Obey her commands

Marshall, seeing that the two men were silent, began to recover his
self-command. “I see you don’t believe me. Perhaps there is no reason
why you should. But I swear I do not know who killed Jenner. If I had
known I should have got that bill out of him.”

“Oh!” said Geoffrey. “And you would have condoned his sin so long as he
gave you back the evidence of your own.”

“I would. Every man for himself in this world. I would have told him,
whosoever he was, that if he did not give me back the bill I would
denounce him to the police. But I have not the least idea who the
guilty person is.” He wiped his face. “And all these years I have lived
in misery, fearing daily and hourly that the bill would turn up. I knew
Roper would not spare me if he got possession of it.”

“No wonder,” remarked Heron, “seeing how badly you treated his daughter
Elsa.”

The culprit had the grace to blush. “Elsa Roper was never a penny the
worse by me,” he said. “When I used to go to her father’s office to
procure money she chose to fall in love with me. I made capital out of
that, as I do out of most things.”

“Don’t be so shameless, man!” interposed his brother-in-law, sharply.
Marshall sickened him with his fluent villainy.

“Oh, you were always a Puritan,” sneered Marshall. “However, that is
neither here nor there. I let the girl believe that I cared for her in
order to get her father to part with his money, but I never intended to
marry her.”

“And she died of a broken heart,” put in Heron.

“So the old man says. As though a woman ever died of such a thing! She
caught a chill, and was carried off because she was not sufficiently
well nourished; that is the truth, although old Roper prefers to put
it down to me. If he had fed her better she would be alive now. But he
chooser to think I killed her, and would do me a serious injury it he
could. I am glad the bill did not fall into his hands. Where did you
get it?” he asked, turning to Geoffrey. “Or if you can tell me the name
of the person who had it I can tell you who was the assassin of Jenner.
Oh, it is quite true. Jenner shewed me the bill that night by the
Waggoner’s Pond. I would have taken it by force, but he was stronger
than I; there was no chance of my getting the better of him. But I
noticed that he took it out of a red pocket-book. Now, that pocket-book
was never produced at the trial, so the assassin must have it.”

“Then you don’t think Mrs. Jenner killed him?”

“She? She wouldn’t have killed a fly. No, she did not kill him. If she
had, that red pocket-book would have been produced in court. I have
been living in fear ever since, wondering who had it, though I always
intended to make use of the murder should the assassin have tried to
blackmail me. Who did you get the bill from, Heron?”

“I did not got it from anyone. Jenner evidently thought that you might
come after him to steal it, so, according to his wife, he sewed it
up in the body of a toy horse with which his child had been playing.
Lately Neil wished to give this toy to George Chisel, so it came into
Ruth’s possession. The boy cut it open, and Miss Brawn found the bill.
She gave it to me and I at once saw Roper about it. Besides, I read up
my father’s diary and found that his name had been forged.”

“Did he know that I had done it?”

“Yes. Roper called on him to tell him so. If my father had not died,
Mr. Marshall, you would have found yourself in prison for forgery.”

“No, I should not. You forget that Jenner stole the bill. No one could
have prosecuted me without producing the document. I know enough law
for that. Besides, I had paid the money to Roper, and that I did only
to avoid a scandal. Does Ruth know about this, or Miss Brawn, or
George?”

“They know nothing,” replied Mr. Cass. “Ruth does not even know of the
existence of this bill. George is but a child, and took no notice of
it. As for Miss Brawn, she thinks the signature is all right. She will
hold her tongue. Oh, you are quite safe so far. But this murder. I feel
certain that you committed it; no one else could have had so powerful a
motive.”

“Still, someone else might have had a motive for all that. I am sure
Mrs. Jenner is innocent; but her husband had lots of enemies, and many
would gladly have done it, could they have escaped the consequences.
The only thing that puzzles me is the disappearance of the red
pocket-bock. I understand all about the bill now; it could not have
been made use of. Well, the whole affair is a mystery, but all I can
say is that I did not kill the man. I knew if it came to the pinch I
could always prove that.”

“It has come to the pinch now,” said Mr. Cass, sternly. “Prove your
innocence, if you can for my part I believe you are guilty.”

“More fool you!” was the retort. “On that night, if you remember, we
had dinner at six–a light dinner, dished up in a hurry–your wife had
to go to London; you told her you would have some supper at nine, did
you not?”

