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WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
Giles left the churchyard slowly, with his brain in a whirl. Anne had departed in hot haste, taking shelter in her hiding-place, and he dare not follow unless he wanted it to be discovered. He never knew who it was, whose footsteps had startled her away. When she left him he remained for quite ten minutes where he was, in a kind of dazed condition. The footsteps were not heard now. So intent had he been upon Anne's flight, and on the amazing things she had told him, that he had not noticed when they ceased. Then it occurred to him that they had retreated--just as though a person had been listening and had hastily gone away. But of this he could not be sure. All he did know was that when he rounded the corner there was not a soul in sight. And nothing remained but to go home.
Olga and her mother did not put in an appearance on this night, so Giles had ample time to think over his meeting with Anne. He did not see how he could help her, and the story she had related bewildered, instead of enlightening him. After a time he rearranged the details, and concluded that, in spite of all denial, her father was the guilty person, and the crime had been committed for the sake of the Powell money.
"Whether the Scarlet Cross indicates a political society or is the symbol of a thieves' association," said Giles to himself, "I can't say until Steel is more certain of his ground. But this Alfred Denham, or Walter Franklin, or whatever he chooses to call himself, is evidently a bad lot. He has sufficient love for his daughter to keep his iniquities from her, and that is why Anne is so much in the dark. I quite believe that she thinks her father innocent, and saved him on the spur of the moment. But he is guilty for all that."
And then Giles proceeded to work out the case as it presented itself to him. Walter Franklin--as he found it most convenient to call him--was a scoundrel who preyed on society, and who by some mischance had a pure and good daughter like Anne. To keep her from knowing how bad he was--and the man apparently valued her affection--he sent her to be a governess. She believed in him, not knowing how he was plotting to get the Powell money.
Certainly Walter had resided in Florence under the name of Denham. Ware quite believed this, and guessed that he did so in order to keep an eye on his brother George, who was to inherit the Powell money. Probably he knew beforehand that Powell was ill, and so had feigned death that he might carry out his scheme without Anne's knowledge. That scheme was to impersonate his brother; and Giles trembled to think of how he proposed to get rid of George when the time was ripe. He must have intended to murder him, for since he had slain Daisy with so little compunction, he certainly would not stick at a second crime.
However, thus Giles argued, the first step to secure the money was for him to feign death and thus get rid of Anne. Then he came to London, and as Wilson stopped with Mrs. Benker in order to spy on the Ashers through Alexander. As soon as he knew for certain that Powell was dead and that the money was coming to Daisy, he came down to Rickwell on the errand of serving the summons, and then had lured the girl outside of the church to kill her. But for Anne following him, he would have disappeared into the night and no one would have been the wiser.
But the appearance of his daughter in the library upset his plans. She followed him into the church and came out to find him near the dead body. He certainly made an excuse, but Giles believed that such was a lie. If he had confessed to the crime, even Anne might not have stopped with him. But here Giles remembered that at the time of the flight Anne really believed that her father was guilty. At all events he had made use of her to get away, and thus had reached the yacht at Gravesend. It was waiting for him there, in order that he might fly after the crime was committed. Perhaps he intended to walk to Tilbury, and crossing the Thames get on board the yacht before the hue-and-cry was out. Anne hampered his plans in some measure and then, by means of the stolen motor-car, assisted them. Thus the man had got away, and by the murder of the girl had opened the way to George inheriting the money.
"They went to Paris," mused Giles, "then to Florence. I daresay this Walter intended to send Anne away on some excuse and to murder his brother in Florence. Then he could slip into the dead man's shoes, and come to inherit--as George--the property of Powell. Probably George left Florence before Walter arrived, and thus escaped death. He is safe so far, but how long will he be safe?"
Then a terrible thought occurred to Giles. He wondered if Walter had placed his daughter at the Priory so as to have an opportunity of coming to see his brother, and thus seizing his chance of killing him. Anne, innocent as she was of the real meaning of these terrible schemes, might be a decoy. If her father came, George would be murdered. Walter, who was able to disguise himself with infernal ingenuity, might slip into the dead man's shoes, and thus the money he had schemed for would come to him. Evidently the last act of the tragedy was not yet played out.
The more Giles puzzled over the matter, the more bewildered he became. He could see--as he thought--what had been done, but he could not guess how the last act was to be carried out. Yet Walter Franklin was hiding somewhere waiting to pounce out on his unsuspecting brother, and the second crime might involve Anne still deeper in the nefarious transactions of her father. Finally Giles made up his mind to seek George Franklin at the Priory and tell him what he thought. The man should at least be put on his guard. It may be said that Ware fancied he might be permitted to see Anne as a reward for his kind warning.
Before calling on Franklin he went to see the foreign ladies. To his surprise both had left by the early morning train. There was a note from Olga, which informed him that her mother had insisted on returning to town, finding the country cold and dull. The note added that she--Olga--would be glad to see him at the Westminster flat as soon as he could come to London, and ended with the remark that he had yet to give his answer to her question. Giles was relieved when he read this. Olga was gone, and the two days of probation were extended indefinitely. He might find some way of releasing Anne before he need give this dreadful answer. Again and again did he bless the selfishness of the elder Princess, which had removed the obstacle of Olga from his path.
Meanwhile he put her out of his mind and went on to the Priory. He called in on the way to see Morley, but learned that the little man had gone to town. Mrs. Morley looked more worn and haggard than ever, and seemed about to say something as Giles was taking his leave. However, she held her peace and merely informed him that she missed her children dreadfully. "But I'm sure that is not what she meant to say," thought Ware, as he departed. On looking back he saw her thin white face at the window and concluded--as Mrs. Parry did--that the poor lady had something on her mind.
In due time he arrived at the Priory and was shown into a gloomy drawing-room, where George Franklin received him. Giles apologized for not having called before, and was graciously pardoned.
"And, indeed, I should have called on you, Mr. Ware," said Franklin, "but I am such a recluse that I rarely go out."
"You call on Mr. Morley, I believe?"
"Yes; he is a cheery man, and won't take no for an answer. I find that his company does me good, but I prefer to be alone with my books."
There were many books in the room and many loose papers on the desk, which Giles saw were manuscripts. "I write sometimes," said Franklin, smiling in his sour way. "It distracts my mind from worries. I am writing a history of Florence during the age of the Renaissance."
"A very interesting period," Giles assured him.
"Yes; and my daughter Portia helps me a great deal. You have met her, Mr. Ware. She told me."
"Yes; we met in the park. She was looking for something, which I found; but I gave it to--to----" Giles hesitated, for he was on dangerous ground. "To another lady," he finished desperately, and waited for the storm to break.
To his surprise the man smiled. "You mean my niece Anne," said he in the calmest way.
"Yes; I do mean Miss Denham. But I did not know that--that----"
"That I wished you to know she was under my roof. Is that it?"
"Yes," stammered Giles, quite at sea. He did not expect this candor.
Franklin rather enjoyed his confusion. "I did not intend to let you know that she was here. It was her own request that you were kept in ignorance. But since you met her----"
"Did you hear of our meeting?"
"Certainly. Anne told me of it directly she came back. Oh, I have heard all about you, Mr. Ware. My niece confessed that you loved her, and from Morley I heard that you defended her."
"Did Morley know that Anne was here?"
"Certainly not. At the outset of our acquaintance he informed me that he believed her to be guilty. I resolved to say nothing, lest he might tell the police."
"Why did you not tell him that she was innocent?" asked Giles hotly.
The man looked grave and smoothed his shaven chin--a habit with him when perplexed. "Because I could not do so without telling an untruth," he said coldly.
Giles started to his feet, blazing with anger. "What!" he cried, "can you sit there and tell me that your own niece killed that poor girl?"
"I have reason to believe that she did," replied Franklin.
"She told me she was innocent," began Ware.
Franklin interrupted. "She loves you too well to say otherwise. But she is--guilty."
"I would not believe that if she told me herself."
"Sit down, Mr. Ware," said Franklin, after a pause. "I'll explain exactly how the confession came about."
Giles took his seat again, and eyed his host pale but defiant. "It is no use your saying anything against Anne. She is innocent."
"Mr. Ware, I believed that when she first came to me. I hate my brother because he is a bad man; but I liked his niece, and when she came to me for shelter I took her in, notwithstanding the enormity of the crime which she was accused of having committed."
"It gained you your fortune," said Ware bitterly.
"I would rather have been without a fortune gained at such a price," answered Franklin coldly; "but I really believed Anne guiltless. She defended her father, but I fancied, since she had helped him to escape, that he had killed the poor girl."
"And he did," cried Giles. "I am sure he did."
"He had no motive."
"Oh yes, to get the money--the five thousand a year."
"You forget. By Miss Kent's death that came to me."
"Your brother would have found means to get it. I believe he will find means yet."
"I don't understand you. Will you explain?"
Franklin seemed fairly puzzled by Giles' remarks, so the young man set forth the theory he had formed about the murder. At first Mr. Franklin smiled satirically; but after a time his face became grave, and he seemed agitated. When Giles ended he walked the room in a state of subdued irritation.
"What have I done to be so troubled with such a relative as Walter?" he said aloud. "I believe you are right, Mr. Ware. He may attempt my life to get the money; and as we are rather like one another in appearance he may be able to pass himself off as me. Why, there was a woman here who called herself Mrs. Benker. She insisted that I was called Wilson, under which name she knew my brother Walter. So you must see how easily he could impose on every one. I am dark and clean-shaven; he is red-haired and bearded. But a razor and a pot of black dye would soon put that to rights. Yes, he might attempt my murder. But do not let us saddle him with a crime of which he is guiltless. Anne killed the girl. I assure you this is the truth."
"I don't believe it," cried Giles fiercely.
"Nevertheless"--Franklin paused and then came forward swiftly to place a sympathetic hand on the young man's shoulder--"I heard her say so myself. She confessed to me that she had met you, and seemed much agitated. Then she ran out of this room to another. Fearing she was ill, I followed, and found her on her knees praying. She said aloud that she had deceived you, stating that she could not bear to lose your love by proclaiming herself a murderess."
"No, no; I won't listen." Giles closed his ears.
"Be a man, Mr. Ware. Anne is ill now. She confessed the truth to me, and then fled to her bedroom. This morning she was very ill, as my daughter Portia assured me. Portia is out of the house. If you will come with me, you will hear the truth from Anne herself. She is so ill that she will not try to deceive you now. But if she does confess, you must promise not to give her up to the police. She is suffering agonies, poor child!"
"I'll come at once," said Giles bravely, starting to his feet. And it was brave of him, for he dreaded the truth. "If she confesses this, I'll go away and never see her again. The police--ah, you needn't think I would give her up to the police. But if she is guilty (and I can't believe such a thing of her) I'll tear her out of my heart. But it's impossible, impossible!"
Franklin looked at him with a pitying smile as he hid his face in his hands. Then he touched him on the shoulder and led the way along a passage towards the back part of the house. At a door at the end he paused. "The room is rather dark. You won't see her clearly," he said, "but you will know her by her voice."
"I would know her anyway," cried Giles fiercely, and tormented beyond endurance.
Franklin gave him another glance, as though asking him to brace himself for the ordeal, and then opened the door. He showed small mercy in announcing Ware's coming. "Anne, here is Mr. Ware come to see you. Tell him the truth."
The room was not very large, and was enveloped in a semi-gloom. The blind was pulled down, and the curtains were drawn. The bed was near the window, and on it lay Anne in a white dress. She was lying on the bed with a rug thrown over her feet. When she heard the name of Giles she uttered a cry. "Keep him away!" she said harshly. "Keep him away! Don't let him come!"
"Anne! Anne!" cried Giles, coming forward, his mouth dry, his hands clenched. "Do not tell me that you killed Daisy."
There was a groan and silence, but Anne--so far as he could see--buried her face in the pillow. It was Franklin who spoke. "Anne, you must tell the truth once and for all."
"No, no," she cried, "Giles would despise me."
"Anne," he cried in agony, "did you kill her?"
"Yes," came the muffled voice from the bed. "I found her at the grave. My father was not there. He had missed her in the darkness and the snow. She taunted me. I had the stiletto, which I took from the library, and I killed her. It was my father who saved me. Oh, go away, Giles, go away!"
But Giles did not go. He rose to his feet and stepped towards the window. In a second he had the blind up and the curtains drawn apart. The light poured into the room to reveal--not Anne Denham, but the girl Portia Franklin.
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