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Title: The Crimson Circle (1925)
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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Title: The Crimson Circle (1925)
Author: Edgar Wallace






PROLOGUE: THE NAIL


IT is a ponderable fact that had not the 29th of a certain September been
the anniversary of Monsieur Victor Pallion's birth, there would have been
no Crimson Circle mystery; a dozen men, now dead, would in all
probability be alive, and Thalia Drummond would certainly never have been
described by a dispassionate inspector of police as "a thief and the
associate of thieves."

M. Pallion entertained his three assistants to dinner at the Coq d'Or in
the city of Toulouse, and the proceedings were both joyous and amiable.
At three o'clock in the morning it dawned upon M. Pallion that the
occasion of his visit to Toulouse was the execution of an English
malefactor named Lightman.

"My children," he said gravely but unsteadily, "it is three hours and the
'red lady' has yet to be assembled!"

So they adjourned to the place before the prison where a trolley
containing the essential parts of the guillotine had been waiting since
midnight, and with a skill born of practice they erected the grisly
thing, and fitted the knife into its proper slots.

But even mechanical skill is not proof against the heady wines of
southern France, and when they tried the knife it did not fall truly.

"I will arrange this," said M. Pallion, and drove a nail into the frame
at exactly the place where a nail should not have been driven.

But he was getting flurried, for the soldiers had marched on to the
ground..

Four hours later (it was light enough for an enterprising photographer to
snap the prisoner close at hand), they marched a man from the prison..

"Courage!" murmured M. Pallion.

"Go to hell!" said the victim, now lying strapped upon the plank.

M. Pallion pulled a handle and the knife fell as far as the nail. Three
times he tried and three times he failed, and then the indignant
spectators broke through the military cordon, and the prisoner was taken
back into the gaol. Eleven years later that nail killed many people.



CHAPTER I


THE INITIATION

IT was an hour when most respectable citizens were preparing for bed, and
the upper windows of the big, old-fashioned houses in the square showed
patches of light, against which the outlines of the leafless trees,
bending and swaying under the urge of the gale, were silhouetted. A cold
wind was sweeping up the river, and its outriders penetrated icily into
the remotest and most sheltered places.

The man who paced slowly by the high iron railings shivered, though he
was warmly clad, for the unknown had chosen a rendezvous which seemed
exposed to the full blast of the storm.

The debris of the dead autumn whirled in fantastic circles about his
feet, the twigs and leaves came rattling down from the trees which threw
their long gaunt arms above him, and he looked enviously at the cheerful
glow in the windows of a house where, did he but knock, he would be
received as a welcome guest.

The hour of eleven boomed out from a nearby clock, and the last stroke
was reverberating when a car came swiftly and noiselessly into the square
and halted abreast of him. The two head-lamps burned dimly. Within the
closed body there was no spark of light. After a moment's hesitation the
waiting man stepped to the car, opened the door, and got in. He could
only guess the outline of the driver's figure in the seat ahead, and he
felt a curious thumping of heart as he realised the terrific importance
of the step he had taken. The car did not move, and the man in the
driver's seat remained motionless. For a little time there was a dead
silence, which was broken by the passenger.

"Well?" he asked nervously, almost irritably.

"Have you decided?" asked the driver.

"Should I be here if I hadn't?" demanded the passenger. "Do you think
I've come out of curiosity? What do you want of me? Tell me that, and I
will tell you what I want of you."

"I know what you want of me," said the driver. His voice was muffled and
indistinct, as one who spoke behind a veil.

When the newcomer's eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he detected the
vague outline of the black silk cowl which covered the driver's head.

"You are on the verge of bankruptcy," the driver went on. "You have used
money which was not yours to use, and you are contemplating suicide. And
it is not your insolvency which makes you consider this way out. You have
an enemy who has discovered something to your discredit, something which
would bring you into the hands of the police. Three days ago you obtained
from a firm of manufacturing chemists, a member of which is a friend of
yours, a particularly deadly drug, which cannot be obtained from a retail
chemist. You have spent a week reading up poisons and their effects, and
it is your intention, unless something turns up which will save you from
ruin, to end your life either on Saturday or Sunday. I think it will be
Sunday." He heard the man behind him gasp, and laughed softly. "Now,
sir," said the driver, "are you prepared for a consideration to act for
me?"

"What do you want me to do?" demanded the man behind him shakily.

"I ask no more than that you should carry out my instructions. I will
take care that you run no risks and that you are well paid. I am prepared
at this moment to place in your hands a very large sum of money, which
will enable you to meet your more pressing obligations. In return for
this I shall want you to put into circulation all the money I send you,
to make the necessary exchanges, to cover up the trail of bills and
bank-notes, the numbers of which are known to the police; to dispose of
bonds, which I cannot dispose of, and generally to act as my agent--"
he paused, adding significantly, "and to pay on demand what I ask."

The man behind him did not reply for some time, and then he asked with a
hint of petulance; "What is the Crimson Circle?"

"You," was the startling reply.

"I?" gasped the man.

"You are of the Crimson Circle," said the other carefully. "You have a
hundred comrades, none of whom will ever be known to you, none of whom
will ever know you."

"And you?"

"I know them all," said the driver. "You agree?"

"I agree," said the other after a pause. The driver half-turned in his
seat and held out his hand.

"Take this," he said. "This" was a large, bulky envelope, and the newly
initiated member of the Crimson Circle thrust it into his pocket.

"And now get out," said the driver curtly, and the man obeyed without
question.

He slammed the door behind him and walked abreast of the driver. He was
still curious as to his identity, and for his own salvation it was
necessary that he should know the man who drove.

"Don't light your cigar here," said the driver, "or I shall think that
your smoking is really an excuse to strike a match. And remember this, my
friend, that the man who knows me, carries his knowledge to hell."

Before the other could reply the car moved on and the man with the
envelope stood watching its red tail light until it disappeared from
view.

He was shaking from head to foot, and when he did light the cigar which
his chattering teeth gripped, the flame of the match quivered
tremulously.

"That is that," he said huskily, and crossed the road, to disappear in
one of the side-turnings. He was scarcely out of sight before a figure
moved stealthily from the doorway of a dark house and followed. It was
the figure of a man tall and broad, and he walked with difficulty, for he
was naturally short of breath. He had gone a hundred paces in his pursuit
before he realised that he still held in his hand the ship's binoculars
through which he had been watching.

When he reached the main street his quarry had vanished.

He had expected as much and was not perturbed. He knew where to find him.
But who was in the car? He had read the number and could trace its owner
in the morning. Mr. Felix Marl grinned. Had he so much as guessed the
character of the interview he had overlooked, he would not have been
amused. Stronger men than he had grown stiff with fear at the menace of
the Crimson Circle.



CHAPTER II


THE MAN WHO DID NOT PAY

PHILIP BASSARD paid, and lived, for apparently the Crimson Circle kept
faith; Jacques Rizzi, the banker, also paid, but in a panic. He died from
natural causes a month later, having a weak heart. Benson, the railway
lawyer, pooh-poohed the threat and was found dead by the side of his
private saloon.

Mr. Derrick Yale, with his amazing gifts, ran down the coloured man who
had crept into Benson's private car and killed him before he threw the
body from the window, and the coloured man was hanged, without, however,
revealing the identity of his employer. The police might sneer at Yale's
psychometrical powers--as they did--but within forty-eight hours he had
led the police to the criminal's house at Yareside and the dazed murderer
had confessed.

Following this tragedy many men must have paid without reporting the
matter to the police, for there was a long period during which no
reference to the Crimson Circle found its way into the newspapers. And
then one morning there came to the breakfast table of James Beardmore, a
square envelope containing a card, on which was stamped a Crimson Circle.

"You are interested in the melodrama of life, Jack--read that."

James Stamford Beardmore tossed the message across the table to his son
and proceeded to open the next letter in the pile which stood beside his
plate.

Jack retrieved the message from the floor, where it had fallen, and
examined it with a little frown. It was a very ordinary letter-card,
save that it bore no address. A big circle of crimson touched its four
edges, and had the appearance of having been printed with a rubber stamp,
for the ink was unevenly distributed. In the centre of the circle,
written in printed characters, were the words:

"One hundred thousand represents only a small portion of your
possessions. You will pay this in notes to a messenger I will send in
response to an advertisement in the Tribune within the next twenty-four
hours, stating the exact hour convenient to you. This is the final
warning."

There was no signature.

"Well?" Old Jim Beardmore looked up over his spectacles and his eyes were
smiling.

"The Crimson Circle!" gasped his son.

Jim Beardmore laughed aloud at the concern in the boy's voice.

"Yes, the Crimson Circle--I have had four of 'em!"

The young man stared at him. "Four?" he repeated. "Good heavens! Is that
why Yale has been staying with us?"

Jim Beardmore smiled.

"That is a reason," he said.

"Of course, I knew that he was a detective, but I hadn't the slightest
idea--"

"Don't worry about this infernal circle," interrupted his father a little
impatiently. "I'm not scared of them. Froyant is in terror of his life
that he will be marked down. And I don't wonder. He and I have made a few
enemies in our time."

James Beardmore, with his hard, lined face and his stubbly grey beard,
might have been mistaken for the grandfather of the good-looking young
man who sat opposite to him. The Beardmore fortune had been painfully
won. It had materialised from the wreckage of dreams and had its
beginnings in the privations, the dangers and the heartaches of a
prospector's life. This man whom Death had stalked on the waterless
plains of the Kalahari, who had scraped in the mud of the Vale River for
illusory diamonds, and thawed out his claim in the Klondyke, had faced
too many real dangers to be greatly disturbed by the threat of the
Crimson Circle. For the moment his perturbation was based on a more
tangible peril, not to himself, but to his son.

"I've got a whole lot of faith in your good sense, Jack," he said, "so
don't be hurt by anything I'm going to say. I've never interfered in your
amusements or questioned your judgment--but--do you think that you're
being wise just now?"

Jack understood. "You mean about Miss Drummond, father?"

The older man nodded.

"She's Froyant's secretary," began the youth.

"I know she is Froyant's secretary," said the other, "and she's none the
worse for that. But the point is, Jack, do you know anything more about
her?"

The young man rolled his napkin deliberately. His face was red and there
was a queer set look about his jaw which secretly amused Jim.

"I like her. She is a friend of mine. I've never made love to her, if
that is what you mean, dad, and I rather think our friendship would be at
an end if I did."

Jim nodded. He had said all that was necessary and now he took up a more
bulky envelope and looked at it curiously. Jack saw that it bore French
postage stamps and wondered who was the correspondent.

Tearing open the flap, the old man took out a pad of correspondence,
which included yet another envelope heavily sealed. He read the
superscription and his nose wrinkled.

"Ugh!" he said, and put the envelope down unopened. He glanced through
the remainder of the correspondence, then looked across at his son.

"Never trust a man or woman until you know the worst of them," he said.
"I've got a man coming to see me to-day who is a respectable member of
society. He has a record as black as my hat and yet I'm going to do
business with him--I know the worst!"

Jack laughed. Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of
their guest.

"Good morning, Yale--did you sleep well?" asked the old man. "Ring for
some more coffee, Jack."

Derrick Yale's visit had been an unmixed pleasure to Jack Beardmore. He
was at the age when romance had its full appeal and the companionship of
the most commonplace detective would have brought him a peculiar joy. But
the glamour which surrounded Yale was the glamour of the supernatural.
This man had unusual and peculiar qualities which made him unique. The
delicate aesthetic face, the grave mystery of his eyes, the very gesture
of his long, sensitive hands, were part of his uniqueness.

"I never sleep," he said good-humouredly as he unrolled his serviette.
He held the silver napkin ring for a second between his two fingers, and
James Beardmore watched him with amusement. As for Jack, his eager
admiration was unconcealed.

"Well?" asked the old man.

"Who handled this last has had very bad news--some near relation is
desperately ill."

Beardmore nodded.

"Jane Higgins was the servant who laid the table," he said. "She had a
letter this morning saying that her mother was dying."

Jack gasped.

"And you felt that in the serviette ring?" he asked in amazement. "How do
you get that impression, Mr. Yale?"

Derrick Yale shook his head.

"I don't attempt to explain," he said quietly. "All that I know is that
the moment I took up my serviette I had a sensation of profound and
poignant sorrow. It is weird, isn't it?"

"But how did you know about her mother?"

"I traced it somehow," said the other almost brusquely; "it is a matter
of deduction. Have you any news, Mr. Beardmore?"

For answer Jim handed him the card he had received that morning. Yale
read the message, then weighed the card on the palm of his white hand.

"Posted by a sailor," he said, "a man who has been in prison and has
recently lost a great deal of money."

Jim Beardmore laughed.

"Which I shall certainly not replace," he said, rising from the table.
"Do you take these warnings seriously?"

"I take them very seriously," said Derrick in his quiet way. "So
seriously that I do not advise you to leave this house except in my
company. The Crimson Circle," he went on, arresting Beardmore's indignant
protest with a characteristic gesture, "is, I admit, vulgarly
melodramatic in its operations, but it will be no solace to your heirs to
learn that you have died theatrically."

Jim Beardmore was silent for a time, and his son regarded him anxiously.

"Why don't you go abroad, father?" he asked, and the old man snapped
round on him.

"Go abroad be damned!" he roared. "Run away from a cheap Black Hand gang?
I'll see them--!"

He did not mention their destination, but they could guess.



CHAPTER III


THE GIRL WHO WAS INDIFFERENT

A HEAVY weight lay on Jack Beardmore's mind as he walked slowly across
the meadows that morning. His feet carried him instinctively in the
direction of the little valley which lay a mile from the house, and in
the exact centre of which ran the hedge which marked the division between
the Beardmore and Froyant estates. It was a glorious morning. The storm
of wind and rain which had swept the country the night before had blown
itself out, and the world lay bathed in yellow sunlight. Far away, beyond
the olive-green covens that crowned Penton Hill, he caught a glimpse of
Harvey Froyant's big white mansion. Would she venture out with the ground
so sodden and the grasses soaked with rain, he wondered?

He stopped by a big elm tree on the lip of the valley and cast an anxious
glance along the untidy hedge, until his eyes rested on a tiny summer
house which the former owners of Tower House had erected--Harvey Froyant,
who loathed solitude, would never have been guilty of such extravagance.

There was nobody in sight, and his heart sank. Ten minutes' walking
brought him to the gap he had made in the fence, and he stepped through.
The girl who sat in the tiny house might have heard his sigh of relief.

She looked round, then rose with some evidence of reluctance.

She was remarkably pretty, with her fair hair and flawless skin, but
there was no welcome in her eyes as she came slowly toward him. "Good
morning," she said coolly.

"Good morning, Thalia," he ventured, and her frown returned.

"I wish you wouldn't," she said, and he knew that she meant what she
said. Her attitude toward him puzzled and worried him. For she was a
thing of laughter and bubbling life. He had once surprised her chasing a
hare, and had watched, spellbound, the figure of this laughing Diana as
her little feet flew across the field in pursuit of the scared beast. He
had heard her singing, too, and the very joy of life was vibrant in her
voice--but he had seen her so depressed and gloomy that he had feared she
was ill.

"Why are you always so stiff and formal with me?" he grumbled.

For a second a ghost of a smile showed at the comer of her mouth.

"Because I've read books," she said solemnly, "and poor girl secretaries
who aren't stiff and formal with millionaire's sons usually come to a bad
end!"

She had a trick of directness which was very disconcerting.

"Besides," she said, "there is no reason why I shouldn't be stiff and
formal. It is the conventional attitude which people adopt toward their
fellow creatures, unless they are very fond of them, and I'm not very
fond of you."

She said this calmly and deliberately, and the young man's face went red.
He felt a fool, and cursed himself for provoking this act of cruelty.

"I will tell you something, Mr. Beardmore," she went on in her even tone.
"Something which you haven't realised. When a boy and girl are thrown
together on a desert island, it is only natural that the boy gets the
idea that the girl is the only girl in the world. All his wayward fancies
are concentrated on one woman and as the days pass she grows more and
more wonderful in his eyes. I've read a lot of these desert island
stories, and I've seen a lot of pictures that deal with that interesting
situation, and that is how it strikes me. You are on a desert island
here--you spend too much time on your estate, and the only things you see
are rabbits and birds and Thalia Drummond. You should go into the city
and into the society of people of your own station."

She turned from him with a nod, for she had seen her employer
approaching, had watched him out of the corner of her eye as he stopped
to survey them, and had guessed his annoyance.

"I thought you were doing the house accounts, Miss Drummond," he said
with asperity.

He was a skinny man, in the early fifties, colourless, sharp-featured,
prematurely bald. He had an unpleasant habit of baring his long yellow
teeth when he asked a question, a grimace which in some curious way
suggested his belief that the answer would be an evasion.

"Morning, Beardmore," he jerked the salutation grudgingly and turned
again to his secretary.

"I don't like to see you wasting your time, Miss Drummond," he said.

"I am not wasting either your time or mine, Mr. Froyant," she answered
calmly. "I have finished the accounts--here!" She tapped the worn leather
portfolio which was under her arm.

"You could have done the work in my library," he complained; "there is no
need to go into the wilderness."

He stopped and rubbed his long nose and glanced from the girl to the
silent young man.

"Very good; that will do," he said. "I am going to see your father,
Beardmore. Perhaps you will walk with me?"

Thalia was already on her way to Tower House, and Jack had no excuse for
lingering.

"Don't occupy that girl's time, Beardmore, don't, please," said Froyant
testily. "You've no idea how much she has to do--and I'm sure your father
wouldn't like it."

Jack was on the point of saying something offensive, but checked himself.
He loathed Harvey Froyant, and at the moment hated him for his
domineering attitude toward the girl.

"That class of girl," began Mr. Froyant, turning to walk by the side of
the hedge toward the gate at the end of the valley, "that class of
girl--" he stood still and stared. "Who the devil has broken through the
hedge?" he demanded, pointing with his stick.

"I did," said Jack savagely. "It is our hedge, anyway, and it saves half
a mile--come on, Mr. Froyant."

Harvey Froyant made no comment as he stepped gingerly through the hedge.

They walked slowly up the hill toward the big elm tree where Jack and
stood looking down into the valley.

Mr. Harvey Froyant preserved a tight-lipped silence. He was a stickler
for the conventions, where their observations benefited himself.

They had reached the crest of the rise, when suddenly his arm was
gripped, and he turned to see Jack Beardmore, staring at the bole of the
tree. Froyant followed the direction of his eye and took a step backward,
his unhealthy face a shade paler. Painted on the tree trunk was a rough
circle of crimson, and the paint was yet wet.



CHAPTER IV


MR. FELIX MARL

JACK BEARDMORE looked round, scanning the country. The only human being
in sight was a man who was walking slowly away from them, carrying a bag
in his hand. Jack shouted, and the man turned.

"Who are you?" demanded Jack. Then, "What are you doing here?"

The stranger was a tall, stoutish man, and the exertion of carrying his
grip had left him a little breathless. It was some time before he could
reply.

"My name is Marl," he said, "Felix Marl. You may have heard of me. I
think you are young Mr. Beardmore, aren't you?"

"That is my name," said Jack. "What are you doing here?" he asked again.

"They told me there was a short cut from the railway station, but it is
not so short as they promised," said Mr. Marl, breathing stertorously.
"I'm on my way to see your father."

"Have you been near that tree?" asked Jack, and Marl glared at him.

"Why should I go near any tree?" he demanded aggressively. "I tell you
I've come straight across the fields."

By this time Harvey Froyant arrived, and apparently recognised the
newcomer.

"This is Mr. Marl; I know him. Marl, did you see anybody near that tree?"

The man shook his head. Apparently the tree and its secret was a mystery
to him.

"I never knew there was a tree there," he said. "What--what has
happened?"

"Nothing," said Harvey Froyant sharply.

They came to the house soon after, Jack carrying the visitor's bag. He
was not impressed by the big man's appearance. His voice was coarse, his
manner familiar, and Jack wondered what association this uncouth specimen
of humanity could have with his father.

They were nearing the house when suddenly and for no obvious reason the
stout Mr. Marl emitted a frightened squeal and leapt back. There was no
doubt of his fear. It was written visibly in the blanched cheeks and the
quivering lips of the man, who was shaking from head to foot. Jack could
only look at him in astonishment--and even Harvey Froyant was startled
into an interest.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Marl?" he asked savagely.

His own nerves were on edge, and the sight of the big man's undisguised
terror was a further strain which he could scarcely endure.

"Nothin'--nothin'," muttered Marl huskily. "I've been--"

"Drinking, I should think," snapped Froyant.

After seeing the man into the house Jack hurried off in search of Derrick
Yale. He discovered the detective in the shrubbery sitting in a big cane
chair, his chin upon his breast, his arms folded, a characteristic
attitude of his. Yale looked up at the sound of the young man's
footsteps. "I can't tell you," he said, before Jack had framed his
question, and then, seeing the look of astonishment on his face, he
laughed. "You were going to ask me what scared Marl, weren't you?"

"I came with that intention," laughed Jack. "What an extraordinary fellow
you are, Mr. Yale! Did you see his extraordinary exhibition of funk?"

Derrick Yale nodded. "I saw him just before he had his shock," he said.
"You can see the field path from here." He frowned. "He reminds me of
somebody," he said slowly, "yet I cannot for the life of me tell who it
is. Is he a frequent visitor here? Your father told me he was coming, and
I guessed it was he."

Jack shook his head. "This is the first time I've seen him," he said. "I
remember now, though, that father and Froyant have had some business
dealings with a man named Marl--Dad mentioned him one day. I think he is
a land speculator. Father is rather interested in land just now. By the
way, I have seen the mark of the Crimson Circle," he added, and described
the newly-painted "O" he had found on the elm. Instantly Yale lost
interest in Mr. Marl. "It was not on the tree when I went down into the
valley," said Jack. "I'll swear to that. It must have been painted whilst
I was talking to--to a friend. The trunk is out of sight from the
boundary fence, and it was quite possible for somebody to have painted
the sign without being seen. What does it mean, Mr. Yale?"

"It means trouble," said Yale shortly. He rose abruptly and began pacing
the flagged walk, and Jack, after waiting a little while, left him to his
meditations.

In the meantime, Mr. Felix Marl was comparatively a useless third of a
conference which dealt with the transfer of lands. Marl was, as Jack had
said, a land speculator, and he had come that morning bringing a
promising proposition which he was wholly incapable of explaining.

"I can't help it, gentlemen," he said, and for the fourth time his
trembling hand rose to his lips. "I've had a bit of a shock this
morning."

"What was that?"

But Marl seemed incapable of explanation. He could only shake his head
helplessly. "I'm not fit to discuss things calmly," he said. "You'll have
to put the matter off until to-morrow."

"Do you think I've come here to-day for the purpose of listening to
that sort of nonsense?" snarled Mr. Froyant. "I tell you I want this
business settled. So do you, Beardmore."

Jim Beardmore, who was indifferent as to whether the matter was settled
then or the following week, laughed.

"I don't know that it is very important," he said. "If Mr. Marl is upset,
why should we bother him? Perhaps you'll stay here to-night. Marl?"

"No, no, no," the man's voice rose almost to a shout. "No, I won't stay
here, if you don't mind--I would much rather not!"

"Just as you like," said Jim Beardmore indifferently, and folded up the
papers he had prepared for signature.

They walked out into the hall together, and there Jack found them.

Beardmore's car carried the visitor and his bag back to the station, and
from there on Mr. Marl's conduct was peculiar. He registered his bag
through to the city, but he himself descended at the next station, and
for a man who so disliked walking, and as by nature so averse from
physical exercise, he displayed an almost heroic spirit, for he set forth
to walk the nine miles which separated him from the Beardmore estate--and
he did not go by the shortest route.

It was nearing nightfall when Mr. Marl made his furtive way into a thick
plantation on the edge of the Beardmore property.

He sat down, a tired, dusty but determined man, and waited for the night
to close down over the countryside. And during the period of waiting, he
examined with tender care the heavy automatic pistol he had taken from
his bag in the train.



CHAPTER V


THE GIRL WHO RAN

"I CAN'T understand why that fellow hasn't come back this morning," said
Jim Beardmore with a frown.

"Which fellow?" asked Jack carelessly.

"I'm speaking of Marl," said his father.

"Was that the large-sized gentleman I saw yesterday?" asked Derrick
Yale.

They were standing on the terrace of the house, which, from its elevated
position, gave them a view across the country.

The morning train had come and gone. They could see the trail of white
smoke it left as it disappeared into the foothills nine miles away.

"Yes. I'd better 'phone Froyant, and tell him not to come over."

Jim Beardmore stroked his stubbly chin.

"Marl puzzles me," he said "He is a brilliant fellow I believe, a
reformed thief I know--at least I hope he is reformed. What upset him
yesterday, Jack? He came into the library looking like death."

"I haven't the slightest idea," said Jack. "I think he has a weak heart,
or something of the sort. He told me he gets these spasms occasionally."

Beardmore laughed softly, and going into the house returned with a
walking-stick.

"I'm going for a stroll, Jack. No, you needn't come along. I've one or
two things I wish to think out, and I promise you, Yale, I won't leave
the grounds, though I think you attach too much importance to the threats
of these ruffians."

Yale shook his head.

"What of the sign on the tree?" he asked.

Jim Beardmore snorted contemptuously.

"It will take more than that to extract a hundred thousand from me," he
said.

He waved a farewell at them as he went down the broad stone steps, and
they watched him walking slowly across the park.

"Do you really think my father is in any kind of danger?" asked Jack.

Yale, who had been staring after the figure, turned with a start.

"In danger?" he repeated, and then after a second's hesitation. "Yes, I
believe there is very serious danger for him in the next day or two."

Jack turned his troubled gaze upon the disappearing figure.

"I hope you're wrong," he said. "Father doesn't seem to take the matter
as seriously as you."

"That is because your father has not the same experience," said the
detective, "but I understand that he saw Chief Inspector Parr, and the
inspector thought there was considerable danger."

Jack chuckled in spite of his fears.

"How do the lion and the lamb amalgamate?" he asked. "I didn't think that
headquarters had much use for private men like you, Mr. Yale?"

"I admire Parr," said Derrick slowly. "He's slow, but thorough. I am told
that he is one of the most conscientious men at headquarters, and I
fancy that the headquarters chiefs have treated him badly over the
last Crimson Circle crime. They have practically told him that if he
cannot run the organisation to earth he must send in his resignation."

Whilst they were speaking, the figure of Mr. Beardmore had disappeared
into the gloom of a little wood on the edge of the estate.

"I worked with him during the last Circle murder," Derrick Yale went on,
"and he struck me--"

He stopped, and the two men looked at one another.

There was no mistaking the sound. It was a shot near and distinct, and it
came from the direction of the wood. In an instant Jack had leapt over
the balustrade and was racing across the meadow. Derrick Yale behind him.

Twenty paces along the woodland path they found Jim Beardmore lying on
his face, and he was quite dead, and even as Jack was staring down at his
father with horrified eyes, a girl emerged from the wood at the farther
end, and stopping only long enough to wipe with a handful of grass
something that was red from her hands, she flew along the shadow of the
hedge which divided the Froyant estate.

Never once did Thalia Drummond look back until she reached the shelter of
the little summer house. Her face was drawn and white, and her breath
came gaspingly as she stood for a second in the doorway of the little
hut, and looked back to the wood. A swift glance round and she was in the
house and on her knees tugging with quivering hands at the end of a floor
board. It came up disclosing a black cavity. Another second's hesitation,
and she threw into the hole the revolver she had held in her hand, and
dropped the board back in its place.



CHAPTER VI


THALIA DRUMMOND IS A CROOK

THE Commissioner looked down at the newspaper cutting before him and
tugged at his grey moustache. Inspector Parr, who knew the signs, watched
with an apparently detached interest.

He was a short, thick-set man, so lacking in inches that it was
remarkable that he had ever satisfied the stringent requirements of the
police authorities. His age was something below fifty, but his big red
face was unlined. It was a face from whence every indication of
intelligence and refinement was absent. The round, staring eyes were
bovine in their lack of expression, the big fleshy nose, the heavy
cheeks, pouched beneath the jaws, and the half-bald head, were units of
his unimpressiveness. The Commissioner picked up the cutting. "Listen to
this," he said curtly, and read. It was the editorial of the Morning
Monitor and it was direct to a point of offensiveness.

"For the second time during the past year the country has been shocked
and outraged by the assassination of a prominent man. It is not necessary
to give here the details of this Crimson Circle crime, particulars of
which appear on another page. But it is very necessary that we should
state in emphatic and unmistakable terms that we view with consternation
the seeming helplessness of police headquarters to deal with this
criminal gang. Inspector Parr, who has devoted himself for the past year
to tracking the murdering blackmailers, can offer us nothing more than
vague promises of revelations which never materialise. It is obvious that
police headquarters needs a thorough overhauling, and the introduction of
new blood, and we trust that those responsible for the government of the
country, will not hesitate to make the drastic changes which are
necessary."

"Well," growled Colonel Morton, "what do you think of that, Parr?"

Mr. Parr rubbed his big chin and said nothing.

"James Beardmore was murdered after due warning had been given to the
police," said the Commissioner deliberately. "He was shot within sight of
his house, and the murderer is at large. This is the second bad case,
Parr, and I'll tell you candidly that it is my intention to act on the
advice which this newspaper gives."

He tapped the cutting suggestively.

"On the previous occasion you allowed Mr. Yale to get away with all the
kudos for the capture of the murderer. You have seen Mr. Yale, I
presume?"

The detective nodded.

"And what does he say?"

Mr. Parr shifted uneasily on his feet.

"He told me a lot of nonsense about a dark man with toothache."

"How did he get that?" asked the Commissioner quickly.

"From the shell of the cartridge he found on the ground," said the
detective. "I don't take any notice of this psychometrical stuff--"

The Commissioner leant back in his chair and sighed.

"I don't think you take notice of any stuff that is serviceable. Parr,"
he said, "and don't sneer at Yale. That man has unusual and peculiar
gifts. The fact that you don't understand them does not make them any
less peculiar."

"Do you mean to say, sir," said Parr, stirred into protest, "that a man
can take a cartridge in his hand and tell you from that the appearance of
the person who last handled it and what he was thinking about? Why, it is
absurd!"

"Nothing is absurd," said the Commissioner quietly. "The science of
psychometry has been practised for years. Some people, unusually
sensitive to impression, are able to tell the most remarkable things, and
Yale is one of these."

"He was there when the murder was committed," replied Parr. "He was with
Mr. Beardmore's son, not a hundred yards away, and yet he did not catch
the murderer."

The Commissioner nodded. "Neither have you," he said. "Twelve months ago
you told me of your scheme for trapping the Crimson Circle, and I agreed.
We've both expected a little too much for your plan, I think. You must
try something else. I hate to say it, but there it is."

Parr did not answer for a time, and then to the Commissioner's surprise,
he pulled up a chair to the desk and sat down uninvited.

"Colonel," he said, "I'm going to tell you something," and he was so
earnest, so unlike his usual self, that the Commissioner could only look
at him in amazement.

"The Crimson Circle gang is easy to get. I can find every one of them,
and will find them if you will give me time. But it is the hub of the
wheel that I'm after. If I can get the hub the spokes don't count. But
you've got to give me a little more authority that I have at present."

"A little more authority?" said the dumbfounded Commissioner. "What the
devil do you mean?"

"I'll explain," said the bovine Mr. Parr, and he explained to such
purpose that he left the Commissioner a very silent and a very thoughtful
man.

After he left headquarters, Mr. Parr's first call was at an office in
the centre of the city.

On the third floor, in a tiny suite, which was distinguished only by the
name of the occupant, Mr. Derrick Yale was waiting for him, and a greater
contrast between the two men could not be imagined.

Yale, the overstrung, nervous, and sensitive dreamer; Parr, solid and
beefy, seemingly incapable of an independent thought.

"How did your interview go on, Parr?"

"Not very well," said Parr, ruefully. "I think the Commissioner's got one
against me. Have you discovered anything?"

"I've discovered your man with the tooth-ache," was the astonishing
reply. "His name is Sibly; he is a seafaring man, and was seen in the
vicinity of the house the following day. Yesterday," he picked up a
telegram, "he was arrested for drunken and' disorderly conduct, and in
his possession was found an automatic pistol, which I should imagine was
the weapon with which the crime was committed. You remember that the
bullet which was extracted from poor Beardmore, was obviously fired from
an automatic."

Parr gaped at him in amazement.

"How did you find this out?"

And Derrick Yale laughed softly. "You haven't a great deal of faith in my
deductions," he said with a glint of humour in his eyes. "But when I felt
that cartridge I was as certain that I could see the man as I am certain
I can see you. I sent one of my own staff down to make enquiries, with
this result." He picked up the telegram.

Mr. Parr stood, a heavy frown disfiguring what little claim to beauty he
might have.

"So they've caught him," he said softly. "Now I wonder if he wrote this?"

He took out a pocket-book, and Derrick Yale saw him extract a scrap of
paper which had evidently been burnt, for the edges were black.

Yale took the scrap from his hand.

"Where did you find this?" he asked.

"I raked it out of the ashpan at Beardmore's place yesterday," he said.

The writing was in a large scrawling hand, and the scrap ran:

You alone
me alone
Block B
Graft

"Me alone.. you alone,'" read Yale. "'Block B.. Graft'?" He shook his
head. "It is Greek to me."

He balanced the letter upon the palm of his hand and shook his head.

"I can't even feel an impression," he said. "Fire destroys the aura."

Parr carefully put away the scrap into his case and replaced it in his
pocket.

"There is another thing I'd like to tell you," he said. "Somebody was in
the wood who wore pointed shoes and smoked cigars. I found the cigar
ashes in a little hollow, and his footprint was on the flower-beds."

"Near the house?" asked Derrick Yale, startled,

The solid man nodded.

"My own theory is," he went on, "that somebody wanted to warn Beardmore,
wrote this letter and brought it to the house after dark. It must have
been received by the old man, because he burnt it. I found the ashes in
the place where the servants dump their cinders."

There was a gentle tap at the door.

"Jack Beardmore," said Yale under his breath.

Jack Beardmore showed signs of the distressing period through which he
had passed. He nodded to Parr and came toward Yale with outstretched
hand.

"No news, I suppose?" he asked, and turning to the other: "You were at
the house yesterday, Mr. Parr. Did you find anything?"

"Nothing worth speaking about," said Parr.

"I've just been to see Froyant, he is in town," said Jack. "It wasn't a
very successful visit, for he is in a pitiable state of nerves." He did
not explain that the unsatisfactory part of his call was that he had not
seen Thalia Drummond, and only one of the men guessed the reason of his
disappointment.

Derrick Yale told him of the arrest which had been made.

"I don't want you to build any hopes on this," he said, "even if he is
the man who fired the shot, he is certain to be no more than the agent.
We shall probably hear the same story as we heard before, that he was in
low water and that the chief of the Crimson Circle induced him to commit
the act. We are as far from the real solution as ever we have been."

They strolled out of the office together, into the clean autumn sunlight.

Jack, who had an engagement with a lawyer who was settling his father's
estate, accompanied the two men, who were on their way to catch a train
for the town where the suspected murderer was detained. They were passing
through one of the busiest streets when Jack uttered an exclamation. On
the opposite side of the road was a big pawnbroker's, and a girl was
coming from the side entrance devoted to the service of those who needed
temporary loans.

"Well, I'm blessed!" It was Parr's unemotional voice. "I haven't seen her
for two years."

Jack turned on him open-eyed. "Haven't seen her for two years," he said
slowly. "Are you referring to that lady?"

Parr nodded.

"I'm referring to Thalia Drummond," he said calmly, "who is a crook and a
companion of crooks!"



CHAPTER VII


THE STOLEN IDOL

JACK heard him and was stunned. He stood motionless and speechless, as
the girl, as though unconscious of the scrutiny, hailed a taxi-cab and
was driven away.

"Now what the dickens was she doing there?" said Parr.

"A crook and a companion of crooks," repeated Jack mechanically. "Good
God! Where are you going?" he asked quickly, as the inspector took a step
into the roadway.

"I intend discovering what she has been doing in the pawnbroker's," said
the stolid Parr.

"She may have gone there because she was short of money. It is no crime
to be short of money."

Jack realised the feebleness of his defence even as he spoke. Thalia
Drummond a thief! It was incredible, impossible! And yet he followed
unresistingly the detective as he crossed the road; followed him down the
dark passage to the loaning department, and was present in the manager's
room when an assistant brought in the article which the girl had pledged.
It was a small golden figure of Buddha.

"I thought it queer," said the manager, when Parr had made himself known.
"She only wanted ten pounds and it is worth a hundred if it's worth a
penny."

"What explanation did she give?" asked Derrick Yale, who had been a
silent listener.

"She said she was short of money and that her father had a number of
these curios, but wanted to pledge them at a price which would allow him
to redeem them."

"Did she leave her address? What name did she give?"

"Thalia Drummond," said the assistant, "of 29, Park Gate."

Derrick Yale uttered an exclamation. "Why, that's Froyant's address,
isn't it?"

Too well Jack knew it was the address of the miserly Harvey Froyant, and
he remembered with a sinking of heart that Froyant made a hobby of
collecting these eastern antiquities. The inspector gave a receipt for
the idol and slipped it into his pocket.

"We'll go along and see Mr. Froyant," he said, and Jack interposed
desperately: "For heaven's sake, don't let us get this girl into
trouble," he pleaded. "It may have been some sudden temptation--I will
make things right, if money can settle the affair."

Derrick Yale was eyeing the young man with a grave, understanding look.

"You know Miss Drummond?"

Jack nodded. He was too miserable to speak; he felt an absurd desire to
run away and hide himself.

"It can't be done," said Inspector Parr definitely. He was the
conventional police officer now. "I'm going along to Froyant's to
discover whether this article was pledged with his approval."

"Then you'll go by yourself," said Jack wrathfully.

