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Parul Singh (Marketing 20-22)

Tragedy Crime Thriller


4.9  

Parul Singh (Marketing 20-22)

Tragedy Crime Thriller


Jackson's Dark Will

Jackson's Dark Will

25 mins 604 25 mins 604

                                                               I


At a time Lady Susan had been engaged to Captain Mazareen, who was now convicted No. 97, undergoing a life sentence for the murder of Mr John, a lawyer of Carlisle, in the Elkhorn Woods in April 1904. Few, on the other hand, knew of the secret marriage solemnised on that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon, when all of us present in the church, with the exception of the bridegroom himself, were fully aware that proofs of guilt even then being heaped up against the man to whom Lady Susan was plighting her truth, for better or for worse, with her mental eyes wide open, her intuition keen to the fact that nothing but a miracle could save the man she loved from the condemnation. The husband of my dear lady, the man whom she loved with all the strength of her romantic and passionate nature, was duly tried and convicted of murder. Condemned to be hanged, he was reprieved, and his sentence was dismissed to lifetime imprisonment.


The question of Mazareen’s grandfather Sir Jackson's estate became a complicated one, for his last will, leaving everything to his son, Marzeen’s uncle, Philip Baddock, was never signed, and the former one, dated 1902, imparted that everything he possessed was unconditional of his beloved grandson Mazareen. After much legal argument, which it is useless to repeat here, it was agreed between the parties that the deceased gentleman's vast wealth should be disposed of as if he had died intestate. One-half of it, therefore, went to Captain Mazareen, grandson, and the other half to Philip Baddock, the son. The latter bought Appledore Castle and resided there, while his nephew became No. 97 in Dartmoor Prison.


Captain Mazareen had served two years of his sentence when he made that daring and successful escape which caused so much sensation at the time. He managed to reach Appledore, where he was discovered by Mr Philip Baddock, who gave him food and shelter and got everything ready for the safe conveyance of his unfortunate nephew to Liverpool and then to a port of safety in South America.


You remember how he was stopped in this appreciable attempt by Lady Susan herself, who communicated with the police and gave up convict No. 97 into the hands of the authorities once more. Of course, the public outcry was loud against my dear lady's action. Sense of duty was all very well, so people argued, but no one could forget that at one time Captain Mazareen and Lady Susan had actually been engaged to be married, and it seemed positively monstrous for a woman to be so pitiless towards the man whom she must at one time have loved. You see how little people understood my dear lady's motives. Some went so far as to say that she had only contemplated marriage with Captain Mazareen because he was then, the heir to Sir Jeremiah's fortune; now--continued the gossips--she was equally ready to marry Mr Philip Baddock, who at any rate was the happy possessor of one half of the deceased gentleman's wealth. Certainly, Lady Susan's conduct at this time helped to nurture this idea. Finding that even the chief was inclined to give her the cold shoulder, she shut up our flat in Maida Vale and took up her residence at the little house which she owned in Kirk, and from the windows of which she had a splendid view of stately Appledore Castle on the hillside. I was with her, of course, and Mr Philip Baddock was a frequent visitor at the house. There could be no doubt that he admired her greatly, and that she accepted his attentions with a fair amount of graciousness. Her former engagement to Captain de Mazareen was well known, and her betrayal to him was severely censured.


Living almost in isolation in the village, her whole soul seemed wrapped in thoughts of how to solve the mystery of the death of Mr John. Captain Mazareen had sworn in his defence that the lawyer, after starting to walk through the Elkhorn woods with him, had feared that the footstep over rough ground would be too much for him, and had almost immediately turned back in order to regain the road. But the driver, George Taylor, who was busy with the broken-down car some two hundred yards up the road, never saw Mr John again, while Captain de Mazareen arrived at the gates of Appledore Castle alone. Here he was met by Mr Philip Baddock, who informed him that Sir Jackson had breathed his last an hour before. No one at the Castle remembered seeing a stick in Captain's hand when he arrived, whilst there were several witnesses who swore that he carried one at Appledore Station when he started to walk with her ladyship. The stick was found close to the body of the lawyer; and the lawyer, when he met with his terrible death, had in his pocket the draft of a will which meant disinheritance to Captain Mazareen. Here was the awful problem which Lady Susan had to face and to solve it she persisted in believing that the man whom she loved, and whom she had married at the moment when she knew that proofs of guilt were dead against him, was indeed innocent. 


