«Published: 1897 Categorie(s): Fiction, Mystery & Detective Source: About Allen: Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen ...»
We led him out to the door. The policeman, in obedience to Charles's orders, held him tight with his hand, but steadily refused, as the prisoner was not violent, to handcuff him. We hailed a passing hansom. "To Bow Street!" Charles cried, unceremoniously pushing in policeman and prisoner. The driver nodded. We called a four-wheeler ourselves, in which my brother-in-law, Dr. Beddersley and myself took our seats. "Follow the hansom!" Charles cried out. "Don't let him out of your sight. After him, close, to Bow Street!" I looked back, and saw Césarine, half fainting, on the front door steps, while Dolly, bathed in tears, stood supporting the lady's-maid, and trying to comfort her. It was clear she had not anticipated this end to the adventure.
"Goodness gracious!" Charles screamed out, in a fresh fever of alarm, as we turned the first corner; "where's that hansom gone to? How do I know the fellow was a policeman at all? We should have taken the man in here.
We ought never to have let him get out of our sight. For all we can tell to the contrary, the constable himself—may only be one of Colonel Clay's confederates!" And we drove in trepidation all the way to Bow Street.
THE EPISODE OF THE OLD
Of course, on Charles's sworn declaration and my own, the man was at once remanded, bail being refused, owing both to the serious nature of the charge and the slippery character of the prisoner's antecedents. We went back to Mayfair—Charles, well satisfied that the man he dreaded was under lock and key; myself, not too well pleased to think that the man I dreaded was no longer at large, and that the trifling little episode of the ten per cent commission stood so near discovery.
Next day the police came round in force, and had a long consultation with Charles and myself. They strongly urged that two other persons at least should be included in the charge—Césarine and the little woman whom we had variously known as Madame Picardet, White Heather, Mrs.
David Granton, and Mrs. Elihu Quackenboss. If these accomplices were arrested, they said, we could include conspiracy as one count in the indictment, which gave us an extra chance of conviction. Now they had got Colonel Clay, in fact, they naturally desired to keep him, and also to indict with him as many as possible of his pals and confederates.
Here, however, a difficulty arose. Charles called me aside with a grave face into the library. "Seymour," he said, fixing me, "this is a serious business. I will not lightly swear away any woman's character. Colonel Clay himself—or, rather, Paul Finglemore—is an abandoned rogue, whom I do not desire to screen in any degree. But poor little Madame Picardet—she may be his lawful wife, and she may have acted implicitly under his orders. Besides, I don't know whether I could swear to her identity. Here's the photograph the police bring of the woman they believe to be Colonel Clay's chief female accomplice. Now, I ask you, does it in the least degree resemble that clever and amusing and charming little creature, who has so often deceived us?" In spite of Charles's gibes, I flatter myself I do really understand the whole duty of a secretary. It was clear from his voice he did not wish me to recognise her; which, as it happened, I did not. "Certainly, it doesn't resemble her, Charles," I answered, with conviction in my voice. "I should never have known her." But I did not add that I should no more have known Colonel Clay himself in his character of Paul Finglemore, or of Césarine's young man, as that remark lay clearly outside my secretarial functions.
Still, it flitted across my mind at the time that the Seer had made some casual remarks at Nice about a letter in Charles's pocket, presumably from Madame Picardet; and I reflected further that Madame Picardet in turn might possibly hold certain answers of Charles's, couched in such terms as he might reasonably desire to conceal from Amelia. Indeed, I must allow that under whatever disguise White Heather appeared to us, Charles was always that disguise's devoted slave from the first moment he met it. It occurred to me, therefore, that the clever little woman—call her what you will—might be the holder of more than one indiscreet communication.
"Under these circumstances," Charles went on, in his austerest voice, "I cannot consent to be a party to the arrest of White Heather. I—I decline to identify her. In point of fact"—he grew more emphatic as he went on—"I don't think there is an atom of evidence of any sort against her. Not," he continued, after a pause, "that I wish in any degree to screen the guilty. Césarine, now—Césarine we have liked and trusted. She has betrayed our trust. She has sold us to this fellow. I have no doubt at all that she gave him the diamonds from Amelia's rivière; that she took us by arrangement to meet him at Schloss Lebenstein; that she opened and sent to him my letter to Lord Craig-Ellachie.
