The slave of the lamp, p.20
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       The Slave of the Lamp, p.20
 

          
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  CHAPTER XVIII

  AN EMPTY NEST

  In the middle of breakfast a card was handed to Sidney Carew. He glancedat it, nodded his head as a signal to the servant that he need not wait,and slipped the card into his pocket. Mr. Bodery and the Vicomted'Audierne were watching him.

  Presently he rose from the table and left the room. Mrs. Carew becamesuddenly lively, and the meal went on unconcernedly. It was not longbefore Sidney came back.

  "Do you want," he said to his mother, "some tickets for a concert atBrayport on the 4th of next month?"

  "What sort of a concert?"

  Sidney consulted the tickets.

  "In aid," he read, "of an orphanage--the Police Orphanage."

  "We always take six tickets," put in Miss Molly, and her mother began toseek her pocket.

  "Mr. Bodery," said Sidney, at this moment, "you have nothing to eat. Letme cut you some ham."

  He moved towards the sideboard, but Mr. Bodery rose from his seat.

  "I prefer to carve it myself," he replied, proceeding to do so.

  Sidney held the plate. They were quite close together, and Hilda wastalking persistently and gaily to the Vicomte d'Audierne.

  "The London police are here already," whispered Sidney; "shall I sayanything about Vellacott?"

  "No," replied Mr. Bodery, after a moment's reflection.

  "I am going to ride over to Porton Abbey with them now."

  "Right," replied the editor, returning to the table with his plate.

  Sidney left the room again, and the Vicomte d'Audierne detected thequick, anxious glance directed by Hilda at his retreating form. A fewminutes later young Carew rode away from the house in company with twomen, while a fourth horseman followed closely.

  He who rode on Sidney's left hand was a tall, grizzled man, with thebearing of a soldier, while his second companion was fair and gentle inmanner. The soldier was Captain Pharland, District Inspector of Police;the civilian was the keenest detective in London.

  "Of course," said this man, who sat his hired horse with perfectconfidence. "Of course we are too late, I know that."

  He spoke softly and somewhat slowly; his manner was essentially that ofa man accustomed to the entire attention of his hearers.

  "The old Italian," he continued, "who went under the name of SignorBruno, disappeared this morning. It is just possible that he willsucceed in getting out of the country. It all depends upon who he is."

  "Who do you suppose he is?" asked Captain Pharland. He was an uprightold British soldier, and felt ill at ease in the society of hiscelebrated _confrere_.

  "I don't know," was the frank reply; "you see this is not a criminalaffair, it is entirely political; it is hardly in my line of country."

  They rode on in silence for a space of time, during which CaptainPharland lighted a cigar and offered one to his companions. Sidneyaccepted, but the gentleman from London refused quietly, and withoutexplanation. It was he who spoke first.

  "Mr. Carew," he said, "can you tell me when this monastery was firstinstituted at Porton Abbey?"

  "Last autumn."

  The thin flaxen eyebrows went up very high, until they were lost tosight beneath the hat brim.

  "Did they--ah--deal with the local tradesmen?"

  "No," replied Sidney, "I think not. They received all their stores bytrain from London."

  "And you have never seen any of the monks?"

  "No, never."

  The fair-haired gentleman gave a little upward jerk of the head andsmiled quietly for his own satisfaction.

  He did not speak again until the cavalcade reached Porton Abbey. The oldplace looked very peaceful in the morning light, standing grimly in themidst of that soft lush grass which only grows over old habitations.

  One side of the long, low building was in good repair, while the otherhalf had been allowed to crumble away. The narrow Norman windows hadbeen framed with unpainted wood and cheap glass. The broad doorway hadbeen partly filled in with unseasoned deal, and an inexpensive door hadbeen fitted up.

  The bell-knob was of brass, new and glaring in the morning sun. Thegentleman from London, having alighted, took gently hold of this andrang. A faint tinkle rewarded him. It was the peculiar sound of a bellringing in an empty house. After a moment's pause he wrenched the bellnearly out of its socket, and a long peal was the result. At last thisceased, and there was no sound in the house. The fair man looked backover his shoulder at Captain Pharland.

  "Gone!" he said tersely.

  Then he took from his breast pocket a little bar in the shape of alever. He introduced the bent end of this between the door and the post,just above the keyhole, and gave a sharp jerk. There was a short cracklike that made by the snapping of cast iron, and the door flew open.