                                                                                       II


We had spent all the morning shopping in Carlisle, and in the afternoon we called on Mr Fuelling, of the firm of Fuelling, John & Co., lawyers. Lady Susan had some business to arrange in connection with the purchase of an additional bit of land to round off her little garden at Kirk. Mr Fuelling was courteous, but distinctly stiff, in his manner towards the lady who was "connected with the police," more especially when--her business being transacted--she seemed inclined to wait in the busy solicitor's office and to lead conversation round to the subject of the murder of Mr John. "Five years have gone by since then," said Mr Fuelling curtly in response to a remark from Lady Susan. "I prefer not to revive unpleasant memories." "You, of course, believed Captain Mazareen guilty?" Replied my dear lady. "There were circumstances----" rejoined the lawyer, "and--and, of course, I hardly knew the unfortunate young man. Messrs. Truscott and Truscott used to be the family lawyer." "Yes. It seemed curious that when Sir Jackson wished to make his will he sent for you, rather than for his usual lawyer," mused Lady Susan. "Sir Jackson did not send for me," replied Mr Fuelling, "he sent for my junior, Mr John." "Perhaps Mr John was a great friend of his." "Not at all. Not at all. Mr John was a new arrival in Carlisle, and had never seen Sir Jackson before the day when he was sent for and, in a brief interview, drafted the will which, alas! proved to be the primary cause of my unfortunate partner's death." "You cannot draft a will in a brief interview, Mr Fuelling," remarked Lady Susan lightly. "Mr John did so," replied Mr Fuelling. "Though Sir Jackson's mind was as clear as a crystal, he was very weak, and the interview had to take place in a darkened room. That was the only time my young partner saw Sir Jackson. Twenty-four hours later they were both dead." "Oh!" commented my dear lady with sudden indifference. "Well, I won't detain you, Mr Fuelling. Good afternoon." A few moments later, having parted from the worthy old Lawyer, we were out in the street once more. "The darkened room is my first ray of light," said Lady Susan with a smile at her own remark.


When we reached home later that afternoon we were met at the garden gate by Mr Feline, Mr Philip Baddock's friend and agent, who lived with him at Appledore Castle. Mr Felkin was a curious personality; very reserved in manner but a man of considerable education. He was the son of a clergyman, and at the time of his father's death, he had been studying for the medical profession. Finding himself unable to pursue his studies for lack of means, he had been forced to earn his living by taking up the less popular job of a male nurse. It seems that he had met Mr Philip Baddock on the Continent some years ago, and the two young men had somehow drifted into close acquaintanceship. When the late Sir Jeremiah required a personal nurse-attendant Mr. Philip Baddock sent for his friend and installed him at Appledore Castle. Here Mr Felkin remained, even after the old gentleman's death. He was nominally called Mr Baddock's agent but really did very little work. He was very fond of shooting and of riding and spent his life in the pursuit of these sports, and he always had plenty of money to spend. But everyone called him a disagreeable bear, and the only one who ever succeeded in making him smile was Lady Susan, who always showed an unaccountable liking for that creature. Even now, when he extended a somewhat dirty hand and whispered a careless apology at his intrusion, she greeted him and insisted him to come to the house.


We all turned to walk along the little drive when Mr Baddock's car came whistling around the corner of the road from the village. He pulled up at our gate, and the next moment had joined us in the drive. There was a very black look in his eyes as they wandered restlessly from my dear lady's face to that of his friend. Lady Susan's hand was even then resting on Mr Felkin's coat sleeve; she had been in the act of leading him towards the house and did not withdraw her hand when Mr Baddock appeared. "Burton has just called about those estimates, Felkin," said the latter somewhat roughly; "he is waiting at the Castle. You had better take the car--I can walk home later on." "Oh! How disappointing!" exclaimed Lady Susan, with what looked uncommonly like a pout. "I was going to have such a cosy chat with Mr Felkin--all about horses and dogs. Couldn't you see that tiresome Burton, Mr Baddock?" she added innocently.

