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Title: The Door With Seven Locks
Author: Edgar Wallace
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Door With Seven Locks
Author: Edgar Wallace


Published by Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1926

*

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII


*

CHAPTER I

Dick Martin's last official job (as he believed) was to pull in Lew
Pheeney, who was wanted in connection with the Helborough bank robbery.
He found Lew in a little Soho cafe, just as he was finishing his coffee.

"What's the idea, colonel?" asked Lew, almost genially, as he got his
hat.

"The inspector wants to talk to you about that Helborough job," said
Dick.

Lew's nose wrinkled in contempt.

"Helborough grandmothers!" he said scornfully. "I'm out of that bank
business--thought you knew it. What are you doing in the force, Martin?
They told me that you'd run into money and had quit."

"I'm quitting. You're my last bit of business."

"Too bad you're falling down on the last lap!" grinned Lew. "I've got
forty-five well-oiled alibis. I'm surprised at you, Martin. You know I
don't 'blow' banks; locks are my speciality--"

"What were you doing at ten o'clock on Tuesday night?"

A broad smile illuminated the homely face of the burglar.

"If I told you, you'd think I was lying."

"Give me a chance," pleaded Dick, his blue eyes twinkling.

Lew did not reply at once. He seemed to be pondering the dangers of too
great frankness. But when he had seen all sides of the matter, he spoke
the truth.

"I was doing a private job--a job I don't want to talk about. It was
dirty, but honest."

"And were you well paid?" asked his captor, polite but incredulous.

"I was--I got one hundred and fifty pounds on account. That makes you
jump, but it is the truth. I was picking locks, certainly the toughest
locks I've ever struck, and it was a kind of horrible job I wouldn't do
again for a car-load of money. You don't believe me, but I can prove
that I spent the night at the Royal Arms, Chichester, that I was there
at eight o'clock to dinner and at eleven o'clock to sleep. So you can
forget all that Helborough bank stuff. I know the gang that did it, and
you know 'em too, and we don't change cards."

They kept Lew in the cells all night whilst inquiries were pursued.
Remarkably enough, he had not only stayed at the Royal Arms at
Chichester, but had stayed in his own name; and it was true that at
a quarter to eleven, before the Hedborough bank robbers had left the
premises, he was taking a drink in his room, sixty miles away. So
authority released Lew in the morning and Dick went into breakfast with
him, because, between the professional thief-taker and the professional
burglar there is no real ill-feeling, and Sub-Inspector Richard Martin
was almost as popular with the criminal classes as he was at police
headquarters.

"Ho, Mr Martin, I'm not going to tell you anything more than I've
already told you," said Lew good-humouredly. "And when you call me a
liar, I'm not so much as hurt in my feelings. I got a hundred an' fifty
pounds, and I'd have got a thousand if I'd pulled it off. You can guess
all round it, but you'll never guess right."

Dick Martin was eyeing him keenly. "You've got a good story in your
mind--spill it," he said.

He waited suggestively, but Lew Pheeney shook his head. "I'm not
telling. The story would give away a man who's not a good fellow, and
not one I admire; but I can't let my personal feelings get the better
of me, and you'll have to go on guessing. And I'm not lying, I'll tell
you how it happened." He gulped down a cup of hot coffee and pushed
cup and saucer away from him. "I don't know this fellow who asked me
to do the work--not personally. He's been in trouble for something or
other, but that's no business of mine. One night he met me, introduced
himself, and I went to his house--brr!" he shivered. "Martin, a crook
is a pretty clean man--at least, all the crooks I know; and thieving's
just a game with two players; me and the police. If they snooker me,
good luck to 'em! If I can beat them, good luck to me! But there's
some dirt that makes me sick, just makes my stomach turn over. When
he told me the job he wanted me for, I thought he was joking, and my
first idea was to turn it in right away. But I'm just the most curious
creature that ever lived, and it was a new experience, so, after a lot
of think, I said 'Yes'. Mind you, there was nothing dishonest in it.
All he wanted to do was to take a peep at something. What was behind it
I don't know. I don't want to talk about it, but the locks beat me."

"A lawyer's safe?" suggested the interested detective, The other shook
his head. He turned the subject abruptly; spoke of his plans--he was
leaving for the United States to join his brother, who was an honest
builder.

"We're both going out of the game together, Martin," he smiled. "You're
too good a man for a policeman, and I'm too much of a gentleman to be
on the crook. I shouldn't be surprised if we met one of these days."

Dick went back to the Yard to make, as he thought, a final report to
his immediate chief. Captain Sneed sniffed.

"That Lew Pheeney couldn't fall straight," he said; "if you dropped him
down a well, he'd wear away the brickwork. Honest robber! He's got that
out of a book. You think you've finished work, I suppose?" Dick nodded.

"Going to buy a country house and be a gentleman. Ride to hounds and
take duchesses into dinner--what a hell of a life for a grown man!"

Dick Martin grinned at the sneer. He wanted very little persuasion to
withdraw his resignation; already he was repenting--and, despite the
attraction of authorship which beckoned ahead, he would have given a
lot of money to recall the letter he had sent to the commissioner.

"It's a queer thing how money ruins a man," said Captain Sneed sadly.
"Now if I had a six-figure legacy I should want to do nothing."

His assistant might sneer in turn.

"You want to do nothing, anyway," he said; "you're lazy, Sneed--the
laziest man who ever filled a chair at Scotland Yard."

The fat man, who literally filled and overflowed the padded office
chair in which he half sat and half lay, a picture of inertia, raised
his reproachful eyes to his companion.

"Insubordination," he murmured. "You're not out of the force till
tomorrow--call me 'sir' and be respectful. I hate reminding you
that you're a paltry sub-inspector and that I'm as near being a
superintendent as makes no difference. It would sound snobbish. I'm not
lazy, I'm lethargic. It's a sort of disease."

"You're fat because you're lazy, and you're lazy because you're fat,"
insisted the lean-faced young man. "It's a sort of vicious circle.
Besides, you're rich enough to retire if you wanted."

Captain Sneed stroked his chin reflectively. He was a giant of a man,
with shoulders of an ox and the height of a Grenadier, but he was
admittedly inert. He sighed heavily, and, groping in a desk basket,
produced a blue paper. "You're a common civilian tomorrow--but my slave
today. Come along to Bellingham Library; there has been a complaint
about stolen books."

Sub-Inspector Dick Martin groaned.

"It's not romantic, I admit," said his superior with a slow, broad
smile; "kleptomania belongs to the dust and debris of detective work,
but it is good for your soul. It will remind you, whilst you're loafing
on the money you didn't earn, that there are a few thousand of your
poor comrades wearin' their feet into ankles with fool inquiries like
this!"

Dick (or 'Slick' as he was called for certain reasons) wondered as he
walked slowly down the long corridor whether he was glad or sorry that
police work lay behind him and that on the morrow he might pass the
most exalted official without saluting. He was a 'larceny man', the
cleverest taker of thieves the Yard had known. Sneed often said that he
had the mind of a thief, and meant this as a compliment. He certainly
had the skill. There was a memorable night when, urged thereto by
the highest police official in London, he had picked the pocket of a
Secretary of State, taken his watch, his pocket-book and his private
papers, and not even the expert watchers saw him perform the fell deed.

Dick Martin came to the Yard from Canada, where his father had been
governor of a prison. He was neither a good guardian of criminals or
youth. Dick had the run of the prison, and could take a stick pin from
a man's cravat before he had mastered the mysteries of algebra. Peter
du Bois, a lifer, taught him to open almost any kind of door with a
bent hairpin; Lew Andrevski, a frequent visitor to Port Stuart, made a
specially small pack of cards out of the covers of the chapel prayer
books; in order that the lad should be taught to conceal three cards in
each tiny palm. If he had not been innately honest, the tuition might
easily have ruined him.

"Dicky's all right--he can't know too much of that crook stuff," said
the indolent Captain Martin, when his horrified relatives expostulated
at the corruption of the motherless boy. "The boys like him--he's going
into the police and the education's worth a million!"

Straight of body, clear-eyed, immensely sane, Dick Martin came happily
through a unique period of test to the office. The war brought him to
England, a stripling with a record of good work behind him. Scotland
Yard claimed him, and he had the distinction of being the only member
of the Criminal Investigation Department who had been appointed without
going through a probationary period of patrol work.

As he went down the stone stairs, he was overtaken by the third
commissioner.

"Hello, Martin! You're leaving us tomorrow? Bad luck! It is a thousand
pities you have money. We're losing a good man. What are you going to
do?"

Dick smiled ruefully.

"I don't know--I'm beginning to think I've made a mistake in leaving at
all."

The 'old man' nodded.

"Do anything except lecture," he said, "and, for the Lord's sake, don't
start a private agency! In America detective agencies do wonderful
things--in England their work is restricted to thinking up evidence for
divorces. A man asked me only today if I could recommend--"

He stopped suddenly at the foot of the stairs and viewed Dick with a
new interest.

"By, Jove! I wonder...! Do you know Havelock, the lawyer?"

Dick shook his head.

"He's a pretty good man. His office is somewhere in Lincoln's Inn
Fields. You'll find its exact position in the telephone directory. I
met him at lunch and he asked me--"

He paused, examining the younger man with a speculative eye.

"You're the very man--it is curious I did not think of you. He asked me
if I could find him a reliable private detective, and I told him that
such things did not exist outside the pages of fiction."

"It doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned," smiled Dick. "The last
thing in the world I want to do is start a detective agency."

"And you're right, my boy," said the commissioner. "I could never
respect you if you did. As a matter of fact, you're the very man for
the job," he went on, a little inconsistently. "Will you go along and
see Havelock, and tell him I sent you? I'd like you to help him if you
could. Although he isn't a friend of mine, I know him and he's a very
pleasant fellow."

"What is the job?" asked the young man, by no means enthralled at the
prospect.

"I don't know," was the reply. "It may be one that you couldn't
undertake. But I'd like you to see him--I half promised him that I
would recommend somebody. I have an idea that it is in connection with
a client of his who is giving him a little trouble. You would greatly
oblige me, Martin, if you saw this gentleman."

The last thing in the world Dick Martin had in mind was the
transference of his detective activities from Scotland Yard to the
sphere of private agencies; but he had been something of a protege of
the third commissioner, and there was no reason in the world why he
should not see the lawyer. He said as much.

"Good," said the commissioner. "I'll phone him this afternoon and tell
him you'll come along and see him. You may be able to help him."

"I hope so, sir," said Dick mendaciously.


CHAPTER II

He pursued his leisurely way to the Bellingham Library, one of the
institutions of London that is known only to a select few. No novel
or volume of sparkling reminiscence has a place upon the shelves of
this institution, founded a hundred years ago to provide scientists
and litterateurs with an opportunity of consulting volumes which were
unprocurable save at the British Museum. On the four floors which
constituted the building, fat volumes of German philosophy, learned
and, to the layman, unintelligible books on scientific phenomena,
obscure treatises on almost every kind of uninteresting subject, stood
shoulder to shoulder upon their sedate shelves.

John Bellingham, who in the eighteenth century had founded this
exchange of learning, had provided in the trust deeds that 'two
intelligent females, preferably in indigent circumstances', should form
part of the staff, and it was to one of these that Dick was conducted.

In a small, high-ceilinged room, redolent of old leather, a girl sat at
a table, engaged in filing index cards.

"I am from Scotland Yard," Dick introduced himself. "I understand that
some of your books have been stolen?"

He was looking at the packed shelves as he spoke, for he was not
interested in females, intelligent or stupid, indigent or wealthy.
The only thing he noticed about her was that she wore black and that
her hair was a golden-brown and was brushed into a fringe over her
forehead. In a vague way he supposed that most girls had hair of
golden-brown, and be had a dim idea that fringes were popular among
working-class ladies.

"Yes," she said quietly, "a book was stolen from this room whilst I
was at luncheon. It was not very valuable--a German volume written by
Haeckel called 'Generelle Morphologic'."

She opened a drawer and took out an index card and laid it before him,
and he read the words without being greatly enlightened.

"Who was here in your absence?" he asked.

"My assistant, a girl named Helder."

"Did any of your subscribers come into this room during that time?"

"Several," she replied. "I have their names, but most of them are above
suspicion. The only visitor we had who is not a subscriber of the
library was a gentleman named Stalletti, an Italian doctor, who called
to make inquiries as to subscription."

"He gave his name?" asked Dick.

"No," said the girl to his surprise; "but Miss Helder recognized him;
she had seen his portrait somewhere. I should have thought you would
have remembered his name."

"Why on earth should I remember his name, my good girl?" asked Dick a
little irritably.

"Why on earth shouldn't you, my good man?" she demanded coolly, and
at that moment Dick Martin was aware of her, in the sense that she
emerged from the background against which his life moved and became a
personality.

Her eyes were grey and set wide apart; her nose straight and small; the
mouth was a little wide--and she certainly had golden-brown hair.

"I beg your pardon!" he laughed. "As a matter of fact"--he had a trick
of confidence which could be very deceptive--"I'm not at all interested
in this infernal robbery. I'm leaving the police force tomorrow."

"There will be great joy amongst the criminal classes," she said
politely, and when he saw the light of laughter in her eyes, his heart
went out to her.

"You have a sense of humour," he smiled.

"You mean by that, that I've a sense of your humour," she answered
quickly. "I have, or I should very much object to being called 'my good
girl' even by an officer of the law"--she looked at his card again
--"even with the rank of sub-inspector."

There was a chair at his hand. Dick drew it out and sat down unbidden.

"I abase myself for my rudeness, and humbly beg information on the
subject of Signor Stalletti. The names means no more to me than John
Smith--the favourite pseudonym of all gentlemen caught in the act of
breaking through the pantry window in the middle of the night."

For a second she surveyed him gravely, her red lips pursed. "And you're
a detective?" she said, in a hushed voice. "One of those almost human
beings who protect us while we sleep!"

He was helpless with laughter.

"I surrender!" He put up his hands. "And now, having put me in my
place, which I admit is a pretty lowly one, perhaps you will pass
across a little information about the purloined literature."

"I've no information to pass across." She leaned back in her chair,
looking at him interestedly. "The book was here at two o'clock; it was
not here at half past two--there may be fingerprints on the shelf, but
I doubt it, because we keep three charladies for the sole purpose of
cleaning up fingerprints."

"But who is Stalletti?"

She nodded slowly. "That was why I expressed a little wonder about your
being a detective," she said. "My assistant tells me that he is known
to the police. Would you like to see his book?"

"Has he written a book?" he asked in genuine surprise. She got up, went
out of the room and returned with a thin volume, plainly bound. He took
the volume in his hand and read the title.

"New Thoughts on Constructive Biology, by Antonio Stalletti." Turning
the closely printed leaves, broken almost at every page by diagrams and
statistical tables, he asked: "Why did he get into trouble with the
police? I didn't know that it was a criminal offence to write a book."

"It is," she emphatically; "but not invariably punished as such. I
understand that the law took no exception to Mr Stalletti being an
author; and that his offence was in connection with vivisection or
something equally horrid."

"What is all this about?" He handed the book back to her.

"It is about human beings," she said solemnly, "like you and me;
and how much better and happier they would be if, instead of being
mollycoddled--I think that is the scientific term--they were allowed to
run wild in a wood and fed on a generous diet of nuts."

"Oh, vegetarian stuff!" said Slick contemptuously.

"Not exactly vegetarian. But perhaps you would like to become a
subscriber and read it for yourself?" And then she dropped her tone of
banter. "The truth is, Mr--er--" she looked at his card again--"Martin,
we are really not worried about the loss of this book of Haeckel's. It
is already replaced, and if the secretary hadn't been such a goop he
wouldn't have reported the matter to the police. And I beg of you"--she
raised a warning finger--"if you meet our secretary that you will not
repeat my opinion of him. Now please tell me something that will make
my flesh creep. I've never met a detective before, I may never meet one
again."

Dick put down the book and rose to his seventy-two inches. "Madam," he
said, "I have not mustered courage to ask your name, I deserve all the
roasting you have given me, but as you are strong, be merciful. Where
does Stalletti live?"

She picked up the book and turned back the cover to a preface.

"Gallows Cottage. That sounds a little creepy doesn't it? It is in
Sussex."

"I can read that for myself," he said, nettled, and she became
instantly penitent.

"You see, we aren't used to these exciting interludes, and a police
visitation gets into one's head. I really don't think the book's worth
bothering about, but I suppose my word doesn't go very far."

"Was anybody here besides Stalletti?" She showed him a list of four
names. "Except Mr Stalletti, I don't think anybody is under suspicion.
As a matter of fact, the other three people were severely historical,
and biology wouldn't interest them in the slightest degree. It could
not have happened if I had been here, because I'm naturally rather
observant."

She stopped suddenly and looked at the desk. The book that had been
lying there a few seconds before had disappeared. "Did you take it?"
she asked.

"Did you see me take it?" he challenged.

"I certainly didn't. I could have sworn it was there a second ago."

He took it from under his coat and handed it to her. "I like observant
people," he said.

"But how did you do it?" She was mystified. "I had my hand on the book
and I only took my eyes off for a second."

"One of these days I'll come along and teach you," he said with
portentous gravity, and was in the street before he remembered that
clever as he was, he had not succeeded in learning the name of this
very capable young lady.

Sybil Lansdown walked to the window which commanded a view of the
square and watched him till he was out of sight, a half smile on her
lips and the light of triumph in her eyes. Her first inclination was to
dislike him intensely; she hated self-satisfied men. And yet he wasn't
exactly that. She wondered if she would ever meet him again--there were
so few amusing people in the world, and she felt that--she took up the
card--Sub-Inspector Richard Martin might be very amusing indeed.


CHAPTER III

Dick was piqued to the extent of wishing to renew the encounter, and
there was only one excuse for that. He went to the garage near his
flat, took out his dingy Buick and drove down to Gallows Hill. It was
not an easy quest, because Gallows Hill is not marked on the map and
only had a local significance; and it was not until he was on the edge
of Selford Manor that he learnt from a road-mender that the cottage was
on the main road and that he had come about ten miles out of his way.

It was late in the afternoon when he drew abreast of the broken wall
and hanging gate behind which was the habitation of Dr Stalletti. The
weed-grown drive turned abruptly to reveal a mean-looking house, which
he thought was glorified by the name of cottage. So many of his friends
had 'cottages' which were mansions, and 'little places' which were very
little indeed, when he had expected to find a more lordly dwelling.

There was no bell, and he knocked at the weather-stained door for five
minutes before he had an answer. And then he heard a shuffling of feet
on bare boards, the clang of a chain being removed, and the door opened
a few inches.

Accustomed as he was to unusual spectacles, he gaped at the man who
was revealed in the space between door and lintel. A long, yellow
face, deeply lined and criss-crossed with innumerable lines till it
looked like an ancient yellow apple; a black beard that half-covered
its owner's waistcoat; a skull-cap; a pair of black, malignant eyes
blinking at these were his first impressions. "Dr Stalletti?" he asked.

"That is my name." The voice was harsh, with just a suggestion of
a foreign accent. "Did you wish to speak with me? Yes? That is
extraordinary. I do not receive visitors."

He seemed in some hesitation as to what he should do, and then he
turned his head and spoke to somebody over his shoulder, and in doing
so revealed to the detective a young, rosy, and round-faced man, very
newly and smartly dressed. At the sight of Dick the man stepped back
quickly out of sight.

"Good-morning, Thomas," said Dick Martin politely. "This is an
unexpected pleasure." The bearded man growled something and opened the
door wide.

Tommy Cawler was indeed a sight for sore eyes. Dick Martin had seen him
in many circumstances, but never so beautifully and perfectly arrayed.
His linen was speckless; his clothes were the product of a West End
tailor.

"Good-morning, Mr Martin." Tommy was in no sense abashed, "I just
happened to call round to see my old friend Stalletti."

Dick gazed at him admiringly. "You simply ooze prosperity! What is the
game now, Tommy?"

Tommy closed his eyes, a picture of patience and resignation.

"I've got a good job now, Mr Martin--straight as a die! No more trouble
for me, thank you. Well, I'll be saying goodbye, doctor."

He shook hands a little too vigorously with the bearded man and stepped
past him and down the steps.

"Wait a moment, Tommy. I'd like to have a few words with you. Can you
spare me a moment whilst I see Dr Stalletti?"

The man hesitated, shot a furtive glance at the bearded figure in the
doorway.

"All right," he said ungraciously. "But don't be long, I've got an
engagement. Thank you for the medicine, doctor," he added loudly.

Dick was not deceived by so transparent a bluff. He followed the doctor
into the hall. Farther the strange man did not invite him.

"You are police, yes?" he said, when Dick produced his card. "How
extraordinary and bizarre! To me the police have not come for a long
time--such trouble for a man because he experiments for science on a
leetle dog! Such a fuss and nonsense! Now you ask me--what?"

In a few words Dick explained his errand, and to his amazement the
strange man answered immediately:

"Yes, the book, I have it! It was on the shelf. I needed it, so I took
it!"

"But, my good man," said the staggered detective, "you're not allowed
to walk off with other people's property because you want it!"

"It is a library. It is for lending, is it not? I desired to borrow,
so I took it with me. There was no concealment. I placed it under my
arm, I lifted my hat to the young signora, and that was all. Now I have
finished with it and it may go back. Haeckel is a fool; his conclusions
are absurd, his theories extraordinary and bizarre." (Evidently this
was a favourite phrase of his.) "To you they would seem very dull and
commonplace, but to me--" He shrugged his shoulders and uttered a
little cackle of sound which Dick gathered was intended to be laughter.

The detective delivered a little lecture on the systems of loaning
libraries, and with the book under his arm went out to rejoin the
waiting Mr Cawler. He had at least an excuse for returning to the
library, he thought with satisfaction.

"Now, Cawler"--he began without superfluous preliminaries and his voice
was peremptory--"I want to know something about you. Is Stalletti a
friend of yours?"

"He's my doctor," said the man coolly.

He had a merry blue eye, and he was one of the few people who had
passed through his hands for whom Dick had a genuine liking. Tommy
Cawler had been a notorious 'knocker-off' of motor-cars, and a
'knocker-off' is one who, finding an unattended machine, steps blithely
into the driver's seat and is gone before the owner misses his machine.
Tommy's two convictions had both been due to the unremitting inquiries
of the man who now questioned him.

"I've got a regular job; I'm chauffeur to Mr Bertram Cody," said Tom
virtuously. "I'm that honest now, I wouldn't touch anything crook, not
to save my life."

"Where does Mr Cody live when he's at home?" asked Dick, unconvinced.

"Weald House. It is only a mile from here; you can step over and ask if
you like."

"Does he know about your--sad past?" Dick questioned delicately.

"He does; I told him everything. He says I am the best chauffeur he
ever had."

Dick examined the man carefully.

"Is this er--er--uniform that your employer prefers?"

"I'm going on holiday, to tell you the truth," said Mr Cawler. "The
governor is pretty good about holidays. Here's the address if you want
it."

He took an envelope from his pocket addressed to himself 'c/o Bertram
Cody, Esq., Weald House, South Weald, Sussex.'

"They treat me like a lord," he said, not without truth. "And a more
perfect lady and gentleman than Mr and Mrs Cody you'd never hope to
see."

"Fine," said the sceptical Richard. "Forgive these embarrassing
questions. Tommy, but in my bright lexicon there is no such word as
'reform'."

"I don't know your friend, but you've got it wrong," said Tommy hazily.

Martin offered him a lift, but this was declined, and the detective
went back alone to London, and, to his annoyance, arrived at the
library half an hour after the girl had left.

It was too late, he thought, to see Mr Havelock of Lincoln's Inn
Fields, and in point of fact the recollection of that engagement
brought with it a feeling of discomfort. His plans were already made.
He intended spending a month in Germany before he returned to the work
which he had promised himself: a volume on 'Thieves and Their Methods',
which he thought would pleasantly occupy the next year.

Dick, without being extremely wealthy, was in a very comfortable
position. Sneed had spoken of a six-figure legacy, and was nearly
right, although the figures were dollars, for his uncle had been a
successful cattle fanner of Alberta. Mainly he was leaving the police
force because he was nearing promotion, and felt it unfair to stand in
the way of other men who were more in need of rank than himself. Police
work amused him. It was his hobby and occupation, and he did not care
to contemplate what life would be without that interest.

He had turned to go into his flat when he heard a voice hail him, and
he turned to see the man whom he had released that morning crossing the
road in some haste. Ordinarily, Lew Pheeney was the coolest of men, but
now he was almost incoherent.

"Can I see you, Slick?" he asked, a quiver in his voice, which Dick did
not remember having heard before.

"Surely you can see me. Why? Is anything wrong?"

"I don't know." The man looked up and down the street nervously. "I'm
being trailed."

"Not by the police--that I can swear," said Dick.

"Police!" said the man impatiently. "Do you think that would worry me?
No, it's the fellow I spoke to you about. There's something wrong in
that business. Slick, I kept one thing from you. While I was working I
saw this guy slip a gun out of his hip and drop it into his overcoat
pocket. He stood holding it all the time I was working, and it struck
me then that, if I'd got that door open, there'd have been no chance
of my ever touching the thousand. Half way through I said I wanted to
go out, and, once outside, I bolted. There was something that chased
me--God knows what it was; a sort of animal. And I hadn't got a gun--I
never carry one in this country, because a judge piles it on if you're
caught with a barker in your pocket."

All the time they had been speaking they were passing through the
vestibule and up the stairs to Slick's flat, and, without invitation,
the burglar followed him into the apartment.

He led the man into his study and shut the door. "Now, Lew, let me hear
the truth--what was the work you were doing on Tuesday night?"

Lew looked round the room, out of the window, everywhere except at
Dick. Then: "I was trying to open a dead man's tomb!" he said in a low
voice.


CHAPTER IV

There was a silence of a minute. Dick looked at the man, hardly
believing his ears.

"Trying to open a dead man's tomb?" he repeated. "Now sit down and tell
me all about it, Lew."

"I can't--yet. I'm scared," said the other doggedly. "This man is hell,
and I'd as soon face the devil as go through another night like I had
on Tuesday."

"Who is the man?"

"I won't tell you that," said the other sullenly. "I might at the end,
but I won't tell you now. If I can find a quiet place I'm going to
write it all out, and have it on paper in case anything happens to me."

He was obviously labouring under a sense of unusual excitement, and
Dick, who had known him for many years, both in England and in Canada,
was amazed to see this usually phlegmatic man in such a condition of
nerves.

He refused to take the dinner that the old housekeeper served,
contenting himself with a whisky and soda, and Dick Martin thought it
wise not to attempt to question him any further.

"Why don't you stay here tonight and write your story? I won't ask you
for it, but you'll be as safe here as anywhere."

That idea seemed already to have occurred to the man, for he obeyed
instantly, and Dick gathered that he had such scheme in his mind. Diner
was nearly through when the detective was called away to the phone. "Is
that Mr Martin?" The voice was that of a stranger. "Yes," replied Dick.

"I am Mr Havelock. The Commissioner sent me a message this evening, and
I was expecting you to call at my office. I wonder if you could see me
tonight?" There was anxiety and urgency in the tone.

"Why, surely," said Dick. "Where are you living?"

"907 Acada Road, St John's Wood. I am very near to you; a taxi would
get you here in five minutes. Have you dined? I was afraid you had.
Will you come up to coffee in about a quarter of an hour?"

Dick Martin had agreed before he realized that his guest and his
strange story had to be considered.

The startling announcement of Lew Pheeney had changed his plans. Yet it
might be advisable to leave the man to write his story. He called his
housekeeper aside and dismissed her for the night. Pheeney, alone in
the flat, might write his story without interruption.

The man readily agreed to his suggestion, seemed, in fact, relieved at
the prospect of being alone, and a quarter of an hour later Mr Martin
was ringing the bell of an imposing house that stood in its acre of
garden in the best part of St Johns Wood. An elderly butler took his
suck and hat and conducted him into a long dining-room, furnished with
quiet taste. Evidently Mr Havelock was something of a connoisseur, for
of the four pictures that hung on the wall, Dick accurately placed one
as being by Corot, and the big portrait over the carved mantelpiece was
undoubtedly a Rembrandt.

The lawyer was dining in solitary state at the end of a long, polished
table. A glass of red wine stood at his elbow, a long, thin cigar was
between his teeth. He was a man between fifty and sixty, tall and
rather thin. He had the brow and jaw of a fighter, and his iron-grey
side-whiskers gave him a certain ferocious appearance. Dick liked him,
for the eyes behind his horn-rimmed spectacles were very attractive.

"Mr Martin, eh?" He half rose and offered his firm, thin hand. "Sit
down. What will you drink? I have a port here that was laid down for
princes. Walters, give Mr Martin a glass."

He leaned back in his chair, his lips pursed, and regarded the young
man fixedly.

"So you're a detective, eh?" It sounded reminiscent of an experience
he had had that morning, and Dick grinned. "The commissioner says
you're leaving the police force tomorrow, and that you want a hobby. By
heavens, I'll furnish you a hobby that'll save me a lot of sleepless
nights! Walters, serve Mr Martin and clear out. And I am not to
be interrupted. Switch off the phone; I'm not at home to anybody,
however important." When the door had closed behind the butler, Mr
Havelock rose and began a restless pacing of the room. He had a quick,
abrupt, almost offensively brusque manner, jerking out his sentences
accusatively. "I'm a lawyer--you probably know my name, though I've
never been in a police court in my life. I'm very seldom in any court
of law. I deal with companies and estates, and I'm trustee for half
a dozen, or maybe a dozen, various charities. I'm the trustee of the
Selford estate." He said this with a certain emphasis, as though he
thought that Dick would understand the peculiar significance of this.
"I'm the trustee of the Selford estate," he said again, "and I wish to
heaven I wasn't. Old Lord Selford--not that he was old, except in sin
and iniquity, but the late Lord Selford, let me say--left me the sole
executor of his property and guardian of his wretched child. The late
Lord Selford was a very unpleasant, bad-tempered man, half mad, as most
of the Selfords have been for generations. Do you know Selford Manor?"

Dick smiled. "Curiously enough, I was on the edge of it today. I didn't
know there was such a place until this afternoon, and I had no such
idea there was a Lord Selford--does he live there?"

"He doesn't." Havelock snapped the words, his eyes gleaming fiercely
from behind his glasses. "I wish to God he did. He lives nowhere. That
is to say, he lives nowhere longer than two or three days together. He
is a nomad of nomads; his father in his youth was something of the same
nature. Pierce--that is his family name, by the way, and he has always
been called Pierce--has spent the last ten years wandering from town
to town, from country to country, drawing heavily upon his revenue,
as he can well afford to do because it is a large one, and returning
to England only at the rarest intervals. I haven't seen him for four
years." He said this slowly.

"I'll give you his history, Mr Martin, so that you will understand it
better," he went on. "When Selford died, Pierce was six. He had no
mother, and, curiously enough, no near relations. Selford was an only
child, and his wife was also in that position, so that there were no
uncles and aunts to whom I could have handed over my responsibility.
The boy was delicate, as I found when I sent him to a preparatory
school at the age of eight, expecting to be rid of the poor little
beggar, but not a day passed that he didn't send me a note asking to be
taken away. Eventually I found a private tutor for him, and he got some
sort of education. It was not good enough to enable him to pass the
Little Go--that is the entrance examination to Cambridge--and I sent
him abroad with his tutor to travel. I wish to heaven I hadn't! For the
travel bug bit deep into his soul, and he's been moving ever since.
Four years ago he came to me in London. He was then on his way to
America, where he was studying economic conditions. He had a wild idea
of writing a book--one of the delusions from which most people suffer
is that other people are interested in their recollections."

Dick flushed guiltily, but the lawyer went on, without apparently
noticing his embarrassment.

"Now I'm worried about this boy. From time to time demands come through
to me for money, and from time to time I cable him very respectable
sums--which, of course, he is entitled to receive, for he is now
twenty-four."

"His financial position--" began Dick.

"Perfectly sound, perfectly sound," said Mr Havelock impressively.
"That isn't the question at all. What is worrying me is, the boy
being so long out of my sight. Anything may happen to him; he may
have fallen into the worst possible hands." He hesitated, and added:
"And I feel that I should get in touch with him--not directly, but
through a third person. In other words, I want you to go to America
next week, and, without saying that you came from me, or that I sent
you, get acquainted with Lord Selford--he travels, by the way, as Mr
John Pierce. He is a very quick mover, and you'll have to make careful
inquiries as to where he has gone, because I cannot promise that I
can keep you as well informed of his movements as I should like. If,
in your absence, I have a cable from him, I will, of course, transmit
it to you. I want you to find Pierce, but in no circumstances are you
to acquaint the police of America that you are following him, or that
there is anything suspicious in his movements. All that I want to know
is. Has he contracted any undesirable alliance, is he a free agent, is
the money I send to him being employed for his own benefit? He tells
me, by the way, that he has bought a number of shares in industrial
concerns in various parts of the world, and some of these shares are
in my possession. A great number, however, I cannot account for, and
he has replied to my inquiries by telling me that they are safely
deposited with a South African banking corporation. The reason I ask
you to keep this matter entirely to yourself is because, you will
understand, I can't have him embarrassed by the attentions of the local
authorities. And most earnestly I am desirous that he should not know I
sent you. Now, Mr Martin, how does the idea appeal to you?"

Dick smiled. "It looks to me like a very pleasant sort of holiday. How
long will this chase last?"

"I don't know--a few months, a few weeks: it all depends upon the
report I receive from you, which, by the way, must be cabled to me
direct. I have a very free hand and I can allow you the limit of
expenses; in addition to which I will pay you a handsome fee." He named
a sum which was surprisingly munificent.

"When would you want me to go?" The lawyer took out a little pocketbook
and evidently consulted a calendar.

"Today is Wednesday; suppose you leave next Wednesday by the Cunarder?
At present he is in Boston, but he tells me that he is going to New
York, where he will be staying at the Commodore. Boston is a favourite
hunting ground of his." His lips twitched. "I believe he intends
sparing a chapter to the American War of Independence," he said dryly;
"and, naturally, Boston will afford him an excellent centre for that
study."

"One question," said Dick, as he rose to go. "Have you any reason to
suppose that he has contracted, as you say, an undesirable alliance--in
other words, has married somebody that he shouldn't have married?"

"No reason at all, except my suspicious mind," smiled Mr Havelock. "If
you become friendly with him, as I am perfectly sure with an effort
you can succeed in doing, there are certain things I would like you to
urge upon him. The first of these is that he come back to England and
takes his seat in the House of Peers. That is very essential. Then I
should like him to have a London season, because it's high time he was
married and off my mind. Selford Manor is going to ruin for want of an
occupant. It is disgraceful that a fine old house like that should be
left to the charge of a caretaker--anyway, he ought to come back to be
buried there," he added, with a certain grim humour, and Dick did not
quite understand the point of his remark until eight months later.

The task was, in Dr Stalletti's words, extraordinary and bizarre,
but it was not wholly unusual. Indeed, the first thought he had was
its extreme simplicity. The commission was really a holiday on a
grand scale, and something of his regret at leaving Scotland Yard was
expunged by the pleasant prospect.

It was nine o'clock on this wet October night when he came into Acacia
Road. There was not a cab in sight, and he had to walk half a mile
before he reached a rank. Letting himself into his flat, he found it
in darkness, and to his surprise Pheeney had gone. The remains of the
dinner were on the table--he had told the housekeeper that he would
clear the board, but one corner of the tablecloth had been turned up,
and there on the cleared space half a dozen sheets of paper and a
fountain pen. Evidently Lew intended returning, but though Dick Martin
waited up until two o'clock, there was no sign of the grave-robber. For
some reason Pheeney had changed his mind.

