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THE MAN CALLED "MERRILL"
"If Wiseman did not think you were a murderer, I should regard him as an intelligent being," said Saul Arthur Mann.
"Have they found Crawley?" asked Frank.
"No, he got away. The chauffeur and the car were hired from a West End garage, with this story of a lunatic who had to be removed to an asylum, and apparently Crawley, or Smith, was the man who hired them. He even paid a little extra for the damage which the alleged lunatic might do the car. The chauffeur says that he had some doubt, and had intended to inform the police after he had arrived at his destination. As a matter of fact, they were just outside Eastbourne when the accident occurred." "The Man Who Knew" paused.
"Where did he say he was taking her?" he asked Frank.
"He was told to drive into Eastbourne, where more detailed instructions would be given to him. The police have confirmed his story, and he has been released.
"I have just come from May," said Frank. "She looks none the worse for her exciting adventure. I hope you have arranged to have her guarded?"
Saul Arthur Mann nodded.
"It will be the last adventure of that kind our friend will attempt," he said.
"Still, this enlightens us a little. We know that Mr. Rex Holland has an accomplice, and that accomplice is Sergeant Smith, so we may presume that they were both in the murder. Constable Wiseman has been suitably rewarded, as he well deserves," said Frank heartily.
"You bear no malice," smiled Saul Arthur Mann.
Frank laughed, and shook his head.
"How can one?" he asked simply.
May had another visitor. Jasper Cole came hurriedly to London at the first intimation of the outrage, but was reassured by the girl's appearance.
"It was awfully thrilling," she said, "but really I am not greatly distressed; in fact, I think I look less tired than you."
"That is very possible. I did not go to bed until very late this morning," he said. "I was so engrossed in my research work that I did not realize it was morning until they brought me my tea."
"You haven't been in bed all night?" she said, shocked, and shook her head reprovingly. "That is one of your habits of life which will have to be changed," she warned him.
Jasper Cole did not dismiss her unpleasant experience as lightly as she.
"I wonder what the object of it all was," he said, "and why they took you back to Eastbourne? I think we shall find that the headquarters of this infernal combination is somewhere in Sussex."
"Mr. Mann doesn't think so," she said, "but believes that the car was to be met by another at Eastbourne and I was to be transferred. He says that the idea of taking me there was to throw the police off the scent."
"It wasn't a nice experience," she confessed.
The interview took place in the afternoon, and was some two hours after Frank had interviewed the girl; Saul Arthur Mann had gone to Eastbourne to bring her back. Jasper had arranged to spend the night in town, and had booked two stalls at the Hippodrome. She had told Saul Arthur Mann this, in accordance with her promise to keep him informed as to her movements, and she was, therefore, surprised when, half an hour later, the little investigator presented himself.
She met him in the presence of her fiancé, and it was clear to Jasper what Saul Arthur Mann's intentions were.
"I don't want to make myself a nuisance," he said, "but before we go any further, Miss Nuttall, there are certain matters on which you ought to be informed. I have every reason to believe that I know who was responsible for the outrage of last night, and I do not intend risking a repetition."
"Who do you think was responsible?" asked the girl quietly.
"I honestly believe that the author is in this room," was the startling response.
"You mean me?" asked Jasper Cole angrily.
"I mean you, Mr. Cole. I believe that you are the man who planned the coup and that you are its sole author," said the other.
The girl stared at him in astonishment.
"You surely do not mean what you say."
"I mean that Mr. Cole has every reason for wishing to marry you," he said. "What that reason is I do not know completely, but I shall discover. I am satisfied," he went on slowly, "that Mr. Cole is already married."
She looked from one to the other.
"Already married?" repeated Jasper.
"If he is not already married," said Saul Arthur Mann bluntly, "then I have been indiscreet. The only thing I can tell you is that your fiancé has been traveling on the Continent with a lady who describes herself as Mrs. Cole."
Jasper said nothing for a moment, but looked at the other oddly and thoughtfully.
