute. There’s the evening paper​—​you can read all about it for yourself.”

The dead man was named Philip Trafford. He had lodged in the house for some weeks, but no one knew anything about him. But this was not singular, for all the rest of the premises were let out for business purposes. Undoubtedly he had been strangled, but at present the whole affair was wrapped in mystery.

“Unpleasant business, isn’t it? If I only had the pluck to speak, I fancy I could give the police the clue,” went on Gascoyne. “Look here. You remember my dropping my silk handkerchief and groping for it in the dark. I picked up this as well. I didn’t find it out until I got home.”

That!” almost shrieked Calverley.

He turned ghastly white, and his eyes had in them an expression of unspeakable horror.

It was the half of the silken scarf he had severed! The other half he had at that moment in his pocket as a gage d’amour.

“My dear fellow,” exclaimed Gascoyne alarmed, “what ails you?”

“I’m going to take this scarf,” he rejoined, fiercely. “Give it to me, I say.”

He snatched the silken piece of gauze from the astonished surgeon’s hand and thrust it into his pocket.

“You can come with me, if you like,” he went on, with a reckless laugh, “just to see I’m not going to give you away to the police.”

“Wait outside,” Calverley whispered hoarsely a little later. Their cab was at the door of the flats where Mrs. Verne lived. “I shan’t be long.”

Nor was he. Gascoyne saw him come out of the doorway in a quarter of an hour’s time staggering like a drunken man. The surgeon had to assist him into the cab.

“Would you like to know the solution of the mystery in Greek-street?” he broke out, boisterously. “I have just left the woman who strangled the man we found. He was her husband, and, Heaven help me! I thought I loved her, and only two hours ago asked her to marry me.”

He sank back in the corner of the cab and buried his face in his hands. He could say no more.

But afterwards, bit by bit, the story came out. Adrienne Verne undoubtedly was an adventuress, but, perhaps​—​who can say?​—​not wholly bad. She had had a successful career as a Circe of the Atlantic​—​one of those fascinating women who find the great ocean greyhounds very profitable areas for their ingenuity whether in the way of robbery or blandishments.

In an evil hour she married​—​married a man who was thoroughly vicious and who had done time. She betrayed him over some swindling transaction, he was sentenced to five years penal servitude, and he swore when he came out of prison he would pursue her to the ends of the earth and have his revenge.

That note, delivered to Adrienne Verne late the previous evening, which contracted her face with a sudden spasm, told her that his vengeance was near.

She was a bold and determined woman, and she did not hesitate. She hated and feared this man, Philip Trafford, and she loved with all the force of her nature Harold Calverley. She went to the house in Greek-street. There was a stormy interview, but she, taking the man unawares, strangled him as skilfully as any Thug. And she used the half of the silken scarf to do it.

The next day Mrs. Verne’s furnished flat was empty. The sudden death of a relative, she told the agent, had called her away. Not a word did Calverley or Gascoyne ever divulge, and the mystery of Greek-street, so far as the police and the public are concerned, remains a mystery to this day.