At half past ten the next morning he called at the library with his
book. The girl looked up with a little laugh as he came in.

"I admit I'm a good joke," he said ruefully. "Here is your book. It was
taken by an ignorant foreigner, who believed that loaning libraries are
run on rather haphazard lines."

She stared at the book. "Really, you are most impressive, Mr Martin.
Please tell me how you did it."

"Sheer deduction," he said gaily. "I knew the man who took it was a
foreigner, because you told me so. I guessed his address because you
gave it me; and I recovered the book by the intricate process of asking
for it!"

"Wonderful!" she breathed, and they laughed together. There was small
excuse for his lingering, yet he contrived, as she hinted rather
plainly, to hinder her for the greater part of an hour. Happily, the
patrons of the Bellingham Library were not early risers, and she had
the best part of the morning to herself.

"I am going abroad next week for a few months," he said carelessly.
"I don't know why I tell you, but I thought possibly you would be
interested in foreign travel."

She smiled to herself.

"You are certainly the naivest detective I have ever met! In fact, the
only detective I have ever met!" she added. Then, seeing his obvious
discomfiture, she became almost kind. "You see, Mr. Martin, I have
been very well brought up"--even in her kindness, her irony made him
wince--"which means that I am fearfully conventional. I wonder if you
can guess how many men one meets in the course of a week who try to
interest you in their family affairs? I'm not being unkind really," she
smiled, as he protested.

"I've been rather a brute--I'm awfully sorry," said Dick frankly, "and
I deserve all the roasting you give me. But it's very natural that
even a humble detective officer should wish to improve an acquaintance
with one who, if I may say so without bringing a blush to your maiden
cheeks, has a singularly attractive mind."

"And now let us all be complimentary," she said, though the colour in
her face was heightened and her eyes were a little brighter. "You are
the world's best detective, and if ever I lose anything, I am sending
immediately for you."

"Then you'll draw a blank," said Dick triumphantly. "I'm leaving the
force and becoming a respectable member of society tomorrow. Miss...?"

She did not attempt to help him.

Then suddenly he saw a look of understanding come to her face.

"You're not the man that Mr Havelock is sending to look for my
relative, are you?"

"Your relative?" he asked in amazement. "Is Lord Selford a relative of
yours?"

She nodded. "He's a forty-second cousin, heaven knows how many times
removed. Father was his second cousin. Mother and I were dining with Mr
Havelock the other night, and he said that he was trying to get a man
to run Selford to earth."

"Have you ever met him?" asked Dick.

She shook her head.

"No, but my mother knew him when he was a small boy. I think she saw
him once. His father was a horror. I suppose Mr Havelock has told you
that--I am assuming that my guess is right: you are going in search of
him?"

Dick nodded.

"That was the sad news I was trying to break to you," he said.

At that moment their tête-à-tête was interrupted by the arrival of an
elderly gentleman with a vinegary voice, who, Dick guessed, was the
secretary.

He went back to Scotland Yard to find Captain Sneed, who had been
absent when he had called on the phone that morning. Sneed listened
without comment to the extraordinary story of Lew Pheeney's midnight
occupation.

"It certainly sounds like a lie, and anything that sounds like a lie
generally is a lie," he said. "Why didn't Pheeney stay, if he'd got
this thing on his conscience? And who was chasing him? Did you see
anybody?"

"Nobody," said Dick. "But the man was afraid, and genuinely so."

"Humph!" said Sneed, and pressed a bell.

To the clerk who answered: "Send a man to pick up Pheeney and bring him
here. I want to ask him a few questions," he said. And then, calling
the man back: "You know his address, Dick. Go along and see if you can
unearth him."

"My term of service expires at twelve today."

"Midnight," said Sneed laconically. "Get busy!"

Lew Pheeney lived in Great Queen Street, at a lodging he had occupied
for years; but his landlady could give no information. Pheeney had left
the previous afternoon somewhere about five and had not returned. A
haunt of the burglar was a small club, extensively patronized by the
queer class which hovers eternally on the rim of the law. Pheeney had
not been there--he usually came in to breakfast and to collect his
letters.

Dick saw a man who said he had had an engagement with Pheeney on the
previous night, and that he had waited until twelve.

"Where am I likely to find him?"

Here, however, no information was forthcoming. Dick Martin's profession
was as well known as Mr Pheeney's.

He reported the result of his visits to Sneed, who for some reason took
a more serious view of the whole matter than Dick had expected.

"I'm believing it now, that grave-robbing story," said Sneed, "and
certainly it's remarkable if Lew was upset, because nothing short of an
earthquake would raise a squeal with him. Maybe he's at your flat?"

When Dick got home the flat was empty. His housekeeper had neither seen
nor heard from the visitor. The detective strolled into his bedroom,
pulled off his coat, intending to put on the old shooting jacket he
wore when he was writing--for he had a number of reports to finish
before he made his final exit from the Yard. The coat was not hanging
up where it was usually kept, and he remembered that his housekeeper
had told him that she had put it in the bureau: a tall piece of
mahogany furniture where his four suits were invariably hung on hangers.

Without a thought he turned the handle of the bureau door and pulled it
open. As he did so, the body of a man fell against him, almost knocking
him over, and dropped to the floor with an inanimate thud. It was Lew
Pheeney, and he was dead.


CHAPTER V

The Big Five at Scotland Yard filled Dick Martin's dining room, waiting
for the verdict of the medical man who had been hastily summoned. The
doctor came in in a few minutes. "So far as I can tell by a superficial
examination," he said, "he's been dead for some hours, and was either
strangled or his neck was broken."

In spite of his self-control, Dick shivered. He had slept in the room
that night, where, behind the polished door, lay that ghastly secret.
"There was no sign of a struggle, Martin?" asked one of the officers.

"None whatever," said Dick emphatically. "I am inclined to agree with
the doctor: I should think that he was struck by something heavy and
killed instantly. But how they got into the flat. God knows!"

Inquiries of the girl who worked the night elevator were
unsatisfactory, because she could remember nobody having come into the
flat after Dick had gone out.

The six detectives made a minute examination of the premises.

"There's only one way he could have come in," said Sneed when the
inspection was over, "and that is through the kitchenette."

There was a door in the kitchen leading to a tiny balcony, by the side
of which ran an outside service lift, used, as Dick explained, to
convey tradesmen's parcels from the courtyard below, and worked from
the ground level by a small handle and winch.

"You don't remember if this kitchen door was bolted?" asked Sneed.

The troubled young man explained that he had not been in the kitchen
after his return on the previous night. But his housekeeper, who was
hovering tearfully in the background, volunteered the information that
the door was open when she had come that morning.

Dick looked down into the yard. The flat was sixty feet from the
ground, and although it was possible that the intruder had climbed the
ropes of the service lift, it seemed a feat beyond the power of most
burglars.

"He gave you no indication as to who the man was he feared?" asked
Sneed, when the rest of the Yard officers had gone back to headquarters.

"No," Dick shook his head. "He told me nothing. He was scared, and I'm
sure his story was perfectly true--namely, that he was engaged to rob
a grave, and that he had an idea that the man who made the engagement
would have killed him if he had succeeded in his task."

Dick went down to Lincoln's Inn Fields that morning and had an
interview with Mr Havelock, who had already read the account in the
evening newspapers, though Lew's strange story was suppressed by the
police even at the inquest.

"Yes, I was afraid this might interfere with our plans, but I'm
not particular to a week or two, and if you must remain behind for
inquiries, I will still further extend the period. Though in a sense
the matter is urgent, it is not immediately so."

There was a conference of Yard officials, and it was agreed that Dick
should be allowed to leave England immediately after the inquest,
unless an arrest was made, on the understanding that he was to keep
in touch with headquarters, so that, should the murderer be found, it
would be possible for him to return to give evidence at the trial. This
arrangement he conveyed to Mr Havelock.

The inquest was held on the Friday, and, after Dick's evidence,
adjourned for an indefinite period. On the Saturday morning at twelve
o'clock he left England, on the wildest chase that any man had ever
undertaken. And behind him, did he but know it, stalked the shadow of
death.


CHAPTER VI

When Dick Martin left England on his curious quest, the Pheeney murder
bulked largely in the newspapers, and almost as largely in his mind.
There were other thoughts and other fancies to occupy the voyage,
and, long after the memory of the murdered cracksman had faded, there
remained with him the vision of two grey eyes that were laughing at him
all the time, and the sound of a low, sweet, teasing voice.

If he had only had the sense to discover her name before he left. He
might have written to her, or, or least, sent her picture postcards
of the strange lands through which he travelled. But, in the hurry of
his departure, and occupied as he was with the Pheeney crime, though
he played no official part in the inevitable inquiries which followed,
he had neither the time nor the excuse to call upon her. A letter
addressed to 'the pretty lady with the grey eyes at the Bellingham
Library' might conceivably reach her, if there were no other lady
employed in the building who also was favoured with eyes of that hue.
On the other hand (he argued this quite gravely, as though it were an
intelligent proposition) she might conceivably be annoyed.

From Chicago he sent a letter to the secretary of the library,
enclosing a subscription, though he had no more need of scientific
volumes than a menagerie of wild cats. But he hoped that he would see
her name on the receipt--it was not until the letter was posted that he
realized that by the time the receipt returned to Chicago he would be
thousands of miles away, and cursed himself for his folly.

Naturally he heard nothing from Sneed, and was compelled to depend upon
such stray English papers as came his way to discover how the Pheeney
mystery had developed. Apparently the police had made no arrest, and
the record of the crime had dwindled to small paragraphs in odd comers
of the newspapers.

He came to Cape Town from Buenos Aires, to miss his man by a matter of
days, and there had the first cheerful news he had received since his
search began. It was a cable from Havelock asking him to return home at
once, and with a joyful heart he boarded the Castle boat at the quay.
On that day he made his second important discovery, the first having
been made in Buenos Aires.

In all his travels he had not once come up with the will-o'-the-wisp
lordling whom he had followed half round the world, and the zest of the
chase had already departed from him. From Cape Town to Madeira was a
thirteen-day voyage by the intermittent steamer on which he travelled,
having missed the mail by four days. To a man with other interests
than deck sports, the peculiar characteristics of passengers, and the
daily sweepstake, those thirteen days represented the dullest period
Dick Martin had ever endured. And then, when the ship stopped to coal,
the miracle happened. Just before the steamer left, a launch came
alongside; half a dozen passengers mounted the stairs, and for a moment
Dick thought he was dreaming.

It was she! There was no mistaking her. He could have picked her out
of a million. She did not see him, nor did he make himself known
to her. For now that they were, so to speak, under one roof, and
the opportunity that he dreamed of had presented itself in such an
unexpected fashion, he was curiously shy, and avoided her until almost
the last day of the voyage.

She was coolness itself when at last they met. "Ah yes, I knew you were
on board. I saw your name in the passenger list," she said, and he was
so agitated that he did not even resent the amusement in her eyes.

"Why didn't you speak to me?" he asked brazenly, and again she smiled.

"I thought you were here--on business," she said maliciously. "My
steward told me that you spent most of your evenings in the smokeroom
watching people play cards. I was wondering when you were coming into
the library. You're a subscriber now, aren't you?"

"Yes," he said awkwardly; "I believe I am."

"I know because I signed your receipt," she said.

"Oh, then, you're--" He paused expectantly.

"I'm the person that signed the receipt." Not a muscle of her face
moved.

And then: "What is your name?" he asked bluntly.

"My name is Lansdown--Sybil Lansdown."

"Of course, I remember!"

"You saw it on the receipt, of course?"

He nodded.

"It was returned to the library through the Dead Letter Office!" she
went on ruthlessly.

"I never knew a human being who could make a man feel quite as big a
fool as you," he protested, laughing. "I mean, as you make me feel," he
corrected hastily.

And that ended the conversation until the evening. On the dark deck,
side by side, they talked commonplaces, until--

"Start Light on the port bow, sir," said a muffled voice on the bridge
deck above.

The two people leaning over the rail in the narrow deck space forward
saw a splash of light quiver for the fraction of a second on the rim of
the dark sea and vanish again. "That is a lighthouse, isn't is?"

Dick edged himself a little closer to the girl, sliding himself
stealthily along the broad rail.

"Start Light," he explained. "I don't know why they call it 'Start'--
'Finish' would be a better word, I guess." A silence, then:

"You are not American, are you?"

"Canadian by habit, British by birth--mostly anything people want me to
be. A kind of renegade." He laughed softly in the darkness.

"I don t think that is a nice word. I wondered if I should meet you
when I came aboard at Madeira. There are an awful queer lot of people
on board this ship."

"Thank you for those kind words," said Dick gravely, and she protested.
He went on: "There never was an ocean-going ship that wasn't full of
queer people. I'll give you a hundred million if you can travel on a
packet where some passenger doesn't say, 'My, what a menagerie!' about
the others. No, Miss Lansdown, you're not being trite. Life's trite
anyway. The tritest thing you can do is to eat and sleep. Try living
originally and see how quick you go dead. Here's another queer thing
about ships--you never have the nerve to talk to the people you like
till you're only a day from port. What they do with themselves the rest
of the time, I've never found out. Five days from Madeira--and I never
spoke to you till this afternoon. That's proof."

She drew a little farther from him and straightened herself.

"I think I'll go below now," she said. "It is rather late and we have
to get up early--"

"What you're really thinking," said Dick, very gently, "is that in
a second or so I'll be pawing your hand and saying wouldn't it be
wonderful if we could sail on like this for ever under the stars and
everything. I'm not. Beauty attracts me, I admit it. I know you're
beautiful because I couldn't find anything odd about your face." He
heard her laughing. "That's beauty in a sentence--something that isn't
odd. If your nose was fat and your eyes little and squeeny and your
complexion like one of these maps that show the density of population,
I'd have admired you for your goodness of heart, but I shouldn't have
raved you into the Cleopatra class. I'll bet she wasn't much to look at
if the truth was known."

"Are you going abroad again?" She turned the talk into a way that was
less embarrassing, but regretted the necessity.

"No--I'm staying in London: in Clargate Gardens. I've got a pretty nice
little flat; you can sit in the middle of any room and touch the walls
without stretching. But it's big enough for a man without ambitions.
When you get to my age--I'll be thirty on the fourteenth of September:
you might like to send me flowers--you're content to settle down and
watch the old world wag around. I'll be glad to get back. London takes
a hold of you, and just when you're getting tired of it, up comes a fog
like glue-gas and you can't find your way out."

She sighed.

"Our flat is smaller than yours. Madeira was heaven after Coram Street!"

"What number?" asked Dick brazenly.

"One of the many," she smiled. "And now I really must go. Goodnight."

He did not walk back with her to the companionway, but strolled to the
ship's side, where he could watch the slim figure as it passed quickly
along the deserted deck.

He wondered what had taken her to Madeira, for he guessed that she was
not one of those fortunate people who, to escape the rigours of an
English winter, could afford to follow the path of the vernal equinox.
She was much more pretty than he had thought--beautiful in a pale,
Oriental way--it was the slant of her grey eyes that suggested the
East--not pale exactly--and yet not pink. Perhaps it was the geranium
red of her lips that, by contrast, gave the illusion of pallor. Thin?
He decided that she was not that. He thought of thin people in terms of
brittleness--and she was supple and plastic.

Amazed to find himself analyzing her charm, he strolled along the deck
and turned into the smoking-room. Although the hour was past eleven,
the tables were occupied, and by the usual crowd. He walked to one in
the corner and stood watching the play until, after many uneasy and
resentful glances, the big man who, up till his arrival, had been the
most jovial and the most successful player threw down his cards.

"Goin' to bed," he growled, gathered up his winnings and rose.

He stopped before Slick.

"You won a hundred from me last week," he said. "You pay that back
before you leave this ship."

"Will you have it in notes or money?" asked Dick Martin politely. "Or
maybe you'd prefer a cheque?"

The big man said nothing for a moment, then: "Come outside," he said.

Dick followed him to the dim lights of the promenade deck.

"See here, mister. I've been waitin' a chance to talk to you--I don't
know you, though your face is kind of familiar. I've been working this
line for ten years and I'll stand for a little competition, but not
much. What I won't stand for is a cheap skate like you takin' me on and
stunnin' me for a century with a stacked deck of cards. Get me?"

"In fact, what your soul kind of pines for is honour amongst card-sharps,"
said Dick. "Ever seen this?"

He took a metal badge from his pocket, and the big man gurgled
apprehensively.

"I'm not entitled to wear that now, because I've left the Royal
Canadian Police," said Dick Martin, replacing the badge. "I carry it
around for old times' sake. You remember me? I'd say you did! I pinched
you in Montreal eight winters ago for selling mining stock that was
unattached to any mine."

"Dick Martin--" The big man invoked a great personage.

In the seclusion of his cabin, which he shared with two of his
confederates, the big fellow wiped the perspiration from his forehead
and grew biographical.

"He's the feller that went up to the Klondyke and took Harvey Wells. He
had a moustache then, that's why I didn't recognize him. That feller's
mustard! His father was governor of the gaol at Fort Stuart and used to
allow his kid to play around with the boys. They say he can do anything
with a pack of cards except make it sing. He caught Joe Haldy by
pickin' his pocket for the evidence, and Joe's as wide as Bond Street."

Next morning, Mr Martin came down the gangway plank of the Grail Castle
carrying a suitcase in each hand. One of the Flack gang that attends
all debarkations to look over likely suckers, marked his youth and
jauntiness and hooked his friend, the steward, who was usually a mine
of information.

"Mr Richard Martin; he's a reg'lar time chaser--came to the Cape from
the Argentine; got to the Argentine from Peru an' China--been down to
New Zealand and India--God knows where?"

"Got any stuff?"

The steward was dubious.

"Must have--no, he's not a drummer--he had the best cabin on the ship
and tipped well. Some boys came aboard at Cape Town and tried to catch
him at bridge, but he beat 'em."

The prospecting member of the Flack crowd sneered.

"Card people scare suckers," he said, with all the contempt which a
land thief has for his seagoing brother. "Besides, these Cape boats are
too small, and everybody knows everybody else. A card man could starve
on that line. So long. Harry."

Harry, the steward, returned the farewell indifferently and watched
the tout hurry down to the examining shed. Martin was waiting for the
arrival of the Customs officer with a bored expression on his lean
brown face.

"Mr Martin, isn't it?" The advance guard of the confidence men smiled
pleasantly as he offered his hand. "I'm Bursen--met you at the Cape,"
said the newcomer, keeping the high note of heartiness. "Awfully glad
to see you again."

His hand was not taken. Two solemn blue eyes surveyed him thoughtfully.
The tout was well dressed; his linen was expensive, the massive gold
cigarette-case that peeped from his waistcoat pocket was impressive.

"We must meet in town--"

"At Wandsworth Gaol--or maybe Pentonville," said Dick Martin
deliberately. "Get to blazes out of this, you amateur tale-teller!"

The man's jaw dropped.

"Go back to your papa"--Dick's long forefinger dug the man's waistcoat,
keeping time with his words--"or to the maiden aunt who taught you that
line of talk, and tell him or her that suckers are fetching famine
prices at Southampton."

"See here, my friend--" The shoreman began to bluster to cover his
inevitable retreat.

"If I kick you into the dock, they'll hold me for the inquest--seep!"

The 'con' man seeped. He was a little angry, a little scared, and very
hot under the collar, but he kept well away from the brown-faced man
until he saw the first train pull out.

"If he's not a copper, I'm a Dutchman," he said, and felt for his
cigarette-case and the solace of shredded Virginia. The case was gone!
Precisely at that moment Mr Martin was extracting a cigarette from its
well-filled interior, and, weighing the gold in his hand, had concluded
that it was at least 15 carat and worth money.

"What a beautiful case!"

The girl sitting opposite to him stretched out her hand, a friendly
assurance that was very pleasing to Dick Martin. In her simple tailored
costume and a close-fitting little hat she was another kind of girl,
radiating a new charm and a new fragrance.

"Yes, it's rather cute," Dick answered soberly. "I got it from a
friend. Glad your holiday is over?"

She stifled a sigh as she gave the case back to him. "Yes, in a way.
It wasn't exactly a holiday, and it was dreadfully expensive. I can't
speak Portuguese either, and that made it difficult."

He raised his eyebrows at that. "But all the hotel folk speak English,"
he said, and she smiled ruefully.

"I wasn't one of the hotel folk. I lived in a little boarding-house
on the Mount, and unfortunately the people I had to see spoke only
Portuguese. There was a girl at the boarding-house who knew the
language a little, and she was helpful. I might have stayed at home for
all the good I did."

He chuckled. "We're in the same boat. I've been thirty thousand miles
rustling shadows!"

She smiled whimsically. "Were you looking for a key, too?" she asked,
and he stared at her.

"A which?" She opened the patent leather bag that rested on her knees
and took out a small cardboard box. Removing the lid, she shook
into her hand a flat key of remarkable shape. It was rather like an
overgrown Yale, except that the serrations were not confined to one
edge, but were repeated in complicated ridges and protuberances on the
other.

"That's certainly a queer-looking object," he said. "Was that what you
were looking for?"

She nodded.

"Yes--though I didn't know this was all I should get from my trip.
Which sounds a little mad, doesn't it? Only--there was a Portuguese
gardener named Silva who knew my father. He used to be in the service
of a relative of ours. Didn't I boast once that I was related to Lord
Selford--by the way, what is he like?"

"Like the letter O, only dimmer," he said. "I never saw him."

She asked a question and then went on: "About three months ago a letter
came to my mother. It was written in very bad English by a priest,
and said that Silva was dead, and that before he died he asked her
forgiveness for all the harm he had done to us. He left something which
was only to be given into the hand of a member of our family. That
sounds remarkable, doesn't it?"

Dick nodded, impatient for her to continue.

"Of course, it was out of the question for mother or me to go--we have
very little money to spare for sea trips. But the day after we got
the letter, we had another, posted in London and containing a hundred
pounds in notes and a return ticket to Madeira!"

"Sent by?"

She shook her head.

"I don't know. At any rate, I went. The old priest was very glad to
see me; he told me that his little house had been burgled three times
in one month, and that he was sure the burglars were after the little
package he was keeping for me. I expected something very valuable,
especially as I learnt that Senhor Silva was a very rich man. You can
imagine how I felt when I opened the box and found--this key."

Dick turned the key over in his hand.

"Silva was rich--a gardener, you said? Must have made a lot of money,
eh? Did he leave a letter?"

She shook her head.

"Nothing. I was disappointed and rather amused. For some reason or
other, I put the key into the pocket of the coat I was wearing, and
that was lucky or unlucky for me. I had hardly left the priests' house
before a man came out of a side alley, snatched my bag, and was out of
sight before I could call for help. There was nothing very valuable in
the bag, but it was all very alarming. When I got on board ship, I put
the key in an envelope and gave it to the purser."

"Nobody bothered you on the ship?" She laughed quietly as at a good
joke. "Not unless you would call the experience of finding your trunk
turned out and your bed thrown on to the floor a 'bother'. That
happened twice between Madeira and Southampton. Is it sufficiently
romantic?"

"It certainly is!" said Dick, drawing a long breath. He looked at the
key again. "What number Coram Street?" he asked.

She told him before she realized the impertinence of the question.

"What do you think is the meaning of these queer happenings?" she asked
as he passed the cardboard box back to her.

"It's surely queer. Maybe somebody wanted that key badly."

It seemed to her a very lame explanation. She was still wondering what
had made her so communicative to a comparative stranger when the train
ran into Waterloo Station. She felt a little nettled by his casual
farewell; a nod and he had disappeared behind the screen of other
passengers and their friends who crowded the platform.

It was a quarter of an hour later before she retrieved her baggage
from the welter of trunks that littered the vicinity of the baggage
van. A porter found her a cab, and she was tipping him, when a man
brushed past her, jostling her arm, whilst a second man bumped into her
from the opposite side. Her bag slipped from her hand and fell to the
pavement. Before she could stoop, a third man had snatched it from the
ground, and, quick as lightning, passed it to an unobtrusive little man
who stood behind him. The thief turned to fly, but a hand grasped his
collar and jerked him round, and as his hands came up in defence, a
fist as hard as ebony caught him under the jaw and sent him flying.

"Get on your feet, thief, and produce your bag-snatching permit!" said
Dick Martin sternly.


CHAPTER VII

At ten o'clock the next morning Dick Martin walked blithely into
Lincoln's Inn Fields. The birds were twittering in the high trees, the
square lay bathed in pale April sunshine, and as for Slick, he was at
peace with the world, though he had travelled nigh on thirty thousand
miles and had failed to report at the end of them.

Messrs Havelock and Havelock occupied an old Queen Anne house that
stood shoulder to shoulder with other mansions of the period. A
succession of brass plates on the door announced this as the registered
office of a dozen corporations, for Mr Havelock was a company lawyer,
who, though he never appeared in the courts, gave the inestimable
benefit of his advice to innumerable and prosperous corporations.

Evidently the detective was expected, for the clerk in the outer office
was almost genial.

"I will tell Mr Havelock you're here," he said, and came back in a few
seconds to beckon the wanderer into the private sanctum of the senior
partner.

As Dick Martin came in, he was finishing the dictation of a letter,
and he smiled a welcome and nodded to a chair. When the dictation was
done and the homely stenographer dismissed, he got up from the big
writing-table, filling his pipe.

"So you didn't see him?" he asked.

"No, sir. I moved fast, but he was quicker. I got into Rio the day he
left. I was in Cape Town just three days after he had gone on overland
to Beira--and then I had your cable."

Havelock nodded solemnly, puffing at his pipe.

"The erratic devil!" he said. "You might have come up with him at
Beira. He's there yet."

Walking to his desk he pressed a bell, and his secretary made a
reappearance.

"Give me the Selford file--the current one," he said, and waited until
she had returned and given him a large blue folder. From this he took a
cable form and banded it to his visitor. Slick read:

HAVELOCK LONDON. WHO IS THIS MAN MARTIN CHASING AFTER ME? HAVE ALREADY
MAILED POWER OF ATTORNEY. PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE. SHALL BE IN LONDON
AUGUST.--PIERCE.

The cable was dated Cape Town, three days before Dick had arrived there.

"I could hardly do anything else," said Mr Havelock, rubbing his nose
irritably with his knuckle. "Did you hear anything about him?"

Dick chuckled. "That fellow didn't stand still long enough for anyone
to notice him," he said. "I've talked to hotel porters and reception
clerks in seven kinds of broken English, and none of 'em had anything
on him. He was in Cape Town the day the new High Commissioner arrived
from England."

"Well," asked Havelock after a pause, "what has that to do with it?"

"Nothing." Another pause, and then: "What do you really suspect?" asked
Dick.

Mr Havelock pursed his lips. "I don't know," he admitted frankly. "At
the worst that he has married, or has become entangled in some way with
a lady whom he is not anxious to bring to England."

Dick fingered his chin thoughtfully. "Have you had much correspondence
from him?" And, when the other nodded: "May I see it?"

He took the portfolio from Mr Havelock's hand and turned the leaves.
There were cablegrams, addressed from various parts of the world, long
and short letters, brief instructions, obviously in reply to some query
that Havelock had sent.

"Those only take you back for a year. I have one or two cases filled
with his letters, if you would like to see them?"

Dick shook his head. "These are all in his handwriting?"

"Undoubtedly. There is no question that he is being impersonated, if
that is what you mean." The detective handed back the portfolio with a
little grimace. "I wish I'd caught up with him," he said. "I'd like to
see what kind of bird he is, though I know a dozen young fellows whose
feet start itching the moment they sit still. I'm sorry I haven't been
more successful, Mr Havelock, but, as I say, this lad is a swift mover.
Maybe at some later time I'll ask to see the whole of these letters;
I'd like to study them."

"You can see them now if you wish," said the lawyer, reaching for the
bell.

The detective stopped him. "So far as the alliance is concerned, I
think you can rest your mind. He was alone in New York and alone in
San Francisco. He landed without any encumbrances at Shanghai, and I
trailed him through India without there being a hint of a lady in the
case. When he comes back in August I'd like to meet him."

"You shall." Mr Havelock smiled grimly. "If I can nail him down long
enough to give you time to get here."

Dick went home, turning over in his mind two important problems, in his
pocket a very handsome cheque for his services. The elderly woman who
kept house for him was out marketing when he arrived. Sitting down at
his desk, his head in his hands, his untidy hair rumpled outrageously,
he went over the last six exciting months of his life, and at the end
the question in his mind was not answered. Presently he pulled the
telephone towards him and called Havelock.

"I forgot to ask you, why does he call himself Pierce?"

"Who? Oh, you mean Selford? That is his name. Pierce, John Pierce. I
forgot to explain to you that he hated his title. Oh, did I? Have you
an idea?"

"None," said Slick untruthfully, for he had several ideas. He had
unpacked all but one suitcase, and this he now proceeded to turn on to
the table. It was full of documents, hotel bills, notes he had made in
the course of his tour; and at the bottom of the case a square sheet of
blotting-paper, which he took out carefully and held up to the light.
It was the blotted impression left by an envelope: Mr Bertram Cody,
Weald House, South Weald, Sussex. There was no need to refresh his
memory, for he had made a very careful note of the name and address. He
had found that sheet of blotting-paper in the private sitting-room at
the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires which had been occupied, forty-eight
hours before his arrival, by the restless Mr Pierce. Nobody had used
the room after he had gone until Dick had asked the hotel manager to
show him the suite which his quarry had occupied.

He locked away the blotting-paper in a drawer of his desk, strolled
into his bedroom, and stood for a long time looking at himself in the
glass.

"Call yourself a detective, eh?" he demanded of his reflection, as his
lips curled. "You poor, four-flushing mutt!"

He spent the remainder of the day learning a new card trick that he had
picked up on the voyage over; an intricate piece of work, consisting
of palming a card from the top of the pack and passing it so that it
became the ninth card of the pack. With a stop-watch before him he
practised, until he managed to accomplish the transfer in the fifteenth
part of a second. Then he was satisfied. When dusk descended on the
world, he got out his car and drove southward leisurely.


CHAPTER VIII

"Show him in," said Mr Bertram Cody.

He was a little bald man with a gentle voice and the habit of
redundancy. He required five minutes to say all that any other man
could express in three sentences. Of this fault, if fault it was, he
was well aware and made a jest of his weakness.

Fixing his large gold-rimmed spectacles, he peered at the card again--

MR JOHN RENDLE, 194, COLLINS STREET, MELBOURNE

The name meant nothing to Mr Cody. He had known a Rendle in the
eighties, a highly respectable tea importer, but the acquaintance was
so slight a one that it was hardly likely.

He had been studying a small pocket notebook when the visitor was
announced; a red morocco case that had, in addition to diary and
writing space, a little pocket for cards, slips for stamps, and a tiny
flat purse. He pushed the book under a heap of papers at his hand as
the stranger entered.

"Mr Rendle," said a woman's harsh voice in the shadowy part of the
room where the door was, and there came out of the gloom a tall,
good-looking young man who certainly bore no resemblance to the
long-forgotten China merchant.

"Will you sit down?" said Mr Cody gently. "And will you please forgive
the semi-darkness in which I live. I find that my eyes are not as
good as they were, and the glare of lights produces a very painful
effect. This table-lamp, carefully shaded as it is, supplies my needs
adequately, though it is insufficient for my visitors. Fortunately, if
you will forgive what may appear to you as a rudeness, I receive most
of my callers in the daytime."

The visitor had a quick smile, and was evidently a man to whom the
semi-darkness of the big, richly-furnished library was in no sense
depressing. He groped in the shadows for the chair, which revealed
itself by the light on its polished back, and sat down.

"I'm sorry to come at this hour, Mr Cody, but I only arrived yesterday
by the Moldavia."

"From China," murmured Mr Cody.

"From Australia--I transhipped at Colombo."

"The Moldavia did not call at Colombo owing to an outbreak of cholera,"
interrupted Mr Cody, more gently still.

The visitor laughed. "On the contrary, it called, and I and some thirty
passengers embarked. The outbreak was reported after we left port. You
are confusing the Moldavia with the Morania, which missed the call a
week later."

The colour deepened on Mr. Cody's plump face. He was deeply wounded,
and in his most tender part, for he had been guilty of an error of fact.

"I beg your pardon," he said in a hushed and humble voice. "I am
humiliated to discover that I have made a mistake. It was the Morania
--I beg your pardon! The Moldavia had a smooth voyage?"

"No, sir. We ran into the simoon and had three boats carried away--"

"The two lifeboats on the spar deck and a cutter on the aft deck,"
nodded Mr Cody. "You also lost a lascar--washed overboard. Forgive me
for interrupting you, I am an omnivorous reader."

There was a paused in the conversation here. Mr. Cody, his head on
one side, waited expectantly. "Now, perhaps--?" he suggested, almost
timidly. Again the visitor smiled.

"I've called on a curious errand," he said. "I have a small farm near
Ten Mile Station--a property which adjoins a station of yours in that
part of the world."

Mr Cody nodded slowly. He had many properties in the overseas States:
they were profitable investments.

"I have reason to believe that there is gold on your property," Rendle
went on. "And I take this view because I am by training an engineer and
I know something about metallurgy. Six months ago I made a discovery
which, very naturally, I was not anxious to advertise until I was
certain of my facts."

He talked lucidly of conglomerate and outcrop, and Bertram Cody
listened, nodding his head from time to time. In the course of his
description, Mr Rendle unfolded a map on the desk--a small scale map
that did not interest Bertram Cody at all.

"My theory is that there is a reef running from here to here..."

When his guest had reached the end of his discourse: "Yes--I know there
is gold at Ten Mile Station: the discovery was made by our agent and
duly reported to us, so that the fear you had, Mr--er--em--Rendle,
that he was keeping his--er--find a secret, had no foundation. There
is gold--yes. But not in paying quantities. The matter has already
been reported in the newspaper press--um--you would not--have seen
that, of course. Nevertheless, I am grateful to you. Human nature is
indeed a frail quality, and I cannot sufficiently thank you for your
thoughtfulness and--um--the trouble to which you have been put."

"I understand that you bought this property from Lord Selford,"
asserted Mr Rendle.

The bald man blinked quickly, like a man who was dazzled by a bright
light. "From his--er--agents: an eminent firm of lawyers. I forget
their names for the moment. His lordship is abroad, you know. I believe
that he is difficult to get at." He spread out his plump hands in a
gesture of helplessness. "It is difficult! This young man prefers to
spend his life in travel. His agents hear of him in Africa--they have a
letter from the--um--wild pampas of the Argentine--they send him money
to China--an adventurous life, my dear young friend, but unnerving to
his--um--relations, if he has relations. I am not sure."

He shook his head and sighed; then, with a start, as though he were for
the first time aware that there was an audience to his perturbations,
he rose and held out both his hands.

"Thank you for coming," he breathed, and Mr Rendle found his own hand
encased in two warm, soft palms. "Thank you for your interest. Life is
a brighter place for such disinterestedness."

"Do you ever hear from him?" asked the visitor.

"From--um--his lordship? No, no! He is ignorant of my existence.
Oh, dear, no!" He took the visitor's arm and walked with him to the
door. "You have a car?" He was almost grateful to his guest for the
possession of such an article. "I am glad. It looks like being a stormy
night--and it is late. Half past ten, is it not? A safe journey to
town!"

He stood under the portico until the rear lights of the car had
disappeared behind a clump of rhododendrons that bordered the drive,
then he went back into the hall.

The stout, hard woman in black silk, who Dick had thought was Mr Cody's
housekeeper, followed her husband into the study and closed the door
behind him.