"Burton can wait," said Mr Felkin briefly. "No, he cannot," replied Philip Baddock, whose face was a frowning mirror of uncontrolled jealousy; "take the car, Felkin, and go at once."   


For a moment it seemed as if Felkin would refuse to obey. Hate and jealousy were clearly written in each pair of glaring eyes. Philip Baddock looked uncooperative, and Felkin quiet and moody. Close to them stood my dear lady. Her beautiful eyes literally glowed with triumph. That these two men loved her, each in his own curious, uncontrolled way. It had taken her nearly two years to bring him to her feet. During that time she had alternately rendered him happy with her smiles and half-mad with her flirtations, whilst Philip Baddock's love for her was fanned by his ever-growing jealousy. I remember that I often thought her game a cruel one. She was one of those women whom few men could resist; if she really desired to conquer she invariably succeeded, and her victory over Felkin seemed to me as purposeless. After all, she was the lawful wife of Captain Mazareen, and to rouse hatred between two friends for the sake of her love.


At this moment, when I could read deadly hatred in the faces of these two men, her quiet laugh grated unpleasantly on my ear. "Never mind, Mr Felkin," she said, turning her luminous eyes on him. "Since you have so hard a taskmaster, you must do your duty now. But," she added, throwing a strange look at Mr Baddock, "I shall be at home this evening; come and have our cosy chat after dinner." She gave him her hand, and he took it with a certain ungraceful bravery and raised it to his lips. I thought that Philip Baddock would strike his friend with his open hand. The veins on his temples were swollen like dark cords, and I don't think that I ever saw such an evil look in anyone's eyes before. Strangely enough, the moment Mr Felkin's back was turned my dear lady seemed to set herself the task of calming the violent passions which she had willfully aroused in the other man. She invited him to come into the house, and, some ten minutes later, I heard her singing to him. When, later on, I went into the bedroom to join them at tea, she was sitting on the music stool while he was half bent over her; her hands were hanged on in her lap, and his fingers were closed over hers. He did not attempt to leave her side when he saw me entering the room. He left soon after tea, and she accompanied him to the door. She gave him her hand to kiss, and I, who stood at some little distance in the shadow, thought that he would take her in his arms. But some look or gesture on her part must have checked him, for he turned and walked quickly down the drive. Lady Susan stood in the doorway gazing out towards the sunset. I, in my humble mind, wondered once again what was the purpose of this cruel game.


 III 


Half an hour later she called to me, asked for her hat, told me to put on mine and to come out for a walk. As so often happened, she led the way towards the Elkhorn woods, which, perhaps because of the painful memories they evoked, was a very favourite walk of hers. As a rule, the wood, especially that portion of it where the unfortunate lawyer had been murdered, was deserted after sunset. The villagers declared that Mr John's ghost haunted the clearing and that the cry of the murdered man, as he was being foully hit from behind, could be distinctly heard echoing through the trees. Needless to say, these superstitions never disturbed Lady Susan. She liked to wander over the ground where was committed that mysterious crime which was worse than death for the man she loved so passionately. It seemed as if she meant to dig its secret from the silent ground, from the leafy undergrowth, from the secret inhabitants of the marshland.


The sun had gone down behind the hills; the wood was dark and still. We walked as far as the first clearing, where a plain granite stone, put up by Mr Philip Baddock, marked the spot where Mr John had been murdered. We sat down on it to rest. My dear lady's mood was a silent one; I did not dare to disturb it, and, for a while, only the gentle "hush--sh--sh" of the leaves, stirred by the evening breeze, broke the peaceful stillness of the lady. Then we heard a murmur of voices, deep-toned and low. We could not hear the words spoken, though we both stressed our ears, and presently Lady Susan arose and cautiously made her way among the trees in the direction where the voices came from, I following as closely as I could. We had not gone far when we recognised the voices and heard the words that were said. I paused, frightened, while my dear lady whispered a warning, "Hush!" Never in all my life had I heard so much hatred, such revengeful grudge expressed in the tone of the human voice as I did in the half-dozen words which now struck my ear.


