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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER VI. WHAT MR. SCARSE ADMITTED.
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For the next week Brenda lived in a state of bewilderment. Everything seemed to go wrong. Her father did not return, but wrote that his things were to be sent on to London, and that Brenda herself was to leave the cottage in charge of Mrs. Daw, and come up in a fortnight\'s time. Van Zwieten bowed himself out of Chippingholt without having told her of his interview with Harold. With his usual cunning, he had left Harold himself to do that; but Harold, leaving a message for Brenda that he was suddenly recalled to his regimental duties, had himself left by a later train, without either explanation or word of farewell.

Brenda was hopelessly at a loss to understand her lover\'s action, and in her despair sought Lady Jenny.

It was a week after the inquest, and the two women were seated in Lady Jenny\'s boudoir, a pleasant rose-hued room which looked out on to a Dutch garden. The usual verdict of willful murder against some person or persons unknown had been brought in by the usual opaque country jury, directed by a not over-intelligent coroner. Gilbert Malet\'s body had been laid away in the family vault, and Lady Jenny was utilizing for her husband the mourning she had worn for her father.

Brenda was paying her now a visit of condolence; but Lady Jenny showed clearly by her manner and curt speech that she stood in no need of sympathy. It was amazing to see the change that had taken place in her since her husband\'s death. Formerly she had been a gay, frivolous little woman, with ever a smile on her face; now Brenda found her a small image of stone, as hard, and every whit as cold. She could scarcely believe it was the same woman.

Finding that her sympathetic references to the dead man were received with coldness, Brenda tactfully changed the conversation. She mentioned her own anxiety about Harold\'s abrupt departure, and found Lady Jenny quite ready to talk on that subject. She loved Brenda and admired Harold, and wished to see them married. Consequently she was only too glad to smooth down Brenda\'s feathers, which were a good deal ruffled by her lover\'s strange behavior.

"My dear, you know a soldier\'s time is not his own," she said. "I expect Harold got a telegram, and had just time to pack and catch the first train."

"He should have sent for me," said Brenda; "I should have seen him off at the station."

"Well, I\'ve no doubt he will explain his reasons when you meet in town. You go there next week, and Harold is only at Aldershot. He has written to you?"

"Several times, and always fondly. But he has never explained his leaving without seeing me. It\'s no good, Lady Jenny; I confess I am angry. Yet he may have avoided seeing me on account of the murder."

Lady Jenny looked up sharply. "Why should he?" Brenda hesitated. She was thinking of Harold\'s suspicions regarding her father, and did not want to tell them to the dead man\'s widow. For the moment she had forgotten to whom she was speaking. But, having committed herself so far, she was obliged to get out of the difficulty as best she could.

"You know Inspector Woke suspected Harold?" she said, nervously avoiding Lady Jenny\'s sharp black eyes; "he said----"

"I know--I know. Woke told me of his suspicions. He\'s a fool--to suspect Harold of killing Gilbert just because they had a few words is ridiculous, and I told him so. Nobody will ever know who killed Gilbert."

"You speak very confidently," said Brenda, amazed at her hard tone.

"Because I feel confident," retorted the other. "There is not a scrap of evidence against any one. All that could be said was said at the inquest. Woke and his police have been doing their best to get at the truth, and have failed. The revolver was not found; no one knew why Gilbert went out walking on that night, or whom he met, and--oh, the whole thing is over and done with. It is only one more of the many undiscovered crimes."

"Do you suspect any one?"

"Not a soul. Why should I? Gilbert had many enemies--so he said--but I don\'t know any of them, and I don\'t suppose any one of them would have gone the length of murder."

"The police here are such sillies," put in Brenda. "Why don\'t you get a clever detective down from London?"

"Because I think the case is hopeless, my dear," said the widow, gloomily, "and because it would cost a great deal too much money. I have not yet gone into the affairs of the estate, but I am afraid I shall not be over well off. Gilbert would play, and I suppose I was extravagant. We lived far beyond our means. This place is mortgaged heavily."

"What--the Manor?" asked Brenda, startled.

"Yes, all our property is mortgaged. I expect I shall be left with nothing but the ten thousand pounds for which Gilbert\'s life was insured. Fortunately it was settled on me at the time of our marriage, so his creditors can\'t touch it. I hate being poor," cried Lady Jenny, viciously; "and, so far as I can see, I shall be--very poor."

