Fred M. (Fred Merrick) White.

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(the New York Public Library)

[Illustration: Front Cover]


_A Detective Story_

Fred M. White
Author of "The Crimson Blind," "The Corner House,"


Copyright, 1907
- - - - - -
Published May, 1907


CHAPTER I. At Whose Hand?

CHAPTER II. No. 1 Fitzjohn Square.

CHAPTER III. The Mark Of The Beast.

CHAPTER IV. A Woman's Face.

CHAPTER V. Vera Rayne.

CHAPTER VI. A Voice in the Dark.

CHAPTER VII. The Yellow Hand-bill.

CHAPTER VIII. The Mystery Deepens.

CHAPTER IX. The Confidential Agent.

CHAPTER X. Ropes of Sand.

CHAPTER XI. The Express Letter.

CHAPTER XII. A Speaking Likeness.

CHAPTER XIII. A Striking Likeness.

CHAPTER XIV. Retrospection.

CHAPTER XV. Dallas Makes A Discovery.

CHAPTER XVI. Strong Measures.

CHAPTER XVII. Looking Backwards.

CHAPTER XVIII. After Many Years.

CHAPTER XIX. Carlotta's Story.

CHAPTER XX. Valdo in a New Light.


CHAPTER XXII. The Worth of a Name.


CHAPTER XXIV. A Blood Relation.

CHAPTER XXV. Bred in the Bone.

CHAPTER XXVI. A Faithful Servant.


CHAPTER XXVIII. Vera's Warning.

CHAPTER XXIX. The Message.


CHAPTER XXXI. A Missing Link.

CHAPTER XXXII. What Does It Mean?

CHAPTER XXXIII. The Midnight Message.

CHAPTER XXXIV. A Strange Home-coming.

CHAPTER XXXV. Mother and Child.

CHAPTER XXXVI. In the Dead of Night.

CHAPTER XXXVII. An Unexpected Friend.


CHAPTER XXXIX. The Hound Again.

CHAPTER XL. Broken Wings.

CHAPTER XLI. A Ray of Light.


CHAPTER XLIII. The Whole Truth.

CHAPTER XLIV. The Story of a Crime.

CHAPTER XLV. Count Flavio's Diary.

CHAPTER XLVI. A Woman's Heart.

CHAPTER XLVII. The Passing of the Vengeance.



A Hansom pulled up in front of 799, Park Lane, and a slim figure of a
woman, dressed in deep mourning, ran up the broad flight of marble
steps leading to the house. Her features were closely concealed by a
thick veil, so that the footman who answered the ring could make
nothing of the visitor. Her voice was absolutely steady as she asked
to see Lord Ravenspur at once.

"That is impossible, madam," the footman protested; "his lordship is
not yet down, and besides - - "

"There is no 'besides' about it," the visitor said, imperiously; "it
is a matter of life and death."

Once more the servant hesitated. There was something about this woman
that commanded his respect. The hour was still early for Park Lane,
seeing that it was barely nine o'clock, and the notable thoroughfare
was practically deserted. From the distance came the hoarse cries of a
number of newsboys who were racing across the Park. One of them came
stumbling down Park Lane, filling the fresh spring atmosphere with his
shouts. Evidently something out of the common had happened to bring
these birds of ill omen westward at so early an hour. With the
curiosity of his class the footman turned to listen.

"Terrible murder in Fitzjohn Square! Death of Mr. Louis Delahay, the
famous artist! Artist found dead in his studio! Full details!"

The well-trained servant forgot his manners for the moment.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, "it can't be true. Why, Mr. Delahay was a
great friend of my master up to the last day or two - - "

"I am Mrs. Delahay," the veiled woman said with quiet intentness.
"Please don't stand staring at me like that, but take me to your
master at once. It is imperative that I should see Lord Ravenspur
without a moment's delay."

