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TALES AND SKETCHES.

THE BURGLABY AT AZALEA VILLA. "/■■■- J [ By. RICHARD MARSH, Author; of "The Crime and the Criminal," "The Datchet Diamonds," " Mrs Mus- . grave ; and-hei* Husband," etc, etc. . [All Rights Reserved.] CHAPTER I. It -was when the Hon Augustus Champnell was recovering from a slight touch of influenza that the servant came to announce that Lord George Carman particularly wished to see him. • "Haw!" began Lord George— it struck Mr Champnell that he seemed more transcendental even than usual — " sorry to hear you're seedy. Awkward affair last night. Burglary, and I don't know what. Devil of a nuisance." Stretching out his long thin legs in front of him, Lord George surveyed the pointed toes of his polished shoes through his eyeglass. He appeared^to be under the impression that he had made himself quite plain. "Is that all you have come to say, Carman?" '■ Lord George glanced up. He- seemed surprised. '■■■.-■■■■■'■. "Haw! Fact is, I've come to see you." "So I perceive." "Yes." A pause. Another attempt at speech. "Fact is, don't you know, there's been a rumpus at- .Azalea Villa, the residence of a friend of mme — Miss Tottie Darling." Mr Champnell knew all about Azalea Villa, and also about Miss Tottie Darling, as Lord George was probably aware. After a pause of considerable , magnitude, Lord George went on : " Fact is, fellow broke in last night. Collared no end of things. Yes." "Indeed." "liots of jewellery. Things I've given Miss Darling, don't you know. They will have cost me no end of money by the fame they're paid for. Not that I mind. Though ' the lady don't seem to like it. But that's not the worst." "WhaUs the worst?" ' It may sound incredible to those who are acquainted with Lord George Caiman, he actually betrayed symptoms of uneasiness ! He looked up at the ceiling, as if seeking for inspiration' there, then looked back again at Mr Champnell. "Fact is, I couldn't go to the beastly 'police, don't you know, really. So Fve come to ypn,' You're one of us. So its different." _ ... . "If you're asking me, Carman, if you may rely upon my regarding anything which you may say to me as stmet_y private aad confidential, I answer that you • unhesitatingly may." "That's a comfort." Lord George sighed. He became" conversational — for him. . " Fact is, I gave Miss Darling a .written promise of marriage. She kept it. at the bottom of her jewel. box. And tha£s gone along with the rest of her things. I wouldn't 'have it hawked about for any amount of money. The Lord knows what would happen if it, came to my father's ears. Especially just how— when t^ all at me to marry somebody else, you know." Mr Champnell did know. He picturedthe Marquis of Hammersmith's face— that, most evangelical of noblemen ! — finding him- . self confronted by such a document-in hisson's epigraphy. What would the Car-> mens exclaim at the notion of having Miss. Tottie Darling as the future queen of their' beer-vats ! "The loss of such a document may turn., out to be rather an aw£ward thing- " " Rather. You've no notion !" Lord< George edged his chair a little closer. "Between me and you, Gbampnell— l don't say it is so, mmd — but we've had a word or' two lately, and I shouldn't be surprised* if she's stolen the thing herself. Pretended? there's been a burglary, don't you know,, and then gone and given my • pnomise of marriage to a friend, for him to put the* screw on." "Have you evidence which points to 'something of the kind?" "Not a -shred! not a tittle! It's only my idea. I tell you I don't half like it."" " Who lives in the house besides Miss Darling?" '•Only a girl. It's only a dolls-house sort of a place. There's only Tottie and a madd." ' "What has been taken besides -the letter?'' "No idea. Know noth_ng.