Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership



Title:      Terror Keep
Author:     Edgar Wallace, 1927
eBook No.:  0501211.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          December 2005
Date most recently updated: December 2005

***** A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *****


Title:      Terror Keep
Author:     Edgar Wallace, 1927



TO LESLIE FABER ("THE RINGER")



RIGHTLY speaking, it is improper, not to say illegal, for those sadly
privileged few who go in and out of Broadmoor Criminal Asylum, to have
pointed out to them any particular character, however notorious he may
have been or to what heights of public interest his infamy had carried
him, before the testifying doctors and a merciful jury consigned him to
this place without hope. But often had John Flack been pointed out as he
shuffled about the grounds, his hands behind him, his chin on his breast,
a tall, lean old man in an ill-fitting suit of drab clothing, who spoke
to nobody and was spoken to by few.

"That is Flack--the Flack; the cleverest crook in the world...Crazy John
Flack...nine murders..."

Men who were in Broadmoor for isolated homicides were rather proud of Old
John in their queer, sane moments. The officers who locked him up at
night and watched him as he slept had little to say against him, because
he gave no trouble, and through all the six years of his incarceration
had never once been seized of those frenzies which so often end in the
hospital for some poor innocent devil, and a rubber-padded cell for the
frantic author of misfortune.

He spent most of his time writing and reading, for he was something of a
genius with his pen, and wrote with extraordinary rapidity. He filled
hundreds of little exercise books with his great treatise on crime. The
Governor humoured him; allowed him to retain the books, expecting in due
course to add them to his already interesting museum.

Once, as a great concession, old Jack gave him a book to read, and the
Governor read and gasped. It was entitled "Method of robbing a bank vault
when only two guards are employed." The Governor, who had been a soldier,
read and read, stopping now and then to rub his head; for this document,
written in the neat, legible hand of John Flack, was curiously
reminiscent of a divisional order for attack. No detail was too small to
be noted; every contingency was provided for. Not only were the
constituents of the drug to be employed to "settle the outer watchman"
given, but there was an explanatory note which may be quoted:--

"If this drug is not procurable, I advise that the operator should call
upon a suburban doctor and describe the following symptoms....The doctor
will then prescribe the drug in a minute quantity. Six bottles of this
medicine should be procured, and the following method adopted to extract
the drug...."

"Have you written much like this, Flack?" asked the wondering officer.

"This?" John Flack shrugged his lean shoulders. "I am doing this for
amusement, just to test my memory. I have already written sixty-three
books on the subject, and those works are beyond improvement. During the
six years I have been here, I have not been able to think of a single
improvement to my old system."

Was he jesting? Was this a flight of a disordered mind? The Governor,
used as he was to his charges and their peculiar ways, was not certain.

"You mean you have written an encyclopaedia of crime?" he asked
incredulously. "Where is it to be found?"

Old Flack's thin lips curled in a disdainful smile, but he made no
answer.

Sixty-three hand-written volumes represented the life work of John Flack.
It was the one achievement upon which he prided himself.

On another occasion when the Governor referred to his extraordinary
literary labours, he said:--

"I have put a huge fortune in the hands of any clever man--providing, of
course," he mused, "that he is a man of resolution and the books fall
into his hands at a very early date--in these days of scientific
discovery, what is a novelty to-day is a commonplace to-morrow."

The Governor had his doubts as to the existence of these deplorable
volumes, but very soon after the conversation took place he had to revise
his judgment. Scotland Yard, which seldom if ever chases chimera, sent
down one Chief-Inspector Simpson, who was a man entirely without
imagination and had been promoted for it. His interview with Crazy John
Flack was a brief one.

"About these books of yours, Jack," he said. "It would be terrible if
they fell into wrong hands. Ravini says you've got a hundred volumes
hidden somewhere--"

"Ravini?" Old John Flack showed his teeth. "Listen, Simpson! You don't
think you're going to keep me in this awful place all my life, do you? If
you do, you've got another guess coming. I'll skip one of these odd
nights--you can tell the Governor if you like--and then Ravini and I are
going to have a little talk."

His voice grew high and shrill. The old mad glitter that Simpson had seen
before came back to his eyes.

"Do you ever have day-dreams, Simpson? I have three! I've got a new
method of getting away with a million: that's one, but it's not
important. Another one is Reeder: you can tell J. G. what I say. It's a
dream of meeting him alone one nice, dark, foggy night, when the police
can't tell which way the screams are coming. And the third is Ravini.
George Ravini's got one chance, and that is for him to die before I get
out!"

"You're mad," said Simpson.

"That's what I'm here for," said John Flack truthfully.

This conversation with Simpson and that with the Governor were two of the
longest he ever had, all the six years he was in Broadmoor. Mostly when
he wasn't writing he strolled about the grounds, his chin on his chest,
his hands clasped behind him. Occasionally he reached a certain place
near the high wall, and it is said that he threw letters over, though
this is very unlikely. What is more possible is that he found a messenger
who carried his many and cryptic letters to the outer world and brought
in exchange monosyllabic replies. He was a very good friend of the
officer in charge of his ward, and one early morning this man was
discovered with his throat cut. The ward door was open, and John Flack
had gone out into the world to realise his day-dreams.

1

THERE were two subjects which irritated the mind of Margaret Belman as
the Southern Express carried her towards Selford Junction and the
branch-line train which crawled from the junction to Siltbury. The first
of these was, not unnaturally, the drastic changes she now contemplated,
and the effect they already had had upon Mr. J. G. Reeder, that mild and
middle-aged man.

When she had announced that she was seeking a post in the country, he
might at least have shown some evidence of regret: a certain glumness
would have been appropriate at any rate. Instead he had brightened
visibly at the prospect.

"I am afraid I shan't be able to come to London very often," she had
said.

"That is good news," said Mr. Reeder, and added some banality about the
value of periodical changes of air and the beauty of getting near to
nature. In fact, he had been more cheerful than he had been for a week,
which was rather exasperating.

Margaret Belman's pretty face puckered as she recalled her disappointment
and chagrin. All thoughts of dropping this application of hers
disappeared. Not that she imagined for one moment that a
six-hundred-a-year secretaryship was going to fall into her lap for the
mere asking. She was wholly unsuited for the job, she had no experience
of hotel work, and the chances of her being accepted were remote.

As to the Italian man who had made so many attempts to make her
acquaintance, he was one of the unpleasant commonplaces so familiar to a
girl who worked for her living that in ordinary circumstances she would
not have given him a second thought.

But that morning he had followed her to the station, and she was certain
that he had heard her tell the girl who came with her that she was
returning by the 6.15. A policeman would deal effectively with him--if
she cared to risk the publicity. But a girl, however sane, shrinks from
such an ordeal, and she must deal with him in her own way.

That was not a happy prospect, and the two matters in combination were
sufficient to spoil what otherwise might have been a very happy or
interesting afternoon. As to Mr. Reeder...


Margaret Belman frowned. She was twenty-three, an age when youngish men
are rather tiresome. On the other hand, men in the region of fifty are
not especially attractive; and she loathed Mr. Reeder's side-whiskers,
that made him look rather like a Scottish butler. Of course, he was a
dear....

Here the train reached the junction. She found herself at the
surprisingly small station of Siltbury before she had quite made up her
mind whether she was in love with Mr. Reeder or merely annoyed with him.

The driver of the station cab stopped his unhappy-looking horse before
the small gateway and pointed with his whip.

"This is the best way in for you, miss," he said. "Mr. Daver's office is
at the end of the path."

He was a shrewd old man, who had driven many applicants for the post of
secretary to Larmes Keep, and he guessed that this, the prettiest of all,
did not come as a guest. In the first place, she brought no baggage, and
then too the ticket-collector had come running after her to hand back the
return half of the railway ticket which she had absent-mindedly
surrendered.

"I'd better wait for you, miss...?"

"Oh, yes, please," said Margaret Belman hastily as she got down from the
dilapidated victoria.

"You got an appointment?"

The cabman was a local character, and local characters assume privileges.

"I ast you," he explained carefully, "because lots of young wimmin have
come up to Larmes without appointments, and Mr. Daver wouldn't see 'em.
They just cut out the advertisement and come along, but the ad. says
write. I suppose I've made a dozen journeys with young wimmin who ain't
got appointments. I'm telling you for your own good."

The girl smiled.

"You might have warned them before they left the station," she said
good-humouredly, "and saved them the cab fare. Yes, I have an
appointment."

From where she stood by the gate she had a clear view of Larmes Keep. It
bore no resemblance to an hotel and less to the superior boarding-house
that she knew it to be. That part of the house which had been the
original Keep was easily distinguished, though the grey, straight walls
were masked with ivy that covered also part of the buildings which had
been added in the course of the years.

She looked across a smooth green lawn, on which were set a few wicker
chairs and tables, to a rose garden which, even in late autumn, was a
blaze of colour. Behind this was a belt of pine trees that seemed to run
to the cliff's edge. She had a glimpse of a grey-blue sea and a blur of
dim smoke from a steamer invisible below the straight horizon. A gentle
wind carried the fragrance of the pinks to her, and she sniffed
ecstatically.

"Isn't it gorgeous?" she breathed.

The cabman said it "wasn't bad," and pointed with his whip again.

"It's that little square place--only built a few years ago. Mr. Daver is
more of a writing gentleman than a boarding-house gentleman."

She unlatched the oaken gate and walked, up the stone path towards the
sanctum of the writing gentleman. On either side of the crazy pavement
was a deep border of flowers--she might have been passing through a
cottage garden.

There was a long window and a small green door to the annexe. Evidently
she had been seen, for, as her hand went up to the brass bell-push, the
door opened.

It was obviously Mr. Daver himself. A tall thin man of fifty, with a
yellow, elf-like face and a smile that brought all her sense of humour
into play. Very badly she wanted to laugh. The long upper lip overhung
the lower, and except that the face was thin and lined, he had the
appearance of some grotesque and foolish mascot. The staring, round,
brown eyes, the puckered forehead, and a twist of hair that stood upright
on the crown of his head, made him more brownie-like than ever.

"Miss Belman?" he asked, with a certain eagerness.

He lisped slightly, and had a trick of clasping his hands as if he were
in an agony of apprehension lest his manner should displease.

"Come into my den," he said, and gave such emphasis to the last word that
she nearly laughed again.

The "den" was a very comfortably furnished study, one wall of which was
covered with books. Closing the door behind her, he pushed up a chair
with a little nervous laugh.

"I'm so very glad you came. Did you have a comfortable journey? I'm sure
you did. And is London hot and stuffy? I'm afraid it is. Would you like a
cup of tea? Of course you would."

He fired question and answer so rapidly that she had no chance of
replying, and he had taken up a telephone and ordered the tea before she
could express a wish on the subject.

"You are young--very young "--he shook his head sadly. "Twenty-four--no?
Do you use the typewriter? What a ridiculous question to ask!"

"It is very kind of you to see me, Mr. Daver," she said, "and I don't
suppose for one moment that I shall suit you. I have had no experience of
hotel management, and I realise, from the salary you offer--"

"Quiet," said Mr. Daver, shaking his head solemnly, "that is what I
require. There is very little work, but I wished to be relieved even
of that little. My own labours "--he waved his hand to a pedestal
desk littered with papers--"are colossal. I need a lady to keep
accounts--to watch my interests. Somebody I can trust. I believe in
faces, do you? I see that you do. And in the character of handwriting?
You believe in that also. I have advertised for three months and have
interviewed thirty-five applicants. Impossible! Their voices--terrible! I
judge people by their voices--so do you. On Monday when you telephoned I
said to myself, 'The Voice!'"

He was clasping his hands together so tightly that his knuckles showed
white, and this time her laughter was almost beyond arrest.

"But, Mr. Daver, I know nothing of hotel management. I think I could
learn, and I want the position, naturally. The salary is terribly
generous."

"'Terribly generous,'" repeated the man in a murmur. "How curious those
words sound in juxtaposition! My housekeeper. How kind of you to bring
the tea, Mrs. Burton!"

The door had opened and a woman bearing a silver tray came in. She was
dressed very neatly in black. The faded eyes scarcely looked at Margaret
as she stood meekly waiting whilst Mr. Daver spoke.

"Mrs. Burton, this is the new secretary to the company. She must have the
best room in the Keep--the Blue Room. But--ah!"--he pinched his lip
anxiously--"blue may not be your colour?"

Margaret laughed.

"Any colour is my colour," she said. "But I haven't decided--"

"Go with Mrs. Burton; see the house--your office, your room. Mrs.
Burton!"

He pointed to the door, and before the girl knew what she was doing she
had followed the housekeeper through the door. A narrow passage connected
the private office of Mr. Daver with the house, and Margaret was ushered
into a large and lofty room which covered the superficial area of the
Keep.

"The Banquittin' 'All," said Mrs. Burton in a thin Cockney voice
remarkable for its monotony. "It's used as a lounge. We've only got three
boarders. Mr. Daver's very partic'lar. We get a lot in for the winter."

"Three boarders isn't a very paying proposition," said the girl.

Mrs. Burton sniffed.

"Mr. Daver don't want it to pay. It's the company he likes. He only
turned it into a boardin' house because he likes to see people come and
go without having to talk to 'em. It's a nobby."

"A what?" asked the puzzled girl. "Oh, you mean a hobby?"

"I said a nobby," said Mrs. Burton, in her listless, uncomplaining way.

Beyond the hall was a small and cosier sitting-room with french windows
opening on to the lawn. Outside the window three people sat at tea. One
was an elderly clergyman with a strong, hard face. He was eating toast
and reading a church paper, oblivious of his companions. The second of
the party was a pale-faced girl about Margaret's own age. In spite of
her pallor she was extraordinarily beautiful. A pair of big, dark eyes
surveyed the visitor for a moment, and then returned to her companion, a
military-looking man of forty.

Mrs. Burton waited until they were ascending the broad stairway to the
upper floor before she "introduced" them.

"The clergyman's a Reverend Dean from South Africa, the young lady's Miss
Olga Crewe, the other gent is Colonel Hothling--they're boarders. This is
your room, miss."

It was indeed a gem of an apartment; the sort of room that Margaret
Belman had dreamt about. It was exquisitely furnished, and, like all the
other rooms at Larmes Keep (as she discovered later), was provided with
its private bathroom. The walls were panelled to half their height, the
ceilings heavily beamed. She guessed that beneath the parquet  was the
original stone-flagged floor.

Margaret looked and sighed. It was going to be very hard to refuse this
post--and why she should think of refusing at all she could not for the
life of her understand.

"It's a beautiful room," she said, and Mrs. Burton cast an apathetic eye
round the apartment.

"It's old," she said. "I don't like old houses. I used to live in
Brixton--"

She stopped abruptly, sniffed in a deprecating way, and jingled the keys
that she carried in her hand.

"You're suited, I suppose?"

"Suited? You mean am I taking the appointment? I don't know, yet."

Mrs. Burton looked round vaguely. The girl had the impression that she
was trying to say something in praise of the place--something that would
prejudice her in favour of accepting the appointment. Then she spoke.

"The food's good," she said, and Margaret smiled.

When she came back through the hall she saw the three people she had seen
at tea. The colonel was walking by himself; the clergyman and the
pale-faced girl were strolling across the lawn talking to one another.
Mr. Daver was sitting at his desk, his high forehead resting on his palm,
and he was biting the end of a pen as Mrs. Burton closed the door on
them.

"You like the room: naturally. You will start--when? Next Monday week, I
think. What a relief! You have seen Mrs. Burton." He wagged a finger at
her roguishly. "Ah! Now you know! It is impossible! Can I leave her to
meet the duchess and speed the duke? Can I trust her to adjust the little
quarrels that naturally arise between guests? You are right--I can't. I
must have a lady here--I must, I must!"

He nodded emphatically, his impish brown eyes fixed on hers, the bulging
upper lip grotesquely curved in a delighted grin.

"My work suffers, as you say: constantly to be brought from my studies to
settle such matters as the fixing of a tennis net--intolerable!"

"You write a great deal?" she managed to ask. She felt she must postpone
her decision to the last possible moment.

"A great deal. On crime. Ah, you are interested? I am preparing an
encyclopaedia of crime!" He said this impressively, dramatically.

"On crime?"

He nodded.

"It is one of my hobbies. I am a rich man and can afford hobbies. This
place is a hobby. I lose four thousand a year, but I am satisfied. I pick
and choose my own guests. If one bores me I tell him to go--that his room
has been taken. Could I do that if they were my friends? No. They
interest me. They fill the house; they give me company and amusement.
When will you come?"

She hesitated

"I think--"

"Monday week? Excellent!" He shook her hand vigorously. "You need not be
lonely. If my guests bore you, invite your own friends. Let them come as
the guests of the house. Until Monday!"

She was walking down the garden path to the waiting cabman, a little
dazed, more than a little undecided.

"Did you get the place, miss?" asked the friendly cabman.

"I suppose I did," replied Margaret.

She looked back towards Larmes Keep. The lawns were empty, but near at
hand she had one glimpse of a woman. Only for a second, and then she
disappeared in a belt of laurel that ran parallel with the boundary wall
of the property. Evidently there was a rough path through the bushes, and
Mrs. Burton had sought this hiding-place. Her hands covered her face as
she staggered forward blindly, and the faint sound of her sobs came back
to the astonished girl.

"That's the housekeeper--she's a bit mad," said the cabman calmly.

2

GEORGE RAVINI was not an unpleasant-looking man. From his own point of
view, which was naturally prejudiced, he was extremely attractive, with
his crisp brown hair, his handsome Neapolitan features, his height, and
his poise. And when to his natural advantages were added the best suit
that Savile Row could create, the most spotless of grey hats, and the
malacca sword-stick on which one kid-gloved hand rested as upon the hilt
of a foil, the shiniest of enamelled shoes and the finest of grey silk
socks, the picture was well framed and embellished. Greatest
embellishment of all were George Ravini's Luck Rings. He was a
superstitious man and was addicted to charms. On the little finger of his
right hand were three gold rings, and in each ring three large diamonds.
The Luck Stones of Ravini were one of the traditions of Saffron Hill.

Most of the time he had the half-amused, half-bored smile of a man for
whom life held no mysteries and could offer, in experience, little that
was new. And the smile was justified, for George knew most of the things
that were happening in London or likely to happen. He had worked outward
from a one-room home in Saffron Hill, where he first saw the light, had
enlarged the narrow horizons which surrounded his childhood, so that now,
in place of the poverty-stricken child who had shared a bed with his
father's performing monkey, he was not only the possessor of a classy
flat in Half Moon Street but the owner of the block in which it was
situated. His balance at the Continental Bank was a generous one; he had
securities which brought him an income beyond his needs, and a larger
revenue from the two night clubs and spieling houses which were in his
control, to say nothing of the perquisites which came his way from a
score of other sources. The word of Ravini was law from Leyton to
Clerkenwell, his fiats were obeyed within a mile radius of Fitzroy
Square, and no other gang leader in London might raise his head without
George's permission save at the risk of waking in the casualty ward of
the Middlesex Hospital entirely surrounded by bandages.

He waited patiently on the broad space of Waterloo Station, occasionally
consulting his gold wrist-watch, and surveyed with a benevolent and
proprietorial eye the stream of life that flowed from the barriers.

The station clock showed a quarter after six: he glanced at his watch and
scanned the crowd that was debouching from No. 7 platform. After a few
minutes' scrutiny he saw the girl, and with a pat to his cravat and a
touch to the brim of his hat which set it tilting, he strolled to meet
her.

Margaret Belman was too intent with her own thoughts to be thinking about
the debonair and youngish man who had so often sought an introduction by
the conventional method of pretending they had met before. Indeed, in the
excitement of her visit to Larmes Keep, she had forgotten that this
pestiferous gallant existed or was likely to be waiting for her on her
return from the country.

George Ravini stopped and waited for her approach, smiling his approval.
He liked slim girls of her colouring: girls who dressed rather severely
and wore rather nice stockings and plain little hats. He raised his hat;
the Luck Stones glittered beautifully.

"Oh!" said Margaret Belman, and stopped, too.

"Good evening, Miss Belman," said George, flashing his white teeth.
"Quite a coincidence meeting you again."

As she went to walk past him he fell in by her side.

"I wish I had my car here, I might have driven you home," he said
conversationally. "I've got a new Rolls--rather a neat little machine. I
don't use it a great deal--I like to walk from Half Moon Street."

"Are you walking to Half Moon Street now?" she asked quietly.

But George was a man of experience.

"Your way is my way," he said.

She stopped.

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Smith--Anderton Smith," he answered readily. "Why do you want to know?"

"I want to tell the next policeman we meet," she said, and Mr. Ravini,
not unaccustomed to such threats, was amused.

"Don't be a silly little girl," he said. "I'm doing no harm, and you
don't want to get your name in the newspapers. Besides, I should merely
say that you asked me to walk with you and that we were old friends."

She looked at him steadily.

"I may meet a friend very soon who will need a lot of convincing," she
said. "Will you please go away?"

George was pleased to stay, as he explained.

"What a foolish young lady you are!" he began. "I'm merely offering you
the common courtesies--"

A hand gripped his arm and slowly pulled him round--and this in broad
daylight on Waterloo Station, under the eyes of at least two of his own
tribe, Mr. Ravini's dark eyes snapped dangerously.

And yet seemingly his assailant was a most inoffensive man. He was tall
and rather melancholy-looking. He wore a frock-coat buttoned tightly
across his breast, and a high, flat-crowned, hard felt hat. On his
biggish nose a pair of steel-rimmed pince-nez were set at an awkward
angle. A slither of sandy side-whiskers decorated his cheek, and hooked
to his arm was a tightly furled umbrella. Not that George examined these
details with any care: they were rather familiar to him, for he knew Mr.
J. G. Reeder, Detective to the Public Prosecutor's Office, and the fight
went out of his eyes.

"Why, Mr. Reeder!" he said, with a geniality that almost sounded sincere.
"This is a pleasant surprise. Meet my young lady friend, Miss Belman--I
was just taking her along--"

"Not to the Flotsam Club for a cup of tea?" murmured Mr. Reeder in a tone
of pain. "Not to Harraby's Restaurant? Don't tell me that, Georgio! Dear
me! How interesting either experience would be!"

He beamed upon the scowling Italian.

"At the Flotsam," he went on, "you would have been able to show the young
lady where your friends caught young Lord Fallen for three thousand
pounds only the night before last--so they tell me. At Harraby's you
might have shown her that interesting little room where the police come
in by the back way whenever you consider it expedient to betray one of
your friends. She has missed a treat!"

George Ravini's smile did not harmonise with his sudden pallor.

"Now listen, Mr. Reeder--"

"I'm sorry I can't, Georgio." Mr. Reeder shook his head mournfully. "My
time is precious. Yet, I will spare you one minute to tell you that Miss
Belman is a very particular friend of mine. If her experience of to-day
is repeated, who knows what might happen, for I am, as you probably know,
a malicious man." He eyed the Italian thoughtfully. "Is it malice, I
wonder, which inhibits a most interesting revelation which I have on the
tip of my tongue? I wonder. The human mind, Mr. Ravini, is a curious and
complex thing. Well, well, I must be getting along. Give my regards to
your criminal associates, and if you find yourself shadowed by a
gentleman from Scotland Yard, bear him no resentment. He is doing his
duty. And do not lose sight of my--um--warning about this lady."

"I have said nothing to this young lady that a gentleman shouldn't."

Mr. Reeder peered at Ravini.

"If you have," he said, "you may expect to see me some time this
evening--and I shall not come alone. In fact"--this in a most
confidential tone--"I shall bring sufficient strong men with me to take
from you the keys of your box in the Fetter Lane Safe Deposit."

That was all he said, and Ravini reeled under the threat. Before he had
quite recovered, Mr. J. G. Reeder and his charge had disappeared into the
throng.

3

"AN interesting man," said Mr. Reeder as the cab crossed Westminster
Bridge. "He is in fact the most interesting man I know at this particular
moment. It was fate that I should walk into him as I did. But I wish he
wouldn't wear diamond rings!" He stole a sidelong glance at his
companion. "Well, did you--um--like the place?"

"It is very beautiful," she said, without enthusiasm, "but it is rather
far away from London." His face fell.

"Have you declined the post?" he asked anxiously.

She half turned in the seat and looked at him. "Mr. Reeder, I honestly
believe you wish to see the back of me!"

To her surprise Mr. Reeder went very red. "Why--um--of course I do--I
don't, I mean. But it seems a very good position, even as a temporary
position." He blinked at her. "I shall miss you, I really shall miss you.
Miss--um--Margaret. We have become such"--here he swallowed something--
"good friends, but the--a certain business is on my mind--I mean, I am
rather perturbed."

He looked from one window to the other as though he suspected an
eavesdropper riding on the step of the cab, and then, lowering his voice:

"I have never discussed with you, my dear Miss--um--Margaret, the rather
unpleasant details of my trade; but there is, or was, a gentleman named
Flack--F-l-a-c-k," he spelt it. "You remember?" he asked anxiously, and
when she shook her head: "I hoped that you would. One reads about these
things in the public press. But five years ago you would have been a
child--"

"You're very flattering," she smiled. "I was in fact a grown-up young
lady of eighteen."

"Were you really?" asked Mr. Reeder in a hushed voice. "You surprise me!
Well...Mr. Flack was the kind of person one so frequently reads about in
the pages of the sensational novelist--who has not too keen a regard for
the probabilities and facts of life. A master criminal, the organiser
of--um--a confederation, or, as vulgar people would call it, gang."

He sighed and closed his eyes, and she thought for one moment he was
praying for the iniquitous criminal.

"A brilliant criminal--it is a terrible thing to confess, but I have a
reluctant admiration for him. You see, as I have so often explained to
you, I am cursed with a criminal mind. But he was mad."

"All criminals are mad: you have explained that so often," she said, a
little tartly, for she was not anxious that the conversation should drift
from her immediate affairs.

"But he was really mad," said Mr. Reeder with great earnestness, and
tapped his forehead deliberately. "His very madness was his salvation. He
did daring things, but with the cunning of a madman. He shot down two
policemen in cold blood--he did this at midday in a crowded City street
and got away. We caught him at last, of course. People like that are
always caught in this country. I--um--assisted. In fact, I--well, I
assisted! That is why I am thinking of our friend Georgio; for it was Mr.
Ravini who betrayed him to us for two thousand pounds. I negotiated the
deal, Mr. Ravini being a criminal..."

She stared at him open-mouthed.

"That Italian man? You don't mean that?"

Mr. Reeder nodded. "Mr. Ravini had dealings with the Flack gang, and by
chance learnt of Old John's whereabouts. We took old John Flack in his
sleep." Mr. Reeder sighed again. "He said some very bitter things about
me. People, when they are arrested, frequently exaggerate the
shortcomings of their--er--captors."

"Was he tried?" she asked.

"He was tried," said Mr. Reeder, "on a charge of murder. But, of course,
he was mad. 'Guilty but insane' was the verdict, and he was sent to
Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum."

He searched feebly in his pockets, produced a very limp packet of
cigarettes, extracted one and asked permission to smoke. She watched the
damp squib of a thing drooping pathetically from his lower lip. His eyes
were staring sombrely through the window at the green of the park through
which they were passing, and he seemed entirely absorbed in his
contemplation of nature.

"But what has that to do with my going into the country?"

Mr. Reeder brought his eyes round to survey her.

"Mr. Flack was a very vindictive man," he said. "A very brilliant man--I
hate confessing this. And he has--um--a particular grudge against me, and
being what he is, it would not be long before he discovered that
I--er--I--am rather attached to you, Miss--Margaret."

A light dawned on her, and her whole attitude towards him changed as she
gripped his arm. "You mean, you want me out of London in case something
happens? But what could happen? He's in Broadmoor, isn't he?"

Mr. Reeder scratched his chin and looked up at the roof of the cab.

"He escaped a week ago--hum! He is, I think, in London at this moment."

Margaret Belman gasped.

"Does this Italian--this Ravini man--know?"

"He does not know," said Mr. Reeder carefully, "but I think he will
learn--yes, I think he will learn."

A week later, after Margaret Belman had gone, with some misgivings, to
take up her new appointment, all Mr. Reeder's doubts as to the location
of John Flack were dissipated.

There was some slight disagreement between Margaret Belman and Mr.
Reeder, and it happened at lunch on the day she left London. It started
in fun--not that Mr. Reeder was ever kittenish--by a certain suggestion
she made. Mr. Reeder demurred. How she ever summoned the courage to tell
him he was old-fashioned, Margaret never knew--but she did.

"Of course, you could shave them off," she said scornfully. "It would
make you look ten years younger."

"I don't think, my dear--Miss--um--Margaret, that I wish to look ten
years younger," said Mr. Reeder.

A certain tenseness followed, and she went down to Siltbury feeling a
little uncomfortable. Yet her heart warmed to him as she realised that
his anxiety to get her out of London was dictated by a desire for her own
safety. It was not until she was nearing her destination that she
realised that he himself was in no ordinary danger. She must write and
tell him she was sorry. She wondered who the Flacks were; the name was
familiar to her, though in the days of their activity she gave little or
no attention to people of their kind.

Mr. Daver, looking more impish than ever, gave her a brief interview on
her arrival. It was he who took her to her bureau and very briefly
explained her duties. They were neither heavy nor complicated, and she
was relieved to discover that she had practically nothing whatever to do
with the management of Larmes Keep, That was in the efficient hands of
Mrs. Burton.

The staff of the hotel were housed in two cottages about a quarter of a
mile from the Keep, only Mrs. Burton living on the premises.

"This keeps us more select," said Mr. Daver. "Servants are an abominable
nuisance. You agree with me? I thought you would. If they are needed in
the night, both cottages have telephones, and Grainger, the porter, has a
pass-key to the outer door. That is an excellent arrangement, of which
you approve? I am sure you do."

Conversation with Mr. Daver was a little superfluous, He supplied his own
answers to all questions.

He was leaving the bureau when she remembered his great study.

"Mr. Daver, do you know anything about the Flacks?"

He frowned.

"Flax? Let me see, what is flax--"

She spelt the name.

"A friend of mine told me about them the other day," she said. "I thought
you would know the name. They are a gang of criminals--"

"Flack! To be sure, to be sure! Dear me, how very interesting! Are you
also a criminologist? John Flack, George Flack, Augustus Flack"--he spoke
rapidly, ticking them off on his long, tobacco-stained fingers. "John
Flack is in a criminal lunatic asylum; his two brothers escaped to the
Argentine. Terrible fellows, terrible, terrible fellows! What a
marvellous institution is our police force! How wonderful is Scotland
Yard! You agree with me? I was sure you would. Flack!" He frowned and
shook his head "I thought of dealing with these people in a short
monograph, but my data are not complete. Do you know them?"

She shook her head smilingly.

"No, I haven't that advantage."

"Terrible creatures," said Mr. Daver. "Amazing creatures. Who is your
friend, Miss Belman? I would like to meet him. Perhaps he could tell me
something more about them."

Margaret received the suggestion with dismay.

"Oh, no, you're not likely to meet him," she said hurriedly, "and I don't
think he would talk even if you met him--perhaps it was indiscreet of me
to mention him at all."

The conversation must have weighed on Mr. Daver's mind, for just as she
was leaving her office that night for her room, a very tired girl, he
knocked at the door, opened it at her invitation and stood in the
doorway.

"I have been going into the records of the Flacks," he said, "and it is
surprising how little information there is. I have a newspaper cutting
which says that John Flack is dead. He was the man who went into
Broadmoor. Is he dead?"

Margaret shook her head.

"I couldn't tell you," she replied untruthfully. "I only heard a casual
reference to him."

Mr. Daver scratched his round chin.

"I thought possibly somebody might have told you a few facts which you,
so to speak--a laywoman!"--he giggled--"might have regarded as
unimportant, but which I--"

He hesitated expectantly.

"That is all I know, Mr. Daver," said Margaret.

