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MRS. BENKER REAPPEARS
The more Giles thought about Franklin, the more he was certain that he was the man for whom search was being made. To be sure there was no distinguishing mark of identification; the evidence that he was one and the same amounted to the facts that he had large black eyes, and that his height and figure resembled the so-called Wilson. Moreover, although other people in the village had seen the clerk, no one but Giles seemed to recognize him. In fact, this recognition was rather due to an instinct than to any tangible reason. But in his own mind he was convinced. He recalled how the man had suddenly removed his scarf as though he were stifling on that night. He remembered the wan face, the dark, anxious face, and the rough red beard and hair.
To be sure Franklin was dark-haired and sallow in complexion; also he was clean-shaved, and even when not--according to Mrs. Parry--had worn a full black beard. But the red hair and whiskers might have been assumed as a disguise. Giles did not know very well how to verify his suspicions. Then he determined to confide in Morley. Steel had told him that the proprietor of The Elms was an ex-detective, and Giles thought that for the sake of avenging Daisy's death he might be induced to take up his old trade. With this idea he called at The Elms.
Morley was delighted to see him and welcomed him in the most cheerful manner. He and Giles were always good friends, and the only subject of contention between them was the question of Anne's guilt. Morley still believed that the governess had committed the crime and asked after her at the outset of the interview.
"Have you found her?" he asked, just as Mrs. Parry had done.
Giles knew quite well of whom he was speaking. "No, I have not," he answered; "and if I had I certainly should not tell you."
"As you please," replied the little man complacently; "you will never see the truth."
"It is not the truth. But see here, Morley, what is the use of our discussing this matter? You believe Miss Denham to be guilty. I am certain that she is innocent. Let the difference between us rest there. Still, if I could prove the innocence of Miss Denham----"
"I should be more than delighted," responded Morley quickly, "and would make all the amends in my power for my unjust suspicions. But you have first to prove them unjust. Believe me, Ware, I admired Miss Denham as much as my wife did, and thought much of her. I defended her from poor Daisy's aspersions, and would have stood her friend all through but for this last act of hers. Well! Well, don't get angry. I am willing to be shown that I am wrong. Show me."
Giles reflected for a moment, then went straight to the point.
"I have been with Steel," he said abruptly, "and he tells me that you have been in the detective line yourself."
Morley nodded. "Quite so," he answered, "although I asked Steel to say nothing about it. I am a private gentleman now, and I don't want my former occupation to be known in Rickwell. A prejudice exists against detectives, Ware. People don't like them, because every one has something to conceal, and with a trained man he or she is afraid lest some secret sin should come to light."
"It may be so, although that is rather a cynical way of looking at the matter. But you are really Joe Bart?"
"Yes. And quite at your service. Only keep this quiet."
"Certainly. I quite appreciate your reasons for wanting the matter kept quiet. But see here, Mr. Morley--I shall call you so."
"It will be better," replied the ex-detective cheerfully, "and I have a sort of right to the name. It was my mother's."
"Very good. Then as Morley why should you not exercise your old skill and help me to find out who killed Daisy?"
"I should be delighted, and what skill remains to me is at your service. But I am rusty now, and cannot follow a trail with my old persistence or talent. Besides, my mind is made up as to the guilt----"
"Yes, yes," interposed Giles hastily, "you think so, but I don't agree with you. Now listen to what I have to tell you, and I am sure you will think that it was the man who killed Daisy."
"But he had no motive."
"Yes, he had. I'll tell it to you concisely."
Morley looked surprised at Giles' insistence, but nodded without a word and waited for an explanation. Giles related all that he had learned about Wilson, and how Steel had connected him with the supposed clerk who had served the summons on Morley. Then he proceeded to detail Steel's belief that the so-called Wilson was a burglar, and mentioned the fact of the yacht with the strange name. Morley listened in silence, but interrupted the recital with a laugh, when the scarlet cross was mentioned in connection with the robbery at Lady Summersdale's house.
"Steel has found a mare's nest this time," he said coolly. "He knew better than to come to me with such a cock and bull story, although he has imposed very successfully on you and on that Hungarian Princess you talk of. I had the Summersdale case in hand."
"I know. Steel said that you carried it through successfully."
Morley demurred. "I don't know if you can say that I was successful, Ware. It was not one of my lucky cases. I certainly got back the jewels. I found them in their London hiding-place, but I did not catch one of the thieves. They all bolted."
