Chapter XX. The Letter

At this second insult Archie quite expected to see the skipper again draw his revolver and shoot. He therefore jumped up rapidly to once more avert disaster. But perhaps the fiery American was awed by the presence of a second lady - since men of the adventurous type are often shy when the fair sex is at hand - for he meekly sat where he was and did not even contradict. Don Pedro shook hands with Sir Frank, and then Hervey smiled blandly.

"I see you don't believe in my theory," said he scoffingly.

"What theory is that?" asked Random hastily.

"Hervey declares that you murdered Bolton, stole the manuscript from him, and concealed it in your room," said Archie succinctly.

"I can't suggest any other reason for its presence in the room," observed the American with a grim smile. "If I'm wrong, perhaps this almighty aristocrat will correct me."

Random was about to do so, and with some pardonable heat, when he was anticipated by Donna Inez. It has been mentioned before that this young lady was of the silent order. Usually she simply ornamented any company in which she found herself without troubling to entertain with her tongue. But the accusation against the baronet, whom she apparently loved, changed her into a voluble virago. Brushing aside the little Professor, who stood in her way, she launched herself forward and spoke at length. Hervey, cowering in the chair, thus met with an antagonist against whom he had no armor. He could not use force; she dominated him with her eye and when he ventured to open his mouth his few feeble words were speedily drowned by the torrent of speech which flowed from the lips of the Peruvian lady. Every one was as astonished by this outburst as though a dog had spoken. That the hitherto silent Donna Inez de Gayangos should speak thus freely and with such power was quite as great a miracle.

"You - are a dog and a liar," said Donna Inez with great distinctness, and speaking English excellently. "What you say against Sir Frank is madness and foolish talk. In Genoa my father did not speak of the manuscript, nor did I, who tell you this. How, then, could Sir Frank kill this poor man, when he had no reason to slay him - "

"For the emeralds," faltered Hervey weakly.

"For the emeralds!" echoed the lady scornfully. "Sir Frank is rich. He does not need to steal to have much money. He is a gentleman, who does not murder, as you have done."

Hervey started to his feet, dismayed but defiant, and saw that he was ringed with unfriendly faces.

"As I have done. Why, I am - "

Donna Inez interrupted.

"You are a murderer. I truly believe that you - yes, that you" she pointed a scornful finger at him "killed this poor man who was bringing the mummy to the Professor. If you were in my own country, I should have you lashed like the dog you are. Pig of a Yankee, vile scum of the - "

"That will do, Inez," said De Gayangos imperiously. "We wish to make this gentleman tell the truth, and this is not the way to go about the matter."

"Gentleman," echoed the angry Peruvian, "he is none. Truth! There is no truth in him, the pig of pigs!" and then, her English failing, she took refuge in Spanish, which is a fairly comprehensive language for swearing in a polite way. The words fairly poured from her mouth, and she looked as fierce as Bellona, the goddess of war.

Archie, listening to her words and watching her beautiful face distorted out of all loveliness, secretly congratulated himself upon the fact that he was not her prospective bridegroom. He wondered how Sir Frank, who was a mild, good-tempered man himself, could dare to make such a fiery female Lady Random.

Perhaps the young man thought himself that she was going a trifle too far, for he touched her nervously on the arm. At once the anger of Donna Inez died down, and she submitted to be led to a chair, whispering as she went, "It was for your sake, my angel, that I was angry," she said, and then relapsed into silence, watching all future proceedings with flashing eyes but compressed mouth.

"Wal," muttered Hervey with his invariable drawl, "now that the lady has eased her mind, I should like to know why this aristocrat says I placed that manuscript in his room."

"You shall know, and at once," said Random promptly. "Did you not call to see me a day or so ago ?"

"I did, sir. I wished to tell you what I had discovered, so that you might pay me to shut my mouth if you felt so inclined. I asked where your room was, sir, and walked right in, since your flunky was not at the door."

"Quite so. You were in my room for a few minutes - "

"Say five," interpolated the American imperturbably.