She slept soundly that night, the distant hush-hush of the waves as they
rolled up the long beach of Siltbury Bay lulling her to dreamless
slumber.

Her duties did not begin till after breakfast, which she had in her
bureau, and the largest part was the checking of the accounts. Apparently
Mrs. Burton attended to that side of the management, and it was only at
the month's end, when cheques were to be drawn, that her work was likely
to be heavy. In the main her day was taken up with correspondence. There
were some hundred and forty applicants for her post who had to be
answered; there were in addition a number of letters from people who
desired accommodation at Larmes Keep. All these had to be taken to Mr.
Daver, and it was remarkable how fastidious a man he was. For example:

"The Reverend John Quinton? No, no; we have one parson in the house, that
is enough. Tell him we are very sorry, but we are full up. Mrs. Bagley
wishes to bring her daughter? Certainly not! I cannot have children
distracting me with their noise. You agree? I see you do. Who is this
woman...'coming for a rest cure'? That means she's ill. I cannot have
Larmes Keep turned into a sanatorium. You may tell them that there will
be no accommodation until after Christmas. After Christmas they can all
come--I am going abroad."

The evenings were her own. She could, if she desired, go into Siltbury,
which boasted two cinemas and a pierrot party, and Mr. Daver put the
hotel car at her disposal for the purpose. She preferred, however, to
wander through the grounds. The estate was a much larger one than she had
supposed. Behind, to the south of the house, it extended for half a mile,
the boundary to the east being represented by the cliffs, along which a
breast-high rubble wall had been built, and with excellent reason, for
here the cliff fell sheer two hundred feet to the rocks below. At one
place there had been a little landslide, the wall had been carried away
and the gap had been temporarily filled by a wooden fence. Some attempt
had been made to create a nine-hole golf course, she saw as she wandered
round, but evidently Mr. Daver had grown tired of this enterprise, for
the greens were knee-deep in waving grasses.

At the south-west corner of the house, and distant a hundred yards, was a
big clump of rhododendrons, and this she explored, following a twisting
path that led to the heart of the bushes. Quite unexpectedly she came
upon an old well. The brickwork about it was in ruins; the well itself
was boarded in. On the weather-beaten roof-piece above the windlass was a
small wooden notice-board, evidently fixed for the enlightenment of
visitors:

"This well was used from 935 to 1794. It was filled in by the present
owners of the property in May, 1914, one hundred and thirty-five
cartloads of rock and gravel being used for the purpose."

It was a pleasant occupation, standing by that ancient well and picturing
the collar serfs and bare-footed peasants who through the ages had stood
where she was standing. As she came out of the bushes she saw the
pale-faced Olga Crewe.

Margaret had not spoken either to the colonel or to the clergyman; either
she had avoided them, or they her. Olga Crewe she had not seen, and now
she would have turned away, but the girl moved across to intercept her.

"You are the new secretary, aren't you?"

Her voice was musical, rather alluring. "Custardy" was Margaret's mental
classification.

"Yes, I'm Miss Belman."

The girl nodded. "My name you know, I suppose? Are you going to be
terribly bored here?"

"I don't think so," smiled Margaret. "It is a beautiful spot."

The eyes of Olga Crewe surveyed the scene critically.

"I suppose it is: very beautiful, yes, but one gets very tired of beauty
after a few years."

Margaret listened in astonishment.

"Have you been here so long?"

"I've practically lived here since I was a child. I thought Joe would
have told you that: he's an inveterate old gossip."

"Joe?" She was puzzled.

"The cab-driver, news-gatherer, and distributor."

She looked at Larmes Keep and frowned.

"Do you know what they used to call this place, Miss Belman? The House of
Tears--the Chateau des Larmes."

"Why ever?" asked Margaret.

Olga Crewe shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"Some sort of tradition, I suppose, that goes back to the days of the
Baron Augernvert, who built it. The locals have corrupted the name to
Larmes Keep. You ought to see the dungeons."

"Are there dungeons?" asked Margaret in surprise, and Olga nodded. For
the first time she seemed amused.

"If you saw them and the chains and the rings in the walls and the stone
floors worn thin by bare feet, you might guess how its name arose."

Margaret stared back towards the Keep. The sun was setting behind it, and
silhouetted as it was against the red light there was something ominous
and sinister in that dark, squat pile.

"How very unpleasant!" she said, and shivered.

Olga Crewe laughed.

"Have you seen the cliffs?" she said, and led the way back to the long
wall, and for a quarter of an hour they stood, their arms resting on the
parapet, looking down into the gloom.

"You ought to get someone to row you round the face of the cliff. It's
simply honeycombed with caves," she said. "There's one at the water's
edge that tunnels under the Keep. When the tides are unusually high they
are flooded. I wonder Daver doesn't write a book about it."

There was just the faintest hint of a sneer in her tone, but it did not
escape Margaret's attention.

"That must be the entrance," she said, pointing down to a swirl of water
that seemed to run right up to the face of the cliff.

Olga nodded.

"At high tide you wouldn't notice that," she said, and then, turning
abruptly, she asked the girl if she had seen the bathing-pool.

This was an oblong bath, sheltered by high box hedges and lined
throughout with blue tiles; a delightfully inviting plunge.

"Nobody uses it but myself. Daver would die at the thought of jumping
in."

Whenever she referred to Mr. Daver if was in a scarcely veiled tone of
contempt. She was not more charitable when she referred to other guests.
As they were nearing the house Olga said, apropos of nothing:

"I shouldn't talk too much to Daver if I were you. Let him do the
talking: he likes it."

"What do you mean?" asked Margaret quietly; but at that moment Olga left
her side without any word of farewell and went towards the colonel, who
was standing, a cigar between his teeth, watching their approach.

The House of Tears!

Margaret remembered the title as she was undressing that night, and,
despite her self-possession, shivered a little.

4

THE policeman who stood on the corner where Bennett Street meets Hyde
Lane had the world to himself. It was nearing three o'clock on a sultry
spring morning, airless, unpleasantly warm. Somewhere in South London
there was a thunderstorm; the hollow echoes of it came at odd intervals.
The good and bad of Mayfair slept--all, apparently, except Mr. J. G.
Reeder, Friend of the Law and Terror of Criminals. Police-Officer Dyer
saw the yellow light behind the casemented window and smiled
benevolently.

It was so still a night that when he heard a key turn in a lock he looked
over his shoulder, thinking the noise was from the house immediately
behind him. But the door did not move. Instead he saw a woman appear on
the top doorstep five houses away. She wore a flimsy negligee.

"Officer!"

The voice was low, cultured, very urgent. He moved more quickly towards
her than policemen usually move.

"Anything wrong, miss?"

Her face, he noticed in his worldly way, was "made up"; the cheeks
heavily rouged, the lips a startling red for one who was afraid. He
supposed her to be pretty in normal circumstances, but was doubtful as to
her age. She wore a long black dressing-gown, fastened up to her chin.
Also he saw that the hand that gripped the railing which flanked the
steps glittered in the light of the street lamps.

"I don't know...quite. I am alone in the house and I thought I heard...
something."

Three words to a breath. Obviously she was terrified. "Haven't you any
servants in the house?" The constable was surprised, a little shocked.

"No. I only came back from Paris at midnight--we took the house
furnished--I think the servants I engaged mistook the date of my return.
I am Mrs. Granville Fornese."

In a dim way he remembered the name. It had that value of familiarity
which makes even the most assured hesitate to deny acquaintance. It
sounded grand, too--the name of a Somebody. And Bennett Street was a
place where Somebodies live. The officer peered into the dark hall. "If
you would put the light on, madame, I will look round."

She shook her head: he almost felt the shiver of her. "The lights aren't
working. That is what frightened me. They were quite all right when I
went to bed at one o'clock. Something woke me...I don't know what...and
I switched on the lamp by the side of my bed. And there was no light. I
keep a little portable battery lamp in my bag. I found this--and turned it
on."

She stopped, set her teeth in a mirthless smile. Police-Officer Dyer saw
the dark eyes were staringly wide.

"I saw...I don't know what it was...just a patch of black, like
somebody crouching by the wall. Then it disappeared. And the door of my
room was wide open. I closed and locked it when I went to bed."

The officer pushed open the door wider, sent a white beam of light along
the passage. There was a small hall table against the wall, where a
telephone instrument stood. Striding into the hall, he took up the
instrument and lifted the hook: the 'phone was dead. "Does this--" So far
he got with the question, and then stopped.

From somewhere above he heard a faint but sustained creak--the sound of a
foot resting on a faulty floorboard. Mrs. Fornese was still standing in
the open doorway, and he went back to her.

"Have you a key to this door?" he asked, and she shook her head.

He felt along the inner, surface of the lock and found a stop-catch,
pushed it up.

"I'll have to 'phone from somewhere. You'd better..."

What had she best do? He was a plain police-constable, and was confronted
with a delicate situation.

"Is there anywhere you could go...friends?"

"No." There was no indecision in that word. And then: "Doesn't Mr. Reeder
live opposite? Somebody told me..."

In the house opposite a light showed. Mr. Dyer surveyed the lighted
window dubiously. It stood for the elegant apartment of one who held a
post superior to chief constables. No. 7, Bennett Street had been at a
recent period converted into flats, and into one of these Mr. Reeder had
moved from his suburban home. Why he should take a flat in that exclusive
and interesting neighbourhood, nobody knew. He was credited by criminals
with being fabulously rich; he was undoubtedly a snug man.

The constable hesitated, searched his pocket for the smallest coin of the
realm, and, leaving the lady on the doorstep, crossed the road and tossed
a ha'penny to the window. A second and the casement window was pushed
open.

"Excuse me, Mr. Reeder, could I see you for a second?"

The head and shoulders disappeared, and in a very short time Mr. Reeder
appeared in the doorway. He was so fully dressed that he might have been
expecting the summons. The frock coat was as tightly buttoned, on the
back of his head his flat-topped felt hat, on his nose the pince-nez
through which he never looked were askew.

"Anything wrong, constable?" he asked gently.


"Could I use your phone? There is a lady over there--Mrs. Fornese ..
alone...heard somebody in the house. I heard it, too..."

He heard a short scream...a crash, and jumped round. The door of No. 4
was closed. Mrs. Fornese had disappeared.

In six strides Mr. Reeder had crossed the road and was at the door.
Stooping, he pressed in the flap of the letter-box and listened. No noise
but the ticking of a clock...a faint sighing sound.

"Hum!" said Mr. Reeder, scratching his long nose thoughtfully. "Hum...
would you be so kind as to tell me all about this--um--happening?"

The police-constable repeated the story, more coherently.

"You fastened the spring lock so that it would not move? A wise
precaution."

Mr. Reeder frowned. Without another word he crossed the road and
disappeared into his flat. There was a small drawer at the back of his
writing bureau, and this he unlocked. Taking out a leather hold-all, he
unrolled this, and selecting three curious steel instruments that were
not unlike small hooks, fitted one into a wooden handle and returned to
the constable.

"This, I fear, is...I will not say 'unlawful,' for a gentleman of my
position is incapable of an unlawful act....Shall I say 'unusual'?"

All the time he talked in his soft, apologetic way he was working at the
lock, turning the instrument first one way and then the other. Presently
with a click the lock turned and Mr. Reeder pushed open the door.

"I think I had best borrow your lamp--thank you."

He took the electric lamp from the constable's hand and flung a white
circle of light into the hall. There was no sign of life. He cast the
beam up the stairs, and, stooping his head, listened. There came to his
ear no sound, and noiselessly he stepped further into the hall.

The passage continued beyond the foot of the stairs, and at the end was a
door which apparently gave to the domestic quarters of the house. To the
policeman's surprise, it was this door which Mr. Reeder examined. He
turned the handle, but the door did not move, and, stooping, he squinted
through the keyhole.

"There was somebody...upstairs," began the policeman with respectful
hesitation.

"There was somebody upstairs," repeated Mr. Reeder absently. "You heard a
creaky board, I think."

He came slowly back to the foot of the stairs and looked up. Then he cast
his lamp along the floor of the hall.

"No sawdust," he said, speaking to himself, "so it can't be that."

"Shall I go up, sir?" said the policeman, and his foot was on the lower
tread when Mr. Reeder, displaying unexpected strength in so weary-looking
a man, pushed him back.

"I think not, constable," he said firmly. "If the lady is upstairs she
will have heard our voices. But the lady is not upstairs."

"Do you think she's in the kitchen, sir?" asked the puzzled policeman.

Mr. Reeder shook his head sadly.

"Alas! how few modern women spend their time in a kitchen!" he said, and
made an impatient clucking noise, but whether this was a protest against
the falling off of woman's domestic qualities, or whether he "tchk'd" for
some other reason, it was difficult to say, for he was a very preoccupied
man.

He swung the lamp back to the door.

"I thought so," he said, with a note of relief in his voice. "There are
two walking-sticks in the hall-stand. Will you get one of them,
constable?"

Wondering, the officer obeyed, and came back, handing a long cherrywood
stick with a crooked handle to Mr. Reeder, who examined it in the light
of his lamp.

"Dust-covered, and left by the previous owner. The spike in place of the
ferrule shows that it was purchased in Switzerland--probably you are not
interested in detective stories and have never read of the gentleman
whose method I am plagiarising?"

"No, sir," said the mystified officer.

Mr. Reeder examined the stick again.

"It is a thousand pities that it is not a fishing-rod," he said. "Will
you stay here?--and don't move."

And then he began to crawl up the stairs on his knees, waving his stick
in front of him in the most eccentric manner. He held it up, lifting the
full length of his arm, and as he crawled upwards he struck at imaginary
obstacles. Higher and higher he went, silhouetted against the reflected
light of the lamp he carried, and Police Constable Dyer watched him
open-mouthed.

"Don't you think I'd better--"

He got as far as this when the thing happened. There was an explosion
that deafened him; the air was suddenly filled with flying clouds of
smoke and dust; he heard the crackle of wood and the pungent scent of
something burning. Dazed and stupefied, he stood stock still, gaping up
at Mr. Reeder, who was sitting on a stair, picking little splinters of
wood from his coat.

"I think you may come up in perfect safety," said Mr. Reeder with great
calmness.

"What--what was it?" asked the officer.

The enemy of criminals was dusting his hat tenderly, though this the
officer could not see.

"You may come up."

P.G. Dyer ran up the stairs and followed the other along the broad
landing till he stopped and focused in the light of his lamp a
queer-looking and obviously home-made spring gun, the muzzle of which was
trained through the banisters so that it covered the stairs up which he
had ascended.

"There was," said Mr. Reeder carefully, "a piece of black thread
stretched across the stairs, so that any person who bulged or broke that
thread was certain to fire the gun."

"But--but the lady?"

Mr. Reeder coughed.

"I do not think she is in the house," he said, ever so gently. "I rather
imagine that she went through the back. There is a back entrance to the
mews, is there not? And that by this time she is a long way from the
house. I sympathise with her--this little incident has occurred too late
for the morning newspapers, and she will have to wait for the sporting
editions before she learns that I am still alive."

The police-officer drew a long breath.

"I think I'd better report this, sir."

"I think you had," sighed Mr. Reeder. "And will you ring up Inspector
Simpson and tell him that if he comes this way I should like to see him?"

Again the policeman hesitated.

"Don't you think we'd better search the house?...they may have done away
with this woman."

Mr. Reeder shook his head.

"They have not done away with any woman," he said decisively. "The only
thing they have done away with is one of Mr. Simpson's pet theories."

"But, Mr. Reeder, why did this lady come to the door--"

Mr. Reeder patted him benignantly on the arm, as a mother might pat a
child who asked a foolish question.

"The lady had been standing at the door for half an hour," he said
gently; "on and off for half an hour, constable, hoping against hope, one
imagines, that she would attract my attention. But I was looking at her
from a room that was not--er--illuminated. I did not show myself because
I--er--have a very keen desire to live!"

On this baffling note Mr. Reeder went into his house.

5

MR. REEDER sat at his ease, wearing a pair of grotesquely painted velvet
slippers, a cigarette hanging from his lips, and explained to the
detective inspector, who had called in the early hours of the morning,
his reason for adopting a certain conclusion.

"I do not imagine for one moment that it was my friend Ravini. He is less
subtle, in addition to which he has little or no intelligence. You will
find that this coup has been planned for months, though it has only been
put into execution to-day. No. 307, Bennett Street, is the property of an
old gentleman who spends most of his life in Italy. He has been in the
habit of letting the house furnished for years: in fact, it was vacated
only a month ago."

"You think, then," said the puzzled Simpson, "that the people, whoever
they were, rented the house--"

Mr. Reeder shook his head.

"Even that I doubt," he said. "They have probably an order to view, and
in some way got rid of the caretaker. They knew I would be at home last
night, because I am always at home--um--on most nights since..." Mr.
Reeder coughed in his embarrassment. "A young friend of mine has recently
left London....I do not like going out alone."

And, to Simpson's horror, a pinkish flush suffused the sober countenance
of Mr. Reeder.

"A few weeks ago," he went on, with a pitiable attempt at airiness, "I
used to dine out, attend a concert or one of those exquisite melodramas
which have such an appeal for me."

"Whom do you suspect?" interrupted Simpson, who had not been called from
his bed in the middle of the night to discuss the virtues of melodrama.
"The Gregorys or the Donovans?" He named two groups that had excellent
reason to be annoyed with Mr. Reeder and his methods. J. G. Reeder shook
his head.

"Neither," he said. "I think--indeed I am sure--that we must go back to
ancient history for the cause."

Simpson opened his eyes.

"Not Flack?" he asked incredulously. "He's hiding--he wouldn't start
anything so soon."

Mr. Reeder nodded.

"John Flack. Who else could have planned such a thing? The art of it!
And, Mr. Simpson "--he leaned over and tapped the inspector on the
breast--"there has not been a big robbery in London since Flack went to
Broadmoor. You'll get the biggest of all in a week! The coup of coups!
His mad brain is planning it now!"

"He's finished," said Simpson with a frown.

Mr. Reeder smiled wanly.

"We shall see. This little affair of to-night is a sighting shot--a mere
nothing. But I am rather glad I am not--er--dining out in these days. On
the other hand, our friend Georgio Ravini is a notorious diner-out--would
you mind calling up Vine Street police station and finding out whether
they have any casualties to report?"

Vine Street, which knew the movements of so many people, replied
instantly that Mr. Georgio Ravini was out of town; it was believed he was
in Paris.


"Dear me!" said Mr. Reeder in his feeble, aimless way. "How very wise of
Georgio--and how much wiser it will be if he stays there!"

Inspector Simpson rose and shook himself. He was a stout, hearty man who
had that habit.

"I'll get down to the Yard and report this." he said "It may not have
been Flack after all. He's a gang leader and he'd be useless without his
crowd, and they are scattered. Most of them are in the Argentine--"

"Ha, ha!" said Mr. Reeder, without any evidence of joy.

"What the devil are you laughing about?"

The other was instantly apologetic.

"It was what I would describe as a sceptical laugh. The Argentine! Do
criminals really go to the Argentine except in those excellent works of
fiction which one reads on trains? A tradition, Mr. Simpson, dating back
to the ancient times when there was no extradition treaty between the two
countries. Scattered, yes. I look forward to the day when I shall gather
them all together under one roof. It will be a very pleasant morning for
me, Mr. Simpson, when I can walk along the gallery, looking through the
little peep-holes, and watch them sewing mail-bags--I know of no more
sedative occupation than a little needlework! In the meantime, watch your
banks--old John is seventy years of age and has no time to waste. History
will be made in the City of London before many days are past! I wonder
where I could find Mr. Ravini?"

George Ravini was not the type of man whose happiness depended upon the
good opinion which others held of him. Otherwise, he might well have
spent his life in abject misery. As for Mr. Reeder--he discussed that
interesting police official over a glass of wine and a good cigar in his
Half Moon Street flat. It was a showy, even a flashy, little menage, for
Mr. Ravini's motto was everything of the best and as much of it as
possible and, his drawing-room was rather like an over-ornamented French
clock--all gilt and enamel where it was not silk and damask. To his
subordinate, one Lew Steyne, Mr. Ravini revealed his mind.

"If that old So-and-so knew half he pretends to know, I'd be taking the
first train to Bordighera," he said. "But Reeder's a bluff. He's clever
up to a point, but you can say that about almost any bogey you ever met."

"You could show him a few points," said the sycophantic Lew, and Mr.
Ravini smiled and stroked his trim moustache.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the old nut is crazy about that girl. May and
December--can you beat it!"

"What's she like?" asked Lew. "I never got a proper look at her face."

Mr. Ravini kissed the tips of his fingers ecstatically and threw the
caress to the painted ceiling.

"Anyway, he can't frighten me. Lew--you know what I am: if I want
anything I go after it, and I keep going after it till I get it! I've
never seen anybody like her. Quite the lady and everything, and what she
can see in an old such-and-such like Reeder licks me!"

"Women are funny," mused Lew. "You wouldn't think that a typist would
chuck a man like you--"

"She hasn't chucked me," said Mr. Ravini curtly. "I'm simply not
acquainted with her, that's all. But I'm going to be. Where's this
place?"

"Siltbury," said Lew.

He took a piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket, unfolded it and read
the pencilled words.

"Larmes Keep, Siltbury--it's on the Southern. I trailed her when she left
London with her boxes--old Reeder came down to see her off, and looked
about as happy as a wet cat."

"A boarding-house," mused Ravini. "That's a queer sort of job."

"She's secretary," reported Lew. (He had conveyed this information at
least four times, but Mr. Ravini was one of those curious people who like
to treat old facts as new sensations.)

"It's a posh place, too," said Lew. "Not like the ordinary
boarding-house--only swells go there. They charge twenty guineas a week
for a room, and you're lucky if you get in." Ravini thought on this,
fondling his chin. "This is a free country," he said. "What's to stop me
staying at--what's the name of the place? Larmes Keep? I've never taken
'No' from a woman in my life. Half the time they don't mean it. Anyway,
she's got to give me a room if I've the money to pay for it."

"Suppose she writes to Reeder?" suggested Lew.

"Let her write!" Ravini's tone was defiant, whatever might be the state
of his mind. "What'll he have on me? It's no crime to pay your rent at a
boarding-house, is it?"

"Try her with one of your Luck Rings," grinned Lew.

Ravini looked at them admiringly.

"I couldn't get 'em off," he said, "and I'd never dream of parting with
my luck that way. She'll be easy as soon as she knows me--don't you
worry."

By a curious coincidence, as he was turning out of Half Moon Street the
next morning he met the one man in the world he did not wish to see.
Fortunately, Lew had taken his suit-case on to the station, and there was
nothing in Mr. Ravini's appearance to suggest that he was setting forth
on an affair of gallantry.

Mr. Reeder looked at the man's diamonds glittering in the daylight. They
seemed to exercise a peculiar fascination on the detective.

"The luck still holds, Georgio," he said, and Georgio smiled
complacently. "And whither do you go on this beautiful September morning?
To bank your nefarious gains, or to get a quick visa to your passport?"

"Strolling round," said Ravini airily. "Just taking a little
constitutional." And then, with a spice of mischief: "What's happened to
that busy you were putting on to tail me up? I haven't seen him."

Mr. Reeder looked past him to the distance.

"He has never been far from you, Georgio," he said gently. "He followed
you from the Flotsam last night to that peculiar little party you
attended in Maida Vale, and he followed you home at 2.15 a.m."

Georgio's jaw dropped.

"You don't mean he's--" He looked round. The only person visible was a
benevolent-looking man who might have been a doctor, from his frock coat
and top hat.

"That's not him?" frowned Ravini.

"He," corrected Mr. Reeder. "Your English is not yet perfect."

Ravini did not leave London immediately. It was two o'clock before he had
shaken off the watcher, and five minutes later he was on the Southern
express. The same old cabman who had brought Margaret Belman to Larmes
Keep carried him up the long, winding hill road through the broad gates
to the front of the house, and deposited him under the portico. An
elderly porter, in a smart, well-fitting uniform, came out to greet the
stranger.

"Mr.---?"

"Ravini," said that gentleman. "I haven't booked a room."

The porter shook his head.

"I'm afraid we have no accommodation," he said. "Mr. Daver makes it a
rule not to take guests unless they've booked their rooms in advance. I
will see the secretary."

Ravini followed him into the spacious hall and sat down on one of the
beautiful chairs. This, he decided, was something outside the usual run
of boarding-houses. It was luxurious even for an hotel. No other guests
were visible. Presently he heard a step on the nagged floor and rose to
meet the eyes of Margaret Belman. Though they were unfriendly, she
betrayed no sign of recognition. He might have been the veriest stranger.

"The proprietor makes it a rule not to accept guests without previous
correspondence," she said. "In those circumstances I am afraid we cannot
offer you accommodation."

"I've already written to the proprietor," said Ravini, never at a loss
for a glib lie. "Go along, young lady, be a sport and see what you can do
for me."

Margaret hesitated. Her own inclination was to order his suit-case to be
put in the waiting cab; but she was part of the organisation of the
place, and she could not let her private prejudices interfere with her
duties.

"Will you wait?" she said, and went in search of Mr. Daver.

That great criminologist was immersed in a large book and looked up over
his horn-rimmed spectacles.

"Ravini? A foreign gentleman? Of course he is, A stranger within our
gate, as you would say. It is very irregular, but in the
circumstances--yes, I think so."

"He isn't the type of man you ought to have here, Mr. Daver," she said
firmly. "A friend of mine who knows these people says he is a member of
the criminal classes."

Mr. Daver's ludicrous eyebrows rose. "The criminal classes! What an
extraordinary opportunity to study, as it were, at first hand! You agree?
I knew you would! Let him stay. If he bores me, I will send him away."

Margaret went back, a little disappointed, feeling rather foolish if the
truth be told. She found Ravini waiting, caressing his moustache, a
little less assured than he had been when she had left him.

"Mr. Daver said you may stay. I will send the housekeeper to you," she
said, and went in search of Mrs. Burton, and gave that doleful woman the
necessary instructions.

She was angry with herself that she had not been more explicit in dealing
with Mr. Daver. She might have told him that if Ravini stayed she would
leave. She might even have explained the reason why she did not wish the
Italian to remain in the house. She was in the fortunate position,
however, that she had not to see the guests unless they expressed a wish
to interview her, and Ravini was too wise to pursue his advantage.

That night, when she went to her room, she sat down and wrote a long
letter to Mr. Reeder, but thought better of it and tore it up. She could
not run to J. G. Reeder every time she was annoyed. He had a sufficiency
of trouble, she decided, and here she was right. Even as she wrote, Mr.
Reeder was examining with great interest the spring gun which had been
devised for his destruction.

6

To do Ravini justice, he made no attempt to approach the girl, though she
had seen him at a distance. He had passed her on the lawn the second day
after his arrival with no more than a nod and a smile, and, indeed, he
seemed to have found another diversion, if not another objective, for he
was scarcely away from Olga Crewe's side. Margaret saw them in the
evening, leaning over the cliff wall, and George Ravini seemed remarkably
pleased with himself. He was exhibiting his famous Luck Stones to Olga.
Margaret saw her examine the rings and evidently make some remark upon
them which sent Ravini into fits of laughter.

It was on the third day of his stay that he spoke to Margaret. They met
in the big hall, and she would have passed on, but he stood in her way.

"I hope we're not going to be bad friends, Miss Belman," he said. "I'm
not giving you any trouble, and I'm ready to apologise for the past.
Could a gentleman be fairer than that?"

"I don't think you've anything to apologise for, Mr. Ravini," she said, a
little relieved by his tone, and more inclined to be civil. "Now that you
have so obviously found another interest in life, are you enjoying your
stay?"

"It's perfectly marvellous," he said conventionally, for he was a man who
loved superlatives. "And say, Miss Belman, who is this young lady staying
here, Miss Olga Crewe?"

"She's a guest: I know nothing about her."

"What a peach!" he said enthusiastically, and Margaret was amused.

"And a lady, every inch of her," he went on. "I must say I'm putty in the
hands of real ladies! There's something about 'em that's different from
shop-girls and typists and people of that kind. Not that you're a
typist," he went on hastily. "I regard you as a lady too. Every inch of
one. I'm thinking about sending for my Rolls to take her for a drive
round the country. You're not jealous?"

Anger and amusement struggled for expression, but Margaret's sense of
humour won, and she laughed long and silently all the way to her office.

Soon after this Mr. Ravini disappeared. So also did Olga. Margaret saw
them coming into the hall about eleven, and the girl looked paler than
usual, and, sweeping past her without a word, ran up the stairs. Margaret
surveyed the young man curiously. His face was flushed, his eyes of an
unusual brightness.

"I'm going up to town to-morrow," he said. "Early train...you needn't
'phone for a cab: I can walk down the hill." He was almost incoherent.

"You're tired of Larmes Keep?"

"Eh? Tired? No, by God I'm not! This is the place for me!"

He smoothed back his dark hair and she saw his hand trembling so much
that the Luck Stones flickered and flashed like fire. She waited until he
had disappeared, and then she went upstairs and knocked at Olga's door.
The girl's room was next to hers. "Who's that?" asked a voice sharply.
"Miss Belman." The key turned, the door opened. Only one light was
burning in the room, so that Olga's face was in shadow.

"Do you want anything?" she asked.

"Can I come in?" asked Margaret. "There's something I wish to say to
you."

Olga hesitated. Then; "Come in," she said. "I've been snivelling. I hope
you don't mind."

Her eyes were red, the stains of tears were still on her face.

"This damned place depresses me awfully," she excused herself as she
dabbed her cheeks with a handkerchief. "What do you want to see me
about?"

"Mr. Ravini. I suppose you know he is a--crook?"

Olga stared at her and her eyes went hard.

"I don't know that I am particularly interested in Mr. Ravini," she said
slowly. "Why do you come to tell me this?"

Margaret was in a dilemma.

"I don't know...I thought you were getting rather friendly with him...
it was very impertinent of me."

"I think it was," said Olga Crewe coldly, and the rebuff was such that
Margaret's face went scarlet.

She was angry with herself when she went into her own room that night,
and anger is a bad bedmate, and the most wakeful of all human emotions.
She tossed from side to side in her bed, tried to forget there were such
persons as Olga Crewe and George Ravini, tried every device she could
think of to induce sleep, and was almost successful when...

She sat up in bed. Fingers were scrabbling on the panel of her door; not
exactly scratching nor tapping. She switched on the light, and, getting
out of bed, walked to the door and listened. Somebody was there. The
handle turned in her hand.

"Who's there?" she asked.

"Let me in, let me in!..."

It was a frantic whisper, but she recognised the voice--Ravini!

"I can't let you in. Go away, please, or I'll telephone..."

She heard a sound, a curious muffled sound...sobbing...a man! And then
the voice ceased. Her heart racing madly, she stood by the door, her ear
to the panel, listening, but no other sound came. She spent the rest of
the night sitting up in bed, a quilt about her shoulders, listening,
listening...

Day broke greyly; the sun came up. She lay down and fell asleep. It was
the maid bringing tea that woke her, and, getting out of bed, she opened
the door. Something attracted her attention.

"A nice morning, miss," said the fresh-faced country girl brightly.

Margaret nodded. As soon as the girl was gone she opened the door again
to examine more closely the thing she had seen. It was a triangular patch
of stuff that had been torn and caught in one of the splinters of the old
oaken door. She took it off carefully and laid it in the palm of her
hand. A jagged triangle of pink silk. She put it on her dressing-table
wonderingly. There must be an end to this. If Ravini was not leaving that
morning, or Mr. Daver would not ask him to go, she would leave for London
that night.

As she left her room she met the housemaid.

"That man in No. 7 has gone, miss," the woman reported, "but he's left
his pyjamas behind."

"Gone already?"

"Must have gone last night, miss. His bed hasn't been slept in."

Margaret followed her along the passage to Ravini's room. His bag was
gone, but on the pillow, neatly folded, was a suit of pink silk pyjamas,
and, bending over, she saw that the breast was slightly torn. A little
triangular patch of pink silk had been ripped out!

