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CHAPTER XXVIII
A WILD-GOOSE CHASE

"Do you know where the–the bride and groom have gone?" questioned Cunningham, grudgingly.

"No, sir. I heard Lady Tressidy say only this morning that even she hadn't been told. Mr. Wildred had some idea of a surprise, I believe, sir."

The fact that not only had my companion claimed to be the brother of the bride, but that his facial expression and colouring answered for his truth, caused the fellow to feel apparently that we had a right to explanations.

There was no use in endeavouring to make further enquiries. Even if Lady Tressidy or Sir Walter did know the destination of the newly-wedded pair, it was more than improbable that they would be ready to share their knowledge with us. And it was like Carson Wildred to be prepared even for the very emergency which had now arisen, by taking just such precautions as he had.

Had we not been impatient and chosen the steep road, less often travelled than the other, we should no doubt have met the carriage which drove the bridal couple to the Haslemere station. Another exemplification of the old proverb, that "the more haste, the less speed." We could now only repair our mistake, if it still admitted of reparation, by giving chase with such speed as was practicable.

I gave the order to the coachman, "Drive to the station as quick as you can," and in another moment we were off.

Fate seemed to have ordained that I should meet nothing save disappointment at this door; but to-day's experience had brought me something far deeper and more cruel than mere disappointment. I had not counted upon the chance that Wildred would be permitted to hurry on the wedding during my absence, and now I felt as though a chasm had suddenly yawned under my feet. Karine was Carson Wildred's wife!

"What are we to do?" questioned her brother dully. "We can't leave her with him, you know."

Leave her with him! The very fact that I was obliged to answer him gave me back the power of concentrating thought. A moment before my mind had been a blank, a chaos; but now I returned, unhesitatingly—

"We'll find out where they've gone, and have him arrested and your sister taken from him before nightfall."

"But supposing they've gone abroad–which is what they very likely mean–before we can catch them?"

"We must catch them. There won't be a train till later in the afternoon by which they can get away now. They'd have to go by the night boat, if it was France. Somehow or other–though everything seems against us, and we are only two, where there ought to be a dozen going in as many ways at once–we'll circumvent that devil yet."

"You have plenty of confidence in yourself," said Cunningham. "Perhaps you don't know Carson Wildred as well as I do."

I did not answer, though the words rang ominously in my ears. I was very busy with my own thoughts.

As soon as we could find out where Wildred had taken Karine (even within my own mind I would not call her his wife), we must lodge such information with the police that he could be arrested at once, either on English or foreign soil, as the case might be. A man accused of murder, as he would be, could, fortunately, be apprehended anywhere.

At Haslemere station they could only inform us that the party of which we were in search had had tickets for London, and had left about three-quarters of an hour before our arrival.

Even if we could have told our story with sufficient succinctness to have Wildred met at Waterloo by the police, there would have been no time to do so. We must simply follow as we could. Luckily there was a slow train due in a few moments, otherwise I think we (I at least) must have gone mad with the strain of waiting.

At Waterloo we heard of them. A porter had taken their luggage and put it on a cab. The gentleman and lady had driven away in a private carriage. What direction had been given to the coachman or the cabman he had not happened to hear.

I now proposed that Cunningham should proceed immediately to Scotland Yard, while I busied myself elsewhere. He was the one who could tell of the plot by which he had personated Farnham in America, by Wildred's desire, and in the hope of obtaining a substantial bribe. The authorities were already in possession of such separate information as I could give, and now that they would learn from Cunningham how Farnham had never gone to America at all, a very different and more lurid light would be shed upon the past.

Meanwhile I would drive to Charing Cross, and might yet be in time to intercept the couple if they were intending to depart for France.

At Charing Cross they had not appeared, and hastening to a telegraph office, I sent messages containing Wildred's description and Karine's to every one of the principal railway stations in London. Replies were paid, and were to be received for me at the Charing Cross Hotel. Having done so much, I drove to the piers from which the Holland boats sailed; then, having discovered nothing, back to Charing Cross again. The train which would catch the night boat at Dover was just about going out, but Wildred and Karine were not visible.

When the last moment had come and gone I betook myself to the hotel, where my telegrams were to await me. I also looked for Cunningham, who was to have met me there, after Scotland Yard, and decided upon forthcoming arrangements. Despatches were awaiting me from the head porters of various stations–Victoria, Euston, Paddington, and so on–but no Cunningham had as yet appeared.

I opened the message from Paddington last; the others had no news for me, but it seemed that at Paddington a lady and gentleman, apparently answering the description given, had taken tickets for Maidenhead. All the blood in my body seemed to mount to my head. Unless there had been a mistake in the identity, Wildred must have carried Karine off to the House by the Lock!

It was horrible to me that she should be there. The thought of the house, and what I believed had happened to Harvey Farnham under its roof, was abhorrent. Why had he chosen to take his young bride, on the day of their marriage, to that gloomy and accursed spot? A strange thrill of apprehension, vague, yet none the less dreadful, shook my nerves.

I consulted the latest A.B.C. time-table, which lay in the reading-room of the hotel. In exactly an hour another train would leave Paddington for Maidenhead and Marlow (the nearest stations to Purley Lock), and after that there would not be another until ten o'clock.

I should not have much more than time to catch the former, if I intended to go by it–and I did intend to go. Exactly what I was to do, how I was to get Karine away from her husband, I did not dare stop to think, but somehow I would do it. So great was my dread of Wildred as a criminal, and my respect for him as a schemer, that I even feared dimly for Karine's safety with him. It was madness to entertain such a doubt, I assured myself, for great heiress as she was, Karine was lovely enough and sweet enough to inspire genuine love even in so cold-hearted a villain as Wildred.

He might tire of her in the end, but for the present her life, at least, would be safe with him. So I repeated mentally, over and over again; but still I was pricked with a boding fear for more than her peace of mind. Why had he taken her to that grim, hateful house by the river?