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four years I had no communication from him, no explanation of his
extraordinary behaviour, and then suddenly I received news of his death.
At first it was thought he had died as a result of fever, but Dr.
Goldworthy who came to see me convinced me that George Doughton was
poisoned by somebody who was interested in his death."

Her voice trembled, but with an effort she recovered herself.

"All these years I have not forgotten him, his face has never left my
mind, he has been as precious to me as though he were by my side in the
flesh. Love dies very hard in women of my age, Mr. Smith," she said,
"and love injured and outraged as mine has been developed all the tiger
passion which women can nurture. I have learnt for the first time why
George Doughton went out to his death. He used to tell me," she said, as
she rose from her chair, and paced the room slowly, "that when you are
shooting wild beasts you should always shoot the female of the species
first, because if she is left to the last she will avenge her
slaughtered mate. There is a terrible time coming for somebody," she
said, speaking deliberately.

"For whom?" asked T. B.

She smiled.

"I think you know too much already, Mr. Smith," she said; "you must find
out all the rest in your own inimitable way; so far as I am concerned,
you must leave me to work out my plan of vengeance. That sounds horribly
melodramatic, but I am just as horribly in earnest, as you shall learn.
They took George Doughton from me and they murdered him; the man who did
this was Montague Fallock, and I am perhaps the only person in the world
who has met Montague Fallock in life and have known him to be what he
is."

She would say no more, and T. B. was too cautious a man to force the
pace at this particular moment. He saw her to the door, where her
beautiful limousine was awaiting her.

"I hope to meet you again very soon, Lady Constance."

"Without a warrant?" she smiled.

"I do not think it will be with a warrant," he said, quietly, "unless
it is for your friend Fallock."

He stood in the hall and watched the car disappear swiftly round the
corner of the square. Scarcely was it out of sight than from the little
thoroughfare which leads from the mews at the back of the houses shot a
motor-cyclist who followed in the same direction as the car had taken.

T. B. nodded approvingly; he was leaving nothing to chance. Lady
Constance Dex would not be left day or night free from observation.

"And she did not mention Farrington!" he said to himself, as he mounted
the stairs. "One would almost think he was alive."

It was nine o'clock that evening when the little two-seated motor-car
which Lady Constance drove so deftly came spinning along the broad road
which runs into Great Bradley, skirted the town by a side road and
gained the great rambling rectory which stood apart from the little town
in its own beautiful grounds. She sprang lightly out of the car.

The noise of the wheels upon the gravel walk had brought a servant to
the door, and she brushed past the serving man without a word; ran
upstairs to her own room and closed and locked the door behind her
before she switched on the electric light. The electric light was an
unusual possession in so small a town, but she owed its presence in the
house to her friendship with that extraordinary man who was the occupant
of the Secret House.

Three miles away, out of sight of the rectory in a fold of the hill was
this great gaunt building, erected, so popular gossip said, by one who
had been crossed in love and desired to live the life of a recluse, a
desire which was respected by the superstitious town-folk of Great
Bradley. The Secret House had been built in the hollow which was known
locally as "Murderers' Valley," a pretty little glen which many years
before had been the scene of an outrageous crime. The house added to,
rather than detracted from, the reputation of the glen; no man saw the
occupant of the Secret House; his secretary and his two Italian servants
came frequently to Great Bradley to make their purchases; now and again
his closed car would whizz through the streets; and Great Bradley,
speculating as to the identity of its owner, could do no more than hope
that one of these fine days a wheel would come off that closed car and
its occupant be forced to disclose himself.

But in the main the town was content to allow the eccentric owner of the
Secret House all the privacy he desired. He might do things which were
unheard of, as indeed he did, and Great Bradley, standing aloof, was
content to thank God that it was not cast in the same bizarre mould as
this wealthy unknown, and took comfort from the reflection.

For he did many curious things. He had a power house of his own; you
could see the chimney showing over Wadleigh Copse, with dynamos of
enormous power which generated all that was necessary for lighting and
heating the big house.