7

WHEN a nimble old man dropped from a high wall at midnight and, stopping
only to wipe the blood from his hands--for he had come upon a guard
patrolling the grounds in his flight--and walked briskly towards London,
peering into every side lane for the small car that had been left for
him, he brought a new complication into many lives and for three people
at least marked the date of their passing in the Book of Fate.

Police headquarters were not slow to employ the press to advertise their
wants. But the escape from Broadmoor of a homicidal maniac is something
which is not to be rushed immediately into print. Not once, but many
times had the help of the public been enlisted in a vain endeavour to
bring old John Flack to justice. His description had been circulated, his
haunts notified, without there being any successful issue to the
broadcast.

There was a conference at Scotland Yard, which Mr. Reeder attended; and
they were five very serious men who gathered round the superintendent's
desk, and mainly the talk was of bullion and of "noses" by which
inelegant term is meant the inevitable police informer.

Crazy John "fell" eventually through the treachery of an outside helper.
Ravini, the most valuable of gang leaders, had been employed to "cover" a
robbery at the Leadenhall Bank. Bullion was John Flack's speciality: it
was not without its interest for Mr. Ravini.

The theft had been successful. One Sunday morning two cars drove out of
the courtyard of the Leadenhall Bank. By the side of the driver of each
car sat a man in the uniform of the Metropolitan Police--inside each car
was another officer. A city policeman saw the cars depart, but accepted
the presence of the uniformed men and did not challenge the drivers. It
was not an unusual event: transfers of gold or stocks on Sunday morning
had been witnessed before, but usually the City authorities were
notified. He called Old Jewry station on the telephone to report the
occurrence, but by this time John Flack was well away.

It was Ravini, cheated, as he thought, of his fair share of the plunder,
who betrayed the old man--the gold was never recovered.

England had been ransacked to find John FIack's headquarters, but without
success. There was not an hotel or boarding-house keeper who had not
received his portrait--nor one who recognised him in any guise.

The exhaustive inquiries which followed his arrest did little to increase
the knowledge of the police. FIack's lodgings were found--a furnished
room in Bloomsbury which he had occupied at rare intervals for years. But
here were discovered no documents which gave the slightest clue to the
real headquarters of the gang. Probably they had none. They were chosen
and discarded as opportunity arose or emergency dictated, though it was
clear that the old man had something in the nature of a general staff to
assist him.

"Anyway," said Big Bill Gordon, Chief of the Big Five, "he'll not start
anything in the way of a bullion steal--his mind will be fully occupied
with ways and means of getting out of the country."

It was Mr. Reeder's head which shook.

"The nature of criminals may change, but their vanities persist," he
said, in his precise, grandiloquent way. "Mr. Flack does not pride
himself upon his murders, but upon his robberies, and he will signify his
return to freedom in the usual manner."

"His gang is scattered--" began Simpson. J. G. Reeder silenced him with a
sad, sweet smile.

"There is plenty of evidence, Mr. Simpson, that the gang has coagulated
again. It is--um--an ugly word, but I can think of no better. Mr. FIack's
escape from the--er--public institution where he was confined shows
evidence of good team-work. The rope, the knife with which he killed the
unfortunate warder, the kit of tools, the almost certainty that there was
a car waiting to take him away, are all symptomatic of gang work. And
what has Mr. Flack--"

"I wish to God you wouldn't call him 'Mr. Flack,'" said Big Bill
explosively.

J. G. Reeder blinked.

"I have an ineradicable respect for age," he said in a hushed voice, "but
a greater respect for the dead. I am hoping to increase my respect for
Mr. Flack in the course of the next month."

"If it's gang work," interrupted Simpson, "who are with him? The old crowd
is either gaoled or out of the country. I know what you're thinking
about, Mr. Reeder: you've got your mind on what happened last night. I've
been thinking it over, and it's quite likely that the man-trap wasn't
fixed by Flack at all, but by one of the other crowd. Do you know
Donovan's out of Dartmoor? He has no reason for loving you."

Mr. Reeder raised his hand in protest.

"On the contrary, Joe Donovan, when I saw him in the early hours of this
morning, was a very affable and penitent man, who deeply regretted the
unkind things he said of me as he left the Old Bailey dock. He lives at
Kilburn, and spent last evening at a local cinema with his wife and
daughter--no, it wasn't Donovan. He is not a brainy man. Only John Flack,
with his dramatic sense, could have staged that little comedy which was
so nearly a tragedy."

"You were nearly killed, they tell me, Reeder?" said Big Bill.

Mr. Reeder shook his head.

"I was not thinking of that particular tragedy. It was in my mind before
I went up the stairs to force the door into the kitchen. If I had done
that, I think I should have shot Mr. Flack, and there would have been an
end of all our speculations and troubles."

Mr. Simpson was examining some papers that were on the table before him.

"If Flack's going after bullion he's got very little chance. The only big
movement is that of a hundred and twenty thousand sovereigns which goes
to Tilbury to-morrow morning or the next day from the Bank of England,
and it is impossible that Flack could organise a steal at such short
notice."

Mr. Reeder was suddenly alert and interested.

"A hundred and twenty thousand sovereigns," he murmured, rubbing his chin
irritably. "Ten tons. It goes by train?"

"By lorry, with ten armed men--one per ton," said Simpson humorously, "I
don't think you need worry about that."

Mr. J. G. Reeder's lips were pursed as though he were whistling, but no
sound issued. Presently he spoke.

"Flack was originally a chemist," he said slowly. "I don't suppose there
is a better criminal chemist in England than Mr. Flack."

"Why do you say that?" asked Simpson with a frown.

Mr. Reeder shrugged his shoulders.

"I have a sixth sense," he said, almost apologetically, "and invariably I
associate some peculiar quality with every man and woman who--um--passes
under review. For example, Mr. Simpson, when I think of you, I have an
instinctive, shadowy thought of a prize ring where I first had the
pleasure of seeing you." (Simpson, who had been an amateur welter-weight,
grinned appreciatively.) "And my mind never rests upon Mr. Flack except
in the surroundings of a laboratory with test tubes and all the
paraphernalia of experimental chemistry. As for the little affair last
night, I was not unprepared for it, but I suspected a trap--literally
a--um--trap. Some evilly-disposed person once tried the same trick with
me; cut away the landing so that I should fall upon very unpleasant sharp
spikes. I looked for sawdust the moment I went into the house, and when
that was not present I guessed the gun."

"But how did you know there was anything?" asked Big Bill curiously.

Mr. Reeder smiled.

"I have a criminal mind," he said.

He went back to his flat in Bennett Street, his mind equally divided
between Margaret Belman, safe in Sussex, and the ability of one normal
trolley to carry a hundred and twenty thousand sovereigns. Such little
details interested Mr. Reeder. Almost the first thing he did when he
reached his flat was to call up a haulage contractor to discover whether
such trucks were in use. For somehow he knew that if the Flack gang were
after this shipment to Australia, it was necessary that the gold should
be carried in one vehicle. And why he should think this, not even Mr.
Reeder knew. But he had, as he said, a criminal mind.

That afternoon he addressed himself to a novel and not unpleasing task.
It was a letter--the first letter he had written to Margaret Belman--and
in its way it was a curiosity.

My dear Miss Margaret (it began), I trust you will not be annoyed that I
should write to you: but certain incidents which disfigured perhaps our
parting, and which may cause you (I say this, knowing your kind heart) a
little unhappiness, induce this letter--

Mr. Reeder paused here to discover a method by which he could convey his
regret at not seeing her, without offering an embarrassing revelation of
his more secret thoughts. At five o'clock, when his servant brought in
his tea, he was still sitting before the unfinished letter. Mr. Reeder
took up the cup, carried it to his writing-table, and stared at it as
though for inspiration.

And then he saw, on the surface of the steaming cup, a thread-like
formation of froth which had a curious metallic quality. He dipped his
forefinger delicately in the froth and put his finger to his tongue.

"Hum!" said Mr. Reeder, and rang the bell.

His man came instantly.

"Is there anything you want, sir?" He bent his head respectfully, and for
a long time Mr. Reeder did not answer.

"The milk, of course!" he said.

"The milk, sir?" said the puzzled servant. "The milk's fresh, sir: it
came this afternoon."

"You did not take it from the milkman, naturally. It was in a bottle
outside the door."

The man nodded.

"Yes, sir."

"Good!" said Mr. Reeder, almost cheerfully. "In future will you arrange
to receive the milk from the milkman's own hands? You have not drunk any
yourself, I see?"

"No, sir. I have had my tea, but I don't take milk with it, sir," said
the servant, and Mr. Reeder favoured him with one of his rare smiles.

"That, Peters," he said, "is why you are alive and well. Bring the rest
of the milk to me, and a new cup of tea. I also will dispense with the
lacteal fluid."

"Don't you like milk, sir?" said the bewildered man.

"I like milk," replied Mr. Reeder gently, "but I prefer it without
strychnine. I think, Peters, we're going to have a very interesting week.
Have you any dependants?"

"I have an old mother, sir," said the mystified man.

"Are you insured?" asked Mr. Reeder, and Peters nodded dumbly.

"You have the advantage of me," said J. G. Reeder. "Yes, I think we are
going to have an interesting week." And his prediction was fully
justified.

8

LONDON heard the news of John FIack's escape and grew fearful or
indignant according to its several temperaments. A homicidal planner of
great and spectacular thefts was in its midst. It was not very pleasant
hearing for law-abiding citizens. And the news was more than a week old:
why had Scotland Yard not taken the public into its confidence? Why
suppress this news of such vital interest? Who was responsible for the
suppression of this important information? Headlines asked these
questions in the more sensational sheets. The news of the Bennett Street
outrage was public property: to his enormous embarrassment, Mr. Reeder
found himself a Matter of Public Interest.

Mr. Reeder used to sit alone in his tiny bureau at the Public
Prosecutor's Office and for hours on end do little more than twiddle his
thumbs and gaze disconsolately at the virgin white of his blotting-pad.

In what private day-dreams he indulged, whether they concerned fabulous
fortunes and their disposition, or whether they centred about a very
pretty pink-and-white young lady, or whether indeed he thought at all and
his mind was not a complete blank, those who interrupted his reveries and
had the satisfaction of seeing him start guiltily had no means of
knowing.

At this particular moment his mind was, in truth, completely occupied by
his newest as well as his oldest enemy.

There were three members of the Flack gang originally--John, George, and
Augustus--and they began operations in the days when it was considered
scientific and a little wonderful to burn out the lock of a safe.
Augustus Flack was killed by the night watchman of Carr's Bank in Lombard
Street during an attempt to rob the gold vault, George Flack, the
youngest of the three, was sent to penal servitude for ten years as the
result of a robbery in Bond Street, and died there; and only John, the
mad master-mind of the family, escaped detection and arrest.

It was he who brought into the organisation one O. Sweizer, the Yankee
bank-smasher; he who recruited Adolphe Victoire; and those brought others
to the good work. For this was Crazy Jack's peculiar asset--that he could
attract to himself, almost at a minute's notice, the best brains of the
underworld. Though the rest of the Flacks were either dead or gaoled, the
organisation was stronger than ever, and strongest because lurking
somewhere in the background was this kinky brain.

Thus matters stood when Mr. J. G. Reeder came into the case--being
brought into the matter not so much because the London police had failed,
but because the Public Prosecutor recognised that the breaking up of the
Flacks was going to be a lengthy business, occupying one man's complete
attention.

Cutting the tentacles of the organisation was an easy matter,
comparatively.

Mr. Reeder took O. Sweizer, that stocky Swiss-American, when he and a man
unknown were engaged in removing a safe from the Bedford Street
post-office one Sunday morning. Sweizer was ready for fight, but Mr.
Reeder grabbed him just a little too quickly.

"Let up!" gasped Sweizer in Italian. "You're choking me, Reeder."

Mr. Reeder turned him on to his face and handcuffed him behind, then he
lifted him by the scruff of his neck and went to the assistance of his
admirable colleagues who were taking the other two men.

Victoire was arrested one night at the Charlton, when he was dining with
Denver May. He gave no trouble, because the police took him on a purely
fictitious charge and one which he knew he could easily disprove.

"My dear Mr. Reeder," said he in his elegant, languid way, "you are
making quite an absurd mistake, but I will humour you. I can prove that
when the pearls were taken from Hertford Street I was in Nice."

This was on the way to the station.

They put him in the dock and searched him, discovering certain lethal
weapons handily disposed about his person, but he was only amused. He was
less amused when he was charged with smashing the Bank of Lens, the
attempted murder of a night watchman, and one or two other little matters
which need not be particularised.

They got him into the cells, and as he was carried, struggling and raving
like a lunatic, Mr. Reeder offered him a piece of advice which he
rejected with considerable violence.

"Say you were in Nice at the time," he said gently.

Then one day the police pulled in a man in Somers Town, on the very
prosaic charge of beating his wife in public. When they searched him they
found a torn scrap of a letter, which was sent at once to Mr. Reeder. It
ran:

Any night about eleven in Whitehall Avenue. Reeder is a man of medium
height, elderly-looking, sandy-greyish hair and side-whiskers rather
thick, always carries an umbrella. Recommendation to wear rubber boots
and take a length of iron to him. You can easily find out who he is and
what he looks like. Take your time...fifty on acc...der when the job
is finished.

This was the first hint Mr. Reeder had that he was especially unpopular
with the mysterious John Flack.

The day Crazy Jack was sent down to Broadmoor had been a day of mild
satisfaction for Mr. Reeder. He was not exactly happy or even relieved
about it. He had the comfort of an accountant who had signed a
satisfactory balance-sheet, or the builder who was surveying his finished
work. There were other balance-sheets to be signed, other buildings to be
erected--they differed only in their shapes and quantities.

One thing was certain, that on what other project Flack's mind was fixed,
he was devoting a considerable amount of thought to J. G. Reeder--whether
in reprisal for events that had passed or as a precautionary measure to
check his activities in the future, the detective could only guess: but
he was a good guesser.

The telephone bell, set in a remote corner of the room, rang sharply. Mr.
Reeder took up the instrument with a pained expression. The operator of
the office exchange told him that there was a call from Horsham. He
pulled a writing-pad towards him and waited. And then a voice spoke, and
hardly was the first word uttered when he knew his man, for J. G. Reeder
never forgot voices.

"That you, Reeder?...Know who I am?..."

The same thin, tense voice that had babbled threats from the dock of the
Old Bailey, the same little chuckling laugh that punctured every second.

Mr. Reeder touched a bell and began to write rapidly on his pad.

"Know who I am--I'll bet you do! Thought you'd got rid of me, didn't you,
but you haven't!...Listen, Reeder, you can tell the Yard I'm busy--I'm
going to give them the shock of their lives. Mad, am I? I'll show you
whether I'm mad or not...And I'll get you, Reeder..."

A messenger came in. Mr. Reeder tore off the slip and handed it to him
with an urgent gesture. The man read and bolted from the room.

"Is that Mr. Flack?" asked Reeder softly.

"Is it Mr. Flack, you old hypocrite!...Have you got the parcel? I
wondered if you had. What do you think of it?"

"The parcel?" said Reeder, gentlier than ever, and before the man could
reply: "You will get into serious trouble for trying to hoax the Public
Prosecutor's Office, my friend," said Mr. Reeder reproachfully. "You are
not Crazy John Flack...I know his voice. Mr. Flack spoke with a curious
Cockney accent which is not easy to imitate, and Mr. Flack at this moment
is in the hands of the police."

He counted on the effect of this provocative speech, and he had made no
mistake.

"You lie!" screamed the voice. "You know I'm Flack...Crazy Jack, eh?...
Crazy old John Flack...Mad, am I? You'll learn!...you put me in that
hell upon earth, and I'm going to serve you worse than I treated that
damned dago..."

The voice ceased abruptly. There was a click as the receiver was put
down. Reeder listened expectantly, but no other call came through. Then
he rang the bell again and the messenger returned.

"Yes, sir, I got through straight away to the Horsham police station. The
inspector is sending three men in a car to the post-office."

Mr. Reeder gazed at the ceiling. "Then I fear he has sent too late," he
said. "The venerable bandit will have gone."

A quarter of an hour later came confirmation of his prediction. The
police had arrived at the post office, but the bird had flown. The clerk
did not remember anybody old or wild-looking booking a call; he thought
that the message had not come from the post office itself, which was also
the telephone exchange, but from an outlying call-box.

Mr. Reeder went in to report to the Public Prosecutor, but neither he nor
his assistant was in the office. He rang up Scotland Yard and passed on
his information to Simpson.

"I respectfully suggest that you should get into touch with the French
police and locate Ravini. He may not be in Paris at all."

"Where do you think he is?" asked Simpson.

"That," replied Mr. Reeder in a hushed voice, "is a question which has
never been definitely settled in my mind. I should not like to say that
he was in heaven, because I cannot imagine Georgio Ravini with his Luck
Stones--"

"Do you mean that he's dead?" asked Simpson quickly.

"It is very likely; in fact, it is extremely likely."

There was a long silence at the other end of the telephone.

"Have you had the parcel?"

"That I am awaiting with the greatest interest," said Mr. Reeder, and
went back to his office to twiddle his thumbs and stare at his white
blotting-pad.

The parcel came at three o'clock that afternoon, when Mr. Reeder had
returned from his frugal lunch, which he invariably took at a large and
popular teashop in Whitehall. It was a very small parcel, about three
inches square; it was registered, and had been posted in London. He
weighed it carefully, shook it and listened, but the lightness of the
package precluded any possibility of there being concealed behind the
paper wrapping anything that bore a resemblance to an infernal machine.
He cut the paper tape that fastened it, took off the paper, and there was
revealed a small cardboard box such as jewellers employ. Removing the
lid, he found a small pad of cotton-wool, and in the midst of this three
gold rings, each with three brilliant diamonds. He put them on his
blotting-pad, and gazed at them for a long time.

They were George Ravini's Luck Stones, and for ten minutes Mr. Reeder sat
in a profound reverie, for he knew that George Ravini was dead, and it
did not need the card which accompanied the rings to know who was
responsible for the drastic and gruesome ending to Mr. Ravini's life. The
sprawling "J. F." on the little card was in Mr. Flack's writing, and the
three words "Your turn next" were instructive, even if they were not, as
they were intended to be, terrifying.

Half an hour later Mr. Reeder met Inspector Simpson by appointment at
Scotland Yard. Simpson examined the rings curiously, and pointed out a
small, dark-brown speck at the edge of one of the Luck Stones.

"I don't doubt that Ravini is dead," he said. "The first thing to
discover is where he went when he said he was going to Paris."

This task presented fewer difficulties than Simpson had imagined. He
remembered Lew Steyne and his association with the Italian, and a
telephone call put through to the City police located Lew in five
minutes.

"Bring him along in a taxi," said Simpson, and, as he hung up the
receiver: "The question is, what is Crazy Jack's coup? Murder on a large
scale, or just picturesque robbery?"

"I think the latter," said Mr. Reeder thoughtfully. "Murder, with Mr.
Flack, is a mere incidental to the--er--more important business of
money-making."

He pinched his lip thoughtfully.

"Forgive me if I seem to repeat myself, but I would again remind you that
Mr. Flack's speciality is bullion, if I remember aright," he said.
"Didn't he smash the strong room of the Megantic...bullion, hum!" He
scratched his chin and looked up over his glasses at Simpson.

The inspector shook his head.

"I only wish Crazy Jack was crazy enough to try to get out of the country
by steamer--he won't. And the Leadenhall Bank stunt couldn't be repeated
to-day. No, there's no chance of a bullion steal."

Mr. Reeder looked unconvinced.

"Would you ring up the Bank of England and find out if the money has gone
to Australia?" he pleaded.

Simpson pulled the instrument towards him, gave a number and, after five
minutes' groping through various departments, reached an exclusive
personage. Mr. Reeder sat, with his hands clasped about the handle of his
umbrella, a pained expression on his face, his eyes closed, and seemingly
oblivious of the conversation. Presently Simpson hung up the receiver.

"The consignment should have gone this morning, but the sailing of the
Olanic has been delayed by a stevedore strike--it goes to-morrow
morning," he reported. "The gold is taken on a lorry to Tilbury with a
guard. At Tilbury it is put into the Olanic's strong-room, which is the
newest and safest of its kind. I don't suppose that John will begin
operations there."

"Why not?" J. G. Reeder's voice was almost bland; his face was screwed
into its nearest approach to a smile. "On the contrary, as I have said
before, that is the very consignment I should expect Mr. Flack to go
after."

"I pray that you're a true prophet," said Simpson grimly. "I could wish
for nothing better."

They were still talking of Flack and his passion for ready gold when Mr.
Lew Steyne arrived in the charge of a local detective. No crook, however
hardened, can step into the gloomy approaches of Scotland Yard without
experiencing some uneasiness, and Lew's attempt to display his
indifference was rather pathetic.

"What's the idea, Mr. Simpson?" he asked, in a grieved tone. "I've done
nothing."

He scowled at Reeder, who was known to him, and whom he regarded, very
rightly, as being responsible for his appearance at this best-hated spot.

Simpson put a question, and Mr. Lew Steyne shrugged his shoulders.

"I ask you, Mr. Simpson, am I Ravini's keeper? I know nothing about the
Italian crowd, and Ravini's scarcely an acquaintance."

Mr. Reeder shook his head.

"You spent two hours with him last Thursday evening," he said, and Lew
was a little taken aback.

"I had a little bit of business with him, I admit," he said. "Over a
house I'm trying to rent--"

His shifty eyes had become suddenly steadfast; he was looking
open-mouthed at the three rings that lay on the table. Reeder saw him
frown, and then: "What are those?" asked Lew huskily. "They're not
Georgio's Luck Stones?"

Simpson nodded and pushed the little square of white paper on which they
lay towards the visitor.

"Do you know them?" he asked,

Lew picked up one of the rings and turned it round in his hand.

"What's the idea?" he asked suspiciously. "Ravini told me himself he
could never get these off."

And then, as the significance of their presence dawned upon him, he
gasped.

"What's happened to him?" he asked quickly. "Is he--"

"I fear," said Mr. Reeder soberly, "that Georgio Ravini is no longer with
us."

"Dead?" Lew almost shrieked the word. His yellow face went a chalky
white. "Where...who did it?..."

"That is exactly what we want to know," said Simpson. "Now, Lew, you've
got to spill it. Where is Ravini? He said he was going to Paris, I know,
but actually where did he go?"

The thief's eyes strayed to Mr. Reeder.

"He was after that 'bird,' that's all I know," he said sullenly.

"Which bird?" asked Simpson, but Mr. Reeder had no heed to have its
identity explained.

"He was after--Miss Belman?"

Lew nodded. "Yes, a girl he knew...she went down into the country to
take a job as hotel manager or something. I saw her go, as a matter of
fact. Ravini wanted to get better acquainted, so he went down to stay at
the hotel."

Even as he spoke, Mr. Reeder had reached for the telephone, and had given
the peculiar code word which is equivalent to a command for a clear line.

A high-pitched voice answered him.

"I am Mr. Daver, the proprietor...Miss Belman? I'm afraid she is out
just now. She will be back in a few minutes. Who is it speaking?"

Mr. Reeder replied diplomatically. He was anxious to get in touch with
George Ravini and for two minutes he allowed the voluble Mr. Daver to air
a grievance.

"Yes, he went in the early morning, without paying his bill..."

"I will come down and pay it," said Mr Reeder.

9

"THE point is," said Mr. Daver, "the only point--I think you will agree
with me here--that really has any interest for us, is that Mr. Ravini
left without paying his bill. This was the point I emphasised to a friend
of his who called me on the telephone this morning. That is to me the
supreme mystery of his disappearance--he left without paying his bill!"

He leaned back in his chair and beamed at the girl in the manner of one
who had expounded an unanswerable problem. With his finger-tips together
he had an appearance which was oddly reminiscent.

"The fact that he left behind a pair of pyjamas which are practically
valueless merely demonstrates that he left in a hurry. You agree with me?
I am sure you do. Why he should leave in a hurry is naturally beyond my
understanding. You say he was a crook: possibly he received information
that he had been detected."

"He had no telephone calls and no letters while he was here," insisted
Margaret.

Mr. Daver shook his head.

"That proves nothing. Such a man would have associates. I am sorry he has
gone. I hoped to have an opportunity of studying his type. And by the
way, I have discovered something about Flack--the famous John Flack--did
you know that he had escaped from the lunatic asylum? I gather from your
alarm that you didn't. I am an observer, Miss B. Years of study of this
fascinating subject have produced in me a sixth sense--the sense of
observation, which is atrophied in ordinary individuals."

He took a long envelope from his drawer and pulled out a small bundle of
press cuttings. These he sorted on to his table, and presently unfolded a
newspaper portrait of an elderly man and laid it before her.

"Flack." he said briefly.

She was surprised at the age of the man; the thin face, the grizzled
moustache and beard, the deep-set, intelligent eyes suggested almost
anything rather than that of a confirmed and dangerous criminal.

"My press-cutting agency supplied these," he said. "And here is another
portrait which may interest you, and in a sense the arrival of this
photograph is a coincidence. I am sure you will agree with me when I tell
you why. It is a picture of a man called Reeder."

Mr. Daver did not look up or he would have seen the red come to the
girl's face.

"A clever old gentleman attached to the Public Prosecutor's Department--"

"He is not very old," said Margaret coldly.

"He looks old," said Mr. Daver, and Margaret had to agree that the
newspaper portrait was not a very flattering one.

"This is the gentleman who was instrumental in arresting Flack, and the
coincidence--now what do you imagine the coincidence is?"

She shook her head.

"He's coming here to-day!"

Margaret Belman's mouth opened in amazement.

"I had a wire from him this afternoon saying he was coming to-night, and
asking if I could accommodate him. But for my interest in this case I
should not have known his name or had the slightest idea of his identity.
In all probability I should have refused him a room."

He looked up suddenly.

"You say he is not so old: do you know him? I see that you do. That is
even a more remarkable coincidence. I am looking forward with the utmost
delight to discussing with him my pet subject. It will be an intellectual
treat."

"I don't think Mr. Reeder discusses crime," she said. "He is rather
reticent on the subject."

"We shall see," said Mr. Daver, and from his manner she guessed that he
at any rate had no doubt that the man from the Public Prosecutor's Office
would respond instantly to a sympathetic audience.

Mr. Reeder came just before seven, and to her surprise he had abandoned
his frock-coat and curious hat and was almost jauntily attired in grey
flannels. He brought with him two very solid and heavy-looking steamer
trunks.

The meeting was not without its moment of embarrassment.

"I trust you will not think. Miss--um--Margaret, that I am being
indiscreet. But the truth is, I--um--am in need of a holiday."

He never looked less in need of a holiday; compared with the Reeder she
knew, this man was most unmistakably alert.

"Will you come to my office?" she said, a little unsteadily.

When they reached her bureau, Mr. Reeder opened the door reverently. She
had a feeling that he was holding his breath, and she was seized with an
almost uncontrollable desire to laugh. Instead, she preceded him into her
sanctum. When the door closed:

"I was an awful pig to you, Mr. Reeder," she began rapidly. "I ought to
have written...the whole thing was so absurd...the quarrel, I mean."

"The disagreement," murmured Mr. Reeder. "I am old-fashioned, I admit,
but an old man--"

"Forty-eight isn't old," she scoffed. "And why shouldn't you wear
side-whiskers? It was unpardonable of me...feminine curiosity: I wanted
to see how you looked."

Mr. Reeder raised his hand. His voice was almost gay.

"The fault was entirely mine, Miss Margaret. I am old-fashioned. You do
not think--er--it is indecorous, my paying a visit to Larmes Keep?"

He looked round at the door and lowered his voice.

"When did Mr. Ravini leave?" he asked.

She looked at him amazed.

"Did you come down about that?"

He nodded slowly.

"I heard he was here. Somebody told me. When did he go?"

Very briefly she told him the story of her night's experience, and he
listened, his face growing longer and longer, until she had finished.

"Before that, can you remember what happened? Did you see him the night
before he left?"

She knit her forehead and tried to remember.

"Yes," she said suddenly, "he was in the grounds, walking with Miss
Crewe. He came in rather late--"

"With Miss Crewe?" asked Reeder quickly. "Miss Crewe? Was that the rather
interesting young lady I saw playing croquet with a clergyman as I came
across the lawn?"

She looked at him in surprise.

"Did you come across the lawn? I thought you drove up to the front of the
house--"

"I descended from the vehicle at the top of the hill," Mr. Reeder hastily
explained. "At my age a little exercise is vitally necessary. The
approaches to the Keep are charming. A young lady, rather pale, with dark
eyes...hum!"

He was looking at her searchingly, his head a little on one side. "So she
and Ravini went out. Were they acquainted?"

She shook her head. "I don't think Ravini had met her until he came
here."

She went on to tell him of Ravini's agitation, and of how she had found
Olga Crewe in tears.

"Weeping...ah!" Mr. Reeder fondled his nose. "You have seen her since?"
And, when the girl shook her head: "She got up late the next morning--had
a headache possibly?" he asked eagerly, and her eyes opened in
astonishment.

"Why, yes. How did you know--"

But Mr. Reeder was not in an informative mood.

"The number of your room is--?"

"No. 4. Miss Crewe's is No, 5."

Reeder nodded.

"And Ravini was in No. 7: that is two doors away." Then, suddenly: "Where
have you put me?"

She hesitated.

"In No. 7. Those were Mr. Daver's orders. It is one of the best rooms in
the house. I warn you, Mr. Reeder, the proprietor is a criminologist, and
is most anxious to discuss his hobby."

"Delighted," murmured Mr. Reeder, but he was thinking of something else.
"Could I see Mr. Daver?"

The quarter-of-an-hour gong had already sounded, and she took him along
to the office in the annexe. Mr. Daver's desk was surprisingly tidy. He
was surveying an account-book through large horn-rimmed spectacles, and
looked up inquiringly as she came in.

"This is Mr. Reeder," she said, and withdrew.

For a second they looked at one another, the detective and the Puck-faced
little proprietor; and then, with a magnificent wave of his hand, Mr.
Daver invited his visitor to a seat.

"This is a very proud moment for me, Mr. Reeder," he said, and bent
himself double in a profound bow. "As an humble student of those great
authorities whose works, I have no doubt, are familiar to you, I am
honoured at this privilege of meeting one whom I may describe as a modern
Lombroso. You agree with me? I was certain you would."

Mr. Reeder looked up at the ceiling.

"Lombroso?" he repeated slowly. "An--um--Italian gentleman, I think? The
name is almost familiar."

Margaret Belman had not quite closed the door, and Mr. Daver rose and
shut it; returned to his chair with an outflung hand and seated himself.

"I am glad you have come. In fact, Mr. Reeder, you have relieved my mind
of a great unease. Ever since yesterday morning I have been wondering
whether I ought not to call up Scotland Yard, that splendid institution,
and ask them to despatch an officer to clear up this strange and possibly
revolting mystery."

He paused impressively.

"I refer to the disappearance of Mr. George Ravini, a guest of Larmes
Keep, who left this house at a quarter to five yesterday morning and was
seen making his way into Siltbury."

"By whom?" asked Mr. Reeder.

"By an inhabitant of Siltbury, whose name for the moment I forget.
Indeed, I never knew. I met him quite by chance walking down into the
town."

He leaned forward over his desk and stared owlishly into Mr. Reeder's
eyes.

"You have come about Ravini, have you not? Do not answer me: I see you
have! Naturally, one did not expect you to carry, so to speak, your heart
on your sleeve. Am I right? I think I am."

Mr. Reeder did not confirm this conclusion. He seemed strangely unwilling
to speak, and in ordinary circumstances Mr. Daver would not have resented
this diffidence.