It was Mr Felkin who spoke. I recognised his harsh delivery, but I could not distinguish either of the two men in the gloom. "Or what?" queried the other, in a voice which trembled with either rage or fear--perhaps with both. "You will give her up," repeated Felkin. "I tell you that it is an impossibility--do you understand?--an impossibility for me to stand by and see her wedded to you, or to any other man for the matter of that." He added after a slight pause. "It is with you I have to deal now. You shan't have her--you shan't--I won't allow it, even if I have to----" He paused again.


I cannot describe the extraordinary effect in this rough voice coming out of the darkness had upon my nerves. I had moved forward up to Lady Susan and had succeeded in getting hold of her hand. It was like ice, and she herself was as rigid as that piece of granite on which we had been sitting. "You seem boiling over with concealed threats," commented Philip Baddock, with a sneer; "what are the extreme measures to which you will take if I do not give up the lady whom I love with my whole heart, and who has honoured me today by accepting my hand in marriage?" "That is a lie!" shouted Felkin. "What is a lie?" queried the other quietly. "She has not accepted you--and you know it. You are trying to keep me away from her-- assuming rights which you do not possess. Give her up, man, give her up. It will be best for you. She will listen to me--I can win her all right--but you must stand aside for me this time. Take the word of a desperate man for it, Baddock. It will be best for you to give her up." Silence reigned in the wood for a few moments, and then we heard Philip Baddock's voice again, but he seemed to speak more calmly. "Are you going now?" he asked. "Won't you come to dinner?" "No," replied Felkin, "I don't want any dinner, and I have an appointment for afterwards." 

"Don't let us part ill friends, Felkin," continued Philip Baddock in a settlement tone. "Do you know that, personally, my feeling is that no woman on earth is worth a serious quarrel between two old friends, such as we have been." "I'm glad you think so," rejoined the other dryly.


 The cracking of twigs indicated that the two men had departed and were going their several ways. With infinite caution, and holding my hand tightly in hers, my dear lady made her way along the narrow path which led us out of the wood. Once on the road, we walked rapidly and soon reached our garden gate. Lady Susan had not spoken a word during all that time, and no one knew better than I did how to respect her silence.


During dinner, she tried to talk of indifferent subjects, and never once responded to the two men whom she had thus willfully made against each other. That her calm was only on the surface, however, I realized she was, of course, expecting the visit of Mr Felkin. At eight o'clock he came. It was obvious that he had spent the past hour wandering about in the woods. He looked untidy. My dear lady greeted him very coldly, and when he tried to kiss her hand she withdrew it. Our drawing-room was a double one, divided by curtains. Lady Susan led the way into the front room, followed by Mr Felkin. Then she drew the curtains together, leaving me standing behind them. I concluded that she wished me to stay there and to listen, conscious of the fact that Felkin, in his worried mood, would be quite unaware of my presence. For about a year she had been playing with him as a cat does with a mouse; encouraging him at times with sweet words and smiles, repelling him at others with coldness. But tonight her coldness was pure, and her voice was blunt.


I missed the beginning of their conversation, for the curtains were thick and I did not like to go too near, but soon Mr Felkin's voice was raised. It was harsh and uncompromising. "I suppose that I am only good enough for a summer's flirtation?" he said furiously, “but not to marry, eh? The owner of Appledore Castle, the millionaire, Mr. Baddock, is more in your line- ---" "It certainly would be a more suitable match for me," rejoined Lady Susan coolly. "He told me that you had formally accepted him," said the man with enforced calm; "is that true?" "Partly," she replied. "But you won't marry him!"  


