THE TOY HORSE

Whatever might have been Neil Webster’s intentions as to saving his
mother by proving himself guilty, they were frustrated by a severe
illness. His body could no longer bear the strain of constant worry and
mental torture, and he was seized with an attack of brain fever. Then
it was that Heron proved himself indeed a friend; he attended to the
sick man and procured for him the very best advice. No brother could
have done more for the poor fellow than did Geoffrey. Putting entirely
aside his desire to be near Ruth and to prosecute his courtship, he
devoted himself to restoring Neil to health.

Furthermore, at his friend’s special request in the early stages of
his illness, Geoffrey took all measures to prevent Mr. Cass hearing
of the precarious state in which he lay. For Neil considered that the
merchant had done quite enough for him and did not wish to give him any
more trouble; so Geoffrey informed Mr. Cass that the young violinist
had gone abroad for a rest by the advice of his doctor. Then he had him
removed to Bognor and placed under the charge of Mrs. Jent, impressing
upon her the necessity for secrecy. Thus it came about that for nearly
two months he lay ill in bed at Bognor without any suspicion being
aroused in Mr. Cass’s mind.

To Ruth young Heron wrote and explained that Neil had given her up, but
that he refused to say why he had done so. He added that he himself was
going to Paris for a month or so, but that if she wanted him back he
would return at the end of that time. Having thus sacrificed himself
on the shrine of friendship, he went down to watch Neil through his
dangerous illness. For he was quite determined that he should not die
if human means could save him. So, with Mrs. Jent, he nursed his friend
with the greatest tenderness.

Another friendly act he performed. He visited Mrs. Jenner and learned
from her all the particulars of the case. At first she sternly refused
to tell him anything, but when he informed her that her son was ill
and that his only chance of recovery–this was a little embroidery of
his own–lay in the hope of her innocence being established, she gave
way. He had already succeeded in impressing upon her the fact that Neil
could not have killed his father, notwithstanding all appearances to
the contrary.

“From what you say, Mrs. Jenner,” he remarked, “your husband was a
strong man. Neil–I must still call him Neil–was a puny child. It is
impossible that he could have struck such a blow. At best his strength
could not have been equal to it, and Jenner could have brushed him
aside as easily as he could a fly.”

“That is true,” said the woman, thoughtfully. “I found him with a knife
in his hand standing beside the body.”

“He might have entered the room and picked up the knife.”

“But if this is go-and I begin to see things from your point of
view–who killed my husband? I can swear that I did not, and if my
child is innocent, who is guilty?”

“That is just what we must find out, both to release you from an unjust
imprisonment and to set his mind at rest. Now tell me the whole story
and especially the events of that night. Then I may be in a position to
account for the crime.”

Cheered somewhat by the view he took, Mrs. Jenner told him all she knew
with full details. Two points struck Mr. Heron–one that the window had
been open and that Mrs. Jenner had left her husband standing near it;
the other that he had had in his possession a red pocket-book which had
afterwards disappeared. Beyond this he gathered that her account of the
boasts her husband had made on that night that he had had somebody in
his power, somebody from whom he intended to extort money.

“And I quite believe that is true,” finished the unhappy woman,
bitterly. “He had the instincts of a blackmailer.”

“Well, said Geoffrey, preparing to take his departure. I think the
motive for the crime will be found in that pocket-book. Whoever took
it murdered your husband. The window was open, the book, as you say,
on the table, and near the window your husband was standing. Also,”
he added with emphasis, “you say the knife was lying beside the
pocket-book. Now, if your son had used it he would have had to pass
his father to get it and so would have put him on his guard, even if
he had not been prevented from taking it. No, Mrs. Jenner, your son
is innocent, as innocent as yourself. The assassin seized that knife
through the open window and struck the blow in order to get possession
of that pocket-book, which contained–of that I am sure–some document
which would have been used as a lever to extort money. That is my
theory, and I will make it my business to prove that it is the right
one. Meanwhile, I must nurse Neil.”

“You are a good man,” said Mrs. Jenner shewing emotion for the first
time, “and what you say seems feasible enough. Go, and do the best you
can. Heaven will reward you. But my son, my darling boy–he may die!”