"Very naturally I do not wish a scandal to attach to this house," he
said, "and I may rely upon your discretion. The only matter which touches
me is that Ravini left without paying his bill; a small and unimportant
aspect of what may possibly be a momentous case. You see my point of
view? I am certain that you do."

He paused, and now Mr. Reeder spoke. "At a quarter to five," he said
thoughtfully, as though speaking to himself, "it was scarcely light, was
it?"

"The dawn was possibly breaking o'er the sea," said Mr. Daver poetically.

"Going to Siltbury? Carrying his bag?" Mr. Daver nodded.

"May I see his room?"

Daver came to his feet with a flourish. "That is a request I expected,
and it is a reasonable request. Will you follow me?"

Mr. Reeder followed him through the great hall which was occupied solely
by a military-looking gentleman, who cast a quick sidelong glance at him
as he passed. Mr. Daver was leading the way to the wide stairs when Mr.
Reeder stopped and pointed. "How very interesting!" he said. The most
unlikely things interested Mr. Reeder. On this occasion the point of
interest was a large safe--larger than any safe he had seen in a private
establishment. It was six feet in height and half that width, and it was
fitted under the first flight of stairs.

"What is it?" asked Mr. Daver, and turned back.

His face screwed up into a smile when he saw the object of the
detective's attention.

"Ah! My safe! I have many rare and valuable documents which I keep here.
It is a French model, you will observe--too large for my modest
establishment, you will say? I agree. Sometimes, however, we have very
rich people staying here...jewels and the like...it would take a very
clever burglar to open that, and yet I, with a little key--"

He drew a chain from his pocket and fitted one of the keys at the end
into a thin keyhole, turned a handle, and the heavy door swung open.

Mr. Reeder peeped in curiously. On the two steel shelves at the back of
the safe were three small tin boxes--otherwise the safe was empty. The
doors were of an extraordinary thickness, and their inner face smooth
except for a slab of steel the object of which apparently was to back and
strengthen the lock. All this he saw at once, but he saw something else.
The white enamelled floor of the safe was brighter in hue than the walls.
Only a man of Mr. Reeder's powers of observation would have noticed this
fact. And the steel slab at the back of the lock? Mr. Reeder knew quite
a lot about safes.

"A treasure-house--it almost makes me feel rich," chuckled Mr. Daver as
he locked the door and led the way up the stairs. "The psychology of it
will appeal to you, Mr. Reeder!"

At the head of the stairs they came to a broad corridor; Daver, stopping
before the door of No. 7, inserted a key.

"This is also your room," he explained. "I had a feeling, which amounted
almost to a certainty, that your visit was not wholly unconnected with
this curious disappearance of Mr. Ravini, who left without paying his
bill." He chuckled a little and apologised. "Excuse me for my insistence
upon this point, but it touches me rather nearly."

Mr. Reeder followed his host into the big room. It was panelled from
ceiling to floor and furnished with a luxury which surprised him. The
articles of furniture were few, but there was not one which a connoisseur
would not have noted with admiration. The four-poster bed was Jacobean;
the square of carpet was genuine Teheran; a dressing-table with a settle
before it was also of the Jacobean period.

"That was his bed, where the pyjamas were found."

Mr. Daver pointed dramatically. But Mr. Reeder was looking at the
casement windows, one of which was open.

He leaned out and looked down, and immediately began to take in the view.
He could see Siltbury lying in the shadow of the downs, its lights just
then beginning to twinkle; but the view of the Siltbury road was shut out
by a belt of firs. To the left he had a glimpse of the hill road up which
his cab had climbed.

Mr. Reeder came out from the room and cast his eyes up and down the
corridor.

"This is a very beautiful house you have, Mr. Daver," he said.

"You like it? I was sure you would!" said Mr. Daver enthusiastically.
"Yes, it is a delightful property. To you it may seem a sacrilege that I
should use it as a boarding-house, but perhaps our dear young friend Miss
Belman has explained that it is a hobby of mine. I hate loneliness; I
dislike intensely the exertion of making friends. My position is unique;
I can pick and choose my guests."

Mr. Reeder was looking aimlessly towards the head of the stairs.

"Did you ever have a guest named Holden?" he asked.

Mr. Daver shook his head.

"Or a guest named Willingto? Two friends of mine who may have come
here about eight years ago?"

"No," said Mr. Daver promptly. "I never forget names. You may inspect
our guest-list for the past twelve years at any time you wish. Would
they be likely to come for any reason"--Mr. Daver was amusingly
embarrassed--"in other names than their own? No, I see they wouldn't."

As he was speaking, a door at the far end of the corridor opened and
closed instantly. Mr. Reeder, who missed nothing, caught one glimpse of a
figure before the door shut.

"Whose room is that?" he asked.

Mr. Daver was genuinely embarrassed this time.

"That," he said, with a nervous little cough, "is my suite. You saw Mrs.
Burton, my housekeeper--a quiet, rather sad soul, who has had a great
deal of trouble in her life."

"Life," said Mr. Reeder tritely, "is full of trouble," and Mr. Daver
agreed with a sorrowful shake of his head.

Now, the eyesight of J. G. Reeder was peculiarly good, and though he had
not as yet met the housekeeper, he was quite certain that the rather
beautiful face he had glimpsed for a moment did not belong to any sad
woman who had seen a lot of trouble. As he dressed leisurely for dinner,
he wondered why Miss Olga Crewe had been so anxious that she should not
be seen coming from the proprietor's suite. A natural and proper modesty,
no doubt; and modesty was the quality in woman of which Mr. Reeder most
heartily approved.

He was struggling with his tie when Daver, who seemed to have constituted
himself a sort of personal attendant, knocked at the door and asked
permission to come in. He was a little breathless, and carried a number
of press cuttings in his hand.

"You were talking about two gentlemen, Mr. Willington and Mr. Holden," he
said. "The names seemed rather familiar. I had the irritating sense of
knowing them without knowing them, if you understand, dear Mr. Reeder?
And then I recalled the circumstances." He flourished the press cuttings.
"I saw their names here."

Mr. Reeder, staring at his reflection in the glass, adjusted his tie
nicely.

"Here?" he repeated mechanically, and, looking round, accepted the
printed slips which his host thrust upon him.

"I am, as you probably know, Mr. Reeder, a humble disciple of Lombroso
and of those other great criminologists who have elevated the study of
abnormality to a science. It was Miss Belman who quite unconsciously
directed my thoughts to the Flack organisation, and during the past day
or two I have been getting a number of particulars concerning those
miscreants. The names of Holden and Willington occur. They were two
detectives who went out in search of Flack and never returned--I remember
their disappearance very well now the matter is recalled to my mind.
There was also a third gentleman who disappeared."

Mr. Reeder nodded.

"Ah, you remember?" said Mr. Daver triumphantly. "Naturally you would. A
lawyer named Biggerthorpe, who was called from his office one day on some
excuse, and was never seen again. May I add "--he smiled
good-humouredly--"that Mr. Biggerthorpe has never stayed here? Why should
you imagine he had, Mr. Reeder?"

"I never did." Mr. Reeder gave blandness for blandness. "Biggerthorpe? I
had forgotten him. He was an important witness against Flack if he'd ever
been caught--hum!" And then: "You are a student of criminal practices,
Mr. Daver?"

"A humble one," said Mr. Daver, and his humility was manifest in his
attitude.

And then he suddenly dropped his voice to a hoarse whisper.

"Shall I tell you something, Mr. Reeder?"

"You may tell me," said Mr. Reeder, as he buttoned his waistcoat,
"anything that pleases you. I am in the mood for stories. In this
delightful atmosphere, amidst these beautiful surroundings, I should
prefer--um--fairy stories--or shall we say ghost stories? Is Larmes Keep
haunted, Mr. Daver? Ghosts are my speciality. I have probably seen and
arrested more ghosts than any other living representative of the law.
Some time I intend writing a monumental work on the subject. 'Ghosts I
have Seen, or a Guide to the Spirit World,' in sixty-three volumes. You
were about to say--?"

"I was about to say," said Mr. Daver, and his voice was curiously
strained, "that in my opinion Flack himself once stayed here. I have not
mentioned this fact to Miss Belman, but I am convinced in my mind that I
am not in error. Seven years ago,"--he was very impressive--"a grey-bearded,
rather thin-faced man came here at ten o'clock at night and asked for
a lodging. He had plenty of money, but this did not influence
me. Ordinarily I should have asked him to make the usual application, but
it was late, a bitterly cold and snowy night, and I hadn't the heart to
turn one of his age away from my door."

"How long did he stay?" asked Mr. Reeder. "And why do you think he was
Flack?"

"Because"--Daver's voice had sunk until it was an eerie moan--"he left
just as Ravini left--early one morning, without paying his bill, and left
his pyjamas behind him!"

Very slowly Mr. Reeder turned his head and surveyed the host.

"That comes into the category of humorous stories, and I am too hungry to
laugh," he said calmly. "What time do we dine?" The gong sounded at that
moment.

Margaret Belman usually dined with the other guests at a table apart. She
went red and felt more than a little awkward when Mr. Reeder came across
to her table, dragging a chair with him, and ordered another place to be
set. The other three guests dined at separate tables.

"An unsociable lot of people," said Mr. Reeder as he shook out his napkin
and glanced round the room.

"What do you think of Mr. Daver?"

J. G. Reeder smiled gently. "He is a very amusing person," he said, and
she laughed, but grew serious immediately.

"Have you found out anything about Ravini?"

Mr. Reeder shook his head. "I had a talk with the hall porter: he seems a
very honest and straightforward fellow. He told me that, when he came
down the morning after Ravini disappeared, the front door had been
unbolted and unlocked. An observant fellow. Who is Mrs. Burton?" he asked
abruptly.

"The housekeeper." Margaret smiled and shook her head. "She is rather a
miserable lady, who spends quite a lot of time hinting at the good times
she should be having, instead of being 'buried alive'--those are her
words--at Siltbury."

Mr. Reeder put down his knife and fork. "Dear me!" he said mildly. "Is
she a lady who has seen better days?"

Margaret laughed softly. "I should have thought she had never had such a
time as she is having now," she said. "She's rather common and terribly
illiterate. Her accounts that come up to me are fearful and wonderful
things! But seriously, I think she must have been in good circumstances.
The first night I was here I went into her room to ask about an account
I did not understand--of course it was a waste of time, for books are
mysteries to her--and she was sitting at a table admiring her hands."

"Hands?" he said.

She nodded. "Yes. They were covered with the most beautiful rings you
could possibly imagine," said Margaret, and was satisfied with the
impression she made, for Mr. Reeder dropped knife and fork to his plate
with a crash.

"Rings..?"

"Huge diamonds and emeralds. They took my breath away. The moment she saw
these she put her hand behind her, and the next morning she explained
that they were presents given to her by a theatrical lady who had stayed
here, and that they had no value."


"Props, in fact," said Mr. Reeder.

"What is a prop?" she asked curiously, and Mr. Reeder waggled his head,
and she had learnt that when he waggled his head in that fashion he was
advertising his high spirits and good humour.

After dinner he sent a waitress to find Mr. Daver, and when that
gentleman arrived Mr. Reeder had to tell him that he had a lot of work to
do, and request the loan of blotting-pad and a special writing-table for
his room. Margaret wondered why he had not asked her, but she supposed
that it was because he did not know that such things came into her
province.

"You're a great writer, Mr. Reeder--he, he!" Daver was convulsed at his
own little joke. "So am I! I am never happy without a pen in my hand.
Tell me, as a matter of interest, do you do your best work in the morning
or in the evening? Personally, it is a question that I have never decided
to my own satisfaction."

"I shall now write steadily till two o'clock," said Mr. Reeder, glancing
at his watch. "That is a habit of years. From nine to two are my writing
hours, after which I smoke a cigarette, drink a glass of milk--would you
be good enough to see that I have a glass of milk put in my room at
once?--and from two I sleep steadily till nine."

Margaret Belman was an interested and somewhat startled audience of this
personal confession. It was unusual in Mr. Reeder to speak of himself,
unthinkable that he should discuss his work. In all her life she had not
met an individual who was more reticent about his private affairs.
Perhaps the holiday spirit was on him, she thought. He was certainly
younger looking that evening than she had ever known him.

She went out to find Mrs. Burton and convey the wishes of the guest. The
woman accepted the order with a sniff.

"Milk? He looks the kind of person who drinks milk. He's nothing to be
afraid of!"

"Why should he be afraid?" asked Margaret sharply, but the reproach was
lost upon Mrs. Burton.

"Nobody likes detectives nosing about a place--do they, Miss Belman? And
he's not my idea of a detective."

"Who told you he was a detective?"

Mrs. Burton looked at her for a second from under her heavy lids, and
then jerked her head in the direction of Daver's office.

"He did," she said. "Detectives! And me sitting here, slaving from
morning till night, when I might be doing the grand in Paris or one of
them places, with servants to wait on me instead of me waiting on people.
It's sickening!"

Twice since she had been at Larmes Keep, Margaret had witnessed these
little outbursts of fretfulness and irritation. She had an idea that the
faded woman would like some excuse to make her a confidante, but the
excuse was neither found nor sought. Margaret had nothing in common with
this rather dull and terribly ordinary lady, and they could find no
mutual interest which would lead to the breakdown of the barriers. Mrs.
Burton was a weakling; tears were never far from her eyes or voice, nor
the sense of her mysterious grievances against the world far from her
mind.

"They treat me like dirt," she went on, her voice trembling with her
feeble anger, "and she treats me worst of all. I asked her to come and
have a cup of tea and a chat in my room the other day, and what do you
think she said?"

"Whom are you talking about?" asked Margaret curiously. It did not occur
to her that the "she" in question might be Olga Crewe--it would have
required a very powerful imagination to picture the cold and worldly Olga
talking commonplaces with Mrs. Burton over a friendly cup of tea; yet it
was of Olga that the woman spoke. But at the very suggestion that she was
being questioned her thin lips closed tight.

"Nobody in particular...milk, did you say? I'll take it up to him
myself."

Mr. Reeder was struggling into a dressing-jacket when she brought the
milk to him. One of the servants had already placed pen, ink and
stationery on the table, and there were two fat manuscript books visible
to any caller, and anticipating eloquently Mr. Reeder's literary
activities.

He took the tray from the woman's hand and put it on the table.

"You have a nice house, Mrs. Burton," he said encouragingly. "A beautiful
house. Have you been here long?"

"A few years," she answered.

She made to go, but lingered at the door. Mr. Reeder recognised the
symptoms. Discreet she might be, a gossip she undoubtedly was, aching for
human converse with any who could advance a programme of those
trivialities which made up her conversational life.

"No, sir, we never get many visitors here. Mr. Daver likes to pick and
choose."

"And very wise of Mr. Daver. By the way, which is his room?"

She walked through the doorway and pointed along the corridor.

"Oh, yes, I remember, he told me. A charming situation. I saw you coming
out this evening."

"You have made a mistake--I never go into his room," said the woman
sharply. "You may have seen--" She stopped, and added: "--somebody else.
Are you going to work late, sir?"

Mr. Reeder repeated in detail his plans for the evening.

"I would be glad if you would tell Mr. Daver that I do not wish to be
interrupted. I am a very slow thinker, and the slightest disturbance to
my train of thought is fatal to my--er--power of composition," he said,
as he closed the door upon her and, waiting until she had time to get
down the stairs, locked it and pushed home the one bolt.

He drew the heavy curtains across the open windows, pushed the
writing-table against the curtains, so that they could not blow back,
and, opening the two exercise books, so placed them that they formed a
shade that prevented the light falling upon the bed. This done, he
changed quickly into a lounge suit, and, lying on the bed, pulled the
coverlet over him and was asleep in five minutes.

Margaret Belman had it in her mind to send up to his room after eleven,
before she herself had retired, to discover whether there was anything he
wanted, but fortunately she changed her mind--fortunately, because Mr.
Reeder had planned to snatch five solid hours' sleep before he began his
unofficial inspection of the house, or alternatively before the period
arrived when it would be necessary that he should be wide awake.

At two o'clock on the second he woke and sat up on the edge of the bed,
blinking at the light. Opening one of his trunks, he took out a small
wooden box from which he drew a spirit stove and the paraphernalia of
tea-making. He lit the little lamp, and while the tiny tin kettle was
boiling he went to the bathroom, undressed, and lowered his shivering
body into a cold bath. He returned fully dressed, to find the kettle
boiling.

Mr. Reeder was a very methodical man; he was, moreover, a careful man.
All his life he had had a suspicion of milk. He used to wander round the
suburban streets in the early hours of the morning, watch the cans
hanging on the knockers, the bottles deposited in corners of doorsteps,
and ruminate upon the enormous possibilities for wholesale murder that
this light-hearted custom of milk delivery presented to the criminally
minded. He had calculated that a nimble homicide, working on systematic
lines, could decimate London in a month.

He drank his tea without milk, munched a biscuit, and then, methodically
clearing away the spirit-stove and kettle, he took from his grip a pair
of thick-soled felt slippers and drew them on his feet. In his trunk he
found a short length of stiff rubber, which, in the hands of a skilful
man, was as deadly a weapon as a knife. This he put in the inside pocket
of his jacket. He put his hand in the trunk again and brought out
something that looked like a thin rubber sponge-bag, except that it was
fitted with two squares of mica and a small metal nozzle. He hesitated
about this, turning it over in his hand, and eventually this went back
into the trunk. The stubby Browning pistol, which was his next find, Mr.
Reeder regarded with disfavour, for the value of firearms, except in the
most desperate circumstances, had always seemed to him to be
problematical.

The last thing to be extracted was a hollow bamboo, which contained
another, and was in truth the fishing-rod for which he had once expressed
a desire. At the end of the thinner was a spring loop, and after he had
screwed the two lengths together he fitted upon this loop a small
electric hand-lamp and carefully threaded the thin wires through the
eyelets of the rod, connecting them up with a tiny switch at the handle,
near where the average fisherman has his grip. He tested the switch,
found it satisfactory, and when this was done he gave a final look round
the room before extinguishing the table lamp.

In the broad light of day he would have presented a somewhat comic
figure, sitting cross-legged on his bed, his long fishing-rod reaching
out to the middle of the room and resting on the footboard; but at the
moment Mr. J. G. Reeder had no sense of the ridiculous, and moreover
there were no witnesses. From time to time he swayed the rod left and
right, like an angler making a fresh cast. He was very wide awake, his
ears tuned to differentiate between the normal noises of the night--the
rustle of trees, the soft purr of the wind--and the sounds which could
only come from human activity.

He sat for more than half an hour, his fishing-rod moving to and fro, and
then he was suddenly conscious of a cold draught blowing from the door.
He had heard no sound, not so much as the click of a lock; but he knew
that the door was wide open.

Noiselessly he drew in the rod till it was clear of the posts of the bed,
brought it round towards the door, paying out until it was a couple of
yards from where he sat--with one foot on the ground now, ready to leap
or drop, as events dictated.

The end of the rod met with no obstruction. Reeder held his breath...
listening. The corridor outside was heavily carpeted. He expected no
sound of footsteps. But people must breathe, thought Mr. Reeder, and it
is difficult to breathe noiselessly. Conscious that he himself was a
little too silent for a supposedly sleeping man, he emitted a lifelike
snore and gurgle which might be expected from a middle-aged man in the
first stages of slumber....

Something touched the end of the rod, pushing it aside. Mr. Reeder turned
the switch and a blinding ray of light leapt from the lamp and focused in
a circle on the opposite wall of the corridor.

The door was open, but there was nothing human in sight.

And then, despite his wonderful nerve, his flesh began to go goosey, and
a cold sensation tingled up his spine. Somebody was there--hiding...
waiting for the man who carried the lamp, as they thought, to emerge.

Reaching out at full arm's-length, he thrust the end of the rod through
the doorway into the corridor.

Swish!

Something struck the rod and snapped it. The lamp fell on the floor, lens
uppermost, and flooded the ceiling of the corridor. In an instant Reeder
was off the bed, moving swiftly, till he came to the cover afforded by
the wide-open door. Through the crack he had a limited view of what might
happen outside.

There was a deadly silence. In the hall downstairs a clock ticked
solemnly, whirred and struck the quarter to three. But there was no
movement; nothing came within the range of the upturned lamp, until...

He had just a momentary flash of vision. The thin, white face, the hairy
lips parted in a grin, wild, dirty white hair, and a bald crown, a short
bristle of white beard, a claw-like hand reaching for the lamp....

Pistol or rubber? Mr. Reeder elected for the rubber. As the hand closed
over the lamp he left the cover of the room and struck. He heard a snarl
like that of a wild beast, then the lamp was extinguished as the
apparition staggered back, snapping the thin wire.

The corridor was in darkness. He struck again and missed; the violence of
the stroke was such that he overbalanced and fell on one knee, and the
truncheon flew from his grasp. He threw out his hand, gripped an arm, and
with a quick jerk brought his capture into the room and switched on the
light.

A round, soft hand, covered with a silken sleeve....

As the lights leapt to life, he found himself looking into the pale face
of Olga Crewe!

10

FOR a moment they stared at one another, she fearful, he amazed. Olga
Crewe!

Then he became conscious that he was still gripping the arm, and let it
drop. The arm fascinated Mr. Reeder; he scarcely looked at anything else.

"I am very sorry," said Mr. Reeder. "Where did you come from?"

Her lips were quivering; she tried to speak, but no words came. Then she
mastered her momentary paralysis and began to speak, slowly, laboriously.

"I--heard--a noise--in--the--corridor--and--came--out. A
noise--I--was--frightened."

She was rubbing her arm mechanically; he saw a red weal where his hand
had gripped. The wonder was that he had not broken her arm.

"Is--anything--wrong?"

Every word was created and articulated painfully. She seemed to be
considering its formation before her tongue gave it sound.

"Where is the light-switch in the hall?" asked Mr. Reeder. This was a
more practical matter--he lost interest in her arm.

"Opposite my room."

"Turn it on," he said, and she obeyed meekly.

Only when the corridor was illuminated did he step out of the room, and
even then in some doubt, if the Browning in his hand meant anything.

"Is anything wrong?" she asked again. By now she had taken command of
herself. A little colour had come to her white face, but the live eyes
were still beholding terrible visions.

"Did you see anything in the passage?" he answered. She shook her head
slowly.

"No, I saw nothing--nothing. I heard a noise and I came out."

She was lying; he did not trouble to doubt this. She had had time to pull
on her slippers and find the flimsy wrap she wore, and the fight had not
lasted more than two seconds. Moreover, he had not heard her door open;
therefore it had been open all the time, and she had been spectator or
audience of all that had happened.

He went down the corridor, retrieved his rubber truncheon, and came back
to her. She was half standing, half leaning against the doorpost, rubbing
her arm. She was staring past him so intently that he looked round,
though there was nothing to be seen.

"You hurt me," she said simply.

"Did I? I'm sorry."

The mark on the white flesh had gone blue, and Mr. Reeder was naturally a
sympathetic man. Yet, if the truth be told, there was nothing of sorrow
in his mind at that moment. Regret, yes. But the regret had nothing to do
with her hurt.

"I think you'd better go to your bed, young lady. My nightmare is ended.
I hope yours will end as quickly, though I shall be surprised if it does.
Mine is for the moment; yours, unless I am greatly mistaken, is for
life!"

Her dark, inscrutable eyes did not leave his face as she spoke.

"I think it must have been a nightmare," she said. "Will it last all my
life? I think it will!"

With a nod she turned away, and presently he heard her door close and the
lock fasten. Mr. Reeder went back to the far side of his bed, pulled up a
chair and sat down. He did not attempt to close the door. Whilst his room
was in darkness and the corridor lighted, he did not expect a repetition
of his bad and substantial dream.

The rubber truncheon was a mistake, he admitted regretfully. He wished he
had not such a repugnance to a noisier weapon. He laid the pistol on the
cover of the bed within reach of his hand. If the bad dream came again--

Voices!

The murmur of a whispered colloquy and a fierce, hissing whisper that
dominated the others. Not in the corridor, but in the hall below. He
tiptoed to the door and listened.

Somebody laughed under his breath, a strange, blood-curdling little
mutter of a laugh; and then he heard a key turn and a door open and a
voice demand:

"Who is there?"

It was Margaret. Her room faced the head of the stairs, he remembered.
Slipping the pistol into his pocket, he ran round the end of the bed and
into the corridor. She was standing by the banisters, looking down into
the dark. The whispering voices had ceased. She saw him out of the corner
of her eye and turned with a start.

"What is wrong, Mr. Reeder? Who put the corridor light on? I heard
somebody speaking in the vestibule."

"It was only me."

His smile would in ordinary circumstances have been very reassuring, but
now she was frightened, childishly frightened. She had an insane desire
to cling to him and weep.

"Something has been happening here," she said. "I've been lying in bed
listening, and haven't had the courage to get up. I'm horribly scared,
Mr. Reeder."

He beckoned her to him, and as she came, wondering, he slipped past her
and took her place at the banisters. She saw him lean over and the light
from a hand-lamp sweep the space below.

"There's nobody there," he said airily.

She was whiter than he had ever seen her.

"There was somebody there," she insisted. "I heard their feet moving on
the tiled paving after you put on your flash-lamp."

"Probably Mrs. Burton," he suggested. "I thought I heard her voice--"

And now came a newcomer on the scene. Mr. Daver had appeared at the end
of the corridor. He wore a flowered silk dressing-gown buttoned up to his
chin.

"Whatever is the matter, Miss Belman?" he asked. "Don't tell me that he
tried to get into your window! I'm afraid you're going to tell me that! I
hope you're not, but I'm afraid you will! Dear me, what an unpleasant
thing to happen!"

"What has happened?" asked Mr. Reeder.

"I don't know, but I have an uncomfortable feeling that somebody has been
trying to break into this house," said Mr. Daver.

He was genuinely agitated; the girl could almost hear his teeth chatter.

"I heard somebody trying the catch of my window and looked out, and I'll
swear I saw--something! What a dreadful thing to happen! I have half a
mind to telephone for the police."

"An excellent idea," murmured Mr. Reeder, suddenly his old deferential
and agreeable self. "You were asleep, I suppose, when you heard the
noise?"

Mr. Daver hesitated.

"Not exactly asleep," he said. "Between sleeping and waking. I was very
restless to-night for some reason."

He put his hand to his throat, his dressing-gown had gaped for a second.
He was not quite quick enough.

"You were probably restless," said Mr. Reeder softly, "because you
omitted to take off your collar and tie. I know of nothing more
disturbing."

Mr. Daver made a characteristic grimace.

"I dressed myself rather hurriedly--" he began.

"Better to undress yourself hurriedly," chided Mr. Reeder, almost
playfully. "People who go to bed in stiff white collars occasionally
choke themselves to death. And there is sorrow in the home of the cheated
hangman. Your burglar probably saved your life."

Daver made as though to speak, suddenly retreated and slammed the door.

Margaret was looking at Mr. Reeder apprehensively.

"What is the mystery--was there a burglar?--Oh, please tell me the truth!
I shall get hysterical if you don't!"

"The truth," said Mr. Reeder, his eyes twinkling, "is very nearly what
that curious man told you--there was somebody in the house, somebody who
had no right to be here, but I think he has gone, and you can go to bed
without the slightest anxiety."

She looked at him oddly.

"Are you going to bed, too?"

"In a very few moments," said Mr. Reeder cheerfully.

She held out her hand with an impulsive gesture. He took it in both of
his.

"You are my idea of a guardian angel," she smiled, though she was near to
tears.

"I've never heard," said Mr. Reeder, "of guardian angels with
side-whiskers."

It was a mean advantage to take of her, yet he was ridiculously pleased
as he repeated his little jeu d'esprit to himself in the seclusion of his
room.

11

MR. REEDER closed the door, put on the lights, and set himself to unravel
the inexplicable mystery of its opening. Before he went to bed he had
shot home the bolt, had turned the key in the lock, and the key was still
on the inside. It struck him, as he turned it, that he had never heard a
lock that moved so silently, or a bolt that slipped so easily into its
groove. Both lock and bolt had been recently oiled. He began a scrutiny
of the inside face of the door, and found a simple solution of the
somewhat baffling incident of its opening.

The door consisted of eight panels, carved in small lozenge-shaped
ornaments. The panel immediately above the lock moved slightly when he
pressed it, but it was a long time before he found the tiny spring which
held it in place. When that was found, the panel opened like a miniature
door. He could thrust his hand through the aperture and slide back the
bolt with the greatest ease.

There was nothing very unusual or sinister about this. He knew that many
hotels and boarding-houses had methods by which a door could be unlocked
from the outside--a very necessary precaution in certain eventualities.
Mr. Reeder wondered whether he would find a similar safety panel on the
door of Margaret Belman's room.

By the time he had completed his inspection it was daylight, and, pulling
back the curtains, he drew a chair to the window and made a survey of as
much of the grounds as lay within his line of vision.

There were two or three matters which were puzzling him. If Larmes Keep
was the headquarters of the Flack gang, in what manner and for what
reason had Olga Crewe been brought into the confederation? He judged her
age at twenty-four; she had been a constant visitor, if not a resident,
at Larmes Keep for at least ten years, and he knew enough of the ways of
the underworld to realise that they did not employ children. Also she had
been to a public school of some kind, and that would have absorbed at
least four of the ten years--Mr. Reeder shook his head in doubt.

Nothing would happen now until dark, he decided and, stretching himself
upon the bed, he pulled the coverlet over him and slept till a tapping at
the door announced the coming of the maid with his morning tea.

She was a round-faced woman, just past her first youth, with a
disagreeable Cockney accent and the brusque and familiar manner of one
who was an indispensable part of the establishment. Mr. Reeder remembered
that the girl had waited on him at dinner.

"Why, sir, you haven't undressed!" she said.

"I seldom undress," said Mr. Reeder, sitting up and taking the tea from
her. "It is such a waste of time. For no sooner are your clothes off than
it is necessary to put them on again."

She looked at him hard, but he did not smile.

"You're a detective, ain't you? Everybody at the cottage knows that you
are. What have you come down about?"

Mr. Reeder could afford to smile cryptically. There was a suppressed
anxiety in the girl's voice.

"It is not for me, my dear young lady, to disclose your employer's
business."

"He brought you down? Well, he's got a nerve!"

Mr. Reeder put his finger to his lips.

"About the candlesticks?"

He nodded.

"He still thinks somebody in the house took them?"

Her face was very red, her eyes snapped angrily. Here was exposed one of
the minor scandals of the hotel.

It was not an uninteresting sidelight. For if ever guilt was written on a
woman's face it was on hers. What these candlesticks were and how they
disappeared, Mr. Reeder could guess. Petty larceny runs in well-defined
channels.

"Well, you can tell him from me--" she began shrilly, and he raised a
solemn hand.

"Keep the matter to yourself--regard me as your friend," he begged.

He was in his lighter moments a most mischievous man, a weakness that few
suspected in Mr. J. G. Reeder. Moreover, he wanted badly some inside
information about the household, and he had an idea that this infuriated
girl who flounced out and slammed the door behind her would supply him
with that information. In his most optimistic moments he could not dream
that in her raw hands she held the secret of Larmes Keep.

As soon as he came down, Mr. Reeder decided to go to Daver's office; he
was curious to learn the true story of the missing candlesticks. The
sound of an angry voice reached him, and as his hand was raised to knock
at the door it was opened by somebody who was holding the handle on the
inside, and he heard a woman's angry voice:

"You've treated me shabbily: that's all I can say to you, Mr. Daver! I've
been working for you five years and I've never said a word about your
business to anybody! And now you bring a detective down to spy on me! I
won't be treated as if I was a thief or something! If you think that's
behaving fair and square, after all I've done for you, and minding my own
business...yes, I know I've been well paid, but I could get just as much
money somewhere else....I've got my pride, Mr. Daver, the same as you
have...and I think you've been very underhand, the way you've treated
me....I'll go to-night, don't you worry!"