The exclamation seemed to come straight from a heart full of passion, of love, of hate, and revenge. The voice had the same intonation in it which had rung an hour ago in the dark Elkhorn woods. "I may do," came in quiet accents from my dear lady. "You won't marry him," repeated Felkin roughly. "Who shall prevent me?" Replied Lady Susan with a low, sarcastic laugh. "I will." "You?" she said in a scornful way. "I told him an hour ago that he must give you up. I tell you now that you shall not be Philip Baddock's wife." "Oh!" she interposed. And I could almost see the arrogant shrug off her shoulders, the flash of contempt in her expressive eyes. No doubt it maddened him to see her so cool, so indifferent when he had thought that he could win her. She was always beautiful, but never more so than tonight when she had obviously determined finally to dismiss him. "If you marry Philip Baddock," he now said in a voice which trembled with uncontrolled passion, "then within six months of your wedding day you will be a widow, for your husband will have ended his life on the gallows." "You are mad!" she said calmly. "That is as it may be," he replied. "I warned him tonight, and he seems to agree to my warning, but he won't stand aside if you come close to him. Therefore, if you love him, take my warning. I may not be able to get you, but I swear to you that Philip Baddock shan't either. I'll see him hanged first," he added.”And do you think that you can force me to do your bidding by such empty threats?" she replied. "Empty threats? Ask Philip Baddock if my threats are empty. He knows full well that in my room at Appledore Castle, safe from thievish fingers, lie the proofs that he killed Alexander John in the Elkhorn woods. Oh, I wouldn't help him in his criminal deeds until he placed himself in my hands. He had to take my terms or leave the thing alone altogether, for he could not work without me. My wants are few, and he has treated and paid me well. Now we are rivals, and I'll destroy him before I'll let him marry you.”


"Do you know how we worked it? Sir Jackson would not disinherit his grandson--he steadily refused to make a will in Philip Baddock's favour. But when he was practically dying we sent for Alexander John--a newcomer, who had never seen Sir Jackson before--and I disguised as the old gentleman for the occasion. Yes, I!" he repeated with a coarse laugh, "I was Sir Jackson for the space of half an hour, and I think that I played the part splendidly. I dictated the terms of a new will. Young John never suspected the fraud for a single instant. We had darkened the room for the comedy, you see, and Mr John was destined by Baddock and myself never to set eyes on the real Sir Jackson. After the interview, Baddock sent for Captain Mazareen; this was all part of his plan and mine. We engineered it all, and we knew that Sir Jackson could only last a few hours. We sent for John again, and I myself scattered a few dozen sharp nails among the loose stones in the road where the motor-car was intended to break down, thus forcing the Lawyer to walk through the woods. Captain Mazareen's appearance on the scene at that particular moment was an unrehearsed effect which nearly upset all our plans, for had Mr John stuck to him that night otherwise he might have been alive now.”


"Well, you know what happened. Mr John was killed. Baddock killed him and then ran straight back to the house, just in time to greet Captain Mazareen, who evidently had wandered on his way. But it was I who thought of the stick, as an additional precaution to divert the suspicion from ourselves. Captain Mazareen was carrying one and left it in the hall at the Castle. I cut my own hand and stained the stick with it, then polished and cleaned it up, and later, during the night, deposited it in the near neighbourhood of the murdered body. Ingenious, wasn't it? I am a clever beggar, you see. Because I was cleverer than Baddock; he could not do without me, and because he could not do without me I made him write and sign a request to me to help him to create a false will and then to murder the lawyer who had drawn it up. And I have hidden that precious document in the wing of Appledore Castle which I inhabit; the exact spot is known only to myself. Baddock has often tried to find out, but all he knows is that these things are in that particular place of the house. I have the document, and the draft of the will taken out of Mr John's pocket, and the object with which he was killed--it is still stained with blood--and the rags with which I cleaned the stick. I swear that I will never make use of these things against Philip Baddock unless he drives me to it and if you make use of what I have just told you I'll swear that I have lied. No one can find the proofs which I hold. But on the day you marry Baddock I'll put them in the hands of the police." There was silence in the room. I could almost hear the beating of my own heart, so horrified, at the horrible tale which the man had just told my dear lady. The villainy of the whole scheme was so terrible, and at the same time so cunning, that it seemed unbelievable that a human brain could have done it. 


Meanwhile my attention was attracted by the sound of running footsteps, followed by a loud knock at our front door. Instinctively I ran to open it. Our old gardener was standing there hatless and breathless. "Appledore Castle, miss," he stammered, "it's on fire. I thought you would like to know." Before I had time to reply I heard a loud voice close behind me, and the next moment Felkin dashed out of the drawing-room into the hall. "Is there a bicycle here that I can take?" he shouted to the gardener. "Yes, sir," replied the old man; "my son has one. Just in that shed, sir, on your left." In fewer seconds than it takes to relate Felkin had rushed to the shed, dragged out the bicycle and I think that within two minutes of hearing the awful news he ran along the road, and was soon out of sight. 