“Not if I can help it. I’ll pull him round somehow. Keep up your
spirits. You have had a long night, but I believe the dawn is at hand.”

“Heaven bless you!” she said. Then Geoffrey took his leave, to return
to the bedside of Neil Webster.

While all this was taking place Ruth had not been idle. She had been
annoyed by Heron’s letter, and much alarmed at his determination to
stay away. She was beginning to find out that her feeling for him was
stronger than anything the young violinist had inspired in her; but a
streak of obstinacy, inherited from her Spanish grandmother, kept her,
in a manner, true to the man for whom she cared least. Besides this she
was possessed of more than her share of feminine curiosity, and never
faltered in her determination to learn the real cause of Webster’s
mysterious departure. She was well aware that her love for him was
not genuine, that it had been founded–as Jennie had very truly told
her–on admiration for the artist, not on love for the man and she was
equally certain that she would never marry him. But all the same she
was resolved to learn his secret, and for many a weary week she plotted
for the achievement of her ends. As far as she knew, both Neil and
Geoffrey were abroad, so she had a fair field.

After much thought she concluded that her best plan was to make the
attempt through Mrs. Jent, who had been her nurse, and who had always
retained an affection, almost motherly, for her. And the old woman was
a trustful soul, easy enough to manage by the exercise of a little
diplomacy. Ruth’s plan was to act as she had done with her father–to
assume that she knew more than she would admit. In this way, taking
into account the simplicity of Mrs. Jent, it was likely that the old
woman would let something slip which would put her on the track. And
Ruth considered that if she had succeeded with a man like her father
she would certainly have no difficulty with a person of Mrs. Jent’s
calibre. So she made up her mind as to her best course of action.

To see Mrs. Jent without arousing suspicion it was necessary that she
should go down to Bognor without her father’s knowledge. He would think
it odd that she should, at this juncture, wish to see one who was so
closely connected with her former lover. To avert suspicion, the girl
wrote to an old schoolfellow at Brighton asking her for an invitation.
“I am tired of a dull country life,” wrote Miss Cass, “and I should be
so glad of a little amusement. Do ask me down for a week or so.”

Mrs. Prosser fell into the trap. It seemed natural enough to her that
Ruth should want a little gaiety, and she was glad to have a pretty
girl in her house. The presence of beauty would attract a good many men
and, being not averse to an occasional flirtation herself. Mrs. Prosser
judged that she would share in the pleasure to be derived from the
visit. So the desired invitation was promptly despatched, and Mr. Cass,
quite unsuspicious, permitted his daughter’s acceptance of it.

“Perhaps it will put this nonsense about Webster out of your head,” he
said as he bade her good-bye. To which remark he received no answer.

For quite a week Ruth enjoyed herself thoroughly. Mrs. Prosser’s house
was a bright one. She entertained a great deal, more especially now
that she had such a charming friend to amuse and to amuse her. That
young lady made amends for Neil’s desertion of her, and for Geoffrey’s
absence, by flirting to her heart’s content, and consigning many youths
to various stages of despair at what they were pleased to call her
fickleness. But she never lost sight of her main object, which was to
drop down on Mrs. Jent without giving that old lady warning of her
coming. She would take her entirely by surprise.

Accordingly, on the plea that she was going to see her old nurse, Ruth
took the train to _Bognor_, and Mrs. Jent welcomed her visitor with
open arms. Nor indeed–not having been warned–did she conceal the fact
that Mr. Webster was ill in the house and that Geoffrey was nursing him.

“My dear, how pleased I am to see you!” she cried, settling her
spectacles on her nose. “And quite the young lady, too! How good of
you, my lovey, not to forget your old nurse.”

“As if I ever could,” Ruth said, graciously. “And tell me what you are
doing with yourself?”

“Just living, my dear, just living. What with a boarder or two and the
money your dear papa allows me I rub along.”

“Have you any boarders now?” asked the girl, more for the sake of saying
something than because she felt any interest in the subject.

“Well, not what you would call boarders, perhaps,” said the old lady,
rubbing one withered hand over the other. “At least, one of them isn’t,
he is my dear boy Neil.”