“Yes, I remember something of that,” said Mr. Cass, after a pause.

“Was I not in to supper?”

“Yes, you were; I remember that too.”

“And supper was at nine?”

“Yes, it was ordered for nine, and I postponed it till half-past
because I did not feel hungry.”

“I was here when you gave the order, because you asked me whether I
would prefer supper at once, or wait.”

“That is true enough. Well?”

“Well, if you will look again into the evidence given at the trial of
that unfortunate woman, you will find that the doctor said that Jenner
had been killed at nine o’clock. Therefore, it could not have been I
who struck the blow. By your own shewing I was with you at the time.
Now, am I innocent or guilty?”

Mr. Cass looked at Geoffrey. “All this is true enough,” he said,
quietly. “I begin to believe that you did not do it after all.”

“If you can be so honest as to admit that I was in this room at nine
o’clock I could not have killed Jenner, who was at that very time being
murdered by some unknown person four miles away. I am a forger, I admit
that; but”–here he became finely scornful–“I am not a murderer.
Foolish I may have been, wicked I never was.”

The two listeners gazed at each other in amazement. Then Marshall went
on.

“Now I know where the bill is I feel relieved,” he said, and his
self-pity was almost, pathetic. “I can sleep in peace, more especially
when it has been destroyed.” As he spoke he advanced his hand towards
the table with the intention of taking the paper. Mr. Cass anticipated
him, and snatched the incriminating document away.

“No, Marshall,” he said, putting it in his pocket. “I keep this. You
are too dangerous a man to be allowed to go your own way. I use this
bill as a whip to manage you. Behave yourself, and act a decent part
for the remainder of your life, and no one shall ever know of this. But
try any of your tricks and you will be laid by the heels.”

“Do you call this honourable?” blustered Marshall.

“I call it caution. You are quite safe with me, and I am sure our
friend Heron will say nothing.”

“Certainly. I shall be guided entirely by Mr. Cass.”

“But Roper might get hold of it, and then I should be lost.”

“Roper will not get hold of it. I keep it, Marshall. It is for your
wife’s sake only that I am thus lenient. So far as you are concerned
nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you suffering a just
punishment. You are the most unblushing scoundrel I have ever seen!”

“You had better look out Cass,” said Marshall, threateningly. “I can
make you pay dearly for these insults.”

“Can any person possibly insult you?” sneered Mr. Cass. “Do what you
like, but remember”–he touched his breast-pocket–“I will exact
payment. Now you know. As for the rest, I don’t want you in my house
again, but as that might provoke remark on the part of Inez, and lead
to an explanation, I will permit you to call occasionally; but I hope
your visits will be rare. Were I in your place I should go abroad. Now
you can go.”

The man was livid with rage. He was evidently inclined to make trouble.
He knew that he could go pretty far, for only the direst extremity
would force Mr. Cass into creating a scandal by producing the bill. But
he could find nothing to say in face of the threat held over him; and,
cowed by the looks of the two men, he finally sneaked out of the room.
Then he left the house, but he had recovered himself sufficiently to
make a gay remark to Ruth and Jennie, whom he met returning from their
walk. Truly the man was bad to the core.

“Do you believe him?” asked Heron when they were alone.

“Yes, what he says is perfectly correct. I confess I am greatly
relieved.”

“So am I. But do you think he knows who killed Jenner?”

“He might, but that we shall never get out of him. On the other hand I
am inclined to think he does not know, for believing the assassin to
have had the bill, he would have made an attempt to get it from him.
But what is to be done next? Mrs. Jenner is still in gaol and ill.”

“Ah, that reminds me,” said Geoffrey, taking a letter out of his
pocket. “I had this from Neil this morning. I intended to show it to
you, but our interview with our friend put it out of my head. He is
coming down to-day.”

“What!” exclaimed Mr. Cass, running his eyes over the letter. “Is he
well enough to travel?”

“Oh, yes; he has wonderful recuperative power. You see, he says there
that he intends to see his mother. It appears she has sent for him.
He must have gone to her yesterday as he is coming down to-day. I am
anxious to see him, for I cannot help wondering why she should have
sent for him. Do you think she might have something to tell him?”