"I understand, Mr. Mann," he said at length, "that you collect facts as other people collect postage stamps?"
Saul Arthur Mann bristled.
"You may carry this off, sir," he began, "if you can--"
"Let me speak," said Jasper Cole, raising his voice. "I want to ask you this: Have you a complete record of John Minute's life?"
"I know it so well," said Saul Arthur Mann emphatically, "that I could repeat his history word for word."
"Will you sit down, May?" said Jasper, taking the girl's hand in his and gently forcing her to a chair. "We are going to put Mr. Mann's memory to the test."
"Do you seriously mean that you want me to repeat that history?" asked the other suspiciously.
"I mean just that," said Jasper, and drew up a chair for his unpleasant visitor.
The record of John Minute's life came trippingly from Mann's tongue. He knew to an extraordinary extent the details of that strange and wild career.
"In 1892," said the investigator, continuing his narrative, "he was married at St. Bride's church, Port Elizabeth, to Agnes Gertrude Cole."
"Cole," murmured Jasper.
The little man looked at him with open mouth.
"Cole! Good Lord--you are--"
"I am his son," said Jasper quietly. "I am one of his two children. Your information is that there was one. As a matter of fact, there were two. My mother left my father with one of the greatest scoundrels that has ever lived. He took her to Australia, where my sister was born six months after she had left John Minute. There her friend deserted her, and she worked for seven years as a kitchen maid, in Melbourne, in order to save up enough money to bring us to Cape Town. My mother opened a tea shop off Aderley Street, and earned enough to educate me and my sister. It was there she met Crawley, and Crawley promised to use his influence with my father to bring about a reconciliation for her children's sake. I do not know what was the result of his attempt, but I gather it was unsuccessful, and things went on very much as they were before.
"Then one day, when I was still at the South African College, my mother went home, taking my sister with her. I have reason to believe that Crawley was responsible for her sailing and that he met them on landing. All that I knew was that from that day my mother disappeared. She had left me a sum of money to continue my studies, but after eight months had passed, and no word had come from her, I decided to go on to England. I have since learned what had happened. My mother had been seized with a stroke and had been conveyed to the workhouse infirmary by Crawley, who had left her there and had taken my sister, who apparently he passed off as his own daughter.
"I did not know this at the time, but being well aware of my father's identity I wrote to him, asking him for help to discover my mother. He answered, telling me that my mother was dead, that Crawley had told him so, and that there was no trace of Marguerite, my sister. We exchanged a good many letters, and then my father asked me to come and act as his secretary and assist him in his search for Marguerite. What he did not know was that Crawley's alleged daughter, whom he had not seen, was the girl for whom he was seeking. I fell into the new life, and found John Minute--I can scarcely call him 'father'--much more bearable than I expected--and then one day I found my mother."
"You found your mother?" said Saul Arthur Mann, a light dawning upon him.
"Your persistent search of the little house in Silvers Rents produced nothing," he smiled. "Had you taken the bamboo ladder and crossed the yard at the back of the house into another yard, then through the door, you would have come to Number 16 Royston Court, and you would have been considerably surprised to find an interior much more luxurious than you would have expected in that quarter. In Royston Court they spoke of Number 16 as 'the house with the nurses' because there were always three nurses on duty, and nobody ever saw the inside of the house but themselves. There you would have found my mother, bedridden, and, indeed, so ill that the doctors who saw her would not allow her to be moved from the house.
"I furnished this hovel piece by piece, generally at night, because I did not want to excite the curiosity of the people in the court, nor did I wish this matter to reach the ears of John Minute. I felt that while I retained his friendship and his confidence there was at least a chance of his reconciliation with my mother, and that, before all things, she desired. It was not to be," he said sadly. "John Minute was struck down at the moment my plans seemed as though they were going to result in complete success. Strangely enough, with his death, my mother made an extraordinary recovery, and I was able to move her to the Continent. She had always wanted to see Holland, France, and at this moment"--he turned to the girl with a smile--"she is in the châlet which you occupied during your holiday."