The footman collected his scattered wits, and stammered out some kind
of apology. There were other newsboys racing down the Lane now. It
seemed as if London was ringing with the name of Louis Delahay. Then
the great double doors of the big house closed sullenly and shut out
the horrid sound. At any other time the veiled woman might have been
free to admire the luxury and extravagant good taste of her
surroundings. There were many people who regarded Lord Ravenspur as
the most fortunate and talented man in London. Not only had he been
born to the possession of a fine old title, but he had almost
unlimited wealth as well. As if this were not sufficient, Nature had
endowed him with a handsome presence and an intellect far beyond the
common. Apparently there was nothing that Ravenspur could not do. He
was a fine sportsman, and a large number of his forty odd years had
been spent big game shooting abroad. What time he passed in England
was devoted almost exclusively to artistic pursuits. As a portrait
painter Ravenspur stood on a level with the great masters of his time.
More than one striking example of sculpture had come from his chisel.
He had as much honour in the Salons of Vienna and Paris as he had
within the walls of Burlington House. In fine, Ravenspur was a great
personage, a popular figure in society, and well known everywhere. His
lavish hospitality was always in the best of good taste, and the
_entrée_ to 799, Park Lane was accounted a rare privilege by all his

But the woman in black was thinking nothing of this, as she followed
the footman along marble corridors to a sunny morning-room at the back
of the house. The footman indicated a chair, but the visitor waved him
aside with a gesture of impatience.

"Go and fetch your master at once," she said.

For a few moments she paced up and down, weaving her way in and out
amongst the rare objects of art like a wild animal that is freshly
caged. She threw back her long, black veil presently as if the
atmosphere of the place stifled her. Her face might have been that of
a marble statue, so intensely white and rigid it was. It was only the
rapid dilation of the dark eyes which showed that the stranger had
life and feeling at all. She turned abruptly as Lord Ravenspur came
into the room. His handsome, smiling face and prematurely iron-grey
hair afforded a strong contrast to the features of his visitor. He
came forward with extended hands.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, Maria," he said. "But what is wrong?
Louis is all right, I suppose?"

"Louis is dead!" the woman said in the same cold, strained voice. "He
has been foully murdered. I could not say more if I spoke for an hour.
Louis is dead!"

The speaker repeated the last three words over and over again as if
she were trying to realise the dread significance of her own message.
Ravenspur stood there with his hand to his head, shocked and grieved
almost beyond the power of speech.

"This is terrible," he murmured at length. "My dear Maria, I cannot
find words to express my sympathy. Could you tell me how it happened?
But perhaps I am asking too much."

"No," Mrs. Delahay replied, still speaking with the utmost calmness;
"I am ready to answer any question you like to put to me. I am
absolutely dazed and stunned. As yet I can realise nothing. But,
perhaps, before the reaction comes I had better tell you everything.
To think that I should lose him in this way whilst I am still a bride!
But I dare not pity myself as yet, there is far too much stern work to
be done. There will be plenty of time later on for the luxury of

"Won't you sit down?" Ravenspur murmured.

"My dear friend, I couldn't. I must be walking about. I feel as if I
could walk about for years. But I will try and tell you how it
happened. He came back to London yesterday afternoon, as you know, and
put up at the Grand Hotel. You see, I had never been in London before,
and so I know nothing at all about it. If we had only gone straight to
our own house in Fitzjohn Square this dreadful thing - but why do I
think of that? You know the house was not quite ready for us, and that
was the reason why we went to the Grand. After visiting a theatre last
night Louis announced his intention of going as far as our house. I
understood him to say that he required something from his studio.
There were no caretakers on the premises, but Louis had a latchkey, so
that was all right. I went to bed about twelve o'clock, thinking no
evil, and not in the least alarmed because Louis had not come back. As
you know, he had always been a terribly late man, and I thought
perhaps he had met one of his old companions, or perhaps he had turned
into the Garrick Club. Still, when I woke up this morning about six,
and found that he had not returned, I became genuinely alarmed. I took
a cab as far as Fitzjohn Square, and went into the house."

"One moment," Ravenspur interrupted. "I don't quite understand how you
managed to get into the premises."

"That was an easy matter, though the front door was closed. The
latchkey was still in the lock. I only had to turn it to obtain
admission. I went straight to the studio, and there on the
floor - - but I really cannot say any more. Strung up as I am I could
not describe it to you. . . . I suppose I cried out, and when I came
back to a proper comprehension of things the place was full of police.
For the last two hours I have been with them answering all sorts of
questions. Then something told me to come to you, and here I am. And
whatever you do, please don't leave me alone. I could not bear to be

"I wish I could tell you how sorry I am," Lord Ravenspur murmured.
"This is a most extraordinary business altogether. You say that Louis
left you not later than twelve o'clock to go as far as Fitzjohn
Square, and that, when he left the Grand Hotel, he had no other object
in his mind. You are quite sure of this?"