“Neil!” with unbounded astonishment, “Neil Webster! Why, he is abroad.”

“No such thing. He is here, my lovey, and has been for two months.
Abroad? Why, the poor darling has been at death’s door! Aye, and he
would have entered it, too, if Mr. Heron had not—-”

“Heron? Geoffrey Heron?”

“Yes, dear, that is him, Heaven bless him. Do you—-”

“Geoffrey Heron here?” interrupted the girl rather to herself than to
the old woman. “Why, he wrote to tell me that he was on the Continent.
What does all this mean, I wonder?”

“It’s not hard to tell the meaning,” said Mrs. Jent. “My boy Neil fell
ill, had brain fever, poor lad, and Mr. Heron brought him here from
London that I might nurse him, and he stayed with me. He is almost as
fond of my dear boy as I am.”

“Is he?” said Ruth, blankly. Considering that the two men were, or had
been, rivals for her hand, she could not quite take all this in.

“Of course he is,” said the old woman, with great energy. “A better
gentleman I never wish to see.”

“And is Mr. Webster here?”

“In the next room, in the most beautiful sleep. I daresay you would
like to see him, my dear, for he has often talked of you. But I daren’t
wake him, it would be dangerous. Mr. Heron has gone to Worthing. Will
you wait till he comes back?”

“I might,” replied Ruth, thinking that she would like to prove to Heron
that she was no fool. “Has he also spoken of me?”

“Often and often, my dear. Why, he loves you; he has told me so a dozen
times.”

The girl stuck her pretty chin in the air and looked supercilious.
“Well, he is nothing to me,” she said, crossly. “I don’t like deceitful
people. Oh, now, don’t defend him,” she added, seeing that Mrs. Jent
was about to deliver herself of an indignant speech. “I know more than
you do. As to Mr. Webster, well, he was good enough to say that he
cared for me too.”

“I know. He has often spoken of you to me; but he has got over his
fancy.”

“Oh, indeed!” cried Ruth, more angry than ever. “He calls his love for
me a fancy, does he? Just like a man.” Then she suddenly recollected
her errand and resolved to make the best use of her time before
Geoffrey could come back and interfere. “Poor Mr. Webster! No doubt he
is grieving for his parents.”

The old lady started. “What do you know of them?” she asked, sternly.

“All that he could tell me,” was the reply. “He was engaged to me, and
he told me all about himself and his people.”

“How foolish of him,” Mrs. Jent said under her breath. “But I hope
you don’t think any the less of him, my dear. After all, he is not
responsible for the wickedness of his father and mother.”

Ruth nearly jumped out of her seat. So Neil’s father and mother had
been what this old woman called “wicked people.” And, moreover, he was
suffering for what they had done in not being allowed to marry her;
that was the way she put it. But she said nothing, and Mrs. Jent went
on talking in the firm belief that her listener knew all the facts of
the case.

“Of course, it was a long time before he knew anything about his
parents neither Mr. Cass nor I would tell him, you know. But last
Christmas, when he was staying with you, my dear, he found it all out.”

“It was at Christmas that he told me about them,” put in Ruth.

But she did not add that it was of the American parents he had spoken.
Indeed, she could not make out whether Mrs. Jent was alluding to them
or to some other persons of whom she knew nothing. She felt confused.

“Ah, well,” went on the old lady, with a sigh, “I suppose the discovery
was too much for him and he had to tell someone. And why not you?
But, my dear,” she laid a withered hand on the girl’s arm, “if he had
loved you he would never have told you about that nasty Turnpike House
murder. Did he tell you his name was Jenner, my dear?”

“No,” said the girl, faintly. She knew the truth now. “Only that his
parents–oh, I can’t speak of it!”

“It is terrible.” The old lady shook her head. “To think of his mother
having murdered her husband and being in gaol.”

“He never told me that!” shrieked Ruth, for she could play her part no
longer. “Oh, great Heavens, what a horrible thing! No wonder my father
would not let the marriage take place.”

“The marriage!” stammered Mrs. Jent, rising with an expression of alarm
on her face.

