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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 25. Milburgh's Last Bluff
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The Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 25. Milburgh's Last Bluff Post by :hammer23 Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Wallace Date :May 2012 Read :2840

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The Daffodil Mystery - Chapter 25. Milburgh's Last Bluff

CHAPTER XXV. MILBURGH'S LAST BLUFF

Milburgh had gone too far. He had hoped to carry through this scene without the actual disclosure of the confession. In his shrewd, clever way he had realised before Tarling himself, that the detective from Shanghai, this heir to the Lyne millions, had fallen under the spell of the girl's beauty, and all his conjectures had been confirmed by the scene he had witnessed, no less than by the conversation he had overheard before the door was opened.

He was seeking immunity and safety. The man was in a panic, though this Tarling did not realise, and was making his last desperate throw for the life that he loved, that life of ease and comfort to secure which he had risked so much.

Milburgh had lived in terror that Odette Rider would betray him, and because of his panicky fear that she had told all to the detective that night he brought her back to London from Ashford, he had dared attempt to silence the man whom he believed was the recipient of the girl's confidence.

Those shots in the foggy night which had nearly ended the career of Jack Tarling had their explanation in Milburgh's terror of exposure. One person in the world, one living person, could place him in the felon's dock, and if she betrayed him----

Tarling had carried the girl to a couch and had laid her down. He went quickly into his bedroom, switching on the light, to get a glass of water. It was Milburgh's opportunity. A little fire was burning in the sitting-room. Swiftly he picked the confession from the floor and thrust it into his pocket.

On a little table stood a writing cabinet. From this he took a sheet of the hotel paper, crumpled it up and thrust it into the fire. It was blazing when Tarling returned.

"What are you doing?" he asked, halting by the side of the couch.

"I am burning the young lady's confession," said Milburgh calmly. "I do not think it is desirable in the interests----"

"Wait," said Tarling calmly.

He lowered the girl's head and sprinkled some of the water on her face, and she opened her eyes with a little shudder.

Tarling left her for a second and walked to the fire. The paper was burnt save a scrap of the edge that had not caught, and this he lifted gingerly, looked at it for a moment, then cast his eyes round the room. He saw that the stationery cabinet had been disturbed and laughed. It was neither a pleasant nor an amused laugh.

"That's the idea, eh?" he said, walked to the door, closed it and stood with his back to it.

"Now, Milburgh, you can give me that confession you've got in your pocket."

"I've burnt it, Mr. Tarling."

"You're a liar," said Tarling calmly. "You knew very well I wouldn't let you go out of this room with that confession in your pocket and you tried to bluff me by burning a sheet of writing-paper. I want that confession."

"I assure you----" began Milburgh.

"I want that confession," said Tarling, and with a sickly smile. Milburgh put his hand in his pocket and drew out the crumpled sheet.

"Now, if you are anxious to see it burn," said Tarling, "you will have an opportunity."

He read the statement again and put it into the fire, watched it until it was reduced to ashes, then beat the ashes down with a poker.

"That's that," said Tarling cheerfully.

"I suppose you know what you've done," said Milburgh. "You've destroyed evidence which you, as an officer of the law----"

"Cut that out," replied Tarling shortly.

For the second time that night he unlocked the door and flung it wide open.

"Milburgh, you can go. I know where I can find you when I want you," he said.

"You'll be sorry for this," said Milburgh.

"Not half as sorry as you'll be by the time I'm through with you," retorted Tarling.

"I shall go straight to Scotland Yard," fumed the man, white with passion.

"Do, by all means," said the detective coolly, "and be good enough to ask them to detain you until I come."

With this shot he closed the door upon the retreating man.

The girl was sitting now on the edge of the sofa, her brave eyes surveying the man who loved her.

"What have you done?" she asked.

"I've destroyed that precious confession of yours," said Tarling cheerfully. "It occurred to me in the space of time it took to get from you to my wash-stand, that that confession may have been made under pressure. I am right, aren't I?"

She nodded.

"Now, you wait there a little while I make myself presentable and I'll take you home."

"Take me home?" said the startled girl. "Not to mother, no, no. She mustn't ever know."

"On the contrary, she must know. I don't know what it is she mustn't know," said Tarling with a little smile, "but there has been a great deal too much mystery already, and it is not going to continue."

She rose and walked to the fireplace, her elbows on the mantelpiece, and her head back.

"I'll tell you all I can. Perhaps you're right," she said. "There has been too much mystery. You asked me once who was Milburgh."

She turned and half-faced him.

"I won't ask you that question any more," he said quietly, "I know!"

"You know?"

"Yes, Milburgh is your mother's second husband."

Her eyes opened.

"How did you find out that?"

"I guessed that," he smiled, "and she keeps her name Rider at Milburgh's request. He asked her not to reveal the fact that she was married again. Isn't that so?"

She nodded.

"Mother met him about seven years ago. We were at Harrogate at the time. You see, mother had a little money, and I think Mr. Milburgh thought it was much more than it actually was. He was a very agreeable man and told mother that he had a big business in the city. Mother believes that he is very well off."

Tarling whistled.

"I see," he said. "Milburgh has been robbing his employers and spending the money on your mother."

She shook her head.

"That is partly true and partly untrue," she said. "Mother has been an innocent participant. He bought this house at Hertford and furnished it lavishly, he kept two cars until a year ago, when I made him give them up and live more simply. You don't know what these years have meant, Mr. Tarling, since I discovered how deeply mother would be dragged down by the exposure of his villainy."

"How did you find it out?"

"It was soon after the marriage," said the girl. "I went into Lyne's Store one day and one of the employees was rude to me. I shouldn't have taken much notice, but an officious shop-walker dismissed the girl on the spot, and when I pleaded for her reinstatement, he insisted that I should see the manager. I was ushered into a private office, and there I saw Mr. Milburgh and realised the kind of double life he was living. He made me keep his secret, painted a dreadful picture of what would happen, and said he could put everything right if I would come into the business and help him. He told me he had large investments which were bringing in big sums and that he would apply this money to making good his defalcations. That was why I went into Lyne's Store, but he broke his word from the very beginning."

"Why did he put you there?" asked Tarling.

"Because, if there had been another person," said the girl, "he might have been detected. He knew that any inquiries into irregularities of accounts would come first to my department, and he wanted to have somebody there who would let him know. He did not betray this thought," said the girl, "but I guessed that that was the idea at the back of his mind...."

She went on to tell him something of the life she had lived, the humiliation she suffered in her knowledge of the despicable part she was playing.

"From the first I was an accessory," she said. "It is true that I did not steal, but my reason for accepting the post was in order to enable him, as I thought, to right a grievous wrong and to save my mother from the shame and misery which would follow the exposure of Milburgh's real character."

She looked at him with a sad little smile.

"I hardly realise that I am speaking to a detective," she said, "and all that I have suffered during these past years has been in vain; but the truth must come now, whatever be the consequences."

She paused.

"And now I am going to tell you what happened on the night of the murder."

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