William Le Queux.

The House of Whispers online

. (page 18 of 20)
Online LibraryWilliam Le QueuxThe House of Whispers → online text (page 18 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

true source of your husband's huge income, and in order to prevent
exposure he must pay - and pay us well too."

"Yes," she laughed hysterically. "You tell me all this after you've

"Blundered! How?" he asked, surprised at her demeanour.

"What's the use of beating about the bush?" asked her ladyship. "The
girl is back at Glencardine. She knows everything, thanks to your
foolish self-confidence."

"Back at Glencardine!" gasped Flockart. "But she dare not speak. By
heaven! if she does - then - then - "

"And what, pray, can you do?" inquired the woman harshly. "It is I who
have to suffer, I who am crushed, humiliated, ruined, while you and your
precious friend shield yourselves behind your cloaks of honesty. You are
Sir Henry's friend. He believes you as such - you!" And she laughed the
hollow laugh of a woman who was staring death in the face. She was
haggard and drawn, and her hands trembled with nervousness which she
strove in vain to repress. Lady Heyburn was desperate.

"He still believes in me, eh?" asked the man, thinking deeply, for his
clever brain was already active to devise some means of escape from what
appeared to be a distinctly awkward dilemma. He had never calculated the
chances of Gabrielle's return to her father's side. He had believed that

"I understand that my husband will hear no word against you," replied
the tall, fair-haired woman. "But when I speak he will listen, depend
upon it."

"You dare!" he cried, turning upon her in threatening attitude. "You
dare utter a single word against me, and, by Heaven! I'll tell what I
know. The country shall ring with a scandal - the shame of your attitude
towards the girl, and a crime for which you will be arraigned, with me,
before an assize-court. Remember!"

The woman shrank from him. Her face had blanched. She saw that he was
equally as determined as she was desperate. James Flockart always kept
his threats. He was by no means a man to trifle with.

For a moment she was thoughtful, then she laughed defiantly in his face.
"Speak! Say what you will. But if you do, you suffer with me."

"You say that exposure is imminent," he remarked. "How did the girl
manage to return to Glencardine?"

"With Walter's aid. He went down to Woodnewton. What passed between them
I have no idea. I only returned the day before yesterday from the South.
All I know is that the girl is back with her father, and that he knows
much more than he ought to know."

"Murie could not have assisted her," Flockart declared decisively. "The
old man suspects him of taking those Russian papers from the safe."

"How do you know he hasn't cleared himself of the suspicion? He may have
done. The old man dotes upon the girl."

"I know all that."

"And she may have turned upon you, and told the truth about the safe
incident. That's more than likely."

"She dare not utter a word."

"You're far too self-confident. It is your failing."

"And when, pray, has it failed? Tell me."

"Never, until the present moment. Your bluff is perfect, yet there are
moments when it cannot aid you, depend upon it. She told me one night
long ago, in my own room, when she had disobeyed, defied, and annoyed
me, that she would never rest until Sir Henry knew the truth, and that
she would place before him proofs of the other affair. She has long
intended to do this; and now, thanks to your attitude of passive
inertness, she has accomplished her intentions."

"What!" he gasped in distinct alarm, "has she told her father the

"A telegram I received from Sir Henry late last night makes it only too
plain that he knows something," responded the unhappy woman, staring
straight before her. "It is your fault - your fault!" she went on,
turning suddenly upon her companion again. "I warned you of the danger
long ago."

Flockart stood motionless. The announcement which the woman had made
staggered him.

Felix Krail had come to him in Paris, and after some hesitation, and
with some reluctance, had described how he had followed the girl along
the Nene bank and thrown her into the deepest part of the river, knowing
that she would be hampered by her skirts and that she could not swim.
"She will not trouble us further. Never fear!" he had said. "It will be
thought a case of suicide through love. Her mental depression is the
common talk of the neighbourhood."

And yet the girl was safe and now home again at Glencardine! He
reflected upon the ugly facts of "the other affair" to which her
ladyship sometimes referred, and his face went ashen pale.

Just at the moment when success had come to them after all their
ingenuity and all their endeavours - just at a moment when they could
demand and obtain what terms they liked from Sir Henry to preserve the
secret of the financial combine - came this catastrophe.

"Felix was a fool to have left his work only half-done," he remarked
aloud, as though speaking to himself.