“Yes, I was engaged to him and suddenly he gave me up. My father said
he would never allow me to marry him. I could not make out the reason.
Now I know it, and, oh, how horrible it is!”

“Then you did not know the truth?”

“No, no. Neil told me about his American parents—-”

“That was the story we made up to keep him quiet,” put in the old
woman. “Yes, Mr. Cass and I thought it best he should not know. He
found out the truth for himself, and–now–I have told it to you.”

“I am glad you have,” said Ruth, taking her hand. “Dear nurse, I have
behaved so badly. I wanted to find out why Neil had given me up, and as
father would not tell me I came to you. But I have been punished for my
curiosity. Still, I’m glad–I’m glad. I must give him up now.”

“Indeed, miss,” said Mrs. Jent, bristling with indignation. “I think
you ought to stand by the poor boy more than ever. Oh, miss, how could
you play me such a trick? I do hope you’ll keep all this to yourself.”

“Of course I will. All the effect it will have upon me is that I shall
think no more of Neil.”

“Ah!” Mrs. Jent shook her head. “I thought I better of you.”

“Good gracious! How can you expect me to marry a man whose mother is in
gaol?”

“That is not his fault. But take your own way, miss. I think you have
behaved badly in tricking me into speaking secrets. I shall tell your
father at once.”

“I shall tell him myself; you shan’t be blamed, nurse. I am a wicked
girl to have done what I have done. There, don’t cry, I’m not worth
it. I’ll go away and not bother you.” And before Mrs. Jent could say
another word Ruth was out of the house and walking swiftly along the
parade.

Then the unexpected happened, for the first person she met was Geoffrey
Heron!

Geoffrey Heron would as soon have expected to see the sea-serpent off
shore as to meet Ruth Cass walking along the _Bognor_ Parade. However,
there she was, and he had to meet her, to explain himself as best he
could, and to put himself right in her eyes.

“Miss Cass!” he stammered, taking off his hat and exhibiting a very red
face and confusion of manner usually absent from his demeanour. “I am
astonished to meet you here.”

“I daresay,” replied the girl, her nose in the air. “There can be
no doubt about that after all the stones you told me. But I am not
astonished. I have been to see Mrs. Jent.”

“What! Have you seen Webster?” I said Mrs. Jent. “No, Mr. Webster does
not know that I am here. He was asleep, and Mrs. Jent refused to
disturb him even for me. Now what have you to say for yourself?”

“It is a long story,” he said uneasily.

“In that case we had better sit down.”

“But I must go back to the cottage.”

“In that case I’ll go with you. We don’t part, Mr. Heron until I have
an explanation of all this. Part of it I understand already.”

“What do you understand?” he asked, startled.

“For one thing I know now why Neil left me.”

“Impossible!”

“Nothing is impossible to a woman who has set her heart on finding out
what she wants to know. Neil refused to tell me, papa refused, you
refused in the meanest manner. Well, I have found out–from Mrs. Jent.”

“She never told you!” cried Heron, agitated.

“Not of her own free will. I got it out of her. But I know now what is
the matter. Ah, I see you don’t believe me; you are still incredulous.
Just listen, then. Neil’s real name is Jenner; his mother killed his
father, and is now in gaol. Am I right?”

“Perfectly.” He was relieved to find that she did not know the worst.
“I congratulate you on your diplomacy.”

“I thought you were going to use a nastier word. I am sure you were
tempted to.”

“No, believe me—-”

“How can I believe you when you behave as you have done? Why are you
here instead of in Paris?”

“Because when I saw Webster I found he was very ill. Someone had to look
after him, and I seemed to be the right person just then. You would not
have had me leave the poor fellow to die?”

“No.” Ruth held out her hand, which he seized eagerly. “On the whole I
think you are a very good man, Mr. Heron. But why did you tell me that
you were in Paris, and that Neil also was abroad?”

“I did so at his request. He considered that he had given your father
enough trouble, and knowing that in all probability he would have a
long illness, he asked me to conceal his whereabouts, so that Mr. Cass
should not come down.”

“Oh, I understand. But about yourself, why did you hide?”

“In the first place I wanted to look after him. In the second, I did
not wish to see you.”

