THE WHOLE OF THE SECRET

Madame Veno–alias Mrs. Sam Piggott–had a key to the door of the
janitor’s flat. She, her husband, and their associates could come and
go as they chose when the janitor was away or upstairs.

“You won’t get anything out of your husband,” she said to Juliet as the
three went down, she leading with mingled defiance and reluctance. “He
hasn’t come back to his senses yet. It wasn’t so much the blow–mind
you, my husband was within his rights, defending his brother-in-law
from assault!–it wasn’t the blow so much as the fall. The Duke fell
on the back of his head. It was concussion. We had a doctor in–a
friend of ours we could trust. And we weren’t going to let you know
till we were sure he was out of danger–ready to be moved. If he has
to stand his trial for killing Markoff, why—-”

“How does a man with concussion of the brain commit murder?” Juliet’s
question stabbed like a stiletto. By this time they were at the door
of the basement flat, and Madame Veno was fumbling with a bunch of
keys, Nickson’s eyes upon her hands.

“Naturally the killing was done before the concussion,” Madame sneered.
“The Duke hated Markoff because of Pavoya. Perhaps he had reason. But
that won’t help him with a jury!”

Juliet could have struck the woman and trampled her under foot. She
turned upon her in the dimly lit passage so fiercely that the nervous
fingers jumped and let fall the key. “You fool!” the Duchess said.
“You told me I should see a dead man here. Yet according to your own
story my husband was struck down the night after I saw him last. One
doesn’t keep a dead man in a flat for weeks!”

Madame Veno drew in a sharp breath, and mumbled something which Juliet
could not hear. It was easy to deduce that the story of Markoff’s
death by Claremanagh’s hand was an impromptu effort–an inspiration
which didn’t quite “come off!” The woman had suddenly caught at a
desperate chance. The Duke, having lost all memory of events, could be
made to believe what they chose about himself. And if the Duchess and
her friends could be got to credit the tale, the Markoff affair would
be simplified.

He had been known to Madame’s husband and stepbrother for years, even
before the war, when he had fed _Modern Ways_ in London and the _Inner
Circle_ in New York with rich titbits of scandal concerning the Russian
Court. He had told Piggott that Russia had a grievance against the
Claremanagh family in connection with the Tsarina pearls; that this
treasure ought to be returned to the Crown; and Piggott had suspected
that Markoff was “out” to get it if he could. This visit of his to New
York was for some reason _sub rosa_. His passport was made out for a
merchant of skins named Halbin; but he had called upon his two old
acquaintances and offered for sale the most intimate personal secrets
of Trotsky and Lenin. The brothers-in-law had guessed that he wanted
the Tsarina pearls for himself, if they could be got, as he had once
pretended to want them for the Russian Crown. So, when by amazing luck
they found themselves in possession of the famous rope, their first
thought was to bargain with Markoff-Halbin. He had risen to the bait,
and had made an offer. It sounded satisfactory, but the money was not
forthcoming. A “friend” was to produce it. Meanwhile, when it was
learned through the “leak” at the Duchess’s that Sanders sought
Markoff, shelter was given him; also the “benefit of the doubt.” But
little doubt remained when he tried to steal the pearls! As for the
consequences of this attempt, they were upon the man’s own head! And
at worst, the doctor would certify that death had not been the direct
result of a blow, but of heart failure.

The end had come the day before the Duchess was invited to Madame
Veno’s; and had it not come, Madame de Saintville might have been left
in peace till her help was wanted in some other direction. With
Markoff dead, and his problematic “offer” wiped from the slate, the
best remaining hope was the Duchess. Claremanagh would not be able to
testify against the man who had struck him down–would not even know
that Sam Pigott had revenged himself at last for the caning episode in
London. He and the pearls could be handed over to the Duchess; price,
a million dollars; and no one would ever know where and how he had
spent those weeks missing from his calendar.

