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"I beg your pardon, sir," said Mrs. Benker to the new-comer, "but I do hope I'm not---- Why"--she changed her tone to one of extreme surprise--"if it ain't Mr. Wilson!"
The man did not move a muscle. Ware, who was watching, was disappointed. At least he expected him to start, but the so-called Wilson was absolutely calm, and his voice did not falter.
"You are making a mistake; my name is Franklin."
"It isn't his voice," muttered the landlady, still staring; "but his eyes are the same."
"May I ask you to go?" said Franklin. "You are trespassing."
Mrs. Benker shook her rusty black bonnet.
"You may change your hair from red to black," she declared, "and you may shave off a ginger beard, but you can't alter your eyes. Mr. Wilson you are, and that I'll swear to in a court of law before a judge and jury. Let them say what they will about me being a liar."
"Of what are you talking, woman?"
"Of you, sir; and I hope I may mention that you were more respectful when you boarded with me."
"Boarded with you!" Franklin stared, and spoke in an astonished tone. "Why, I never boarded with you in my life!"
"Oh, Mr. Wilson, how can you? What about my little house in Lambeth, and the dear boy--my son Alexander--you were so fond of?"
"You are raving."
"I'm as sane as you are," said the landlady, her color rising, "and a deal more respectable, if all were known. Why you should deny me to my face is more than I can make out, Mr. Wilson."
"My name is not Wilson."
"And I say it is, sir."
Both the man and the woman eyed one another firmly. Then Franklin motioned Mrs. Benker to a seat on a mossy bank.
"We can talk better sitting," said he. "I should like an explanation of this. You say that my name is Wilson, and that I boarded with you."
"At Lambeth. I'll take my oath to it."
"Had your boarder red hair and a red beard?"
"Red as a tomato. But you can buy wigs and false beards. Eyes, as I say, you cannot change."
"Had this Wilson eyes like mine?" asked Frankly eagerly.
"There ain't a scrap of difference, Mr. Wilson. Your eyes are the same now as they were then."
"One moment. Had this man you think me to be two teeth missing in his lower jaw--two front teeth?"
"He had. Not that his teeth were of the best."
Franklin drew down his lip.
"You will see that I have all my teeth."
"H'm!" Mrs. Benker sniffed. "False teeth can be bought."
"I fear you would find these teeth only too genuine," said the man quietly. "But I quite understand your mistake."
"My mistake?" Mrs. Benker shook her head vehemently. "I'm not the one to make mistakes."
"On this occasion you have done so; but the mistake is pardonable. Mrs.--Mrs.--what is your name?"
"Mrs. Benker, sir. And you know it."
"Excuse me, I do not know it. The man who was your lodger, and whom you accuse me of being, is my brother."
"Your brother!" echoed the landlady, amazed.
"Yes, and a bad lot he is. Never did a hand's turn in all his life. I daresay while he was with you he kept the most irregular hours?"
"He did--most irregular."
"Out all night at times, and in all day? And again, out all day and in for the night?"
"You describe him exactly." Mrs. Benker peered into the clean-shaven face in a puzzled manner. "Your hair is black, your voice is changed, and only the eyes remain."
"My brother and I have eyes exactly the same. I guessed your mistake when you spoke. I assure you I am not my brother."
"Well, sir," said the woman, beginning to think she had made a mistake after all, "I will say your voice is not like his. It was low and soft, while yours, if you'll excuse me mentioning it, is hard, and not at all what I'd call a love-voice."
Grim as Franklin was, he could not help laughing at this last remark.
"I quite understand. You only confirm what I say. My brother has a beautiful voice, Mrs. Benker; and much harm he has done with it amongst your sex."
"He never harmed me," said Mrs. Benker, bridling. "I am a respectable woman and a widow with one son. But your brother----"
"He's a blackguard," interrupted Franklin; "hand and glove with the very worst people in London. You may be thankful he did not cut your throat or steal your furniture."
"Lord!" cried Mrs. Benker, astounded, "was he that dangerous?"
