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Suffice it to say that thirty-six hours after entering the express at Pisa, I crossed the platform at Charing Cross, jumped into a hansom and drove to Great Russell Street. Reggie was not yet back from his warehouse, but on my table among a quant.i.ty of letters I found a telegram in Italian from Babbo. It ran:--
"Melandrini has left eye injured. Undoubtedly same man.--Carlini."
The individual who was destined to be Mabel Blair's secretary and adviser was her dead father's bitterest enemy--the Englishman, d.i.c.k Dawson.
I stood staring at the telegram, utterly stupefied.
The strange couplet which the dead man had written in his will, and urged upon me to recollect, kept running in my head--
"King Henry the Eighth was a knave to his queens. He'd one short of seven--and nine or ten scenes!"
What hidden meaning could it convey? The historic facts of King Henry's marriages and divorces were known to me just as they were known to every fourth-standard English child throughout the country. Yet there was certainly some motive why Blair should have placed the rhyme there-- perhaps as a key to something, but to what?
After a hurried wash and brush up, for I was very dirty and fatigued after my long journey, I took a cab to Grosvenor Square, where I found Mabel dressed in her neat black, sitting alone reading in her own warm, cosy room, an apartment which her father had, two years ago, fitted tastefully and luxuriously as her boudoir.
She sprang to her feet quickly and greeted me in eagerness when the man announced me.
"Then you are back again, Mr. Greenwood," she cried. "Oh, I'm so very glad. I've been wondering and wondering that I had heard no news of you. Where have you been?"
"In Italy," I answered, throwing off my overcoat at her suggestion, and taking a low chair near her. "I have been making inquiries."
"And what have you discovered?"
"Several facts which tend rather to increase the mystery surrounding your poor father than to elucidate it."
I saw that her face was paler than it had been when I left London, and that she seemed unnerved and strangely anxious. I asked her why she had not gone to Brighton or to some other place on the south coast as I had suggested, but she replied that she preferred to remain at home, and that in truth she had been anxiously awaiting my return.
I explained to her in brief what I had discovered in Italy: of my meeting with the Capuchin brother and of our curious conversation.
"I never heard my father speak of him," she said. "What kind of man is he?"
I described him as best I could, and told her how I had met him at dinner there, in their house, during her absence with Mrs. Percival in Scotland.
"I thought that a monk, having once entered an Order, could not re-a.s.sume the ordinary garments of secular life," she remarked.
"Neither can he," I said. "That very fact increases the suspicion against him, combined with the words I overheard later outside the Empire Theatre." And then I went on to relate the incident, just as I have written it down in a foregoing chapter.
She was silent for some time, her delicate pointed chin resting upon her palm, as she gazed thoughtfully into the fire. Then at last she asked--
"And what have you found out regarding this mysterious Italian in whose hands my father has left me? Have you seen him?"
"No, I have not seen him, Mabel," was my response. "But I have discovered that he is a middle-aged Englishman, and not an Italian at all. I shall not, I think, be jealous of his attentions to you, for he has a defect--he has only one eye."
"Only one eye!" she gasped, her face blanching in an instant as she sprang to her feet. "A man with one eye--and an Englishman! Why," she cried, "you surely don't say that the man in question is named Dawson-- d.i.c.k Dawson?"
"Paolo Melandrini and d.i.c.k Dawson are one and the same," I said plainly, utterly amazed at the terrifying effect my words had had upon her.
"But surely my father has not left me in the hands of that fiend--the man whose very name is synonymous of all that is cunning, evil and brutal? It can't be true--there must be some mistake, Mr. Greenwood-- there must be! Ah! you do not know the reputation of that one-eyed Englishman as I do, or you would wish me dead rather than see me in a.s.sociation with him. You must save me!" she cried in terror, bursting into a torrent of tears. "You promised to be my friend. You must save me, save me from that man--the man whose very touch deals death!" And next instant she reeled, stretched forth her thin white hands wildly, and would have fallen senseless to the floor had I not sprang forward and caught her in my arms.
Whom, I wondered, was this man d.i.c.k Dawson that she held in such terror and loathing--this one-eyed man who was evidently a link with her father's mysterious past?
MR. RICHARD DAWSON.
I confess that I was longing for the appearance of this one-eyed Englishman of whom Mabel Blair was evidently so terrified, in order to judge him for myself.