--.about'it. Only what she's just told me. Come straight from there. She seems*' to be. in a deuoe of a/ way. May be genuine. Thought I'd come to you and see what you could make of it. I tell you, I don'tfihalf like the idea of that promise of marriage of mine being j handed round the town — especially situlated as I am just now." "A little fresh air will do me good. I'll come round to Azalea Villa -.as soon as I'm dressed. Perhaps you will .meet me there." "Yes." A pause. "I might." Another pause, "In fact, I will. Yes. Good-bye." Tbe servant coufd hardly have seen Lord George Carman off the premises wken-the man returned to announce that ia .person desired to see the Hon Augustus who-refused to«give his name. The Hon Augustas, who was about to prepare for his journey 'to Azalea Villa, evinced no desire tocsee the *person. "Go and ask him' to tell',you what it is -he wishes to see *tv_, about. " A, husky voice supplied*an unexpected an-> swer. "All right, guvnor. That's what I've come for to tell you. " The answer came from an individual who was standing behind the servant, and who evidently had, surreptitionsly, followed him up the stairs. Now, without waiting for any more ceremonious invitation, pus&ing past the scandalised lackey, he entered the room. He looked at Mr Champnell, and Mr Champnell looked at him. The 800. Augustus spoke to the servant. "You can go.* Tlie servant went. "Be. so good, my man, as to be as brief as pos-V. sible in telling me what it is you want) with' me." The visitor was an undersized young fellow, apparently hot more than twenty-four or twenty-five, whose endeavour to pass him-} self off as a respectable artisan was ratter '; handicapped by the suspicious closeness with Which his hair was cropped. He carried aseedy billycock in one hand, and an, onfinary ; black handbag in the other. For some canse, he did not appear to be in the most amiable of tempers. When Mr Champnell had ceased speaking, he crooked bis elbow towards the window which looked out into £he street. "Yes ! I see him ! Don't let him make no error — oh|, no! Lord George Carman.' he calls himself— a nice bloke he is." Mr Champnell began to be amused, bothby his visitor's tone and manner. "You know Lord George Carman?" . "Know him— rather? What do you think? His father's worth millions, his father is, yet it's the likes of him as goes and takes the bread out of the mouths of honesti. men." "Indeed. I was not aware that he had!any inclination in that direction. What has he done to you?" "Done to me? Why, he's served me a j dirty trick, the like of which" I wouldn't do . to a blind tomcat. I know what he's come - Ito you about. He's come to tell you tha* j his crib's been cracked— what he calls Azaba *.:

Villa. He wants to know who done it. I telil you, though I wouldn't tell hint Me!" Mr ChampnelPs amusement increased. "Frankness would seem to be a marked trait in your character. Am I to understand that it was yon who, last nigh., burglariously entered Azalea Villa V " That's what you are to understand! I'm told as how you calls yourself a detective— and you're the son of a hearl. My sakes ! I don't know, what things are a-coming to ! We shall soon have the Prince of Wales asweepihg of a crossing! Yon look hke a common slop, you do/ "It strikes me that it's a common slop you want, my man. Am I to send for one?" • "Go on! I don't mind! There's only my own words again' me, and they're not. evidence. Besides — you put me in the dofck, and I'll say all Fve got to say, and that'll make someone look a little funny." ' The man hesitated. He was evidently divided between two desires, a desire to relieve his mmd — it was plain that something of a most unusual sort was aa his mmd — and a desire for his own safety. Finally, he threw discretion to the winds ; he relieved his mind. "Fve been readying the place a month and more, and no end of trouble I've had to do it. But when Ido a thing I like to do it well; I'm as good a tradesman as there is in the profesh, though I say- it myself, so don't you go and forget it. It ain't all skittles, crib-cracking ain't, it's fair hard work. Well, last night I put it np. I got in all right, and -I did my little business, what I'd got to do, all right, and L never so much as upset a rat. I was gokig away, through the window of a little room' what had got white walls, what I'd come through, when I sees upon the table a" bottle and a glass. So I douses my glim, and I puts down my bag, and I has a sup. If you'll believe me, guvnor, as I was standing there in the darkness, just as I was raising the glass to my lips, a bright light shone into the room, iike a halo, like, on the wall, and there was Lord George Carman, his own self, a-staring at me. It was all gone