“No.” Mr. Cass shook his head. “I saw her the other day. She is quite
ignorant who killed her husband; she is in the infirmary now, and very
ill. I don’t think the end is far off. I expect she sent for Neil to
bid him good-bye.” Mr. Cass paused for a moment. “You know, Heron,”
he said, “in spite of all the trails you have followed, I cannot help
thinking that she really killed her husband.”

“I cannot believe it. The person who committed the murder was the man
who got those links–who dropped one under the window.”

“Ah–then we shall never find out.”

“Marshall might know; he might have recognised the footpads who
attacked him that night,” suggested Heron. Then he started, struck with
a sudden idea. “By the way, is it possible that the gypsy Job was one
of them? That would explain how he comes to be so intimate with your
sister.”

“I don’t see that,” remarked Mr. Cass, with a frown. “If she knew that
Job had attacked her husband, and had afterwards murdered Jenner,
he would receive but short shrift from the hands of Inez. She is no
sentimentalist.”

“But, don’t you see,” persisted Geoffrey, “she may think that he has
the bill–she may be keeping her knowledge of the murder quiet so that
Job may not produce the document and incriminate her husband.”

“Inez knows nothing about the bill. You heard what her husband said!”

“He is such a liar!” cried Heron, in disgust.

“Nevertheless, I believe on this occasion he spoke the truth. I cannot
believe that my sister–in spite of her love for that reptile–would
go as far as to grovel to a gypsy and shield a murderer. No; the gypsy
might have been one of those who attacked Marshall on that night;
but I do not believe that he killed Jenner. Don’t trouble any more
about the matter, Heron. We have done all we could with no result.
Besides, Mrs. Jenner–poor soul–will soon be released from her unjust
imprisonment–if, indeed, it be unjust; death will set her free.”

“What about Neil and his wish to see his mother cleared?”

“We shall see what he says about that,” replied Mr. Cass, closing the
subject in a more peremptory manner than was usual with him.

The same afternoon Neil Webster arrived at Hollyoaks, looking a
shadow of his former self, pale and fragile, and very downcast. Ruth
and Jennie both gave him a cordial welcome; and neither his host
nor Geoffrey Heron were lacking in heartiness. But all the kindness
and attention he received served only to make the young man more
melancholy. Observing this, and knowing that he had seen his mother,
Mr. Cass took the first opportunity to draw him into the library:
it might be that Mrs. Jenner had told the poor fellow something. It
appeared that she had.

“Yes, I saw her,” Neil said, in reply to Mr. Cass’s question. “She is
dying; I have seen her for the last time! She cannot live many days
now; indeed, I wanted to stay beside her till the end, but she would
not hear of it. She said that I was to go away and remember always that
she had loved me. For the rest, I was to put her out of my mind, and
live as good a life as I could. Then she kissed me, and we parted.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all; except that she has commanded me to stop searching for
the real assassin of my father.”

“Did she say that?”

“Yes; she said no one would ever find out the truth, and, moreover,
that my father had deserved his fate. She was sure I had not committed
the crime; she swore that she herself was guiltless; but she said that
it was quite impossible that the truth should ever come to light.”

“Do you think she knows the truth, Neil?”

“No; I am sure she does not. She said if she did she would have told
me, if only to put my mind at rest. But she knows nothing. Poor mother!”

“And what do you intend to do?”

“Obey her commands,” said Neil. “I shall search no more.”

Ruth let Miss Brawn take entire possession of Neil. In spite of his
languid ways, Webster was an interesting study to a woman. So Miss Cass
found it a trifle dull; for Geoffrey had returned to his own place, and
did not come over to Hollyoaks quite so often as she thought he might
have done. Yet she rarely intruded upon Jennie and Neil, but allowed
them to drift into a companionship which she devoutly hoped would
result in the closer tie of marriage. Jennie continued to give the
usual lessons to her little pupils; and after school hours Ruth took
them off her hands, so that she might be free to entertain Neil. After
a time he recovered sufficient interest in his music to take up his
violin, and with Jennie he spent long hours going over his old music
and experimenting on new.