There were honest British working men in Great Bradley who spoke
bitterly of the owner's preference for foreign labour, and it was a fact
that the men engaged in the electrical works were without exception of
foreign origin. They had their quarters and lived peacefully apart,
neither offering nor desiring the confidence of their fellow-townsmen.
They were, in fact, frugal people of the Latin race who had no other
wish than to work hard and to save as much of their salaries as was
possible in order that at some future date they might return to their
beloved Italy, and live in peace with the world; they were well paid for
their discretion, a sufficient reason for its continuance.

Lady Constance Dex had been fortunate in that she had secured one of the
few favours which the Secret House had shown to the town. An underground
cable had been laid to her house, and she alone of all human beings in
the world was privileged to enter the home of this mysterious stranger
without challenge.

She busied herself for some time changing her dress and removing the
signs of her hasty journey from London. Her maid brought her dinner on a
tray, and when she had finished she went again into her boudoir, and
opening the drawer of her bureau she took out a slender-barrelled
revolver. She looked at it for some time, carefully examined the
chambers and into each dropped a nickel-tipped cartridge. She snapped
back the hinged chamber and slipped the pistol into a pocket of her
woollen cloak. She locked the bureau again and went out through the door
and down the stairs. Her car was still waiting, but she turned to the
servant who stood deferentially by the door.

"Have the car put in the garage," she said; "I am going to see Mrs.
Jackson."

"Very good, my lady," said the man.




CHAPTER IX


T. B. Smith came down to Great Bradley with only one object in view. He
knew that the solution to the mystery, not only of Farrington's
disappearance, but possibly the identity of the mysterious Mr. Fallock,
was to be found rather in this small town than in the metropolis.
Scotland Yard was on its mettle. Within a space of seven days there had
been two murders, a mysterious shooting, and a suicide so full of
extraordinary features as to suggest foul play, without the police being
in the position to offer a curious and indignant public the slightest
resemblance of a clue. This, following as it had upon a shooting affray
at the Docks, had brought Scotland Yard to a position of defence.

"There are some rotten things being said about us," said the Chief
Commissioner on the morning of T. B.'s departure. He threw a paper
across the table, and T. B. picked it up with an enigmatic smile. He
read the flaring column in which the intelligence of the police
department was called into question, without a word, and handed the
paper back to his chief.

"I think we might solve all these mysteries in one swoop," he said. "I
am going down to-day to inspect the Secret House - that is where one end
of the solution lies."

The Chief Commissioner looked interested.

"It is very curious that you should be talking about that," he said. "I
have had a report this morning from the chief constable of the county on
that extraordinary menage."

"And what has he to say about it?"

Sir Gordon Billings shrugged his shoulders.

"It is one of those vague reports which chief constables are in the
habit of furnishing," he said, drily. "Apparently the owner is an
American, an invalid, and is eccentric. More than this - and this will
surprise you - he has been certified by competent medical authorities as
being insane."

"Insane?" T. B. repeated in surprise.

"Insane," nodded the chief; "and he has all the privileges which the
Lunacy Act confers upon a man. That is rather a facer."

T. B. looked thoughtful.

"I had a dim idea that I might possibly discover in the occupant one
who was, at any rate, a close relative to Fallock."

"You are doomed to disappointment," smiled the chief; "there is no doubt
about that. I have had all the papers up. The man was certified insane
by two eminent specialists, and is under the care of a doctor who lives
on the premises, and who also acts as secretary to this Mr. Moole. The
secret of the Secret House is pretty clear; it is a private lunatic
asylum, - that, and nothing else."

T. B. thought for a while.

"At any rate no harm can be done by interviewing this cloistered Mr.
Moole, or by inspecting the house," he said.

He arrived in Great Bradley in the early part of the afternoon, and
drove straight away to the Secret House. The flyman put him down at some
distance from the big entrance gate, and he made a careful and cautious
reconnaissance of the vicinity. The house was a notable one. It made no
pretence at architectural beauty, standing back from the road, and in
the very centre of a fairly uncultivated patch of ground. All that
afternoon he measured and observed the peculiarities of the approach,
the lie of the ground, the entrances, and the exits, and had obtained
too a cautious and careful observation of the great electrical power
house, which stood in a clump of trees about a hundred yards from the
house itself.