in a moment, him and the light and all, but it had been there quite long enough for me. I didn't want to stop to do no talking, so I catches up my bag, and I cute my lucky." Drawing the back of his hand across his lips, the fellow looked at Mr Champnell, as if defying contradiction . " Do you expect me to believe, my man, that Lord George Carman actually detected you in the act of committing burglary ©q his own premises, yet made no attempt to stop yon?" " I wouldn't have minded his doing that so much — I take some stopping, I do — but that would have been fair and above board, and all in the way of business, hke : But he done worse than that, by chalks. When I gets back to my own little place, I opens my bag, to have a look at my earnings, and so help me, you might have knocked, me down with a feather ! I'd filled the bag with my own hands, pretty nigh chock full of diamond jewels, and such like, and when I came to reckon it up, well, there ! yon take and have a squint at it yourself, guvnor, and tell me what you think of it ! Here is the blooming bag." Placing v the bag, which he had been carrying, on the table, the man' opened it for Mr Champnell's inspection. It certainly contained rather a curious collection, hardly of the kind which the average burglar might be expected to covet. " There you are ! Did you ever see anything like it? Crusts of bread, lumps of dripping, bits of scrap meat, old noggins of cheese — like as if I was some blooming tramp, and had^ been cadging for a meal ! Ain't that a nice sort of thing to fetch away from a crib what I had been readying for a month and more?" "Am I to understand you to say that someone in Azalea Villa took out what you had placed in the bag and put these things in it instead?" " You ain't to understand nothing of the sort ; you're to understand that the blessed bags was swapped. This ain't unlike my bag, but it ain't my bag ; as I see only too well, when it was too late. That there sneaking old rooster, and so I called him to His face — Lord George Carman, he calls himself— had nicked my bag, and put this here, with this musty-fusty muck inside, instead of it. I thought that little job would set me up for a year, and more — there was some lovely things I put inside my bag! I know what they corst! And when I did see what I had brought home I could have cried. Gar on! If I was a nob, s'help me, James, I wouldn't play a poor, struggling, hardworking bloke a trick like that." The fellow's disgust had a tragic as well as a comic side, but the Hon Augustus Champnell only laughed. CHAPTER H. Azalea Villa was one of those retiring bandbox villas in the Wood, chastely shut in by high brick walls which even the tallest Life Guardsman could not peep over. Mtes Tottie Darling was a beautiful lady, whose taste in costume was undeniable and expensive, and whose manners could be, on occasion, infinitely more glacial .than those of the historic Lady Clara Vere de Vere. The lady was in one of her glacial moods when the Hon Augustus arrived. She was reclining on a conch in her pretty little drawing-room, and, as the maidservant ushered him in, she glanced at his visiting card, which she was holding in her hand, then up at him, with a languid air. "Mr Champnell?" Mr Champnell bowed. " Pleased to meet you." The Hon Augustus explained. "My "VTsit-, Miss I>3rling, on this occasion is one rather of business than of pleasure. lam here with reference to the burglary which, I understand, took place last night." ' " Oh !" The lady, visibly, was hot interested. "I suppose George Carman has sent you. He need not have troubled. I know all about it." "Indeed. Nothing had been discovered when I saw him. What has been discovered . since?" "Nothing." The lady pillowed her head in a still softer place among the cushions. " There was nothing to discover. You don't suppose that George Carman can hoodwink me? Burglary! George Carman was himself the burglar." " Is it possible?" "It is not only possible* it's sure. If he was in want of money I might have forgiven his pawning my jewels without first going through the form of asking my leave. It is, • however, a different thing when it comes to -his stealing his own written promise to marry me. Mr Champnell went to the window which 'looked on to the