"I am absolutely certain," Mrs. Delahay replied.

"Well, that is a strange thing," Ravenspur went on. "It so happens
that I had an accident to my own studio a day or two ago, and until
yesterday the workmen were in repairing the glass roof. I was engaged
upon a small work which I was anxious to finish, and it occurred to me
that I might just as well make use of your husband's studio, seeing
that he was away from home and did not require it. I obtained a
duplicate key from the house agent, and all yesterday I was working on
my picture there. In fact it is in Louis' studio at the present
moment. After some friends who were dining with me last night left, I
walked as far as Fitzjohn Square, and till nearly a quarter past one
this morning I was at work there. I might have gone on all night, only
the electric light failed suddenly, and I was left in darkness. Then I
came home and went to bed. And I am prepared to swear that it had
turned half-past one before I left your house, and there was no sign
of Louis up to that time."

"It is inexplicable," the woman said wearily. "When I try to think my
brain seems to turn to water, and everything goes misty before my
eyes. I feel like a woman who has had no sleep for years. I feel as if
I must get something to relieve this terrible pressure on my brain. Is
there nothing that you can suggest?"

"I think so," Ravenspur said quietly. "I am going to take you back to
your hotel, and call for a doctor on the way. You cannot go on like
this. No human mind could stand it."


A few moments later and Ravenspur's brougham was being rapidly driven
in the direction of the Grand Hotel. No words were spoken on the
journey, but Ravenspur did not fail to notice how his companion shook
and quivered as the shouts of the newsboys reached her ears. It seemed
as if all London had given itself over to this last sensational
tragedy. It was as if thousands of strange rough hands were pressing
upon the still bleeding wound. To an intensely sympathetic nature like
Ravenspur's, the relief of the destination was great. At his
suggestion of food his companion shuddered. The mere idea of it turned
her physically sick. Utterly worn out and exhausted she dropped into a
chair. There was a light now of something like madness in her eyes.
The doctor bustled in presently with something in his hand. Mrs.
Delahay drank the medicine in a mechanical way, scarcely knowing what
she was doing. Then, gradually, her rigid limbs relaxed, and the
staring dark eyes were closed.

"She'll do now for some time," the doctor whispered. "I have
telephoned for a nurse who may be here now at any moment. Don't let me
detain you. I have got my motor outside, and in any case I must remain
till the nurse arrives."

"That is very good of you," Ravenspur murmured. "As far as I am
concerned I should like to make some inquiries. I have known Delahay
now for the last five years; indeed, it was I who persuaded him to
take up his quarters in London. It seems a terrible thing that so
promising a career should be cut short like this. That man would have
come to the top of his profession, and, so far as I know, he hadn't a
single enemy in the world. Perhaps, by this time, the Scotland Yard
people may have found a clue."

Ravenspur drove straight away to Fitzjohn Square, and made his way
through the crowd of morbid folks who had gathered outside. As he
expected, he found the house in the hands of the police. Inspector
Dallas came forward and greeted him respectfully.

"This is a terrible affair, my lord," he said.

"Ghastly," Ravenspur exclaimed. "It was a great shock when Mrs.
Delahay came round to me this morning. And the strange part of the
whole business is that I was in this very house myself, quite alone,
till half-past one. Perhaps I had better explain the circumstances to
you, as the knowledge might prove useful. . . . And now you know all
about it. Mind you, I saw nothing; I did not hear a sound. Indeed, I
am quite convinced that there was no one on the premises when I left."

"But you had no means of making sure," the inspector protested. "The
miscreants might have been here all the time. They might have been
hiding in a room upstairs waiting for you to go."

"They might have attacked me as far as that goes," Ravenspur replied.
"My word, the mere suggestion of it turns one cold."