"What work?" asked the hollow-eyed woman eagerly. But he did not satisfy
her. To explain would only increase her alarm and render her even more
desperate than she was.

"Did I not tell you often that, from her, we had all to fear?" cried the
woman frantically. "But you would not listen. And now I am - I'm face to
face with the inevitable. Disaster is before me. No power can avert it.
The girl will have a bitter and terrible revenge."

"No," he cried quickly, with fierce determination. "No, I'll save you,
Winnie. The girl shall not speak. I'll go up to Glencardine to-night and
face it out. You will come with me."

"I!" gasped the shrinking woman. "Ah, no. I - I couldn't. I dare not face
him. You know too well I dare not!"



The grey mists were still hanging upon the hills of Glencardine,
although it was already midday, for it had rained all night, and
everywhere was damp and chilly.

Gabrielle, in her short tweed skirt, golf-cape, and motor-cap, had
strolled, with Walter Murie at her side, from the house along the
winding path to the old castle. From the contented expression upon her
pale, refined countenance, it was plain that happiness, to a great
extent, had been restored to her.

When he had gone to Woodnewton it was to fetch her back to Glencardine.
He had asked for an explanation, it was true; but when she had refused
one he had not pressed it. That he was puzzled, sorely puzzled, was

At first, Sir Henry had point-blank refused to receive his daughter. But
on hearing her appealing voice he had to some extent relented; and,
though strained relations still existed between them, yet happiness had
come to her in the knowledge that Walter's affection was still as strong
as ever.

Young Murie had, of course, heard from his mother the story told by Lady
Heyburn concerning the offence of her stepdaughter. But he would not
believe a single word against her.

They had been strolling slowly, and she had been speaking expressing her
heartfelt thanks for his action in taking her from that life of awful
monotony at Woodnewton. Then he, on his part, had pressed her soft hand
and repeated his promise of lifelong love.

They had entered the old grass-grown courtyard of the castle, when
suddenly she exclaimed, "How I wish, Walter, that we might elucidate the
secret of the Whispers!"

"It certainly would be intensely interesting if we could," he said, "The
most curious thing is that my old friend Edgar Hamilton, who is
secretary to the well-known Baron Conrad de Hetzendorf, tells me that a
similar legend is current in connection with the old château in Hungary.
He had heard the Whispers himself."

"Most remarkable!" she exclaimed, gazing blankly around at the ponderous
walls about her.

"My idea always has been that beneath where we are standing there must
be a chamber, for most mediaeval castles had a subterranean dungeon
beneath the courtyard."

"Ah, if we could only find entrance to it!" cried the girl
enthusiastically. "Shall we try?"

"Have you not often tried, and failed?" he asked laughingly.

"Yes, but let's search again," she urged. "My strong belief is that
entrance is not to be obtained from this side, but from the glen down

"Yes, no doubt in the ages long ago the hill was much steeper than it
now is, and there were no trees or undergrowth. On that side it was
impregnable. The river, however, in receding, silted up much earth and
boulders at the bend, and has made the ascent possible."

Together they went to a breach in the ponderous walls and peered down
into the ancient river-bed, now but a rippling burn.

"Very well," replied Murie, "let us descend and explore."

So they retraced their steps until, when about half-way to the house,
they left the path and went down to the bottom of the beautiful glen
until they were immediately beneath the old castle.

The spot was remote and seldom visited. Few ever came there, for it was
approached by no path on that side of the burn, so that the keepers
always passed along the opposite bank. They had no necessity to
penetrate there. Besides, it was too near the house.

Through the bracken and undergrowth, passing by big trees that in the
ages had sprung up from seedlings dropped by the birds or sown by the
winds, they slowly ascended to the frowning walls far above - the walls
that had withstood so many sieges and the ravages of so many centuries.

Half a dozen times the girl's skirt became entangled in the briars, and
once she tore her cape upon some thorns. But, enjoying the adventure,
she went on, Walter going first and clearing a way for her as best he

"Nobody has ever been up here before, I'm quite certain," Gabrielle
cried, halting, breathless, for a moment. "Old Stewart, who says he
knows every inch of the estate, has never climbed here, I'm sure."

"I don't expect he has," declared her lover.