garden. He changed the subject. * " I suppose your house is called after the azaleas which I see you have in your garden. What fine ones fhey are." " Seen better." Mr Champnell was silent for a moment. When he spoke. again, he still retained his position before the window. "May Task, Miss Darfing, if you have a list of the jewels which are missing?" " Oh, dear, yes. As, when he tries to pawn them; George Carman will discover." "Were you, yourself, disturbed in the night in any way?" "Not I. George Carman was too clever. He wouldn't bave dared to face me. Til own, if he likes, that he managed his part of the business very well, though it's, just possible that he got someone to do his dirtywork for him." There was a ring at the garden door. " There is Lord George ; I asked him to ■meet me here." Mr Champnell turned td- ' wards the lady. " Before he enters the room, you may take it from me, Miss Darl•ing, that, whoever hkd a hand in this bofii-

ness, Lord George Carman hadn't. Of that I.am sure." The lady ceased to recline. She sat up on the couch. Her languor seemed suddenly to disappear. . " What do you mean by that?" " Exactly what I say." The lady stood up. She exchanged glances with the gentleman. Some communication seemed to pass, from one to the other. Her manner- became, in an instant, quite the opposite of languid. " Oh, you men ! You stand shoulder to shoulder, and stick to each other through thick and thin, and think you can rob and cheat us women, and play any" hanky-panky tricks with ns as you please, but sometimes you're mistaken ! Don't fancy you can come the old soldier over me, Mr Champnell. I te>l you that George Carman planned the whole affair, from,first to last— and I know it 1 And you can tell him from me that if he doesn't give me back that promise of .marriage, or another one in its place, before to-night, Til go right straight away to his father— and'then we'll see. The lady moved, majestically, towards the door. As she reached it, . came in. He stared at her, blocking the way. ■'• "Haw! Anything wrong? __„.., "Yes, George Caiman, everything s wrong ; so don't you make any mistake about it !" . „•„„., And the lady, sweeping past him, disappeared. Lord George stared after her, dropped his eye-glass, picked it up again, andf haying refixed it in his eye, stared at Mr Champnell askance. "What's up?" • "It would seem, if you will excuse my skying so, that Miss Darling's temper is ' «P*" Lord George moved across the room towards Mr Champrfell. - He lowered his voice to a confidential whisper. "Do you think she did it?" ■ -<• • " She says you did it. J ' " Me, Lor !" Lord George paused. Ihat s good. Why, I wasn't near the place all night." " Are you sure of that ?" Lord George seemed to flinch before the other's scrutinising gaze. " Sure ? Of course, I'n\ sure ! I suppose I ought to know." "As you say, you certainly ought to know." Mr Champnell turned aside. " Perhaps, Carman, you wonldn't mind showing me ooveri r the premises." ~-- " Pleasure ! Not that there's anything to show." There did not seem to be anything to show. The tour of inspection only occupied a short time ; they only made one pause. "Believe this is where the fellow broke in. Am told so." Mr Champnell looked round him. He recognised the room which his visitor had described — the little room, with the white wails. It was a small room, with a table in the centre, on which had probably stood the bottle and the glass whose presence had induced the gentleman to put down his bag. On going to the window, Mr Champnell perceived that it opened directly into . the garden ; it was an ideal place for a burglar to effect an entry. The walls of the room were painted— such a very vivid white." " Did the man leave behind him any token of-iiis presence?" , -• " Doni't know. Think not. Hear of nothing." Lord George .was taciturn. He looked depressed. Possibly he was thihkihg of Miss Darling's temper. " Rather a curious colour to have the walls of a room v painted such a very vivid white." . "She would have it. Said it was cool. I don't know." He seemed more depressed than ever— as if he was tiftd. "Ain't you finished?" "Nearly. Now I want to see the room from which the jewels were taken, and the case itself from which the jewels were abstracted, and