The Harp, Part Two

Setting down the tray, the butler allowed Miss Nichols to pour, and turned his attentions to lighting the fire. Max fidgeted with his watch fobs, watching Maggie’s slim hands stir cream and sugar into his tea. He hated cream and sugar in his tea, but accepted the cup without a word. The mixture tasted better than he supposed it would. At last Campbell headed for the door. Max stopped him.

“There is a harp out in the garden. Have it brought in, would you?”

“I will see to it, my lord.” The butler slipped long enough to send a curious glance at Maggie, and then he bowed and left.

Max turned back to the desk, and once more could see the departed Mr. Nichols sitting there. He squinted, and concentrated. The figure picked up the letter opener, and inserted it into a groove at the back of the standish, between the inkpots. Something clicked. The entire top of the desk slid back, revealing an inner compartment. Completely undetectable.

“Lord Bridewell? Are you feeling ill?” Maggie put a hand on his arm.

“I may be, Maggie, and you must call me Maxwell. Or even Max if you do not dislike it.” He moved to the desk, and studied the standish. He tried to pick it up. “This is bolted to the desk!”

“Yes. Grandfather sailed with the Merchant Marines in his youth. He brought the desk back from some ship or other.”

Nothing for it but to try. Max grasped the letter opener, and put it in the groove. Something clicked. “Aha! That scheming old goat!”

“I beg your pardon!”

The desk top slid toward them, away from where a person sitting at the desk would be. Max hastened around to the proper side, and looked into the compartment. A dozen or so small velvet bags filled the space.

“What is it? What have you found?” Maggie reached impatiently past him, and picked up one of the black bags. She opened the draw‑string top, and dumped the contents out on the desk top. “My goodness!”

“Diamonds. Large, perfect diamonds.”

She scrambled to put the gems back in the bag. “What shall we do? My grandfather stole and smuggled diamonds!”

“You don’t know that! They could have been obtained legally.” Max heard the lack of conviction in his own words.

“Turner found out, and blackmailed him for a share in the profits.”

“Nichols must have been holding out on him, and he knew it.”

“He demanded more money, and when Grandfather refused‑”

Maggie gasped as the library door opened, and Campbell entered with the harp.

Max snapped the desk lid back into place, and glared at the hapless butler. “Thank you, Campbell. That will be all.”

Maggie walked to the fireplace, shivering again. Max joined her as soon as they were alone, wishing he could find an excuse for holding and comforting her.

“G‑grandfather always struck me as something of a rogue. Beneath his respectable exterior beat the heart of a pirate.”

Pirate and rogue. Maxwell sucked in his breath, and heard Nichols’ voice saying, “You’re as much a rogue as I am, lad. Must explain why I’m so fond of you.”

He glared around the room, sure that the old man’s ghost watched him, and dropped clues when he felt like it. “Damn it, man! We need proof if we are to catch Turner.”

Maggie’s startled expression let him know his behavior had gotten out of hand. He walked away from her, and stared at the harp that took up a good portion of the room. “You can play this beast, then?”

“Would I have risked my life to get it otherwise?” She walked to the instrument and caressed the strings. “After the rough handling you gave it, the strings need tuning.”

He watched as she pulled a delicate chair over, and set about this task. He returned to the desk, and sat down.

Something about the harp appeared off, and he studied it. The top finial looked lop‑sided. Probably damaged when he lowered the harp to the ground. He would pay to have it repaired. Maggie must let him do that much for her.

“Maxwell Random, I’m ashamed of you!”

Max looked over his shoulder at the faint image of Bernard Nichols. “I found the diamonds, didn’t I?”

“I have to show you everything.” Bernard shook his transparent head and walked to the harp. He paused a moment to place a kiss on his granddaughter’s head, then casually knocked the top finial off the harp.

“Oh!” Maggie jumped up, sending her chair back. Bernard faded away.

“In the harp?” Max asked no one in particular as he approached the instrument.

“What’s in the harp?” Maggie narrowed her dark eyes at him.