IV


 One wing of the stately mansion was blazed when, a quarter of an hour later, my dear lady and I arrived upon the scene. We had come on our bicycles not long after Mr Felkin. At the very moment that the weird spectacle burst fully upon our gaze, a loud cry of horror had just risen from the hundred or so people who stood watching the terrible scene, while the local fire brigade, assisted by Mr. Baddock's men, were working with the hydrants. That cry found an echo in our own throats as we saw a man moving difficulty, with the rapidity of a monkey, up a long ladder which had been put up against a second-floor window of the flaming portion of the building. The red glow brightened the large, shaggy head of Felkin. For the space of three seconds perhaps he stood thus, outlined against what looked like a glowing furnace behind him, and the next instant he had disappeared beyond the window opening.


"This is madness!" came in loud accents from out the crowd in the foreground, and before one fully realized when that voice had come, Mr. Philip Baddock was in his turn seen crawling up that awful ladder. A dozen pairs of hands reached him just in time to drag him back from the risky way. He fought to free himself, but the firemen were determined and soon succeeded in bringing him back to level ground, while two of them, helmeted and well-equipped, took his place upon the ladder. The foremost had hardly reached the level of the first story when Felkin's figure once more appeared in the window embrasure above. He was staggering like a man drunk or fainting. He waved his arms over his head, giving the impression to those below, who gazed horrified, that he was either possessed or dying. In one hand he held what looked like a great long bundle. 


We could see him now put one leg forward, obviously gathering strength to climb the somewhat high window ledge. With a shout of encouragement the two firemen scrambled up with squirrel-like agility, and the cry of "They're coming! They're coming! Hold on, Felkin!" rose from a hundred excited throats. The bundle which he had hurled down had struck the foremost fireman on the head. He lost his hold, and as he fell he dragged his unfortunate mate down with him. The others ran to the rescue of their workers. I don't think they were seriously hurt, but what happened directly after among the crowd, the firemen, or the burning building, I cannot tell you. I only know that at the moment when Felkin's figure was, for the second time, seen in the frame of the glowing window, Lady Susan seized my hand and dragged me forward through the crowd. 


The excitement around the ladder, the fall of the two firemen, the crashing in of the floor and the disappearance of Felkin caused so much excitement in the crowd that the bundle which the unfortunate man had thrown remained unnoticed for the moment. But Philip Baddock reached the spot where it fell thirty seconds after Lady Susan did. She had already picked it up when he said harshly: "Give me that. It is mine. Felkin risked his life to save it for me." Inspector Etty, however, stood close by, and before Philip Baddock realized what Lady Susan meant to do, she had turned quickly and placed the bundle in the inspector's hands. "You know me, Etty, don't you?" she said rapidly. "Oh, yes, my lady!" he replied. 


"Then take the utmost care of this bundle. It contains proofs of one of the most deadly crimes ever committed in this country." No other words could have aroused the enthusiasm and caution of Etty in the same manner. After that Philip Baddock might protest, might rage, storm, or try to bribe, but the proofs of his guilt and Captain Mazareen's innocence were safe in the hands of the police and bound to come to light at last. But, as a matter of fact, Baddock neither stormed nor pleaded. When Lady Susan turned to him once more he had disappeared.


You know the rest, of course. Philip Baddock was found the next morning with a bullet through his head, lying on the granite stone which, with cruel hypocrisy, he himself had erected in memory of Mr John whom he had so foully murdered. The unfortunate Felkin had not lied when he said that the proofs which he held of Baddock's guilt were conclusive and deadly. Captain Mazareen obtained His Majesty's gracious pardon after five years of martyrdom which he had borne with heroic attitude. I was not present when Lady Molly was once more united to the man who so worshipped and trusted her, and to whose love, innocence, and cause she had remained so loyal throughout the past few years. She has given up her connection with the police. The reason for it has gone with the return of her happiness, over which I--her ever-faithful Mary D’Souza--will, with your permission, draw a veil.


The end revealed the truth of Sir Jackson’s dark will.


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