Mr. Mann was dumfounded. All his pet theories had gone by the board.
"But what of your sister?" he asked at last.
A black look gathered in Jasper Cole's face.
"My sister's whereabouts are known to me now," he said shortly. "For some time she lived in Camden Town, at Number 69 Flowerton Road. At the present moment she is nearer and is watched night and day, almost as carefully as Mr. Mann's agents are watching you." He smiled again at the girl.
"Watching me?" she said, startled.
Saul Arthur Mann went red.
"It was my idea," he said stiffly.
"And a very excellent one," agreed Jasper, "but unfortunately you appointed your guards too late."
Mr. Mann went back to his office, his brain in a whirl, yet such was his habit that he did not allow himself to speculate upon the new and amazing situation until he had carefully jotted down every new fact he had collected.
It was astounding that he had overlooked the connection between Jasper Cole and John Minute's wife. His labors did not cease until eleven o'clock, and he was preparing to go home when the commissionaire who acted as caretaker came to tell him that a lady wished to see him.
"A lady? At this hour of the night?" said Mr. Mann, perturbed. "Tell her to come in the morning."
"I have told her that, sir, but she insists upon seeing you to-night."
"What is her name?"
"Mrs. Merrill," said the commissionaire.
Saul Arthur Mann collapsed into his chair.
"Show her up," he said feebly.
He had no difficulty in recognizing the girl, who came timidly into the room, as the original of the photograph which had been sent to him by Constable Wiseman. She was plainly dressed and wore no ornament, and she was undeniably pretty, but there was about her a furtiveness and a nervous indecision which spoke of her apprehension.
"Sit down," said Mr. Mann kindly. "What do you want me to do for you?"
"I am Mrs. Merrill," she said timidly.
"So the commissionaire said," replied the little man. "You are nervous about something?"
"Oh, I am so frightened!" said the girl, with a shudder. "If he knows I have been here he'll--"
"You have nothing to be frightened about Just sit here for one moment."
He went into the next room, which had a branch telephone connection, and called up May. She was out, and he left an urgent message that she was to come, bringing Jasper with her, as soon as she returned. When he got back to his office, he found the girl as he had left her, sitting on the edge of a big armchair, plucking nervously at her handkerchief.
"I have heard about you," she said. "He mentioned you once--before we went to that Sussex cottage with Mr. Crawley. They were going to bring another lady, and I was to look after her, but he--"
"Who is 'he'?" asked Mr. Mann.
"My husband," said the girl.
"How long have you been married?" demanded the little man.
"I ran away with him a long time ago," she said. "It has been an awful life; it was Mr. Crawley's idea. He told me that if I married Mr. Merrill he would take me to see my mother and Jasper. But he was so cruel--"
She shuddered again.
"We've been living in furnished houses all over the country, and I have been alone most of the time, and he would not let me go out by myself or do anything."
She spoke in a subdued, monotonous tone that betrayed the nearness of a bad, nervous breakdown.
"What does your husband call himself?"
"Why, Frank Merrill," said the girl in astonishment; "that's his name. Mr. Crawley always told me his name was Merrill. Isn't it?"
Mr. Mann shook his head.
"My poor girl," he said sympathetically, "I am afraid you have been grossly deceived. The man you married as Merrill is an impostor."
"An impostor?" she faltered.
Mr. Mann nodded.
"He has taken a good man's name, and I am afraid has committed abominable crimes in that man's name," said the investigator gently. "I hope we shall be able to rid you and the world of a great villain."
Still she stared uncomprehendingly.
"He has always been a liar," she said slowly. "He lied naturally and acted things so well that you believed him. He told me things which I know aren't true. He told me my brother was dead, but I saw his name in the paper the other day, and that is why I came to you. Do you know Jasper?"
She was as naïve and as unsophisticated as a schoolgirl, and it made the little man's heart ache to hear the plaintive monotony of tone and see the trembling lip.
"I promise you that you will meet your brother," he said.
