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window down from the top. The Queen does that, he says, and look at her age.”
“Is that all? ”
“Yes-no; by-the-by, he advised her to read in bed as an induce. ment to sleep, and gave her a boxful of novels. He bought her a patent reading-lamp and book-holder, too, for the purpose. Not much in that-eh?”
“Just life and death in that. Harley, we must precipitate matters."
Harley's face signalled alarm.
“Yes, and if I find you're right, I'll begin by precipitating the old brute from his topmost window."
“You will please to bear in mind that a single injudicious word may cost the forfeit of our power to render any assistance whatever. To-morrow I shall pay your uncle an early visit, and get him away to golf at Prestwick. You will be headachey, and going to stay abed. To do a great right we must do a little wrong. If I don't return within an hour, you'll go straight to your cousin, and tell her all—tell her that you are independent of your uncle-in short, make her your promised wife. Unless I'm worse than blind, she'll consent. And heaven knows she needs you, poor girl! Tell her to arrange for my examining the house in the afternoon, getting the servants out of the way for an hour or two. Then, being no longer headachey, you will come on to Prestwick, and join us about two o'clock. Your uncle has the old soldier's love of a wager. You will play him two rounds for ten guineas a side. Prior to this, I shall have him informed that I must go to town by the two-thirty. That I take the down, instead of the up, train is part of the great right and the very little wrong."
It was all settled, and all carried out to the letter. Arriving at the appointed time, Wingate found Miss Barrie much agitated and anything but enamoured of the business in hand. He artfully introduced the side-issue.
“ I had just a whisper from Frank. Allow me to congratulate
She blushed and thanked him, smiling.
“Now," he said, “if you choose to tell me all you know, it will save much time, much trouble, and perhaps more.”
“Really, Mr. Wingate, I can't. I daren't. I couldn't live here if I did. He would read it in my face. I'd much rather you would find out for yourself.”
“ Very well, then, I'll look at your bedroom first.”
She conducted him to a plainly furnished room of medium size. He stood for a minute, taking in the general aspect of things.
“ Um ! You sleep with your head to the window. Now, Miss Barrie, where do you place the reading-lamp? I see. Just over your head. Thank you."
He walked to the window, and, stepping on a chair, examined the upper portion closely.
“ You're not in the habit of pinning anything on to the frame, here-are you?”
" Oh no!”
“ Now, I'm going to pull it down from the top. Is that how you have it during the night ? ”
Yes, about that.”
“ And the room above this is your uncle's? Then, with your permission, I'll have a glance at it.”
As Wingate entered the Colonel's bedroom his eye lighted upon a long green curtain that, suspended from the roof, hung down by one side of the bed.
“ For draughts, I suppose,” said he, fingering it.
“Yes. Uncle said he couldn't sleep for the cold, and bought it quite recently."
“ Has hooks along part of the foot, too. What are they for?"
“ He told me they were for fastening the curtain to the ceiling when required."
Wingate looked up quickly. “ Did he volunteer that information ?"
“ Yes. I never asked."
Mounting a chair, he swiftly unhooked the curtain at the top, laying it across the bed. The raising of a narrow ornamental band that bordered it revealed, on one side, a row of tiny hooks, and on the other a row of corresponding eyes. These he quickly fastened together, the result being a kind of long sack without bottom.
“ Uha! So far, so good.”
Walking to the window, he raised the sash and thrust his head out. He then held the curtain over, flapping it, and, after a few attempts, the hooks caught inside the window below.
“ Hold this, please, just a moment, while I run to your room.”
The girl looked scared. “Oh! do be quick !” she murmured. “ He might come back too soon."
Wingate was in her room. The hooks fitted, exactly, into the punctures in the wood. He rushed upstairs again, making further inspection of the curtain.
I was sure of it. Worn thin here, and two little holes on either side at equal distances. Has your uncle a square iron or metal box of any kind ?"
“None, except that tin one in which he keeps some dusty documents."
She pointed to a box, stamped “Private Papers,” that lay under the dressing-table. He lifted it on to the table by the window, fitting it into the curtain, which it stretched to tearing point, the sharp corners showing through the holes. He drew it out again, tapping it all round. It was securely fastened, light in weight, hollow in sound.
“ I suppose your uncle always keeps the key himself? ” “ Oh yes! I never see it.” Wingate laid his ear against the edge of the box for two minutes.
“'M-yes, I think that's all now. We'll restore order. I've given you a deal of trouble, Miss Barrie, but it's a great success.”
Miss Barrie looked very unhappy. “What does it all mean, Mr. Wingate ? Won't you tell me, now?"
“My dear young lady, it wants more investigation. Meanwhile, make no change in your bearing toward your uncle, and yes, it would be as well for you to appear on the Brig to-night.”
Harley, returning late, found his friend curled up before the fire in an easy chair and brown meditation.
“Well, mystery-teaser, how have things gone?”