“Oh, thank you!” cried Ruth, highly indignant.

“Don t misunderstand me, he said, anxious Neil told me his story–the
story you have got out of Mrs. Jent–and I did not feel justified in
allowing anything so terrible to reach your ears. I knew that I was as
wax in your hands, and that you would probably force me to tell; so I
judged discretion to be the better part of valour, and kept away.”

“I see. But I don’t think your discretion will serve you in the long
run. Here is a seat, and there are few people about. Now, Mr. Heron,
sit down and tell me everything from the beginning.”

“Oh, but—-”

“I won’t have any ‘buts’ about it,” said Ruth, peremptorily. “I know the
worst, but I know it only in fragments. I want to know the whole.”

“Why?” asked Heron, taking his seat beside her.

“Can’t you guess? Oh, you are stupid. Why, to help poor Neil, of
course.”

“Ah! You are still in love with him!” said Heron, with a jealous pang.

“No, I am not. I found out long since that I loved someone else better.
Oh, I am not going to tell you his name. I have my secrets as well as
you. But I still like and admire Neil in spite of his misfortunes, and
I want to help him. You are doing that already, and I admire you for
it. Well, we will work together.”

“I should like nothing better. But,” Geoffrey hesitated, “can I trust
you? The secret isn’t mine, you know.”

“No, it is mine,” said Miss Cass, very coolly. “I share it with you and
Mrs. Jent. Whether I know all or not I am not prepared to say, but you
are going to tell me all. Now then!”

He hesitated. “Very good,” he said at length. “I will tell you all I
know, and we will work together to get this poor woman restored to
freedom.”

“What? Is she innocent?”

“I am certain of that. Whosoever murdered Jenner, it was not his wife.”

“But she was found guilty.”

“She is not the first innocent person who has been found guilty. Wait
till you have heard the whole story, then you shall judge.”

“I certainly should not think of judging beforehand,” she said,
disdainfully. “You must not think me silly. Now go on from the very
beginning.”

Seated on the iron bench with his gaze fixed seaward, Heron employed
the best part of an hour in telling the story. Ruth, for the most part,
listened quietly, only now and again putting a question so much to the
point as to amaze her companion. And as he neared the end, and these
questions and comments became more frequent, Geoffrey congratulated
himself on having taken her into his confidence.

“Poor Neil!” she sighed at last. “How he must have suffered!”

“And how he does suffer,” Heron said, gloomily. “He loves his mother
beyond any created being, and he will never be at peace until he sees
her rescued from the fate to which she has been so unjustly condemned.”

“That shall be our task,” responded Ruth, with alacrity. “Neil is too
weak a man to take this burden upon him. Now I know why I could never
love him altogether, why I was never satisfied.”

“What do you mean?” asked Heron, anxiously.

“Well, it is this way,” said Miss Cass, drawing figures on the gravel
with the tip of her umbrella. “I fell in love with him when I heard
him play, he looked so handsome and so noble–so inspired; but when we
were together something always seemed to be wanting. I know now what it
was–strength, the strength of a man. I believe, Geoffrey,” she went
on without noticing that she was using his Christian name, that what
a woman wants in a husband is a master. “I wonder if I shall ever get
what I want? I don’t know. Are there such men?” She looked sideways at
Heron, not in a coquettish way, but rather wistfully.

Geoffrey felt that embarrassment which every honest man feels at the
thought of having an egotistical speech forced upon him. He loved this
girl, and he was sure that she loved him.

“Well, Geoffrey,” she said, after waiting in vain for a reply, “I will
be your wife.”

“You will My dearest!”

“Hush! Don’t take my hands; don’t speak so loud. We are in a public
place, remember, and many eyes are on us. Yes, I will marry you, for
you are–a man!”

“But I can never be your master, dearest,” he said, filled with
delight; “for who would rule a dove?”

“Ah! but that is where you are mistaken. I am not a dove by any manner
of means. I am a very self-willed girl; my presence here proves that. I
know you won’t be a tyrant and thwart me in little things; but when I
am your wife I know that you, not I, will have the last word; and that
is what I wish it to be.”