"I have run away from Frank," she said suddenly. "Isn't that a wicked thing to do? I could not stand it. He struck me again yesterday, and he pretends to be a gentleman. My mother used to say that no gentleman ever treats a woman badly, but Frank does."
"Nobody shall treat you badly any more," said Mr. Mann.
"I hate him!" she went on with sudden vehemence. "He sneers and says he's going to get another wife, and--oh!"
He saw her hands go up to her face, and saw her staring eyes turn to the door in affright.
Frank Merrill stood in the doorway, and looked at her without recognition.
"I am sorry," he said. "You have a visitor?"
"Come in," said Mr. Mann. "I am awfully glad you called."
The girl had risen to her feet, and was shrinking back to the wall.
"Do you know this lady?"
Frank looked at her keenly.
"Why, yes, that's Sergeant Smith's daughter," he said, and he smiled. "Where on earth have you been?"
"Don't touch me!" she breathed, and put her hands before her, warding him off.
He looked at her in astonishment, and from her to Mann. Then he looked back at the girl, his brow wrinkled in perplexity.
"This girl," said Mr. Mann, "thinks she is your wife."
"My wife?" said Frank, and looked again at her.
"Is this a bad joke or something--do you say that I am your husband?" he asked.
She did not speak, but nodded slowly.
He sat down in a chair and whistled.
"This rather complicates matters," he said blankly, "but perhaps you can explain?"
"I only know what the girl has told me," said Mr. Mann, shaking his head. "I am afraid there is a terrible mistake here."
Frank turned to the girl.
"But did your husband look like me?"
"And did he call himself Frank Merrill?"
Again she nodded.
"Where is he now?"
She nodded, this time at him.
"But, great heavens," said Frank, with a gesture of despair, "you do not suggest that I am the man?"
"You are the man," said the girl.
Again Frank looked appealingly at his friend, and Saul Arthur Mann saw dismay and laughter in his eyes.
"I don't know what I can do," he said. "Perhaps if you left me alone with her for a minute--"
"Don't! Don't!" she breathed. "Don't leave me alone with him. Stay here."
"And where have you come from now?" asked Frank.
"From the house where you took me. You struck me yesterday," she went on inconsequently.
"I am not only married, but I am a wife beater apparently," he said desperately. "Now what can I do? I think the best thing that can be done is for this lady to tell us where she lives and I will take her back and confront her husband."
"I won't go with you!" cried the girl. "I won't! I won't! You said you'd look after me, Mr. Mann. You promised."
The little investigator saw that she was distraught to a point where a collapse was imminent.
"This gentleman will look after you also," he said encouragingly. "He is as anxious to save you from your husband as anybody."
"I will not go," she cried, "If that man touches me," and she pointed to Frank, "I'll scream."
Again came the tap at the door, and Frank looked round.
"More visitors?" he asked.
"It is all right," said Saul Arthur Mann. "There's a lady and a gentleman to see me, isn't there?" he asked the commissionaire. "Show them in."
May came first, saw the little tableau, and stopped, knowing instinctively all that it portended. Jasper followed her.
The girl, who had been watching Frank, shifted her eyes for a moment to the visitors, and at sight of Jasper flung across the room. In an instant her brother's arms were around her, and she was sobbing on his breast.
"Am I entitled to ask what all this means?" asked Frank quietly. "I am sure you will overlook my natural irritation, but I have suffered so much and I have been the victim of so many surprises that I do not feel inclined to accept all the shocks which fate sends me in a spirit of joyful resignation. Perhaps you will be good enough to elucidate this new mystery. Is everybody mad--or am I the sole sufferer?"
"There is no mystery about it," said Jasper, still holding the girl. "I think you know this lady?"
"I have never met her before in my life," said Frank, "but she persists in regarding me as her husband for some reason. Is this a new scheme of yours, Jasper?"
"I think you know this lady," said Jasper Cole again.
Frank shrugged his shoulders.
"You are almost monotonous. I repeat that I have never seen her before."