The door was flung open and a red-faced girl of twenty-five flounced out
and dashed past the eavesdropper, scarcely noticing him in her fury. The
door shut behind her; evidently Mr. Daver was in as bad a temper as the
girl--a fortunate circumstance, as it proved, and Mr. Reeder decided it
might be inadvisable to advertise that he had overheard the whole or part
of the conversation.

When he strolled out into the sunlit grounds, of all the people who had
been disturbed during the night he was the brightest and showed the least
sign of fatigue. He met the Rev. Mr. Dean and the Colonel, who was
carrying a golf-bag, and they bade him a gruff good morning. The Colonel,
he thought, was a little haggard; Mr. Dean gave him a scowl as he passed.

Walking up and down the lawn, he examined the front of the house with a
critical eye. The lines of the Keep were very definite: harsh and
angular, not even the Tudor windows, that at some remote period had been
introduced to its stony face, could disguise its ancient grimness.

Turning an angle of the house, he reached the strip of lawn which faced
his own window. Behind the lawn was a mass of rhododendron bushes, which
might serve a useful purpose, but which in certain circumstances might
also be a danger-point.

Immediately beneath his window was an angle of the drawing-room, a
circumstance which gave him cause for satisfaction. Mr. Reeder's
experience favoured a bedroom which was above a public apartment.

He went back on his tracks and came to the other end of the block. Those
three windows, brightly curtained, were evidently Mr. Daver's private
suite. The wall was black beneath them, the actual stone being obscured
by a thick growth of ivy. He wondered what this lightless and doorless
space contained.

As he returned to the front of the house he saw Margaret Belman. She was
standing in front of the doorway, shading her eyes from the sun,
evidently searching her limited landscape for somebody. Seeing him, she
came quickly to meet him.

"Oh, there you are!" she said, with a sigh of relief. "I wondered what
had happened to you--you didn't come down to breakfast."

She looked a little peaked, he thought. Evidently she had not rounded off
the night as agreeably as he.

"I haven't slept since I saw you," she said, answering his unspoken
question. "What happened, Mr. Reeder? Did somebody really try to get into
the house--a burglar?"

"I think they tried, and I think they succeeded," said Mr. Reeder
carefully. "Burglaries happen even in--um--hotels, Miss--um--Margaret.
Has Mr. Daver notified the police?" She shook her head.

"I don't know. He has been telephoning all the morning--I went to his
room just now and it was locked, but I heard his voice. And, Mr. Reeder,
you didn't tell me the terrible thing that happened the night I left
London. I saw it in the newspaper this morning."

"Terrible thing?" J. G. Reeder was puzzled. Almost he had forgotten the
adventure of the spring gun. "Oh, you mean the little joke?"

"Joke!" she said, shocked.

"Criminals have a perverted sense of humour," said Mr. Reeder airily.
"The whole thing was--um--an elaborate jest designed to frighten me. One
expects such things. They are the examination papers which are set to
test one's intelligence from time to time."

"But who did it?" she asked.

Mr. Reeder's gaze wandered absently over the placid countryside. She had
a feeling that it bored him even to recall so trivial an incident in a
busy life.

"Our young friend," he said suddenly, and, following the direction of his
eyes, she saw Olga Crewe.

She was wearing a dark grey knitted suit and a big black hat that shaded
her face, and there was nothing of embarrassment in the half smile with
which she greeted her fellow guest.

"Good morning, Mr. Reeder. I think we have met before this morning." She
rubbed her arm good humouredly.

Mr. Reeder was all apologies.

"I don't even know what happened," she said; and Margaret Belman learnt
for the first time what had occurred before she had made her appearance.

"I never thought you were so strong--look!" Olga pulled back her sleeve
and showed a big blue-black patch on her forearm, cutting short his
expression of remorse with a little laugh.

"Have you shown Mr. Reeder all the attractions of the estate?" she asked,
a hint of sarcasm in her tone. "I almost expected to find you at the
bathing-pool this morning."

"I didn't even know there was a bathing-pool," said Mr. Reeder. "In fact,
after my terrible scare last night, this--um--beautiful house has assumed
so sinister an aspect that I expect to bathe in nothing less dramatic
than blood!"

She was not amused. He saw her eyes close quickly, and she shivered a
little.

"How gruesome you are! Come along,  Miss Belman."

Inwardly, Margaret resented the tone, which was almost a command, but she
walked by their side. Clear of the house, Olga stopped and pointed.

"You must see the well. Are you interested in old things?" asked Olga as
she led the way to the shrubbery.

"I am more interested in new things, especially new experiences," said
Mr. Reeder, quite gaily. "And new people fascinate me!"

Again that quick, frightened smile of hers. "Then you should be having
the time of your life, Mr. Reeder," she said, "for you're meeting people
here whom you've never met before."

He screwed up his forehead in a frown. "Yes, there are two people in this
house I have never met before," he said, and she looked round at him
quickly.

"Only two? You've never met me before?"

"I've seen you," said Mr. Reeder, "but I have never met you."

By this time they had arrived at the well, and he read the inscription
slowly, before he tested with his foot the board that covered the top of
the well.

"It has been closed for years," said the girl. "I shouldn't touch it,"
she added hastily, as Reeder stooped and, catching the edge of a board,
swung it back trap fashion, leaving an oblong cavity.

The trap did not squeak or creak as he turned it back; the hinges were
oiled; there was no accumulation of dust between the two doors. Going on
to his hands and knees, he looked down into the darkness.

"How many loads of rubble and rock were used to stop up this well?" he
asked. Margaret read from the little notice-board. "Hum!" said Mr.
Reeder, searched in his pockets, brought out a two-shilling piece, poised
the silver coin carefully and let it drop. For a long, long time he
listened, and then a faint metallic tinkle came up to him.

"Nine seconds!" He looked up into Olga's face. "Deduct from the velocity
of a falling object the speed at which sound travels, and tell me how
deep this hole is?"

He got up to his feet, dusted the knees of his trousers, and carefully
dropped the trap into position.

"Rock there may be," he said, "but there is no water. I must work out the
number of loads requisite to fill this well entirely--it will be an
interesting morning's occupation for one who in his youth was something
of a mathematical genius."

Olga Crewe led the way back to the shrubbery in silence. When they came
to the open: "I think you had better show Mr. Reeder the rest of the
establishment," she said. "I'm rather tired."

And with a nod she turned away and walked towards the house, and Mr.
Reeder gazed after her with something like admiration in his eyes.

"The rouge would, of course, make a tremendous difference," he said, half
speaking to himself, "but it is very difficult to disguise voices--even
the best of actors fail in this respect."

Margaret stared at him.

"Are you talking to me?"

"To me," said Mr. Reeder humbly. "It is a bad habit of mine, peculiar to
my age, I fear."

"But Miss Crewe never uses rouge."

"Who does--in the country?" asked Mr. Reeder, and pointed with his
walking-stick to the wall along the cliff. "Where does that lead? What is
on the other side?"

"Sudden death," said Margaret, and laughed.

For a quarter of an hour they stood leaning on the parapet of the low
wall, looking down at the strip of beach below. The small channel that
led to the cave interested him. He asked her how deep it was. She thought
that it was quite shallow, a conclusion with which he did not agree.
"Underground caves sound romantic, and that channel is deeper than most.
I think I must explore the cave. How does one get down?"

He looked left and right. The beach was enclosed in a deep little bay,
circled on one side by sheer cliff, on the other by a high reef of rock
that ran far out to sea. Mr. Reeder pointed to the horizon.

"Sixty miles from here is France."

He had a disconcerting habit of going off at a tangent.

"I think I will do a little exploring this afternoon. The walk should
freshen me."

They were returning to the house when he remembered the bathing-pool and
asked to see it.

"I wonder Mr. Daver doesn't let it run dry," she said. "It is an awful
expense. I was going through the municipality's account yesterday, and
they charge a fabulous sum for pumping up fresh water."

"How long has it been built?"

"That is the surprising thing," she said. "It was made twelve years ago,
when private swimming-pools were things unheard of in this country."

The pool was oblong in shape; one end of it was tiled and obviously
artificially created. The further end, however, had for its sides and
bottom natural rock. A great dome-shaped mass served as a diving
platform. Mr. Reeder walked all round, gazing into the limpid water. It
was deepest at the rocky end, and here he stayed longest, and his
inspection was most thorough. There seemed a space--how deep he could not
tell--at the bottom of the bath, where the rock overhung.

"Very interesting," said Mr. Reeder at last. "I think I will go back to
the house and get my bathing suit. Happily, I brought one."

"I didn't know you were a swimmer," smiled the girl.

"I am the merest tyro in most things," said Mr. Reeder modestly.

He went up to his room, undressed and slipped into a bathing suit, over
which he put his overcoat. Olga Crewe and Mr. Daver had gone down to
Siltbury. To his satisfaction he saw the hotel car descending the hill
road cautiously in a cloud of dust.

When Mr. Reeder threw off his coat to make the plunge there was something
comically ferocious in his appearance, for about his waist he had
fastened a belt to which was attached in a sheath a long-bladed hunting
knife, and in addition there dangled a waterproof bag in which he had
placed one of the many little hand-lamps that he invariably carried about
with him. He made the most human preparations: put his toes into the cold
water and shivered ecstatically before he made his plunge. Losing no time
in preliminaries, he swam along the bottom to the slit in the rock which
he had seen.

It was about two feet high and eight feet in length, and into this he
pulled his way, gripping the roof to aid his progress. The roof ended
abruptly; he found nothing but water above him, and he allowed himself to
come to the surface, catching hold of a projecting ledge to keep himself
afloat whilst he detached the waterproof bag from his belt, and, planting
it upon the shelf, took out his flash-lamp.

He was in a natural stone chamber, with a broad, vaulted roof. He was in
fact inside the dome-shaped rock that formed one end of the pool. At the
farthermost corner of the chamber was an opening about four feet in
height and two feet in width. A rock passage that led downward, he saw.
He followed this for about fifty yards, and noted that although nature
had hewn or worn this queer corridor at some remote age--possibly it had
been an underground waterway before some gigantic upheaval of nature had
raised the land above water-level--the passage owed something of its
practicability to human agency. At one place there were marks of a
chisel; at another, unmistakable signs of blasting. Mr. Reeder retraced
his steps and came back to the water. He fastened and re-sealed his lamp,
and, drawing a long breath, dived to the bottom and wormed his way
through the aperture to the bath and to open air. He came to the surface
to gaze into the horror-stricken face of Margaret Belman.

"Oh, Mr. Reeder!" she gasped. "You--you frightened me! I heard you jump
in, but when I came here and found the bath empty I thought I must have
been mistaken....Where have you been? You couldn't stay under water all
that time..."

'"Will you hand me my overcoat?" said Mr. Reeder modestly, and when he
had hastily buttoned this about his person: "I have been to see that the
County Council's requirements are fully satisfied," he said solemnly.

She listened, dazed.

"In all theatres, as you probably know, my dear Miss--um--Margaret, it is
essential that there should be certain exits in case of necessity--I have
already inspected two this morning, but I rather imagine that the most
important of all has so far escaped my observation. What a man! Surely
madness is akin to genius!"

He lunched alone, and apparently no man was less interested in his fellow
guests than Mr. J. G. Reeder. The two golfers had returned and were
eating at the same table. Miss Crewe, who came in late and favoured him
with a smile, sat at a little table facing him.

"She is uneasy," said Mr. Reeder to himself. "That is the second time she
has dropped her fork. Presently she will get up, sit with her back to
me...I wonder on what excuse?"

Apparently no excuse was necessary. The girl called a waitress towards
her and had her glass and plate shifted to the other side. Mr. Reeder was
rather pleased with himself.

Daver minced into the dining-room as Mr. Reeder was peeling an apple.

"Good morning, Mr. Reeder. Have you got over your nightmare? I see that
you have! A man of iron nerve. I admire that tremendously. Personally, I
am the most dreadful coward, and the very hint of a burglar makes me
shiver. You wouldn't believe it, but I had a quarrel with a servant this
morning, and she left me shaking! You are not affected that way? I see
that you are not! Miss Belman tells me that you tried our swimming-pool
this morning. You enjoyed it? I am sure you did!"

"Won't you sit down and have coffee?" asked Mr. Reeder politely, but
Daver declined the invitation with a flourish and a bow.

"No, no, I have my work--I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Miss
Belman for putting me on the track of the most fascinating character of
modern times. What a man!" said Mr. Daver, unconsciously repeating J. G.
Reeder's tribute. "I've been trying to trace his early career--no, no,
I'll stand: I must run away in a minute or two. Is anything known about
his early life? Was he married?"

Mr. Reeder nodded. He had not the slightest idea that John Flack was
married, but it seemed a moment to assert the universality of his
knowledge. He was quite unprepared for the effect upon Daver. The jaw of
the yellow-faced man dropped.

"Married?" he squeaked. "Who told you he was married? Where was he
married?"

"That is a matter," said Mr. Reeder gravely, "which I cannot discuss."

"Married!" Daver rubbed his little round head irritably, but did not
pursue the subject. He made some inane reference to the weather and
bustled out of the room.

Mr. Reeder settled himself in what he called the banqueting-hall with an
illustrated paper, awaiting an opportunity which he knew must present
itself sooner or later. The servants he had passed under review. Girls
were employed to wait at table, and these lived in a small cottage on the
Siltbury side of the estate. The men servants, including the hall porter,
seemed above suspicion. The porter was an old army man with a row of
medals across his uniform jacket; his assistant was a chinless youth
recruited from Siltbury. He apparently was the only member of the staff
that did not live in one of the cottages. In the main the women servants
were an unpromising lot--the infuriated waitress was his only hope,
although as likely as not she would talk of nothing but her grievances.

From where he sat he had a view of the lawn. At three o'clock the Colonel
and the Rev. Mr. Dean and Olga Crewe passed out of the main gate,
evidently bound for Siltbury, He rang the bell, and to his satisfaction
the aggrieved waitress came and took his order for tea.

"This is a nice place," said Mr. Reeder conversationally.

The girl's "Yes, sir," was snappy.

"I suppose," mused Mr. Reeder, looking out of the window, "that this is
the sort of situation that a lot of girls would give their heads to get
and break their hearts to lose?"

Evidently she did not agree.

"The upstairs work isn't so bad," she said, "and there's not much to do
in the dining-room. But it's too slow for me. I was at a big hotel before
I came here. I'm going to a better job--and the sooner the better."

She admitted that the money was good, but she had a longing for that
imponderable quantity which she described as "life." She also expressed a
preference for men guests. "Miss Crewe--so called--gives more trouble
than all the rest of the people put together," she said. "I can't make
her out. First she wants one room, then she wants another. Why she can't
stay with her husband I don't know."

"With her--?" Mr. Reeder looked at her in pained surprise. "Perhaps they
don't get on well together?"

"They used to get on all right. If they weren't married I could
understand all the mystery they're making--pretending they're not, him in
his room and she in hers, and meeting like strangers. When all that kind
of deceit is going on, things are bound to get lost," she added
inconsequently.

"How long has this been--er--going on?" asked Mr. Reeder.

"Only the last week or so," said the girl viciously. "I know they're
married, because I've seen her marriage certificate--they've been married
six years. She keeps it in her dressing-case."

She looked at him with sudden suspicion.

"I oughtn't to have told you that. I don't want to make trouble for
anybody, and I bear them no malice, though they've treated me worse'n a
dog," she said. "Nobody else in the house but me knows. I was her maid
for two years. But if people don't treat me right I don't treat them
right."

"Married six years? Dear me!" said Mr. Reeder.

And then he suddenly turned his head and faced her.

"Would you like fifty pounds?" he asked. "That is the immense sum I will
give you for just one little peep at that marriage certificate."

The girl went red.

"You're trying to catch me," she said, hesitated, and then: "I don't want
to get her into trouble."

"I am a detective," said Mr. Reeder, "but I am working on behalf of the
Chief Registrar, and we have a doubt as to whether that marriage was
legal. I could, of course, search the young lady's room and find the
certificate for myself, but if you would care to help me, and fifty
pounds has any attraction for you--"

She paused irresolutely and said she would see. Half an hour later she
came into the hall with the news that she had been unsuccessful in her
search. She had found the envelope in which the certificate had been
kept, but the document itself was gone.

Mr. Reeder did not ask the name of the bridegroom, nor was he mentioned,
for he was pretty certain that he knew that fortunate man. He put a
question, and the girl answered as he had expected.

"There is one thing I would like to ask you: do you remember the name of
the girl's father?"

"John Crewe, merchant," she said promptly. "The mother's name was Hannah.
He made me swear on the Bible I'd never tell a soul that I knew they were
married."

"Does anybody else know? You said 'nobody,' I think?"

The girl hesitated.

"Yes, Mrs. Burton knows. She knows everything."

"Thank you," said Mr. Reeder, and, opening his pocket-book, took out two
five-pound notes. "What was the husband's profession: do you remember
that?"

The woman's lips curled.

"Secretary--why call himself secretary, I don't know, and him an
independent gentleman!"

"Thank you," said Mr. Reeder again.

He telephoned to Siltbury for a taxicab.

"Are you going out?" asked Margaret, finding him waiting under the
portico.

"I am buying a few presents for friends in London," said Mr. Reeder
glibly; "a butter-dish or two, suitably inscribed, would, I feel sure, be
very acceptable."

The taxi did not take him to Siltbury. Instead, he followed a road which
ran parallel to the sea coast, and which eventually landed him in an
impossible sandy track, from which the ancient taxi was extricated with
some difficulty.

"I told you this led nowhere, sir," said the aggrieved driver.

"Then we have evidently reached our destination," replied Mr. Reeder,
applying his weight to push the machine to a more solid foundation.

Siltbury was not greatly favoured by London visitors, the driver told him
on the way back. The town had a pebbly beach, and people preferred sand.

"There are some wonderful beaches about here," said the driver, "but you
can't reach 'em."

They had taken the left-hand road, which would bring them eventually to
the town and had been driving for a quarter of an hour when Mr. Reeder,
who sat by the driver, pointed to a large scar in the face of the down on
his right.

"Siltbury quarries," explained the cabman. "They're not worked now: there
are too many holes."

"Holes?"

"The downs are like a sponge," said the man. "You could lose yourself in
the caves. Old Mr. Kimpon used to work the quarries many years ago, and
it broke him. There's a big cave there you can drive a coach-and-four
into! About twenty years ago three fellows went in to explore the caves
and never come out again."

"Who owns the quarry now?"

Mr. Reeder wasn't very interested, but when his mind was occupied with a
pressing problem he had a trick of flogging along a conversation with
appropriate questions, and if he was oblivious of the answers they
produced, the sound of the human voice had a sedative effect.

"Mr. Daver owns it now. He bought it after the people were lost in the
caves, and had the entrance boarded up. You'll see it in a minute."

They were climbing a gentle slope. As they came to the crest he pointed
down a tidy-looking roadway to where, about two hundred yards distant,
Reeder saw an oblong gap in the white face of the quarry. Across this,
and filling the cavity except for an irregular space at the top, was a
heavy wooden gate.

"You can't see it from here," said the driver, "but the top hole is
blocked with barbed wire."

"Is that a gate or a hoarding he has fixed across?"

"A gate, sir. Mr. Daver owns all the land from here to the sea. He used
to farm about a hundred acres of the downs, but it's very poor land. In
those days he kept his wagons inside the cave."

"When did he give up farming?" asked Mr. Reeder, interested.

"About six years ago," was the reply, and it was exactly the reply Mr.
Reeder had expected. "I used to see a lot of Mr. Daver before then," said
the driver. "In the old times I had a horse cab, and I was always driving
him about. He used to work like a galley slave--on the farm in the
morning, down in the town buying things in the afternoon. He was more
like a servant than a master. He used to meet all the trains when
visitors arrived--and they had a lot of visitors in those days, more than
they have now. Sometimes he went up to London to bring them down--he
always went to meet Miss Crewe when the young lady was at school."

"Do you know Miss Crewe?"

Apparently the driver had seen her frequently, but his acquaintance with
her was very limited.

Reeder got down from the cab and climbed the barred gate on to the
private roadway. The soil was chalky and the road had the appearance of
having been recently overhauled. He mentioned this fact to the cabman,
and learnt that Mr. Daver kept two old men constantly at work making up
the road, though why he should do so he had no idea.

"Where would you like to go now, sir?"

"To a quiet place where I can telephone," said Mr. Reeder.

These are the facts that he carried with him, and vital facts they were.
During the past six years the life of Mr. Daver had undergone a
considerable change. From being a harassed man of affairs, "more like a
servant than a master," he had become a gentleman of leisure. The mystery
of the Keep was a mystery no longer. He got Inspector Simpson on the
telephone and conveyed to him the gist of his discovery.

"By the way," said Simpson at the finish, "the gold hasn't been sent to
Australia yet. There has been trouble in the docks. You don't seriously
anticipate a Flack 'operation,' do you?"

Mr. Reeder, who had forgotten all about the gold convoy, made a cautious
and non-committal reply.

By the time he returned to Larmes Keep the other guests had returned. The
hall porter said they were expecting a "party" on the morrow, but as he
had volunteered that information on the previous evening, Mr. Reeder did
not take it very seriously. He gathered the man spoke in good faith,
without any wish to deceive, but he saw no signs of unusual activity;
nor, indeed, was there accommodation at the Keep for more than a few more
visitors.

He looked round for the aggrieved servant and missed her. A discreet
inquiry revealed the fact that she had left that afternoon.

Mr. Reeder went to his room, locked the door, and busied himself in the
examination of two great scrap-books which he had brought down with him.
They were the official records of Flack and his gang. Perhaps "gang" was
hardly a proper description, for he seemed to use and change his
associates as a theatrical manager uses and changes his cast. The police
knew close on a score of men who from time to time had assisted John
Flack in his nefarious transactions. Some had gone to prison, and had
spent the hours of their recovered liberty in a vain endeavour to
re-establish touch with so generous a paymaster. Some, known to be in his
employ, had vanished, and were generally supposed to be living in luxury
abroad.

Reeder went through the book, which was full of essential facts, and
jotted down the amounts which this strange man had acquired in the course
of twenty years' depredations. The total was a staggering one. Flack had
worked feverishly, and though he had paid well he had spent little.
Somewhere in England was an enormous reserve. And that somewhere, Mr.
Reeder guessed, was very close to his hand.

For what had John Flack worked? To what end was this accumulation of
money? Was the sheer greed of the miser behind his thefts? Was he working
aimlessly, as a madman works, towards some visionary objective? Flack's
greed was proverbial. Nothing satisfied him. The robbery of the
Leadenhall Bank had been followed a week later by an attack upon the
London Trust Syndicate, carried out, the police discovered, by an
entirely new confederation, gathered within a few days of the robbery and
yet so perfectly rehearsed that the plan was carried through without a
hitch.

Mr. Reeder locked away his books and went downstairs in search of
Margaret Belman. The crisis was very near at hand, and it was necessary
for his peace of mind that the girl should leave Larmes Keep without
delay.

He was half-way down the stairs when he met Daver coming up, and at that
moment he received an inspiration.

"You are the very gentleman I wished to meet," he said. "I wonder if you
would do me a great favour?"

Daver's careworn face wreathed in smiles.

"My dear Mr. Reeder," he said enthusiastically, "do you a favour? Command
me!"

"I have been thinking about last night and my extraordinary experience,"
said Mr. Reeder.

"You mean the burglar?" interrupted the other quickly.

"The burglar," agreed Mr. Reeder. "He was an alarming person, and I am
not disposed to let the matter rest where it is. Fortunately for me, I
have found a finger-print on the panel of my door."

He saw Daver's face change.

"When I say I have found a finger-print, I have found something which has
the appearance of a finger-print, and I can only be sure if I examine it
by means of a dactyscope. Unfortunately, I did not imagine that I should
have need for such an instrument, and I am wondering if you could send
somebody to London to bring it down for me?"

"With all the pleasure in life," said Daver, though his tone lacked
heartiness. "One of the men--"

"I was thinking of Miss Belman," interrupted J. G. Reeder, "who is a
friend of mine and would, moreover, take the greatest possible care of
that delicate piece of mechanism."

Daver was silent for a moment, turning this over in his mind. "Would it
not be better if a man...and the last train down--"

"She could come down by car: I can arrange that." Mr. Reeder fumbled his
chin. "Perhaps it would be better if I brought down a couple of men from
the Yard."

"No, no," said Daver quickly. "You can send Miss Belman. I haven't the
slightest objection. I will tell her."

Mr. Reeder looked at his watch. "The next train is at eight thirty-five,
and that is the last train, I think. The young lady will be able to get
her dinner before she starts."

It was he who brought the news to the astonished Margaret Belman.

"Of course I'll go up to town; but don't you think somebody else could
get this instrument for you, Mr. Reeder? Couldn't you have it sent
down--"

She saw the look in his eyes and stopped.

"What is it?" she asked in a lower voice.

"Will you do this for--um--me, Miss--um--Margaret?" said Mr. Reeder,
almost humbly.

He went to the lounge and scribbled a note, while Margaret telephoned for
the cab. It was growing dark when the closed landau drew up before the
hotel and, J. G. Reeder, who accompanied her, opened the door.

"There's a man inside," he said, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Please
don't scream: he's an officer of police, and he's going with you to
London."

"But--but--" she stammered.

"And you'll stay in London to-night," said Mr. Reeder. "I will join you
in the morning--I hope."

12

MR. REEDER was in his room, laying out his moderate toilet requirements
on the dressing-table, and meditating upon the waste of time involved in
conforming to fashion--for he had dressed for dinner--when there came a
tap at the door. He paused, a well-worn hairbrush in his hand, and looked
round.

"Come in," he said, and added: "if you please."

The little head of Mr. Daver appeared round the opening of the door,
anxiety and apology in every line of his peculiar face.

"Am I interrupting you?" he asked; "I am terribly sorry to bother you at
all, but Miss Belman being away, you quite understand? I'm sure you
do..."

Mr. Reeder was courtesy itself.

"Come in, come in, sir," he said. "I was merely preparing for the night.
I am a very tired man, and the sea air--"

He saw the face of the proprietor fall.

"Then, Mr. Reeder, I have come upon a useless errand. The truth is"--he
slipped inside the door, closed it carefully behind him, as though
he had an important statement to make which he did not wish to be
overheard--"my three guests are anxious to play bridge, and they deputed
me to ask if you would care to join them?"

"With every pleasure in life," said Mr. Reeder graciously. "I am an
indifferent player, but if they will bear with me, I will be down in a
few minutes."

Mr. Daver withdrew, babbling his gratitude and apologies. The door was
hardly closed upon him before Mr. Reeder crossed the room and locked it.
Stooping, he opened one of the trunks, took out a long, flexible rope
ladder, and dropped it through the open window into the darkness below,
fastening one end to the leg of the four-poster. Leaning out of the
window, he said something in a low voice, and braced himself against the
bed to support the weight of the man who came nimbly up the ladder into
the room. This done, he replaced the rope ladder in his trunk, locked it,
and, walking to a corner of the room, pulled at one of the solid panels.
It hinged open and revealed the deep cupboard which Mr. Daver had shown
him.

"That is as good a place as any, Brill," he said. "I'm sorry I must leave
you for two hours, but I have an idea that nobody will disturb you there.
I am leaving the lamp burning, which will give you enough light."

"Very good, sir," said the man from Scotland Yard, and took up his post.

Five minutes later Mr. Reeder locked the door of his room and went
downstairs to the waiting party.

They were in the big hall, a very silent and preoccupied trio, until his
arrival galvanised them into something that might pass for light
conversation. There was, indeed, a fourth present when he came in: a
sallow-faced woman in black, who melted out of the hall at his approach,
and he guessed her to be the melancholy Mrs. Burton. The two men rose at
his approach, and after the usual self-deprecatory exchange which
proceeded the cutting for partners, Mr. Reeder found himself sitting
opposite the military-looking Colonel Hothling. On his left was the pale
girl; on his right the hard-faced Rev. Mr. Dean.

"What do we play for?" growled the Colonel, caressing his moustache, his
steely blue eyes fixed on Mr. Reeder.

"A modest stake, I hope," begged that gentleman. "I am such an
indifferent player."

"I suggest sixpence a hundred," said the clergyman. "It is as much as a
poor parson can afford."

"Or a poor pensioner either," grumbled the Colonel, and sixpence a
hundred was agreed.

They played two games in comparative silence. Reeder was sensitive of a
strained atmosphere, but did nothing to relieve it. His partner was
surprisingly nervous for one who, as he remarked casually, had spent his
life in military service.

"A wonderful life," said Mr. Reeder in his affable way. Once or twice he
detected the girl's hand, as she held the cards, tremble ever so
slightly. Only the clergyman remained still and unmoved, and,
incidentally, played without error.

It was after an atrocious revoke on the part of his partner, a revoke
which gave his opponents the game and rubber, that Mr. Reeder pushed back
his chair.

"What a strange world this is!" he remarked sententiously. "How like a
game of cards!"

Those who were best acquainted with Mr. Reeder knew that he was most
dangerous when he was most philosophical. The three people who sat about
the table heard only a boring commonplace, in keeping with their
conception of this somewhat dull-looking man.

"There are some people," mused Mr. Reeder, looking up at the lofty
ceiling, "who are never happy unless they have all the aces. I, on the
contrary, am most cheerful when I have in my hand all the knaves."

"You play a very good game, Mr. Reeder."

It was the girl who spoke, and her voice was husky, her tone hesitant, as
though she were forcing herself to speak.

"I play one or two games rather well," said Mr. Reeder. "Partly, I think,
because I have such an extraordinary memory--I never forget knaves."

There was a silence. This time the reference was too direct to be
mistaken.

"There used to be in my younger days," Mr. Reeder went on, addressing
nobody in particular, "a Knave of Hearts, who eventually became a Knave
of Clubs, and drifted down into heaven knows what other welters of
knavery! In plain words, he started his professional--um--life as a
bigamist, continued his interesting and romantic career as a tout for
gambling hells, and was concerned in a bank robbery in Denver. I have not
seen him for years, but he is colloquially known to his associates as
'The Colonel'; a military-looking gentleman with a pleasing appearance
and a glib tongue."

He was not looking at the Colonel as he spoke, so he did not see the
man's face go pale.

"I have not met him since he grew a moustache, but I could recognise him
anywhere by the peculiar colour of his eyes and by the fact that he has a
scar at the back of his head, a souvenir of some unfortunate fracas in
which he was engaged. They tell me that he became an expert user of
knives--I gather he sojourned a while in Latin America--a knave of clubs
and a knave of hearts--hum!"

The Colonel sat rigid, not a muscle of his face moving.

"One supposes," Mr. Reeder continued, looking at the girl thoughtfully,
"that he has by this time acquired a competence which enables him to stay
at the very best hotels without any fear of police supervision."

Her dark eyes were fixed unwaveringly on his. The full lips were closed,
the jaws set.

"How very interesting you are, Mr. Reeder!" she drawled at last. "Mr.
Daver tells me you are associated with the police force?"

"Remotely, only remotely," said Mr. Reeder.

"Are you acquainted with any other knaves, Mr. Reeder?"

It was the cool voice of the clergyman, and Mr. Reeder beamed round at
him.

"With the Knave of Diamonds," he said softly. "What a singularly
appropriate name for one who spent five years in the profitable pursuit
of illicit diamond-buying in South Africa, and five unprofitable years on
the Breakwater in Capetown, becoming, as one might say, a knave of spades
from the continuous use of that necessary and agricultural implement, and
a knave of pickaxes too, one supposes! He was flogged, if I remember
rightly, for an outrageous assault upon a warder, and on his release from
prison was implicated, in a robbery in Johannesburg. I am relying on my
memory, and I cannot recall at the moment whether he reached Pretoria
Central--which is the colloquial name for the Transvaal prison--or
whether he escaped. I seem to remember that he was concerned in a
banknote case which I once had in hand. Now what was his name?"

He looked thoughtfully at the clergyman.