in which, also, as I understand, your promise to marry Miss Darling was kept." Lord George looked doubtful. " That's Tottie's bedroom. I expect shejs in it. She generally bolts to it when she's upset." Mr Champnell was ,_ suave, but firm. " I should be sorry, in any way, to mcon- ' venience Miss Darling, but I have no doubt that, wihen she hears what we want, she will be delighted to allow 'us to examine the actual scene of the robbery. She herself will see so clearly the absolute necessity of such an examination taking place." Lord George continued to look doubtful, and the event proved that his doubt was> justified. They had to knock at the lady's bedroom door two or three times before its occupant condescended to answer, and after she had answered they had to parley for some time longer before admission was gained. Finally, with a flourish, Miss Darling threw the door wide open. , " Oh, by all means force an entrance into a lady's bedroom. Of course, where George Carman is no woman : can expect to enjoy the privacy of her own apartment. I don't know, George Carman, how you suppose that you're going to find your promise to marry me in here, when all the time you know it's in your pocket." Lord George seemed to be positi-r-gly terrified. " Tottie, ril take my oath -" Miss Darling cut him- short. " You needn't ! I've heard you take your oath before." It is to be feared that die possibly had. Regardless of this little war » of words, Mr Champnell advanced into the room. It was luxuriously furnished, conspicuously regardless of cost. The prevailing colour was pink, pink -silk. Tibe dressing-table, for instance, -was charmingly decorated with voluminous folds of silk, which were of so fight a pink that they might almost have been called flesb-colour. On the table stood a beautiful leather box — pink Russia! Mr Champnell admired it—externally. "Is this the dressing-case, Miss Darling?" "What's left of it." There seemed to be a good deal ieft of it, so far as one could see. "Oh, you can open it. Anyone can open ifc now. The burglar " — with a glance at Lord George — " smashed the look." Mr Chamfpnell did open it. As the lady suggested, it opened quite easily. " That burglar seems to have left a good many of yonr jewels behind, Miss Darling • more of them, indeed, than the average •burglar is apt to do." The lady gaye a little exclamation. " Left some of them behind !" She rushed to the dressing-table. She stamped her "foot. She gave a decided scream. She turned upon Lord George. "You— you brute! So youVe thought better of it, after all. I suppose you knew I had a list, and you've pnt them back again." Lord George stared at the jewel-case in what seemed to be genuine surprise. It did* seem, jnst then, to be about^s full of jewels as it very well could be — beauties some of them were. In face of the lady's attack, the gentleman managed to pluck up some semblance of spirit. .He retorted with a sort of sulky ferocity. ' " I don't believe they were ever taken. 1 ' "Oh, no; of course you wonldn't now. I wonder if you've put the promise of marriage back as well." Miss Darling took out tray after tray full' of jewels. At the bottom of the box she" pressed a spring, which being pressed, revealed a little secret hiding-place. Tliis was empty. "So you have kept the promise of marriage. Just as I, expected. Now we do know where we are !" "Do you think I'm an idiot?" inquired

Lord George Carman. "Do you think T don't know that you've taken it yourself?" Just then the maid came in. : "Did you ring; ma'am,?", It -tats Mr Champnell who answerednr'The had moved to the fireplace. .--'•"'. "It was I who rang." He addressed TSEss ■ Darling. _ "I ventured to take - advantage of my.bemg near it, to, touch the bell, Mks Darling. He turned again to the maid.; _ Ihat was a mistake of yours to replace the jewels ; a gross one. You would have done 1 better to have allowed Mr Miles to take them with him. Though I do homage to the desire to make partial restitution^ 1 beg your pardon, sh*." The girl looked, or tried to look, as if she-did not understand-though, a flight tefl- ; ' tale.flush showed. in her cheeks * ÜBTO '-* !U , Not at- all." Mr Champn^l turned tn Miss Darling. "This is tlTper^^' S?S2' W Th° e fe P ? *■* 7^^nl me case. The little document, of the,na*nra of a promise to many, she retains.