"And then came down. You met my servant, who told you that I would not be back for five or six hours."

"That's just as you state, sir. I was sorry to miss you, but, my time being valuable, I had to get back to Pierside. Failing you, I later came to see the Professor here, and told him what I had discovered."

"You merely discovered a mare's nest," said Random contemptuously; "but this is not the point. I believe that you, and you only, could have hidden that manuscript among my books, intending that it should be discovered, so that I might be implicated in this crime."

"Did your flunky tell you that much?" inquired Hervey coolly.

"My servant told me nothing, save that you had been in my room, where you had no right to be."

"Then," said the American quietly and decisively, "I can't see, sir, how you can place the ticket on me."

"You accuse me, so why should I not accuse you?" retorted Random.

"Because you are guilty, and I ain't," snapped the American.

"You join issue: you join issue," murmured Braddock, rubbing his hands.

Random took no notice of the interruption.

"I have heard from Mr. Hope and Professor Braddock of the grounds upon which you base your accusation, and I have explained to them how I came to be on board your ship and both in and out of the Sailor's Rest."

"And the explanation is quite satisfactory," said Hope smartly.

"I agree," Donna Inez nodded with very bright eyes. "Sir Frank has explained to me also. He knew nothing of the manuscript."

"And you, sir," said Don Pedro quietly to Captain Hervey, "apparently did, since you stole it along with the mummy from Lima."

"I confess the theft, but I didn't know what the manuscript contained," said the skipper dryly, "or I reckon you wouldn't have to ask who stole the emeralds. No, sir, I should have looted them."

"I believe you did, and murdered Bolton," cried Random hotly.

"Shucks!" retorted Hervey, rising with a shrug, "if I had wished to get rid of Bolton, I'd nave yanked him overboard and then would have written `accident' in my blamed log-book."

Braddock looked at Don Pedro, and Archie at Sir Frank. What the skipper said was plausible enough. No man would have been such a fool as to have murdered Bolton ashore, when he could have done so without suspicion on board the tramp. Moreover, Hervey spoke with genuine regret, since he had missed the emeralds and assuredly would not have hesitated to steal them even at the cost of Bolton's life, had he known of their whereabouts. So far he had made a good defense, and, seeing the impression produced, he strolled to the door. There he halted.

"If you gents want to lynch me," he said leisurely, "I'll be found at the Sailor's Rest for the next week. Then I'm going as skipper of The Firefly steamer, Port o' London, to Algiers. You can send the sheriff along whenever you choose. But I mean to have my picnic first, and to-morrow I'm going to Inspector Date with my yarn. Then I guess that almighty aristocrat wilt find himself in quod."

"Wait a moment," cried Braddock, running to the door. "Let me talk to you and arrange what is best to be done. If you will - "

He proceeded no further, for without vouchsafing him a reply, Hervey, now quite master of the situation, passed through the door, and the Professor hastily followed him. Those who remained looked at one another, scarcely knowing what to say, or how to act.

"They will arrest thee, my angel," cried Donna Inez, clasping Random's arm.

"Let them," retorted the young man defiantly. "They can prove nothing. With all my heart and soul I believe Hervey to be the guilty person. Hope, what do you say? - and you, Miss Kendal?"

"Hervey has certainly made an excellent defense," said Archie cautiously. "He wouldn't have been such a fool as to murder Bolton ashore when he could have done it so easily when on the narrow seas."

"I agree with you there," said Random quickly. "But if he is innocent; if he did not bring the manuscript into my room, who did?"

"I wonder if Widow Anne herself is guilty?" said Lucy in a musing tone.

All present turned and looked at the girl.

"Who is Widow Anne?" asked Don Pedro with a puzzled air,

"She is the mother of Sidney Bolton, the man who was murdered," said Hope quickly. "My dear Lucy, why do you say that?"

Lucy paused before replying and then answered the question by asking another one.

"Did you ask Sidney to get you some clothes from his mother to clothe a model?"

"Never in my life," said Hope promptly, and, as Lucy, saw, truly.