"Gregory Dones! That is it--Mr. Gregory Dones! It is beginning to come
back to me now. He had an angel tattooed on his left forearm, a piece of
decoration which one would have imagined sufficient to keep him to the
narrow paths of virtue, and even to bring him eventually within the fold
of the church."

The Rev. Mr. Dean got up from the table, put his hand in his pocket and
took out some money.

"You lost the rubber, but I think you win on points," he said. "What do I
owe you, Mr. Reeder?"

"What you can never pay me," said Mr. Reeder, shaking his head. "Believe
me, Gregory, your score and mine will never be wholly settled to your
satisfaction!"

With a shrug of his shoulders and a smile, the hard-faced clergyman
strolled away. Mr. Reeder watched him out of the corner of his eye and saw
him disappear towards the vestibule.

"Are all your knaves masculine?" asked Olga Crewe.

Reeder nodded gravely. "I hope so, Miss Crewe." Her challenging eyes met
his.

"In other words, you don't know me?" she said bluntly. And then, with
sudden vehemence; "I wish to God you did! I wish you did!" Turning
abruptly, she almost ran from the hall. Mr. Reeder stood where she had
left him, his eyes roving left and right. In the shadowy entrance of the
hall, made all the more obscure by the heavy dark curtains which covered
it, he saw a dim figure standing. Only for a second, and then it
disappeared. The woman Burton, he thought.

It was time to go to his room. He had taken only two steps from the table
when all the lights in the hall went out. In such moments as these Mr.
Reeder was a very nimble man. He spun round and made for the nearest
wall, and stood waiting, his back to the panelling. And then he heard the
plaintive voice of Mr. Daver.

"Who on earth has put the lights out? Where are you, Mr. Reeder?"

"Here!" said Mr. Reeder, in a loud voice, and dropped instantly to the
ground. Only in time: he heard a whistle, a thud, and something struck
the panel above his head.

Mr. Reeder emitted a deep groan and crawled rapidly and noiselessly
across the floor. Again came Daver's voice:

"What on earth was that? Has anything happened, Mr. Reeder?"

The detective made no reply. Nearer and nearer he was crawling towards
where Daver stood. And then, as unexpectedly as they had been
extinguished, the lights went up. Daver was standing in front of the
curtained doorway, and on the proprietor's face was a look of blank
dismay as Mr. Reeder rose at his feet.

Daver shrank back, his big white teeth set in a fearful grin, his round
eyes wide open. He tried to speak, and his mouth opened and closed, but
no sound issued. From Reeder his eyes strayed to the panelled wall--but
Reeder had already seen the knife buried in the wood.

"Let me think," he said gently. "Was that the Colonel or the highly
intelligent representative of the church?"

He went across to the wall and with an effort pulled out the knife. It
was long and broad.

"A murderous weapon," said Mr. Reeder.

Daver found his voice. "A murderous weapon," he echoed hollowly. "Was
it--thrown at you, Mr. Reeder?...how very terrible!"

Mr. Reeder was gazing at him sombrely.

"Your idea?" he asked, but by now Mr. Daver was incapable of replying.

Reeder left the shaken proprietor lying limply in one of the big
arm-chairs, and walked up the carpeted stairs to the corridor. And if
against his black coat the automatic was not visible, it was nevertheless
there.

He stopped before his door, unlocked it, and threw it wide open. The lamp
by the side of the bed was still burning. Mr. Reeder switched on the wall
light, peeped through the crack between the door and the wall before he
ventured inside.

He shut the door, locked it, and walked over to the cupboard.

"You may come out, Brill," he said. "I presume nobody has been here?"

There was no answer, and he pulled open the cupboard door quickly.

It was empty!

"Well, well," said Mr. Reeder, and that meant that matters were
everything but well.

There was no sign of a struggle; nothing in the world to suggest that
Detective Brill had not walked out of his own free will and made his exit
by the window, which was still open.

Mr. Reeder tiptoed back to the light-switch and turned it; stretched
across the bed and extinguished the lamp; and then he sidled cautiously
to the window and peeped round the stone framing. It was a very dark
night, and he could distinguish no object below.

Events were moving only a little faster than he had anticipated; for
this, however, he was responsible. He had forced the hands of the Flack
confederation, and they were extremely able hands.

He was unlocking the trunk when he heard a faint sound of steel against
steel. Somebody was fitting a key into the lock, and he waited, his
automatic covering the door. Nothing further happened, and he went
forward to investigate. His flash-lamp showed him what had happened.
Somebody outside had inserted a key, turned it and left it in the lock,
so that it was impossible for the door to be unlocked from the inside.

"I am rather glad," said Mr. Reeder, speaking his thoughts aloud, "that
Miss--um--Margaret is on her way to London!"

He pursued his lips reflectively. Would he be glad if he also was at this
moment en route for London? Mr. Reeder was not very certain about this.

On one point he was satisfied--the Flacks were going to give him a very
small margin of time, and that margin must be used to the best advantage.

So far as he could tell, the trunks had not been opened. He pulled out
the rope-ladder, groped down to the bottom, and presently withdrew his
hand, holding a long white cardboard cylinder. Crawling under the window,
he put up his hand and fixed an end of the cylinder in one of the china
flower-pots that stood on the broad window-sill and which he had moved to
allow the ingress of Brill. When this had been done to his satisfaction,
he struck a match and, reaching up, set fire to a little touch-paper at
the cylinder's free end. He brought his hand down just in time; something
whizzed into the room and struck the panelling of the opposite wall with
an angry smack. There was no sound of explosion. Whoever fired was using
an air pistol. Again and again in rapid succession came the pellets, but
by now the cylinder was burning and spluttering, and in another instant
the grounds were brilliantly illuminated as the flare burst into a
dazzling red flame that, he knew, could be seen for miles.

He heard a scampering of feet below, but dared not look out. By the time
the first tender-load of detectives had come flying up the drive, the
grounds were deserted.

With the exception of the servants, there were only two people at Larmes
Keep when the police began their search. Mr. Daver and the faded Mrs.
Burton alone remained. "Colonel Hothling" and "the Rev. Mr. Dean" had
disappeared as though they had been whisked from the face of the earth.

Big Bill Gordon interviewed the proprietor. "This is Flack's
headquarters, and you know it. You'll be well advised to spill everything
and save your own skin."

"But I don't know the man; I've never seen him!" wailed Mr. Daver. "This
is the most terrible thing that has happened to me in my life! Can you
make me responsible for the character of my guests? You're a reasonable
man? I see you are! If these people are friends of Flack, I have never
heard of them in that connection. You may search my house from cellar to
garret, and if you find anything that in the least incriminates me, take
me off to prison. I ask that as a favour. Is that the statement of an
honest man? I see you are convinced!"

Neither he nor Mrs. Burton nor any of the servants who were questioned in
the early hours of the morning could afford the slightest clue to the
identity of the visitors. Miss Crewe had been in the habit of coming
every year and of staying four and sometimes five months. Hothling was a
newcomer, as also was the parson. Inquiries made by telephone of the
chief of the Siltbury police confirmed Mr. Daver's statement that he had
been the proprietor of Larmes Keep for twenty-five years, and that his
past was blameless. He himself produced his title-deeds. A search of his
papers, made at his invitation, and of the three tin boxes in the safe,
produced nothing but support for his protestations of innocence.

Big Bill interviewed Mr. Reeder in the hall over a cap of coffee at three
o'clock in the morning.

"There's no doubt at all that these people were members of the Flack
crowd, probably engaged in advance against his escape, and how they got
away the Lord knows! I have had six men on duty on the road since dark,
and neither the woman nor the two men passed me."

"Did you see Brill?" asked Mr. Reeder, suddenly remembering the absent
detective.

"Brill?" said the other in astonishment. "He's with you, isn't he? You
told me to have him under your window--"

In a few words Mr. Reeder explained the situation, and together they went
up to No. 7. There was nothing in the cupboard to afford the slightest
clue to Brill's whereabouts. The panels were sounded, but there was no
evidence of secret doors--a romantic possibility which Mr. Reeder had not
excluded, for this was the type of house where he might expect to find
them.

Two men were seat to search the grounds for the missing detective, and
Reeder and the police chief went back to finish their coffee.

"Your theory has turned out accurate so far, but there is nothing to
connect Daver."

"Daver's in it," said Mr. Reeder. "He was not the knife-thrower: his job
was to locate me on behalf of the Colonel. But Daver brought Miss Belman
down here in preparation for Flack's escape."

Big Bill nodded.

"She was to be hostage for your good behaviour." He scratched his head
irritably. "That's like one of Crazy Jack's schemes. But why did he try
to shoot you up? Why wasn't he satisfied with her being at Larmes Keep?"

Mr. Reeder had no immediate explanation. He was dealing with a madman, a
thing of whims. Consistency was not to be expected from Mr. Flack.

He passed his fingers through his scanty hair.

"It is all rather puzzling and inexplicable," he said. "I think I'll go
to bed."

He was sleeping dreamlessly, under the watchful eye of a Scotland Yard
detective, when Big Bill came bursting into the room.

"Get up, Reeder!" he said roughly.

Mr. Reeder sat up in bed, instantly awake.

"What is wrong?" he asked.

"Wrong! That gold-lorry left the Bank of England this morning at five
o'clock on its way to Tilbury and hasn't been seen since!"

13

AT the last moment the bank authorities had changed their mind, and
overnight had sent 53,000 worth of gold for conveyance to the ship. They
had borrowed for the purpose an army lorry from Woolwich, a service which
is sometimes claimed by the national banking institution.

The lorry had been accompanied by eight detectives, the military driver
being also armed. Tilbury was reached at half-past eleven o'clock at
night, and the lorry, a high-powered Lassavar, had returned to London at
two o'clock in the morning and had been loaded in the bank courtyard
under the eyes of the officer, sergeant, and two men of the guard which
is on duty on the bank premises from sunset to sunrise. A new detachment
of picked men from Scotland Yard, each carrying an automatic pistol,
loaded the lorry for its second journey, the amount of gold this time
being 73,000 worth. After the boxes had been put into the van, they had
climbed up and the lorry had driven away from the bank. Each of the eight
men guarding this treasure was passed under review by a high officer of
Scotland Yard who knew every one personally. The lorry was seen in
Commercial Road by a detective-inspector of the division, and its
progress was also noted by a police-cyclist patrol who was on duty at the
junction of the Ripple and Barking roads.

The main Tilbury road runs within a few hundred yards of the village of
Rainham, and it was at this point, only a few miles distant from Tilbury,
that the lorry disappeared. Two motor-cyclist policemen who had gone out
to meet the gold-convoy, and who had received a telephone message from
the Ripple road to say that it had passed, grew uneasy and telephoned to
Tilbury.

It was an airless morning, with occasional banks of mist rising in the
hollows, and part of the road, especially near the river, was patchily
covered with white fog, which dispersed about eight o'clock in the
morning under a south-easterly wind. The mist had almost disappeared when
the search party from Tilbury pursued their investigations and came upon
the one evidence of tragedy which the morning was to reveal. This was an
old Ford motor car that had evidently run from the road, miraculously
missed a telegraph pole, and ditched itself. The machine had not
overturned; there were no visible marks of injury; yet the man who sat at
the wheel was stone dead when he was found. An immediate medical
examination failed to discover an injury of any kind to the man, who was
a small farmer of Rainham, and on the face of it, it looked as though he
had died of a heart attack whilst on his way to town.

Just beyond the place where he was found the road dips steeply between
high banks. It is known as Coles Hollow, and at its deepest part the
cutting is crossed by a single-track bridge which connects two portions
of the farm through which the road runs. The dead farmer and his machine
had been removed when Reeder and the chief of Scotland Yard arrived on
the spot. No news of any kind had been received of the lorry; but the
local police, who had been following its tracks, had made two
discoveries. Apparently, going through the cutting, the front wheels of
the trolley had collided with the side, for there was a deep scoop in the
clayey soil which the impact had hollowed out.

"It almost appears," said Simpson, who had been put in charge of the
case, "that the trolley swerved here to avoid the farmer's car. There are
his wheel tracks, and you notice they were wobbling from side to side.
Probably the man was already dying."

"Have you traced the trolley tracks from here?" asked Reeder.

Simpson nodded, and called a sergeant of the Essex Constabulary, who had
charted the tracks.

"They seem to have turned up north towards Becontree," he said. "As a
matter of fact, a policeman at Becontree said he saw a large trolley come
out of the mist and pass him, but that had a tilt on it and was going
towards London. It was an army trolley, too, and was driven by a
soldier."

Mr. Reeder had lit a cigarette and was holding the flaming match in his
hand, staring at it solemnly.

"Dear me!" he said, and dropped the match and watched it extinguish.

And then he began what seemed to be a foolish search of the ground,
striking match after match.

"Isn't there light enough for you, Mr. Reeder?" asked Simpson irritably.

The detective straightened his back and smiled. Only for a second was he
amused, and then his long face went longer than ever.

"Poor fellow!" he said softly. "Poor fellow!"

"Who are you talking about?" demanded Simpson, but Mr. Reeder did not
reply. Instead, he pointed up to the bridge, in the centre of which was
an old and rusted water-wagon, the type which certain English
municipalities still use. He climbed up to the bank and examined the iron
tank, opened the hatches and groped inside, lighting matches to aid his
examination. "Is it empty?" asked Simpson.

"I am afraid it is," said Mr. Reeder, and inspected the worn hose leading
from its iron spindles. He descended the cutting more melancholy than
ever. "Have you ever thought how easy it is to disguise an ordinary army
lorry?" he asked. "A tilt, I think the sergeant said, and on its way to
London."

"Do you think that was the gold-van?"

Mr. Reeder nodded.

"I'm certain," he said.

"Where was it attacked?"

Mr. Reeder pointed to the mark of the wheels on the side of the road.

"There," he said simply, and Simpson growled impatiently.

"Stuff! Nobody heard a shot fired, and you don't think our people would
go down without a fight, do you? They could have held their own against
five times their number, and no crowd has been seen on this road!"

Mr. Reeder nodded.

"Nevertheless, this is where the convoy was attacked and overcome," he
said. "I think you ought to look for the trolley with the tilt, and get
on to your Becontree man and get a closer description of the machine he
saw."

In a quarter of an hour the police car brought them to the little Essex
village, and the policeman who had seen the wagon was interviewed. It was
a few minutes before he went off duty, he said. There was a thick mist at
the time, and he heard the rumble of the lorry wheels before it came into
sight. He described it as a typical army wagon. So far as he could tell,
it was grey, and had a black tilt with "W.D." and a broad-arrow painted
on the side, "W.D." standing for War Department, the broad-arrow being
the sign of Government. He saw one soldier driving and another sitting by
his side. The back of the tilt was laced up and he could not see into the
interior. The soldier as he passed had waved his hand in greeting, and
the policeman had thought no more about the matter until the robbery of
the gold-convoy was reported.

"Yes, sir," he said, in answer to Reeder's inquiry, "I think it was
loaded. It went very heavily on the road. We often get these trolleys
coming up from Shoeburyness."

Simpson had put through a telephone inquiry to the Barking police, who
had seen the military wagon. But army convoys were no unusual sight in
the region of the docks. Either that or one similar was seen entering the
Blackwall Tunnel, but the Greenwich police, on the south side of the
river, had failed to identify it, and from there on all trace of the
lorry was lost.

"We're probably chasing a shadow anyway," said Simpson. "If your theory
is right, Reeder--it can't be right! They couldn't have caught these men
of ours so unprepared that somebody didn't shoot, and there's no sign of
shooting."

"There was no shooting," said Mr. Reeder, shaking his head.

"Then where are the men?" asked Simpson.

"Dead," said Mr. Reeder quietly.

It was at Scotland Yard, in the presence of an incredulous and horrified
Commissioner, that Mr. J. G. Reeder reconstructed the crime.

"Flack is a chemist: I think I impressed it upon you. Did you notice,
Simpson, on the bridge, across the cutting, was an old water-cart? I
think you have since learnt that it does not belong to the farmer who
owns the land, and that he has never seen it before. It may be possible
to discover where that was purchased. In all probability you will find
that it was bought a few days ago at the sale of some municipal stores. I
noticed in The Times there was an advertisement of such a sale. Do you
realise how easy it would be not only to store under pressure, but to
make, in that tank, large quantities of a deadly gas, one important
element of which is carbon monoxide? Suppose this, or, as it may prove, a
more deadly gas, has been so stored, do you realise how simple a matter
it would be on a still, breathless morning to throw a big hose over the
bridge and fill the hollow with the gas? That is, I am sure, what
happened. Whatever else was used, there is still carbon monoxide in the
cutting, for when I dropped a match it was immediately extinguished, and
every match I burnt near the ground went out. If the car had run right
through and climbed the other slope of the cutting, the driver and the
men inside the trolley might have escaped death. As it was, rendered
momentarily unconscious, the driver turned his wheel and ran into the
bank, stopping the trolley. They were probably dead before Flack and his
associate, whoever it was, jumped down, wearing gas masks, lifted the
driver back into the trolley and drove on."

"And the farmer--" began the Commissioner.

"His death probably occurred some time after the trolley had passed. He
also descended into that death hollow, but the speed at which his car was
going carried him up nearer the cutting, though he must have been dead by
the time he got out."

He rose and stretched himself wearily. "Now I think I will go and
interview Miss Belman and set her mind at rest," he said. "Did you send
her to the hotel, as I asked you, Mr. Simpson?"

Simpson stared at him in blank astonishment. "Miss Belman?" he said. "I
haven't seen Miss Belman!"

14

HER head in a whirl, Margaret Belman had stepped into the cab that was
waiting at the door of Larmes Keep. The door was immediately slammed
behind her, and the cab moved off. She saw her companion: he had shrunk
into a corner of the landau, and greeted her with a little embarrassed
grin. He did not speak until the cab was some distance from the house.

"My name's Gray," he said. "Mr. Reeder hadn't a chance of introducing me.
Sergeant Gray, G.I.D."

"Mr. Gray, what does all this mean? This instrument I am to get...?"

Gray coughed. He knew nothing about the instrument, he explained, but his
instructions were to put her into a car that would be waiting at the foot
of the hill road.

"Mr. Reeder wants you to go up by car. You didn't see Brill anywhere, did
you?"

"Brill?" she frowned. "Who is Brill?"

He explained that there had been two officers inside the grounds, himself
and the man he had mentioned.

"But what is happening? Is there anything wrong at Larmes Keep?" she
asked.

She had no need to ask the question. That look in J. G. Reeder's eyes had
told her that something indeed was very wrong.

"I don't know, miss," said Gray diplomatically. "All I know is that the
Chief Inspector is down here with a dozen men, and that looks like
business. I suppose Mr. Reeder wanted to get you out of it."

She didn't "suppose"--she knew, and her heart beat a little quicker. What
was the mystery of Larmes Keep? Had all this to do with the disappearance
of Ravini? She tried hard to think calmly and logically, but her thoughts
were out of control.

The station fly stopped at the foot of the hill, and Gray jumped out. A
little ahead of him she saw the tail light of a car drawn up by the side
of the roadway.

"You've got the letter, miss? The car will take you straight to Scotland
Yard, and Mr. Simpson will look after you."

He followed her to the car and held open the door for her, and stood in
the roadway watching till the tail light disappeared round a bend of the
road.

It was a big, cosy landaulette, and Margaret made herself comfortable in
the corner, pulled the rug over her knees, and settled down to the two
hours' journey. The air was a little close: she tried unsuccessfully to
pull down one of the windows, then tried the other. Not only was there no
glass to the windows, but the shutters were immovable. Something
scratched her knuckle. She felt along the frame of the window....Screws,
recently inserted. It was a splinter of the raw wood which had cut her.

With growing uneasiness she felt for the inside handle of the door, but
there was none. A search of the second door revealed a like state of
affairs.

Her movements must have attracted the attention of the driver, for the
glass panel was pushed back and a harsh voice greeted her.

"You can sit down and keep quiet! This isn't Reeder's car: I've sent it
home."

The voice went into a chuckle that made her blood run cold.

"You're coming with me...to see life....Reeder's going to weep tears of
blood. You know me, eh?...Reeder knows me, I wanted to get him to-night.
But you'll do, my dear."

Suddenly the glass panel was shut to. He turned off the main road and was
following a secondary, his object being, she guessed, to avoid the big
towns and villages en route. She put out her hand and felt the wall of
the car. It was an all-weather body with a leather back. If she had a
knife she might cut--

She gasped as a thought struck her, and, reaching up, she felt the metal
fastening that kept the leather hood attached. Exerting all her strength,
she thrust back the flat hook and, bracing her feet against the front of
the machine, dragged at the leather hood. A rush of cold air came in as
the hood began slowly to collapse. The closed car was now an open car.
She could afford to lose no time. The car was making thirty miles an
hour, but she must take the risk of injury. Scrambling over the back of
the hood, she gripped tight at the edge, and let herself drop into the
roadway.

Although she turned a complete somersault, she escaped injury in some
miraculous fashion, and, coming to her feet, cold with fear and trembling
in every limb, she looked round for a way of escape. The hedge on her
left was high and impenetrable. On her right was a low wooden fence, and
over this she climbed as she heard the squeak of brakes and saw the car
come to a standstill.

Even as she fled, she was puzzled to know what kind of land she was on.
It was not cultivated; it was more like common land, for there was
springy down beneath her feet, and clumps of gorse bushes sent out their
spiny fingers to clutch at her dress as she flew past. She thought she
heard the man hailing her, but fled on in the darkness.

Somewhere near at hand was the sea. She could smell the fragrance of it.
Once when she stopped to take breath she could hear the distant thunder
of the waves as they rolled up some unseen beach. She listened, almost
deafened by the beating of her heart. "Where are you? Come back, you
fool..." The voice was near at hand. Not a dozen yards away she saw a
black figure moving, and had all her work to stifle the scream that rose
in her throat. She crouched down behind a bush and waited, and then to
her horror she saw a beam of light spring from the darkness. He had an
electric lamp and was fanning it across the ground.

Detection was inevitable, and, springing to her feet, she ran, doubling
from side to side in the hope of outwitting her pursuer. Now she found
the ground sloping under her feet, and that gave her additional speed.
She had need of it, for he saw her against the skyline, and came on after
her, a babbling, shrieking fury of a man. And now capture seemed
inevitable. She made one wild leap to escape his outstretched hands, and
her feet suddenly trod on nothing. Before she could recover, she was
falling, falling. She struck a bush, and the shock and pain of the impact
almost made her faint. She was falling down a steep slope, and her wild
hands clutched tree and sand and grass, and then, just as she had given
up all hope, she found herself rolling over and over on a level plateau,
and came to rest with one leg hanging over a sheer drop of two hundred
feet. Happily, it was dark.

Margaret Belman did not realise how near to death she had been till the
dawn came up.

Below her was the sea and a slither of yellow sand. She was looking into
a little bay that held no human dwelling so far as she could see. This
was not astonishing, for the beach was only approachable from the water.
Somewhere on the other side of the northern bluff, she guessed, was
Siltbury. Beneath her a sheer fall over the chalky face of the cliff;
above her, a terribly steep slope, but which might be negotiated, she
thought hopefully.

She had lost one shoe in her fall, and after a little search found this,
so near to the edge of the cliff that she grew dizzy as she stooped to
pick it up.

The plateau was about fifty yards long, in the shape of a half-moon, and
was almost entirely covered with gorse bushes. The fact that she found
dozens of nests was sufficient proof that this spot was not visited even
by the most daring of cliff-climbers. She understood now the significance
of the low rail on the side of the road, which evidently followed the
sea-coast westwards for some miles. How far was she from Larmes Keep? she
wondered--until the absurdity of considering such a matter occurred to
her. How near was she to starvation and death was a more present problem.

Her task was to escape from the plateau. There was a chance that she
might be observed from the sea, but it was a remote one. The few
pleasure-boats that went out from Siltbury did not go westward; the
fishing fleet invariably tacked south. Lying face downward, she looked
over the edge, in the vain hope that she would find an easy descent, but
none was visible. She was hungry, but, though she searched the nests,
there were no eggs to be found.

There was nothing to be done but to make a complete exploration of the
plateau. Westward it yielded nothing, but on the eastern side she
discovered a scrub-covered slope which apparently led to yet another
plateau, not so broad as the one she was on.

To slide down was an easy matter; to check herself so that she did not go
beyond the plateau offered greater difficulty. With infinite labour she
broke off two stout branches of a thick furze bush, and, using these as a
skier uses her stick to check her progress, she began to shuffle down,
feet first. She could move slowly enough when the face of the declivity
was composed of sand or loam, or when there were friendly bushes to hold,
but there were broad stretches of weatherworn rock to slide across, and
on these the stick made no impression and her velocity increased at an
alarming rate.

And then, to her horror, she discovered that she was not keeping
direction; that, try as she did, she was slipping to the left of the
plateau, and though she strove desperately to move further to the right,
she made no progress. The bushes that littered the upper slope were more
infrequent here. There was indication of a recent landslide, which might
continue down to the sea-level or might end abruptly and disastrously
over the edge of some steep cliff. Slipping, sometimes on her back,
sometimes sideways, sometimes on her face, she felt her momentum increase
with every yard she covered. The ends of the ski-sticks were frayed to
feathery splinters, and already the desired plateau was above her.
Turning her head, she saw the white face of it dropping to the unseen
deeps.

Now she knew the worst. The slope twisted round a huge rock and dropped
at an acute angle into the sea. Almost before she could realise the
danger ahead, she was slipping faster and faster through the loam and
sand, the centre of a new landslide she had created. Boulders of a
terrifying size accompanied her--by a hair's-breadth she escaped being
crushed under one.

And then without warning she was shot into the air as from a catapult.
She had a swift vision of tumbling green below, and in another second the
water had closed over her and she was striking out with all her
strength...

It seemed almost an eternity before she came to the surface. Fortunately,
she was a good swimmer, and, looking round, she saw that the yellow beach
was less than fifty yards away. But it was fifty yards against at falling
tide, and she was utterly exhausted when she dragged herself ashore and
fell on the sand.

She ached from head to foot; her hands and limbs were lacerated. She felt
that her body was one huge bruise. As she lay recovering her breath she
heard one comforting sound, the splash of falling water. Half-way down
the cliff face was a spring, and, staggering across the beach, she drank
eagerly from her cupped hands. She was parched; her throat was so dry
that she could hardly articulate. Hunger she might bear, but thirst was
unendurable. She might remain alive for days, supposing she were not
discovered before that time.

There was now no need for her to make a long reconnaissance of the beach:
the way of escape lay open to her. A water-hollowed tunnel led through
the bluff and showed her yet another beach beyond. Siltbury was not in
sight. She had no idea how far she was from that desirable habitation of
human people, and did not trouble to think. After she had satisfied her
thirst she took off her shoes and stockings and made for the tunnel.

The second bay was larger and the beach longer. There were, she found,
small masses of rocks jutting far into the sea that had to be negotiated
with bare feet. The beach was longer than she had thought, and so far as
she could see there was no outlet, nor did the cliff diminish in height.
She had expected to find a cliff path, and this hope was strengthened
when she discovered the rotting hull of a boat drawn high and dry on the
beach. It was, she judged, about eight o'clock in the morning. She had
started wet through, but the warm September sun dried her rags--for rags
they were. She had all the sensations of a shipwrecked mariner on a
desert island, and after a while the loneliness and absence of all kinds
of human society began to get on her nerves.

Before she reached the end of the beach she saw that the only way into
the next bay was by swimming to where the rocky barrier was low enough to
be climbed. She could with great comfort to herself have discarded what
remained of her clothes, but beyond these rocks might lie civilisation,
and, tying her wet shoes and stockings together, she made fast her shoes,
and, knotting them about her waist, waded into the sea and swam steadily,
looking for a likely place to land. This she found--a step-shaped pyramid
of rocks that looked easier to negotiate than in fact they were. By dint
of hard climbing she came to the summit.

The beach here was shorter, the cliff considerably higher. Across the
shoulder of rock running to the sea she saw the white houses of Siltbury,
and the sight gave her courage. Descending from the rocky ridge was even
more difficult than climbing, and she was grateful when at last she sat
upon a flat ledge and dangled her bruised feet in the water.

Swimming back to the land taxed her strength to the full. It was nearly
an hour before her feet touched firm sand and she staggered up the beach.
Here she rested, until the pangs of hunger drove her towards the last
visible obstacle.

There was one which was not visible. After a quarter of an hour's walk
she found her way barred by a deep sea river which ran under the overhung
cliff. She had seen this place before: where was it? And then she
remembered, with an exclamation.

This was the cave that Olga had told her about, the cave that ran under
Larmes Keep. Shading her eyes, she looked up. Yes, there was the little
landslide; part of the wall that had been carried away protected from a
heap of rubble on the cliff side.

Suddenly Margaret saw something which made her breath come faster. On the
edge of the deep channel which the water had cut in the sand was the
print of a boot, a large, square-toed boot with a rubber heel. It had
been recently made. She looked farther along the channel and saw another:
it led to the mouth of the cave. On either side of the rugged entrance
was a billow of firm sand left by the retreating waters, and again she
saw the footprint. A visitor to the cave, perhaps, she thought. Presently
he would come out and she would explain her plight, though her appearance
left little need for explanation.

She waited, but there was no sign of the man. Stooping, she tried to peer
into its dark depths. Perhaps, if she were inside out of the light, she
could see better. She walked gingerly along the sand ledge, but as yet
her eyes, unaccustomed to the darkness, revealed nothing.

She took another step, passed into the entrance of the cave; and then,
from somewhere behind, a bare arm was flung round her shoulder, a big
hand closed over her mouth. In terror she struggled madly, but the man
held her in a grip of iron, and then her senses left her and she sank
limply into his arms.

15

MR. REEDER was not an emotional man. For the first time in his life
Inspector Simpson learnt that behind the calm and imperturbable demeanour
of the Public Prosecutor's chief detective lay an immense capacity for
violent language. He fired a question at the officer, and Simpson nodded.

"Yes, the car returned. The driver said that he had orders to go back to
London. I thought you had changed your plans. You're staying with this
bullion robbery, Reeder?"

Mr. Reeder glared across the desk, and despite his hardihood Inspector
Simpson winced.

"Staying with hell!" hissed Reeder. Simpson was seeing the real and
unsuspected J. G. Reeder and was staggered. "I'm going back to interview
that monkey-faced criminologist, and I'm going to introduce him to forms
of persuasion which have been forgotten since the Inquisition!"

Before Simpson could reply, Mr. Reeder was out of the door and flying
down the stairs.



It was the hour after lunch, and Daver was sitting at his desk, twiddling
his thumbs, when the door was pushed open unceremoniously and Mr. Reeder
came in. He did not recognise the detective, for a man who in a moment of
savage humour slices off his side-whiskers brings about an amazing change
in his appearance. And with the vanishing of those ornaments there had
been a remarkable transformation in Mr. Reeder's demeanour. Gone were his
useless pince-nez which had fascinated a generation of law-breakers; gone
the gentle, apologetic voice, the shyly diffident manner.

"I want you, Daver!"

"Mr. Reeder!" gasped the yellow-faced man, and turned a shade paler.

Reeder slammed the door to behind him, pulled up a chair with a crash,
and sat down opposite the hotel proprietor.

"Where is Miss Belman?"

"Miss Belman?"

Astonishment was expressed in every feature. "Good gracious, Mr. Reeder,
surely you know? She went up to get your dactyscope--is that the word? I
intended \ asking you to be good enough to let me see this--"

"Where--is--Miss--Belman? Spill it, Daver, and save yourself a lot of
unhappiness."

"I swear to you, my dear Mr. Reeder--"

Reeder leaned across the table and rang the bell.

"Do--do you want anything?" stammered the manager.

"I want to speak to Mrs. Flack--you call her Mrs. Burton, but Mrs. Flack
is good enough for me."

Daver's face was ghastly now. He had become suddenly wizened and old.