The next morning he paid a more open visit. This time his fly put him
down at the gateway of the house, and he moved slowly up the gravel
pathway to the big front entrance door. He glanced at the tip of the
power house chimney which showed over the trees, and shook his head in
some doubt. He had furtively inspected the enormous plant which the
eccentric owner of the Secret House had found it necessary to lay down.

"Big enough to run an electric railway," was his mental comment. He had
seen, too, the one-eyed engineer, a saturnine man with a disfiguring
scar down one side of his face, and a trick of showing his teeth on one
side of his mouth when he smiled.

T. B. would have pursued his investigations further, but suddenly he had
felt something click under his feet, as he stood peering in at the
window, and instantly a gong had clanged, and a shutter dropped
noiselessly behind the window, cutting off all further view.

T. B. had retired hastily and had cleared the gates just before they
swung to, obviously operated by somebody in the power house.

His present visit was less furtive and it was in broad daylight, with
two detectives ostentatiously posted at the gates, that he made his
call - for he took no unnecessary risks.

He walked up the four broad marble steps to the portico of the house,
and wiped his feet upon a curious metal mat as he pressed the bell. The
door itself was half hidden by a hanging curtain, such as one may see
screening the halls of suburban houses, made up of brightly coloured
beads or lengths of bamboo. In this case it was made by suspending
thousands of steel beads upon fine wire strings from a rod above the
door. It gave the impression that the entrance itself was of steel, but
when in answer to his summons the door was opened, the _chick_ looped
itself up on either side in the manner of a stage curtain, and it seemed
to work automatically on the opening of the door.

There stood in the entrance a tall man, with a broad white face and
expressionless eyes. He was dressed soberly in black, and had the
restrained and deferential attitude of the superior man-servant.

"I am Mr. Smith, of Scotland Yard," said T. B. briefly, "and I wish to
see Mr. Moole."

The man in black looked dubious.

"Will you come in?" he asked, and T. B. was shown into a large
comfortably furnished sitting-room.

"I am afraid you can't see Mr. Moole," said the man, as he closed the
door behind him; "he is, as you probably know, a partial invalid, but if
there is anything I can do - - "

"You can take me to Mr. Moole," said T. B. with a smile; "short of
that - nothing."

The man hesitated.

"If you insist," he began.

The detective nodded.

"I am his secretary and his doctor - Doctor Fall," the other introduced
himself, "and it may mean trouble for me - perhaps you will tell me your
business?"

"My business is with Mr. Moole."

The doctor bowed.

"Come this way," he said, and he led the detective across the broad
hall. He opened a plain door, and disclosed a small lift, standing aside
for the other to enter.

"After you," said T. B. politely.

Dr. Fall smiled and entered, and T. B. Smith followed.

The lift shot swiftly upward and came to a rest at the third floor.

It was not unlike an hotel, thought T. B., in the general arrangement of
the place.

Two carpeted corridors ran left and right, and the wall before him was
punctured with doorways at regular intervals. His guide led him to the
left, to the end of the passage, and opened the big rosewood door which
faced him. Inside was another door. This he opened, and entered a big
apartment and T. B. followed. The room contained scarcely any furniture.
The panelling on the walls was of polished myrtle; a square of deep blue
carpet of heavy pile was set exactly in the centre, and upon this stood
a silver bedstead. But it was not the furnishing or the rich little gilt
table by the bedside or the hanging electrolier which attracted T. B.'s
attention; rather his eyes fell instantly upon the man on the bed.

A man with an odd yellow face, who, with his steady unwinking eyes might
have been a figure of wax save for the regular rise and fall of his
breast, and the spasmodic twitching of his lips. T. B. judged him to be
somewhere in the neighbourhood of seventy, and, if anything, older. His
face was without expression; his eyes, which turned upon the intruder,
were bright and beady.

"This is Mr. Moole," said the suave secretary. "I am afraid if you talk
to him you will get little in the way of information."

T. B. stepped to the side of the bed and looked down. He nodded his head
in greeting, but the other made no response.

"How are you, Mr. Moole?" said T. B. gently. "I have come down from
London to see you."

There was still no response from the shrunken figure under the
bedclothes.