"In The Red Cross yacht."
"Oh, that's all rubbish," said Morley frankly; "there were a great many yachts at Bexleigh on that occasion. I don't remember one called The Red Cross. And even if one of that name was there, it does not say that it is the same that was off Gravesend the other day."
"Six months ago," corrected Giles gravely; "but how do you account for the fact that wherever that yacht has been burglaries have taken place?"
"I can't account for it, and Steel has yet to prove that there is any connection between the yacht and the robberies. He thinks it a kind of pirate ship evidently. Not a bad idea, though," added Morley musingly; "the goods could be removed easily without suspicion on board a good-looking yacht."
"And that is what has been done."
"It wasn't in the matter of Lady Summersdale's jewels," retorted the ex-detective. "I found those in London, and have reason to believe that they were taken there by train. Besides, there was no connection between the yacht and that robbery."
"Steel said that a scarlet cross was found in the safe, and----"
"And," interrupted Morley, "there you have the long arm of coincidence, Ware. That cross belonged to Lady Summersdale, and was one of the trinkets left behind. If you want proof on this point, you have only to ask Lady----no, I forgot, she is dead. However, I daresay her son or daughter will be able to prove that the cross was hers."
Giles was much disappointed by this explanation, which seemed clear enough. And if any one should know the truth, it would be the man who had taken charge of the case. Failing on this point, Giles shifted his ground.
"Well, Morley," he said, "I am not very anxious to prove this man Wilson a burglar. He is a murderer, I am sure, and the greater crime swallows up the lesser."
"That sounds law," said Morley, lighting a cigar.
"Well, Ware, I don't see how I can help you. This man Wilson, whether he is innocent or guilty, has vanished; and, moreover, his connection, if any, with the Summersdale robbery of ten years ago won't prove him guilty of my poor ward's death."
"I only mentioned that to show his connection with the yacht at Gravesend. But as to this Wilson, I know where he is."
Morley wheeled round with an eager light in his eyes. "The devil you do. Where is he?"
"At the Priory."
"Is this a joke?" cried Morley angrily. "If so, it is a very poor one, Ware. The man who lives at the Priory is my friend Franklin----"
"He is also the man who was in the church on New Year's Eve--the man who killed Daisy, as I truly believe."
Giles went on to state what his reasons were for this belief. All at once Morley started to his feet. "Ah! I know now why something about him seemed to be familiar to me. What a fool I am! I believe you are right, Ware."
"What? That he is this man Wilson?"
"I don't know what his former name was," replied Morley, with a shrug, "but now you mention it I fancy he is the man who served the summons on me."
"You ought to know," said Ware dryly; "you saw him in this room, and in a good light."
"True enough, Ware; but all the time he kept his collar up and that white scarf round his throat. His chin was quite buried in it. And then he had a rough red--wig, shall we say? and a red beard. I didn't trouble to ask him to make himself comfortable. All I wanted was to get him out of the way. But I remember his black eyes. Franklin has eyes like that, and sometimes I catch myself wondering where I have seen him before. He tells me he has lived in Florence these six years and more. I fancied that when I was a detective I might have seen him, but he insisted that he had not been to London for years and years. He originally came from the States. And I was once a detective! Good Lord, how I have lost my old cleverness! But to be sure I have been idle these ten years."
"Then you think Franklin is this man?"
"I think so, but of course I can't be sure. Naturally he will deny that he is, and I can't prove the matter myself. But I tell you what, Ware," said Morley suddenly, "get that woman Wilson lodged with down, and see if she will recognize Franklin as her former lodger. She, if any one, will know him, and perhaps throw him off his guard."
Ware rose. "A very good idea," he said. "I'll write to her at once. I am certain this is the man, especially as he has inherited Daisy's money. He killed her in order to get the fortune, and that was why he kept asking Asher's office boy about money left to people."
"Ah!" Morley looked thoughtful. "So that was the motive, you think?"
"I am sure of it, and a quite strong enough motive for many people," said Ware grimly. "If Mrs. Benker can verify this man, I'll have him arrested. He will have to explain why he came here instead of the office boy, and why he fled on that night."
"Yes, yes!" cried Morley excitedly. "And he might perhaps explain why the governess helped him to escape."
