J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

The lost valley online

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at me with both hurt and contempt in her eyes, but I was far too
engrossed in the business in hand to give her more than passing notice.
When I came to think it over in calmer moments I realised that, despite
all that had happened, the girl was just as much in love with me as ever
she had been.

The fellow was young, at the most he could not have been more than
twenty-four or five, and I saw instantly that he was the man I had
called the Roman sentry - the chap who had been spying on the house the
day Bryce had driven me home from the Heads. The life wasn't crushed out
of him by any means; even as I examined him he stirred a little and his
eyes opened. They were nice black eyes, the sort that brim over with
humor, yet way at the back of them I caught a glimpse of something else.
It was a queer mixture of anger and determination, and I saw just
sufficient of it to warn me to take no unnecessary risks. Save for that
first spasmodic movement he lay perfectly still, those black eyes of his
laughing up at me and challenging. Somehow they filled me with a curious
sense of unrest, a feeling as if everything that made life safe and
secure was slipping away from me. I did not speak a word, however, but
gave him back look for look, striving with my eyes to beat down the
challenge I read in his. They said as plainly as so many words, "I'm the
better man, and I'll beat you yet. Try and see if I don't."

"What are you doing here?" I demanded at length, seeing that one of us
must speak, and he seemed the less likely.

"If I told you I was a somnambulist you wouldn't believe me, would you?"
he replied.

"I wouldn't," I said tersely.

"I'm not, anyway," he continued, with those infernally self-possessed
eyes daring me ... daring me what?

"You've got to explain what you were doing in that room," I threatened.
"The sooner you tell me the better it'll be for you."

"It's no use talking like that, my friend," he said. "You won't get a
word more out of me than I wish, and while I think of it you'd better
call in the police at once and have done with it."

It was the first time that the idea of the police had occurred to me,
and, now I came to think of it, it wasn't too acceptable. Without
knowing much about it, I surmised that the less Bryce had to do with the
police the better he'd be pleased, that is if I could base anything on
the way he had behaved that morning on the beach. As it was Moira seemed
to have much the same idea as myself, or perhaps she spoke from superior
knowledge.

"Don't call the police in, Jim," she said in a quick whisper. "You
mustn't do that. It'd be better to let him go."

I shook my head. "I don't want to let him go," I said, "but if you don't
want to make an example of him, I don't see what else there is for it.
I'll have a word with him first, at any rate, and see what I can make
out of him."

"Be careful, Jim," she whispered, all the strain and anger occasioned by
my ill-timed insult disappearing in her anxiety for my welfare.

I ignored her admonition, more because I could think of no suitable
reply than for any other reason, and addressed myself to the captive.

"Get up," I said. "You and I are going to have a little heart-to-heart
talk."

He made no effort to rise, so I leaned over and hauled him up by the
collar. By the feel of him he was some forty pounds lighter than I, and
I made a mental note of that in case we had a scrimmage on the way.
Weight counts a good deal in a rough-and-tumble. I got a good neck-hold
on him, and then I turned to Moira. "You'd better get back to bed and
forget," I said. "I'll deal with this smart Alec here."

I did not wait to see if she took my advice, but I prodded my captive
with my free hand. "Jog along, Eliza," I said. "Straight down the hall,
and don't try any monkey tricks."

He went quietly enough; if I had had my wits about me I would have had
my suspicions aroused by that same fact. I was flushed with victory,
and, what was even more pleasant, I was acting to an impressionable
audience. I was sure that Moira could not fail to appreciate the
neatness with which I had conducted the whole affair, and, though I kept
telling myself that I did not care a hang for her, I hadn't the faintest
objection to showing off before her. On the contrary. That, in part at
least, was the cause of my undoing.