"At any rate, they were not after your lordship," the inspector said,
thoughtfully. "Of course, I am assuming for the sake of argument that
the murderer, or murderers, were actually here when you arrived last
night. If so, the whole thing was carefully premeditated. These people
had no quarrel with you, and, therefore, they did not molest you. All
the same, they wanted to get rid of you, or they would not have cut
off the light."

"But did they cut off the light?" Ravenspur asked.

"That we can prove in a moment. I am going on the theory that these
people wanted to get you out of the way, so they short-circuited the
current and left you in darkness. That was a very useful expedient,
and had the desired effect. I am very glad you told me this because it
may be the means of putting us on the track of important evidence. But
let us go down to the basement, and examine the electric meter."

Ravenspur followed his companion down the dark steps leading to the
basement, and Inspector Dallas struck a light. Then, with a grim
smile, he pointed to a cable which led from the meter to the different
rooms on the upper floors. The cable had been clean cut with some
sharp instrument, a fracture which must have been recently made, for
the main wire to the cable gleamed like gold.

"So far, so good," Dallas said. "We have proved by yonder
demonstration that these people were here last night whilst you were
actually at work in the studio."

"That puzzles me more than ever," Ravenspur replied. "Why did they not
get rid of me an hour before, which they could have done equally as
well, by the same simple expedient?"

"Simply because they could afford to wait till half-past one. You may
depend upon it that Mr. Delahay's movements were absolutely known to
them. They were perfectly well aware of the fact that he was not
expected here till some time past half-past one. It is not a nice
insinuation to make, but when Mr. Delahay left his hotel at midnight,
he had not the slightest intention of coming straight here. Doubtless
he had important business which was likely to last him an hour and a
half, and for some reason or other he did not want his wife to know
what it was. Speaking as one man of the world to another, Mr.
Delahay's excuse for getting out strikes me as being rather a shallow
one. Surely a married man, more or less on his honeymoon, does not
want to visit an empty house after midnight. Surely he could have
waited till daylight."

"Then you think he went out to keep an appointment?"

"I feel quite convinced of it, your lordship. And, moreover, the
appointment was a secret one of which Mrs. Delahay was to know
nothing. I will go still further, and say that Mr. Delahay came here
after you had gone this morning to keep an appointment. It is just
possible that he might have been in the house during your presence
here. It is just possible that he cut the cable himself."

"Ah, but that won't quite do," Ravenspur protested. "When I came out
of the house this morning I saw that the front door was carefully
fastened, and I am prepared to swear that the latchkey which Mrs.
Delahay found this morning was not in the lock then. No, no; I am
quite sure that poor Delahay must have come here after I left. I am
not prepared to contest your theory that my unfortunate friend came
here to keep an appointment. Indeed, the presence of the latchkey in
the door proves that he was in a hurry, and perhaps a little upset, or
he would not have committed the mistake of leaving the key behind him.
But after all, said and done, this is merely conjecture on our part.
Have you found anything yourself that is likely to give you a clue?"

Inspector Dallas hesitated just for a moment.

"Perhaps I ought not to mention it," he said, "but I am sure I can
rely upon your lordship's discretion. When I was called this morning I
found Mr. Delahay lying on the floor of the studio quite dead. So far
as we could see there were no marks of violence on the body except a
small puncture over the heart, which appears to have been made with
some very fine instrument. But, of course, we can't speak definitely
on that point till we have had the inquest. As far as we can judge,
something like a struggle must have taken place, because the loose
carpets on the floor were in great disorder, and one or two articles
of furniture had been overturned. You may say that this proves
nothing, except that violence was used. But in the hand of the dead
man we found something that might be useful to us. Perhaps you would
like to see it."

Lord Ravenspur intimated that he should. From a pocket-book Dallas
produced a photograph, _carte de visite_ size, which had been torn
into half a dozen pieces. The photograph was considerably faded, and
in the tearing the actual face itself had been ripped out of all
recognition. Still, judging from the small fragments, it was possible
to make out that the picture had been that of a woman. One scrap of
card bore the words "and Co., Melbourne." The rest of the lettering
had apparently vanished.

"This must have been taken a long time ago," Ravenspur said. "It is so
terribly faded."