  Without a moment's hesitation the man went in, followed closely bySidney and Captain Pharland.

  The birds had flown. As mysteriously as they had come, the devotees hadvanished. Bare walls met the eyes of the searchers. Porton Abbey stoodempty again after its brief return to life and warmth, and indeed itscarcely looked habitable. The few personal effects of the simple monkshad been removed; the walls and stone floors were rigidly clean; thesmall chapel showed signs of recent repair. There was an altar-cloth, acrucifix, and two brass candlesticks.

  The gentleman from London noted these items with a cynical smile. He hadinstinctively removed his hat; it is just possible that there wasanother side to this man's life--a side wherein he dealt with men whowere not openly villains. He may have been a churchwarden at home.

  "Clever beggars!" he ejaculated, "they were ready for every emergency."

  Captain Pharland pointed to the altar with his heavy riding-whip.

  "Then," he said, "you think this all humbug?"

  "I do. They were no more monks than we are."

  The search did not last much longer. Only a few rooms had beeninhabited, and there was absolutely nothing left--no shred of evidence,no clue whatever.

  "Yes," said the fair-haired man, when they had finished theirinspection, "these were exceptional men; they knew their business."

  As they left the house he paused, and closed the door again, remaininginside.

  "You see," he said, "there is not even a bolt on the door. They knewbetter than to depend on bolts and bars. They knew a trick worth two ofthat."

  At the gate they met a small, inoffensive man, with a brown beard and awalking-stick. There was nothing else to say about him; without thebeard and the walking-stick there would have been nothing left to knowhim by.

  "That is my assistant," announced the London detective quietly. "He hasbeen down to the cliff."

  The two men stepped aside together, and consulted in an undertone forsome time. Then the last speaker returned to Captain Pharland andSidney, who were standing together.

  "That newspaper," he said, "the _Beacon_, is word for word right. Myassistant has been to the spot. The arms and ammunition have undoubtedlybeen shipped from this place. The cases of cartridges mentioned by theman who wrote the article as having been seen, in a dream, half-way downthe cliff, are actually there; my assistant has seen them."

  Captain Pharland scratched his honest cavalry head. He was beginning toregret that he had accepted the post of district inspector of thepolice. Sidney Carew puffed at his pipe in silence.

  "Of course," said the detective, "the newspaper man got all thisinformation through the treachery of one of the party. I should like toget hold of that traitor. He would be a useful man to know."

  In this the astute gentleman from London betrayed his extremely limitedknowledge of the Society of Jesus. There are no traitors in that vastcorporation.

  Sidney and Captain Pharland rode home together, leaving the twodetectives to find their way to Brayport Station.

  They rode in silence, for the Captain was puzzled, and his companion wasintensely anxious.

  Sidney Carew was beginning to realise that the events of the last threedays had a graver import than they at first promised to
conceal. The nowcelebrated article in the _Beacon_ opened his eyes, and he knew that thewriter of it must have paid very dearly for his daring. It seemedextremely probable that the head and hands which had conceived andcarried out this singular feat were both still for ever. Vellacott's ownwritten tribute to the vast powers of the Jesuits, and their immovablehabit of forcing a way through all obstacles to the end in view, wasscarcely reassuring to his friends.

  Sidney knew and recognised the usual fertility of resource possessed byhis friend; but against him were pitted men of greater gifts, of lessscruple, and of infinitely superior training in the crooked ways ofhumanity. That he should have been so long without vouchsafing word orsign was almost proof positive that his absence was involuntary; and mencapable of placing fire-arms into the hands of a maddened mob were notlikely to hesitate in sacrificing a single life that chanced to stand intheir path.

  As the young fellow rode along, immersed in meditation, he heard thesound of carriage-wheels, and, looking up, recognised his own grey horseand dog-cart. Mr. Bodery was driving, and driving hard. On seeing Sidneyhe pulled up, somewhat recklessly, in a manner which suggested that hehad not always been a stout, middle-aged Londoner.

  "Been telegraphed for," he shouted, "by the people at the office.Government is taking it up. Just time to catch the train."

  And the editor of the _Beacon_ disappeared in a cloud of dust.

  The Vicomte d'Audierne was thus left in full possession of the field.

 
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