"Well, I accidentally met Mrs. Bolton today, and she insisted that her son had borrowed from her a dark shawl and a dark dress for you."

"That is not true," said Hope hotly. "Why should the woman tell such a lie?"

"Well," said Lucy slowly, "it struck me that the woman who spoke with Sidney through the Sailor's Rest window might be Widow Anne herself, and that she has invented this story of the clothes being lent to account for their being worn, should she be discovered."

"It's certainly odd she should speak like this," said Random thoughtfully; "but you forget, Miss Kendal, that she proved an alibi."

"What of that?" cried Don Pedro hurriedly, "alibis can be manufactured."

"It will be best to see this woman and question her," suggested Donna Inez.

Archie nodded.

"I shall do so to-morrow. By the way, does she ever come to your room in the Fort, Random?"

"Oh yes, she is my laundress, you know, and at times brings back the clothes herself. My servant is usually in, though. I see what you mean. That she might have received the manuscript from Bolton, and have left it in my room."

"Yes, I think that," said Archie slowly. "I should not be at all surprised to learn that a portion of Hervey's theory is correct. Bolton may have found the manuscript packed up in the mummy, amongst the graveclothes, in fact. If he read it - as he would and could, seeing that he was an excellent Latin scholar, thanks to Professor Braddock's training - he might have formed a design to steal the emeralds when he was in the Sailor's Rest. Then someone saved him the trouble, and packed him off to Gartley instead of the mummy."

"But why should Widow Anne leave the manuscript in my room?" argued Random.

"Can't you see? Bolton knew that you wanted the mummy for Don Pedro, and was aware how you had - so to speak - used threats in the presence of witnesses, since you spoke out aloud on the deck."

"Only to warn Bolton against the Indians," pleaded Random.

"Exactly; but your words were capable of being twisted as Hervey has twisted them. Well, if Widow Anne really went to see her son - and from the lie about the borrowed clothes it looks like it - he may have given her the manuscript, so as to throw the blame on you."

"The murder?"

"No, no," said Archie testily. "Bolton did not expect to be murdered. But I really believe that he intended to fly with the emeralds, and hoped that when the manuscript was found in your room you would be accused. The idea was suggested to him, I believe, by your visit to The Diver."

"What do you think, Miss Kendal?" asked Random nervously.

"I fancy that it is possible."

Sir Frank turned to the Peruvian.

"Don Pedro," he said proudly, "you have heard what Hervey says; do you believe that I am guilty?"

For answer De Gayangos took his daughter's hand and placed it in that of the young soldier.

"That will show you what I think," he said gravely.

"Thank you, sir," said Random, moved, and shook his future father-in-law heartily by the hand, while Donna Inez, throwing all restraint to the winds, kissed her lover exultingly on the check. In the midst of this scene Professor Braddock returned, looking very pleased.

"I have induced Hervey to hold his tongue for a few days until we can look into this matter," he said, rubbing his hands "that is, if you think it wise, all of you. Otherwise, I am quite willing to go myself to-morrow and tell the police."

"No," said Archie rapidly, "let us thresh out the matter ourselves. We will save Sir Frank's name from a police court slur at all events."

"I do not think there is any chance of Sir Frank being arrested," said Don Pedro politely; "the evidence is insufficient. And at the worst he can provide an alibi."

"I am not so sure of that," said Random anxiously. "I went to London certainly, but I did not go to any place where I am known. However," he added cheerfully, "I daresay I'll be able to defend myself. Still, the fact remains that we are no nearer to learning who killed Bolton than we were."

"I am sending Cockatoo to Pierside to-morrow to stop at the Sailor's Rest for a time," said Braddock quickly. "He will watch Hervey, and if there is anything suspicious about his movements, we shall soon know."

"And I turn amateur detective to-morrow and question Widow Anne," said Hope, after which remark he had to explain matters to Braddock, who had been out of the room when Mrs. Bolton's strange request had been discussed.