He could not contemplate being a witness of the girl's humiliation. It
was monstrous. It was beastly of Parr, he said to Yale when they were
alone.

"The girl would not commit so mean a theft, the stupid, blundering fool!
I wish to heaven I had never called his attention to her."

"It was he who saw her first," said Yale, and dropped his hand upon the
young man's shoulder. "Jack, you're a little unstrung, I think. Why are
you so interested in Miss Drummond? Of course," he said suddenly, "you
must have seen a lot of her when you were at home. Froyant's estate joins
yours, doesn't it?"

Jack nodded.

"If he would give as much attention to the running down of the Crimson
Circle as he gives to the hounding of that poor girl," he said bitterly,
"my poor father would be alive to-day."

Derrick Yale did his best to soothe him. He took him back to his office
and tried to bring his thoughts to a more pleasant channel. They had been
there a quarter of an hour when the telephone bell rang. It was Parr who
spoke.

"Well?" asked Yale.

"I've arrested Thalia Drummond, and I am charging her in the morning,"
was the laconic message.

Yale put down the receiver gently and turned to the young man,

"She's arrested?" Jack guessed before he spoke.

Yale nodded.

Jack Beardmore's face was very white.

"You see, Jack," said Yale gently, "you have probably been as much
deceived as Froyant. The girl is a thief."

"If she were a thief and murderess," said Jack doggedly, "I love her."



CHAPTER VIII


THE CHARGE

MR. PARR'S interview with Harvey Froyant was a short one. At the sight of
the detective, that thin man blanched. He knew him by sight and had met
him in connection with the Beardmore tragedy.

"Well, well," he asked tremulously. "What is wrong? Have these infernal
people started a new campaign?"

"Nothing so bad as that, sir," said Parr. "I came to ask you a few
questions. How long have you had Thalia Drummond in your house?"

"She has been my secretary for three months," said Froyant suspiciously.
"Why?"

"What wages do you pay her?" asked Parr.

Mr. Froyant mentioned a sum grossly inadequate, and even he was
apologetic for its inefficiency.

"I give her her food, you know, and she has evenings off," he said,
feeling that the starvation wage must be justified.

"Has she been short of money lately?"

Mr. Froyant stared at him.

"Why--yes. She asked me if I could advance her five pounds yesterday," he
said. "She said she had a call upon her purse which she could not meet.
Of course, I didn't advance the money. I do not approve of advancing
money for work which is not performed," said Froyant virtuously. "It
tends to pauperise--"

"You have a large number of antiques, I understand, Mr. Froyant, some of
them very valuable. Have you missed any lately?"

Froyant jumped to his feet. The very hint that he might have been robbed
was sufficient to set his mind in a panic. Without a word he rushed from
the room. He was gone three minutes and when he came back his eyes were
almost bulging from his head.

"My Buddha!" he gasped. "It is worth a hundred pounds. It was there this
morning--"

"Send for Miss Drummond," said the detective briefly.

Thalia came, a cool, self-possessed girl, who stood by her employer's
desk, her hands clasped behind her, scarcely looking at the detective.

The interview was short, and for Mr. Froyant, painful. Upon the girl it
had no apparent effect whatever. And yet she must have known, from the
steely glare in Froyant's eyes, that her theft had been detected. For a
little time the man found a difficulty in framing a coherent sentence.

"You--you have stolen something of mine," he blurted out. His voice was
almost a squeak. The accusing hand trembled in the intensity of his
emotion. "You--you are a thief!"

"I asked you for the money," said the girl coolly. "If you hadn't been
such a wicked old skinflint, you'd have let me have it."

"You--you--" spluttered Froyant, and then with a gasp--"I charge her,
inspector. I charge her with theft. You shall go to prison for this. Mark
my words, young woman. Wait--wait," he raised his hand. "I will see if
anything else is missing."

"You can save yourself the trouble," said the girl, as he was leaving the
room. "The Buddha was the only thing I took, and it was an ugly little
beast anyway."

"Give me your keys," stormed the enraged man. "To think that I've allowed
you to open my business letters!"

"I've opened one which will not be pleasant for you, Mr. Froyant," she
said quietly, and then he saw what she was holding in her hand.

She passed the envelope across to him, and with staring eyes he saw the
Crimson Circle, but the words written within the hoop were blurred and
indistinct. He dropped the card and collapsed into a chair.



CHAPTER IX


THALIA IN THE POLICE COURT

THE magistrate was a kind-hearted man and seemed uncomfortable. He
looked from the unemotional Mr. Parr who stood on the witness-stand, to
the girl in the steel pen, and she was almost as cool and as
self-controlled as the police witness. Her face was one which would have
attracted attention in any circumstances, but in the drab setting of the
police court, her beauty was emphasised and enhanced.

The magistrate glanced down at the charge-sheet before him. Her age was
described as twenty-one, her occupation as secretary.

The man of law, who had had many shocks in his lifetime, and had steeled
himself to the most unusual and improbable happenings, could only shake
his head in despair. "Is anything known against this woman?" he asked,
and felt it was absurd even to refer to the slim, girlish prisoner as a
"woman."

"She has been under observation for some time, your worship," was the
reply, "but she has not been in the hands of the police before."

The magistrate looked over his glasses at the girl.

"I cannot understand how you got yourself into this terrible position,"
he said. "A girl who has evidently had the education of a lady, you have
been charged with a theft of a few pounds, for although the article you
stole was worth a large sum, that was all that your dishonesty realised.
Your act was probably due to some great temptation. I suppose the need
for the money was very urgent; yet that does not excuse your act. I shall
bind you over to come up for judgment when called upon, treating you as a
first offender, and I do most earnestly appeal to you to live honestly
and avoid a repetition of this unpleasant experience." The girl bowed
slightly and left the box for the police office, and the next case was
called.

Harvey Froyant rose at the same time and made his way out of the court.
He was a rich man to whom money represented the goal and object of life.
He was the type of man who counted the contents of his pocket every night
before he went to bed, and he would have had his own mother arrested in
similar circumstances. Thalia Drummond's offence was made more hideous in
his eyes because her last act of service had been to hand to him the
warning of the Crimson Circle, from the shock of which he had not yet
recovered. He was a large, thin man with a permanent stoop. His attitude
towards the world was one of acute suspicion; for the moment it was one
of resentment, for he held the strongest views on the sacredness of
property.

To Parr, who followed him out of the court, he expressed his
disappointment that the girl had not been sent to prison.

"A woman like that is a danger to society," he complained in his
high-pitched, peevish voice. "How do I know that she isn't in league with
these blackguards who are threatening me? Forty thousand they ask for!
Forty thousand!" He wailed the last words. "It is your duty to see that I
come to no harm! Understand that--it is your duty!"

"I heard you!" said Inspector Parr wearily. "And as to the girl, I don't
suppose she ever heard of the Crimson Circle. She's very young."

"Young!" snarled the lean man. "That's the time to punish them, isn't it?
Catch them young and punish them young, and you may turn them into
respectable citizens!"

"I dare say you're right," agreed the stout Mr. Parr with a sigh, and
then inconsequently, "Children are a great responsibility."

Froyant muttered something under his breath, and without so much as a nod
of farewell, walked rapidly through the court, into the motor-car which
was waiting for him at the entrance to the court-house.

The inspector watched him depart with a slow smile, and, looking round,
caught the eye of a young man who was waiting by the clerk's door.

"Good morning, Mr. Beardmore," he said. "Are you waiting to see the young
lady?"

"Yes. How long will they keep her?" asked Jack nervously.

Mr. Parr gazed at him with expressionless eyes, and sniffed.

"If you don't mind my saying so, Mr. Beardmore," he said quietly, "you
are probably taking a greater interest in Miss Drummond than is good for
you."

"What do you mean?" asked Jack quietly. "The whole thing was a plot. That
beast Froyant--"

The inspector shook his head. "Miss Drummond admitted that she took the
statuette," he said, "and, besides, we saw her coming out of Isaacs.
There isn't any doubt about it."

"She only made the admission for some reason best known to herself," said
Jack violently. "Do you think a girl like that would steal? Why should
she? I would have given her anything she wanted "--he checked himself
suddenly. "There is something behind this," he went on more quietly,
"something which I do not understand, and probably you do not understand
either, inspector,"

The door opened at that moment and the girl came out. She stopped at the
sight of Jack and a faint flush crept into her pale face.

"Were you in court?" she asked quickly. He nodded, and she shook her
head. "You shouldn't have come," she said almost vehemently. "How did you
know? Who told you?" She seemed oblivious to the presence of the
inspector, but for the first time since her arrest she showed some sign
of her pent emotion. The colour came and went, and her voice shook a
little as she continued: "I am sorry you knew anything about it, Mr.
Beardmore, and am desperately sorry you came," she said.

"But it isn't true," he interrupted. "You can tell me that, Thalia? It
was a plot, wasn't it? A plot intended to ruin you?" His voice was almost
pleading, but she shook her head.

"There was no plot," she said quietly, "I stole from Mr. Froyant."

"But why, why?" he asked despairingly. "Why did you--"

"I am afraid I can't tell you why," she said with the ghost of a smile on
her lips, "except that I needed the money, and that is good and
sufficient reason, isn't it?"

"I'll never believe it." Jack's face was set and his grey eyes regarded
her steadily. "You are not the kind who would indulge in petty
pilfering."

She looked at him for a long time, and then turned her eyes to the
inspector.

"You may be able to undeceive Mr. Beardmore," she said. "I am afraid I
cannot."

"Where are you going?" he asked as, with a little nod, she was passing
on.

"I am going home," she replied. "Please don't come with me, Mr.
Beardmore."

"But you have no home."

"I have a lodging," she said with a hint of impatience.

"Then I am going with you," he said doggedly. She did not make any
remonstrance, and they passed from the court together into the busy
street. No word was spoken until they reached the entrance of a tube
station.

"Now I must go home," she said more gently than before.

"But what are you going to do?" he demanded. "How are you going to get
your living with this terrible charge against you?"

"Is it so terrible?" she asked coolly. She was walking into the station
entrance when he took her arm and swung her round with almost savage
violence.

"Now listen to me, Thalia," he said between his teeth. "I love you and I
want to marry you. I haven't told you that before, but you've guessed it.
I am not going to allow you to go out of my life. Do you understand that?
I do not believe that you are a thief and--"

Very gently she disengaged his grip.

"Mr. Beardmore," she said in a low voice, "you are just being quixotic
and foolish! You have told me what you will not allow, and I tell you
that I am not going to allow you to ruin your life through your
infatuation for a convicted thief. You know nothing of me except that I
am a seemingly nice girl whom you met by accident in the country, and it
is my duty to be your mother and your maiden aunt." There was a glint of
amusement in her eye as she took his offered hand. "Some day perhaps we
shall meet again, and by that time the glamour of romance will have worn
off. Good-bye."

She had disappeared into the booking hall before he could find his voice.



CHAPTER X


THE SUMMONS OF THE CRIMSON CIRCLE

THALIA DRUMMOND went back to the lodging she had occupied before she had
entered Mr. Harvey Froyant's service as resident secretary, and
apparently the story of her ill-deeds had preceded her, for the stout
landlady gave her a chilly welcome, and had she not continued to pay the
rent of her one room during the time she was working for Froyant, it was
probable that she would not have been admitted.

It was a small room, neatly if plainly furnished, and oblivious to the
landlady's glum face and cold reception, she went to her apartment and
locked the door behind her. She had spent a very unpleasant week, for she
had been remanded in custody, and her very clothes seemed to exhale the
musty odour of Holloway Gaol. Holloway, however, had an advantage which
No. 14, Lexington Street, did not possess. It had an admirable system of
bathrooms, for which the girl was truly grateful as she began to change.

She had plenty to occupy her mind. Harvey Froyant...Jack Beardmore...she
frowned as though at a distasteful thought, and tried to dismiss him from
her mind. It was a relief to go back to Froyant. She almost hated him.
She certainly despised him. The time she had spent in his house had been
the most wretched period in her life. She had taken her meals with the
servants and had been conscious that every scrap of food she ate had been
measured and weighed and duly apportioned by a man whose cheque for seven
figures would have been honoured. "At least, he didn't make love to you,
my dear," she said to herself, and smiled. Somehow she couldn't imagine
Harvey Froyant making love to anybody. She recalled the days she had
followed him about his big house with a note-book in her hand, whilst
he searched for evidence of his servants' neglect, drawing his fingers
along the polished shelves in the library in a vain search for dust,
turning up carpet corners, examining silver, or else counting, as he did
regularly every week, the contents of his still-room. He measured the
wine at table and counted the empty bottles, even the corks. It was his
boast that in his big garden he could tell the absence of a flower. These
he sent to market regularly, with the vegetables he grew and the peaches
which ripened on the wall, and woe betide the unlucky gardener who had
poached so much as a ripe apple from the orchard, for Harvey had an
uncanny instinct which led him to the rifled tree.

She smiled a little wryly at the recollection, and, having completed her
change of costume, she went out, locking the door behind her. Her
landlady watched her pass down the street, and nodded ominously.

"Your lodger's come back," said a neighbour.

"Yes, she's come back," said the woman grimly. "A nice lady she is--I
don't think! It is the first time I've ever had a crook in my house, and
it'll be the last. I am giving her notice to-night."

Unconscious of the criticism, Thalia boarded a bus which took her into
the city. She got down in Fleet Street, went into the large office of a
popular newspaper. At the desk she took an advertisement form, looked at
the white sheet for a moment thoughtfully, then wrote:

SECRETARY.--Young lady from the Colonies requires post as Secretary.
Resident-Secretary preferred. Small wages required. Shorthand and
Typewriting.

She left a space for the box number, handed the advertisement across the
counter, and paid the fee.

She was back again in Lexington Street in time for tea, a meal which was
brought up to her on a battered tray by her landlady.

"Look here, Miss Drummond," said that worthy person, "I've got a few words
to say to you."

"Say them," said the girl carelessly.

"I shall want your room after next week."

Thalia turned slowly. "Does that mean I've got to get out?"

"That's what it means. I can't have people like you staying in a
respectable house. I'm surprised at you, a young lady as I always thought
you were."

"Continue to think so," said Thalia coolly. "I'm both young and
ladylike."

But the stout landlady was not to be checked in her well-rehearsed
indictment.

"A nice lady you are," she said, "giving my house a bad name. You've been
in prison for a week. Perhaps you don't think I know, but I read the
newspapers."

"I'm sure you do," said the girl quietly. "That will do, Mrs. Boled. I
leave your house next week."

"And I should like to say--" began the woman.

"Say it on the mat," said Thalia, and closed the door in the choleric
lady's face.

As it was now growing dark, she lit a kerosene lamp and occupied the
evening by manicuring her nails, an operation which was interrupted by
the arrival of the nine o'clock post. She heard the rat-tat at the door
and the heavy feet of her landlady on the stairs.

"A letter for you," called the woman. Thalia unlocked the door and took
the envelope from the landlady's hand. "You had better tell your friends
that you're going to get a new address," said the woman, loath to leave
her quarrel half-finished.

"I haven't told my friends yet that I live in such a horrible place,"
said Thalia sweetly, and locked the door before the woman could think of
a suitable reply.

She smiled as she carried the envelope to the light. It was addressed in
printed characters. She turned it over, looking at the postmark before
she opened it, and extracted a thick white card. At the first glance of
the message her face changed its expression.

The card was a square one, and in the centre was a large crimson circle.
Within the circle was written in the same printed characters:

"We have need of you. Enter the car which you will find waiting at the
corner of Steyne Square at ten o'clock to-morrow night."

She put the card down on the table and stared at it.

The Crimson Circle had need of her! She had expected the summons, but it
had come earlier than she had anticipated.



CHAPTER XI


THE CONFESSION

AT three minutes to ten the following night, a closed car drove slowly
into Steyne Square and came to a halt at the corner of Clarges Street. A
few minutes later Thalia Drummond walked into the square from the other
end. She wore a long black cloak, and the little hat upon her head was
held in its position by a thick veil knotted under her chin.

Without a second's hesitation she opened the door of the car and stepped
in. It was in complete darkness, but she could see the figure of the
driver indistinctly. He did not turn his head, nor did he attempt to
start the car, although she felt the vibration of the engines beneath her
feet.

"You were charged at the Marylebone Police Court yesterday morning with
theft," said the driver without preamble. "Yesterday afternoon you
inserted an advertisement, describing yourself as a newly-arrived
colonial, your intention being to find another situation, where you could
continue your career of petty pilfering."

"This is very interesting," said Thalia without a tremor of voice, "but
you did not bring me here to give me my past history. When I had your
letter I guessed that you thought I would be a very useful assistant. But
there is one question I want to ask you."

"If I wish to reply I shall," was the uncompromising answer.

"I realise that," said Thalia, with a faint smile in the darkness.
"Suppose I had communicated with the police and I had come here attended
by Mr. Parr and the clever Mr. Derrick Yale?"

"You would have been lying on the pavement dead by now," was the calm
announcement. "Miss Drummond, I am going to put easy money in your way
and find you a very excellent job. I do not even mind if you indulge in
your eccentricity in your spare time, but your principal task will be to
serve me. You understand?"

She nodded, and then realising he could not see her, she said: "Yes."

"You will be paid well for everything you do; I shall always be on hand
to help you--or to punish you if you attempt to betray me," he added. "Do
you understand?"

"Perfectly," she replied,

"Your job will be a very simple one," went on the unknown driver. "You
will present yourself at Brabazon's Bank to-morrow. Brabazon is in need
of a secretary."

"But will he employ me?" she interrupted. "Must I go in another name?"

"Go in your own name," said the man impatiently. "Don't interrupt. I will
pay you two hundred pounds for your services. Here is the money." He
thrust two notes over his shoulder and she took them.

Her hand accidentally touched his shoulder, and she felt something hard
beneath his fleecy coat.

"A bullet-proof waistcoat," she noted mentally, and then aloud: "What
am I to say to Mr. Brabazon about my earlier experience?"

"It will be unnecessary to say anything, or do anything. You will receive
your instructions from time to time. That is all," he added shortly.

A few minutes later Thalia Drummond sat in the corner of the taxi-cab
which was taking her back to Lexington Street. Behind her, at intervals,
came another taxi-cab which slowed when hers did, but never overtook
her, not even when she descended at the comer of the street where her
lodgings were situated. And when she turned the key of her street door,
Inspector Parr was only a dozen paces from her. If she knew that she was
being shadowed, she made no sign.

Parr only waited for a few minutes, watching the house from the opposite
side of the roadway, and then; as her light appeared in the upper window,
he turned and walked thoughtfully back to the cab which had brought him
so far eastward.

He had opened the door of the cab and was stepping in, when somebody
passed him on the side-walk; somebody who was walking briskly with his
collar turned up, but Inspector Parr knew him.

'Flush', he called sharply, and the man turned round on his heel.

He was a little dark, thin-faced, lithe man, at the sight of the
Inspector his jaw dropped.

"Why--why, Mr. Parr," he said, with ill-affected geniality, "whoever
thought of seeing you in this part of the world?"

"I want a little talk with you. Flush. Will you walk along with me?"

It was an ominous invitation, which Mr. 'Flush' had heard before.

"You haven't got anything against me, Mr. Parr?" he said loudly.

"Nothing," admitted Parr. "Besides, you're going straight now. I seem to
remember you telling me that day you came out of prison."

"That's right," said 'Flush' Barnet, heaving a sigh of relief. "Going
straight, working for my living, and engaged to be married."

"You don't tell me?" said the stout Mr. Parr with simulated astonishment.
"And is it Bella or Milly?"

"It is Milly," said 'Flush', inwardly cursing the excellent memory of the
police inspector. "She's going straight, too. She's got a job at one of
the shops."

"At Brabazon's Bank, to be exact," said the inspector, and then turned as
though some thought had arrested him. "I wonder," he muttered, "I wonder
if that is it?"

"She's a perfect young lady, is Milly," Mr. 'Flush' hastened to explain.
"Honest as the day, wouldn't swipe a clock, not if her life depended on
it. I don't want you to think she is bad, Mr. Parr, because she's not.
We're both living what I might term an honest life."

Parr's placid face wrinkled in a smile. "That's grand news you're telling
me, Flush. Where is Milly to be found in these days?"

"She's living in diggings on the other side of the river," said 'Flush'
reluctantly. "You're not going to rake up old scandals, are you, Mr.
Parr?"

"Heaven forbid," said Inspector Parr piously. "No, I'd like to have a
talk with her. Perhaps--" he hesitated, "anyway, it can wait. It was
rather providential meeting you, 'Flush'."

But 'Flush' did not share that view, even though he expressed a faint
acquiescence.

"So that's it," said Inspector Parr to himself, but he did not express
the nature of his suspicions, even when he met Derrick Yale at his club
half-an-hour later. And it was a further curious fact, that though
they touched every aspect of the Crimson Circle mystery in the long
conversation which followed, never once did Mr. Parr mention Thalia
Drummond's interview, which, if he had not seen, he had at least guessed.

The two men left early the next morning for the little country town where
one Ambrose Sibly, described as an able-seaman, was held on a charge of
murder. At his own earnest request, Jack Beardmore was allowed to
accompany them, though he was not present at the interview between the
two detectives and the sullen man who had slain his father.

A brawny, unshaven fellow, half Scottish, half Swede, Sibly proved to be.
He could neither read nor write, and had been in the hands of the police
before. This much Parr had discovered from a reference of his
fingerprints.

At first he was not inclined to commit himself, and it was rather Derrick
Yale's skilful cross-examination, than Inspector Parr's efforts, which
produced the confession.

"Yes, I did it all right," he said at last. They were seated in the cell
with an official shorthand-writer taking a note of his statement.

"You've got me proper, but you wouldn't have got me if I hadn't been
drunk. And whilst I'm confessing, I might as well own up that I killed
Harry Hobbs. He was a shipmate of mine on the Oritianga in 1912--they can
only hang me once. Killed him and chucked his body overboard, I did, over
the question of a woman that we met at Newport News, which is in America.
I'll tell you how this happened, gentlemen. I lost my ship about a month
ago, and was stranded at the Sailors' Home at Wapping. I got chucked out
of there for being drunk, and on top of that I was locked up and got
seven days' imprisonment. If the old fool had only given me a month I
shouldn't have been here. One night after I came out of prison I was
walking through the East End, down on my luck and starving for a drink,
and feeling properly miserable. To make it worse, I had the toothache--"
Parr met Derrick Yale's eyes, and Derrick smiled faintly.

"I was loafing along the edge of the pavement looking for cigarette ends,
and thinking of nothing except where I could get a bit of food and a
night's lodging. It was beginning to rain, too, and it looked as though I
was going to have another night on the streets, when I heard a voice say,
almost in my ear, 'Jump in.' I looked round. A motor-car was standing
by the side of the roadway. I couldn't believe my ears. Presently the man
in the car said 'Jump in. It's you I mean!' and he mentioned my name. We
drove along for a while without his saying anything, and I noticed that
he kept clear of all the streets where the big lights were.

"After a bit he stopped the car, and began to tell me who I was. I can
assure you I was surprised. He knew the whole of my history. He even knew
about Harry Hobbs--I was tried for that killing and acquitted--and then
he asked me if I'd like to earn a hundred pounds. I told him I would, and
he said there was an old gentleman in the country who had done him a lot
of harm, and he wanted him 'outed.' I didn't want to take the job on for
some time, but he gave me such a lot of talk about how he could get me
hung for Hobbs's murder, and how it was safe, and he'd give me a bicycle
to get away on, and at last I agreed.

"He picked me up by arrangement a week later in Steyne Square. Then he
gave me all the final particulars. I got down to Beardmore's place soon
after it was dark, and hid in the wood. He told me Mr. Beardmore
generally walked through the wood every morning, and that I was to make
myself comfortable for the night. I hadn't been in the wood an hour when
I had a fright. I heard somebody moving. I think it must have been a
game-keeper. He was a big fellow, and I only just got a glimpse of him.

"And I think that's about all, gentlemen, except that the next morning
the old fellow came in the wood and I shot him. I don't remember much
about it, for I was drunk at the time, having taken a bottle of whisky
into the wood with me. But I was sober enough to get on to the bicycle,
and I rode off. And I should have got away altogether, if it hadn't been
for the booze."

"And that is all?" asked Parr, when the confession had been read over and
the man had affixed a rough cross.

"That's all, guv'nor," said the sailor.

"And you don't know who it was who employed you?"

"Not the faintest idea," said the other cheerfully. "There's one thing
about him, though, I could tell you," he said after a pause. "He kept
using a word that I've never heard before. I'm not highly educated, but
I've noticed that some men have favourite words. We had an old skipper
who always used the word 'morbid'."

"What was the word?" asked Parr.

The man scratched his head. "I'll remember it and let you know," he said,
and they left him to his meditations, which were few, and probably not
unpleasant.

Four hours after, the jailor took Ambrose Sibly some food. He was lying
on his bed, and the jailor shook him by the shoulder.

"Wake up," he said, but Ambrose Sibly never woke again.

He was stone dead. And in the tin dipper, half-filled with water, which
stood by his bed, and with which he had slaked his thirst, they found
sufficient hydrocyanic acid to kill fifty men.

But it was not the poison which interested Inspector Parr so much as the
little circle of crimson paper which was found floating on the top of the
water.



CHAPTER XII


THE POINTED BOOTS

MR. FELIX MARL sat behind the locked door of his bedroom, and he was
engaged in a task which had the elements of unpleasant familiarity.

Twenty-five years before, when he was an inmate of the big French
prison at Toulouse, he had worked in a bootmaker's shop, and the handling
of boots was an everyday experience. It is true his business had been to
repair, and not to destroy. To-day, with a razor-sharp knife, he was
cutting to shreds a pair of pointed patent leather shoes which he had
only worn three times. Strip by strip he cut the leather, which he then
placed on the fire.

Some men live intensely and suffer intensely, Mr. Felix Marl was one of
those who could crowd into a day the terrors of an aeon. In some manner a
newspaper had got hold of the story of the footprint in Beardmore's
ground, and a new fear had been added to the many which confused and
paralysed this big man. He was sitting in his shirt sleeves, the
perspiration rolling down his face, for the fire was a big one and the
room was super-heated.

Presently the last shred was thrown into the fire and he sat watching it
grill and flame before he put away the knife, washed his hands and opened
the windows to let out the acrid odour of burning leather.

It would have been better, he thought, if he had carried out his first
resolution, and he cursed himself for the cowardice which had induced him
to substitute his revolver for a fountain pen. But he was safe. Nobody
had seen him leave the grounds.

With such men as he, blind panic and unreasoning confidence succeed one
another, almost as a natural reaction. By the time he had descended his
stairs to his little library he had almost forgotten that he was in any
danger.

In the fading light of day he had written a conciliatory, even a
grovelling letter, and had, as he believed, delivered it safely. Would it
be found? He had another moment of panic.

"Pshaw!" said Mr. Marl, and dismissed that dangerous possibility.

His servant brought him a tea-tray and arranged it on a small table by
the side of his desk, where the big man sat. "Will you see that gentleman
now, sir?"

"Eh?" said Mr. Marl, turning round. "Which gentleman?"

"I told you there was a man who wanted to see you."

Marl remembered that his boot-destroying operation had been interrupted
by a knock. "Who is he?" he asked. "I put his card on the table, sir."

"Didn't you tell him that I was engaged?"

"Yes, but he said he'd wait until you came down." The man handed him the
card, and Mr. Marl reading it, jumped and turned a sickly yellow.

"Inspector Parr," he said unsteadily. "What does he want with me?"

His shaking hand fingered his mouth.

"Show him in," he said with an effort.

He had not met Inspector Parr either professionally or socially, and his
first glance at the little man reassured him. There was nothing
particularly menacing in the appearance of the red-faced detective.

"Sit down, inspector. I'm sorry I was busy when you came," said Mr. Marl.
When he was agitated his voice was almost bird-like in its thinness.

Parr sat down on the edge of the nearest chair, balancing his Derby hat
on his knee.

"I thought I'd wait until you came down, Mr. Marl. I wanted to see you
about this Beardmore murder."

Mr. Marl said nothing. With an effort he kept his trembling lips from
quivering, and assumed, as he believed, an air of polite interest.

"You knew Mr. Beardmore very well?"

"Not very well," said Marl. "I certainly have had business dealings with
him."

"Have you met him before?"

Marl hesitated. He was the kind of man to whom a lie came most readily,
and his natural habit of mind was to state the exact opposite of the
truth.

"No," he admitted. "I had seen him years ago, but that was before he had
grown a beard."

"Where was Mr. Beardmore when you were coming into the house?" asked
Parr.

"He was standing on the terrace," replied Marl with unnecessary loudness.

"And you saw him?"

Marl nodded.

"They tell me, Mr. Marl," Parr went on, looking down at his hat, "that
for some reason or other you were startled--Mr. Jack Beardmore says that
he thought you were momentarily terrified. What was the cause of that?"

Mr. Marl shrugged his shoulders and forced a smile.

"I think I explained it was a little heart attack. I am subject to them,"
he said.

Parr had turned his hat so that he was looking into the interior, and he
did not raise his eyes when he asked:

"It was not the sight of Mr. Beardmore?"

"Of course not," said the other vigorously. "Why should I be scared of
Mr. Beardmore? I've had a lot of correspondence with him, and know him
almost as well--"

"But you hadn't met him for years?"

"I hadn't seen him for years," corrected Marl irritably.

"And the cause of your agitation was just a heart attack, Mr. Marl?"
asked the inspector.

For the first time his eyes rose and fixed themselves upon the other's.

"Absolutely." Marl's voice did not lack heartiness. "I had forgotten all
about my little seizure until you reminded me."

"There is another point I wanted cleared up," said the detective. His
attention had gone back to his fascinating hat, which he was turning
over and over mechanically until it had the appearance of a revolving
butter-churn. "When you came to Mr. Beardmore's house you were wearing
pointed patent shoes."

Marl frowned.

"Was I? I've forgotten."

"Did you take any walk into the grounds, except the walk you had from the
railway station?"

"No."

"You didn't walk around the house to admire the--er--architecture?"

"No, I did not. I was only in the house a few minutes, and then I drove
away."

Mr. Parr raised his eyes to the ceiling.

"Would it be asking you too much," he demanded apologetically, "if I
requested you to show me the patent shoes you wore that day?"

"Certainly," said Marl, rising with alacrity.

He was out of the room a few minutes, and came back with a pair of long
pointed patent boots.

The detective took them in his hand and looked earnestly at the sole.

"Yes," he said. "Of course, these are not the boots you were wearing,
because--" he rubbed the soles gently with his hand, "there is dust on
them, and the ground has been wet for the last week."

Marl's heart nearly stopped beating.

"Those are the boots I wore," he said defiantly. "What you call 'dust' is
really dried mud."

Parr looked at his dusty fingers and shook his head.

"I think there must be some mistake, Mr. Marl," he said gently. "This is
chalk dust." He put the boots down and rose. "However, it isn't very
important," he said. He stood so long, looking down at the carpet, that
Mr. Marl, in spite of his fear, became impatient.

"Is there anything more I can do for you, officer?" he asked.

"Yes," said Parr. "I want you to give me the name and address of your
tailor. Perhaps you would write it down for me."

"My tailor?" Mr. Marl glared at the visitor. "What the dickens do you
want of my tailor?" And then, with a laugh, "Well, you are a curious man,
inspector; but I'll do it with pleasure."

He went to his secretaire, pulled out a sheet of paper, wrote down a name
and address and, blotting it, handed it to the detective.

"Thank you, sir." Parr did not even look at the address, but put the
paper into his pocket.

"I'm sorry to bother you, but you will realise that everybody who was
present at the house within twenty-four hours of Mr. Beardmore's death
must necessarily be interrogated. The Crimson Circle--"

"The Crimson Circle!" gasped Mr. Marl, and the detective looked at him
straightly.

"Didn't you know that the Crimson Circle were responsible for this
murder?"

To do him justice, Mr. Felix Marl knew nothing of the kind. He had seen a
brief report that James Beardmore had been found shot but the association
of the murder with the Crimson Circle had not been disclosed except by
the Monitor, a newspaper which Mr. Marl never read.

He dropped into a chair, quaking. "The Crimson Circle," he muttered.
"Good God--I never thought--" he checked himself.

"What didn't you think?" asked Parr gently.

"The Crimson Circle," murmured the big man again. "I thought it was just
a--" he did not complete his sentence.

For an hour after the detective's departure Felix Marl sat huddled up in
his chair, his head in his hands. The Crimson Circle! It was the first
time he had ever been brought into even the remotest touch with that
blackmailing organisation, and now its obtrusion upon the order of his
thoughts was so violent that it disturbed every theory he had formed.

"I don't like it," he muttered as he got up painfully and turned on the
light in the darkened room. "I think this is where I get away." He spent
the evening examining his bankbook, and the examination was very
comforting. He could squeeze out a little more, he thought, and then--



CHAPTER XIII


MR. MARL SQUEEZES A LITTLE MORE

ANOTHER agent of the Crimson Circle found her lines cast in pleasant
places. She had been accepted by Mr. Brabazon without question, and
evidently the man in the car possessed extraordinary influences.

What was even more extraordinary was that day followed day without a word
from her mysterious employer. She had expected that he would almost
immediately avail himself of her services, but she had been at Brabazon's
(late Seller's) Bank nearly a month before she received any
communication. It came one morning. She found the letter on her desk,
addressed in bold pen-print.

There was no sign of the Circle on the letter, which began without
preamble:

Make the acquaintance of Marl. Discover why he has a hold over Brabazon.
Send me the figures of his account and notify me immediately his account
is closed. Notify me also if Parr and Derrick Yale come to the bank. Wire
Johnson, 23, Mildred Street, City.

She carried out her instructions faithfully, though it was not for a few
days that she had an opportunity of seeing Mr. Marl.

Only once did Derrick Yale come into the bank. She had seen him before,
when he was a guest of the Beardmores, and even if she had not, she would
have recognised him from the portrait of the famous detective which had
appeared in the newspapers.


What his business was she did not learn, but, looking out of the corner
of her eye from the little office she occupied alone, by virtue of her
position as Brabazon's private secretary, she saw him talking with one of
the tellers at the counter, and duly notified the Crimson Circle.
Inspector Parr, however, did not come, nor did she see Jack Beardmore.
She did not want to think too much of Jack. He was not a pleasant
subject.

In moments of perturbation John Brabazon, the austere and stately
president of Seller's Bank, had a characteristic little trick. His white
hands would stray to the hair, curly and thick at the back of his head.
One curl he would twist about his forefinger for a moment, and then he
would slowly bring the tips of his fingers across his bald dome until
they rested on his forehead. In such moments, with his head bowed and his
fingers resting on his brow, he had the appearance of being engaged in
prayer.

The gentleman who sat with him in his neat office had no characteristics
at all. He was a big man, who breathed noisily, and he was puffy with
lazy, indulgent living, but he did not fidget and his hands were folded
over his large waistcoat.

"My dear Marl," the banker's voice was soft and almost caressing, "you
try my patience at times. I will say nothing about the strain you put
upon my resources."

The big man chuckled. "I give you security, Brab--excellent security, old
man. You can't deny that!"

Mr. Brabazon's white fingers played a tune on the edge of his desk.

"You bring me impossible schemes, and hitherto I have been foolish enough
to finance them," he said. "There must come an end to such folly. You
have no need for help. Your balance at this bank alone is nearly a
hundred thousand."

Marl looked round at the door and bent forward.

"I'll tell you a story," he mumbled, "a story about a penniless young
clerk that married the widow of Seller, of Seller's Bank. She was old
enough to be his mother, and died suddenly--in Switzerland. She fell over
a precipice. Don't I know it? Wasn't I takin' photographs of the
bee-utiful mountain scenery? Did I ever show you the picture of that
accident, Brab? You are in it! Yes, you're in it, though you told the
examining magistrate you were miles and miles away!"

Mr. Brabazon's eyes were on the desk. Not a muscle of his face moved.

"Besides," said Mr. Marl in a more normal tone, "you can afford it.
You're making another matrimonial alliance--that's the expression, ain't
it?"

The banker raised his eyes and frowned at his visitor. "What do you
mean?" he demanded.

Mr. Marl was evidently amused. He slapped his knee and choked with
laughter.

"What about the person you met in Steyne Square the other night--the one
in the closed motor-car, eh? Don't deny it! I saw you! A nice little
car, it was."

Now, for the first time, Brabazon displayed signs of emotion. His face
was grey and drawn and his eyes seemed to have receded further into their
sockets. "I will arrange your loan," he said. Mr. Marl's expression of
satisfaction was interrupted by a knock at the door. At Brabazon's "Come
in," the door opened to admit one whose appearance put all other matters
out of the visitor's head.

The girl brought a paper which she placed before her employer--evidently
a pencilled telephone message.

"White--gold--red," Mr. Marl's senses registered the impression he
received. White, creamy white and delicate skin, red as poppies the
scarlet lips, yellow as ripe corn the hair. He saw her in profile, was
revolted a little at the firmness of her chin--Mr. Marl liked women who
were yielding and soft and malleable in his hands--but the beauty of
mouth and nose and brow--they made him blink.

He breathed a little more quickly, a little more loudly, and when she had
gone after a colloquy, in a low tone, he sighed.

"What a queen!" he said. "I've seen her somewhere before. What is her
name?"

"Drummond--Thalia Drummond," said Mr. Brabazon, eyeing the gross man
coldly.

"Thalia Drummond!" repeated Felix slowly. "Isn't she the girl who used to
be with Froyant? Bit sweet on her yourself, eh, Brabazon?"

The man at the writing-table looked at the other steadily.

"I do not make it a practice to be 'sweet on' my employees, Mr. Marl," he
said. "Miss Drummond is a very efficient worker. That is all that I
require of my staff."

