Chapter Seventeen. What the Lamps Shone On

Zillah leaned suddenly back against the table by which she was standing, and Ayscough, who was narrowly watching the effect of his news, saw her turn very pale. She stood staring at him during a moment's silence; then she let a sharp exclamation escape her lips, and in the same instant her colour came back--heightened from surprise and indignation.

"Impossible!" she said. "I can't believe it; There may be marks inside our rings--that's likely enough. But how could those marks correspond with the marks in his rings?"

"I tell you it is so!" answered Ayscough. "I've seen the marks in both-- with my own eyes. It occurred to one of our bosses this evening to have all the rings carefully examined by an expert--he got a man from one of the jeweller's shops in Edgware Road. This chap very soon pointed out that inside the two rings which young Lauriston says are his, and come to him from his mother, are certain private marks--jewellers' marks, this man called 'em--which are absolutely identical with similar marks which are inside some of the rings in the tray which was found on this table. That's a fact!--I tell you I've seen 'em--all! And--you see the significance of it! Of course, our people are now dead certain that young Lauriston's story is false, and that he grabbed those two rings out of that tray. See?"

"Are you certain of it--yourself?" demanded Zillah.

Ayscough hesitated and finally shook his head.

"Well, between ourselves, I'm not!" he answered. "I've a feeling from the first, that the lad's innocent enough. But it's a queer thing--and it's terribly against him. And--what possible explanation can there be?"

"You say you've seen those marks," said Zillah. "Would you know them again--on other goods?"

"I should!" replied Ayscough. "I can tell you what they are. There's the letter M. and then two crosses--one on each side of the letter. Very small, you know, and worn, too--this man I'm talking of used some sort of a magnifying glass."

Zillah turned away and went into the shop, which was all in darkness. Ayscough, waiting, heard the sound of a key being turned, then of a metallic tinkling; presently the girl came back, carrying a velvet-lined tray in one hand, and a jeweller's magnifying glass in the other.

"The rings in that tray you're talking about--the one you took away--are all very old stock," she remarked. "I've heard my grandfather say he'd had some of them thirty years or more. Here are some similar ones--we'll see if they're marked in the same fashion."

Five minutes later, Zillah had laid aside several rings marked in the way Ayscough had indicated, and she turned from them to him with a look of alarm.

"I can't understand it!" she exclaimed. "I know that these rings, and those in that tray at the police-station, are part of old stock that my grandfather had when he came here. He used to have a shop, years ago, in the City--I'm not quite sure where, exactly--and this is part of the stock he brought from it. But, how could Mr. Lauriston's rings bear those marks? Because, from what I know of the trade, those are private marks--my grandfather's private marks!"

"Well, just so--and you can imagine what our people are inclined to say about it," said the detective. "They say now that the two rings which Lauriston claims never were his nor his mother's, but that he stole them out of your grandfather's tray. They're fixed on that, now."

"What will they do?" asked Zillah, anxiously. "Is he in danger?"

Ayscough gave her a knowing look.

"Between you and me," he said, lowering his voice to a whisper, "I came around here privately--on my own hook, you know. I should be sorry if this really is fixed on the young fellow--there's a mystery, but it may be cleared up. Now, he's gone off to find somebody who can prove that those rings really were his mother's. You, no doubt, know where he's gone?"

"Yes--but I'm not going to tell," said Zillah firmly. "Don't ask me!"

"Quite right--I don't want to know myself," answered Ayscough. "And you'll probably have an idea when he's coming back? All right--take a tip from me. Keep him out of the way a bit--stop him from coming into this district. Let him know all about those marks--and if he can clear that up, well and good. You understand?--and of course, all this is between you and me."

"You're very good, Mr. Ayscough," replied Zillah, warmly. "I won't forget your kindness. And I'm certain this about the marks can be cleared up--but I don't know how!"

"Well--do as I say," said the detective. "Just give the tip to your cousin Melky, and to that young Scotch gentleman--let 'em keep Lauriston out of the way for a few days. In the meantime--this is a very queer case!-- something may happen that'll fix the guilt on somebody else--conclusively. I've my own ideas and opinions--but we shall see. Maybe we shall see a lot--and everybody'll be more astonished than they're thinking for."

With this dark and sinister hint, Ayscough went away, and Zillah took the rings back to the shop, and locked them up again. And then she sat down to wait for Mrs. Goldmark--and to think. She had never doubted Lauriston's story for one moment, and she did not doubt it now. But she was quick to see the serious significance of what the detective had just told her and she realized that action must be taken on the lines he had suggested. And so, having made herself ready for going out, she excused herself to Mrs. Goldmark when that good lady returned, and without saying anything to her as to the nature of her errand, hurried round to Star Street, to find Melky Rubinstein and tell him of the new development.