"Who was he?" she asked. Her voice was uneducated, strident, and
complaining.

Mr Cody resumed his place behind the heavy writing-table and smiled
blissfully as he lowered himself into the padded chair.

"His name is Dick Martin," he said, "and he is a detective."

Mrs Cody changed colour. "Good Gawd! Detective! Bertie, what did he
come here for?" She was agitated; the fat, beringed hand that went up
to her mouth was trembling. "You're sure?" she quavered.

Mr Cody nodded.

"A clever man--but I expected him. I have at least three photographs of
him. I wonder," said Mr Cody softly. "I really wonder!"

He slipped his hand under the heap of papers to find the little
notebook, and suddenly his face went pale.

"It's gone--my book and the key--my God! the key!"

He reeled to his feet like a drunken man, blank terror in his face.

"It was when he showed me that map!" he muttered hoarsely. "I'd
forgotten that the fellow is an expert thief. Shut that damned door. I
want to telephone!"


CHAPTER IX

Dick drove a six-cylinder coupe whose bodywork had seen better days,
though he claimed for its engine that the world had not seen its equal.
With his screen-wiper wiping furiously, he came cautiously along the
Portsmouth Road, his big headlamps staring whitely ahead. The rain was
pelting down, and since he must have a window open, and that window was
on the weather side, one arm and part of the shoulder of his rainproof
coat were soon black and shining.

'107, Coram Street,' said his subconscious mind; and he wondered why he
had connected this satisfactory visit of his to Mr Bertram Cody with
that trim girl who was so seldom absent from his thoughts.

From time to time his hand sought his pocket and the flat leather book
that reposed at the bottom. There was something hard inside that purse;
he thought it was money at first; and then, in a flash, he realized
that it was the touch of this notebook which recalled Sybil Lansdown.
He pulled the car up so quickly that it skidded across the road and
only missed a ditch by a matter of inches. Straightening the machine,
he switched on the interior light and examined his 'find'. Before he
unfastened the thin flap of the purse he knew what it contained. But
he was unprepared for the shape and size of the key that lay in his
palm. It was an almost exact replica, in point of size, of that which
Sybil Lansdown had shown him in the train, and which was now in the
strongroom of his bank.

Dick whistled softly to himself, replaced the book in his pocket, but
slipped the key under the rubber mat beneath his feet. The enterprising
gentlemen who had made such strenuous efforts, and gone to such
expense, to secure Sybil Lansdown's key would not hesitate to hold up a
car.

Dick was beginning to have a respect for the brethren of the keys,
and had found for himself an adventure which surpassed in interest
the chasing of peregrinating noblemen. He turned off the interior
light and sent his car forward along the rainswept road, meditating
upon the weird character of his discovery. Cody had denied he was in
communication with this strange Lord Selford--why? And what was the
meaning of the key? Dick had seen the oily man push the book under the
papers as he entered, and, out of sheer devilment and his love for
discovery, had seized the first opportunity of extracting the case. He
would compare the two keys in the morning.

In the meantime it would be well for him to keep his mind concentrated
upon the road ahead. Once a lumbering lorry had almost driven him into
the ditch, and now, with twenty miles to go, he saw ahead of him three
red lights, and slowed his engine till he came within a dozen yards of
them. They were red lamps, placed in a line on the road, and if they
meant anything it was that the road was under repair and closed. And
yet--he had passed the lorry going at full speed only a mile away. That
must have come along the forbidden stretch of road.

He peered through the open window and saw on his right a dilapidated
wall, the top of which was hidden under a blanket of wild ivy. He saw,
by the lights of the headlamps, a gap, where there was evidently a
gate. All this he took in at a glance, and he turned to the scrutiny of
the road and the three red lights.

"Yes, yes," said Slick to himself, switched out all the lights of the
car, and, taking something from his hip pocket, he opened the door
quietly and stepped into the rain, standing for a while listening.

There was no sound, except the swish and patter of the storm. Keeping
to the centre of the road, he advanced slowly towards the red lamps,
picked up the middle of these and looked at it. It was very old; the
red had been hastily painted on the glass. The second lamp was more
new, but of an entirely different pattern, and here also the glass pane
had been covered by some red, transparent paint. And this was the case
with the third lamp.

He threw the middle light into the ditch, and found a satisfaction
in hearing the crash of the glass. Then he came back to his car, got
inside, slammed the door, and put his foot on the starter. The little
motor whined round, but the engine did not move. There must be some
reason for this, he thought, for the car was hot, and never before had
it failed. Again he tried, without success; then, getting down from the
machine, he walked to the back to examine the petrol tank. There was no
need, for the little indicator dial said 'Empty'.

'Yes, yes,' said Slick again, staring down at this evidence of his
embarrassment.

He had filled up before he reached Mr Cody's house, but, be that as it
may, here was a trustworthy indicator pointing starkly to 'E', and when
he tapped the tank it gave forth a hollow sound in confirmation.

He sniffed: the place reeked. Flashing his pocket-lamp on the ground,
he saw a metal cap and picked it up, and then understood what had
happened. The wet roadway was streaked opalescently. Somebody had taken
out the cap and emptied his tank whilst he was examining the lights.

He refastened the cap, which was both airproof, waterproof and
foolproof, and which could only have been turned by the aid of a
spanner; and he had heard no chink of metal against metal. He carried
no reserve, so that he was stranded beyond hope of succour, unless--

He sent his lamp in the direction of the gateway. One of the hinges of
the gate was broken, and the rotting structure leaned drunkenly against
a laurel bush. Until then he had not dreamed that he was anywhere near
Gallows Cottage. But now he recognized the place.

Keeping his light on, he went up the long avenue quickly. On either
side was a tangle of thick bush, which had grown at its will,
unattended by a gardener. Overhead the tall poplars met in an arch.
Keeping the light glowing from side to side, he passed up the gloomy
avenue. Suddenly he stopped. Under the shadow of the hedge he saw a
long, narrow hole. It had been recently dug and was, he judged, six
feet deep.

"That looks like a home from home," he shuddered, and passed on to the
square, ugly house, which had once been covered by plaster, broken now
in a dozen places, showing the bare brick beneath.

Never had it seemed so mean looking as when the broad beam of his
lamp picked out the patches and fissures in its walls. The entrance
was a high, narrow doorway, above which was a little wooden canopy,
supported by two iron bars let into the brickwork--he noted these most
carefully now. There was no sign of life; no dog barked. The place was
dead--rotting.

He waited a second before he mounted the two steps that brought the
knocker within reach. As the clapper fell, he heard the sound echoing
hollowly through the hall. Had he been a stranger he might easily have
imagined that the place was empty, he thought, when no reply came. He
knocked again. In a few minutes he heard a sound of feet in the hall,
the rusty crackle of a key being turned, and the jingling of chains.
The door opened a foot, and there appeared in the light of Dick's lamp
the long, sallow face and the black beard.

The apparition was so startling that Dick, expectant as he was, nearly
dropped his lamp.

"Who is this? What is this?" asked a voice pettishly. "Petrol? You have
lost your petrol? Ach! that is foolish. Yes, I can give you some, if
you pay for it. I cannot afford to give anything away."

He gave no sign of recognition, but opened the door wider, and Dick
walked into the hall, turning as he did so to face the man who had let
him in. Dr Stalletti wore a black overall, belted at the waist, and
indescribably stained. On his feet were a pair of long, Russian boots,
worn and cracked and amateurishly patched. He had no collar. What Dick
noticed first was that this strange person had not apparently washed
since they last met. His big, powerful hands were grimy, his nails were
almost like talons. By the light of the small oil-lamp he carried,
Martin saw that the hall was expensively furnished; the carpet was
thick and almost new, the hangings of velvet, the chairs and settees
of gilt and damask, must have cost a lot of money. A silver chandelier
hung from the plastered ceiling, and the dozen or so electric candles
it held supplied a brilliant light to the room. But here, as in the
passage, everything was inches thick in dust. It rose in a small cloud
as he walked across the thick carpet.

"You wait here, please. I will get you petrol--one shilling and
tenpence a gallon."

Dick waited, heard the feet of his host sound hollowly, and presently
grow faint. He made a careful inspection of the room. There was nothing
here to indicate either the character or the calling of this strange,
uncleanly man.

Presently he heard the man returning and the thud of two petrol tins
as they were put down in the hall, and then his strange benefactor
appeared, dusting his hands.

"Four gallons of petrol of the highest grade."

The visitor might have been a stranger for all the signs he made of
recognition, and yet Dick was sure that the man knew him; and as though
he guessed his visitor's thoughts, the bearded man announced, with a
certain amount of pomposity:

"I am the Professor Stalletti. We have, I think, met. It was because of
a book you came."

"That is so, professor." Dick was alert, somewhere inside him a warning
voice was speaking insistently.

"You have heard of me--yes? It is known in science. Come, come, my
friend, pay your money and be gone."

"I am much obliged to you, professor," drawled Dick. "Here's ten
shillings--we won't quarrel about the change."

To his surprise, the bearded man pocketed the note with a smirk of
satisfaction. Evidently he was not too proud to make a profit on the
transaction.

Walking to the front door, he opened it, and Dick followed him, making
his exit sideways and keeping his face to this queer-looking man.
The professor opened his mouth as though he were going to speak, but
changed his mind and slammed the door in his visitor's face, and as he
did so, there came, from somewhere in the house, behind those blind
windows, such a scream of fear and agony as made the detective's blood
run cold. It was a wail that rose to a shriek and died sobbingly to
silence.

Perspiration stood on Dick Martin's face, and for a second he had the
mind to force his way back into the house and demand an explanation.
And then he saw the senselessness of that move, and, carrying a petrol
tin in either hand, made his way down the drive. He was wearing
rubber-soled shoes that caused little or no noise, and he was glad, for
now his ears must serve where his eyes failed. By reason of his burden
he had to dispense with the use of his lamp.

He had passed that section of the hedge where he had seen the hole,
when his quick ears detected something moving behind him. It was the
faintest sound, and only one with his keen sense of hearing could have
detected it above the noise of the falling rain. It was not a rustle;
it was something impossible to describe. Dick turned round and began
to walk backwards, staring into the pitch black darkness before him.
The noise grew more distinct. A twig snapped in the bushes to his
right. Then suddenly he saw his danger and dropped the tins. Before he
could reach his gun he was at grips with a something, naked, hairless,
bestial.

Huge bare arms were encircling his shoulders; a great hand was groping
for his face, and he struck blindly at a bare torso, so muscled that,
even as he struck, he realized that he was wasting his strength.
Suddenly, with a mighty effort, he jerked round, gripped the huge arm
with both his hands, and, stooping, jerked his assailant over his head.
There was a thud, a groan, a ghastly sobbing, blubbering sound that was
not human, and in the next fraction of a second Dick's automatic was in
his hand and the safety catch pushed down.

"Stay where you are, my friend," he breathed. "I'd like to have a look
at you."

He picked up the torch he had dropped and turned the light on the
ground. Nobody was there. He flashed the lamp left and right without
discovering a trace of his assailant. Was he behind him? Turning, he
sent the rays in the direction of the house, and in that second caught
sight of a great figure, naked except for a loincloth, disappearing
into the bushes.

"Jumping snakes!" breathed Dick Martin, and lost not a second in
reaching the road, refilled the empty tank and started the engine.

In a little while he was following the road to London, absorbed in the
problem of Dr Stalletti, and the big hole in the ground, recently dug,
and intended, he did not doubt, for the reception of his own body.


CHAPTER X

Mr Cody was not a good walker, and was, moreover, a particularly
fearful man, otherwise he might have walked the six miles which
separated him from Gallows Cottage on a dark and windy night. Instead,
he ordered his car, his chauffeur protesting sourly, and drove to
within a hundred yards of the house.

"Back into that lane, put your lights out, and don't move until I
return."

Mr Tom Cawler growled something under his breath.

"And don't you be long!" he said. "What is the game, anyway, Cody? Why
didn't you get him to come over?"

"Mind your own dam' business!" snapped the little man, and disappeared
into the darkness.

He reached the cottage soon after one o'clock, and groped his way up
the dark drive. Once, as he put out his stick to feel his way, it
almost dropped from under him. If he had been leaning his weight upon
it he would have fallen into the pit which had been dug by the side of
the path.

He did not knock at the door, but, making a half circuit of the house,
tapped at one of the dark windows, and returned to find the front door
open and Stalletti waiting in the hall.

"Ah, it is you! So strange to find you at such an hour! Come in, my
very dear friend. I received your telephone message, but, alas! fate
was against me."

"He got away?" asked the other fearfully.

Dr Stalletti shrugged and stroked his long beard.

"It was fate," he said. "Otherwise, he would be quite close to us. I
spread the lamps on the road, and myself emptied his petrol, and got
back to the house before he came. The situation was extraordinary and
remarkable. There was nothing between him and death by the thin end
of this card." He held a soiled and greasy playing-card in his hand.
He had been playing patience when the knock came. "There was one weak
link, and so it snapped."

Cody looked round the gloomy hall like a man frightened.

"What will happen now?" he asked in a whisper.

Again the doctor shrugged.

"The police will come sooner or later, and they will make a search of
my house. Does it matter? What shall they find here but a few rats
lawfully dead?"

"Did you--?" Cody did not complete the question.

"I sent somebody after him, but somebody failed like a bungling idiot.
You cannot develop muscle except at the expense of brain, my dear
fellow. Will you come in?"

He led the way back to his workroom. The desk at which he worked had
been cleared of its unpleasant properties, and was half covered with
playing-cards.

"First you may tell me who is this man? I have seen him before. He came
to me to ask some questions about a book. It was the day your chauffeur
was here. I seem to know him, and yet I do not know him."

Cody licked his dry lips; his heavy face was white and drawn.

"He is the man Havelock sent after Selford," he muttered, and the
doctor's eyebrows went up to a point.

"Can that possibly be? How extraordinary and bizarre! So he is the
gentleman that the clever lawyer sent to look for Selford!" He began
to laugh, and the sound of his laughter was like the crackling of
parchment.

"That is too good a joke! The real good, simple Havelock! So clever a
man! And," he demanded archly, "did our friend find my lord? No? That
is remarkable. Perhaps he did not move quick enough! Perhaps he went by
train when airplanes were procurable!"

He seated himself at the table, tapping a tattoo with his uncleanly
fingers upon its surface.

"What else does my friend want?" he asked, eyeing the other keenly.

"I want some money," said Cody, in a sulky voice.

Without a word, the doctor stooped down and unlocked a drawer of his
desk, took out a battered tin cash-box, opened it, and extracted a
thick bundle of notes.

"There are fewer to pay now," he said. "Therefore your money is
increased. If I die, it will be to your benefit. Per contra--"

"Don't let us talk about death," shivered the little man, his trembling
hands straying to his bald head. "We don't want any of that sort of
thing; we've gone right away from our first idea, which was good. If
you take life--"

"Have I taken life?"

"Have you?" demanded Cody, and waited.

The doctor's red mouth curled in a smile.

"There was a Mr Pheeney," he said carefully. "Is that how you name
him? He certainly died, but I think that must have been suicide." He
chuckled again. "I do not love people who go to policemen. That is very
bad for business, because the police have no imagination. Now, suppose
I go to a policeman"--he was eyeing the other from under his drooping
lids--"and suppose I make statements--what a catastrophe!"

The little man jumped to his feet, quivering.

"You dare not!" he said hoarsely. "You dare not!"

Again Stalletti shrugged his thin shoulders.

"Why do I stay in this cold and horrible country," he asked, "when I
could be sitting on the patio of my own beautiful villa in Florence?
There I would be away from these stupid policemen."

He stopped suddenly and raised his finger to signal for silence. Cody
had not caught the faint squeak against the shuttered window, but the
doctor had heard it twice.

"There is somebody outside," he whispered.

"Is it--?"

Stalletti shook his head.

"No, it is not Beppo." His lips curled at the word, as though he were
enjoying the best jest in the world. "Wait."

He crossed the room noiselessly and disappeared into the dingy passage.
Cody heard the sound of a door being softly unlocked, and there was
a long wait before the man returned. He was blinking as though the
return to the light was painful to his eyes, but Cody had seen him in
this condition before, and knew that this strange, unearthly man was
labouring under an unusual emotion.

He carried in his hand a thing that looked like a telephone earpiece
with a rubber attachment.

"Somebody was listening at the window, my friend. I will give you three
guesses--you were not driven here by car?"

"I walked," said the other shortly.

"Your excellent chauffeur--he suffers from curiosity?"

"I tell you I walked. No chauffeur came with me."

"He could walk also. What is this?"

He took from his pocket a cap and laid it on the table.

"Do you recognize this--no?"

Cody shook his head.

"He had taken this off to put on the earpieces. The microphone I could
not find. But he listened--yes."

"Who was it? It couldn't have been Cawler," said Cody fretfully. "He is
my wife's nephew."

"And adores her?" sneered the doctor.

He turned the cap inside out, and read the name of the seller.

"How strange it would be if, after all, you harboured in your house a
spy."

"How can that be?" said the other violently. "You know as much as I
know about Cawler."

"And you know--what? Nothing except that he is a thief, a stealer
of motor-cars, on whom the police have their eye all the time. When
this friend of yours came, this Martini--Martin, is it?--he knew your
Cawler, and I was instantly compromised."

Then Cody began to speak in a low, earnest tone, and the bearded
man listened, at first with contemptuous indifference and then with
interest. "It is a pity that my Beppo was not in the grounds. We should
have known for sure," he said at last.

Mr Cody walked half a mile along the road to where he had left his car.
The chauffeur was dozing in his seat, but woke at the sound of his
employer's voice.

"Cawler, have you been by the car all the time? Did you follow me?"

"Would I walk if I could ride?" growled the man. "Of course I've been
here all the time. Why? Somebody been shadowing you?"

"You play the fool with me, my friend, and you'll be sorry."

"I'm never sorry for anything I've done," said the other coolly. "Get
inside--it's raining."

He swung the car out on the main road and drove back to Weald House at
breakneck speed. Amongst the many things which Mr Cody dreaded was fast
driving, and the only way his chauffeur could get even at times was
to do one of the things that the little man did not like. He got out,
livid with rage, and spluttered an expletive at the unmoved chauffeur.

"You're giving yourself airs because you think you're indispensable,
you--!"

Even while he was talking, the car moved on to its garage. As a
debater, Tommy Cawler did not regard his master as being worthy of his
metal.


CHAPTER XI

MR HAVELOCK had scarcely reached his office the following morning when
Dick arrived. The bushy brows of that gentleman rose at the sight of
his visitor. "I've come to make a confession, Mr Havelock," he began.

"That sounds ominous," said the other, his eyes twinkling.

"Maybe it's more ominous than it sounds," said Dick. "I've kept
something back from you--information which ought to be in your hands."

Briefly he told the story of the blotting-paper he had found in the
hotel in Buenos Aires.

"Obviously Lord Selford is in communication with this person.
Because I wasn't quite sure how the land lay, and whether there was
something behind Selford's absence from England, I took the trouble to
investigate."

"Mr Bertram Cody?" frowned Havelock, "I seem to remember that name."

"Possibly you recall the sale of an Australian property?"

Havelock's face lightened.

"Why, of course, that is it!" he said. "There was some talk of gold
being found on the property. I saw the announcement in The Times. Cody,
of course! But he doesn't know Lord Selford."

"Then why should Selford write to him?"

"Perhaps he wrote to his lordship first," suggested Mr Havelock,
obviously perturbed. "Did you ask him, by the way, whether he knew our
young friend?"

Dick nodded.

"He denies all knowledge and all correspondence, which sounded queer to
me. Have you ever seen anything like this?"

He laid on the table the little pocketbook he had taken from the
doctor's desk, and, unfolding it, showed the key. Mr Havelock picked it
up and examined it curiously.

"That is a queer-looking thing. What is it--a key?" he asked. "How did
you get this?"

"I found it," said the unabashed Dick. "It was in a notebook that I--
borrowed. You will see that the book is full of entries relating to
Lord Selford's movements. Here is Buenos Aires and the date he was
there; here is the date of his arrival in Shanghai; the date he left
San Francisco--in fact, this is a very complete memorandum of Lord
Selford's movements during the past eight months."

Havelock turned the pages slowly.

"This is certainly extraordinary," he said. "You say he denies knowing
Selford?"

"Absolutely. He swore he'd never seen him or had any correspondence
with him. Selford has done all his business in connection with the sale
of the Australian business through you."

Mr Havelock nodded.

"That is true," he said. "I remember the circumstances well. My
managing clerk carried through that transaction."

"Do you know a fellow named Stalletti? He lives in a house on the
London road, halfway to Brighton."

He saw Mr Havelock start.

"Yes, I know Stalletti, but I haven't seen his house for years. As
a matter of fact, it is one of Selford's properties, too--most of
the land thereabouts is part of the Selford estate. Cody must be a
leaseholder of ours. As for Gallows Cottage, I remember that we leased
it to Stalletti after his trouble in London. He was prosecuted for
practising vivisection without a licence," he explained. "An uncleanly,
Svengali-looking man."

"That describes him so completely," said Dick, "that a policeman could
recognize him!"

"What has he been doing?"

"Why, I'll tell you," said Dick slowly.

He had good reason for his tardiness, for the solution of the Selford
mystery had come to him with dramatic suddenness, and he was trying to
think of two things at one and the same time, to piece together loose
ends to which he might well devote the labour of months. Nevertheless,
his story was a fairly faithful narrative of his adventure.

"Have you been to the police?" asked Havelock, when he had finished.

"No, sir. I can never get it out of my mind that I am the police--all
the police I'm interested in." He scratched his chin meditatively. "I
certainly might have seen old man Sneed," he said.

"Who is Sneed?" demanded Havelock.

"A Scotland Yard man," replied Dick slowly. "Sneed's strong for
mysteries."

"A detective?" he asked.

"Yes. What does Stalletti do for a living, Mr Havelock?"

"I'm blessed if I know," said the lawyer. "He is really a brilliant
pathologist, but his experiments are a little too peculiar for the
modern school. By Jove! I remember now. When Stalletti took the house,
it was on the recommendation of Cody. Wait a moment, I'll turn it
up," He hurried from the room and came back in a few minutes with a
letter-book in his hand.

"That is so," he said. "Cody, if you remember, had just bought the
Australian property, and it was a month after that transaction was
completed that we gave Stalletti a lease on Gallows Cottage. A dramatic
name, Mr Martin, but a gallows in fact used to stand somewhere about
there in the bad old times."

"It'll stand somewhere about there in the good new times," said Dick,
"if that thug digs any more holes for me!"

He had learned all he wanted to know--indeed, much more than he
expected; and he returned to Clargate Gardens only to pack his two
suitcases and to give the astonished old woman who looked after the
flat in his absence a month's holiday.

"I guess a month will be just long enough. You can go to the sea or you
can go to the mountains, Rebecca, but there's one place that's barred,
and it's this little old home of mine."

"But why, sir--?" began the woman.

Dick was very firm on the point, uttered horrific threats as to what
would happen to the lady if she dared so much as look in during the
period of her leave.

His flat was one of many in an apartment block, and to the janitor he
gave instructions about his letters, which were to be sent to Scotland
Yard to await his arrival. He did not notify Mr Havelock of his plans,
considering that at this stage of the special investigations which he
was preparing to undertake, it would be advisable not to take any man
into his confidence.


CHAPTER XII

MRS LANSDOWN and her daughter were people who lived as naturally in
three rooms as they would have lived in a town house with twenty.
A frail woman of remarkable beauty, Sybil's mother had had both
experiences. There was a time of affluence when Gregory Lansdown had
his thousand acres in Berkshire, a shoot in Norfolk, and a salmon river
in Scotland, to say nothing of his handsome little house in Chelsea.
But those possessions, with his racing stable, his steam yacht and the
yearly trip to Algeria, had gone in a night. He was a director of a
company that went into liquidation, following the hurried departure of
a managing director who went eventually to prison. The directors were
called upon to make good the best part of a million and a half, and
Gregory Lansdown was the only one of them whose property was in his own
name. He paid to the last farthing and died before the last payment was
completed.

The Lansdowns retained one asset--the house in which they were now
living, and which had been divided up into three self-contained flats
before the blow fell. Into one of these, the smallest, Mrs Lansdown
carried such of her personal belongings as she could salvage from the
wreck of fortune. They were sitting together on the night after Sybil's
return, the mother reading, Sybil writing at the little escritoire in
the corner of the sitting-room. Presently Mrs Lansdown put down her book.

"The trip was foolish--it was stupid of me to sanction it. I am worried
a little about the consequence, dear. It is all so frantically unreal
and fantastic that if it were anybody but you who had told me I should
dismiss the story as a piece of romantic imagination."

"Who was Silva, mother?"

"The Portuguese? He was quite a poor man; a landscape gardener. Your
father discovered him in Madeira and brought him to the notice of his
cousin. I have always known that he was grateful to your dear father,
who helped him in many ways. He became head gardener to our cousin--who
was not the nicest man to work for; he had an unpleasant habit of
thrashing servants who displeased him, and I believe he once struck
Silva. Do you remember him, Sybil?"

Sybil nodded.

"A big, red-faced man with a tremendous voice--he used to drive in a
carriage drawn by four horses. I hated him!" Mrs Lansdown took up her
book again, read a line or two, and then put it down. "What is this
man, Sybil?"

Sybil laughed. "Mother, that is the fourth time you've asked me! I
don't know. He was very nice and had wonderful blue eyes."

"A gentleman?"

"Yes," quickly. "Not a perfectly mannered man, I should think; very
alert, very capable, a most trustable man."

Mrs Lansdown turned a page of her book without reading. "What is he
--his profession, I mean?"

Sybil hesitated. "I don't know--now. He used to be a detective-inspector,
but he has left the police force. Didn't I tell you?" And
then, a little defiantly: "What is the social position of a detective?"

Her mother smiled to herself. "About the same as a librarian, my dear,"
she said quietly. "In the matter of professions he is on the same plane
as my little girl. It wasn't wise to ask you that."

The girl got up from the table, and, putting her arms about the elder
woman, hugged her.

"You are thinking because I poured out my young heart to him, as they
say in sentimental stories, that I'm in love with him. Well, I'm not!
He amuses me awfully--he says the quaintest things. And I like him in
spite of the strong language I heard him use to a man on the quay when
I was waiting to get my baggage examined. He's very straight and clean.
I feel that. I'm glad the wretched key was lost--I could have swooned
on his neck for joy when he hit that horrible thief. But I'm no more in
love with him than--. He's probably married and has a large and rosy
family."

There was a knock at the door. Sybil went to open it and gazed,
open-eyed and in some embarrassment, at the subject of their
conversation.

"Won't you come in, Mr Martin?" she said, a little awkwardly.

He walked past her into the tiny square hall, and presently followed
her into the sitting-room. One shrewd glance the older woman gave him,
and was satisfied.

"You're Mr Martin?" she smiled, as she took his band in hers. "I wanted
to thank you personally for your care of my daughter."

"I'm rather glad you mentioned that, because I didn't know exactly how
I was going to start my interesting conversation," said Dick, choosing,
to the girl's consternation, the least stable and most fragile of all
the chairs in the room. "Safety first is a mighty hackneyed expression,
but, like all these old slogans you're tired of hearing, it is
concentrated truth. Your key, by the way. Miss Lansdown, is in my bank,
and if anybody pushes you very hard you can tell them so."

She stared at him open-mouthed. "But I thought the key was lost?"

"The bag was lost," he corrected. "When I handed you back that box
on the train, I took the liberty of extracting the key; you heard it
rattle, and it was heavy enough for a key, for I put a half-crown piece
in the box."

"But it was never out of my sight," gasped the girl.

Dick smiled sweetly.

"The art of ringing changes is to keep everything in sight."

"But it is impossible," said Sybil.

He had an exasperating habit of passing to the next subject without
apology.

"Miss Lansdown, I'm going to shock you pretty badly. You had an idea,
when you met me, that I was a respectable member of society. I was--I'm
not today. I'm the nearest approach to a private detective you have
ever met--and private detectives are nearly mean. You don't change
colour, so I guess you're too numb to feel."

"My daughter had an idea you were in that profession," said Mrs
Lansdown, her eyes dancing with amusement. She was beginning to
understand the attraction this drawling man had for her daughter.

"I'm glad," said Dick soberly. "Now, when I start to ask questions,
you won't be thinking that I'm consumed with idle curiosity. You told
me about your cousin," he said, addressing Sybil; "I'm anxious to know
what other cousins Lord Selford has."

"None," said the girl. "Mother and I are his only living relatives--
unless he is married."

She saw the change that came instantly to his face. The eyes narrowed,
the mouth grew harder; something of his levity fell away from him.

"I was afraid of that," he said quietly. "I guessed it, and I was
afraid of it. I knew that you were in this scheme somewhere, but I
couldn't quite see how. Have you any friends in the country, ma'am?" he
asked Mrs Lansdown.

"Yes, I have several," she answered in surprise. "Why?"

"You're on the telephone, are you not?" He glanced at the instrument
that stood on the top of the escritoire. "Will you be prepared, at a
minute's notice, to leave London? My first inclination was to ask you
to leave tonight, but I don't think that will be necessary."

Mrs Lansdown eyed him steadily.

"Will you please tell me what this is all about?" she asked quietly.

He shook his head.

"I can't tell you now. I'm sort of coming out of a mist, and I'm
not sure of the objects that are looming up. I honestly believe you
are both safe from danger, and that nobody is going to give you any
trouble--yet a while."

"Is all this about the key?" asked Sybil, listening in amazement.

"It is all about the key," he repeated, and she had never seen him so
grave. "What sort of a man was the late Lord Selford?" He directed his
question to the mother, and she made a little grimace.

"He was not a nice man," she said. "He drank, and there were one or
two unsavoury incidents in his past that one doesn't like to talk
about, even if one knew the true facts. But then, all the Selfords
were a little queer. The founder of the house behaved so badly in the
fifteenth century that he was excommunicated by the Pope. You have
heard of the Selford tombs?"

He shook his head. To all appearances the words had no significance to
him. Tombs! His mind flashed back to Lew Pheeney--the man who had died
because he had seen too much--the robber of graves. He had to set his
teeth and school the muscles of his face to impassivity.

"You are probably not interested in English antiquities," Mrs Lansdown
was saying, "but if you are, I can give you some particulars. Strangely
enough, I was reading them only this afternoon."

She got up and went to a bookshelf which stood in one corner, and took
out a volume the vellum cover of which was yellow with age.

"This is one of the few treasures I possess," she said. "It is the
original 'Baxter's Chronicle', printed in 1584, one of the first books
that came from the Caxton Press."

She turned the stiff leaves and presently stopped.

"Here is the passage. You need not read about the offence which Sir
Hugh committed--it is hardly creditable to our family."

He took the book and read where her finger pointed.

Sir Hugh being under banne of church for hys synnes, and beinge denyed
burialle such as is ryte for Christianne knyghtes, caused there to be
dugge in the earthe a great burialle playce for hymme and ye sonnes of
hys housse, the wyche ws call'd the Sellfords Toomes, and this sayme ws
blessd in proper fashione by F' Marcus, a holy manne of ye time, butte
in secrette because of ye sayed banne. And theyse toomes to the number
of a score he caused to be made yn stonne curiously cutte wyth mannie
angyles and saynts, wych ws wonderfull to see.

"For hundreds of years," said Mrs Lansdown, "the burial ground of the
Selfords was unconsecrated, though that has been remedied since 1720."

"Where is the place?" asked the fascinated Dick.

"It is in a corner of Selford Park; a strange, eerie spot on the top of
a small hill, and surrounded by old trees. They call it the Birdless
Copse, because birds are never seen there, but I think that is because
there is no open water for many miles."

He had to frame every word he spoke lest he betrayed the wild sense of
exultation he felt.

"Who is occupying the Manor House? I suppose there is a manor house
attached to the park?"

She nodded.

"It is in the hands of a caretaker during Lord Selford's absence. Mr
Havelock told me that our kinsman hates the place, and would sell it
but for the fact that it is entailed."

He covered his face with his hand, trying to concentrate his thoughts.

"Have you ever seen this wandering Selford?"

"Only once, when he was a boy, whilst he was at school. He has written
to me; in fact, I had a letter quite recently. I will get you the
letter, if it would interest you? Are you very much interested in Lord
Selford?"

"Very much," he said emphatically.

She went out of the room and came back with a small wooden box, which
she opened. She sorted out a number of letters and presently placed one
before him. It was from Berlin, and had been written in April of 1914:

'DEAR AUNT,

It is so many years since I have written to you, or you have heard from
me, that I am almost ashamed to write. But knowing how interested you
are in queer china, I am sending you by registered post an old German
beer mug of the fifteenth century.

Yours affectionately, PIERCE.'

The handwriting was the same as he had seen in Mr Havelock's office.

"Of course, I'm not his aunt," said Mrs Lansdown, still searching
amongst the letters. "I am in reality his cousin twice removed. Here is
another letter."

This, Dick saw, was sent from an hotel in Colombo, and was only a year
old:

'I am making great progress with my book, though it is rather absurd
to call a collection of disjointed notes (as it is at present) by such
an important title. I cannot tell you how sorry I was to hear of your
great trouble. Is there anything I can do? You have only to command me.
Please see Mr Havelock and show him this letter. I have already written
to him, authorizing him to pay you any money you may require.'

Dick did not ask what the trouble had been. He guessed, from the black
which Mrs Lansdown still wore, that her loss was a recent one.

"I did not see Mr Havelock, of course, though he very kindly wrote to
me on receipt of Pierce's letter, offering his help. And now that I've
satisfied your curiosity, Mr Martin, perhaps you will satisfy mine.
What are these alarming instructions you give us, and why should we be
prepared to leave town at any hour of the day or night?"

Sybil had been a silent but interested audience, but now she asserted
her views.

"I'm sure Mr Martin wouldn't ask us to do anything that was absurd,
mother," she said; "and if he wishes us to be ready to leave at a
second's notice, I think we should do as he asks. It is in connection
with the key?" She turned her grave eyes on Dick.

"Yes," he said, "and something else. As I say, I'm only groping for
the moment. Certain facts are definitely established in my mind beyond
question. But there are others which have got to be worked out."

He asked Mrs Lansdown if she had heard of Stalletti, but she shook her
head.

"Do you know Mr Cody?" he asked, and she thought hard for a long time.

"No, I don't think I do," she replied.


CHAPTER XIII

A FEW minutes later Dick took his leave, and walked down towards
Bedford Square. Once or twice he looked back. On the opposite side of
the road a man was keeping pace with him about twenty yards to his
rear. Immediately behind him was another saunterer. At the corner
of Bedford Square a taxi-cab was waiting, and the driver hailed him
urgently. But Dick ignored the invitation. He was taking no risks
tonight. The two men he might deal with, but trouble awaiting him in a
strange taxicab might be more difficult to overcome.

Presently he saw a taxi coming towards him, and, stopping the driver,
got in and was driven to the Station Hotel. Through the glass at the
back of the car he saw another taxi following him. When he paid off his
own at the entrance of the hotel, he observed, out of the corner of his
eye, the second taxi pull up some distance away and two men get out.
Dick booked a room, gave the cloakroom ticket to a porter, and slipped
through the side entrance which opens directly on to the station
platform. A train was on the move as he emerged, and, sprinting along,
he pulled open a carriage door and jumped in.

For all he knew, he might be in the Scottish express, whose first
stop would be in the early hours of the morning somewhere in the
neighbourhood of Crewe. But, fortunately for him, the train was a local
one, and at Willesden he was able to alight and pay his fare to the
ticket-collector. Diving down to the electric station, he arrived on
the Embankment an hour after he had left the Lansdowns' flat.