The hall ended in a big French window that opened out on to the back
verandah. It was very seldom used, indeed I had never seen it opened,
but there it was with glass all the way to the floor. When I marched my
prisoner down the hall I had some vague idea of taking him out on to the
verandah and inducing him to tell me what he had come for. But the man
had other plans maturing, and when we were just about six or seven feet
away from the window he gave a little twist and a wriggle and slipped
out of my hands as if he had been an eel. Then, before I had quite
recovered sufficiently to make a grab at the empty air, he hurled
himself against the window. It was one of those foolhardy things that
succeed just because of the sheer, daring recklessness of the man who
carries them through. He swept through the glass with a splintering
crash that must have been audible for half-a-block away, and then, while
the falling pieces still tinkled on the floor, he placed his hand on the
verandah rail and vaulted to the ground. I drew my revolver at once - I
had been pulling it out of my pocket even as I ran down the hall - and
took a flying shot at him. But in the hurry of the moment I missed, and
I padded out on to the verandah through the splintered window just in
time to see him scaling the back fence with the practised ease of the
family tabby.

I did not attempt to follow him. I knew the uselessness of such a
proceeding. Just for the fraction of a second his hurrying silhouette
had shown on the top of the fence, and then it had melted into the
surrounding shadows of the dawn with a silence and celerity which, more
than anything else, told me how difficult it would be to trace him.

I turned on my heel, only to find that the lights were blazing up in
practically every room, and Moira, Bryce and the servants were gathered
in a huddled, indecisive group just inside the window. Most of them
looked startled. Bryce had been a little shaken, but his self-possession
was rapidly returning. Moira, indeed, was the only one who faced me with
anything like calmness in her face.

"You'd better all get back to bed," I said, seeing that someone had to
take the initiative. "It's nothing very much, nothing to worry you at
any rate."

"Yes, you'd better go back," Bryce said, seconding my remarks. "There's
nothing doing."

The servants moved away one by one, leaving the three of us together.
For quite a minute Bryce eyed the revolver that I still held in my hand,
then his glance travelled to the shattered window, and, completing the
circle, came to rest on me again.

"Well?" he queried, with intense interest in his voice. I knew what that
monosyllable meant. It was a request for a detailed account of the
events of that night. Seeing that there was nothing to be gained by
withholding anything, I plunged into the tale and related everything
just as it had happened.

"So he got away from you?" he remarked when I had finished.

"He did," I said emphatically.

"That's about the best thing he could have done," Bryce ran on. "I don't
know what we could have done with him if we had kept him."

"'He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day,'" I
reminded him.

"That other day is a matter for the future," he answered. "We'd better
see what he took though. Come on."

He turned on his heel and led the way to his study just as the first
rays of the rising sun crept up over the distant hills.




CHAPTER V.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.


The room was much as we had left it the evening before. The typed papers
had disappeared, but a sheet which I recognised as the one I had picked
up from the kitchen floor the day of my arrival lay on the table in full
view. Beside it was the clean blotting pad that I had never yet seen
used. Bryce took no notice of the sheet of figures, but lifted the pad
up, and, drawing a magnifying glass from his pocket, ran his eyes over
the rough white surface. Moira and I watched him with unfeigned
interest. At last he looked up.

"Just as I thought," he remarked. "Have a look yourself, Jim." He handed
both glass and pad to me. I studied the latter for some seconds before I
quite dropped to what he meant. Gradually I made out figures impressed
on the rough surface. Our midnight visitor had made a copy of that
single sheet, had made it hurriedly in pencil, and the impression had
gone through on to the receptive softness of the blotting paper. My
scrutiny over, I handed the materials to Moira.

"You understand?" Bryce queried, with little laughter-wrinkles about his
eyes.

"I do," I said admiringly. "I don't know what the man was after, but he
didn't get it. He got a fake instead."

Bryce nodded. "He's up a gum-tree instead of under one," he said
enigmatically.

I made no answer to that, chiefly because it struck me that it was the
sort of remark that meant a good deal more than appeared on the surface.
I tucked it away in my memory, quite confident that sooner or later the
march of events would make it clear to me. As a matter of fact, if I
hadn't taken so much notice of that simple sentence, this story would
never have been written, for the key to everything was contained in that
casual remark.

"Nothing else has been disturbed," Bryce announced, and included the
whole room in one comprehensive gesture. "I'm going back to bed for a
couple of hours. You young people can do just what you like."