Meanwhile, Ruth naturally found the house extremely dull without
Geoffrey; so she spent as much time as possible in long walks, in
riding her bicycle, and in paying visits. One day she recollected her
promise to call and see her Aunt Inez. Mr. Marshall had gone for a
change to Brighton, where, no doubt, he was enjoying himself after his
usual selfish fashion. His wife had declined to accompany him, giving
as her reason that she had more to do than waste her time among a
pack of fools–as she was wont to designate the rest of the world. So
she remained at home and attended to her duties in rather a joyless
way. She still retained a mild love for her husband; she despised his
weaknesses; she hated his lack of principle; but some sentiment of
love remained at the bottom of her soul. Companionship had begotten
toleration; and, on the whole, she thought, she was not worse off than
other women. She, at least, could govern her husband’s weaker nature,
and could curb his follies. And this somewhat unsatisfactory employment
gave her plenty to do; so she succeeded in passing her life in an
endurable fashion. Fortunately for her, she was not a woman who had
the capacity for being bored. Nine out of ten women would have killed
themselves out of sheer weariness of the flesh; but Mrs. Marshall
continued to live on–grimly.

Ruth had often wondered in her secret soul if her aunt were doing
penance for some hidden sin; it was the only way in which she could
account for the asceticism of her life. She lived in an ugly house, in
which all the rooms were hideous both in colour and design–all, save
those which were occupied by the master of the house. His apartments,
furnished by himself, were charming in every way.

As she stood now in the stone-hued drawing-room, the melancholy of the
place struck Ruth more than ever; and, moreover, glancing round the
room, she caught sight of a copy of Thomas a Kempis. “She’s taking to
religion,” she thought, turning over the leaves. “I really wonder if
there is a secret in her past life to account for—-” But at this
moment a grim maid-servant entered I to interrupt her conjectures.

“If you please, Miss,” she said, “mistress is in the garret storing
things, and she wants to know if you will go up to her there?”

“Oh, certainly,” said Ruth, wondering if her aunt were mad that she
should invite a visitor to go poking about among old lumber–even
though that visitor were her niece. But she meekly followed the maid
up to the top of the house, and was introduced into a long, low, wide
attic, immediately under the roof. Here Aunt Inez, in a stone-coloured
dress, with a severe face, gave her an icy greeting. In spite of the
summer warmth the garret was chilly, and this, joined to her reception,
made the girl shiver.

“I am glad you have remembered me at last, Ruth,” said Mrs. Marshall,
in her most metallic tones. “I was beginning to think you had forgotten
me.”

“I found it difficult to leave the house, aunt; Neil Webster is there,
and, of course, I have had to attend to him.”

“I heard the young man was back again,” she said, in a muffled voice,
“and truly, I wonder that my brother should have him in the house!”

“Why shouldn’t he? Neil is a good fellow!”

“But his mother is not a good woman. She belongs to the criminal
classes.”

“My dear aunt,” cried Ruth, “I am sure the poor woman is more sinned
against than sinning.”

“What do you know of her?” asked the good lady, turning a terrible eye
on her niece. “Has your father—-”

“Yes, he has; and I found out a great deal for myself. I am sure Mrs.
Jenner did not kill her husband.”

“You know nothing at all about it. Mrs. Jenner was a minx; I knew her
well when she lived at Hollyoaks and taught Amy. I lived there myself,
and managed the house, too, for your poor mother never did have any
idea of how to conduct an establishment. Mrs. Jenner–a bold, bad
woman! She came down to Westham after the arrest of her abominable
husband, and lived at the Turnpike House—-”

“And there her husband called to see her on the night he was murdered.”

“On the night she murdered him,” corrected Mrs. Marshall, vehemently.
“Will you be wiser, than the law, Ruth? I tell you it was she who
struck the blow. I do not say that she had not good cause, for the man
was a brute. But she had no right to take his life!”

“She didn’t–she didn’t,” asseverated Ruth, with quite as much
vehemence as her aunt had shewn. “The blow was struck through the
window for the sake of getting a red—- Why, whatever is the matter,
aunt?”

“Nothing–nothing!” gasped Mrs. Marshall. She had seated herself
suddenly on a convenient box, and with her hand to her side, was gazing
at her niece with an ashen face. “A stitch in the side–that’s all,
child! Why did your father tell you all this–and what does he know
about the red pocket-book?”

“I have heard scraps of information at times,” said Ruth, trying to
get out of the unpleasant position in which her tongue had placed her.
“But I know very little; I don’t want to have anything to do with the
matter. Please don’t ask me anything more about it aunt.”