Two hundred yards from the station is a grim building, approached under
a covered arch, and this was Dick's destination. The constable on duty
at the door recognized him.

"Inspector Sneed is upstairs if you want him, Mr Martin," he said.

"I want nobody else," said Dick, and went up the stone stairs two at a
time.

Sneed was in his chair, an uninspiring man. The chief commissioner once
said of him that he combined the imagination of a schoolgirl with the
physical initiative of a bedridden octogenarian.

He sat as usual in a big armchair behind his large desk; a fire burned
on the tiled hearth; a dead cigar was between his teeth and he was
nodding. He was at Scotland Yard at this hour because he had not had
sufficient energy to rise from his chair and go home at seven o'clock.
This happened on an average five nights a week.

He opened his eyes and surveyed the newcomer without any particular
favour.

"I'm very busy," he murmured. "Can't give you more than a minute."

Dick sat down at the opposite side of the table and grinned.

"Ask Morpheus to put you down on your feet, and listen to this." And
then be began to talk, and almost at the first sentence the chief
inspector's eyes opened wide. Before Dick Martin had been talking for
ten minutes there was not a man in New Scotland Yard more wide awake
than this stout, bald, thief-taker.

"You've got this out of a story-book," he accused, when Dick paused
for breath. "You're passing across the latest mystery story by the
celebrated Mr Doyle."

And then Dick went on with his narrative, and at the end Sneed pressed
a bell. After a long time his sergeant came into the room.

"Sergeant," said Sneed, "I want one man at the front and one man at the
back of 107 Coram Street. I want your best shadow to follow Mr Martin
from tomorrow, and that man must sleep at Mr Martin's flat every night.
Got that?"

The officer was jotting down his instructions in a notebook.

"Tomorrow morning get through to the Chief Constable of Sussex,
and tell him I want to raid Gallows Cottage, Gallows Hill, at
eleven-fifteen pip-emma. I'll bring my own men and he can have a couple
of his handy to see fair play. That's about the lot, sergeant."

When he had gone, Sneed rose with a groan from his chair.

"I suppose I had better be getting along. I'll walk back with you to
your flat."

"You'll do nothing of the kind," said Dick ungraciously. "To be seen
out with you is like wearing my name and licence. I'll get back into
the flat--don't worry."

"Wait a bit. Before you go--the fellow who attacked you in the drive at
Gallows Cottage was a naked man, you say?"

"Nearly naked."

"Stalletti," mused the inspector. "I wonder if he's been up to his old
tricks. I got him three months for that."

"What were his old tricks?" demanded Slick.

Sneed was lighting his cigar with slow, noisy puffs.

"Rearranging the human race," he said.

"A little thing like that?" said Dick sardonically.

"Just that." Sneed inspected the ragged end of his cigar with
disfavour. "Got that weed from a man who ought to know better than
try to poison the metropolitan constabulary," he said. "Yes, that was
Stalletti's kink. His theory was that, if you took a baby of two or
three years old, and brought it up wild, same as you'd bring up any
other animal, you'd get something that didn't want clothes, didn't
want to talk, but a perfect specimen of human. He reckoned that men
ought to be ten feet high, and his general theory was that all the
life-energy--that's the expression--that flows into human brains and
human thought, ought to be directed to making muscle and bone. I guess
you've come upon one of his experiments--I'll put him away for life
if I find anybody in his house, dressed or undressed, who can't spell
c-a-t, cat."

Dick left Scotland Yard by the Whitehall entrance, a cab having been
brought from the Embankment, and he was set down at the loneliest part
of the Outer Circle which encircles Regent's Park. By this time he knew
that the janitor would be off duty and the entrance doors of the flats
closed. The little street was deserted when he turned in, making a
circuitous way through the mews at the back of the buildings. He opened
the outer door, passed quickly up the stairs and into his apartment.
He stopped long enough to shoot the bolts in the door, then, switching
on the lights, he went from room to room and made a close inspection.
Everything was as he had left it.

Before he had gone out that evening, he had drawn the heavy curtains
over the windows of the room he intended using. He had lowered even the
kitchen blind, so that, on his return (as he intended to return), no
light could be seen by a watcher on the outside.

As he changed his coat for the old shooting jacket, he remembered, with
a little grimace of disgust, the morning when he had found poor Lew.
What had Lew seen in the tomb of the Selfords? What vault had he been
asked to unlock in that 'great hole dugge in the earth'?

He brewed himself a pot of coffee, and, putting on the table one of the
six stout volumes that had come that afternoon, he began his search.
The London Gazette is not exactly as amusing as a Moliere comedy,
but Dick found these pages, filled with records of bankruptcies and
judgments, of enthralling interest. It was past two o'clock when he
gathered his notes together, put them in a small safe, went into his
bedroom and undressed.

Turning out the light, he pulled aside the curtains and, opening his
window, looked out. A waning moon rode in a cloudless sky; a gentle
wind was blowing, as he discovered when he got into bed, for it moved
the dark blind so that a perpendicular streak of moonlight, which
changed its shape with every movement of the blind, lay down the
bedroom wall. Within a few minutes of punching his pillow into shape,
Dick had fallen into a dreamless slumber.

He was the lightest of sleepers, and it seemed to him that he had
hardly closed his eyes before he was wide awake again.

What had disturbed him he could not remember. It might have been the
flapping of the blind, but he decided that that was a noise which he
had already discounted before he had gone to sleep. He lay on his left
side, facing the door, which was flush with the wall against which the
head of the bed rested. He must have been asleep for some considerable
time, he decided, for the moonlight streak that had been over the
bureau had now reached to within a foot of his bed, and lay exactly
along the edge of the doorway. Even as he looked, he saw the door
moving, slowly but certainly; and then there came into view, hideously
clear in the moonlight, a hand. A hand, but such a hand as he had never
seen before. The great thick fingers were like the tentacles of an
octopus; blunt at their points, the skin about the knuckles wrinkled,
the fat thumb squat. It was holding the edge of the door, pushing it
slowly inward.

In a second he had rolled out of bed on the opposite side and dropped
to the floor, as something big and heavy leapt on to the bed with a
guttural inhuman cry that was terrible to hear.

As Dick dropped, his left hand thrust upward under the pillow and
gripped the Browning that was there. So doing, his bare forearm touched
for a second the back of a swollen hand, and he had for a moment a
sense of physical sickness. Facing his unseen enemy, he reached back
for the blind, and with one jerk tore it down. Instantly the room was
flooded with moonlight. Save for himself, it was empty!

The door was wide open, and, changing his pistol hand, he reached
round for the switch of the light that lit the hall. At a glance he
saw that the front door was still locked and bolted, but that the
door of the kitchenette was wide open. So also was the window when he
got there, and, bending over the iron rail of the balcony, he saw a
shape scuttling down a rope ladder fastened to the balcony rail. As he
searched the yard with his eyes, the figure vanished into the shadows.

He waited, listening, looking down into the mews, hoping to get another
glimpse of his assailant. Then he heard the soft purr of a motor-car,
that grew fainter and fainter, and presently passed from hearing.

Dick went into his study. The clock pointed to four, and in the east
the sky was already paling. Who was this unknown murderer? He was
satisfied that it was the same man who had attacked him at Gallows
House.

He pulled up the rope ladder. It was an amateur affair, evidently
home-made, for the rungs were of rough, unshaven wood, and the
supporting rope hand-plaited. How they got on to the little balcony
outside the kitchen door was a mystery, though he suspected that a
stone attached to twine had been thrown over the projecting rail, and
that first a cord and then a ladder had been pulled up. That this
surmise was not far from the truth, he discovered when daylight came
and he was able to search the courtyard below. Here he found cord and
string, and to the latter was attached a small iron bolt. It was easy
enough, now he came to examine the crime in the light of knowledge. By
this way had come the murderer of Lew Pheeney. The back of Clargate
Gardens looks on to a mews, from which there were two egresses, and
only a wall need be surmounted to reach the paved courtyard immediately
behind the flats; possibly not ten minutes had elapsed between the
arrival of the assassin and that moonlight vision of his hideous hand.

Day had come now, and Dick was reeling with weariness. He threw himself
down on the bed, half dressed as he was, pulled the coverlet over him,
and was immediately asleep.


CHAPTER XIV

IT WAS the ringing of the telephone bell that woke him. He rolled over
on the bed and took down the receiver.

"Hullo!" he said, in genuine surprise. "Your voice was the last in the
world I expected to hear."

There was a little laugh at the other end of the phone.

"You recognized it? That's rather clever of you. I came down to see you
half an hour ago, but the hall porter was certain that you were not in."

"Is anything wrong?" he asked quickly.

There was a little hesitancy.

"N-no," said Sybil Lansdown. "Only I wanted to--consult with you. That
is the technical term, isn't it?"

"Come along by all means. I will mollify the porter."

She did not know why the porter should need mollification until she
arrived. He had had no time to shave, to do any more than jump in and
out of the bath, and he was in the throes of cooking when he opened the
door to her.

"The truth is," he said, "I've sent my housekeeper away--that's rather
a grand name for a daily help, but it impresses most people."

"Then I'll be impressed," she laughed, and sniffed. "What is that
burning?"

He clasped his forehead and flew into the kitchenette, the girl at his
heels.

"When you fry eggs," she said severely, "you usually put fat in the
pan. You are not domestic, Mr Martin. And what on earth is that?"

She pointed to the crude rope ladder that lay in the corner of the
kitchen.

"My fire escape," he said glibly. "I'm one of those scared folk who
can't go to sleep unless they're sure that they're not going to be
roasted--with or without fat," he added maliciously, "before they
wake."

She was looking at him suspiciously.

"It never occurred to me that you were that kind of man," she said,
and sliced the eggs scientifically from the pan on to a plate. "Twelve
o'clock is disgracefully late for breakfast, but I'll wait till you
have finished. You have just got up, I suppose? Did I wake you?"

"You did," he confessed. "Now, Miss Lansdown, what is troubling you?"

"Finish your breakfast," she ordered, and was adamant to his wheedling
until he had drunk his coffee. "I was talking to mother last night
after you'd left. I'm afraid you've rather worried her. And you need
not feel penitent about it, because I realize that you only said as
much as you thought necessary. We had a long, long talk, and the upshot
of it was, I went to see Mr Havelock this morning, and I told him all
about my Portuguese trip and the incident of the key. Mr Havelock was
very worried, and he wants me to have police protection. In fact, I had
the greatest difficulty in dissuading him from telephoning to Scotland
Yard. I then made a suggestion to him, which rather surprised him, I
think."

"What was the suggestion?"

"I won't tell you. I'd like to spring my surprise on you without
warning. Have you a car?"

He nodded.

"Will it hold three?"

"Who is the other?" asked Dick, nettled at the thought that what
at first had promised to be a tête-à-tête was to be spoiled by the
inclusion of a third person.

"Mr Havelock. We are going down to Selford Hall--and the tombs of the
Selfords," she added dramatically.

A slow smile dawned on Dick's face.

"You're certainly a mind-reader, for I was taking that trip this
afternoon--alone."

"You wouldn't have been able to see the tombs alone," said the girl;
"and I warn you it's an awfully creepy place. In fact, mother isn't
particularly keen on my going down with you. Mr Havelock has very
kindly agreed to come, and I'm relieved, because be knows the place and
its history. We are to call for him at half-past two at his office. And
will you bring the key you have?"

"The two keys," he corrected. "I'm sort of collecting keys just now.
Yes, I'll be there."

She gathered up her bag and rose.

"What is the mystery?" he asked, sensing from her air of quiet triumph
that she had made some important discovery.

"You will know this afternoon," she said.

He saw her from the door, took off his coat, and shaved, and by one
o'clock he had retrieved the keys from his banker, and just before
half-past one his car drew up at the door of 107, Coram Street. The
girl was waiting for him, for no sooner had he knocked than the door
opened and she appeared.

"Have you the keys?" she asked, almost before he had greeted her.
"Mother doesn't like my going. She is nervous about anything connected
with the Selford family."

"What is the mystery?" he asked.

"You shall see. I fed in my most mysterious mood. You haven't asked me
why I'm not at the library. It is Founder's Day, and to celebrate the
birth of the man who opened the library--we close it! Are you a good
driver?"

"I have few equals," he admitted modestly.

"But are you a good driver?"

It was only then, as she chattered on inconsequently, that he realized
that she was a little overwrought; perhaps some of her mother's
nervousness had been communicated to her. Certainly, if she had a
premonition of danger, that terrible day was to justify her fears.
If Dick had half guessed what horrors lurked in the lap of that warm
spring day, he would have driven the car into the nearest lamp-post.

The machine turned into Lincoln's Inn Fields and stopped before the
Havelock building. When Mr Havelock came down to the car, he was
smiling broadly, as though there were an element of humour in the
adventure. "How does it feel," he asked, as the car moved westward,
"for a detective to receive a clue from an amateur? Are you very much
chagrined at Miss Lansdown's remarkable theory?"

"I haven't heard the theory," said Dick, skilfully dodging between a
bus and a taxicab. "I've got my thrill coming."

"I hope you will get it," said Havelock dryly. "Frankly, I would not
have come on this little jaunt but for the fact that my monthly visit
to Selford Hall is due, and a lawyer never loses an opportunity of
saving unnecessary expenses. You, Mr Martin, will appear in the expense
sheet of the Selford estate as a liability!"

Like other men whose jokes were infrequent, he was amused at the
slightest of his own jests.

The car flew through Horsham, bore to the right on to the Pulborough
Road, and, nearly two hours after they had left the City, it pulled
up before a pair of imposing lodge gates. At the sound of the horn an
untidy-looking woman came from the lodge, opened the gates, and dropped
a curtsey to Mr Havelock as the car sped up a well-tended drive.

"We have to keep the place in spick and span order," explained Mr
Havelock; "and one of my jobs is to engage a staff of servants the
moment our globe-trotting young lord decides to settle down in his
native land."

"Are there any servants in the hall itself?" asked Dick.

Havelock shook his head.

"A caretaker and his wife only," he said. "Once a month we have a
contingent of women in from the village to clean up and dust and
polish. As a matter of fact, the place is in a very good state of
repair, and why he doesn't let it is beyond my understanding. By the
way," he said suddenly, "I had a letter from him this morning. He is
delaying his arrival till December, which probably means that he won't
be home this winter."

"Where is he now?" asked Dick, looking over his shoulder.

Mr Havelock smiled.

"I shouldn't like to be very explicit on the subject. He was at
Cairo when the Egyptian mail left. He's probably now in Damascus or
Jerusalem. I don't mind confessing that I often wish him in Jericho!"

At that moment the Hall came into view; a Tudor house of severe and
unpleasing lines. To Dick's untutored eye it had the appearance of a
large brick barn, to which twisted chimneys and gables had been added.
The car drew up at the broad gravelled space before the porch.

"We'd better get down here. We have a mile walk across the rough," said
Havelock.

At the sound of the car wheels the caretaker, a middle-aged man, had
appeared, and with him the lawyer exchanged a few words about the
estate. It seemed that the caretaker was also acting as bailiff, for
he reported a fence that needed repairing, and an oak that had been
uprooted in a recent storm.

"Now, then," said Havelock. He had brought a walking-stick with him,
and led the way across the broad lawn which, Dick noted, had recently
been cut, through an orchard into a farmyard, which was untenanted save
for half a dozen chickens and a dog, and through another gate into the
park. Though there was no road, there was a definite pathway which led
across the broad acres, skirting and half-encircling the steep bluff
under which the house was built, through a spinney, and at last into a
shallow valley, on the opposite side of which stood a long, dark line
of trees.

As they climbed the gentle slope that led to the wood, Dick was
struck by the lifelessness of the dark copse, which he would have
recognized from Mrs Lansdown's description. The trees, with their
green, dank-looking boles, seemed dead in spite of their new greenness.
Not a leaf stirred upon that airless day, and to add to the gloom, a
big thunder-cloud was rising rapidly beyond the bluff, showing defined
edges of livid grey against the blue sky.

"It is going to rain, I'm afraid," said Mr Havelock, glancing up. "We
are nearly there."

The path became visible again; it led a serpentine course through the
trees, mounting all the time. And then, unexpectedly, they came into a
clearing, in the middle of which was a great dome-shaped rock.

"This is called the Selford Stone," explained Mr Havelock, pointing
with his stick; "and that is the entrance to the tombs."

Cut in the face of the rock was an oblong opening, covered by a steel
grille, red with rust, but, as Dick saw, of enormous strength. Mr
Havelock put down the lanterns he had been carrying, and lit them one
by one before he took from his pocket a big, ancient-looking key,
and inserted it in the rusty lock. With a turn of his wrist the ward
snapped back and the door of the iron grille opened squeakily.

"Let me go first."

The lawyer stooped and went down a flight of moss-covered steps. The
girl followed. Slick bringing up the rear. There were twelve of these
steps, the detective counted, and by the light of a lantern he saw a
small vaulted room, at the end of which was another steel grille of
lighter make. The same key apparently fitted both.

Beyond the second door the solid rock had been hollowed out into twenty
tiny chapels. They looked for all the world like refectory cells, with
their heavy oaken doors and huge hinges, and on each had been carved
a string of names, some of which, as Dick found when he tried to read
them, were now indecipherable, where the wood had rotted.

The chapels ran along two sides of the narrow passage in which they
stood, and at the very end was the twenty-first cell, which differed
from all the others in that its door was of stone, or so it appeared
at first glance. It differed, too, in another respect, as Dick was to
discover. Mr Havelock turned to him and held up the lantern, that the
visitor might better see.

"Here is what Miss Lansdown wishes you to see," he said slowly. "The
door with the seven locks!"

Dick stared at the door. There they were, one under the other. Seven
circular bosses on the door, each with its long key slit.

Now he knew. It was to this awful place that Lew Pheeney had been led
to work under the fear of death!

The door was enclosed in a fantastic frame and gruesomely ornamented.
A stone skeleton was carved on each pillar; so real they looked that
even Dick was startled. He tapped the door with his knuckles; it was
solid--how solid, he soon learned.

"Who is in here?" he said, and Havelock's finger pointed to the
inscription:

"SIR HUGHE SELLFORDE, Kt Founder of ye Sellforde Houfe.

"Heare I wayte as quiet as a moufe Fownder of the Sellforde Houfe A
curfe on whosoever mocks Who lieth fast with feven lockes. Godde have
mercie."

"The inscription is of a much later period than Hugh's death," said
Havelock.

"What is in there? Is he--buried here?" said Dick slowly. Mr Havelock
shook his head. "I don't know. The late Lord Selford, who had the old
door with its seven locks taken down, and this new door--which is
steel, by the way--made in Italy, said there was nothing except an
empty stone casket; and, indeed, nothing can be seen."

"Seen?" repeated the girl in surprise. "How is it possible to see?"

There was a little panel about six inches in length and two inches
broad, apparently part of the solid door, and running across its
centre. Mr Havelock caught its bevelled edge between his finger and
thumb and it moved aside, leaving a small aperture not an inch in
depth. "I ought to have brought an electric torch," he said.

"I've got one," said Dick, and, taking a small lamp from his pocket, he
held it up near to his eyes and sent the light into the interior.

He looked into a cell about six feet square. The walls were green and
damp; the rudely carved stone floor was thick with dust. In the very
centre, resting on a rough stone altar, was an oblong, box-shaped
sarcophagus of crumbling stone.

"The stone box? I don't know what that is," said Havelock. "Lord
Selford found it in the tomb and left it as it was. There was no sign
of a body--"

Suddenly the passage was lit by a blue, ghastly flame, that flickered
for a second and was gone. The girl, with a gasp of fright, clung to
Dick's arm.

"Lightning," said Havelock calmly. "I'm afraid we're going to have a
wet journey back to town."

Even as he spoke, the hoarse roar of thunder shook the earth. It was
followed by another flash of lightning, that revealed the ghostly doors
of the dead on either side, and sent the girl shrinking against the
detective.

"We'll not get wet, anyway," said Dick, patting the shoulder of the
trembling girl. "There's a whole lot of nonsense talked about storms.
They're the most beautiful demonstrations that nature sends. Why, when
I was in Manitoba--"

The flash was followed instantly by a deafening explosion.

"Something's hit," said Dick calmly.

And then, from the far end of the passage, came the sound of the
clanging of metal against metal.

"What was that?" he asked, and, flying along the passage, dashed
through the outer lobby, up the slippery stairs to the entrance gates.

A flash of lightning blinded him for a second; the thunder crash that
came on top of it was deafening; but he had seen what he had feared.
The great iron grille had been shut on them, and on the wet clay before
the door he saw the prints of naked feet!


CHAPTER XV

SYBIL AND Havelock had followed closely behind him. Havelock's face had
lost its rubicund colour, and the hand that went up to shake at the
rail was trembling.

"What foolery is this?" he said angrily, and the quavering note may
have been due to his annoyance.

Suddenly Dick's pistol leapt up. Twice he fired at the figure he
glimpsed through the dripping rhododendrons. It had grown in a few
minutes from bright sunlight to a gloom that was almost terrifying. The
clouds sent the rain hissing in his face, but the nicker of lightning
had given him a glimpse of the huge, fleshy arms.

"Oh, don't shoot; please--please don't!" The girl was sobbing, her head
on his breast, and Dick dropped his pistol.

"You have a key to open the gate?" he asked in a low voice, and
Havelock nodded.

"Give it to me."

Martin took the key from the shaking hand, put his arm through the bars
and inserted it in the lock. A sharp twist of his wrist and the door
was pushed open.

"Go on ahead; I won't be far behind you."

He dashed into the bushes where he had seen the figure, and he saw that
he bad not altogether failed, for on the long yellow cylinder that
lay on the grass was a spatter of blood. He turned the cylinder over;
it was about four feet in length and immensely heavy. Attached to the
nozzle was a rubber tube about an inch in diameter. Searching around,
he found a second cylinder, with a similar equipment. At the nozzle end
of this latest find was a circular red label which had evidently been
scratched off its fellow. W.D. Chlorine Gas. Handle Carefully. Poison.
There was no sign of the half-naked man, and he started off at a run to
overtake Sybil.

The lightning flashed incessantly, and there was scarcely an interval
between the peals of thunder. Both the girl and Mr Havelock were as
pale as death when he caught them up.

"What was it? Whom did you fire at?" asked Havelock huskily.

"Nerves," said Dick, without shame. By the time they reached the house
they were wet through, but he declined the invitation to go into the
Hall and dry his clothes. He had work to do, and no sooner had the door
closed on the girl than he was on his way back to the Selford tombs.

As he approached the wood he proceeded with caution, searching left
and right and keeping his eyes on those little dumps of bushes which
afforded cover. The wounded man was nowhere in sight.

He had slipped the key of the catacombs into his pocket, and now,
having opened the grille, he took a pair of handcuffs from his hip
pocket, snapped them at the top and bottom of the lock, so that it was
impossible for the door to close. This done, he descended the steps,
and, flashing his lamp before him, he came to the door of the seven
locks. From an inside pocket of his waistcoat he took out the two keys
and tried one of them on the top keyhole, without producing any result.
It was not until he had got to the fourth slit that the key slipped in
and turned with a click. He pulled gently, but the door did not budge.
He tried with the second of the keys, and found that it fitted the last
of the locks. Turning them both together, he pulled again, but the door
did not move.

The mystery of the door was very clear to Dick Martin. Seven keys had
to turn simultaneously before the door would open; and when it opened,
what was there to see? He drew back the panel and looked at the stone
urn. If the ancient Sir Hugh was buried here, was his body in that
casket?

It was impossible to see the side walls in their entirety, but from
what view he got it seemed unlikely that there could be any hidden
sepulchre. The long shelf cut in the solid rock (which he now saw for
the first time) had in all probability held all that was mortal of the
first Selford, but no trace remained of him.

Pocketing the keys, he went back, closing and locking the middle door,
and ascended the steps into the daylight. Here he had a shock. Not
a dozen feet from the mouth of the tomb was one of the long yellow
cylinders which he had last seen fifty feet away. The beast-man, then,
was somewhere at hand; in all likelihood was watching him at this
moment with hateful eyes. In spite of his self-possession, a little
shiver ran down Dick Martin's spine. There was something obscene about
this strange visitant.

He lifted the heavy cylinder, walked a few paces and flung it into the
bushes, and then followed the path through the trees.

He had an almost overpowering desire to run. He recognized with horror
that he was on the verge of panic, and it needed but this discovery to
swing him round to face the way he had come. Slowly, and against every
natural instinct, he walked back through the forest towards where the
cylinder was, to where his enemy was hiding. Coming to the edge of the
clearing, he waited a full minute. Having thus tutored his nerves, he
continued on his way to the house, never once looking back, but all his
nerves taut.

It was with a feeling very much like relief that he reached the open
valley and the comforting sight of the ugly home of the Selfords. The
cold malignity of this inhuman creature; his persistence, wounded as
he was, to destroy the man against whom his enmity had been aroused;
the deadly earnestness of him--all these things were impressive. This
accidental association with the door of seven keys that hid nothing
apparently but dust had brought him into deadly peril--had it also
jeopardized Sybil Lansdown? At the thought, something gripped at his
heart. It was all so unreal, so unbelievable.

A member of the everyday world who suddenly found himself in a
community of pixies and fairies could be no more bewildered than was
Richard Martin at the revelations which had followed one on the other
during the past three days. Crime he knew, or thought he knew; and
criminals were an open book to him. His youth had been spent amongst
these evaders and breakers of the law. They had taught him their
sinister tricks; he had become proficient in their practices. He
knew the way their minds worked, and could--and would, since he was
something of a writer--have prepared a passable textbook on criminal
psychology.

But now he was out of the world of real crime. Only once before had he
had that experience, when it was his duty to investigate a series of
terrible accidents which had shocked Toronto to its depths. Here he had
met for the first time the amateur criminal and found himself at sea.
But for the greatest good luck, the man he sought would have escaped
detection. As it was, he virtually betrayed himself. The criminal mind
is not a brilliant one; its view is commonplace, its outlook narrow and
restricted. The average criminal lives meanly, from hand to mouth, and
is without reserves, either of assistance in committing a crime or in
covering his retreat.

Crime is an ugly word, he thought, as he paced slowly towards the
house. Up to now, beyond the attempts which this unknown assailant of
his had made, no charge could lie against any discoverable man. Except
Lew Pheeney! Poor Lew, he had belonged to the real world. What agony
of mind had he suffered when, in the dark of the night, he had found
himself working on that awful door.

He was soaked to the skin, but was not aware of the fact until, with a
gasp of dismay, the girl drew attention to his sodden coat just as he
was taking his place at the wheel.

"Did you go back to look for the gate locker?" asked Mr Havelock, who
had returned to his old buoyant manner.

"Yes," said Slick, as he started the car. "I didn't find him, though.
Traces of him--yes, but not him."

"Was he wounded?" asked Sybil quickly.

"Well, if he was wounded, it wasn't serious," said Dick cautiously.

"I wish to heaven you had killed the brute," snapped Havelock
viciously. "Brr!"

He had borrowed an overcoat from the caretaker, and dozed in this all
the way to town. They overtook and passed through a corner of the storm
near Leatherhead. But the three people were too occupied with their
own thoughts even to notice the incident. They put Mr Havelock down at
his house in St John's Wood, and Sybil, who was feeling very guilty
for having brought an elderly man on this unpleasant adventure, was
suitably apologetic.

"It is nothing, and I'm really not so wet as our friend," said Mr
Havelock good-humouredly. "And I'm certainly not worried about what we
saw. It is what I didn't see that concerns me."

"What you didn't see?" repeated the girl.

Havelock nodded. "Our friend has discovered a great deal more than he
has told us, and I'm not so sure that the discovery is a pleasant one.
However, we will talk about that in the morning."

He hurried into his house, and Dick turned the car towards Coram Street.

"I won't let you come in, Mr Martin," she said, when he set her down.
"Will you promise to go straight home and take a hot bath and change
your clothes at once?"

It was a promise easy to make, for his soul ached for the smell of hot
water.

He was no sooner out of his bath and into dry clothes than he called up
Sneed.

"I'm sorry to wake you up," said Dick exultantly, "but I wonder if you
would come along and have dinner with me? I have three chapters to tell
you."

Sneed grunted his dissatisfaction with the scheme, but after a while
he agreed, though his promise was so vague and garnished with so many
reservations that Dick was surprised when the bell rang and he opened
the door to the big man, who walked wearily into the study and dropped
into the first comfortable chair.

"Got the warrant for that raid tonight," he said. "We operate at ten
o'clock."

"You told the Chief Constable of Sussex eleven-fifteen," said Dick, in
surprise.

Inspector Sneed sighed. "I want to get it over before the local
Sherlocks arrive," he said. "Besides, somebody might tip off Stalletti.
You never know. Trust nobody, Dick, not in our profession. I suppose
you haven't spilt this story to anybody?"

Dick hesitated. "Yes, I've told a little to Mr Havelock, and, of
course, a lot to Miss Lansdown."

Sneed groaned. "Havelock's all right, but the lady--oh, my heavens!
Never trust a woman, my son. I thought that was the first article in a
policeman's creed. She'll be having people in to tea and telling 'em
all about it. I know women."

"Have you told anybody?" demanded Dick.

Inspector's Sneed's smile was very superior.

"Nobody except the chief and my wife," he said inconsistently. "A
wife's different. Besides, she's got toothache and she hates opening
her mouth anyway. A woman with toothache never betrays a confidence.
Make a note of that when you write your book."

It was the inspector's belief that every police officer in the force
was secretly engaged in preparing his reminiscences; a delusion of his
which had its justification in a recently printed series of articles
that had appeared in a Sunday newspaper.

"Now, what have you got to tell me?"

He listened with closed eyes whilst Martin told him of the afternoon
spent at the Selford tombs. When he came to the part where the iron
grille had been locked on the party, Sneed opened his eyes and sat up.

"Somebody else had a key," he said unnecessarily. "Nothing in that
vault, you say?"

"Nothing that I could see, except the stone casket," said Martin.

"Humph!" He passed the palm of his hand round his big face rapidly.
"Seven keys," he mused. "Seven locks. Two you've got, five somebody
else has got. Get the five--or, better still, blow in the door with
dynamite."

Dick took out his long cigarette holder and puffed a cloud of smoke to
the ceiling.

"There seems hardly any excuse for that. I fiddled with one of the
keyholes a little, and I can tell you it's a lock that the best man in
the world won't be able to pick. Pheeney failed."

Sneed jerked up his head. "Pheeney! Good Lord! I'd forgotten him! Let
me have a look at the key."

Dick took it from his pocket and gave it to the stout man, who turned
it over and over on the palm of his hand.

"I don't know one like that," he confessed. "Italian, you say? Well,
possibly. You didn't see the barebacked lad?"

"I caught a glimpse of him. He's as quick and as slippery as an eel
--poor devil!"

Inspector Sneed looked up sharply.

"You're in my way of thinking, eh? That this is one of Stalletti's
experiments?"

He was very thoughtful and did not speak for a long time.

"The gas must have been there all the time. And, of course, they knew
you were coming. And then, I have an idea, the presence of Havelock
took them by surprise. It's only an idea, and I don't know why I think
so."

He rose with difficulty.

"Well," he said, "we'll see tonight. Have your car but don t bring your
gun, because you're not supposed to be present, and I'd hate for there
to be any unofficial shooting."


CHAPTER XVI

AT HALF PAST nine that night Dick Martin's car pulled up by the side
of the road half a mile short of Gallows Cottage, and, dimming his
lights, he sat down to wait for the arrival of the police car. He
heard the whir of it long before its bright headlamps came into sight,
and, starting up his engine, he waited for it to fly past before he
followed. The car ahead slowed and turned abruptly into the drive,
Dick's machine immediately behind. By the light of his headlamps he saw
that the hole under the hedge had been filled up.

The first car nearly collided with the thickset hedge where the little
road turned towards the house, and the driver had a narrow squeak of
slipping into the deep ditch that ran immediately under.

Gallows Cottage was in darkness, as it had been when Dick had come
before. By the time he came up to Sneed, the inspector was knocking at
the door, and three of the half-dozen men the car had contained were
making their way to the rear of the premises.

The answer to the knock came quickly. A light showed in the transom
above the door and it was jerked open. It was Stalletti, as sallow
and grimed as ever. He stood there, a quaint and sinister figure, his
stained hands stroking his long, black beard, whilst Sneed explained in
a few words the object of this call.

"Oh yes, I now know you," said the man, apparently unperturbed by this
array of force. "You are Sneed. And your friend behind you is the
gentleman who lost his petrol the other night. How careless! Enter, my
friends, to this home of science!"

He stood aside with an extravagant gesture of welcome, and the five men
crowded into the hall.

"My drawing-room you would wish to see, I am sure?" said Stalletti,
flinging open the door of the room in which he had received Dick.

"I'll see that workroom of yours," said Sneed, and, as the man was
leading them back to the back of the house: "No, not the place at the
back--the one upstairs."

Stalletti shrugged his shoulders, hesitated for a second, and with
another shrug led the way up the uncarpeted stairs, at the head of
which was a small room, the door of which he threw open as he was
passing. A smaller flight led to a broad landing, on which were three
doors. Dick and Sneed entered the room on the left. It was a poorly
furnished room; an old truckle bed in the corner, a battered and grimy
washstand, one leg of which had been broken and repaired, and a deep
old arm-chair was all the furniture it contained.

The next room was evidently Stalletti's office and bedroom. It was
overcrowded with furniture, and was in a state of disorder that
beggared description. In one corner near the window was a tall nest of
steel drawers. Stalletti pulled one open with an extravagant smile.

"You would like to see in the drawers?" he asked sardonically

Sneed did not reply. He looked under the bed, opened a bureau, ordered
the tenant of the house to unlock a cupboard, and directed his
attention to the third room, which was also a bedroom, this with two
beds, if a heap of old rugs in each corner could be so called.

"Ah, you are disappointed, my Sneed," said Stalletti, as they went down
the stairs. "You expected to find some of your little babies here?
Possibly you said to yourself, 'Ah, that Stalletti has been up to his
old tricks, and is again trying to create big, strong, human men from
the puny little things that will grow up to smoke cigarettes and study
algebra. Ach!"

"You're pretty talkative tonight, Stalletti."

"Should I not be?" asked the bearded man gaily. "It is so seldom I
have a party. Realize, my friend, that I do not sometimes speak for
weeks, or yet hear the sound of a human voice. I live frugally; there
is no need for a cook, for I have raw food, which is natural in the
carnivora. I hear your motor-cars spinning by, filled with flat-chested
little men smoking cigarettes and evil-thinking women, planning
treacheries, and I am still gladder that I am a silent carnivora. Now,
my laboratory."

He opened the door at the back of the house and showed a long room,
which had evidently been built upon the cottage. There were only two
windows to the place, and they were in the roof. There was a very large
table, littered with papers and books in every modern language; two
long shelves running down one side of the room, containing jars and
bottles no two of which were alike (Dick saw a soda-water bottle half
filled with a red fluid and corked with cottonwool); a bench covered
with recording instruments, scales, microscopes of varying sizes;
an old, patched-up operating-table, and a chest of shallow drawers
containing surgical instruments; test-tubes by the hundred; and, in a
cleared space on the table, a dead rat, pinned out flat by its feet.

"Behold the recreation of a poor scientist!" said Stalletti. "No, no,
my friend," as Sneed bent over the table, "our rat is dead. I do not
vivisect any more because of your foolish laws. What pleasure is here
you cannot conceive! Could you find happiness in a week's study of
chemical reactions?"