"I had no idea things were so bad."

"Nor had I until six months ago, when Gilbert told me. We have lived from hand to mouth since then. All Gilbert\'s efforts have been directed to staving off ruin."

Brenda\'s heart sank within her. "What about Harold\'s money?"

"Oh, Harold and Wilfred are all right," said Lady Jenny, hastily; "at least, I suppose so. Gilbert always said that he took good care of their money, and I think he did. He was not the man to place himself within reach of the law by appropriating trust monies--at least, I can\'t believe he would do such a thing. But next week the whole matter will be gone into. Then I suppose you and Harold will get married."

"Of course. In any case--money or no money--we shall be married."

"Oh, I don\'t know. It\'s absurd marrying on nothing. Gilbert was well off when I became his wife, or I shouldn\'t have married him; had I known he was a gambler, I should have refused him. He made a nice mess of his life."

"I thought you loved him."

"I did, a deal better than he deserved," said Lady Jenny, bitterly. "But--but--oh, what is the use of talking! He was a bad man--another woman--his fault--and I--my dear, don\'t you trust Harold. All men are bad."

"I always understood Mr. Malet was devoted to you."

"So did I--until I found him out. It came about in the strangest way--the discovery, I mean." Lady Jenny paused, as though considering whether to speak out or not. Finally she decided to hold her tongue. "But then these things concern only myself," said she, abruptly. "He deceived me--I was jealous--that is all you need know. But I cannot say that I sorrow for him now that he is dead."

"Oh, how can you speak so?"

"Because I am a woman, and jealous. When Harold deceives you, Brenda, you will feel as I do--feel that you could kill him with your own hand." Lady Jenny looked suddenly at the girl\'s blonde beauty. "But no! you are a cold Saxon girl, with little such spirit in you. I--my father was Irish, my mother Italian, and I have in me all the fire of Celt and Latin. It was well for Gilbert that he died when he did," she said between her teeth; "I don\'t know what! should have done!"

The bitterness and passion with which she spoke were both new to Brenda, who had never suspected her of such depth of feeling. Being in the dark, more or less, concerning its cause, she hardly knew what to say, so she held her peace. She felt that nothing she could say would alter her friend\'s feelings, and might possibly even aggravate them. After a turn up and down the room, the widow resumed her seat, and seemed to become calmer.

"Where are you going to stay in town, Brenda?"

"With my aunt, Mrs. St. Leger, in Kensington. My father always lives in his own rooms, you know. He doesn\'t want to be troubled with a grown-up daughter."

"He won\'t be troubled long if Harold is to be believed."

"You mean our marriage? No! But you know my father doesn\'t approve of it. He wants me to marry Mr. van Zwieten."

"That Dutchman! Horrid creature! I never could bear him. Gilbert liked him, though."

"Indeed!" said Brenda, rather surprised. "Mr. van Zwieten told me he and Mr. Malet were not friendly."

Lady Jenny laughed in a way not good to hear. "Very likely. Van Zwieten is cunning--slim, as his countrymen call it. I know more about him though than he thinks."

"Do you know who he is?"

"Yes, I know who he is, and how he makes his money, and why he is in England."

"How did you find out?" asked Brenda, breathlessly.

"Oh, that I mustn\'t tell you--suppose you were to tell Van Zwieten?"

"Tell him!" repeated Miss Scarse, her face crimson, her eyes bright. "Why, I hate him more than any man I ever knew. He wants to marry me, and won\'t take a refusal. My father supports him, and, for Harold\'s sake, I have to fight them both."

"And you are not afraid of so formidable a foe?" said the widow, seeing her eyes droop.

"Not of my father, but I am afraid of Mr. van Zwieten. He is a terrible man, and has so powerful a will that he can almost impose it on mine. There is something hypnotic about him, and I feel scarcely mistress of myself when he is near me."

"Nonsense! You are fanciful, child."

"Indeed--indeed I am not," protested the girl, eagerly. "But you don\'t know how strong and obstinate he is. He never loses his temper, he just looks and looks with those terrible eyes of his, and repeats his desire--his will--his intentions--over and over again. I feel like a rabbit in the presence of a snake. And that\'s why I want Harold and me to be married soon, because I feel, if we are not, Mr. van Zwieten will compel me in spite of myself."