“Only one way to find out.” He tipped the ponderous thing toward him, and looked inside.

“Do you see anything?” She tried to push him out of the way, but he hung on.

“There is something.” He reached inside and grasped what looked like an envelope. It came out easily, without tearing. Maggie snatched it from him, and opened it. He stepped close behind her, slipping his arm around her shoulder so he could read too.

“Bills of sale,” she said with relief. The diamonds are paid for.”

Max took one and examined the receipt. “Looks legal. But now how do we explain the murder?”

To his surprise, Maggie handed him the rest of the papers, and sat down at her harp. In moments, the room filled with the gentle, sweet sounds of her playing. Max found himself relaxing, and his ideas began to make sense.

“We need to talk to Turner. He has all the answers.”

Without missing a note, Maggie nodded.

Campbell tapped at the door and entered. “The carriage is ready, my lord.”

Max looked at the clock, and went to the desk. He scribbled a hasty note, and sealed it. “Have this delivered to Mr. Hannifly. He will no doubt be asleep, but it is urgent that the note reach him immediately.”

“Very good, my lord.”

“Maggie, we’re going to see Mr. Turner.” Maxwell opened the shallow secret compartment once more, and extracted one of the bags. “If he has all the answers, we must convince him to share them with us.”

Miss Nichols stopped playing and stared at him for a whole moment. Max feared she would refuse to come with him. Then she jumped up. “You are not an idiot, my lord, and I am sorry I ever said that.”

Grinning like a fool, Max took her arm and led her out to the entry hall. Campbell had fetched the earl’s hat and coat from the garden, which caused Maxwell to study Maggie.

“You came out in this weather without a cloak or at least a pelisse?”

“I could not handle the harp in bulky clothing. I did not expect to spend a night on the roof.” She glared at him and crossed her arms. “I’m not cold.”

Campbell gave a discreet, butler‑like cough. “I believe your lordship’s opera cape would suit your guest.”

“Perfect!” Max beamed at servant and thief alike. Moments later, they were in the carriage and heading for Mr. Turner’s
shabby residence.

If Max’s new home appeared to be a Gothic monstrosity, Turner’s townhouse looked all too depressingly British. Once a
lovely Jacobean structure, little had been done in the last decade or so to restore the place. Max escorted Maggie to the
door, and knocked.

“What if he won’t see us?” she asked.

“He will.” He reached inside his pocket, and gripped the bag of diamonds. “I have something he wants.”

The tousle‑haired servant who opened the door to them stated he could not rouse his master at seven in the morning. Maxwell
displayed a pair of gold crowns. The servant found he had been meaning to give his notice in any case.

Inside, the house attested to better treatment than the outside. Fine furnishings, luxurious fabrics and elegant
knickknacks met them at every turn. The small parlor they waited in could have been found in any of the best homes in London.

“The scoundrel,” Maggie hissed. “This is my fortune going
to keep him in high style.”

Max laughed softly. “You will be so well off from the sale of the diamonds that you won’t even miss this money.”

“I’ll miss my grandfather, no matter how rich I am.” Her grim expression told Max that she had deep feelings with which
she hadn’t dealt.

“I miss him, too. We’ll see that Turner gets his punishment, don’t fret.”

When the door opened, Mr. Turner looked into the room with every sign of wanting to be elsewhere. As he stepped in, Maxwell
went to shake his hand.

“Sorry to wake you, Turner. I found this person breaking into my house. She told me some wild story about being thrown
out, and that the house you are renting to me is actually mine.”

The paunchy, ill‑shaved man glanced at Maggie, and gave a very unpleasant laugh. “Now, your lordship, how could I be
renting your own house to you? The girl must have escaped from Bedlam.”

“So I thought, until I found this in her possession.” Max did not risk a look at Maggie, trusting her to play along. He
pulled out the bag of diamonds and hefted them. “You will not believe what is in here!”

Turner swallowed, his gaze all but burning a hole in the bag. “You will find me an open‑minded soul, sir. Please, come
to the table and show me.”