"He is so dangerous that he ought to be shut up. And if I could lay hands on him I'd get the police to shut him up. He's done no end of mischief. Now I daresay he had a red cross dangling from his watch-chain."
"Yes, he had. What does it mean?"
"I can't tell you; but I'd give a good deal to know. He has hinted to me that it is the sign of some criminal fraternity with which he is associated. I never could learn what the object of the cross is. He always kept quiet on that subject. But I have not seen him for years, and then only when I was on a flying visit from Italy."
"Have you been to Italy, sir?"
"I live there," said Franklin, "at Florence. I have lived there for over ten years, with an occasional visit to London. If you still think that I am my brother, I can bring witnesses to prove----"
"Lord, sir, I don't want to prove nothing. Now I look at you and hear your voice I do say as I made a mistake as I humbly beg your pardon for. But you are so like Mr. Wilson----"
"I know, and I forgive you. But why do you wish to find my brother? He has been up to some rascality, I suppose?"
"He has, though what it is I know no more than a babe. But they do say," added Mrs. Benker, sinking her voice, "as the police want him."
"I'm not at all astonished. He has placed himself within the reach of the law a hundred times. If the police come to me, I'll tell them what I have told you. No one would be more pleased than I to see Walter laid by the heels."
"Is his name Walter?"
"Yes, Walter Franklin, although he chooses to call himself Wilson. My name is George. He is a blackguard."
"Oh, sir, your flesh and blood."
"He's no brother of mine," said Franklin, rising, with a snarl. "I hate the man. He had traded on his resemblance to me to get money and do all manner of scoundrelly actions. That was why I went to Italy. It seems that I did wisely, for if I could not prove that I have been abroad these ten years, you would swear that I was Walter."
"Oh, no, sir--really." Mrs. Benker rose also.
"Nonsense. You swore that I was Walter when we first met. Take a good look at me now, so that you may be sure that I am not he. I don't want to have his rascalities placed on my shoulders."
Mrs. Benker took a good look and sighed. "You're not him, but you're very like. May I ask if you are twins, sir?"
"No. Our eyes are the only things that we have in common. We got those from our mother, who was an Italian. I take after my mother, and am black, as you see me. My brother favored my father, who was as red as an autumn sunset."
"He was indeed red," sighed Mrs. Benker, wrapping her shawl round her; "and now, sir, I hope you'll humbly forgive me for----"
"That's all right, Mrs. Benker. I only explained myself at length because I am so sick of having my brother's sins imputed on me. I hope he paid your rent."
"Oh, yes, sir, he did that regularly."
"Indeed," sneered Franklin; "then he is more honest than I gave him credit for being. Because if he had not paid you I should have done so. You seem to be a decent woman and----"
"A widow!" murmured Mrs. Benker, hoping that he would give her some money. But this Mr. Franklin had no intention of doing.
"You can go now," he said, pointing with his stick towards an ornamental bridge; "that is the best way to the high-road. And, Mrs. Benker, if my brother should return to you let me know."
"And the police, sir," she faltered.
"I'll tell the police myself," said the man, frowning. "Good day."
Mrs. Benker, rather disappointed that she should have received no money, and wishing that she had said Walter Franklin had not paid her rent, crept off, a lugubrious figure, across the bridge. Franklin watched her till she was out of sight, then took off his hat, exposing a high, baldish head. His face was dark, and he began to mutter to himself. Finally, he spoke articulately.
"Am I never to be rid of that scamp?" he said, shaking his fist at the sky. "I have lived in Italy--in exile, so that I should not be troubled with his schemes and rascalities. I have buried myself here, with my daughter and those three who are faithful to me, in order that he may not find me out. And now I hear of him. That woman. She is a spy of his. I believe she came here from him with a made-up story. Walter will come, and then I'll have to buy him off. I shall be glad to do so. But to be blackmailed by that reptile. No! I'll go back to Florence first." He replaced his hat and began to dig his stick in the ground. "I wonder if Morley would help me. He is a shrewd man. He might advise me how to deal with this wretched brother of mine. If I could only trust him?" He looked round. "I wonder where he is? He promised to meet me half an hour ago." Here Franklin glanced at his watch. "I'll walk over to The Elms and ask who this woman, Mrs. Benker, is. He may know."