"Then I will explain to you," said Jasper.
He put the girl gently from him for a moment, and turned and whispered something to May. Together they passed out of the room.
"You were confidential secretary to John Minute for some time, Merrill, and in that capacity you made several discoveries. The most remarkable discovery was made when Sergeant Smith came to blackmail my father. Oh, don't pretend you didn't know that John Minute was my father!" he said in answer to the look of amazement on Frank Merrill's face.
"Smith took you into his confidence, and you married his alleged daughter. John Minute discovered this fact, not that he was aware that it was his own daughter, or that he thought that your association with my sister was any more than an intrigue beneath the dignity of his nephew. You did not think the time was ripe to spring a son-in-law upon him, and so you waited until you had seen his will. In that will he made no mention of a daughter, because the child had been born after his wife had left him, and he refused to recognize his paternity.
"Later, in some doubt as to whether he was doing an injustice to what might have been his own child, he endeavored to find her. Had you known of those investigations, you could have helped considerably, but as it happened you did not. You married her because you thought you would get a share of John Minute's millions, and when you found your plan had miscarried you planned an act of bigamy in order to secure a portion of Mr. Minute's fortune, which you knew would be considerable."
He turned to Saul Arthur Mann.
"You think I have not been very energetic in pursuing my inquiries as to who killed John Minute? There is the explanation of my tolerance."
He pointed his finger at Frank.
"This man is the husband of my sister. To ruin him would have meant involving her in that ruin. For a time I thought they were happily married. It was only recently that I have discovered the truth."
Frank shook his head.
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry," he said. "I have certainly not heard--"
"You will hear more," said Jasper Cole. "I will tell you how the murder was committed and who was the mysterious Rex Holland.
"Your father was a forger. That is known. You also have been forging signatures since you were a boy. You were Rex Holland. You came to Eastbourne on the night of the murder, and by an ingenious device you secured evidence in your favor in advance. Pretending to have lost your ticket, you allowed station officials to search you and to testify that you had no weapon. You were dropped at the gate of my father's house, and, as soon as the cab driver had disappeared, you made your way to where you had hidden your car in a field at a short distance from the house.
"You had arrived there earlier in the evening, and had made your way across the metals to Polegate Junction, where you joined the train. As you had taken the precaution to have your return ticket clipped in London, your trick was not discovered. You had regained your car, and drove up to the house ten minutes after you had been seen to disappear through the gateway. From your car you had taken the revolver, and with that revolver you murdered my father. In order to shield yourself you threw suspicion on me and made friends with one of the shrewdest men," he inclined his head toward the speechless Mr. Mann, "and through him conveyed those suspicions to authoritative quarters. It was you who, having said farewell to Miss Nuttall in Geneva, reappeared the same evening at Montreux and wrote a note forging my handwriting. It was you who left a torn sheet of paper in the room at Number 69 Flowerton Road, also in your writing.
"You have never moved a step but that I have followed you. My agents have been with you day and night ever since the day of the murder. I have waited my time, and that has come now."
Frank heaved a long sigh, and took up his hat.
"To-morrow morning I shall have a story to tell," he said.
"You are an excellent actor," said Jasper, "and an excellent liar, but you have never deceived me."
He flung open the door.
"There is your road. You have twenty thousand pounds which my father left you. You have some fifty-five thousand pounds which you buried on the night of the murder--you remember the gardener's trowel in the car?" he said, turning to Mann.
"I give you twenty-four hours to leave England. We cannot try you for the murder of John Minute; you can still be tried for the murder of your unfortunate servants."
Frank Merrill made no movement toward the door. He walked over to the other end of the room, and stood with his back to them. Then he turned.
"Sometimes," he said, "I feel that it isn't worth while going on. It has been rather a strain--all this."
Jasper Cole sprang toward him and caught him as he fell. They laid him down, and Saul Arthur Mann called urgently on the telephone for a doctor, but Frank Merrill was dead.
"I knew," said Constable Wiseman, when the story came to him.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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