"Who else is in the house, Stalletti?" asked Sneed.

Professor Stalletti smiled. "I live alone; you have seen for yourself.
Nobody comes here."

"Mr Martin heard a scream the night he came."

"Imagination," said Stalletti coolly.

"He was also attacked in the drive by a half-naked man. Was that
imagination?"

"A typical case," said the doctor, meeting his eyes without flinching.

"Somebody else sleeps upstairs; you've beds for four people."

A broad smile wrinkled the yellow face.

"I never lose hope of friends coming to me, but, alas! they do not
arrive. I am alone. Stay here for a week--a month--and see for
yourself. Leave one of your so-clever officers to watch me. It should
not be difficult to prove my loneliness."

"All right," said Sneed, after a pause, and, turning, walked out of the
house.

The professor stood on the doorstep and watched the car till it
disappeared, then, locking and bolting the heavy door, he went
leisurely up the stairs to his room. Opening a drawer of his desk, he
took out a long dog-whip and whistled the lash in the air. Then he
crossed to the steel nest of drawers and pushed home the one that had
come out--the only one, in fact, that would come out. Pressing one of
the knobs of the false drawers, the whole of the front swung open like
a door.

"Come to your bed. It is late," said Stalletti.

He spoke in Greek. The thing that was crouching in the darkness came
shuffling forth, blinking at the light. It was more than a head taller
than the bearded man, and, save for the ragged pair of breeches it wore
about its waist, it was unclothed.

"Go to your room. I will bring milk and food for you."

Stalletti, standing at a distance from his creation, cracked his whip,
and the big man with the blank face went trotting through the door
across the landing into the room with one bed. Stalletti pulled the
door tight and locked it; then he went down the stairs, through the
laboratory, and out by a small door to the grounds at the back of the
house. He still carried his whip and swung the lash as he walked,
humming a little tune. He passed through a fringe of fir-trees and,
stopping under a spreading oak, whistled. Something dropped from the
bough above almost at his feet, and sat crouching, its knuckles on the
ground.

"Room--milk--sleep," he said to the figure, and cracked his whip
when the listening shape moved too slowly. At the snap of it the
strange thing that had dropped from the tree broke into a jog-trot,
disappearing through the laboratory door, and Stalletti followed at his
leisure.

He went upstairs a little later, carrying two huge bowls of milk and
two plates of meat on a tray. When he had fed his creatures and locked
them in their dens, he went back to his workroom, dismissing slaves and
detectives from his mind, utterly absorbed in his present studies.


CHAPTER XVII

MR HAVELOCK was reading a letter for the third time that morning. Twice
he had consulted his managing clerk, and he was reading it for the
third time when Dick Martin was shown in.

"I hope I didn't get you out of bed too early, Mr Martin, and I have to
apologize for bringing you into this matter which ended, so far as you
were concerned, when you returned. I had this letter this morning; I'd
like you to read it."

The letter was in writing which was, by now, familiar to Dick. It bore
the address of a Cairo hotel.

DEAR HAVELOCK (it began),

I had your cable about Dr Cody, and I am writing at once to tell you
that I certainly know this man and I have had correspondence with him,
so why he should deny all acquaintance with me, I can't understand,
unless it is the natural reticence of a man who may not want other
people to know his business. Cody wrote to me a long time ago, asking
me for a loan. It was for a very considerable sum--£18,000--and I had
no inclination to advance this amount to a total stranger. He told
me he had got into a very bad state, and that he wished to clear out
of England, to get away from a man who had threatened to kill him. I
forget the whole story now, but it struck me at the time that the man
was sincere. I wish you would send me £25,000 in French notes. Register
the parcel as usual, and address me at the Hotel de Paris, Damascus.
I hope to go on to Bagdad, and thence into Southern Russia, where I
believe there is a big property to be bought for a song.

The letter was signed 'Pierce'.

"Do you usually send him money when he asks for it?

"Invariably," said the other, in a tone of surprise.

"And you are sending him this large sum?"

Mr Havelock bit his lip.

"I don't know. I'm rather troubled about the matter. My managing clerk,
in whose judgment I have complete faith, advises me to cable his
lordship asking him to appoint another agent. The responsibility is too
big, and after yesterday's horrible experience, I am almost inclined to
wash my hands of the matter. It would, of course, mean a heavy loss to
us, because the management of the Selford estates brings us in nearly
five thousand pounds a year."

Dick was staggered at the figure.

"It must be an enormously wealthy estate," he said.

"It is," agreed Havelock. "And, unfortunately for me, it is increasing
in value every day. It will soon become unwieldy."

"Did Lord Selford leave anything in the nature of a treasure?" asked
Dick, as he remembered a question he had intended asking.

Havelock shook his head.

"No, beyond the cash at the bank, which was a large sum--fifty thousand
pounds or so--there were no fluid assets. But he left a number of
undeveloped coal lands in Yorkshire and Northumberland, which have
since proved very valuable; in addition to which he had several large
properties in Australia and South Africa, which have also enhanced in
value to an enormous extent. You are thinking about the door with the
seven locks?" he smiled. "Believe me, there is nothing there so far as
I know, and I have seen every document, private and general, which the
late Lord Selford left. That little cell is as much a mystery to me as
it is to you. It could be cleared up in twenty-four hours if I had his
lordship's permission to force the door. But I have never asked for it,
because I have never seen the necessity for it." Then he smiled. "I
have been hearing stories about you, Mr Martin. They tell me that you
can pick a lock as skilfully as any cracksman."

"Most locks," said Dick promptly, "but none of the seven. I realize my
limitations. Now, I could open that safe"--he pointed to a little black
safe standing in the corner of the room--"as easily as I could open
your office door. I won't say I could do it with a hairpin, but I have
half a dozen instruments at home that would make that receptacle about
as valuable a store as a cardboard box. But I've got a kind of instinct
that tells me when I'm beaten, and I know I'm beaten on those seven
locks. Has Lord Selford any relations?" he asked abruptly. Havelock
nodded.

"One," he said. "Miss Sybil Lansdown, and, of course, her mother,
though in law Miss Lansdown would be regarded as the heir to the
property, supposing Lord Selford died without issue."

He took up the letter from the table, and his eyes ran over the written
page. "I'm almost inclined to send you to Damascus with the money," he
began, but Dick shook his head.

"No, sir." He was emphatic. "I've had one chase after this young man,
and that is enough to last me for a lifetime. During the years he's
been abroad has he had much money from you?"

"The greater part of five hundred thousand," replied Havelock quietly.
"Generally for the purchase of estates, the deeds of which have never
come to me. I have complained about this once or twice, but he has
assured me that the title deeds were in good keeping."

"One question I want to ask you before I go," said Dick, after turning
the matter over in his mind. "Is it possible that these letters are
forgeries?"

"Absolutely impossible," replied Havelock. "I know his handwriting and
its peculiarities as well as--indeed, better than--I know my own. I can
assure you that not two years ago he wrote one of the letters I have in
my file under my own eyes."

"He could not be impersonated?"

"Absolutely not. He is rather a thin-faced, sandy-haired man, who
speaks with a little lisp. And the better to identify him, he has a
round red patch--a birthmark--on his cheek, just below his ear. I
have thought of all these possibilities. He might be impersonated,
he might be held to ransom, or have fallen into the hands of some
unscrupulous gang which was bleeding him. In fact, if I had not seen
him at intervals during the past years, I should have become seriously
alarmed. But there it is! If he chooses to wander about the world, I
have no power to stop him, and his hobby is not so reprehensible that I
can invoke the aid of the law to pin him down in England and keep him
here. You are sure you would not like to take the trip to Damascus?"

"Perfectly sure," answered Dick immediately. "I can think of nothing I
want to do less!"

Two disturbing factors had come into the life of Sybil Lansdown, and
she found it difficult to concentrate her mind even upon rare editions
or those inanimate volumes which once had seemed so interesting.

In one case the library helped to enlarge her knowledge. She collected
all the literature available upon the history of the old county
families, but there was little about Selford, except in one volume,
written by a priest, which told, in too lurid detail, the story of Sir
Hugh's many sins. Sybil closed the book hastily when it became a little
too detailed.

"I'm afraid we are not a nice family," she said, as she put the volume
back on its high shelf.

There was nothing in the library that could help her unravel her
feelings about Mr Martin. Sometimes she thought she liked him very much
indeed; at other times she was equally certain that he annoyed her. She
wished she had not gone to the Selford tombs, and that there had been
no cause for her laying her head on his breast, or fluttering to his
arms in a panic induced by ghastly carvings and a fortuitous nicker of
lightning.

Women were very rare visitors to the library, and when, in the slackest
part of the afternoon, a lady walked into her room she was a little
astounded. A short, stout woman, with a face which did not err on
the side of softness, she was expensively dressed, though her voice
belied her elegant appearance, for it was a little coarse and somewhat
strident.

"Are you Miss Lansdown?" she asked.

Sybil rose from her chair.

"Yes, I am Miss Lansdown. Do you want a book?" she asked, thinking, as
was sometimes the case, that the woman had called on behalf of one of
the subscribers.

"No, I don't read books," was the disconcerting reply. "A lot of
rubbish and nonsense, that put ideas in people's heads--that's what
books are! If he didn't read so much, he'd be a cleverer man. Not that
he isn't a gentleman born and bred," she added hastily, "and a nicer
gentleman to deal with I've never known. You can take it from me, miss,
that that man couldn't think wrong. He may have made a mistake--we're
all liable to make mistakes. But he's not the sort of man who'd put his
'and to anything that wasn't fair and square."

Sybil listened in astonishment to this mysterious paean of praise,
directed she knew not whither.

"Perhaps you--er--"

"My husband," said the lady with dignity. "I am Mrs Bertram Cody."
Sybil's mind flew over the index of members without recalling anybody
who bore that name. "Dr Cody's wife," said the woman. "Have you got a
chair where I can sit down?" With an apology Sybil drew a chair forward
and placed it for the visitor. "My husband knew your father very well,
miss. In fact, they were good friends years and years ago. And he said
to me this morning--my husband, I mean:--If you're going to town,
Elizabeth, you might pop in at Bellingham's Library, and he gave me the
address; I've got it written down on a bit of paper."

She searched a very expensive bag and produced a small card. "Yes,
there it is, in his own handwriting." She showed the girl a scrawl
which told her nothing. "My husband said: 'Go in and see Miss Lansdown
and ask her if she'll come down to tea, and I can tell her something
very interesting about her father that she never knew before."

Sybil was puzzled but interested. Who this strange woman was, and what
position her husband occupied in society, she could only guess from the
prefix the proud wife had put to her husband's name. As though she read
the girl's thought, Mrs Cody went on: "He's not a medical doctor. A
lot of people think he is, but he's not. He's a literary doctor."

"Oh, a doctor of literature?"

"And law." The lady nodded impressively. "He got it out of a college in
America. The point is, miss, you have got lots of enemies." Mrs Cody
lowered her voice until it was a harsh whisper. "My husband said: 'See
the young lady and ask her not to breathe a word of what I've said,
because it may cost me dear--it may cost me dear.'" She repeated the
words slowly and imposingly. "'Take the Rolls-Royce,' he said, 'and
maybe you can persuade her to come down and have a cup of tea. It
wouldn't take her an hour, and nobody would know she'd been.'"

"But why shouldn't people know I've been?" asked the girl, secretly
amused, and yet with a feeling at the back of her mind that there was
something more serious in this communication than she could for the
moment see.

"Because," said Mrs Cody, "of these enemies. They're not only after
you, miss"--her voice was very solemn, and, in spite of her amusement,
Sybil was impressed--"but they're after that Canadian man, the
policeman."

"You mean Mr Martin?" asked the girl quickly.

Again Mrs Cody nodded her head.

"That's the fellow--the detective. They tried to get him once, but
perhaps he hasn't told you about it. The next time he'll be popped off,
as sure as my name's Elizabeth."

There was a telephone on the table, and Sybil looked at it for a moment
in doubt.

"What had my father to do with all this?" she asked.

Mrs Cody pursed her lips, as though she could tell if she would. "My
husband will tell you that, miss," she said.

Sybil examined the woman more critically. She was undoubtedly the most
commonplace individual she had met for a long time; but her wealth was
advertised by an abundance of jewellery. For with every movement of
her head two big diamond earrings winked and sparkled in the afternoon
sunlight. Her fingers were scarcely visible under the rings that
covered them, for she wore no gloves, and across her ample bosom was a
huge diamond.

"How far is it?" asked Sybil.

"Less than a hour. It's in Sussex." She explained the route and the
exact situation of the house. "If you could get away in time for a cup
of tea--"

"I could do that," said the girl thoughtfully, "for this is my early
afternoon."

Mrs Cody consulted a jewelled watch.

"I'll wait for you," she suggested. "You'll find my Rolls-Royce"--she
rolled the words sonorously--"waiting in the square. You can't mistake
it. It's black, picked out with little red lines."

"But please don't wait. I shall be half an hour yet."

"I don't mind waiting. But I think I had better stay in the car till
you come. You're going to have a big surprise, young lady, and you'll
thank me until your dying day that my husband sent me to see you."

Sybil called up her flat, but her mother was out, and she remembered
that Mrs Lansdown had gone to a bridge party--her one recreation. She
called Dick Martin, with no better result; and at four o'clock she went
out into the square and looked for the limousine. She had not far to
look; a handsome car was drawn up near the kerb, and at her appearance
moved slowly towards her. The chauffeur, a round-faced, young-looking
man of thirty (she guessed) was dressed in sober livery. Mrs Cody
opened the door for her, and she got into an interior that was so
heavily perfumed that she mechanically turned the lever that lowered
the windows.

"I hope you telephoned to your mother, my dear?" said Mrs Cody, with a
sidelong glance at the girl.

"I did, but she was not at home."

"Then you left a message with the servant?"

Sybil laughed. "We do not support such a luxury, Mrs Cody," she said.
"Mother and I do the work of the house ourselves."

Mrs Cody sighed. "You told somebody else where you were going, I hope,
my dear? You should always do that when you're going out, in case of
accidents."

"No, I told nobody. I tried to get a friend on the phone, but he was
out too."

For a second the ghost of a smile dawned on the hard face and vanished
again.

"You can't be too careful," said the lady sententiously. "Do you
mind sitting back. Miss What's-your-name, in the corner. It's more
comfortable."

It was also more unobservable, but this Sybil did not notice.


CHAPTER XVIII

SOON THEY were speeding in a south-westerly direction, and although Mrs
Cody was not an entertaining hostess, the girl found plenty to think
about, and certainly did not resent the silence of this over-dressed
woman. In less than an hour the car swung through a pair of heavy iron
gates, up a long avenue, and stopped before a medium-sized house.

Sybil had never met the stout and smiling man who came to meet her.

"Ah! So this is the daughter of my old friend!" he said, almost
jovially. "Little Sybil! You don't remember me, of course?"

Sybil smiled.

"I'm afraid I don't, Dr Cody," she said.

"You wouldn't, my dear, you wouldn't." His manner was paternal, but Mrs
Cody, who knew her husband much better than most people, and who could
detect his most subtle nuances of tone, shot one cold, baleful glare in
his direction that was eloquent of her experience.

If Cody saw her, his manner certainly did not change. He took the
girl's arm, much against her will, and led her into the handsome
library, fussing over her like an old hen with a chick. She must have
the best chair and a cushion for her back.

"Tea at once, my dear. You must be tired after your journey."

"I am," said Mrs Cody emphatically. "I'd like a word with you, C."

"Certainly, my dear. Are you quite comfortable, Miss Lansdown?"

"Quite," said the girl, finding it difficult not to smile as she saw
Mrs Cody flounce out with a red face and slam the door behind her.

In the hall the chauffeur was lighting a cigarette. He glanced round at
the woman as she came out.

"Who's she, aunty?" he asked.

Mrs Cody shrugged her ample shoulders.

"She's the girl the old man was telling you about," she said shortly.
"You ask too many questions; he's been complainin' about you."

"I thought she was." He ignored the complaint. "Not a bad-looker. I'm
surprised at you leaving them two alone!"

"Never mind what you're surprised at," she said tartly. "Go and put
that car in the garridge, and come and see me when it's done."

"There's plenty of time," answered the dutiful nephew coolly. "What's
the old man going to do?"

"How do I know?" she snapped.

But he was in no way abashed.

"Has she got the key?"

"Of course she hasn't got the key, you fool!" she stormed. "And don't
stand there asking me silly questions. And don't poke your nose into my
business. And what do you know about keys?"

Her nephew looked at her meditatively.

"You're a queer couple, you and him," he said. "But it's no business
of mine. That girl's certainly a good-looker. I'm going through to the
kitchen to have some tea. The old man's given cook and Mrs Hartley a
holiday, and the maid's away sick. It's rum that they should all be
away together!"

He was strolling to the front door. Then he spoke, and now he turned
back.

"Got everybody out of the house." He frowned. "What's the great idea,
aunt?"

"Not so much 'aunt'. I'm 'missus' to you, you gaol-bird! I've told
you about that before." She was trembling with fury, and he knew her
well enough to realize that this was not a moment to provoke her to
further anger. For seven years (with a pleasant interregnum) he had
preserved the polite fiction of being a pampered menial in the house of
Mrs Cody. His wages were good; he knew a little of the private affairs
of the widow whom Dr Cody had most unexpectedly married, and for the
consideration he received in the shape of a good bed, an excellent
allowance, plus the assistance he had in the garage, he was quite
willing to be blind to many curious happenings that he had witnessed in
that house.

He walked towards his aunt, his cigarette drooping from his big mouth.

"What time am I taking that girl back to town?" he asked.

"She's staying here; you needn't bother."

He looked down at the floor, up at the ceiling, everywhere except at
the woman, and then: "Does she know she's staying here?"

"Mind your own business."

"This is my business for once," he said obstinately. "I don't know who
she is or what she is; if there's any monkey game going on, I'm not in
it. I'll have the car ready to take her back in an hour."

The woman did not answer him. She walked rapidly across the hall and
passed up the stairs out of sight. He waited till she had disappeared
from view on the landing, and then he went out to the kitchen to his
own tea and to meditate upon the strangeness of life at Weald House and
the queer fate which, twelve years before, had turned his aunt from a
household drudge to a lady of fortune.

It was Mrs Cody who eventually brought in the tea, placed it on the
table, and immediately retired. Sybil saw nothing strange in this,
thinking that her host had something to say which he did not wish to
tell her before his wife. Three times she had made an ineffectual
attempt to bring the conversation round to her father and the secret
which Mr Cody had to reveal, but on each occasion he skilfully led
the talk in another direction. But now, after a pretence of taking
refreshment, the girl brought the matter to a head by bluntly asking
what he had to tell.

"Well, young lady," Mr Cody coughed, "it's a very long story, and I
doubt if I can tell you everything in the time we have. Would it not be
an excellent idea if I got on to the telephone to your dear mother and
asked her to come down and spend an evening with us?" The girl looked
at him in astonishment. "I'm afraid that plan would not work. Mother
and I are going to a theatre tonight," she said.

Sybil was ordinarily a very truthful person, but even very truthful
people may be permitted to invent excuses for avoiding disagreeable
experiences.

"May I not telephone and ask her?" Knowing that her mother would not be
back at the flat for another hour, she agreed. He went out of the room
and was gone five minutes. When he returned, a broad smile suffused his
face and he was rubbing his hands.

"Excellent, excellent!" he said. "Your dear mother has promised to
come down this evening. I am sending the car for her. She says she can
exchange the theatre tickets for another night."

Sybil listened, petrified with amazement, and into her annoyed
amusement there crept a cold thread of fear. The man was lying. The
theatre engagement had been invented on the spur of the moment, and her
mother was not at the flat, she well knew. Danger! As if a red light
had flashed before her eyes she saw it. There was some terrible peril
threatening her, and she must temporize.

"I'm so glad," she said, with a calmness she did not feel. And then, in
an easy conversational voice: "You have a very pretty house here, Mr
Cody."

"Yes, it is a gem," he said complacently. "Would you like to see over
it? It has a remarkable history. Originally a dower house, in the gift
of a relative of yours--Lord Selford. I leased it many years ago--"

"You know Mr Havelock, don't you?" she said in surprise.

"Hum!" He fingered his chin. "No, I cannot say that I know Mr Havelock
very well. I have done business with him; in fact, I once bought an
Australian property from him. But in the present case the house was
leased to me through a third person, and I very much doubt whether Mr
Havelock is aware that I am the leaseholder. Do you know him well?"

"Slightly," she said. All the time her busy brain was working. What
should she do? She wanted an excuse for seeing the grounds. A main road
passed near the entrance lodge, and she knew there was a village close
at hand. Once she was on the road, there would be sufficient excuses
to take her into the village and the protection which such a community
would offer her.

"You would like to see some of our rooms?"

"No, I don't think so. I would like to see your grounds; I thought I
saw a bed of narcissi near the lodge," she said, and rose from her
chair, her knees trembling.

"Hum!" said Mr Cody again. "Yes, it is a beautiful spot, but the ground
is rather damp for you."

"I would like to go out," she insisted.

"Very good. If you will wait till I have had my second cup of tea." He
busied himself with the tray and the teapot. "By the way, you haven't
finished yours, and it is cold. Shall I pour you out another?"

"No, no, that will be sufficient, thank you."

What a fool she had been! To accompany a strange woman--a woman against
whom every instinct warned her--to an unknown house. Nobody knew
whither she had gone.

She took the cup from him, steeling her nerves to steady her hand,
drank a little, and was grateful for the liquid, for her mouth had
become dry and her throat parched with the consciousness of her
position. It was not nice tea, she noticed, there was a salty, metallic
taste to it, and with a little grimace she put down the cup.

"Thank you, that is enough," she said.

Perhaps it was the acute tension of the moment which left that queer
after-taste in her mouth. She had noticed once before in her life how
sensitive the palate becomes in a crisis of fear.

In one corner of the library was a small coat rack, and Mr Cody went
leisurely to get his cap. When he looked round, Sybil was holding on to
the edge of the table, her face white as death, her eyes glazed. She
tried to speak, but could not form the words. And then, as he came to
her, she collapsed in his arms.

He half carried, half dragged her to the sofa, and putting a cushion
beneath her head, walked out of the library, locking the door behind
him.


CHAPTER XIX

The round-faced chauffeur was standing in the open doorway, smoking.

"Where is Mrs Cody?" asked Cody sharply, his face going dark at the
sight of the man's insolent indifference.

"Upstairs."

"Go and tell her I want her."

"Go and tell her yourself," said the man, without troubling to turn his
head.

Cody's face went purple. It was evident that this was not by any means
the first of their encounters. He mastered his rage with an effort,
and, in a milder tone:

"Go down to the village for me, will you, Tom? I want some postage
stamps."

"I'll be going down later," said Tom, unmoved by his olive-branch.
"Where is that girl?"

"Girl? Which girl?" asked the other, in a tone of innocent surprise.

"The girl you had in to tea. Don't tell me she has just gone out,
because I've been standing here for ten minutes, and I heard you
talking when I was in the hall."

Mr Cody drew a long breath.

"She's resting. The young lady is not very well. I've given her
treatment--"

"Oh, shut up!" said the other contemptuously. "You ain't a medicine
doctor, you're a doctor of laws--and Gawd knows some of 'em want
doctorin' from what I've seen of 'em! When's she going home? I've got
the machine ready."

"She may not go home tonight, Tom." Mr Cody was mildness itself now.
"It was arranged that she should stay tonight."

Tom scratched his cheek irritably.

"She didn't know anything about it," he said. "When she got out she
asked me if there wasn't another way back to town, because she wanted
to call in to see a friend."

This latter was sheer mendacity on the part of Tom Cawler, and it was a
slight coincidence that Mr Cody had been twice deceived in half an hour.

"She's not well, I tell you," he said sharply. "And whilst we're on the
subject, your place is in the kitchen. I've stood about as much of you
as I'm likely to stand, Cawler. You don't think because I married your
aunt that you own this place, do you? Because, if that's your idea,
you're going to get a shock. I've endured quite enough insolence from
you, and you can go."

Tom nodded.

"I know I can go," he said. "Because why? Because nobody could stop
me if I wanted to go. I could go this very minute if I liked--I don't
like! This is a good job and I'm not going to lose it. I don't know
what your dirty business is--"

Mr Cody exploded in anger.

"You--you scoundrel!" he spluttered. "You dare accuse your aunt of
being--"

"I've got a great respect for my aunt." Tom Cawler was still staring
at the ground. "I owe a lot to my aunt. I got all my crook blood from
her side of the family, and you couldn't lay out any scheme for getting
money quick that I wouldn't think she had a hand in." He glowered at
the man for a second and then his eyes dropped.

"Yes, she's been a good aunt to me, Cody! Ever heard tell of my twin
brother Johnny? I've been dreaming about him lately. I see him as plain
as if he was standing before my very eyes. And I was only seven when he
went away--"

"When he died," suggested Cody with unexpected mildness.

"Yuh--when he died. We used to sit under a tree in Selford--I was
brought up on this estate--and sing 'Poor Jenny is a-weepin'.' Seven
years." His eyes, raised suddenly, were like burning fires, and the
little man wilted under the gaze.

"Good kind aunt! I've seen her lick that little boy till he couldn't
stand. She's lucky to be a woman. You tell her that one day. If she'd
'a' been a man, she'd have got hers long ago. I'm going round to get
that car ready. You have that young lady waiting for me when I come
back." There was menace in his tone which was unmistakable.

Without another word he lurched off, his hands in his pockets, a
cigarette still drooping limply, and, turning, Mr Cody flew up the
stairs and burst into the room where his better half was sitting. He
slammed the door behind him, and for ten minutes there was the sound of
angry voices. Presently Mrs Cody came out alone, and, going downstairs,
unlocked the library and went in.

Sybil Lansdown was sitting up on the sofa, her head between her hands.
Without a word, the woman gripped her arm and supported her out of the
room and up the stairs. From this floor two flights of narrow stairs
led, in one case to the servants' quarters, and in the other to a
spare bedroom which was used also as a box-room, and it was into this
apartment that the girl was pushed.

Sybil was almost unconscious. She never recalled that journey up the
stairs. When she woke, with a splitting headache, she was lying on a
large oak bed that sagged in the middle. A little wax nightlight was
burning under a glass, for by this time the light was fading from the
sky.

She sat up, her head reeling, and tried hard to think consecutively.
Near the bed was a small table with a glass of water and two tiny
pellets, which she might have ignored, but the aspirin bottle stood
open beside them. Her head was splitting. Oblivious to danger, and
realizing in a dull way that these were intended to counteract the
effect of the drug she had taken, she swallowed the two pellets and
drank every drop of the water without taking the glass from her lips.
With a groan she lay down on the bed, covering her eyes with her hands,
and was sensible enough to make her mind as much of a blank as her
throbbing brain would allow until the restorative took effect.

It was half an hour before the pain ceased and she ventured to lift her
head again. She was dizzy, and with every movement the room swam round
and round. But after a while she grew calmer, more her normal self, and
she could think consecutively.

There was only a tiny window, and that was a skylight in the sloping
roof. It was padlocked and covered with a stout wire netting. She
tried the door, without expecting that her attempt to leave the room
by that way would be of any avail. Going back to the bed, she sat down
and tried hard to review her position without allowing her terror to
overcome her.

She must have been mad to have gone alone with that woman (to that
vain conclusion she naturally returned), but she was so confident of
herself, and the counsel of perfection was very hard to follow, even in
the most perfect of beings. The excuse was so flimsy, she told herself.
Not a London child would have been deceived by this promise of family
revelations. She dared not let herself think of her mother.

She tried the door again. It was heavily locked and probably bolted as
well, for it resisted her strength at every point of its surface. It
was very old and had the appearance of being something of a misfit, for
there was a gap of an inch and a half between its bottom and the floor.

She walked back to the bed and sat down, trying to order her thoughts.
The key! Was her detention remotely connected with that strip of
steel? She was puzzled, but she would not allow herself to be utterly
bewildered. She argued, as coldly as the circumstances would allow her,
that, for some reason which she could not define, the key had something
to do with her tragic situation.

She pulled up a chair and, mounting it, reached up to the skylight, but
it resisted all her efforts, and, supposing she could force the window,
it was utterly impossible that she could displace the three iron bars
which covered the window.

As she was standing on the chair, she heard a footstep in the passage,
firm and heavy, and, getting down to the floor, she turned to face the
man who came in. It was some little time before the door was opened. As
she rightly surmised, it was fastened with bolts, and these had to be
shot before, with a click, the key turned and Cody came in. He was one
large, affable smile.

"My dear young lady, I'm afraid you have had a bad time. Do you have
these attacks very often?"

"I don't know what attacks you mean. Dr. Cody," she answered steadily.

"Very sad, very sad," he murmured, shaking his head mournfully. "I was
really afraid for your life. Is there insanity in your family?"

The audacity of the question took her breath away. "I don't suggest
there is," he went on, "only I must say that your conduct is a little
strange. You probably remember your screaming fit. No? Ah, I did not
expect you would. It was very lamentable..."

"Mr Cody"--she tried to keep her voice even, but it required a great
effort--"I want to go home to my mother."

He looked hard at her for a long time.

"I suppose you do," he mused. "I suppose you do. But you need have no
fear, my dear young lady; your mother has been notified and is already
on her way."

There was a little table in the corner of the room, and he drew it
to the centre and put down upon it the small black portfolio he was
carrying under his arm. From this he took a folded sheet of paper,
smoothed it gently, took out his fountain pen, unscrewed the top and
fixed it.

"The position," he began, in his old oracular manner, "is a little
irregular. It is not customary for me to receive young ladies who fall
into hysterics, and I confess that I was considerably alarmed--my
dear wife is prostrate with anxiety. She said, and very rightly: 'The
position is a very awkward one for you, Bertram. Suppose this young
lady suggests that you administered to her some noxious drug, and that
you are detaining her against her will--although you and I are well
aware that her illness was brought about by--um--natural causes, a
censorious world may well look sceptically upon our explanation.'"

Sybil waited, knowing full well that, if Mrs Cody had made any kind of
speech, it would not have been in those terms.

"Therefore, it has occurred to me," Mr Cody went on, "that it would be
an excellent idea if you of your own free will, made a statement to
this effect, that I, Bertram Cody, Doctor of Literature and Law, have
behaved with the greatest kindness and propriety, and that I placed you
in this locked room only for one purpose--namely, to restrain you from
doing a serious injury to yourself."

She glanced at the paper on the table.

"I can hardly confess that I'm mad," she said, with a half smile.

"I do not expect you to do, that," said Mr Cody hastily. "That
reference to your condition of mind does not appear in this document.
It is merely a--um--certificate of my probity, very dear to me. A mere
whim of mine, but I am a whimsical person." He smiled broadly, picked
up the pen, gave it to her.

"Can I read the document?" she asked.

"Is it necessary?" He was almost reproachful. "If you will sign this, I
will see that you are conducted at once to your mother."

"You told me my mother was on her way," interrupted Sybil suspiciously.

"My idea," the man went on, calmness itself, "was to meet her halfway.
I have telephoned, asking her to stay at the Mitre Inn, Dorking."

He handed the pen to the girl, and again she hesitated. The document
was written on a quarto sheet and was closely typewritten. His large
hand covered the paper, leaving her only the space to write. She was
anxious to be gone, and, in her fear, clutched at any hope of freedom.
The point of the pen had touched the paper when she saw a line visible
through his extended fingers which arrested her movement.

'Should the said Sybil Ellen Lansdown predecease the said Bertram
Albert Cody...'

"What is this paper?" she asked.

"Sign it!" His voice was harsh, his manner changed as suddenly as a
tropical sky.

"I shall not sign any document that I haven't read," she replied, and
laid down the pen.

The smile left his face hard and menacing. "You will sign that, or, by
God, I'll--" He checked himself with an effort, and strove again to
recover the appearance of geniality.

"My dear young lady," he said, with a queer admixture of irritation and
blandness, "why trouble your pretty little head about the wording of
legal documents? I swear to you that this letter merely exculpates me
from any--"

"I will not sign it," she said.

"You won't, eh?"

He gathered up the document and thrust it into his pocket. She shrank
back as he advanced towards her. Suddenly she darted to the door and
tried to pull it open. Before she could succeed, he had caught her by
the waist and flung her back.

"You'll wait here, my young lady, till you change your mind. You will
wait without food. If I had my way, without sleep. I've given you a
chance for your life, you poor fool, and you haven't had the sense to
grasp it. Now you can stay here until you recover your reason!"

In another second he had passed through the door, slamming it after
him. She heard the bolts shot home with a sinking heart.

For a time she was too paralysed by her discovery to make any fresh
attempt to escape. But after a while she took hold of herself and
regained a little of her self-possession, though she so trembled that,
when she stood upon the chair to try the skylight again, she could
scarcely maintain her balance.

When she saw that escape by that way was impossible, she made
preparations to keep the door against an intruder. She tried to pull
the bed from the wall, but it was a heavy oaken affair and beyond her
strength. A rickety washstand was the only prop she could find, and the
back of this she wedged beneath the door handle and sat down to wait.

Hour followed hour, and there was no sound in the house, and at last,
overcome by weariness, she lay down on the bed and, in spite of all her
efforts to keep awake, was soon fast asleep.

She woke with a wildly beating heart and sat up. She had heard a sound
in the passage outside; a shuffling, stealthy sound, which her guardian
senses had heard in her deepest slumber. What was it? She listened,
and for a long time there was nothing to break the silence. Then, from
somewhere below, she heard a dull crash, as though something heavy had
fallen. She listened, her hand on her heart, striving to check her
racing pulse.

"Ow-w-w!"

She shuddered and almost fainted with horror. It was a squeal she
heard, the squeal of a terror-stricken animal--another, deeper,
guttural, horrible!

She listened at the door, her senses tense, and heard a faint, deep
sobbing, then heard no more. Ten minutes passed, a quarter of an hour,
and then there came to her ears the noise which had first aroused
her--the shuffling of bare feet upon a hard, smooth surface. She had
caught a glimpse of the passage when Dr Cody had opened the door. She
knew it was covered with oilcloth, and it was on this that the feet
were moving. Nearer and nearer they came, and then stopped. Somebody
turned the handle of the door and drew back the bolts. She was frozen
with terror; could not move, could only stand staring blankly at the
door, waiting for the apparition which would be revealed to her.

Again the handle turned, but the door did not move. Whoever it was had
not the key. There was a silence. Somebody was trying to break in the
door and she caught a glimpse of a huge, misshapen toe in the space
between the door and the floor. Then, from under the door, came three
huge, squat fingers. They were wet and red with blood. The hand gripped
the bottom of the door and strove to lift it. At the sight of that
obscene hand the spell was broken, and she screamed, and, turning, fled
in desperate panic to the chair beneath the skylight. As she looked up
she saw a face staring down at her through the window--the white face
of Cawler, the chauffeur.


CHAPTER XX

IT WAS more than accident that took Dick Martin to the library that
previous afternoon. He had come to feel that a day without a glimpse
of this tantalizing girl was a day wasted. And he remembered, with a
sense of virtuous pride, that he was a subscriber and entitled to walk
into this sedate establishment and demand, if he so desired, the most
unintelligible volumes on biophysics.

"Miss Lansdown is gone," said on of the officials. "It is her early
day. She went away with a lady."

"With her mother?" he asked.

"No," said the girl, shaking her head, "it wasn't Mrs Lansdown. I know
her very well. It was a lady who drove up to the door in a Rolls. I've
never seen her before."