Max followed to a high serving table, and gently poured the twenty or so perfect diamonds out onto a silver tray. “Gems of
the rarest purity. How do you suppose she came to have them?”

“Stolen, I dare say,” replied Turner. “Shall I send for the authorities, my lord?”

“You killed my grandfather!” Maggie played her part with brilliance, throwing back the opera cape and pointing at Turner.
“You have kept my inheritance from me.”

“Such a pity. Obviously the strain of her grandfather’s suicide had driven her insane.” The villain managed a look of
sympathy tinged with superiority.

“Then she is Bernard Nichols’ granddaughter? You acted as if you did not know her!” Maxwell scooped the diamonds up,
keeping his eye on Turner. “She resided in my house before I did. Therefore you must know her.”

“I‑I did not recognize her, at first. She has changed a great deal since I‑‑ ”

“Threw her out in the street? With only the clothes on her back?” Max tapped a finger on the table. “Why would you do
that, I wonder? Perhaps there is something in the house that you wish to find. Something you did not want to risk losing.”

Though the morning stayed cool, and no fire blazed in the grate, Turner began to sweat. “You misunderstand, my lord. I
needed time to prepare the house for you. I sent the child’s belongings to her.”

Maggie snorted, and crossed her arms, a gesture Maxwell began to see as typical of her. “Everything you sent had been
gone through, some of the clothing taken apart at the seams. You were looking for the diamonds.”

“But he hid them too well!” Turner looked amazed that a small part of the truth had slipped out. “Nichols refused to
trust me, he never told me where the diamonds were. I have been hard pressed keeping our customers waiting while I looked for

“Customers?” Max looked to Maggie, glad she held up under this confusion. “Explain yourself.”

Turner sighed, and gestured to the sofa. “Why do we not sit down and discuss this calmly?”

Once they were seated, Maggie close beside Max on the sofa, and Turner facing them in a chair, he sighed again.
“Nichols and I procured rare gems on the Continent for clients here in London. I dealt with the sales, Nichols did the
buying. He had a knack for getting excellent bargains, and we have been quite prosperous.”

“What changed?” Max asked. His hand tightened on Maggie’s,and she leaned slightly toward him.

“While Nichols bargained in Belgium last summer, I became acquainted with a certain lord who requested a large amount of
diamonds and sapphires. He desired a tiara and necklace designed for his wife. I knew we would not be able to help him until
Nichols returned, and I feared he would not wait very long.”

The room hushed, and Max held his breath. Turner looked at each of them, then continued. “The war prevented my partner from returning when expected. To keep this nobleman’s interest, I accompanied him to several gaming hells and clubs. I managed to loose heavily, and he bought all my vowels.”

“How much?” Maggie asked.

“Two thousand pounds, or so. I seem to have lost count.”

Maggie stood up and paced. “About the price of the gems he wanted, I would guess. Neatly done.”

“Yes. I could not tell Nichols, when he came back. He took ill, and he trusted me less than before. The nobleman grew
impatient, then began to threaten me. I did not know where to turn.” A look of abject despair accompanied these words. Max
almost believed him.

“You eventually had to tell my grandfather.” Maggie stopped near a window and looked out.

“The gentleman threatened to go to Nichols and demand his jewels.” Turner raised his head. “I hoped our years together
would count for something.”

“I cannot believe Mr. Nichols would not help you,” said Max.

“You are no doubt correct. However, I could not bring myself to tell him.” The confession seemed to come easily now to
the defeated Turner. “I tried to convince him to tell me where the gems were. I thought to return later and take only what I
needed, no more. But still he refused.”

Max became worried about Maggie. She looked like a marble statue, pale and still in the growing daylight. Her eyes burned
as she stared at Turner. “You did kill him. I think I hoped you would say you did not.”

He returned her look, haunted by things they could not see. “Madness is a most peculiar thing. A momentary madness, and then
things have gone too far to turn back. I have almost convinced myself that Nichols did commit suicide. I have no other friends,
you see. I miss him a great deal.”