He hustled us out of the room, shut the door carefully behind us, and
went off to his room. Moira made no attempt to follow his example, but
stood in the passage with her deep golden-brown eyes fixed on me. There
was a look in them that I could not quite fathom; it whirled me back
through five years of sorrow and stress, brought me back to the days
when - - . No, I wasn't going to think about it at all. It didn't bring
me back to anything; it brought nothing back to me. Yet I could not help
remarking that her eyes held solicitude for me and something that was
more than that.

"Aren't you going back to rest?" I asked, and was surprised to note that
there was both interest and defiance in my voice.

"I want to talk to you," she said, answering my question by inference.
"I want to talk seriously to you."

So it was coming at last. She intended putting Bryce's advice into
execution. Perhaps she thought it was merely a matter of telling me that
she was sorry for what had occurred, and then everything would begin
again just where it had left off. If she thought so she was radically
mistaken. My love had been rejected and I had been wounded in my pride.
Through four long years of repression the knowledge had rankled in my
mind till now the very sight of her standing there and beseeching me
with her eyes was more than I could bear. I would not have been human
had I not felt the old wound pricking me again, and I certainly would
not have been a Carstairs had the mere sight of her apparent contrition
moved me to forgive her on the spot. I was quite willing to be friendly,
I told myself, but by nothing short of a miracle could we regain the old
footing. The worst of it was that something moved me to take her in my
arms then and there and kiss away the tears that were very near her
eyes.

"I don't know what to say to you, Jim," she said tentatively.

"There's no need to say anything, Moira." I tried to speak as kindly as
possible, but somehow I think I failed. "I happened to overhear you and
your uncle yesterday, and I know just what you mean. But, Moira, I don't
see how things can ever be the same again. It isn't as if it were
something I could forget. It isn't. It goes right down to the
fundamentals. If our love wouldn't stand the strain I put on it, it
wasn't worth having. I hate to have to speak to you like this, but, when
all's said and done, it's just as well to be frank first as last."

She nodded with tight-closed lips. I saw that she was trying her hardest
to keep control of herself, and for a moment it was touch and go with
me. I very seldom set my mind to anything that I don't carry through,
and in this instance I had a very clear and definite plan outlined in my
mind. So I just set my teeth and carried it off as if nothing really
mattered very much.

"You heard us yesterday then?" she said at length. She spoke so slowly
that she almost drawled her words.

I nodded.

"That's what you were doing then when I came out of the room?"

"Exactly," I said. I fancied it would only make matters worse if I
explained everything in detail.

"I was wrong, Jim, and I apologise," she said. There was a little gleam
of flame in her eyes that made me hang on her words. "I was wrong," she
repeated. "I said yesterday that you had changed, but I don't think you
have. You're just the same old Jim, a bit of a savage and just as
primitive as ever."

"Thank you, Moira," I said. "I didn't expect it from you, but now I know
what to look for."

"It is war then?" she said, with a little sparkle in her eyes.

"War it is," I answered; "as the Spaniards say, 'Guerra al cuchillo.'"

"Please translate," she requested. "I do not speak Spanish."

"War to the knife," I said briskly.

She half turned, then spoke to me over her shoulder. "I had hoped that
we would be allies," she said softly, and was gone before I could ask
her why.

As was only to be expected, things were very quiet during the next few
days. Bryce went about his own affairs more openly than hitherto. With
the passing of our midnight visitor all fear of attack seemed to have
disappeared. He did not say as much to me, but in many little ways he
showed that he was much easier in his mind. I found that I had next to
nothing to do. He did not go out of his way now to find something to
keep me occupied. As a matter of fact, I saw very little of him and
practically nothing at all of Moira.

I spent most of my time thinking. I went over everything that had
happened from the moment I sat down on the beach right down to the visit
of that interesting and entertaining gentleman who had made his exit
from the house in so unorthodox a manner. There was logic running right
through the piece; every little incident seemed to dovetail into the
others, yet, because I did not have the key, I could not read the
riddle. Why did the man on the beach fire at Bryce? I could not say.
Then just for amusement's sake I got a piece of paper and a pencil and
dotted down the items that wanted explaining. They ran somehow like
this: -

1. Why was Bryce shot at?

2. Why was he being watched?

3. What was the meaning of those figures I had seen?

4. Why was Bryce so anxious to avoid publicity?

5. Why did everybody seem satisfied when the burglar got away?

6. What was the burglar after, and why was he apparently satisfied even
when he got the wrong figures?

7. What did the piece of driftwood have to do with it, and what
connection was there between the wood and the typed figures?