Lady Jenny bent forward and caught Brenda\'s wrists. "My dear, if Van Zwieten tries these pranks on, you send for me. If any one can save you from him, I can."

"But how?"

"That is my affair. Van Zwieten may be all you say, but I can make him afraid of me. Now you must go, my dear. I have a lot of letters to write."

Brenda went off much puzzled over Lady Jenny\'s attitude toward Van Zwieten. Evidently she knew something to the man\'s disadvantage. But Brenda was doubtful whether her friend could use her knowledge sufficiently cleverly to crush the Dutchman. His resource was extraordinary, and he was clever and unscrupulous enough to be able to defend himself in an emergency. However, she felt it was no use trying to forecast the future. She resolved to keep out of Van Zwieten\'s way and get Harold to marry her as soon as possible. Once she was Mrs. Burton, the Dutchman would be obliged to cease persecuting her.

For the next few days Brenda was fully occupied with her packing. As Harold was in London, or rather so near London that he could come up there quickly, she was glad to be going. She felt she must see him and have from him an explanation, and an understanding as to when their marriage could take place. At her aunt\'s she would be safe from Van Zwieten, since Mr. St. Leger did not like him; but Brenda knew well that for his own ends--whatever these might be--her father would, as ever, insist on her favoring Van Zwieten.

The only way to put an end to the intolerable situation was to marry Harold. With that, her father would no doubt wash his hands of her, but at least she would be relieved from the persecutions of the Dutchman, and would have some one to love and protect her. So it was with thankfulness that Brenda left the cottage.

In the train she found a travelling companion whom she did not expect--none other than Harold\'s brother. Wilfred\'s foot was now quite well, and he looked better in health than when Brenda had last seen him. He joined her at Langton Junction, and they travelled up in the same carriage, which they were fortunate enough to have to themselves. She was pleased that it was so, for she wanted to talk confidentially with Wilfred. They were the best of good friends.

"I am so glad your foot is all right again, Wilfred," she said cheerfully. "It is such a painful thing--a sprain."

"Yet for all that I am not sorry I sprained it," said Wilfred, turning his thin white face toward the girl.

"Not sorry! What do you mean?"

"Oh, it\'s an ill wind--you know."

"Yes, I suppose it is. But it\'s difficult to see what sort of \'good\' one can look for from a sprained ankle!"

"Well, in this instance I fancy it did me a good turn. You see it rendered me physically helpless for the time being."

"My dear Wilfred--I confess you puzzle me."

"Do I? Well, I\'ll tell you what I mean. The night, almost the hour, I sprained my ankle, poor Malet was shot. So no one can possibly accuse me of having shot him!"

"But who would dare to accuse you of such a thing?"

"Oh, I don\'t know; that fool of an inspector was quite prepared to fix his beastly suspicions on Harold--told me as much."

"I know; but then you see Harold and Mr. Malet quarrelled. That was the reason Mr. Woke was suspicious. But of course Harold laughed at the idea."

"I should think so. I confess the whole thing licks me. I can\'t imagine who can have done it."

"No one knows. Lady Jenny says no one ever will know!"

"I suppose not. It seems to be relegated to the list of undiscovered crimes. Do you know, Brenda, I have had my suspicions!"

A cold hand clutched the girl\'s heart. She immediately thought of her father. "Have you?" she faltered. "Of whom?"

"Well, I wouldn\'t tell every one, as I have really no sort of basis for them. They are the purest suspicions. But I suspect that big Dutchman who was staying at your place."

"Van Zwieten!" Brenda\'s mind ran over the events of that terrible night. The Dutchman had been out; he had come in after her. But again her father had told the servants that Van Zwieten was in the study with him--a distinct falsehood. Whichever way she looked at it, her father seemed to be mixed up in the matter. "Yet what possible motive could Van Zwieten have had to impel him to such a crime?" she asked Wilfred.

"It might be a political crime," said the young man, his face lighting up as it invariably did when he talked politics. "Gilbert was an Imperialist--always preaching and writing against the Boers. Van Zwieten is Dutch, and is going out to an appointment at Pretoria; also he is an intimate friend of Dr. Leyds. He might have wished to get Gilbert out of the way because he was dangerous to his schemes."

"Surely he wouldn\'t have gone the length of murder for such a reason."