The scheme had been in fine working order up to the moment when that
middle door had suddenly opened! Madame Veno thought bitterly of the
mistake they had all made in sending for the Duchess. The thing might
surely have been managed in another way! But it was useless to cry
over spilt milk–a million dollars’ worth of spilt milk! They must be
grateful if the Enemy held his tongue, and they kept out of jail.

She laughed when the Duchess called aloud, “Pat! Where are you? It’s
Juliet, who loves you.” She was so sure that the cry would be answered
by silence, for there was a dead man in one room, an unconscious man in
another. But there was no laugh left in her when Claremanagh’s voice
rang out, clear and sane, “Hullo, my darling! Here I am!”

He had been shamming, then! How much had he heard? How much could he
tell? _How much did he remember_?

Juliet flew in the direction of the beloved voice. It was heaven to
hear it after the hell she had suffered! There were two doors opposite
each other. She tried the first. Locked! But the key was there. It
turned, and she threw the door open only to slam it shut with a stifled
gasp–for on the bed was a long shape covered with a sheet. It was the
body of Markoff, of whom she had heard so much of late from Jack and
Sanders, though till now–when he had ceased to live–she’d hardly
believed in his existence.

Again Pat called. She realized that he was in the room opposite, and
in less than a minute she was with him–in a grey room where a pale Pat
lay in a squalid bed. He sat up, a strange, unkempt figure: the
immaculate Claremanagh unshaven, his smooth hair rumpled; a torn shirt
open at the throat, instead of those smart silk pyjamas in “Futurist”
colours which she’d often smiled at and admired!

She rushed into his arms. He was strong enough to clasp her tight.
“Oh, my Pat, my dearest one!” she sobbed. “I have you again! Say
you’re not going to die. Say you still love me!”

“I adore you. And I’m not going to die. Perhaps I came near it. I
don’t know. But this is new life. And, Juliet–_I’ve got back the
pearls far you_!”

“Oh–the pearls! I’d forgotten them.”

“I hadn’t. You see, it meant a lot to me to prove to you that it
wasn’t I who walked off with them. Darling, I suppose you wouldn’t be
here now if you didn’t know how I got to this place?”

“I know partly. I know you went at night to the _Inner Circle_ office
to punish that Beast. And the horrible London man, Piggott–his
brother-in-law–struck you from behind—-”

“Was it like that? I wasn’t sure what happened, and I don’t know yet
where I am. But since I woke up to things, I’ve lain still, and
listened when they thought I was nothing but a log. I wasn’t strong
enough to do much. I had to lie low! But there was a row about the
pearls. Markoff was here–hiding, I think. How these people got the
pearls I haven’t made out. They had them, though–and Markoff tried to
steal them instead of buying as he’d promised. He fell in a fit or
something, and died. I heard a doctor talking–a pal of the people
here. The night Markoff died they were squabbling over the pearls, a
woman and two men in the next room. I heard them say where they were
kept–in the room where they’d put Markoff’s body till they could get
rid of it. They’d no idea I’d come alive. At last, to-day when they
were all out, and the coast clear–it can’t have been two hours ago–I
struggled up and got the pearls–beneath a loose board in the floor
under the carpet. They’re inside this mattress now. I was planning
how to make my ‘getaway’ when I heard your voice. Jove! This has been
a bad dream. But thank God it’s over for us both. You’ll have to
believe in me when I give you the pearls.”

“Give me your love–your forgiveness,” begged Juliet. “I want nothing
else.”

“You’ll have to take the lot!” Pat almost laughed. “But as to
forgiveness–why, darling one, there’s nothing to forgive!”

Leon Defasquelle’s look, when he saw Sanders instead of the Frenchwoman
alone, was in itself a confession. He knew he was trapped. His dark,
southern face faded to the yellow green of seasickness. Speechless,
anxious-eyed as a kicked dog, he would have backed to the door, but
Sanders was ready for that. He stepped between him and the hope of
escape. “It’s all up, my friend,” the detective said, in his quiet
voice. Then, remembering that Defasquelle had little English, he went
on in half-forgotten school French, a little slang thrown in from
novels he’d read.