Therefore, I say, we ought to arrest Césarine. But not White Heather—not Jessie; not that pretty Mrs. Quackenboss. Let the guilty suffer; why strike at the innocent—or, at worst, the misguided?" "Charles," I exclaimed, with warmth, "your sentiments do you honour. Y are a man of feeling. And White Heather, I ou allow, is pretty enough and clever enough to be forgiven anything. Y may rely upon my discretion. I will swear ou through thick and thin that I do not recognise this woman as Madame Picardet."
Charles clasped my hand in silence. "Seymour," he said, after a pause, with marked emotion, "I felt sure I could rely upon your—er—honour and integrity. I have been rough upon you sometimes. But I ask your forgiveness. I see you understand the whole duties of your position."
We went out again, better friends than we had been for months. I hoped, indeed, this pleasant little incident might help to neutralise the possible ill-effects of the ten per cent disclosure, should Finglemore take it into his head to betray me to my employer. As we emerged into the drawing-room, Amelia beckoned me aside towards her boudoir for a moment.
"Seymour," she said to me, in a distinctly frightened tone, "I have treated you harshly at times, I know, and I am very sorry for it. But I want you to help me in a most painful difficulty. The police are quite right as to the charge of conspiracy; that designing little minx, White Heather, or Mrs. David Granton, or whatever else we're to call her, ought certainly to be prosecuted—and sent to prison, too— and have her absurd head of hair cut short and combed straight for her. But—and you will help me here, I'm sure, dear Seymour—Icannot allow them to arrest my Césarine. I don't pretend to say Césarine isn't guilty; the girl has behaved most ungratefully to me. She has robbed me right and left, and deceived me without compunction. Still—I put it to you as a married man—can any woman afford to go into the witness-box, to be cross-examined and teased by her own maid, or by a brute of a barrister on her maid's information? I assure you, Seymour, the thing's not to be dreamt of. There are details of a lady's life—known only to her maid—which cannot be made public. Explain as much of this as you think well to Charles, and make him understand that if he insists upon arresting Césarine, I shall go into the box—and swear my head off to prevent any one of the gang from being convicted. I have told Césarine as much; I have promised to help her: I have explained that I am her friend, and that if she'll stand by me, I'll stand by her, and by this hateful young man of hers."
I saw in a moment how things went. Neither Charles nor Amelia could face cross-examination on the subject of one of Colonel Clay's accomplices. No doubt, in Amelia's case, it was merely a question of rouge and hair-dye; but what woman would not sooner confess to a forgery or a murder than to those toilet secrets?
I returned to Charles, therefore, and spent half an hour in composing, as well as I might, these little domestic difficulties. In the end, it was arranged that if Charles did his best to protect Césarine from arrest, Amelia would consent to do her best in return on behalf of Madame Picardet.
We had next the police to tackle—a more difficult business. Still, even they were reasonable. They had caught Colonel Clay, they believed, but their chance of convicting him depended entirely upon Charles's identification, with mine to back it. The more they urged the necessity of arresting the female confederates, however, the more stoutly did Charles declare that for his part he could by no means make sure of Colonel Clay himself, while he utterly declined to give evidence of any sort against either of the women. It was a difficult case, he said, and he felt far from confident even about the man.
If his decision faltered, and he failed to identify, the case was closed; no jury could convict with nothing to convict upon.
At last the police gave way. No other course was open to them. They had made an important capture; but they saw that everything depended upon securing their witnesses, and the witnesses, if interfered with, were likely to swear to absolutely nothing.
Indeed, as it turned out, before the preliminary investigation at Bow Street was completed (with the usual remands), Charles had been thrown into such a state of agitation that he wished he had never caught the Colonel at all.
"I wonder, Sey," he said to me, "why I didn't offer the rascal two thousand a year to go right off to Australia, and be rid of him for ever! It would have been cheaper for my reputation than keeping him about in courts of law in England. The worst of it is, when once the best of men gets into a witness-box, there's no saying with what shreds and tatters of a character he may at last come out of it!" "In your case, Charles," I answered, dutifully, "there can be no such doubt; except, perhaps, as regards the CraigEllachie Consolidated."
Then came the endless bother of "getting up the case" with the police and the lawyers. Charles would have retired from it altogether by that time, but, most unfortunately, he was bound over to prosecute. "Y couldn't take a lump ou sum to let me off?" he said, jokingly, to the inspector. But I knew in my heart it was one of the "true words spoken in jest" that the proverb tells of.