At last they found themselves beneath the foundations of one of the
flanking-towers of the castle walls, whereupon he suggested that if they
followed the wall right along and examined it closely they might
discover some entrance.

"I somehow fear there will not be any door on the exposed side," he

The base of the walls was all along hidden by thick undergrowth,
therefore the examination proved extremely difficult. Nevertheless,
keenly interested in their exploration, the pair kept on struggling and
climbing until the perspiration rolled off both their faces.

Suddenly, Walter uttered a cry of surprise. "Why, look here! This seems
like a track. People _have_ been up here after all!"

And his companion saw that from the burn below, up through the bushes,
ran a narrow winding path, which showed little sign of frequent use.

Walter went on before her, quickly following the path until it turned at
right-angles and ended before a low door of rough wood which filled a
small breach in the wall - a breach made, in all probability, at the last
siege in the early seventeenth century.

"This must lead somewhere!" cried Walter excitedly; and, lifting the
roughly constructed wooden latch, he pushed the door open, disclosing a
cavernous darkness.

A dank, earthy smell greeted their nostrils. It was certainly an uncanny

"By Jove!" cried Walter, "I wonder where this leads to?" And, taking out
his vestas, he struck one, and, holding it before him, went forward,
passing through the breach in the broken wall into a stone passage which
led to the left for a few yards and gave entrance to exactly what
Gabrielle had expected - a small, windowless stone chamber probably used
in olden days as a dungeon.

Here they found, to their surprise, several old chairs, a rough table
formed of two deal planks upon trestles, and a couple of half-burned
candles in candlesticks which Gabrielle recognised as belonging to the
house. These were lit, and by their aid the place was thoroughly

Upon the floor was a heap of black tinder where some papers had been
burnt weeks or perhaps months ago. There were cigar-ends lying about,
showing that whoever had been there had taken his ease.

In a niche was a small tin box containing matches and fresh candles,
while in a corner lay an old newspaper, limp and damp, bearing a date
six months before. On the floor, too, were a number of pieces of
paper - a letter torn to fragments.

They tried to piece it together, laying it upon the table carefully, but
were unsuccessful in discovering its import, save that it was in
Russian, from somebody in Odessa, and addressed to Sir Henry.

Carrying the candles in their hands, they went into the narrow passage
to explore the subterranean regions of the old place. But neither way
could they proceed far, for the passage had fallen in at both ends and
was blocked by rubbish. The only exit or entrance was by that narrow
breach in the walls so cunningly concealed by the undergrowth and closed
by the rudely made door of planks nailed together. Above, in the stone
roof of the chamber, there was a wide crack running obliquely, and
through which any sound could be heard in the courtyard above.

They remained in the narrow, low-roofed little cell for a full
half-hour, making careful examination of everything, and discussing the
probability of the Whispers heard in the courtyard above emanating from
that hidden chamber.

For what purpose was the place used, and by whom? In all probability it
was the very chamber in which Cardinal Setoun had been treacherously
done to death.

Though they made a most minute investigation they discovered nothing
further. Up to a certain point their explorations had been crowned by
success, yet the discovery rather tended to increase the mystery than
diminish it.

That the Whispers were supernatural Gabrielle had all along refused to
believe. The question was, to what use that secret chamber was put?

At last, more puzzled than ever, the pair, having extinguished the
candles, emerged again into the light of day, closing and latching the
little door after them.

Then, following the narrow secret path, they found that it wound through
the bushes, and emerged by a circuitous way some distance along the
glen, its entrance being carefully concealed by a big lichen-covered
boulder which hid it from any one straying there by accident. So near
was it to the house, and so well concealed, that no keeper had ever
discovered it.

"Well," declared Gabrielle, "we've certainly made a most interesting
discovery this morning. But I wonder if it really does solve the mystery
of the Whispers?"

"Scarcely," Walter admitted. "We have yet to discover to whom the secret
of the existence of that chamber is known. No doubt the Whispers are
heard above through the crack in the roof. Therefore, at present, we had
better keep our knowledge strictly to ourselves."

And to this the girl, of course, agreed.