“Your _chère amie_ has split on you. No good getting out the pistol
from your pocket. Nothing doing in that line!” (He showed his
Browning.) “We can settle this business without blood if you’ve got
common sense.”

“That woman–that devil has told her side of the story!” Defasquelle
raged, with a look that longed to kill. “Now you shall have mine. She
was the temptress. She has ruined me.”

“Liar!” shrilled Simone. “Coward and deceiver! You have a _fiancée_
in Marseilles. You let me think you’d marry me!”

“You threatened to betray! I had to defend myself. You made me a
thief!”

“Ah, accuse _me_!”

“Because you are guilty!”

It was thus that Sanders heard the story, bit by bit. And patching
together these torn rags of recrimination he got the pattern of the
whole cloth.

Simone had scraped acquaintance with her countryman. He had complained
of the Duke’s carelessness and lack of consideration in refusing to
break the seals of the packet. Then a dazzling idea had come to
Simone. The packet, Defasquelle said, had been flung into a wall-safe.
Simone knew all about that safe! She knew also where the Duchess (as
careless in some ways as the Duke) kept the combination jotted down on
a bit of paper. Defasquelle could not be suspected (she pointed out),
as he had earnestly implored the Duke to open the package in his
presence. Nor was there the least danger for herself. She was
completely trusted. It would be tempting Providence not to seize such
an opportunity of fortune! As for “stealing,” that was not the word.
These pearls didn’t properly belong to the Claremanaghs. They should
have been returned to the Russian Crown. Now, there was no Russian
crown. The pearls belonged to no one–unless to those with pluck
enough to take them.

According to Defasquelle, those were Simone’s arguments. And he saw
too late that she’d drawn him into the intrigue instead of managing it
alone, drawn him in so as to hold him in her power–and get a husband
at the sword’s point! He, in his heart, had thought of the girl at
Marseilles. The one objection to him there was his lack of money. The
girl’s father accused him of presenting his prospects in too rosy
colours. If the pearls could be disposed of as Mademoiselle vowed they
could even known as they were, over the world, the future would be
ideal.

Simone had opened the safe with the aid of her mistress’s memorandum,
Defasquelle having gone away and come back again. To their surprise
they had found, on the same shelf with the packet, a rope of great blue
pearls. At first Defasquelle had taken them for the genuine ones,
though the seals on the packet appeared intact. But Simone was an
expert in pearls, like the Duchess. A simple test had shown that the
rope was a copy. As for the clasp, neither thought of the difference
in the watching eye; and it seemed to both that the “find” was almost a
miracle in their favour.

The Duchess–argued Simone–was unlikely to suspect a substitution.
She would not test the pearls, and might wear them for months or years
without guessing that they weren’t genuine. Meanwhile, Simone would
leave her service, and never need to take a place again. She would go
home to France and live on her share from the sale of the pearls.

The Duke being absent, and the Duchess, too, she and Defasquelle could
work safely in the study. Simone had some red sealing wax; and the
Duke’s famous ring lay on the desk where he’d left it after displaying
the design to Mayen’s messenger. Simone had thought of
everything–even to a pair of rubber gloves which she used when
cleaning her mistress’s gold toilet things. These gloves she had put
on before touching the safe, the packet, or the seal ring. And having
opened the packet she had made Defasquelle smoke one of the Duke’s
special brand of cigarettes to scent the handkerchief wrapped round the
jewel case. If worst came to worst, and suspicion were excited, let it
fall upon the Duke himself, and Lyda Pavoya.

Then, that very night, suspicion _had_ fallen!

The Duchess had discovered that the pearls were false. Simone had
overheard snatches of talk between her and the Duke, and it had seemed
well to mention Pavoya’s visit in order that Lyda might be suspected
from the beginning. Also, Simone had felt it safe to give the whole
story to the _Inner Circle_. The Duke and Duchess had quarrelled, so
why not? She would get extra pay. And soon she would be leaving the
Claremanaghs forever.