Marl rose heavily, chuckling. "I'll see you to-morrow morning about
that other business," he said.

He laughed wheezily, but Mr. Brabazon did not smile. "At half-past ten
to-morrow," he said, going to the door with the visitor. "Or can you
make it eleven?"

"Eleven," agreed the man.

"Good morning," said the banker, but did not offer his hand. Hardly had
the door closed on the visitor before Mr. Brabazon locked it and returned
to his desk. He took from his pocket-book a plain white card, and
dipping his pen in the red ink, drew a small circle. Beneath he wrote the
words:

'Felix Marl saw our interview in Steyne Square. He lives at 79, Marisburg
Place.'

He put the card into an envelope and addressed it:

'Mr. Johnson, 23, Mildred Street, City.'



CHAPTER XIV


THALIA IS ASKED OUT

MR. MARL had to pass through the bank premises, and he glanced along the
two rows of desks without, however, catching a glimpse of the girl whose
face he sought. Near the end of the counter was a small compartment, the
occupant of which was shielded from observation by opaque glass windows.
The door was ajar, and he caught just a flash of the figure and walked
toward the door. A girl at a typewriter watched him curiously.

Thalia Drummond looked up from her desk to see the big smiling face of a
man looking down at her.

"Busy, Miss Drummond?"

"Very," she replied, but did not seem to resent his intrusion.

"Don't get much fun here, do you?" he asked.

"Not a lot." Her dark eyes were surveying him appraisingly.

"What about a bit of dinner one of these nights and a show to follow?" he
asked.

Her eyes took him in from his dyed hair to his painfully varnished boots.

"You're a wicked old man," she said calmly, "but dinner is my favourite
meal."

His grin broadened and the fires of conquest flickered in his faded eyes.

"What about 'The Moulin Gris'?" He suggested the restaurant, without
doubting her acceptance, but her lips curled scornfully.

"Why not at Hooligans Fish Parlour?" she asked. "No, it's the Ritz-Carlton
or nothing for me."

Mr. Marl was staggered, but pleased. "You're a princess," he beamed, "and
you shall have a royal feed! What about to-night?" She nodded. "Meet me
at my house in Marisburg Place, Bayswater Road. 7.30. You'll find my name
on the door."

He paused, expecting her to demur, but to his surprise, she nodded again.

"Good-bye, darling," said the bold Mr. Marl and kissed the tips of his
fat fingers.

"Shut the door," said the girl and went on with her work.

She was destined again to be interrupted. This time the visitor was a
good-looking girl, whose forearms were gauntletted in shiny leather. It
was the typist who had followed Mr. Marl's movements with such curiosity.

Thalia leant back in her chair as the newcomer carefully closed the door
behind her and sat down.

"Well, Macroy, what's biting you?" she asked inelegantly.

The words did not seem to harmonise with the delicate refinement of face,
and not for the first time did Milly Macroy look at the girl wonderingly.

"Who's the old nut?" she asked.

"An admirer," replied Thalia calmly.

"You do attract 'em, kid," commented Milly Macroy, with some envy, and
there was a little pause.

"Well?" asked Thalia. "You haven't come here to discuss my amours, have
you?"

Milly smiled furtively. "If amours is French for boys, I haven't," she
said. "I've come to have a straight talk with you, Drummond."

"Straight talks are meat and drink to me," said Thalia Drummond.

"Do you remember the money that went out by registered post last Friday
to the Sellinger Corporation?"

Thalia nodded.

"Well, I suppose you know that they claim that when the package arrived
it contained nothing but paper?"

"Is that so?" asked Thalia. "Mr. Brabazon has said nothing to me about
it," and she returned the other's scrutinising glance without faltering.

"I packed that money in the envelope," said Milly Macroy slowly, "and you
had it to check. There's only you and me in this business. Miss Drummond,
and one of us pinched the money, and I'll swear it wasn't me."

"Then it must be me," said Thalia with an innocent smile. "Really,
Macroy, that's a fairly serious accusation to make against an innocent
female."

The admiration in Milly's eyes increased. "You're a Thorough-Bad, if
ever there was one!" she said. "Now, look here, kid, let's put all our
cards on the table. A month ago, soon after you came to the bank, there
was a hundred note missing from the Foreign Exchange desk."

"Well?" asked Thalia when she paused.

"Well, I happen to know that you had it and that it was changed by you at
Bilbury's in the Strand. I can tell you the number if you want to know."

Thalia swung round and looked at the other under lowered brows.

"What have we here?" she asked in mock consternation. "A female sleuth!
Heavens, I am indeed undone!"

The extravagant mockery of it all took Milly aback. "You've got ice in
your brain!" she said. She leant forward and laid her hand on the girl's
arm. "There may be trouble over this Sellinger business, and you will
want all the friends you can get."

"So will you, for the matter of that," said Thalia coolly. "You handled
the money."

"And you took it," said the other, in a matter-of-fact tone. "Don't
let us have any argument about it, Drummond. If we stick together
there'll be no trouble at all--I can swear that the envelope was sealed
in my presence and that the money was there."

There was a dancing light of amusement in Thalia Drummond's eyes and she
laughed silently.

"All right," she said, with a little shrug of her shoulders. "Let it go
at that. Now, I suppose, having saved me from ruin, you're going to ask
me a favour? I'll set your mind at rest about the money. I took it
because I had a good home for it. I need money frequently and anyway
there have been lots of postal robberies lately. There was a long article
in the paper about it the other day. Now go ahead."

Milly Macroy, who had not a slight acquaintance with the criminal
classes, stared at the girl in amazement.

"You're ice all right," she nodded, "but you've got to cut out this cheap
pilfering, otherwise you're liable to spoil a real big thing and I can't
afford to see it spoilt. If you want a share of big money you've got to
come in with people who are working big--do you get that?"

"I get it," said Thalia, "and who are your collaborators?"

Miss Macroy did not recognise the term but answered discreetly: "There's
a gentleman I know--"

"Say 'man'," said Thalia. "Gentleman always reminds me of a tailor's ad."

"Well, a man if you like," said the patient Miss Macroy.

"He's a friend of mine and he's been watching you for a week or two, and
he thinks you're the kind of clever girl who might make a lot of money
without trouble. I told him about the other affair and he wants to see
you."

"Another admirer?" asked Thalia Drummond with a lift of her perfect
eyebrows, and Macroy's face darkened.

"There'll be none of that, you understand, Drummond," she said
decisively. "This fellow and I are sort of--engaged."

"Heaven forbid," said Thalia Drummond piously, "that I should come
between two loving hearts."

"And you needn't be sarcastic either," said Macroy, redder still. "I tell
you that there's to be no lovey-dovey stuff in this. It's real
business, you understand?"

Thalia played with her paper-knife. Presently she asked: "Suppose I
don't want to come into your combination?"

Milly Macroy looked suspiciously at the girl. "Come and have a bit of
dinner after the bank closes," she said.

"Nothing but invitations to dinner," murmured Thalia and the nimble-witted
Milly Macroy jumped at the truth.

"The old boy asked you to dinner, did he?" she demanded. "Well, ain't
that luck!" She whistled and her eyes brightened. She was about to offer
a confidence, but changed her mind. "He's got loads of money out of
money-lending. My dear, I can see you with a diamond necklace in a week or
two!"

Thalia straightened herself and took up her pen. "Pearls are my
weakness," she said. "All right, Macroy, I'll see you to-night," and
she went on working.

Milly Macroy lingered. "Look here, you're not going to tell this
gentleman what I said about my being engaged to him, are you?"

"There's Brab's bell," said Thalia, rising and taking up her notebook as
a buzzer sounded. "No, I'm not going to discuss anything of the kind--I
hate fairy stories anyway."

Miss Macroy looked after the retreating figure of the girl with an
expression which was not friendly.

Mr. Brabazon was sitting at his desk when the girl came in, and handed
her a scaled envelope,

"Send this by hand," he said. Thalia looked at the address and nodded,
and then looked at Mr. Brabazon with a new interest. Truly the Crimson
Circle was recruited from many and various classes.



CHAPTER XV


THALIA JOINS THE GANG

THALIA DRUMMOND was almost the last of the staff to leave the bank that
night, and she stood on the steps looking idly from left to right as she
pulled on her gloves. If she saw the man who was watching her from the
opposite side of the road she did not reveal the fact by so much as a
glance. Presently her eyes lighted upon Milly waiting a few yards up the
street, and she walked toward her.

"You've been a long time, Drummond," grumbled Miss Macroy. "You mustn't
keep my friend waiting, you know. He doesn't like it."

"He'll get over that," said Thalia. "I do not run to time-table where
men arc concerned."

She fell in by Milly's side and they walked a hundred yards along the
busy thoroughfare before they turned into Reeder Street.

The restaurants in Reeder Street have taken to themselves names which are
designed to suggest the gaiety and epicurean wonders of Paris. The
"Moulin Gris" was a small, deep shop which, with the aid of numerous
mirrors and the application of gold leaf, had managed to create an
atmosphere of cramped splendour.

The tables were set for dinner and empty, for it was two hours before the
meal, and to the proprietors of the "Moulin Gris" such a function as
afternoon tea was unknown. They went up a narrow stairway to another
dining-room on the first floor, and a man who was seated at one of the
tables rose briskly to meet them. He was a sleek, dark, young man, his
beautifully brilliantined hair was brushed back from his forehead, and he
was dressed, if not in the height of fashion, at least in the height of
the fashion which he favoured.

A faint odour of l'origan, a soft large hand, a pair of bright unwinking
eyes, were the first impressions which Thalia received.

"Sit down, sit down, Miss Drummond," he said brightly. "Waiter, bring
that tea."

"This is Thalia Drummond," said Miss Macroy, unnecessarily it seemed.

"We needn't be introduced," laughed the young man. "I've heard a lot
about you, Miss Drummond. My name's Barnet."

"'Flush' Barnet," said Thalia, and he seemed surprised and not
ill-pleased.

"You've heard of me, have you?"

"She's heard of everything," said Miss Macroy in resignation, "and what's
more," she added significantly, "she knows Marl, and is dining with him
to-night."

Barnet looked sharply from one to the other, then back again at Milly
Macroy. "Have you told her anything?" he asked. There was a note of
menace in his voice.

"You don't have to tell her anything," said Miss Macroy recklessly. "She
knows it all!"

"Did you tell her?" he repeated.

"About Marl? No, I thought you'd tell her that."

The waiter brought the tea at that moment and there was a silence until
he had gone.

"Now, I'm a plain-spoken man," said 'Flush' Barnet, "And I'm going to
tell you what I call you."

"This sounds interesting," said the girl, never taking her eyes from his
face.

"I call you Thorough-Bad Thalia. How's that? Good, eh?" said Mr.
Barnet, leaning back in his chair and surveying her. "Thorough-Bad
Thalia! You're a naughty girl! I was in court the day old Froyant charged
you with pinching!" He shook his head waggishly.

"You're as full of information as last year's almanac," said Thalia
Drummond coolly. "I suppose you didn't bring me here to exchange
compliments?"

"No, I didn't," admitted 'Flush' Barnet, and the jealous Miss Macroy
recognised, by certain signs, the fascination that the girl was casting
over her lover. "I brought you here to talk business. We're all friends
here, and we're all in the same old business. I want to tell you straight
away that I'm not one of your little thieving crooks, who lives from hand
to mouth."

He spoke very correctly, but aspirated his "h's" just a trifle heavily,
Thalia duly remarked.

"I have people behind me who can find money to any amount if the job is
good enough, and you're spoiling a good pitch, Thalia."

"Oh, I am, am I?" said Thalia. "Admitting I am all you think I am, in
what way do I spoil the pitch?"

Mr. Barnet rolled his head from side to side with a smile. "My dear
girl," he said with good-natured reproach. "How long do you think
you're going to last, taking money from envelopes and sending on old bits
of paper? Eh? If my friend Brabazon hadn't got the idea into his silly
head that the fraud was worked in the post, you'd have had the police in
your office in no time. And when I say my friend Brabazon, I'm not being
funny, see?"

Here, he evidently thought he had said too much, though he found it very
difficult indeed to leave the question of his friendship with the austere
banker. Challenged, he might have said more, but Thalia offered no
comment. "Now, I'm going to tell you something," he leant over the table
and regulated his voice. "Milly and me have been working Brabazon's bank
for two months. There's a big lot of money to be got, but not out of the
bank--Brabazon is a friend of mine--but it can be done through one of the
clients, and the man with the biggest balance is Marl."

Her lips curled for the second time that day. "That's where you're
wrong," she said quietly. "Marl's balance wouldn't buy a row of beans."

He stared at her incredulously, then looked at Milly Macroy with a frown.

"You told me that he had the best part of a hundred thousand--"

"So he has," said the girl.

"He had until to-day," replied Thalia. "But this afternoon Mr. Brabazon
went out--I think he went to the Bank of England, because the notes were
all new. He sent for me and I saw them stacked up on his desk. He told me
he was closing Marl's account, and that he was not the kind of man he
wanted as a client. Then he took the money and called on Marl, I think,
for when he came back just before the bank closed he handed me Marl's
cheque."

"'I've settled that account, Miss Drummond,' he said. 'I don't think
we'll be troubled with that blackguard again.'"

"Did he know about Marl asking you out to dinner?" asked Milly, but the
girl shook her head.

Mr. Barnet said nothing. He was sitting back in his chair, fondling his
chin, with a faraway look in his eyes. "A big amount, was it?" he asked.

"Sixty-two thousand," replied the girl.

"And it is in his house?" said Barnet, his face pink with excitement.
"Sixty-two thousand! Did you hear that, Milly? And you're dining with
him to-night?" said 'Flush' Barnet slowly and significantly. "Now, what
about it?"

She met his gaze without flinching. "What about what?" she asked.

"Here's the chance of a lifetime," he said, husky with emotion. "You're
going to the house. You're not above stringing the old man along, are
you, Thalia?"

She was silent.

"I know the place," said 'Flush' Barnet, "one of those quaint little
houses in Kensington that cost a fortune to keep up. Marisburg Place,
Bayswater Road."

"I know the address pretty well," said the girl.

"He keeps three menservants," said 'Flush' Barnet, "but they're usually
out any night he happens to be entertaining a lady friend. Do you get
me?"

"But he's not entertaining me in his house," said the girl.

"What's the matter with a little bit of supper after the show, eh?" asked
Barnet. "Suppose he puts it up to you, and you say yes. There'll be no
servants in the house when you get back. That I'll take my oath. I've
studied Marl."

"What do you expect me to do? Rob him?" asked Thalia. "Stick a gun under
his nose and say, 'Deliver your pieces of eight'?"

"Don't be a fool," said Mr. Barnet, startled out of his pose of elegant
gentleman. "You're to do nothing but have your supper and come away. Keep
him amused, make him laugh. You needn't be frightened because I'll be in
the house soon after you, and if there's any trouble I'll be on hand."

The girl was playing with her teaspoon, her eyes fixed on the tablecloth.

"Suppose he doesn't send his servants away?"

"You can bank on that," interrupted Mr. Barnet. "Moses! There never was
such a wonderful opportunity! Do you agree?"

Thalia shook her head.

"It is too big for me. Maybe you're right and I'm likely to get into
trouble, but it seems to me that petty pilfering is my long suit."

"Bah!" said Barnet in disgust. "You're mad! Now's your time to make a
harvest, my dear. You're not known to the police. You're not under the
limelight like me. Are you going to do it?"

She dropped her eyes again to the cloth and again fidgeted with her spoon
nervously.

"All right," she said with a sudden shrug, "I might as well be hung for a
sheep as a lamb."

"Or for a good share of sixty thousand as for a miserable couple of
hundred, eh?" said Barnet jovially, and beckoned the waiter.

Thalia left the restaurant and turned homeward. She had to pass the bank,
and it was not good policy, she thought, to hail a taxicab until she had
left the neighbourhood, where Mr. Brabazon's grave eyes might observe her
extravagance. She had turned into the stream of pedestrians that thronged
Regent Street at this hour when she felt a touch on her arm, and turned.

A young man was walking by her side, a good-looking, keen-faced young
man who did not smile ingratiatingly as others had done who had nudged
her arm in Regent Street, nor did he inquire if she were going the same
way as he.

"Thalia!"

She turned quickly at the sound of the voice, and for a second her
self-possession failed her.

"Mr. Beardmore!" she faltered.

Jack's face was flushed and he was obviously embarrassed.

"I only wanted to speak to you for a moment. I have waited for a week for
the opportunity," he said hurriedly.

"You knew I was at Brabazon's--who told you?"

He hesitated.

"Inspector Parr," he said, and when he saw the smile curl on the girl's
lips, he went on: "Old Parr isn't a bad sort, really. He has never said
another word against you, Thalia."

"Another!" she quoted, "but does it really matter? And now, Mr.
Beardmore, I really must go. I have a very important engagement."

But he held fast to her hand.

"Thalia, won't you tell me why you did it?" he asked quietly. "Who is
behind you?"

She laughed.

"There is a reason for your keeping this extraordinary company," he went
on, when she stopped him.

"What extraordinary company?" she demanded.

"You have just come from a restaurant," he said. "You have been there
with a man called 'Flush' Barnet, a notorious crook and a man who has
served a term of penal servitude. The woman with you was Milly Macroy, a
confederate of his who was concerned in the Darlington Co-Operative
robbery and has also served a term of imprisonment. At present she is
engaged at Brabazon's Bank."

"Well?" said the girl again.

"Surely you don't know the character of these people?" urged Jack.

"And how do you know them?" she asked calmly. "Am I wrong in supposing
that you were not alone in your--vigil? Were you accompanied by the
admirable Mr. Parr? I see you were. Why, you are almost a policeman
yourself, Mr. Beardmore."

Jack was staggered. "Do you realise that it is Parr's duty to inform your
employer that you keep that kind of company?" he asked. "For heaven's
sake, Thalia, take a sane view of your position."

But she laughed. "Heaven forbid that I should interfere with the duty of
a responsible police officer," she said, "but on the whole I'd rather Mr.
Parr didn't. That at least is a sign of grace," she smiled. "Yes, I'd
much rather he didn't. I don't mind the police speaking to me for my good
because it is only right and proper that they should try to lead the weak
from their sinful ways. But an employer who attempts to reform an erring
girl might be a bit of a nuisance, don't you think?"

In spite of himself he laughed. "Really, Thalia, you're much too clever
for the kind of company you're keeping and for the kind of life you're
drifting to," he added earnestly. "I know I have no right to interfere,
but perhaps I could help you. Particularly," he hesitated, "if you have
done something which places you in the power of these people."

She put out her hand with a rare smile. "Good-bye," she said sweetly,
and left him feeling something of a fool.

The girl walked quickly through Burlington Arcade to Piccadilly and
entered a taxi. The block of mansions at which she alighted was situated
in the Marylebone Road and was a distinct improvement on Lexington
Street.

The liveried porter took her up in the elevator to the third floor, and
she let herself into a flat which was both prettily and expensively
furnished. She pressed a bell, and it was answered by a staid middle-aged
woman.

"Martha," she said, "I shan't want any tea, thank you. Lay out my blue
evening gown and telephone to Waltham's, Garage and tell them that I
shall want a car to be here at five minutes before half past seven."

Miss Drummond's wages from the bank were exactly 4 a week.



CHAPTER XVI


MR. MARL GOES OUT

"So you've come, eh?" said Mr. Marl, rising to greet the girl. "My word,
but you look smart! And you look lovely, my dear, too!"

He took both her hands in his and led her into the little gold and white
drawing-room.

"Lovely!" he repeated in an almost hushed voice. "I can tell you I was a
little bit scared about taking you to the Ritz-Carlton. You don't mind
my frankness, do you--have a cigarette?"

He fumbled in the tail-pocket of his dress coat, produced a large gold
case and opened it.

"You thought I'd turn up in one of Morne & Gillingsworth's six guinea
models, eh?" she laughed as she lit the cigarette.

"Well, I did, my dear. I've had a lot of unhappy experiences," explained
Marl as he seated himself heavily in an arm-chair. "I've had 'em turn
up in queer clothes, I can tell you!"

"Do you make a practice of entertaining the young and the fair?" Thalia
had seated herself on the big padded fireguard and was looking down at
him under her half-closed lids.

"Well," said Mr. Marl complacently, rubbing his hands. "I'm not so old
that I don't get some pleasure out of ladies' society. But you're
stunning!"

He was a blonde, red-faced man with suspiciously brown hair,
suspiciously even teeth, and for this evening he had acquired a waist
which seemed wholly unreal.

"We're going to dinner and then we'll go on and see 'The Boys and the
Girls' at the Winter Palace," he said, "and then," he hesitated, "what do
you say to a little supper?" he asked.

"A little supper? I don't take supper," said the girl.

"Well, you can peck a bit of fruit, I suppose?" suggested Mr. Marl

"Where?" asked the girl steadily. "Most of the restaurants are closed
before the theatres are out, aren't they?"

"There's no reason why you shouldn't come back here? You're not a prude,
my dear, are you?"

"Not much," she confessed.

"I can see you home in my car," he said.

"I've got my own car, thank you," said the girl, and Mr. Marl's eyes
opened. Then he began to laugh steadily at first, and his laughter ended
in an asthmatical paroxysm. Presently he gasped: "Oh, you wicked little
devil!"

The evening was an interesting one for Thalia, more interesting by reason
of the fact that she caught a glimpse of Mr. 'Flush' Barnet in the hall
of the hotel as she passed through.

It was after the theatre was over and they were standing in the
vestibule, waiting for the lift-man to call their car, that Thalia
showed some symptom of hesitation, but the eloquent Mr. Felix Marl
overcame whatever reluctance she felt, and as the clock was striking the
half hour after eleven she passed into the hall, not failing to notice
that Mr. Marl did not ring for his servants, but let himself in with his
own latchkey.

The supper was laid in a rose-panelled dining-room.

"I will help you, my dear," said Mr. Marl. "We won't bother about the
servants."

But she shook her head. "I can eat nothing, and I think I'll go home
now," she said.

"Wait, wait," he begged. "I want to have a little talk with you about
your boss. I can do you a lot of good in that firm--at the bank, Thalia.
Who called you Thalia?"

"My godfathers and godmothers, M. or N." said Thalia solemnly, and Mr.
Marl squeaked his delight at her humour.

He was passing behind her, ostensibly to reach one of the dishes which
were set on the table, when he stooped and, had she not slipped from his
grasp, would have kissed her. "I think I'll go home," said Thalia.

"Rubbish!" Mr. Marl was annoyed, and when Mr. Marl was annoyed he forgot
that he made any pretensions to gentle birth. "Come and sit down."

She looked at him long and thoughtfully, and then, turning suddenly, went
to the door, and turned the handle. It was locked.

"I think you had better open this door, Mr. Marl," she said quietly.

"I think not," chuckled Mr. Marl. "Now, Thalia, be the dear, good little
girl I thought you were."

"I should hate to dissipate any illusions you may have about my
character," said Thalia coolly. "You'll open that door, please."

"Certainly,"

He ambled toward the door, feeling in his pocket, then before she could
realise his intention he had seized her in his arms. He was a powerful
man, a head taller than she, and his big hands gripped her arms like
steel clamps.

"Let me go," said Thalia steadily. She did not lose her nerve nor show
the least sign of fear.

Suddenly he felt her tense muscles relax. He had conquered.

With a quick intake of breath he released his hold of the sullen girl.

"Let me have some supper," she said, and he beamed.

"Now, my dear, you are being the little girl I--what's that?"

The last was a squeak of terror.

She had strolled slowly to the table and had taken up the brocade bag. He
had watched her and thought she was seeking a handkerchief. Instead she
had produced a small, black, egg-shaped thing, and with a flick of her
left hand had pulled out a small pin and dropped the pin on to the table.
He knew what it was--he had dabbled in army supplies and had seen many
Mills bombs.

"Put it down--no, no, put the pin in, you young fool!" he whimpered.

"Don't worry," she said coolly. "I have a spare pin in my bag--open that
door!"

His hand shook like a man with palsy as he fumbled at the keyhole. Then
he turned and blinked at her.

"A Mills bomb!" he mumbled, and fell back an obese mass of quivering
flesh against the delicate panelling.

Slowly she nodded. "A Mills bomb," she said softly, and went out, still
gripping the lever of the deadly egg-like thing. He followed her to the
door and slammed it after her, then went shakily up the stairs to his
bedroom.

"Flush" Barnet, standing in the shadow of a clothes-press, heard the
click of locks and the snap of a bolt as Mr. Marl entered his room. The
house was still. Through the thick door of Mr. Marl's bedroom no sound
came. There was no transom to the door, and the only evidence that there
was somebody in his room was afforded by a fret of light in the ceiling
of the passage, which came through a ventilator in the wall of the
bedroom.

During the war this house had been used as an officers' convalescent
home, and certain hygienic arrangements had been introduced, which were
more useful than beautiful.

'Flush' crept softly in his stockinged feet to the door and listened. He
thought he heard the man talking to himself and looked around for some
means by which he could obtain a view of the room. There was a small
oaken table in the corridor and he placed this against the wall and
mounted. His eyes came to the level of the ventilator and he looked down
upon Mr. Marl pacing the room in his shirt-sleeves, obviously
disturbed. Then 'Flush' Barnet heard a sound. Just a faint "hush-hush"
of feet on a carpet, and he slipped down, walked quickly along the
corridor, passing the head of the stairs.

The hall below was in darkness, but he felt rather than saw a figure on
the stairway. Whether it was man or woman he could not say, and did not
stop to discover. It might be one of the servants returning
furtively--servants did not always stay away when they were bidden.
'Flush' passed to the farther end of the corridor and from an angle in
the wall watched. He saw nobody pass the head of the stairs, but there
was no background. After a while he crept back again. There was nothing
to be gained by forcing the door of Marl's bedroom, even if it were
possible. He had had time to inspect the house at his leisure, and he had
already decided upon investigating the little safe in the library, for
Mr. Marl's own room had drawn blank.

The "investigation", which took two hours and the employment of one of
the best sets of tools in the profession, was not unprofitable. But it
did not reveal the huge sum of money which he anticipated. He hesitated.
The night was too far through to make an attempt on the bedroom, even if
he had not already searched it from wall to wall. He folded his kit and
slipped it into one pocket, his loot into another, and went upstairs
again. There was no sound from Marl's room, but the light was still on.
He tried to look through the keyhole, but the key was still there. The
only inducement there was for him to enter the room was the possibility
that the money was in the man's clothes. This likelihood was remote, he
thought. Possibly Marl had taken it to some safe deposit--a contingency
which Barnet had foreseen.

He went slowly down the stairs, through the hall and the butler's pantry
to the side door, where he had left his boots, his overcoat and his shiny
silk hat, for he was in evening dress. Then he stole softly forth along
the covered passageway running by the side of the house. Here a door
opened into the little forecourt of Marl's house. He reached the garden
and his hand was on the gate when somebody touched him and he spun round.

"I want you, 'Flush'," said a well-remembered voice. "Inspector Parr.
You may remember me?"

"Parr!" gasped the bewildered Barnet, and with an oath wrenched himself
free and leapt through the gate, but the three policemen who were waiting
for him were not so easy to dispose of, and they marched 'Flush' Barnet
to the nearest police station, a worried man.

In the meantime Parr conducted a search of his own. Accompanied by a
detective he made his way to the hall of the house and up the stairs.

"This is the only room occupied apparently," he said, and knocked at the
door.

There was no reply. "Go along and see if you can rouse any of the
servants," said Parr.

The man came back with the startling information that there were no
servants in the house.

"There's somebody here," said the old inspector, and flashing his lamp
along the corridor he saw the table, and with an agility remarkable in
one of his age, he leapt up and peered through the ventilator.

"I can just see somebody asleep," he said. "Hi! Wake up!" he called, but
there was no reply. Hammering on the door did not produce any response.

"Go down and see if you can find a hatchet, we'll break open the door,"
said Parr. "I don't like this." Hatchet there was none, but they found a
hammer, "Can you show a light, Mr. Parr?" asked the man, and the
inspector flashed his lamp on the door. It was a white door--white except
for the Crimson Circle affixed to a panel as by a rubber stamp.

"Break in the door," said Parr, breathing heavily.

For five minutes they smashed at a panel before they finally hammered it
through, and the sleeper within gave no sign of consciousness.

Parr reached his hand through the door, turned the key and, by dint of
stretching, found the bolt at the top. He slipped into the room. The
light was still burning and its rays fell across the man on the bed, who
lay upon his back, a twisted smile on his face, most obviously dead.



CHAPTER XVII


THE BLOWER OF BUBBLES

IT was long after midnight and Derrick Yale was sitting in his pretty
little study--he lived in a flat overlooking the park--when the knock
came to the door and he rose to admit Inspector Parr.

Parr related the incident of the evening. "But why didn't you tell me?"
asked Derrick a little reproachfully, and then laughed. "I'm sorry," he
said. "I always seem to be butting in on your affairs. But how came the
murderer to escape? You say you had had the house surrounded for two
hours. Did the girl come out?"

"Undoubtedly; she came out and drove home."

"And nobody else went in?"

"I wouldn't like to swear that," said Parr. "Whoever was in the house had
probably arrived long before Marl returned from the theatre. I have since
discovered that there was a way out through the garage at the back of the
house. When I said the house was surrounded that was an exaggeration.
There was a way through the back garden which I did not know. I didn't
even suspect there were gardens there. Undoubtedly he went through the
garage door."

"Do you suspect the girl at all?" Parr shook his head. "But why were you
surrounding Marl's house at all?" asked Derrick Yale seriously.

The answer was as unexpected as it was sensational.

"Because Marl has been under police observation ever since he came back
to London," said Parr. "In fact, ever since I discovered that he was the
man who wrote the letter, the scrap of which I found and which I compared
last week with his writing--I asked him for the address of his tailor."

"Marl?" said the other incredulously.

Inspector Parr nodded.

"I don't know what there was between old man Beardmore and Marl, or what
brought him to the house. I've been trying to reconstruct the scene. You
may remember that when Marl came to the house on a visit he was suddenly
seized with a panic."

"I remember," nodded Yale. "Jack Beardmore told me about it. Well?"

"He refused to stay at the house, said he was going back to London," said
Parr. "As a matter of fact, he went no farther than Kingside, which is a
station some eight or nine miles away. He sent his bag on to London and
came back by road. He was probably the person whom the murderer saw in
the wood that night. Now why had he come back if he was so scared that he
ran away in the first place? And why did he write that letter for
delivery in the night when he had every opportunity to tell James
Beardmore by day, when he was with him?"

There was a long silence. "How was Marl killed?" asked Yale.

The other shook his head. "That is a mystery to me. The murderer could
not possibly have entered the room. I had an interview with 'Flush'
Barnet--as yet he knows nothing about the murder--and he admits he broke
in for the purpose of burglary. He says he heard the sound of somebody
moving about the house, and very naturally hid himself. He also says he
heard a strange hissing sound, like air escaping from a pipe. Another
remarkable clue was a round wet patch on the pillow, within a few inches
of the dead man's hand. It was exactly circular. At first I thought it
was a symbol of the Crimson Circle, until I discovered another patch on
the counterpane. The doctor has not been able to diagnose the cause of
death, but the motive is clear. According to his banker--I've just been
talking to Brabazon on the telephone--he drew a large sum of money from
the bank yesterday. In fact, Brabazon closed his account. They had a
quarrel over something or other. The safe was of course opened by 'Flush'
Barnet, but there was no money found on him when he was searched at the
police station. Curiously enough, we did discover several little oddments
that 'Flush' had picked up--now, who took the money?"

Derrick Yale paced the floor, his hands behind him, his chin on his
breast. "Do you know anything of Brabazon?" he asked.

The other did not reply immediately. "Only that he is a banker and does a
lot of foreign work."

"Is he solvent?" asked Derrick Yale bluntly, and the inspector raised his
dull eyes slowly until they were on a level with the other's.

"No," he said, "and I don't mind telling you that we've had one or two
complaints about his methods."

"Were they good friends--Marl and Brabazon?"

"Fairly good," was the hesitating reply. "The impression I have from
reports is that Marl had some hold over Brabazon."

"And Brabazon was insolvent," mused Derrick Yale. "And this afternoon
Marl closes his account. In what circumstances? Did he come to the bank?"

Briefly the detective explained what had happened. It seemed that there
was precious little that did happen at Brabazon's bank that he did not
know.

Derrick Yale was beginning to respect this man, whom at first he had
regarded, with a good-natured scorn, as a little stupid.

"I wonder if it would be possible for me to go to Marl's house to-night?"

"I came to suggest that," said the other. "In fact, I kept a cab waiting
at the door with that idea."

Derrick Yale did not speak during the journey to Bayswater, and it was
not until he stood in the hall of the house in Marisburg Place that he
broke the silence.

"We ought to find a small steel cylinder somewhere," he said slowly.

The policeman standing on duty in the hall came forward and saluted the
inspector.

"We found an iron bottle in the garage, sir?" he said.

"Ah!" cried Derrick Yale triumphantly. "I thought so!"

He almost ran up the stairs ahead of the detective and paused in the
passage, which was now lighted. The little oak table stood against the
ventilator and toward that he moved. Then he went down on his hands and
knees and sniffed the carpet. Presently he choked and coughed and got up,
red in the face.

"Let me see that cylinder," he said. They brought it to him. The
policeman's description of it as a bottle was nearer the truth. It was an
iron bottle, at the end of which was a small pipe to which was attached a
tiny turn-key.

"And now there ought to be a cup somewhere," he said, looking round,
"unless he brought it in a bottle."

"There was a small glass bottle in the garage near this, sir," said the
policeman who had found it, "it is broken, though."

"Bring it to me quickly," said Yale. "And I can only hope that it isn't
so completely smashed that none of its contents are left."

The stout Mr. Parr was regarding him sombrely.

"What is all this about?" he asked, and Derrick Yale chuckled.

"A new way of committing a murder, my dear Mr. Parr," he said airily, "now
let us go into the room."

The body of Marl lay on the bed covered by a sheet and the circular patch
of wet on the pillow had not dried. The windows were open and a fitful
wind kept the curtains fluttering.

"Of course you can't smell it here," said Yale speaking to himself, and
again went on his knees and nosed the carpet. And again he coughed and
rose hurriedly.

By this time they had returned with the lower half of a glass bottle. It
contained a few drops of liquid, and this Yale poured into his hand.

"Soap and water," he said; "I thought it would be. And now I'll explain
how Marl was killed. Your thief, 'Flush' Barnet, heard a hissing sound.
It was the sound of a heavy gas escaping from this cylinder. I may be
wrong, but I should imagine there is enough poison gas in that little
iron bottle to settle your account and mine. It is still lying on the
floor, by the way. It is one of those heavy gases which descend."

"But how did it kill Marl? Did they pump it through the grating on to his
head?"

Derrick Yale shook his head. "It is a much simpler and a much more deadly
method which the Crimson Circle employed," he said quietly.

"They blew bubbles."

"Bubbles?"

Derrick Yale nodded. "The end of this cylinder--you can still feel the
slime of the soap upon it--was first dipped into the soap solution, then
thrust through the grating. The tap was turned down and a bubble formed,
which was shaken off. From the ventilator," he ran outside and jumped on
to the table, "yes, I thought so," he said, "he could see Marl's head.
Two or three of the bubbles must have been failures. One struck the
pillow, but I should imagine that that was blown after his death; one
struck the wall, you will find the wet patch, but one, and probably more,
burst on his face. He must have been killed almost instantaneously." Parr
could only gape. "I thought it all out on the way here. The circular
patch on the pillow reminded me of my own boyish exploits and their
disastrous effect when I started blowing bubbles in the bedroom. And then
when you mentioned the ventilator and the hissing noise, I was perfectly
certain that my theory was right."

"But we smelt no gas when we came into the room," said Parr.

"The wind may have blown away the fumes," said Derrick Yale. "But apart
from that, the weight of the gas would send it to the floor, and by its
own density it would spread evenly--look!" He struck a match, shielded it
for a moment until it caught light, and then slowly brought it to the
floor level. An inch from the carpet the match was suddenly extinguished.

"I see," said Inspector Parr.

"Now what about searching the place? Perhaps I can be of use," suggested
Yale, but his offer of help did not meet with any very gracious response.

A small police audience, which had listened awe-stricken while Yale had
developed his theory, could understand the Inspector's feelings.
Apparently Yale did, too, for with a good-humoured laugh he made his
excuses and went home. There are moments when the headquarters police
should be left alone with their own emotions. Nobody realised this more
than Derrick Yale.



CHAPTER XVIII


'FLUSH' BARNET'S STORY

INSPECTOR PARR, after a further search, proceeded to the nearest police
station to interview Mr. 'Flush' Barnet.

'Flush', a depressed and weary man, had no illuminating information to
give.

The proceeds of his robbery lay upon the station-sergeant's table, a
miscellaneous collection of rings and watches, a perfectly valueless
bank-book--valueless to 'Flush', at any rate--and a silver flask. But the
most surprising circumstance was that in 'Flush' Barnet's pocket were two
brand new bank notes for a hundred pounds, which he insisted stoutly were
his own property.

Now burglars, and particularly the type of burglar that 'Flush' Barnet
was, are notoriously improvident people. They do not work whilst they
have money, and with two hundred pounds in his possession, it is certain
that 'Flush' Barnet would not have attempted to break into Marisburg
Place.

"They're my own, I tell you, Mr. Parr," he protested. "Would I tell you a
lie?"

"Of course you would," said Inspector Parr without heat. "If they are
your own, where did you get them?"

"They were given to me by a friend."

"Why did you light a fire in the library?" asked Parr unexpectedly, and
'Flush' Barnet started. "Because I was cold," he said after a pause.
"H'm," said Inspector Parr, and then as though speaking his thoughts
aloud, "he has two hundred of his own, he breaks into a house, he burgles
a safe and lights a fire. Now, why did he light the fire? Why did he
light the fire? To burn something he'd found in the safe!"

