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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XIII. THE END OF THE STORY.
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CHAPTER XIII. THE END OF THE STORY.
"His wife was dead," repeated Van Zwieten, without showing much sympathy, "and he came down to tell you!"

"No, he came to tell Malet."

"And kill him?"

Scarse shook his head. "I am telling you the truth," he said. "If Robert were guilty I should admit it. The poor fellow is crazy, as you know, and at the worst can only be put away in an asylum again. I am not afraid for him, but I fear a public scandal, which might shake my position and force me to resign my seat. No, Robert did not kill the man. But he met him and told him the truth."

"About what hour was that?"

"Shortly after nine o\'clock. I met Robert wandering in the orchards at a quarter past, and I took him home with me. Malet, according to the doctor\'s evidence, was shot about half-past nine. At that time Robert was conversing with me in my study."

"But he met Malet," insisted Van Zwieten, rather disappointed at this statement, which he had every reason to believe was true.

"Yes, he met Malet, and told him that his victim was dead. Malet grossly insulted Robert, and there was a quarrel. Unable to restrain his anger, Robert threw himself on Malet, but being an old man and feeble, he was easily overpowered and thrown to the ground. Robert told me this, and I believe it is the truth, because I found his crape scarf was torn--no doubt in the struggle. Malet left him lying on the wet grass and went off. He must have been shot almost immediately afterward."

"By whom?" asked Van Zwieten, keenly.

"Ah! that is the question. I have my suspicions, but I may be wrong. But when Brenda came home with the news of a murder I guessed that the victim was Malet. The servants came to my study door and found it locked. Robert was with me then, and I had locked the door because I did not want him to be seen. They thought it was you I was talking to, and I said it was you. When afterward you came in by the front door they knew, of course, that I had lied. Brenda asked me about that, and I still declared that you had been with me, but that you had gone out of the study window to the front door. I told her also that I was the man seen by Harold Burton."

"Why did you do that?"

"Can\'t you guess? To save Robert. He had a grievance against Malet, he had been struggling with him, and there was every chance that he might be accused of the murder. There was only my evidence to prove his alibi, and as I was his brother I dreaded lest my word should be insufficient. While the servants were with Brenda in the kitchen I went back to my study, put a coat of my own on Robert, and gave him a soft hat to pull down over his eyes. Then I gave him money, and told him to catch the ten-thirty train from Chippingholt to Langton Junction."

"Which he did," said Van Zwieten. "I was watching all that business through your study window. I followed Robert, wondering who he was, and watched him go off by the train. Then I came home to the house and was admitted, as you know."

"Why did you not speak to me?"

"It was not the proper moment to speak. I did not know who Robert was, and until I entered the house I knew nothing about the murder. I also guessed the victim was Malet, and I thought you must have hired this man to kill him, and having finished with him, had got him safely out of the way."

"Ah! you were anxious to trap me!" cried Mr. Scarse, angrily. "Well, you know the truth now, and you can do nothing. I burned the crape scarf and I told Brenda I was the man Harold had seen. If you choose to make a scandal, I shall tell my story exactly as I have told it to you, and prove Robert\'s innocence. At the worst he can only be put under restraint again."

"I don\'t wish to make any scandal," said the Dutchman, mildly, "more especially seeing that your daughter is to be my wife. You can rely on my silence if only on that account. But I\'m glad I have heard this story now. I want to know who killed Malet."

"That I can\'t say," said Mr. Scarse, gloomily. "But I suspect the wife!"

"Lady Jenny!--and why?"

"Robert had a note written to her saying his wife was dead--he brought it with him. He sent it up to her by a boy that same evening. Of course the boy thought that Robert was me."

"I see!" cried Van Zwieten, with a shout. "Robert wanted to stir up Lady Jenny into killing her husband. He is not so crazy, to my thinking. But I don\'t see how the intelligence of the wife\'s death would achieve it," he added, shaking his head gravely. "Lady Jenny knew all about the matter, and hadn\'t harmed her husband. There was no reason why she should do it on that particular night."

"That is what puzzles me," replied Mr. Scarse. "Lady Jenny was out on that night. She did not go to the Rectory to see Captain Burton as she had intended. For that she gave the very unsatisfactory reason that she was caught in the storm. Is it not probable that she met her husband and killed him?"

"No. She would not carry a revolver. If they had already met and quarrelled about this dead woman, then it is possible she might in her jealous rage have made an attack upon her husband with anything to her hand. But a revolver would argue deliberation, and there was nothing sufficiently strong in the note your brother had prepared for her to urge her to deliberate murder."

"Burton found a piece of crape in the dead man\'s hand," argued Scarse, "and Lady Jenny was wearing crape for her father. There might have been a struggle, and the piece might have come off in his hand."

"Nonsense, Scarse. Ladies don\'t do that sort of thing. Besides, your brother wore crape too, and it is more likely that it was torn from his scarf. Malet might have kept it in his hand, without being conscious of it probably, when he went to his death."

"Then you think Lady Jenny is innocent?"

"It looks like it," Van Zwieten said with a queer smile; "but I\'ll let you know my opinion later on," and he rose to go.

"You will keep my secret," entreated Scarse, following his visitor to the door.

"Assuredly. I can make no use of it. I thought to find your brother guilty, but it seems he is not. The mystery deepens."

"But Lady Jenny?"

"True--Lady Jenny. Well, we shall see," and with this enigmatic speech the Dutchman withdrew.

Mr. Scarse went back to his chair, and until midnight sat looking drearily into the fire. But he was sufficiently thoughtful to send a letter to Brenda telling her of his safety in spite of the Trafalgar Square mob.

For the next few days he went about like a man in a dream. Although he knew very well that Van Zwieten would hold his tongue--for he had nothing to gain by wagging it--he blamed himself for having been coerced into a confession. To him the Dutchman was almost a stranger. He had been drawn to the man because he was going out to the Transvaal as an official, and Mr. Scarse had always sympathized with the little state in its struggle for independence. The Dutchman had drawn so pathetic a picture of that struggle, had spoken so feelingly of the Boers as a patriarchal people who desired only to be left tending their flocks and herds, that the English politician was touched. He had sworn to do all in his power to defend this simple people, had become extremely friendly with Van Zwieten, and in proof of that friendship had asked him down to Chippingholt. There the Dutchman, by spying and questioning, had learned so much of his family secrets as to have become his master. As such he had forced him into a confession, and Mr. Scarse felt--if a scandal was to be avoided--that he was at the man\'s mercy.

Of course Brenda would be the price of his silence. Formerly Scarse had been willing enough that his daughter should marry Van Zwieten. It would be a noble work for her to aid him to build up a new state in South Africa. But now he saw that the Dutchman was by no means the unselfish philanthropist he had supposed him to be. He was tricky and shifty. His was the iron hand in the velvet glove, and if he became Brenda\'s husband it was by no means improbable that he would ill-treat her. It did not seem right to force her into this marriage when she loved another man. After all, she was his daughter--his only daughter; and Scarse\'s paternal instinct awoke even thus late in the day to prompt him to protect and cherish her. If he felt for poor Robert and his woes, surely he could feel for the troubles of Brenda.

Musing thus, it occurred to him that he might frustrate any probable schemes of Van Zwieten by telling the whole truth to Brenda. Then let her marry Harold and defy the man. At all events he............
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