“We have no choice but to give you over to the authorities,” Max told him gently.

“I feared as much.” Turner reached into a deep pocket of his rich brocade dressing gown, and extracted a pistol. “I
believe I would rather leave the country than be hung for murder. You do understand.”

“Quite.” Maxwell weathered the chill coursing down his back. Maggie had stepped so far away from him, he could not get
to her to protect her. “We will not keep you any longer.”

“No, but I think I would do much better with a traveling companion, such as Miss Nichols.” He stood and crossed to
Maggie, placing a hand on her shoulder.

While he hadn’t known Miss Maggie Nichols a long time, Maxwell Random knew she would not take such treatment well. He
looked to the pistol, aimed at her heart, and shuddered. The least jolting of Turner’s arm could set the thing off.

Just as Maggie pulled back, out of Turner’s grasp, Max took two quick steps and kicked. His booted foot connected with the
gun, sending it across the room. It did not go off when it landed, to Max’s relief. He sent a good right cross into
Turner’s jaw, and watched the man sink to the ground.

“Maggie! Are you all right, dearest?” He had her in his arms before she could react.

“I‑I am fine, my lord. How magnificent you are!” Her eyes shone with candid admiration, and something more that made his
heart beat a little faster.

The servant who had let them in entered with an air of apology. He glanced briefly at where his master lay on the
floor, then addressed himself to Max. “There is a Mr. Hannifly demanding to be let in, my lord. He has brought a Bow Street
Runner with him.”

Reluctant but resigned, Max released Maggie and told the servant to let the men in. He greeted James solemnly. “Mr.
Turner will no doubt go quietly. He has made a confession to us that he murdered Mr. Bernard Nichols, his partner.”

“I see.” James, with typical understatement, motioned to the runner. That jolly little man had been making notes in his
Occurrence Book, but he readily took charge of Turner. He roused the fallen man and led him away.

As silence settled over them, James coughed and looked pointedly at Max. Then he glanced at Maggie. “Ah! How remiss of me. Maggie, I present my closest friend, Mr. Hannifly. James, Miss Nichols, granddaughter of our late friend.”

“A pleasure, Miss.” James took her hand and bowed. “May I extend my deepest sympathies at your loss.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hannifly. I‑‑ Forgive me, I am quite disoriented now.”

Maxwell put his arm around Maggie and guided her back to the sofa. “I will have my man of business go over all the papers. I
will see your fortune restored, and you will no longer need to give harp lessons.”

“No.” She shook her head and looked up at him. “I don’t know what I shall do now.”

“I have an idea,” he answered, unable to stop the grin that pulled at his mouth.

“Ah. Well.” James blushed and moved hastily to the door. “Can’t let the horses stand, you know. I’ll call on you this
afternoon, Max.”

“See that you do, James. I will need a best man.”

As the door snapped shut, Maggie’s eyes widened. “You’ve gone mad! It’s contagious.”

“I hope so, I hope you are just mad enough to accept.”

“How can you want to marry me? We haven’t even known each other for a day!”

He placed a hand on her cheek, caressing the soft rose color that crept in. “I have known you since last summer, my dear.
Not a day passed but your grandfather related some tale about his dear Maggie. How you would play your harp for him when he had
the headache. How you loved fresh peas and detested ratafia.”

“You must have been bored,” she said. “He loved to scheme, but this is too much.”

He noticed she did not pull away from him. “When I saw you climbing up the side of my house, I knew. I could tell no other
woman would make me happy and keep me interested for a life time. Only you, Maggie. And when Turner held that pistol on you, when
I thought I’d lost you so soon, I did go mad. Will you marry me?”

“You are doing this out of a misplaced sense of responsibility. Grandfather gave you the idea. You will soon regret it.”

“I think not.”

“I’m willful and untidy. All my gowns are torn. I cannot dance or do needlework. I could not be a countess.” Her voice
raised in pitch, agitation clear in her blue eyes.