“Well, perhaps there is some truth in what you say,” he admitted, “but
you shall have your own way, dear–always.”

“Yes, always, that is when it fits in with your own ideas; but I am
quite willing to take you on those terms. You are as strong as Neil,
poor fellow! is weak; and that reminds me,” she added, hastily, “that
we must not waste time in talking about ourselves. I must get back to
Brighton.”

“Are you staying there? May I—-”

“Yes, I am staying with an old schoolfellow.” She gave him her address.
“And you may come over when you can, but don’t neglect poor Neil for me.
We must settle this business first. Let us talk of it.”

“I would rather talk of you,” he said, ruefully. “However, duty before
pleasure. What were you going to say?”

“This. I believe that Mrs. Jenner is not guilty. If she were, she would
have asserted her innocence. The mere fact that she held her tongue is
so wonderful for a woman that I am sure she did not kill her husband.”

“Oh, she is innocent enough; let us accept that as a foregone
conclusion,” said Geoffrey, hastily. He would not reveal the real
reason why Mrs. Jenner had not spoken lest Neil’s secret should come to
light; so he let Ruth make what she liked out of the woman’s silence.

“Very good; we have decided that she is innocent. Now we must find
out who is guilty. I agree with you, Geoffrey, that the murder was
committed by some stranger. Jenner was near the window, and the crime
was committed in order to get possession of that red pocket-book
which had the materials for blackmailing in it. Now, what we have
to learn is what manner of life he led in the past; find out with
whom he associated, and who there was he would have been likely to
blackmail–then we shall know who killed him. Now, how are we to obtain
all that information? From Mrs. Jenner. I will see her again. She told
me all about the murder, but nothing relating to her past life.”

“There is another person who can tell,” Ruth said, thoughtfully. “My
father. Oh, I know–I found out–how, it doesn’t matter–that Jenner
was a clerk in papa’s office, that Mrs. Jenner was my sister Amy’s
governess. I’ll ask her. She may know something about Mrs. Jenner
and her husband likely to throw light on all this. And I must go to
the Turnpike House, for there I may find some evidence–I don’t know
what–but something.” Ruth sighed. “I will go to the Turnpike House if
only out of curiosity. Now, this is what we have to do: You must see
Mrs. Jenner, and find out all you can, setting it down in writing. I
will question papa and Amy, and write down all that they tell me. And I
will go to the Turnpike House, then we will meet and compare notes. Is
it agreed?”

She rose to her feet.

“Yes, it is agreed. But do not go yet.”

“I must, or I shall not catch my train, and, besides, I am hungry and
thirsty. I want to go back to Mrs. Jent’s and get a cup of tea. Come.”

“Will you see Neil?” he asked as they walked towards the cottage.

She shook her head. “I think not; the sight of me will only agitate
him. You need not say anything about my having been until he is quite
better.

“It is odd that you should have spoken of your sister,” Heron said,
abruptly, “for Neil has been worrying about her, or, at least, about
her eldest boy, George.”

“Ah, George is a great friend of his and adores him; but what is he
worrying about George for?”

“Well, he got it into his head some little time ago that he was going
to die, and he wanted to leave George some gift or another.”

“Why didn’t he do that in his will?”

“Well, I expect because it was hardly worth setting down in a legal
document, for the gift is only a toy horse, a brown animal of but
little beauty. Neil has had it all his life, and has an extraordinary
affection for it. Nothing would do but that I should take it to George.
So now, as you will no doubt be going up to your sister’s in town, you
might save me the journey by taking it for me. Will you, dear? It is
wrapped up and all ready to go.”

Ruth laughed. “Oh, I will take it with pleasure, and I’m quite sure
George will be delighted. He is five now, and just the age for such a
toy. By the way, I suppose you know that Amy has engaged Jennie Brawn
to teach him?”

“Has she really? And what may she be going to teach him–how to write
poetry?”

“Geoffrey, I really can’t have you making fun of Jennie, for she
is the dearest girl in all the world. Now, I know what you are going to
say, and you may just save yourself the trouble. It was I who asked Amy
to engage her. Her family are all so poor, and she makes next to nothing
out of her poetry besides, her sister is old enough to look after the
house. Amy is paying her very well, too. I will say that for Amy, she
is not shabby over money.”