And, lastly, what was it all about, anyhow?

Some of the items taken singly were quite susceptible of explanation,
but I could not put forward any solution that covered them in toto. So
eventually I gave it up, deciding that it wasn't my affair, and the less
I worried myself about what didn't concern me, the better.

* * * * *

The tragedy, coming as it did like a bolt out of a clear sky, so upset
everything that I really cannot say whether it was a week or ten days
later that it happened. But I do remember, with that accuracy of detail
that a man sometimes retains even when he is doubtful of essentials, the
various events of that evening.

Immediately after tea Bryce rose from the table with the expressed
intention of going to his study. I recall that he remarked to Moira as
he passed her that everything was going along swimmingly, and that if he
had no further word during the next couple of days he would consider
that it was quite safe to try his luck. I didn't understand what he
meant, though he seemed to be referring in a general way to the late
burglary, if burglary it could be called. Moira was quite aware of the
drift of his remarks, for she asked him wouldn't it be better to let the
week elapse before he did anything.

"We've waited too long," he said. "We should have got to work long
before. Too much time has been wasted already." Then he turned to me and
said casually, "Drop in and see me later on, Jim. I'll be working till
about ten."

I told him that I'd be along very shortly, and then I went hunting for a
book to read. I found one at length, and I got so interested in it that
I did not notice time passing. I was brought back to reality by a quick
step in the passage, and I turned my head to view the newcomer. It was
only Moira on her way to the study. She went by me with her head in the
air, as if I did not exist. I recall taking out my watch and noting that
it was just a quarter-past-nine, and high time I went in and saw Bryce.
However, as Moira had got in ahead of me, and her business was probably
of a private nature, I decided to wait until I heard her come out again.

I turned back to my book, but had scarcely found my place when I caught
the tinkle of breaking glass on woodwork, and practically at the same
instant there was a sharp "pop," as if someone had drawn a cork from a
bottle of some gaseous liquid. On the heels of that had come the single
whip-like crack of a revolver. I swung to my feet in an instant, and the
book dropped unheeded to the floor. During the last few days I had got
out of the habit of carrying my revolver, but for all that I made
straight for the study, and without the slightest ceremony turned the
handle. The door was not locked; it opened at my touch. I doubt if it
was even latched.

If my long years of training in the hard school of experience have
brought me nothing else, they at least taught me to keep my head in just
such an emergency as this present one. It was well for me that I had my
nerves under complete control, for the sight that faced me was one that
I could not have pictured in even my wildest flights of fancy. Bryce was
slumped forward in his chair, his big head sunk on his chest. All the
color had fled from his face, leaving it ashen pale. The kind eyes that
used to sparkle so were glazed now in death, and squinted up at me
through the tangled mat of his eyebrows. The whiteness of his immaculate
shirt-front was defiled for the first and last time by the big blood
stain that showed how his life had ebbed away. But it was Moira most of
all who caught and held my attention. She was standing just a little to
the left of Bryce, her deep eyes wide with horror and a smoking revolver
still held in her white clenched hand. She was staring at Bryce and the
blood-stain on his shirt as if what she saw was too monstrous for
belief.

"Moira Drummond," I said, in a hard, cold, emotionless voice that I
hardly recognised as mine, "put down that thing instantly."

She turned her head at my words and regarded me dazedly for just the
fraction of a second. Then in an instant the revolver dropped from her
nerveless fingers and clattered to the floor, she swayed like a
willow-wand in the wind, and would have fallen had I not sprung to catch
her. She went limp in my arms. I did not need a second glance to tell me
that Bryce was dead, and that no one in this world could do anything for
him now. So, recognising that my first duty was to the living, I turned
my attention to Moira. She had merely fainted, and one or two simple
remedies brought her round very quickly. She opened her golden-brown
eyes and looked up into mine. The unaccustomed horror of what she had
just gone through had not yet died out of them; they held a plaintive,
pleading look that somehow went straight to my heart.