"What is your name?" asked T. B. after a while.

For an instant a gleam of intelligence came to the eyes of the wreck.
His mouth opened tremulously and a husky voice answered him.

"Jim Moole," it croaked, "poor old Jim Moole; ain't done nobody harm."

Then his eyes turned fearfully to the man at T. B.'s side; the old lips
came tightly together and no further encouragement from T. B. could make
him speak again.

A little later T. B. was ushered out of the room.

"You agree with me," said the doctor smoothly, "Mr. Moole is not in a
position to carry on a very long conversation."

T. B. nodded.

"I quite agree," he said, pleasantly. "An American millionaire - Mr.
Moole - is he not?"

Dr. Fall inclined his head. His black eyes never left T. B.'s face.

"An American millionaire," he repeated.

"He does not talk like an American," said T. B.; "even making allowances
that one must for his mental condition, there is no inducement to
accept the phenomenon."

"Which phenomenon?" asked the other, quickly.

"That which causes an American millionaire, a man probably of some
refinement and education, at any rate of some lingual characteristics,
to talk like a Somerset farm labourer."

"What do you mean?" asked the other harshly.

"Just what I say," said T. B. Smith; "he has the burr of a man who has
been brought up in Somerset. He is obviously one who has had very little
education. My impression of him does not coincide with your
description."

"I think, Mr. Smith," said the other, quietly, "that you have had very
little acquaintance with people who are mentally deficient, otherwise
you would know that those unfortunate fellow-creatures of ours who are
so afflicted are very frequently as unrecognizable from their speech as
from their actions."

He led the way to the lift door, but T. B. declined its service.

"I would rather walk down," he said.

He wanted to be better acquainted with this house, to have a larger
knowledge of its topography than the ascent and descent by means of an
electric lift would allow him. Dr. Fall offered no objection, and led
the way down the red carpeted stairs.

"I am well acquainted with people of unsound mind," T. B. went on,
"especially that section of the insane whose lunacy takes the form of
dropping their aitches."

"You are being sarcastic at my expense," said the other, suddenly
turning to him with a lowered brow. "I think it is only right to tell
you that, in addition to being Mr. Moole's secretary, I am a doctor."

"That is also no news to me," smiled T. B. "You are an American doctor
with a Pennsylvania degree. You came to England in eighteen hundred and
ninety-six, on board the _Lucania_. You left New York hurriedly as the
result of some scandal in which you were involved. It is, in fact, much
easier to trace your movements since the date of your arrival than it is
to secure exact information concerning Mr. Moole, who is apparently
quite unknown to the American Embassy."

The large face of the secretary flushed to a deep purple.

"You are possibly exceeding your duty," he said, gratingly, "in
recalling a happening of which I was but an innocent victim."

"Possibly I am," agreed T. B.

He bowed slightly to the man, and descended the broad steps to the
unkempt lawn in front of the house. He was joined at the gate by the two
men he had brought down. One of these was Ela.

"What did you find?" asked that worthy man.

"I found much that will probably be useful to us in the future," said T.
B., as he stepped into the fly, followed by his subordinate.

He turned to the third detective.

"You had better wait here," he said, "and report on who arrives and who
departs. I shall be back within a couple of hours."

The man saluted, and the fly drove off.

"I have one more call to make," said T. B. Smith, "and I had better make
that alone, I think. Tell the flyman to drop me at Little Bradley
Rectory."

Lady Constance Dex was not unprepared for the visit of the detective.
She had seen him from the window of her room, driving past the rectory
in the direction of the Secret House, and he found her expectantly
waiting him in the drawing-room.

He came straight to the heart of the matter.

"I have just been to visit a man who I understand is a friend of yours,"
he said.

She inclined her head.

"You mean Mr. Moole?"

"That is the man," said the cheerful T. B.

She thought for a long time before she spoke again. She was evidently
making up her mind as to how much she would tell this insistent officer
of the law.

"I suppose you might as well know the whole facts of the case," she
said; "if you will sit over there, I will supplement the information I
gave you in Brakely Square a few days ago."

T. B. seated himself.

"I am certainly a visitor to the Secret House," she said, after a while.
She did not look at the detective as she spoke, but kept her gaze fixed
upon the window and the garden without.