“You have said so much that I must know all,” said Mrs. Marshall, so
fiercely that the girl was frightened. “If you refuse to tell me, I
shall speak to your father.”

“He is the very best person to whom you could speak,” replied Miss
Cass, with some defiance in her voice, for her temper was rising at her
aunt’s tone. “But please don’t bring me into it.”

“I shall act as I think best. If this case has been reopened–as I
judge from your words, it has been–why was I not informed?

“I refer you to papa,” said Ruth, coldly. “And, after all,” she added,
“I do not see what you have to do with it, Aunt Inez.”

“More than you think,” replied Mrs. Marshall, tightening her thin lips.

Then Ruth did a very foolish thing–a thing she repented of for many
a long day after. “What about Job?” she asked. “Does he also take an
interest in the case?”

Mrs. Marshall sprang forward in the most dramatic fashion, and seized
her niece by the arm. “You have been asking him questions,” she said.

“And what if I have?” cried the girl, twisting herself away. “Anyone
has a right to ask questions, I suppose? But he told me nothing.”

“He had nothing to tell.”

“In that case you need not look so fiercely at me, aunt.”

Mrs. Marshall realised how indiscreet was her demeanour.

“Don’t trouble about me, child,” she said, with a forced laugh. “I have
done nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I never thought you had, aunt!”

“Mrs. Jenner,” continued Aunt Inez, exactly as though she were
repeating a lesson, “was a flirt. When she married a brute, she only
got her just punishment. I did my best to be kind to her; but I always
hated her. It is no use my denying the fact–I did hate her! If you are
a woman, Ruth, if you have your grandmother’s blood in your veins, you
will understand.”

“Oh, yes,” said the girl, proudly conscious of her own tiger blood, “I
can quite understand. I should like to see any woman take Geoffrey from
me! Aha!” And she growled like a playful cat.

“I believe Mrs. Jenner killed her husband,” continued Aunt Inez, taking
no notice of this speech, “and she is being punished for it. As to
Job–I merely assist him out of charity; he knows nothing about the
murder; it had happened before he came to these parts. Now, are you
satisfied?”

“My dear aunt, I never wanted to be satisfied,” replied the girl. “I
never thought you knew anything about the murder.”

“I don’t–I don’t! I swear I don’t!” cried Mrs. Marshall. “But this red
pocket-book–it was not mentioned at the trial.”

“I know nothing about it,” said Ruth, promptly; she was not going to be
drawn into the discussion. “Ask papa about it.”

Mrs. Marshall, seeing she would get nothing further out of her niece,
returned to the examination of the lumber which was scattered over
the floor of the garret. “Then we will go down shortly and have some
tea, my dear,” she said, in her most amiable tone. She was evidently
desirous of effacing the impression of her former fierceness.

Ruth wondered but little at her aunt’s strange demeanour.

In a meditative way she watched Mrs. Marshall moving about on the other
side of the garret, so close under the slope of the roof that her head
touched it. There were two windows–one at each end, but these were so
dirty that the place was enveloped in a kind of brown twilight which
had, at first, prevented the girl from seeing plainly. As her eyes grew
more accustomed to the semi-gloom, she examined the lumber that was
piled up on all sides. All the scum of the house had risen to the top
and been left in this isolated attic. It was filled with the wreckage
which will accumulate even in the most orderly houses. There were,
also, ancient books, piles of newspapers, and suchlike things huddled
together pell-mell, and over all lay a thick, grey dust.

Suddenly as Ruth, growing tired of waiting, shifted her position,
the light from the window behind struck out a patch of red. Her eyes
wandered mechanically towards the colour. It was the red morocco
binding of a narrow book which protruded from the heap. Hardly thinking
what she was doing, the girl picked it up, and with the light from
behind her strong upon it she examined it minutely. Then her heart
seemed to stand still, for it was a pocket-book–perhaps the very red
pocket-book which had been stolen by Jenner’s murderer, and of which
they had been speaking only a few minutes before.

Anxious to make quite certain as to this, Ruth slipped off the elastic
strap and examined the discoloured leaves. For the most part they were
blank, but written on the front page was a name, and the name was
Jenner!

At the sight Ruth uttered a cry. Mrs. Marshall turned sharply.