"I didn't do it," she quavered.

"Who said you did?" I asked.

"The way you looked and spoke to me, Jim - - "

I stopped her with a gesture. "That's all right," I said consolingly. "I
wouldn't have thought so for a moment. But tell me just what happened."

"That's more than I can," she said. "I was standing by him, talking, and
suddenly I heard the window glass smash and something went 'pop.' And
the next I knew uncle gave a little cry and his head fell forward on his
chest. The blood was welling up out of his wound, and I saw that he was
killed. His revolver was on the table, so I seized it and fired at the
window. I don't know whether I hit whoever fired, but I hope I did," she
concluded, with the faintest touch of forgivable viciousness in her
voice.

It was only when she drew my attention to it that I remembered having
heard the glass break. The window had a great big star in the centre of
it with a myriad little cracks radiating from it like the spokes of a
wheel.

Moira looked first at the window, then at the still figure sitting in
the chair. Finally she turned to me.

"Jim, what are we to do?" she asked helplessly.

"Well," I answered, seeing now that everything fell upon me, "we'll have
to get hold of a doctor. It's just for form's sake, you understand. He
won't be able to do anything. Then we'll have to ring up the police.
It's a blessing we've got the 'phone on, as I wouldn't care to leave you
by yourself now even for a moment. It's a wonder that none of the
servants heard the noise."

"They're all out, Jim."

"That's lucky in one way," I said. "Now, Moira, I want you to understand
that the safety of us both depends on how far you back me up. We can't
touch your uncle until the police come; there'd be trouble if we did.
I'm going to ring up now, and in the meantime you'd better find some of
your uncle's cartridges."

"Why, Jim?"

"I'll tell you when I come back," I said. "Just do as I tell you. There
should be some in the drawer of that table. Be careful how you get them
out; you don't want to have to touch anything more than you can help.
I'll leave the door open so I can see you from the 'phone. You won't be
frightened?"

She shook her head, but her white face told me as plainly as so many
words that the sooner I came back the better. Accordingly I wasted no
further time, but turned on the hall light and took up the
telephone-book. For a wonder I had no difficulty in getting connected
with either the doctor or the police, and, once I had made my meaning
plain, I hung up and returned to Moira.

"The police'll be here in ten minutes at the outside," I said. "I've got
just that time to make you word-perfect. You've got the cartridges?
Thanks. I only want one. Now listen. Your story's thin, it's so thin
that there's many a detective wouldn't believe it; but I'm not going to
give them a chance. I'm going to rig up things so that they'll look
right. What happened is this: - You and I were out in the next room,
reading if you like, when we heard a shot. We rushed in and found your
uncle just as he is now. We've no idea who shot him, and neither you nor
I fired a shot. When we find your uncle's revolver in the drawer with
its seven chambers undischarged we're going to be just as much at sea as
anybody else."

"But I did fire a shot," she objected. "How can you get away from that?"

"Easy. First of all I take out the discharged cylinder. Then I clean out
the gun. I mustn't forget to clean it out, because if I do and people
examine it, they'll see that it's been discharged, and they'll begin to
suspect. We mustn't leave the least ground for suspicion. Now, there's
the gun ready loaded in all its chambers and as clean as the day it came
out of the shop. Back it goes into the drawer, and it stays there until
the police find it. You understand just what you've to do now?"

"I think I do, Jim. But, oh, you've got to help me all you can!"

"I will that," I said in a sudden burst of cordiality. "I want you to
feel that you can rely on me right through. And if there's any questions
asked just let me do the answering, and if you're asked anything, why
just say the same as I do. You can't say anything else because we were
together all the night."

"But, Jim, I don't see why we should have to deceive people like this.
Why is it necessary?"

"Have you ever heard of the thing called circumstantial evidence, Moira?
You must remember that I heard a shot, and ran into the room just in
time to see you standing over your uncle with a smoking revolver. I know


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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 4 of 16)