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Title: The Joker (1926)
Author: Edgar Wallace
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
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Language:  English
Date first posted: October 2007
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Title: The Joker (1926)
Author: Edgar Wallace





CHAPTER 1


MR STRATFORD HARLOW was a gentleman with no particular call to hurry. By
every standard he was a member of the leisured classes, and to his
opportunities for lingering, he added the desire of one who was
pertinently curious.

The most commonplace phenomena interested Mr Harlow. He had all the
requisite qualities of an observer; his enjoyment was without the
handicap of sentimentality, a weakness which is fatal to accurate
judgement.

Leonardo da Vinci could stand by the scaffold using the dreadful floor as
his desk; and sketch the agonies of malefactors given to the torture. Mr
Harlow, no great lover of painters, thought well of Leonardo. He too
could stop to look at sights which sent the average man shuddering and
hurrying past; he could stop (even when he was really in a hurry) to
analyse the colour scheme in an autumn sunset, not to rhapsodise
poetically, but to mark down for his own information the quantities of
beauty.

He was a large man of forty-eight, fair and slightly bald. His
clean-shaven face was unlined, his skin without blemish. Pale blue eyes
are not accounted beautiful and the pallor of Mr Harlow's eyes was such
that, seeing him for the first time, many sensitive people experienced a
shock, thinking he was sightless. His nose was big and long, and of the
same width from forehead to tip. He had very red, thick lips that seemed
to be pouting even when they were in repose. A rounded chin with a dimple
in the centre and unusually small cars, completes the description.

His powerful car was drawn up by the side of the road, its two near
wheels on the green verge, and Mr Harlow sat, one hand on the wheel,
watching the marshalling of the men in a field. In such moments of
contemplative reveries as these, splendid ideas were born in Stratford
Harlow's mind, great schemes loomed out of the nowhere which is beyond
vision. And, curiously enough, prisons invariably had this inspirational
effect.

They were trudging now across the field, led by a lank warder, cheerful,
sunburnt men in prison uniform.

Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!

The convicts had reached the hard road and were coming towards him. The
leading warder glanced suspiciously at the well-dressed stranger, but the
gang were neither abashed nor distressed by this witness of their shame.
Rather, they carried themselves with a new perkiness as though conscious
of their value as an unusual spectacle. The first two files glanced
sideways and grinned in a friendly manner, half the third file followed
suit, but the second man looked neither left nor right. He had a scowl on
his face, a sneer on his thin lips and he lifted one shoulder in a shrug
of contemptuous defiance, delivered, as the watcher realised, not so much
towards the curious sightseer, but the world of free men which Mr Harlow
represented.

Twisting round in his seat, he watched the little column filing through
the Arch of Despair and out of sight through the gun-metal gates which he
could not see.

The motorist stepped on the starter and brought the car round in a
half-circle. Patiently he manoeuvred the long chassis until it headed
back towards Princetown. Tavistock and Ellenbury could wait a day--a week
if necessary. For here was a great thought to be shaped and exploited.

His car stopped noiselessly before the Duchy Hotel, and the porter came
running down the steps.

'Anything wrong, sir?'

'No. I thought I'd stay another day. Can I have the suite? If not, any
room will do.'

The suite was not let, he learnt, and he had his case carried upstairs.

It was then that he decided that Ellenbury, being within driving
distance, might come across the moor and save him the tedium of a day
spent in Tavistock. He picked up the telephone and in minutes Ellenbury's
anxious voice answered him.

'Come over to Princetown. I'm staying at the Duchy. Don't let people see
that you know me. We will get acquainted in the smoke-room after lunch.'

Mr Harlow was eating his frugal lunch at a table over-looking the untidy
square in front of the Duchy, when he saw Ellenbury arrive: a small,
thin, nervous man, with white hair. Soon after the visitor came down to
the big dining-room, gazed quickly round, located Mr Harlow with a start,
and sat himself at the nearest table.

The dining-room was sparsely occupied. Two parties that had driven up
from Torquay ate talkatively in opposite corners of the room. An elderly
man and his stout wife sat at another table, and at a fourth, conveying a
curious sense of aloofness, a girl. Women interested Mr Harlow only in so
far as they were factors in a problem or the elements of an experiment;
but since he must classify all things he saw, he noticed, in his
cold-blooded fashion, that she was pretty and therefore unusual; for to
him the bulk of humanity bore a marked resemblance to the cheap little
suburban streets in which they lived, and the drab centres of commerce
where they found their livelihood.

He had once stood at the corner of a busy street in the Midlands and had
taken a twelve-hour census of beauty. In that period, though thousands
upon thousands hurried past, he had seen one passably pretty girl and two
that were not ill-favoured. It was unusual that this girl, who sat
sidefaced to him, should be pretty; but she was unusually pretty.

Though he could not see her eyes, her visible features were perfect and
her complexion was without flaw. Her hair was a gleaming chestnut and he
liked the way she used her hands. He believed in the test of hands as a
revelation of the mind. Her figure--what was the word? Mr Harlow pursed
his lips. His was a cold and exact vocabulary, lacking in floweriness.
'Gracious,' perhaps. He pursed his lips again. Yes, gracious--though why
it should be gracious...He found himself wandering down into the roots of
language, and even as he speculated she raised her head slightly and
looked at him. In profile she was pleasing enough, but now--

'She is beautiful,' agreed Stratford Harlow with himself, 'but in all
probability she has a voice that would drive a man insane.'

Nevertheless, he determined to risk disillusionment. His interest in her
was impersonal. Two women, one young, one old, had played important parts
in his life; but he could think of women unprejudiced by his experience.
He neither liked nor disliked them, any more than he liked or disliked
the Farnese vase, which could be admired but had no special utility.

Presently the waiter came to take away his plate. 'Miss Rivers,' said the
waiter in a low voice, in answer to his query. 'The young lady came this
morning and she's going back to Plymouth by the last train. She's here to
see somebody.' He glanced significantly at Mr Harlow, who raised his
bushy eyebrows.

'Inside?' he asked, in a low voice.

The waiter nodded. 'Her uncle--Arthur Ingle, the actor chap.'

Mr Harlow nodded. The name was dimly familiar. Ingle?...Nosegay with a
flower drooping out...and a judge with a cold in his head.

He began to reconstruct from his association of ideas.

He had been in court at the Old Bailey and seen the nosegay which every
judge carries--a practice which had its beginning in olden times, when a
bunch of herbs was supposed to shield his lordship from the taint of
Newgate fever. As the judge had laid the nosegay on the ledge three
little pimpernels in the centre had fallen on to the head of the clerk.
Now he remembered! Ingle! An ascetic face distorted with fury. Ingle, the
actor, who had forged and swindled, and had at last been caught. Mr
Stratford Harlow laughed softly; he not only remembered the name but the
man, and he had seen him that morning, scowling, and shrugging one
shoulder as he slouched past in the field gang So that was Ingle! And he
was an actor.

Mr Harlow had come back especially to Princetown to find out who he was.
As he looked up he saw the girl walking quickly from the room and,
rising, he strolled out after her, to find the lounge empty. Selecting
the most secluded corner, he rang for his coffee and lit a cigar.

Presently Ellenbury came in, but for the moment Mr Harlow had other
interests. Through the window he saw Miss Rivers walking across the
square in the direction of the post office and, rising, he strolled out
of the hotel and followed. She was buying stamps when he entered, and it
was pleasing to discover that her voice had all the qualities he could
desire.

Forty-eight has certain privileges; and can find the openings which would
lead to twenty-eight's eternal confusion.

'Good morning, young lady. You're a fellow guest of ours, aren't you?'

He said this with a smile which could be construed as fatherly. She shot
a glance at him and her lips twitched. She was too ready to smile, he
thought, for this visitation of hers to be wholly sorrowful.

'I lunched at the Duchy, yes, but I'm not staying here. It is a dreadful
little town!'

'It has its beauty,' protested Mr Harlow.

He dropped sixpence on the counter, took up a local time-table, waited
while the girl's change was counted and fell in beside her as they came
out of the office.

'And romance,' he added. 'Take the Feathers Inn. There's a building put
up by the labour of French prisoners of war.'

From where they stood only the top of one of the high chimneys of the
prison was visible.

She saw him glance in that direction and shake his head.

'The other place, of course, is dreadful-dreadful! I've been trying to
work up my courage to go inside, but somehow I can't.'

'Have you--' She did not finish the question.

'A friend--yes. A very dear friend he was, many years ago, but the poor
fellow couldn't go straight. I half promised to visit him, but I dreaded
the experience.'

Mr Harlow had no friend in any prison.

She looked at him thoughtfully.

'It isn't really so dreadful. I've been before,' she said, without the
slightest embarrassment. 'My uncle is there.'

'Really?' His voice had just the right quantity of sympathy and
understanding.

'This is my second visit in four years. I hate it, of course, and I'll be
glad when it's over. It is usually rather--trying.'

They were pacing slowly towards the hotel now.

'Naturally it is very dreadful for you. You feel so sorry for the poor
fellows--'

She was smiling; he was almost shocked.

'That doesn't distress me very much. I suppose it's a brutal thing to
say, but it doesn't. There is no'--she hesitated--'there is no affection
between my uncle and myself, but I'm his only relative and I look after
his affairs'--again she seemed at a loss as to how she would
explain--'and whatever money he has. And he's rather difficult to
please.'

Mr Harlow was intensely interested; this was an aspect of the visit which
he could not have imagined.

'It would be dreadful if I liked him, or if he was fond of me,' she went
on, stopping at the foot of the hotel steps. 'As it is, we have a
business talk and that is all.'

With a friendly nod she passed into the hotel ahead of him. Mr Harlow
stood for a long time in the doorway, looking at nothing, his mind very
busy, and then he strolled back to his cooling coffee; and presently fell
into discussion; about the weather and the crops with the nervous little
man who awaited his coming.

They were quite alone now. The car parties had vanished in noisy
confusion; the old gentleman and the stout old lady were leaving the
hotel on a walking excursion as he had come in.

'Is everything all right, Ellenbury?'

'Yes, Mr Harlow,' said the little man eagerly. 'Everything is in perfect
shape and trim. I have settled the action that the French underwriters
were bringing against the Rata Company, and--'

Suddenly he was stricken to silence. Following the direction of his
staring eyes, Mr Harlow also looked out of the window. Eight convicts
were walking down the street in the direction of the railway station; Mr
Harlow looked and pointed.

'Not a very pleasant or an agreeable sight,' he said. In his oracular
moments his voice was very rich and pleasant. 'Yet one, I think, to which
the callous people of Princetown are quite accustomed. These men are
being transferred to another prison, I imagine. Do you ever realise what
your feelings would be if you had been, say, the leader of that gang,
they used to be chained like wild beasts--'

'For God's sake, stop!' said the little man hoarsely. 'Don't talk about
it, don't talk about it!' His trembling hands covered his eyes. 'I had a
horror of coming here,' he said, in a voice that was scarcely audible.
'I've never been before...the car passed that terrible archway and I
nearly fainted!'

Mr Harlow, one eye on the door, smiled indulgently. 'You have nothing to
fear, my dear Ellenbury,' he said in a paternal voice. 'I have in a sense
condoned your felony. In a sense,' he emphasised carefully. 'Whether a
judge would take the same view, I do not know. You understand the law
better than I. This much is certain; you are free, your debts are paid,
the money you stole from your clients has been made good and you have, I
think, an income which is, shall we say, satisfactory.'

The little man nodded and swallowed something. He was white to the lips,
and when he tried to lift a glass of water his hand shook so that he had
to put it down again. 'I'm very grateful,' he said. 'Very--very
grateful...I'm sorry-it was rather upsetting.'

'Naturally,' murmured Mr Harlow.

He took a notebook from his pocket, opened it with the greatest
deliberation and wrote for five minutes, the little lawyer watching him.
When he had finished he tore out the sheet and passed it across the
table.

'I want to know all about this man Arthur Ingle,' he said. 'When his
sentence expires, where he lives in London or elsewhere, his means and
especially his grudge against life. I don't know what it is, but I rather
suspect that it is a pretty big one. I should also like to know where his
niece is employed. Her name you will find on the paper, with a query mark
attached. I want to know who are her friends, what are her amusements,
her financial position is very important.'

'I understand.' Ellenbury put the paper carefully in a worn pocket-book.
And then, with one of his habitual starts: 'I had forgotten one thing, Mr
Harlow,' he said. 'On Monday last I had a visit at my office in Lincoln's
Inn Fields from the police.'

He said the last two words apologetically as though he were in some way
responsible for the character of his caller. Mr Harlow turned his pale
eyes upon his companion, made a long scrutiny of his face before he
asked: 'in what connection?'

'I don't know exactly,' said Ellenbury, who had a trick of reproducing at
a second's notice all the emotions he described. 'It was rather
puzzling.' He screwed up his face into an expression of bewilderment.
'You see, Mr Carlton did not come to any point.'

'Carlton?' demanded Harlow, quickly for him. 'That's the man at the
Foreign Office, isn't it?'

Ellenbury nodded.

'It was about the rubber fire. You remember the fire at the United
International factory? He wanted to know if Rata had any insurance on the
stock that was burnt and of course I told him that as far as I knew, we
hadn't.'

'Don't say "we,"' said Mr Harlow gently. 'Say the Rata Syndicate hadn't.
You are a lawyer acting for undisclosed principals. Well?'

'That was all,' said Ellenbury. 'He was very vague.'

'He always is vague,' interrupted Harlow with a faint smile, 'and he's
always unscrupulous--remember that, Ellenbury. Sub-Inspector James
Carlton is the most unscrupulous man that Scotland Yard has ever
employed. Some day he will be irretrievably ruined or irretrievably
promoted. I have a great admiration for him. I know of no man
in the world I rate higher in point of intelligence, acumen
and--unscrupulousness! He has a theory which is both admirable and
baffling. Which means that he has the right theory. For rectitude is the
most baffling of all human qualities, because you never know, if a man
is doing right, what he will do next. I think that is almost an epigram,
Ellenbury: you had best jot it down, so that if ever you are called upon
to write my biography you may have material to lighten its pages.' He
looked at his watch. I shall be at Park Lane at eleven o'clock on Friday
night, and I can give you ten minutes,' he said.

Ellenbury twiddled his fingers unhappily.

'Isn't there a risk--to you, I mean?' he blurted. 'Perhaps I'm stupid,
but I can't see why you do...well, why you take chances. With all your
money--'

Mr Harlow leaned back in the cushioned seat, amusement faintly visible in
his pale eyes.

'If you had millions what would you do? Retire, of course. Build or buy a
beautiful house--and then?'

'I don't know,' said the older man vaguely. 'One could travel...'

'The English people have two ideas of happiness: one comes from travel,
one from staying still! Rushing or rusting! I might marry but I don't
wish to marry. I might have a great stable of race-horses, but I detest
racing. I might yacht--I loathe the sea. Suppose I want a thrill? I do!
The art of living is the art of victory. Make a note of that. Where is
happiness in cards, horses, golf, women-anything you like? I'll tell you:
in beating the best man to it! That's An Americanism. Where is the joy of
mountain climbing, of exploration, of scientific discovery? To do better
than somebody else--to go farther, to put your foot on the head of the
next best.'

He blew a cloud of smoke through the open window and waited until the
breeze had torn the misty gossamer into shreds and nothingness.

'When you're a millionaire you either get inside yourself and become a
beast, or get outside of yourself and become a nuisance to your fellows.
If you're a Napoleon you will play the game of power, if you're a
Leonardo you'll play for knowledge--the stakes hardly matter; it's the
game that counts. Accomplishment has its thrill, whether it is hitting a
golf ball farther than the next fellow, or strewing the battle fields
with the bodies of your enemies. My thrill is harder to get than most
people's. I'm a millionaire. Sterling and dollars are my soldiers--I am
entitled to frame my own rules of war, conduct my forays in my own way.
Don't ask any further questions!'

He waved his hand towards the door and Mr Ellenbury was dismissed; and
shortly afterwards his hired car rattled loudly up the hill and past the
gates of the jail. Mr Ellenbury studiously turned his face in the
opposite direction.



CHAPTER 2


SOME EIGHT months later there was an accident on the Thames Embankment.
The girl in the yellow raincoat and the man in the black beret were of
one accord--they were anxious, for different reasons, to cross the most
dangerous stretch of the Embankment in the quickest possible space of
time. There was a slight fog which gave promise of being just plain fog
before the evening was far advanced. And through the fog percolated an
unpleasant drizzle which turned the polished surface of the road into an
insurance risk which no self-respecting company would have accepted.

The mudguard of the ancient Ford caught Aileen Rivers just below the left
elbow, and she found herself performing a series of unrehearsed
pirouettes. Then her nose struck a shining button and she slid
romantically to her knees at the feet of a resentful policeman. He lifted
her, looked at her, put her aside with great firmness and crossed to
where the radiator of the car was staring pathetically up a bent
lamp-post.

'What's the idea?' he asked sternly, and groped for his notebook.

The young man in the beret wiped his soiled face with the back of his
hand, a gesture which resulted in the further spread of his griminess.

'Was the girl hurt?' he asked quickly.

'Never mind about the girl; let's have a look at your licence.'

Unheeding his authoritative demand, the young man stalked across to where
Aileen, embarrassed by the crowd which gathered, was assuring several old
ladies that she wasn't hurt. She was standing on her two feet to prove
it.

'Waggle your toes about,' suggested a hoarse-voiced woman. 'If they won't
move, your back's broke!'

The experiment was not made, for at that moment the tall young man pushed
his way to the centre of the curious throng.

'Not hurt, are you?' he asked anxiously. 'I'm awfully sorry--really!
Didn't see you till the car was right on top of you.'

A voice from the crowd offered advice and admonition.

'You orter be careful, mister! You might 'a' killed somebody.'

'Tell me your name, won't you?'

He dived into his pocket, found an old envelope and paused.

'Really it isn't necessary, I'm quite unhurt,' she insisted, but he was
also insistent.

He jotted down name and address and he had finished writing when the
outraged constable melted through the crowd.

'Here!' he said, in a tone in which fierceness and reproach were mingled.
'You can't go running away when I'm talking to you, my friend! Just you
stand still and show me that licence of yours.'

'Did you see the blue Rolls?' demanded the young man. 'It was just ahead
of me when I hit the lamp-post.'

'Never mind about blue Rolls's,' said the officer in cold exasperation.
'Let me have a look at your licence.'

The young man slipped something out of his pocket and held it in the palm
of his hand. It was not unlike a driver's licence and yet it was
something else.

'What's the idea?' asked the policeman testily.

He snatched the little canvas-backed booklet and opened it, turning his
torch on the written words.

'Humph!' he said. 'Sorry, sir.'

'Not at all,' said Sub-Inspector James Carlton of Scotland Yard. 'I'll
send somebody down to clear away the mess. Did you see the Rolls?'

'Yes sir, just in front of you. Petrol tank dented.'

Carlton chuckled. 'Saw that too? I'll remember you, constable. You had
better send the girl home in a taxi--no, I'll take her myself.'

Aileen heard the proposal without enthusiasm. 'I much prefer to walk,'
she said definitely.

He led her aside from the crowd now being dispersed, authoritatively. And
in such privacy as could be obtained momentarily, he revealed himself.

'I am, in fact, a policeman,' he said; and she opened her eyes in wonder.

He did not look like a policeman, even in the fog which plays so many
tricks. He had the appearance of a motor mechanic, and not a prosperous
one. On his head was a black beret that had seen better days; he wore an
old mack reaching to his knees; and the gloves he carried under his arm
were black with grease.

'Nevertheless,' he said firmly, as though she had given oral expression
to her surprise, 'I am a policeman. But no ordinary policeman. I am an
inspector at Scotland Yard--a sub-inspector, it is true, but I have a
position to uphold.'

'Why are you telling me all this?'

'He had already hailed a taxi and now he opened the door. 'You might
object to the escort of an ordinary policeman,' he said airily, 'but my
rank is so exalted that you do not need a chaperon.'

She entered the cab between laughter and tears, for her elbow really did
hurt more than she was ready to confess.

'Rivers--Aileen Rivers,' he mused, as the cab went cautiously along the
Embankment. 'I've got you on the tip of my tongue and at the back of my
mind, but I can't place you.'

'Perhaps if you look up my record at Scotland Yard?' she suggested,
with a certain anger at his impertinence.

'I thought of doing that,' he replied calmly; 'but Aileen Rivers?' He
shook his head. 'No, I can't place you.' And of course he had placed her.
He knew her as the niece of Arthur Ingle, sometime Shakespearean actor
and now serving five years for an ingenious system of fraud and forgery.
But then, he was unscrupulous, as Mr Harlow had said. He had a power of
invention which carried him far beyond the creative line, but he was not
averse to stooping on the way to the most petty deceptions. And this in
spite of the fact that he had been well educated and immense sums had
been spent on the development of his mind, so that lie might distinguish
between right and wrong.

'Fotheringay Mansions.' He fingered his grimy chin. 'How positively
exclusive!'

She turned on him in sudden anger. 'I've accepted your escort, Mr--' She
paused insultingly.

'Carlton,' he murmured; 'half-brother to the hotel but no relation to the
club. And this is fame! You were saying?'

'I was going to say that I wished you would not talk. You have done your
best to kill me this evening; you might at least let me die in peace.'

He peered through the fog-shrouded windows. 'There's an old woman selling
chrysanthemums near Westminster Bridge; we might stop and buy you some
flowers.' And then, quickly: 'I'm terribly sorry, I won't ask you any
questions at all or make any comments upon your plutocratic residence.'

'I don't live there,' she said in self-defence. 'I go there sometimes to
see the place is kept in order. It belongs to a-a-relation of mine who is
abroad.'

'Monte Carlo?' he murmured. 'And a jolly nice place too! Rien ne va plus!
Faites vos jeux, monsieurs et mesdames! Personally I prefer San Remo.
Blue sky, blue sea, green hills, white houses--everything like a railway
poster.' And then he went off at a tangent. 'And talking of blueness, you
were lucky not to be hit by the blue Rolls; it was going faster than me,
but it has better brakes. I rammed his petrol tank in the fog, but even
that didn't make him stop.'

Her lips curled in the darkness. 'A criminal escaping from justice, one
thinks? How terribly romantic!'

The young man chuckled.

'One thinks wrong. It was a millionaire on his way to a City banquet. And
the only criminal charge I can bring home to him is that he wears large
diamond studs in his shirt, which offence is more against my aesthetic
taste than the laws of my country, God bless it!'

The cab was slowing, the driver leaning sideways seeking to identify the
locality.

'We're here,' said Mr Carlton; opened the door of the taxi while it was
still in motion and jumped out.

The machine stopped before the portals of Fotheringay Mansions.

'Thank you very much for bringing me home,' said Aileen primly and
politely, and added not without malice: 'I've enjoyed your conversation.'

'You should hear my aunt,' said the young man. 'Her line of talk is sheer
poetry!'

He watched her until she was swallowed in the gloom, and returned to the
cab.

'Scotland Yard,' he said laconically; 'and take a bit of a risk, O son of
Nimshi.'

The cabman took the necessary risk and arrived without hurt at the gloomy
entrance of police headquarters. Jim Carlton waved a brotherly greeting
to the sergeant at the desk, took the stairs two at a time, and came to
his own little room. As a rule he was not particularly interested in his
personal appearance, but now, glancing at the small mirror which
decorated the upturned top of a washstand, he uttered a groan.

He was busy getting the grease from his face when the melancholy face of
Inspector Elk appeared in the doorway.

'Going to a party?' he asked gloomily.

'No,' said Jim through the lather; 'I often wash.'

Elk sniffed, seated himself on the edge of a hard chair, searched his
pockets slowly and thoroughly.

'It's in the inside pocket of my jacket,' spluttered Carlton. 'Take one;
I've counted 'em.'

Elk sighed heavily as he took out the long leather case, and, selecting a
cigar, lit it.

'Seegars are not what they was when I was a boy,' he said, gazing at the
weed disparagingly. 'For sixpence you could get a real Havana. Over in
New York everybody smokes cigars. But then, they pay the police a livin'
wage; they can afford it.'

Mr Carlton looked over his towel. 'I've never known you to buy a cigar in
your life,' he said deliberately. 'You can't get them cheaper than for
nothing!'

Inspector Elk was not offended. 'I've smoked some good cigars in my
time,' he said. 'Over in the Public Prosecutor's office in Mr Gordon's
days--he was the fellow that smashed the Frogs--him and me, that is to
say,' he corrected himself carefully.

'The Frogs? Oh, yes, I remember. Mr Gordon had good cigars, did he?'

'Pretty good,' said Elk cautiously. 'I wouldn't say yours was worse, but
it's not better.' And then, without a change of voice: 'Have you pinched
Stratford Harlow?'

Jim Carlton made a grimace of disgust. 'Tell me something I can pinch him
for,' he invited.

'He's worth fifteen millions according to accounts,' said Elk. 'No man
ever got fifteen million honest.'

Jim Carlton turned a white, wet face to his companion. 'He inherited
three from his father, two from one aunt, one from another. The Harlows
have always been a rich family, and in the last decade they've graded
down to maiden aunts. He had a brother in America who left him eight
million dollars.'

Elk sighed and scratched his thin nose.

'He's in Ratas too,' he said complainingly.

'Of course he's in Ratas!' scoffed Jim. 'Ellenbury hides him, but even if
he didn't, there's nothing criminal in Ratas. And supposing he was openly
in it, that would be no offence.

'Oh!' said Elk, and by that 'Oh!' indicated his tentative disagreement.

There was nothing furtive or underhand about the Rata Syndicate. It was
registered as a public company, and had its offices in Westshire House,
Old Broad Street, in the City of London, and its New York office on Wall
Street. The Rata Syndicate published a balance sheet and employed a staff
of ten clerks, three of whom gained further emoluments by acting as
directors of the company, under the chairmanship of a retired colonel of
infantry. The capital was a curiously small one, but the resources of the
syndicate were enormous. When Rata cornered rubber, cheques amounting to
five millions sterling passed outward through its banking accounts; in
fact every cent involved in that great transaction appeared in the books
except the fifty thousand dollars that somebody paid to Lee Hertz and his
two friends.

Lee arrived from New York on a Friday afternoon. On the Sunday morning
the United Continental Rubber Company's stores went up in smoke. Nearly
eighteen thousand tons of rubber were destroyed in that well-organised
conflagration, and rubber jumped 80 per cent in twenty-four hours and 200
per cent in a week. For the big reserves that kept the market steady had
been wiped out in the twinkling of an eye, to the profit of Rata
Incorporated.

Said the New York Headquarters to Scotland Yard: Lee Hertz, Jo Klein and
Philip Serrett well known fire bugs believed to be in London stop See
record NY 9514 mailed you October 7 for description stop Possibility you
may connect them United Continental fire.

By the time Scotland Yard located Lee he was in Paris in his well-known
role of American Gentleman Seeing the Sights.

'It doesn't look right to me,' said Elk, puffing luxuriously at the
cigar. 'Here's Rata, buys rubber with not a ghost of a chance of its
rising. And suddenly, biff! A quarter of the reserve stock in this
country is burnt out, and naturally prices and shares rise. Rata's been
buying 'em for months. Did they know that the United was going west?'

'I thought it might have been an accident,' said Jim, who had never
thought anything of the sort.

'Accident my grandmother's right foot!' said Elk, without heat. 'The
stores were lit up in three places--the salvage people located the
petrol. A man answering the description of Jo Klein was drinking with the
night watchman the day before, and that watchman swears he never saw this
Jo bird again, but he's probably lying. The lower classes lie easier than
they drink. Ten millions, and if Harlow's behind Rata, he made more than
that on the rubber deal. Buying orders everywhere! Toronto, Rio,
Calcutta--every loose bit of rubber lifted off the market. Then comes the
fire, and up she goes! All I got to say is--'

The telephone bell rang shrilly at that second, and Jim Carlton picked up
the receiver.

'Somebody wants you, Inspector,' said the exchange clerk.

There was a click, an interval of silence, and then a troubled voice
asked:

'Can I speak to Mr Carlton?'

'Yes, Miss Rivers.'

'Oh, it's you, is it?' There was a nattering relief in the voice. 'I
wonder if you would come to Fotheringay Mansions, No. 63?'

'Is anything wrong?' he asked quickly.

'I don't know, but one of the bedroom doors is locked, and I'm sure
there's nobody in there.'



CHAPTER 3


THE GIRL was standing in the open doorway of the flat as the two men
stepped from the elevator. She seemed a little disconcerted at the sight
of Inspector Elk, but Jim Carlton introduced him as a friend and
obliterated him as a factor with one comprehensive gesture.

'I suppose I ought to have sent for the local police, only there
are--well, there are certain reasons why I shouldn't,' she said.

Somehow Jim had never thought she could be so agitated. The discovery had
evidently thrown her off her balance, and she was hardly lucid when she
explained.

'I come here to collect my uncle's letters,' she said. 'He's abroad...his
name is Jackson,' she said breathlessly. 'And every Thursday I have a
woman in to clean up the fiat. I can't afford the time; I'm working in an
office.'

They had left Elk staring at an engraving in the corridor, and it was an
opportunity to make matters a little easier, if at first a little more
uncomfortable, for her.

'Miss Rivers, your uncle is Arthur Ingle,' said Jim kindly, and she went
very red. 'It is quite understandable that you shouldn't wish to
advertise the fact, but I thought I'd tell you I knew, just to save you a
great deal of unnecessary--' He stopped and seemed at a loss.

'"Lying" is the word you want,' she said frankly. 'Yes, Arthur Ingle
lived here, but he lived here in the name of Jackson. Did you know that?'
she asked anxiously.

He nodded.

'That's the door.' She pointed.

The flat was of an unusual construction. There was a very large
dining-room with a low-timbered roof and panelled walls, from which led
three doors--one to the kitchenette, the other two, she explained, to
Arthur Ingle's bedroom and a spare apartment which he used as a lumber
room. It was the door of the lumber room which she indicated.

Jim tried the handle; the door was fast. Stooping down he peered through
the keyhole and had a glimpse of an open window through which the yellow
fog showed.

'Are these doors usually left open?'

'Always,' she said emphatically. 'Sometimes the cleaning woman comes
before I return. Tonight she is late and I'm rather early.'

'Where does that door lead?'

'To the kitchen.'

She went in front of him into the tiny room. It was spotlessly clean and
had one window, flush with that which he had seen through the keyhole of
the next room. He looked down into a bottomless void, but just beneath
was a narrow parapet. He swung one leg across the sill, only to find his
arm held in a frenzied grip by the girl.

'You mustn't go, you'll be killed!' she gasped and he laughed at her, not
ill pleased, for the risk was practically nil.

'I've got a pretty high regard for me,' he said, and in another instant
he had swung clear, gripped the lower sash of the second window and had
pulled himself into the room.

He could see nothing except the dim outlines of three trunks stacked one
on top of the other. He switched on the light and turned to survey the
confusion. Old boxes and trunks which, he guessed, had been piled in some
order, were dragged into the centre of the room to allow the free
operation of the vanished burglar. Recessed into the wall, thus cleared,
was a safe the door of which was open. On the floor beneath was a rough
circle of metal burnt from the door--it was still hot when he touched
it--by the small blowlamp that the burglar had left behind him.

He unlocked the door of the room and admitted Elk and the girl.

'That's good work,' said Elk, whose detached admiration for the genius of
law-breakers was at least sincere. 'Safe's empty! Not so much as a
cigarette card left behind. Good work! Toby Haggitt or Lew
Yakobi--they're the only two men in London that could have done it.'

The girl was gazing wide-eyed at the 'good work'. She was very pale, Jim
noticed, and misread the cause.

'What was in the safe?' he asked.

She shook her head.

'I don't know--I didn't even know that there was a safe in the room. He
will be terrible about this!'

Carlton knew the 'he' was the absent Ingle. 'He won't know for some time,
anyway--' he began, but she broke in upon his reassurance.

'Next week,' she said; 'he is being released on Wednesday.'

Elk scratched his chin thoughtfully. 'Somebody knew that,' he said; 'he
hadn't a partner either.'

Arthur Ingle was indeed a solitary worker. His frauds had been
unsuspected even by such friends as he had in his acting days--for they
had covered a period of twelve years before his arrest and conviction. To
the members of his company he was known as a bad paymaster and an
unscrupulous manager; none imagined that this clever player of character
parts was 'Lobber & Syne, Manufacturing Jewellers, of Clerkenwell,' and
other aliases that produced him such golden harvests.

'It was no fault of yours,' said Jim Carlton; and she submitted to a
gentle pat on the shoulder. 'There's no sense in worrying about it.'

Elk was examining the blowlamp under the electric light.

'Bet it's Toby,' he said, and walked to the window.

'That's his graft. He'd make a cat burglar look like a wool-eatin'
kitten! Parapets are like the Great West Road to Toby--he'd stop to
manicure his nails on three inches of rotten sandstone.'

The identity of the burglar worried Jim less than it did the girl. He had
the brain of a lightning calculator. A hundred aspects of the crime, a
hundred possibilities and explanations flickered through his mind and
none completely satisfied him. Unless--

The Splendid Harlow was on the way to becoming an obsession. There was no
immense sum of money to be made from discovering the secrets of a
convicted swindler.

That there was money in the safe he did not for one moment believe. Ingle
was not the type of criminal which hid its wealth in safes. He credited
him with a dozen banking accounts in fictitious names, and each holding
money on deposit.

They went back into the panelled dining-room. The apartment interested
Jim, for here was every evidence of luxury and refinement. The flat must
have cost thousands of pounds to furnish. And then he remembered that
Arthur Ingle had been convicted on three charges. Evidence in a number of
others, which must have produced enormous profits, was either missing or
of too shaky a character to produce. This apartment represented coups
more successful than those for which Arthur Ingle had been convicted.

'Do you know your uncle very well?'

She shook her head.

'I knew him better many years ago,' she said, 'when he was an actor,
before he--well, before he got rich! I am his only living relation.' She
raised her head, listening.

Somebody had knocked at the outer door.

'It may be the charwoman,' she said, and went along the passage to open
the door.

A man was standing on the mat outside, tall, commanding, magnificent in
his well-cut evening clothes. His snowy linen blazed and twinkled with
diamonds; the buttons on his white waistcoat were aglitter.

It was part of the primitive in the man, so that she saw nothing vulgar
in the display. But something within her shrank under his pale gaze. She
had a strange and inexplicable sensation of being in the presence of a
power beyond earthly control. She was crushed by the sense of his immense
superiority. So she might have felt had she found herself confronted by a
tiger.

'My name is Harlow--we met on Dartmoor,' he said, and showed a line of
even teeth in a smile. 'May I come in?'

She could not speak in her astonishment, but somebody answered for her.

'Come in, Harlow,' drawled Jim Carlton's voice. 'I'd love to have your
first impression of Dartmoor; is it really as snappy as people think?'



CHAPTER 4


MR. HARLOW'S attitude towards this impertinent man struck the girl as
remarkable. It was mild, almost benevolent; he seemed to regard James
Carlton as a good joke. And he was the great Harlow! She had learnt that
at Princetown.

You could not work in the City without hearing of Harlow, his coups and
successes. Important bankers spoke of him with bated breath. His money
was too liquid for safety: it flowed here and there in floods that were
more often than not destructive. Sometimes it would disappear into
subterranean caverns, only to gush forth in greater and more devastating
volume to cut new channels through old cultivations and presently to
recede, leaving havoc and ruin behind.

