“I don’t believe I know your name, sir.”
“Bentley. Max. Max Bentley.” stuttered that young man, for very suddenly all powers of speech had left him.
Max accepted and tore off his cap, realizing belatedly he had not removed it. They entered the low receiving room with wainscoted walls and dark crimson curtains lit by a cheerfully crepitating fire.
“Mr. Gilbreth sent for me last night, and the way he worded it I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk refusing.”
That ‘be there’ had struck him as pretty ominous.
No one ventured to speak after he concluded, and Max suddenly lost his appetite, despite the morning’s invigorating travel and excitement, because it did not seem delicate to eat with energy when no one else was. The entire aspect of grief was not exaggerated, for the table was cheerful enough. But those around it, dressed in temporary but decent mourning apparel, and even the menservants with their grave countenances and black armbands, squelched his hungriness.
“Mr. Marchmont,” Anthea said, “did anyone send up dinner to Peter yesterday?”
“No, Anthea, no supper was sent to Peter. I will go and fetch him.” Mr. Marchmont left the dining room. He appeared again shortly. “The poor fellow, how badly he must feel.” The kindly butler said in a concerned tone. “He won’t answer.”
“How could he be kidnapped if he ran away?” argued Logic, but Walter’s words fell on deaf ears.
He turned to go, but Walter caught him again.
“You might need this.” he said, drawing out his firearm.
Max sincerely hoped not, but there was no time for debate.
“Five hundred thousand! Outrageous! At any rate we must have him back, Walter, but not at that one.“
It had been written up by The Earl, he decided, for Lord Bertram would never plan for such a thing. It was for his own good—even though he considered otherwise—for it made him all the more careful about the Bertram interests. How clever and wise! Or was it conniving? Walter shut the drawer determinedly.
“No, he is not dead!” Walter lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. “At least, I hope he is not.”
Both girls saw at once what had changed, and Walter stayed behind as they went downhill to take a better look. The creek was frozen over, and the muffled tinkle of water beneath ice hung like a charm in the frosty air.
Across the watercourse, in the place of Bumpitty-Bang, was a beautiful work of masonry, decked with a garland of evergreens and festive red bows. And on the side, plainly visible to anyone who passed over the structure, was a bronze plate which read:
’In loving memory of The Honorable Roger Cedric Bertram.’
They froze, and stood still, looking at the name and the bridge, where last they had been, they had seen their beloved brother suffer his fatal fall.
“One is Abendroth and the other is Glockner. Two strange names for two strange men.”
His plan was turning out with disturbing accuracy.
Here Walter was wrong. Peter knew perfectly his place as scion of Hathaway, and it was for that very cause that he had stayed away for so many months.
Lord Bertram sipped his tea. It was cold. He had been so engrossed in conversation that he had forgotten it. The gentleman pushed aside the cup and saucer and leaned forward.
The recent months had extracted a vein of in refinement that he possessed, and he carried himself differently, with more grace and authority. It was the mien of a well-traveled individual, which suited Max excellently and took Mr. Marchmont by surprise.
“Mummy,” Anthea said, “This is Mr. Bentley, our detective.”
Our detective! Max Bentley’s heart gave a funny little leap.
“Thy will be done, Lord, and not mine!”