There was nothing remarkable in this. Although she was beginning to
fill a large space of his life, Dick scarcely knew the girl, and
certainly knew nothing of her friends. He was disappointed, for he had
intended, on the lamest excuse, to take her to tea that afternoon. He
waited till nearly seven before he called at Coram Street. Here his
excuse for the visit was even lamer, and he accounted this one of his
unlucky days when Mrs Lansdown smilingly told him that the girl had
telephoned, in her absence, to say that she would not be home to dinner.

"She has a girl friend and often dines with her--probably she will
go on to a theatre afterwards. Won't you stay and keep me, company
at dinner, Mr Martin? Though I'm afraid I'm rather an uninteresting
substitute for Sybil!"

He was glad to accept the invitation, hoping that before he left, Sybil
would put in an appearance; but, though he prolonged his visit to the
limits of politeness, she had not returned when he took his leave at
eleven o'clock. Until then he had not made any reference to the story
the librarian had told him.

"Your daughter's friend is a fairly rich young lady?" he asked.

Mrs Lansdown was surprised. "No, indeed, she works for her living; she
is a cashier in a drug store."

She saw the frown gather on his face, and asked quickly: "Why?"

"Somebody called for Sybil with a car--a Rolls," he said; "somebody
that the librarian did not know."

Mrs Lansdown smiled.

"That isn't very remarkable. Jane Allen isn't very rich, but she has
a number of very wealthy relatives, and probably it was her aunt who
called."

He lingered outside the house for a quarter of an hour, consuming three
cigarettes before, a thoroughly dissatisfied man, he walked home. His
uneasiness he analysed to his own discredit. He was not considering, he
told himself, whether the girl was in any kind of scrape, and the real
secret of his annoyance was purely personal and selfish.

His flat seemed strangely empty that night. As was his wont, he walked
through all the rooms, and paid particular attention to the little
kitchen balcony. Behind every door he had put a portable alarm, a tiny
triangle to which was attached a bell, the apex of the triangle being
fixed in the wood of the door, so that any attempt to open it would
assuredly arouse him. This done, he switched the telephone through to
his room, undressed slowly, and went to bed.

Sleep did not come easily, and he took a book and read. The clock was
striking one as he dozed off. He was half awake and half asleep when
the telephone bell sounded in the passage, and, putting on the light,
he sat up and took the instrument from the table by the bed.

"Hullo!"

"Trunk call," said a man's voice.

There was a click, a silence, and then: "Murder...I'm being
murdered....Oh, God! They are here...the boys...murder!"

His spine crept.

"Who is it speaking?" he asked quickly.

There was no answer.

"Who are you? Where are you speaking from?"

Still no answer. Then a deep groan and a curse, a shriek that ended in
a thick sob.

"Don't touch me, don't touch me. Help!"

There was a crash, and no further sound. Dick worked rapidly at the
hanger of the telephone and presently got the exchange.

"Where was I called from?"

"Somewhere in Sussex," said the local man. "Do you want me to find out?"

"Yes--and quick! I'm Mr Martin, of Scotland Yard. Will you call me?"

"I'll ring you in a minute," was the reply.

Instantly Dick was out of bed and dressing with feverish haste. The
voice he had not recognized, but some instinct told him that this call
was no hoax and that he had listened in to the very act of slaughter.
He dare not ring Sneed, in case he interfered with the call which was
coming through.

He was lacing his shoes when the bell rang.

"It was from South Weald, Sussex--"

Dick uttered an oath. Cody's house! It was Cody speaking; he remembered
the voice now.

"Get the nearest police station to South Weald and tell them I asked
you to send men straight away to Mr Cody's place. Weald House. There is
trouble there. Will you do this for me."

And when the man had replied in the affirmative:

"Now get me Brixton 9007," he said.

Sneed must know, if he could only arouse that lethargic man from his
sleep. To his surprise, the call came through almost immediately, and
Sneed's voice answered him.

"I've been playing bridge with a few nuts from headquarters," he began.
"It was like taking money from children--"

"Listen, Sneed," said Dick urgently, "There's trouble at Cody's place.
He's just called me through."

In a few words he gave the gist of the terrible message which had
reached him...

"That sounds bad," said Sneed's thoughtful voice. "I've got a car down
here--"

"Mine is faster. I'll pick you up. Where are you?"

"I'll be under the railway arch in Brixton Road. I can bring a couple
of men with me--Inspector Elbert and Sergeant Staynes. They are here
with me."

This was good news. He knew instinctively that in the work ahead of him
he would need all the assistance he could procure.

"I'll be with you in ten minutes."

Dick grabbed his overcoat and flew to the door. As he flung it open
he stepped back in amazement. A white-faced woman was standing on the
threshold.

"Mrs Lansdown!" he gasped, and his heart sank. "Sybil did not go with
Jane Allen," she said in a low voice.

"She hasn't returned?"

Mrs Lansdown shook her head.

"Come in," said Dick, and took her into the dining-room.

Mrs Lansdown's story was all he might have expected. She had waited
until twelve, and then, growing a little uneasy, had walked round to
the boarding-house where Jane Allen lived. She found the girl in bed.
She had not seen Sybil, nor had she made any arrangements to meet her.

"Is there anybody else to whom she could have gone?"

"I have been able to ring up two friends she might be staying with, but
they have not seen her," said Mrs Lansdown.

"I was fortunate enough to get in touch with the girl who works with
Sybil at the library, and she described the woman who came for my girl;
a very over-dressed woman of middle age, who wore a lot of jewellery
and spoke in a very common voice."

Mrs Cody! She saw him turn pale and gripped him by the arm.

"Is anything very wrong?" she asked huskily.

"I don't know. Will you stay here? I'm going to see."

"Can I come with you?"

"No, no." He shook his head. "I'll be gone a little more than an hour,
then I'll phone you. Won't you try to read? You will find books in my
room that will interest you."

She shook her head.

"I must go home in case Sybil returns. But don't wait for me; I have a
cab at the door."

There was no time for polite protests. He dashed out of the house ahead
of her, and was in the mews unlocking the garage door before she had
reached the cab.

Within a few minutes of the promised time the big car drew up under the
railway arch at Brixton, where Sneed and his two friends were waiting.

"Jump in," said Dick; "I've got something to tell you. I'm trying to
get the hang of it--your head will be cooler than mine."

As the machine sped southward he told of Sybil's disappearance.

"That was Mrs Cody all right," he said. "I met her some time ago. She's
certainly a daisy. But what harm could she do to a girl?"

Dick Martin was not prepared with an answer.

"The Sussex sleuths will be there before we reach the house--" he
began, but the other scoffed.

"You don't know our police system, or you wouldn't be so sure. Probably
the nearest station to South Weald hasn't a telephone; and even if
it had, it's unlikely that a police officer would act on telephoned
instructions unless he were sure of the sender. I'm not so certain that
we aren't on a fool's chase."

"I've thought of that, too," said Martin; "but, weighing it up, there
are long odds against that possibility. No, the man who telephoned me
was not acting."

They passed the next quarter of an hour without speaking.

"We're somewhere near Stalletti's house, aren't we?" said Sneed, waking
from a doze.

"On the left," replied the other curtly.

They flashed past the dark entrance of the drive. From the road the
house was invisible, and only the high trees standing against the
moonlit sky marked its situation.

"Rum thing about this Lord Selford business," said Sneed meditatively.
"There's trouble wherever you touch it. I wonder what he's done?"

"What who's done? Selford?" asked Dick, rousing himself with a start.

The fat man nodded. "Why is he keeping out of England? Why is he
running around like a Christianized Wandering Jew? Wearing out his
shoe-leather whilst the ancestral chair is collecting dust? You've
never seen him, have you?"

"No," said Dick shortly. "I've seen a photograph of him, but I've never
seen him."

Sneed shifted round and peered through the darkness at his companion.

"Seen a photograph of him?" he said slowly.

"Sure," said Dick. "He was in Cape Town the day the new
Governor-General arrived. He came out on to the balcony of the hotel
to watch the procession, and one of the newspaper boys took a picture
shot of the crowd. I didn't know this, only the hotel porter had seen
it in the paper and pointed him out to me. And then I went along to the
newspaper office and got a first-hand print and had it enlarged."

"What is he like?" asked Sneed curiously.

"I'll tell you one of these days," was the unsatisfactory reply, and
soon after they were speeding down the secondary road and through the
tiny village of South Weald.

There was no unusual stir, and at Sneed's suggestion they stopped at
the little cottage where the village patrol lived and had his tiny
lock-up for the infrequent offenders who came his way. The man's wife
opened an upper window when they knocked.

"No, sir--the constable is out tonight. He is up at Chapey Woods
looking for poachers with Sir John's gamekeeper."

"Have you a telephone?"

There was one, and she had taken a message which would be given to her
husband when he arrived home in the early hours of the morning.

Dick restarted the car, and in a few minutes--"Here we are," he said,
and pulled up his car with a jerk before the gates of Weald House.

He sounded his horn, but there was no sign of light or movement in the
little lodge, which, he afterwards learned, was untenanted. Getting
down, he tried the gates, and found one was fastened by a slip catch.
Throwing it open, he unbolted the second and, fastening both gates
back, remounted his machine and went cautiously up the drive.

The bulk of the house was visible for fifty yards before they came to
it. No light showed, and there was no evidence of human activity. He
rang the bell and waited, listening. Again he pressed the electric
push, and supplemented this by banging on the heavy panel of the door.
Three minutes were lost in this way, and then Sneed sent one of his
friends to throw gravel at one of the upper windows.

"There seems to be nobody up. I'll give them another few minutes," said
Sneed, "and then we'll force a window."

These, he discovered on inspection, were heavily shuttered, but
flanking the porch were two narrow panes of ground glass.

"You'll never get through there," said Sneed, perhaps conscious of his
own bulk.

"Won't I?" said Dick grimly.

He went back to the car and returned with a screwdriver. Whilst the
stout man watched admiringly, he removed the whole pane and drew it
out. His one fear was that behind the glass was a shutter or bar, but
apparently the narrowness of the window was regarded by Mr Cody as a
sufficient protection.

Assisted by the two detectives, he slipped sideways and feet foremost
through an opening, which, it seemed, no human being could pass. His
head was the most difficult part of his anatomy to squeeze through, but
presently he was in the hall with no damage to himself save a slight
laceration to one of his ears.

The hall was in complete darkness. There came no sound but the slow,
solemn ticking of a dock on a landing above. Then suddenly he sniffed.
Dick Martin had an abnormal sense of smell, and now he scented
something which turned him cold. Flashing his lamp on the door, he took
off the chain, pulled back the bolts and admitted his companions.

"There's murder here," he said tersely. "Can you smell blood?"

"Blood?" said the startled Sneed. "Good God, no! Can you?"

Martin nodded. He was searching the walls for the electric light
switch, and after a while he found a board with five, and these he
turned over. One lamp lit in the hall and one on the landing above,
out of sight. Outside switches controlled the lights of this room.
He pointed to the door. Suddenly he felt Sneed's hand grip his arm.
"Look!" muttered the inspector.

He was glaring upstairs, and, following his eyes, Dick saw something
which at first he did not understand. And then slowly he realized that
he was looking at the shadow of a figure cast against the wall of the
landing. It was obviously leaning over the unseen banisters, for the
carved uprights and the broad rail showed clearly against the papered
wall. The light he had lit on the landing above was evidently placed
low, and behind the motionless figure, and thus it was that the shadow
was clear and without distortion.

Slipping an automatic from his pocket, he ran up the stairs sideways,
looking back over his shoulder, and Sneed saw him halt on the landing,
look for a moment, and then;

"Come up, Sneed."

The inspector followed, reached the first landing, and turned to look
into a white face that was staring down at him with unseeing eyes--the
face of a stout woman who was half leaning, half lying, across
the banisters, both her hands clenched, and on her face a look of
unimaginable horror.


CHAPTER XXI

"DEAD," said Sneed, unnecessarily, as they went slowly up the five
stairs that brought them to the top landing.

There was no sign of violence, and they now saw what kept the body
erect. She had been kneeling on a low settee which ran flush with the
banisters, and by the accident of balance, when death had come, had
retained her position. Reverently they lowered the body to the ground,
whilst the inspector conducted a brief examination.

"Fright," he said briefly. "I saw a man like this about ten years ago.
She saw something--horrible!"

"Has she got anything in her hand?" asked Dick suddenly, and prised
open the tightly clenched fingers.

As he did so something fell to the parquet floor with a clang, and he
uttered an exclamation of amazement. It was a key--the fellow to that
which reposed at his bankers.

The two men looked at one another without a word. Then: "Where is
Cody?" asked Sneed.

He was searching the wall for the telephone wiring, which he had
expected to see, and, guessing his thoughts, Dick Martin pointed
downstairs.

"You're looking for the phone? It is in the library; I saw it when I
was here the other night. Moses! Look at that!"

The stairs were carpeted with dark grey carpet, thick and luxurious to
the tread, and he was gaping at something he had not seen when he came
up the stairs with the light in his face--the red print of a bare foot!
Stooping, he touched it with his finger.

"Blood," he said. "I thought I smelt it! I wonder where those feet
picked up that stuff?"

They found the imprint again lower down. In fact, on every second step
the stain lay, and the nearer they got to the bottom of the stairs the
more sharply defined it was.

"He came up two steps at a time--three here," nodded Dick. "We'll
probably find the trail in the hall."

The vestibule was floored with polished wood, but there were three or
four Persian rugs of a dark colour, and the prints on these had escaped
their notice until they began to search for them.

"Here is one," said Dick, "and here is another." He pointed. "They
lead from that room. Bare feet must have wandered aimlessly here--the
footmarks are on every rug."

He tried the handle of the door, but it did not move.

"A spring lock," explained Sneed; "fastens automatically when it's
closed. What is in the room opposite?"

Facing the closed door was another, which was unfastened. Two series of
lights were burning, which at first aroused Dick's suspicion, until he
remembered that he himself had turned them on from the switches in the
hall. It was evidently a dining-room, beautifully furnished, and empty.
The windows were shuttered; there was no sign of anything unusual, and
he returned to the problem of the locked door.

He carried a very comprehensive range of tools in the 'boot' of his
machine; but it was the jack he used for raising his car when he
replaced a wheel that made the opening of the door possible. The small
crowbar he tried to insert between door and lintel was useless, but
when he used the jack, improvising a brace with the long hall table,
the lock burst.

As the door flew open, he caught a glimpse of the library where he had
been received by Cody, and his eyes, focussing on the writing table,
where the little red lamp still burnt, saw instantly the overturned
telephone. He took two steps into the room, followed by Sneed, when the
lights went out, not only in the room but in the hall. "Anybody touch
the switch?"

"No, sir," said the detective outside the door. Dick lugged out his
electric lamp, which he had replaced as soon as he had found the
switchboard, and walked gingerly towards the desk. Coming round the end
of a large settee which ran across the room, he saw the huddled figure
lying by the side of the desk and it only needed a glance to tell him
all that he feared.

Bertram Cody lay on his back with his legs doubled sideways, and he
was not a pleasant sight; for the man who killed him had used no other
weapon than the bent and bloodstained poker by his side. His hand still
gripped the receiver of the telephone, and he had evidently been in the
act of talking when the last fatal blow was struck.

All the drawers of the desk had been turned out, emptied, and their
contents apparently taken away, for not so much as a sheet of paper had
been left behind by the murderer.

Sneed pulled a pair of white cotton gloves from his pocket, drew them
on, and, carefully lifting the poker, laid it on the desk. He gave
his instructions in a low tone to one of his men, who went out of the
library, evidently to the telephone connection which they had seen in
the dining-room, for Dick heard him talking.

"I've sent for the Scotland Yard photographer and the local police," he
said. "There are probably finger-prints on the poker that will be very
useful."

There was a door at the farther end of the room, and this, Dick
discovered, was ajar. It opened upon a small apartment which was
probably used as a breakfast-room, for on the small buffet there was a
hot plate and an electric toaster. Here one of the windows was open.

"It was Cody who phoned, of course," said Dick, pulling his lip
thoughtfully; "and Mrs Cody who brought Sybil Lansdown here. Sneed,
we've got to find that girl!"

He was sick with fear, and the elder man could not guess what agony of
doubt lay behind the calmness of his manner.

"Whoever did this is somewhere around," said Sneed. "The lights did not
go off by accident."

At that moment the man he had sent into the dining-room to telephone to
the Yard came back.

"The phone wire was cut while I was talking," he announced, and there
was a silence.

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely certain, sir," said the detective. "I had just got through
to the Yard and was talking to Mr Elmer when the instrument went dead."

Two of the three Scotland Yard men carried torches, fortunately, and
one of them went to find the fusebox, and came back to announce that
there was no sign of a blow-out.

"I'll explore upstairs," said Dick. "You hang on here, Sneed."

He went up the stairs, past the dreadful figure lying on the landing,
and walked from room to room. Here there was neither sign of disorder
nor evidence that the girl was in the house. And then, as he turned his
lamp on the dark carpet, he saw the stains again and trailed them. The
barefooted man had evidently wandered up and down the corridor, and it
was clear to Dick Martin that he was wounded, for whilst the footprints
were no longer visible, little spots of blood showed at intervals,
and there was a smear against the white wall which almost located the
position of the wound.

Soon after be found a little bundle of grimy rags, which undoubtedly
had been used as a bandage. The solution came to him in a moment.
The killer was the man he had winged in Selford Park--the half-nude
savage who had attacked him that night at Gallows Hill. His murderous
exertions had displaced the bandage and the wound had begun to bleed
again.

He followed the track until it turned into the beginning of a narrow
flight of stairs leading to the storey above. He was now on the attic
floor, and evidently there were two ways to this floor, for only three
rooms opened from the passage in which he found himself. The first was
a lumber room; the second was an apartment which held nothing more
sinister than a large zinc cistern. It was in the third and last room
on the left that he made his discovery. A panel of the door, which
hung upon one hinge, was broken; the lock had been smashed into three
pieces. As the beam of his lamp went systematically round the room he
saw a bed, and then his heart missed a beat. On the floor, almost at
his feet, was a little handkerchief, dappled red.

He picked it up with a shaking hand and saw the embroidered initials S.
L. Sybil's!


CHAPTER XXII

SNEED CAME up at his call, and together the men searched the room.

"Bloodstains on that door; did you notice them? Down there at the
bottom," said Sneed, working his lamp along the panel. "Fingerprints,
and pretty distinct! Whoever it was, he put his hand under the door and
tried to lift it off its hinge--look at the size of the prints! This
was the gentleman who visited you, Martin!"

Dick nodded.

"No other signs of violence. No blood on the floor," mused Sneed, and
stared up at the open skylight. "I'm too fat to go up there. See what
you can find."

There was a chair underneath the square aperture, and Dick, springing
on to it, caught the edge of the skylight and drew himself up. He was
on a level ledge of roof about three feet wide. A low parapet ran its
full length on the one side, whilst on the other the roof rose steeply
to the ridge pole. Dick sent his light ahead of him and saw two yellow
projections overtopping the parapet. "A builder's ladder," he said, and
made his way towards it. It was easy to see why the ladder had escaped
attention when he made his first superficial survey of the house. At
this point the outside wall of the house was thrown back at a right
angle, and it was in this angle that the ladder had been planted, none
too securely. "She must have had some sort of outside help," he said,
returning to his companion to report his find. "It couldn't have been
the servants, because there are no servants in the house."

"Help me up," said the inspector.

It seemed almost impossible to lift that huge man through the skylight,
but in truth he was as strong as an ox, and to Dick's relief the only
assistance he needed was approval of his ability.

"What about friend Cawler?" suggested Sneed, breathing noisily. He was
peering down at the leaden roof, and suddenly:

"Here are your blood spots," he said, "and here they are again on the
ladder. That smear is distinct enough."

Dick Martin turned cold with dread, and the hope that had suddenly
revived in his heart vanished.

"I'll hold the ladder; get down and see what you can find," said Sneed,
and braced himself against the parapet, gripping the top supports,
while Dick descended to the dark ground, stopping now and again to
examine the supports.

He found himself in what was evidently the beginning of a kitchen
garden. It was hopeless to look for traces of feet upon the gravelled
pathway, which followed a straight course through beds of growing
vegetables to a small orchard.

"Hold the ladder," shouted Sneed; "I'll come down."

In spite of his anxiety, Martin could not repress a smile at the
courage of the big man. He gripped the ladder whilst Sneed came
down with a surprising agility, and together they made a brief
reconnaissance of the ground.

"They couldn't have gone towards the house because that hedge shuts
it off. There is only one exit, and that is through the orchard,"
Inspector Sneed scratched his head in perplexity. "We can't do any harm
following the path to its end."

They had passed the first vegetable bed and had reached the beginning
of the second.

"I think it wouldn't be a bad idea--" began Sneed.

Bang! Bang!

From the darkness ahead of them leapt two pencils of flame; something
whizzed past them with the noise of an angry wasp.

"Lights out and lie down," hissed the stout inspector, and in the
fraction of a second they were lying side by side on the path.

And then, from ahead of them, broke a furious staccato fusillade of
fire. The whine of the bullets seemed continuous. The smack and rustle
of them as they passed through the foliage or struck against some solid
billet was almost continuous. As suddenly as the shooting began, it
ceased. The two men listened intently. There was no sound, until there
came to Dick's ears a faint 'swish! swish!' as if the coat of their
unknown assailant was brushing the edge of a bush. The pistol he held
in his hand stiffly before him spat twice in the direction whence the
noise had come. There was no other indication of human presence, no cry
or proof of accelerated movement.

"What have they got there?" whispered Sneed, who was breathing heavily.
"A regiment of soldiers or something?"

"One man with two automatic pistols," was the answer in the same tone.
"I couldn't count 'em, but I guess twenty shots were fired."

A few more minutes passed, and then: "We can get up now, I think."

"I think not," said Dick.

Dick was already crawling forward on his hands and knees. It was a
painful proceeding; his neck ached, the sharp gravel cut through the
knees of his trousers, and his knuckles were bleeding--for it is not
easy to crawl with a large calibre automatic in one's hand. In this
fashion he came to the place where the gravel path ended and the earth
track between the trees began.

He listened for a long time, then stood up.

"It's all right," he said. Hardly, were the words out of his mouth when
a pistol exploded almost in his face.


CHAPTER XXIII

THE WIND of the bullet came so close to his left eye that it almost
blinded him momentarily. He was stunned with the proximity of the
explosion, staggered, and dropped to his knees, and then, ahead of
him, he heard the sound of running feet, and scrambling up, he darted
forward, only to fall headlong again; for the assassin had fixed a trip
wire between two of the trees, and later they were to find that this
cover to retreat had been installed at intervals along the path. Death
had been very near to Dick Martin that night.

"Could he have got away?"

Dick nodded.

"Yes," he said shortly. "There is a side road runs parallel with
the orchard for about two hundred yards; I made a fairly thorough
examination of the house before my first visit. I particularly wanted
to know the lay-out of the grounds in case there was trouble, and I
took the precaution of examining a plan of the estate before I left
town."

He went back to the house, baffled and fretful. Where was Sybil
Lansdown? He told himself a dozen times that the girl could be in no
immediate danger without his knowing. Why he should know he could not
for the life of him tell; but he was satisfied in his mind that his
instinct was not leading him into error. When they reached the house,
all the lights were burning and one of the officers had a report to
make. There was, he said, an outside transformer; a steel box on the
farther side of the lawn, and the iron door of this was found to be
open.

"That is where the current was disconnected," he explained. "The
telephone wire was easy; it was cut outside the house."

With the aid of the lights they were able to make a very complete
examination of the house, but there was no clue of any kind, and
whilst they were inspecting Mrs Cody's bedroom the local police
arrived. Apparently Scotland Yard had heard enough of the interrupted
conversation, before the wire was cut, to communicate with the Sussex
police, and a special force of detectives had been packed off from
Chichester by car.

Sneed waited until the officers had distributed themselves through the
house, and went on with the work which their arrival had interrupted.
He was trying a bunch of keys on a small box of Indian workmanship.

"Found this under the bed," he said laconically. "Queer how a certain
class of people keep things under their beds, and another class keep
'em under their pillows. That fits, I think."

He turned the key and opened the box. It was filled with papers
--letters, old bills, a concert programme of a very remote date, and
possibly associated, in the mind of the poor dead woman, with what
there was of romance in life.

"You take the top bundle; I'll search the rest."

Dick untied the ribbon which fastened the papers together and began to
read. There was a letter of two written in childish handwriting, and
one scrawled note signed 'Your loving nefew, John Cawler'.

"I thought she only had one nephew--Tom?"

"You never know how many nephews people have," said the indifferent
Sneed.

"But this speaks about Tom. It must be his brother?"

Sneed looked up.

"I wonder where that darned chauffeur is? I sent a call out to pull
him in. He's been missing since last night, and I don't exclude the
possibility of his having had something to do with this murder."

"I rule that out entirely," said Dick promptly. "I know Cawler; he's
not that kind of man. I wouldn't trust him with any goods valuable and
portable, but the habitual criminal is not a murderer."

Sneed grunted a half agreement, and went on reading.

Presently, almost at the bottom of the bundle Dick had under
examination, he found a note written in a clerkly hand.

'DEAR MRS CAWLER (it ran), I have just seen Stalletti, and he tells
me that his lordship is very ill indeed. I wish you would send me the
latest news, for reasons which you well know and which need not be
mentioned. Yours faithfully, H. BERTRAM.'

"He calls himself Bertram--but the handwriting is Cody's," said Sneed,
puzzled. "Bertram? I seem to know the name."

Dick was looking past the letter into vacancy.

"Then they were all acquainted," he said slowly. "Cody, Mrs Cody,
Stalletti, and the late Lord Selford. When Cody said he knew nothing of
the Selfords he was lying."

"You knew that, anyway," said the other.

Dick turned over letter after letter, but no further information
reached him except a copy of a marriage certificate. This, however, he
did not find till the box had been completely turned out.

"Humph!" he said. "They married about eight months after the late Lord
Selford's death, by special licence. Stalletti was a witness, and
William Brown. Now, who the devil is William Brown?"

"It's not an uncommon name," said Mr Sneed sententiously.

Their search finished, they went back to the library. Sneed took the
hollow-eyed young man by the arm and led him to a quiet corner.

"Where do we go from here?" he asked.

"I don't know," said the other helplessly.

He put his hand in his pocket, took out the key and examined it.

"Number four! I've got three more to find, and then somebody will be
hanged for this night's work!"

"Where shall we go from here?" asked Sneed again.

Dick looked at his watch. The hands pointed to a quarter past two.

"Selford Manor," he said briefly. "It has just occurred to me that
we're only three miles away from that home of the nobility."

They went out into the open, where Dick had left his car.

"What do you expect to find there?"

"I'm not sure yet," said Dick, as he got into the seat and put his foot
on the starter. "But I have an idea that I shall find--something!"

The car moved, but not steadily. It waddled and jarred forward a few
paces, and then Dick stopped and jumped out.

"I'm afraid I shall have to go on my two big feet," he said, and turned
the light on to the wheels.

Every tyre had been slashed in a dozen places and was quite flat.


CHAPTER XXIV

That moment of terror when Sybil stared up into the round face of
Cawler, the chauffeur, remained with her all her life, Behind she heard
the grunts and thuds of the beast-man who was trying to open the door.
Above her, behind the bars and the glass, another possible enemy. The
face disappeared for a moment, and then she heard the sound of hideous
squeaking and the grating was turned back on its rusty hinge. A few
seconds and the frame of the skylight was lifted, and a hand reached
down to her. Without a moment's hesitation she sprang on to the chair,
gripped the hand, and found herself being pulled upward.

"Hold on to the edge for a minute--I'm puffed!" gasped Cawler, and she
obeyed.

Over her shoulder she saw the door bulging, and then there came a crash
as a huge body was thrown against it.

"Up with you!" said the chauffeur, and, stretching down, gripped her
beneath the arms and pulled her far enough up to enable her, by her own
exertions, to reach the flat, lead-covered roof.

Cawler looked round anxiously. As he gazed at the door he saw a panel
shiver. Holding the girl by the arm he drew her along the roof. An
old lantern, illuminated by a candle, was all the light there was to
guide them, but she saw the end of the ladder, and, without a word
of instruction, swung herself over and, remembering a trick of her
childhood, slid down; it was not dignified, but it was rapid. She had
hardly reached the ground before she was joined by Cawler.

He looked anxiously at the parapet. The moon was momentarily obscured
by clouds, but there was enough light to see the silhouette of the
giant man as he too came to the ladder. There was no time to pull it
down. Gripping the girl by the arm, they raced along a path, turned
abruptly, and, threading their way through the trees, ran without
stopping until they reached a shallow ditch, across which he assisted
her.

Cawler had tossed the lantern away before the flight began. They had no
other light to lead them but the fitful rays of the moon. At the other
side of the ditch he stopped.

"Don't make a noise," he whispered.

She could hear nothing, but he seemed uncertain.

"If I could only get at my car," he muttered. "Come on!"

They laboured through a field of growing corn until they came to a
gate; which was open. Now they were on a road and facing a very high,
old wall.

"That's Selford Park," explained Cawler, and the girl started. Selford
Park! She had no idea they were anywhere near that dreadful place, and
she shivered.

"There's a gap in the wall farther along; I think that'll be the best
place to take you. If he gets on our track we shan't be able to shake
him off."

"Who is he?" she asked, and then: "What happened? I heard somebody
scream."

"So did I," said Cawler in a low voice. "I thought it was you. That's
why I got the ladder and came up to see what was happening. I've been
up there before, and I know that old skylight like a book."

He did not explain that he was by nature curious and suspicious, and
that he had his own views as to Cody's sincerity in certain matters
and had indulged in a little private investigation of his own. As
it happened, this theory that Cody was a swell mobsman (Mr Cawler
invariably theorized on a magnificent scale) was miles away from the
truth; but he had made many surreptitious visits into the forbidden
portions of the house without succeeding, however, in confirming his
natural prejudices against the man who was his master.

"Something's happening; I know that," he said, as they walked along
the road. "I've seen him once before--that naked man. At least, he's
not naked; he's got an old pair of breeches on, but he don't wear any
shirt."

"Who is he?" she asked, in a horrified whisper.

"I don't know. A sort of giant--a bit mad, I think. I only saw him at a
distance once, and he scared the life out of me. I've got an idea--but
that won't interest you. Here's the hole in the wall." It was not
visible, even in daylight, for the gap was filled with a seemingly
impassable barrier of rhododendrons, but Mr Cawler had evidently been
here before also, for he lifted a bough, and, crawling under, she found
herself inside the park.

It was not that portion of the park with which she was familiar, and he
told her, as they trudged across the billowy grass, that it was called
Shepherds' Meadows, and that here the old lord had kept his famous
Southdowns. He kept up an intermittent flow of talk; told her, to her
surprise, that Mrs Cody was his aunt.

"She brought me up when I was a kid, me and my brother Johnny; he died
when I was about six."

"Have you been with her all your life?" asked the girl, glad to have
some interest to take her mind off her experience.

He laughed contemptuously. "With her? Lord, no! I got away as soon as I
could."

"Wasn't she kind to you?"

"She's never heard the word," was the uncompromising reply. "Kind? I'd
say she was! If I went to bed without feeling hungry I used to think I
was ill! She used to whack me to keep her in good shape, the same as
you take dumb-bell exercise. She hated Johnny worse than me. He was my
twin brother. I reckon he was pretty lucky to die."

She listened in amazement.

"And yet you went back to her?"

Cawler did not immediately answer, and when he did he prefaced his
words with a little chuckle.

"She made good and I made bad," he said. "Not to tell you a lie, miss,
I've been in prison sixteen times, mainly for hooking."

"For thieving?" she guessed.

"That's right," he said, in no sense abashed. "I'm a natural-born
thief. Motor-cars mostly. I've taken more cars from racetracks than
you'll ever own, young lady. But the last time I was up before the
judge," he added in a more serious tone, "he gave me a warning that the
next time I went up to the Old Bailey I'd be charged as an 'habitual'.
That means a man who's always doing the same kind of crime, and they
can always give you twelve years for that, so I quit. Came down on dear
auntie for a job. I don't know why she took me on. Perhaps she thought,
being a relation, I'd do any dirty work she wanted done--and I've done
one or two queer jobs."

He stopped and motioned her to be silent, and suddenly lying down
looked along the fairly level patch of ground across which they were
moving. The landscape was unfamiliar to her.

On their left was what looked like a high white cliff, and she saw at
its foot the gleam of water.

"That's the quarry," he said, following the direction of her eyes.
"There is a sort of road running along the top, but it is very
dangerous--no rails or wall or anything. People have been killed
falling over."

He stopped again and looked back the way they had come. Evidently he
saw something.

"You go on," he whispered. "Bear to the left. There's a bit of a wood
there. Keep well away from the quarry."

"Who is it you see?" she asked, her knees trembling.

"I don't know." He was deliberately evasive. "You walk on and do as I
tell you, and don't make too much noise."

She was terrified at the idea of being alone, but his instructions were
so urgent that she could not refuse, and, turning, she made in the
direction of the little copse which she saw outlined against the sky.

Cawler waited, flat on his face, his eyes watching the figure that
was aimlessly wandering left and right, but coming inevitably in his
direction. Fear, as we understand fear, Mr Cawler did not know. His
shrewd Cockney wit, allied to a certain ruthlessness in combat, steeled
him for the coming encounter. In his hand he gripped a long, steel,
flat spanner, the only weapon he had brought with him, and as the great
awkward figure loomed up before him, Tom Cawler leapt at him.

The sound of an animal howl of rage, the thud and flurry of battle came
to the ears of the fearful girl, and she ran forward blindly. In the
dark she stumbled into a tree and dropped, breathless, to the ground;
but with a superhuman effort she scrambled to her feet and continued
her flight, feeling her way through the closely grown copse. Every
minute seemed to bring her to some new impenetrable barrier which
defied circumvention.

Now she was clear of the wood and crossing a level stretch of
grassland. Again she was climbing. No sound came from behind her. She
was ignorant of the direction she was taking, or whither this erratic
path of hers would lead; and when she came to another wood, she thought
that she had run in a circle and returned to the place whence she had
started. And then, most unexpectedly, she came into a clearing. The
moonlight showed the white dome of a rock, and threw into shadow the
black gap in its face. She nearly fainted. She was at the mouth of the
Selford tombs, and the iron gate was open!

Her heart thumped painfully. It required the exercise of a supreme will
to prevent herself from collapsing. Presently, gritting her teeth and
commanding her faltering limbs, she walked towards the mouth of the
tomb. The key was in the lock, she saw, and peered fearfully down into
its dark depths. As she hesitated, she heard something behind her--a
deep, sobbing, blubbering sound that froze her blood.

That beast-shape was coming through the wood after her. She reeled
against the face of the tomb, her hands gripping the bars of the open
gate, and then, with a sudden resolve, half-hysterical with terror, she
darted into the mouth of the vault, and, slamming the gate behind her,
thrust her hand through the bars, turned the key, and withdrew it.

She listened; there was silence in the tomb, and, creeping down the
moss-grown stairs, she reached the first chamber. At the foot of the
stairs she waited, listening, and after a while she heard the soft pad
of feet above and a sound of crying. She shrank back towards the barred
gate which separated the antechamber from the tomb. And then a shadow
fell athwart the upper door, and she breathed painfully, her eyes fixed
on the steps. Suppose he broke the lock? And she was alone...down here
with the dead, in the dark.