And of course she had heard of the police station. When Mr Harlow
interested himself in the public weal he did so thoroughly and
unconventionally. His letters to the press on the subject of penology
were the best of their kind that have appeared in print. He pestered
Ministers and commissioners with his plans for a model police station,
and when his enthusiasm was rebuffed he did what no philanthropist,
however public-minded, has ever done before.

He bought a freehold plot in Evory Street (which is not a stone's throw
from Park Lane), built his model police headquarters at the cost of two
hundred thousand pounds, and presented the building to the police
commissioners. It was a model police office in every respect. The men's
quarters above the station were the finest of their kind in the world.
Even the cells had the quality of comfort, though they contained the
regulation plank bed. This gift was a nine days' wonder. Topical revues
had their jokes about it; the cartoonists flung their gibes at the
Government upon the happening.

The City had ceased to think of him as eccentric, they called him 'sharp'
and contrasted him unfavourably with his father. They were a little
afraid of him. His money was too fluid for stability.

He nodded smilingly at Jim Carlton, fixed the unhappy Elk with a glance,
and then: 'I did not know that you and my friend Carlton were
acquainted.' And then, in a changed tone: 'I hope I am not de trop.'

His voice, his attitude said as plainly as words could express: 'I
presume this is a police visitation due to the notorious character of
your uncle?' The girl thought this. Jim knew it.

'There has been a burglary here and Miss Rivers called us in,' he said.

Harlow murmured his regrets and sympathy. 'I congratulate you upon having
secured the shrewdest officer in the police force.' He addressed the girl
blandly.

'And I congratulate the police force'--he looked at Jim--'upon detaching
you from the Foreign Office--you were wasted there, Mr Carlton, if I may
be so impertinent as to express an opinion.'

'I am still in the Foreign Office,' said Jim. 'This is spare-time work.
Even policemen are entitled to their amusements. And how did you like
Dartmoor?'

The Splendid Harlow smiled sadly. 'Very impressive, very tragic,' he
said. 'I am referring of course to Princetown, where I spent a couple of
nights.'

Aileen was waiting to hear the reason for the call; even though her
distress and foreboding she was curious to learn what whim had brought
this super-magnate to the home of a convict.

He looked slowly from her to the men and again Jim interpreted his
wishes; he glanced at Elk and walked with him into the lumber room.

'It occurred to me,' said Mr Harlow, 'that I might be in a position to
afford you some little help. My name may not be wholly unknown to you; I
am Mr Stratford Harlow.'

She nodded.

'I knew that,' she said.

'They told you at the Duchy, did they?' It seemed that he was relieved
that she had identified him.

'Mine is rather a delicate errand, but it struck me--I have found myself
thinking about you many times since we met--that possibly...I might be
able to find a good position for you. Your situation, if you will forgive
my saying as much, is a little tragic. Association with--er--criminals or
people with criminal records has a drugging effect even upon the finest
nature.'

She smiled. 'In other words, Mr Harlow,' she said quietly, 'you're under
the impression I'm rather badly off and that you would like to make life
easier for me?'

He beamed at this. 'Exactly,' he said.

'It is very kind of you--most kind,' she said, and meant it. 'But I have
a very good job in a lawyer's office.' He inclined his head graciously.
'Mr Stebbings has been very good to me--'

'Mr ----?' His head jerked on one side. 'Stebbings--of Stebbings, Field &
Farrow--surely not! They were my lawyers until a few years ago.'

She knew this also.

'Quite good people, though a little old-fashioned,' he said. 'Then of
course you have heard Mr Stebbings speak of me?'

'Only once,' she confessed. 'He is a very reticent man and never talks
about his clients.'

Harlow bit his lip in thought. 'An excellent fellow! I have often
wondered whether I was wrong in taking my affairs from him. I wish you
would mention that to him when you see him. I understood you were working
in the office of the New Library Syndicate?'

She smiled at this. 'It's curious you should say that; their offices are
in Lincoln's Inn Fields, but next door.'

'Ah!' he said. 'I see how the mistake arose,' and added quickly: 'A
friend of mine who knows you saw you going into--er--an office; and
obviously made a mistake.'

He did not tell her who was their mutual friend, and she was not
sufficiently interested to inquire.

This time the knock at the door was more pronounced.

'Will you excuse me?' she said. 'That is my cleaner, and she is rather
inclined to tell me her troubles. I may keep you waiting a little while.'

She left him and he heard the sounds of a door opening, as Jim Carlton
and Elk came back into the dining-room.

'A very charming young lady that,' said Mr Harlow.

'Very,' said Jim shortly.

'Women do not interest me greatly'--the Splendid Harlow picked a tiny
thread of cotton from his immaculate coat and dropped it on the floor.
'They think along lines which I find it difficult to follow. They are
emotional, too--swayed by momentary fears and scruples...'

The sound of voices in the passage, one high-pitched and complaining:

'...what with the fog and everything, miss, it's lucky I'm here at
all...'

A shabby figure passed the open door, followed by Aileen.

'I suppose you don't know Ingle, Mr Harlow?' Jim was examining the
photograph on the mantelpiece. 'A long-firm swindler; clever, but with a
kink even in his kinkiness! Believes in revolution and all that sort of
thing...blood and guillotines and tumbrils; the whole box of tricks--'

Something made him look round.

Mr Stratford Harlow was standing in the centre of the room, gripping the
edge of a small table to keep him upright.

His face was white and haggard and drawn; and in his pale eyes was a look
of horror such as Jim Carlton had never seen in the face of a man. Elk
sprang forward and caught him as he swayed and led him to a big settee.
Into this Stratford Harlow sank and leaning forward, covered his face
with his hands.

'Oh, my God!' he said as he rocked slowly from side to side and fell in a
heap on the ground.

The colossus had fainted.



CHAPTER 5


'A LITTLE heart trouble,' said Mr Harlow, smiling as he set down the
glass of water. 'I'm terribly sorry to have given you so much trouble,
Miss Rivers. I haven't had an attack in years.'

He was still pale, but such was his extraordinary self-control that the
hand that put down the glass was without a tremor.

'Phew!' He dabbed his forehead with a silk handkerchief and rose steadily
to his feet.

Elk was engaged in the prosaic task of brushing the dust stains from his
knees and looked up.

'You'd better let me take you home, Mr Harlow,' he said.

Stratford Harlow shook his head.

'That is quite unnecessary--quite,' he said. 'I have my car at the door
and a remedy for all such mental disturbances as these! And it is not a
drug!' he smiled.

Nevertheless, Elk went with him to the car.

'Will you tell my chauffeur to drive to the Charing Cross power station?'
was the surprising request; and long after the car had moved off in the
fog Elk stood on the sidewalk, wondering what business took this
multi-millionaire to such a venue.

They evidently knew Mr Harlow at the power station and they at any rate
saw nothing remarkable in his visit.

The engineer, who was smoking at the door, stood back to let him walk
into the great machinery hall, and placed a stool for him. And there for
half an hour he sat, and the droning of the dynamos and the whirr and
thud of the great engines were sedatives and anodynes to his troubled
mind.

Here he had come before, to think out great schemes, which developed best
in this atmosphere. The power and majesty of big wheels, the rhythm of
the driving belts as they sagged and rose, the shaded lights above the
marble switchboards, the noisy quiet of it all, stimulated him as nothing
else could. Here he found the illusion of irresistibility that attuned so
perfectly to his own mood; the inevitable effects of the inevitable
causes. The sense that he was standing near the very heart of power was
an inspiration. This lofty hall was a very home of the gods to him.

Half an hour, an hour, passed, and then he rose with a catch of his
breath, and a slow smile lit the big face. 'Thank you, Harry, thank you.'

He shook the attendant's hand and left something that crinkled in the
hard palm of the workman. A few minutes later he drove through
brilliantly illuminated Piccadilly Circus and could offer a friendly nod
to the flickering and flashing lights whose birth he had seen and whose
very brilliance was a homage to the steel godhead.

To be thoroughly understood, Mr Stratford Harlow must be known.

There had been five members of the Harlow family when Stratford Selwyn
Mortimer Harlow was born, and they were all immensely rich. His mother
died a week later, his father when he was aged three, leaving the infant
child to the care of his Aunt Mercy, a spinster who was accounted, even
by her charitable relatives, as 'strange'. The boy was never sent to
school, for his health was none of the best and he had his education at
the hands of his aunt. An enormously rich woman with no interest in life,
she guarded her charge jealously. Family interference drove her to a
frenzy. The one call that her two sisters paid her, when the boy was
seven, ended in a scene on which Miss Alice, the younger, based most of
her conversation for years afterwards.

The main result of the quarrel between Miss Mercy and her maiden sisters
was that she shut up Kravelly Hall and removed, with her maid Mrs Edwins,
to a little cottage at Teignmouth. Here she lived unmolested by her
relatives for seven years. She then went to Scarborough for three years
and thence to Bournemouth. Regularly every month she wrote to her two
sisters and her bachelor brother in New York; and the terminology of the
letters did not vary by so much as a comma:

"Miss Mercy Harlow presents her compliments and begs to state that The
Boy is in Good Health and is receiving adequate tuition in the essential
subjects together with a sound instruction in the tenets of the
Protestant Faith."

She had engaged a tutor, a bearded young man from Oxford University (she
deigned to mention this fact to her brother, with whom she had not
quarrelled), whose name was Marling. There came to the ears of Aunt Alice
a story which called into question the fitness of Mr Marling to mould the
plastic mind of youth. A mild scandal at Oxford. Miss Alice felt it her
duty to write, and after a long interval had a reply:

"Miss Mercy Harlow begs to thank Miss Alice Harlow for her communication
and in reply begs to state that she has conducted a very thorough and
searching enquiry into the charges preferred against Mr Saul Marling
(B.A. Oxon) and is satisfied that Mr Marling acted in the most honourable
manner, and has done nothing with which he may reproach himself or which
renders him unfit to direct the studies of The Boy."

This happened a year before Miss Mercy's death. When nature took its toll
and she passed to her Maker, Miss Alice hastened to Bournemouth and in a
small and secluded cottage near Christchurch found a big and solemn young
man of twenty-three, dressed a little gawkily in black. He was tearless;
and indeed, his aunt suspected, almost cheerful, at the prospect of being
freed from Miss Mercy's drastic management.

The bearded tutor had left (Mrs Edwins, the maid, tearfully explained) a
fortnight before the passing of Miss Mercy.

'And if he hadn't gone,' said Miss Alice with tight lips, 'I should have
made short work of him. The Boy has been suppressed! He hasn't a word to
say for himself!'

A council was held, including the family lawyer, who was making his first
acquaintance with Stratford. It was agreed that The Boy should have a
flat in Park Lane and the companionship of an elder man who combined a
knowledge of the world with a leaning towards piety. Such was found in
the Rev. John Barthurst, M.A., an ex-naval chaplain.

Miss Edwins was pensioned off and the beginning of Stratford's
independent life was celebrated with a dinner and a visit to Charley's
Aunt, through which roaring farce he sat with a stony face.

The tutelage lasted the best part of a year; and then the quiet young man
suddenly came to life, dismissed his worldly and pious companion with a
cheque for a thousand pounds, summoned Mrs Edwins to be his housekeeper;
and bought and reconstructed the Duke of Greenhart's house in Park Lane.

And thenceforward Mr Harlow's name began to appear in the records of
important transactions. Family fortunes dropped into his lap. Miss Mercy
had been fabulously rich. She had left him every penny of her fortune,
with the exception of 100 to Lucy Edwins in recognition of her faithful
service, realising that she will not regard this sum as inadequate in
view of the great service I rendered to her.' Then Miss Henrietta died;
and when the death duties were paid there was the greater part of two
millions. Miss Alice left more. The bachelor uncle in New York died a
comparative pauper, leaving a beggarly six hundred thousand.

Mr Harlow's house was a rather ugly three-storey building which occupied
a small island site, possibly the most valuable in Park Lane, though the
actual entrance was not in that exclusive thoroughfare, but in the side
street. He opened the door with a key and walked into the hall. The door
to the library faced him. There were some letters on the table, which he
scanned through rapidly, opening only one. It was from Ellenbury; and
just then Mr Harlow was annoyed with Ellenbury; he had supplied erroneous
information about Aileen Rivers, and had made him look a fool.

He read the letter carefully, and then dropped it in the fire and watched
it turn black.

'A useful man, but a thought too anxious. It was a mistake perhaps to
keep him so taut. He must be let down,' Mr Harlow decided. A little of
his own confidence must be infused into his helper. Too great a desire to
please, too present a fear of failure: those were Ellenbury's weaknesses.

He pressed an ivory bell on his desk, sat down, reached to the wall, slid
back a panel and took out a small black bottle, a siphon and a glass. He
poured out barely more whisky than was enough to cover the bottom of the
tumbler, and filled it to the top with soda-water. The glass was
half-empty when Mrs Edwins, his housekeeper, came in without knocking. A
tall, yellow-faced woman, with burning black eyes, she showed nothing of
the slowness or decrepitude that might have been expected in a woman near
seventy.

'You rang?'

Miss Mercy's maid of other days had a voice as sharp and clear as a bugle
note. She stood before the desk, her hands behind her, her eyes fixed on
his.

'Yes,' he said, turning over his letters once more. 'Is everything all
right?'

'Everything.'

Like a bugle note and with some of a bugle's stridency.

'Couldn't we keep a servant in the house?' she asked. 'The hours are a
little too long for me. I didn't get to bed until one o'clock yesterday,
and I had to be up at seven to let them in.'

It was a curious fact that no servants slept at No. 704, Park Lane. There
was not a house of its size, or an establishment of such pretensions, in
all the country where every servant slept out. Mr Harlow's excuse to his
friends was that the room space was too valuable for servants, but he
denied this by hiring an expensive house in Charles Street for their
accommodation.

'No, I don't think it is necessary,' he said, pursing his lips. 'I
thought you understood that.'

'I might die, or be taken ill in the night,' said Mrs Edwins
dispassionately, 'and then where would you be?'

He smiled. 'It would be rather a case of where would you be, I think.' he
said in excellent humour. 'Nothing has happened?'

She considered her answer before she replied. 'Somebody called, that was
all,' she said, 'but I'll tell you about that afterwards.'

He was amused. 'A good many people call. Very well--be mysterious!'

He got up from his chair and walked out of the room, and she followed.
There was a tiny elevator in the hall, big enough for two, but she
declined this conveyance.

'I'll walk,' she said, and he laughed softly.

'You were complaining about feeling tired just now,' he retorted as he
closed the grille before the little lift.

He pressed the top button, the elevator moved swiftly and noiselessly
upwards and came at last to a stop on the third floor, where he stepped
out to a square-carpeted landing from which led two doors. Here he
waited, humming softly to himself, until the woman came in sight round
the bend of the stairs.

'You're an athlete,' he said pleasantly and, jerking out a pocket-chain,
selected a small key and opened the door on the left.

It was a big and artistically furnished apartment, lit from the cornice
by concealed light and from the floor by two red-shaded lamps. In one
corner of the room was an ornate wooden bed of red lacquer decorated with
Chinese paintings in gold. At a small Empire desk near one of the
windows, which were heavily curtained, sat a man. He was almost as tall
as Stratford Harlow; and the features which would have arrested the
attention of a stranger were his big, dome-shaped forehead and the long
golden-yellow beard which, in spite of his age--and he must have been as
old as Harlow himself--was untinged with grey.

He was reading, one thin hand on his cheek, his eyes fixed upon the book
that lay or the desk, and not until Mr Harlow spoke did he look up.

'Hallo, Marling!' said Stratford Harlow gently.

The man leaned back in his chair, closed the book, mechanically marking
his place with a thin tortoise-shell paper-knife.

'Good evening,' he said simply.

'Time you had your walk, isn't it?'

There was a second door in the room and towards this Mr Harlow glanced.

'Yes, I suppose it is,' said the man, and rose.

He wore a short dressing-jacket of dark blue velvet; his feet were
encased in red morocco slippers. His glance strayed back to the closed
book as though he were reluctant to have his reading interrupted.

'The Odes of Horace,' he said; 'an English translation, but full of
errors.'

'Yes, yes,' smiled Mr Harlow. 'It's rather late for Horace.'

The woman was standing by the door, stiffly erect, her hands folded in
front of her, her dark eyes on her master.

'Do you know who you are, my friend?' he asked.

The bearded man put his white hand to his forehead.

'I am Saul Marling, a graduate of Balliol,' he said.

Mr Harlow nodded.

'And--anything eke?' he asked.

Again the hand went up to the dome-shaped forehead.

'I forget...how absurd! It was something I saw, wasn't it?' he asked
anxiously.

'Something you saw,' agreed Mr Harlow, 'just before Miss Mercy died.'

The other heaved a sigh.

'She died very suddenly. She was very kind to me in all my little
troubles. Awfully suddenly! She used to sit on the chair talking to you,
and then one night after dinner she fell down.'

'On the floor,' nodded Mr Harlow, almost cheerfully. 'But you saw
something, didn't you?' he encouraged. 'A little bottle and some blue
stuff. Wake up, Marling! You remember the little bottle and the blue
stuff?'

The man shook his head.

'Not clearly...that was before you and Mrs Edwins took me away. I drank
the white powders--they fizzed like a seidlitz powder--and then...'

'To the country,' smiled Harlow. 'You were ill, my poor old fellow, and
we had to prescribe something to quieten you. You're all right?'

'My head is a little confused--' began the man, but Harlow laughed,
caught him almost affectionately by the arm and, opening the narrow door,
led his companion up a flight of steep stairs. At the top of this was
another door, which Mr Harlow unlocked. They were on the roof of
Greenhart House, a wide, flat expanse of asphalt confined within a
breast-high parapet. For half an hour they walked up and down arm-in-arm,
the bigger man talking all the time. The fog was thick, the street lamps
showed themselves below as patches of dull yellow luminosity.

'Cold? I told you to put on your scarf, you stupid chap!' Mr Harlow was
good-humoured even in his annoyance.

'Conic along, we'll go down.'

In the room below he fastened the door and gazed approvingly round the
comfortable apartment. He took up one of the eight volumes that lay on a
table. They still wore the publishers' wrappers and had arrived that day.

'Reading maketh a full man--you will find the Augustan histories a little
heavy even for a graduate of Oxford, eh? Good night. Marling--sleep
well.'

He locked the door and went out on to the landing with Mrs Edwins. Her
hard eyes were fixed on his face, and until he spoke she was silent.

'He's quite all right,' he said.

'Is he?' Her harsh voice was disagreeable. 'How can he be all right if
he's reading and writing?'

'Writing?' he asked quickly. 'What?'

'Oh, just stuff about the Romans, but it reads sensible.'

Mr Harlow considered this frowningly. 'That means nothing. He gives no
trouble.'

'No,' she said shortly. 'I get worried,' she went on, 'but he's quiet.
Who is Mr Carlton?'

Harlow drew a quick breath. 'Has he been here?'

She nodded. 'Yes--this afternoon. He asked me if I was Miss Mercy's old
maid--she must have died soon after he was born.'

'He's older than that--well?'

'I thought it was queer, but he said he'd been asked to trace Mr Saul
Marling.'

'By whom?'

She confessed her ignorance with a look. 'I don't know; but it was a
proper inquiry. He showed me the papers. They were from Eastbourne. I
told him Marling was dead. "Where?" he said. "In South America," I told
him.'

'Pernambuco,' emphasised Mr Harlow, 'in the plague epidemic. Humph!
Clever...and unscrupulous. Thank you.'

She watched him pass into the elevator and drop out of sight, then she
went into the second room that opened from the landing. This too, was
pleasantly furnished. Turning on the lights she sat down and opened a big
chintz bag.

From this she took an unfinished stocking and adjusted her knitting
needles. And as her nimble fingers moved, so did her lips.

'Pernambuco-in the plague epidemic,' she was saying.



CHAPTER 6


AILEEN RIVERS lived in Bloomsbury, which had the advantage of being near
her work. She had spent a restless night, and the day that followed had
been full of vexation. Mr Stebbings, her immediate chief, was away
nursing a cold; and his junior partner, with whom she was constantly
brought into contact that day, was a tetchy and disagreeable man, with a
habit of mislaying important documents and blaming the person who
happened to be most handy for their disappearance.

At six o'clock in the evening she locked up her desk with a sigh of
thankfulness, looking forward to a light dinner and an early bedtime.
Through her window she had seen the car drawn up by the kerb, and at
first had thought it was waiting for a client, so that she was a little
surprised, and by no means pleased, when, as she came down the steps of
the old-fashioned house where the office was situate, a young man crossed
the broad sidewalk towards her and lifted his hat.

'Oh, you!' she said in some dismay,

'Me, or I, as the case may be; I'm not quite certain which,' said Jim
Carlton. 'And your tone is offensive,' he said sternly. 'By rights Elk or
I should have been interviewing you at all sorts of odd hours during the
day.'

'But what on earth can I tell you?' she asked, exasperated. You know
everything about the burglary--I suppose that is what you mean?'

'That is what I mean,' said Jim. 'It is very evident that you know
nothing about policemen. You imagine, I suppose, that Scotland Yard says
"Hallo, there's been a burglary in Victoria. How interesting! Nobody
knows, anything about it, so we'll let the matter drop." You're wrong!'

'I'm much too hungry to talk.'

'So I guessed,' he said. 'There is an unpretentious restaurant at King's
Cross, where the sole bonne femme is worthy only of the pure of heart.'

She hesitated. 'Very well,' she said a little ungraciously. 'Is that your
car? How funny!'

'There's nothing funny about my car,' he said with dignity, 'and it is
not my car. I borrowed it.'

It was a clear night of stars and there was a touch of frost in the air
and, although she would not have admitted as much for untold wealth, she
enjoyed the short run that brought them to the side entrance of a large
restaurant filled with people in varying stages of gastronomic enjoyment.

'I have booked a table,' he said, piloting her through an avenue of
working jaws to a secluded corner of the annexe.

The atmosphere of the place was very satisfying. The pink table-lamps had
a soothing effect, and she could examine him at her leisure. In truth it
had been one of the sources of irritation of that very unhappy day that
she could not quite remember what he looked like. She knew that he was
not repulsive, and had a misty idea that he was rather good-looking, but
that his nose was too short. It proved on inspection to be of a
reasonable length. His eyes were blue and he was a little older than she
had thought. Half her disrespect was based on the illusion of his youth.

'Now ask all your horrid questions,' she said as she took off her gloves.

'Number one,' he began. 'What did Harlow offer you when I so discreetly
withdrew last night?'

'That has nothing to do with the burglary,' she answered promptly. 'But
as it wasn't very important, I will tell you. He offered me a position.'

'Where?' he asked quickly.

She shook her head.

'I don't know. We didn't get as far as that; I told him I was perfectly
happy with Mr Stebbings--who, by the way, used to be the lawyer of the
Harlow family.'

'Did you tell him that?' He thrust his head forward eagerly.

'Why, no--he told me, though of course I knew,' she said. 'He knew, the
moment I mentioned Stebbings's name.'

'Was he impressed?' he asked after a pause and she laughed.

'How ridiculous you are! Seriously, Mr--'she paused insultingly.

'Carlton,' he murmured; 'half-brother to the hotel but no relation to the
club.'

'You worked that one last night,' she said.

'And I shall work it every night you pretend to forget my name! Anyway,
it is a confession of crass ignorance which no modern young woman can
afford to make. I am one of the most famous men in London.'

'I think I've heard you say that before,' she said mendaciously. 'Now
tell me seriously, Mr Carlton--'

'Got it!' he murmured.

'What do you want to know about the burglary?'

'Nothing,' was the shameless reply. 'As a matter of fact, I have saved
you a great deal of trouble by supplying headquarters with all the
details they need. Your uncle emerges tomorrow; do you know that?'

'Tomorrow?' she said, with a pang of apprehension.

'And Elk is going to meet him and take some of the sting out of his
anger. I suppose he will be very angry?'

'He'll be furious,' said the girl, troubled. And then, with a quick sigh,
'I'll be awfully glad when he has "emerged," as you call it. He allows me
two pounds a week for my trouble, but I can well spare that.'

'Arthur Ingle ought to be ashamed of himself to drag you into the light
which shines so brightly upon the unjust,' he said. 'There is only one
thing I want to know about him, and perhaps you can tell me--was your
uncle a great speculator?'

'I don't think so. But really I don't know. He never spoke to me about
any investments. Is that what you mean?'

'That is just what I mean,' said Jim. He found it difficult to put the
question without offence. 'You've had interviews with him and I dare say
you've discussed his business to some extent. I shouldn't ask you to
betray his confidence and I don't suppose for one minute you will. Did he
ever talk about foreign gilt-edged investments?'

She was shaking her head before he finished the question.

'Never,' she said. 'I don't think he knows much about them. I remember
the first time I saw him at Dartmoor he told me he didn't believe in
putting money in shares. Of course, I'm well aware he has money, but you
know that, too, and I suppose it is stolen money that he's--'

'Cached--yes,' said Jim.

He was very serious. It was the first time she had seen him in that mood
and she rather liked it.

'Only one more question. You don't know that he is in any way connected
with a firm called Rata?'

And, when she confessed that she had never heard of such a firm, his
seriousness was at an end.

'And that's the whole of the questionnaire, back page and everything!'

He leaned back to allow the burly waiter to place the dish on the table.
'Sole bonne femme is good for the tired business girl. Will you have
wine, or just the Lord's good water?'

After this he became his old flippant self. He made no further allusion
to her uncle; and if he talked a great deal about himself, it was
interesting, for he talked shop, and Scotland Yard shop is the second
most interesting in the world. He lived at his club.

'I'd better give you the telephone number in case you ever want me.' He
scrawled the address on the back of the menu and tore off the corner.

'Why should I want you?'

'I don't know. I've just got a feeling that you might. I'm a hunch
merchant--do you know what a hunch merchant is?'

She could guess.

'Premonitions are my long suit, telepathy my sixth sense, and I've got a
hunch...perhaps I'm wrong. I hope I am.'

Once or twice he had looked at his watch, a little furtively, she
thought, yet it seemed that he was prepared to break any appointment he
had made, for he lingered over his coffee until she brought a happy
evening to an abrupt close by putting on her gloves. As they were driving
back to her rooms: 'I haven't asked you very much about yourself. That is
the kind of impertinence which really scares me,' he said, 'but I gather
that you're unmarried--and unengaged?' he asked.

'I have no followers,' she said without embarrassment, 'and I hope that
confession will offer no encouragement to the philandering constabulary!'

He chuckled for fully a minute.

'That's good,' he said at last.' "Philandering constabulary" is taken
into use for special occasions. You're the first woman--'

'Don't!' she warned him.

'--I've ever met with a real sense of humour,' he concluded. 'I'm sorry
to disappoint you.'

'I wasn't disappointed. I expected something banal,' she said. 'My house
is the third on the left...thank you.'

She got down without assistance and offered her hand, and as he looked
past her towards the door of the house:

'The number is 163,' she said, 'but you needn't write unless you've
something very policey to write about. Good night!'

Jim Carlton was smiling all the way to Whitehall Gardens and his sense of
amusement still held when he followed the footman into Sir Joseph
Layton's study.

The words 'Joseph Layton' are familiar to all who carry passports, for he
was the Foreign Secretary, a man of slight figure and ascetic face; and
possibly the most cartooned politician in Britain.

He looked up over his big horn-rimmed glasses as Jim came in. 'Sit down,
Carlton.' He blotted the letter he had been writing, inserted it with
punctilious care into an envelope, and addressed it with a flourish
before he spoke. 'I've just come back from the House. Did you call
before?'

'No, sir.'

'Humph!' He settled himself more easily in his padded chair, put the tips
of his fingers together, and again scrutinised the detective over his
glasses. 'Well, what are the developments?' he asked, and added: 'I've
seen the cables you sent me. Curious--very curious indeed. You
intercepted them?'

'Some of them, sir,' said Jim. 'A great deal of the correspondence of the
Rata Syndicate goes through other channels. But there's enough to show
that Rata is there preparing for a big killing. I should imagine that
every big broking house in the world has received similar instructions.'

Sir Joseph unlocked a drawer of his desk and, pulling it open, took out a
number of sheets of paper fastened together by a big brass clip. He
turned the leaves slowly.

'I suppose this one is typical,' he said.

It was a message addressed to Rata Syndicate, Wall Street: 'Be ready to
sell for 15 per cent. drop undermentioned securities.'

Here followed a long list that covered two pages of writing, and against
each stock was the number to be sold.

'Yes,' said Sir Joseph, stroking his little white moustache thoughtfully.
'Very peculiar, very remarkable! As you said in your letter, these are
the very stocks which would be instantly affected by the threat of war.
But who on earth are we going to fight? The International situation was
never easier. The Moroccan question has been settled. You read my speech
in the House last night?' Jim nodded. 'Upon my word,' said Sir Joseph, 'I
think I was very careful to avoid anything like unjustifiable optimism,
but, searching the world from East to West, I can see no single cloud on
the horizon.'

Jim Carlton reached out, took the papers and read them through carefully.

'I think,' said the Foreign Minister with a twinkle in his eye, 'you have
at the back of your mind the vision of some diabolical conspiracy to
embroil the world in war. Am I right? Secret agents, traffic in secret
plans, cellar meetings with masked and highly-placed diplomats?'

'Nothing so romantic,' smiled Jim. 'No; I wasn't brought up in that
school. I know how wars are made. They grow as storms grow--out of the
mists that gather on marshlands and meadows. Label them "the rising
clouds of national prejudice," and you've got a rough illustration.'

'Come now, Mr Carlton, who is your ideal conspirator? I'm sure I know.
You think Harlow is behind Rata; and that he has some diabolical scheme
for stirring up the nations?'

'I think Harlow is behind most of the big disturbances,' said Jim slowly.
'He's got too much money; can't you get some of it away from him?'

'We do our best,' said the Foreign Minister dryly; 'but he is one of the
few people in England who can look the sur-tax collector in the eye and
never quail!'

Jim went back to Scotland Yard expecting to find Elk, but learned that
that intelligent officer had left earlier in the evening for Devonshire.
He was to meet Ingle on his release from prison and accompany him to
town. And Inspector Elk's mission was certainly not on Aileen's behalf,
nor had he any humanitarian idea of preparing the convict for news of the
burglary.

The first idea (and this proved to be wrong) was that there was a reason
and a mind behind this crime. Something had been taken of such value as
justified the risk.

The sudden appearance of Harlow in the flat immediately after the crime
had been committed had convinced Carlton that his visit was associated
with the safe robbery. Harlow should have been at a City banquet--Jim had
been trailing him all that day, and had known his destination. Indeed,
his name had appeared in the morning newspapers as having been present at
the dinner. And yet, within an hour of the accident on the Embankment,
Harlow had turned up at Fotheringay Mansions, and had not deigned to
offer an excuse for his absence from the dinner, although Jim was sure he
knew that he had been trailed.

The early morning found Inspector Elk shivering on the wind-swept
platform of Princetown. There were very few people in the waiting train
at that hour; a workman or two on their way to an intermediate station, a
commercial traveller who had been detained overnight and was probably
looking forward to the comforts of Plymouth, comprised the list. It was
within a minute of starting time, and he was beginning to think that he
had wasted his time getting up so early, when he saw two men walk on to
the platform.

One was a warder, and the other a thin man in an ill-fitting blue suit.
The warder disappeared into the booking-office and came back with a
ticket, which he handed to the other.

'So long, Ingle!' said the officer, and held out his hand, which the
ex-convict took grudgingly.

Ingle stepped into the carriage and was turning to shut the door when Elk
followed him and the recognition was immediate. Into the keen eyes of
Arthur Ingle came a look of deep suspicion.

'Hallo! What do you want?' he asked harshly.

'Why, bless my life, if it isn't Ingle!' said Elk with a gasp. 'Well,
well, well! It doesn't seem five years ago--'

'What do you want?' asked Ingle again.

'Me? Nothing! I've been up to the prison making a few inquiries about a
friend of one of those mocking birds, but you know what they are--it was
love's labour lost, so to speak,' said Elk, lighting a cigar and offering
the case to his companion.

Ingle took the brown cylinder, smelt it and, biting off the end savagely,
accepted the light which the detective held for him. By this time the
train was moving and they were free from any possibility of interruption.

'Let me see: I heard something about you the other day...What was it?' Mr
Elk held his forehead, a picture of perplexity. 'I've got it!' he said.
'There was a burglary at your flat.'

The cigar dropped from the man's hand.

'A burglary?' he said shrilly. 'What was stolen?'

'Somebody opened the safe in your locker room--'

Ingle sprang to his feet, his teeth bared, his eyes glaring. 'The safe!'
He almost screamed the words. 'Opened the safe--damn them! They're not
satisfied with sending me to five years of this hell, but they want to
catch me again, do they...?'

Elk let him rave on until, in his rage, the man's voice sank to a hoarse
rattle of sound.

'I hope you didn't lose any money?'

'Money!' snarled the man. 'Do you think I'm the kind who puts money in a
safe? You know what I lost!' He pointed an accusing finger at the
detective. 'You fellows did it! So that's why you're here, eh? A prison
gate arrest, is it?'

'My dear, good man!' Elk was pained. 'I don't know what you're talking
about! You're no more under arrest than I am. You could walk out of that
door as free as the air, if the train wasn't moving.' And then he asked:
'What did they pinch?'

It was a long time before the man recovered himself. 'If you don't know
I'm not going to tell you,' he said. 'Some day--' He ground his teeth and
in his eyes glared; the fires of fanaticism. 'You, and the like of you,
call me a thief!' His voice rose again as he talked rapidly. 'You branded
me and put me into prison--segregated me from my kind...a pariah, a
leper! For what? For skimming off a little of the stolen cream! For
taking a little of the money wrested from sweating bodies and breaking
hearts! It was mine--mine!' He struck his chest with a bony fist, his
eyes blazing. 'The money belonged to me--to my fellows, to those men
there!' He pointed back to where, beyond the brow of a rise, lay the grim
prison building. 'I took it from those fat and greasy men and I'm glad of
it! One jewel less for their horrible women; one motor-car fewer for
their slaves to clean!'

'Great idea,' murmured Elk sympathetically.

'You! What are you? The lackey of a class,' sneered Ingle. 'The hired
torturer--the prison-feeder!'

'Quite right,' murmured Elk, listening with closed eyes.

'If they found those papers they've something to think about--do you
hear?--something to spoil their night's sleep! And if there is sedition
in them I'm willing to go back to Princetown.'

Elk opened his eyes quickly. 'Oh, was that what it was?' he asked,
disappointed. 'Revolution stuff?'

The man nodded curtly.

'I thought it was something worth while!' said Elk, annoyed. 'Silly idea
though, isn't it. Ingle?'

'To you, yes. To me, no,' snapped the other. 'I hate England! I hate the
English! I hate all middle-class people, the smirking self-satisfied
swine! I hated them when I was a starving actor and they sat in their
stalls with a sneer on their overfed faces...' He choked.

'There's a lot to be said for fat people,' mused Elk. 'Now take
Harlow-though you wouldn't call him a fat man.'

'Harlow!' scoffed the other. 'Another of your moneyed gods!' Evidently he
remembered something, for he stopped suddenly.

'Moneyed gods--?' suggested Elk.

'I don't know.' The man shook his head. 'He may not be what he seems. In
there'--he jerked his head backwards--'they say he's crook to his back
teeth! But he doesn't rob the poor. He takes it in large slabs from the
fat men.'

'If that's so, I've nothing to say. He's on the side of law and order,'
said Elk gently. 'A man who hands out police stations as Christmas
presents can't be wholly bad!'