They found Sir Henry seated alone in the sunshine in one of the big
bay-windows of the drawing-room, a pathetic figure, with his blank,
bespectacled countenance turned towards the light, and his fingers
busily knitting to employ the time which, alas! hung so heavily upon his

Truth to tell, with Flockart's influence upon him, he was not quite
convinced of the sincerity of either Gabrielle or Walter Murie.
Therefore, when they entered, and his daughter spoke to him; his
greeting was not altogether cordial.

"Why, dear dad, how is it you're sitting here all alone? I would have
gone for a walk with you had I known."

"I'm expecting Goslin," was the old man's snappy reply. "He left Paris
yesterday, and should certainly have been here by this time. I can't
make out why he hasn't sent me a 'wire' explaining the delay."

"He may have lost his connection in London," Murie suggested.

"Perhaps so," remarked the Baronet with a sigh, his fingers moving

Murie could see that he was unnerved and unlike himself. He, of course,
was unaware of the great interests depending upon the theft of those
papers from his safe. But the old man was anxious to hear from Goslin
what had occurred at the urgent meeting of the secret syndicate in

Gabrielle was chatting gaily with her father in an endeavour to cheer
him up, when suddenly the door opened, and Flockart, still in his
travelling ulster, entered, exclaiming, "Good-morning, Sir Henry."

"Why, my dear Flockart, this is really quite unexpected. I - I thought
you were abroad," cried the Baronet, his face brightening as he
stretched out his hand for his visitor to grasp.

"So I have been. I only got back to town yesterday morning, and left
Euston last night."

"Well," said Sir Henry, "I'm very glad you are here again. I've missed
you very much - very much indeed. I hope you'll make another long stay
with us at Glencardine."

The man addressed raised his eyes to Gabrielle's.

She looked him straight in the face, defiant and unflinching. The day of
her self-sacrifice to protect her helpless father's honour and welfare
had come. She had suffered much in silence - suffered as no other girl
would suffer; but she had tried to conceal the bitter truth. Her spirit
had been broken. She was obsessed by one fear, one idea.

For a moment the girl held her breath. Walter saw the sudden change in
her countenance, and wondered.

Then, with a calmness that was surprising, she turned to her father, and
in a clear, distinct voice said, "Dad, now that Mr. Flockart has
returned, I wish to tell you the truth concerning him - to warn you that
he is not your friend, but your very worst enemy!"

"What is that you say?" cried the man accused, glaring at her. "Repeat
those words, and I will tell the whole truth about yourself - here,
before your lover!"

The blind man frowned. He hated scenes. "Come, come," he urged, "please
do not quarrel. Gabrielle, I think, dear, your words are scarcely fair
to our friend."

"Father," she said firmly, her face pale as death, "I repeat them. That
man standing there is as much your enemy as he is mine!"

Flockart laughed satirically. "Then I will tell my story, and let your
father judge whether you are a worthy daughter," he said.



Gabrielle fell back in fear. Her handsome countenance was blanched to
the lips. This man intended to speak - to tell the terrible truth - and
before her lover too! She clenched her hands and summoned all her

Flockart laughed at her - laughed in triumph. "I think, Gabrielle," he
said, "that you should put an end to this deceit towards your poor blind

"What do you mean?" cried Walter in a fury, advancing towards Flockart.
"What has this question - whatever it is - to do with you? Is it your
place to stand between father and daughter?"

"Yes," answered the other in cool defiance, "it is. I am Sir Henry's

"His friend! His enemy!"

"You are not my father's friend, Mr. Flockart," declared the girl,
noticing the look of pain upon the afflicted old gentleman's face. "You
have all along conspired against him for years, and you are actually
conspiring with Lady Heyburn at this moment."

"You lie!" he cried. "You say this in order to shield yourself. You know
that your mother and I are aware of your crime, and have always shielded

"Crime!" gasped Walter Murie, utterly amazed. "What is this man saying,

But the girl stood, blanched and rigid, her jaw set, unable to utter a

"Let me tell you briefly," Flockart went on. "Lady Heyburn and myself
have been this girl's best friends; but now I must speak openly, in
defence of the allegation she is making against me."

"Yes, speak!" urged Sir Henry. "Speak and tell me the truth."

"It is a painful truth, Sir Henry; would that I were not compelled to
make such a charge. Your daughter deliberately killed a young girl named
Edna Bryant. She poisoned her on account of jealousy."

"Impossible!" cried Sir Henry, starting up. "I - I can't believe it,
Flockart. What are you saying? My daughter a murderess!"