"I told you that I have had one love affair in my life; that affair,"
she went on steadily, "was with George Doughton; you probably know his
son."

T. B. nodded.

"It was a case of love at first sight. George Doughton was a widower, a
good-natured, easy-going, lovable man. He was a brave and brilliant man
too, famous as an explorer as you know. I met him first in London; he
introduced me to the late Mr. Farrington, who was a friend of his, and
when Mr. Farrington came to Great Bradley and took a house here for the
summer, George Doughton came down as his guest, and I got to know him
better than ever I had known any human being before in my life."

She hesitated again.

"We were lovers," she went on, defiantly, - "why should I not confess to
an experience of which I am proud? - and our marriage was to have taken
place on the very day he sailed for West Africa. George Doughton was the
very soul of honour, a man to whom the breath of scandal was as a desert
wind, withering and terrible. He was never in sympathy with the modern
spirit of our type, was old-fashioned in some respects, had an immense
and beautiful conception of women and their purity, and carried his
prejudices against, what we call smart society, to such an extent that,
if a man or woman of his set was divorced in circumstances discreditable
to themselves, he would cut them out of his life."

Her voice faltered, and she seemed to find difficulty in continuing, but
she braced herself to it.

"I had been divorced," she went on, in a low voice; "in my folly I had
been guilty of an indiscretion which was sinless as it was foolish. I
had married a cold, rigid and remorseless man when I was little more
than a child, and I had run away from him with one who was never more to
me than a brother. A chivalrous, kindly soul who paid for his chivalry
dearly. All the evidence looked black against me, and my husband had no
difficulty in securing a divorce. It passed into the oblivion of
forgotten things, yet in those tender days when my love for George
Doughton grew I lived in terror least a breath of the old scandal should
be revived. I had reason for that terror, as I will tell you. I was, as
I say, engaged to be married. Two days before the wedding George
Doughton left me without a word of explanation. The first news that I
received was that he had sailed for Africa; thereafter I never heard
from him." She dropped her voice until she was hardly audible.

T. B. preserved a sympathetic silence. It was impossible to doubt the
truth of all she was saying, or to question her anguish. Presently she
spoke again.

"Mr. Farrington was most kind, and it was he who introduced me to Dr.
Fall."

"Why?" asked T. B. quickly.

She shook her head.

"I never understood until quite lately," she said. "At the time I
accepted as a fact that Dr. Fall had large interests in West Africa, and
would enable me to get into communication with George Doughton. I
clutched at straws, so to speak; I became a constant visitor to the
Secret House, the only outside visitor that extraordinary domain has
ever had within memory. I found that my visits were not without result.
I was enabled to trace the movements of my lover; I was enabled, too, to
send letters to him in the certainty that they would reach him. I have
reason now to know that Mr. Farrington had another object in introducing
me; he wanted me kept under the closest observation lest I should get
into independent communication with George Doughton. That is all the
story so far as my acquaintance with the Secret House is concerned. I
have only seen Mr. Moole on one occasion."

"And Farrington?" asked T. B.

She shook her head.

"I have never seen Mr. Farrington in the house," she replied.

"Or Montague Fallock?" he suggested.

She raised her eyebrows.

"I have never seen Montague Fallock," she said slowly, "though I have
heard from him. He, too, knew of the scandal; he it was who blackmailed
me in the days of my courtship."

"You did not tell me about that," said T. B.

"There is little to tell," she said, with a weary gesture; "it was this
mysterious blackmailer who terrified me, and to whose machinations I
ascribe George Doughton's discovery, for now I know that he was told of
my past, and was told by Montague Fallock. He demanded impossible sums.
I gave him as much as I could, almost ruined myself to keep this
blackmailer at bay, but all to no purpose."

She rose and paced the room.

"I have not finished with Montague Fallock," she said.

She turned her white face to the detective, and he saw a hard gleam in
her eye.

"There is much that I could tell you, Mr. Smith, which would enable you
perhaps to bring to justice the most dastardly villain that has ever


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Online LibraryEdgar WallaceThe secret house → online text (page 5 of 14)