Meanwhile Donna Inez had been whispering to her lover and pointing to the mummy. Don Pedro followed her thoughts and guessed what she was saying. Random proved the truth of his guess by, turning to him.

"Do you really want to take back the mummy to Peru, sir?" he asked quietly.

"Certainly. Inca Caxas was my forefather. I do not wish to leave him in this place. His body must be restored to its tomb. All the Indians, who look upon me as their present Inca expect me to bring the body back. Although," added De Gayangos gravely, "I did not come to Europe to look for the mummy, as you know."

"Then I shall buy the mummy," said Random impetuously. "Professor, will you sell it to me?"

"Now that I have examined it thoroughly I shall be delighted," said the little man, "say for two thousand pounds."

"Not at all," interposed Don Pedro; "you mean one thousand."

"Of course he does," said Lucy quickly; "and the check must be paid to Archie, Sir Frank."

"To me! to me!" cried Braddock indignantly. "I insist."

"The money belongs to Archie," said Lucy obstinately. "You have seen what you desired to see, father and as Archie only lent you the money, it is only fair that he should have it again."

"Oh, let the Professor have it," said Hope good-naturedly.

"No! no! no!"

Random laughed.

"I shall make the check payable to you, Miss Kendal, and you can give it to whomsoever you choose," he said; "and now, as everything has been settled so far, I suggest that we should retire."

"Come to my rooms at the inn," said Don Pedro, opening the door. "I have much to say to you. Good night, Professor; to-morrow let us go to Pierside and see if we cannot get at the truth."

"And to-morrow," cried Random, "I shall send the check, sir."

When the company departed, Lucy had another wrangle with her father about the check. As Archie had gone away, she could speak freely, and pointed out that he was enjoying her mother's income and was about to marry Mrs. Jasher, who was rich.

"Therefore," argued Lucy, "you certainly do not want to keep poor Archie's money."

"He paid me that sum on condition that I consented to the wedding."

"He did nothing of the sort," she cried indignantly. "I am not going to be bought and sold in this manner. Archie lent you the money, and it must be returned. Don't force me to think you selfish, father."

The upshot of the argument was that Lucy got her own way, and the Professor rather unwillingly agreed to part with the mummy and restore the thousand pounds. But he regretted doing so, as he wished to get all the money he could to go towards his proposed Egyptian expedition, and Mrs. Jasher's fortune, as he assured his step-daughter, was not so large as might be thought. However, Lucy overruled him, and retired to bed, congratulating herself that she would soon be able to marry Hope. She was beginning to grow a trifle weary of the Professor's selfish nature, and wondered how her mother had put up with it for so long.

Next day Braddock did not go with Don Pedro to Pierside, as he was very busy in his museum. The Peruvian went alone, and Archie, after a morning's work at his easel, sought out Widow Anne to ask questions. Lucy and Donna Inez paid an afternoon visit to Mrs. Jasher and found her in bed, as she had caught a mild sort of influenza. They expected to find Sir Frank here, but it seemed that he had not called. Thinking that he was detained by military business, the girls thought nothing more of his absence, although Donna Inez was somewhat downcast.

But Random was detained in his quarters by a letter which had arrived by the mid-day host, and which surprised him not a little. The postmark was London, and the writing, evidently a disguised hand, was almost illegible in its crudeness. The contents ran as follows, and it will be noticed that there is neither date nor address, and that it is written in the third person:

"If Sir Frank Random wants his character to be cleared and all suspicion of murder to be removed from him, he can be completely exonerated by the writer, if he will pay the same five thousand pounds. If Sir Frank Random is willing to do this, let him appoint a meeting-place in London, and the writer will send a messenger to receive the money and to hand over the proofs which will clear Sir Frank Random. If Sir Frank Random plays the writer false, or communicates with the police, proofs will be forthcoming which will prove him to be guilty of Sidney Bolton's death, and which will bring him to the scaffold without any chance of escape. A couple of lines in the Agony Column of The Daily Telegraph, signed ` Artillery,' and appointing a meeting-place, will suffice; but beware of treachery."