She pushed her hand through the bars, and even as she wondered and
dreaded, a new horror afflicted her; for her hand was suddenly gripped
by a large, cold, clammy paw that had reached out from the darkness of
the tomb.

With a scream she turned to face the new terror.


CHAPTER XXV

SHE COULD see nothing. Fighting like a tiger to free herself, her other
hand passed through the bars and caught a wild tangle of beard.

"Hush!" The voice was deep, sepulchral. "I will not harm you if you
tell me what you do here."

It was human, at any rate, more human than the thing that had been
chasing her.

"I am Sybil--Lansdown," she gasped. "I came down here to get away
from--a horrible--"

"So!" The grip on her wrist relaxed. "I will open the door. Stand back,
if you please; do not move until I have lit the lamp."

The door was opened and she nearly fell through.

She saw a flicker of flame, heard a glass globe tinkle. He had lit a
small kerosene lamp, which cast an eerie light upon the weird scene.
She looked at the man curiously. His sallow, lined face; his long
black beard, which, with a woman's intuition, she knew was dyed; his
unsavoury frock-coat, splashed and stained till its original colour
could only be guessed at; the little black skull cap on the back of his
head--all these combined to give him a peculiarly sinister appearance.

In front of the door with seven locks was a small leather hold-all,
which was open, revealing a number of instruments. One, resembling a
gimlet, she saw, being inserted in the second lock of the door.

"What frightened you, my little one?" His black eyes were fixed on
hers, and seemed to possess an hypnotic quality, for she could not
remove her gaze.

"A--a man," she stammered.

He lit a cigarette very slowly--indeed with something of a ritual--and
blew a cloud of smoke to the vaulted ceiling.

"At three o'clock in the morning?" He arched his eyebrows. "Surely the
young miss who wanders about the country in the middle of the night
is not to be frightened by a man? Sit down--on the floor. You are too
tall for me. Women who are taller than me dominate, and I cannot suffer
domination."

He took the gimlet shape from the door, replaced it in the tool kit,
and rolled up the leather, strapping it very carefully and deliberately.

"You have come to spy on me--yes? I heard you close the gate and creep
down the stairs--I am in a quandary! What am I to do with a young
lady who spies upon me? You realize, of course, that I am seriously
compromised and that, if I tell you I am an antiquarian and interested
in these strange and ancient mysteries, you will laugh in your sleeve
and not believe me, nor will your employers. What was your name?"

She had to wet her dry lips before she replied. She saw his eyes narrow.

"Sybil Lansdown?" he said, almost sharply. "You are, of course, the
girl--how coincident!"

He had a queer, un-English way of framing his sentences, which alone
betrayed his foreign origin, for otherwise his English was perfect.

She had obeyed his command and was sitting on the stone-flagged floor.

She had never thought of hesitating or even questioning his commands,
and it did not seem strange to her that she should accept his orders
without any attempt to resist his wishes.

"The whole proceedings are incredibly bizarre," he said, and then for
a moment turned from her to examine the door with the seven locks. His
long, uncleanly fingers touched the skull's head caressingly.

"You are beyond change--she is also beyond change, for she is an old
woman by an inflexible standard. Too old, too old, alas! too old!" He
shook his head mournfully and again turned his dark eyes upon her. "If
you were eight or nine it would be simple. But you are--what?"

"Twenty-two," she said, and his lips clicked impatiently.

"Nothing can be done except--" His eyes strayed along the narrow,
cell-like doors, behind which the dead and forgotten Selfords lay in
their niches, and cold fear gripped her heart with icy fingers. "You
are a woman, but to me women are that!" He snapped his fingers. "They
are weak material for experiment. They do not react normally--sometimes
they die, and years of experiment go for nothing."

She saw him purse his wet lips thoughtfully, as he walked past her and
tried one of the heavy oaken doors, peering through the rusty grating.

"The whole situation is incredibly bizarre and embarrassing--the man
you saw outside, was he extraordinary of appearance?"

She nodded dumbly.

"That, of course, would be a way," he said, as if he were speaking to
himself. "On the other hand, he is so clumsy--which is natural. They
cannot altogether be trained out of clumsiness, because fineness of
execution requires delicate mental adjustments. Could a locomotive
thread a needle? No! How much easier would it be for a sewing-machine
to pull a train?"

He fumbled in the pocket of his waistcoat, which scarcely met over his
trousers, failed to find what he wanted, and dived his hand into the
breast pocket of his frock-coat.

"Ah! Here she is!"

It was a small green phial he held in his hand, and when he shook it
she heard the rattle of tablets, as she guessed. He drew the cork from
the neck of the phial with his teeth and shook two little red pellets
on to his hand.

"Swallow these," he said.

She held out her palm obediently.

"Incredibly bizarre and unfortunate," muttered Stalletti, as he went
to the second of the tomb doors and pushed a key in the lock. "If all
the doors in this miserable house opened so readily, what unhappiness
and trouble would be saved, eh?" He looked at her sharply. "You have
not done as I told you," he said. She was sitting, the two red pellets,
like evil eyes, gleaming up from the white palm.

"Quick--do not hesitate!" he said commandingly. She raised her hand
to her lips. Yet her ego was fighting subconsciously and individually
against the mastery of this strange man. Obedient to an order which she
did not initiate, the white teeth caught the pellets and held them.
Satisfied, Mr Stalletti addressed himself to opening the third tomb.
And the very physical movement of him for a second released her from
his mental tyranny. The pellets dropped back into her hand.

He pulled open the wooden door, creaking and groaning, and, coming
back, picked up the lamp, giving her only a casual glance as he passed,
disappeared through the door. At that second his spell was broken. She
sprang to her feet and fled along the passage, slamming the grille
behind her. In another second she was in the open air. One fear for the
moment had slain the other, and she did not pause to look left or right
for the shape that lurked outside, but flew like the wind along the
path which was by now familiar as though she had trod it all her life.

Where was Cawler? She thought of him now, but only for a second. Beyond
this valley, she thought, there was another field of grass, then the
wall of a farmhouse, then Selford Manor. A caretaker was there; perhaps
other servants of whose existence she did not know. She remembered the
last time she had come across this shallow valley. Dick Martin had been
with her. At the thought of him she winced. What would she not give to
have this calm personality at her elbow now!

It was still dark, but in the east the pallor of coming day had tinted
the skies. Let daylight come quickly, she prayed. Another hour of
tension and she would go mad.

As she crossed the farmyard she heard the rattle of a chain, and a dog
strained at her with a savage yelp. But so far from this unexpected
incident increasing her terror, it brought almost a sense of comfort,
and she stopped, whistled, and called him by a name. There never was a
dog that could scare Sybil Lansdown. She went fearlessly towards the
yelping beast, and in a minute the big retriever was rubbing himself
against her knee and quivering under her caressing hand.

As she stood to release the chain that fastened him, she felt a piece
of rope on the ground, and she found it was about six feet long,
evidently a disused clothes-line. This would make a capital leash, and
she slipped the end through the D of the dog's collar and went on her
way at a slower pace and happier than she had been these twelve hours
past.

By this approach she came to Selford Manor from the wings, and had to
turn abruptly to the right before she was at the front of the house.
Selford Manor presented an unbroken front save for its porticoed
entrance, of long, narrow, and rather ugly windows. It had been partly
rebuilt in the reign of Queen Anne, and its architect, by some unhappy
trick of fancy, had produced all that was least lovely of that period.
A narrow flower-bed ran under the windows, and a broad stone path ran
parallel with its facade. Along this she walked and she did not attempt
to move noiselessly. Suddenly she heard the dog growl and felt the
leash grow taut. She stopped and looked round, but there was nothing
suspicious in sight. It might have been a fox, she thought, slipping
from one of the bush clumps which dotted the park, but he was pointing
straight ahead.

Until now the windows had been blank and lifeless, but a few paces on
she saw a gleam of light, and moved on tiptoe towards the window, which
was the third from the entrance door. She looked into a room panelled
from ceiling to floor. A candle burnt on the big oak table, which was
its principal, indeed, its only, article of furniture. At first she saw
nothing, and then a movement near the wide, open fireplace caught her
eye, and only in time did she check the scream which rose to her lips.

A man was coming out of the shadow of the fireplace; a big lion-headed
man, with a long yellow beard, and hair that fell in waves over his
shoulders. He wore a pair of ragged canvas shorts that hardly reached
to his bare knees, but for the rest the body was bare. The muscles
rippled under the fair skin, they stood up in his arms like huge
ropes; she looked, and for some queer reason was not afraid. Unaware
that he was observed, the strange creature crept stealthily from his
place of concealment, and, taking up the candle in his thin hand, blew
it out. In that moment she had a glimpse of the vacant face and the
wide, staring blue eyes that gazed unseeingly into space. She held the
dog right by the muzzle to prevent his betraying her presence, and,
turning, went back the way she had come, until she reached the edge of
the farmyard. Should she arouse the caretaker, or should she go on to
the nearest village, taking the dog with her for protection?

She felt the cord in her hand tighten, and, with a savage snarl, the
retriever leapt at something she could not see. And then she heard the
sound of footsteps coming from the direction of the drive, and she
found her voice at last.

"Who is there?" she demanded huskily. "Don't come any nearer."

"Thank God!" said a voice, and she nearly swooned with relief, for the
man who had come out of the night was Dick Martin.


CHAPTER XXVI

IT SEEMED to Captain Sneed that there was little excuse for his
sometime subordinate taking the girl in his arms unless he was properly
engaged to her; for Mr Sneed was a stickler for the proprieties, and
though during his life he had appeared a score of times in the role of
rescuer, he had never felt it necessary either to embrace (he called it
'cuddle' vulgarly) or to hold the hand of the rescued.

"Don't tell me now," said Dick. "We'll get you some food. Poor child.
You must be famished!"

"Wait!"

His hand was gripping the long steel bellpull when she caught it.

"There's somebody in there," she said rapidly and almost incoherently.
"A strange man. I saw him through the window."

Disjointedly she described what she had seen, and he did not betray his
concern.

"Some tramp," he suggested when she had finished. "Were any of the
windows open?"

She shook her head. She was disappointed that he took her news so
calmly.

"No, I haven't seen an open window."

"It may be a friend of the caretaker's," said Dick, and pulled the bell.

The hollow clang came back to him faintly.

"Anybody asleep in the house will hear that."

His arm was about the girl. She was still trembling violently and was
on the verge of a breakdown, he guessed. His hand was raised to ring
again when he heard a sound of feet in the stone hall and a voice
demanded:

"Who is there?"

"Mr Martin and Miss Lansdown," said Dick, recognizing the caretaker's
voice.

Chains rattled, a lock was turned, and the door opened. The caretaker
was dressed in his shirt and trousers, and had evidently come straight
from his bed. He blinked owlishly at the party and asked the time.

"Come in, sir," he said. "Is anything wrong?"

"Have you any friends staying with you?" asked Dick the moment he was
inside the door.

"Me, sir?" said he man in surprise. "No," and with unconscious humour,
"only my wife. And you'd hardly call her a friend."

"Any man, I mean."

"No, sir," said the caretaker. "Wait a minute; I'll get a light."

Selford Manor was illuminated by an old-fashioned system of acetylene
lamps, and the caretaker turned on a burner, emitting a whiff of
evil-smelling gas, before he lit a jet that illuminated the hall very
effectively.

The detective's first thought was of the room in which the girl had
seen the stranger, and this he entered, but when the lights were lit
there was no sign of any bearded man, and as this door was the only
exit and had been locked and bolted on the outside, his first thought
was that the over-wrought girl had imagined the incident. Bur an
examination of the wide chimney-place caused him to change his mind.
Leaning against the brick wall of the fire recess, he found an old
ashplant walking-stick, its knob glossy with use.

"Is this yours?"

The caretaker shook his head.

"No, sir; and it wasn't there last night. I swept up this room before I
went to bed. I do one room a week, and I've been rather busy today in
the garden and hadn't time until after tea."

"I suppose this house is full of secret passages?" asked Dick
ironically. He had a detective's proper contempt for these inventions
of romantic novelists.

To his surprise the man replied in the affirmative. "There's a Jesuit
room somewhere in the house, according to all I've heard," he said.
"I've never seen it myself--the old housekeeper told me about it, but I
don't think she'd seen it either."

Dick went along the walls, tapping each panel, but they seemed solid
enough. He threw the light of his lamp up the chimney. It was fairly
narrow, considering the age of the house, and there were iron rungs
placed at intervals, up which the chimney-sweeps of old times had
climbed to perform their duties. He examined the wall of the fireplace
carefully; there was no sign of recent scratching, and it seemed
impossible that the intruder could have escaped in that direction.
Carrying the stick to the light, he examined the ferrule; there was
earth on it, new and moist.

"What do you make of it?" asked Sneed.

Dick was scowling at the fireplace. "I'm blest if I know what to make
of it."

He was anxious to be alone with the girl, to hear from her the story of
her escape, and, cutting short his investigations, he took her into the
room in which they had been received on their first night and settled
her before the fire which the caretaker had lighted.

Although the night was by no means chilly, Sybil was cold and
shivering, and he saw that she was nearer to collapse than he had at
first supposed. Not until the caretaker came back from the kitchen with
a steaming bowl of coffee and toasted bread did he attempt to question
her about the night's adventures. She ate and drank ravenously, for
now she realized that she had eaten nothing since the previous day's
luncheon.

The two men, sitting one on each side of her on the settee, which had
been pulled up to the fire, listened without comment until she had
finished her story. Only once did Dick interrupt, and that was to ask a
question about the red pellets. She had thrown them away in her flight,
however.

"That doesn't matter. We shall find the bottle when we take Stalletti,"
said Sneed impatiently. "Go on, Miss Lansdown."

At last she finished.

"It sounds to you like the ravings of a madwoman," she said ruefully.
"I don't know why Mr Cody kept me. Did anything happen to him?" she
asked quickly.

Dick did not answer at once.

"I heard someone scream--it was terrible!" She shuddered. "Was it
anything to do with Mr Cody?"

"Possibly." Dick evaded the question. "You say that Cawler is still in
the park? You saw somebody following you--did you hear any sound of a
struggle?"

She nodded, and he walked to the window and pulled back the curtains.
The dawn was here, and to search the grounds would be a simple matter
in daylight.

As he looked, two bright lights came into view. It was a motor-car
coming up the long drive.

"Did you send for more police?" he asked Sneed over his shoulder.

"No," said Sneed in surprise. "There is no phone attached to this
old-fashioned mansion, and I could not have sent if I wanted. Seems to
me I know the sound of that flivver."

They walked out to the portico as the dust-covered car came to a
standstill before the door and Mr Havelock jumped out.

"Is everything all right?" he asked anxiously. "Is Miss Lansdown here?"

"Yes; how did you know?"

"Is she safe?" insisted the lawyer.

"Quite safe. Come in." Dick was mystified, as the tall man followed him
into the hall. "Why did you come?" he asked.

For answer, Havelock searched his waistcoat pocket, and taking out a
folded sheet of paper, handed it to the detective. It was a letter
bearing the embossed crest of the Ritz-Carlton, and was written in a
hand with which he was, by now, familiar.

DEAR HAVELOCK, I cannot explain all I have to tell in this letter.
But I beg of you to go immediately to Selford Manor. Somewhere in the
neighbourhood is my cousin, Sybil Lansdown, and she is in deadly peril.
So is everybody associated with her--so also are you. For God's sake
get the girl to the house and keep her there until I arrive. I cannot
possibly get to you until the early hours of tomorrow morning. Again I
implore you not to allow Miss Lansdown or her friends to leave Selford
Park until I arrive. SELFORD.

"My front door bell rang about one o'clock in the morning, and rang so
persistently that I got out of bed to discover who was the caller. I
found this in my letter box, but no messenger. At first I thought it
was a hoax, and I was going back to bed when Selford rang me up and
asked me if I had the message. When I said 'Yes' he implored me to do
as he asked, and before I could question him, he had hung up on me."

Dick examined the writing. It was in the same hand as all the letters
he had seen.

"And then," Havelock went on, "I had the good sense to call up
Mrs Lansdown, and learned for the first time of her daughter's
disappearance."

"Did you communicate with Scotland Yard?"

"No, I didn't," confessed Havelock irritably. "I suppose I should have
done, but when I found that our excellent friend, Mr Martin, had gone
out in search of the young lady, I supposed that he would have taken
every precaution to secure assistance. She is here, you say?"

Dick opened the door and ushered in the unexpected caller. It was
daylight now, to the girl's intense relief, and with every familiar
face she felt herself growing in courage. The shock of her adventure
had been for a while paralysing to her mind and body, and had left her
tired and incapable of grasping the full significance of her night's
experience. It was light enough to search the grounds, Dick decided,
and, refusing Sneed's assistance, he went alone through the farmyard
towards the tombs. Ten minutes' walk brought him to the iron grille. It
was locked, and obviously there was nothing to be gained by searching
the vaults, for Stalletti would have made his getaway immediately after
the girl's escape. The only thing to be done now was to go back by the
way the girl had come and which she had described well enough to allow
him to follow.

A quarter of an hour's walk brought him to the place where, as nearly
as he could guess, Tom Cawler had stayed behind to meet his attacker.
He quartered the ground carefully. A struggle on grass would leave few
signs except to the careful observer. Presently he found what he was
seeking--a torn tuft of turf, the mark of a rubber heel, a depression
in the grass, where somebody had lain. He went round the spot in
circles, expecting to find signs of a heavy body having been dragged
across the ground, but to his surprise this clue was not visible. If
Cawler had been killed, and he did not doubt he had been killed, what
had been done with the body? To search the innumerable clumps of wood
which dotted the park was out of the question. He went back to report
his failure.

When he came into the room, the lawyer and Sneed were discussing
something in a low tone.

"Mr Havelock is rather worried about the man whom the young lady saw,"
explained Sneed. "He thinks he is still in the house. That isn't my
belief."

"Where is this Jesuit room?" asked Dick, and Havelock, despite his
anxiety, was amused.

"The Jesuit room is a myth!" he said. "I heard that story a year ago
and had an architect down to square up the house, he told me there was
no space unaccounted for, and the plans prove this. Most of these Tudor
houses have some sort of secret apartment, but so far as we know, there
is nothing mysterious about Selford Manor except its smelly system of
gas-lighting!"

"What do you intend doing?" asked Havelock after the pause which
followed.

"My inclination is to return to town. Miss Lansdown must, of course, go
back to her mother," said Dick.

The elder man shook his head gravely.

"I hope Miss Lansdown will agree to stay," he said. "Possibly--and
naturally--she may object, but there is more in Selford's letter than I
dare understand."

"You mean about not leaving the Manor for twenty-four hours?"

Havelock nodded.

"I take a very serious view of this warning," he said. "I believe
there is a terrible danger lurking somewhere in the background, and
I suggest--and I suppose you'll think I am a scared old man--that we
stay here until tomorrow, and that Mr Sneed brings down a dozen men to
patrol the grounds tonight."

Dick stared at him.

"Do you really mean this?" he asked.

"I do," said Mr Havelock, and there was no mistaking his earnestness.
"Mr Sneed is of the same opinion. There have been one or two happenings
in the history of this family which I think you ought to know. I won't
be so melodramatic as to suggest that there is a curse overhanging the
house of Selford, but it is a fact that, with the exception of the late
Lord Selford, five earlier holders of the title have died violently,
and in each case the death has been preceded by happenings almost as
remarkable as those we have witnessed recently."

Dick smiled.

"But we're not members of the Selford family," he said.

"I think for the moment we may regard ourselves as being identical
with the Selford interests," Havelock answered quickly. "There is
a something very sinister in Selford's continued absence--I never
realized that fact so clearly as I do now, I have been a fool to
allow--and, I am afraid, to abet his wanderings. All sorts of things
may have happened to him."

Not by so much as a twitch of face did Dick Martin betray his knowledge
of the absent Lord Selford's secret.

"But I can't allow Miss Lansdown to stay here--" he began.

"I have thought of that, and my idea is to ask her mother to come down.
The house is well stocked in the matter of furniture, and I dare say
we could get temporary servants from the village. The caretaker knows
everybody hereabouts."

Dick glanced at Sneed and saw, by the fat man's face, that he agreed.

"I'll go into the village and get on the phone," he said. "Anyway, I'd
prefer to sleep here today than go back to town. I'm all in."

It was not so astonishing that Sybil fell in with this view, though
Selford's letter had no influence on her decision. The reaction after
such a night was painfully evident. She was tired to the point of
exhaustion and could hardly keep awake.

Sneed drew his friend aside.

"This will suit us all right. I shall get a few hours' sleep, and we
are pretty near to Cody's place. I'm afraid we shall have an all-day
session there."

Dick started violently. He had almost forgotten the horror in his
anxiety for the girl. Eventually it was agreed that Havelock should go
up to town in his car and bring Mrs Lansdown down with him.

The news of her daughter's safety had already been conveyed to her,
and after the lawyer had left Dick went to the village and telephoned
to her. She was eager to come at once, but he asked her to wait for
Havelock's arrival.


CHAPTER XXVII

THERE WAS much for Sneed to do before he could find the rest he so
greatly needed. After a hasty breakfast he met the police chief of
Sussex, and together they motored over to Gallows Hill, carrying a
warrant for the arrest of the scientist. But the bird had flown, and
the house was in charge of an odd man who had been employed to do jobs
about the grounds. He had, he said, no knowledge whatever of the doctor
or of any other inmate of the house. The man lived in a little cottage
about a quarter of a mile away from the doctor's house, and his story
was that he had been awakened early in the morning by Stalletti, who
had given him a key and told him to go to Gallows Cottage and stay
there until he returned.

A search of the house revealed no fresh information. The doctor's bed
had not been slept in, and the two beds in the little room were also
untenanted.

"It would be a very difficult charge to prove, anyway," said the Sussex
officer as they left the house. "Unless you found the pellets in his
possession, you could hardly charge him with administering dangerous
drugs. And even then you'd have to prove they were dangerous. They
may have been a sedative. You say that the young lady met this man in
peculiar circumstances, and while she was in a very nervous state?"

"She met him, to be exact," said Sneed sarcastically, "in a tomb in the
bowels of the earth at two o'clock in the morning, which, I submit,
are circumstances which incline a young lady to feel a trifle on the
nervous side?"

"In the Selford tomb? You didn't tell me that," said the Sussex man
resentfully. For there is, between Scotland Yard and the provincial
police, a certain amount of friction, which it would be ungenerous to
ascribe to jealousy and untruthful to explain as well-founded.

Until midday Sneed was at the Weald House, in consultation with the
officer who had been called in from Scotland Yard to take charge of the
case.

"No, there are no marks on the woman. She died from fright--at least,
that is the doctor's opinion," said the Yard man. "The other fellow was
beaten to death. I've searched the orchard, it is simply littered with
spent shells from an automatic pistol. How do you account for that?"

Sneed told him of the fusillade which had met them when they attempted
to pursue the unknown trespasser.

"We found eighteen empty cartridge cases; there are probably another
one or two knocking about which we haven't picked up yet," said the
Scotland Yard man. "Can you account for the ladder which we found
against the house?"

Sneed explained that phenomenon in a few words.

"Humph!" said the Yard man. "It is queer about Cody. He's on the
register."

"Don't use those American expressions," said Sneed testily, and the
Yard man grinned, for he had spent two years in New York and had added
to the vocabulary of police headquarters.

"Anyway, he's in the Records Office. He was convicted twenty-five years
ago of obtaining money by false pretences in the name of Bertram; he
was one of the first individuals in England to run a correspondence
school, and he caught some unfortunate person for a thousand pounds on
the pretence that he could teach him the art of hypnotism. He and a
fellow Stalletti were in it, but Stalletti got away--"

"Stalletti?" Sneed looked at him open-mouthed. "That Italian doctor?"

"He's the fellow," nodded Inspector Wilson. "If you remember, our
people caught Stalletti for vivisecting without a licence, but that was
a few years later. He is a clever devil, Stalletti."

"'Clever' is not the word," said Sneed grimly. "But it is news to me
that they were acquainted."

"Acquainted! Stalletti came here twice a week. I've been talking to
some of the servants, who were given a holiday last night and told not
to come back until ten o'clock this morning. There was something dirty
going on here and Cody wanted them out of the way."

Sneed took his hand and shook it solemnly.

"You've got the making of a detective in you," he said. "I discovered
that before I went into the house last night!"

As he was going:

"By the way, Martin has been here. He came to retrieve his car. He's
driven it flat into Horsham to get new tyres and he wanted me to ask
you to wait for him."

Sneed strolled down to the lodge gates and had not long to wait when
Dick's machine came flying along the road.

"Jump in; I'm going to Selford," said Martin. "Mrs Lansdown arrived
half an hour ago. Did you find Stalletti?"

"No. That bird is doing a little quick flying--and he's wise!"

"I didn't expect he would wait for you."

"Did you know he was a friend of Cody's?" asked Sneed.

He was a little annoyed when his information failed to produce the
sensation he had anticipated. Dick Martin knew this and more.

"Oh, yes. Old and tried friends--but not by the same jury. I'd give a
lot of money to have Stalletti's key!"

"His what?"

"His key," repeated Dick, dodging round a farmer's cart and narrowly
escaping destruction from a speedster coming from the other direction.
"He has the fifth key; Lord Selford has probably the sixth; and X, the
great unknown, has the seventh. I'm not quite sure about Lord Selford,"
he went on, and the other listened thunder-stricken. "But if I'd got to
Cape Town four or five days before I did, I should have known for sure."

"Is Selford in this?" demanded Sneed.

"Very much in it," was the reply, "but not quite so much as Stalletti.
Forgive me being mysterious, Sneed, but nature intended me to be a
writer of mystery stories, and I like sometimes to escape from the
humdrum of detective investigation into the realms of romance."

"Where is Cawler?"

"The Lord knows!" said Dick cheerfully. "My first idea was that he was
responsible for the murders, but maybe I'm wrong. He hated his aunt
--that, by the way, was Mrs Cody--but I don't think he hated her well
enough to commit wilful murder. He was certainly very good to Sybil
Lansdown."

Sneed grinned. "Which goes a long way with you, Dick."

"Farther than you could see," admitted Dick shamelessly.

Mrs Lansdown was not visible when they arrived. She had gone up to the
room where her daughter was sleeping and had not come down, Mr Havelock
told them. "Have you arranged to get the police down?" he asked.

"There will be a dozen hard-eating men quartered in this kitchen
tonight," said Sneed good-humouredly. Mr Havelock put down the book he
had been reading, and rising, stretched himself painfully.

"I'm worried sick. I'll confess that to you. Captain Sneed," he said.
"Our friend Martin thinks I am romancing, but I can tell you that I
shall be a very relieved man this time tomorrow morning."

He strode up and down the room, his hands behind him, his high forehead
wrinkled in a frown.

"Lord Selford is not in London," he said without preliminary. "At any
rate, he is not at the Ritz-Carlton. They have not seen him and know
nothing about him."

"Has he ever stayed at the Ritz-Carlton?" asked Dick quickly.

"No--that is the extraordinary thing about it. I asked that very
question. It was on an impulse that I stopped as I was passing this
morning. You will remember that I have had several letters from him on
Ritz-Carlton paper?"

Dick nodded. "But he has never stayed there; I could have told you
that," he said. "Have you ever sent money to him there?"

"Yes," said the lawyer immediately. "About two years ago he rang me up
on the telephone. I recognized his voice the moment he spoke. He said
he was going to Scotland to fish and asked me if I would send him some
American money--a very, considerable sum--to the hotel."

"How much?"

"Twenty thousand dollars," said Havelock. "I didn't like it."

"Did you ask him to see you?"

"I didn't ask him, I begged him. In fact," he confessed, "I threatened
to resign my trusteeship unless he came in to see me or allowed me to
see him; just about then I was getting a little nervous."

"What did he say?"

Mr Havelock shrugged his broad shoulders. "He laughed. He has a
peculiar, weak, giggling sort of laugh that I remember ever since he
was a boy. It is inimitable, and is the one sure proof to me that the
doubts I had privately entertained had no foundation."

"Did you send the money?"

"I had to," said Mr Havelock in a tone of despair. "After all, I was
merely a servant of the estate, and he moves so rapidly as to allow
of no delay in dispatching. It was then I began to think of sending
somebody to 'pick him up'--that is the police term, isn't it?"

Dick thought for a while. "Tell me one thing: when he called you up
last night, did he tell you where he was speaking from?"

"I knew," was the reply. "It was from a call office. The operator
invariably tells you when a call office is coming through. The strange
thing is that only a few days ago he was reported at Damascus. We have
been working out the times, and we have concluded that by flying to
Constantinople and catching the Oriental express, he could have reached
London half an hour before he telephoned me."

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Mrs Lansdown, who
had come from her daughter. Sybil's mother looked worn, but there
was happiness in the tired eyes, which told of the relief she had
experienced after the most terrible night of strain and anxiety.

"I don't understand what it is all about," she said, "but thank God my
little girl is safe. Have you found the chauffeur?"

"Cawler? No, he has not been seen since Sybil left him."

"You don't think anything has happened?" she asked nervously.

"I don't know. I shouldn't think so," replied Dick with a reassuring
smile. "Cawler is quite able to look after himself, and I don't doubt
that if there was a fight he came off best."

Later in the afternoon there arrived further news of Stalletti. He had
been seen by a village constable soon after he had aroused his hired
man. Apparently Stalletti had a small car which he was in the habit of
driving about the neighbourhood, and the cycling constable had seen him
speeding in the direction of London.

'Speeding' is hardly the term that could be properly applied, for the
machine did thirty miles an hour with difficulty and had the habit
of going dead for no ascertainable cause. Stalletti was looking wild
and agitated and was talking to himself; he was cranking the car when
the constable came up with him, and the policeman thought he had been
drinking, for he seemed to be abnormally excited and scarcely noticed
the advent of the cyclist.

"That bears out to a large extent my theory," said Dick. "Stalletti is
a devil, but a shrewd devil. He knows that the sands are running out,
and with him, as with Cody, it is a case of sauve qui peut."

He managed to get a few hours' sleep, and in the evening he made a
careful survey of the house, particularly of the sleeping quarters
which had been assigned to the party. The upper floor was reached by
a broad carved staircase, Elizabethan in design and execution, which
terminated at a broad oblong landing, from which ran the two corridors
into which the bedrooms opened. There were eight massive doors, four on
each side. The corridor was lighted by long windows which looked down
into a courtyard, formed by two wings of the building. In one of these
was a self-contained suite, which had been the late Lord Selford's
private apartments, and in which, in point of fact, he had died. The
other wing had been converted into servants' quarters. There were no
apartments above, the bedrooms being extremely lofty and running up
to within a few feet of the roof. Facing the stairs was the 'State
Apartment', as it was called, which had once been the principal bedroom
of the house, and this had been assigned to Sybil and her mother.


CHAPTER XXVIII

WHILST THE ladies were walking in the park after tea, Dick went from
room to room and made a very thorough examination of windows and walls.
He had procured a builder's tape measure, and, with the assistance of
one of the police officers who had arrived from London, he measured
the room both inside and out, and compared his figures with those he
obtained from the two apartments which flanked the state chamber.
The difference was so slight as to preclude any possibility of there
being a secret passage between the walls. These, as is usual in the
Elizabethan buildings, were very thick and seemed solid enough.

The state apartment was a large room, rather overpoweringly furnished,
with an old-fashioned four-poster bed set upon a dais. The walls were
hung with tapestries; a few old pieces of furniture comprised its
contents, and had the floor been covered with rushes it might have
stood for an Elizabethan bedroom without one modern touch.

He pulled aside the long velvet curtains that hid the windows and saw
that they were very heavily barred, and called up the caretaker.

"Yes, sir, these are the only windows in the house that have bars,"
said the man. "The late Lord Selford had them put in after a burglary.
You see, the porch is just below, and it is easy to get into the state
room."

Dick pulled open the leaded windows and examined the bars closely. They
were firmly fixed and set so close that it was impossible for any but
a child to squeeze through. As he was shutting the windows, Sneed came
into the room.

"The ladies are sleeping here, aren't they?" asked the stout man, and
nodded his approval of the bars. "They'll be safe enough. I'll have a
man in the corridor all night, one in the hall, and two in the grounds.
Personally, I'm not worried about trouble coming tonight unless his
lordship brings it with him. What time is he expected?"

"Between six and seven in the morning," said Dick, and Captain Sneed
grunted his satisfaction.

There was one other part of the house that Dick Martin was anxious to
see, and here the caretaker was his guide. There was, he learned, a
range of cellars running half the width of the main block. These were
reached through an underground kitchen, one section was set aside as a
wine cellar and was, he found, well stocked. There were no lights here
save those which he carried, and, unlike many other cellars of these
Elizabethan houses, the roof was not vaulted. Great oaken beams ran
across the cellar, and these supported heavy wooden slats, black with
age.

Apart from the wine cellar, this underground portion of Selford Manor
was empty except for three large beer barrels, which had arrived only a
few days before. He tapped them one by one, and on an excuse sent the
caretaker upstairs. Dick's sense of smell was abnormal, and when he
sniffed it was not the smell of beer that reached his nostrils.

Looking round, he saw in a dark corner a small case opener. It was
very new. Climbing the steps, he closed and bolted the door, and,
returning to the barrels, prised open the end of one. The fumes now
became overpowering. Dipping in his hand he ran his fingers through the
glistening white flakes and grinned. Then, replacing the lid, he went
up the steps.

This inspection satisfied Dick on many points. He went up to the hall
and, passing to the back of the building, took his car and drove down
to the lodge gates, returning on foot, not by the drive, but through
the plantation which bordered the eastern portion of the estate.

The hour of crisis was at hand. He felt that the atmosphere was
electric, and this night would settle, one way or the other, the
mystery of Lord Selford's long disappearance.

Before dinner he had an opportunity of a talk with the girl. They
strode up and down the broad lawn before the house.

"Oh, yes, I slept," she said with a smile. And then, unexpectedly: "Mr
Martin, I have given you an awful lot of trouble."

"Me?" He was genuinely surprised. "I can't see that you have given me
more trouble than other people," he went on lamely. "You have certainly
caused me a lot of anxiety, but that is only natural."

There was a pause.

"Do you feel that way about all your cases?" she asked, not looking at
him.

"This isn't a case--Sybil," he said, a little huskily. "I have a
personal interest here. Your safety means more to me than anything else
in the world."

She shot one quick glance at him.

"And am I safe now?" she asked, and when he did not reply: "Why are we
staying here tonight?"

"Mr Havelock thinks--" he began.

"Mr Havelock is frightened," she said quietly. "He believes that
whoever these terrible people are, he has been chosen as the next
victim."

"Of whom is he afraid?" asked Dick.

"Of Stalletti," she shuddered. He looked at her in amazement.

"Why do you say that? Mr Havelock has told you?"

She nodded. "Men will say things to women that they will never confess
to men," she said. "Do you know that Mr Havelock believes that Lord
Selford is entirely under Stalletti's influence? And, what is more,
he thinks that--but he will tell you himself. Do you know why we are
staying at Selford Manor?"

"I only know about a message that came to Havelock," said Dick.

"We're staying here because it is a fortress--the only fortress which
can keep this horrible man at bay. Why I am included in the invitation,
I don't know. But Mr Havelock is very insistent upon the point. Lord
Selford cannot possibly be interested in me."

"He is your cousin," he said significantly, and she stared at him.

"What does that mean?"

"It means," Dick spoke slowly, "and this thought has only occurred to
me recently, that, if Lord Selford dies, you are the heiress-at-law."

She was speechless with astonishment. "But that isn't so, surely? Mr
Havelock hinted to me that Selford had probably married. And I'm a very
distant relation." He nodded.