“You are just what I desire for my wife. A countess does not need to be tidy, unless she wishes it. I will teach you to
dance, we will hire one maid just to do needlework. And you can wear trousers if you wish. Nothing else matters.” Max leaned
forward and captured Maggie’s mouth with his. Moving his hand behind her head, he did not allow her to resist. The sweet
surrender when her mouth opened to him caused a singing in his ears.

“Ah, love. Nothing else matters,” he repeated when they paused to breath. “Say yes.”

“Yes, Max. But I have warned you.”

“Enough of that till you’re married,” Mr. Bernard Nichols growled in Max’s ear. “Impatient young pup!”

Max glanced over his shoulder. “I would think you would want me to have some reward for solving the mystery.”

Maggie tilted her head. “What reward do you want?”

“Careful,” Nichols said sharply. “She is a complete innocent.”

Turning away from Maggie, Max glared at the faint specter behind the sofa. “Aren’t you supposed to go rest in peace, now?
We can manage quite well, thank you.”

Nichols smiled and floated to the fireplace. “Haven’t decided yet if I should go. You might need me still. What are
you going to do with all those gems in the desk?”

“Hand them out to everyone who shows up at the door.” He looked at Maggie. She gazed at him as if he had grown another
head. “Here, why can’t she see you? She’s your granddaughter, after all.”

“Maggie is too practical. You are the dreamer. You will balance each other nicely.” Nichols did a graceful pirouette,

“I don’t like it. I wish you would leave.”

“Max, I had better get you home.” She placed a hand on his forehead. “You must have taken a chill on the roof.”

“Yes, my pet. I shall do as you say. You are the practical one.” Max stood up and walked to the door. “And someday, when
our lives have become dull and routine, I will tell you about seeing your grandfather tonight. How he helped me solve our

“What do you mean?”

“He showed me how to operate the latch in the desk. He knocked the finial off the harp.” Max considered the evening carefully. “No doubt he kept the fog off my street so I could see you climbing the drainpipe, and damaged my property to keep us on the roof.”

A faint chuckle came from the apparition. “Very clever, Maxwell. Very clever, indeed.”

Maggie tugged at Max’s wilted cravat, and loosened his shirt collar. “Take a deep breath, dear. You are just over excited.”

“Maggie, my love, I am fine.” He pulled her into his arms again. “Let me show you just how fine I feel.”

As they kissed once more, Maxwell could feel the resentment radiating from his invisible friend.

“Oh, Max. Everything is so wonderful with you.” She placed her head on his chest, moving closer into his embrace.
Max glanced over at Nichols, surprised to see the ghost smiling.

“She likes you well enough, and you like her, I think. My last plan went better than expected.” The deceased came and
placed a kiss on Maggie’s head, just as he had done before, then nodded to Max. “Keep her safe and happy, that is all I ask.
Goodbye, my friend. Remember me to my great‑grandchildren.”

“I will,” promised Max.

Bernard Nichols walked to the door and disappeared without a
backward glance.

“You will what, Max?”

“I will keep you safe and happy, my pet. I will tell our children about their great‑grandfather.”

“Max, now that we are rich, can we sell the Gothic house and buy a normal home?” Maggie looked up, uncertainty in her gaze.

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure. Why your esteemed ancestor built such a place, I will never understand.”

“That’s easy to explain. He did it for Grandmother.”

Max looked his question, and got the rest of the story.

“She loved to read novels, where the heroine is held in a Gothic castle. She thought life would always be exciting if she
lived in such a house.”

“So Nichols built this place to please his bride.” He knew the feeling. Right now Max would do just about anything to
satisfy Maggie.

“Well, actually, he built the house and then asked Grandmother to marry him. The Gothic castle gave him the edge
over her many suitors, and she accepted at once.” Maggie grinned at him. “They were very happy, too.”

“History is about to repeat itself,” he promised her. “Now, let’s go get a bishop out of bed, shall we?”

Laughing, his future bride took his arm and set off to make him the happiest man in London.



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