'Flush' Barnet listened without offering any comment, but he was visibly
distressed.

"Therefore," said Parr, "you were paid to break into Marl's house and you
got two hundred for pinching something from his safe and burning it. Am I
right?"

"If I died this moment--" began 'Flush' Barnet.

"You'd go to hell," said the inspector dispassionately, "where all liars
go. Who is your pal, Barnet? You'd better tell me, because I'm in two
minds whether I shall charge you with the murder--"

"Murder!" almost screamed 'Flush' Barnet, as he sprang to his feet. "What
do you mean? I haven't committed a murder!"

"Marl's dead, that's all; found dead in his bed."

He left the prisoner in a state of mental prostration, and when he
returned in the early hours of the morning to renew his inquisition,
'Flush' Barnet told him all. "I don't know anything about Crimson
Circles, Mr. Parr," he said, "but this is the truth."

He added a pious wish that Providence would deal hardly with him if he
departed from veracity.

"I'm keeping company with a young lady at Brabazon's bank. One night when
she was working late, I was waiting for her when a gentleman came out of
the side entrance of the bank and called me. I was surprised to hear him
mention my name, and I nearly dropped dead when I saw his face."

"It was Mr. Brabazon?" suggested Parr.

"That's right, sir. He asked me into his private office. I thought he'd
got something against Milly."

"Go on," said Parr, when the man paused.

"Well, I've got to save myself, haven't I? And I suppose I'd better speak
the whole truth. He told me that Marl was blackmailing him, and that Marl
had some letters of his which he kept in his private safe, and offered me
a thousand if I'd get them. That's the truth. And then he gave me an idea
that Marl kept a lot of money in the house. He didn't exactly say so, but
that is what he hinted. He knew I'd been inside for burglary, he'd made
inquiries about me, and said that I was the right kind of man. Well, sir,
I went round and took a squint at the place, and it seemed to me that it
was a bit difficult. There were always men servants in the house, except
when Mr. Marl was entertaining ladies to supper," he grinned. "I'd have
given up the job, only there's a young lady in the office that Marl was
sweet on."

"Thalia Drummond?" suggested Parr.

"That's right, sir," nodded 'Flush'. "It was what you might call an act
of Providence, him being sweet on her, and when I found that he'd invited
her to dinner, I thought that was a good opportunity to get in. It seemed
money for nothing when I found out that he'd drawn his bank balance. I
opened the safe--that was easy--found the envelope, but it had no papers,
only a photograph of a man and a woman on a rock. I think it was a
photograph of some place abroad, for there were lots of mountains in the
background, and he seemed to be pushing her over and she was holding on
to a bit of tree. Maybe it was one of those cinema pictures. Anyway, I
burnt it."

"I see," said Inspector Parr. "And that is all?"

"That's all, sir. I never found any money."

At seven o'clock, with a warrant in his pocket, and accompanied by two
detectives, Inspector Parr made a call at the block of flats where
Brabazon had his residence.

A servant in night attire opened the door to them and indicated the
banker's room. The door was locked, but Parr kicked it open without
ceremony. The room, however, was empty. An open window and a fire escape
suggested the method by which the eminent banker had made his getaway,
and the fact that the bed had not been slept in and that there was no
sign of disorder in the room, showed that he had gone hours before the
detective's arrival.

By the side of the bed there was a telephone, and Parr called the
exchange.

"Can you find if any message came through to this number during the
night?" he asked. "I am Inspector Parr, of police headquarters."

"Two," was the reply. "I put them through myself. One from Bayswater--"

"That was mine," said the Inspector. "What was the other?"

"From the Western Exchange--at 2.30."

"Thank you," said the inspector grimly, and hung up the telephone.

He looked at his companions and rubbed his big nose irritably.

"Thalia Drummond is going to get another job," he said.



CHAPTER XIX


THALIA ACCEPTS AN OFFER

IT took over a week to settle the preliminaries of Brabazon's insolvency,
and at the end of that time, Thalia walked from the bank with a week's
salary in her little leather bag, and no immediate prospects of
employment.

Inspector Parr had not minced his words, which he had addressed to her
before an impressed audience.

"Only the fact that I saw you come out of Marl's house and saw him close
the door on you, saves you from a serious charge," he said.

"If it had only saved me from a lecture also, I should have been
pleased," said Thalia coolly.

"What do you make of her?" asked Parr, as the girl disappeared through
the swing doors of the office.

"She rather puzzles me," It was Derrick Yale to whom he had addressed his
question. "And the more I think of her, the more I am puzzled. The woman
Macroy says that she has been engaged in pilfering since she has been at
the bank, but there is no proof of that. In fact, the only person who
could supply the proof is our absent friend, Brabazon. Why didn't you
call her as a witness in the prosecution of Barnet?"

"It would be a case of Barnet's word against hers," said the detective,
shaking his head, "and the case against Barnet was so clear that I didn't
want any further evidence than my own eyes."

Yale was frowning thoughtfully. "I wonder," he said, half to himself.

"What do you wonder?"

"I wonder if this girl could give us a little more information about the
Crimson Circle than we have at present. I'm half inclined to engage her."
Parr muttered something under his breath. "I know you think I'm mad, but
really I have method in my madness. There is nothing to steal in my
office; she would be under my eye all the time, and if she were in
communication with the Circle, I should certainly know all about it.
Besides, she interests me."

"Why did you shake hands with her?" asked Parr curiously, and the other
laughed.

"That is why she interests me. I wanted to get an impression, and the
impression I had was of some dark sinister force in the background of her
life. That girl is not working independently. She has behind her--"

"The Crimson Circle?" suggested Parr, and there was the suggestion of a
sneer in his tone.

"Very likely," said the other seriously. "Anyway, I'm going to see her."
He called at Thalia's flat that afternoon, and her servant showed him
into the pretty little drawing-room. A minute after Thalia came in, and
there was a smile in her fine eyes as she recognised her visitor.

"Well, Mr. Yale, have you come to give me a few words of warning?"

"Not exactly," laughed Yale. "I've come to offer you a job."

Her eyebrows rose. "Do you want an assistant," she asked ironically,
"acting on the principle that to catch a thief you must employ a thief?
Or have you views about my reformation? Several people want to reform
me," she said. She sat down on the piano stool, her hands behind her, and
he knew that she was mocking him.

"Why do you steal, Miss Drummond?"

"Because it is my nature to," she said without hesitation. "Why should
kleptomania be confined to the ruling classes?"

"Do you get any satisfaction out of it?" he demanded. "I'm not asking out
of idle curiosity, but as a student of human man and woman."

She waved her hand round the apartment. "I have the satisfaction of a
very comfortable home," she said. "I have a good servant, and I am not
likely to starve. All these things are particularly satisfying to me. Now
tell me about the job, Mr. Yale. Do you want me to be a policewoman?"

"Not exactly," he smiled, "but I want a secretary, somebody upon whom I
can rely. My work is increasing at a tremendous rate; my correspondence
is much more than I can cope with. I will add, that there is little
opportunity in my office for the exercise of your pet vice," he added
good-humouredly, "and anyway, I'll take that risk."

She considered a moment, looking at him steadily. "If you're willing to
take the risk, so am I," she said at last. "Where is your office?" He
gave her the address. "I shall be with you at ten o'clock in the morning.
Lock up your cheque-book and clear away your loose change," she said.

"A remarkable girl," he thought as he was going back to the city.

He spoke no more than the truth when he had told Parr that she puzzled
him, and yet he had met with every type of criminal, and probably knew
more of criminal psychology than did Parr with all his experience.

His mind strayed to Parr, that unhappy individual whom he knew was in
disgrace. How much longer would police headquarters tolerate him after
this third failure to deal with the Crimson Circle, he wondered.

Mr. Parr was thinking on the same lines that night. A brief official
memo, had awaited him on his arrival at headquarters, and he read it with
a grimace of pain. And there was worse to follow, he guessed, and he had
good reason for that fear. The next morning he was summoned to the house
of Mr. Froyant, and found Derrick Yale already there.

For all their good relationship, the chase of the Crimson Circle had
developed into a duel between these strangely different personalities. It
was an open secret in newspaper land that Parr's impending ruin was due
less to the unchecked villainies of the Crimson Circle, than to the
superhuman brilliancy of this unofficial rival. To do him justice, Yale
did his best to discredit this view, but it was held.

Froyant, for all his meanness and his knowledge of Yale's heavy fees, had
commissioned him immediately after he had received the warning. His faith
in the police had evaporated, and he made no attempt to disguise his
scepticism.

"Mr. Froyant has decided to pay," were the words which greeted the
inspector.

"Eh, of course I shall pay!" exploded Mr. Froyant.

He had aged ten years in the past few days, thought Parr; his face was
white, and thinner, and he seemed to have shrunk within himself.

"If police headquarters allow this dastardly association to threaten
respectable citizens, and cannot even protect their lives, what else is
there to be done, but to pay. My friend Pindle has had a similar threat,
and he has paid. I cannot stand the strain of this any longer."

He paced up and down the library floor like a man demented.

"Mr. Froyant will pay," said Derrick Yale slowly. "But this time I think
the Crimson Circle have been just a little too venturesome."

"What do you mean?" asked Parr.

"Have you the letter, sir?" demanded Yale, and Froyant pulled open a
drawer savagely and slammed down the familiar card upon his blotting-pad.

"When did this arrive?" asked Parr as he took it up, noting the Crimson
Circle.

"By this morning's post."

Parr read the words inscribed in the centre:

'We shall call for the money at the office of Mr. Derrick Yale at 3.30 on
Friday afternoon. The notes must not run in series. If it is not there
for us, you will die the same night.'

Three times the inspector read the short message, and then he sighed.

"Well, that simplifies matters," he said. "Of course, they will not
call--"

"I think they will," said Yale quietly; "but I shall be prepared for
them, and I should like you to be on hand, Mr. Parr."

"If there is one thing more certain that another," said the inspector
phlegmatically, "it is that I shall be on hand. But I don't think they
will come."

"There I can't agree with you," said Yale. "Whoever the central figure of
the Crimson Circle is, he or she does not lack courage. And, by the way,"
he lowered his voice, "you will meet an old acquaintance at my office."

Parr shot a quick, suspicious glance at the detective, and saw that he
was mildly amused. "Drummond?" he asked. Yale nodded. "You are engaging
her?"

"She rather interests me, and I fancy that she is going to be a real help
in the solution of this mystery."

Froyant came in at that moment, and the conversation was tactfully
changed.



CHAPTER XX


THE KEY OF RIVER HOUSE

IT was arranged that Froyant should draw the necessary money from his
bank on the Thursday morning to pay the demand, and that Yale should call
for it and meet Parr at the former's office in ample time to make the
necessary preparations for the visitor's reception.

Mr. Parr's way to headquarters took him past the big house where Jack
Beardmore was living in solitude.

The events of the past few weeks had wrought an extraordinary change in
the youth. From a boy he had suddenly become a man, with all a man's
balance and understanding. He had inherited an enormous fortune, but with
its coming the incentive of life had, for the most part, fallen away. He
could never escape the memory of Thalia Drummond; her face was before
him, sleeping or waking, and though he called himself a fool, and could,
as he did, argue the matter to a logical conclusion, the sum of all his
reasoning faded before the image he carried in his heart.

Between Inspector Parr and he there had grown a curious friendship. There
was a time when he was near to hating the stout little man, but his good
sense had told him that however large a part sentiment had played in his
own life, and in the direction of his own actions, it could have no place
in a police officer's moral equipment.

The inspector stopped before the door of the house, and was for passing
on, but, obeying an impulse, he walked slowly up the steps and rang the
bell. The footman who admitted him was one of the dozen servants who
accentuated the emptiness of the mansion.

Jack was in the dining-room, pretending to be interested in a late
breakfast.

"Come in, Mr. Parr," he said, rising. "I suppose you breakfasted hours
ago. Is there anything new?"

"Nothing," said Parr, "except that Mr. Froyant has decided to pay."

"He would," said Jack contemptuously, and then, for the first time in a
long while, he laughed. "I shouldn't like to be the Red or Crimson
Circle, or whatever it calls itself."

"Why not?" asked Mr. Parr, with a little light of amusement in his eyes,
but he could guess the answer.

"My poor father used to say that Froyant fretted over every cent that was
taken from him and never rested until he got it back. When Harvey's panic
is over he will go after the Crimson Circle, and will never leave it
until every banknote he has handed to them is repaid."

"Very likely," agreed the inspector, "but they aren't holding the money
yet." He told Jack the contents of the letter which Froyant had received
that morning, and his young host was visibly astonished.

"They're taking a big risk, aren't they? It would be a clever man who got
the better of Derrick Yale."

"So I think," said the inspector, crossing his legs comfortably. "I must
take my hat off to Yale. There are things about him that I admire
tremendously."

"His psychometrical powers, for example," smiled Jack, but the inspector
shook his head.

"I don't know enough about those to admire them. They seem uncanny to me,
yet in a certain way I can understand them. No, I am thinking of other of
his qualities."

He was suddenly silent, and Jack sensed his depression.

"You're having a pretty bad time at headquarters, aren't you?" he
asked. "I don't suppose they are particularly pleased with the immunity
of the Crimson Circle?"

Parr nodded.

"I'm not exactly in a bed of roses just now," he admitted. "But that
doesn't worry me a bit." He looked steadily at Jack. "By the way, your
young friend is in a new job."

Jack started. "My young friend?" he stammered. "You mean Miss--"

"Miss Drummond, I mean. Derrick Yale has engaged her," he chuckled softly
at Jack's astonishment.

"Engaged Miss Thalia Drummond? You're joking, surely?" said Jack.

"I thought he was joking when he suggested it. He's a queer bird, is
Yale."

"He ought to be at headquarters, a lot of people think," said Jack,
and realised that he had made a faux pas before the words were out.

But if Mr. Parr was hurt he did not show it.

"They don't take them in from outside," he said with a smile, and the
inspector very rarely smiled. "Otherwise, Mr. Beardmore, we should have
taken you! No, our friend is clever. I suppose you don't expect a
headquarters' man to admit that what we call a 'fancy' detective can be
anything but an interfering fool? But Yale is clever."

They had strolled together to the window, and were looking out into the
sedate street in which Jack Beardmore's residence was situated.

"Isn't that Miss Drummond?" he asked suddenly.

Parr had already seen her. She was walking slowly along the other side of
the road, looking at the numbers of the houses. Presently she crossed.

"She's coming here," gasped Jack. "I wonder what--" He did not wait to
finish what he had to say, but rushed out of the room and opened the hall
door to her whilst her finger was lingering on the bell push.

"It is good to see you, Thalia," he said, gripping her warmly by the
hand. "Won't you come in? An old acquaintance of yours is in the
dining-room."

She raised her eyebrows. "Not Mr. Parr?"

"You're a wonderful guesser," laughed Jack as he closed the door behind
her. "Did you want to see me alone?" he asked suddenly.

She shook her head.

"No; I've only a message for you from Mr. Yale. He wanted you to let him
have the key of your riverside house."

By this time they were in the dining-room, and the girl, meeting the
expressionless gaze of Mr. Parr, nodded curtly.

"You evidently do not love my friend, Mr. Parr," thought Jack.

He explained the object of the girl's visit.

"My poor father had a derelict property by the riverside," he said. "It
has not been tenanted for years, and the surveyors tell me it will cost
almost as much as the property is worth to put it into repair. For some
reason Yale thinks that Brabazon will use this as a hiding-place.
Brabazon had it in his hands for some time, trying to sell it. He looked
after some of my father's property. But is he at all likely to be there?"

Mr. Parr pursed his large lips and blinked meditatively.

"The only thing I know about him is that so far he has not left the
country," he said at last. "I should not think he'd go to a house which
he must know would be searched." He stared absently at Thalia. "Yet he
might," he mused. "I suppose he has a key to the place. What is it, a
house?"

"It is half house and half warehouse," said Jack. "I have never seen it,
but I believe it is one of those dwellings which the old merchants
favoured two hundred years ago, in the days when they lived in the places
where they carried on business."

He unlocked his desk and pulled out a drawer full of keys, each bearing a
label.

"This is the one, I think, Miss Drummond," he said, handing the key to
her. "How do you like your new job?"

It required some courage to ask the question, for he was almost
awestricken in her presence.

She smiled faintly.

"It is amusing," she said, "without being in any way tempting! I cannot
tell you very much about it, because I only started this morning." She
turned to the detective. "'No, I shan't trouble you very much, Mr.
Parr," she said. "The only thing of value in the office is a silver
paper-weight--I don't even have to post the letters," she went on
mockingly. "The office is built on the American plan, and there is a
little chute in Mr. Yale's private office that drops the letters
straight away into the box in the hall below. It is very disappointing!"

Solemn though she was, her eyes were dancing with merriment.

"You're a queer woman, Thalia Drummond," said Parr, "and yet I'm sure
there is some good in you."

The remark seemed to cause her unbounded amusement. She laughed until the
tears were in her eyes, and Jack grinned sympathetically.

Parr, on the other hand, showed no sign of amusement.

"Be careful," he said ominously, and the smile faded from her lips.

"You may be sure I shall be very careful, Mr. Parr," she said, "and if I
am in any kind of trouble, you can be equally sure that I shall send
immediately for you!"

"I hope you will," said Parr, "though I have my doubts."



CHAPTER XXI


RIVER HOUSE

THALIA went straight back to the office and found Derrick Yale sitting in
his room reading through a heap of unanswered correspondence.

"Is that the key? Thank you. Put it down there," he said. "I am afraid
you will have to answer most of these yourself. The majority of them are
from foolish young people who wish to be trained as private detectives.
You will find a form reply, and you can sign the answers yourself. And
will you tell this lady," he handed a letter across to her, "that I am so
busy now that I cannot undertake any further commissions?"

He took up the key from the table and held it for a second on his hand.

"You saw Mr. Parr?"

She laughed.

"You're almost terrifying, Mr. Yale. I did see Mr. Parr, but how did you
know?"

He shook his head smilingly.

"It is really very simple, and I should take no credit for my gift," he
said, "any more than you take credit for your good looks and your
predisposition to--shall I say 'take things as you find them'?"

She did not answer at once, then: "I am a reformed character."

"I believe you will reform in time. You interest me," said Yale, and
then, after a pause, "immensely!" And with a jerk of his head he
dismissed her.

She was in the midst of her work and her typewriter was clacking
furiously when he appeared at the door of his room.

"Will you try to get Mr. Parr on the telephone?" he said. "You will find
his number on the register."

Mr. Parr was not in his office when she called, but half an hour later
she reached him, and switched through the wire to the next room.

"Is that you, Parr?"

She heard his voice through the door, which was left ajar.

"I am going to Beardmore's river property to make a search. I have an
idea that Brabazon may be hiding there! After lunch; all right. Will you
be here at half-past two?"

Thalia Drummond listened and made a shorthand note on her blotting-pad.

At half-past two Parr called. She did not see him, for there was a
direct entrance to Yale's room from the corridor without, but she heard
the rumble of his voice, and presently they went out.

She waited until their footsteps had died away, then she took a telegraph
form, and addressing it to Johnson, 23, Mildred Street, City, she wrote:

'Derrick Yale has gone to search Beardmore's riverside house.'

Thalia Drummond was nothing if not dutiful.

The house stood upon a little wharf, and was a picture of desolation and
neglect. The stone foundation of the wharf was in decay, the parapet
broken, the yard a wilderness of weed; rank grasses and nettles formed
almost an impenetrable barrier to their progress after they had opened
the gate which led from the mean east-end street in which the wharfage
was cited.

The house itself might at one time have been picturesque, but now, with
its broken lower windows, its weather-stained woodwork and discoloured
walls, it was a pitiable piece of architectural wreckage.

At one end was a big, gaunt, stone store, built flush with the wharf's
edge, and apparently communicating with the house. An air-raid during
the war had demolished one comer of the wall, and robbed it of a few
slates which remained, leaving the skeleton of rotting roof ribs nakedly
bare to inspection.

"A cheerful place," said Yale, as he opened the door. "It is not the sort
of setting in which one could imagine the elegant Brabazon, is it?"

The passage-way was dusty. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling and the house
was silent and lifeless. They made a rapid tour through the rooms,
without, however, discovering any sign of the fugitive.

"There is a garret here," said Yale, pointing to a flight of steps that
led to a trap-door in the ceiling of the upper floor.

He ran up the steps, pushed open the flap and disappeared. Parr-heard
him walking along and presently he came down.

"Nothing there," he said as he slammed the trap-door in its place.

"I never expected that you would find anything," said Parr as he led the
way out of the house.

They crossed the weed-grown path to the outer gate, and from a garret
window a white-faced man watched them through the dusty glass; a man
with a week's growth of beard, whom even his most intimate friends would
never have recognised as Mr. Brabazon, the well-known banker,



CHAPTER XXII


THE MESSENGER OF THE CIRCLE

"YOU'RE a fool, sir, and an idiot. I thought you were a clever detective,
but you're a fool!"

Mr. Froyant was in his most savage mood, and the neat stack of bank-notes
which stood upon his desk supplied the reason.

The sight of so much good money going away from him was a cause of
unspeakable anguish to the miserly Harvey, and if his eyes strayed away
from that accumulation of wealth, they came back again almost instantly.

Derrick Yale was a difficult man to offend.

"Perhaps I am," he said, "but I must run my own business in my own way,
Mr. Froyant, and if I think that the girl can lead me to the Crimson
Circle--as I do think--then I shall employ her."

"Mark my words," Froyant shook his fingers in the detective's face, "that
girl is with the gang. You will discover, my friend, that she is the
messenger who will call for the money!"

"In which case she will be immediately arrested," said the other.
"Believe me, Mr. Froyant, I have no intention of losing sight of these
notes, but if they are taken by the Crimson Circle, the responsibility
must be mine not yours. My job is to save your life, and to divert the
vengeance of the Circle from you to myself."

"Quite right, quite right," said Mr. Froyant hastily, "that is the proper
way to look at it, Yale. I see that you are not as unintelligent as I
thought. Have it your own way," he said. He fingered the notes lovingly,
and putting them into a long envelope, handed them, with every evidence
of reluctance, to the detective, who slipped the package into his pocket.

"I suppose there is no news of Brabazon? The rascal has robbed me of over
two thousand pounds, which I foolishly invested in one of Marl's rotten
concerns."

"Did you know anything about Marl?" asked the detective, opening the
door.--

"I only know that he was a blackguard."

"Did you know anything that isn't as well known?" asked Yale patiently.
"His beginnings, where he came from?"

"He came from France, I believe," said Froyant. "I know very little about
him. In fact, it was James Beardmore who introduced me. There was some
story about his having been concerned in land swindles in France, and of
having been imprisoned there, but I never take much notice of gossip. He
was useful to me, and I made quite a considerable sum out of most of my
investments with him."

The other smiled. In those circumstances, he thought, the miser might
very well forgive the erring Marl for his later losses.

When he got back to his office he found Parr waiting, with Jack
Beardmore. He had not expected a visit from the younger man, and guessed
that the real attraction was Thalia Drummond, for whose absence he
tactfully apologised.

"I've sent Miss Drummond home, Parr," he said. "I don't want a girl
mixed up in the business of this afternoon. There may be a little
rough-and-tumble work." He looked keenly at Jack Beardmore. "For which I
hope you are prepared."

"I shall be disappointed if there isn't," said Jack cheerfully.

"What is your plan?" asked Parr.

"I am going into my room a few minutes before the messenger is due to
arrive. I shall have both doors locked, that into the passage and that
into this outer office. In the case of this door, I will leave the key on
your side and ask you to lock me in. My object, of course, is to prevent
a surprise. As soon as you hear a knock, and hear me rise and go to the
door and unlock it, you will know that the visitor has arrived, and when
the door closes again, I want you to station yourself outside in the
corridor."

Parr nodded. "That seems simple," he said. He walked to the window,
looked out, and waved a handkerchief, and Yale smiled approvingly.

"I see you have taken the necessary precautions. How many men have you?"

"I think there are eighty," said Mr. Parr calmly, "and they will
practically surround the place."

Yale nodded. "We have to remember," he said, "that the Crimson Circle may
send a very ordinary district messenger, in which case, of course, he
must be followed. I am determined that the money shall pass into the
hands of the chief of the Crimson Circle himself--that is an essential."

"I quite agree," said Parr, "but I have an idea that the gentleman, or
whoever he is, will not come himself. May I look at your office?"

He walked in and inspected the room. It was lighted by one window. In a
corner was a cupboard, the door of which he opened. It was empty save for
a hanging coat. "If you don't mind," Inspector Parr was almost humble, "I
want you to stay in the outer office. Thank you, I'll close the door on
you. I get rattled if I am overlooked." Laughingly Yale walked from the
office, and Mr. Parr closed the door on him. He opened the second door,
and looked out into the corridor. Presently they heard him close that
also.

"You can come in," he said, "I've seen all I want."

The room was simply but comfortably furnished. There was a wide
fireplace, in which, however, no fire burnt, although the day was chilly.
"I don't expect him to get up the chimney," said Yale, humorously, as he
noticed the detective's inspection, "I never have a fire in this office;
I'm one of those hot-blooded mortals who are never really cold."

Jack, a fascinated observer of the search, picked up the deadly little
pistol that lay on the detective's table, and examined it cautiously.

"Be careful, that trigger is a little sensitive," said Yale.

He took from his pocket the envelope containing the notes, and laid it by
the side of the weapon. Then he looked at his watch.

"Now I think that to be on the safe side we should go to the other
office, and lock the door," he said. He accompanied his words by locking
the door into the corridor.

"It is rather thrilling," whispered Jack. He felt that a whisper was the
fitting tone for that exciting moment.

"I hope it won't be too thrilling," said Yale. They went to the outer
office, and turned the key on him, and sat down--Jack unconsciously on
Thalia Drummond's chair, a fact which he realised with a start.

Was she of the Crimson Circle, he wondered? Parr had hinted as much. Jack
set his teeth; he could not, and would not believe even the evidence of
his own eyes, and his own common sense. So far from her influence waning,
it was gathering strength. She was a being apart, and if she was
guilty--He looked up, and saw Parr's eyes fixed upon him. "I don't
pretend to be psychometrical," said the detective slowly, "but I've an
idea you're thinking about Thalia Drummond."

"I was," admitted the young man. "Mr. Parr, do you think she is really as
bad as she appears to be?"

"Do you mean, do I think that she stole Froyant's Buddha, because if
that's what you mean, it is not a question of thinking. I am certain."

Jack was silent. He could never hope to convince this stolid man of the
girl's innocence and anyway it was madness, he recognised, to think of
her as innocent when she had confessed her fault.

"You had better keep quiet in there." It was Yale's voice, and Parr
grunted a reply.

Thereafter they sat in dead silence. They heard him moving about the
room, then he too was quiet, for the hour was approaching. Inspector Parr
pulled his watch from his pocket and laid it on the table; the hands
pointed to half-past three. It was now that the messenger was due and
he sat, his head strained forward, listening, but there was no sound of
attack.

Presently there was a noise in Yale's room, a queer bumping noise as
though Yale had sat down heavily.

Parr jumped to his feet.

"What was that?"

"It is all right," said Yale's voice, "I stumbled over something. Be
quiet."

They sat for another five minutes, and then Parr called. "Are you all
right, Yale?" There was no answer. "Yale!" he called more loudly. "Do you
hear me?"

There was no reply and springing to the door he snapped the lock, and
rushed into the room, Jack at his heels.

What he saw might have paralysed even a more experienced officer than
Inspector Parr.

Stretched upon the ground, his wrists fastened with handcuffs, his ankles
strapped, and a towel over his face lay the prostrate figure of Derrick
Yale. The window was open, and there was a strong scent of ether and
chloroform. The package of money which had laid upon the table had
disappeared. Three seconds later, an aged postman left the hall of the
building, carrying his letter-bag on his shoulder, and the police who
were watching the house, let him pass without question.



CHAPTER XXIII


THE WOMAN IN THE CUPBOARD

PARR bent down, and snatched the saturated towel from the detective's
face, and he opened his eyes, and stared around.

"What is it?" he asked thickly, but the inspector was busy unscrewing the
handcuffs. Presently he threw them clanking to the floor, and lifted the
man to his feet, as Jack, with trembling fingers, unbuckled the straps
about Yale's legs.

They led him to his chair, and he fell heavily into its depths, passing
his hand across his forehead.

"What happened?" he asked.

"That's what I'd like to know," said Parr. "Which way did they go?"

The other shook his head.

"I don't know, I can't remember," he said. "Is the door locked?"

Jack ran to the door. The key was turned from the inside. He could not
have gone that way, but the window was open. That was the first thing
Parr had seen when he entered the room.

He ran to the window, and looked out. There was a sheer fall of eighty
feet, and no sign of a ladder or of any means by which Yale's assailant
could have escaped.

"I don't know what happened," said Yale, when he had partially recovered.
"I was sitting in this chair when suddenly a cloth was pulled across my
face, and two powerful hands gripped me with a strength which I shouldn't
have thought possible in any human being. Before I could struggle or cry
out I must have lost consciousness."

"Did you hear my call?" asked Parr.

The other man shook his head. "But, Mr. Yale, we heard a noise and Mr.
Parr asked if you were all right. You replied that you had only
stumbled."

"It was not me," said Yale. "I remember nothing from the moment the cloth
was put on my face until the moment you found me here."

Inspector Parr was at the window. He pulled down the sash, and he pushed
it up again, and then he looked on the window-sill, and when he turned
there was a large smile on his face.

"That is the cleverest thing I've ever seen," he said.

Something of Jack's old antipathy to the stout detective returned.

"I don't think it is particularly clever. They've half-killed Yale, and
they've got away," he said.

"I said it was clever, and it was clever," said Mr. Parr stolidly, "and
now I think I'll go down, and interview the officers I left on duty in
the hall."

But the watching officers had nothing to say. "Nobody had entered or left
the building except the postman.

"Except the postman, eh?" said Parr thoughtfully. "Why, of course, the
postman! All right, sergeant, you can dismiss your men."

He went up in the elevator and rejoined Vale.

"The money's gone all right," he said. "I don't know what we can do
except report the matter to headquarters."

Yale was now nearly his normal self, and sat at his desk with his head
resting on his hands. "Well, I'm the culprit this time," he said, "and
they can't blame you, Parr. I'm still trying to puzzle out how they got
into that window, and how they reached me without making a sound."

"Was your back to the window?"

Yale nodded. "I never dreamt of the window. I sat so that I could see
both doors."

"Your back was also to the fireplace?"

"They couldn't have come that way," said the other, shaking his head.
"No, this is the supreme mystery of my career; more astounding than the
identity of the Crimson Circle," he got up slowly, "I must report this to
old man Froyant, and you had better come along and lend me your moral
support," he said. "He will be furious."

They left the office together, Yale locking both doors and slipping the
key into his pocket.

To say that Mr. Froyant was furious is to employ a very mild expression
to describe his hectic frenzy.

"You told me, you practically promised me," he stormed, "that the money
would come back to me, and now you have come with a cock-and-bull
story of being drugged. It is monstrous! Where were you, Parr?"

"I was on the premises," said Mr. Parr, "and the story Mr. Yale has told
is correct."

Suddenly Froyant's rage died down, so suddenly that the calmness of his
voice was almost startling after its previous rancour.

"All right," he said, "nothing can be done. The Crimson Circle have had
their money, and that is the end of it. I'm much obliged to you, Yale.
Please send your bill to me."

And with these brusque instructions, he sent them to rejoin Jack, who was
waiting in the street outside.

"Well, that beats the band," said Parr. "I thought at one time he was
going to have a fit, and then did you notice how his manner changed?"

Yale nodded slowly. At the moment of Froyant's change of manner a great
idea was formed in his mind, a tremendous and startling doubt that was
almost paralysing.

"And now," said Parr good-humouredly, "as I have given you moral
support, perhaps you will extend the same service to me. At police
headquarters I am not so much persona grata as you. Come along and see the
Commissioner and tell him what happened."

Derrick Yale's office was silent and deserted. Ten minutes had passed
since the drone of the elevator announced the departure of the three men.
The silence was broken by a click, and slowly the doors in the big
cupboard in the corner of Derrick Yale's office were pushed open and
Thalia Drummond came out. She closed the doors behind her and stood for a
while contemplating the room, deep in thought. From her pocket she took a
key, opened the door and, passing into the corridor, locked the door
behind her.

She did not ring for the elevator. At the farther end of the passage was
a flight of narrow stairs which communicated with the caretaker's room,
on the top floor, and which were used only by him. Down these she went.
At the bottom was a door leading into the courtyard of a building. This,
too, she unlocked and soon after had joined the throng of homeward bound
clerks that thronged the pavement at this hour.



CHAPTER XXIV


10,000 REWARD

'The Associated Merchants Bank are authorised to offer a reward of ten
thousand pounds for information which will lead to the arrest and
conviction of the leader of what is known as the Crimson Circle Gang. In
conjunction with this reward the Secretary of State promises a free
pardon to any member of the gang, other than one actually guilty of
wilful murder, providing that the said member will furnish the
information and evidence requisite to the conviction of the man or woman
known as the Crimson Circle.'

On every hoarding, in every post office window, on every police station
board, the announcement flared in blood-red print.

Derrick Yale, on his way to his office, saw the announcement and read it
and passed on, wondering what effect this would have upon the minor
members of the gang he had been engaged to hunt.

Thalia Drummond read it from the top of a bus, when that vehicle had
pulled up close to a hoarding, to take on a passenger, and she smiled to
herself. But the most remarkable effect of the poster was upon Harvey
Froyant. It brought a colour to his face and a light to his eye which
made him almost youthful. He, too, was on his way to the office when he
read the announcement, but hurried back to his house, and took from a
drawer in his study a long list.

They were the numbers of the banknotes which the Crimson Circle had
taken, and he had compiled them laboriously, almost lovingly.

With his own hands he now made another copy, a work that occupied him
until late in the morning. When he had finished he wrote a letter, and
enclosing the new list of notes, he addressed it, posting the letter
himself, to a firm of lawyers which he knew specialised in the tracing of
lost and stolen property.

Heggitts' had rendered him good service before, and the next morning
brought a representative of the firm, Mr. James Heggitt, the senior
partner, a widened little man with a chronic sniff.

The name of Heggitt was not one which was universally respected, nor did
lawyers, when they met, speak of it with affection or regard. And yet it
was one of the most prosperous firms of lawyers in the city. The
majority of its clients were on or over the border-line which separates
the lawful from the unlawful, but to the law-abiding also it was very
useful, and was frequently consulted by more eminent firms whose clients
wished to recover valuable goods which had been taken by the
light-fingered gentry. In some mysterious way Heggitts' could always
place their finger upon a "gentleman" who had "heard" of the property
which was lost, and, in the majority of cases, the missing article was
restored.

"I got your note, Mr. Froyant," said the little lawyer, "and I can tell
you now that none of these notes are likely to go through the usual
channels." He paused and licked his lips, looking past Mr. Froyant. "The
biggest 'fence' of all has gone, so I'm not doing him any injustice when
I mention the fact."

"Who was that?"

"Brabazon," was the startling reply, and the other stared at him in
astonishment.

"You don't mean Brabazon of Brabazon's Bank?"

"Yes, I do," said Heggitt, nodding. "I should say he did a bigger
business in stolen money than any other man in London. You sec, it could
pass through his bank without anybody being the wiser, and as he did a
lot of business abroad and was constantly changing and re-changing
money for export, he got away with it. We knew who was fencing it. At
least, when I say we knew," he corrected himself, "we had a shrewd
suspicion. As officers of the court, we should, of course, have notified
the authorities had we been certain. I thought it better to call to
explain to you that it is going to be a very difficult job to trace this
money. Most stolen notes are passed on race-courses, but quite a
considerable number find their way abroad, where it is a much simpler
matter to change them, and where they are ever so much more difficult to
trace. You say it was the Crimson Circle who did it?"

"Do you know them?" asked Froyant quickly.

The lawyer shook his head. "I have never had any dealings with them at
all," he said, "but, of course, I knew about them, and enough to know
that they are clever people. It is likely that this man Brabazon has been
doing their work, consciously or unconsciously. In that case they might
find a difficulty in disposing of the stuff, for a banknote 'fence' is
one of the hardest to find. What am I to do when I track one of these
notes and have discovered the person who passed it?"

"I want you to notify me at once," said Froyant, "and nobody else. You
understand that this is a matter on which my life may hang, and if by any
chance the Crimson Circle get to know that I am trying to recover the
money it will be a very serious thing for me."

The lawyer agreed. The Crimson Circle apparently interested him, for he
lingered, and skillfully plied his employer with questions without Mr.
Froyant realising that he was being pumped.

"They are something new in criminals," he said. "In Italy, where the
Black Hand thrives, the demand for money, followed by a threat of death,
is quite a common occurrence, but I should not have thought it possible
in this country. The most amazing thing of all is that the Crimson Circle
holds together. I should imagine," he said thoughtfully, "that there is
only one man in it, and that he employs a very considerable number of
people unknown to one another and each having his particular job to
perform. Otherwise he would have been betrayed a long time ago. It is
only the fact that the people serving him do not know him that makes it
possible for him to carry on,"

He took up his hat. "By the way, did you know Felix Marl? A client of
ours is under charge of burgling his house. Mr. Barnet. You may not have
heard of him."

Mr. Froyant had not heard of 'Flush' Barnet, but he knew Marl, and Marl
interested him almost as much as the Crimson Circle interested the
lawyer. "I knew Marl. Why do you ask?"

The lawyer smiled. "A strange character," he said. "A remarkable
character in many ways. He was a member of the gang engaged in frauds on
French banks. I suppose you didn't know that? His lawyer came to see me
to-day. Apparently a Mrs. Marl has turned up to claim his property, and
she has told the whole story. He and a man named Lightman made a fortune
in France until they were caught. Marl would have been sent to the
guillotine, only he turned State's evidence. Lightman, I believe, went to
the knife."

"What a charming man Mr. Marl must have been!" said Mr. Froyant
ironically.

The little lawyer smiled. "What charming people we all are when our lives
are laid bare!" he said, and Mr. Froyant resented the implied censure,
for it was his boast that his life was a book. He might have added in
truth a bank-book.

So Brabazon was a dealer in stolen notes and Marl a convicted murderer!
Mr. Froyant wondered how Marl managed to escape from his term of
imprisonment, which must have been a severe one, and he inwardly rejoiced
that his business relationships with the deceased had not ended even more
disastrously than they had.

He dressed and went to his club to dine, and his car was running into
Pall Mall when a hoarding poster showed under the light of a lamp and
reminded him of the unpleasant fact that he was a fifty-thousand pounds
poorer man that night than he had been in the morning.

"Ten thousand reward!" he muttered. "Bah! Who is going to turn King's
evidence? I don't suppose even Brabazon would dare."

But he did not know Brabazon.



CHAPTER XXV


THE TENANT OF RIVER HOUSE

MR. BRABAZON sat in a chill upper room of River House, eating slowly a
large portion of bread and cheese. He wore the dress suit he was wearing
when the warning came to him, and he was a ludicrous figure in the
smartly-fitting, but now soiled and dusty garb. His white shirt was
grey with the grime of the house, he was collarless, and his general air
of dissipation was heightened by the stubbly beard that decorated his
face.

He finished his repast, opened the window carefully and threw out the
remnants of bread, and passing through the trap-door, he descended the
ladder and made his way to the big kitchen at the back of the house. He
had neither soap nor towel, but he made some attempt to wash himself
without their aid, utilising one of the two handkerchiefs he had brought
with him to the house in his flight. With the exception of the clothes he
stood up in, an overcoat and the soft felt hat he had seized when he made
his escape, he was quite unequipped for this undesirable adventure.

The provisions which the mystery man had brought the night after he had
reached his hiding place were almost exhausted (he had spent twenty-four
hours without any food whatever, but in his agitation had not
realised the fact until the stranger arrived carrying a basket of
foodstuffs). As to his nerves, they were almost gone. A week spent in
that hovel without communion with man, with the knowledge that the police
were searching for him, and that a long term of imprisonment would
automatically follow his capture, had played havoc with his placid
features, and to the solitude had been added the terror of a search.

He had shrunk in a corner behind a door which opened to the inner room
leading to the garret whilst the detective had explored the room. The
memory of Derrick Yale's visit was a nightmare.

He settled himself down in the old chair that he had found in the house,
to spend yet another night. The man whose warning had sent him flying to
cover must come soon, and must bring more food. Brabazon was dozing when
he heard the sound of a key put into the lock below and jumped up. He
tiptoed carefully to the trap-door and lifted it and then he heard the
booming voice of the stranger.

"Come down," it said, and he obeyed.

The previous interview had been in the passage where the darkness seemed
thicker than anywhere else in the house. He had accustomed himself to the
darkness and walked down the rickety stairs without mishap.

"Stay where you are," said the voice. "I have brought you some food and
clothing. You will find everything you need. You had better shave
yourself and make yourself presentable."

"Where am I going?" asked Brabazon.

"I have taken a berth for you on a steamer leaving Victoria Dock to-morrow
for New Zealand. You will find your passport papers and ticket in the
grip. Now listen. You are to leave your moustache, or what there is
of it unshaven, and shave your eyebrows. They are the most conspicuous
features of your face,"

Brabazon wondered when this man had seen him. Mechanically his hand stole
up to his shaggy eyebrows and mentally he agreed with the mysterious
visitor.

"I have not brought you any money," the voice went on. "You have sixty
thousand which you stole from Marl--you closed his account, forging his
name to a cheque, believing that I would settle with him--as I did."

"Who are you?" asked Brabazon.

"I am the Crimson Circle," was the reply. "Why do you ask that question?
You have met me before."

"Yes, of course," Brabazon muttered. "I think this place is driving me
mad. When may I leave this house?"

"You may leave to-morrow. Wait until nightfall. Your ship leaves on the
following morning, but you can get on board to-morrow night."

"But they will be watching the ship," pleaded Brabazon. "Don't you think
it is too dangerous?"

"There is no danger for you," was the reply. "Give me your money."

"My money?" gasped the banker, turning pale.

"Give me your money." There was an ominous note in the voice that spoke
in the darkness, and tremblingly Brabazon obeyed. Two large packets of
money passed into the gloved hand of the visitor, and then:

"Here, take this."

"This" was a thinner wad of notes, and the sensitive fingers of the
banker told him that they were new.

"You can change them when you get abroad," said the man.

"Couldn't I leave to-night?" Brabazon's teeth were chattering now.
"This place gives me the horrors." The Crimson Circle was evidently
thinking, for it was some time before he spoke.

"If you wish," he said, "but remember you are taking a risk. Now go
upstairs." The order was sharp and peremptory, and meekly Brabazon
obeyed.

He heard the door close, and peering through the dusty windows, he saw
the dark shadow stalk along the path and disappear into the darkness.
Presently he heard the gate click. The man was gone.

Brabazon groped for the bag which the other had left and, finding it,
carried it to the kitchen. Here he could show a light without fear of
detection, and he lit one of the scraps of candle he had discovered in
his search of the house during the week.

The stranger had not exaggerated when he said that the bag contained all
that Brabazon required. But the banker's first thought was to examine the
money which the other had put into his hand. They were notes of all
series and all numbers. His own had been in a series, and yet they were
new. He looked at them curiously. He knew that new bank-notes were not
usually issued higgledy-piggledy, and then he guessed the reason. The
Crimson Circle had blackmailed somebody and had asked that the notes
should not be numbered consecutively. He put the money down and began to
change.

It was a very smart Brabazon who stepped cautiously through the gates
carrying his bag an hour later, and yet so remarkable was the change
which the shaved eyebrows had made, that when, at eleven o'clock that
night, he passed one of the many detective officers who were looking for
him, he was unrecognised.

He had engaged a room in a small hotel near Euston Station, and went to
bed. It was the first night of untroubled sleep he had enjoyed for over a
week.

The next day he spent in his room, not caring to trust himself abroad in
daylight, but in the evening, after a solitary meal served in his
sitting-room, he went out to take the air. He was gaining in confidence,
and was now satisfied that he could pass the scrutiny of the ship
detective. He chose the less frequented streets and was passing near the
Museum when he saw a bill newly pasted on the hoarding, and stopped to
read it.

As he read, an idea took shape. Ten thousand pounds and a free pardon! It
was by no means sure that he would escape in the morning; more likely was
it that he would be detected, and at best what would his life be? The
life of a hunted dog, for which even his money would not compensate him.
Ten thousand pounds and freedom! And nobody knew about the money that he
had tricked from Felix Marl's estate. He would put that in a safe deposit
in the morning, go straight to police headquarters with information
which he felt sure must lead to the Crimson Circle's undoing.

"I'll do it," he said aloud.

"I think you're very wise."

The voice was at his elbow and he swung round.

A little, stocky man had walked noiselessly behind him in his rubber-soled
shoes, and Brabazon recognised him instantly.

"Inspector Parr," he gasped.

"That's right," said the inspector. "Now, Mr. Brabazon, will you come a
little walk with me, or are you going to make trouble?" As they went
into the police-station, a woman came out, and the pallid Brabazon failed
to recognise his former clerk. He stood in the steel pen whilst the story
of his iniquities was told in the cold, official language of the warrant.

"You can save yourself a lot of trouble, Mr. Brabazon," said Inspector
Parr, "by telling me the truth. I know where you are staying--at Bright's
Hotel in the Euston Road. You arrived there late last night and your
passage is booked in the name of Thomson to New Zealand by the Icinga,
which is due to leave Victoria Dock to-morrow morning."

"Good God!" said the startled Brabazon. "How did you know that?"

But here Inspector Parr did not inform him.

Brabazon did not intend lying. He told everything he knew. All that had
happened from the moment he was called by telephone and told to make a
get-away, until he was arrested.

"So you were in the house all the time?" said the inspector thoughtfully.
"How did you come to escape Mr. Yale's search?"

"Oh, was it Yale?" said Brabazon. "I thought it was you. There was an
inner room--just a little storehouse, I think it was in the old times--I
got behind the door and hid. He came almost to the door. I nearly died
with fright."

"So Yale was right again. You were there!" said the inspector speaking
half to himself. "Now, what are you going to do about it, Brabazon?"

"I'm going to tell you all I know about the Crimson Circle, and I think I
can give you information which will lead to his arrest. But you'll have
to be smart."

He was recovering something of his old pomposity. Parr observed.

"I told you that he exchanged my notes for his, and his notes for mine.
I'm sure he did that because he was afraid of the numbers being taken,
but my notes were in a series--series E. 19, and I can give you the
number of every one of them," he went on easily. "He wouldn't change the
stuff he got."

"That was Froyant's money, I think," said the inspector. "Yes, go on."

"He dare not change that, but he will change mine. Don't you see what a
chance this gives to you?"

The inspector was a little sceptical. Nevertheless, after Brabazon had
been locked in the cell, he called up Froyant on the 'phone and told him
as much of what had happened as was necessary for him to know.

"You've got the money?" said Froyant eagerly. "Come up to the house at
once."

"I'll bring it up to the house with pleasure," replied Parr, "but I feel
I ought to warn you that this is not your money, although it is the
actual cash that was transferred by you to the Crimson Circle."

Later on, in Mr. Froyant's presence, he explained the situation. That
spare man made no attempt to hide his disappointment, for he seemed to
think that in whatever circumstances the money was recovered, he was
entitled to claim. After a while Inspector Parr got him into a more
reasonable frame of mind. Froyant was talking quite calmly on the matter,
when he suddenly broke off with the question:

"Have you the numbers of the notes which Brabazon handed to him?"

"They are easy to remember," said Parr, "they belong to a series," and he
recited the numbers, Mr. Froyant making a rapid note on his desk-pad.



CHAPTER XXVI


THE BOTTLE OF CHLOROFORM

THALIA DRUMMOND was writing a letter when her visitor arrived, and of the
many people whom Thalia expected to call, Millie Macroy was the last. The
girl looked ill and tired, but she was not so far from human that she
could not stand and admire the dainty drawing-room into which Thalia
showed her, her servant having gone home for the night.

"Why this is a palace, kid," she said, and regarded Thalia with reluctant
admiration. "You know how to do it all right, better than poor 'Flush'."

"And how is the elegant 'Flush'?" asked Thalia coolly.

Millie Macroy's face darkened. "See here," she said roughly, "I don't
want any kind of talk about 'Flush' in that tone, do you understand? He
is where you ought to be. You were in it as well as him."

"Don't be silly. Take off your hat and sit down. Why, it's like old times
seeing you, Macroy."

The girl grumbled something under her breath, but accepted the
invitation.

"It is about 'Flush' I want to see you," she said. "There's some talk of
framing a murder charge against him, but you know he didn't commit any
murder."

"I know? Why should I know?" asked Thalia. "I didn't even know that he
was in the house until I read the newspapers in the morning--how
wonderfully clever they are on the Press to get news so red-hot."

Milly Macroy had not come to discuss the enterprise of the Press. She
drove straight into her subject, which was, as Thalia had expected,
'Flush' Barnet and his immediate prospects.

"Drummond, I'm not going to quarrel with you," she said.

"I'm glad of that," said Thalia. "I can't exactly see what there is
to quarrel about, anyway."

"That may or may not be," said Miss Macroy, ironically. "The point is,
what are you going to do for 'Flush'? You know all these swells, and
you're working for that swine Yale," she almost hissed. "It was Yale who
put Parr up to the Marisburg Place job; Parr hadn't got brains enough to
think it out for himself. Were you working with Yale all the time?"

"Don't make me laugh," said Thalia scornfully. "It's certainly true I am
working for Yale, if writing his letters and tidying his desk is work.
But what swells are you talking about? And what can I do for 'Flush'
Barnet?"

"You can go to Inspector Parr and tell him the old, old story," said
Macroy. "I've got it all worked out; you can say that 'Flush' was sweet
on you, saw you go into the house and followed, and couldn't get out."

"What about my young reputation?" asked the girl coolly. "No, Milly
Macroy, you've got to think up something prettier and, anyway, I don't
think they're making a charge for murder against him, from what Derrick
Yale said this morning."

She rose and walked slowly across the room, her hands clasped behind her.

"Besides, what interest have I in your young man? Why should I take the
trouble of speaking for him?"

"I'll tell you why." Miss Macroy rose, her hands on her hips, and glared
at the girl. "Because when the Brabazon case comes on, there's nothing to
prevent me going into the box and saying a few plain words about what you
did in the way of quick money-getting when you were Brab's secretary.
Ah! That's made you jump, miss!"

"When the Brabazon case comes on!" said the girl slowly. "Why? Have they
caught Brabazon?"

"They pinched him to-night," answered the girl triumphantly. "Parr did
it: I was up at the police station making inquiries about some money that
'Flush' left over for me, when they brought him in."

"Brabazon a prisoner," said Thalia slowly. "Poor old Brab!"

Macroy was watching her through her half-closed lids. She had never
liked Thalia Drummond, and now she hated her. She feared her too, for
there was something sinister in her very coolness. Presently Thalia
spoke. "I'll do what I can for 'Flush' Barnet," she said. "Not because
I'm scared of your going into the box--that's the part of the police
court where you'll be least at home, Macroy--but because the poor little
wretch was innocent of the murder."

Miss Macroy swallowed something at this description of her lover.

"I'll talk to Yale in the morning. I can't be sure it will do any good,
but I'll get a heart-to-heart talk with him if he gives me a chance."

"Thank you," said Miss Macroy, a little more graciously, and proceeded to
admire the flat in conventional language. Thalia showed her from room to
room.

"What's this place?"

"The kitchen," said Thalia, but made no attempt to open the door. The
girl looked at her suspiciously, "Have you got a friend?" she asked, and
before Thalia could stop her she had opened the door and walked in.

The kitchen was a small one and empty. The electric light was burning,
which suggested to Miss Macroy that the girl had left the kitchen to
answer her knock.

Thalia could have smiled at the obvious disappointment on Milly Macroy's
face, but her inclination to amusement departed as Macroy walked to the
sink and picked up a bottle.

"What is this?" said she, and read the label. It was half-filled with a
colourless liquid, and Miss Macroy did not attempt to take out the
stopper. The label told her all she wanted to know.

"'Chloroform and Ether'," she read, looking at the girl. "Why have you
been using chloroform?" Only for a second was Thalia taken aback, and
then she laughed.

"Well, do you know, Milly Macroy," she drawled, "when I think of poor
'Flush' Barnet in Brixton Gaol, I have to sniff something to put him out
of my mind."

Macroy banged down the bottle on the table with a snort.

"You're a bad lot, Thalia Drummond, and one of these days they'll be
waking you at eight o'clock, and ask you if you have any message for your
friends."

"And I shall reply," said Thalia sweetly, "bury me next to 'Flush'
Barnet, the eminent crook."

Miss Milly Macroy did not think of a suitable retort until she was in the
Marylebone Road, and then it came to her with annoying force that, for
all her interview, Thalia Drummond had promised nothing.



CHAPTER XXVII


MR. PARR'S MOTHER

JACK BEARDMORE had heard of Brabazon's arrest, and went straight to
police headquarters to see Mr. Parr. He found that excellent gentleman
had gone home. "If it is important, Mr. Beardmore," said the police clerk
on duty, "you will find him at home in his house at Stamford Avenue."

Beyond his natural interest in the Crimson Circle and all that pertained
thereto. Jack had no particular wish to see the inspector, and Derrick
Yale had telephoned all that was known or could be told.

"Parr thinks this arrest may have an important development," he said.
"No, I haven't seen Brabazon, but I accompany Parr to-morrow morning
when he visits him."

Yale, too, was apparently un-get-at-able; he had hinted that he had
a theatre party that night, and Jack bent his steps homeward. He had sent
his car away, for he felt he needed exercise to dissipate his energies,
and as he crossed the gloomy park, taking a short cut to his house, he
found himself wondering what sort of a home life a man like Parr could
have. He had never spoken about his family, and his mode of living
outside of the police headquarters was almost as much of a mystery as
that which he was trying to unravel.

Where was Stamford Avenue, he wondered. He had reached a deserted spot of
the park, when he thought he heard footsteps behind him, and turned his
head. He was not a nervous type, and ordinarily the sound of somebody
walking in his rear would not have interested him sufficiently to make
him turn. The path here skirted a dense thicket of rhododendrons. There
was nobody in sight. Jack went on, quickening his pace.

He heard no more footsteps, but looking round he thought he saw a man
walking on the grass by the side of the path. As Jack stopped he too
halted. He was doubtful as to what he should do. To challenge the man
might put him into an absurd position; there was no reason in the world
why any good citizen should not walk in the park at night, or, for the
matter of that, why they should not walk behind him anywhere at a
respectable distance.

And then ahead of him he made out a slowly strolling figure, and heard
the unmistakable "beat walk" of a policeman.

To his own amazement he felt relieved, and when he looked round, the
figure that had followed him had disappeared. He tried to reconstruct his
impression; whoever his tracker had been, he was smally made. At first
Jack had thought it was a boy; perhaps some poor park beggar who was
mustering up courage to approach him for the price of a night's bed. It
seemed absurd that he was glad to be out of the park, and to step into
the well-lighted street, but it was the case.

He made an inquiry of a policeman.

"Stamford Avenue, sir? That bus you see over there will take you, or you
can get there in a taxi in ten minutes."

Jack stood for a long time before he called the taxi-cab. Mr. Parr
would rightly resent this intrusion into his domestic privacy, and really
he had no excuse to offer. But making up his mind of a sudden, he called
a cab, and in a very short time was experiencing exactly the same doubts
and misgivings before the door of Inspector Parrs' maisonette.

It was Parr himself who opened the door. His face was naturally free from
expression, and he neither showed surprise nor annoyance at the arrival
of his late visitor.

"Come in, Mr. Beardmore," he said. "I have just arrived, and am having
supper. I suppose you've had your evening meal a long time ago."

"Don't let me interrupt you, Mr. Parr, only I was rather interested to
hear that you had caught Brabazon, and I thought I'd come along."

The inspector was showing him into the dining-room, when suddenly he
stopped.

"Good Lord!" he said.

Jack could only wonder what had startled him.

"Do you mind waiting here?"

For the first time since Jack had known the police officer, Parr was
embarrassed.

"I must first tell an old aunt of mine who is staying here who you
are," he said. "She's not used to visitors. I'm a widower, you know,
and my aunt keeps house for me."

He entered the dining-room hurriedly, closing the door behind him, and
Jack felt something of his host's embarrassment.

A minute, two minutes passed. He heard a hurried movement in the room,
and Parr opened the door. "Come in, sir." His red face was even a deeper
red. "Sit you down, and please forgive me for keeping you waiting."

The room in which he found himself was well and tastefully furnished.
Jack was annoyed with himself for expecting anything else.

Mr. Parr's aunt was a faded lady with an absent manner, and she seemed to
cause Mr. Parr a considerable amount of anxiety. He scarcely took his
eyes from her as she moved about the room, and she hardly spoke before he
jumped in to interrupt her, always politely, but always very definitely.

The inspector's supper was set upon a tray; he had just about finished
when Jack had knocked at the door.

"I hope you'll excuse our untidiness, Mr.--er--"

"Beardmore," said Jack.

"She'll never remember it," murmured the inspector.

"I can't keep the place as mother kept it," she said.

"Of course not, of course not, auntie," said Mr. Parr hurriedly. "A
little absent," he murmured. "Now what did you want to know, Mr.
Beardmore?"

Jack laughingly excused himself for his call. "The Crimson Circle is such
a complicated business that I suspect every new agent to be the central
figure," he said. "Do you think that the arrest of Brabazon is going to
help us?"

"I don't know," replied Parr slowly. "There is just a chance that
Brabazon will be a very big help indeed. By the way, I've put one of my
own men to look after him, and I have given instructions that the jailer
is not to go into the cell under any circumstances."

"You're thinking of Sibly, the sailor, who was poisoned?"

Parr nodded. "Don't you think, Mr. Beardmore, that that was one of the
greatest mysteries of all the mysterious Crimson Circle murders?" He
asked this question very soberly, but there was a little glint in his eye
which Jack did not fail to notice.

"You're laughing. Why? I think it was mysterious, don't you?"

"Very," said the inspector. "In some respects, and the poisoning of Sibly
will, to my mind, be a much more important factor in the eventual capture
of the Crimson Circle than is the arrest of our friend Brabazon."

"I wish you wouldn't talk about crime and criminals," said his aunt
fretfully; "really, John, you are very trying. It may have suited
mother--"

"Yes, of course, auntie; I'm sorry," said Parr hurriedly, and when she
had left the room, Jack Beardmore's curiosity got the better of his
discretion.

"Mother seems to have been rather a paragon," he smiled, and wondered if
he had made a faux pas.

The answering laugh reassured him. "Yes, rather a paragon; she is not
staying with us just now."

"Is she your mother, Mr. Parr?"

"No, my grandmother," said Mr. Parr, and Jack looked at him in
astonishment.



CHAPTER XXVIII


A SHOT IN THE NIGHT

THE inspector must have been nearly fifty, and he made a rapid
calculation as to the age of this wonderful grandmother who took an
interest in crime, and kept the house tidy.

"She must be a wonderful old lady," he said, "and I suppose she'd even be
interested in the Crimson Circle?"

"Interested!" Mr. Parr laughed. "If mother was on the track of that gang
with the same authority as I have, they would be high and dry in Cannon
Street police station to-night. As it is," he paused, "they are not."

All the time they were talking Jack was puzzling his head as to why, in
spite of its order, the room gave him an impression of untidiness. But he
was not left to his own thoughts for very long, for Mr. Parr was in an
unusually communicative mood. He even went so far as to tell Jack some of
the unpleasant things said to him by the Commissioner.

"Naturally police headquarters are rather rattled by the continuance
of these crimes," he said. "We haven't had anything like this for fifty
years. In fact, I don't think since the Ripper murders there has been
such an orgy of destruction. It may interest you, too, Mr. Beardmore, to
know that the Crimson Circle, whoever he is, is the first real organising
criminal we have had to deal with for nearly fifty years. Criminal
organisations are loose affairs, and as they depend for their safety upon
that sense of honour which every thief is supposed to possess, but which
I have never met with, the game doesn't last very long. The Crimson
Circle, however, is a man who obviously trusts nobody. He cannot be
betrayed because nobody is in a position to betray him. Even the minor
members of the gang cannot betray one another, because it is just as
clear to me that they do not know one another by name or by sight." He
went on to discuss interestingly cases in which he had been concerned,
and it was nearly half-past eleven when Jack rose with a further
apology.

"I'll take you to the front door; your car is here, isn't it?"

"No," said Jack. "I came by taxi."

"H'm," said the inspector. "I thought I saw a car drawn up in front of
the door. We are not a motor-car owning neighbourhood; probably it is a
doctor's machine."

He opened the door, and, as he had said, a black car was drawn up at the
kerb.

"I seem to have seen that before," said the inspector, and took a step
forward. As he did so a pencil of flame leapt from the dark interior of
the car; there was a deafening report, and Inspector Parr fell into
Jack's arms and slid to the ground. A second later and the car was
speeding up the street; it showed no light and vanished round the corner
as the doors in the street began to open and to let out the alarmed
residents.

A policeman came running along the pavement, and together they lifted the
detective and carried him into the dining-room. Happily the aunt had
gone to bed, and had apparently heard and noticed nothing.

Inspector Parr opened his eyes and blinked. "That was a nasty one," he
said with a wince of pain. He felt gingerly in his waistcoat and brought
out a flat piece of lead. "I'm glad he didn't use an automatic," he said,
and then, seeing the blank amazement on Jack's face, he grinned.

"The Crimson Circle gentleman is only one of three who wear a bullet-proof
waistcoat," he said. "I am the second, and--" he paused, "Thalia
Drummond is the third, as I happen to know."

He did not speak again for some time, and then he said to Jack:

"Will you telephone to Derrick Yale? I think he is going to be
considerably startled."

The prophecy understated the case. Derrick Yale arrived half an hour
after the shooting in such haste that his appearance suggested that he had
dressed over his pyjama suit. He listened to Parr's story, and then:

"I don't want to be uncomplimentary, inspector," he laughed, "but you're
the last person in the world I should have thought they would have wanted
to shoot."

"Thank you," said Parr, who was gingerly fixing a lint pad over his
bruised chest.

"I don't mean that as uncomplimentary; I merely mean that such a definite
challenge to the police is the last thing in the world I expected them
to deliver." He frowned heavily. "I don't understand it," he said as
though speaking to himself. "I wonder why she wanted to know. I'm talking
about Thalia Drummond. She asked me this morning what was your address,"
he said. "I understand your name is not even in the telephone book or in
the local directory."

"What did you say?"

"I gave her some evasive answer, but I've just remembered that my private
address book is accessible, and she could easily have discovered it
without troubling to ask me. I wonder she didn't."

Jack gave a weary sigh. "Really, Yale, you're not suggesting that Miss
Drummond fired that shot, are you? Because, if you are, it's a ridiculous
suggestion. Oh, I know what you're going to say: she's a bad lot and has
been guilty of all sorts of miserable little crimes, but that doesn't
make her a murderess!"

"You're quite right," replied Yale after a pause. "I'm being unjust to
the girl, and it doesn't seem that I'm starting fair if I am sincere in
my desire to give her a chance. I wanted to see you to-night, by the
way, Parr." He took from his pocket a card and laid it on the table
before the inspector. "How does that strike you for nerve?"

"When did you get it?"

"It was waiting in the letter-box for me, but I didn't see it,
curiously enough, until I was rushing out to find a taxi to bring me
here. Isn't it colossal?"

The card bore a symbol familiar enough to the two men, but at the very
sight of that Crimson Circle, Jack shuddered. Within the hoop was
written: 'You are serving the losing side. Serve us instead and you shall
be rewarded tenfold. Continue your present work, and you die on the
fourth of next month.'

"That gives you about ten days," said Parr seriously, and it might have
been the pain he had suffered, or excitement, but he seemed suddenly to
lose his colour. "Ten days," he muttered.

"Of course, I take not the slightest notice of that threat," said Derrick
Yale cheerfully. "I must confess that after my unpleasant experience at
the office I almost credit them with supernatural gifts."

"Ten days," repeated the detective. "Have you made any plans? Ordinarily,
where would you be on the fourth of next month?"

"It is curious that you should ask that," said Yale, "but I had arranged
to go down to Deal for some fishing. A friend of mine has lent me a
motor-launch, and I thought of spending the night in the Channel; in fact,
I had arranged to go on that day."

"You can make what arrangements you like, but you are not going alone,"
said Parr emphatically. "And now you can all clear out. Thank your lucky
stars that my aunt has not wakened, and that mother isn't here."

The last he said was intended for Jack, and Jack smiled understandingly.



CHAPTER XXIX


THE RED CIRCLE

IT was Harvey Froyant's boast that he trusted nobody completely. He
trusted the lawyer up to a point, but his known connection with
questionable people would have been alone sufficient to prevent Harvey
from trusting implicitly to his agent. Two nights after the shooting of
Inspector Parr the little lawyer called on his employer, and he was all
a-quiver with excitement. He had traced one of the new series of
bank-notes which the Crimson Circle had taken from Brabazon.

"Now, we've got a good line on this, Mr. Froyant, and if we continue in
the direction we are going, we can certainly pick up the original
changer."

But here Mr. Harvey Froyant was firm. He could not and would not place
the case completely in the hands of this man. So far might the
knowledgeable firm of Heggitt take him, but he would carry on the rest
through another agency. He said so in as many words.

"I'm sorry you won't let me go on with it," said the disappointed
Heggitt. "I have undertaken this search personally, and I can assure you
that there are only a few steps now between the man we discovered with
the money and the man you are looking for."

Harvey Froyant knew that as well as the lawyer. Jack Beardmore had spoken
a great truth when he said that this mean man would never be satisfied
until he had recovered the money he had lost. It was a goad and an
irritation, a source of thought which kept him awake at night and woke
him in the morning with a sense of blank despair.

And Harvey was well equipped to carry the investigations to their final
stage now that he had the ground clear for him. He had derived his
fortune from buying and selling land in every country in the world.
Beginning with practically no capital, he had, by personal application to
his business, built up a seven figure fortune. And this had not been
accomplished by sitting in an office and trusting to subordinates. It had
involved considerable travel, restless inquiry and relentless probing
into the private circumstances of negotiators, a peculiarity he had
shared with James Beardmore, though this he did not know.

He took up his own case with alacrity, and informed neither Yale nor Parr
of his intentions.

As Heggitt had said, it was a fairly simple matter to trace the note, for
at least three stages. His investigations brought Mr. Froyant
successively to a money-changer's in the Strand, a tourist office and
finally to a highly respectable bank. And here he was particularly
favoured, for it was a branch of one of the banks which conducted his
business. For three days he pried and questioned, searched books--which
he had no right to search--and slowly but surely he came to a conclusion.
He was not, however, satisfied to leave the matter with the discovery of
the original passer of the note. Not even the bank manager, who gave him
facilities for examining private accounts, and was afterwards reprimanded
by his superiors for doing so, knew exactly what object he had, or
against whom his investigations were directed.

On the morning of the first day Froyant left hurriedly for France. He
spent only two hours in Paris, and the night found him on his way to the
south. Toulouse he reached at nine o'clock in the morning; here again
luck was with him, for an important official of the city had been an
agent of his in a purchase he had made a few years before. Monsieur
Brassard offered his guest an emphatic welcome, which Mr. Froyant
discounted on the ground that his former agent was under the impression
that a new deal and a new commission was in prospect. This seemed to be
the case, for he was less enthusiastic when he learnt the object of the
visit.

"I do not trouble myself with these matters," he said, shaking his head,
"for although I am a lawyer, my dear Mr. Froyant, my practice does not
touch the criminal court." He stroked his long beard thoughtfully. "I
remember Marl very well indeed--Marl and another man, an Englishman, I
think."

"A man named Lightman?"

"Yes, that was the fellow. Good gracious, yes!" He made a grimace of
disgust. "Of course, that is common history," he went on. "They were
scoundrels, those men. One shot the cashier and the watchman of the Nimes
Bank, and there were two murders here in Toulouse with which their names
were associated. I remember their names very well--and the terrible
incident!" He shook his head.

"What terrible incident?" asked Mr. Froyant curiously.

"It was when Lightman was led to execution. I think our executioners must
have been drunk, for the knife did not work; twice, three times it fell,
but only just touched his neck. And when the horrified spectators
interfered--you know our French people are very emotional--there would
have been a riot if they had not taken the prisoner back to gaol. Yes,
the Red Circle escaped the knife."

Mr. Froyant, who was sipping a cup of coffee, leapt to his feet,
overturning the cup and its contents.

"The what?" he almost shouted.

Mr. Brassard looked at him open-mouthed.

"Why, what is wrong, m'sieur?" he asked, one eye on the damaged carpet.

"The Red Circle! What do you mean?" demanded Froyant, trembling with
excitement.

"That was Lightman," nodded Brassard, astonished at the effect his words
produced. "It was his public name. But my clerk will know more, for he
was interested in the matter, which I was not."

He rang the bell, and an elderly Frenchman came in.

"Do you remember the Red Circle, Jules?"

The aged Jules nodded. "Very well, m'sieur. I was at the execution. What
horror!" He raised his two hands in an expressive gesture.

"Why was he called the Red Circle?" demanded Froyant.

"Because of a mark." The man drew his long finger about his neck. "Around
his throat, m'sieur, was a red circle; it was the colour of his skin, and
it was a legend long before the execution that no knife would ever touch
him, for such marks are said to be charmed. I think it was a birth-mark,
but I know that on the way to the execution I met a great number of
people--my friend Thiep, for example--who were sure that the execution
would not take place. If they were as sure that the executioner and his
assistants would be drunk," added Jules, "and that they had put up the
guillotine in the morning so badly that the knife would not work, I think
they would have been more intelligent."

Mr. Froyant was now breathing quickly. Little by little the truth was
being revealed, and now he saw the whole thing clearly.

"What happened to the Red Circle?" he asked.

"I do not know," shrugged Jules. "He was sent to one of the island
settlements, but Marl was released because he had given evidence for the
Republic. I heard some time ago that Lightman had escaped, but I don't
know how true that is."

Lightman had escaped, as Froyant had already guessed. He passed that day
in a feverish search of all available documents, in a visit to the Public
Prosecutor, and he ended a strenuous twelve hours in the bureau of the
prison governor, examining photographs.

It may be said that Mr. Harvey Froyant went to bed that night in the
Hotel Anglaise with a feeling of complete satisfaction, and with the
added pleasure that he had succeeded where the cleverest police had
failed. The secret of the Crimson Circle was no longer a secret.



CHAPTER XXX


THE SILENCING OF FROYANT

HARVEY FROYANT'S visit to France had not escaped attention, and both
Derrick Yale and Inspector Parr knew that he had gone; so also did the
Crimson Circle, if Thalia Drummond's telegram reached its destination.

Curiously enough these telegrams and messages which Thalia was sending
was the excuse for Derrick Yale's call at police headquarters, on the
very evening that Mr. Froyant was returning triumphantly from France.

Parr, returning to his office, found Yale sitting at the inspector's
table, delighting a small but select audience of police officials with an
exhibition of his curious power.

His ability in this direction was amazing. From a ring which a police
inspector handed him he told the mystified hearer not only his known
history but, to his confusion, a little secret history of the man's life.

As Parr came in his assistant gave him a sealed envelope. He glanced at
the typewritten address, and then laid it on Yale's outstretched hand.
"Tell me who sent that?" he said, and Yale laughed.

"A very small man with an absurd yellow beard; he talks through his nose
and keeps a shop."

A slow smile dawned on Parr's face. Yale added: "And that isn't
psychometry, because I happen to know it is from Mr. Johnson of Mildred
Street." He chuckled at the inspector's blank expression, and when they
were alone, explained.

"I happen to know that you discovered the place to which all the Crimson
Circle messages were sent. I, on the contrary, have known of its
existence for a long time, and every message which has been sent to the
Crimson Circle has been read by me. Mr. Johnson told me you were making
inquiries, and I asked him to give you a very full explanation in the
addressed envelope which you sent to him."

"So you knew it all the time?" asked Parr slowly.

Derrick Yak nodded. "I know that messages intended for the Crimson Circle
have been addressed to this little newsagent, and that every afternoon
and evening a small boy calls to collect them. It is a humiliating
confession to make, but I have never been able to trace the person who
picks the boy's pocket."

"Picks his pocket?" repeated Parr, and Yale enjoyed the mystery.

"The boy's instructions are to put the letters in his pocket, and to walk
into the crowded High Street. Whilst he is there somebody takes them from
his pocket without his being any the wiser."

Inspector Parr sat down on the chair which Yale had vacated, and rubbed
his chin.

"You're an amazing fellow," he said. "And what else have you discovered?"

"What I have all along suspected," said Yale, "that Thalia Drummond is in
communication with the Crimson Circle and has given him every scrap of
information which she has been able to gather."

Parr shook his head. "What are you going to do about that?"

"I told you all along that she would lead us to the Crimson Circle," said
Yale quietly, "and sooner or later I am sure my predictions will be
justified. It is nearly two months since I induced our friend who keeps a
small newsagent's shop to which letters may be addressed, to give me the
first look over all letters addressed to Johnson. He wanted a little
inducing, because our newsagent is a very honest, straightforward man,
but it is my experience, and probably yours, that the mere suggestion
that a man is assisting the cause of justice will induce him to commit
the most outrageous acts of disloyalty. I took the liberty of suggesting,
without stating, that I was a regular police officer. I hope you don't
mind."

"There are times when I think you should be a regular police officer,"
said Parr. "So Thalia Drummond is in communication with the Crimson
Circle?"

"I shall continue to employ her, of course," said Yale. "The closer she
is to me, the less dangerous she will be."

"Why did Froyant go abroad?" asked Parr.

The other shrugged his shoulders. "He has many business connections
abroad, and probably is engaged in a deal. He owns about a third of the
vineyards in the Champagne. I suppose you know that?"

The inspector nodded. Then, for some reason or other, a silence fell upon
them. Each man was busy with his own thoughts, and Mr. Parr particularly
was thinking of Froyant, and wondering why he had gone to Toulouse, "How
did you know he had gone to Toulouse?" asked Derrick Yale.

The question was so unexpected, such a startling continuation of his own
thoughts, that Parr jumped. "Good heavens!" he said, "can you read a
man's mind?"

"Sometimes," said Yale, unsmilingly. "I thought he had gone to Paris."

"He went to Toulouse," said the inspector shortly, and did not explain
how he came to know.

Possibly nothing Derrick Yale had ever done, no demonstration he had
given of his gifts, had so disconcerted this placid inspector of police
as that experiment in thought transference. It alarmed, indeed,
frightened him, and he was still shaken in his mind when Harvey Froyant's
telephone call came through.

"Is that you, Parr? I want you to come to my house. Bring Yale with you.
I have a very important communication to make."

Inspector Parr hung up the receiver deliberately, "Now, what the devil
does he know?" he said, speaking to himself, and Derrick Yale's keen
eyes, which had not left the inspector's face all the time he was
speaking, shone for a moment with a strange light.

Thalia Drummond had finished her simple dinner and was engaged in the
domestic task of darning a stocking. Her undomestic task, which was of
greater urgency, was to prevent herself thinking of Jack Beardmore. There
were times when the thought of him was an acute agony, and since such
moments of quietness and solitude as these were favourable for such
meditation, she had just put down her work and turned to something new
for distraction, when the door bell rang. It was a district messenger,
and he carried in his hand a square parcel that looked like a boot box.

It was addressed to her in pen-printed characters, and she had a little
flutter at her heart as she realised from whom it had come. Back in her
room she cut the string and opened the box.

On the top lay a letter which she read. It was from the Crimson Circle,
and ran:

'You know the way into Froyant's house. There is an entrance from the
garden into the bomb-proof shelter beneath his study. Gain admission,
taking with you the contents of this box. Wait in the underground room
until I give you further instructions.'

She lifted out the contents of the box. The first article was a large
gauntlet glove that reached almost to her elbow. It was a man's glove,
and left-handed. The only other thing in the box was a long,
sharp-pointed knife with a cup-like guard. She handled it carefully,
feeling the edge; it was as sharp as a razor. For a long time she sat
looking at the weapon and the glove, and then she got up and went to the
telephone and gave a number. She waited for a long time, until the
operator told her there was no answer.

At nine o'clock, she looked at her watch. It was past eight already, and
she had no time to lose. She put the glove and the knife in a big leather
hand-bag, wrapped herself in her cloak, and went out.

Half an hour later, Derrick Yale and Mr. Parr ascended the steps of
Froyant's residence and were admitted by a servant. The first thing
Derrick Yale noticed was that the passage was brilliantly illuminated;
all the lights in the hall were on, and even the lamps on the landing
above were in full blaze, a curious circumstance, remembering Mr. Harvey
Froyant's parsimony. Usually he contented himself with one feeble light
in the hall, and any room in the house that was not in use was in
darkness.

The library was a room opening from the main hall; the door was wide
open, and the visitors saw that the room was as brilliantly lighted as
the hall. Harvey Froyant was sitting at his desk, a smile on his tired
face, but for all his weariness there was self-satisfaction in every
gesture, every note in his voice.

"Well, gentlemen," he said almost jovially, "I'm going to give you a
little information which I think will startle and amuse you." He chuckled
and rubbed his hands. "I have just called up the Chief Commissioner,
Parr," he said, peering up at the stout detective. "In a case like this
one wants to be on the safe side. Anything may happen to you two
gentlemen after you leave this house, and we cannot have too many people
in our secret. Will you take your overcoats off? I am going to tell you a
story which may take some time."

At that moment the telephone bell trilled, and they stood watching him as
he took down the receiver.

"Yes, yes, colonel," he said. "I have a very important communication to
make; may I call you up in a second or two? You will be there? Good." He
replaced the instrument. They saw him frown undecidedly, and then: "I
think I'll talk to the colonel now, if you don't mind stepping into
another room and closing the door. I don't want to anticipate the little
sensation which I am creating."

"Certainly," said Parr, and walked from the room.

Derrick Yale hesitated. "Is this communication about the Crimson Circle?"

"I will tell you," said Mr. Froyant. "Just give me five minutes and then
you shall have your thrill of sensation." Derrick Yale laughed, and Parr,
who had reached the hall, smiled in sympathy.

"It takes a lot to thrill me," said Derrick. He came out of the room,
stood for a moment with the door edge in his hand. "And afterwards I
think I shall be able to tell you something about our young friend
Drummond," he said. "Oh, I know you're not interested, but this little
fact will interest you perhaps as much as the story you are going to tell
us."

Parr saw him smile, and guessed that Froyant had growled something
uncomplimentary about Thalia Drummond. Derrick Yale closed the door
softly. "I wonder what his sensation is, Parr," he mused thoughtfully.
"And what the dickens has he to tell your colonel?"

They walked into the front drawing-room, which was equally well
lighted.

"This is unusual, isn't it, Steere?" said Derrick Yale, who knew the
butler.

"Yes, sir," said the stately man. "Mr. Froyant is not as a rule
extravagant in the matter of current. But he told me that he'd want all
the lights to-night, and that he was not taking any risks, whatever
that might mean. I've never known him to do such a thing. He's got two
loaded revolvers in his pocket--that is what strikes me as queer. He
hates firearms, does Mr. Froyant, as a rule."

"How do you know he has revolvers?" asked Parr sharply.

"Because I loaded them for him," replied the butler. "I used to be in the
Yeomanry, and I understand the use of weapons. One of them is mine."

Derrick Yale whistled and looked at the inspector. "It looks as if he not
only knows the Crimson Circle, but he expects a visit," he said. "By the
way, have you any men on hand?"

Parr nodded. "There are a couple of detectives in the street; I told them
to hang around in case they were wanted," he said. They could not hear
Froyant's voice at the telephone, for the house was solidly built, and
the walls were thick.

Half an hour passed, and Yale grew impatient.

"Will you ask him if he wants us, Steere?" he said, but the butler shook
his head.

"I can't interrupt him, sir. Perhaps one of you gentlemen would go in. We
never go in unless we are rung for." Parr was half-way out of the room,
and in an instant had flung open the door of Harvey Froyant's study. The
lights were blazing, and he had no doubt of what had happened from the
second his eyes fell upon the figure huddled back in his chair. Harvey
Froyant was dead. The handle of a knife projected from his left breast, a
knife with a steel cup-like guard. On the narrow desk was a blood-stained
leather gauntlet.

It was the startled cry of Parr that brought Derrick Yale rushing into
the room. Parr's face was as white as death as he stared at the tragic
figure in the chair, and neither man spoke a word. Then Parr spoke. "Call
my men in," he said. "Nobody is to leave this house. Tell the butler to
assemble the servants in the kitchen and keep them there."

He took in every detail of the room. Across the big windows which looked
on to a square of green at the back of the house, heavy velvet curtains
were drawn. He pulled them aside. Behind these were shutters and they
were securely fastened.

How had Harvey Froyant been killed?

His desk was opposite the fire-place, and the desk was a narrow
Jacobean affair which would have distracted any ordinary man by its lack
of width, but it was a favourite of the dead financier.

From which way had the murderer approached him?

From behind? The knife was thrust in a downward direction, and the theory
that his assailant came upon him unawares was at least plausible. But why
the glove? Inspector Parr handled it gingerly. It was a leather gauntlet,
such as a chauffeur uses, and had been well worn.

His next move was to call the Police Commissioner and, as he had
suspected, the colonel was waiting for a communication from Harvey
Froyant.

"Then he did not telephone to you?"

"No. What has happened?"

Parr told him briefly, and listened unmoved to the almost incoherent fury
of his chief at the other end of the wire. Presently he hung up the
receiver and went back to the hall, to find his men already posted.

"I am searching every room in the house," he said, He was gone half an
hour, and returned to Derrick Yale.

"Well?" asked Yale eagerly.

Parr shook his head. "Nothing," he said. "There is nobody here who has no
right to be here."

"How did they get into the room? The hall-way was never empty except
when Steere came into the drawing-room."

"There may be a trap in the floor," suggested Yale.

"There are no traps in drawing-room floors in the West End of London,"
snapped Parr, but a further search had a surprising result. Turning up
one corner of the carpet, a small trap-door was discovered, and the
butler explained that in the days of the war, when air raids were a
nightly occurrence, Mr. Froyant had had a bomb-proof shelter
constructed of concrete in a lower wine cellar, ingress to which was
gained by means of a flight of stairs leading from his study.

Parr went down the stairs with a lighted candle and discovered himself in
a small, square, cell-like room. There was a door, which was locked,
but, searching the body of Harvey Froyant, they found a master key.
Beyond the first door was a second of steel and this brought them into
the open.

The houses in the street shared a common strip of lawn and shrubbery.

"It is quite possible to get into here through the gate at the end of the
garden," said Yale, "and I should say that the murderer came this way."

He was flashing his electric lamp along the ground. Suddenly he went down
on to the ground and peered. "Here is a recent footprint," he said, "and
a woman's!"

Parr looked over his shoulder. "I don't think there is any doubt about
that," he said. "It is recent." And then suddenly he stepped back. "My
God!" he gasped in awe-stricken tones. "What a devilish plot!"

For it came upon him with a rush that this was the footprint of Thalia
Drummond.



CHAPTER XXXI


THALIA ANSWERS A FEW QUESTIONS

DERRICK YALE sat with his head on his hands, reading a newspaper. He had
read a dozen that morning, and one by one he had cast them aside to open
another.

"Under the eyes of the police," he quoted. "Incompetence at Police
headquarters." He shook his head. "They are giving our poor friend Parr
a bad time in this morning's press," he said as he threw the paper
aside, "and yet he was as incapable of preventing that crime as you or
I, Miss Drummond."

Thalia Drummond looked a little peaked that morning. There were dark
circles about her eyes, and an air of general listlessness which was in
contrast to her usual cheerful buoyancy.

"If you're in that game you expect to get kicks, don't you?" she asked
coolly. "The police can't have it all their own way."

He looked at her curiously. "You aren't a particular admirer of police
methods, are you, Miss Drummond?" he asked.

"Not tremendously," she replied, as she laid a stack of correspondence
before him. "You aren't expecting me to get up testimonials to the
efficiency of headquarters, are you?"

He laughed quietly. "You're a strange girl," he said. "Sometimes I think
that you were born without compassion. You worked for Froyant, too,
didn't you?"

"Yes," she said shortly.

"You lived some time in the house?"

She did not reply, but her grey eyes met his steadily.

"I did live some time in the house," she admitted. "Why do you ask that?"

"I wondered if you knew of the existence of this underground room?" said
Derrick Yale carelessly.

"Of course I knew of the room. Poor Mr. Froyant made no secret of his
cleverness. He has told me a dozen times how much it cost," she added
with a faint smile.

He cogitated a moment. "Where were the keys usually kept that opened the
door of the bomb-proof room?"

"In Mr. Froyant's desk. Are you suggesting that I have had access to
them, or that I was concerned in last night's murder?"

He laughed. "I am not suggesting anything," he said, "I am merely
inquiring, and as you seem to know a great deal more about the house than
most of the people who live in it, my curiosity is natural. Would it be
possible, do you think, to push up that trap without making a noise?"

"Quite," she said. "The trap-door works on counterbalances. Are you
going to answer any of those letters?"

He pushed the pile of letters aside. "What were you doing last light,
Miss Drummond?"

This time his method was more direct. "I spent my evening at home," she
said. Her hands went behind her, and that curious rigidity which he had
noticed before stiffened her frame.

"Did you spend the whole of the evening at home?" She did not answer.
"Isn't it a fact that about half-past eight you went out, carrying a
small parcel?"

Again she made no reply. "One of my men accidentally saw you," said
Derrick Yale carelessly, "and then lost sight of you. Where did you spend
the evening--you did not return to your flat until nearly eleven o'clock
at night."

"I went for a walk," said Thalia Drummond coolly. "If you will give me a
map of London, I will endeavour to retrace my footsteps."

"Suppose some of them have already been traced?"

Her eyes narrowed. "In that case," she said quietly, "I am saved the
bother of telling you where I went."

"Now look here, Miss Drummond," he leant across the table. "I am
perfectly sure that you are not, in your heart of hearts, a murderess.
That word makes you wince, and it is an ugly one. But there are
suspicious circumstances which I have not yet revealed to Parr about your
movements last night."

"Being under suspicion is a normal condition with me," she said, "and
since you know so much, it is quite unnecessary for me to tell you more."

He looked at her, but she returned his gaze without faltering, and then
with a shrug of his shoulders, he said: "Really, I don't think it matters
where you were."

"I'm almost inclined to agree with you," she mocked him, and went back to
her office and her typewriter.

"An amazing personality," thought Derrick Yale. Women did not ordinarily
interest him, but Thalia Drummond was beyond and outside of the general
run. Her beauty had no appeal for him; he knew she was pretty, just as
he knew his office door was painted brown and that the colour of a penny
stamp was red.

He took up the paper again and re-read some of the comments upon the
inefficiency of police headquarters, and soon after, as he had
expected, Parr came into the room with a certain briskness and dropped
into a chair.

"The Commissioner, has asked for my resignation," he said, and to the
other's surprise, his voice was almost cheerful. "I'm not worrying. I
intended to retire three years ago when my brother left me his money."

This was the first intimation Derrick Yale had received that Inspector
Parr was a comparatively rich man.

"What are you going to do?" he asked, and Parr smiled.

"In Government offices when you are asked to resign, you resign," he
said drily. "But my resignation will not take effect until the end of
next month. I must wait and see what happens to you, my friend."

"To me?" said Derrick in surprise. "Oh, you mean the warning that I am to
be polished off on the fourth? Let me see, there are only two or three
days of life left for me," he laughed ironically as he glanced at the
calendar. "I don't think you need wait for that. But, joking apart, why
resign at all? Do you think if I saw the Commissioner--"

"He'd take much less notice of you than he would of a row of beans if
they started articulating," said Mr. Parr. "As a matter of fact, he isn't
taking me off the case until my resignation comes into effect, and I have
you to thank for that."

"Me?"

The stout inspector was laughing silently.

"I told him that your life was so precious to the country that it was
necessary I should remain on duty until I had got you over the fatal
date," he said.

Thalia Drummond came in at that moment with another batch of
correspondence.

"Good morning. Miss Drummond."

The inspector raised his eyes to the girl.

"I've been reading about you this morning," said Thalia coolly. "You're
becoming quite a public character, Mr. Parr."

"Anything for the sake of a little advertisement," murmured the inspector
without resentment. "It is a long time since I saw your name in the
paper, Miss Drummond."

His reference to her appearance in a police court seemed to afford Thalia
a great deal of amusement. "I shall have my share in time," she said.
"What is the latest news about the Crimson Circle?"

"The latest news," said Mr. Parr slowly, "is that all correspondence
addressed to the Crimson Circle of Mildred Street must in future be sent
elsewhere."

He saw her face change; it was only a momentary flash, but the effect was
very gratifying to Inspector Parr.

"Are they opening offices in the city?" she asked, recovering herself
rapidly. "I don't see why they shouldn't. They seem to do almost as much
as they like, and I don't see why they should not live in a very handsome
block with elevators and electric signs--no, I don't think they'd better
have electric signs, because even the police would see them!"

"Sarcasm in a young woman," said Mr. Parr severely, "is not only
unbecoming, it is indecent!"

Yale was listening to this exchange with a delighted smile. If the girl
surprised him, there were moments when Inspector Parr surprised him as
much. This heavy man had a very light malicious touch when he wished.

"And where were you last night. Miss Drummond?" asked Parr, his eyes on
the ground.

"In bed and dreaming," said Thalia Drummond.

"Then you must have been walking in your sleep when you were loafing
about at the back of Froyant's house about half-past nine," suggested
the inspector.

"So that is it, eh?" said Thalia. "You found my dainty footsteps in the
garden? Mr. Yale has hinted as much already. No, inspector, I went for a
walk in the park at night. The solitude is very inspiring."

Still Parr regarded the carpet attentively.

"Well, when you walk in the park, young lady, keep at some distance from
Jack Beardmore, because the last time you trailed him, you scared him!"

He had hit truly this time. Her face flushed crimson and her delicate
eyebrows met in a frown.

"Mr. Beardmore isn't easily scared," she said, "and besides--besides--"

Suddenly she turned and went from the room, and when Parr, after a little
further conversation, also went into the outer office, she looked up at
him and scowled.

"There are times, inspector, when I positively hate you!" she said
vehemently.

"You surprise me," said Inspector Parr.



CHAPTER XXXII


A TRIP TO THE COUNTRY

POLICE headquarters was on its trial. The uncomfortable amount of
space which the newspapers were giving to the latest of these tragedies
which were associated with the name of Crimson Circle, the questions
which were on the paper to be asked in Parliament no less than the
conferences behind closed doors at headquarters, and the aloofness of
all who were ordinarily connected with Inspector Parr in his work, were
ominous signs which he did not fail to appreciate.

There was hardly a newspaper which did not publish a very complete list
of the outrages for which the Crimson Circle was responsible, and not one
which did not mention pointedly the damning fact that from the very
beginning of the Circle's activity, Inspector Parr had had charge of the
various cases.

He asked for, and was granted, leave to make enquiries in France. During
his few days' absence, his superiors arranged for his successor. He had
only one friend at headquarters, and that curiously and strangely
enough was Colonel Morton, the Commissioner in control of Parr's
department.

Morton fought his case, but knew that it was a hopeless one from the
beginning. In this he had the assistance of Derrick Yale. Yale made an
early call at headquarters and gave the fullest particulars with the
object of exonerating his official colleague.

"The mere fact that I was on the spot, and that I had been specially
engaged to protect Froyant, must take a lot of responsibility from Parr's
shoulders," he urged.

The Commissioner leant back in his chair and folded his arms. "I don't
want to hurt your feelings, Mr. Yale," he said bluntly, "but officially
you have no existence, and I am afraid that nothing you will say is going
to help Mr. Parr. He has had his chance--in fact, he has had several
chances, and he has missed them."

Just as Yale was going the Commissioner beckoned him to remain.

"You can throw light upon one subject, Mr. Yale," he said. "It has
reference to the killing of the man who shot James Beardmore: you
remember Sibly, the sailor."

Yale nodded, and resumed the seat he had vacated.

"Who was in the cell when you were taking this man's evidence?"

"Myself, Mr. Parr and an official shorthand writer."

"Man or woman?" asked the Commissioner.

"A man. I think he was a member of your staff. And that was all. The
jailer came in once or twice; in fact he came in while we were there, and
brought the water, which was found afterwards to contain the poison."

The Commissioner opened a folder and selected from many documents a sheet
of foolscap.

"Here is the jailer's statement," he said. "I'll save you the
preliminaries, but this is what he says," said the Commissioner; he fixed
his glasses and read slowly:

"The prisoner sat on his bed. Mr. Parr was sitting facing him and Mr.
Yale was standing with his back to the cell door, which was open when I
went in. I took a tin mug half full of water which I drew from a faucet
which had been fixed for the purpose of supplying drinking water. I
remember putting the tin down whilst I attended a bell call from another
cell. So far as I know it was impossible that this tin could be tampered
with, though it is true that the door into the yard was open. When I went
into the cell Mr. Parr took the tin from my hand, and set it on a ledge
near the door and told me not to interrupt them."

"You notice that no reference is made to the shorthand-writer. Was he
obtained locally, do you think?"

"I'm almost sure he was from your office."

"I must ask Parr about that," said the Commissioner.

Mr. Parr (who had returned from France) when questioned on the telephone,
admitted that the shorthand-writer was a local man whom he had secured
by making enquiries in the little town. In the confusion which had
followed the discovery that Sibly was dead, he had not thought to enquire
about the man's identity.

A typewritten transcript of Sibly's statement had been given to him, and
he remembered indistinctly paying the writer for his trouble. That was as
far as he could help the Commissioner, whose information on the subject
was not greatly increased.

Derrick Yale waited whilst this telephonic communication was in progress,
and when the colonel had finished, he gathered from his dissatisfied
expression that Parr's information was of no particular value.

"You don't remember the man yourself?"

Yale shook his head.

"His back was to me, most of the time," he said, "and he sat by the side
of Parr."

The Commissioner muttered something about gross carelessness, and then:

"I shouldn't be surprised if your shorthand-writer was an emissary of
the Crimson Circle," he said. "It was a piece of criminal neglect to have
taken a man whose identity cannot be established for such an important
piece of work. Yes, Parr has failed." He sighed. "I am sorry, in many
ways. I like Parr. Of course, he's one of the old-fashioned police
officers whom you bright outside men affect to despise, and he hasn't any
extraordinary gifts, although he has been, in his time, a remarkably good
officer. But he'll have to go. That is decided. I may tell you this,
because I have already made the same intimation to Parr himself. It is a
thousand pities."

It was no news to Vale: nor was it news to the youngest officer at police
headquarters.

But the person who seemed least concerned was Inspector Parr himself. He
went about his routine work as though unconscious that any extraordinary
change in his position was contemplated, and even when he met his
successor, who came to look at the office he was shortly to occupy, was
geniality itself.

One afternoon he met Jack Beardmore by accident in the park, and Jack was
struck by the stout little man's good spirits.

"Well, inspector," said Jack, "are we any nearer the end?"

Parr nodded. "I think we are," he said. "The end of me."

This was the first definite news Jack had received of the inspector's
retirement.

"But surely you're not going? You have all the threads in your hands,
Mr. Parr. They can't be so foolish as to dispense with you at this very
critical moment unless they have given up all hope of capturing the
scoundrel."

Mr. Parr thought "they" had given up all hope long ago, but the attitude
of headquarters was a subject which he did not care to pursue.

Jack was going down to his country house. He had not visited the place
since his father's death, and he would not have gone now but the
necessity had arisen for revising a number of farm leases, and since the
business could not be done in town, and there were other matters which
needed local attention, he decided to spend a night in a place which had,
in addition to the memory of this tragedy, memories almost as
distasteful.

"Going down into the country are you?" said Mr. Parr thoughtfully.
"Alone?"

"Yes," said Jack, and then as he guessed the other's thoughts, he asked
eagerly, "You would not care to come down as my guest, would you, Mr.
Parr? I should be delighted if you could, but I suppose this Crimson
Circle investigation will keep you in town."

"I think they'll get on very well without me," said Mr. Parr grimly.
"Yes, I think I should like to come down with you. I haven't been to the
house since your poor father's death, and I should like to go over the
grounds again." He asked for an additional two days' leave, and
headquarters, which would have willingly dispensed with him for the
remainder of his lifetime, agreed.

As Jack was leaving that night the inspector went home, packed a small
Gladstone bag, and met him at the station.

Neither the weather nor the roads were conducive to a long motor-car
journey, and on the whole the inspector agreed that travelling by train
was more comfortable.

He had left a little note addressed to Derrick Yale, telling him where he
was going, and added at the foot:

'It is possible circumstances may arise which would need my presence in
town. Do not hesitate to send for me if this should be the case.'

Remembering this postscript, Mr. Parr's subsequent conduct was not a
little odd.



CHAPTER XXXIII


THE POSTERS

JACK did not find him a pleasant travelling companion; the inspector had
brought with him a whole bundle of newspapers, in each of which he read
religiously the comments upon the Crimson Circle. His host saw what he
was reading, and was astonished that the man, phlegmatic as he was, could
find any pleasure in the uncomplimentary references to himself which
filled the journals. He said as much. The inspector put down a paper on
his knees, and took off his steel-rimmed pince-nez.

"I don't know," he said. "Criticism never did anybody any harm; it is
only when a man knows he is wrong that this kind of stuff irritates him.
As I happen to know I am right, it doesn't matter to me what they say."

"You really think you are right? In what respect?" asked Jack curiously,
but here Parr was not offering any information. They arrived at the
little station and drove the three miles which separated the line from
the big gaunt house which had been James Beardmore's delight.

Jack's butler, who had come down to superintend arrangements for his
master's comfort, handed a telegram to Inspector Parr almost as soon as
he put his foot across the threshold. Parr looked at the face of the
envelope and then at the back.

"How long has this been here?"

"It arrived about five minutes ago; a cyclist messenger brought it up
from the village," he said.

The inspector tore open the envelope and extracted the form. It was
signed "Derrick Yale," and read: 'Come back to London at once; most
important development.'

Without a word he handed the message to the young man. "Of course you'll
go. It's rather a nuisance; there isn't a train until nine o'clock," said
Jack, who was disappointed at the prospect of losing his companion.

"I'm not going," said Parr calmly. "Nothing in the wide world would make
me take another train journey to-night. It must wait."

This attitude toward the summons did not somehow go with Jack's
perception of the inspector's character. He was, if the truth be told,
secretly disappointed, although he was glad enough that Parr would share
his first night in the house, every corner, every room of which, seemed
to have its own especial ghost.

Parr looked at the telegram again. "He must have sent this within
half-an-hour of our leaving the station," he said. "You have a telephone,
haven't you?"

Jack nodded, and Parr put through a long distance call. It was a quarter
of an hour before the tinkle of the bell announced that he had been
connected.

Jack heard his voice in the hall, and presently the detective came in.

"As I thought," he said, "the wire was a fake. I've just been on to
friend Yale."

"And did you guess it was a fake?"

Mr. Parr nodded. "I'm getting almost as good a guesser as Yale," said the
detective good-humouredly. He spent the evening initiating the young
man into the mysteries of picquet, of which Parr was a past-master.
There is probably no more fascinating card game for two in the world than
this, and so pleasantly was the evening passed, that it was with a shock
that Jack looked at the clock and found it was midnight.

The room to which the inspector was shown was that which had been
occupied by James Beardmore in his lifetime. It was a roomy apartment,
lofty and expansive. There were three long windows, and at night the
room, as the rest of the house, was lighted by means of an acetylene-gas
plant which James Beardmore had installed.

"Where are you sleeping, by the way?" he said as he paused at the
entrance of his room, after saying goodnight.

"I'm in the next room," said Jack, and Parr nodded and closed the door,
locking it behind him.

He heard Jack's door shut, and proceeded to divest himself of part of his
clothing. He made no attempt to undress, but taking from his battered
suit-case an old silk dressing-gown, he wrapped it about him, turned
out the light and, walking to the windows, pulled up the three blinds.

The night was fairly light; there was sufficient to enable him to find
his way back to the bed, on which he lay, pulling the eiderdown over him.
There is a method by which the worst cases of insomnia-haunted patients
may obtain sleep, though it is one which I believe is very little known.
It is to attempt deliberately to keep one's eyes open in the dark.

Mr. Parr succeeded only by turning on his side and staring out of the
nearest window, which he had opened a little.

Towards morning he rose suddenly and stepped noiselessly towards the
nearest window; he had heard a faint whirr of sound, a noise which a
smoothly-running motorcar makes, but now there was a profound silence.
He went to the washstand, and rubbed his face with cold water, drying it
leisurely. Then he walked back to the window, pulled up a chair and sat
so that he commanded whatever view there was of the avenue leading to the
front of the house.

He had to wait nearly half an hour before he saw a dark figure steal from
the shadow of the trees, only to disappear again in a deeper shadow. He
momentarily glimpsed it again as it passed out of his range of vision
into the shadow of the house itself. The inspector moved softly from the
room and, crossing the landing, went down the stairs. The main door of
the house was bolted and locked, and it was some time before he could
open it. When he stepped out into the night there was nobody in sight. He
crept stealthily along the path which ran parallel with the house, but
found no intruder, and he had reached the main entrance again when he
heard the sound of the motor fading gradually--the midnight visitor had
gone.

He closed and bolted the door and went back to his room. This visit
puzzled him. It was clear that the man, whoever he was, had not seen
Parr, nor could he have been certain that he was under observation. He
must have come and gone almost immediately.

It was not until he came down to breakfast in the morning that the
mystery of the visitation was revealed. Jack was standing before the fire
reading a crumpled paper which looked as if it had been posted up and
torn. It was the size of a small poster and hand-printed. Before he saw
its contents, Parr knew that it was a message from the Crimson Circle.

"What do you think of this?" asked Jack, looking round as the detective
came in. "We found half a dozen of these posters pasted or tacked on to
the trees of the drive, and this one was stuck up under my window!"

The detective read:

'Your father's debt is still unpaid. It will remain unpaid if you
persuade your friends Derrick Yale and Parr to cease their activity.'

Underneath was written in smaller characters, and evidently added as an
afterthought:

'We shall make no further demands upon private individuals.'

"So he was bill-posting," said Parr thoughtfully. "I wondered why he
came and left so early."

"Did you see him?" asked Jack in surprise.

"I just glimpsed him. In fact, I knew he would call, though I expected a
more startling consequence," said the detective.

He sat through breakfast without saying a word, except to answer the
questions that Jack put to him, and then only in the briefest fashion,
and it was not until they were walking across the meadows that Parr
asked: "I wonder if he knows you're fond of Thalia Drummond?"

Jack went red. "Why do you ask that?" he said a little anxiously. "You
don't think they will take their vengeance on Thalia, do you?"

"If it would serve his purpose, he would wipe out Thalia Drummond like
that." The detective snapped his fingers. He put an end to further
conversation by stopping and turning about in his tracks. "This will do,"
he said.

"I thought you wanted to go to the station gate--the way Marl came to the
house that morning?"

Parr shook his head. "No, I wished to be sure how he approached the
house. Can you point out the spot where he suddenly became so agitated?"

"Why, of course," said Jack readily, but wondering what it was all about.
"It was much nearer the house; in fact, I can give you the exact spot,
because I particularly remember his stepping aside from the path and
ruining a young rose tree on which he put his foot. There is the tree--or
one the gardener has put in its place."

He pointed, and Parr nodded his large head several times.

"This is very important," he said. He walked to where the ruined tree had
been. "I knew he was lying," he said half to himself. "You cannot see the
terrace from here at all. Marl told me that he saw your father standing
on the terrace at the very moment he had his seizure, and my first
impression was that it was the sight of your father which was responsible
for his scare."

He gave Jack details of the conversation he had had with Felix Marl
before his death.

"I could have corrected that," said Jack. "My father was in the library
all the morning, and he did not come out of the house until we were
ascending the steps of the terrace."

Parr, note-book in hand, was making a rough sketch. On his left front
was the solid block of Sedgwood House, immediately before him were the
gardens, enclosed by light iron railings to prevent the cattle straying
on to the flower beds, and broken by the gate through which Marl must
have passed. On the right was a patch of bushes, in the midst of which
showed the gay top of a garden umbrella.

"Dad was very fond of the shrubbery," explained Jack. "We get high winds
here even on the warmest days, and the shrubbery affords shelter. Dad
used to sit there for hours reading."

Parr was slowly turning on his heel, taking in every detail of the view.
Presently he nodded.

"I think I have seen all there is to be seen," he said.

As they were walking back to the house he reverted to the midnight
bill-poster, and to Jack's surprise: "That was the only false move that the
Crimson Circle have made, and I think it was very much an afterthought.
That was not their original intention, I'll swear."

He sat down on the steps of the terrace and stared out over the
landscape. Jack could not but think that a more uninspiring figure than
Mr. Parr he had never met. His lack of inches, his rotundity, his large
placid face, did not somehow fit in with Jack's conception of a shrewd
criminal investigator. "I've got it," said Parr at last. "My first idea
was right. He was coming down to blackmail you for the money your father
did not pay. On his way he conceived this new idea, which is hinted at in
the postscript of his message. He has decided upon some big coup, so that
the reference to myself and Yale may be genuine; and he really does want
us out of the game, though he'd be a fool if he did not know that the
likelihood of his wishes being fulfilled in that respect are pretty
remote. Let me see the poster again."

Jack brought it and the inspector spread it upon the pavement of the
terrace.

"Yes, this has been written in a hurry; probably written in his car, and
it is a substitute for the poster he originally intended." He rubbed his
chin impatiently. "Now, what is the new scheme?" He was to learn almost
immediately, for the butler came hurrying out to say that the telephone
bell had been ringing in Jack's study for five minutes.

"It is you they want," said Jack, handing the receiver to the detective.

Mr. Parr took the instrument in his hands, and recognised immediately
Colonel Morton's voice. "Come back to London at once, Parr; you are to
attend a meeting of the Cabinet this afternoon."

Mr. Parr put down the receiver, and a smile spread over his big face.

"What is it?" asked Jack.

"I'm joining the Cabinet," said Mr. Parr, and laughed as Jack had never
seen him laugh before.



CHAPTER XXXIV


BLACKMAILING A GOVERNMENT

WHEN they reached London the evening newspapers were filled with the new
sensation. The Crimson Circle had indeed decided upon an ambitious
programme. Briefly the story, as related in an official communique to the
Press, was as follows:

That morning every member of the Government had received a type-written
document, bearing no address and no other indication of its origin save a
Crimson Circle stamped on every page. The document ran:

'Every effort of your police, both official and private, the genius of
Mr. Derrick Yale, and the plodding efforts of Chief Inspector Parr have
failed to check Our activity. The full story of Our success is not known.
It has been unfortunately Our unpleasant duty to remove a number of
people from life, not so much in a spirit of vengeance, as to serve as a
salutary warning to others, and only this morning it has been Our unhappy
duty to remove Mr. Samuel Heggitt, a lawyer, who was engaged by the late
Harvey Froyant on particular work, in the course of which he came
unpleasantly close to Our identity. Fortunately for the other members of
his firm, he undertook that task personally. His body will be found by
the side of the railway between Buxton and Marsden.'

Since the police are unable to hold Us, and since We are in complete
agreement with those in authority who say that We are the most dangerous
menace to society that exists, We have agreed to forego Our activities on
condition that the sum of a million pounds sterling is placed at Our
disposal. The method by which this money shall be transferred will be
detailed later. This must be accompanied by a free pardon in blank, so
that We may, if occasion necessitates, or hereinafter Our identity is
disclosed, avail Ourselves of that document.'

Refusal to agree to Our terms will have unpleasant consequences. We name
hereunder twelve eminent Parliamentarians, who must stand as hostages for
the fulfilment of Our desire. If, at the end of the week, the Government
have not agreed to Our terms, one of these gentlemen will be removed.'

The first person that Parr met on his arrival at Whitehall was Derrick
Yale, and for once the famous detective looked worried.

"I was afraid of this development," he said, "and the queer thing is that
it has come at a moment when I thought I was in a position to lay my hand
on the chief offender."

He took Parr's hand in his, and walked him along the gloomy corridor.

"This spoils my day's fishing," he said, and Inspector Parr remembered.

"Of course, to-day is the day you die! But I suppose you are reprieved
under the general amnesty which the Crimson Circle have issued," he said
drily, and his companion laughed.

"I want to tell you, before we go into this meeting, that I am willing to
place myself unreservedly at your disposal," he said quietly. "I think
you ought to know, Parr, that the present wishes of the Cabinet are to
give me an official status and place the whole of the investigations in
my charge. I have been sounded on the matter, and have given them
point-blank refusal. I am convinced that you are the best man for the job,
and I will serve under no other chief."

"Thank you," said Parr simply. "Perhaps the Cabinet will take another
view."

The Cabinet meeting was held in the Secretary of State's office; all the
recipients of the Crimson Circle's memo were present from the beginning,
but it was some time before outsiders were called in. Yale was summoned
first, and a quarter of an hour later the messenger beckoned the
inspector.

Inspector Parr knew most of the illustrious gathering by sight, and being
on the opposite side in politics, had no particular respect for any. He
felt an air of hostility as he came into the big room, and the chilly nod
which the white-bearded Prime Minister gave him in response to his bow,
confirmed this impression.

"Mr. Parr," said the Prime Minister icily, "we are discussing the
question of the Crimson Circle, which, as you must realise, has become
almost a national problem. Their dangerous character has been emphasised
by a memorandum which has been addressed to the various members of the
Cabinet by this infamous association, and which, I have no doubt, you
have read in the newspapers."

"Yes, sir," said the inspector.

"I will not disguise from you the fact that we are profoundly
dissatisfied with the course which our investigations have taken.
Although you have had every facility and every power granted you,
including--" he consulted a paper before him, but Parr interrupted him.

"I should not like you to tell the meeting what powers I have received,
Prime Minister," he said firmly, "or what particular privileges have been
granted me by the Secretary of State."

The Prime Minister was taken aback.

"Very well," he said. "I will add that, although you have had
extraordinary privileges, and opportunities, and you have even been
present when the outrages have taken place, you have not succeeded in
bringing the criminal to justice." The inspector nodded. "It was our
original wish to place the matter in the hands of Mr. Derrick Yale, who
has been especially successful in tracing two of the murderers, without,
however, being able to bring the prime culprit to justice. Mr. Yale,
however, refuses to accept the commission unless you are in control. He
has kindly expressed his willingness to serve under you, and in this
course we are agreed. I understand that your resignation is already
before the Commissioners, and that it has been formally accepted. That
acceptance, for the time being, is reserved. Now remember, Mr. Parr," the
Prime Minister leant forward and spoke very earnestly and emphatically:
"It is absolutely impossible that we can accede to the Crimson Circle's
demands: such a course would be the negation of all law, and the
surrender of all authority. We rely upon you to afford to every member of
the Government who is threatened, that protection which is his right as a
citizen. Your whole career is in the balance."

The inspector, thus dismissed, rose slowly. "If the Crimson Circle keeps
its word," he said, "I guarantee that not a hair of one member of your
Government shall be harmed in London. Whether I can capture the man who
describes himself as the Crimson Circle, remains to be seen."

"I suppose," said the Prime Minister, "there is no doubt that this
unfortunate man, Heggitt, has been killed."

It was Derrick Yale who answered. "No, sir; the body was found early this
morning. Mr. Heggitt, who lives at Marsden, left London last night by
train, and apparently the crime was committed en route."

"It is deplorable, deplorable." The Prime Minister shook his head. "A
terrible orgy of murder and crime, and it seems that we are not at the
end of it yet."

When they came out into Whitehall, Yale and his companion found that a
large crowd had gathered, for news had leaked out that a meeting was
being held to discuss this new and extraordinary problem which confronted
the Government.

Yale, who was recognised, was cheered, but Inspector Parr passed
unnoticed through the crowd--to his intense relief.

Undoubtedly the Crimson Circle was the sensation of the hour. Some of the
evening newspaper placards bore a crimson circle in imitation of the
famous insignia of the gang, and wherever men met, there the possibility
of the Circle carrying their threat into effect was discussed.

Thalia Drummond looked up as her employer came in. The evening newspaper
was in front of her, and her chin rested on her clasped hands, and she
read every line, word by word. Derrick noticed the interest, and
observed, too, her momentary confusion as she folded the paper and put it
away.

"Well, Miss Drummond, what do you think of their last exploit?"

"It is colossal," she said. "In some respects, admirable."

He looked at her gravely.

"I confess I can see little to admire," he said. "You take rather a
queer, twisted view of things."

"Don't I?" she said coolly. "You must never forget, Mr. Yale, that I have
a queer, twisted mind."

He paused at the door of his room and looked back at her, a long, keen
scrutiny, which she met without so much as an eyelid quivering.