One of her first thoughts in connection with the pearls was to hint in
the office at having secured a great treasure, to sell for a
comparatively low price. If the invisible editor rose to the bait, as
Simone hoped he might, she would be saved much trouble and danger: also
she would have protection in case of trouble.

She had been right about the bait; but once she was in his power the
man put on the screw, and too late Simone regretted applying to him.
Defasquelle reproached her bitterly, and they quarrelled, yet he could
not break free. Simone held him in chains, as both were held by the
_Inner Circle_. The fortune she had visioned dwindled to a few
thousand dollars which were all the _Inner Circle_ men would pay for
“stolen property.” This was maddening, because the fortune would go to
_them_. There was nothing to do, however, save consent.

It was by Defasquelle’s suggestion, Simone vowed, that she’d sent an
anonymous letter to the Duke, mentioning an hour when the illusive
editor could be found, and at the same time warning the editor himself
that violence might be expected. If the Duke were “smashed up” there
would be just half the danger to face in future; and Defasquelle owed
him a grudge for laughing at his first request which, if granted, would
have saved him from temptation.

So there, in its patched design, the great pearl secret lay exposed!
Fitted in with the forced confessions from the side of the _Inner
Circle_, and from what Claremanagh had overheard, it was complete.

What to do with the guilty ones was the next question.

Sanders being a private detective, not a member of the police,
considered that his obligation was to his employers, not to the public.
He was going to leave the decision to Captain Manners and the
Duchess–who were paying for his services. If they and the Duke wanted
to pack the lot to prison, at the price of a big scandal, well and
good. If, on the contrary, the culprits were to be let off and silence
kept, it was the same to him.

Later, when he learned by telephone from Manners what had happened in
the _Inner Circle_ building, he did not change his mind. He obeyed
instructions and ordered the Duchess’s car to go there at once.
Fortunately night had fallen and the Duke, in any sort of toilet, could
easily be smuggled home.

“Claremanagh has the pearls,” ‘phoned Jack. “And he’ll soon be fit
again–the two principal things. These blighters have got a dead man
here–Markoff–but they’ve a doctor’s certificate testifying that he
died of heart failure. Arrangements have been made to bury him
to-morrow. We think, on the whole, that the dead past had best bury
_its_ dead, too! No great crime has actually been done, as it turns
out. But the scandal would be great, for a number of innocent ones who
don’t deserve it. What?”

Sanders grinned quietly. He guessed _which_ innocent one was most in
Manners’ thoughts!

“Right!” he said. “Though it seems a pity that d–d _Inner Circle_
should get off scot free.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. It won’t. Pat not only found the pearls,
but overheard such a lot he’s in a position to turn blackmailer. He’s
held up the rotters. They’ve had to sign a paper swearing to mend
their ways. Lowndes is one of them; there’s an Irishman–compatriot of
Pat’s–from a London rag, who slugged him. And the _editor_–Gee!
you’d _never_ guess who _he’s_ turned out to be.”

“But I know!” said the detective.

“Well, anyhow, he’s going to transform the _Inner Circle_ into a sort
of _Inner Shrine_, if he keeps his promise. Lord! Won’t the next
number be a sensation?”

“Yes–make up to the public a bit for losing the truth about the great
pearl secret.”

Jack laughed joyfully–his first happy laugh for weeks. And then, even
from that unblest place, the flat of Madame Veno, he could not omit
calling up Lyda, at her house.

She was at home, and answered: “Oh, I’m thankful to hear your voice.
Is all well with the Duchess?”

“Yes, also with the Duke.”

“He’s found?”

“Yes. _And_ the pearls. So all’s well with everyone except me.”

“Why not with you?”

“How can it be till you give me that promise?”

“But–since these things have happened, it’s yours already. And–so am
I. You are _the_ man. I am _the_ woman!”

“My goddess!” cried Jack through the uncongenial telephone. “I’m
coming to you the instant I’m free. Juliet and Pat send you their
love. You’ve got all mine already.”