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THE DEAD MAN'S BROTHER
At the sight of the two men who awaited her entrance, the Baroness stopped short. Whatever alarm or surprise she may have felt at their presence was effectually concealed from them by the thick veil which she wore, through which her features were undistinguishable. As though purposely, she left to them the onus of speech.
Wrayson took a quick step towards her.
"Baroness!" he exclaimed. "What are you--I beg your pardon, but what are you doing here?"
She raised her veil and looked at them both attentively. In her hand she still held the latch-key by means of which she entered.
"Do you know," she answered quietly, "I was just going to ask you the same thing."
"Our presence is easily explained," Wrayson answered. "This is Mr. Sydney Barnes, the brother of the Mr. Barnes who used to live here. He is keeping the flat on for a short time."
The Baroness was surprised, and showed it. Without a moment's hesitation, however, she accepted Wrayson's words as an introduction to the young man, and held out her hand to him with a brilliant smile.
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Barnes," she said, "even under such painful circumstances. I knew your brother very well, and I have heard him speak of you."
Mr. Sydney Barnes did not attempt to conceal his surprise. He shook hands with the Baroness, however, and regarded her with undisguised admiration.
"Well, this licks me!" he exclaimed frankly. "Do you mean to say that you were a friend of Morris's?"
"Certainly," the Baroness answered. "Why not?"
"Oh! I don't know," the young man declared. "I'm getting past being surprised at anything. I suppose it's the oof that makes the difference. A friend of Morris's, you said. Why, perhaps--" He hesitated, and glanced towards Wrayson.
"There is no harm in asking the Baroness, at any rate," Wrayson said. "The fact of the matter is," he continued, turning towards her, "that Mr. Sydney Barnes here finds himself in a somewhat extraordinary position. He is the sole relative and heir of his brother, and he has come over here from South Africa, naturally enough, to take possession of his effects. Now there is no doubt, from his bank-book, and his manner of life, that Morris Barnes was possessed of a considerable income. According to his bank-book it was £2,000 a year."
The Baroness nodded thoughtfully.
"He told me once that he was worth as much as that," she remarked,
"Exactly, but the curious part of the affair is that, up to the present, Mr. Sydney Barnes has been unable to discover the slightest trace of any investments or any sum of money whatever. Now can you help us? Did Morris Barnes ever happen to mention to you in what direction his capital was invested? Did he ever give you any idea at all as to the source of his income?"
The Baroness stood quite still, as though lost in thought. Wrayson watched her with a curious sense of fascination. He knew very well that the subtle brain of the woman was occupied in no fruitless attempt at reminiscence; he was convinced that the Baroness had never exchanged a single word with Morris Barnes in her life. She was thinking her way through this problem--how best to make use of this unexpected tool. Their eyes met and she smiled faintly. She judged rightly that Wrayson, at any rate, was not deceived.
"I cannot give you any definite information," she said at last, "but--"
She hesitated, and the young man's eagerness escaped all bounds.
"But what?" he cried, leaning breathlessly towards her. "You know something! What is it? Go on! Go on!"
"I think that if I can remember it," she continued, "I can tell you the name of the solicitor whom he employed."
The young man dashed his fist upon the table. He was pale almost to the lips.
"By God! you must remember it," he cried. "Don't say you've forgotten. It's most important. Two thousand a year!--pounds! Think!"
She turned towards Wrayson. She wished to conciliate him, but the young man was not a pleasant sight.
"It was something like Benton," she suggested.
Wrayson glanced downward at one of the three documents which he had preserved.
"Bentham!" he exclaimed. "Was that it?"
The face of the Baroness cleared at once.
"Of course it was! How stupid of me to have forgotten. His offices are somewhere in the Adelphi."
Barnes caught up his hat.
"Where is that?" he exclaimed. "I'm off."
Wrayson held out his hand.
"Wait a moment," he said. "There is no hurry for an hour or so. This affair may not be quite so simple, after all."
"Why not?" the young man demanded fiercely. "It's my money, isn't it? I can take out letters of administration. It belongs to me. He'll have to give it up."
"In the long run I should say that he will--if he has it," Wrayson answered. "But before you go to him, remember this. He has seen the account of your brother's death. He did not appear at the inquest. He has taken no steps to discover his next of kin. Both of these proceedings were part of his natural duty."
"Mr. Wrayson is quite right," the Baroness remarked. "Mr. Bentham has not behaved as an honest man. He will have to be treated firmly but carefully. You are a little excited just now. Wait for an hour or so, and perhaps Mr. Wrayson will go with you."
Barnes turned towards him eagerly, and Wrayson nodded.
"Yes! I'll go," he said. "I know Mr. Bentham slightly. He once paid me rather a curious visit. But never mind that now."