Geoffrey laughed and held open the gate. Ruth was received by her old
nurse with some stiffness, for Mrs. Jent had not yet forgiven the trick
which had been played upon her. But the girl apologised so charmingly
that the heart of the old dame was softened, and when she heard from
Mr. Heron that Miss Cass was going to help him prove Mrs. Jenner’s
innocence and so restore Neil’s peace of mind she became quite herself
again.

“Though I don’t see, sir, how you are going to help Mrs. Jenner,” she
said. “She killed him sure enough; she killed him.”

“No, she didn’t,” Ruth said, decidedly. “I am certain she is innocent.”

“If she was, why didn’t she say so?” Mrs. Jent asked.

“That Mr. Heron is going to find out from her.”

“I shall ask her, of course,” Heron said, in some confusion.

Ruth’s eyes were on him like a flash, and Ruth’s eyes saw more than
they were intended to see.

“You know why she did not speak, Geoffrey?”

“Yes, I do,” he confessed, “but I cannot tell you why. Don’t ask me.”

“Has it to do with Neil?”

“Don’t ask me,” he repeated, with a frown. “I decline to tell you.”

Meanwhile Mrs. Jent had prepared the table, observing betweenwhiles
that Neil still slept. Geoffrey had already been to see him, having
seized the opportunity while Ruth and her old nurse were making up
their tiff; and he reported that the invalid looked much better for the
rest. He had brought with him a paper parcel.

“Here is the horse, Ruth,” he said.

“The horse!” cried Mrs. Jent, who was pouring out the tea. “Is that my
dear boy’s horse–the one he wants to give to little Master Chisel?”

“Yes, I should have sent it long ago, but now Miss Ruth will take it.”

“Don’t you, miss, don’t you!” said the old woman. “It will bring no
good luck to the child. That was the toy with which my dear boy was
playing when his father was murdered!”

“Ugh!” exclaimed the girl, dropping the parcel with horror.

“Ah, you may well say that.” And Mrs. Jent nodded her head. “I don’t
know what possesses Mr. Neil to give it to Master George. It is true my
dear boy loves it. But think of the history! He has forgotten it. He
carried that toy with him when his poor mother ran away into the night.
All through his illness he held to it, and when we took it away he
cried so much that we had to give it back. The nasty thing!” finished
Mrs. Jent with energy. “Throw it into the fire.”

“No, no,” cried Geoffrey, picking it up. “Neil would never forgive us
if we did that. I’ll keep it here and not give it to George at all.”

“Give it to me,” and Ruth took the parcel from him. “I won’t let George
have it, but I’ll take it down with me to Hollyoaks.”

“What for?” asked Geoffrey, uneasily. “It has disagreeable
associations.”

“For that very reason,” said Ruth. “There is a clairvoyant near our
place, a lady I know very well. If you put a thing into her hands she
can tell you all about it.”

“Nonsense!” cried Geoffrey, laughing, while Mrs. Jent held up her hands
and muttered something about the Witch of Endor.

“It is not nonsense,” Ruth said, energetically. “Mrs. Garvey tells the
most wonderful things. At all events I’ll try her with this. Who knows
but she may see in her vision–which this will bring to her”–said Ruth
in parenthesis–“the face of the murderer looking through the window.”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” laughed Geoffrey, with the scepticism
of a man of the world. “It is ridiculous. However, if you like you can
try, but don’t ask me to be present at your hanky-panky.”

“I won’t,” laughed Ruth. “But I’ll make a convert of convert of you by
getting Mrs. Garvey to say who killed Neil’s father.”

“Hush!” murmured Mrs. Jent, glancing nervously at the inner door. “He
will hear, Make no mistake, Miss, Mrs. Jenner did it.”

“I am certain she did not. However, I trust Mrs. Garvey to put us on
the right track. I take the horse down with me.” And take it she did,
with results quite unexpected to herself, to Heron, and to Mrs. Jent.

Then she had a cup of tea and was escorted by Geoffrey to the station.
Needless to say she teased him the whole way.