"I think you should be very grateful that Mr. Johnson, of Mildred Street,
no longer receives your interesting communications," he said, and she was
silent.

He came out again soon after. "I am probably going to establish my
offices at police headquarters," he said, "and realising that that
atmosphere is one in which you will not nourish, I am leaving you here in
control of my ordinary business."

"Are you accepting the responsibility for capturing the Crimson Circle?"
she asked steadily.

He shook his head. "Inspector Parr is in control," he said, "but I am
going to help him."

He made no further reference to his new task, and the rest of the morning
was spent in routine work. He went out to lunch and said he would not be
back that day, giving her instructions regarding letters he wished
despatched.

He had hardly gone before his telephone bell went, and at the sound of
the voice at the other end, she nearly dropped the receiver.

"Yes, it is I," she said. "Good morning, Mr. Beardmore."

"Is Yale there?" asked Jack.

"He has just gone out: he will not be back to-day. If there is anything
important to tell him, I may be able to find him," she said, steadying
her voice with an effort.

"I don't know whether it's important or not," said Jack, "but I was going
through my father's papers this morning, a very disagreeable job, by the
way, and I found a whole bunch of papers relating to Marl."

"To Marl?" she said slowly.

"Yes, apparently poor Dad knew a great deal more about Marl than we
imagined. He had been in prison: did you know that?"

"I could have guessed it," said Thalia.

"Father always put through an inquiry about people before he did business
with them," Jack went on, "and apparently there is a lot of explanation
about Marl's early life, collected by a French agency. He seems to have
been a pretty bad lot, and I wonder the governor had dealings with him.
One curious document is an envelope which is marked 'Photograph of
Execution': it was sealed up by the French people, and apparently the
governor didn't open it. He hated gruesome things of that kind."

"Have you opened it?" she asked quickly.

"No," he answered in a tone of surprise. "Why do you jump at me like
that?"

"Will you do me a favour, Jack?" It was the first time she had ever
called him by name, and she could almost see him redden.

"Why--why, of course, Thalia, I'd do anything for you." he said eagerly.

"Don't open the envelope," she said intensely. "Keep all the papers
relating to Marl in a safe place. Will you promise that?"

"I promise," he said. "What a queer request to make!"

"Have you told anybody about it?" she asked.

"I sent a note to Inspector Parr."

He heard her exclamation of annoyance. "Will you promise me not to tell
anybody, especially about the photograph?"

"Of course, Thalia," he answered. "I'll send it along to you, if you
like."

"No, no, don't do that," she said, then abruptly she finished the
conversation.

She sat for a few minutes breathing quickly, and then she rose, and
putting on her hat, she locked up the office, and went to lunch.



CHAPTER XXXV


THALIA LUNCHES WITH A CABINET MINISTER

THE fourth of the month had passed, and Derrick Yale was still alive. He
commented on the fact as he came into the office which he and Inspector
Parr jointly occupied. "Incidentally," he said, "I have lost my fishing."

Parr grunted. "It is better that you lost your fishing than that we lost
sight of you," he said. "I am perfectly convinced that if you had taken
that trip, you would never have returned."

Yale laughed. "You have a tremendous faith in the Crimson Circle, and
their ability to keep their promises."

"I have--to a point," said the inspector, without looking up from the
letter he was writing.

"I hear that Brabazon has made a statement to the police," said Yale,
after an interval.

"Yes," said the inspector. "Not a very informative one, but a statement
of sorts. He has admitted that for a long time he was changing the money
which the Crimson Circle extracted from their victims, though he was
unaware of the fact. He also gives particulars of his joining the Circle,
after which, of course, he acted as a conscious agent."

"Are you charging him with the murder of Marl?"

Inspector Parr shook his head. "We haven't sufficient evidence for that,"
he said, blotted his letter, folded it and enclosed it in an envelope.

"What did you discover in France? I have not had an opportunity of
talking to you about that," asked Yale.

Parr leant back in his chair, felt for his pipe, and lit it before he
answered.

"About as much as poor old Froyant discovered," he said. "In fact, I
followed very closely the same line of investigation that he had. It was
mostly and mainly about Marl and his iniquities. You know that he was a
member of a criminal gang in France, and that he and his companion,
Lightman--I think that was the name--were condemned to death. Lightman
should have died, but the executioners bungled the job, and he was sent
off to Devil's Island, or Cayenne, or one of those French settlements,
where he died."

"He escaped," said Yale quietly.

"The devil he did." Mr. Parr looked up. "Personally, I wasn't so
interested in Lightman as I was in Marl."

"Do you speak French, Parr?" asked Yale suddenly.

"Fluently," was the reply, and the inspector looked up. "Why do you ask?"

"I have no reason, except that I wondered how you pursued your
inquiries."

"I speak French--very well," said Parr, and would have changed the
subject.

"And Lightman escaped," said Yale softly. "I wonder where he is now."

"That is a question I have never troubled to ask myself." There was a
note of impatience in the inspector's voice.

"You were not the only person interested in Marl, apparently. I saw a
note on your desk from young Beardmore, saying that he had discovered
some papers relating to the late Felix. His father had also made
inquiries about the man. Of course, James Beardmore would. He was a
cautious man."

He was lunching with the Commissioner, Mr. Parr learnt, and was not at
all hurt that he was excluded from the invitation. He was very busy in
these days, selecting the men who were to form the bodyguard o the
Cabinet, and he could well afford to miss engagements which invariably
bored him.

As it happens, his company would have been a great embarrassment, for
Yale had something to communicate to the Commissioner, something which it
was not well that Inspector Parr should hear. It was near to the end of
the meal that he dropped his bombshell, and it was so effective that the
Commissioner fell back in his chair and gasped.

"Somebody at police headquarters," he said incredulously. "Why, that
is impossible, Mr. Yale."

Derrick Yale shook his head. "I wouldn't say anything was impossible,
sir," he said, "but doesn't it seem to you that all the evidence tends
to support that idea? Every effort that we make to bring about the
undoing of the Crimson Circle is anticipated. Somebody having access to
the cell of Sibly, killed him. Who but a person having authority from
headquarters? Take the case of Froyant: there were a number of
detectives on duty round and about the house; nobody apparently came in
and nobody went out."

The Commissioner was calmer now. "Let us have this thing clear, Mr.
Yale," he said. "Are you accusing Parr?"

Derrick Yale laughed and shook his head. "Why, of course not," he said.
"I cannot imagine Parr having a single criminal instinct. Only if you
will think the matter out," he leant over the table and lowered his
voice, "and will go into every detail and every crime that the Crimson
Circle has committed, you cannot fail to be struck by this fact: that,
hovering in the background all the time was somebody in authority."

"Parr?" said the Commissioner.

Derrick Yale bit his lower lip thoughtfully. "I don't want to think of
Parr," he said. "I would rather think of him as being victimised by a
subordinate he trusts. You quite understand," he went on quickly, "that I
should not hesitate to accuse Parr if my discoveries took me in that
direction. I would not even free you, sir, from suspicion, if you gave me
cause."

The Commissioner looked uncomfortable. "I can assure you that I know
nothing whatever about the Crimson Circle," he said gruffly, and
realising the absurdity of his protest, laughed.

"Who is that girl over there?" he pointed to a couple who were dining in
a corner of the big restaurant. "She keeps looking across toward you."

"That girl," said Mr. Derrick Yale carefully, "is a young lady named
Thalia Drummond, and her companion, unless I am greatly mistaken, is the
Honourable Raphael Willings, a member of the Government and one who has
been threatened by the Crimson Circle."

"Thalia Drummond?" The Commissioner whistled. "Isn't she the young person
who was in very serious trouble some time ago? She was Froyant's
secretary, was she not?"

The other nodded.

"She is an enigma to me," he said, shaking his head, "and the greatest
mystery of all is her nerve. At this precise moment she is supposed to be
sitting in my office answering telephone calls and dealing with any
correspondence which may arrive."

"You employ her, do you?" asked the astonished Commissioner, and then
with a little smile, "I agree with you about her nerve, but how does a
girl of that class come to be acquainted with Mr. Willings?"

Here Derrick Yale was not prepared to supply an answer.

He was still sitting with the Commissioner when he saw the girl rise and,
followed by her companion, walk slowly down the room. Her way led her
past his table, and she met his enquiring glance with a smile and a
little nod, and said something over her shoulder to the middle-aged man
who was following her.

"How is that for nerve?" asked Derrick.

"I should imagine you'd have something to say to the young lady," was the
Commissioner's only comment. Derrick Yale was very seldom conventional,
either in his speech or his behaviour, but for once he found it difficult
to deal with a painful situation other than in the time-honoured way.

The girl had reached the office a few minutes before him, and she was
taking off her hat when he came in.

"One moment, Miss Drummond," he said. "I have a few words to say to you
before you continue your work. Why were you away from the office at lunch
time? I particularly asked you to be here,"

"And Mr. Willings particularly asked me to go to lunch," said Thalia with
an innocent smile, "and as he is a member of the Government, I am sure
you would not have liked me to refuse."

"How did you come to know Mr. 'Willings?"

She looked at him up and down with that cool, insolent glance of hers.

"There are many ways one may meet men," she said. "One may advertise for
them in the matrimonial newspapers, or one may meet them in the park, or
one may be introduced to them. I was introduced to Mr. Willings."

"When?"

"This morning," she said, "at about two o'clock. I sometimes go to dances
at Merros Club," she explained. "It is the relaxation which my youth
excuses. That is where we became acquainted."

Yale took some money from his pocket and laid it on the desk.

"There is your week's wages. Miss Drummond," he said without heat. "I
shall not require your services after this afternoon."

She raised her eyebrows. "Aren't you going to reform me?" she asked him
so seriously that he was taken aback. Then he laughed.

"You're beyond reformation. There are many things I will excuse, and had
there been a serious shortage in the petty cash, I could have overlooked
that. But I cannot allow you to leave my office when I give you explicit
instructions to stay here."

She picked up the money and counted it. "Exactly the sum," she mocked.
"You must be Scottish, Mr. Yale."

"There is only one way that you could be reformed, Thalia Drummond." His
voice was very earnest, and he seemed to experience a difficulty in
finding the right words.

"And what is that, pray?"

"For a man to marry you. I'm almost inclined to make the experiment."

She sat on the edge of the desk and rocked with silent laughter.

"You are funny," she said at last, "and now I see that you are a true
reformer." She was solemnity itself now. "Confess, Mr. Yale, that you
only look upon me as an experiment, and that you have no more affection
for me than I have for that aged and decrepit blue-bottle crawling up
the wall."

"I'm not in love with you, if that is what you mean."

"I did mean something of the sort," she said. "No, on the whole, I think
I'll take my dismissal and my week's wages, and thank you for giving me
the opportunity of meeting and serving such a brilliant genius."

He ended the conversation as though he had made some business proposal
which had been declined, and said something about giving her a reference,
and there the matter ended for him. He went into his office, and did not
even do her the honour of slamming the door after him.

And yet her dismissal was a serious matter for Thalia. It meant one of
two things. Either that Derrick Yale seriously suspected her--and that
was the gravest possibility to her--or else that her discharge was only a
ruse, part of a deeper plan to bring about her undoing.

On her way home she recalled his reference to Johnson of Mildred Street.
There might be something behind that beyond the revelation of the fact
that he knew she was associated with the Crimson Circle, and he wanted
her to know he knew.

When she reached her flat there was a letter waiting for her, as there
had been on the previous night. The controlling spirit of the Crimson
Circle was an assiduous correspondent as far as she was concerned. In the
privacy of her own room she tore open the envelope.

'You did well,' (the letter ran). 'You have carried out my instructions
to the letter. The introduction to Willings was well managed and, as I
promised you, there was no difficulty. I wish you to know this man
thoroughly and discover what are his little weaknesses. Particularly do I
wish to know his attitude of mind and the real attitude of the Cabinet
towards my proposal. The dress you wore at lunch to-day was not quite
good enough. Do not spare expense in the matter of costume. Derrick Yale
is dismissing you this afternoon, but that need not trouble you, for
there is no further need for you to stay in his office. You are dining
to-night with Willings. He is particularly susceptible to feminine charms.
If possible, let him invite you to his house. He has a collection of
ancient swords of which he is very proud. You will then be able to
discover the lay of the house.'

She looked into the envelope. There were two crisp notes for a hundred
pounds, and as she put them into her little hand-bag her face was very
grave.



CHAPTER XXXVI


THE CIRCLE MEETS

MR. RAPHAEL WILLINGS was a product of his age. Though he was still in the
early forties, he had pushed himself into Cabinet rank by the sheer force
of his character. To describe him as a popular Minister would be to
stretch the truth beyond permissible bounds. He was neither popular with
his colleagues, nor with the country who, whilst recognising his
remarkable powers and acclaiming him as the greatest of the parliamentary
orators, nevertheless distrusted him. He had given so many proofs of his
insincerity that it was remarkable that he should have attained to the
position he occupied.

But he had a number of followers. Men who were unwavering in their faith,
who could be depended upon to vote steadily at the lift of his finger,
and the Government majority was too small to risk the exclusion of the
Willings' bloc.

Amongst his colleagues he had a bad name. It is not necessary to
particularise the circumstances which produced his reputation, but it is
a notorious fact that he escaped appearing in an unsavoury divorce case
by the skin of his teeth. So unpopular was he that twice Merros Club and
a fashionable night club of which he was a member and an habitue, were
raided by the police in the hope of compromising this mighty politician.
The raid had been planned by the wife of one of his colleagues, and that
Willings was not unaware of the fact, was proved when the newspaper he
owned aimed a bitter attack on the lady's unfortunate husband, an attack
so worded, so framed, that the Minister retired from public life.

A well-built man inclined to plumpness, slightly bald, there was no
gainsaying his personal charm. He was under the impression that his
introduction to Thalia Drummond had been skillfully manoeuvred by
himself. He would have been horrified to know that the lady who
introduced him had received instructions that morning from the Crimson
Circle to bring the introduction about. The Crimson Circle had its agents
in all branches of life and in all classes. There were book-keepers,
there was at least one railway director, there was a doctor and three
chefs d'hotel amongst the hundred who obeyed the call of the Crimson
Circle. They were well paid and their duties were not onerous. Sometimes,
as in this case, they had no more to do than to bring about an
introduction between two people whom the Crimson Circle desired to meet,
but in every case their instructions came to them in exactly in every the
same form.

The organisation of this great force was extraordinarily complete. In
some uncanny way the chief of the Crimson Circle had smelt penury and
disaster almost as soon as the recipients of these two evil factors were
aware that they were present. One by one they had been absorbed, each
ignorant of the other's identity, and profoundly ignorant of their
master. He had come to them in strange places and circumstances. Each had
his own function to perform, and generally the part which was played by
the subordinate members of the league was ludicrously simple and
unimportant.

A few members of the Circle had, in a panic, made statements to police
headquarters, and from them it was learned how simple were some of the
tasks which were given out by the mystery man.

From fear of the tragic consequences of disloyalty, the majority of the
Crimson Circle remained loyal to their unknown chief, and it was a
remarkable tribute to his system of espionage, that when he sent forth
his summons, as he did on the day Derrick Yale lunched with the
Commissioner, calling every member of the Crimson Circle to the first
meeting they had ever held, giving them the most explicit instructions as
to the garb they should wear, and the means they should adopt to avoid
disclosing themselves to their fellows, he omitted the waverers and the
malcontents as though their very thoughts were written plainly before
him. To Thalia Drummond that meeting will always remain the most vivid
and poignant memory of her association with the Crimson Circle.

The city contains many old churches, but none anterior in date to the
church of St. Agnes on Powder Hill. It had escaped the ravages of the
Great Fire, only to be smothered under by the busy city which had grown
up about it. Enclosed by tall warehouses, so that its squat steeple was
absent from the sky-line, it had a congregation which might be numbered
on the fingers of two hands, although it supported a vicar who preached
punctiliously every week to a congregation which was practically paid to
attend. Once a churchyard had surrounded it, and the bones of the
faithful had been laid to peace within its shadow, but the avaricious
city, grudging so much waste building land, had passed Acts which had
removed the bones to a more salubrious situation and had covered the
place of family vaults with office buildings.

Entrance to the church was up an alley which led from a side passage and
the figures which slunk along the unlighted way seemed to melt through
the almost invisible doors into a gloom even thicker than the night.

For in the church of St. Agnes the Crimson Circle held the first and last
meeting of his servitors.

Here, again, his organisation was marvellous. Every member of his company
had received explicit orders telling him to the very minute when he must
arrive, so that no two came together. How he obtained the keys of the
church; what careful manoeuvring he must have planned to bring the hour
of meeting and the dispersal between the two periods when the lane would
be patrolled by the City police, Thalia Drummond could only guess.

She came into the alley-way punctually, went up the two steps to a door
which opened as she approached and was closed immediately she entered the
lobby. There was no light of any kind, save for the faint light of night
which filtered through a stained-glass window.

"Go straight ahead," whispered a voice. "You will take the end of the
second pew on the right."

There were other people in the church. She could just distinguish them,
two in each pew, a silent, ghostly congregation, none speaking to the
other. Presently the man who had admitted her came into the church and
walked to the altar rails, and at the first words she knew that the
servants of the Crimson Circle sat in the presence of their master.

His voice was low and muffled and hollow; she guessed he wore the veil
she had seen over his head the first night she had met him.

"My friends," he said, and she heard every word, "the time has come when
our society will be dispersed. You have read my offer in the public
press; and you are interested to this extent, that I intend distributing
at least twenty per cent. of the money which the Government must
eventually give me amongst those who have served me. If there are any
here who are nervous that we shall be interrupted, let me assure them
that the police patrol does not pass for another quarter of an hour, and
that it is quite impossible for the sound of my voice to reach outside
the church."

He raised his voice a little, and there was a hard note in it when he
added:

"And to those who may have treachery in their hearts, and imagine that so
widely announced a meeting might bring about my undoing, let me say that
it is impossible that I shall be captured to-night. Ladies and
gentlemen, I will not disguise from you that we are in considerable
danger. Facts which may enable the police to identify me have on two
occasions come to light. I have upon my tracks Derrick Yale, who I will
not deny is a source of considerable anxiety to me, and Inspector
Parr"--he paused--"who is not to be despised. In this supreme moment I do
not hesitate to call upon every one of you for an extraordinary effort of
assistance. To-morrow you will each receive operation orders prepared
in such detail that it will be impossible for you to misunderstand any
particular requirement I have made known. Remember that you are as much
in danger as I," he said more softly, "and your reward shall be
correspondingly great. Now you will pass out of the church one by one, at
thirty seconds interval, beginning with the first two on the right,
continuing with the first two on the left. Go!"

At intervals these dark figures glided along the aisle and vanished
through the door to the left of the pulpit.

The man at the chancel rails waited until the church was empty and then
he, too, passed through the door into the lobby and into the passage.

He locked the outer door and slipped the key into his pocket. The church
clock was booming the half-hour when he called a taxi-cab and was
driven westward.

Thalia Drummond had preceded him by a quarter of an hour, and in the taxi
which carried her to the same end of the town she brought about a
lightning transformation of her appearance. The old black raincoat which
covered her to the throat, the heavy-veiled black hat, were taken off.
Beneath it she wore a cloak of delicate silk tissue, covering an evening
dress which would have satisfied her apparently exigent master.

She took off her hat and tidied her hair as well as she could, and when
she stepped down at the flashing entrance of Merros Club and handed a
small attache case to the bowing attendant, she was a picture of radiant
loveliness.

So jack Beardmore thought. He was supping with some friends much against
his will, for he hated the night side of life, when he saw her come in,
and scowled jealously at her debonair escort.

"Who is he?"

Jack's companion glanced across lazily.

"I don't know the lady," he said, "but the man is Raphael Willings. He is
a big pot in the Government."

Thalia Drummond had seen the young man before he had seen her, and she
groaned inwardly. Half of what her host said she missed; her mind was
completely absorbed in other directions, and it was not until a familiar
phrase reached her ear that she turned her interest toward the Minister.

"Antique swords," she said with a start. "I'm told you have a wonderful
collection, Mr. Willings."

"Are you interested?" he smiled.

"A little. In fact, quite a lot," she said awkwardly, and it was not like
Thalia to be at a loss for a reply.

"Could I ask you to come along to tea one day and see them?" said
Raphael. "One doesn't often find a woman who is interested in such
things. Shall we say to-morrow?"

"Not to-morrow," said Thalia hastily. "Perhaps the next day."

He made the appointment then and there, writing it ostentatiously on his
cuff.

She saw Jack leave the club without a look in her direction, and she felt
absurdly miserable. She did so want to talk to him and was praying that
he would come over to their table.

Mr. Willings insisted upon driving her home in his car, and she left him
with a sigh of relief. He did not harmonise with her mood that night.

There was a little forecourt to the flats in which she lived, and she had
dismissed her admirer (he made no secret of this relationship) in the
street outside. She had to walk a dozen paces to reach one of the two
entrances, and even before she had sent her escort away, she was aware
that a man was waiting for her in the darkened court.

She stood on the pavement until Willings's car had moved on, and then she
came slowly toward the waiting man. He spoke for a minute in a voice that
was a little above a whisper, and she responded in the same tone.

The conversation was of very short duration. Presently the man turned
without sign or word of farewell, and walked quickly away and the girl
entered her flat.

Though the man made no sign, he knew he was being followed. He had been
waiting for ten minutes in the dark of the forecourt and had seen the
stealthy figure in the doorway of a closed shop opposite the flats.
Apparently, however, he was oblivious of the fact that somebody was
walking behind him, somebody he knew would presently overtake him and
look into his face. He turned into a side thoroughfare where the street
lamps were few and far between, and as he did so he slackened his pace.
Presently the spy overtook him, choosing for the point of passing, a
place within the radius of a lamp. He had bent his head to peer into the
first man's face when suddenly the quarry turned and sprang at him. The
trailer was taken by surprise; before he could shout, a grip of iron was
around his throat and he was flung half-senseless to the stone
pavement. And then from nowhere in particular, appeared as by magic three
men, who pounced upon the prostrate tracker and jerked him to his feet.

He glared round, dazed and shaken, and his eyes fell upon the man he had
been set to watch. "My God!" he gasped. "I know you!"

The other smiled. "You will never be able to employ your information, my
friend," he said.



CHAPTER XXXVII


"I WILL SEE YOU--IF YOU ARE ALIVE"

JACK BEARDMORE went home savage and sick at heart. Thalia Drummond was an
obsession to him, and yet he had every reason to believe the worst of
her. He was a fool, a thrice-condemned fool, he told himself as he
paced the library, his hands thrust into his pockets, his handsome young
face clouded with the gloom of despair. He felt at that moment he would
like to hurt her, punish her as she unconsciously had punished him. He
flung himself down into his chair and sat for an hour with his head on
his hands, covering the old ground which reason had so often trodden that
it had left a worn and familiar track.

He got up sick and weary, and, opening a safe, took out a packet of
documents and flung them on the table. It was the sealed envelope
addressed to his father and unopened which interested him most, and he
had a childish desire to open it if only to spite Thalia.

Why was she so anxious that he should not see the photograph which it
contained? Was she so interested in Marl? He remembered with a scowl that
she had spent the evening with that man on the night he died so
mysteriously. He rose, and gathering the papers together, he carried them
to his bedroom. He was so tired that he had not even the curiosity to
probe into the mystery which attached to the photograph of an execution.
He shivered at the thought of the grisly contents, and he dropped the
package on his dressing-table with a little grimace and began leisurely
to undress. He quite expected that he would pass a sleepless night; his
emotion and the state of his mind seemed to call for such an end to a
miserable day, but youth, if it has its anguish, has also its natural
reaction. He was asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow.
And then he began to dream. To dream of Thalia Drummond; and in his
dream, Thalia was in the power of an ogre whose face was remarkably like
Inspector Parr's. He dreamt of Marl, a grotesque terrifying figure, whom
he somehow associated with Inspector Parr's grandmother--that "mother" of
whom he stood in such awe.

What woke him was the reflection of a light from the dressing-table
mirror. The light had been extinguished when he sat up in bed, but,
half-asleep as he was, he was certain that there had been a flash of some
kind--it was hardly the season for lightning.

"Who is there?" he asked, and put out his hand to reach for the lamp. But
the lamp was not there; somebody had moved it. Now he saw, and was out of
bed in a second.

He heard a movement toward the door and ran. Somebody was in his grip,
somebody who squirmed and struggled, and then he released his hold with a
gasp. It was a woman--instinct told him that it was Thalia Drummond.

Slowly he put out his hand, groping for the electric switch, and the room
was flooded with light.

It was Thalia--Thalia as white as death and trembling. Thalia who held
something behind her and met his pained gaze with a tragic attempt at
defiance. "Thalia!" he groaned, and sat down. "Thalia in his room! What
had she been doing? Why did you come?" he asked shakily, "and what are
you concealing?"

"Why did you bring those papers up to your room?" she asked almost
fiercely. "If you had left them in your safe--oh, why didn't you leave
them in your safe?" And now he saw that she held the sealed packet
containing the photograph of the execution.

"But--but, Thalia," he stammered, "I don't understand you. Why didn't you
tell me--"

"I told you not to look at the picture. I never dreamt you would bring it
here. They have been here to-night searching for it."

She was breathless, on the verge of tears that were not all anger.

"Been here to-night?" he said slowly. "Who have been here?"

"The Crimson Circle. They knew you had that photograph, and they came and
burgled your library. I was in the house when they came, and
prayed--prayed--" she wrung her hands and he saw the look of anguish on
her face. "I prayed that they would find it, and now they will think you
have seen the picture. Oh, why did you do it?"

He reached for his dressing-gown, realising that his attire was
somewhat scanty, and in the warm folds he felt a little more assurance.

"You are still talking Greek to me," he said. "The thing I understand
perfectly is that my house has been burgled. Will you come with me?"

She followed him down the stairs and into his library.

She had spoken the truth. The door of the safe hung drunkenly upon its
hinges. A hole had been cut through the shutter and it was open. The
contents of the safe lay upon the floor; the drawers of his desk had been
forced open and apparently a search had been made amongst the papers on
the desk. Even the waste-paper basket had been turned out and searched.

"I can't understand it," he muttered. He was pulling the heavy curtains
across the window.

"You will understand better, though I hope you do not understand too
well," she said grimly. "Now, please take a sheet of paper and write as I
dictate."

"To whom must I write?" he asked in surprise.

"Inspector Parr," she said. "Say 'Dear Inspector.--Here is the photograph
which my father received the day before his death. I have not opened it,
but perhaps it may interest you.'"

Meekly he wrote as she ordered and signed the letter, which, with the
photograph, she put into a large envelope. "And now address it," she
said. "And write on it on the top left-hand corner, 'From John
Beardmore,' and put after that 'Photograph, very urgent.'"

With the envelope in her hand she walked to the door. "I shall see you
to-morrow, Mr. Beardmore, if you are alive."

He would have laughed, but there was something in her drawn face, some
message in her quivering lips, that checked the laughter on his.



CHAPTER XXXVIII


THE ARREST OF THALIA

IT was the seventh day following the meeting of the Cabinet, and, so far
from agreeing with the terms of the Crimson Circle, the Government had
made it known, in the most unmistakable terms, that it refused to deal
with the Circle or its emissaries.

That afternoon Mr. Raphael Willings prepared for a visitor. His house in
Onslow Gardens was one of the show places of the country. His collection
of antique armour and swords, his priceless intaglios and his rare prints
were without equal in the world. But he had no thought of his visitor's
antiquarian interests when he made his preparations, and he was less
deterred than stimulated by a confidential document which had come to
him, intimating in plain language the character which Thalia Drummond
bore.

Thief she might be--well, she could take any sword in the armoury, any
print on the wall, the rarest intaglio among his show cases, so long as
she was pleasant and complacent.

When Thalia came she was admitted by a foreign-looking footman and
remembered that Raphael Willings had only Italian servants in the house.

Warily she surveyed the room into which she was ushered. There were open
windows at each end--which surprised her. She had expected to find a
little tete-a-tete tea table. That was missing, and yet in this room
was the cream of his collection, as she could see at a glance. Willings
came in a few seconds later, and greeted her warmly.

"Eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die; perhaps to-day," he
said melodramatically. "Have you heard the news?"

She shook her head. "I am the newest victim of the Crimson Circle," he
said gaily enough. "You probably read the newspapers, and know all about
that famous company. Yes," he went on with a laugh, "of all my colleagues
I have the honour to be the first chosen for sacrifice; pour encourager
les autres."

She could not help wondering how, in these circumstances, Ralph Willings
could preserve so unruffled a mien.

"As the tragedy is due to occur in this house some time this afternoon,"
he was continuing, "I must ask you to extend your kindness--" There was a
tap at the door, and a servant came in to say something in Italian, which
the girl did not understand.

Raphael nodded. "My car is at the door, if you would honour me, we will
have tea at my little place in the country. We shall be there in
half-an-hour."

This was a development she had not looked for. "Where is your little
place in the country?" she asked.

It was, he explained, between Barnet and Hatfield, and expatiated on the
loveliness of Hertfordshire.

"I prefer to have tea here," she said, but he shook his head.

"Believe me, my dear young lady," he said earnestly, "the threat of the
Crimson Circle distresses me not at all, Onslow Gardens is 'paradise
enow' with so delightful a guest, but the police have been to see me this
afternoon, and have changed all my plans. I told them that I had a friend
coming to tea, and they suggested a more public rendezvous. The police,
however, quite approve of my alternative scheme. Now, Miss Drummond, you
are not going to spoil a very happy afternoon? I owe you a thousand
apologies, but I shall be very disappointed if you refuse: I have sent
two of my servants down to have everything in readiness, and I hope to be
able to show you one of the loveliest little houses within a hundred
miles of London."

She nodded. "Very well," she said, and when he had gone, she strolled
through the room examining its fascinating contents with every appearance
of interest.

He came back wearing his greatcoat, and found her looking at a section of
the wall which was covered with beautiful examples of the Eastern
swordmaker's art.

"They're lovely, aren't they? I'm so sorry I can't explain the history of
them," he said, and then in a changed tone: "Who has taken the Assyrian
dagger?"

There was undoubtedly a blank space in the wall where a weapon had hung,
and a little label beneath the empty space was sufficient to call
attention to its absence.

"I was wondering the same thing," said the girl.

Mr. Willings frowned. "Perhaps one of the servants have taken it down,"
he suggested. "Though I have given them strict instructions that they are
not to be cleaned except under my personal directions." He hesitated, and
then: "I'll see about that when I come back," he said, and he ushered her
out of the room into the waiting limousine.

She could see that the loss of his precious trophy had disturbed him, for
some of his animation had departed.

"I can't understand it," he said as they were passing through Barnet. "I
know the dagger was there yesterday, because I was showing it to Sir
Thomas Summers. He is keenly interested in Eastern steel work. None of
the servants would dare touch the swords."

"Perhaps you've had strangers in the room."

He shook his head. "Only the gentleman from police headquarters," he
said, "and I'm quite sure he wouldn't have taken it. No, it is a little
mystery which we can put on one side at the moment."

For the rest of the journey he was attentive, polite, and mildly amusing.
Not once did he give the slightest hint that he entertained any other
emotion towards her than that of a well-bred man for a respected guest.

He had not exaggerated the charms of his "little place" on the Hatfield
Road. In truth, it lay nearly three miles from the main road, and was
delightfully situated in the midst of rolling and wooded country.

"Here we are," he said, as he led her through a panelled hall into an
exquisitely decorated little drawing room. Tea was laid, but there was no
servant in sight. "And now, my dear," said Willings, "we are alone, thank
heaven."

His tone, his very manner had changed, and the girl knew that the
critical moment was at hand. Yet her hand did not tremble as she filled
the teapot from the steaming kettle, seemingly oblivious to all that he
was saying. She had poured out the tea and was setting his cup in its
place, when, without preliminary, he stooped over her and kissed her;
another second, and she was in his arms.

She did not struggle, but her grave eyes were fixed steadfastly on his,
and she said quietly: "I have something I'd like to say to you."

"Well, you can say anything you wish, my dear," said the amorous
Willings, holding her tightly, and looking into her unflinching eyes.

Before she could speak again his mouth was against hers.

She tried to get her arm between them, and to exercise the ju-jitsu
trick she had learnt at school, but he knew something of that science.
She had seen on entering the room that at one end was a curtained recess,
and toward this he was half-lifting, half-carrying her. She did not
scream, indeed, to Raphael, she seemed more yielding than he had dared to
hope. Twice she tried to speak, and twice he stopped her. She struggled
nearer and nearer to the curtained brocade..

The two Italian servants were in the kitchen which was somewhat removed
from the room, but they heard the scream and looked at one another, and
then with one accord they flew into the hall. The door of the drawing-room
was unlocked: they flung it open. Near by the curtain Raphael
Willings lay on his face, three inches of Assyrian dagger in his
shoulder, and standing by him, staring down at him, was a white-faced
girl.

One of the men jerked the dagger from his master's back, and lifted him
groaning to a sofa, whilst the other rushed to the telephone. In his
agitation the Italian who was endeavouring to staunch the flow of blood
from the wound, jabbered unintelligibly at the girl, but she did not hear
him, and would not have understood him if she had.

Like one in a dream she walked slowly from the room, through the hall,
and into the open.

Raphael Willings's car was drawn up some distance from the front of the
house, and the chauffeur had left it unattended.

She looked round; there was nobody in sight; then all her energies
awakened, and she sprang into the driver's seat and pressed the plug of
the starter. With a whine and a splutter the engines started up, and she
sent the car flying down the drive--but here was an obstacle. The iron
gates at the end were closed, and she remembered that the chauffeur had
had to get down to unlock them. There was no time to be lost. She backed
the car, then sent it full speed at the gates. There was a smashing of
glass, a crash as the gates broke, and she was in the road with a damaged
radiator, lamps twisted beyond recognition, and a mudguard that hung in
shreds. But the car was moving, and she set it spinning in the direction
of London.

The hall porter of the flats in which she lived did not recognise her,
she looked so wild and changed.

"Aren't you well, miss?" he asked as he took her up in the lift.

She shook her head. Once behind the door of her flat she went straight to
the telephone and gave a number, and to the man who answered, she poured
forth such a wild, incoherent story, a story so punctuated by sobs, that
he found it difficult to discover exactly what had happened.

"I'm through, I'm through," she gasped. "I can do no more! I will no do
more! It was horrible, horrible!"

She hung up the receiver, and staggered to her room, feeling that she was
going to faint unless she took tight hold of herself; hours passed before
she was normal.

And it was in that condition that Mr. Derrick Yale found her when he
called that evening--her old calm, insolent self.

"This is an unexpected honour," she said coolly, "and who is your
friend?"

She looked at the man who was standing behind Yale.

"Thalia Drummond," said Yale sternly. "I have a warrant for your arrest."

"Again?" she raised her eyebrows. "I seem always to be in the hands of
the police. What is the charge?"

"Attempted murder," said Yale. "The attempted murder of Mr. Raphael
Willings. I caution you that what you now say may be taken down, and used
in evidence against you." The second man stepped forward and took her
arm.

Thalia Drummond spent that night in the cells of Marylebone Police
Station.



CHAPTER XXXIX


"As to what happened, I have yet to learn," said Derrick Yale to a silent
but attentive Inspector Parr. "I arrived at Onslow Gardens just after
Willings had taken the girl away. The servants at the house were rather
reluctant about giving me information, but I soon discovered that she had
been taken to Willings's house in the country. Whether she enticed him or
he lured her is a matter for discovery. Probably he is under the
impression that she went against her will. All along I have suspected
Thalia Drummond as being something more than a servant of the Crimson
Circle; naturally I was a little alarmed and flew off to Thetfield,
arriving at the house just after she had left. She escaped in Willings's
car, smashing the lodge gates en route; by the way--that girl has got
nerve."

"How is Willings?"

"He will recover; the wound is superficial, but what is significant is
the proof that the crime was premeditated. Willings only missed the
dagger with which he was stabbed this afternoon, after he had left the
girl alone in his armoury whilst he put on his overcoat. He thinks she
must have carried it in her muff, and that, of course, is very likely. He
gives me no very clear account of what were the events which immediately
preceded the stabbing."

"H'm," said Inspector Parr. "What sort of a room was it? I mean, the room
where this nearly--occurred?"

"A pretty little drawing-room communicating with what Willings calls
his Turkish room. It is a marvellous replica of an Eastern interior, and
I should imagine the scene of more or less disreputable
happenings--Willings hasn't the best of reputations. It is only separated
from the drawing-room by a curtain, and it was near the curtain that he
was found."

Mr. Parr was so absorbed in his meditation that his companion thought he
had gone to sleep. But the inspector was not asleep; he was very wide
awake. He was conscious of the appalling fact that once more whatever
kudos attached to the latest of the Crimson Circle's outrages went to his
companion, and yet he did not grudge him the honour.

Without warning he delivered himself of a sentiment which seemed to have
no bearing whatever upon the matter they were discussing.

"All great criminals come to grief through trifling errors of judgment,"
he said oracularly.

Yale smiled. "The error of judgment in this case, I presume, being that
they didn't kill our friend Willings--he is not a nice man, and I should
imagine of all the members of the Cabinet he could best be spared. But I
for one am very grateful that these devils did not get him."

"I am not referring to Mr. Willings," said Inspector Parr rising slowly.
"I am referring to a stupid little lie told me by a man who really should
have known better."

And with this cryptic utterance, Mr. Parr went off to break the news to
Jack Beardmore.

It was typical of him that Jack was the first person who came to his mind
when he learnt of Thalia Drummond's arrest. He was fond of the boy,
fonder than Jack could guess, and he knew, even better than Yale, how
heavily the weight of Thalia Drummond's guilt would lie upon the man who
loved her.

Jack had already received his shock. The news of the girl's arrest had
been published in the stop-press columns of the late editions, and when
Parr arrived he was the picture of desolation.