"The only relation," he said; "and now you will understand just why you
have been threatened. You told me Mr Cody had offered you a paper to
sign. There is no doubt at all that that paper was either some deed of
gift or a will. Cody was in the Selford business up to his neck."

"But where is Lord Selford?"

"I don't know," he replied simply. "I can only guess--and fear."

Her eyes opened wide. "You don't mean--he's dead?" she gasped.

"He may be. I'm not sure. Perhaps it would be better if he were."

Mr Havelock was approaching him, trouble on his rugged face, a frown of
perplexity making a furrow in his forehead.

"What time do you expect Selford to arrive?" asked Dick.

The lawyer shook his head.

"If he arrives at all I shall be a happy man," he said. "For the moment
I have not any great hope, only a vague kind of apprehension. What news
will the morning bring to us? I'd give my small fortune to be a day
older than I am. There is no news, I suppose, about Stalletti?"

"None," said Dick. "The police are looking for him, and he will find it
difficult to escape."

The caretaker came out at that moment to announce that a meal had been
got ready, and they went into the library, where it had been served.

The dinner, for which the caretaker and his wife were equally
apologetic, was of the simplest order. They dined on cold viands, of
a quality in odd contrast to the wine which came up from the cellar.
After the meal was over, Dick took the girl into the rose garden at the
back of the house, and for a long time Mrs Lansdown watched them pacing
up and down the gravelled walk, deep in earnest conversation.

Presently the girl came in alone and spoke to her mother, and the two
of them returned to where Dick Martin was pacing the path, his hands
behind him, his chin on his breast.

When he at last appeared on the lawn before the house, he found Mr
Havelock and Sneed were discussing the disposition of the Scotland Yard
men. It was growing dark, the light showed in the window of a distant
cottage. Dick looked up at the sky. Darkness would fall in an hour;
after that--

"Who is going for a walk to the tombs?" he asked.

Mr Havelock did not receive the suggestion with enthusiasm. "It is too
dark," he said nervously. "And we can't leave these people alone in the
house."

"Our men will look after them," said Dick. "Anyway, they have gone to
bed. Mrs Lansdown sent her excuses."

"I think they're quite safe," said Mr Havelock, looking up at the
barred windows. "I confess that as time goes on I am considerably
doubtful as to the wisdom of spending the night in this wretched place.
I suppose--" He hesitated and laughed. "I was going to do a very
cowardly thing and suggest that I should go home. As I am the only
person who need stay, that idea would hardly appeal to you gentlemen.
The truth is," he said frankly, "I'm nervous--horribly nervous! I feel
as if there is some fearful shadow lurking in every bush, a ghastly
shape behind every clump of trees."

"We'll not go to the tombs," said Dick, "but we will go as far as
the valley. There are one or two things I would like to ask you; the
topography here is not very familiar to me and you may help me."

The three men went through the farmyard, and Dick stopped only to pat
the chained watch-dog who had served Sybil Lansdown so well. So they
passed into what he had come to call 'the valley'.

The sky was clear; the sun had gone down, but it was light enough to
see even distant objects. And here, as they strolled, Mr Havelock
learned for the first time of the secret behind Lew Pheeney's death.

"But this is amazing!" he said in astonishment. "There was nothing in
the newspapers about his having been asked to pick a lock--of course,
it was the lock of the Selford tomb!"

"The information that doesn't come out at inquests would fill Miss
Lansdown's library," said Sneed. "Maybe it will all come out some day."

They walked on in silence for a long time. Evidently Mr Havelock was
cogitating this news.

"I wish I had known before," he said eventually. "I might have been
able to give you a great deal of assistance. I suppose he didn't tell
you who was his employer?"

Dick shook his head. "No, but we can guess."

"Stalletti?" asked Havelock quickly.

"I should imagine so. I can't think of anybody else."

They stopped at the place where the struggle had occurred between Tom
Cawler and the Awful Thing, and Dick turned slowly round and round
until his eyes had roved the full circle of the view.

"What is that place?" He pointed to a white scar showing above a grassy
ridge.

"Those are the Selford Quarries," said the lawyer; "they are not worked
today and represent a liability. We have had to close the road above
them."

Dick thought for a moment. "You don't feel like coming on to the
tombs?" he asked, concealing a smile.

"I certainly do not," cried Mr Havelock with energy. "There's nothing
in the world I wish to do less than to go poking round that ghastly
place at this hour of the night! Shall we return?"

They walked back to the house; here the two Scotland Yard men who were
on guard outside the house reported that Mrs Lansdown had opened the
window of her room and had asked if she could be called at six in the
morning.

"Let us go inside," said Havelock; "we shall disturb them with our
voices."

They went back to the dining-hall and Havelock ordered up a quart of
rare champagne. The hand that raised the glass to his lips trembled a
little. The strain, he admitted, was beginning to tell upon him.

"Whatever happens, I am through with the Selford estate from tonight,"
he said; "and if this wretched young man does turn up--and I very much
doubt whether he will keep his appointment--I shall hand him over my
trust with the greatest relief."

"In which room are you sleeping?" asked Dick.

"I have chosen one of the wing rooms that faces up the corridor. It is
part of the suite which the late Lord Selford occupied, and is by far
the most comfortable. Though I'm not so sure it is the safest, because
I'm rather isolated. I wanted to suggest that you have a man in the
corridor."

"I've already arranged that," said Sneed, putting down his glass and
smacking his lips with relish. "That's good wine. I don't think I have
tasted anything better."

"Could you drink another bottle?" said Mr Havelock hopefully, and Sneed
chuckled.

"You want an excuse to open another bottle, Mr Havelock!" he accused.
"And I'll give it to you!"

Under the influence of the second bottle of wine the lawyer became more
his normal self.

"The matter is still a tangle to me," he said. "What Cody had to do
with Selford, or in what manner this wretched Italian--"

"Greek," said Sneed quietly. "He calls himself Italian, but he's of
Greek origin; I've established that fact. As to their connection, I'll
tell you something." He folded his arms on the table and leaned across.
"You remember sending Lord Selford to school?" he said slowly.

"To a private school--yes." Mr Havelock was patently astonished at the
question.

"Do you remember the name of the schoolmaster?"

Havelock frowned. "I think I do," he said slowly. "Mr Bertram."

"He used to be Bertram, but later he took the name of Cody," said
Sneed, and the other man's jaw dropped.

"Cody?" he said incredulously. "Do you mean to say that Cody and
Bertram, Selford's tutor, are one and the same person?"

It was Dick who answered. "And now let me ask you a question, Mr
Havelock. When this boy was quite young, had he a nurse?"

"Why, of course," replied Havelock.

"Do you remember her name?"

Again the lawyer searched his memory.

"I can't be sure, but I have an idea it was Crowther or some such name.

"Cawler?" suggested Dick.

"Yes, I think it was." The lawyer thought a while. "I'm certain it was.
The name is familiar to me. I've heard of some other person called
Cawler. Of course, Cody's chauffeur!"

"She was Cawler's aunt," said Dick. "Originally she was a nurse in the
employ of the late Lord Selford, and she had charge of the boy. Does it
strike you as significant that Cody should marry this uneducated and
uncouth woman?"

There was a deep silence.

"How did you find this out?"

"By an examination of Cody's papers. Whoever murdered that wretched man
carried away all the documents that were in his desk. But they omitted
to search a box in which Mrs Cody kept her private treasures. Probably
they thought she was not the type of woman who would keep any private
correspondence; but the letters we found leave no doubt at all that she
was Lord Selford's nurse, and that Cody was his tutor. You've never
seen Cody?" Havelock shook his head.

"Are you also aware," said Dick slowly, "that Stalletti was, on two
occasions, called in to Selford Manor in his capacity as a medical man
to treat Lord Selford for alcoholism?"

"You amaze me!" gasped the lawyer. "Selford's doctor was Sir John
Finton. I never knew that he had a local man. When did you learn all
this?"

Dick looked at Sneed, who took out his pocket-case, selected a paper,
and passed it across to the lawyer. It was the paper Dick had found in
the box.

"But in what way do these affect the present Lord Selford and his
wanderings?" asked Havelock in a tone of wonder. "The thing is
inexplicable! The more information I get on this subject, the more
obscure the whole affair seems to be!"

"Lord Selford will tell us that in the morning," said Dick briskly and
looked at his watch. "And now I think we'll go to bed. I am a very
tired man."

Sneed dragged himself from the table and flopped into a deep chair
before the fire, which had been lighted in their absence.

"This is my pitch, and it is going to take a good man to get me out of
it!"


CHAPTER XXIX

IT WAS half past ten when Dick and the lawyer went upstairs to their
rooms, and after he had seen Mr Havelock safely in his suite and had
heard the key turned, he went into his own apartment, shut and locked
the door, and lit a candle.

He waited ten minutes and then, noiselessly unlocking the door, he
stepped out into the corridor. The detective on duty saluted him
silently as he took out the key and relocked the door from the outside.
Then he passed down the stairs and into the hall, where Sneed was
waiting for him. Without a word, Dick unfastened the door of the room
in which Sybil had seen the strange apparition, and they went in
together.

The blinds here had been drawn by the caretaker; one of these, at the
farther end of the room, Dick raised and pulled back the curtain.

"Wait in the hall, Sneed, and don't so much as cough until I shout. We
may have to wait till daylight, but it's an even break that the man
with the beard will come back."

Noiselessly he passed through the dark night and, climbing up to one
of the raised flowerbeds, he took up a position where he could see the
interior of the room. His theory might very well be absurd; on the
other hand, it might prove to be the keystone of the solution he had
constructed.

Time passed slowly, but he did not move, his face against the window-pane,
his eyes staring into the darkness of the room. Far away in the
still night he heard a church clock strike midnight, and, after an
eternity, the half-hour. He began to think that his night was wasted,
when suddenly, near the fireplace, there appeared on the floor a
long, thin line of light. Holding his breath, he waited. The line
broadened. And then, by the faint illumination provided, he saw the big
hearthstone turn on a pivot, and a head appeared above the floor level.

It was a dreadful face he saw. The staring eyes, the straggling, ragged
beard, the huge naked arm that rested for a second on the edge of the
floor, were monstrously unreal. The Thing placed the candle he had been
holding on the floor, and without an effort drew himself up until he
was clear of the pit from which he had climbed.

Except for a pair of ragged short breeches he was naked. Dick gazed,
spellbound, as the giant crouched and reached down a hand. And then
another huge form came up, and the second of the monstrous beings
appeared.

He was taller than the first. His round face was expressionless, and,
unlike his companion, his skin was smooth, his head almost shaven.

Dick stared and felt his heart beating faster. For the first time in
his life he was really afraid. Shading the candle with his huge hand,
the first of the men moved stealthily along the panelled wall, the
second, a taller figure, crouching behind him. The man with the candle
was feeling the panelling.

And then something happened.

Dick found it hard to suppress a cry of astonishment as he saw one of
the panels swing open, revealing the face of a small cupboard. The
bearded thing took something out and showed it to the other, and their
heads were almost together as they seemed to gloat over their discovery.

And then, even from when he was standing, he heard somebody rattle on
the door of the room, and cursed the bungling man who had interrupted
this amazing conference.

For, as the door shook, the light went out. Dick flew along the stone
path into the hall, and saw Sneed, his hand on the door.

"Somebody's in there," said the fat man.

"If you'd only waited a second!" hissed Dick furiously, as he unlocked
the door and flung it open.

The room was empty when they turned on the lights.

"Look!" said Sneed, pointing to the panelled door.

"I've already seen that."

Briefly and a little cantankerously, he described what he had seen.

He expected to find that the panel concealed a safe of some kind, and
he was amazed when he discovered that it was no more than a big wooden
cupboard filled with what seemed to be an accumulation of rubbish. He
pulled out the contents and put them on the floor. There was an old
wooden horse with a broken leg; a gaily painted India rubber ball; a
few children's skittles; and part of a clockwork train, the engine of
which was missing.

With the assistance of Sneed, he tried to turn the hearthstone, but it
was immovable.

"Stay here," said Dick, and ran out of the room through the hall into
the grounds.

The dog yapped its fierce warnings as he crossed the farmyard, but a
muttered word quietened him. He took a short-cut, vaulting the low
wall, and reached the valley, stopping now and again to look round in
search of something.

Then he began a wide circuit of the valley, keeping as far as possible
from observation, and it was nearly an hour before he began the steep
ascent to the wood in which the tombs were concealed. Dick moved
cautiously, choosing every footfall, listening at every step; but it
was not until he was nearly clear of the wood that he heard the sound
of crooning voices.

There was a familiar lilt to the tune; a memory that took him back
nearly thirty years--it was the sound of children singing.

Nearer and nearer he crept, slipping from tree to tree, his senses
taut. The sweat was running down his face; he had to take out his
handkerchief and wipe his eyes before he could see. He passed from one
tree to another until at last he reached the cover of a giant elm, and
from there he looked out upon the moonlit clearing.

The gate of the tomb was wide open, but this he did not see for some
time. All his attention was concentrated upon the three men who, hand
in hand, were moving round in a circle, two treble voices and a deep,
unmusical bass, singing as they solemnly walked:

"Poor Jinny is a-weeping, Poor Jinny is a-weeping..."

His heart almost stopped beating at the sight. It was like a bad dream;
and yet there was something so pathetic in the sight that he felt the
tears rising to his eyes.

The two half-naked figures he recognized instantly. The third little
man he could not immediately place, till he turned his unshaven face
towards the moon. It was Tom Cawler!

Then of a sudden the song ceased, and they squatted down on the ground
and passed something from hand to hand. Presently Dick saw what it
was--a clockwork locomotive! The two half-nude men chuckled over it
delightedly, uttering childish, unintelligible sounds, whilst Tom
Cawler stared straight ahead, his face set, his eyes open wide, till it
seemed to the watcher that he was the most terrible of the three.

The interruption which came was startling in its unexpectedness. A soft
whistle came from the wood so close at hand that Dick jumped round.
Its effect upon the group was extraordinary. The two giants came up to
their feet, cringing away from the sound, and when Dick looked again,
Tom Cawler had disappeared.

Again the whistle, and the two great shapes crouched down, and even
from that distance Dick saw that they were trembling violently. The
sound of a breaking twig, and a man stepped into the clearing.

It was Stalletti.

In one hand he held a whirling dog-whip, in the other the moon gleamed
on something bright and sinister.

"Ah! so, my little children, I have found you, in what strange
circumstances! Extraordinary and bizarre, is it not? Come, Beppo."

The lash curled above their heads as the bigger man crouched lower to
the earth.

"Come, you!"

He said something in Greek, which Dick could not understand, and
immediately the two huge shapes shuffled after him and passed into
the wood. Still Dick did not move. Where was Cawler? He had vanished
as into the ground. And then suddenly the detective saw him, moving
swiftly in the shadow of the trees, following the course which
Stalletti and his slaves had taken. In another instant Dick was on
their heels.

For a moment he had been paralysed by the fantastic sight, but now
the spell was broken. Whatever happened, Stalletti should not escape.
He did not see Cawler, but knew that he was somewhere ahead in the
darkness, moving, as Dick had moved, from tree to tree, silently,
ominously, for the unconscious man who by some mischance had failed to
see him.

They did not follow the steep path down to the valley, but went along
the slope. The detective, who had not explored the wood, wondered
where the chase would end. Once, as the trees thinned, he saw the two
cowering figures following Stalletti, but they were lost to view again,
and he did not sight them until he heard the harsh purr of a motor
engine, and dashed forward. He was too late. There was some sort of
road here, of which he knew nothing, and the car was moving along this.
As he looked he saw a figure shoot out of the bushes and grip the back
of the machine.

Now he located the road; it was that which ran over the top of Selford
Quarry. He saw the white gash of the chalk cliff in the moonlight as
he flew along in pursuit of the car. The road was bad, he guessed, and
they could not make any great speed, and Dick Martin was something of a
runner.

The rough roadway began to climb, and this gave him an additional
advantage, for, heavily laden--more heavily than Stalletti at the wheel
imagined--the machine slowed perceptibly, and he was gaining hand over
hand, when he saw the man that was hanging on to the back suddenly pull
himself over the hood.

What followed he could only guess. There was a scream from Stalletti,
and suddenly the car lurched violently to the left and broke through a
clump of bushes. For a second there was silence, and then a horrible
crash. Dick ran to the edge of the quarry and saw the car tumbling over
and over down the almost precipitous slope. Down, down, down it went,
into the deep, still pool in which the moon was reflected.


CHAPTER XXX

DICK LOOKED round for a safe way to the bottom, and presently was
clambering down a projecting shoulder of the hill. He reached the edge
of the lake as a figure came wading ashore, blubbering and sobbing in
grief and fury. Dick seized him by the shoulder and swung him round.

"Cawler!" he said.

"My God! My God! He's dead!" sobbed the chauffeur. "Both of 'em! And
that swine! I ought to have killed him first!"

"Where are they?"

The man pointed with a shaking hand to a small triangular object in the
centre of the lake.

"The car turned over. I tried to pull him out," he wailed. "If I'd
only killed him that night I found what they'd done! Do something,
Mr Martin." He gripped Dick frenziedly. "Save him. I don't care what
happens to me. Perhaps we could get the car turned over?"

Without a word, Dick threw off his coat and waded into the shallow
water, followed by the half-demented Cawler. At the first attempt he
realized that the task was impossible; in turning, the machine had
wedged itself under a projecting rock. He dived down and sought to pull
clear the huge creature his hand touched; and all the time Tom Cawler
was sobbing his fury and anguish.

"If I'd only killed him when I found out! That night I listened at the
window when Cody was there. I killed him tonight. You can take me for
it, if you like, Martin. I smashed in his head with a spanner."

"Who killed Cody?"

"My brother killed him. God! I'm glad of it! He killed him because
Stalletti told him to."

"Your brother?" said Dick, hardly believing the evidence of his ears.

"My brother--the big fellow," sobbed the man. "Stalletti experimented
on him first, before he took the other boy."

It needed all Dick's strength to drag to safety this man, half mad with
sorrow and remorse. Leaving him at the edge of the lake, Martin began
to work his way back to the valley. No assistance he could procure
could rescue the three men who were pinned down beneath the car, but he
must make some attempt.

As he mounted the slope towards the farm he heard a police whistle
blow shrilly, and almost immediately there came a strange red glow
from behind the trees. Dick threw away the coat he was carrying and
sprinted, but before he could reach the farmyard wall he saw the red
flames leaping up to the sky.

Again the police whistle shrilled. And now, as he turned the corner of
the farm buildings, Dick Martin saw...

Selford Manor was ablaze from one end to the other. Red and white
tongues of flame were leaping from each window. The lawn was as bright
as though day had dawned.

Mr Havelock, an overcoat over his pyjamas, was running up and down
frenziedly. "Save the women!" he raved. "Can't you force those bars and
get them out?"

Captain Sneed stood apathetically by. He was more than apathetic, he
was callous. He was smoking his big pipe with a solemn indifference.

"The women, I tell you!" screamed Havelock, waving his hands to the
barred windows of the state room, from which the flames were now
roaring.

Dick's hand fell on his arm.

"You needn't worry, Mr Havelock," he said quietly. "Neither Mrs
Lansdown nor her daughter is in the house."

The lawyer stared round at him.

"Not in the house?" he gasped.

"I sent them to London much earlier in the evening--in fact, when we
were searching the valley a few hours ago," said Dick, and nodded to
his companion.

Mr Sneed took his pipe from his mouth, knocked out the ashes, and
became instantly a competent police official.

"Your name is Arthur Elwood Havelock, and I am Chief Inspector John
Sneed of Scotland Yard. I shall take you into custody on a charge of
murder and incitement to murder, and I caution you that what you now
say may be taken down and used in evidence against you at your trial."

Havelock opened his mouth to speak, but only a hoarse groan escaped
him. And then, as another detective caught him by the arm, he collapsed
in an unconscious heap on the ground.

They carried him down to the porter's lodge, and began their search.
About his neck was a thin steel chain, and to this were attached what
Dick expected to see--two keys of peculiar design. Under the stimulus
of a glass of brandy, Mr Havelock had recovered, and he was a very
indignant man.

"This is the most monstrous charge that has ever been concocted," he
said violently. "For the life of me, I can't understand what you mean
by such a disgraceful--"

"Spare us your eloquence, Mr Havelock," said Dick coldly. "It will save
you a lot of trouble when I tell you that I have known, from the day I
saw a certain photograph in Cape Town, that my chase of Lord Selford
was a fake organized by you to allay suspicion. Probably somebody
else had been inquiring as to the whereabouts of Selford, and you
thought it would be an excellent proof of your bona fides if you sent
a fully fledged detective to hunt him down. And, having arrived at
this decision, you, with the connivance of Cody, sent his chauffeur,
Tom Cawler, to act as hare to my hounds. I happen to know that Cawler
was your messenger, because he incautiously showed himself on the
balcony of a Cape Town hotel and was snapped by a press photographer.
I recognized him at once, and from that moment I have been privately
engaged in discovering the mystery of Lord Selford's fate."

The lawyer swallowed hard, and then, in a quivering voice: "I'll admit
that I have acted very foolishly in regard to Selford. He was of a weak
intellect, and I placed him in the care of a doctor--"

"You gave him to Stalletti for his damnable experiments!" said Dick
sternly. "And in order to test whether Stalletti's method would be
successful, you handed over another child--the nephew of Mrs Cody, and
brother of Tom Cawler. I have just come from the man. He recognized
his brother that night he defended Sybil Lansdown, and, calling him
by an old pet name they used as children, awakened in the poor soul a
memory of the past. For that crime alone, Havelock, you shall go to the
scaffold! Not for the murder of Cody, which you superintended; not for
firing Selford Manor--you sent those three barrels of naphthalene which
I found--but for the killing of two human souls!"

The white-faced man licked his lips.

"You will have to prove--" he began.

And then, unconsciously, his hand strayed to his neck. When he found
the chain had gone, beads of perspiration rolled down his pallid face.
He made two attempts to say something, and again dropped into the arms
of the attendant detectives.


CHAPTER XXXI

"SEVEN KEYS," said Dick, as, in the early light of the morning, they
walked towards the tombs. "Cody had one; Silva, the gardener, had one;
Mrs Cody had another; Havelock, being the chief conspirator, had two.
By the way, have they got Stalletti out of the lake? He has the sixth,
and if I am not mistaken you will find the seventh hanging round the
neck of Cawler's brother."

They had to wait an hour in the wood until the rescue party had done
their work. The sun was rising as they put two dripping wet keys into
Dick's hand.

"And these make seven," he said.

Down to the tomb they went. The door of one of the little chapels was
wide open, and Dick stopped to flash his lamp inside. He threw a light
on a square hole in one corner of the grim apartment.

"There is a subterranean passage that leads under the hill and
terminates beneath the fireplace of what used to be, in poor little
Selford's days, the playroom of the Manor. It is probably the only part
of the house that the poor fellow remembered. The three men have been
hiding here since the night Stalletti made his last attempt on the
tomb. He had Selford with him, but, in the haste of his escape, he left
his victim behind.

"Why did Selford visit the room?" asked Sneed in surprise.

"The poor creature wanted his toys--that is all. These two half-mad
creatures were mentally children. They had only children's amusements
and children's fears--that was the hold Stalletti had on them."

The two men stood in silence before the grim door of the big tomb,
while Dick fitted and turned key after key. The seventh lock snicked
back, and as he pulled the heavy door swung slowly open.

He was the first into the chamber, and made for the stone casket.
Lifting the heavy lid carefully, he set it down. Within the casket was
a small steel box, and this he took out.

A careful survey of the cell revealed nothing further, and they brought
the box into the bright sunlight, locked the tomb, and walked back past
the still smoking ruins of Selford Manor to the lodge. Havelock had
been removed to Horsham, and already the local police were on the spot
and were making inquiries into the tragedy of the lake.

The steel box took some time to open, but presently the lid was forced
back and Dick removed a roll which proved to be a school exercise book,
every page of which was filled with close writing.

"This is in Cody's hand. He was evidently the scribe," said Sneed, when
he examined the book. "Read it, Martin."

Dick settled down in a chair and began the curious story of the Door
with Seven Locks.


CHAPTER XXXII

'THIS STATEMENT is written by Henry Colston Bertram, commonly called
Bertram Cody, with the knowledge, approval, and agreement of those
persons whose signatures appear hereunder. It was agreed on the night
of March 4th in the year 1901 that such a statement should be put
into writing, so that, in the event of discovery, no one of these
signatories aforesaid should be regarded as being less implicated than
the others, and further, to prevent any one of the said signatories
from turning State evidence at the expense of the others.

'Gregory, Viscount Selford, died on the 14th November before the
date this narrative was agreed upon. He was a man of extraordinary
character, and it was his intention, as he confided to his lawyer,
Mr Arthur Havelock, that his property should be converted into gold
and should be laid in the tomb which was occupied by the founder of
the Selford family, and in which Lord Selford designed that he should
also be buried. And in order that his money should not come into the
possession of his son until he was 25, he intended that this money
should be placed in the vault with him, which was to be fastened by a
door with seven locks, one key being given to each of seven executors.
The old door with seven locks was accordingly taken down and a new
door, a faithful copy of the first, was ordered from the firm of
Rizini, of Milan. Lord Selford's scheme was obviously impossible of
execution in view of the laws of succession, but although this fact was
pointed out to him, he persisted in his design. He confided his plans,
not only to Havelock, but also to Dr Antonio Stalletti, who was well
liked by him, and a frequent visitor to Selford Manor.

'Three weeks before Lord Selford's death, when he was suffering from an
attack of delirium tremens, and in a very nervous state, Mr Havelock
went to him and told him that he was on the verge of bankruptcy, that
he had used some of his clients' money, including Lord Selford's, and
asked his lordship if he would save him from a prosecution. The sum
involved was not a very large one--£27,000; but Lord Selford was not
the kind of man who would forgive such a breach of trust.

'He fell into a rage, threatening Havelock that he would institute a
prosecution, and, as a result of his fury, he suffered a stroke and
was carried to bed unconscious. Dr Stalletti was immediately called
in, and with the help of Elizabeth Cawler, the nurse of Lord Selford's
young son, he recovered sufficiently to repeat, in the presence of Dr
Stalletti, the accusation he had made against Havelock, the situation
becoming further complicated by the fact that Silva, a Portuguese
gardener, was in the room, having been called in with the idea of
assisting the doctor to restrain his patient in his violence.

'Immediately afterwards Lord Selford had a collapse, from which he did
not recover, and he died on November 14th, there being present at his
death Dr Stalletti, Mrs Cawler, and Havelock. The writer of this note
did not appear till a much later period, and at the time was ignorant
of the circumstances, but he hereby agrees that he was equally guilty
with all the other signatories.

'Lord Selford had not time to change his will, by which he left
Havelock his sole executor. It was Dr Stalletti (who by his signature
attests) who suggested that nothing should be said about the
circumstances attending his lordship's death, or about the statements
he made just prior. To this Mr Havelock agreed (as he testifies by his
signature) and a plan was formed whereby Havelock should administer
the estate, the bulk of the revenues being divided equally between the
four people who were privy to his lordship's accusation. The gardener,
Silva, was then called in to the conference, and as he was a poor man
and hated his lordship, who was a ready man with his cane if anything
annoyed him, Silva agreed.

'It was at that time the intention of the four conspirators to enrich
themselves to a moderate extent from the estate during the period of Mr
Havelock's administration, and to leave it to Havelock, when the time
came that he would be compelled to hand over his trust to the new Lord
Selford, to straighten matters out. Young Lord Selford, however, was a
boy of delicate constitution and weak intellect; and very little time
elapsed before it became clear that an unexpected danger would confront
the four. Mr Havelock pointed out that, if this boy was noticeably
deficient, the Commissioners in Lunacy might be notified and appoint
another trustee to administer the estate; and it was then decided to
find a private school where the boy could be kept out of sight.

'The choice fell upon the writer, who had had the misfortune to
be punished by the laws of the country for obtaining money by
misrepresentation. I was approached by Mr Havelock soon after I came
out of prison, and was told by him that he was guardian of a boy of
weak intellect, who, it was necessary, should be tutored in a school
which had no other scholars. A very handsome sum was offered to me, and
I gladly accepted the post and responsibility.

'He was brought to me in January, 1902, and I saw at once that any
attempt to instil education into this unpromising receptacle was
foredoomed to failure. I had many consultations with Mr Havelock and
Dr Stalletti, who was also in bad odour with the authorities, and
it was at one of these conferences that Dr Stalletti put forward
his theory--namely, that supposing he had a child in his care of
sufficiently tender age, he could destroy its identity, not by any
act of cruelty, but by suggestion or by some kind of hypnotism. Dr
Stalletti's theory was that, if the vital forces are inhibited in one
direction, they will find abnormal expression in another, and it was
his desire to create what he called the perfect man, strong, obedient,
having no will of his own, but subservient to the will of another. To
this conclusion, he said, the biologists of the world were tending, and
just as the bee delegated its reproductive functions to one queen bee,
so the time would come when the world would be populated by unthinking
workers, dominated by a number of select brains, reared and cultured
for the purpose of exercising that authority. He promised that he would
destroy the identity of the young Lord Selford so that, to all intents
and purposes, he would cease to exist as a human unit, without actually
endangering the life and safety of the conspirators, as would be the
case if the child were made away with.

'I confess I was in favour of this scheme, but Mr Havelock was for a
long time opposed, because, as he told us, he was not satisfied that
the experiment would be a success. Dr Stalletti undertook, if he had
a suitable subject, to prove it within three months; and after we had
discussed the matter, Mrs Cawler said she would put at the doctor's
disposal one of her two nephews. Mrs Cawler herself was childless, but
she had the care of two children which had been put in her charge by
her dead brother, who had also left a small sum for their maintenance.
The child was transferred to Gallows Hill Cottage, and at the end of
three months, though I did not see the result of the experiment, Mr
Havelock told me that it had been successful and he had agreed to
Selford leaving my care.

'I had already begun to draw on the revenues of the estate, but
thinking that my position might be a precarious one if the boy was
taken away from me, and if I had no actual proof that others shared my
guilty knowledge, I asked that a legal agreement should be drawn up and
filed in some place where we could all see it at the same time, but
to which nobody else had access. I further asked that a statement in
which we all admitted our share of responsibility should be kept in a
similar place. There were long discussions about this. Stalletti was
indifferent, Havelock was worried, and it was Mrs Cawler who suggested
the plan which we eventually followed.

'I have told you that a tomb had been prepared for Lord Selford. It was
that which had once been occupied by the founder of the house, and the
door was ordered but was not in place when he died. He was, in point of
fact, buried in Vault 6, the first on the left as you enter the tombs.
Havelock immediately jumped at the idea. He had received the keys from
the makers; the door had been hung; and there was, in the tomb itself,
a place where such a document could be kept. We agreed eventually that
it should take the shape which now appears.

'It was difficult to explain to Silva, who had a small knowledge of
English but a great fund of low cunning, that we were not trying to
incriminate him to save ourselves. But, fortunately, I had acquired
in my student days a knowledge of the Portuguese language, and was
able, as will be seen herewith, to make a literal translation of this
statement, which will be found on the final ten pages of the book and
which has been signed by us all.

'At the moment of writing. Lord Selford is "under tuition" at Gallows
Hill, and from my own observation it seems that, both in the case of
Mrs Cawler's nephew and in that of Lord Selford, the experiment has
been highly successful. Already these boys come and go at the doctor's
wish, make no complaint, and can endure even the rigours of a severe
winter with the lightest clothes without any apparent discomfort.
Since this first line was written, I have married Mrs Cawler, such an
arrangement commending itself to Havelock and Stalletti...'

(The next few words were half obliterated by a savage black line
that had been drawn through them, but Dick managed to decipher: '...
although I had other plans for my future, I agreed.')

'It is extremely unlikely that our scheme will ever be detected. The
Selfords are without relatives, the nearest heir to the property being
a distant cousin; but he is a rich man and is unlikely to inquire too
closely into the whereabouts of his lordship. Mr Havelock intends when
the boy reaches a maturer age, to announce that he has gone abroad on
an extensive tour.

'To the truth of the foregoing we, the undersigned, set our hands.'

Here followed the signatures, and on the next page began the Portuguese
translation of the document.


CHAPTER XXXIII

"THE LETTERS that Havelock showed me," said Dick, as they were driving
back to town, "were, of course, written by himself. I discovered that
the day he showed me a message that he said he had received that
morning from Cairo. It was written in green ink, and he had two specks
of green ink on the tip of his finger. I knew before that that he was
deeply involved in this case."

"How did Cawler know that the big man was his brother?" asked Sneed.
"That puzzles me."

Dick thought the matter over.

"He may have guessed for a long time," he said. "He's not a bad fellow,
Cawler, and I'm not going to repeat the story he told me about the
scientific use of a spanner. At present the 'locals' think it was
caused by the car in its fall, and I see no reason in the world why I
should undeceive them."

"Is your young lady's father a very rich man?" asked Sneed innocently,
but quailed before Dick Martin's eye.

"Will you get it out of your head that Miss Sybil Lansdown is my 'young
lady' in any respect whatever. Although her father was very rich at the
time that document was written, he was a poor man when he died."

"The girl will be rich now, though," said Sneed.

"Yes," replied Dick shortly.

He had an uncomfortable feeling that the change in Sybil Lansdown's
fortunes made a very considerable difference to him. He had enough
money to be acquitted of any charge of fortune-hunting; but, as he
argued, a girl with the immense wealth of the Selfords at her command
might well hesitate to limit the possibilities of her future by...

"Anyway, I haven't spoken a word to her about that," he said,
unconsciously answering his own thoughts.

But Inspector Sneed was sleeping peacefully in a corner of the car and
did not reply.

Dick went home and walked straight into his bedroom and pulled open
the door of the bureau where, one grisly night, a silent figure had
crouched.

"They've got him, Lew," he said quietly, and closed the door.

For, strange though it may sound, Dick's heart was hottest against
Stalletti for this one crime.

He dressed himself with unusual care, rejecting this cravat and
selecting that, changing his shoes twice, and went back, not once,
but half a dozen times to his dressing-table, there to manipulate
a hair brush with delicate care; and at last, feeling a little hot
and uncomfortable, he took a cab and was deposited at the door of
107, Coram Street. Passing up the stairs, he pressed the bell of the
apartment, and almost immediately it was opened by Sybil; and the look
of relief in her face when she saw him was a great reward.

"Thank God, you're safe," she said in a low voice. "I know that
something dreadful has happened. I've only seen what was in the early
editions. Mr Havelock is arrested--how terrible!"

He nodded.

"Mother isn't here," she said, and dropped her eyes. "She thought--she
thought--perhaps--you would come, and that you'd like--" She did not
finish her sentence.

"And that I should like to see you alone? I think I should, Sybil," he
said quietly. "Do you know you're a very rich woman?"

She looked at him incredulously.

"Lord Selford is dead. You are the heiress-at-law," he stated briefly,
and then: "Is it going to make a big difference?"

"How?" she asked.

"I mean"--he was almost tongue-tied--"is it going to make you think
differently in--the way you think of me?"

"How do I think of you now?" she asked, with a return to her old manner.

He pushed his fingers through his finely brushed hair.

"I don't know," he admitted lamely. And then a bright idea occurred to
him. "Would you like me to tell you what I think of you?"

For answer she took him by the arm, led him into the sitting-room and,
closing the door, pushed him gently into a chair.

"I should, very much," she breathed, and sat on the arm of the chair
expectantly.



THE END



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