"Oh, I don\'t know. If he could without being found out, I am certain he would. I don\'t say Van Zwieten fired the shot himself, but he might have hired some one to do it."

"What makes you think that, Wilfred?"

"Well, I was talking to the station-master at Chippingholt. He said that a man in a dark overcoat with a soft hat pulled over his eyes went to Langton Junction by the 10:30 train--the last train on that night. Van Zwieten saw him off at the station. He was seen to follow the man to the compartment and put his head through the window. There was evidently an understanding between them. Now you know, Brenda, few strangers come to Chippingholt, for there is nothing to see there. It was odd, to say the least of it, that Van Zwieten should have seen this fellow off. Moreover, he just left after the murder was committed."

"I don\'t see though how you are justified from this in thinking that either Van Zwieten or the other man is implicated in the murder," said Brenda after a pause. "They might simply have met on business."

"What sort of business?"

"I can\'t say, I am not in Mr. van Zwieten\'s confidence."

Wilfred\'s eyes flashed. "I wish I was!" he said emphatically. "I believe the fellow is a Boer spy!"

"I thought so too, and I told him so."

"What did he say?"

"He denied it. Wilfred, did any one see the face of this stranger?"

"No. He kept his coat collar turned up, and his hat well over his eyes. Why?"

"Nothing, I was only wondering." Brenda dreaded lest she should hear that the stranger was he who so closely resembled her father. She wondered, too, whether it was possible her father could have assisted this man to escape after he had shot Mr. Malet, for that the crime had been committed by the same man who wore the black crape scarf seemed conclusively proved by the presence of that piece of it in the victim\'s hand.

"I intend to keep a pretty close watch on Mr. van Zwieten," went on Wilfred. "In fact, that is why I have come up to town. If, as I suspect, he is a spy, the authorities must know of it. In the event of hostilities breaking out between this country and the Transvaal, he would of course be arrested at once."

"But you cannot prove his complicity in this matter, Wilfred?"

"I intend to have a shot at it any way," replied the young man, grimly. "But come, Brenda, here we are at Victoria. Let me put you in a hansom."

"Do come and see me, Wilfred. I\'m at Mrs. St. Leger\'s."

"Thanks; I will. I may ask you to help me too in my pursuit of this Dutchman."

"How you seem to hate Mr. van Zwieten, Wilfred," she exclaimed. "Have you any especial reason to dislike him?"

"I hate him because he is the enemy of my country."

As the cab drove away, Brenda mused on the fervent patriotism of the man. Frail, neurotic, frequently ailing, a prey to chronic melancholia, yet he was of the stuff of which such men as Hampden, Pym and Cromwell are made. He believed in the greatness of England as he did in the existence of God. Her every triumph sent a thrill through him, her lightest disaster cut him to the quick. It was as if he were ever under the influence of a fixed idea. But if he were, the idea was at least a noble and an elevating one. His spirit was strong as his body was weak, and through his body he paid dearly for his patriotic emotions.

It had been Brenda\'s intention to drive at once to Kensington, but when she recalled all that Wilfred had said, she felt she must see her father, if only to clear her mind of suspicion. Had he assisted--as seemed probable--in the escape of the unknown man, he must have known that the creature was a murderer, since there could be no other reason for such a hurried and secretive flight. She felt she could not rest until she had the truth from his own lips. Hence she told the man to drive to his chambers in Star Street.

Fortunately the old man was in. He looked leaner and whiter, she thought, than ever. He was buried in the evening papers, from which he was cutting out slips, which he proceeded to paste into a large book. It was from these clippings of editorial opinion and collected data that he constructed his speeches, throwing in as flavoring a dash of his own dogmatic optimism, and some free expression reflecting the true humanity of other nations as compared with that of his own brutal country, of which, in truth, he had little to say that was not abusive.

As usual, he received Brenda coldly, and wondered why she had not driven at once to her aunt\'s. She soon explained to him her reasons.

"Father, I am worrying myself to death about that man with the crape scarf."

Scarse colored and averted his eyes. "Why, pray?" he asked.

"Because I can\'t get over his resemblance to you. Is he a relative?"

"No." Scarse cleared his throat and spoke. "The fact is, Brenda, I wore that crape scarf and snuff-colored coat myself. I am the man Harold saw."

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