"I'm one of the few people who happen to know that John Flack is
married," said Reeder; "one of the few who know he has a daughter! The
question is, does John Flack know all that I know?"

He glowered down at the shrinking man.

"Does he know that after he was sent to Broadmoor his sneaking worm of a
secretary, his toady and parasite and slave, decided to carry on in the
Flack tradition, and used his influence and his knowledge to compel the
unfortunate daughter of mad John Flack to marry him?" A frenzied, almost
incoherent voice wailed:

"For God's sake...don't talk so loud...!"

But Mr. Reeder went on.

"Before Flack went to prison he put into the care of his daughter his
famous encyclopaedia of crime. She was the only person he trusted: his
wife was a weak slave whom he had always despised. Mr. Daver, the
secretary, got possession of those books a year after Flack was put in
gaol. He organised his own little gang at Flack's old headquarters, which
were nominally bought by you. Ever since you knew John Flack was planning
an escape--an escape in which you had to assist him--you've been living
in terror that he would discover how you had double-crossed him. Tell me
I'm a liar and I'll beat your miserable little head off! Where is
Margaret Belman?"

"I don't know," said the man sullenly. "Flack had a car waiting for her:
that's all I know."

Something in his tone, something in the shifty slant of his eyes,
infuriated Reeder. He stretched out a long arm, gripped the man by the
collar and jerked him savagely across the desk. As a feat of physical
strength it was remarkable; as a piece of propaganda of the frightfulness
that was to follow, it had a strange effect upon Daver. He lay limp for a
second, and then, with a quick jerk of his collar, he wrenched himself
from Reeder's grip and fled from the room, slamming the door behind him.
By the time Reeder had kicked an overturned chair from his path and
opened the door, Daver had disappeared.

When Reeder reached the hall it was empty. He met none of the servants
(he learnt later that the majority had been discharged that morning, paid
a month's wages and sent to town by the first train). He ran out of the
main entrance on to the lawn, but the man he sought was not in sight. The
other side of the house drew a blank. One of the detectives on duty in the
grounds, attracted by Mr. Reeder's hasty exit, came running into the
vestibule as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

"Nobody came out, sir," he said, when Reeder explained the object of his
search.

"How many men are there in the grounds?" asked Reeder shortly. "Four?
Bring them into the house. Lock every door, and bring back a crowbar with
you. I am going to do a little investigation that may cost me a lot of
money. No sign of Brill?"

"No, sir," said the detective, shaking his head sadly. "Poor old Brill!
I'm afraid they've done him. The young lady get to town all right, sir?"

Mr. Reeder scowled at him. "The young lady--what do you know about her?"
he asked sharply.

"I saw her to the car," said Detective Gray.

Reeder gripped him by the coat and led him along the vestibule.

"Now tell me, and tell me quickly, what sort of car was it?"

"I don't know, Mr. Reeder," said the man in surprise. "An ordinary car
kind of, except that the windows were shuttered, but I thought that was
your idea."

"What sort of body was it?"

The man described the machine as accurately as possible; he had only made
a superficial inspection. He thought, however, it was an all-weather
body. The news was no more than Reeder had expected--neither added to nor
diminished his anxiety. When Gray had gone back to his companions and the
door was locked, Mr. Reeder, from the landing above, called them up to
the first floor. A very thorough search had already been made by the
police that morning; but, so far, Daver's room had escaped anything but
superficial attention. It was situated at the far end of the corridor,
and was locked when the search-party arrived. It took less than two
minutes to force an entrance. Mr. Daver's suite consisted of a
sitting-room, a bedroom, and a handsomely-fitted bathroom. There was a
number of books in the former, a small Empire table on which were neatly
arranged a pile of accounts, but there was nothing in the way of
documents to reveal his relationship with the Flack gang.

The bedroom was beautifully furnished. Here, again, from Reeder's point
of view, the search was unsatisfactory.

The suite formed one of the angles of the old Keep, and Reeder was
leaving the room when his eyes, roving back for a last look round, were
arrested by the curious position of a brown leather divan in one corner
of the room. He went back and tried to pull it away from the wall, but
apparently it was a fixture. He kicked at the draped side and it gave
forth a hollow wooden sound.

"What has he got in that divan?" he asked.

After considerable search Gray found a hidden bolt, and, this thrown
back, the top of the divan came up like the lid of a box. It was empty.

"The rum thing about this house, sir," said Gray as they went downstairs
together, "is that one always seems on the point of making an important
discovery, and it always turns out to be a dud."

Reeder did not reply: he was too preoccupied with his growing distress.
After a while he spoke.

"There are many queer things about this house--"

And then there came a sound which froze the marrow of his bones. It was a
shrill shriek; the scream of a human soul in agony.

"Help!...Help, Reeder!"

It came from the direction of the room he had left, and he recognised
Daver's voice.

"Oh, God...!"

The sound of a door slamming. Reeder took the stairs three at a time, the
detectives following him. Daver's door he had left ajar, but in the short
time he had been downstairs, it had been shut and bolted.

"The crowbar, quick!"

Gray had left it below, and, flying down, returned in a few seconds.

No sound came from the room. Pushing the claw of the crowbar between
architrave and door at the point where he had seen the bolt, Reeder
levered it back and the door flew open with a crash. One step into the
apartment and then he stood stock still, glaring at the bed, unable to
believe his eyes.

On the silken counterpane, sprawled in an indescribable attitude, his
round, sightless eyes staring at the ceiling, was Daver. Mr. Reeder knew
that he was dead before he saw the terrible wound, or the brown-hilted
knife that stuck out from his side.

Reeder listened at the heart--felt the pulse of the warm wrist, but it
was a waste of time, as he knew. He made a quick search of the clothing.
There was an inside pocket in the waistcoat, and here he found a thick
pad of banknotes.

"All thousands," said Mr. Reeder, "and ninety-five of them. What's in
that packet?"

It was a little cardboard folder, and contained a steamship ticket from
Southampton to New York, made out in the name of "Sturgeon"; and in the
coat pocket Reeder found a passport which was stamped by the American
Embassy and bore the same name.

"He was ready to jump--but he delayed it too long," he said. "Poor
devil!"

"How did he get here, sir?" asked Gray. "They couldn't have carried
him--"

"He was alive enough when we heard him," said Reeder curtly. "He was
being killed when we heard him shriek. There is a way into this room we
haven't discovered yet. What's that?"

It was the sound of a muffled thud, as if a heavy door had been closed.
It seemed to come from somewhere in the room. Reeder took the crowbar
from the detective's hand and attacked the panel behind the settee.
Beneath was solid wall. He ripped down another strip, with no more
enlightening result. Again he opened the divan. Its bottom was made of a
thin layer of oak. This too was ripped off; beneath this again was the
stone floor.

"Strip it," said Reeder, and when this was done he stepped inside the
divan and see-sawed gingerly from one end to the other.

"There's nothing here," he said. "Go downstairs and 'phone Mr. Simpson.
Tell him what has happened."

When the man had gone he resumed his examination of the body. Daver had
carried, attached to one of the buttons of his trousers, a long gold
chain. This was gone: he found it broken off close to the link, and the
button itself hanging by a thread. It was whilst he was making his
examination that his hand touched a bulky package in the dead man's hip
pocket. It was a worn leather case, filled with scraps of memoranda,
mostly undecipherable. They were written in a formless hand, generally
with pencil, and the writing was large and irregular, whilst the paper
used for these messages was of every variety. One was a scrawled chemical
formula: another was a brief note which ran:

House opposite Reeder to let. Engage or get key. Communicate usual place.

Some of these notes were understandable, some beyond Mr. Reeder's
comprehension. But he came at last to a scrap which swept the colour from
his cheeks. It was written in the same hand on the selvedge of a
newspaper, and was crumpled into a ball:

Belman fell over cliff 6 miles west Larme. Send men to get body before
police discover.

Mr. J. G. Reeder read and the room spun round.

16

WHEN Margaret Belman recovered consciousness she; was in the open air,
lying in a little recess, effectively hidden from the mouth of the cave.
A man in a torn shirt and ragged trousers was standing by her side,
looking down at her. As she opened her eyes she saw him put his finger to
his mouth, as though to signal silence. His hair was unkempt; streaks of
dried blood zigzagged down his face, and the hair above, she saw, was
matted. Yet there was a certain kindliness in his disfigured face which
reassured her as he knelt down and, making a funnel of his hands,
whispered:

"Be quiet! I'm sorry to have frightened you, but I was scared you'd shout
if you saw me. I suppose I look pretty awful." His grin was very
reassuring.

"Who are you?" she asked in the same tone.

"My name's Brill, C.I.D."

"How did you get here?" she asked.

"I'd like to be able to tell you," he answered grimly. "You're Miss
Belman, aren't you?"

She nodded. He lifted his head, listening, and, flattening himself
against the rock, craned out slowly and peeped round the edge of his
hiding-place. He did not move for about five minutes, and by this time
she had risen to her feet. Her knees were dreadfully shaky; she felt
physically sick, and once again her mouth was dry and parched. Apparently
satisfied, he crept back to her side. "I was left on duty in Reeder's
room. I thought I heard him calling from the window--you can't
distinguish voices when they whisper--and asking me to come out quick, as
he wanted me. I'd hardly dropped to the ground before--cosh!" He touched
his head gingerly and winced. "That's all I remember till I woke up and
found myself drowning. I've been in the cave all the morning--naturally."

"Why naturally?" she whispered.

"Because the beach is covered with water at high tide and the cave's the
only place. It is a little too densely populated for me just now."

She stared at him in amazement.

"Populated? What do you mean?"

"Whisper!" he warned her, for she had raised her voice.

Again he listened.

"I'd like to know how they got down--Daver and that old devil."

She felt herself going white.

"You mean...Flack?"

He nodded.

"Flack's only been here about an hour, and how he got down God knows. I
suppose our fellows are patrolling the house?"

"The police?" she asked in astonishment.

"Flack's headquarters--didn't you know it? I suppose you wouldn't. I
thought Reeder--I mean Mr. Reeder--told you everything."

He was rather a talkative young man, more than a little exuberant at
finding himself alive, and with good reason.

"I've been dodging in and out the cave all the morning. They've got a
sentry on duty up there "--he nodded towards Siltbury. "It's a marvellous
organisation. They held up a gold convoy this morning and got away with
it--I heard the old man telling his daughter. The funny thing is that,
though he wasn't there to superintend the steal, his plan worked out like
clockwork. It's a curious thing, any crook will work for old Flack. He's
employed the cleverest people in the business, and Ravini is the only man
that ever sold him."

"Do you know what has happened to Mr. Ravini?" she asked, and he shook
his head.

"He's dead, I expect. There are a lot of things in the cave that I
haven't seen, and some that I have. They've got a petrol boat inside...
as big as a church!...the boat, I mean...hush!"

Again he shrank against the cliff. Voices were coming nearer and nearer.
Perhaps it was the peculiarity of the cave which gave him the illusion
that the speakers were standing almost at their elbow. Brill recognised
the thin, harsh voice of the old man and grinned again, but it was not a
pleasant smile to see.

"There's something wrong, something damnably wrong. What is it, Olga?"

"Nothing, father."

Margaret recognised the voice of Olga Crewe.

"You have been very good and very patient, my love, and I would not have
planned to come out, but I wanted to see you settled in life. I am very
ambitious for you, Olga."

A pause, and then:

"Yes, father."

Olga Crewe's voice was a little dispirited, but apparently the old man
did not notice this.

"You are to have the finest husband in the land, my dear. You shall have
a house that any princess would envy. It shall be of white marble with
golden cupolas...you shall be the richest woman in the land, Olga. I
have planned this for you. Night after night as I lay in bed in that
dreadful place I said to myself: 'I must go out and settle Olga's
future.' That is why I came out--only for that reason. All my life I have
worked for you."

"Mother says--" began the girl.

"Pah!" Old John Flack almost spat the word. "An unimaginative commoner,
with the soul of a housekeeper! She has looked after you well? Good. All
the better for her. I would never have forgiven her if she had neglected
you. And Daver? He has been respectful? He has given you all the money
you wanted?"

"Yes, father."

Margaret thought she detected a catch in the girl's voice.

"Daver is a good servant. I will make his fortune. The scum of the
gutter--but faithful. I told him to be your watch-dog. I am pleased with
him. Be patient a little while longer. I am going to see all my dreams
come true."

The voice of the madman was tender, so transfigured by love and pride
that it seemed to be a different man who was speaking. Then his voice
changed again.

"The Colonel will be back to-night. He is a trustworthy man...Gregory
also. They shall be paid like ambassadors. You must bear with me a little
while, Olga. All these unpleasant matters will be cleared up. Reeder we
shall dispose of. To-morrow at high tide we leave..."

The sound of the voices receded until they became an indistinguishable
murmur. Brill looked round at the girl and smiled again.

"Can you beat him?" he asked admiringly. "Crazy as a barn coot! But he
has the cleverest brain in London: even Reeder says that. God! I'd give
ten years' salary and all my chance of promotion for a gun!"

"What shall we do?" she asked after a long silence.

"Stay here till the tide turns, then we'll have to take our chance in the
cave. We'd be smashed to pieces if we waited on the beach."

"There's no way up the cliff?"

He shook his head. "There's a way out through the cave if we can only
find it," he said. "One way? A dozen! I tell you that this cliff is like
a honeycomb. One of these days it will collapse like froth on a glass of
beer. I heard Daver say so, and the mad fellow agreed. Mad? I wish I had
his brain! He's going to dispose of Reeder, is he? The cemeteries are
full of people who've tried to dispose of Reeder!"

17

IT seemed an eternity before the tide turned and began slowly to make its
noisy way up the beach. Most of the time she was alone in the little
recess, for Brill made periodical reconnaissances into the mouth of the
cave. She would have accompanied him, but he explained the difficulties
she would find.

"It is quite dark until the tide comes in, and then we get the reflected
light from the water and you can see your way about quite easily."

"Is there anybody there?"

He nodded.

"Two chaps who are tinkering about with a boat. She's high and dry at
present on the bed of the channel, but she floats out quite easily."

The first whirl of water was around them when he came out from the cave
and beckoned her.

"Keep close to the wall," he whispered, "and hold fast to my sleeve."

She obeyed and followed him and they slipped round to the left, following
a fairly level path. Before they had come into the cave, he had warned
her that under no circumstances must she speak, not even whisper, except
through hollowed hands placed against his ear. The properties of the cave
were such that the slightest sound was magnified.

They went a long way to the left, and she thought that they were
following a passage; it was not until later that she discovered the huge
dimensions of this water-hollowed cavern. After a while he reached back
and touched her right hand, as a signal that he was turning to the right.

Whilst they were waiting on the beach he had drawn a rough plan in the
sand, and assured her that the ledge on which they now walked offered no
obstacle. He pressed her hand to warn her he was stopping, and, bending
down, he groped at the rocky wall where he had left his shoes. Up and up
they went; she began to see dimly now, though the cave remained in
darkness and she was unable with any accuracy to pick out distant
objects. His arm came back and she found herself guided into a deep
niche, and he patted her shoulder to tell her she could sit down.

They had to wait another hour before a thin sheet of water showed at the
mouth of the cave, and then, as if by magic, the interior was illuminated
by a ghostly green light. The greatest height of the cave it was
impossible to tell from where she sat, because just above them was a low
and jagged roof. The farther side of the cave was distant fifty yards,
and here the rocky wall seemed to run straight down from the roof to the
sandy bottom. It was under this that she saw the motor boat, a long grey
craft, entirely devoid of any superstructure. It lay heeled over on its
side, and she saw a figure walk along the canted deck and disappear down
a hatchway. The farther the water came into the cave, the brighter grew
the light. He circled his two hands about her ear and whispered:

"Shall we stay here or try to find a way out?" and she replied in like
fashion:

"Let us try."

He nodded and silently led the way. It was no longer necessary for her to
hold on to him. The path they were following had undoubtedly been shaped
by human hands. Every dozen yards was a rough-hewn block of stone put
across the path step fashion. They were ascending, and now had the
advantage of being screened by the cave from people on the boat, for on
their right rose a jagged screen of rock.

They had not progressed a hundred yards before screen and wall joined,
and beyond this point progress seemed impossible. The passage was in
darkness. Apparently Brill had explored the way, for, taking the girl by
the arm, he moved to the right, feeling along the uneven wall. The path
beneath was more difficult, and the rocky floor made walking a pain. She
was near to exhaustion when she saw, ahead of her, an irregular patch of
grey light. Apparently this curious gallery led back to the far end of
the cave, but before they reached the opening Brill signalled her to
halt.

"You'd better sit down," he whispered. "We can put on our shoes."

The stockings that she had knotted about her waist were still wet, and her
shoes two soggy masses, but she was glad to have some protection for her
feet. Whilst she was putting them on, Brill crept forward to the opening
and took observation.

The water which had now flooded the cave was some fifty feet below them,
and a few paces would bring them to a broad ledge of rock which formed a
natural landing for a flight of steps leading down from the misty
darkness of the roof to water-level. The steps were cut in the side of
the bare rock; they were about two feet in breadth and were unprotected
even by a makeshift handrail. It would be, he saw a nerve-racking
business for the girl to attempt the climb, and he was not even sure that
it would be worth the attempt. That they led to one of the many exits
from the cave, he knew, because he had seen people climbing up and down
those steps and disappearing in the darkness at the top. Possibly the
stairs broadened nearer the roof, but even so it was a very severe test
for a half-starved girl, whom he guessed was on the verge of hysteria; he
was not quite certain that he himself would not be attacked by vertigo if
he made the attempt.

There was a space behind the steps that brought him to the edge of the
rock, part of the floor of the cave, and it was this way that he intended
to guide Margaret. There was no sound; far away to his right the men on
the launch were apparently absorbed in their work, and, returning, he
told the girl his plan, and she accompanied him to the foot of the steps.
At the sight of that terrifying stairway she shuddered.

"I couldn't possibly climb those," she whispered as he pointed upwards
into the gloom.

"I have an idea there is a sort of balcony running the width of the cave,
and it was from there I was thrown," he said. "I have reason to know that
there is a fairly deep pool at the foot of it. When the tide is up, the
water reaches the back wall--that is where I found myself when I came to
my senses."

"Is there any other way from the cave?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I'm blest if I know. I've only had a very hasty look
round, but there seems to be a sort of tunnel at the far end. It's worth
while exploring--nobody is about, and we are too far from the boat for
them to see us."

They waited for a while, listening, and then, Brill walking ahead, they
passed the foot of the stairs and followed a stony path which, to the
girl's relief, broadened as they progressed.

Margaret Belman never forgot that nightmare walk, with the towering rock
face on her left, the straight drop to the floor of the cave on her right
hand.

They had now reached the limit of the rocky chamber, and found themselves
confronted by the choice of four openings. There was one immediately
facing them, another--and this was also accessible--about forty feet to
the right, and two others which apparently could not be reached. Leaving
Margaret, Brill groped his way into the nearest. He was gone half an hour
before he returned with a story of failure.

"The whole cliff is absolutely bored with rock passages," he said. "I
gave it up because it is impossible to go far without a light."

The second opening promised better. The floor was even, and it had this
advantage that it ran straight in line with the mouth of the cave, and
there was light for a considerable distance. She followed him along this
passage.

"It is worth trying," he said, and she nodded her agreement.

They had not gone far before he discovered something which he had
overlooked on his first trip. At regular intervals there were niches in
the wall. He had noticed these, but had failed to observe their
extraordinary regularity. The majority were blocked with loose stone, but
he found one that had not been so guarded, and felt his way round the
wall. It was a square, cell-like chamber, so exactly proportioned that it
must have been created by the hand of man. He came back to announce his
intention of exploring the next of the closed cells.

"These walls haven't been built up for nothing," he told her, and there
was a note of suppressed excitement in his voice.

The farther they progressed, the poorer and more inadequate was the
light. They had to feel their way along the wall until the next recess
was reached. Flat slabs of rock, laid one on the other, had been piled up
in the entrance, and the work of removing the top layers was a painful
one. Margaret could not help him. She sat with her back to the wall and
fell into the uneasy sleep of exhaustion. She had almost ceased to be
hungry, though her throat was parched with a maddening thirst. She woke
heavily and found Brill shaking her shoulder.

"I've been inside"--his voice was quavering with excitement. "Hold out
your hands, both together!"

She obeyed mechanically, and felt something cold drip into her palms,
and, drooping her head, drank. The sting of the wine took her breath
away.

"Champagne," he whispered. "Don't drink too much or you'll get tight!"

She sipped again. Never had wine tasted so delicious. "It's a storehouse;
boxes of food, I think, and hundreds of bottles of wine. Hold your
hands."

He poured more wine into her palms; most of it escaped through her
fingers, but she drank eagerly the few drops that remained. "Wait here."

She was very much awake now; peered into the darkness towards the place
where he had disappeared. Ten minutes, a quarter of an hour passed, and
then, to her joy, there appeared from behind the stony barrier, revealing
in silhouette the hole through which Brill had crawled, a white and
steady light. She heard the crack and crash of a box being opened, saw
the bulk of the detective as he appeared in the hole, and in a second he
was by her side.

"Biscuits," he said. "Lucidly the box was labelled."

"What was the light?" she asked as she seized the crackers eagerly.

"A small battery lantern; I knocked it over as I was groping. The place
is simply stocked with grub! Here's a drink for you."

He handed her a flat, round tin, guided her finger to the hole he had
punched.

"Preserved milk--German and good stuff," he said.

She drank thirstily, not taking her lips from the tin until it was empty.

"This seems to be the ship's store," he said, "but the great blessing is
the lamp. I'm going in to see if I can find a box of refills; there isn't
a great deal of juice left in the battery."

His search occupied a considerable time, and then she saw the light go
out and her heart sank, until the light flashed up again, this time more
brilliant than ever. He scrambled out and dropped down the rugged wall
and pushed something heavy into her hand.

"A spare lamp," he said. "There are half a dozen there, and enough
refills to last us a month."

He struck the stone wall with something that clanged.

"A case-opener," he explained, "and a useful weapon. I wonder which of
these storehouses holds the guns?"

The exploration of the passage could now be made in comparative comfort.
There was need of the lamps, for a few yards farther on the tunnel turned
abruptly to the right, and the floor became more irregular. Brill turned
on his light and showed the way. Now the passage turned to the left, and
he pointed out how smooth were the walls.

"Water action," he said. "There must have been a subterranean river here
at some time."

Twisting and turning, the gallery led now up, now down, now taking almost
a hairpin turn, now sweeping round in an almost perfect curve, but
leading apparently nowhere.

Brill was walking ahead, the beam of his lamp sweeping along the ground,
when she saw him stop suddenly, and, stooping, he picked something from
the ground.

"How the dickens did this get here?"

On the palm of his hand lay a bright silver florin, a little battered at
the edge, but unmistakably a two-shilling piece.

"Somebody has been, here--" he began, and then she uttered a cry.

"Oh!" gasped Margaret. "That was Mr. Reeder's!"

She told him of the incident at the well; how J. G. Reeder had dropped
the coin to test the distance. Brill put the light of his lamp on the
ceiling; it was solid rock. And then he sent the rays moving along, and
presently the lamp focused on a large round opening.

"Here is the well that never was a well," he said grimly; and flashing
the light upward, looked open-mouthed at the steel rungs fitted every few
inches in the side of the well.

"A ladder," he said slowly. "What do you know about that?"

He reached up, standing on tiptoe, but the nearest rung was at least a
yard beyond his hand, and he looked round for some loose stones which he
could pile up, and from the top of which he could reach the lowest bar of
the ladder. But none was in sight, except a few splinters of stone which
were valueless for his purpose. And then he remembered the case-opener;
it had a hook at the end, and, holding this above his head, he leapt. The
first time he missed; the second time the hook caught the steel rung and
the handle slipped from his grip, leaving the case-opener dangling. He
rubbed his hands on the dusty floor and sprang again. This time he caught
and held, and with a superhuman effort pulled himself up until his hand
gripped the lower ring. Another struggle, and he had drawn himself up
hand over hand till his feet rested on the bar.

"Do you think if I pulled you up you have strength to climb?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Go up alone; I will wait here."

"Keep clear of the bottom," he warned her. "I may not fall, but as likely
as not I shall dislodge a few chunks of rock in my progress."

The warning was well justified, she found. There was a continuous shower
of stone and earth as he progressed. From time to time he stopped to
rest. Once he shouted down something which she could not distinguish. It
was probably a warning, for a few seconds later a mass of rock as large
as a man's head crashed down and smashed on the floor, sending fragments
flying in all directions.

Peeping up from time to time, she could see the glimmer of his lamp
growing fainter; and now, left alone, she began to grow nervous, and for
company switched on her light. She had hardly done so when she heard a
sound which brought her heart to her mouth. It was the sound of
footsteps; somebody was walking along the passage towards her.

She turned the switch of the lamp and listened. The old man's voice! Only
his, and none other. He was talking to himself, a babble of growling
sound that was becoming more and more distinct. And then, far away, she
saw the glow of a reflected light, for the passage swept round at this
point and he would not be visible until he was upon her.

Slipping off her shoes, she sped along in the darkness, tumbling and
sliding on the uneven pathway. After a while panic left her and she
stopped and looked back. The light was no longer visible; there was
neither sound nor sign of him; and, plucking up courage, after a few
minutes she retraced her steps. She dared not put on the light, and must
guess where the well opening was. In the darkness she passed it, and she
was soon a considerable distance beyond the place where Brill had left
her.

Where had Flack gone? There were no side passages. She was standing by
one of the recesses, her hand resting on the improvised stone screen,
when, to her horror, she felt it moving away from her, and had just time
to shrink back when she saw a crack of light appear on the opposite wall
and broaden until there was outlined the shape of a doorway.

"...To-night, my dear, to-night...I'm going up to see Daver. Daver is
worrying me...you are sure nothing has happened that might shake my
confidence in him?"

"Nothing, father. What could have happened?" It was Olga Crewe's voice.
She said something else which Margaret could not hear, and then she heard
the chuckling laugh of the old man.

"Reeder? He's busy in London! But he'll be back to-night..."

Again a question which Margaret could not catch. "The body hasn't been
found. I didn't want to hurt the girl, but she was useful...my best
card....I could have caught Reeder with her--had it all arranged."
Another question.

"I suppose so. The tide is very high. Anyway, I saw her fall..."

Margaret knew they were talking about her, but this interested her less
than the possibility of discovery. She walked backward, step by step,
hoping and praying that she would find a niche into which she could
shrink. Presently she found what she wanted.

Flack had come out into the passage and was standing talking back into
the room.

"All right, I'll leave the door open...imagination. There's plenty of
air. The well supplies that. I'll be back this evening."

She dared not look, but after a while his footsteps became fainter. The
door was still open, and she saw a shadow growing larger on the opposite
wall, as Olga approached the entrance. Presently she heard a sigh; the
shadow became small again, and finally disappeared. Margaret crept
forward, hardly daring to breathe, until she came behind the open door.

It was, she guessed, made of stout oak, and the surface had been so
cunningly camouflaged with splinters of rock that it differed in no
respect from the walled recess into which Brill had broken.

Curiosity is dominant in the most rational of individuals, and, despite
her terrible danger, Margaret was curious to see the inside of that rocky
home of the Flacks. With the utmost caution she peeped round. She was
surprised at the size of the room and a little disappointed in its
furnishing. She had pictured rich rugs and gorgeous furniture, the walls
perhaps covered with silken hangings. Instead, she saw a plain deal table
on which stood a lamp, a strip of threadbare carpet, two basket chairs,
and a camp bed. Olga was standing by the table, looking down at a
newspaper; her back was towards the girl, and Margaret had time to make a
more prolonged scrutiny. Near the table were three or four suit-cases,
packed and strapped as though in preparation for a journey. A fur coat
lay across the bed, and that was the only evidence of luxury in this grim
apartment. There was a second person in the room. Margaret distinguished
in the shadow the drooping figure of a woman--Mrs. Burton.

She took a step forward to see better; her feet slipped upon the smooth
surface of the rock, and she fell forward against the door, half closing
it.

"Who is there? Is that you, father?"

Margaret's heart nearly stopped beating, and for a moment she stood
paralysed, incapable of movement. Then, as Olga's footsteps sounded, she
turned and fled along the passage, gripping tight her lantern. Olga's
voice challenged her, but on and on she ran. The corridor was growing
lighter, and with a gasp of horror she realised that in the confusion of
the moment she had taken the wrong direction and she was running towards
the great cave, possibly into the old madman's hands.

She heard the quick patter of footsteps behind her, and flew on. And now
she was in the almost bright light of the huge cavern. There was nobody
in sight, and she followed the twisting ledge that ran under the wall of
rock until she came to the foot of the long stairs. And then she heard a
shout. Somebody on the boat had seen her. As she stood motionless with
fear, mad John Flack appeared. He was coming towards her through the
passage by which she and Brill had reached the interior of the cave. For
a second he stared at her as though she were some ghastly apparition of
his mad dreams, and then with a roar he leapt towards her.

She hesitated no longer. In a second she was flying; up that awful
staircase, death on her right hand, but a more hideous fate behind.
Higher and higher, up those unrailed stairs...she dared not look, she
dared not think, she could only keep her eyes steadfastly upwards into
the misty gloom where this interminable Jacob's ladder ended on some
solid floor. Not for a fortune would she have looked behind, or vertigo
would have seized her. Her breath was coming in long sobs; her heart beat
as though it would burst. She dared pause for an infinitesimal time to
recover breath before she continued her flight. He was an old man; she
could outdistance him. But he was a madman, a thing of terrible and
abnormal energy. Panic was leaving her; it exhausted too much other
strength. Upward and upward she climbed, until she was in gloom, and
then, when it seemed that she could get no farther, she reached the head
of the stairs. A broad, flat space, with a rocky roof which, for some
reason, had been strengthened with concrete pillars. There were dozens of
these pillars...once she had taken a fortnight's holiday in Spain;
there was a cathedral in Cordova, of which this broad vault reminded
her...all sense of direction was lost now. She came with terrifying
suddenness to a blank wall; ran along it until she came to a narrow
opening where there were five steps, and here she stopped to turn on her
light. Facing her was a steel door with a great iron handle, and the
steel door was ajar.

She pulled it towards her, ran through, pulled the door behind her; it
fastened with a click. It had something attached to its inner side, a
steel projection...as she shut the door a box fell with a crash. There
was yet another door before her, and this was immovable. She was in a
tiny white box of a room, three feet wide, little more in depth. She had
no time to continue her observations. Someone was fumbling with the
handle of the door through which she had come. She gripped in desperation
at the iron shelf and felt it slide a little to the right. Though she did
not know this, the back part of the shelf acted as a bolt. Again she
heard the fumbling at the handle and the click of a key turning, but the
steel door remained immovable, and Margaret Belman sank in a heap to the
ground.

18

J. G. REEDER came downstairs, and those who saw his face realised that it
was not the tragedy he had almost witnessed which had made him so white
and drawn.

He found Gray in Daver's office, waiting for his call to London. It came
through as Reeder entered the room, and he took the instrument from his
subordinate's hand. He dismissed the death of Daver in a few words, and
went on:

"I want all the local policemen we can muster, Simpson, though I think it
would be better if we could get soldiers. There's a garrison town five
miles from here; the beaches have to be searched, and I want these caves
explored. There is another thing: I think it would be advisable to get a
destroyer or something to patrol the water before Siltbury. I'm pretty
sure that Flack has a motor-boat--there's a channel deep enough to take
it, and apparently there is a cave that stretches right under the
cliff....Miss Belman? I don't know. That is what I want to find out."

Simpson told him that the gold-wagon had been seen at Sevenoaks, and it
required a real effort on Mr. Reeder's part to bring his mind to such a
triviality.

"I think soldiers will be best. I'd like a strong party posted near the
quarry. There's another cave there where Daver used to keep his wagons. I
have an idea you might pick up the money to-night. That," he added, a
little bitterly, "will induce the authorities to use the military!"