"Ah!" Giles' face fell. "So he might; but if he dares to inculpate her in this crime----"
"Ware," said Morley, laying his hand on the young man's shoulder, "if I were you I should do nothing rash. Every one thinks that Miss Denham is guilty. If this Franklin is the man who fled with her, he will accuse her to save himself. Certainly there is the motive of the money, but that might be explained away."
"I don't see how it can."
"Nor I; still, there is always the chance. Again, he may take alarm--always presuming he is the man--and fly. I tell you what, Ware, you bring Mrs. Benker down, and take her into the grounds of the Priory. I will arrange that Franklin, without suspecting her or us, shall meet her, accidentally, at some place where we can hide. Then we can overhear if he is the man or not."
"He'll deny that he is."
"Why should he? There is nothing, so far as he knows, that Mrs. Benker can lay hold of. If he is the man he will admit his identity, if not, he will explain who he is. Whereas if we show ourselves and show that we suspect him, he will be on his guard. No, Ware; better let the woman meet him by chance."
"It's a good plan," replied Giles, shaking hands heartily with Morley. "I am delighted that you should co-operate with me. We will yet prove that Anne is innocent."
"I hope so," cried his host, slapping Giles on the back. "Off with you, Ware, to do your part. I'll attend to Franklin. But say no word of our plan to any one. Upon my word," cried he jubilantly, "I feel just as though I were in the profession again." And thus laughing and joking, he sent his visitor away in the best of spirits.
Delighted that he had some one to help him, Giles lost no time in performing his part of the business. He sent a letter to Mrs. Benker, asking her to come down for a couple of days. It was his intention to invite Alexander also, as the boy would also be useful in identifying Franklin as his mother's former lodger; but since leaving Asher's Alexander had been taken up by Steel, who saw in him the makings of a good detective. If Alexander learned anything he would certainly tell his master, and then Steel would come down to interfere. Ware did not want him to meddle with the matter at present. He wished to be sure of his ground first, and then would ask the assistance of the detective to have Franklin arrested. Of course, he had every confidence in Steel, but for the above reason he determined to keep his present action quiet. Also, Steel was on the south coast, hunting for evidence concerning The Red Cross yacht, and would not be pleased at being taken away to follow what might prove to be a false trail. Ware therefore said nothing to Mrs. Benker about what he desired to see her, but simply asked her to come down on a visit.
There was a prospect of his having another visitor, and one he did not much wish to meet. This was the Princess Karacsay. Several times he had called to see her, but she had always put off her promised explanation on some plea or another. Instead of attending strictly to the business which had brought them together, she made herself agreeable to Giles--too agreeable he thought, for he had by this time got it into his head that Olga Karacsay was in love with him. He was not a vain young man, and tried to think that her attentions were merely friendly; but she was so persistent in her invitations and--in the slang phrase--made such running with him, that he grew rather nervous of her attentions. Several times she had proposed to come on a visit to Rickwell, but hitherto he had always managed to put her off. But her letters were becoming very imperative, and he foresaw trouble. It was quite a relief to Giles when the post arrived without a letter from this too persistent and too charming lady. However, she did not trouble him on this especial occasion, and he was thus enabled to give all his time to Mrs. Benker.
That good lady duly arrived, looking more severe than ever and with several new tales about the iniquities of Alexander. She expressed herself greatly obliged to Giles for giving her a day in the country, and got on very well with the old housekeeper. But when Ware told her his reason for asking her, Mrs. Benker grew rather nervous, as she did not think how she could support an interview, and, also, she wanted to know what the interview was for. To some extent Giles had to take her into his confidence, but he suppressed the fact that he suspected Franklin of the crime. He merely stated that Steel--who had introduced Giles to Mrs. Benker--had reason to believe that the so-called Wilson was wanted by the police. All that Mrs. Benker had to do was to see if Franklin was really her former lodger. After much talk and many objections, she consented to do what was wanted.
This was to wander in the park of the Priory and meet Franklin accidentally near a ruined summer-house, near what was known as the fish-ponds. Morley had arranged that Franklin should meet him there, and was to be late, so as to afford Mrs. Benker an opportunity of speaking to the man. Morley and Ware concealed themselves in the summer-house and saw Mrs. Benker parading the grass. Shortly Franklin arrived, walking slowly, and Mrs. Benker saluted him.
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