"Yes, I repeat my words. And not only that, but Lady Heyburn and myself
have kept her secret until - until now it is imperative that the truth
should be told to you."

"Let me speak, dad - let me tell you - - "

"No," cried the old man, "I will hear Flockart." And, turning to his
wife's friend, he said hoarsely, "Go on. Tell me the truth."

"The tragedy took place at a picnic, just before Gabrielle left her
school at Amiens. She placed poison in the girl's wine. Ah, it was a
terrible revenge!"

"I am innocent!" cried the girl in despair.

"Remember the letter which you wrote to your mother concerning her. You
told Lady Heyburn that you hated her. Do you deny writing that letter?
Because, if you do, it is still in existence."

"I deny nothing which I have done," she answered. "You have told my
father this in order to shield yourself. You have endeavoured, as the
coward you are, to prejudice me in his eyes, just as you compelled me to
lie to him when you opened his safe and copied certain of his papers!"

"You opened the safe!" he protested. "Why, I found you there myself!"

"Enough!" she exclaimed quite coolly. "I know the dread charge against
me. I know too well the impossibility of clearing myself, especially in
the face of that letter I wrote to Lady Heyburn; but it was you and she
who entrapped me, and who held me in fear because of my inexperience."

"Tell us the truth, the whole truth, darling," urged Murie, standing at
her side and taking her hand confidently in his.

"The truth!" she said, in a strange voice as though speaking to herself.
"Yes, let me tell you! I know that it will sound extraordinary, yet I
swear to you, by the love you bear for me, Walter, that the words I am
about to utter are the actual truth."

"I believe you," declared her lover reassuringly.

"Which is more than anyone else will," interposed Flockart with a sneer,
but perfectly confident. It was the hour of his triumph. She had defied
him, and he therefore intended to ruin her once and for all.

The girl was standing pale and erect, one hand grasping the back of a
chair, the other held in her lover's clasp, while her father had risen,
his expressionless face turned towards them, his hand groping until it
touched a small table upon which stood an old punch-bowl full of
sweet-smelling pot-pourri.

"Listen, dad," she said, heedless of Flockart's remark. "Hear me before
you condemn me. I know that the charge made against me by this man is a
terrible one. God alone knows what I have suffered these last two years,
how I have prayed for deliverance from the hands of this man and his
friends. It happened a few months before I left Amiens. Lady Heyburn,
you'll recollect, rented a pretty flat in the Rue Léonce-Reynaud in
Paris. She obtained permission for me to leave school and visit her for
a few weeks."

"I recollect perfectly," remarked her father in a low voice.

"Well, there came many times to visit us an American girl named Bryant,
who was studying art, and who lived somewhere off the Boulevard Michel,
as well as a Frenchman named Felix Krail and an Englishman called

"Hamilton!" echoed Murie. "Was his name Edgar Hamilton - my friend?"

"Yes, the same," was her quiet reply. Then she turned to Murie, and
said, "We all went about a great deal together, for it was summer-time,
and we made many pleasant excursions in the district. Edna Bryant was a
merry, cheerful girl, and I soon grew to be very friendly with her,
until one day Lady Heyburn, when alone with me, repeated in strict
confidence that the girl was secretly devoted to you, Walter."

"To me!" he cried. "True, I knew a Miss Bryant long ago, but for the
past three years or so have entirely lost sight of her."

"Lady Heyburn told me that you were very fond of the girl, and this, I
confess, aroused my intense jealousy. I believed that the girl I had
trusted so implicitly was unprincipled and fickle, and that she was
trying to secure the man whom I had loved ever since a child. I had to
return to school, and from there I wrote to Lady Heyburn, who had gone
to Dieppe, a letter saying hard things of the girl, and declaring that I
would take secret revenge - that I would kill her rather than allow
Walter to be taken from me. A month afterwards I again returned to
Paris. That man standing there" - she indicated Flockart - "was living at
the Hôtel Continental, and was a frequent visitor. He told me that it
was well known in London that Walter admired Miss Bryant, a declaration
that I admit drove me half-mad with jealousy."

"It was a lie!" declared Walter. "I never made love to the girl. I

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20

Online LibraryWilliam Le QueuxThe House of Whispers → online text (page 18 of 20)