What I had gathered concerning him was, up to the present, by no means satisfactory. That, in common with the monk, he held the secret of the dead man's past seemed practically certain, and perhaps Mabel feared some unwelcome revelation concerning her father's actions and the source of his wealth. This was the thought which occurred to me when, having raised the alarm which brought the faithful companion, Mrs. Percival, I was a.s.sisting to apply restoratives to the insensible girl.
As she lay, her head pillowed upon a cushion of daffodil silk, Mrs.
Percival knelt beside her, and, being in ignorance, held me, I think, in considerable suspicion. She inquired rather sharply the reason of Mabel's unconsciousness, but I merely replied that she had been seized with a sudden faintness, and attributed it to the overheating of the room.
Presently, when she came to, she asked Mrs. Percival and her maid Bowers to leave us alone, and after the door had shut she inquired, pale-faced and anxious--
"When is this man Dawson to come here?"
"When Mr. Leighton gives him notice of the clause in your father's will."
"He can come here," she said determinedly, "but before he crosses this threshold, I shall leave the house. He may act just as he thinks proper, but I will not reside under the same roof with him, nor will I have any communication with him whatsoever."
"I quite understand your feelings, Mabel," I said. "But is such a course a judicious one? Will it not be best to wait and watch the fellow's movements?"
"Ah! but you don't know him!" she cried. "You don't suspect what I know to be the truth!"
"No," she said in a low hoa.r.s.e voice, "I may not tell you. You will discover all ere long, and then you will not be surprised that I abhor the very name of the man."
"But why on earth did your father insert such a clause in his will?"
"Because he was compelled," she answered hoa.r.s.ely. "He could not help himself."
"And if he had refused--refused to place you in the power of such a person--what then?"
"It would have meant his ruin," she answered. "I suspected it all the instant I heard that a mysterious man was to be my secretary and to have control of my affairs. Your discovery in Italy has only confirmed my suspicions."
"But you will take my advice, Mabel, and bear with him at first," I urged, wondering within my heart whether her hatred of the man was because she knew that he was her father's a.s.sa.s.sin. She entertained some violent dislike of him, but for what reason I entirely failed to discover.
She shook her head at my argument, saying--"I regret that I am not sufficiently diplomatic to be able to conceal my antipathy in that manner. We women are clever in many ways, but we must always exhibit our dislikes," she added.
"Well," I remarked, "it will be a very great pity to treat him with open hostility, for it may upset all our future chances of success in discovering the truth regarding your poor father's death, and the theft of his secret. My strong advice is to remain quite silent, apathetic even, and yet with a keen, watchful eye. Sooner or later this man, if he really is your enemy, must betray himself. Then will be time enough for us to act firmly, and, in the end, you will triumph. For my own part I consider that the sooner Leighton gives the fellow notice of his appointment the better."
"But is there no way by which this can be avoided?" she cried, dismayed.
"Surely my poor father's death is sufficiently painful without this second misfortune!"
She spoke to me as frankly as she would have done to a brother, and I recognised by her intense manner how, now that her suspicions were confirmed, she had become absolutely desperate. Amid all the luxury and splendour of that splendid place she was a wan and lonely figure, her young heart torn by grief at her father's death and by a terror which she dare not divulge.
There is an old and oft-repeated saying that wealth does not bring happiness, and surely there is often a greater peace of mind and pure enjoyment of life in the cottage than in the mansion. The poor are apt to regard the rich with envy, yet it should be remembered that many a man and many a woman lolling in a luxurious carriage and served by liveried servants looks forth upon those toilers in the streets, well knowing that the hurrying millions of what they term "the ma.s.ses" are really far happier than they. Many a disappointed, world-weary woman of t.i.tle, often young and beautiful, would to-day gladly exchange places with the daughter of the people, whose life, if hard, is nevertheless full of harmless pleasures and as much happiness as can to obtained in this our workaday world. This allegation may sound strange, but I nevertheless declare it to be true. The possession of money may bring luxury and renown; it may enable men and women to outshine their fellows; it may bring honour, esteem and even popularity. But what are they all? Ask the great landowner; ask the wealthy peer; ask the millionaire. If they speak the truth they will tell you in confidence that they are not in their hearts half so happy, nor do they enjoy life so much, as the small man of independent means, the man who is subject to an abatement upon his income-tax.