"Was it in connection with this affair?" the Baroness asked him quietly.
Wrayson affected not to hear. He passed his cigarette case to Barnes, who was stamping up and down the room, muttering to himself.
"Look here, you'd better have a smoke and calm down, young man," he said. "It's no use going to see Bentham in a state like this."
The young man threw himself into a chair. Suddenly he sat up again, and addressed the Baroness.
"I say," he exclaimed, "how is it that you have a key to this flat? What did you come here for this afternoon?"
The Baroness laughed softly.
"Well, I got the key from the landlord a few days ago. I told him that I might take the flat, and he told me to come in and look at it and return the key--which you see I haven't done. To be quite honest with you, though, I had another reason for coming here."
The young man looked at her with mingled suspicion and admiration. She had raised her veil now, and even Wrayson was aware that he had scarcely realized how beautiful a woman she was. Her tailor-made gown of dark green cloth fitted her to perfection; she was turned out with all that delightful perfection of detail which seems to be the Frenchwoman's heritage. Her smile, half pathetic, half appealing, was certainly sufficient to turn the head of a dozen young men such as Sydney Barnes.
"I have told you," she continued, "that your brother and I used to be very good friends. I wrote him now and then some rather foolish letters. He promised to destroy them, but--men are so foolish, you know, sometimes--I was never quite sure that he had kept his word, and I meant to take this opportunity of looking for myself that he had not left them about. You do not blame me, Mr. Sydney? You are not cross?"
He kept his eyes upon her as though fascinated.
"No!" he said. "No! I mean of course not."
"These letters," she continued, "you have not seen them, Mr. Sydney? No? Or you, Mr. Wrayson?"
"We have not come across any letters at all answering to that description," Wrayson assured her.
The Baroness glanced across at Barnes, who was certainly regarding her in somewhat peculiar fashion.
"Why does Mr. Sydney look at me like that?" she asked, with a little shrug of the shoulders. "He does not think that I came here to steal? Why, Mr. Sydney," she added, "I am very, very much richer than ever your brother was."
"Richer--than he was! Richer than two thousand a year!" he gasped.
The Baroness laughed softly but heartily. She stole a sidelong glance at Wrayson.
"Why, my dear young man," she said, "it costs me--oh! quite as much as that each year to dress."
Barnes looked at her as though she were something holy. When he spoke, there was awe in his tone. The problem which had formed itself in his thoughts demanded expression.
"And you say that you were a pal--I mean a friend of Morris's? You wrote him letters?"
The Baroness smiled.
"Why not?" she exclaimed. "Women have queer tastes, you know. We like all sorts of men. I think I must ask Mr. Wrayson to bring you in to tea one afternoon. Would you like to come?"
"Yes!" he answered.
She nodded a farewell and turned to Wrayson.
"As for you," she said under her breath, "you had better come soon if you want to make your peace with Louise."
"May I come this afternoon?" he asked.
She nodded, and held out her exquisitely gloved hand.
"I knew you were going to be an ally" she murmured under her breath. "Don't let the others get hold of him."
She was gone before Wrayson could ask for an explanation. The others! If only he could discover who they were.
He turned back into the room.
"Do you mind coming down into my flat for a moment, Barnes?" he asked. "I want to telephone to the office before I go out with you again."
The young man followed him heavily. He seemed a little dazed. In Wrayson's sitting-room, he stood looking about him as though appraising the value of the curios, pictures, and engravings with which the apartment was crowded. Wrayson, while waiting for his call, watched him curiously. In his present state his vulgarity was perhaps less glaringly apparent, but his lack of attractiveness was accentuated. His ears seemed to have grown larger, his pinched, Semitic features more repulsive, and his complexion sallower. He was pitchforked into a world of which he knew nothing, and he seemed stunned by his first contact with it. Only one thing remained--the greed in his eyes. They seemed to have grown narrower and brighter with desire.
He did not speak until they were in the cab. Then he turned to Wrayson.
"I say," he exclaimed, "what was her name?"
"The Baroness de Sturm," he answered.
"Baroness! Real Baroness! All O.K., I suppose?"
"Without a doubt," Wrayson answered.
"And Morris knew her--she wrote letters to him," he continued, "a woman--like that."
He was silent for several moments. It was obvious that his opinion of his brother was rising rapidly. His tone had become almost reverential.
"I've got to find where that money is," he said abruptly. "If I go through fire and water to get it, I'll have it! I'll keep on Morris's flat. I'll go to his tailor! I'll--you're laughing at me. But I mean it! I've had enough of grubbing along on nothing a week, and living in the gutters. I want a bit of Morris's luck."
Wrayson put his head out of the cab. The young man's face was not pleasant to look at.
"We are there," he said. "Come along."
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