Mrs. Flitwick herself opened the door to Zillah and led her into the narrow passage. But at the mention of Melky she shook her head.

"I ain't set eyes on Mr. Rubinstein not since this morning, miss," said she. "He went out with that young Scotch gentleman what come here yesterday asking for Mr. Lauriston, and he's never been in again--not even to put his nose inside the door. And at twelve o'clock there come a telegram for him--which it was the second that come this morning. The first, of course, he got before he went out; the one that come at noon's awaiting him. No--I ain't seen him all day!"

Zillah's quick wits were instantly at work as soon as she heard of the telegram.

"Oh, I know all about that wire, Mrs. Flitwick!" she exclaimed. "It's as much for me as for my cousin. Give it to me--and if Mr. Rubinstein comes in soon--or when he comes--tell him I've got it, and ask him to come round to me immediately--it's important."

Mrs. Flitwick produced the telegram at once, and Zillah, repeating her commands about Melky, hurried away with it. But at the first street lamp she paused, and tore open the envelope, and pulled out the message. As she supposed, it was from Lauriston, and had been handed in at Peebles at eleven o'clock that morning.

"Got necessary information returning at once meet me at King's Cross at nine-twenty this evening. L."

Zillah looked at her watch. It was then ten minutes to nine. There was just half an hour before Lauriston's train was due. Without a moment's hesitation, she turned back along Star Street, hurried into Edgware Road and hailing the first taxi-cab she saw, bade its driver to get to the Great Northern as fast as possible. Whatever else happened, Lauriston must be met and warned.

The taxi-cab made good headway along the Marylebone and Euston Roads, and the hands of the clock over the entrance to King's Cross had not yet indicated a quarter past nine when Zillah was set down close by. She hurried into the station, and to the arrival platform. All the way along in the cab she had been wondering what to do when she met Lauriston--not as to what she should tell him, for that was already settled, but as to what to advise him to do about following Ayscough's suggestion and keeping out of the way, for awhile. She had already seen enough of him to know that he was naturally of high spirit and courage, and that he would hate the very idea of hiding, or of seeming to run away. Yet, what other course was open if he wished to avoid arrest? Zillah, during her short business experience had been brought in contact with the police authorities and their methods more than once, and she knew that there is nothing the professional detective likes so much as to follow the obvious--as the easiest and safest. She had been quick to appreciate all that Ayscough told her--she knew how the police mind would reason about it: it would be quite enough for it to know that on the rings which Andy Lauriston said were his there were marks which were certainly identical with those on her grandfather's property: now that the police authorities were in possession of that fact, they would go for Lauriston without demur or hesitation, leaving all the other mysteries and ramifications of the Multenius affair to be sorted, or to sort themselves, at leisure. One thing was certain-- Andie Lauriston was in greater danger now than at any moment since Ayscough found him leaving the shop, and she must save him--against his own inclinations if need be.

But before the train from the North was due, Zillah was fated to have yet another experience. She had taken up a position directly beneath a powerful lamp at the end of the arrival platform, so that Lauriston, who would be obliged to pass that way, could not fail to see her. Suddenly turning, to glance at the clock in the roof behind her, she was aware of a man, young, tall, athletic, deeply bronzed, as from long contact with the Southern sun, who stood just behind a knot of loungers, his heavy overcoat and the jacket beneath it thrown open, feeling in his waistcoat pockets as if for his match-box--an unlighted cigar protruded from the corner of his rather grim, determined lips. But it was not at lips, nor at the cigar, nor at the searching fingers that Zillah looked, after that first comprehensive glance--her eyes went straight to an object which shone in the full glare of the lamp above her head. The man wore an old-fashioned, double-breasted fancy waistcoat, but so low as to reveal a good deal of his shirt-front. And in that space, beneath his bird's-eye blue tie, loosely knotted in a bow, Zillah saw a stud, which her experienced eyes knew to be of platinum, and on it was engraved the same curious device which she had seen once before that day--on the solitaire exhibited by Melky.

The girl was instantly certain that here was the man who had visited Mrs. Goldmark's eating-house. Her first instinct was to challenge him with the fact--but as she half moved towards him, he found his match-box, struck a match, and began to light his cigar. And just then came the great engine of the express, panting its way to a halt beside them, and with it the folk on the platform began to stir, and Zillah was elbowed aside. Her situation was perplexing--was she to watch the man and perhaps lose Lauriston in the crowd already passing from the train, or--

The man was still leisurely busy with his cigar, and Zillah turned and went a few steps up the platform. She suddenly caught sight of Lauriston, and running towards him gripped his arm, and drew him to the lamp. But in that moment of indecision, the man had vanished.