By the time the train pulled into Plymouth station, Detective-Inspector
Elk was perfectly satisfied that there was nothing further to be learnt
from the man. He went to the post office and sent a telegram to Jim which
was short and expressive.

'Revolution stuff. Nothing important.'

He was on the same train that carried Mr Ingle to London, but he did not
occupy the same compartment, except for half an hour after the train
flashed through Bath, when he strolled into the carriage and sat down by
the man's side; and apparently he was welcome, for Ingle started talking.

'Have you seen anything of my niece? Docs she know about the burglary? I
think you told me, but I was so angry that I can't remember.' And, when
Elk had given him the fullest particulars: 'Harlow! Why did he come? He
met Aileen at Dartmoor, you say?' He frowned and suddenly slapped his
knee. 'I remember the fellow. He was sprawling in his car by the side of
the road when we came back from the field that day. So that was Harlow!
Does he know Aileen?' he asked suspiciously.

'They met at Dartmoor; that's all I know.' Ingle gave one of his
characteristic shrugs.

'I suppose he's running after her? She's a pretty sort of girl. With that
type of man, money's no object. She's old enough to look after herself
without my assistance.' So this Utopian left Aileen Rivers to her fate.



CHAPTER 7


HE HAD wired from Plymouth asking her to call at the flat that night, and
she arrived just as he had finished a dinner he had cooked for himself.

'Yes, I've heard about the burglary,' he said, cutting short her
question. 'They've got nothing that was worth a shilling to them, thank
God! Why did you call in the police?'

And then he had a shock.

'Who else should I have called in--a doctor?' she asked.

It was the first time he had met her in a period of freedom. She had had
her instructions to look after the flat, smuggled out of prison by a
discharged convict; and their talks during the brief visiting hours had
been mainly on business.

'What does one usually do when a burglary is discovered?' she asked. 'I
sent for the police--of course I sent!'

He stared at her fiercely, but she did not flinch. It was his eyes which
dropped first.

'I suppose it's all right,' he said, and then: 'You know Harlow, don't
you?'

'I met him at Dartmoor, yes.'

'A friend of yours?'

'No more than you are,' she said; and he had his second shock. 'I'm not
going to quarrel with you, and I don't see why you should want to be rude
to me,' he snapped. 'You've been useful, but I've not been ungenerous.
Harlow is a friend of yours--'

'He called here on the night of the burglary to offer me a job,' she
replied, without any visible evidence other rising anger. 'I met him at
Princetown and he seemed to think that because of my relationship with
you, I should find it rather difficult to get employment.'

He muttered something under his breath which she did not catch and it
occurred to her that she had cowed this bullying little man, though she
had had no such intention.

'I shall not want you any more.' He took out his pocket-book, opened it
and extracted a banknote. 'This is in the nature of a bonus,' he said. 'I
do not intend continuing your allowance.'

He expected her to refuse the money and he was not wrong.

'Is that all?' she asked. She did not attempt to take the note.

'That is all.'

With a nod she turned and walked to the door. 'The charwoman is coming
tonight to clean up,' she said. 'You had better make arrangements for her
to stay on--but I suppose you've already made your plans.'

Before he could reply, she was gone. He heard the street door slam after
her, took up the money and put it back in his case; and he was without
regret for, if the truth be told, Mr Arthur Ingle, despite the largeness
of his political views, was exceedingly mean.

There was a great deal for him to do: old boxes to open and sort, papers
and memoranda to retrieve from strange hiding-places. The seat of the big
settee on which Aileen had sat so often waiting for the cleaner to finish
her work, opened like a lid and here he had documents and, in a steel
box, books that might not have come to light even if the police had been
aware of the flat at the time of his arrest, an had made their usual
search.

Ingle was a man of wide political activities. No party man in the sense
that he found a party to match his own views; rather, he was one of those
violent and compelling thinkers who are unconsciously the nucleus of a
movement. His grudge against the world was a sincere one. He saw
injustice in the simplest consequences of cause and effect. His opinions
had not made him a thief; they had merely justified him in his disregard
for the law and his obligation to society.

Imprisonment had made him neither better nor worse, had merely confirmed
him in certain theories. Inconsistently, he loathed his prison
associates, men who had been unsupported by his high motives in their
felonies. The company of them was contamination. He hated the chaplain;
and only one inmate of that terrible place touched what in him still
remained tender. That was the old, blind horse who had his stable in the
prison, and whose sight seemed to have been destroyed by Providence that
he might not witness the degradation of the superior mammals that tramped
the exercise ring, or went trudging and shuffling up the hill and through
the gates.

He was the one man in the prison who was thankful when the cell door
closed on him and the key turned in the lock.

The foulness of these old lags, their talk, their boasts, the horrible
things that may not be written about...he could not think back without
feeling physically sick. In truth he would not have stretched out his
hand if, by so doing, he could have opened those cell doors and released
to the world the social sweepings whom it was his professed mission to
salve.

His work finished, he lit a cigarette, fitted it carefully into an amber
holder and, adjusting the cushions, lay down on the settee and smoked and
thought till the telephone bell roused him and he got up.

The voice that spoke to him was quite unfamiliar. 'Is that Mr Ingle?'

'Yes,' he said shortly.

'Will you make a sacrifice of your principles?' was the astonishing
request, and the man smiled sourly.

'What I have left, yes. What do you wish?'

It might be an old friend in need of money, in which case the
conversation would be short. For Arthur Ingle had no foolish ideas about
charity.

'Could you meet me tonight on the sidewalk immediately opposite Horse
Guards Parade?'

'In the park, you mean?' asked Ingle, astonished. 'Who are you? I'll tell
you before you go any further that I'm not inclined to go out of my way
to meet strangers. I'm a pretty tired man tonight.'

'My name is--' a pause--'Harlow.'

Involuntarily, Ingle uttered an exclamation.

'Stratford Harlow?' he asked incredulously.

'Yes, Stratford Harlow.'

There was a long pause before Arthur Ingle spoke. 'It's rather an
extraordinary request, but I realise that it isn't an idle one. How do I
know you're Harlow?'

'Call me up in ten minutes at my house and ask for me,' said the voice.
'Will you come?'

Again Mr Ingle hesitated. 'Yes, I'll come,' he said. 'At what time?'

'At ten o'clock exactly. I won't keep you hanging about this cold night.
You can get into my car and we'll drive somewhere.'

Ingle hung up the telephone a little bewildered. He was a cautious man
and after ten minutes had expired he put through the number he discovered
in the phone directory, and the same voice answered him. 'Are you
satisfied?'

'Yes, I'll be there--ten o'clock,' he said.

He had two hours to wait. The charwoman did not arrive till nine. He gave
her instructions, made arrangements for the following day; and went back
to the dining-room to think out the extraordinary request which Stratford
Harlow had made of him. And the more he thought, the less inclined he as
to keep the appointment. At last he turned to his writing table, took out
a sheet of paper and scrawled a note.

"DEAR MR HARLOW,

"I am afraid I must disappoint you. I am in such a position, being an
ex-convict, that I cannot afford to take the slightest risk. I will tell
you I frankly that what I have in my mind is that this may be a frame-up
organised by my friends the police, and I think that it would be, to say
the least, foolish on my part to go any farther until I know your
requirements, or at least have written proof that you have approached me.

"Yours sincerely,

"ARTHUR INGLE."

He put the letter in an envelope, addressed it, and marked in the corner
in bold letters 'By hand. Urgent.' Even now he was not satisfied. He went
to the telephone to call a district messenger, but he did not lift the
receiver. His curiosity was piqued. He felt he must know, with the least
possible delay, just why Stratford Harlow had summoned Arthur Ingle, late
of Dartmoor convict establishment. And why should the meeting be secret?
A man of Harlow's standing would not lose caste, even if he sent for him
to go to his house. He came to a sudden resolve, pitched the letter on to
the table, went into his bedroom and changed into a dark suit.

By the time he had climbed into his overcoat he was satisfied that he was
taking the wisest course. The char-woman was in the kitchen and he opened
the door to pass his last admonition. She was on her knees,
scrubbing-brush in hand, and he looked down into a long, weak face over
which strayed lank wisps of grey-black hair.

'I'm going out. You needn't wait. Finish your work and be here in the
morning before eight,' he barked and slammed the door on this
inconsiderable member of the proletariat and went down the stairs in a
spirit of adventure that made him feel almost young.

As the Horse Guards clock was chiming the three-quarters he came into
Birdcage Walk and turned along the lonely footpath that runs parallel
with the House Guards and flanks the broad parade ground. There was no
hurry; he fell into a gentle stroll, fast enough to keep him warm and to
avoid any suspicion of loitering within the meaning of the act.

It could not be a frame-up, he had decided. A man of Harlow's character
would hardly lend himself to such a plot; and in his heart of hearts, for
all his bitter gibes at the police, he did not believe seriously in the
prison legend of innocent men being trapped by cunning police plots.

He looked at his watch under a street standard; it was five minutes to
ten, and he strolled back the way he had come, and stopped immediately in
a line with the gates that closed the arch of the Horse Guards. As he did
so a car came noiselessly along the sidewalk from the direction of
Westminster.

It stopped in front of him and the door opened.

'Will you come in, Mr Ingle?' said a low voice; and without a word he
stepped inside, pulling the door close after him and sank down on a soft
seat by the side of a man who, he at once recognised, was that Splendid
Harlow, whose name, even in Dartmoor, symbolised wealth beyond dreams.

The car, gathering speed, turned into the Mall, swung round towards
Buckingham Palace and across the Corner into Hyde Park. It slackened
speed now, and Stratford Harlow began to talk...

For an hour the car moved at a leisurely pace round the Circle. Sleet was
falling. Ingle listened like a man in a dream to the amazing proposition
which his companion advanced.

He, at any rate, sat in comfort. Inspector Jim Carlton, following in an
aged convertible was chilled and wet, and the highly sensitive microphone
which he had placed in Harlow's car failed to transmit the talk it was so
vital he should hear.

Arthur Ingle arrived home at his flat soon after eleven. The cleaner had
gone and he was glad; dull clod and unimaginative as she was she yet
might have read and interpreted the light that shone in his eyes or have
sensed the exultation of his heart.

Brewing himself some coffee, he sat down at his desk and in to make
notes. Once he rose and, entering his bedroom, turned on the light above
his dressing-table and stared at himself for five minutes in the glass.
The scrutiny seemed to afford him a certain amount of satisfaction, for
he; smiled and returned to his notemaking.

That smile did not leave his lips; and once he laughed out loud.
Evidently something had happened that afforded him the most exquisite
happiness.



CHAPTER 8


'Could you please come and see me in the lunch hour?--A.R.'

JIM CARLTON looked at the 'A.R.' blankly before he placed 'A' as
indicating Aileen--he was under the impression that she spelt her name
with an 'E'. It had been delivered at Scotland Yard by a messenger half
an hour before he arrived. Literally he was waiting on the mat when she
came out; and she seemed very glad to see him.

'You will probably be very angry that I've sent for you about such a
little thing,' she said, 'and you're so busy--'

'I won't tell you how I feel about it,' he interrupted, 'or you'll think
I'm not sincere.'

'You see, you are the only policeman I know and I don't know you very
well, but I thought you wouldn't mind. Mrs Gibbins has disappeared; she
didn't go home last night nor the night before.'

'I'm thrilled,' he said. 'And her husband fears the worst?'

'She hasn't a husband; she's a widow. Her landlady came in to see me this
morning. She's dreadfully upset.'

'But who's Mrs Gibbins?'

'Mrs Gibbins is the charwoman at Uncle's flat. Rather a wretched-looking
lady with untidy hair. I'm rather worried about it because she's a woman
without friends. I called up my Uncle's flat this morning and he was
almost polite, and told me that she didn't arrive yesterday morning and
she hasn't been there today.'

'She may have met with an accident,' was his natural suggestion.

'I've telephoned to the big hospitals, but nothing has been heard of her.
I want you to tell me what I can do next. It's such a little matter that
I'll listen meekly to any rude comment you care to think up!'

He was not interested in Mrs Gibbins; the case of a lonely woman who
disappears as from the face of the earth was so common a phenomenon in
the life of any great city that he could hardly work up enthusiasm for
the search. But Aileen was so concerned that he would have been a brute
to have treated her request lightly; and after lunch, the day being his
own, he went to Stanmore Rents in Lambeth, a little riverside slum and
made a few inquiries at first hand.

Mrs Gibbins had lived there, the slatternly landlady told him, for five
years. She was a good, sober, honest woman, never went out, had no
friends, and subsisted on what she earned and a pound a week which was
paid to her quarterly by some distant relation. In fact, she was due to
receive the money on the following Monday. Her chief virtue was that she
paid her rent every Monday morning and gave no trouble.

'Do you mind if I search her room?'

The landlady wished that and showed him the way; it gave her a nice
feeling of authority to be present during the operation.

Jim was shown into a small back room, scrupulously clean, with a bed and
a sort of home-made hanging cupboard that had been fixed in one corner
and was shrouded by a cheap curtain. Here was the meagre wardrobe of the
missing charwoman: a skirt or two, a light summer coat that had seen its
brightest days, and a best hat. He tried the chest of drawers and found
one drawer locked. This he opened with the first key on his own bunch, to
the awe and admiration of the landlady. Here was proof of the woman's
affluence--a post office bank-book showing 87 to her credit, four new 1
Treasury notes, and a threadbare bag with a broken catch.

Inside this were one or two proofs of the vanity of the eternal
feminine--a greasy powder-puff, a cheap trinket or two, and between
lining and outer cover a folded paper of some sort.

It had not got there by accident, he saw, when he carried the bag to the
light, for it was carefully sewn into the lining. He took out his pocket
knife and, picking the stitches, extracted what he thought was one sheet
of paper, lightly folded. When he opened the paper out he found there
were two sheets.

The landlady ducked her head sideways in an effort to catch a glimpse of
the writing, but Jim was aware of this manoeuvre.

'Do you mind going downstairs,' he asked politely, 'and seeing if you can
find in your ash-can--'

'Dustbin,' corrected the lady.

'Whatever it is, the envelope of any letter addressed to Mrs Gibbins?'

By the time she returned from her profitless task the papers had
disappeared, and Jim Carlton was sitting on the narrow window ledge, a
cigar between his teeth and he was examining the threadbare carpet with
such intentness that the landlady was certain that he had discovered some
blood-stains.

'Eh?' He woke from his dream with a start. 'You can't find it? I'm sorry.
What was it I asked you to get? Oh, yes, an envelope. Thank you. I found
it in the bag.'

He relocked the drawer, and with another glance round the apartment came
down the treacherous stairs.

'You don't think she's drownded herself, sir?' asked the landlady
tremulously.

'No. Why? Did she ever threaten to commit suicide?'

'She's been pretty miserable for some time, poor dear!' The woman wiped a
tear from her cheek, and the fascinated Jim observed that the spot where
the apron had been rubbed was perceptibly cleaner.

'No, I don't think she has--committed suicide,' he said.  'She may turn
up. If she does, will you send me a telegram?'

He scribbled his name and address on a blank that he found in his pocket
and gave her the money for its dispatch.

'I know there's something wrong,' insisted the tearful lady. 'Foul play
or something. She bought some stuff to make up into a dress; I've got it
in my kitchen--it only came the night before last.'

She showed him the package, which was unopened.

'My niece was coming in yesterday morning to show her how to cut it out,'
continued the woman, 'but, of course, Mrs Gibbins didn't come home, and
my niece lives over in Peckham, and it's a long drag here--'

'Yes. I suppose so,' said Jim absently.

He walked down the noisome street, got into the car that was waiting at
the end, and went slowly back across Westminster Bridge to his room.

Elk was not in and, even if he had been, Jim was not in the mood for
consultation. He spread out on the table the papers he had taken from Mrs
Gibbins's bag and read them carefully, jotted down a few particulars and,
refolding them, put them in his pocket-book. He passed the next hour
dictating letters to the last people in the world one would have imagined
would be interested in the disappearance of a charwoman.

Aileen did not expect to see him again that day and was surprised, almost
pleasurably, when he walked into the outer office and sent in his name.
She was on the point of leaving and the office boy, impatient to be gone,
misinterpreted the colour that came to her cheeks.

'You'll be getting me a very bad name, Mr Carlton,' she said as they went
into the street together.

'Did I tell you that my front name was Jim, or James, as the case may
be?' he asked. 'Shall we try something more snappy in the restaurant
line? I know a place in Soho--'

'No, I think I'll go home now.'

'I wanted to talk to you about our Mrs Gibbins,' he said flippantly,
though he was not feeling at all flippant. 'And I  told our people that I
can be found there if I am wanted.'

'Have you had any news?' she asked; and he guessed by her penitent tone
that she had altogether forgotten the existence of the charwoman. At any
rate she did not demur when he handed her into the car and she accepted
his restaurant, dingy though it was, without protest.

They were passing from the street when Jim heard his name called and,
looking round, saw a headquarters man.

'Came through just after you left, sir.'

Jim read the hastily-written phone message.

'I'll be back in an hour,' he said, and followed the girl who was waiting
for him in the vestibule.

When they were seated: 'I want to ask you: was Mrs Gibbins in the flat
that night your uncle's safe was burgled?'

She considered. 'No, she wasn't there; at least, she oughtn't to have
been there. She came later, you remember. I opened the door to her.'

'Oh!' he said, and she smiled.

'What does "Oh!" mean?' And then quickly: 'You don't think she was the
burglar, do you?'

'No, I don't think that,' he said; his tone was very grave--she wondered
why. 'Tell me something about her; was she well educated?'

Aileen shook her head.

'No, she was rather illiterate. I've had many of her notes, and they were
scarcely decipherable. The spelling was--well, very original.'

'Oh!' he said again, and she could have boxed his ears.

'Well, that's that!' he said at last. 'I don't think that even your
uncle, with his well-known passion for humanity, will so much as shed a
silent tear. She was just nothing, nobody--a wisp of straw caught up in
the wind and deposited God knows where! Stale fruit under the dustman's
broom. Horrible, isn't it? Think of it! All the theatres will soon be
crowded and people will be screaming with laughter at the antics and
clowning of the comedians! There will be a State ball at the Palace and
tonight happy men and women will I be dancing on a hundred floors. Who
cares about Mrs Gibbins?'

He was very serious, and a minute before he had been almost gay.

'The passing of a friendless woman is a small thing.' He rubbed his nose
irritably. 'And now it is a big thing!' he said, raising a warning finger
and looking at her. 'Mrs Gibbins is stirring the minds of eighteen
thousand London policemen, who if need be would have the support of the
whole Brigade of Guards and every one of these dancers, diners and
theatregoers would move with one accord and not rest day or night till
they found the man who struck her down and dropped her poor, wasted body
in the waters of the Regent's Canal!' She half rose, but he motioned her
down. 'I've spoilt your dinner and I've spoilt my own, too,' he said.

'Dead?' she whispered. He nodded. 'Murdered?'

'Yes...I think so. They took her out of the canal a few minutes before I
left the office, and there were marks to show that she'd been bludgeoned.
I had the news just before I came in. What was she doing near the Edgware
Road--in  Regent's Park, let us say? Give her two days to drift as far.'

The waiter came and stood at his elbow in an attitude of expectancy. The
girl shook her head. 'I can't eat.'

'Omelettes,' said Jim. 'That isn't eating; it's just nourishment.'

Arthur Ingle had the discomfort of a police visitation, but he knew
nothing of Mrs Gibbins, knew much less indeed than his niece.

'I have seen the woman, but I shouldn't recognise her.'

This accorded with the information already in their possession, and the
two detectives who called had a whisky-and-soda with him and departed.

The landlady of the Rents could say no more than she had said on the
previous afternoon to Sub-Inspector Carlton.

Jim went down himself to see this worthy soul; and he had a particular
reason, because on that morning, 'regular as clockwork,' came the
envelope which contained Mrs Gibbins's quarterly allowance; and that lady
was rather in a fluster, because the letter had not arrived.

'No, sir, it was never registered, that's why I feel so awkward about it.
People might think...but you can ask the postman yourself, sir.'

'I've asked him,' smiled Jim. 'Tell me, where were those letters posted?
You must have seen the date-stamp at some time or other.'

But she swore she hadn't; she was not inquisitive, indeed regarded
inquisitiveness as one of the vices which had come into existence with
reading newspapers. She did not explain the connection between the
popular press and the inquiring mind, though it was there plain to be
seen.

The local police inspector had cleared the wardrobe and drawers of all
portable articles, including the bag.

'I told him you found a paper in the bag, but he couldn't see it, sir,
though he searched high and low for it.'

'There wasn't a paper to find,' said Jim untruthfully.

His position was a delicate one. He had withdrawn important evidence from
what might perhaps be a very serious case. There was only one course to
take and this he followed.

Returning to Scotland Yard, he requested an interview with the
Commissioners, explained what he had done, told them frankly his
suspicions and asked for the suppression of the evidence he held. The
consultation was postponed for the attendance of a representative of the
Public Prosecutor, but in the end he had his way, and when the inquest
was held on Annie Maud Gibbins the jury returned an open verdict, which
meant that they were content with the statement that the deceased woman
had been 'found dead', and expressed no opinion as to how she met her
fate--a laudable verdict, since no member of the jury, not even the
coroner, nor the doctors who testified with so many reservations, had the
slightest idea how the life of Mrs Gibbins, the charlady, had gone out.



CHAPTER 9


AILEEN RIVERS was annoyed, and since the object of her annoyance lived in
the same room, and to use a vulgar idiom, under the same hat as herself,
a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs was produced. She was annoyed
because she had not seen Mr James Carlton for a week. But she was furious
with herself that she was annoyed at all. Mr Stebbings, that stout
lawyer, had reached an age when he was no longer susceptible to
atmosphere, yet even he was conscious that his favourite employee had
departed in some degree from the normal. He asked her if she was not
well; and suggested that she should take a week off and go to Margate.
The suggestion of Margate was purely mechanical; he invariably prescribed
Margate for all disorders of body and mind, having been once in the
remote past cured of the whooping cough in that delightful town. It was
not Margate weather, and Aileen was not Margate-minded.

'I remember'--Mr Stebbings unfolded several of his heavy chins to gaze
meditatively at the ceiling--'many years ago suggesting to Miss Mercy
Harlow--ahem!--'

It occurred to him that the girl would not know Miss Mercy Harlow and
that the name would be without significance; for the great heights to
which the living Harlow had risen were outside his comprehension.

'You used to act for the Harlows once, didn't you; Mr Stebbings?'

'Yes,' said Mr Stebbings carefully. 'It was--er--a great responsibility.
I was not sorry when young Mr Stratford went elsewhere.'

He said no more than this, which was quite a lot for Mr Stebbings, but by
one of those coincidences which are a daily feature of life she came
again into contact with the Harlow family.

Mr Stebbings was dealing with a probate case. A will had been propounded
in the court, and was being opposed by a distant relative of the legator.
The question turned on whether, in the spring of a certain year the
legator had advanced certain money to one of the numerous beneficiaries
under the will with the object of taking him out of the country.

Aileen was sent to inspect the cash book, since it was alleged the money
had been paid through the lawyers. She found the entry without a great
deal of difficulty, and, running down the index to discover if she had
missed any further reference, her finger stopped at the words:

'Harlow--Mercy Mildred.
Harlow-Stratford Selwyn Mortimer.'

She would not have been human if she had not turned up the pages. For a
quarter of an hour she pored over the accounts of the dead and gone Miss
Mercy, that stern and eccentric woman, and then she saw an item 'To L.
Edwins, 125.' An entry occurred four months later: 'To L. Edwins, 183
17s. 4d.' She knew of Mrs Edwins, and had seen a copy of Miss Mercy
Harlow's will--she had looked it up after the Dartmoor meeting, being
momentarily interested in the millionaire.

She turned to Stratford's account, which was a very small one. Evidently,
Mr Harlow made no payments through his lawyers. If an opportunity had
occurred she would have asked Mr Stebbings for further information about
the family, though she was fairly sure that such a request would have
produced no satisfactory result.

Deprived of this interest, Aileen was thrown back upon the dominating
occupation of life--her amazement and disapproval of Aileen Rivers in
relation to Mr James Carlton.

He knew her address: she had particularly told him the number. Equally
true it was that she had asked him only to write on official business. By
some miracle she had not been called to give evidence at the inquest and
she might, and did, trace his influence here. But even that could not be
set against a week's neglect.

'Ridiculous' (said the saner part other, in tones of reprobation). 'You
hardly know the man! Just because he's been civil to you and has taken
you out to dinner twice (and they were both more or less business
occasions), you're expecting him to behave as though he were engaged to
you!'

The unregenerate Aileen Rivers merely tossed her head at this and was
unashamed.

She could, of course, have written to him: there was excuse enough; and
she actually did begin a letter, until the scandalous character of her
behaviour grew apparent even to Aileen II.

Saturday passed and Sunday; she stayed at home both days in case--

He called on Sunday night, when she had given up--well, if not hope, at
any rate expectation.

'I've been down to the country,' he said.

She interviewed him in the sitting room, which her landlady set aside for
formal calls.

'Couldn't you come out somewhere? Have you dined?'

She had dined.

'Come along and walk; it's rather a nice night. We can have coffee
somewhere.'

Her duty was to tell him that he was taking much for granted, but she
didn't. She went upstairs, got her coat and in the shortest space of time
was walking with him through Bloomsbury Square.

'I'm rather worried about you,' he said.

'Are you?' Her surprise was genuine.

Yes, I am a little. Didn't you tell me Mrs Gibbins used to confide her
troubles to you?' There was a note of anxiety in his voice.

'She was rather confidential at times.'

'Did she ever tell you anything about her past?'

'Oh, no,' said Aileen quickly. 'It was mostly about her mother, who died
about four years ago.'

'Did she ever tell you her Christian name--her mother's, I mean?'

'Louisa,' answered the girl promptly. 'You're awfully mysterious, Mr
James Carlton. What has this to do with poor Mrs Gibbins?'

'Nothing, except that her name was Annie Maud, and the letters containing
the money, which came to her quarterly, were addressed to "Louisa," 14
Kennet Road, Birmingham, and readdressed by the postal authorities. A
letter came this morning.'

'Poor soul!' said the girl softly.

'Yes.'

It was surprising how well she understood him, remembering the shortness
of their acquaintance. She knew, for example, when he was thinking of
something else--his voice rose half a tone.

'Isn't that strange? Do you remember my telling you of the eighteen
thousand policemen and the Brigade of Guards, and the whole congregation
of the blessed? And now they are all agitated because Mrs Gibbins's
mother was named Louisa! That discovery--I shouldn't have asked you,
because I knew it already--proved two things: first, that Mrs Gibbins
committed a crime some fifteen years ago, and secondly, that this is the
second time she's been dead!'

He suddenly relaxed and laughed softly.

'Don't tell me,' he warned her. 'I know just the fictional detective whom
I am imitating! The whole thing is rather complicated. Did I say coffee
or dinner?'

'You said coffee,' she said.

The popular restaurant into which they went was just a little overcrowded
and after being served they lost no time in making their escape.

They were passing along Coventry Street when a big car rolled slowly
past. The man who was driving was in evening dress...they saw the sheen
of his diamond studs, the red tip of his cigar.

'Nobody on earth but the Splendid Harlow could so scintillate,' said Jim.
'What does he do in this part of the world at such an hour?'

The car turned to the right through Leicester Square and passed down
Orange Street at a pace which was strangely majestic. It was as though it
formed part of and led a magnificent procession. The same thought
occurred to both of them.

'He should really travel with a band!'

'I was thinking that, too,' laughed the girl. 'He frightened me terribly
the night he came to the flat. I mean, when I opened the door to him. And
I'm not easily scared. He looked so big and powerful and ruthless that my
soul cowered before him!'

They passed up deserted Long Acre; it was too early for the market carts
to have assembled, and the street was a wilderness. Suddenly the girl
found her hand held loosely in Jim Carlton's. He was swinging it to and
fro. The severer side of Miss Aileen Rivers closed its eyes and pretended
not to see.

'I've got a very friendly feeling for you,' said Jim huskily. 'I don't
know why, but I just have. And if you talk about the philandering
constabulary, I will never forgive you.'

Three men had suddenly debouched from a side street; they were talking
noisily and violently and were moving slowly towards them. Jim looked
round: the only man in sight was walking in the opposite direction,
having passed them a minute or so before.

'I think we'll cross the road,' he said. He took her arm, and, quickening
his step, led her to the opposite sidewalk.

The quarrelling three turned back and Jim stopped.  'I want you to run
back to the other end of Long Acre and fetch a policeman,' he said in a
low voice. 'Will you do this for me? Run!'

Obediently she turned and fled, and as she did so one of the three came
lurching towards him.

'What's the idea?' he said loudly. 'Can't we have an argument without you
butting in?'

'Stay where you are, Donovan,' said Jim. 'I know you and I know just what
you're after.'

'Get him,' said somebody angrily, and Jim Carlton whipped out the twelve
inch length of jambok that he carried in his pocket and struck at the
nearest man. As the flexible hide reached its billet the man dropped like
one shot. In another second his two companions had sprung at the
detective; and he knew that he was fighting, if not for his life, at any
rate to save himself from an injury which would incapacitate him for
months.

Again the jambok reached home; a second man reeled.

And then a taxicab came flying down Long Acre with a policeman on each
footboard...

'No, not Bow Street,' said Jim, 'take them to Cannon Row.'

Aileen was in the taxicab, a most unheroic woman, on the verge of tears.

'I guessed what they were after,' said Jim, as they were driving home.
'It is one of the oldest tricks in the world, that rehearsed street
fight.'

'But why? Why did they do it? Were they old enemies of yours?' she asked,
bewildered.

'One,' he said. 'Donovan.' He carefully avoided her second question.

The presence of Mr Harlow in his lordly car was no accident. The car
which passed down Orange Street was ostensibly carrying him to Vira's
Club, but there was a short cut which brought him through St Martin's
Lane to the end of Long Acre before the two walkers could possibly reach
there. What was more important was that it was very clear to Jim that he
and the girl were under observation, and had been followed that night
from the moment he left the club where he lived, until the attack was
delivered.

The reason for the hold-up was not difficult to understand, even
supposing he ruled out the very remote possibility that it was associated
with Mrs Gibbins's death. And that he must exclude, unless he gave Mr
Harlow credit for supernatural powers.

He saw the girl to her boarding house and went back to Scotland Yard, to
find a telegram awaiting him. It was from the detective force of
Birmingham, and ran:

'Your inquiry 793 Mrs Louisa Gibbins, deceased. Letter which came to her
regularly every quarter, and which was subsequently readdressed to Mrs
Gibbins, of Stanmore Rents, Lambeth, invariably had Norwood postmark.
This fact verified by lodger of late Mrs Gibbins of this town. Annie Maud
Gibbins's real name, Smith. She married William Smith, a platelayer on
Midland Railway. Further details follow, Hooge. Ends.'

A great deal of this information was not new to Jim Carlton. But the
Norwood postmark was invaluable, for in that suburb of London lived Mr
Ellenbury. Further details he would not need.

But before that clue could be followed, Jim Carlton's attention was
wholly occupied by the strange behaviour of Arthur Ingle, who suddenly
turned recluse, declined all communication with the outside world and,
locking himself in his flat, gave himself to the study of cinematography.



CHAPTER 10


IN THE days which followed Jim Carlton was a busy man,  and only once
during the week did he find time to see Aileen, and then she related one
of the minor troubles of life.

A new boarder had come to the establishment where she lived, an athletic
young man who occupied the room immediately beneath hers and whose
apparent admiration took the form of following tier to her work every
morning at a respectful distance.

'I wouldn't mind that, but he makes a point of being in the neighbourhood
of the office when I come out for lunch, and when I go home at nights.'

'Has he spoken to you?' asked Jim, interested.

'Oh, no, he's been most correct; he doesn't even speak at meals.'

'Bear with him,' said Jim, a twinkle in his eye. 'It is one of the
penalties attached to the moderately good-looking.'

Jim interviewed the girl's new admirer.

'As a shadow you're a little on the heavy side, Brown,' he said. 'You
should have found a way of watching her without her knowing.'

'I'm very sorry, sir,' said Detective Brown, and thereafter his espionage
was less oppressive.

It was remarkable that in none of the excursions which Jim Carlton made
from day to day did he once see Arthur Ingle. Deliberately he called at
those restaurants and places of resort which in the old days were
favoured by the man. It would not be a sense of shame or an unwillingness
to meet old friends and associates of a more law-abiding life, that would
keep him away. If anything, he was proud of his accomplishments, for by
his fantastic twist of reasoning he had come to regard himself as a
public benefactor.

Nobody had seen him; even the comrades whom it was his joy to address in
frowsy Soho halls had not been honoured by speech or presence.

'It almost looks as if he had gone over to the capitalists,' said one.

'I didn't notice the flags were flying in Piccadilly,' said Jim.

One night it happened that he found himself walking along the street at
the back of Fotheringay Mansions and, looking up, noticed a bright light
burning behind the green blind in an  upper room. Mr Ingle's apartment
was easily located. There was a narrow parapet to identify the height;
the lumber room where the light showed was four windows from the fire
escape.

Elk was with him, and to that unenthusiastic man he confided his
intentions.

'He'll start a squeal about police persecution,' suggested Elk.

Undeterred, Jim went up in the elevator, though the man in charge
discouraged him.

'I don't think Mr Jackson is at home,' he said. 'A gentleman called an
hour ago and knocked twice but could get no answer.'

'Maybe I can knock louder,' suggested Jim.

But ring and knock as he did, he had no answer. Yet, as he listened at
the letterbox aperture, to make certain that the bell was ringing, he
could have sworn he heard a stealthy footstep inside. Why was Ingle
hiding?

There was, of course, the possibility that the man was engaged in some
new piece of roguery. But from his experience of swindlers, Jim Carlton
knew that they were never furtive when they were planning a coup.

The landing was deserted and he could wait without attracting to himself
the suspicion of the lift man. Again he stooped and listened; and now he
heard a sound which puzzled him-a rapid whirring. He had heard that noise
before somewhere, and yet he could not locate or diagnose the sound. It
came very faintly as through a closed door...

He saw the ascending light of the elevator and walked to the gate. The
car passed to the next floor to discharge its passenger, and then came
down to his level.

'Couldn't make him hear, I suppose, sir?' asked the elevator man, with
the satisfaction of one whose dire prophecy has been realised. 'He won't
see anybody these days. Why, he doesn't even come out for his meals.'

'He has a servant, hasn't he?'

'Not now,' said the lift-man gloomily, as they sank slowly down the well.
'Used to have, but she--' He told the story of Mrs Gibbins. 'Now he gets
his food and stuff delivered. I think Mr Jackson is going in for
something unusual,' he added as they reached the ground floor and he
pulled back the gates.

'What do you mean by "something unusual"?'

The man scratched his head.

'I don't know exactly. About four days ago a man came here with a long
black box--the sort of thing that they use for carrying films--'

Films! Now Jim Carlton understood. This was the sound he had heard: the
whirr of a cine projector!

'He took it up and left it. I asked him if Mr Jackson was taking on film
work, but he said nothing--the man who brought it, I mean. Of course, if
I knew for certain that he had any celluloid stored on the premises, I'd
have to report it. Fire risk...'

Jim listened without hearing. He was dumbfounded by the discovery. Every
man has his secret weakness, but though he had credited Mr Arthur Ingle
with many peculiarities, he had never suspected him of a passion for the
cinema.