“Just as I expected. Everything is in perfect accord with the theory which I formed long ago. I don't think I told you of my interesting chat at the abbey with your uncle's coachman, who was with him in India. I landed big fish there. Judge for yourself. There is an old wife's legend which runs that a death at Doon House is always preceded by an apparition on the Brig o' Doon. Your uncle has a superstitious dread of this legend and anything thereto pertaining. From only one window in the house can the Brig be seen. That window is in your uncle's bedroom.”
Wingate then recounted, in detail, the discoveries of the day, confining himself to the bare facts, and never once uttering a word of comment.
“Now, two heads are better than one cocoa-nut. make of it?"
" A patent, Scoto-Indian puzzle. That's all I make of it. It's
What do you
all too uncanny. You talk about heads. I'll be off mine directly if I think any more about it.”
“Don't ! Just tell me this—has your uncle never asked you to stay overnight at Doon House?”
"No. It's very queer, considering that he's been so friendly, too."
“Very! Well, our next step is fraught with more danger. We must occupy your cousin's bedroom instead of her, to-morrow night. During the day we shall draw them to the garden. There your old horticultural mania will return to you, overwhelmingly, and you will drag your cousin off to enlighten you as to the names and occupation of every distant flower. I shall take care of your uncle. Then you will ascertain, as quickly and minutely as possible, your cousin's means of exit from the house when she is the Maid of Doon. You will tell her that she must not appear in that character to
morrow night; that she is, secretly, to arrange to sleep in another apartment, and place the lamp at her window when the coast is clear.”
Wingate's plans always had finish, and they seldom failed. The following day made no exception. It was a full hour before midnight when the two concealed themselves in the shrubbery to await the signal, and soon afterwards they had the satisfaction, grim as it was, of seeing the lamp at the window. Provided with rubber-soled shoes, they crept, almost noiselessly, round to the rear of the house, pausing always when the dog barked. Mounting the flat roof of an outhouse by means of a wide, sliding door, they were within easy reach of a window in one of the wings, and, in another minute, found themselves within the house. It was pitch-dark, and they stood stock-still. Neither had ever aspired to be shot for a burglar, and that was the present risk. The room was unfurnished.
“Watch your feet,” whispered Harley, moving forward. “Steps outside the door."
They literally felt their way down to one landing and up to another, stopping when the stairs pistol-cracked, as stairs always do when you wish to move unheard. They slid into the bedroom, however, without mishap, bolting the door cautiously behind them. Wingate let down the blind softly, fixed the reading-lamp over the bed, and, drawing from his pockets several little pieces of tin, ranged them along the foot. On each of these he shook out a little heap of yellow-brown powder ; then, with a box of safety Tändstücker in his hand, he sat down near the door, motioning Harley, strangely bewildered, to sit down beside him. One hour—two hours passed. The suspense was unbearable. Three hours had almost gone, and Harley,
whose eyes had kept faithful sentry from the window to the face of his companion, was just about to shake the latter, who seemed to be dozing, when a hand was laid on his own arm, and Wingate strained forward, listening. Something stirred overhead. A faint sound-a pause—the same sound again ! Yes, the window was going upgoing up by inches, and at intervals. The sound ceased. Something flapped very lightly against the window. For several minutes it continued-now hard-now light-now stopping altogether, as a blind might at an open window. There was an especially hard one, fol. lowed by a clicking sound, and the motion ceased. Wingate rose to his feet, slid on tiptoe to the window, peered behind the blind, and glided back again. A slight sound as of keys against metal ! then the stillness of death! Motionless they sat, their eyes riveted to the window. Minutes passed. Suddenly, but without agitation, Wingate pointed to a dark object crawling, greasily, along the wall, right above the bed. Both men moved towards it for a closer inspection. All at once Wingate dragged his friend back.
“My God!” he gasped. “A tarantula—a black tarantula! Its bite is certain death.”
Just as he whispered the spider dropped on the pillow, and the sight of it sprawling there, with its fiery eyes and hairy body, sent a cold chill to the very heart of Harley. But for a merciful providence, what fate would have been his Nelly's !
“Let me kill the accursed thing!” he whispered hoarsely, springing forward.
Wingate thrust him back.
Harley sat down at the door in disgust. He did not know anything, he did not care anything ; but he ardently desired the life of the hideous insect that was desecrating that pillow. It was heading for the light. Wingate struck a match quietly and applied it to the powder. A series of bright, bluish flames burst forth, and a sulphurous odour began to pervade the air. A visit to the new stars, and peregrination ceased! The spider betook itself straight to the wall, and thence to the window. They watched it disappear. Just before daybreak something thrust the blind inward, and, with a sigh of relief, they saw that the curtain was gone.
It was the afternoon of that day of haunted dawning. In the library of Doon House sat the Colonel by the window, Wingate near the door.
“Yes,” the latter was saying, bluffly, “I thought I'd get you to