"Not necessarily, my lord," Dallas said. "We know very little about
that photograph as yet except that it was taken in Australia. Of
course, it is fair to assume that the picture is an old one judging
from the colouring, but your lordship must not forget that foreign
photographs are always much fainter than those taken in this country,
because the light is so much stronger and more brilliant. At any rate,
the fact remains that we found those fragments tightly clenched in Mr.
Delahay's left hand, all of which points to some intrigue, with a
woman at the bottom of it. Of course, I know nothing whatever about
Mr. Delahay's moral character - - "

"Then I'll tell you," Ravenspur said sharply. "My late friend was the
soul of honour. He was a very quick, passionate man, and he inherited
his temper from his Italian mother. But the man was incapable of
anything mean or dishonourable. He was genuinely in love with his
wife, and cared nothing for any other woman. How that photograph came
into his possession I don't know. Probably we never shall know. But
you can at once dismiss from your mind the suspicion that Delahay was
mixed up in that vulgar kind of business. Now, is there anything more
you can tell me?"

"Well, no," Dallas said, after a short pause. "There is nothing that
strikes me, no suggestions that seem to need a doctor's opinion. We
shall find that the cause of death is the small puncture over the
heart that I spoke of. To hazard an opinion, it might be caused by one
of those glass stilettos - the Corsican type of weapon where the blade
is snapped off in the wound. It leaves the smallest mark, and no blood
follows - a difficult thing to trace without great care. Of course, the
_post mortem_ - - "


A sudden quick cry broke from Ravenspur's lips. He fairly staggered
back, his white face was given over to a look of peculiar horror.
Then, as he became aware of the curious glances of his companion he
made a great effort to regain his self-control.

"I - I don't understand," he stammered. "A stiletto made of glass! A
long, slender blade like an exaggerated needle, I presume. Yet, now I
come to think of it, I recollect that, when I was painting a 'Borgia'
subject once, my costume dealer spoke of one of those Corsican
daggers. I did not take much interest in the conversation at the time.
And so you have an idea that this is the way in which my poor friend
met his death?"

Ravenspur was speaking quietly and easily now. He had altogether
regained control of himself save for an occasional twitching of his
lips. He paced up and down the room thoughtfully for some time,
utterly unconscious of Dallas' sharp scrutiny.

"I suppose there is nothing more you have to tell me?" he said at
length. "This is evidently going to be one of those crimes which
thrill a whole community for a week, and then are never heard of
again. Still, if there is anything I can do for you, pray do not
hesitate to ask for my assistance. I suppose we can do no more till
after the inquest is over?"

Without waiting for any reply from his companion Ravenspur quitted the
room, and went back to his brougham. He threw himself into a corner,
and pulled his hat over his eyes. For a long time he sat there
immersed in deep and painful thought, and utterly unconscious of his
surroundings. Even when the brougham pulled up in Park Lane he made no
attempt to dismount till the footman opened the door and addressed him
by name.

"I - I beg your pardon, Walters," he said, "this terrible business
prevents my thinking about anything else. I am going into my own room
now, and I am not to be disturbed by anybody. If I am dining out
tonight, tell Mr. Ford to write and cancel the engagement. Oh, here
is Ford himself."

The neat, clean-shaven secretary came forward.

"Your lordship seems to have forgotten," he said. "You are giving a
dinner here tonight yourself. You gave orders especially to arrange
it, because you were anxious for some of the Royal Academicians to
meet the young Polish artist - - "

"I had clean forgotten it," Ravenspur said, with something like a
groan. "Entertaining people tonight will be like dancing in fetters.
Still, I must make the best of it, for I should not like that talented
young foreigner to be disappointed. In the meantime, I am not at home
to anybody."

With this admonition Ravenspur passed up to his own private rooms, and
carefully locked the door behind him. He took a cigar from his case,
and lighted it, only to fling it away a moment later in disgust. He
stood just for a moment with his hand on a decanter of brandy, and
then with a smile for his own weakness poured out a glassful, which he
drank without delay.

"I am a fool and a coward," he muttered. "What can there be to be
afraid of after all these years? Why do I hesitate in this way when

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Online LibraryFred M. (Fred Merrick) WhiteThe Midnight Guest → online text (page 1 of 19)