Of course we could see now the whole building-up of the great intrigue. It had been worked out as carefully as the Tichborne swindle. Y oung Finglemore, as the brother of Charles's broker, knew from the outset all about his affairs;
and, after a gentle course of preliminary roguery, he laid his plans deep for a campaign against my brother-in-law.
Everything had been deliberately designed beforehand. A place had been found for Césarine as Amelia's maid— needless to say, by means of forged testimonials. Through her aid the swindler had succeeded in learning still more of the family ways and habits, and had acquired a knowledge of certain facts which he proceeded forthwith to use against us. His first attack, as the Seer, had been cleverly designed so as to give us the idea that we were a mere casual prey;
and it did not escape Charles's notice now that the detail of getting Madame Picardet to inquire at the Crédit Marseillais about his bank had been solemnly gone through on purpose to blind us to the obvious truth that Colonel Clay was already in full possession of all such facts about us. It was by Césarine's aid, again, that he became possessed of Amelia's diamonds, that he received the letter addressed to Lord Craig-Ellachie, and that he managed to dupe us over the Schloss Lebenstein business.
Nevertheless, all these things Charles determined to conceal in court; he did not give the police a single fact that would turn against either Césarine or Madame Picardet.
As for Césarine, of course, she left the house immediately after the arrest of the Colonel, and we heard of her no more till the day of the trial.
When that great day came, I never saw a more striking sight than the Old Bailey presented. It was crammed to overflowing. Charles arrived early, accompanied by his solicitor. He was so white and troubled that he looked much more like prisoner than prosecutor. Outside the court a pretty little woman stood, pale and anxious. A respectful crowd stared at her silently. "Who is that?" Charles asked.
Though we could both of us guess, rather than see, it was White Heather.
"That's the prisoner's wife," the inspector on duty replied.
"She's waiting to see him enter. I'm sorry for her, poor thing.
She's a perfect lady."
"So she seems," Charles answered, scarcely daring to face her.
At that moment she turned. Her eyes fell upon his.
Charles paused for a second and looked faltering. There was in those eyes just the faintest gleam of pleading recognition, but not a trace of the old saucy, defiant vivacity.
Charles framed his lips to words, but without uttering a sound. Unless I greatly mistake, the words he framed on his lips were these: "I will do my best for him."
We pushed our way in, assisted by the police. Inside the court we saw a lady seated, in a quiet black dress, with a becoming bonnet. A moment passed before I knew—it was Césarine. "Who is—that person?" Charles asked once more of the nearest inspector, desiring to see in what way he would describe her.
And once more the answer came, "That's the prisoner's wife, sir."
Charles started back, surprised. "But—I was told—a lady outside was Mrs. Paul Finglemore," he broke in, much puzzled.
"Very likely," the inspector replied, unmoved. "We have plenty that way. When a gentleman has as many aliases as Colonel Clay, you can hardly expect him to be over particular about having only one wife between them, can you?" "Ah, I see," Charles muttered, in a shocked voice.
"Bigamy!" The inspector looked stony. "Well, not exactly that," he replied, "occasional marriage."
Mr. Justice Rhadamanth tried the case. "I'm sorry it's him, Sey," my brother-in-law whispered in my ear. (He said him, not he, because, whatever else Charles is, he is not a pedant; the English language as it is spoken by most educated men is quite good enough for his purpose.) "I only wish it had been Sir Edward Easy. Easy's a man of the world, and a man of society; he would feel for a person in my position. He wouldn't allow these beasts of lawyers to badger and pester me. He would back his order. But Rhadamanth is one of your modern sort of judges, who make a merit of being what they call 'conscientious,' and won't hush up anything. I admit I'm afraid of him. I shall be glad when it's over."
"Oh, you'll pull through all right," I said in my capacity of secretary. But I didn't think it.
The judge took his seat. The prisoner was brought in.
Every eye seemed bent upon him. He was neatly and plainly dressed, and, rogue though he was, I must honestly confess he looked at least a gentleman. His manner was defiant, not abject like Charles's. He knew he was at bay, and he turned like a man to face his accusers.
We had two or three counts on the charge, and, after some formal business, Sir Charles Vandrift was put into the box to bear witness against Finglemore.
Prisoner was unrepresented. Counsel had been offered him, but he refused their aid. The judge even advised him to accept their help; but Colonel Clay, as we all called him mentally still, declined to avail himself of the judge's suggestion.
"I am a barrister myself, my lord," he said—"called some nine years ago. I can conduct my own defence, I venture to think, better than any of these my learned brethren."