After the ambulance had come and the pitiable wreck of Daver had been
removed, he returned to the man's suite with a party of masons he had
brought up from Siltbury. Throwing open the lid of the divan, he pointed
to the stone floor.

"That flag works on a pivot," he said, "but I think it is fastened with a
bolt or a bar underneath. Break it down."

A quarter of an hour was sufficient to shatter the stone flooring, and
then, as he had expected, he found a narrow flight of stairs leading to a
square stone room which remained very much as it had been for six hundred
years. A dusty, bare apartment, which yielded its secret. There was a
small open door and a very narrow passage, along which a stout man would
walk with some difficulty, and which led to behind the panelling of
Daver's private office. Mr. Reeder realised that anybody concealed here
could hear every word that was spoken. And now he understood Daver's
frantic plea that he should lower his voice when he spoke of the
marriage. Crazy Jack had learnt the secret of his daughter's
degradation--from that moment Daver's death was inevitable.

How had the madman escaped? That required very little explanation. At
some remote period Larmes Keep had evidently been used as a show-place.
He found an ancient wooden inscription fixed to the wall, which told the
curious that this was the torture-chamber of the old Counts of Larme; it
added the useful information that the dungeons were immediately beneath
and approached through a stone trap. This the detectives found, and Mr.
Reeder had his first view of the vaulted dungeons of Larmes Keep.

It was neither an impressive nor a thrilling exploration. All that was
obvious was that there were three routes by which the murderer could
escape, and that all three ways led back to the house, one exit being
between the kitchen and the vestibule.

"There is another way out," said Reeder shortly, "and we haven't found it
yet."

His nerves were on edge. He roamed from room to room, turning out boxes,
breaking open cupboards, emptying trunks. One find he made: it was the
marriage certificate, and it was concealed in the lining of Olga Crewe's
dressing-bag.

At seven o'clock the first detachment of troops arrived by motor van. The
local police had already reported that they had found no trace of
Margaret Belman. They pointed out that the tide was falling when the girl
left Larmes Keep, and that, unless she was lying on some invisible ledge,
she might have reached the beach in safety. There was, however, a very
faint hope that she was alive. How faint, J. H. Reeder would not admit.

A local cook had been brought in to prepare dinner for the detectives,
but Reeder contented himself with a cup of strong coffee--food, he felt,
would have choked him.

He had posted a detachment in the quarry, and, returning to the house,
was sitting in the big hall pondering the events of the day, when Gray
came flying into the room. "Brill!" he gasped.

J. G. Reeder sprang to his feet with a bound. "Brill?" he repeated
huskily. "Where is Brill?" There was no need for Gray to point. A
dishevelled and grimy figure, supported by a detective, staggered through
the doorway.

"Where have you come from?" asked Reeder. The man could not speak for a
second. He pointed to the ground, and then, hoarsely: "From the bottom of
the well...Miss Belman is down there now!"

Brill was in a state of collapse, and not until he had had a stiff dose
of brandy was he able to articulate coherent story. Reeder led a party to
the shrubbery, and the windlass was tested.

"It won't bear even the weight of a woman, and there's not sufficient
rope," said Gray, who made the test.

One of the officers remembered that, in searching the kitchen, he had
found two window cleaners' belts, stout straps with a safety hook
attached. He went in search of these, whilst Mr. Reeder stripped his coat
and vest.

"There's a gap of four feet half-way down," warned Brill. "The stone came
away when I put my foot on it, and I nearly fell."

Reeder, his lamp swung round his neck, peered down into the hole.

"It's strange I didn't see this ladder when I saw the well before," he
said, and then remembered that he had only opened one half of the flap.

Gray, who was also equipped with a belt, descended first, as he was the
lighter of the two. By this time half a company of soldiers were on the
scene, and by the greatest of good fortune the unit that had been turned
out to assist the police was a company of the Royal Engineers. Whilst one
party went in search of ropes, the other began to extemporise a hauling
gear.

The two men worked their way down without a word. The lamps were fairly
useless, for they could not show them the next rung, and after a while
they began to move more cautiously. Gray found the gap and called a halt
whilst he bridged it. The next rung was none too secure, Mr. Reeder
thought, as he lowered his weight upon it, but they passed the danger
zone with no other mishap than that which was caused by big pebbles
dropping on Reeder's head.

It seemed as though they would never reach the bottom, and the strain was
already telling upon the older man, when Gray whispered:

"This is the bottom, I think," and sent the light of his lamp downwards.
Immediately afterwards he dropped to the rocky floor of the passage, Mr.
Reeder following.

"Margaret!" he called in a whisper.

There was no reply. He threw the light first one way and then the other,
but Margaret was not in sight, and his heart sank.

"You go farther along the passage," he whispered to Gray. "I'll take the
other direction."

With the light of his lamp on the ground, he half walked, half ran along
the twisting gallery. Ahead of him he heard the sound of a movement not
easily identified, and he stopped to extinguish the light. Moving
cautiously forward, he turned an angle of the passage and saw at the far
end indication of daylight. Sitting down, he looked along, and after a
while he thought he saw a figure moving against this artificial skyline.
Mr. Reeder crept forward, and this time he was not relying upon a rubber
truncheon. He thumbed down the safety-catch of his Browning and drew
nearer and nearer to the figure. Most unexpectedly it spoke.

"Olga, where has your father gone?"

It was Mrs. Burton, and Reeder showed his teeth in an unamused grin.

He did not hear the reply: it came from some recessed place, and the
sound was muffled.

"Have they found that girl?"

Mr. Reeder listened breathlessly, craning his neck forward. The "No" was
very distinct.

Then Olga said something that he could not hear, and Mrs. Burton's voice
took on her old whine of complaint.

"What's the use of hanging about? That's the way you've always treated
me....Nobody would think I was your mother....I wonder I'm not dead,
the trouble I've had....I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't murder me
some day, you mark my words!"

There came an impatient protest from the hidden girl.

"If you're sick of it, what about me?" said Mrs. Burton shrilly. "Where's
Daver? It's funny your father hasn't said anything about Daver. Do you
think he's got into trouble?"

"Oh, damn Daver!"

Olga's voice was distinct now. The passion and weariness in it would have
made Mr. Reeder sorry for her in any other circumstances. He was too busy
being sorry for Margaret Belman to worry about this fateful young woman.

She did not know, at any rate, that she was a widow. Mr. Reeder derived a
certain amount of gruesome satisfaction from the superiority of his
intelligence.

"Where is he now? Your father, I mean?"

A pause as she listened to a reply which was not intelligible to Mr.
Reeder.

"On the boat? He'll never get across. I hate ships, but a tiny little
boat like that...! Why couldn't he let us go when we got him out? I
begged and prayed him to...we might have been in Venice or somewhere by
now, doing the grand."

The girl interrupted her angrily, and then Mrs. Burton apparently melted
into the wall.

There was no sound of a closing door, but Mr. Reeder guessed what had
happened. He came forward stealthily till he saw the bar of light on the
opposite wall, and, reaching the door, listened. The voices were clear
enough now; clearer because Mrs. Burton did most of the talking.

"Do you think your father knows?" She sounded rather anxious. "About
Daver, I mean? You can keep that dark, can't you? He'd kill me if he
knew. He's got such high ideas about you--princes and dukes and such
rubbish! If he hadn't been mad he'd have cleared out of this game years
ago, as I told him, but he'd never take much notice of me."

"Has anybody ever taken any notice of you?" asked the girl wearily. "I
wanted the old man to let you go. I knew you would be useless in a
crisis."

Mr. Reeder heard the sound of a sob. Mrs. Burton cried rather easily.

"He's only stopping to get Reeder," she whimpered. "What a fool trick!
That silly old man! Why, I could have got him myself if I was wicked
enough!"

From farther along the corridor came the sound of a quick step.

"There's your father," said Mrs. Burton, and Reeder pulled back the
jacket of his Browning, sacrificing the cartridge that was already in the
chamber, in order that there should be no mistake.

The footsteps stopped abruptly, and at the same time came a booming voice
from the far end of the passage. It was asking a question. Evidently
Flack turned back: his footsteps died away. Mr. Reeder decided that this
was not his lucky day.

Lying full length on the ground, he could see John Flack clearly. A
pressure of his finger, and the problem of this evil man would be settled
eternally. It was a fond idea. Mr. Reeder's finger closed around the
trigger, but all his instincts were against killing in cold blood.

Somebody was coming from the other direction, Gray, he guessed. He must
go back and warn him. Coming to his feet, he went gingerly along the
passage. The thing he feared happened. Gray must have seen him, for he
called out in stentorian tones:

"There's nothing at the other end of the passage, Mr. Reeder--"

"Hush, you fool!" snarled Reeder, but he guessed that the mischief was
done. He turned round, stooped again and looked. Old John Flack was
standing at the entrance of the tunnel, his head bent. Somebody else had
heard the detective's voice. With a squeak of fear, Mrs. Burton had
bolted into the passage, followed by her daughter--an excursion which
effectively prevented the use of the pistol, for they completely masked
the man whose destruction J. G. Reeder had privately sworn.

By the time he came to the end of the passage overlooking the great cave,
the two women and Flack had disappeared.

Mr. Reeder's eyesight was of the keenest. He immediately located the
boat, which was now floating on an even keel, and presently saw the three
fugitives. They had descended to the water's edge by a continuance of the
long stairway which led to the roof, and were making for the rocky
platform which served as a pier for the craft....

Something smacked against the rock above his head. There was a shower of
stone and dust, and the echoes of the explosion which followed were
deafening.

"Firing from the boat," said Mr. Reeder calmly. "You had better lie down.
Gray--I should hate to see so noisy a man as you reduced to compulsory
silence."

"I am very sorry, Mr. Reeder," said the penitent detective. "I had no
idea--"

"Ideas!" said Mr. Reeder accurately.

Smack!...smack!

One bullet struck to the left of him, the other passed exactly between
him and Gray. He was lying down now, with a small projection of rock for
cover.

Was Margaret on the boat? Even as the thought occurred to him, he
remembered "Mrs. Burton's" inquiry. As he saw another flash from the deck
of the launch, he threw forward his hand. There was a double explosion
which reverberated back from the arched roof, and although he could not
see the effect of his shots, he was satisfied that the bullets fell on
the launch.

She was pushing off from the side. The three Flacks were aboard. And now
he heard the crackle and crash of her engine as her nose swung round to
face the cave opening. And then into his eyes from the darkening sea
outside the cave flashed a bright light that illuminated the rocky shelf
on which he lay, and threw the motor-boat into relief.

The destroyer!

"Thank God for that!" said Mr. Reeder fervently. Those on the
motor-launch had seen the vessel and guessed its portent. The launch
swung round until her nose pointed to where the two detectives lay, and
from her deck came a roar louder than ever. So terrible was the noise in
that confined space that for a second Mr. Reeder was too dazed even to
realise that he was lying half buried in a heap of debris, until Gray
pulled him back to the passage. "They're using a gun, a quick-firer!" he
gasped.

Mr. Reeder did not reply. He was gazing, fascinated, at something that
was happening in the middle of the cave, where the water was leaping at
irregular intervals from some mysterious cause. Then he realised what was
taking place. Great rocks, disturbed by the concussion, were falling from
the roof. He saw the motor-boat heel over to the right, swing round
again, and head for the open. It was less than a dozen yards from the
cave entrance when, with a sound that was indescribable, so terrific, so
terrifying, that J. G. Reeder was rooted to the spot, the entrance to the
cave disappeared!

19

In an instant the air was filled with choking dust. Roar followed roar as
the rocks continued to fall.

"The mouth of the cave has collapsed!" roared Reeder in the other's ear.
"And the subsidence hasn't finished."

His first instinct was to fly along the passage to safety, but somewhere
in that awful void were two women. He switched on his light and crept
gingerly back to the bench whence he had seen the catastrophe. But the
rays of the lamp could not penetrate into the fog of dust for more than a
few yards.

Crawling forward to the edge of the platform, he strove to pierce the
darkness. All about him, above, below, on either side, a terrible
cracking and groaning was going on, as though the earth itself was in
mortal pain. Rocks, big and small, were falling from the roof; he heard
the splash of them as they struck the water--one fell on the edge of the
platform with a terrific din and bounded into the pit below.

"For God's sake, don't stay here, Mr. Reeder. You will be killed."

It was Gray shouting at him, but J. G. Reeder was already feeling his way
towards the steps which led down to where the boat had been moored, and
to which he guessed it would drift. He had to hold the lamp almost at his
feet. Breathing had become a pain. His face was covered with powder; his
eyes smarted excruciatingly; dust was in his mouth, his nose; but still
he went on, and was rewarded.

Out of the dust-mist came groping the ghostly figure of a woman. It was
Olga Crewe.

He gripped her by the arm as she swayed, and pushed her against the rocky
wall.

"Where is your mother?" he shouted. She shook her head and said something;
he lowered his ear to her mouth. "...boat...great rock...killed."

"Your mother?"

She nodded. Gripping her by the arm, he half led, half dragged her up the
stairs. He found Gray waiting at the top. As easily as though she were a
child, Mr. Reeder caught her up in his arms and staggered the distance
that separated them from the mouth of the passage.

The pandemonium of splintering rock and crashing boulder was continuous.
The air was thicker than ever. Gray's lamp went out, and Mr. Reeder's was
almost useless. It seemed a thousand years before they pushed into the
mouth of the tunnel. The air was filled with dust even here, but as they
progressed it grew clearer, more breathable.

"Let me down: I can walk," said the husky voice of Olga Crewe, and Reeder
lowered her gently to her feet.

She was very weak, but she could walk with the assistance that the two
men afforded. They stopped at the entrance of the living-room. Mr. Reeder
wanted the lamp--wanted more the water which she suggested would be found
in that apartment. A cold draught of spring water worked wonders on the
girl too.

"I don't know what happened," she said; "but when the cave opening fell
in, I think we drifted towards the stage...we always called that place
the stage. I was so frightened that I jumped immediately to safety, and
I'd hardly reached the rock when I heard a most awful crash. I think a
portion of the wall must have fallen on to the boat. I screamed, but
hardly heard myself in the noise. This is punishment--this is punishment!
 I knew it would come! I knew it, I knew it!"

She covered her grimy face with her hands, and her shoulders shook in the
excess of her sorrow and grief.

"There's no sense in crying." Mr. Reeder's voice was sharp and stern.
"Where is Miss Belman?"

She shook her head.

"Where did she go?"

"Up the stairway...father said she escaped. Haven't you seen her?" she
asked, raising her tearful face as she began slowly to realise the drift
of his question.

He shook his head, his narrowed eyes surveying her steadily.

"Tell me the truth, Olga Flack. Did Margaret Belman escape, or did your
father--?"

She was shaking her head before he had completed his sentence, and then,
with a little moan, she drooped and would have fallen had not Gray
supported her.

"We had better leave the questioning till later."

Mr. Reeder seized the lamp from the table and went out into the tunnel.
He had hardly passed the door before there was a crash, and the infernal
noises which had come from the cave were suddenly muffled. He looked
backward, but could see nothing. He guessed what had happened.

"There is a general subsidence going on in this mass of earth," he said.
"We shall be lucky if we get away."

He ran ahead to the opening of the well, and a glad sight met his eyes.
On the floor lay a coil of new rope, to which was attached a body belt.
He did not see the thin wire which came down from the mouth of the well,
but presently he detected a tiny telephone receiver that the engineers
had lowered. This he picked up, and his hail was immediately answered.

"Are you all right? Up here it feels as if there's an earthquake
somewhere."

Gray was fastening the belt about the girl's waist, and after it was
firmly buckled: "You mustn't faint--do you understand. Miss Crewe? They
will haul you up gently, but you must keep away from the side of the
well."

She nodded, and Reeder gave the signal. The rope grew taut, and presently
the girl was drawn up out of sight.

"Up you go," said Reeder.

Gray hesitated.

"What about you, sir?"

For answer Mr. Reeder pointed to the lowest rung, and, stooping, gripped
the leg of the detective and, displaying an unsuspected strength, lifted
him bodily so that he was able to grip the lower rung.

"Fix your belt to the rod, hold fast to the nearest rung, and I will
climb up over you," said Mr. Reeder.

Never an acrobat moved with greater nimbleness than this man who so loved
to pose as an ancient. There was need for hurry. The very iron to which
he was clinging trembled and vibrated in his grasp. The fall of stone
down the well was continuous and constituted a very real danger. Some of
the rungs, displaced by the earth tremors, came away in their grasp. They
were less than half-way up when the air was filled with a sighing and a
hissing that brought Reeder's heart to his mouth.

Holding on to a rung of the ladder, he put out his hand. The opposite
wall, which should have been well beyond his reach, was at less than
arm's-length away!

The well was bulging under unexpected and tremendous stresses.

"Why have you stopped?" asked Gray anxiously.

"To scratch my head," snarled Reeder. "Hurry!"

They climbed another forty or fifty feet, when from below came a rumble
and a crash that set the whole well shivering.

They could see starlight now, and distant objects, which might be heads,
that overhung the mouth of the well.

"Hurry!" breathed J. G. Reeder, and moved as rapidly as his younger
companion.

Boom!

The sound of a great gun, followed by a thunderous rumbling, surged up
the well.

J. G. Reeder set his teeth. Please God Margaret Belman had escaped from
that hell--or was mercifully dead!

Nearer and nearer to the mouth they climbed, and every step they took was
accompanied by some new and awful noise from behind them. Gray's breath
was coming in gasps.

"I can't go any further!" croaked the detective. "My strength has gone!"

"Go on, you miserable...!" yelled Reeder, and whether it was the shock of
hearing such violent language from so mild a man, or the discovery that
he was within a few feet of safety, Gray took hold of himself, climbed a
few more rungs, and then felt hands grip his arm and drag him to safety.

Mr. Reeder staggered out into the night air and blinked at the ring of
men who stood in the light of a naphtha flare. Was it his imagination, or
was the ground swaying beneath his feet?

"Nobody else to come up, Mr. Reeder?" The officer in charge of the
Engineers asked the question, and Reeder shook his head.

"Then all you fellows clear!" said the officer sharply.

"Move towards the house and take the road to Siltbury--the cliff is
collapsing in sections."

The flare was put out, and the soldiers, abandoning their apparatus,
broke into a steady run towards Larmes Keep.

"Where is the girl--Miss Crewe?" asked Reeder, suddenly remembering her.

"They've taken her to the house," said Big Bill Gordon, who had made a
mysterious appearance from nowhere. "And, Reeder, we have captured the
gold-convoy! The two men in charge were a fellow who calls himself
Hothling and another named Dean--I think you know their real names....
Caught them just as the trolley was driving into the quarry cave. This
means a big thing for you--"

"To hell with you and your big things!" stormed Reeder in a fury. "What
big things do I want, my man, but the big thing I have lost?"

Very wisely, Big Bill Gordon made no attempt to argue the matter.

They found the banqueting-hall crowded with policemen, detectives, and
soldiers. The girl had been taken into Daver's office, and here he found
her in the hands of the three women servants who had been commandeered to
run the establishment whilst the police were in occupation. The dust had
been washed from her face, and she was conscious, but still in that
half-bemused condition in which Reeder had found her.

She stared at him for a long time as though she did not recognise him and
was striving to recall that portion of her past in which he had figured.
When she spoke, it was to ask a question.

"There is no news of--father?"

"None," said Reeder, almost brutally. "I think it will be better for you,
young lady, if he is dead."

She nodded, and: "He is dead," she said with conviction. And then,
rousing herself, she struggled to a sitting position and looked at the
servants. Mr. Reeder interpreted that glance and sent the women away.

"I don't know what you are going to do with me," she said, "but I suppose
I am to be arrested--I should be arrested, for I have known all that was
happening, and I tried to lure you to your death."

"In Bennett Street, of course," said Mr. Reeder. "I recognised you the
moment I saw you here--you were the lady with the rouged face."

She nodded and continued.

"Before you take me away, I wish you would let me have some papers that
are in the safe," she said. "They have no value to anybody but myself."

He was curious enough to ask her what they were.

"They are letters...in the big flat box that is locked....Even Daver
did not dare open that. You see, Mr. Reeder "--her breath came more
quickly--"before I met my--husband, I had a little romance--the sort of
romance that a young girl has when she is innocent enough to dream and
has enough faith in God to hope. Is my husband arrested?" she asked
suddenly.

Mr. Reeder was silent for a moment. Sooner or later she must know the
truth, and he had an idea that this awful truth would not cause her very
much distress.

"Your husband is dead," he said.

Her eyes opened wider.

"Did my father--"

"Your father killed him--I suppose so. I am afraid I was the cause.
Coming back to find Margaret Belman, I told Daver all that I knew about
your marriage. Your father must have been hiding behind the panelling and
heard."

"I see," she said simply. "Of course it was father who killed him--I knew
that would happen as soon as he learnt the truth. Would you think I was
heartless if I said I am glad? I don't think I am really glad. I'm just
relieved. Will you get the box for me?"

She put her hand down her blouse, and pulled out a gold chain at the end
of which were two keys.

"The first of these is the key of the safe. If you want to see the--the
letters, I will show them to you, but I would rather not."

At that moment he heard hurrying footsteps in the passage outside; the
door was pulled open, and a young officer of Engineers appeared.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but Captain Merriman thinks we ought to
abandon this house. I've got out all the servants and we're rushing them
down to Siltbury."

Reeder stooped down and drew the girl to her feet "Take this lady with
you," he said, and, to Olga: "I will get your box, and I may not--I am
not quite sure--ask you to open it for me."

He waited till the officer had gone, and added:

"Just now I am feeling rather--tender towards young lovers. That is a
concession which an old lover may make to youth."

His voice had grown husky. There was something in his face that brought
the tears to her eyes. "Was it...not Margaret Belman?" she asked in a
hushed voice, and she knew before he answered that she had guessed well.

Tragedy dignified this strange-looking man, so far past youth, yet
holding the germ of youth in his heart. His hand fell gently on her
shoulder.: "Go, my dear," he said. "I will do what I can for you--perhaps
I can save you a great deal of unhappiness."

He waited until she had gone, then strolled into the deserted lounge.
What an eternity had passed since he had sat there, munching his toast
and drinking his cup of tea, with an illustrated newspaper on his knees!

The place in the half gloom seemed full of ancient ghosts. The House of
Tears! These walls had held sorrows more poignant, more hopeless than
his.

He went to the panelled wall and rubbed his finger down the little scar
in the wood that a thrown knife had made, and smiled at the triviality of
that offence.

He had reason to remember the circumstances, without the dramatic
reminder which nature gave. Suddenly the floor beneath him swayed, and
the two lights went out. He guessed that the earth tremors were
responsible for the snapping of wires, and he hurried into the vestibule,
and had passed from the house, when he remembered Olga Crewe's request.

The lantern was still hanging about his neck. He switched it on and went
back to the safe and inserted the key. As he did so, the house swayed
backwards and forwards like a drunken man. The clatter of glass, the
crackle of overturned wardrobes, startled him, so that he almost fled
with his mission unperformed. He even hesitated; but a promise was a
promise to J. G. Reeder. He put the key in again, turned the lock and
pulled open one of the great doors--and Margaret Belman fell into his
arms!

20

HE stood, holding the half-swooning girl, peering into the face he could
only see by the reflected light of his lantern, and then suddenly the
safe fell back from him without warning, leaving a gaping cavern. He
lifted her in his arms, ran across the vestibule into the open air.
Somebody shouted his name in the distance, and he ran blindly towards the
voice. Once he stumbled over a great crack that had appeared in the
earth, but managed to recover himself, though he was forced to release
his grip of the girl.

She was alive...breathing...her breath fanned his cheek and gave him
new strength....

The sound of falling walls behind him; immense, hideous roarings and
groanings; thunder of sliding chalk and rock and earth--he heard only the
breathing of his burden, felt only the faint beating of her heart against
his breast.

"Here you are!"

Somebody lifted Margaret Belman from his arms. A big soldier pushed him
into a wagon, where he sprawled at full length, breathless, more dead
than alive, by the side of the woman he loved; and then, with a whir of
wheels, the ambulance sped down the hillside towards safety. Behind him,
in the darkness, the House of Tears shivered and crackled, and the work
of ancient masons vanished piecemeal, tumbling over new cliffs, to be
everlastingly engulfed and hidden from the sight of man.

Dawn came and showed to an interested party that had travelled by road
and train to the scene of the great landslide, one grey wall, standing
starkly on the edge of a precipice. A portion of the wrecked floor still
adhered to the ruins, and on that floor the blood-stained bed where old
man Flack had laid his murdered servant....

The story which Olga Flack told the police, which appears in the official
records of the place, was not exactly the same as the story she told to
Mr. Reeder that afternoon when, at his invitation, she came to the flat
in Bennett Street. Mr. Reeder, minus his glasses and his general air of
respectability, which his vanished side-whiskers had so enhanced, was at
some disadvantage.

"Yes, I think Ravini was killed," she said, "but you are wrong in
supposing that I brought him to my room at the request of my father.
Ravini was a very quickwitted man, and recognised me. He came to Larmes
Keep because he"--she hesitated--"well, he was rather fond of Miss
Belman. He told me this, and I was rather amused. At that time I did not
know his name, although my husband did, and I certainly did not connect
him with my father's arrest. He revealed his identity, and I suppose
there was something in my attitude, or something I said, which recalled
the schoolgirl he had met years before. The moment he recognised me as
John Flack's daughter, he also recognised Larmes Keep as my father's
headquarters.

"He began to ask me questions: whether I knew where the Flack bullion, as
he called it, was hidden. And of course I was horrified, for I knew why
Daver had allowed him to come.

"My father had recently escaped from Broadmoor, and I was worried sick
for fear he knew the trick that Daver had played. I wasn't normal, I
suppose, and I came near to betraying my father, for I told Ravini of his
escape. Ravini did not take this as I had expected--he rather overrated
his own power, and was very confident. Of course, he did not know that
father was practically in the house, that he came up from the cave every
night."

"The real entrance to the cave was through the safe in the vestibule,"
said Mr. Reeder. "That was an ingenious idea. I must confess that the
safe was the last place in the world I should have considered."

"My father had it put there twenty years ago," she said. "There always
was an entrance from the centre of the Keep to the caves below, many of
which were used as prisons or as burying-places by the ancient owners of
Larmes."

"Why did Ravini go to your room?" asked Mr. Reeder. "You will excuse
the--um--indelicacy of the question, but I want--"


She nodded.

"It was a last desperate effort on my part to scare Ravini from the
house--I took it on my way back that night. You mustn't forget that I was
watched all the time; Daver or my mother were never far from me, and I
dared not let them know, and through them my father, that Ravini was
being warned. Naturally, Ravini, being what he was, saw another reason
for the invitation. He had decided to stay on until I made my request for
an interview, and told him that I wanted him to leave by the first train
in the morning after he learnt what I had to tell him."

"And what had you to tell him?" asked Mr. Reeder. She did not answer
immediately, and he repeated the question.

"That my father had decided to kill him--"

Mr. Reeder's eyes almost closed.

"Are you telling me the truth, Olga?" he asked gently, and she went red
and white. "I am not a good liar, am I?" Her tone was almost defiant.
"Now, I'll tell you. I met Ravini when I was little more than a child. He
meant...a tremendous lot to me, and I don't think I meant very much to
him. He used to come down to see me in the country where I was at
school..."

"He's dead?"

She could only nod her head. Her lips were quivering.

"That is the truth," she said at last. "The horror of it was that he did
not recognise me when he came to Larmes Keep. I had passed completely
from his mind, until I revealed myself in the garden that night."

"Is he dead?" asked Mr. Reeder for the second time.

"Yes," she said. "They struck him down outside my room....I don't know
what they did with him. They put him through the safe, I think." She
shuddered.

J. G. Reeder patted her hand.

"You have your memories, my child," he said to the weeping girl, "and
your letters."

It occurred to him after Olga had gone that Ravini must have written
rather interesting letters.

21

Miss MARGARET BELMAN decided to take a holiday in the only pleasure
resort that seemed worth while or endurable. She conveyed this intention
to Mr. Reeder by letter.

"There are only two places in the world where I can feel happy and safe,"
she said. "One place is London and the other New York, where a policeman
is to be found at every corner, and all the amusements of a country life
are to be had in an intensified form. So, if you please, can you spare
the time to come with me to the theatres I have written down on the back
of this sheet, to the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Tower of
London (no, on consideration I do not think I should like to include the
Tower of London: it is too mediaeval and ghostly), to Kensington Gardens
and similar centres of hectic gaiety. Seriously, dear J. G. (the
familiarity will make you wince, but I have cast all shame outside), I
want to be one of a large, sane mass--I am tired of being an isolated,
hysterical woman."

There was much more in the same strain. Mr. Reeder took his engagement
book and ran a blue pencil through all his appointments before he wrote,
with some labour, a letter which, because of its caution and its somewhat
pompous terminology, sent Margaret Belman into fits of silent laughter.

She had not mentioned Richmond Park, and with good reason, one might
suppose, for Richmond Park in the late autumn, when chilly winds abound,
and the deer have gone into winter quarters--if deer ever go into winter
quarters--is picturesque without being comfortable, and only a pleasure
to the aesthetic eyes of those whose bodies are suitably clothed in
woollen underwear.

Yet, one drab, grey afternoon, Mr. Reeder chartered a taxicab, sat
solemnly by the side of Miss Margaret Belman as the cab bumped and jerked
down Clarence Lane, possibly the worst road in England, before it turned
through the iron gates of the park.

They came at last to a stretch of grass land and bush, a place in early
summer of flowering rhododendrons, and here Mr. Reeder stopped the cab
and they both descended and walked aimlessly through a little wood. The
ground sloped down to a little carpeted hollow. Mr. Reeder, with a glance
of suspicion and some reference to rheumatism, seated himself by Miss
Belman's side.

"But why Richmond Park?" asked Margaret. Mr. Reeder coughed.

"I have--um--a romantic interest in Richmond Park," he said. "I remember
the first arrest I ever made--"

"Don't be gruesome," she warned him. "There's nothing romantic about an
arrest. Talk of something pretty."

"Let us then talk of you," said Mr. Reeder daringly; "and it is exactly
because I want to talk of you, my dear Miss--um--Margaret...Margaret,
that I have asked you to come here."

He took her hand with great gentleness as though he were handling a rare
objet d'art, and played with her fingers awkwardly.

"The truth is, my dear--"

"Don't say 'Miss,'" she begged.

"My dear Margaret"--this with an effort--"I have: decided that life is
too--um--short to delay any longer; a step which I have very carefully
considered--in fact"--here he floundered hopelessly into a succession of
"urns" which were only relieved by occasional "ers."

He tried again: "A man of my age and peculiar temperament should perhaps
be considering matters more serious--in fact, you may consider it very
absurd of me, but the truth is--"

Whatever the truth was could not be easily translated into words.

"The truth is," she said quietly, "that you think you're in love with
somebody?"

First Mr. Reeder nodded, then he shook his bead with equal vigour.

"I don't think--it has gone beyond the stage of hypothesis. I am no
longer young--I am in fact a confirmed--no, not a confirmed, but--er--"

"You're a confirmed bachelor," she helped him out.

"Not confirmed," he insisted firmly.

She half turned and faced him, her hands on his shoulders, looking into
his eyes.

"My dear," she said, "you think of being married, and you want somebody
to marry you. But you feel that you are too old to blight her young
life."

He nodded dumbly.

"Is it my young life, my dear? Because, if it is--"

"It is." J. G. Reeder's voice was very husky.

"Please blight," said Margaret Belman.

And for the first time in his life Mr. J. G. Reeder, who had had so many
experiences, mainly unpleasant, felt the soft lips of a woman against
his.

"Dear me!" said Mr. Reeder breathlessly, a few seconds later. "That was
rather nice."



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia