Chapter 16




AN ADVENTURE


Arnold, for a moment or two, felt himself incapable of speech or movement. Fenella was hanging, a dead weight, upon his arm. The eyes of both of them were riveted upon the hand which stretched into the room.

"There is some one under the couch!" Fenella faltered at last.

He took a step forward.

"Wait," he begged, "--or perhaps you had better go away. I will see who it is."

He moved toward the couch. She strove to hold him back.

"Arnold," she cried, hoarsely, "this is no business of yours! You had better leave me! Groves is here, and the servants. Slip away now, while you have the chance."

He looked at her in amazement.

"Why, Fenella," he exclaimed, "how can you suggest such a thing! Besides," he added, "Groves saw me climb in at the window. He was with me outside."

She wrung her hands.

"I forgot!" she moaned. "Don't move the sofa while I am looking!"

There was a knock at the door. They both turned round. It was Groves' voice speaking. He had returned to the house and was waiting outside.

"Can I come in, madam?"

Fenella moved slowly towards the door and admitted him. Then Arnold, setting his teeth, rolled back the couch. A man was lying there, stretched at full length. His face was colorless except for a great blue bruise near his temple. Arnold stared at him for a moment with horrified eyes.

"My God!" he muttered.

There was a brief silence. Fenella looked across at Arnold.

"You know him!"

Arnold's first attempt at speech failed. When the words came they sounded choked. There was a horrible dry feeling in his throat.

"It is the man who looked in at the window that night," he whispered. "I saw him--only a few hours ago. It is the same man."

Fenella came slowly to his side. She leaned over his shoulder.

"Is he dead?" she asked.

Her tone was cold and unnatural. Her paroxysm of fear seemed to have passed.

"I don't know," Arnold answered. "Let Groves telephone for a doctor."

The man half turned away, yet hesitated. Fenella fell on her knees and bent over the prostrate body.

"He is not dead," she declared. "Groves, tell me exactly who is in the house?"

"There is no one here at all, madam," the man answered, "except the servants, and they are all in the other wing. We have had no callers whatever this evening."

"And Mr. Weatherley?"

"Mr. Weatherley arrived home about seven o'clock," Groves replied, "dined early, and went to bed immediately afterwards. He complained of a headache and looked very unwell."

Fenella rose slowly to her feet. She looked from Arnold to the prostrate figure upon the carpet.

"Who has done this?" she asked, pointing downwards.

"It may have been an accident," Arnold suggested.

"An accident!" she repeated. "What was he doing in my sitting-room? Besides, he could not have crept underneath the couch of his own accord."

"Do you know who it is?" Arnold asked.

"Why should I know?" she demanded.

He hesitated.

"You remember the night of my first visit here--the face at the window?"

She nodded. He pointed downward to the outstretched hand.

"That is the man," he declared. "He is wearing the same ring--the red signet ring. I saw it upon his hand the night you and I were in this room alone together, and he was watching the house. I saw it again through the window of the swing-doors on the hand of the man who killed Rosario. What does it mean, Fenella?"

"I do not know," she faltered.

"You must have some idea," he persisted, "as to who he is. You seemed to expect his coming that night. You would not let me give an alarm or send for the police. It was the same man who killed Rosario."

She shook her head.

"I do not believe that," she declared.

"If it were not the same man," Arnold continued, "it was at least some one who was wearing the same ring. Tell me the truth, Fenella!"

She turned her head. Groves had come once more within hearing.

"I know nothing," she replied, hardly. "Groves, go and knock at the door of your master's room," she added. "Ask him to put on his dressing-gown and come down at once. Mr. Chetwode, come with me into the library while I telephone for the doctor."

Arnold hesitated for a moment.

"Don't you think that I had better stay by him?" he suggested.

She shook her head.

"I will not be left alone," she replied. "I told you on the way here that I was afraid. All the evening I knew that something would happen."

They made their way to the front of the house and into the library. She turned up the electric lights and fetched a telephone book. Arnold rang up the number she showed him.

"What about the police station?" he asked, turning towards her with the receiver still in his hand. "Oughtn't I to send for some one?"

"Not yet," she replied. "We are not supposed to know. The man may have come upon some business. Let us wait and see what the doctor says."

He laid down the receiver. She had thrown herself into an easy-chair and with a little impulsive gesture she held out one hand towards him.

"Poor Arnold!" she murmured. "I am afraid that this is all very bewildering to you, and your life was so peaceful until a week ago."

He held her fingers tightly. Notwithstanding the shadows under her eyes, and the gleam of terror which still lingered there, she was beautiful.

"I don't care about that," he answered, fervently. "I don't care about anything except that I should like to understand a little more clearly what it all means. I hate mysteries. I don't see why you can't tell me. I am your friend. If it is necessary for me to say nothing, I shall say nothing, but I hate the thoughts that come to me sometimes. Tell me, why should that man have been haunting your house the other evening? What did he want? And to-night--what made him break into your room?"

She sighed.

"If it were only so simple as all that," she answered, "oh! I would tell you so willingly. But it is not. There is so much which I do not understand myself."

He leaned a little closer towards her. The silence of the room and the house was unbroken.

"The man will die!" he said. "Who do you believe could have struck him that blow in your room?"

"I do not know," she answered; "indeed I do not."

"You heard what Groves said," Arnold continued. "There is no one in the house except the servants."

"That man was here," she answered. "Why not others? Listen."

There was the sound of shuffling footsteps in the hall. She held up her finger cautiously.

"Be very careful before Mr. Weatherley," she begged. "It is an ordinary burglary, this--no more."

The door was opened. Mr. Weatherley, in hasty and most unbecoming deshabille, bustled in. His scanty gray hair was sticking out in patches all over his head. He seemed, as yet, scarcely awake. With one hand he clutched at the dressing-gown, the girdle of which was trailing behind him.

"What is the meaning of this, Fenella?" he demanded. "Why am I fetched from my room in this manner? You, Chetwode? What are you doing here?"

"I have brought Mrs. Weatherley home, sir," Arnold answered. "We noticed a light in her room and we made a discovery there. It looks as though there has been an attempted burglary within the last hour or so."

"Which room?" Mr. Weatherley asked. "Which room? Is anything missing?"

"Nothing, fortunately," Arnold replied. "The man, by some means or other, seems to have been hurt."

"Where is he?" Mr. Weatherley demanded.

"In my boudoir," Fenella replied. "We will all go. I have telephoned for a doctor."

"A doctor? What for?" Mr. Weatherley inquired. "Who needs a doctor?"

"The burglar, if he is a burglar," she explained, gently. "Don't you understand that all we found was a man, lying in the centre of the room? He has had a fall of some sort."

"God bless my soul!" Mr. Weatherley said. "Well, come along, let's have a look at him."

They trooped down the passage. Groves, waiting outside for them, opened the door. Mr. Weatherley, who was first, looked all around the apartment.

"Where is this man?" he demanded. "Where is he?"

Arnold, who followed, was stricken speechless. Fenella gave a little cry. The couch had been wheeled back to its place. The body of the man had disappeared!

"Where is the burglar?" Mr. Weatherley repeated, irritably. "Was there ever any one here? Who in the name of mischief left that window open?"

The window through which Arnold had entered the room was now wide open. They hurried towards it. Outside, all was darkness. There was no sound of footsteps, no sign of any person about. Mr. Weatherley was distinctly annoyed.

"I should have thought you would have had more sense, Chetwode," he said, testily. "You found a burglar here, and, instead of securing him properly, you send up to me and go ringing up for doctors, and in the meantime the man calmly slips off through the window."

Arnold made no reply. Mr. Weatherley's words seemed to come from a long way off. He was looking at Fenella.

"The man was dead!" he muttered.

She, too, was white, but she shook her head.

"We thought so," she answered. "We were wrong."

Mr. Weatherley led the way to the front door.

"As the dead man seems to have cleared out," he said, "without taking very much with him, I suggest that we go to bed. Groves had better ring up the doctor and stop him, if he can; if not, he must explain that he was sent for in error. Good night, Chetwode!" he added, pointedly.

Arnold scarcely remembered his farewells. He passed out into the street and stood for several moments upon the pavement. He looked back at the house.

"The man was dead or dying!" he muttered to himself. "What does it all mean?"

He walked slowly away. There was a policeman on the other side of the road, taxicabs and carriages coming and going. He passed the gate of Pelham Lodge and looked back toward the window of the sitting-room. Within five minutes the man must have left that room by the window. That he could have left it unaided, even if alive, was impossible. Yet there was not anything in the avenue, or thereabouts, to denote that anything unusual had occurred. He was on the point of turning away when a sudden thought struck him. He re-entered the gate softly and walked up the drive. Arrived at within a few feet of the window, he paused and turned to the right. A narrow path led him into a shrubbery. A few more yards and he reached a wire fence. Stepping across it, he found himself in the next garden. Here he paused for a moment and listened. The house before which he stood was smaller than Pelham Lodge, and woefully out of repair. The grass on the lawn was long and dank--even the board containing the notice "To Let" had fallen flat, and lay among it as in a jungle. The paths were choked with weeds, the windows were black and curtainless. He made his way to the back of the house and suddenly stopped short. This was a night of adventures, indeed! On a level with the ground, the windows of one of the back rooms were boarded up. Through the chinks he could distinctly see gleams of light. Standing there, holding his breath, he could even hear the murmur of voices. There were men there--several of them, to judge by the sound. He drew nearer and nearer until he found a chink through which he could see. Then, for the first time, he hesitated. It was not his affair, this. There were mysteries connected with Pelham Lodge and its occupants which were surely no concern of his. Why interfere? Danger might come of it--danger and other troubles. Fenella would have told him if she had wished him to know. She herself must have some idea as to the reason of this attempt upon her house. Why not slip away quietly and forget it? It was at least the most prudent course. Then, as he hesitated, the memory of Sabatini's words, so recently spoken, came into his mind. Almost he could see him leaning back in his chair with the faint smile upon his lips. "You have not the spirit for adventure!" Then Arnold hesitated no longer. Choosing every footstep carefully, he crept to the window until he could press his face close to the chink through which the light gleamed out into the garden.




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