All this was delivered audibly and at intervals. Giles was not astonished, as he knew from Mrs. Parry that the man was in the habit of talking aloud to himself. But he was disappointed to receive such a clear proof that Franklin was not the man who had eloped with Anne. Even if he had been deceiving Mrs. Benker (which was not to be thought of), he would scarcely have spoken in soliloquy as he did if he had not been the man he asserted himself to be. Giles, saying nothing to his companion, watched Franklin in silence until he was out of sight, and then rose to stretch his long legs, Morley, with a groan, followed his example. It was he who spoke first.
"I am half dead with the cramp," said he, rubbing his stout leg, "just like old times when I hid in a cupboard at Mother Meddlers, to hear Black Bill give himself away over a burglary. Ay, and I nearly sneezed that time, which would have cost me my life. I have been safe enough in that summer-house--but the cramp--owch!"
"It seems I have been mistaken," was all Giles could say.
"So have I, so was Mrs. Benker. We are all in the same box. The man is evidently very like his scamp of a brother."
"No doubt, Morley. But he isn't the brother himself."
"More's the pity, for Franklin's sake as well as our own. He seems to hate his brother fairly and would be willing to give him up to the law--if he's done anything."
"Well," said Ware, beginning to walk, "this Walter Franklin--to give him his real name--has committed murder. I am more convinced than ever that he is the guilty person. But I don't see what he has to do with Anne. Her father is certainly dead--died at Florence. Ha! Morley. Franklin comes from Florence. He may know--he may have heard."
Morley nodded. "You're quite right, Ware. I'll ask him about the matter. Humph!" The ex-detective stopped for a moment. "This involuntary confession clears George Franklin."
"Yes. He is innocent enough."
"Well, but he inherited the money," said Morley. "It's queer that his brother, according to you, should have killed the girl who kept the fortune from him."
"It is strange. But it might be that Walter Franklin intended to play the part of his brother and get the money, counting on the resemblance between them."
"That's true enough. Yet if George were in Italy and within hail, so to speak, I don't see how that would have done. Why not come to The Elms with me and speak to Franklin yourself? He will be waiting for me there."
"No," answered Ware after some thought, "he evidently intends to trust you, and if I come he may hold his tongue. You draw him out, Morley, and then you can tell me. Mrs. Benker----"
"I'll say nothing about her. I am not supposed to know that she is a visitor to Rickwell. He'll suspect our game if I chatter about her, Ware. We must be cautious. This is a difficult skein to unravel."
"It is that," assented Giles dolefully, "and we're no further on with it than we were before."
"Nonsense, man. We have found out Wilson's real name."
"Well, that is something certainly, and his brother may be able to put us on his track. If he asks about Mrs. Benker, say that she is a friend of my housekeeper. You can say you heard it from your wife."
"I'll say no more than is necessary," replied Morley cunningly. "I learned in my detective days to keep a shut mouth. Well, I'll be off and see what I can get out of him."
When Morley departed at his fast little trot--he got over the ground quickly for so small a man--Giles wandered about the Priory park. He thought that he might meet with the daughter, and see what kind of a person she was. If weak in the head, as Mrs. Parry declared her to be, she might chatter about her Uncle Walter. Giles wished to find out all he could about that scamp. He was beginning to feel afraid for Anne, and to wonder in what way she was connected with such a blackguard.
However, he saw nothing and turned his face homeward. Just as he was leaving the park on the side near the cemetery he saw something glittering in the grass. This he picked up, and was so amazed that he could only stare at it dumb-founded. And his astonishment was little to be wondered at. He held in his hand a half-sovereign with an amethyst, a diamond, and a pearl set into the gold. It was the very ornament which he had given Anne Denham on the night of the children's party at The Elms--the coin of His Most Gracious Majesty King Edward VII.
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