"She must have the best lawyers procurable," he said quietly. "I don't
know that I ought to take you into my confidence, Mr. Parr, because you
naturally will be on the other side."

"Naturally," said the inspector, "but I've got a sneaking regard for
Thalia Drummond, too."

"You?" said Jack in astonishment. "Why, I thought--"

"I'm human," said the inspector. "A criminal to me is just a criminal. I
have no personal grudge against the men I have arrested. Truland, the
poisoner, whom I sent to the gallows, was one of the nicest fellows I've
ever met, and I got quite fond of him after a bit."

Jack shuddered.

"Don't talk of poisoners and Thalia Drummond in the same breath," he said
testily. "Do you honestly believe she is the leading spirit of the
Crimson Circle?"

Mr. Parr pursed his thick lips.

"If somebody came to me and told me the Archbishop was the leading light,
I shouldn't be surprised, Mr. Beardmore," he said. "By the time this
Crimson Circle business is settled, we are all going to have shocks. I
started my investigations prepared to believe that anybody might be the
Crimson Circle--you, or Marl, the Commissioner or Derrick Yale, Thalia
Drummond--almost anybody."

"And you still hold that opinion?" asked Jack with an attempt at a smile.
"For the matter of that, Mr. Parr, you yourself might be the villain of
the piece."

Mr. Parr did not deny the possibility.

"Mother thinks--" he began, and this time Jack did actually laugh.

"Your grandmother must be a remarkable personality; has she views on the
Crimson Circle?"

The inspector nodded vigorously.

"She always has had, since the first murder. She put her finger down on
the very spot, Mr. Beardmore, but mother always could do that sort of
thing. I've had my best inspirations from her; in fact, all the--" He
stopped himself.

Jack was amused, but he was pitying, too. This man, so ill-equipped by
nature for his work, had probably won himself a high place in the police
service by dogged unimaginative persistence. In every service men had
reached near to the top with no other merit than their seniority. It was
just a little fantastic at this moment, when the keenest brains were
exercised to lay this bizarre association by the heels, to hear this
stout man talking solemnly of the advice he had received from his
grandmother!

"I must come along and renew my acquaintance with your aunt," said Jack.

"She has gone into the country," was the reply, "and I'm all alone. A
woman comes in every morning to clean the place, but there's nobody there
evenings--it doesn't seem like home to me now."

It was a relief to Jack to get on to the subject of Mr. Parr's domestic
affairs. Their very unimportance was a sedative to his racked mind. He
felt that an evening spent with the inspector's knowledgeable grandparent
might even restore him to something like normality.

Parr himself led the conversation back to more serious channels.

"Drummond will be brought up to-morrow and remanded," he said.

"Is there any hope of getting bail for her?"

Parr shook his head. "No. She'll have to go to Holloway, but that won't
do her much harm," he said, heartlessly, as Jack thought. "It is one of
the best prisons in the country, and maybe she'll be glad of the rest."

"How came Yale to arrest her? I should have thought that was your job?"

"I instructed him," said Parr. "He has now the status of a regular police
officer, and as he had been in the case earlier in the day, I thought I
would let him continue it to the end."

Just as the inspector had foreshadowed, the police-court proceedings of
the next day were confined only to evidence of arrest, and Thalia
Drummond was remanded in custody.

The court house was packed, and a big crowd, attracted by the sensational
character of the charge, filled all the roads approaching the court. Mr.
Willings was not well enough to attend, but well enough to send his
resignation to the Cabinet in response to the Prime Minister's
suggestion, contained in a letter couched in such unpleasant terms--and
the acidulated vocabulary of the Prime Minister was notorious--that even
he, the thick-skinned Willings, was pained.

Whatever happened, he was everlastingly disgraced; even the thick and
thin supporters of his policy would be revolted by the evidence he must
give. He had taken the girl--a comparative stranger--to his country
house, made violent love to her, and had been stabbed. There could be no
romantic version of that unpleasant story; and he heartily cursed himself
for his stupidity.

Parr made one call upon the girl whilst she was in prison. She refused to
see him in her cell, and insisted upon the interview taking place in the
presence of a wardress. She explained her attitude when they sat together
in the big gaunt waiting-room of the gaol, he at one end of the table
and she at the other.

"You must excuse my not seeing you in my apartment, Mr. Parr," she said,
"But so many promising young emissaries of the Crimson Circle have met
with an untimely end through interviewing policemen in their cells."

"The only one I can recall," said Parr stolidly, "is Sibly."

"Who was a shining example of indiscretion." She showed her even white
teeth in a smile. "Now what do you want of me?"

"I want you to tell me what happened when you called at Onslow Gardens."

She gave him a faithful and a detailed account of that afternoon visit.

"When did you discover the dagger was gone?"

"When I was looking round the room whilst Willings was putting on his
coat. How is Lothario?"

"He's all right," said Parr. "I am afraid he will recover--I mean," he
added hastily, "I am glad to say he'll get better. Was that the first
time Willings noticed the absence of the dagger?"

She nodded.

"Did you carry a muff?"

"Yes," she said. "Is that the place where the deadly weapon was supposed
to be concealed?"

"Did you have your muff in your hand when you went into his house at
Hatfield?"

She thought a moment. "Yes," she nodded.

Inspector Parr rose.

"You're getting all the food you require?"

"Yes: from prison," she said emphatically. "Prison food will suit me very
well, thank you, and I do not want anybody, out of mistaken kindness, to
send in luscious dishes from outside, as I understand prisoners on remand
are allowed."

He scratched his chin. "I think you're wise," he said.



CHAPTER XL


THE ESCAPE

THE outrage upon Raphael Willings had produced something like a panic in
the Cabinet.

Mr. Parr learnt how profound was the concern when he returned to
headquarters. And the Prime Minister was justified in his anxiety. The
Crimson Circle had not stated when the next blow would fall, or upon
whom.

The inspector was sent for to Downing Street, and was closeted with the
Prime Minister for two hours. It was the first personal consultation he
had had, and it was followed by a meeting of the inner Cabinet, a fact
that was duly recorded in the newspapers.

It was said, but without authority, that the life of the Prime Minister
had been threatened, and this statement was neither denied nor affirmed.

Derrick Yale, returning to his flat that night, found Inspector Parr
waiting on the door-mat.

"Is anything wrong?" he asked quickly.

"I want your help," said Parr, and did not speak again until he was
sitting in a comfortable chair before the fire in Yale's sitting room.

"You know, Yale, that I've got to go, and the Prime Minister is
considering the advisability of my going a little sooner than I had
expected. There has been a Cabinet committee appointed, and they are
calling into question the methods which headquarters are employing and
I have been asked by the Commissioner to attend an informal meeting at
the Prime Minister's house to-morrow evening."

"What is the idea?" asked Yale.

"I'm to give a sort of lecture," said Parr gloomily, "and explain to the
members of the Cabinet the methods I have employed against the Crimson
Circle. You probably know that I have been given unusual powers, and that
I have not been asked to tell the Government all I know. I intend doing
that on Friday evening, and I want your help."

"My dear chap, you have it before you ask it," said Yale warmly, and Parr
went on.

"There is still a lot about the Crimson Circle that is a mystery to me,
but I am piecing it together. At the moment I am under the impression
that there is somebody at police headquarters who is working with
them."

"That is my view, too," said Yale quickly. "Why do you say that?"

"Well," said the slow Parr, "I'll give you an instance. Young Beardmore
had a photograph that he found in his father's papers and this was posted
to me. It arrived all right, with the seal of the envelope intact, but
when I opened it, there was a blank card. I have since discovered that he
gave that card to Thalia Drummond to post; he swears he stood on the
doorstep and watched her slip it into the letter-box on the opposite
side of the road. If that is the case, the envelope must have been
tampered with after it reached headquarters."

"What kind of a photograph?" asked the other curiously.

"It was either a picture of an execution or the condemned man Lightman,
for I think it was taken on the occasion when they tried to execute
Lightman and failed. It came to old man Beardmore the day before his
death--a great number of things seem to have happened to the victims of
the Crimson Circle the day before their death--and was found by Jack and,
as I say, sent on--"

"By Thalia Drummond!" said Yale significantly. "My view is that you can
exonerate the people at headquarters. This girl is deeper in the Crimson
Circle than you imagine. I searched her house to-night--that is where
I've been, and this is what I found."

He went out into the hall and returned with a brown paper parcel, opened
it, and the inspector stared.

A gauntlet glove and a long bright-bladed knife were exposed when Yale
cut the string and stripped away the paper wrapping.

"This glove is a fellow to that which was found in Froyant's study. The
knife is an exact pair to the other."

Parr took up the gauntlet and examined it.

"Yes, this is the left hand, and the one on Froyant's desk was the
right," he agreed. "It is a worn motor-glove. Who was the owner? Try
your psychometric powers, Yale."

"I've already tried," said the other, shaking his head, "but the glove
has passed through so many hands that the impressions I receive are very
confused. At any rate, this discovery confirms the theory that Thalia
Drummond is in the business up to her neck. As to the other matter you
were speaking about," he said, as he wrapped the knife and glove
carefully in the paper, "I shall be most happy to assist you."

"What I want from you," said Parr, "is that you shall fill in the spaces
which I cannot fill." He shook his head. "I only wish Mother could be
there," he said regretfully.

"Mother?" said the astonished Yale.

"My grandmother," said Mr. Parr soberly. "The only detective in
England--bar you and I."

It was the first time that Derrick Yale ever had reason to suspect that
Mr. Parr possessed a sense of humour.

It was typical of that period of excitement, when the name of the Crimson
Circle was on every tongue, that sensation should follow sensation. But
probably no incident created so much excitement as that which, in
scrawling headlines, greeted Derrick Yale as, sitting in bed sipping his
tea, he read the newspaper the following morning.

Thalia Drummond had escaped!

People escape from prison in works of fiction; they have been known to
make a temporary get-away from dread Dartmoor, but never before in the
history of the prison service had a woman escaped from Holloway. And yet
the wardress unlocking the door of Thalia Drummond's cell in the morning
found it empty.

It took a great deal to shock Derrick Yale, but the news temporarily
paralysed him. He read the account of the escape word by word, and in the
end he was as mystified as ever.

But there it was in cold print, officially admitted, and communicated to
the early morning press by the Government with unnatural haste.

'Owing to the unusual importance of the prisoner, and the character of
the offence alleged against her, extraordinary precautions were taken to
guard her. The patrol which usually visits the ward in which her cell was
situated, was doubled, and instead of hourly, half-hourly visits were
paid by the officers on duty. It is not customary to look into every cell
on these occasions, but at three o'clock this morning the wardress--Mrs.
Hardy--looked through the observation hole and saw the prisoner was
there. At six o'clock when the cell door was opened, Drummond was
missing. The bars of the window were intact, and the door had not been
tampered with.

'A search of the prison grounds showed no trace of her footsteps, and it
is almost impossible that she could have escaped over the wall. It is
equally impossible that she could have left by the ordinary means, since
it would have necessitated her passing through six separate doors, none
of which had been forced, or through the gatekeeper's lodge, which is
occupied throughout the night.

'This new proof of the Crimson Circle's omnipotence and extraordinary
powers is very disconcerting, coming, as it does, at a moment when the
lives of Cabinet Ministers are threatened by this mysterious gang.'

Yale glanced at the clock. It was half-past eleven. And then he looked
at the newspaper and saw that his servant had brought him an early
edition of one of the evening papers. He was out of bed in a second and,
not waiting for breakfast, rushed off to headquarters to find
Inspector Parr in a very good humour, considering all the circumstances.

"But this is incredible, Parr, it is impossible! She must have friends in
the prison!"

"That is my idea entirely," said Parr. "I told the Commissioner in the
identical words that she must have friends in the prison. Otherwise," he
said after a pause, "how did she get out?"

Yale looked at him suspiciously. It did not seem the moment or the
occasion for flippant talk, and Inspector Parr's tone was undoubtedly
flippant.



CHAPTER XLI


WHO IS THE CRIMSON CIRCLE?

YALE learnt no more details than those he had already read, and took a
taxi to his city office, which he had not visited for two days.

The escape of Thalia Drummond was a much more important affair than Parr
seemed to think. Parr! An awful thought occurred to Derrick Yale. John
Parr! That stolid, stupid-looking man--it was impossible! He shook his
head, yet put his mind resolutely to the task of piecing together every
incident in which Inspector Parr-had figured, and in the end:
"Impossible!" he muttered again, as he walked slowly up the stairs to his
office, declining the invitation of the lift-boy.

The first thing he noticed when he unlocked the door was that the
letter-box was empty. It was a very large letter-box, with a patent flap
device, designed so that it was impossible for an outside pilferer to
extract any of its contents. The wire cage reached almost to the floor,
and letters that came through the slot in the door had to fall through
revolving aluminium blades, which made the letter thief's task a
hopeless one. And the letter-box was empty! There was not so much as a
tradesman's circular.

He closed the door quietly and went into his own room. He took no more
than a pace into the interior and then stopped. Every drawer in his desk
was open. The little steel safe by the side of the fireplace, concealed
from view by the wooden panelling, had been unlocked and the door was now
open. He looked under the desk. There was a tiny cupboard, which only an
expert could have found, and here Derrick Yale had kept the more intimate
documents connected with the Crimson Circle case.

He saw nothing but a broken panel and the mark of the chisel that had
wrenched it free. He sat for a long time in his chair, staring out of the
window. There was no need to ask who was the artist. He could guess that.
Nevertheless, he made a few perfunctory inquiries, and the lift boy
supplied him with all the information he needed.

"Yes, sir, your secretary has been this morning, the pretty young lady.
She came in soon after the offices were open. She was only here about an
hour, and then she left."

"Did she carry a bag?"

"Yes, sir. A little bag," said the boy.

"Thank you," said Derrick Yale, and went back to headquarters, to pour
into the phlegmatic Mr. Parr's ear a tale of rifled desk and stolen
documents.

"Now, I'm going to tell you, Parr, what I have told nobody else, not even
the Commissioner," said Yale. "We think of the Crimson Circle
organisation as being run by a man. I happen to know that this girl has
met the man who initiated her into the mysteries of the gang, whatever
they are. But I also know that, so far from being the master, this
mysterious gentleman in the motor-car takes his orders, as everybody
else does, from the real centre of the organisation--which is Thalia
Drummond!"

"Good Lord!" said the inspector.

"You wonder why I had her in my office? I told you it was because I
thought she would bring us closer to the Circle. And I was right."

"But why dismiss her?" asked the other quickly.

"Because she had done something which merited dismissal," said Yale, "and
if I had not fired her then and there, she would have known that I was
keeping her in my office with an object. I might have saved myself the
trouble, apparently," he smiled, "because this morning's work proves that
she knew what my game was." His thin, delicate face darkened, and then he
said almost sharply: "When you have told your story to-night to the
Prime Minister and his friends, I have a little story to tell which I
think will surprise you."

"Nothing you can say will ever surprise me," said Mr Parr.

The third shock which Derrick Yale received that day came on his return
home. The first half of his surprise was to find that his servant was
out. The one woman he employed did not sleep on the premises, but she was
supposed to remain in the flat until nine o'clock in the evening. It was
exactly six when Derrick Yale came in to find the place in darkness.

He turned on the light and made a tour of the rooms.

Apparently, the sitting-room was the only apartment which had been
disturbed, but here, whoever the intruder had been--and he could guess
her name--she had been very thorough and painstaking. It was not
necessary for him to seek out the servant and discover what had happened.
She had been called away from the house by a message purporting to come
from him--he guessed that much. And whilst she was away Thalia Drummond
had examined the contents of the flat at her leisure.

"A clever young woman!" said Derrick without malice, for he could admire
even the genius which was employed against himself. She had lost no time.
Within twelve hours she had broken gaol, ransacked both his office and
his flat, and had removed documents which had a vital bearing upon the
Crimson Circle.

He dressed himself leisurely, wondering what would be her next move. Of
his own he was certain. Within twenty-four hours Inspector Parr would
be a broken man. From a drawer in his dressing-room he took a revolver,
looked at it for a moment speculatively, and slipped it into his hip
pocket. There was going to be a startling and a sensational end to the
chase of the Crimson Circle, an end wholly unforeseen by the spectators
of the tragic game.

In the wide lobby of the Prime Minister's house he found a guest, the
excuse for whose presence he could not fathom. Jack Beardmore had
certainly been a sufferer from the activities of the Crimson Circle, but
he had no part in the latter incidents.

"I suppose you are surprised to see me, Mr. Yale," laughed Jack, as he
took the other's hand, "but you're not more surprised than I am to be
invited to a meeting of the Cabinet." He chuckled.

"Who invited you?--Parr?"

"To be exact, the Prime Minister's secretary. But I think Parr must have
had something to do with the invitation. Don't you feel scared in this
company?"

"Not very," smiled Derrick, slapping the other on the back.

A youthful private secretary bustled in and ushered them into the severe
drawing-room, where a dozen gentlemen were talking in two groups.

The Prime Minister came forward to meet the detective.

"Inspector Parr has not arrived," He looked questioningly at Jack. "I
presume this is Mr. Beardmore?" he said. "The inspector particularly
asked that you should be present. I suppose he has some light to throw
upon poor James Beardmore's death--by the way, your father was a great
friend of mine."

The inspector came in at that moment. He wore a dress suit which had seen
better days, a low collar with an awkwardly-tied bow, and he seemed an
incongruous figure in that atmosphere of intellect and refinement.
Following him came the grey-moustached Commissioner, who nodded curtly
to his junior and led the Prime Minister aside.

The two were engaged in a whispered conversation for a little time, and
then the colonel came across to where Yale was standing with Jack.

"Have you any idea what sort of a lecture Parr is going to give?" he
said, a little impatiently. "I was quite under the impression that he was
making a statement by invitation, but from what the Prime Minister tells
me, it was Parr who suggested he should give the history of the Crimson
Circle. I hope he isn't going to make a fool of himself."

"I don't think he will, sir." It was Jack's quiet voice that had
interrupted, and the Commissioner looked at him inquiringly until Yale
introduced the young man.

"I agree with Mr. Beardmore," said Derrick Yale. "I have not the
slightest expectation of Mr. Parr making a fool of himself, in fact, I
think he is going to fill up a number of gaps and bridge over seemingly
irreconcilable circumstances, and I am ready to fill in a number of
spaces which he may leave blank."

The company seated itself, and the Prime Minister beckoned the inspector
forward.

"If you don't mind, sir, I'll stay where I am," he said. "I'm not an
orator, and I should like to tell this yarn as if I were telling it to
any one of you."

He cleared his throat and began speaking. At first his words were
hesitant and he paused again and again to find the right phrase, but as
he warmed to his subject he spoke more quickly and lucidly.

"The Crimson Circle," he began, "is a man named Lightman, a criminal who
committed several murders in France, was condemned to death, but was
saved by an accident from execution. His full name is Ferdinand Walter
Lightman, and on the date of his attempted execution his age was
twenty-three years and four months. He was transported to Cayenne, and
escaped from that settlement after murdering a warder, and it is
believed got away to Australia. A man answering his description, but
giving another name, was working for a storekeeper in Melbourne for
eighteen months, and was afterwards in the employment of a squatter
named Macdonald for two years and five months. He left Australia in a
hurry, a warrant having been issued against him by the local police for
attempting to blackmail his employer.

"What happened to him subsequently we have not been able to trace until
there appeared in England an unknown and mysterious blackmailer who
signed himself the Crimson Circle, and who, by careful organisation and a
display of remarkable patience and energy, gathered around him a large
number of assistants, all of whom were unknown to one another. His modus
operandi--" (the inspector stumbled at the phrase) "--was to find out
somebody in a responsible position, who was either in need of money or in
fear of prosecution for some offence which he or she had committed. He
made the most careful inquiries before he approached his recruit, who was
finally interviewed in a closed car driven by the Crimson Circle himself.
Usually the rendezvous was one of the London squares which had the
advantage of having four or five exits and a further advantage of being
poorly lighted; you gentlemen are probably aware that the residential
squares of London are the worst illuminated streets in the metropolis.

"Another class of recruit the Crimson Circle was very eager to secure was
the convicted criminal. In this way he dragged in Sibly, an ex-sailor
of a particularly low intelligence, who was already suspected of having
committed murder, and who was the very man for the Crimson Circle's
purpose. In this way he secured Thalia Drummond--" he paused--"a thief,
and an associate of thieves. In this way, too, he found the black man who
murdered the railway director. For his own purpose he put in Brabazon the
banker, and would have taken Felix Marl only, unfortunately for Marl,
they had been associated together in the very crime for which Lightman
nearly lost his life. More unfortunate still, Marl recognised Lightman
when he met him in England, and this is the reason why Marl was
eventually destroyed, the murderer employing perhaps the most ingenious
method that has ever been used by a homicidal criminal.

"You can well understand, gentlemen," he went on. They were following the
little man with strained interest. "The Crimson Circle--"

"Why did he call himself Crimson Circle?" It was Derrick Yale who asked
the question, and for a little while the inspector was silent.

"He called himself Crimson Circle," he said slowly, "because it was a
name he had amongst his fellow convicts. About his neck was a red
birth-mark--and I'll blow the top of your head off if you move!"

The heavy calibre Webley he held in his hand covered Derrick Yale.

"Put your hands right up!" said the inspector, and then suddenly he
reached out his hand and tore away the high white collar which covered
Yale's neck.

There was a gasp. Red, blood-red, as though it were painted by human
agency, a circle of crimson ran about the throat of Derrick Yale.



CHAPTER XLII


MOTHER

IN the room three men had mysteriously appeared--the three who had
captured Parr's spy two nights before--and in a second Yale was manacled
hand and foot. A deft hand jerked the pistol that he carried from his
pocket, a third man dropped a cloth bag over his head and face, and he
was hurried from the room.

Inspector Parr wiped the perspiration from his streaming forehead, and
faced his amazed audience.

"Gentlemen," he said a little shakily, "if you will excuse me for
to-night I will tell you the whole of this story to-morrow."

They surrounded him, plying him with questions, but he could only shake
his head.

"He's had a very bad time," It was the colonel's voice, "and nobody knows
it better than I. I should be very glad, Prime Minister, if you could
accede to the inspector's request, and allow the further explanation to
stand over until to-morrow."

"Perhaps the inspector will lunch with us," said the Premier, and his
Commissioner accepted on Parr's behalf. Gripping Jack's arm Parr marched
from the room and into the street. A taxi-cab was awaiting him and he
bundled the young man in.

"I feel that I've been dreaming," said Jack when he had found his voice.
"Derrick Yale! Impossible! And yet--"

"Oh, it is possible all right," said the inspector with a little laugh,

"Then he and Thalia Drummond were working together?"

"Exactly," was the reply.

"But, inspector, how did you get on to this story?"

"Mother put me on to it," was the unexpected answer. "You don't realise
what a clever old lady Mother is. She told me to-night--"

"Then she's come back?"

"Yes, she's come back," said the inspector. "I want you to meet her.
She's a bit dogmatic, and she is inclined to argue, but I always let her
have her way in that respect."

"And you may be sure I shall, too," laughed Jack, though he did not feel
like laughing. "You really believe that the Crimson Circle is in your
hands?"

"I am sure of it," said the inspector. "As sure as I'm sitting in this
taxi-cab with you, and as sure as I am that Grandmother is the wisest
old lady in the world." Jack maintained a silence until they were turning
into the avenue.

"Then this means that Thalia is dragged a little lower?" he said
quietly. "If this man Yale is, as you believe, the Crimson Circle, he
will not spare her."

"I'm certain of that," said the inspector; "but, lord bless you, Mr.
Beardmore, why trouble your head about Thalia Drummond?"

"Because I love her, you damned fool!" said Jack savagely, and instantly
apologised.

"I know I'm a bit of a fool," the inspector spoke, between gusts of
laughter, "but I'm not the only one in London, Mr. Beardmore, believe me.
And if you'll take my advice you'll forget that Thalia Drummond ever
existed. And if you've got any love to spare, why, give it to Mother!"

Jack was about to say something uncomplimentary about this paragon of a
grandmother, but suppressed his desire. The inspector's maisonette was on
the first floor, and he went up the stairs ahead, opened the door and
stood for a moment in the doorway.

"Hello, Mother," he said. "I've brought Mr. Jack Beardmore to see you."
Jack heard an exclamation. "Come in, Mr. Beardmore, come in and meet
Mother."

Jack stepped into the room and stood as if he had been shot. Facing him
was a smiling girl, a little pale and a little tired looking, but
undoubtedly, unless he were mad or dreaming, Thalia Drummond!

She took his outstretched hand in hers and led him to the table, where a
meal for three was laid.

"Daddy, you told me you were going to bring the Commissioner," she said
reproachfully.

"Daddy?" stammered Jack. "But you told me she was your grandmother."

She patted his hand. "Daddy has developed a sense of humour, which is
very distressing," she said. "I'm always called 'Mother' at home, because
I've mothered him ever since my own dear mother died. And that story
about his grandmother is nonsense, but you must forgive him."

"Your father?" said Jack.

Thalia nodded. "Thalia Drummond Parr, that is my name. Thank goodness,
you aren't a crime investigator, or you would have made inquiries and
discovered my ghastly secret. Now eat your supper, Mr. Beardmore; I
cooked it myself." But Jack could neither eat nor drink until he had
learnt more, and she proceeded to enlighten him.

"When the first of the Crimson Circle murders occurred and Daddy was put
into the case, I knew that he had a tremendous work in front of him and
that the chances were he would fail. Daddy has a lot of enemies at
headquarters, and our Commissioner asked him not to take the case,
knowing how difficult it was going to be. You see, the Commissioner is my
godfather," she added smilingly, "and naturally he takes an interest in
our affairs. But Daddy insisted, though I think he regretted it the
moment he had taken it on. I have always been interested in police work,
and just as soon as Father got behind the Crimson Circle organisation and
knew the methods that the Circle employed to gather its recruits, I
decided to start upon a career of crime.

"Your father received the first threat three months before it was put
into execution. It was two or three days afterwards that I secured a post
as secretary to Harvey Froyant, for no other reason than that his estate
adjoined yours. He was a friend of your father, and it gave me an
opportunity of watching. I tried to get employment with your father.
Perhaps you don't know that," she said quietly, "but I failed. Even more
dreadful, I was in the wood when he was killed." She squeezed his hand
sympathetically. "I didn't see who it was who fired the shot, but I flew
forward to where your father was lying, only to discover that he was
beyond help, and then, seeing you through the trees running across the
meadows toward the wood, I thought I had better get away. The more so,"
she added, "since I had a revolver in my hand at the time, for I had seen
a man stalking in the wood and I had gone in to investigate.

"With the death of your father there was no longer any need for me to
remain in the service of Mr. Froyant. I wanted to get closer to the
Crimson Circle, and I knew the best way to attract the attention of the
man who controlled the gang was for me to embark on a criminal career. It
was not providential that you were passing the pawnshop when I came out
after pledging Mr. Froyant's golden image. My father manoeuvred that, and
when he described me as a thief and an associate of crooks, it was to
create an atmosphere, which would impress Derrick Yale, or Ferdinand
Walter Lightman, to give him his real name. There was no danger of my
being sent to prison. The magistrate treated me as a first offender, but
my reputation was gone, and immediately after, as I expected, I received
a summons to meet the head of the Crimson Circle.

"I met him one night in Steyne Square. I think Daddy was watching me all
the time and shadowed me back to the house. He was never far away, were
you, darling?"

"Only at Barnet," he shook his head. "I was scared there, Mother."

"My first task as a member of the Crimson Circle was to go to Brabazon.
You see, Yale's method was to set one member to spy upon another. Mr.
Brabazon puzzled me. I was never quite sure whether he was straight or
crooked, and of course I had no idea at first that he was a member of the
gang. I had to begin stealing again in order to sustain my character. It
brought down on me a reprimand from my mysterious chief, but it served a
useful purpose, for it brought me into contact with a gang of crooks and
led unconsciously to my being present in Marisburg Place when Felix Marl
also died.

"Yale's object in employing me was to divert suspicion from himself.
Besides which, he had intended a very pretty ending to my youthful life.
The night he killed Froyant I was ordered to be in the vicinity of the
house with a similar knife and the fellow gauntlet to that which Yale
used himself in his dreadful crime."

"But how did you escape from prison?" asked Jack.

She looked at him with amusement in her eyes. "You dear boy," she said,
"how could I escape from prison? I was let out by the governor in the
middle of the night and escorted to my home by a respectable inspector of
police!"

"We wanted to force Yale's hand, you see," explained Parr. "As soon as he
knew that Mother was out he got rattled and began to hurry his
preparations for flight. When he found that his office had been burgled
he was pretty sure that Thalia was something more than he had dreamt she
was."



CHAPTER XLIII


THE STORY CONTINUED

JACK went to the luncheon party the next day and so, too, did Thalia, who
had played such a part, and was the public heroine of the hour. After
lunch the inspector completed his story.

"If you take your minds back, gentlemen, you will remember that the name
of Derrick Yale had never been heard until the first of the Crimson
Circle murders. It is true that he had established himself in a city
office, that he had issued circulars, had put advertisements in the paper
describing himself as a psychometric detective, but the cases which came
to him were very few. Of course, he did not want any cases. He was
working up to his big coup. It was after the first murder, you remember,
that Derrick Yale was employed by a newspaper, which wanted a good
sensational story, to employ his psychometric powers in the tracking of
the criminal.

"Who knew better than Yale the name of the murderer and how the murder
was committed? You remember that he was able to reconstruct the crime by
feeling the weapon with which it was committed. And, in consequence, a
black man was arrested, in exactly the spot where Derrick Vale said he
would be. Naturally when these facts were disclosed Yale's reputation
rose sky-high. It was the very situation that he expected. He knew now
that a man threatened by the Crimson Circle would be inclined to call in
his assistance, and that is just what happened.

"By being near his victims and gaining their confidence--for Yale was a
most convincing type of man--he was able to urge them to pay the demands
of the Crimson Circle, and if they refused he was on hand to encompass
their death.

"Froyant might not have died, and certainly would not have died at Yale's
hands, but for the fact that, annoyed by losing so much money, he made
inquiries himself. Starting on a hypothesis which was based upon the
faintest suspicion, he worked up the case against Derrick Yale, and was
able to identify Lightman and Derrick Yale as one and the same person. On
the night of his death he sent for us, intending to make this disclosure,
and as a proof that he was in some fear he had two loaded revolvers by
his hand, and it is well known that Froyant disliked intensely the
employment of firearms.

"And you will remember, if you have read the official minutes of the
case, the Commissioner rang up Froyant in response to a call which Harvey
Froyant had put through. That call gave Yale his opportunity. It was an
excuse for Froyant sending us out of the room. I went first, never
dreaming that he would dare do what he did. When we went into the room we
wore our overcoats, and I particularly noticed that Derrick Yale kept his
hand in his pocket. On the hand, gentlemen," he said impressively, "was a
motor-driver's gauntlet, and in that hand was the knife that slew
Froyant."

"But why did he wear the glove?" asked the Prime Minister.

"In order that his hand, which I should see immediately afterwards,
should not be bloodstained. The moment my back was turned, he lunged
straight at Froyant's heart, and Froyant must have died instantly. He
slipped off the glove and left it on the table, walked to the door, and
seemed to be carrying on a conversation with a man who was already dead.

"I knew this had happened, but I had no proof. He had brought my daughter
there, intending to get her into the house, which we immediately
searched, with the intention of accusing her of the crime. But she very
wisely went no farther than to the back of the house and then, suspecting
his plot, went home. But I am anticipating. Amongst the people whom we
had to guard was James Beardmore, and James Beardmore was a land
speculator, a man who knew all kinds of people, good and bad. That day he
was expecting a visit from Marl, whom he had never seen, and he mentioned
Marl's name earlier in the day to his son, but not to Derrick Yale. As
Marl came toward the house the last person in the world he expected to
see was his fellow criminal of Toulouse Gaol, a man whom he had betrayed
to his death.

"Derrick Yale must have been standing at the end of the shrubbery, and
Marl caught a momentary glimpse of him and went back to the village,
ostensibly to London, in a panic of fright, determined, in his fear, that
he would kill Lightman before Lightman killed him. His courage must have
oozed. He was not a particularly brave man, and instead he wrote a letter
to Yale, pushing it under his window--a letter which Yale read and
partially burnt. What the letter was I cannot tell you, except it was
probably a statement that if he, Marl, was left alone, he would leave
Yale alone. He could not have known in what capacity Mr. Derrick Yale was
posing. The words 'Block B' undoubtedly referred to the Block at Toulouse
Prison.

"From that moment Marl was a doomed man. He was conducting a little
blackmail of his own with Brabazon, an agent of the Crimson Circle, and
Brabazon must have intimated the danger to Yale who, in his capacity as
detective, visited the shop to which all the Crimson Circle letters were
addressed, and on the pretext of aiding justice opened them of course and
saw their contents, without having the responsibility of being the person
to whom they were addressed.

"It was Brabazon's intention to bolt on the day of Marl's murder, and
with that object he had cleared out the whole of Marl's balance and had
made preparations for flight. On Marl's death suspicion naturally fell
upon him and, intimated by the Crimson Circle that he was in danger, he
hurried off to the riverside house which we searched."

Detective-Inspector Parr chuckled.

"When I say 'we searched it,' I mean Yale searched it. In other words, he
went into the room where he knew Brabazon was, and came down reporting
that all was clear."

"There is one point I'd like you to clear up--the chloroforming of Yale
in his office," said the Prime Minister.

"That was clever, and deceived me for a moment, Yale handcuffed, strapped
and chloroformed himself after he had put the money in an envelope and
dropped it down the letter-chute--it was addressed to his private
residence. Do you remember, sir, that the postman left the building,
having cleared the box, a few minutes after the 'outrage'? Unfortunately
for Yale, I had let Thalia into the room and put her into the cupboard,
where she witnessed the whole comedy and retrieved the chloroform bottle
which he had put into a drawer of his desk."

"The last victim, Mr. Raphael Willings," here Parr spoke very clearly and
deliberately, "owes his life to the fact that he conceived an unhealthy
attachment for my daughter. She was struggling with him, when, looking
over her shoulder, she saw a hand come from behind the curtain holding
the very knife that had been stolen earlier in the day by Yale (again in
his capacity as detective). It was aimed at Mr. Willings's heart, but by
a superhuman effort, she thrust him aside, but not so far as to save him
completely. Yale, of course, was on hand to discover the outrage (I
should imagine he was very annoyed when he found it was not a murder),
and of course he had no difficulty in fixing it upon mother--upon Thalia
Drummond Parr.

"Consider the cleverness of his operations!" said Parr admiringly. "He
had thrust himself into the front rank of private detectives, so that he
was on hand to receive information which was invaluable to him as the
Crimson Circle. He was eventually taken to police headquarters--at my
suggestion--where the most important documents came under his notice.
Some of them were not quite as important as he thought, but it saved Mr.
Beardmore's life when Yale had the first handling of a photograph of
himself taken a few moments before the abortive execution.

"Now, gentlemen, are there any other points that you wish cleared up?
There is one I will clear up which is probably not obscure. Two days ago
I told Yale that great criminals are usually brought to their end through
ridiculous mistakes. Yale had the effrontery to tell me that he had
called at Mr. Willings's house after he had left and that the servants
had told him where Thalia and Willings had gone. That alone was
sufficient to damn him, because he had not been near Willings's house
since the morning, and had arrived at the country place at least an hour
before the servants had come."

"The question that disturbs me for the moment," said the Prime Minister,
"is what reward we can give to your daughter, Mr. Parr? Your
promotion is of course an easy matter to arrange, for there is an
assistant-commissionership vacant at this moment; but I don't exactly
see what we can do for Miss Drummond, except of course to give her the
monetary reward which is due for having brought about the capture of
this dangerous criminal."

Then a husky voice spoke. It sounded to Jack as though it were his, and
the rest of the people about the table seemed to be under the same
impression.

"There is no need to bother about Miss Parr," said this strange voice,
that was speaking Jack's thoughts, "we are getting married very soon."

When the buzz of congratulation had subsided, Inspector Parr leant toward
his daughter.

"You didn't tell me. Mother," he said reproachfully.

"I didn't even tell him," she said, looking at Jack wonderingly.

"Do you mean to say he hasn't asked you to marry him?" demanded her
amazed father.

She shook her head.

"No," she said, "and I haven't told him I would marry him either, but I
had a feeling that something like this would happen."

* * * * *

Lightman, or Yale, as he was best known, was an exemplary prisoner. His
only complaint against the authorities was that they would not let him
smoke on his way to his execution.

"They order these things much better in France," he said to the governor.
"Now, the last time I was executed--"

To the chaplain he expressed the warmest interest in Thalia Drummond.

"There is a girl in a million!" he said. "I suppose she will marry young
Beardmore--he is a very lucky fellow. Personally, women arouse very
little enthusiasm in me, and I ascribe my success in life to this fact.
But if I were a marrying man, I think Thalia Drummond would be the very
type I should search for."

He liked the chaplain because the padre was a big human man who could
talk interestingly on places and things and people, and Derrick Yale had
seen most of the fascinating places in the world.

On a grey March morning a man came into his cell and strapped his hands.

Yale looked at him over his shoulder.

"Have you ever heard of M. Pallion? He was a member of your profession."

The executioner did not reply, being by etiquette forbidden to discuss
other matters than the prisoner's forgiveness for the deed which was
about to be committed.

"You should find out something about Pallion," said Yale, as the
procession formed, "and profit by his example. Never drink. Drink was my
ruin! If it were not for drink I should not be here!"

This little conceit kept him amused all the way to the scaffold. They
slipped the noose about his neck and covered his face with a white cloth,
and then the executioner stepped back to the steel lever.

"I hope this rope won't break," said Derrick Yale.

It was the last message from the Crimson Circle.



THE END





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