^ *^ quick bgfa^d n^LlttwX ,£&" -she had come solne distance hrtejte wiS "Let me go !" she said ' One : moment, -. if you please."- M^ ChampneE motioned toWdsSW^ hand., .Your cousin, Mss^^-fe demSSdMiaS: eousinfV he^elf sh^%^oSa° ~"»*** Mi Champnell shrugged his shoulders pmmise of marriage, touching wSTfe?you have been slightly indisS' ?k' : , that if £ cJild oSylS' it S% ( .tohranTal^ T^ £ **& » AtaS -to ncr, and, also, that she would have v™, get L Ld c o r f C, ;V «*«».«3 &£/£ I S™„ ? i*' and y et P rev «°t sospiekm failing on to her, was ingiious. STS has been that she has be^ too cW » the maid, whose demeanour betrayed heV^ I never thought it of you, Po_liei"-~<__. claimed the lady. J ' * * x wen Ton* ** M * "A gentleman, whose name is Miles, ,3^^ time ago, the intention of burglariously entaring Azalea Villa. Experience had taught him that the best- aid to a burglar waf^. maid, whom lie could pump. But, in encteavounng to pump the maid at Azalea Villa Mr Miles, unconsciously, had met more than his match. While he thought he was pumping her, she, in reality, was^umpnig him: She perceived that here was the opportunity offered which she had so long been seeking. She decided to allow Mr Miles to -commit his burglary,' and then under cover of his burglary, to steal that little document. The idea, one must own, was in its way, a neat one. :. "It's a lie!" gasped the girl, .'• tt lt__ «, he ! „" Really, it is unkind of you to say so—-and-uncivil, too. Last night, Mr Miles did commit his ; burglary. Although he did not know it, the maid was expecting him. She permitted him to abstract the jewels from the. case. But, as he was about to take his departure, in ihe little room with the white walls he saw a bottle and a glass on the table, which the maid bad placed there knowing that Mr Miles \vas of a thirsty nature. Mr Miles rose to the baitHe put -down his bag with its precious contents, he filled the tumbler from the bottle, and he darkened his lantern. That same second the maid; who, all the time, was-con-cealed behind a curtain, exchanged his ha** for one of her. own, which she had already prepared, and, simultaneously, removed the cap from a magic lantern, which, I noticed, is still in the little room with the whHs walls, and which she lighted- and focussed and fitted with a slide which took the shape of a capital coloured portrait of Lord George Carman. The startled Mr Miles, expecting nothing of the kind, a.nd taken unawares, not unnaturally imagined that the picture which he saw on the wall— the white wall served as an excellent screen — was the man himself. He snatched up the substituted bag, without perceiving in his haste tha substitution which had been effected, and\ ran for his life. The maid, therefore, was left in possession of the spoils. I fancy' that, when it came to the point, she did not dare to retain them in her possession. But to return them was a tactical blunder. The document, which she removed before Mr Miles' arrival on the scene, as I have said, she retains." As she listened, the girl's face had been a picture of varying emotions. -.. She shrank from him as if he had been some uncanny thing. "It's a lie!" she gasped again, mechanically, rather than of her own volition. "So far from its being a lie, you' havo that document upon your person at this niot ment. Give it to me—take my adyice— ' before it is too late !" Mr ChampnelFs tone became stern, his manner commanding. The girl' quailed before" his searching glance. His force-domi-nated hers. With trembling fingers, uh- : fastening the buttons of her bodice, she drew from her breast a paper. In an instant the Hop Augustus had snatched it from her. As he did so, with a cry as of fear, she -sank, on to the floor and burst into a flood ol hysterical tears. Mr Champnell handed the paper which Jha had taken from her to Miss Darling. " That, I believe you will find, is -the promise of marriage." It was.

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Bibliographic details

Star, Star, Issue 6514, 17 June 1899

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4,576

TALES AND SKETCHES. Star, Issue 6514, 17 June 1899

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