Elk was waiting outside, the stub of a cigar between his teeth, a large
unfurled umbrella in his hand, and in a few words Jim told him what he
had learnt.

'Pitchers!' said Elk, shaking his head. 'Never thought he would lower
himself to that! Queer thing how these crooks sort of run to weakness one
way or the other. I knew a man, the cleverest safe-breaker in Europe,
who'd risk a lagging to get a game of ping-pong! There was another fellow
named Moses who had the finest long-firm business in England--'

'Let us go round and look at the back of the house again,' Jim
interrupted the reminiscences ruthlessly.

The bright light was showing again, clear through the dark green blinds,
even as he looked it was extinguished, but when his eyes became
accustomed to the darkness he could see the reflected glow of another
light. It was in this room, then, that Mr Ingle was engaged in his new
hobby.

Jim looked naturally at the fire-escape. There was a wall to be scaled,
or easier perhaps, a door into the courtyard of the building might be
opened with one of his keys. But the door needed no forcing; it was
unlocked and gave easy entry to a stone-paved yard, whence a flight of
iron stairs led up to the roof. An iron bar was fastened across the rails
at the bottom, for what purpose was not clear, since it was possible to
get either over or beneath it.

'Maybe it's to keep it airtight,' suggested Elk, 'or to trip up the
fellers that are not burnt to death. Going up?'

Jim nodded, and Inspector Elk followed him from landing to landing until
they came level with the floor on which Mr Ingle's flat was situated.
Without a word, Jim Carlton swung himself over the rail and, balancing
precariously upon the narrow ledge of stone, felt forward and gripped the
nearest window-sill. Progress in front of the windows was an easy matter
to one with his nerves: it was in the intervening spaces, where he had to
depend for his life upon a fine sense of balance, that the danger lay.
Elk watched him anxiously as he moved nearer and nearer to the window,
flattening himself against the wall and edging forward inch by inch; in
this perilous fashion, he came sidling to the window from behind which
came the ceaseless rattle of the projector.

The moment he reached his objective Jim knew that his effort had been in
vain. Behind blind and window he could see the small projector at work,
was dazzled by the flicker of the light, and Arthur Ingle showed clearly
in the glow thrown back from the invisible screen. He was staring at the
picture which he was projecting, and the first thing the detective
noticed was that Mr Ingle was in need of a barber, for his face was
covered by a ragged white stubble and his grey hair was long and unkempt.

But what was the picture he was viewing so intently? Jim screwed his head
round, but on the left-hand side of the window the blind ran flush with
the sash. There was nothing to but to make his way back and noiselessly
he edged towards the fire ladder.

He had not gone more than halfway before he had a shock. He felt a stone
yield beneath his feet, the edge broke off and fell into the courtyard
below. It might be one rotten piece, he argued, but stepped more
carefully. If the parapet gave under his weight while he was traversing a
wall space, nothing could save him from death; but he did not allow his
mind to dwell upon this aspect of the adventure.

He had reached the window nearest to the iron stairs and was feeling
cautiously along with his feet when, without warning, the narrow parapet
beneath him cracked. He managed to grip the wooden window; and in another
second was hanging with his legs in space. He heard Elk's agitated
whisper, saw the elderly detective thrust up the crook of his umbrella,
but knew that this was beyond his reach.

There was only one hope; taking off his soft felt hat, he put his hand
inside and drove straight at the glass of the window. The shock of the
blow almost dislodged him, but clearing off the broken edge of glass, he
took a firm grip of the window-sash and drew himself up. A second pane
was broken in the same way and, reaching in, with some difficulty he
turned the window catch and pushed up the sash.

In another second he was in a room. He stopped to listen.

The smashing of the glass had evidently not aroused the inmates and he
passed out the news to the agitated Elk.

'I don't know whose flat it is,' he whispered. 'Meet me at the front of
the building.'

Tiptoeing across the room, he felt for the light and turned it on. He was
in a small bedroom, which had evidently not received any attention for a
very considerable time, for dust lay thick upon the furniture and upon
the folded blankets at the foot of the bed. Yet the room was handsomely
furnished and in a style that harmonised with the general furnishings of
Ingle's apartment. Evidently this was one of the rooms which he had not
visited.

He opened the door carefully. The dining-hall was in darkness; from the
lumber-room came the ceaseless clickety-click of the projector.

Should he risk being discovered and satisfy his curiosity?

It was almost worth while. As he debated the point, the telephone rang
noisily in the dining-room and he drew back, pulling the door close. He
heard the snap as Ingle turned on the lights...

'Hullo!--yes, Jackson...oh, is that you? Speaking from a call-box, I
hope? Good! Yes, everything is OK...Yes, I've heard him--but only on the
radio. I shall have to go to a meeting. He's a good speaker? Huh! So am
I! A spell-binder--you can laugh! I've had four thousand people cheering
for two minutes. Don't worry...no, thanks, I have all the money I need.'

The receiver thudded down and presently the lights went out and the
lumber-room door closed.

A spell-binder? Who was to be bound by the eloquence of Mr Arthur Ingle?
He waited until he heard the projector whirring again, and then,
tiptoeing across the room, reached the passage. He was sorely tempted to
take one look at the film show, but obviously he could only do this with
the certainty that he would be seen, and Jim had all a detective's horror
of a 'police persecution' charge.

He turned his flashlight on the table: there might be something there
which would give him a clue. He saw a fat envelope bearing the name of
the Cunard Company. This had not been opened, but he could guess its
contents. Mr Ingle contemplated a visit to the United States--or Canada,
perhaps.

The turning of the projector ceased. He passed quickly to the hall,
opened the door and closed it quietly after him. The elevator was
ascending as he went down, and he was spared an explanation of his
surprising presence. He found the patient Elk flapping his hands to keep
warm and puffing at the last few centimetres of his cigar.

Fortunately Jim's club was within a quarter of an hour's walk and as
they crossed the park Elk asked:

'You got into old man Ingle's flat, didn't you?'

'Looks like it.'

'What's thrillin' him?' asked Elk. 'I hate admittin' it, but the cinema's
my favourite sleepin' place. Or was he runnin' through the cartoons?'

'I'd give a lot to know,' said Jim, and repeated the conversation he had
overheard.

'Never know whether Arthur's red because he's wild, or wild because he's
red,' mused Elk. 'He's a bit of a dilly-what's the word?-dillytanty,
that's it. There's quite a lot  of genuine Reds, but a whole lot of
people who hang on in the hope that one of the comrades will break a
jeweller's window so that they can get away with the doin's. Most people
are Red if they only knew it. Take the feller that keeps  beehives. He
just waits for the old capitalist bee to pile up his honey reserves and
then he comes down on his bank-roll...'

He philosophised thus all the way across the park.

'I am almost at the end of my theories--what is yours, Elk?'

'Beer,' said Elk absently, as they mounted the steps of the club.

'Looks like he's gettin' ready for a quick money stunt,' said Elk, as
they made their way to the coffee-room. 'But, Lord, you can never follow
the minds of people like Ingle!

And he's an actor too--that makes him more skittish. As likely as not
he's goin' to give lectures on "My Five Years of Hell"--they all do it.'

Jim shook his head helplessly.

'I don't know what to make of that film craze of his.'

'Decadence,' said Elk laconically. 'All these birds go wrong some way or
another, I tell you.'

The waiter was hovering at their elbow.

'Beer,' said Elk emphatically.

It was a bitterly cold night, and in spite of the briskness of their walk
Jim had been glad to get into the comfort of his club. He had no
intention of returning to Scotland Yard that night, and was in fact
parting with Elk at the door that looks out upon Pall Mall when the club
porter called him.

There was an urgent message for him and, going into the booth, he spoke
to one of the chief inspectors.

'I have been trying to get you all the evening,' said the officer. 'One
of the park-keepers has found the place where he thinks Mrs Gibbins was
thrown into the canal. I'm on the phone to him. He suggested you should
meet him outside the Zoological Society's office.'

'Tell him that I'll come right along,' said Jim quickly, and returning to
Elk, conveyed the gist of the message.

'Can't these amacher detectives find things in the Lord's bright
sunlight?' asked Elk bitterly. 'Half-past nine and freezing like the
devil: what a time to go snooping round canals!'

Yet he insisted upon going along with his companion.

'You might miss something,' he grumbled as the draughty taxi moved
northward. 'You ain't got my power of observation and deduction. Anyway,
I'll bet we're wasting our time. They'll show us the hole in the water
where she went in most likely.'

'The canal is frozen,' smiled Jim. 'In fact, it's been frozen since the
day after the body was found.'

Mr Elk growled something under his breath; whether it was an
uncomplimentary reference to the weather or to the tardiness of
park-keepers, Jim did not gather.

It was not a keeper but an inspector who was waiting for them outside the
Zoological offices. The discovery had been made that afternoon, but the
keeper had not reported the matter until late in the evening. The
inspector took a seat in their taxi and under his direction they drove
back some distance to the place where a bridge crosses the canal to
Avenue Road. Here the Circle roadway is separated from the canal by a
fifty-foot stretch of grassland and trees. This verge, in summer, affords
a playing ground for children, and has, from their point of view, the
attraction of dipping down in a steep slope to the banks of the canal,
which, however, is separated from the park by a row of wooden palings,
wired to form an unclimbable fence. The playground is reached from the
road by a broad iron gate running parallel with the bridge, and this,
explained the park inspector, was locked at nights.

'Occasionally somebody forgets,' he said, 'and I remember having it
reported to me on the night after this woman's disappearance, that the
gates were found open in the morning.'

He led the way cautiously down the steep declivity towards the fence
which runs by the canal bank. Here is a rough path and along this they
trudged over ground frozen hard.

'One of our keepers had to make an inspection of the fence this
afternoon,' the officer went on, 'and we found that the palings had been
wrenched from one of the supporting posts. Afterwards somebody must have
put them up again and did the job so well that we have never noticed the
break.'

They had now reached the spot, and a powerful light thrown along the
fence revealed the extent of the damage.

A wire strand and one of the palings had been broken, and the officer had
only to push lightly at the fence to send it sagging drunkenly towards
the canal. He put his foot upon it and with a creak it lay over so that
he could have walked without any difficulty on to the canal bank.

'Our man thought that the damage had been done by boys, until he saw the
hat.'

'Which hat?' asked Jim quickly.

'I left it here for you to see, exactly as he found it.'

The superintendent's light travelled along a bush, and presently focused
upon a crushed brown object, which had been caught between two branches
of the bush. Jim loosened the pitiable relic, a brown felt hat, stained
and cut about the crown. It might easily, he saw, have been dragged off
in a struggle, and against the autumnal colouring of the undergrowth
would have escaped notice.

'Here is another thing,' said the park officer. 'Do you see that? It was
the first thing I looked for, but I have no doubt that you gentlemen will
understand better than I what it signifies.'

It was the impress of a heel in the frozen ground. By its side a queer,
flat footmark, criss-crossed with innumerable lines.

'Somebody who wore rubbers,' said Elk, going down on his knees. 'There
has been a struggle here. Look at the sideways thrust of that heel!
And--'

'What is this?' asked Jim sharply.

His lamp was concentrated upon a tiny, frozen puddle, and Elk looked but
could see nothing but its grey-white surface. Kneeling, Jim took out a
knife from his pocket and began to scrape the ice; and now his companion
saw what had attracted his attention: a piece of paper. It was an
envelope which had been crushed into the mud. When he got the frozen
object into the light it was frozen to the shape of the heel that had
trodden upon it. Gently he scraped away the mud and ice until two lines
were legible. The first was at the top left-hand corner and was heavily
underlined.

'By hand. Urgent.'

Only one line of the address was legible, but the word 'Harlow' was very
distinct.

They carried their find back to the superintendent's office and before
his fire thawed it out. When the letter had become a limp and steaming
thing, Jim stripped the flap of the envelope and carefully withdrew its
contents.

'DEAR MR HARLOW,

'I am afraid I must disappoint you. I am in such a position, being an
ex-convict, that I cannot afford to take the slightest risk. I will tell
you frankly that what I have in my mind, is that this may be a frame-p up
organised by my friends the police, and I think that it would be, to say
the least, foolish on my part to go any farther until I know your
requirements, or at least have written proof that you have approached me.

'Yours sincerely,

'ARTHUR INGLE.'

The two men looked at one another.

'That beats the band,' said Elk. 'What do you make of it, Carlton?'

Jim stood with his back to the fire, the letter in his hand, his brow
wrinkled in a frown.

'I don't know...let me try now...Harlow asked Ingle to meet him: I knew
that already. Ingle promised to go, changed his mind and wrote this
letter, which has obviously never been opened by Harlow, and as obviously
could not have been delivered to him before the interview, because, as I
know--and I had a cold in the head to prove it--these two fellows met
opposite the Horse Guards Parade and went joy-riding round the park for
the greater part of an hour.

Supposing Harlow is concerned with the slaying of this wretched
woman--and why he should kill her heaven knows!--would he carry about
this unopened letter and leave it for the first flat-footed policeman to
find?'

He sat down in a chair and held his head in his hands, and presently:
'I've got it!' he said, his eyes blazing with excitement. At least, if I
haven't got the whole story, I know at least one thing--poor Mrs Gibbins
was very much in love with William Smith the platelayer!'

Elk stared at him.

'You're talking foolish,' he said.



CHAPTER 11


AILEEN RIVERS had made one attempt to see her relative. She called up her
uncle on the telephone and asked if she might call.

'Why?' was the uncompromising question.

Only a very pressing cause would have induced the girl to make the
attempt--a fact which she conveyed to Ingle in the next sentence.

'I've had a big bill sent to me for the redecoration of your flat. You
remember that you wished this done. The decorators hold me responsible--'

'Send the bill to me; I'll settle it,' he interrupted.

'I'm not sure that all the items are exact,' she began.

'It doesn't matter,' he broke in again. 'Send the bill: I'll settle it.
Good morning.'

She hung up with a little smile, relieved of the necessity for another
interview.

There were times when Aileen Rivers was extremely grateful that no drop
of Arthur Ingle's blood ran in her veins.

He had married her mother's first cousin, and the avuncular relationship
was largely a complimentary one. She felt the need of emphasizing this
fact upon Jim Carlton when he called that night--a very welcome visit,
though he made it clear to her that the pleasure of seeing her again was
not his sole object.

He had come to make inquiries which were a little inconsequent, she
thought, about Mrs Gibbins. He seemed particularly anxious to know
something about her nature, her qualities as a worker, and her
willingness to undertake tasks which are as a rule outside the duties of
a charwoman.

She answered every question carefully and exactly, and when her
examination had been completed: 'I won't ask you why you want to know all
this,' she said, because I am sure that you must have a very good reason
for asking. But I thought the case was finished?'

He shook his head. 'No murder is finished until the assassin is caught,'
he said simply.

'It was murder?'

'I think so--Elk doesn't. Even the doctors at the inquest disagreed.
There is just a remote possibility that it may have been an accident.'
And then blandly: 'How is your attentive fellow-boarder?'

'Oh, Mr Brown?' she said with a smile. 'I don't know what has happened,
but since I spoke to you I've hardly seen him. Yes, he is still staying
at the house.'

His visit was disappointingly short, though in reality she should not
have been disappointed, because she had brought home a lot of work from
the office--Mr Stebbings was preparing his annual audit, and she had
enough to keep her occupied till midnight. Yet she experienced a little
twinge of unhappiness when Jim Carlton took an abrupt adieu.

Though in no mood for work, she sat at her table until one o'clock, then,
putting down her pen, opened the window and leaned out, inhaling the cold
night air. The sky was clear and frosty; there was not a suspicion of the
fog which had been predicted by the evening newspapers; and Coram Street
was singularly peaceful and soothing. From time to time there came a
distant whirr of wheels as cars and taxis passed along Theobald's Road,
but this was the only jar in the harmony of silence. It was one of
London's quiet nights.

She looked up and down the street-the deserted pavement was very
inviting. She was stiff and cramped through sitting too long in one
position, and a quarter of an hour's walk was not only desirable, but
necessary, she decided. Putting on her coat, she opened the door other
room and crept silently down the stairs, not wishing to disturb the other
inmates of the house.

At the foot of the first flight of stairs she had a surprise.

The door of the attentive boarder was wide open, and when she came
abreast of it she saw him sitting in an armchair, a pipe gripped between
his teeth, his hands clasped unromantically across his front and he was
nodding sleepily. But she made sufficient noise to rouse him, and
suddenly he sat up.

'Hullo!' he croaked, in the manner of one awaking from slumber. 'Are you
going out?'

The impertinence of the man took her breath away.

'I thought of going for a stroll too,' he said, rising laboriously. 'I'm
not getting enough exercise.'

'I'm going to post a letter, that is all,' she said, and had the
humiliation of making a pretence to drop an imaginary letter into the
pillar-box under his watchful eye.

She brushed past him as he stood in the doorway, blowing great clouds of
smoke from his pipe, and almost ran up the stairs, angry with herself
that she could allow so insignificant a thing to irritate her.

She did not see the man at breakfast, but as she walked up the steps to
the office, she happened to glance round and, to her annoyance, saw him
lounging on the corner of the square, apparently interested in nothing
but the architecture of the fine old Queen Anne mansion which formed the
corner block.

This day was to prove for Aileen Rivers something of an emotional strain.
She was clearing up her desk preparatory to leaving the office when Mr
Stebbings's bell rang. She went in with her notebook and pencil.

'No, no, no letter; I just have a curious request,' said Mr Stebbings,
looking past her. 'A very curious and yet a very natural request. An old
client of mine...his secretary has a sore throat or something. He wanted
to know if you'd go round after dinner and take a few letters.'

'Why certainly, Mr Stebbings,' she said, surprised that he should be so
apologetic.

'He is not a client of mine now, as I think I've told you before,' the
stout Mr Stebbings went on, addressing the chandelier. 'And I don't know
that I should wish for him to be a client either. Only--'

'Mr Harlow?' she gasped, and he brought his gaze down to her level.

'Yes, Mr Harlow, 704 Park Lane. Do you mind?'

She shook her head.

'No,' she said. She had a struggle before she could agree. 'Why, of
course I'll go. At what time?'

'He suggested nine. I said that was rather late, but he told me that he
had a dinner engagement. He was most anxious,' said Mr Stebbings, his
eyes returning to the Adam ceiling, 'that this matter should be kept as
quiet as possible.'

'What matter?' she asked wonderingly.

'I don't know'--Mr Stebbings could be exasperatingly vague--'I rather
fancy it may have been the contents of the letter; or, on the other hand,
it may have been that he did not wish anybody to know that he had a
letter of such importance as would justify the calling in of a special
stenographer to deal with it. Naturally I told him he might rely on your
discretion...thank you, that is all.'

She went back to her little room with the disquieting thought that she
was committed to spend an hour alone with a man who on his last
appearance had filled her with terror. She wondered whether she ought to
tell Jim Carlton, and then she saw the absurdity of notifying to him
every petty circumstance of her life, every coming and going. She knew he
did not like Harlow; that he even suspected that splendid man of being
responsible for the attack which had been made upon him in Long Acre; and
she was the last to feed his prejudices. There were times when she
allowed herself the disloyalty of thinking that Jim leaned a little
towards sensationalism.

So she sent him no message, and at nine o'clock was ringing at the door
of Mr Harlow's house.

She had not seen him since he came to the flat. Once he had passed her in
his car, but only Jim had recognised him.

Aileen was curious to discover whether she would recover that impression
of power he had conveyed on the night of his call; whether the same
thrill of fear would set her pulses beating faster-or whether on second
view he would shrink to the proportions of someone who was just removed
from the commonplace.

She had not anticipated that it would be Harlow himself who would open
the door to her. He wore a dinner jacket, a pleated silk shirt and round
the waist of his well cut trousers a cummerbund of oriental brocade. He
looked superb. But the old thrill?...

Without realising her action she shook her head slowly.

His was a tremendous personality, dominating, masterful, sublimely
confident. But he was not god-like.  Almost she felt disappointed. Yet if
he had been the Harlow of her mind it is doubtful whether she would have
entered the house.

'Most good of you!' He helped her to struggle other heavy coat. 'And very
good of Stebbings! The truth is that my secretary is down with 'flu and I
hate employing people from agencies.'

He opened the door of the library and, entering, stood waiting with the
edge of the door in his hand. As she stepped into the library, her foot
slipped from under her on the highly-polished floor, and she would have
fallen, but he caught her in a grip that was surprisingly fierce. As she
recovered, she was facing him, and she saw something like horror in his
eyes--just a glimpse, swift to come and go.

'This floor is dreadful,' he said jerkily. 'The men from Herrans should
have been here to lay the carpet.'

She uttered an incoherent apology for her clumsiness, but he would not
listen.

'No, no--unless you are used to the trick of walking on it--'

His concern was genuine, but he made a characteristic recovery.

'I have a very important letter to write--a most important letter. And I
am the worst of writers. Dictation is a cruel habit to acquire--the
dictator becomes the slave of his typist!'

His attitude might be described as being generally off-handed. It struck
Aileen that he was not at all anxious to impress her. She missed the
smirk and the touch of ingratiating pomposity with which the middle-aged
business man seeks to establish an impression upon a new and pretty
stenographer. In a sense he was brusque, though he was always pleasant.
She had the feeling of being put in her place--but it was an exact
grading--she was in the place she belonged, no higher, no lower.

'You have a notebook? Good! Will you sit at my table? I belong to the
peripatetic school of dictators. Comfortable? Now--'

He gave a name and an address, spelling them carefully.

The letter was to a Colonel Harry Mayburgh of 9003 Wall Street.

'My dear Harry', he began. The dictation went smoothly from hereon.
Harlow's diction was a little slow but distinct.

He was never once at a loss for a word, nor did he flounder in the morass
of parentheses. Towards the end of the letter:

'...the European situation remains settled and there is every promise of
a revival in trade during the next few months. I, for one, will never
believe that so unimportant a matter as the Bonn affair will cause the
slightest friction between ourselves and the French.'

She remembered now reading of the incident. A quarrel between a
sous-officier of the French army and a peppery British colonel who had
gone to Bonn.

So unimportant was the incident that when a question had been raised in
the House of Commons by an inquisitive member, he had been greeted by
jeering laughter. It seemed surprising that a man of Harlow's standing
should think it worth while to make any reference to the incident.

He stopped here, pinching his chin and gazing down at her abstractedly.
She met the pale eyes--was conscious that in some ineffable manner his
appearance had undergone a change. The pale eyes were deeper set; they
seemed to have  receded, leaving two little wrinkles of flesh to spoil
the unmarked smoothness of skin. Perhaps she was mistaken and was seeing
now, in a leisurely survey, characteristics which had been overlooked in
the shock of meeting him at Fotheringay Mansions...

'Yes,' he said slowly, answering, as it were, a question he had put to
himself. 'I think I might say that. Will you read back?'

She read the letter from her shorthand and when she had finished he
smiled.

'Splendid!' he said quietly. 'I envy Mr Stebbings so efficient a young
lady.'

He walked to the side-table, lifted a typewriter and carried it to the
desk.

'You will find paper and carbons in the top right hand drawer,' he said.
'Would you mind waiting for me after you have finished? I shall not be
more than twenty minutes.'

She had made the required copies of the letter within a few minutes of
his departure. There were certain matters to be considered; she sat back,
her hands folded lightly on her lap, her eyes roving the room.

Mr Harlow's splendour showed inoffensively in the decorations of the
room. The furniture, even the bookcases which covered the walls, were in
Empire style. There was a pervading sense of richness in the room and yet
it might not in truth be called over-ornate, despite the gold and crystal
of the candelabras, the luxury of heavy carpets and silken damask.

So roving her eyes came to the fire-place where the red coals were dying.
On the white-tiled hearth immediately before the fire a little screw of
paper had been thrown which, under the influence of the heat, had opened
into a crumpled ball. She saw a pencilled scrawl.

'Marling.'

She spelt the word--thought at first it was 'making.' And then she did
something which shocked her even in the act--she stooped and picked up
the paper, smoothed it out and read quickly, as though she must satisfy
her curiosity before S, her outraged sense of propriety intervened.

The handle of the door turned; she slipped the creased paper into her
bag, which was open on the table, and closed it as the stony-faced Mrs
Edwins came into the room.

She came to the desk where the girl sat, her big, gaunt hands folded, her
disparagement conveyed rather than expressed.

'You're the young woman,' she stated.

'I'm the young woman,' smiled Aileen, who had a soft spot for age. She
grew a little uncomfortable under the silent scrutiny that followed.

'You're a typewriter?'

'A typist--yes. I am Mr Stebbings's secretary.'

'Stebbings!'

Mrs Edwins' voice was surprisingly harsh and loud. The sudden change
which came to her face was remarkable.

Eyes and thin lips opened together in startled surprise.

'Stebbings? The lawyer? You've come here from him?'

For a second the girl was too startled to reply. 'Yes...Mr Harlow asked
that I be sent; his secretary was ill--'

'Oh--that's it!' Relief unmistakable.

And here it flashed on the girl that this must be Mrs Edwins--that L.
Edwins to whom reference had been made in the will of the late Miss Mercy
Harlow. Perhaps, her nerves on edge, the woman received the thought, for
she said quickly:

'I am Mrs Lucy Edwins--Mr Harlow's housekeeper.'

Aileen murmured some polite commonplace and wondered what was coming
next. Nothing apparently, for, with a quick glance round the room, the
woman sailed out, her hands still clasped before her, leaving the girl to
her penitence and self-reproach. And these distresses were inevitable. A
prying maid (she told herself) who read her mistress's letters and poked
into the mysteries of locked drawers was a pattern of decorum compared
with a secretary who yet must inspect the waste-paper of a chance
employer. She was of a mind to throw the paper into the fire, but it was
natural that she should find excuses for her conduct. And her excuse
(stoutly offered and defended to herself) was Jim Carlton and the vague
familiarity of 'Marling'.

Ten minutes passed and then Mr Harlow came slowly into the room. The door
closed with a click behind him and he stood before her on the very spot
where Mrs Edwins had conducted her cold survey.

'My housekeeper came in, didn't she?'

'Yes'. She wondered what was coming next.

'My housekeeper'--he spoke slowly--'is the most unbalanced female I have
ever known! She is the most suspicious woman I have ever known; and the
most annoying woman I am ever likely to know.' His eyes did not leave her
face. 'I wonder if you know why I sent for you?'

The question took her aback for the moment.

'Don't say to write a letter,' he smiled. 'I really wanted no letter
written! It was an excuse to get you here alone for a little talk. And
the fact that you have not gone pale and that you display no visible
evidence of agitation is very pleasing to me. If you had, I should have
opened the door to you and bid you a polite good night.' He waited for
her to speak.

'I don't quite understand what you want, Mr Harlow.'

'Really? I was afraid that you would--and understand wrongly!'

He strode up and down the library, his hands under his coat tails, his
head lifted so that he seemed immediately interested in the cornice.

'I want a view--an angle. I can't get that from any commonplace person.
You arc not commonplace. You're not brilliant either--forgive my
frankness. You're a woman, perhaps in love--perhaps not. I don't know,
but a normal soul. You have no interest to serve.'

He stopped abruptly, looked at her, pointing to the door. 'That door is
locked,' he said. 'There is nobody in the house but myself and my
housekeeper. The telephone near your right hand is disconnected. I am
very fond of you!'

He paused and then nodded approvingly.

'A little colour--that is annoyance. No trembling--that may come later.
Will you be so good as to press the bell--you will find it...yes, that is
it.'

Mechanically she had obeyed, and almost immediately the door opened and a
tall manservant came in.

'I want you to wait in the servants' hall until this young lady has gone,
Thomas--I have a letter I wish posted.'

The man bowed and went out. Mr Harlow smiled.

'That disproves two statements I made to you--that the door was locked
and that we were alone in the house. Now I think I know you! I wasn't
certain before. And of course I'm not fond of you--I like you though. If
you feel inclined to call up James Carlton, the telephone is through to
the exchange.'

'Will you please tell me,' she said quietly, 'what all this means?'

He stood by the desk now, his white fingers beating a noiseless tattoo.

'I know you, that is the point,' he said. 'I can now speak to you very
plainly. Would you, for a very large financial consideration, marry a man
in whom I am greatly interested?'

She shook her head and he approved even of the refusal.

'That is splendid! You did not say I was insulting you, or that you could
not marry a man for money--none of the cliches of the film or the
novelette! You would have disappointed me if you had.'

Aileen made a discovery that left her doubting her own sanity. She liked
this man. She believed in his sincerity. A crooked dealer he might be,
but upon a plane which was beyond her comprehension. In the less lofty
regions in the levels of human intercourse he was beyond suspicion. She
felt curiously safe with him and was worried, as one who was in the
process of changing a settled opinion in the face of a prejudiced habit
of thought.

He had the face of a materialist--the blue of his eyes was (Jim had told
her) common to great generals and great murderers. The thick lips and
fleshy nose were repellent, Yet she lived consciously in a world of men
and women--she did not look for god or hero in any man. None was wholly
good; none was wholly bad, except in the most artificial of dramas.

'I wonder if I know what you are thinking about?'

She mistrusted him now, having a sense of his uncanny power of
mind-reading.

'You are saying "I wonder if he is as great a scoundrel as people like
Carlton say?" How shall you measure me? It is very difficult, not because
I represent greatness, but because the canvas on which I work is immense.
Miss Rivers, I hoped that you were heart-free.'

'I think I am,' she said.

'Which means that you are not. I wanted you to marry somebody I love; the
sweetest nature in the world. Something I have created out of confusion
and chaos and shining lights and mysterious sounds. I talk like a
divinity, but it is true. For years I have been looking for a wife.' He
leaned forward over the desk and his voice sank. 'Shall I tell you
something?'

And though she made no sign, he read her interest aright.

'If you had said "yes", my day would have been done. I am selfishly
relieved that you declined. But if it had been "yes", all this would have
crumbled into dust-all the splendours of the Splendid Harlow! Dust and
memories and failure!'

For a moment she thought he had been drinking and that she had not
detected his condition before. But he was sober enough and very, very
sane.

'Strange, isn't it? I like you. I like Carlton--unscrupulous but a nice
man. He is waiting outside this house for you. Also a fellow-lodger of
yours, a Mr Brown, who followed you here.'

She gasped at this.

'He is a detective. Carlton is scared for you--he suspects me of
harbouring the most sinister plans.' His chuckle had a rich music in it.
'Maybe I can help you some time. I'd love to give you a million and see
what you would do with it.'

He held out his hand, and she took it without hesitation.

'You haven't told me whom I was to marry?'

'A man with a golden beard,' he laughed. 'Forgive my little joke!'

She went out of the house bewildered and stopped on the step with a cry
of wonder. Jim Carlton was standing on the sidewalk; and with him was Mr
Brown, her fellow-boarder.

Mr Harlow waited until the door had closed upon his visitor and was
stepping into the lift when his yellow-faced housekeeper appeared
noiselessly from the direction of the servants' hall.

'What did that girl want?' she asked.

'Liberty of action,' he replied.

'I don't understand what you're talking about half the time,' she
complained. 'I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't a spy.'

'Nothing would surprise you, my dear woman,' he said, his hand on the
grille of the elevator.

'I don't like the look of her.'

'I, on the contrary, like the look of her very much.' He was resigned to
the conversation. 'I asked her to marry.'

'You!' she almost screamed.

'No.' He jerked his head to the ceiling and broke in upon her violent
comment. 'I'm not mad. I am very clever. I can face truth--that is the
cleverest thing any man can do. I'm going up to Saul Marling.'

Her shrill voice followed him up the elevator shaft.

'Fantastical nonsense...wasting your time!'

He closed the door of Marling's apartment behind him and sank into a deep
chair with a groan of relief. The bearded man, his face shadowed by a
reading shade, looked round, chin on palm.

'She has a tantrum today,' he said, nodding his head wisely. 'She was
quite rude when I complained about the fish.'

'The devil she was!' Harlow sat upright, was on the point of rising but
thought better of it. 'You must have what you wish, my dear Saul. I will
raise Cain if you don't. What are you reading?'

Marling turned over the book to assure himself of the title.

'The Interpretation of Dreams,' he read.

'Freud! Chuck it in the waste-paper basket,' scoffed Harlow.

'I don't understand it very well,' admitted his companion.

'The man who can interpret other people's dreams can interpret other
people's thought,' said Harlow. 'I have been dreaming for you, Saul
Marling. I dreamt a wife for you, but she would have none of it.'

'A wife!' said the startled Marling, his hand trembling in his agitation.
'I don't want a wife--you know that!'

Mr Harlow lit a cigar.

'Yes--but she doesn't want a husband--I know THAT. Dreams, huh?' He
laughed to himself, the other man watching him curiously.

'Do you ever dream?' he asked with a timidity which was almost pathetic.

'I? Lord, yes! I dream of jokes.'

Marling could not understand this: this strong man had talked about
'jokes' before, and when they were elaborated they had not amused anybody
but Mr Harlow.

It is a peculiar trait of the English criminal that he never describes
his unlawful act or acts by grandiloquent terms. Crime of all kind,
especially crime against the person, is a 'joke'. The man who holds up a
cashier has 'had a joke with him'; the confidence swindler 'jokes' his
victim; a warehouse theft would be modestly described in the same way.

Mr Stratford Harlow once heard the term employed and never forgot it.
This cant phrase so nearly covered his own mental attitude towards his
operations; a good joke would produce the same emotions of mind and body.

Once he had written to an important rubber house offering to take its
entire stock at a price which would show a fair profit to the seller. The
house and its affiliated concerns smelt a forced buying and the price of
rubber rose artificially.

He waited three months, buying everywhere but from the united companies
and one night their stores illuminated the shipping of the Mersey.

That was a very good joke indeed. Mr Harlow chuckled for days, not
because he had made an enormous fortune--the joke had to be there or the
money had no value.

'I don't like your jokes,' said Marling gravely.

'I shouldn't tell you about them,' said Mr Harlow, suppressing a yawn;
'but I have no secrets from you, Saul Marling. And I love testing them
against your magnificent honesty. If you laughed at them as I laugh, I'd
be worried sick. Come along to the roof for your walk and I'll tell you
the greatest joke of all. It starts with a dinner-party given in this
house and ends with somebody making twenty millions and living happily
ever after!'


It required a perceptible effort in Aileen to produce the paper she had
found in the grate of Mr Harlow's library.

She had the unhappy knowledge that whilst this big man had put her in her
place, she hadn't stayed there. She had gone down into deplorable depths.
He might be anything that Jim believed, but on his own plane he had a
claim to greatness.

When she reached that conclusion she felt that it was time to hand the
paper to her companion.

'I'm not going to excuse myself,' she said frankly. 'It was an abominable
thing to do, and I won't even say that I had you in my mind. It was just
vulgar curiosity made me do it.'

They stopped under a street lamp and he opened the paper and read the
message.

'Marling!' he gasped. 'Good God!'

'What is it?'

The effect of those scribbled words upon her companion astounded her.
Presently he folded the paper very carefully and put it in his pocket.

'Marling, Ingle, Mrs Gibbins,' he said, in his old bantering mood. 'Put
me together the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle; and connect if you can the
note of this Mr Marling, who wishes to retain his writing materials; your
disreputable uncle who has developed a craze for film projecting; fit in
the piece which stands for Mrs Gibbins and her beloved William Smith;
explain a certain letter that was never posted and never delivered, yet
was found in a frozen puddle--I nearly said puzzle!--and make of all
these one intelligible picture.'

'What on earth are you talking about?' she asked helplessly.

He shook his head.

'You don't know! Elk doesn't know. I'm not so sure that I know, but I
wish the next ten days were through!'



CHAPTER 12


FOR SOME reason which she could not explain to herself, Aileen was
irritated.

'Do you realise how horribly mysterious you are?' she asked, almost
tartly. 'I always thought that the mystery of detectives was an illusion
fostered by sensational writers.'

'All mystery is illusion,' he said grandly.

They had reached Oxford Street.

'Have you ever been to the House of Commons?' he asked her suddenly.

She shook her head.

'No.'

'Then come along. You'll see something more entertaining than a film or a
play, but you will hear very little that hasn't been said better
elsewhere.'

The House was in session, though she was only dimly aware of this, for
she belonged to the large majority of people to whom the workings of
Parliament were a closed book. Jim, on the contrary, was extraordinarily
well informed in political affairs and favoured her with a brief
dissertation on the subject. The old hard and fast party spirit was
moribund, he said. The electorate had grown too flexible for any machine
to control. There had been surprising results in recent by-elections to
illustrate a fact so disconcerting to party organizers. The present
Government, she learnt, despite its large majority, was on its last legs.
There was dissension within the Cabinet, and rebel caves honey-combed the
Government party.

In truth she was only faintly interested. But the approach to the Commons
was impressive. The lofty hall, the broad stairway, the echoing lobby
with its hurrying figures, and the mystery of what lay behind the door at
one end, brought her a new thrill.

Jim disappeared and returned with a ticket. They passed up a flight of
stairs and presently she was admitted to one of the galleries.

Her first impression was one of disappointment. The House was so much
smaller than she had expected. Somebody was talking; a pale bald man, who
rocked and swayed slowly as he delivered himself of a monotonous and
complaining tirade on the failure of the Government to do something or
other about the Basingstoke Canal. There were only a few dozen members in
the House, and mainly they were engaged in talking or listening to one
another, and apparently taking no notice of the speaker. On the front
bench three elderly men sat, head to head, in consultation.

Mr Speaker in his canopied chair seemed the only person who was taking a
keen interest in the member's oration.

Even as she looked, the House began to fill. A ceaseless procession of
men trooped in and took their places on the benches, stopping as they
passed to exchange a word with somebody already seated. The orator still
droned on; and then Jim pressed her arm and nodded.

From behind the Speaker's chair had come a man whom she instantly
recognised as Sir Joseph Layton, the Foreign Minister. He was in evening
dress except that he wore, instead of the conventional dinner jacket, one
of black velvet.

He sat down on the front bench, fingered his tiny white moustache with a
characteristic gesture, and then the member who had been speaking sat
down. Somebody rose from one of the front benches and asked a question
which did not reach the girl. Sir Joseph jerked to his feet, his hands
gripping the lapels of his velvet coat, his head on one side like an
inquisitive sparrow, and she listened without hearing to his reply. His
voice was husky; he had a dozen odd mannerisms of speech and gesture that
fascinated her. And then Jim's hand touched her.

'I'm going down to see him. Will you wait for me in the lobby?' he
whispered and she nodded.

It was ten minutes before the Foreign Minister came out of the House,
greeted the detective with a wave of his hand and put his arm in Jim's.

'Well, what is the news?' he asked, when they reached his private room.
'Harlow again, eh? Something dark and sinister going on in international
circles of diplomacy?'

He chuckled at the joke as he sat down at his big table and filled his
pipe from a tin of tobacco that stood at his elbow.

'Harlow, Harlow!' he said, with good-humoured impatience. 'Everybody is
telling me about Harlow! I'm going to have a talk with the fellow. He is
giving a dinner-party on Tuesday and I've promised to look in before I
come to the House.'

'What is the excuse for the dinner?' asked Jim, interested.

The Minister laughed.

'He is a secret diplomatist, if you like. He has fixed up a very
unpleasant little quarrel which might have developed in the Middle
East--really it amounted to a row between two bloodthirsty brigands!--and
he is giving a sort of olive-branch dinner to the ambassadors of the two
states concerned. I can't go to the dinner, but I shall go to the
reception afterwards. Well,' he asked abruptly, 'what is your news?'

'I came here to get news, not to give it, Sir Joseph,' said Jim. 'That
well-known cloud is not developing?'

'Pshaw!' said the Minister impatiently. 'Cloud!'

'The Bonn incident?' suggested Jim, and Sir Joseph exploded.

'There was no incident! It was a vulgar slanging match between an elderly
and pompous staff colonel and an impudent puppy of a French
sous-officier! The young man has been disciplined by the French; and the
colonel has been relieved of his post by the War Office. And that is the
end of a so-called incident.'

Jim rejoined the girl soon after and learnt that Parliament had not
greatly impressed her. Perhaps her mood was to blame that she found him a
rather dull companion; for the rest of the evening, whilst she was with
him, she did most of the talking, and he replied either in monosyllables
or not at all. She understood him well enough to suspect that something
unusual must have happened and did not banter him on his long silence.

At the door other boarding-house he asked: 'You won't object to Brown
staying on?'

'I intended speaking about him,' she said. 'Why am I under
observation--that is the term, isn't it?'

'But do you mind?'

'No,' she said, shaking her head. 'It is rather funny.'

'A sense of humour is a great thing,' he replied, and that was his
farewell.

Elk was not at Scotland Yard. He went up to the Great Eastern Road, where
the inspector had rooms; and he was distinctly piqued to learn that Elk
knew all about the Harlow dinner.

'I only got to know this afternoon, though,' said Elk. 'If you'd been at
the Yard I could have told you--the thing was only organised yesterday.
We shouldn't have heard anything about it, but Harlow applied for two
policemen to be on duty outside the house. Swift worker, Harlow.' His
small eyes surveyed Jim Carlton gravely. 'Tell you something else, son:
Ratas have bought up a new office building in Moorgate Street. I forget
the name of the fellow who bought it. Anyway, Ellenbury took over
yesterday-got in double staff. He is a fellow you might see.'

'He is a fellow I intend seeing,' said Jim. 'What is he now--lawyer or
financier?'

'A lawyer. But he knows as much about finance as law. I've got an idea
he's on the crook. We've never had a complaint against him, though there
was a whisper once about his financial position. In the old days he used
to act for some mighty queer people; and I think he lost money on the
Stock Exchange.'

'He's the man who lives at Norwood?'

Elk nodded.

'Norwood,' he said deliberately; 'the place where the letters were posted
to Mrs Gibbins. I wondered you hadn't seen him before--no, I haven't,
though.' He reconsidered.

'You didn't want to make Harlow think that you are on to that Gibbins
business.' He stroked his nose thoughtfully.

'Yuh, that's it. He doesn't know you. You might call on him on some
excuse, but you'll have to be careful.'

'How does he get from Norwood to the City?'

Elk shook his head.

'He's not the kind of fellow you can pick up in the train, he said. 'He
runs a hired car which Ratas pay for. Royalton House is his address. It's
an old brick box near the Crystal Palace. He lives there with his
wife--an invalid. He hasn't any vices that I know of, unless being a
friend of Harlow's puts him on the list. And he's not approachable any
other way. He doesn't work in Norwood, but has a little office in
Theobald's Road; and if you call his clerk will see you and tell you that
he is very sorry but Mr Ellenbury can't give you an appointment for the
next ten years. But Ellenbury might tell something, if you could get at
him.'

'You are certain that Ellenbury is working with Harlow?'

'Working with him?' Elk spat contemptuously but unerringly into the fire.
'I should say he was! They're like brothers--up to a point. Do you
remember the police station old man Harlow presented to a grateful
nation? It was Ellenbury who bought the ground and gave the orders to the
builders. Nobody knew it was a police station until it was up. After
they'd put in the foundations and got the walls breast-high, there was a
sort of strike because foreign labour was employed, and all the workmen
had to be sent back to Italy or Germany, or wherever they came from.
That's where Ellenbury's connection came under notice, though we weren't
aware that he was working for Harlow till a year later.'

Jim decided upon taking the bolder course, but the lawyer was prepared
for the visitation.



CHAPTER 13


MR ELLENBURY had his home in a large, gaunt house between Norwood and
Anerley. It had been ugly even in the days when square, box-shaped
dwellings testified to the strange mentality of the Victorian architects
and stucco was regarded as an effective and artistic method of covering
bad brickwork. It was in shape a cube, from the low centre of which, on
the side facing the road, ran a long flight of stone steps confined
within a plaster balustrade. It had oblong windows set at regular
intervals on three sides, and was a mansion to which even Venetian blinds
lent an air of distinction.

Royalton House stood squarely in the centre of two acres of land, and
could boast a rosary, a croquet lawn, a kitchen garden, a rustic
summer-house and a dribbling fountain.

Scattered about the grounds there were a number of indelicate statues
representing famous figures of mythology--these had been purchased
cheaply from a local exhibition many years before at a great weeding-out
of those gods chiselled with such anatomical faithfulness that they
constituted an offence to the eye of the Young Person.

In such moments of leisure as his activities allowed, Mr Ellenbury
occupied a room gloomily papered, which was variously styled 'The Study',
and 'The Master's Room' by his wife and his domestic staff. It was a high
and ill-proportioned apartment, cold and cheerless in the winter, and was
overcrowded with furniture that did not fit. Round tables and top-heavy
secretaires; a horsehair sofa that ran askew across one corner of the
room, where it could only be reached by removing a heavy card-table;
there was space for Mr Ellenbury to sit and little more.

On this December evening he sat at his roll-top desk, biting his nails
thoughtfully, a look of deep concern on his pinched face. He was a man
who had grown prematurely old in a lifelong struggle to make his
resources keep pace with ambition. He was a lover of horses; not other
people's horses that show themselves occasionally on a race track, but
horses to keep in one's own stable, horses that looked over the half-door
at the sound of a familiar voice; horses that might be decked in shiny
harness shoulder to shoulder and draw a glittering phaeton along a
country road.

All men have their dreams; for forty years Mr Ellenbury's pet dream had
been to drive into the arena of a horse show behind two spanking bays
with nodding heads and high knee action, and to drive out again amidst
the plaudits of the multitude with the ribbons of the first prize
streaming from the bridles of his team. Many a man has dreamt less
worthily.

He had had bad luck with his horses, bad luck with his family. Mrs
Ellenbury was an invalid. No doctor had ever discovered the nature of her
illness. One West End specialist seen her and had advised the calling in
of another. The second specialist had suggested that it would be
advisable to see a third. The third had come and asked questions. Had any
other parents suffered from illusions? Were they hysterical? Didn't Mrs
Ellenbury think that if she made an effort she could get up from her bed
for, say, half an hour a day?

The truth was that Mrs Ellenbury, having during her life experienced most
of the sensations which are peculiar to womankind, having walked and
worked, directed servants, given little parties, made calls, visited the
theatre, played croquet and tennis, had decided some twenty years ago
that there was nothing quite as comfortable as staying in bed.

So she became an invalid, had a treble subscription at a library and
acquired a very considerable acquaintance with the rottenness of society,
as depicted by authors who were authorities on misunderstood wives.

In a sense Mr Ellenbury was quite content that this condition of affairs
should be as it was. Once he was satisfied that his wife, in whom he had
the most friendly interest, was suffering no pain, he was satisfied to
return to the bachelor life. Every morning and every night (when he
returned home at a reasonable hour) he went into her room and asked: 'How
are we today?'

'About the same--certainly no worse.'

'That's fine! Is there anything you want?'

'No, thank you--I have everything.'

This exchange varied slightly from day to day, but generally it followed
on those lines.

Ellenbury had come back late from Ratas after a tiring day. Usually he
directed the Rata Syndicate from his own office; indeed, he had never
before appeared visibly in the operations of the company. But this new
coup of Harlow's was on so gigantic a scale that he must appear in the
daylight; and his connection with a concern suspected by every reputable
firm in the City must be public property. And that hurt him. He, who had
secretly robbed his clients, who is had engaged in systematic embezzlement
and might now, but for the intervention and help of Mr Stratford Harlow,
have been an inmate of Dartmoor, walked with shame under the stigma of
his known connection with a firm which was openly described as unsavoury.

He was a creature of Harlow, his slave. This sore place in his
self-esteem had never healed. It was his recreation to brood upon the
ignominy of his lot. He hated Harlow with a malignity that none, seeing
his mild, worn face, would suspect.

To him Stratford Harlow was the very incarnation of evil, a devil on
earth who had bound his soul in fetters of brass. And of late he had
embarked upon a novel course of dreaming. It was the confused middle of a
dream, having neither beginning nor end, but it was all about a
humiliated Harlow; Harlow being dragged in chains through the Awful Arch;
Harlow robbed at the apotheosis of his triumph. And always Ellenbury was
there, leering, chuckling, pointing a derisive finger at the man he had
ruined, or else he was flitting by midnight across the Channel with a
suitcase packed with fabulous sums of money that he had filched from his
master.

Mr Ellenbury bit his nails.

Soon money would be flowing into Ratas--he would spend days endorsing
cheques, clearing drafts...drafts...

You may pass a draft into a bank and it becomes a number of figures in a
pass-book. On the other hand, you may hand it across the counter and
receive real money.

Sometimes Harlow preferred that method--dollars into sterling, sterling
into Swiss francs, Swiss francs into florins, until the identity of the
original payment was beyond recognition.

Drafts...

In the room above his head his wife was lying immersed in the
self-revelations of a fictional countess. Mrs Ellenbury had little money
of her own. The house was her property. He could augment her income by
judicious remittances.

Drafts...

Mauve and blue and red. 'Pay to the order of--' so many thousand dollars,
or rupees, or yen.

Harlow never interfered. He gave exact instructions as to how the money
was to be dealt with, into which accounts it must be paid and that was
all. At the end of a transaction he threw a thousand or two at his
assistant, as a bone to a dog.

Ellenbury had never been so rich in his life as he was now.

He could meet his bank manager without a sinking feeling in the pit of
his stomach--no longer did the sight of a strange man walking up the
drive to the house fill him with a sense of foreboding. Yet once he had
seen the sheriff's officer in every stranger.

But he had grown accustomed to prosperity; it had become a normal
condition of life and freed his mind to hate the source of his affluence.

A slave--at best a freedman. If Harlow crooked his finger he must run to
him; if Harlow on a motoring tour wired 'Meet me at--' any inaccessible
spot, he must drop his work and hurry there. He, Franklin Ellenbury, an
officer of the High Court of Justice, a graduate of a great university, a
man of sensibility and genius.

No wonder Mr Ellenbury bit at his nails and thought of drafts and sunny
cafes and picture galleries which he had long desired to visit; and
perhaps, after he was sated with the novelty of travel, a villa near
Florence with orange groves and masses of bougainvillaea clustering
between white walls and jade-green jalousies.

'A gentleman to see you, sir.'

He aroused himself from his dreams with a painful start.

'To see me?' The clock on his desk said fifteen minutes after eleven. All
the house save the weary maid was asleep. 'But at this hour? Who is he?
What does he want?'

'He's outside, in a big car.'

Automatically he sprang to his feet and ran out of the room. Harlow! How
like the swine, not condescending to alight, but summoning his Thing to
his chariot wheels! 'Is that you, Ellenbury?' The voice that spoke from.
the darkness of the car was his.

'Yes, Mr Harlow.'

'You'll be getting inquiries about the Gibbins woman--probably tomorrow.
Carlton is certain to call--he has found that the letters were posted
from Norwood. Why didn't you post them in town?'

'I thought--er--well, I wanted to keep the business away from my office.'

'You could still have posted them in town. Don't try to hide up the fact
that you sent those letters. Mrs Gibbins was an old family servant of
yours. You told me once that you had a woman with a similar name in your
employ--'

'She's dead--' began Ellenbury.

'So much the easier for you to lie!' was the answer. 'Is everything going
smoothly at Ratas?'

'Everything, Mr Harlow.'

'Good!'

The lawyer stood at the foot of the steps watching the carmine rear light
of the car until it vanished on the road.

That was Harlow! Requesting nothing--just ordering. Saying 'Let this be
done,' and never doubting that it would be done.

He went slowly back to his study, dismissed the servant to bed; and until
the early hours of the morning was studying a continental
timetable--Madrid, Munich, Cordova, Bucharest--delightful places all.

As he passed his wife's bedroom she called him and he went in.

'I'm not at all well tonight,' she said fretfully. 'I can't sleep.'

He comforted her with words, knowing that at ten o'clock that night she
had eaten a supper that would have satisfied an agricultural labourer.



CHAPTER 14


MR HARLOW had timed his warning well. He had the general's gift of
foretelling his enemy's movements.

Jim called the next morning at the lawyer's office in Theobald's Road;
and when the dour clerk denied him an interview, he produced his card.

'Take that to Mr Ellenbury. I think he will see me,' he said.

The clerk returned in a few seconds and ushered him into a cupboard of a
place which could not have been more than seven feet square. Mr Ellenbury
rose nervously from behind his microscopic desk and offered a limp, damp
hand.

'Good morning, Inspector,' he said. 'We do not get many visitors from
Scotland Yard. May I inquire your business?'

'I am making inquiries regarding the death of a woman named Gibbins,'
said the visitor.

Mr Ellenbury was not startled. He bowed his head slowly. 'She was the
woman taken out of the Regent's Canal some weeks ago; I remember the
inquest,' he said.

'Her mother, Louise Gibbins, had been drawing a quarterly pension of
thirteen pounds, which, I understand, was sent by you?'

It was a bluff designed to startle the man into betraying himself but, to
Jim Carlton's astonishment, Mr Ellenbury lowered his head again.

'Yes,' he said, 'that is perfectly true. I knew her mother, a very
excellent old lady who was for some time in my employ. She was very good
to my dear wife, who is an invalid, and I have made her an allowance for
many years. I did not know she was dead until the case of the drowned
charwoman came into court and caused me to make inquiries.'

'The allowance was stopped before these facts wire made public,'
challenged Jim Carlton, and again he was dumb-founded when the lawyer
agreed.

'It was delayed--not stopped,' he said, 'and it was only by accident that
the money was not sent at the usual time. Fortunately or unfortunately, I
happened to be rather ill when the allowance should have been sent off.
The day I returned to the office and dispatched the money I learnt of Mrs
Gibbins's death. It is clear that the woman, instead of informing me of
her mother's death, suppressed the fact in order that she might benefit
financially. If she had lived and it had come to my notice, I should
naturally have prosecuted her for embezzlement.'

Carlton knew that his visit had been anticipated, and the story cut and
dried in advance. To press any further questions would be to make
Harlow's suspicion a certainty. He could round off his inquiry plausibly
enough, and this he did.

'I think that is my final question in the case,' he said with a smile. 'I
am sorry to have bothered you, Mr Ellenbury. You never met Miss Annie
Gibbins?'

'Never,' replied Ellenbury, with such emphasis that Jim knew he was
speaking the truth. 'I assure you I had no idea of her existence.'

From one lawyer to another was a natural step: more natural since Mr
Stebbings' office was in the vicinity, and this interview at least held
one pleasant possibility--he might see Aileen.

She was a little staggered when he entered her room.

'Mr Stebbings!--why on earth--?' And then penitently: 'I'm so sorry! I am
not as inquisitive as I appear!'

Mr Stebbings, who was surprised at nothing, saw him at once and listened
without comment to the detective's business.

'I never saw Mr Marling except once,' he said. 'He was a wild, rather
erratic individual, and as far as I know, went to the Argentine and did
not return.'

'You're sure that he went abroad?' asked Jim.

Mr Stebbings, being a lawyer, was too cautious a man to be sure of
anything. 'He took his ticket and presumably sailed; his name was on the
passenger list. Miss Alice Harlow caused inquiries to be made; I think
she was most anxious that Marling's association with Mr Harlow should be
definitely broken. That, I am afraid, is all I can tell you.'

'What kind of man was Marling? Yes, I know he was wild and a little
erratic, but was he the type of man who could be dominated by Harlow?'

A very rare smile flitted across the massive face of the lawyer.

'Is there anybody in the world who would not be dominated by Mr Harlow?'
he asked dryly. 'I know very little of what is happening outside my own
profession, but from such knowledge as I have acquired I understand that
Mr Harlow is rather a tyrant. I use the word in its original and historic
sense,' he hastened to add.

Jim made a gentle effort to hear more about Mr Harlow and his earlier
life. He was particularly interested in the will, a copy of which he had
evidently seen at Somerset House, but here the lawyer was adamant. He
hinted that, if the police procured an order from a judge in chambers, or
if they went through some obscure process of law, he would have no
alternative but to reveal all that he knew about his former client;
otherwise--

Aileen was not in her room when he passed through, and he lingered
awhile, hoping to see her, but apparently she was engaged (to her
annoyance, it must be confessed) with the junior partner; he left
Bloomsbury with a feeling that he had not extracted the completest
satisfaction from his visits.

At the corner of Bedford Place a blue Rolls was drawn up by the sidewalk,
and so deep was he in thought that lie would have passed, had not the man
who was sitting at the wheel removed the long cigar from his white teeth
and called him by name. Jim turned with a start. The last person he
expected to meet at this hour of the morning in the prosaic environment
of Theobald's Road.

'I thought it was you.' Mr Harlow's voice was cheerful, his manner a
pattern of geniality. 'This is a fortunate meeting.'

'For which of us?' smiled Jim, leaning his elbow on the window opening
and looking into the face of the man.

'For both, I hope. Come inside, and I'll drive you anywhere you're going.
I have an invitation to offer and a suggestion to make.'

Jim opened the door and stepped in. Harlow was a skilful driver. He
slipped in and out of the traffic into Bedford Square, and then: 'Do you
mind if I drive you to my house? Perhaps you can spare the time?'

Jim nodded, wondering what was the proposition. But throughout the drive
Mr Harlow kept up a flow of unimportant small talk, and he said nothing
important until he showed his visitor into the beautiful library. Mr
Harlow threw his heavy coat and cap on to one of the red settees, twisted
a chair round, so that it revolved like a teetotum, and set it down near
his visitor.

'Somebody followed you here,' he said. 'I saw him out of the tail of my
eye. A Scotland Yard man! My dear man, you are very precious to the law.'
He chuckled at this. 'But I bear you no malice that you do not trust me!
My theory is that it is much better for a dozen innocent men to come
under police surveillance than for a guilty man to escape detection. Only
it is sometimes a little unnerving, the knowledge that I am being
watched. I could stop it at once, of course. The Courier is in the
market--I could buy a newspaper and make your lives very unpleasant
indeed. I could raise a dozen men up in Parliament to ask what the devil
you meant by it. In fact, my dear Carlton, there are so many ways of
breaking you and your immediate superior that I cannot carry them in my
head!'

And Jim had an uncomfortable feeling that this was no vain boast.

'I really don't mind,' Harlow went on; 'it annoys me a little, but amuses
me more. I am almost above the law! How stupid that sounds!' He slapped
his knee and his rich laughter filled the room. 'Of course I am; you know
that! Unless I do something very stupid and so trivial that even the
police can understand that I am breaking the law, you can never touch
me!'

He waited for some comment here, but Jim was content to let his host do
most of the talking. A footman came in at that moment pushing a basket
trolley, and, to Jim's surprise, it contained a silver tea-service, in
addition to a bottle of whisky, siphon and glasses.

'I never drink,' explained Harlow. 'When I say "never," it would be
better if I said "rarely." Tea-drinking is a pernicious habit which I
acquired in my early youth.' He lifted the bottle. 'For you--?'

'Tea also,' said Jim, and Mr Harlow inclined his head.

'I thought that was possible,' he said; and when the servant had gone he
carried his tea back to the writing-table and sat down.

'You're a very clever young man,' he said abruptly, and Jim showed his
teeth in a sceptical smile. 'I could almost wish you would admit your
genius. I hate that form of modesty which is expressed in
self-depreciation. You're clever. I have watched your career and have
interested myself in your beginning. If you were an ordinary police
officer I should not bother with you; but you are something different.'

Again he paused, as though he expected a protest, but neither by word nor
gesture did Jim Carlton approve or deny his right to this distinction.

'As for me, I am a rich man,' Harlow went on. 'Yet I need the very help
you can give to me. You are not well off, Mr Carlton? I believe you have
an income of four hundred a year or thereabouts, apart from your salary,
and that is very little for one who sooner or later must feel the need of
a home of his own, a wife and a family--'

Again he paused suggestively, and this time Jim spoke.

'What do you suggest to remedy this state of affairs? he asked.

Mr Harlow smiled.

'You are being sarcastic. There is sarcasm in your voice! You feel that
you are superior to the question of money. You can afford to laugh at it.
But, my friend, money is a very serious thing. I offer you five thousand
pounds a year.'

He rose to his feet the better to emphasize the offer, Jim thought.

'And my duties?' he said quietly.

Harlow shrugged his big shoulders; and put his hands deep into his
trousers pockets.

'To watch my interests.' He almost snapped the words. 'To employ that
clever brain of yours in furthering my cause, in protecting me when I
go--joking! I love a joke--a practical joke. To see the right man
squirming makes me laugh. Five thousand a year, and all your expenses
paid to the utmost limit. You like play-going? I'll show you a play that
will set you rolling with joy! What do you say?'

'No,' said Jim simply; 'I'm not keen on jokes.'

'You're not?' Harlow made a little grimace. 'What a pity! There might be
a million in it for you. I am not trying to induce you to do something
against your principles, but it is a pity.' It seemed to Jim's sensitive
ear that there was genuine regret in Harlow's tone, but he went on
quickly: 'I appreciate your standpoint. You have no desire to enter my
service. You are, let us say, antipathetic towards me?'

'I prefer my own work,' said Jim.

Harlow's smile was broad and benevolent. 'There remains only one
suggestion: I want you to come to the dinner and reception I am giving to
the Middle East delegates next Thursday. Regard that as an olive branch!'

Jim smiled. 'I will gladly accept your invitation, Mr Harlow,' he said
and then, with scarcely a pause: 'Where can I find Marling?'

The words were hardly out of his lips before he cursed himself for his
folly. He had not the slightest intention of asking such a fool question,
and he could have kicked himself for the stupid impulse which, in one
fraction of a second, had thrown out of gear the delicate machinery of
investigation.

Not a muscle of Stratford Harlow's face moved.

'Marling?' he repeated. His black brows met in a frown; the pale eyes
surveyed the detective blankly.. 'Marling?' he said again. 'Now where
have I heard that name? You don't mean the fellow who was my tutor? Good
God! what a question to ask! I have never heard of him from the day he
left for South Africa or somewhere.'

'The Argentine?' suggested Jim.

'Was it the Argentine? I'm not sure. Yes, I am-Pernambuco--cholera--he
died there!'

The underlip came thrusting out. Harlow was passing to the aggressive.

'The truth is, Marling and I were not very good friends. He treated me
rather as though I were a child, and I cannot think of him without
resentment. Marling! How that word brings back the most uncomfortable
memories! The succession of wretched cottages, of prim, neat gardens, of
his abominable Greek and Latin verses--differential calculi, the whole
horrible gauntlet of so-called education through which a timid youth must
run--and be flayed. Why do you ask?'

Jim had his excuse all ready. He might not recover the ground he had
lost, but he could at least consolidate himself against further
retirement.

'I have had an inquiry from one of his former associates.' He mentioned a
name, and here he was on safe ground, for it was the name of a man who
had been a contemporary of Marling's and who was in the same college. Not
a difficult achievement for Jim, who had spent that morning looking up
old university lists. Evidently it had no significance to Harlow.

'I seem t remember Marling talking about him.' he said. 'But twenty-odd
years is a very long time to cast one's memory! And very probably I am an
unconscious liar! So far as I know'--he shook his head--'Marling is dead.
I have no absolute proof of this, but if you wish I will have inquiries
made. The Argentine Government will do almost anything I wish.'

'You're a lucky man.' Jim held out his hand with a laugh.

'I wonder if I am?' Harlow looked at him steadfastly. 'I wonder! And I
wonder if you are, Mr Carlton,' he added slowly. 'Or will be!'

Jim Carlton was not in a position to supply an answer. His foot was on
the doorstep when Harlow called him back. 'I owe you an apology,' he
said.

Jim supposed that he was talking about the offer he had made, but this
was not the case.

'It was a crude and degrading business, Mr Carlton--but I have a passion
for experiment. Such methods were efficacious in the days of our
forefathers, and I argued that human nature has not greatly changed.'

Carlton was listening in bewilderment.

'I don't quite follow you--'

Mr Harlow showed his teeth in a smile and for a moment his pale eyes lit
up with glee.

'This was not a case of your following me--but of my following you. A
crude business. I am heartily ashamed of myself!'

Jim was half-way to Scotland Yard before the solution of this mysterious
apology occurred to him. Stratford Harlow was expressing his regret for
the attack that had been delivered by his agents in Long Acre.

Jim stopped to scratch his head.

That man worries me!' he said aloud.



CHAPTER 15


THE NEWS that Mr Stratford Harlow was entertaining the Middle East
delegates at his house in Park Lane was not of such vital importance that
it deserved any great attention from the London press. A three-line
paragraph at the foot of a column confirmed the date and die hour. For
Jim this proved to be unnecessary, since a reminder came by the second
post on the following day, requesting the pleasure of his company at the
reception.

'They might have asked me to the dinner,' said Elk. 'Especially as it's
free. I'll bet that bird keeps a good brand of cigar.'

'Write and ask for a box; you'll get it,' said Jim, and Elk sniffed.

'That'd be against the best interests of the service,' he said
virtuously. 'Do you think I'd get 'em if I mentioned your name?'

'You'd get the whole Havana crop,' said Jim. 'I've got a pick. Anyway,
there'll be plenty of cigars for you on the night of the reception.'

'Me?' Elk brightened visibly. 'He didn't send me an invite.'

'Nevertheless you are going,' said Jim definitely. 'I'm anxious to know
just what this reception is all about. I suppose it's a wonderful thing
to stop these brigands from shooting at one another, but I can't see the
excuse for a full-scale London party.'

'Maybe he's got a girl he wants to show off,' suggested Elk helpfully.

'You've got a deplorable mind,' was Jim's only comment.

He was not the only hard-worked man in London that week. Every night he
walked with Elk and stood opposite the new Rata building in Moorgate
Street. Each room was brilliantly illuminated; messengers came and went;
and he learnt from one of the extra staff whom he had put into the
building, that even Ellenbury, who usually did not allow himself to be
identified publicly with the business, was working till three o'clock
every morning.

Scotland Yard has many agencies throughout the world, and from these the
full extent of Rata's activities began dimly to be seen.

'They've sold nothing, but they're going to sell', reported Jim to his
chief at the Yard; 'and it's going to be the biggest bear movement that
we have seen in our generation.'

His chief was a natural enemy to the superlatives of youth.

'If it were an offence to "bear" the market I should have no neighbours,'
he said icily. 'Almost every stockbroker I know has taken a flutter at
some time or other. My information is that the market is firm and
healthy. If Harlow is really behind this coup, then he looks like losing
money. Why don't you see him and ask him plainly what is the big idea?'

Jim made a face.

'I shall see him tonight at the party,' he said, 'but I doubt very much
whether I shall have a chance of worming my way into his confidence!'

Elk was not a society man. It was his dismal claim, that not in any rank
of the Metropolitan Police Force was there a man with less education than
himself. Year after year, with painful regularity, he had failed to pass
the examination which was necessary for promotion to the rank of
inspector.

History floored him; dates of royal accessions and expedient
assassinations drove him to despair. Sheer merit eventually secured him
the rank which his lack of book learning denied him.

'How'll I do?'

He had come up to Jim's room arrayed for the reception, and now he turned
solemnly on his feet to reveal the unusual splendour of evening dress.
The tail coat was creased, the trousers had been treated by an amateur
cleaner, for they reeked of petrol, and the shirt was soft and yellow
with age. 'It's the white weskit that worries me,' he complained. 'They
tell me you only wear white weskits for weddin's. But I'm sure the
party's goin' to be a fancy one. You wearin' a white weskit?'

'I shall probably wear one,' said Jim soothingly. 'And you look a peach,
Elk!'

'They'll take me for a waiter, but I'm used to that,' said Elk. 'Last
time I went to a party they made me serve the drinks. Quite a lot never
got by!'

'I want you to fix a place where I can find you,' said Jim, struggling
with his tail coat. 'That may be very necessary.'

'The bar,' said Elk laconically. 'If it's called a buf-fit, then I'll be
at the buf-fit!'

There was a small crowd gathered before the door of Harlow's house. They
left a clear lane to the striped awning beneath which the guests passed
into the flower-decked vestibule. For the first time Jim saw the
millionaire's full domestic staff. A man took his card and did not
question the presence of Elk, who strolled nonchalantly past the
guardian.

'White weskits!' he hissed. 'I knew it would be fancy!'

The wide doors of the library were thrown open and here Mr Harlow was
receiving his guests. Dinner was over and the privileged guests were
standing in a half-circle about him.

'White weskit,' murmured Elk, 'and the bar's in the corner of the room.'

Harlow had already seen them; and although Mr Elk was an uninvited guest,
he greeted him with warmth. To his companion he gave a warm and hearty
hand.

'Have you seen Sir Joseph?' he asked.

Jim had seen the Foreign Secretary that afternoon to learn whether he had
made any fresh plans, but had found that Sir Joseph was adhering to his
original intention of attending the reception only. He was telling Harlow
this when there was a stir at the door and, looking around, he saw the
Foreign Secretary enter the room and stop to shake hands with a friend at
the door. He wore his black velvet jacket, his long black he straggled
artistically over his white shirt front. Sir Joseph had been pilloried as
the worst-dressed man in London and yet, for all his slovenliness of
attire, he had the distinctive air of a grand gentleman.

He fixed his horn-rims and favoured Jim with a friendly smile as he made
his way to his host. 'I was afraid I could not come,' he said in his
husky voice. 'The truth is, some foolish newspaper had been giving
prominence to a ridiculous story that went the rounds a few weeks ago;
and I had to be in my place to answer a question.'

'Rather late for question time, Sir Joseph,' smiled Harlow. 'I always
thought they were taken before the real business of Parliament began.'

Sir Joseph nodded in his jerky way.

'Yes, yes,' he said, a little testily, 'but when questions of policy
arise, and a member gives me private notice of his intention of asking
such a question, it can be put at any period.'

He swept Parliament and vexatious questioners out of existence with a
gesture of his hand.

Jim watched the two men talking together. They were in a deep and earnest
conversation, and he gathered from Sir Joseph's gesticulations that the
Minister was feeling very strongly on the subject under discussion.
Presently they strolled through the crowded library into the vestibule,
and after a decent interval Jim went on their trail. He signalled his
companion from the buffet and Mr Elk, wiping his moustache hurriedly,
joined him as he reached the door.

The guests were still arriving; the vestibule was crowded and progress
was slow. Presently a side door in the hall opened, and over the heads of
the crush he saw Sir Joseph and Mr Harlow come out and make for the
street. Harlow turned back and met the detectives.

'A short visit,' he said, 'but worth while!' Jim reached the steps in
time to see the Foreign Minister's car moving into Park Lane and he had a
glimpse of Sir  Joseph as he waved his hand in farewell...

'He stayed long enough to justify a paragraph in the evening
newspaper--and the uncharitable will believe that this was all I wanted!
You're not going?'

It was Harlow speaking.

'I am sorry, I also have an engagement--in the House! said Jim
good-humouredly; and Mr Harlow laughed.

'I see. You were here on duty as well, eh? Well, that's a very wise
precaution. I now realise that not only are you a lucky but you are a
short-sighted young man!'

'Why?' asked Jim, so sharply that Harlow laughed.

'I will tell you one of these days,' he said.

The two detectives waited until a taxicab had been hailed; they drove
into Palace Yard at the moment Sir Joseph's car was moving back to the
rank.

'I don't see why you pulled me away from that party, Carlton,' grumbled
Elk. 'Look on this picture and look on that! Look at gay Park Lane and
dirty old Westminster!' And then, when his companion did not reply, he
asked anxiously: 'Something wrong?'

'I don't know. I've only a sort of feeling that we're going to see an
earthquake--that's all,' said Jim emphatically, as they passed into the
lobby.

Sir Joseph was in his room and could not be disturbed, a messenger told
them. Jim had signed tickets and they passed into the chamber and took a
seat under the gallery.

The house was well filled, except the Government benches, which save for
the presence of an under-secretary deeply immersed in the contents of his
dispatch box, were untenanted. Evidently some motion had been put to the
House and the result announced just before the two visitors arrived, for
the clerk was reading the terms of an interminable amendment to a Water
and Power Bill when Sir Joseph strode in from behind the Speaker's chair,
dropped heavily on the bench and, putting on his glasses began to read a
sheaf of notes which he carried.

At that moment somebody rose on the Opposition front bench.

'Mr Speaker, I rise to ask the right honourable gentleman a question of
which I have given him private notice. The question is: Has the right
honourable gentleman seen a statement published in the Daily Megaphone to
the effect that relationships between His Majesty's Government and the
Government of France are strained as the result of the Bonn incident? And
will he tell the House whether such a statement was issued, as is hinted
in the newspaper account, with the knowledge and approval of the Foreign
Office?'

Sir Joseph rose slowly to his feet, took off his horn-rims and replaced
them again, nervously gripped the lapels of his coat, and leaning forward
over the dispatch box, spoke:

'The right honourable gentleman is rightly informed,' he began, and a
hush fell on the House.

Members looked at one another in amazement and consternation.

'There does exist between His Britannic Majesty's Government and the
Government of France a tension which I can only describe as serious. So
serious, in fact, that I have felt it necessary to advise the Prime
Minister that a state of emergency be declared, all Christmas leave for
the Armed Forces be cancelled and that all reserves shall be immediately
mobilised.'

A moment of deadly silence. Then a roar of protest.

There was hurled at the Government benches a hurricane of indignant
questions. Presently the Speaker secured silence; and Sir Joseph went on,
in his grave, husky tone: 'I am not prepared to answer any further
questions tonight, and I must ask honourable members to defer their
judgement until Monday, when I hope to make a statement on behalf of His
Majesty's Government.'

And with that, unheeding the calls, he turned and walked behind the
Speaker's chair and out of sight.

'Good God!' Jim was white to the lips. 'That means war!'

Elk, who had fallen into a doze, woke with a start, in time to see his
companion dashing out of the House. He followed him along the corridor to
Sir Joseph's room and knocked at the door. There was no answer. Jim
turned the handle and walked in.

The room was in darkness and empty. Rushing out into the passage, he
waylaid a messenger.

'No, sir, I've not seen Sir Joseph. He went into the House a few minutes
ago.'

By the time he got back Jim found the lobby crowded with excited members.
The Prime Minister was in the West of England; the First Lord of the
Admiralty and the Secretary for War had left that afternoon to address a
series of public meetings in the North; and already the telephones were
busy seeking the other members of the Cabinet. He found nobody who had
seen Sir Joseph after he left the House, until he came upon a policeman
who thought he had recognised the Foreign Minister walking out into
Palace Yard. Jim followed this clue and had it confirmed. Sir Joseph had
come out into the Yard and taken a taxi (though his car was waiting), a
few minutes before. The detectives almost ran to Whitehall Gardens; and
here they had a further shock. The Minister had not arrived at his home.

'Are you sure?' asked Jim incredulously, thinking the butler had orders
to rebuff all callers.

'Positive, sir. Why, is anything the matter?' asked the man in alarm.

Jim did not wait to reply. They found a cab in Whitehall and went beyond
legal speed to Park Lane. There was just a chance that the Foreign
Minister had returned to Harlow's.

When they reached Greenhart House there came to them the strains of an
orchestra; dancing was in full swing, both in the library and in the
large drawing-room overlooking Park Lane. They found Harlow, after a
search, and he seemed the most astonished man of all.

'Of course he hasn't come back here. He told me he was going to the House
and then home to bed. What has happened?'

'You'll see it in the newspapers in the morning,' said Jim curtly and
drove back to Parliament in time to find the members streaming out of the
House, which had been adjourned.

Whilst he was talking with a member he knew, a car drove up and the man
who alighted was instantly hailed. It was the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, a broad-shouldered man, with a stoop, the most brilliant
member of the Cabinet.

'Yes, I've heard all about it,' he said, in his thin, rasping voice.
'Where is Sir Joseph?'

He beckoned Jim, who was known to him and, pushing his way through the
crowd of members, went back with him along the corridor to his room.

'Were you in the House when Sir Joseph spoke?' he asked.

'Yes, sir,' said Jim.

'Just tell me what happened.'

Briefly, almost word for word, Jim Carlton repeated the astonishing
speech.

'He must be mad,' said the Chancellor emphatically. 'There is not a word
of truth in the whole story, unless--well, something may have happened
since I saw him last.'

'Can't you issue a denial?'

Mr Kirknoll bit his lip. 'In the absence of the Prime Minister, I suppose
I should, but I can't do that until I have seen Sir Joseph.'

A thought struck Jim. 'He is not what one would describe as a neurotic
man, is he?'

'No man less so,' said the Chancellor emphatically. 'He is the sanest
person I've ever met. Is his secretary in the House?'

He rang a bell and sent a messenger in search, whilst he endeavoured to
telephone the absent Ministers.

The secretariat of Downing Street were evidently engaged in a similar
quest, with the result that until one in the morning neither had managed
to communicate with the head of the Government.

'We can't stop this getting into the newspapers, I suppose?'

'It is in,' said the Chancellor laconically. 'I've just had a copy of the
first editions. Why he did it, heaven only knows! He has certainly
smashed the Government. What other result will follow I dare not think
about.'

'What do you think will be the first result of Sir Joseph's speech?'

The Minister spread out his hands. 'The markets of course will go to
blazes, but that doesn't interest us so much as the feeling it may create
in France. Unhappily, the French Ambassador is in Paris on a short
visit.'

Jim left him talking volubly on the Paris line and at three o'clock in
the morning was reading a verbatim report of Sir Joseph Layton's
remarkable lapse. The later editions carried eight lines in heavy type:

'We are informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Bonn
incident has never been before the Cabinet for discussion, and it is not
regarded as being of the slightest importance. The Chancellor informs us
that he cannot account for Sir Joseph Layton's extraordinary statement in
the House of Commons.'

All night long Jim literally sat on the doorstep of Whitehall Gardens,
waiting without any great hope for Sir Joseph's return. He learnt that
the Prime Minister was returning from the West by special train; and that
a statement had already been issued repudiating that of the Foreign
Minister.

The opening of the Stock Exchange that morning was witnessed by scenes
which had no parallel since the outbreak of the War. Stocks declined to
an incredible extent, and even the banks reacted to the panic. It was too
early to learn what had happened in New York, the British being five
hours in advance of Eastern American time, and only at four o'clock that
afternoon was the position on Wall Street revealed. Heavy selling--all
gilt-edged stocks depreciated; the failure of a big broking house, were
the first consequences observable in the press. In France the Bourse had
been closed at noon, but there was heavy street selling; and one famous
South African stock, which was the barometer in the market, had dropped
to its lowest level.

At five o'clock that evening a statement was issued to the press over the
signatures of the Prime Ministers of Britain and France.

'There is no truth whatever in the statement that a state of tension
exists between our two countries. The Bonn incident has been from first
to last regarded as trivial, and the speech of the British Foreign
Minister can only have been made in a moment of regrettable mental
aberration.'

For Jim the day's interest had nothing whatever to do with stock
exchanges or the fall of shares; nor yet the fortune which he knew was
being gathered, with every minute that passed, by Harlow and his agents.
His interest was solely devoted to the mystery of Sir Joseph Layton's
disappearance.

There had been present at Harlow's reception a very large number of
notable people, many of whom were personal friends of the missing
Minister. They were emphatic in declaring that he had not returned to
Park Lane; and they were as certain that Harlow had not left the house
after Sir Joseph's departure. More than this, there were two policemen on
duty at the door; and they were equally certain that Sir Joseph had not
returned. The suggestion was made that the Minister had gone to his
country house in Cheshire, but when inquiry was set on foot it was
learned that the house and the shooting had been rented by a rich
American.

Immediately he had returned to London the Prime Minister flew to Paris.
When he got back Jim saw him, and the chief officer of state was a
greatly worried as well as a very tired man.

'Sir Joseph Layton has to be found!' he said, thumping his table. 'I tell
you this, Carlton, as I have told your superiors, that it was,
impossible, unless Sir Joseph went mad, that he should have stood up in
the House of Commons and said something which he knew to be absolutely
untrue, and which he himself would repudiate! Have you seen this man
Harlow?'

'Yes, sir,' said Jim.

'Did he tell you what was discussed by any chance? Was it the so-called
Bonn incident?'

'Harlow says that they just talked about the Middle East and nothing else
during the few minutes the Foreign Minister vas in his house. And really,
sir, I don't see how they could have had any very lengthy discussion;
they were not together more than a few minutes. Apparently Sir Joseph
went into a little room which Harlow uses for his more confidential
interviews and drank a glass of wine. They then talked about the
reception and Sir Joseph congratulated him on bringing the warring
elements together. It seems to have been, according to Harlow's account,
the most uninteresting talk.'

The Prime Minister walked up and down the room with long strides, his
chin on his chest.

'I can't understand it, I can't understand it!' he muttered. And then,
abruptly: 'Find Sir Joseph Layton.' That terminated the interview for
Jim.

He was rattled, badly rattled, and in his distraction he could think of
only one sedative. He rang up Aileen Rivers at her office and asked her
to come to tea with him at the Automobile Club.

Aileen realised from the first that Jim was directly occupied by a
mystery that was puzzling not only the country but the whole of the
civilised world. But she understood also the reason he had sent for her,
and the thought that she as being of use to him was a very pleasant one.

As soon as he met her he plunged straight into the story of his trouble.

'He may have been kidnapped, of course, and I should say it was very
likely, though the distance between Palace Yard and Whitehall Gardens is
very short; and Whitehall so full of police that it hardly seems
possible. We have advertised for the taximan who drove him away from the
House, but so far have had no reply.'

'Perhaps the taximan was also kidnapped?' she suggested.

'Perhaps so,' he admitted. 'I do wish Foreign Ministers weren't so
godlike that they have to travel alone! If he'd only waited a few minutes
I would have joined him.' And then, with a smile: 'I'm laying my burdens
upon you and you're wilting visibly.'

'I'm not,' she affirmed.

She considered a moment before she asked:

'Could I not help you?'

He stared at her in amused wonder.

'How on earth could you help me? I'm being rude I know, but I can't
exactly see--'

She was annoyed rather than hurt by his scepticism.

'It may be a very presumptuous thing to offer assistance to the police,'
she said with a faint hint of sarcasm, 'but I think what may be wrong
with you now is that you want--what is the expression?--a new angle?'

'I certainly want several new angles,' he confessed ruefully.

'Then I'll start in to give you one. Have you seen my uncle?'

His jaw dropped. He had forgotten all about Arthur Ingle; and never once
had he associated him with the Minister's disappearance.

'What a fool I am!' he gasped.

She examined his face steadily, as though she were considering whether or
not to agree. In reality her mind was very far away.

'I only suggest my uncle because he called upon me this morning,' she
said. 'At least, he was waiting for me when I came out to lunch. It is
the first time I have seen him since the night he came back from
Devonshire.'

'What did he want to see you about?'

She laughed softly.

'He came with a most extraordinary offer, that I should keep house for
him. And really, he offered me considerably more than the salary I am
getting from Stebbings, and said he had no objection to my working in the
daytime.'

'You refused, of course?'

'I refused, of course,' she repeated, 'but he wasn't at all put out. I've
never seen him in such an amiable frame of mind.'

'How does he look?' asked Jim, remembering the unshaven face he had seen
through the window.

'Very smart,' was the surprising reply. 'He told me he had been amusing
himself with some of the big films that had appeared since he went to
prison. He had hired them and bought a small projector. He really was
fond of the pictures, as I know,' the girl went on, 'but it seems a queer
thing to I have shut oneself up for days just to watch films! And he
asked after you.' She nodded. 'Why should he ask after you, you are going
to say, and that is the question that occurred to me. But he seems to
have taken for granted that I am a very close friend of yours. He asked
who had introduced me, and I told him your wretched little car on the
Thames Embankment!'

'Speak well of the dead,' said Jim soberly. 'Lizzie has cracked a
cylinder.'

'And now,' she said, 'prepare for a great shock.'

'I brace myself,' said Jim.

'He asked,' the girl went on, a twinkle in her eyes, 'whether I thought
you would object to seeing him. I think he must have taken a sudden
liking to you.'

'I've never met the gentleman,' said Jim, 'but that is an omission which
shall be rectified without delay. We'll go round together! He will
naturally jump at the conclusion that we're an engaged couple, but if you
can stand that slur on your intelligence--'

'I will be brave,' said Aileen.

Mr Arthur Ingle was only momentarily disconcerted by the appearance of
his niece and the man who had filled his mind all that afternoon. Jim had
met him once before, but only for a few seconds, when he had called to
make an inquiry about Mrs Gibbins. Now he was almost jovial.

'Where's friend Elk?' he asked, with a smile. 'I understood you never
moved without one another in these perilous times, when lunatic ministers
are wandering about the country, and no man knows the hour or the day
when he will be called up for active service! So you are Mr James
Carlton!'

He opened a silver cigar-box and pushed it across to Jim, who made a
careful selection.

'Aileen told you I wanted to see you, I suppose? Well, I do. I'm a bit of
a theorist, Mr Carlton, and I have an idea that my theory is right. I
wonder if you would be interested to know what it is?'

He pointedly ignored the presence of the girl except to put a chair for
her.

'I've been making inquiries,' said this surprising ex-convict, 'and I've
discovered that Sir Joseph is in all sorts of financial difficulties.
This is unknown to the Prime Minister or even to his closest friend, but
I have had a hint that he was very short of ready money and that his
estates in Cheshire were heavily mortgaged. Now, Mr Carlton, do you
conceive it as possible that the speech in the House was made with the
deliberate intention of slumping the market and that Sir Joseph was paid
handsomely for the part he played?'

As he was speaking, he clasped his hands before him, his fingers
intertwined; he emphasised every point with a little jerk of his clasped
hands and, watching him, the mist rolled from Jim Carlton's brain, and he
instantly solved the mystery of those private film shows which had kept
Mr Ingle locked up in his flat for a week. And to solve that was to solve
every mystery save the present whereabouts of Sir Joseph Layton.

He listened in silence whilst Ingle went on to expound and elaborate his
theory and when the man had finished: 'I will bring your suggestion to
the notice of my superiors,' he said conventionally.

It was evidently not the speech that Mr Ingle expected. For a moment he
looked uncomfortable, and then, with a laugh: 'I suppose you think it
strange that I should be on the side of law and order--and the governing
classes! I felt a little sore when I came out of prison. Elk probably
told you of the exhibition I made of myself in the train. But I've been
thinking things over, Carlton, and it has occurred to me that my
extremism is not profitable either to my pocket or my mind.'

'In fact,' smiled Jim, 'you're going to become a reformed character and a
member of the good old Tory party?'

'I don't know that I shall go as far as that,' demurred the other,
amused, 'but I have decided to settle down. I am not exactly a poor man,
and all that I have got I have paid for--in Dartmoor.'

Only for a second were the old harsh cadences audible in his voice. He
nodded towards Aileen Rivers.

'You'll persuade this girl to give me a chance, Mr Carlton? I can well
understand her hesitation to keep house for a man liable at any moment to
be whisked off to durance, and I fear she does not quite believe in my
reformation.'

He smiled blandly at the girl, and then turned his eyes upon Jim.

'Could you not persuade her?'

'If I could persuade her to any course,' said Jim deliberately, 'it would
not be the one you suggest.'

'Why?' challenged the other.

'Because,' said Jim, 'you are altogether wrong when you say that there is
no longer any danger of your being whisked off to durance. The danger was
never more pressing.'

Ingle did not reply to this. Once his lips trembled as though he were
about to ask a question, and then with a laugh he walked to the table and
took a cigar from the box.

'I guess I won't detain you,' he said. 'But you're wrong, Carlton. The
police have nothing on me! They may frame something to catch me, but
you'll have to be clever to do even that.'

As they passed out of the building:

'I seem to spend my days giving warnings to the last people in the world
who ought to be warned,' said Jim bitterly. 'Aileen, maybe you'll knit me
a muzzle in your spare moments? That will help considerably!'

The outstanding feature of this little speech from the girl's point of
view was that he had called her by her name for the first time. Later,
when they were nearing her boarding house, she asked: 'Do you think you
will find Sir Joseph?'

He shook his head.

'I doubt very much if he is alive,' he said gravely.

But his doubts were to be dispelled, and in the most surprising manner.
That night a drunken black-faced comedian hit a policeman over the head
with a banjo, and that vulgar incident had an amazing sequel.



CHAPTER 16


THERE is a class of entertainer which devotes its talents to amusing the
queues that wait at the doors of the cheaper entrances of London's
theatres. Here is generally to be found a man who can tear paper into
fantastic shapes, a ballad singer or two, a performer on the bones and
the inevitable black-faced minstrel.

It was eleven o'clock at night, and snow was lightly falling, when a
policeman on point duty at the end of Evory Street saw a figure
staggering along the middle of the road, in imminent danger from the
returning theatre traffic. The man had obviously taken more drink than
vas good for him, for he was howling at the top of his voice the song of
the moment; and making a clumsy attempt to accompany himself on the banjo
which was slung around his neck.

The London police are patient and long-suffering people, and had the
reeling figure been less vocal he might have passed on to his destination
without interference. For drunkenness in itself is not a crime according
to the law; a man must be incapable or create a disturbance, or obstruct
the police in the execution of their duty, before he offends. The
policeman had no intention of arresting the noisy wayfarer.

He walked into the middle of the road to intercept and quieten him; and
then discovered that the reveller was a black-faced comedian with
extravagant white lips, a ridiculous Eton collar and a shell coat. On his
head was a college cap, and this completed his outfit with the exception
of the banjo, with which he was making horrid sounds.

'Hi, hi!' said the policeman gently. 'A little less noise, young fellow!'

Such an admonition would have been sufficient in most cases to have
reduced a midnight song-bird to apology, but this street waif stood
defiantly in the middle of the road, his legs apart, and invited the
officer to go to a warmer climate, and, not satisfied with this, he swung
his banjo, and brought it down with a crash on the policeman's helmet.

'You've asked for it!' said the officer of the law and took his lawful
prey in a grip of iron.

By a coincidence, Jim Carlton was at Evory Street Station when the man
was brought in, singing not unmusically, and so obviously drunk that Jim
hardly turned his head or interrupted the conversation he was having with
the inspector on duty, to look at the charge. They made a rapid search of
the man, he resisting violently and at last, when they had extracted a
name (he refused his address) he was hustled between a policeman and a
jailer into the long corridor off which the cells are placed.

The door of Cell No. 7 was opened and into this he was pushed, struggling
to the last to maintain his banjo.

'And,' said the jailer when he came back to the charge-room, wiping his
perspiring brow, 'the language that bud is using would turn a soldier
pale!'

The reason for Jim's presence was to arrange a local supervision of
Greenhart House and to obtain certain assistance in the execution of a
plan which was running through his mind; and that task would have been
completed when the black-faced man was brought in, but that the officer
he had called to see was away. Jim lingered a little while, talking
police shop, before he paid his last visit to Sir Joseph's house. He had
the inevitable reply: No News had reached Whitehall Gardens of the
Foreign Minister.

The man he came to see at Evory Street was due to appear at the police
court in the role of prosecutor and Jim strolled down to the court next
morning, arriving soon after the magistrate had taken his seat. There he
met the inspector from Evory Street. Before Jim could broach the subject
which had brought him, the inspector asked:

'Were you at the station when that black-faced fellow was pulled in last
night?'

'Yes, I remember the noisy gentleman,' said Jim. 'Why?'

The inspector shook his head, puzzled. 'I can't understand where he got
it from. The sergeant searched him carefully, but he must have had it
concealed in some place.'

'What is the matter with him?' asked Jim, only half interested.

'Dope,' said the other. 'When the jailer went and called him this morning
it was as much as he could do to wake him up. In fact, he thought of
sending for the divisional surgeon. You never saw a sicker-looking man in
your life! Can't get a word out of him. All he did was to sit on his bed
with his head in his hands, moaning. We had to shake him to get him into
the prison van.'

The first two cases were disposed of rapidly, and then a policeman
called: 'John Smith,' and there tottered into court the black-faced
comedian, a miserable object, so weak of knee that he had to be guided up
the steps into the steel-railed dock. Gone was the exhilaration of the
night before, and Jim had an unusual feeling of pity for the poor wretch
in his absurd clothes and black, shining face.

The magistrate looked over his glasses.

'Why wasn't this man allowed to wash his face before he came before me?'
he asked.

'Couldn't get him to do anything, sir,' said the jailer, 'and we haven't
got the stuff to take off this make-up.'

The magistrate grumbled something, and the assaulted policeman stepped
into the box and took his oath to tell the truth and nothing but the
truth. He gave his stereotyped evidence and again the magistrate looked
at the drooping figure in the dock.

'What have you to say, Smith?' he asked.

The man did not raise his head.

'Is anything known about him? I notice that his address is not on the
charge sheet.'

'He refused his address, your Worship,' said the inspector.

'Remanded for inquiries!'

The jailer touched the prisoner's arm and he looked up at him suddenly;
stared wildly round the court, and then:

'May I ask what I am doing here?' he asked in a husky voice, and Jim's
jaw dropped.

For the black-faced man was Sir Joseph Layton!



CHAPTER 17


EVEN THE magistrate was startled, though he did not recognise the voice.
He was about to give an order for the removal of the man when Jim pushed
his way to his desk and whispered a few words.

'Who?' asked the magistrate. 'Impossible!'

'May I ask'--it was the prisoner speaking again--'what is all this
about--I really do not understand.'

And then he swayed and would have fallen, but the jailer caught him in
his arms.

'Take him out into my room.' The magistrate was on his feet. 'The court
stands adjourned for ten minutes,' he said; and disappeared behind the
curtains into his office.

A few seconds later they brought in the limp figure of the prisoner and
laid him on a sofa.

'Are you sure? You must be mistaken, Mr Carlton!'

'I am perfectly sure--even though his moustache has been shaved off,'
said Jim, looking into the face of the unconscious man. 'This is Sir
Joseph Layton, the Foreign Minister. I could not make a mistake. I know
him so well.'

The magistrate peered closer.

'I almost think you are right,' he said, 'but how on earth--'

He did not complete his sentence; and soon after he went out to carry on
the business of the court. Jim had sent an officer to a neighbouring
chemist for a pot of cold cream; and by the time the divisional surgeon
arrived all doubt as to the identity of the black-faced man had been
removed with his make-up. His white hair was stained, his moustache
removed, and so far as they could see, not one stitch of his clothing
bore any mark which would have identified him.

The doctor pulled up the sleeve and examined the forearm.

'He has been doped very considerably,' he said, pointing to a number of
small punctures. 'I don't exactly know what drug was used, but there was
hyoscine in it, I'll swear.'

Leaving Sir Joseph to the care of the surgeon, Jim hurried out to the
telephone and in a few minutes was in communication with the Prime
Minister.

'I'll come along in a few minutes,' said that astonished gentleman. 'Be
careful that nothing about this gets into the papers--will you please ask
the magistrate, as a special favour to me, to make no reference in
court?'

Fortunately, only one police-court reporter had been present, he had seen
nothing that aroused his suspicion and his curiosity as to why the
prisoner had been carried to the magistrate's room was easily satisfied.

Sir Joseph was still unconscious when the Premier arrived. An ambulance
had been summoned and was already in the little courtyard, and after a
vain attempt to get him to speak, the Foreign Secretary was smuggled out
into the yard, wrapped in a blanket and dispatched to a nursing home.

'I confess I'm floored,' said the Prime Minister in despair. A nigger
minstrel...assaulting the police! It is incredible! You say you were at
the police station when he was brought in; didn't you recognise him
then?'

'No, sir,' said Jim truthfully, 'I was not greatly interested--he seemed
just an ordinary drunk to me. But one thing I will swear; he was not
under the influence of any drug when he was brought into the station. The
inspector said he reeked of whisky, and he certainly found no difficulty
in giving expression to his mind!'

The Premier threw out despairing hands.

'It is beyond me; I cannot understand what has happened. The whole thing
is monstrously incredible. I feel I must be dreaming.'

As soon as the Premier had gone, Jim drove to the nursing home to which
the unfortunate Minister had been taken. The Evory Street inspector had
gone with the ambulance, and had an astonishing story to tell.

'What do you think we found in his pocket?' he asked.

'You can't startle me,' said Jim recklessly. 'What was it--the Treaty of
Versailles?'

The inspector opened his pocket-book and took out a small blank visiting
card, blank, that is, except for a number of scratches, probably made by
some blunt instrument, but the writer had attempted to get too much on so
small a space, for Jim saw that it was writing when he examined the card
carefully. Two words were decipherable, 'Marling' and 'Harlow' and these
had been printed in capitals. He took a lead pencil, scraped the point
upon the card, and sifted the fine dust over the scratches until they
became more definite.

The writing was still indecipherable even with such an aid to legibility
as the lead powder. Apparently the message had been written with a pin,
for in two places the card was perforated.

'The first word is "whosoever",' said Jim suddenly. '"Whosoever...please"
is the fourth word and that seems to be underlined...'

He studied the card for a long time and then shook his head.

'"Harlow" is clear and "Marling" is clear. What do you make of it,
inspector?'

The officer took the card from his hand and examined it with a blank
expression.  'I don't know anything about the writing or what it means,'
he said. 'The thing I am trying to work out is how did that card come in
his pocket--it was not there last night when the sergeant searched
him--he takes his oath on it!'



CHAPTER 18


A BRIEF paragraph appeared in the morning newspapers.

'Sir Joseph Layton, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, is seriously
ill in a nursing home.'

It would take more than this simple paragraph to restore the markets of
the world to the level they had been when the threat of war had sent them
tumbling like a house of cards. The principal item of news remained this
world panic, which the Foreign Secretary's speech had initiated. A great
economist computed that the depreciation in gilt-edged securities
represented over 100,000,000 sterling and whilst the downward tendency
at least to some stocks was recovering, a month or more must pass before
the majority reached the pre-scare level. One newspaper, innocent of the
suspicion under which the financier lay in certain quarters, interviewed
Mr Harlow.

'I think,' said Mr Stratford Harlow, 'that the effect of the slump has
been greatly exaggerated. In many ways, such a panic has ultimately a
beneficial result. It finds out all the feeble spots in the structure of
finance, breaks down the weak links, so that in tile end the fabric is
stronger and more wholesome than it was before the dump occurred.'

'Is it possible that the slump was engineered by a group of
market-riggers?'

'Mr Harlow scoffed at the idea.

'How could it have been engineered without the connivance or assistance
of the Foreign Secretary, whose speech alone was responsible?' he asked.
'It is certainly an amazing statement for a responsible Minister to make.
Apparently Sir John was a very sick man when he addressed the House of
Commons. It is suggested that he was suffering from overwork, but
whatever may have been the cause, he, and he alone, brought about this
slump.'

'You knew Sir John?'

'Mr Harlow agreed.

'He was in my house, in this very room, less than a quarter of an hour
before the speech was made,' he said, 'and I can only say that he
appeared in every way normal. If he was ill, he certainly did not show
it.'

'Reverting to the question of world-wide depreciation of stock values, Mr
Harlow went on to say...'

Jim read the interview with a wry smile. Harlow had said many things, but
he had omitted many more. He did not speak of the feverish activity of
Rata, Limited, whose every window had been blazing throughout a week of
nights--not one word had he suggested that he himself would benefit to an
enormous extent through the tragedy of that unhappy speech.

The man puzzled him. If he was, as Jim was convinced, behind the scare,
if his clever brain had devised, and by some mysterious means had brought
about the financial panic, what end had he in view? He had been already
one of the three richest men in England. He had not the excuse that he
had a mammoth industry to benefit. He had no imperial project to bring to
fruition. Had he been dreaming of new empires created out of the wilds;
were he a great philanthropist who had some gigantic enterprise to
advance for the benefit of mankind, this passionate desire for gold might
be understood if it could not be excused.

But Harlow had no other objective than the accumulation of money. He had
shown a vicarious interest in the public weal when he had presented his
model police station to the country; he had certainly subscribed
liberally to hospital appeals; but none of these gifts belonged to a
system of charity or public spirit. He was a man without social
gifts--the joys or suffering of his fellows struck no sympathetic chord
in his nature. If he gave, he gave cold-bloodedly, and yet without
ostentation.

True, he had offered to build, on the highest point of the Chiltern
Hills, an exact replica of the Parthenon as a national war memorial, but
the offer had been rejected because of the inaccessibility of the chosen
spot. There was a certain freakishness in his projects; and Jim suspected
that they were not wholly disinterested. The man baffled him: he could
get no thread that would lead him to the soul and the mind behind those
cold blue eyes.

For six hours that night he sat by the bedside of the unconscious Foreign
Minister. What strange story could he tell, Jim wondered. How came he to
be perambulating the streets in the guise of a drunken mountebank, whose
wanderings were to end in a vulgar brawl, with a policeman and the
cheerless lodgings of a prison cell? Had he some secret weakness which
Harlow had learnt and exploited? Did he live a double life? Jim thought
only to reject the idea. Sir Joseph's life was more or less an open book;
his movements for years past could be traced day by day from the
information supplied by the diaries of his secretary, from the knowledge
of his own colleagues.

Whilst Jim kept his vigil he made another attempt to decipher the writing
on the card, but he got no farther. He was taking turns with Inspector
Wilton of Evory Street in watching beside the bedside. The doctor had
said that at any moment the Minister might recover consciousness; and
though he took the gravest view of the ultimate result of the drugging,
his prognosis did not exclude the chance of a complete recovery. It was
at a quarter after three in the morning that the sick man, who had been
tossing from side to side, muttering disjointed words which had no
meaning to the listener, turned upon his back and, opening his eyes,
blinked round the dimly lighted room. Jim, who had been studying the card
in the light of a shaded lamp, put it into his pocket and came to the
side of the bed.

Sir Joseph looked at him wonderingly, his wide brows knit in an effort of
memory.

'Hullo!' he said faintly. 'What happened...? Did the car smash up?'

'Nothing serious has happened. Sir Joseph,' said Jim gently.

Again the wondering eyes wandered around the bare walls of the room, and
then they fell upon a temperature chart hanging against the wall. 'This
is a hospital, isn't it?'

'A nursing home,' said Jim.

There was a long silence before the sick man spoke. 'My head aches
infernally. Can you give me a drink, or isn't that allowed?'

Jim poured out a glass of water and, supporting the shoulders of the
Minister, put the glass to his lips. He drank the contents greedily and
sank back with a sigh upon the pillow.

'I suppose I am a little light-headed, but I could swear that your name
was Carlton,' he said.

'That is my name, sir,' said Jim, and the Minister pondered this for a
little time.

'Anything broken?' he asked. 'It was the car, I suppose? I told that
stupid chauffeur of mine to be careful. The road was like glass.'

He moved first one leg and then the other gingerly, and then his arms.

'Nothing is broken at all, Sir Joseph,' said Jim. 'You have had a shock.'
He had already rung for the doctor, who was sleeping in a room below.

'Shock, eh?...I don't remember...And Harlow!' His eyebrows lowered again.
'A decent fellow but rather over-dressed. I went to his house tonight,
didn't I...? Yes, yes, I remember. How long ago was it?'  Jim would not
tell him that the visit to Harlow's had happened days before. 'Yes, yes,
I remember now. Where did I go after that...to the House, I suppose? My
mind is like a whirling ball of wool!'

The doctor came in, a dressing-gown over his pyjamas, and the Minister's
mind was sufficiently clear to guess his profession. 'I'm all in, doctor.
What was it, a stroke?'

'No Sir Joseph,' said the doctor. He was feeling his patient's pulse and
seemed satisfied.

'Sir Joseph thinks he might have been in a car collision,' suggested Jim
with a significant glance at the doctor.

The man was terribly weak, but the brightness of his intellect was
undimmed. 'What is the matter with me?' he asked irritably as the medical
man put the stethoscope to his heart.

'I'm wondering whether you have ever taken drugs in your life?'

'Drugs!' snorted the old man. 'Good God! What a question! I don't even
take medicine! When I feel ill I go to my osteopath and he puts me
right.'

The doctor grinned, as all properly constituted doctors grin when an
osteopath is mentioned, for the medical profession is the most
conservative and the most suspicious of any.

'Then I shan't give you drugs.' He had a nimble turn of mind to cover up
an awkward question. 'Your heart is good and your pulse is good. And all
you want now is a little sleep.'

'And a little food,' growled Sir Joseph. 'I am as hungry as a starved
weasel!'

They brought him some chicken broth, hot and strong, and in half an hour
he had fallen into a gentle sleep. The doctor beckoned Jim outside the
room.

'I think it is safe for you to leave him,' he said. 'He is making a
better recovery than I dreamt was possible. I suppose he has said nothing
about his adventures?'

'Nothing,' said Jim, and the man of medicine realised that, even if Sir
Joseph had explained the strange circumstances of his arrest and
appearance in the police court, it was very unlikely that he would be
told.

Early the next morning Jim called at Downing Street and saw the Prime
Minister.

'He is under the impression that he was in a car accident after leaving
Park Lane. He remembers nothing about the speech in the House; the
doctors will not allow him to be told until he is strong again. I have
very grave doubt on one point, sir, which I want to clear up. And to
clear it up it may be necessary to go outside the law.'

'I don't care very much where you go,' said the Prime Minister, 'but we
must have the truth! Until the facts are known, not only Sir Joseph but
the whole Cabinet is under a cloud. I will give instructions that you are
to have carte blanche, and I will support you in any action you may
take.'

With this confident assurance Jim went on to Scotland Yard to prove the
truth 'of a theory which had slowly evolved in the dark hours of the
night; a theory so fantastical that he could hardly bring himself to its
serious contemplation.



CHAPTER 19


FOUR HUNDRED and fifteen cablegrams were put on the wire in one morning
and they were all framed in identical terms:

Remit by cable through Lombard Bank Carr Street Branch all profits taken
in Rata Transaction 17 to receipt of this instruction. Acknowledge. Rata.

This message was dispatched at three o'clock in the morning from the GPO.

The Foreign Department manager of the Lombard Bank was an old friend of
Mr Ellenbury, and had done business with him before. Mr Ellenbury drove
to the bank the following afternoon and saw the head of the Foreign
Department.

'I am ejecting some very extensive cable remittances through the
Lombard,' he said, 'and I shall want cash.'

The sour-looking manager looked even more sour.

'Rata's, I suppose? I'm surprised that you are mixed up with these
people, Mr Ellenbury. I don't think you can know what folks are saying in
the City...'

He was a friend and was frank. Mr Ellenbury listened meekly.

'One cannot pick and choose,' he said. 'The war made a great deal of
difference to me; I must live.'

The war is an unfailing argument to explain changed conditions and can be
employed as well to account for adaptable standards of morality. The
manager accepted the other's viewpoint with reservations. 'How much has
Harlow made out of this swindle?' he asked, again exercising the
privilege of friendship.

'Someday I will tell you,' said the lawyer cryptically. 'The point is, I
expect very large sums.'

'Sterling or what?'

'Any currency that is stable,' said Mr Ellenbury.

That evening came the first advice--from Johannesburg.

The sum remitted was not colossal, but it was large. New Orleans arrived
in the night and was delivered to Mr Ellenbury with Chicago, New York,
Toronto and Sydney.

The cable advices accumulated; Mr Ellenbury took no steps to draw the
money that was piling up at the Lombard Bank until the second day.

On the morning of that day he walked round his bedraggled demesne before
going to the City. He had grown attached to Royalton House, he
discovered, and almost wished he could take it with him. It was ugly and
dreary and depressing. Even the vegetable garden seemed decayed.

Pale ghosts of cabbages drooped like aged and mourning men amidst the
skeleton stalks of their departed fellows.

Across the desolation came the gardener, his shoulders protected from the
drizzle by a sack.

'I've got a load of stuff to fill the pit,' he said. 'Came yesterday.'

The pit was an eyesore and had been for thirty years. It was a deep
depression at the edge of the kitchen garden and Mr Ellenbury had sited
many dreams upon it. An ornamental pond, surrounded by banked
rhododendrons. A swimming pool with a white-tiled bed and marble seats,
where, hidden from the vulgar eye by trellised roses, a bather might sit
and bask in the sun. Now it was the end of dreams--a pit to be filled. He
stood on the edge of it. An unlovely hole in the ground, the bottom
covered with water, the rusty corner of a petrol tin showing just above
the surface. By the side was a heap of rubbish, aged bricks and portions
of brick, sand gravel, sheer ashpit emptyings.

'I will fill it in--I have promised myself that exercise,' said Mr
Ellenbury, forgetting for the moment that by tomorrow he would be filling
in nothing more substantial than time.

The slimy hole held his eyes. If he could put Harlow there and see his
big white face staring up from the mud--that would be a good filling! He
felt his face and neck go red, his limbs tingling. Presently he tore
himself away and walked back to the house.

The car that Rata's hired for him was waiting--the driver bade him a
civil good morning and said the weather was the worst he had ever known.
Mr Ellenbury went in to breakfast without replying. The sight of the car
was suggestive.

There was another garage known to Mr Ellenbury where a car could be hired
and no inconvenient questions asked. Stated more clearly, there are many
people in London engaged in peculiar professions, to whom money was not
an important consideration. They could not buy loyalty, but they were
willing to pay for discretion.

Nova's Garage had a tariff that was considerably higher than any other,
but the extra cost was money well spent. For when the police came to
Nova's to learn who was the foreign-looking gentleman who had driven away
from a West End jeweller's with the diamond ring he had bought and the
row of pearls that had disappeared with him. Nova's were blandly
ignorant. Nor could they recognise the lady who had driven the rich
Bradford merchant to Marlow and left him drugged and penniless in the
long grass of the meadows.

In the afternoon the car came; the chauffeur was a burly man with a black
moustache who chewed gum and had no interest in anybody's business but
his own. In this Mr Ellenbury drove to the bank, taking his two
suitcases; and went into the manager's room and checked the cable
advices.

'Immense!' said the manager soberly. He referred to the total. 'And more
to come, I suppose? It is so big that it almost breaks loose from the
standards.'

'Standards?' Mr Ellenbury did not know what he was talking about.

'Right and wrong...like taking a foot-rule to measure St Paul's.'

Ellenbury, something of a dialectician, could not resist the challenge.
'Moral conduct isn't a matter of arithmetic, but a matter of proportion.
You can't measure it with a yard-stick, but by its angle. Ten degrees out
of the perpendicular is as much a fault in a gate-post as in the leaning
Tower of Pisa...I make this American total a hundred and twelve
thousand.'

'And ten,' added the manager. 'The exchange is against us.'

Mr Ellenbury made five bundles of the notes and fitted them into the
suitcase.

'Now we will take the South African remittances,' said the manager,
painfully patient, a sigh in his every sentence, disapproval in every wag
of his pen. 'I suppose you're right, but it does seem to me that a man's
offence against society is in inverse ratio to the amount of money he
pouches.'

'Pouches!' murmured Mr Ellenbury in protest.

'Pockets, then. When you reach the million mark you've got to a point
beyond the comprehension of a jury. They  look at the man and they look
at the money, and they say "not guilty" automatically. There ought to be
a new set of laws dealing with property--starting with penalties for
pinching a million; and working up to the place where you can indict a
government for wasting nine figures. And the jury should be made up of
accountants and novelists, who've never seen real money but think in
millions--eighty-seven thousand nine hundred I make it.'

Mr Ellenbury performed a rapid calculation, consulting a little ready
reckoner.

'Right,' he said. 'You have strangely perverted principles, my friend.
Whether a man steals ten cents or five million dollars--'

'Bank of Yokohama'--the manager sorted his papers. 'The yen is at 179,
that's a drop. Curious! Way down in the bowels of the earth a ledge of
rock slips over, a superheated packet of steam blows up, and the effect
on the money market is disastrous! There is a lot of earthquake in
Harlow: he has got into the Acts of God class--I'm giving you dollars for
this--US dollars.'

'Quite OK,' said Mr Ellenbury, checking the bundles that were handed to
him.

It was growing dark when he carried out his suitcases and placed them
inside the car. They were very heavy. It was strange how heavy paper
money could be--and how bulky.

He drove to his office in Theobald's Road and was glad that many years
before, when offered the choice between a small suite on the ground floor
and a larger one on the first floor, he had chosen the former.

He had sent his clerk home early. It was a Friday and the man had been
given a fortnight's holiday and had had his salary in advance. Opening
the outer door with his key, he tugged the two suitcases into his private
room. Here was a brand-new trunk and a passport. A few weeks before,
Harlow had ordered him to procure a passport for a 'Mr Jackson,' whose
other name was Ingle. Ellenbury had a distaste for the petty frauds of
life, but as usual he had obeyed and duplicated the offence by applying
for a second passport, forwarding a photograph of himself taken twenty
years before and applying in a name which had not the faintest
resemblance to his own.

He sat down with the two bulging grips before him and with a feeling of
growing unease. Not that his conscience was troubling him. The bedridden
Mrs Ellenbury never once entered his mind; the injustice he was doing to
his employer, if it occurred to him at all, was a relief to his distress.

The weight and the bulk of the paper money...

The Customs would search his suitcase at Calais or Havre, and the money
would attract attention. He might put it at the bottom of the trunk and
register it through. But the thefts of baggage on the French railways
were notoriously frequent. He might, of course, travel by the Simplon
Express or by the Blue Train--hand baggage was subject to a perfunctory
examination on the train, and if he were bound for Monte Carlo the
carriage of such wealth might be regarded as an act of madness by the
Customs officials and excite no other comment.

But both the Simplon and the Riviera Express are booked up at this season
of the year and a compartment could not be secured by any influence. He
might fly but he feared that the Airport scrutiny would be even more
severe.

There remained only one alternative. To carry half the money in his
trunk, distribute as much as he could amongst I his pockets and' post the
rest to himself at various hotels throughout France and Spain. And this
would be a long and tedious job. He went into the outer office and
brought back a packet of stout envelopes. He must not register
them--these Latin post offices made the collection of a registered letter
a fussy business.



CHAPTER 20


WITH A Bradshaw by his side, he began his task. He exhausted the
envelopes and went in search of another packet, but could find none of
the requisite stoutness. Extinguishing the lights, he went out to a
neighbouring store, replenished his stock and came back. Halfway through
the second packet, with the table piled with bulging envelopes, he was
writing:

Hotel Riena Christina,
Algeciras--

When there was a tap on the green baize door and he nearly screamed with
fright.

Two grave eyes were watching him through the oval of glass that gave a
view into the office. Leaping to hi feet, his teeth set in a grin of
fear, he dragged open the door.

A girl stood on the threshold. She wore a long blue coat; there were
beads of rain on the shoulders and on the head scarf. In her hand was a
streaming umbrella. Mr Ellenbury had not noticed it was raining. She was
staring at the open suitcases, at the bundles of notes, the heaped
envelopes. Aileen Rivers had never seen so much money.

'Well!' Ellenbury's voice was a harsh squeak.

'I tried to find your clerk,' she said. 'The door was open--'

Open? In his haste to continue his work Ellenbury had not closed the
outer door--had not even shut the door beyond the baize.

He recognized her.

'You're Stebbings's girl,' he said breathlessly. 'What do you want!'

She took from her bag a folded envelope. Some leases of the late Miss
Alice Harlow had fallen in; and by some oversight, as Mr. Stebbings had
found, they had not been included in the legacy. He tried to read the
letter; tried hard to put out of his mind the all-important, the vital
happening...two grey eyes watching through a glass oval...watching
bundles of money in suitcases, in envelopes...

'Oh!' he said blankly. 'I see...something about leases. I'll attend to
that tomorrow.'

'Mr Harlow knows,' she said. 'We telephoned to him early this afternoon
and he asked us to notify you and bring the particulars to his house
tonight.'

At this he jerked up his head. 'You're going to Harlow--now?' he
stammered.

It was rather remarkable that she had been looking forward to the visit
all afternoon--very remarkable. The desire might seem incredible (and
was) to the man who loved her.

Yet, when Mr Stebbings had said in his incomplete way, 'I wonder if you
would mind--' she had said promptly, 'No';--too promptly, she thought.

Reduced to its ignoble elements, the lure of Stratford Harlow was a
perversity that could never be satisfied; the lure that brought timid
people to the edge of a volcano to shudder and wonder at the molten pool
that hissed and bubbled below. And something more than that, for he was
less terrible than terribly human.

'Yes, I am going to Park Lane, now,' she said.

The mind of Mr Ellenbury was numb; he could not direct its working; it
was without momentum, static. 'You are going to him now.'

Harlow had gone out of his way to meet this girl at Princetown; had made
inquiries about her--where she lived, where she worked. He gave, as an
excuse, his interest in her uncle. Ellenbury could, from common
experience, find another. Those kinds of friendship develop very quickly.

People who pass as strangers on the Monday may be planning a mutual
future on the Saturday. A very pretty girl...the wheels of Mr Ellenbury's
mind began to revolve, were whirling madly.

The first thing she would tell Harlow.

'Did you see Mr Ellenbury?'

'Yes; he had an enormous quantity of money in two suitcases on his
desk...'

He could imagine the swift conclusions that would follow.

'My wife is very ill'--the wheels creaked a little--'very ill. She hasn't
been out of bed for twenty years.' His weak mouth drooped pathetically.
'It is strange...your coming like this. She asked about you this
morning.'

'About me?' Aileen could hardly believe her ears. 'But I don't know her!'

'She knows you--knew you when you were a child--knew your mother or your
father, I'm not sure which.' He was on safe ground here, though he was
not sure of this. 'Curious...I intended calling at Stebbings's to ask
you...the car would bring you back.'

'To see Mrs Ellenbury--tonight?' She was incredulous. Mr Ellenbury nodded
his head. 'But--I've promised to go to Mr Harlow's house.'

'There will be time--it is an old man's request; unreasonable--I realise
that.' He looked very old and mean and unhappy.

'Is it far?'

He told her the exact position of this house--described the nearest
route. What would happen after, he did not know. There would be time to
consider that. Something dreadful. To keep her away from Harlow--her
lover perhaps. That was the first consideration. His seats were booked,
the cabin reserved; he left in the morning by the early train. Why not by
Ostend? These by-thoughts insisted on confusing him.

'Could I telephone to Mr Stebbings?'

'I'll do that.' He was almost jovial. 'What you can do, young lady, is to
help me pack these two cases. A lot of money, eh? All Harlow's, all
Harlow's! A clever man!'

She nodded as she gathered up the bundles of bills.

'Yes--very clever.'

'A good fellow?'

She wasn't sure of this; he thought she was dissembling a new affection.
Obviously she was fond of Harlow. Otherwise, since she was a known friend
of Jim Carlton she must express her abhorrence. He had escaped a very
real danger.

She had forgotten that he had promised to telephone until the car,
waiting all this time in the soaking rain, was moving down Kingsway. 'I
have a phone at my house,' he said.

It is true that he had a telephone--a private wire into Mr Harlow's
library. But he was hardly likely to use it. Crouched up in a corner of
the car, the suitcases at his feet, knocking at his knees as the machine
slowed or accelerated, he talked about his wife, but he thought of the
girl by his side. And he reached this conclusion: she was the one person
in the world who could betray him. The one person in the world who knew
that he had two large suitcases filled with money. It was necessary that
he should forget bank managers and Harlow and certain members of the
Rata's staff, and so he forgot them. A bit of a girl to stand between him
and a wonderful future. Picture galleries, sunlight on striped awnings,
great masses of flowers blooming under blue skies, what time fog and rain
clouds palled this filthy city and liquid mud splashed at the windows of
the hired car.

They were nearing the house when he dropped the window and leaned out on
the driver's side.

'The house is the fourth from the next side road. Stop before the gates;
don't go into the drive and wait for a few minutes before you drive
away.'

He pushed three notes into the man's hand: the gum-chewing driver
examined them by the light on his instrument board and seemed satisfied.

'Do you mind if we stop at the gate? It is only a little walk up the
drive--my wife is so nervous; starts at every sound.'

Aileen did not object. When they alighted in the muddy road, she offered
to carry one of the cases and he consented. It was heavier than she
expected.

'Harlow's, all Harlow's!' he muttered as he walked through the ugly gates
and bent his head to the drive of rain. 'One of his "jokes".

'What do you mean by "joke"?' she asked.

'Harlow's jokes...difficult...explain.' The wind tore words out of his
speech. She could see the house; square, lifeless. 'To the left--we go in
at the back.'

They were following a cinder-path that ran snakily through the bare stems
of rose bushes. Ahead of her she saw a squat building of some sort. It
was the furnace house of the greenhouses, he told her.

'There are two steps down.'

Why on earth were they going into a hot-house at this time of night? He
answered the question she had not put.

'Safe...lock away...cases,' he shouted.

The wind had freshened to a gale. A flicker of lightning startled her:
lightning in December was a phenomenon outside her knowledge. Ellenbury
put down the cases and pulled at a rusty padlock; a door groaned open.

'Here,' he said, and she went in after him.

He struck a match and lit an inch of candle in a grimy little
storm-lantern and she could take stock of the place. It was a brick pit,
windowless. The floor was littered with cinders and broken flower-pots.
On a wooden bench was a heap of mould from which the green shoots of weed
were sprouting. There was a rusting furnace door open and showing more
ashes and cinders and garden rubbish.

'Just wait: I'll bring the bags.'

His heart was beating so violently that he could hardly
breathe--fortunately for her peace of mind, she could not see his face.
He staggered out and slammed the door, threw the rusty lamp on to the
staple and, groping at his feet, found the padlock and fixed it. Then he
stumbled up the two steps and ran towards the house.

He had to sit on the steps for a long time before he was sufficiently
calm to go in. Listening at the door before he opened it, he crept into
the hall, closed the door without a sound and tiptoed to his study. He
was wet through and shivering. The suitcases were shining like patent
leather.

He took off his drenched overcoat and rang the bell. The maid who
presently appeared was surprised to see him.

'I thought, sir--' she began, but he cut her short.

'Go up to my room--don't make a noise--and bring me down a complete
change. You may tell your mistress that I shall not be up for some time.'

Poking the meagre fire, he warmed his hands at the blaze.

The girl came back with a bundle of clothes, announced her intention of
making him a cup of tea and discreetly retired.

Mr Ellenbury started to change when a thought occurred to him. He might
have to change again. His trousers were not very wet. And round about the
pit was very muddy. He had thought of the pit in the car. Fate was
working for him.

He put on his dressing-gown and took down from a shelf two volumes which
he had often read. The Chronicles of Crime they were called--a record of
drab evil told in the stilted style of their Early Victorian editor. They
were each 'embellished with fifty-two illustrations by "Phiz".'

He opened a volume at random.

'...when a female, young, beautiful and innocent, is the victim of
oppression, there is no man with common feelings who would not risk his
life to snatch her from despair and misery...'

This little bit of moralising was the sentence he read. He turned the
page, unconscious of its irony.

Maria Marten--shot in a barn. There was another woman killed with a
sword. He turned the leaves impatiently; regretted at that moment so
little acquaintance with the criminal bar. There was a large axe--where?
Outside the kitchen door. He went down the kitchen stairs, passing the
maid on her way up. Just outside the kitchen door, in the very place
where he had seen it that morning, he found the axe. He brought it
upstairs under his dressing-gown.

'You may go to bed,' he said to the maid. He drank his tea and then heard
the ring of the telephone in the hall. He hesitated, then hastened to
answer it.

'Yes this is Ellenbury,' he strove to keep his voice calm, 'Miss Rivers?
Yes she called at my office soon after six with a letter from Mr
Stebbings--no, I haven't seen her since...'

He heaved on his wet overcoat and went out into the storm.

How very unpleasant!...why couldn't they let him go away quietly...an old
man--white-haired, with only a few years to live? Tears rolled down his
cheeks at the injustice of his treatment. It was Harlow! Damn Harlow!
This poor girl, who had done nobody any harm--a beautiful creature who
must die because of Harlow!

He dashed the weak tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, lilted
off the padlock and threw open the door.

The candle had burnt down to its last flicker of life, but in that
fraction of light, before the wick sank bluely into oblivion, he saw the
white face of the girl as she stood, frozen with horror. Ellenbury swung
his axe with a sob.



CHAPTER 21


WHEN Mr Elk went into the office of his friend that afternoon, he found
Jim engrossed in a large street plan that was spread out on the table. It
had evidently been specially drawn or copied for his purpose, for there
was a smudge of green ink where his sleeve had brushed.

'Buying house property?' asked Elk.

Jim rolled up the plan carefully and put it into his drawer.

'The real estate business,' Elk went on, 'is the easiest way of getting
money I know. You can't be pinched for it, and there's no come-back.
Friend of mine bought a cow field at Finchley and built a lot of
ready-to-wear villas on it--he drives his own Jaguar nowadays. I know
another man--'

'Would you like to assist me in a little burglary tonight?' interrupted
Jim.

'Burglary is my long suit,' said Elk. 'I remember once--'

'There was a time,' mused Jim, 'when I could climb like a cat, though
I've not seen a cat go up the side of a house, and I've never quite
understood how "cat burglar" can be an apposite description.'

'Short for caterpillar,' suggested Elk. 'They can walk up glass owing to
the suckers on their big feet. That's natural history, the same as flies.
Where's the "bust"?'

'Park Lane, no less,' replied Jim. 'My scheme is to inspect one of the
stately homes of England--the ancestral castle of Baron Harlow.'

'He ain't been knighted, has he?' asked Elk, who had the very haziest
ideas about the peerage. 'Though I don't see why he shouldn't be; if--'
he mentioned an illustrious political figure--'was in office, Harlow
would have been a duke by now, or an earl, or somethin'.'

Jim looked out of the window at the Thames Embankment, crowded at this
rush hour with homeward-bound workers. It was raining heavily, and half a
gale was blowing. Certainly the fog which had been predicted by the
Weather Bureau showed no sign of appearance.

'The Weather people are letting me down,' he said; 'unless there's a fog
we shall have to postpone operations till tomorrow night.'

Elk, who had certain views on the Weather Bureau, expressed them at
length. But he had also something encouraging to say.

'Fog is no more use to a burglar than a bandaged eye. Rain that keeps
policemen in doorways and stops amacher snoopin' is weather from heaven
for the burglar.'

Rain was falling in sheets on the Thames Embankment when the police car,
which Jim Carlton drove, came through the arched gateway, and at the
corner of Birdcage Walk he met a wind that almost overturned the car. He
was blown across to Hyde Park Corner.

No. 704, Park Lane was one of the few houses in that thoroughfare which
was not only detached from other houses but was surrounded by a wall. It
could boast that beyond the library annexe was a small garden, in which a
cherry tree flourished. A police sergeant detailed for the service
appeared out of the murk and took charge of the car. In two minutes they
were over the wall, dragging after them the hook ladders which had been
borrowed during the afternoon from fire headquarters.

The domed skylight of the library was in darkness, and they gained its
roof with little trouble. Here Jim left Elk as an advanced post. He had
no illusions as to the difficulty of his task. All the upper windows were
barred or secured by shutters; but he had managed to secure an aerial
photograph which showed a little brick building on the roof, which was
probably a stair cover and held a door that gave entrance to the floors
below.

Jim drew himself up to the level of the first window, the bars of which
made climbing a comparatively easy matter, and, detaching the hook of the
ladder, he reached up and gripped the bars of the window above.
Fortunately he was on the lee side of Greenhart House and the wind that
shrieked about its corners did not greatly hamper him.

In ten minutes he was on the flat roof of the house, walking with
difficulty in his felt-soled shoes towards the square brick shed. Now he
caught the full force of the gale and was glad of the shelter which the
parapet afforded.

As he had expected, in the brick superstructure there was a stout door,
fastened by a patent lock. Probably it was bolted as well. He listened,
but could hear nothing above the howl of the wind, and then continued his
search of the roof, keeping the rays of his torch within a few inches of
the ground. There was nothing to be discovered here, and he turned to the
stairway. From his pocket he took a leather case of tools, fitted a small
auger into a bit, and pushed it in the thickness of the door. He had not
gone far before the point of the bit ground against something hard. The
door was steel-lined. Replacing the tool, he pulled himself up to the
roof of the shed, and he had to grip the edge to prevent being blown off.

The roof was of solid concrete, and it would need a sledge-hammer and
unlimited time to break through.

Possibly there was an unguarded window, though he did not remember having
seen any. He leaned across the parapet and looked down into the side
street that connected Park Lane with the thoroughfare where he had left
his car. As he did so, he saw a man walk briskly up to the door, open it
and enter. The sound of the slamming door came up to him. It was
obviously Harlow; no other man had that peculiar swing of shoulders in
his walk. What had he been doing out on such a night? Then it occurred to
Jim that he had come from the direction of his garage.

He heard a clock strike eleven. What should he do? It seemed that there
was no other course but to return to the waiting Elk and confess his
failure; and he had decided to take this action when he heard above the
wind the snap of a lock being turned; and then the voice of Harlow. The
man was coming up to the roof, and Jim crouched down in the shadow of the
shed.

'...yes, it is raining, of course it is raining, my dear man. It is
always raining in London. But I have been out in it and you haven't!
Gosh, how it rained!'

Though the words themselves had a querulous tone, Mr Harlow's voice was
good-humoured; it was as though he were speaking to a child.

'Have you got your scarf? That's right. And button your overcoat. You
have no gloves, either. What a lad you are!'

'I really don't want gloves,' said another voice. 'I am not a bit cold.
And, Harlow, may I ask you again...'

The  voice became indistinct. They were walking away from the listener,
and he guessed they were promenading by the side of the parapet. Unless
Harlow carried a light he would not see the ladder. Jim went stealthily
to the back of the shed and peered round the corner. Presently he
discerned the figures of the two men: they were walking slowly towards
him, their heads bent against the wind.

Quickly he drew back again.

'...you can't have it. You are reading top much and I won't have your
mind overtaxed by writing too much! Be reasonable, my dear Marling...'

Marling! Jim held his breath. They were so near to him now that by taking
a step and stretching out his hand he could have touched the nearest man.

The lights in the street below gave him a sky-line against the parapet,
and he saw that Harlow's companion was almost as tall as himself, save
for a stoop. He caught a glimpse of a beard blown all ways by the
gale...The voices came to him again as they returned; and then a sudden
scraping sound and an exclamation from the financier.

'What the devil was that?'

From far below came a faint crash. Jim's heart sank.

Harlow must have brushed against the hook ladder and knocked it from the
parapet.

'You pushed something over,' said the stranger's voice.

'Felt like a hook,' said Harlow, and Jim could imagine him peering down
over the parapet. 'What was it?' he said again.

This was Jim Carlton's opportunity. He could steal round the side of the
building, slip through the door which he guessed was open, and make his
escape. Noiselessly he crept along, and then saw a band of light coming
from the open doorway. Against such a light he must be inevitably
detected unless he chose a moment when their backs were turned.

But they showed no inclination to move, and stood there for a time
discussing the thing which Harlow had knocked from the stone coping.

'It's very curious'--the big man was talking--'I don't remember there was
anything when we came here this morning. Let us go down again.'

The opportunity was lost. Even as Jim stood there listening he heard the
feet of the men descending the stairs, the crash of the door as it was
closed. He was left on the roof without any means of making his way to
solid earth.

To communicate with Elk was impossible without inviting discovery. He
took a note-book from his pocket, wrote a hurried message and, tearing
out the sheet, wrapped in it a copper coin. He dropped it as near as he
could guess in the vicinity of the place where Elk would be, for he heard
the tinkle of the copper as it struck the ground. A quarter of an hour he
waited, but there was no sign from below. He tried the door again,
without even hoping that it would afford him an exit. To his amazement,
when he turned the handle the door opened. Had Harlow, in his hurried
departure, forgotten to lock it? That was not like Harlow.

Jim pushed the door farther open and looked down. A dim light was burning
in the room below, and he had a glimpse of a corner of the secretaire and
a stretch of red carpet. Noiselessly he descended the stout stairs, which
did not creak under his weight, and after a while, coming to the bottom,
he peered round the lintel.

The room was apparently empty. A big desk stood near the curtained
window; there was an empty lacquer bed in one corner, and, before him, a
door which was ajar. The only light in the apartment came from the
reading lamp on the desk--he crossed the room and, pressing the lamp
switch, put the room in darkness.

A light on the landing outside was now visible round the edge of the
door. He peeped out and could see no sign of life. Before him was a
stairway which led down to the lower floors of the house. Something told
him that his presence in the house was known. On the left of the landing
was another door, and the first thing he noticed was that the key was in
the lock. Whoever had opened and entered that loom had gone in such haste
that the key had not been removed. Jim saw his opportunity and in a
flash, he leant over, gripped the key and snapped the lock tight. As he
did so he heard a smothered exclamation from the room and grinned as he
tiptoed down the stairs.

The lower landing was in darkness, and he could guide himself by his
torch, testing every step he took, until he came into the dimly lighted
vestibule, which, only a few days before, had been crowded with men and
women, whose names were household words. He could heat nothing, and,
walking swiftly to the door, grasped the handle. In another second he was
flung back as though he had been struck by some huge invisible force.

He lay on the ground, breathless, paralysed with the shock. Then he heard
the opening of a door upstairs, and somebody whispering. To touch that
door handle, heavily charged with electric current, might mean death. The
power which made the door a death trap for any burglar who succeeded in
entering Harlow's house, must come off an existing connection, he
thought. He saw the two white buttons jutting out of the wall, though
only one light was visible in the hall. He pressed the top button back,
but the hall light was not extinguished. This must be the connection.

He tried the door handle again, touching it gingerly with his finger-tip.
The current was off. In the briefest time he was in the street; and he
advertised his escape by closing the door with a crash that shook the
house.

Hurrying back to his car, he found Elk astride of the wall, in earnest
parley with the police sergeant.

'I was just going round to the back to see what had happened to you,'
said Elk, vaulting on to the sidewalk.

'Did you get my message?'

'What was it? I heard something fall, and thought you must have dropped
the ladder. I couldn't locate it anyway.'

It was long past midnight when the driver stepped on his brake before the
entrance to Scotland Yard. And the first man Jim saw as he walked into
the hall was Brown and his heart sank.

'Anything wrong?' he asked.

'Miss Rivers has not returned to the house,' said the detective. 'I've
been on the phone to Stebbings. He tells me that she left at six o'clock
to deliver two letters, one to Ellenbury and the other to Harlow. I got
through to Ellenbury; he said his letter was handed to him by Miss Rivers
soon after six and that he hadn't seen her since.'

Jim Carlton thought quickly.

'Just before eleven!' exclaimed Elk. 'Gosh! I'd forgotten that!'

'What?'

'That's the time he passed us and went into his garage--I could see the
car from the top of the library--it wasn't his own and I didn't know it
was Harlow until he turned into the gate at the end of the courtyard. And
he was a long time in the garage too! I'll bet--'

It needed this clue, slight as it was, to spur Jim Carlton into instant
action. At two o'clock in the morning, when Mr Harlow was finishing his
last cigar, Jim Carlton and Elk arrived with the backing of a search
warrant...

'How amusing!' said Mr Harlow sombrely, as he rose from the table and
handed back the warrant to Jim. 'Do you mind letting me have a copy of
that interesting document one of these days. I should like it for my
autobiography!'

'You can save your breath, Harlow,' said Jim roughly. 'The present visit
is nothing more than a little inconvenience for you. I'm not arresting
you for the outrage on Sir Joseph Layton; I am not taking you for the
murder of Mrs Gibbins!'

'Merciful as you are strong!' murmured Harlow. 'Murder is an unpleasant
word.'

His face was rather pale and seemed to have developed new lines and
furrows since Jim saw him last.

'What's this talk of murder?'

At the sound of the harsh voice the inspector spun round. Standing in the
doorway was the hard-faced Mrs Edwins. It was the first time he had seen
her, but he could recognise instantly from Aileen's description. Stiffly
erect, her arms folded before her, she stood waiting, her hard black eyes
blazing with malignity. She was a more menacing figure then Harlow
himself.

'What is this talk of murder? Who has been murdered, I should like to
know?' she demanded.

But Harlow pointed past her.

'"Murder" was not your cue, Lucy Edwins,' he said pleasantly. 'Your sense
of the dramatic will be your ruin!'

For a moment it seemed that the woman would disobey that imperious
gesture. She blinked at him resentfully, almost with hate, and then
turned, stiff as a ramrod, and disappeared.

'Now, Mr Carlton, let us be our calm selves. What do you expect to find
in this house? I imagine it is something very important.'

'Imagine!' said Jim sternly. 'Harlow, I'm going to put my cards on the
table and tell you just what I want to find. First and foremost, I want
Aileen Rivers, who came here earlier in the evening with a letter from
her employer. She has not been seen since.'

Mr Harlow did not smile.

'Really? Not been seen by you, I suppose you mean--'

'Wait, I haven't finished. A car was seen to drive away from Ellenbury's
office in Theobald's Road at half-past five. Miss Rivers was in that
car--where is she now?'

Harlow looked at him steadily. 'I will not say that I don't
know--unnecessary lies are stupid.'

He opened a drawer of his desk with great deliberation, and, taking out a
bunch of keys, dropped them on his blotting-pad.

'You may search every room in the house,' he said. 'And then tell me if
you are as wise as I!'

The library itself needed no prolonged inspection. Jim went up the
stairs, followed by Elk, and came at last to the top floor, to find
Harlow waiting for him at the door of the little elevator.

'That is my housekeeper's room'--he pointed. 'You will recognise the door
as the one which you locked a few hours ago.'

'And this?' asked Jim.

Harlow turned the handle and threw the other door wide open. The room was
as Jim had seen it on the previous night, and was untenanted.

'We will start with the roof,' said Carlton, and went up the narrow
flight of stairs, opened the door and stepped out onto the flat roof.
This time he carried a powerful torch, but here also he drew blank. He
made a circuit of the parapet and came back to where Harlow was waiting
at the open door.

'Have you found a secret stairway?' Harlow was innocence itself. 'They
are quite common in Park Lane, but still a novelty in Pimlico. You can
touch a spring, something goes click, and there is a narrow winding stair
leading to a still more secret room!'

Jim made no answer to this sarcasm, but went downstairs.

From room to room he passed, but there was no sign of the girl or of the
bearded man and at last he reached the ground floor.

'You have cellars? I should like to see them.'

Harlow opened a small door in the panelling of the vestibule. They were
in a rather high, flagged passage, at the end of which was the kitchen
and servants' hall. From an open archway in one of the walls a flight of
stone stairs descended to the basement. This was made up of three
cellars, two of which were used for the storage of wine.

'This is not the whole extent of the cellar space,' said Jim
suspiciously, when he had finished his inspection.

'There are no other cellars,' replied Harlow, with a weary sigh. 'My good
man, how very suspicious you are! Would you like to see the garage?'

Jim followed him up the steps, through the hall. He was being played
with--Jim Carlton knew that, and yet for some reason was not rattled.

'Harlow, where is Miss Rivers? You suggested you knew.'

Harlow inclined his head graciously. 'If you will allow me to drive you a
very little journey, I can promise that I will put an end to all your
present doubts.'

They faced one another--Harlow towards the bright light that streamed
from the garage.

'I'll call your bluff,' said Jim at last.

A slow smile dawned on Harlow's face. 'So many people have done that,' he
said, 'and yet here I am, with a royal flush permanently in hand! And all
who have called--where are their chips?'

He opened the car door and after a second's hesitation Jim entered, Mr
Elk following. The big man shut the door.

'I have a high opinion of the police,' he said, 'and I realise that I am
making you look rather foolish: I am sorry! This story of Harlow's
penultimate joke shall go no farther than me.'

He moved away from the car and then very leisurely he walked to the wall,
put up his hand, and the garage was in darkness.

Jim saw the manoeuvre and leapt to the door, but it was locked; and even
as he struggled to lower the window, there was a whine of machinery and
the car began to sink slowly through the floor. Down, down it went upon
its platform and then, when the roof was a little below the level of the
floor, the platform tilted forward, and the car slid gently onto an
unseen track and thudded against rubber buffers and stopped.

Jim had got the window down and was half through when the hydraulic
pillars beneath the platform shot up and closed the aperture with a
gentle thud. In another second Elk was free. Wrenching open the driver's
door, Jim switched on the powerful head lamps and illuminated the chamber
to which the car had sunk.

There were two more machines there; one in particular attracted his
attention--an old hire car grey with mud which was still wet. Evidently
the place was a very ordinary type of underground garage, though he had
never seen such expensive equipment as a hydraulic lift in a private
establishment. The walls were of dressed stone; at one end was a low iron
door, not locked, so far as he could see, but fastened with two steel
bolts. It was probably a petrol store, he thought, and the position under
the courtyard before the garage confirmed this guess.

He looked at Elk.

'How foolish do you feel?' he asked bitterly.

Elk shook his head.

'Nothin' makes me feel foolish,' he said cheerfully, 'but I certainly
didn't expect to see the end so soon.'

'End?'

Elk nodded.

'Not mine--not yours: Harlow's. He's through--what's penultimate mean,
anyway?'

And when it was explained, Elk's face brightened.

'He's got one big line to finish on? I'll bet it is the biggest joke
that's ever made the police stop laffin. And I'll tell you--'

He stopped; both heads went round towards the little iron door. Somebody
was knocking feebly and Jim's heart almost stopped beating.

'Somebody behind that door,' said Elk. 'I never thought old man Harlow
ran a dungeon.'

Jim ran to the place, slipped back the bolts and flung the iron door
open--there staggered into the light the wild and dishevelled figure of
an elderly man. For a moment Jim did not recognise him. He was coatless,
his crumpled collar was unfastened, but it was the look in his face that
transfixed the astonished men.

'Ellenbury!' breathed Jim.

The lawyer it was, but the change in him since Jim had seen him last was
startling. The wide opened eyes glared from one to the other and then he
raised his trembling hand to his mouth.

'Where is she?' he whispered fiercely. 'What did he do with her?'

Jim's heart turned to lead.

'Who--Miss Rivers?'

Ellenbury peered at him as though he remembered his voice but could not
identify him.

'Stebbings's girl!' he croaked. 'He took this axe--Harlow!' The old man
swung an imaginary axe. 'Ugh!...killed her!'

Jim Carlton's hand was thrust to the wall for support.

His face was colourless--he could not speak and it was Elk who took up
the questioning of this apparition.

'Killed her?'

Ellenbury nodded.

'Where--?'

'On the edge of the kitchen garden...there's a pit. You could put
somebody there and nobody would guess. He knew all about the pit. I
didn't know he was the chauffeur--he had a little black moustache and
he'd been driving me all day.'

Elk laid his hand gently on the little man's shoulder and he shrank back
with a sound of weeping.

'Listen, Mr Ellenbury, you must tell us all you know and try to be calm.
Nobody will hurt you. Did he kill Miss Rivers?'

The man nodded violently.

'With an axe--my axe...I saw her lying there on the furnace-room floor.
She was very beautiful and white and I saw that he had killed her and
went back to the house for I did not wish--I did not wish...' he
shuddered, his face in his hands, 'to see her in that pit, with the
water...green water...ugh...ugh!'

He was fighting back the vision, his long fingers working like a piano
player's.

'Yes...you saw her again?' asked Jim huskily. He had. 'Where?'

'In the back of the car--where the suitcases were--all huddled up on the
floor with a blanket thrown over her. I sat beside the devil and he
talked! So softly! God! You'd have thought he had never murdered anybody!
He said he was going to take me for a holiday--where I'd get well. But I
knew he was lying--I knew the devil was lying and that he was forging new
links in my chain. He put me in there!'

He almost screamed the words as his wavering finger pointed to the open
door of his prison.

'Ellenbury, for God's sake try to think--is Aileen Rivers alive?'

The old man shook his head.

'Dead!' he nodded with every repetition of the word, 'dead, dead, dead!
My axe...it was outside the kitchen door...I saw her lying there and
there was blood...'

'Listen, Carlton,' it was Elk's harsh voice. 'I'm not believing this!
This bird's mad--'

'Mad! Am I mad!' Ellenbury struck his thin chest. 'She's upstairs--I saw
him carry her up--and the woman with the yellow face, and the man with a
beard...they made me come with them...left me here in the dark for a long
time and then made me come with them--look!'

He dragged Elk into the little prison house. There was a bed and a
wardrobe; carpet covered the floor. It was a self-contained little suite,
in the depth of the cellar.

Fumbling on the wall he found a light switch and the room was flooded
with a rose-coloured glow that came from concealed lights in the angle of
a stone cornice.

'Look--look!'

The lawyer dragged open the door of the wardrobe. At the bottom was a
heap of clothes--men's clothes. A crumpled dress shirt, a velvet
dress-jacket--

'Sir Joseph's clothes!' gasped Elk.



CHAPTER 22


'THEY KEPT him here,' whispered Ellenbury. He seemed afraid of the sound
of his own voice.

Jim saw another steel door at the farther end of the room; it had no
bolt--only a tiny keyhole. And then his attention was diverted.

'Look!' called Ellenbury.

Exercising all his strength, the little man pulled at the wardrobe and it
swung out like a gate on a hinge. Behind was an oblong door. 'There...I
came that way. The elevator...'

As Elk listened, he heard the distant whine of the elevator in motion.

'To what room did he take her?' asked Jim huskily. 'We searched
everywhere.'

'Mrs Edwins'. There is a cupboard, but the back is a false one. There is
a small room behind...why didn't they put her in the pit and hide her? It
would have been better...'

'We've got to get out of here, and quick,' said Elk, and looked round for
the means of escape. 'Penultimate joke hasn't raised a laugh yet--looks
like the penultimate joke's goin' to put my relations in mournin'!'

He tried to climb one of the greasy hydraulic cylinders, but although,
with the assistance of Jim, he managed to touch the platform, he could
derive little comfort from his achievement. The platform was of steel and
concrete.

Neither knew anything of the mechanism of an hydraulic lift, and indeed
the controls were out of reach under a locked steel grating.

The door behind the wardrobe was the only possible means of egress. Elk
searched the car, and the tool chest beneath.

'We're safe for a bit--he'd be scared of using any kind of gas for fear
there was a blow-up and he hasn't the means of manufacturing something
quick and sudden. Carlton, did you notice anything in the house!'

'I noticed many things. To which do you refer?'

'Notice that we never saw Mrs Edwins or Edwards, or whatever her name
was, after the old man said "get"!'

That fact had not occurred to Jim; though they had searched the house
from roof to basement, he had not seen the hard-faced woman again.

'Where she is,' said Elk, 'the other feller can be--what's 'is
name--Marling? And I know pretty well where that was--in the little
elevator!'

It was true! Jim had seen the elevator when Harlow waited upon the top
floor, but after that it had disappeared. It was the easiest thing in the
world to slip from floor to floor, missing the search party.

The door was immovable; he could secure no leverage, and even if he had,
it was unlikely that it would yield. They must attack the
concrete-covered brickwork. This was the only section of the wall that
was not built of stone.

Fortunately for them, there were tool chests in all the cars, and
moreover in one of the machines was a big car jack, the steel lever of
which they disconnected and used as a crowbar.

The work was an anodyne to Jim Carlton's jangled nerves, set further on
edge every time he saw the white face of Ellenbury.

The lawyer crouched by the bed watching them and muttering all the time
under his breath. Once, in a pause, Jim heard him say: 'You can't measure
principles with a yard stick; such a beautiful girl! And very young!' And
then he started weeping softly.

'Don't notice him,' snarled Elk; 'get on with the work!'

To move only an inch of concrete was an arduous and difficult business,
and not without its danger if the sound were heard by the master of the
house. But after an hour's work they cleared a square foot of the hard
plaster and revealed the brick lining beneath. Using screwdrivers for
chisels, they managed to dislodge the first brick in the course and
enlarge the hole. The second brick course was easier; but now the
necessity for caution was brought home to them dramatically.

Jim was fitting the jagged edge of his driver into a small hole in the
mortar, when a muffled voice almost at his elbow said: 'Leave them alone:
they can wait until tomorrow.'

It was Harlow, and Jim almost jumped.

But the phenomenon had a simple explanation. His voice had been carried
down the shaft of the lift. They heard a gate slam, again came the whine
of the motor and the lift stopped just above them, the gate was fastened
again, and by a trick of acoustics Jim could hear the man's foot tapping
on the tiled floor of the vestibule.

They had till the morning; that was a comfort. Working and listening at
intervals, they dislodged the inner brick, drew it out, a second
followed, and in half an hour there was a jagged hole through which a
lean man might wriggle.

Jim was that lean man. He found himself in the greasy pit of the elevator
shaft, stumbling over beams and pulleys in a darkness which was
unrelieved by a single ray from above.

He reached back into the room for his torch and made an inspection. The
bottom of the lift was at least twelve feet above where he stood and
hanging from it were two thick electric cables. Reaching up, he could
just touch the lowest of the loops. He told Elk the position, and all the
car cushions that could be gathered were thrust through the hole and
piled by Jim, one on top of the other.

Balancing himself on these, he took a steady grip of the cable and rested
his weight. The wires held. Pulling himself up, hand over hand, he
managed to reach a thick steel bar which connected with the safety brake,
and began to push the elevator floor, hoping to find a trap door. But
evidently this little lift was too small for a mechanic's trap, the floor
did not yield under his pressure, and he was debating whether he should
drop on to the cushions when he heard a quick step in the vestibule, a
heavy foot stepped into the lift and the door slammed to. In another
second he was mounting rapidly. On the top floor the lift stopped with a
jerk which almost loosened his hold, though he had braced his feet upon
the dangling cables below.

The upper floors were not as deep as the two lower. As he hung, his knee
was on a level with the top of the elevator entrance to the second floor.
There was a footledge there, and if he could reach it, it would be a
simple matter to climb over the tiny grille. It was worth trying. Gently
he slid down the cable until, swinging his feet, he could just touch the
six inches of floor space between the pit and the grille.

Then, concentrating all his strength, he leapt forward, snatching at the
breast-high gate--his feet slipping from under him. He recovered in a
second, and was over the top.

He crept noiselessly up the stairs and was almost detected by the tall
woman who was standing on the landing, her ear to the closed door of the
room in which, he suspected, Aileen was a prisoner. From where he stood,
concealed by a turn of the stairs, he could hear Harlow's voice raised in
complaint.

'It was so vulgarly theatrical! I'm not annoyed, I'm hurt! To write
messages on a card was stupid...and with a pin. If I had known...'

There was an agitated, murmured reply, and then unexpectedly Harlow
laughed.

'Well, well, you're a foolish fellow; that is all I have to say to you.
And you must never do such a thing again. Luckily the police couldn't
read your writing.'

Jim had almost forgotten the existence of the bearded man. He heard the
door open and went quickly down the stairs until he was in the vestibule.
The hands of the little silver clock over the marble mantelpiece pointed
to five.

The lift was coming down again, and crouching back into a recess, Jim saw
the big man pass into the library. The door shut behind him. In a second
the detective was in the elevator and had pressed the top button.

If Aileen were there, he would find her; he dare not allow himself even
to debate the sanity of the little man he had left in the garage.

Was she here?...dead? He closed his eyes to shut out the dreadful picture
that the lawyer had drawn...the axe...the pit...

Just as the elevator reached the top floor something happened. For a few
seconds Carlton did not grasp the explanation.

The two lights in the roof of the lift went out, and down below something
flashed bluely--Jim saw the lightning flicker of it.

He pushed at the grille which, on the top floor alone, reached from
ceiling to floor. It did not budge. He kicked at the gates, but they were
of hammered steel.

Trapped for a second time in three hours, Jim swore softly through his
teeth. He heard the street door close below and silence.

'Elk!' From a distance came Elk's hollow answer. 'He has cut out a
fuse--can you climb to the hall?'

'I'll try.'

Facing where he stood, caged and impotent, was the door of Mrs Edwins'
room and as he looked he saw the handle turning slowly...slowly.

Mrs Edwins? She had been left behind then...The door opened a little...a
little more, and then Aileen Rivers walked out.

'Aileen!' he cried hoarsely.

She looked at him, gripping the gate, his haggard face against the bars.
'The philandering constable,' she said, bravely flippant; and then,
'please--take me home!'

'Who brought you here?' he asked, hardly believing the evidence of his
senses.

'I came of my own free will--oh, Jim he's such a darling!'

'Oh, God!' groaned the man in the cage, 'and I never noticed it!'



CHAPTER 23


NEARLY TWELVE hours before that poignant moment a gum-chewing chauffeur
had found himself in an awkward position.

'A lunatic and a fainting female!' mused the chauffeur. 'This is most
embarrassing!'

Stooping, he lifted the girl and laid her limply over his shoulder. With
his disengaged hand he dragged the dazed old lawyer to his feet.

'You hit me!' whimpered Ellenbury.

'You are alive,' said the chauffeur loftily, 'which is proof that I did
not hit you.'

'You choked me!'

The chauffeur uttered a tut of impatience. 'Go ahead, Bluebeard!' he
said.

Apparently one hundred and forty pounds of femininity was not too great a
tax on the chauffeur's strength, for as he walked behind the weeping
little man, one hand on the scruff of his collar, he was whistling softly
to himself.

Up the stone steps he walked and into the hall. The ancient maid came
peeping round the corner, and almost fell down the kitchen stairs in her
excitement, for something was happening at Royalton House--where nothing
had happened before.

The chauffeur lowered the girl into a little armchair. Her eyes were
open; she was feeling deathly ill.

'There is nothing in the world like a cup of tea,' suggested the
chauffeur, and called in the maid, so imperiously that she never even
glanced at her master. He seemed dwindled in stature. In his hand he
still held the wet haft of the axe.

He was rather a pathetic little man.

'I think you had better put that axe away,' said the chauffeur gently.

Aileen only then became aware of his presence. He had a funny moustache,
walrus-like and black, and as he spoke it waggled up and down. She wanted
to laugh, but she knew that laughter was half-way to hysteria. Her eyes
wandered to the axe; a cruel-looking axe--the handle was all wet and
slippery. With a shiver she returned her attention to the chauffeur; he
was holding forth in an oracular manner that reminded her of somebody.
She discovered that he was watching her too, and this made her uneasy.

'You've got to help me, young lady,' said the man gravely.

She nodded. She was quite willing to help him, realising that she would
not be alive at that moment but for him.

The chauffeur rolled his eyes round to Ellenbury.

'O, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!' he
said reproachfully; and stripped his black moustache with a grimace of
pain.

'Thank God that's gone!' he said, and pulled up a chair to the fire. 'I
was once very useful to Nova--Nova has this day paid his debt and lost a
client. Why don't you take off your overcoat? It's steaming.'

He glanced at the axe, its wet haft leaning against the fireplace and
then, reaching out his hand, took it on to his knees and felt its edge.

'Not very sharp, but horribly efficient,' he said, and laid his hand on
the shoulder of the shrinking man. 'Ellenbury, my man, you've been
dreaming!' Ellenbury said nothing. 'Nasty dreams, eh? My fault. I had you
tensed up--I should have let you down months ago.'

Now Ellenbury spoke in a  whisper.

'You're Harlow?'

'I'm Harlow, yes.' He scarcely gave any attention to the two suitcases;
one glance, and he did not look at them again. 'Harlow the Splendid. The
Robber Baron of Park Lane. There's a good title for you if you ever write
that biography of mine!'

Mr Harlow glanced round at the girl and smiled; it was a very friendly
smile.

Ellenbury offered no resistance when the big man relieved him of his wet
coat and held up the dressing-gown invitingly. 'Take off your shoes.' The
old man obeyed; he always obeyed Harlow. 'When are you leaving?'

'Tomorrow,' The admission was wrung from him. He had no resistance.

'One suitcase full of money is enough for any man,' said Harlow. 'I'll
take a chance--you shall have first pick.'

'It's yours!' Ellenbury almost shouted the words.

'No--anybody's. Money belongs to the man who has it. That is my
pernicious doctrine-you will go to Switzerland, get as high up the
mountains as you can. St Moritz is a good place. Very likely you're mad.
I think you are. But madness cannot be cured by daily association with
other madmen. It would be stupid to hide you up in an asylum--stupid and
wicked. And if you will not think of killing people any more, Ellenbury.
You--are--not--to--think--about--killing!'

'No!' The old man was weeping foolishly.

'Our friend Ingle leaves for the Continent tomorrow--join him. If he
starts talking politics, pull the alarm cord and have him arrested. I
don't know where he is going--anywhere but Russia, I guess...'

All the time he was talking, Aileen sensed his anxiety. Just then the
maid brought in the tea and the big fellow relaxed.

'Drink that hot,' he ordered, and when the servant had gone he moved
nearer to the girl and lowered his voice. 'He doesn't respond. You
noticed that? No reflexes, I'm certain. I dare not try; he'd think I was
assaulting him. It was my own fault. I kept him too tense--too keyed up.
If I had let him down...umph!' He shook his head; the thick lips pursed
and drooped. Presently he spoke again. 'I'll have to bring you both
away--you can be very helpful. If you insist upon going to Carlton and
telling him about...this'--he nodded to the unconscious man by the
fire--'I shan't stop you. This is the finish, anyway.'

'Of what?' she asked.

'Harlow the Joker,' he said. 'Don't you see that? Here's a man who tried
to murder you--a madman. Why? Because he thought you knew he was bolting.
Here's Harlow the magnificent masquerading like a fiction detective with
a comic moustache! Why? Imagine the police asking all these questions.
And Ellenbury of course would tell them quite a lot of things--some
silly, some sane. The police are rather clever--not very, but rather.
They'd smell--all sorts of jokes. I want a day if I can get it. Would you
come to Park Lane for a day?'

'Willingly!' she said; and he went red.

'That is a million-pound compliment,' he said. 'You'll have to sit on the
floor with a rug over you; you mustn't be seen. As it is, if you are
missed, your impetuous lover--did you speak?'

'I didn't,' she said emphatically.

'If he learns that you have disappeared, my twenty-four hours will be
shortened.'

She glanced at Ellenbury. 'What shall you do with...him?' she asked.

'He sits by my side; I dare not leave him here.' He lifted up one of the
suitcases and weighed it in his hand. 'Would you like half a million?' he
asked pleasantly.

Aileen shook her head. 'I don't think there is much happiness in that
money,' she said.

He laughed. 'Forgive me! I've got a little joke at the back of my
mind--maybe I'll tell you all about it!'



CHAPTER 24


SHE TOLD Jim all about this as he drove her back to her rooms after she
had brought a policeman to release him.

'He IS rather a darling,' she repeated, and when he frowned she pressed
his arm and laughed. 'Somehow I don't think you will arrest him,' she
said. 'But if you do, hold him very tight!'

And she thought of Mr Harlow's joke.

When, an hour later, a strong force of plain-clothes policemen descended
upon 704 Park Lane, they found only Mrs Edwins, erect and intractable as
ever, her hands folded over her waist.

'Mr Harlow left for the country this morning,' she said, and when they
searched the house they discovered neither the Splendid Harlow nor the
golden-bearded man called Marling.

'Arrest me!' she sneered. 'It takes a clever policeman to arrest an old
woman. But you'll not take Lemuel.'

'Lemuel?'

She realised her mistake.

'I called him Lemuel when he was a child, and I call him Lemuel now,' she
said defiantly. 'He'll ruin every one of you--mark my words!'

She was still muttering threats when two detectives found her coat and
hat and led her, protesting, to the police station.

Mr Harlow's landed possessions were not limited to his pied-a-terre in
Park Lane. He had a large estate in Hampshire, which he seldom visited,
though he retained a considerable staff for its upkeep. It was known that
he owned a luxurious flat in Brighton; and it was generally believed that
somewhere in London he kept another extensive suite of apartments.

Stratford Harlow was a far-thinker. He saw not only to-morrow but the day
after. For over twenty years he had lived in the knowledge that he was a
reprehensible jester, and that there was always a possibility, if not a
probability, that his supreme 'joke' would be detected.

He was at the mercy of many men, for only the mean thief may work
single-handed. He had perforce to employ people who must be taken--a
little--into his confidence.

But only one person knew the big truth.

His chauffeur, who knew so much, never dreamt the whole; to Ellenbury he
had been a crooked market-rigger; to Ingle he had been an admirable enemy
of society. To himself, what was he? That 'joke' idea persisted; almost
the description fitted his every action. When he had locked the grille on
Jim he knew that the 'joke' was on him. The machinery of the law had
begun to move, and there was nothing to be gained by dodging from one
hiding place to another. It was a case of night or nothing.

He went to the foot of the stairs and whistled; and soon Mrs Edwins came
into view with the tall, bearded man.

'Marling, I am going to take you for a little drive,' said Stratford
Harlow pleasantly. 'You are at once a problem and a straw. You have
almost broken my neck and I am grasping at you.' He laughed gently.
'That's a mixed illustration, isn't it?'

'Where are you going?' asked Mrs Edwins.

He fixed her with his cold eyes.

'You are very inquisitive and very stupid,' he said. 'What is worse, you
lack self-control, and that has nearly been my undoing. Not that I blame
you.' A gesture of his white hand absolved her from responsibility.
'Telephone to Reiss to bring the car. Possibly he will telephone in reply
that he is unable to bring the car. You may even hear the strange and
authoritative voice of a policeman.'

Her jaw dropped.

'You don't mean?' she asked quickly.

'Please telephone.'

He was very patient and cheerful. He did not look at her; his eyes, lit
with a glint of humour, focused upon the uncomfortable man who faced him.

'I hope I've done nothing--' began Marling.

'Nothing at all--nothing!' said Mr Harlow with the greatest heartiness.
'I have told you before, and I tell you again, you have nothing to fear
from me. You are a victim of circumstances, incapable of a wrong action.
I would sooner die than that you suffered so much as a hurt! Injustice
pains me. That variety of justice which is usually called "poetical"
fills me with a deep and abiding peace of soul. Well?' He snapped the
question at the woman in the doorway.

'What am I to do with that girl?' she asked.

'Leave her alone,' said the big man testily, 'and at the earliest
opportunity restore her to her friends. Help Mr Marling on with his coat;
it is a cold night. And a scarf for his throat...Good!'

He peered through the ground-glass window.

'Reiss has brought the car. Trustworthy fellow,' he said, and beckoned
Marling to him. Together they left the house and were driven rapidly
away. For nearly a quarter of an hour Mrs Edwins stood in the deserted
vestibule, very upright, very forbidding, her gnarled hands folded,
staring at the door through which they had passed.

The car drove through Mayfair, turned into a side street and stopped. It
was a corner block, the lower floor occupied by a bank. There was a side
door, which Mr Harlow opened and stood courteously aside to allow his
companion to pass.

They went up a long flight of stairs to another door, which Harlow
unlocked.

'Here we are, my dear fellow,' he said, closing the door gently. 'This is
what is called a labour-saving flat; one of the modern creations designed
by expensive architects for the service of wealthy tenants who are so
confoundedly mean that they weigh out their servants' food! Here we shall
live in comparative quiet for a week or two.'

'What has happened?' asked Marling.

The big man shrugged his shoulders.

'I do not know--I rather imagine that I recognise the inevitable, but I
am not quite sure. Your room is here, at the back of the house. Do you
mind?'

Marling saw that it was a more luxurious apartment than that which he had
left. Books there were in plenty. The only drawback was that the windows
were covered with a thin coating of white paint which made them opaque.

'I prepared this place for you two, nay, three years ago,' said Harlow.
'For a week or two, until we can make arrangements, I am afraid we shall
have to do our own housework.'

He patted the other on the shoulder.

'You're a good fellow,' he said. 'There are times when I would like to
change places with you. Vivit post funera virtus! I, alas! have no
virtues, but a consuming desire to make wheels turn.'

He pursed his thick lips and then said, apropos of nothing: 'She is
really a very nice girl indeed!...And she has a sense of humour. How rare
a quality in a woman!'

'Of whom are you talking?' asked the bearded man, a little bewildered.

'The might-have-been,' was the flippant reply. 'Even the wicked cannot be
denied their dreams. Would you call me a sentimentalist, Marling?'
Marling shook his head, and Mr Harlow laughed not unkindly. 'You're the
most appallingly honest man I've ever met,' he said, in admiration; 'and
I think you're the only human being in the world for whom I have a
genuine affection.'

His companion stared at him with wide-open eyes. And Mr Harlow met the
gaze without faltering. He was speaking the truth. His one nightmare in
the past twenty years was that this simple soul should fall ill; for if
that catastrophe had occurred, Stratford Harlow would have risked ruin
and suffering to win him back to health. Marling was the only joke in
life that he took seriously.

Every morning for three years, two newspapers had been thrust under the
door of Harlow's flat and had been disposed of by the hired servant who
came to keep the place in order. Every morning a large bottle of milk had
been deposited on the mat and had been similarly cleared away by the
servant, who would come no more, for she had received a letter dispensing
with her services on the morning Harlow and his companion arrived. The
letter was not signed 'Stratford Harlow,' but bore the name by which she
knew her employer.

The first day was a dull one. Harlow had nothing to do and inactivity
exasperated him. He was down early the next morning to take in milk and
newspapers; and for a long time sat at his ease, a thin cigar between his
teeth, a cup of cooling coffee by his side, reading of his disappearance.
The ports were watched; detectives were on duty at the termini of all
airways. The flying squad was scouring London. The phrase seemed
familiar. The flying squad from police head-quarters spend their lives
scouring London, and London seems none the cleaner for it.

There was his portrait across three columns, headed 'The Splendid
Harlow,' and only hinting at the charge which would be laid against him.
He learnt, without regret or sorrow, of the arrest of Mrs Edwins--he had
a lifelong grudge against Mrs Edwins, who had a lifelong grudge against
him. She was wholly incapable of understanding his attitude to life. She
had wondered why he did not live abroad in the most luxurious and exotic
atmosphere. She would have excused a seraglio; she could not forgive his
industry and continence.

She had made no statement, the newspapers said, and he suspected her of
making many of a vituperative character.

There was a hint of Marling in the paragraph:

'The police are particularly desirous of getting into touch with the man
who left the Park Lane house at the same time as Harlow. He is described
as tall, rather pale, with a long yellow beard. None of the servants of
the house has ever seen him. It may be explained that Mr Harlow's
domestic arrangements were of an unusual character. All the servants
slept out in a house which Harlow had hired...'

Mr Harlow turned over the page to see the sporting cartoon. The humour of
Tom Webster never failed to amuse him. Then he turned back to the Stock
Exchange news.

Markets were recovering rapidly. He made a calculation on the margin of
the paper and purred at his profits.

He could feel a glow of satisfaction though he was a fugitive from
justice; though all sorts of horrid possibilities were looming before
him; though it seemed nothing could prevent his going the dreary
way-Brixton Prison, Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Dartmoor...if not
worse. If not worse.

He took out his cigar and looked at it complacently. Mrs Gibbins had died
a natural death, though that would take some proving. It was a most
amazingly simple accident. Her muddy shoes had slipped on the polished
floor of his library; and when he had picked her up she was dead. That
was the truth and nothing but the truth. And Miss Mercy Harlow had died
naturally; and the little green bottle that Marling had seen had
contained nothing more noxious than the restorative with which the doctor
had entrusted him against the heart attack from which she succumbed.

He rose and stretched himself, drank the cold coffee with a wry face, and
shuffled along leisurely in his slippered feet to call Saul Marling. He
knocked at the door, but there was no answer. Turning the handle, he went
in. The room was empty. So, too, was the bathroom.

Mr Harlow walked along the passage to the door leading down to the
street. It was open. So also was the street door. He stood for a while at
the head of the stairs, his hands in his pockets, the dead cigar between
his teeth. Then he descended, closed the door and, walking back to the
sitting-room, threw the cigar into the fire-place, lit another and sat
down to consider matters; his forehead wrinkled painfully.

Presently he gave utterance to die thought which filled his mind.

'I do hope that poor fellow is careful how he crosses the road--he isn't
used to traffic!'

But there were policemen who would help a timid, bearded man across the
busy streets, and it was rather early for heavy traffic.

That thought comforted him. He took up the newspaper and in a second was
absorbed in the Welbury divorce case which occupied the greater part of
the page.



CHAPTER 25


AILEEN RIVERS might well have excused herself from attending her office,
but she hated the fuss which her absence would occasion; and she felt
remarkably well when she woke at noon.

Mr Stebbings greeted her as though she had not been absent until
lunch-time, to his great inconvenience; and one might not imagine, from
his matter-of-fact attitude, that he had been badgered by telephone
messages and police visitations during the twelve hours which preceded
her arrival.

He made no reference to her adventure until late in the afternoon, when
she brought in some letters for him to sign. He put his careful signature
to each sheet and then looked up. 'James Carlton comes of a very good
family. I knew his father rather well.'

She went suddenly red at this and was for the moment so thrown off her
balance that she could not ask him what James Carlton's parentage had to
do with a prosaic and involved letter on the subject of leases.

'He was most anxious about you, naturally,' Mr Stebbings rambled on
aimlessly. 'I was in bed when he called me up--I have never heard a man
who sounded so worried. It is curious that one does not associate the
police force with those human emotions which are common in us all, and I
confess it was a great surprise--in a sense a gratifying surprise! I have
seen him once; quite a good looking young man; and although the
emoluments of his office are not great, he appeals to me as one who has
the capacity of making any woman happy.' He paused. 'If women can be made
happy,' he added, the misogynist in him coming to the surface.

'I really don't know what you mean, Mr Stebbings,' she said, very hot, a
little incoherent, but not altogether distressed.

'Will you take this letter?' said Mr Stebbings, dismissing distracted
detectives and hot-faced girls from his mind; and immediately she was
plunged into the technology of an obscure trusteeship which the firm of
Stebbings was engaged in contesting.

As Aileen grew calmer, the shock of the discovery grew in poignancy. A
girl who finds herself to be in love experiences a queer sense of
desolation and loneliness. It is an emotion which seems unshareable; and
the more she thought of Jim Carlton, the more she was satisfied that the
affection was one-sided; that she was wasting her time and thought on a
man who did not care for her any more than he cared for every other girl
he met; and that love was a disease which was best cured by fasting and
self-repression.

She was in this frame of mind when there came a gentle tap at her door.
She called 'Come in!'--the handle turned and a man walked nervously into
the room. A tall man, hatless, collarless, and inadequately clad. An
overcoat many times too broad for him was buttoned up to the neck, and
although he wore shoes he was sockless and his legs were covered by a
pair of dark-blue pyjamas. He stroked his long beard nervously and looked
at the girl in doubt.

'Excuse me, madam,' he said, 'is this the office of Stebbings, Field and
Farrow?'

She had risen in amazement.  'Yes. Do you wish to see Mr Stebbings?'

He nodded, looked nervously round at the door and dosed it behind him.

'If you please,' he said.

'What name?' she asked.

He drew a long breath.

'Will you tell him that Mr Stratford Harlow wishes to see him?'

Her mouth opened in amazement.

'Stratford Harlow? Is he here?'

He nodded. 'I am Stratford Harlow,' he said simply.

The gentleman who for twenty-three years had borne the name of Stratford
Harlow was drinking a cup of China tea when the bell rang. He finished
the tea, and wiped his mouth with a silk handkerchief. Again the bell
shrilled. Mr Harlow rose with a smile, dusted the crumbs from his coat
and, pausing in the passage to take down an overcoat and a hat from their
pegs, walked down the stairs and threw open the door.

Jim Carlton was standing on the sidewalk, and with him three gentlemen
who were unmistakably detectives.

'I want you, Harlow,' he said.

'I thought you might,' said Mr Harlow pleasantly. 'Is that your car?' He
patted his pockets. 'I think I have everything necessary to a prisoner of
state. You may handcuff me if you wish, though I would prefer that you
did not. I do not carry arms. I regard any man who resists arrest by the
use of weapons as a cowardly barbarian! For the police have their
duties--very painful duties sometimes, pleasant duties at others--I am
not quite sure in which category yours will fall.'

Elk opened the car door and Mr Harlow stepped in, settled himself
comfortably in the corner and asked: 'May I smoke?'

He produced a cigar from his coat pocket and Elk held the light as the
car moved towards Evory Street.

'There is one thing I would like to ask you, Carlton,' he said,
half-turning his head towards his captor, who sat by his side. 'I read in
the newspapers that the ports and airports were being watched and all
sorts of extraordinary precautions were being taken against my leaving
the country. I presume that the news of my arrest will be made known
immediately to these watchful gentlemen? I should hate to feel that they
were tramping up and down in the cold, looking for a man who was already
in custody. That would spoil my night's sleep.'

Jim humoured his mood. 'They will be notified,' he said.

'You found Marling, of course? He has suffered no injury? I am very
relieved. It is difficult to conceive the confusion which must arise in
the mind of a man who has been out of the world for some twenty years and
returns to find the streets so crowded with death-dealing automobiles,
driven usually at a pace beyond the legal limit.'

'Yes, Mr Harlow is in good hands.'

'Call him Marling,' said the other. 'And Marling he must remain until my
duplicity is proved beyond any question. I will make the matter easy for
you by admitting that he is Stratford Selwyn Mortimer Harlow.'

He went off at a tangent, a trick of his.

'I should have gone away a long time ago and defied you to bring home to
me any offence against the law. But I am intensely curious--if my dearest
wish were realised, I would be suspended in a condition of disembodied
consciousness to watch the progress of the world through the next two
hundred thousand years! I would like to see what new nations arise, what
new powers overspread the earth, what new continents will be pushed up
from the sea and old continents submerged! Two hundred thousand years.
There will be a new Rome, a new barbarian Britain, a new continent of
America populated by indescribable beings! New Ptolemys and Pharaohs
getting themselves embalmed; and never dreaming that their magnificent
tombs shall be buried under sand and forgotten until they are dug out to
be gaped at by tourists, who will pay two piastres a peep!'

He sighed, flicked the ash of his cigar onto the floor of the car. 'Well,
here I am at the end. I've seen it out. I know now into which compartment
the little whirling ball of fate has fallen. It is extremely
interesting.'

They hurried him into the charge-room and put him in the steel pen; and
he beamed round the room.

In an undertone to Jim he said: 'Can anything be done to prevent the
newspapers with one accord describing what they will call the "irony" of
my appearance in a police station which I presented to the nation? Almost
I am tempted to present a million pounds to the journal which refrains
from this obvious comment!'

He listened in silence to the charge which Elk read, interrupting only
once.

'Suspected of causing the death of Mrs Gibbins? How perfectly absurd!
However, that is a matter for the lawyers to thrash out.'

With the jailer's hand on his arm he disappeared to the cells.

'And that's that!' said Jim, with a heartfelt sigh of relief.

'Where's the real fellow?' asked Elk.

'At the house in Park Lane. He's got the whole story for us. I've
arranged to have a police stenographer at nine o'clock tonight.'

At nine o'clock the bearded man sat in Mr Harlow's library; and began in
hesitant tones to tell his amazing story.



CHAPTER 26


'MY NAME is Stratford Selwyn Mortimer Harlow and as a child I lived as
you know with my aunt, Miss Mercy Harlow, a very rich and eccentric lady,
who assumed full charge of me and quarrelled with my other aunts over the
question of my care. I  do not remember very distinctly the early days of
my life. I have an idea, which Marling confirms, that I was a backward
child--backward mentally, that is to say--and that my condition caused
the greatest anxiety to Miss Mercy, who lived in terror lest I became
feeble-minded and she was in some way held responsible by her sisters.
This fear became an obsession with her, and I was kept out of the way
whenever visitors called at the house, and practically saw nobody but
Miss Mercy, her maid Mrs Edwins, and her maid's son Lemuel, who on two
occasions was, I believe, substituted for me--he being a very healthy
child.

'I know nothing about the circumstances of his birth, but it is a fact
that he was never called by the name of Edwins, except by Miss Mercy, and
she continued to call him this even after the time came for him to go to
school and the production of his birth certificate made it necessary that
he should bear the name of his father, Marling.

'He was my only playmate; and I think that he was genuinely fond of me
and that he pitied what he believed to be my weakness of intellect. Mrs
Edwins' ambition for her son was unbounded; she strived and scraped to
send him to a public school, and when he got a little older (as he told
me himself) she prevailed upon Miss Mercy to give her the money to send
him to the university.

'Let me say here that I owe most of my information on the subject to
Marling himself--it seems strange to call him by a name which I have
borne so long! At that time my mind was undoubtedly clouded. He has
described me as a morose, timid boy, who spent day after day in a
brooding silence, and I should say that that description was an accurate
one.

'The fear that her relatives might discover my condition of mind was a
daily torment to Miss Mercy. She shut up her house and went to live at a
smaller house in the country; and whenever her sisters showed the
slightest inclination to visit her, she would move to a distant town. For
three years I saw very little of Marling, and then one day Miss Mercy
told me that she was engaging a tutor for me. I disliked the idea, but
when she said it was Marling I was overjoyed. He came to Bournemouth to
see us and I should not have known him, for he had grown a long golden
beard, of which he was very proud. We had long talks together and he told
me of some of his adventures and of the scrapes he had got into.

'I was the only person in whom he confided, and I know the full story of
Mrs Gibbins as she was called. He had met her when she was a pretty
housemaid in the service of the senior proctor. The courtship followed a
tumultuous course, and then one day there arrived at Oxford the girl's
mother, who threatened that unless Marling married her daughter, she
would inform the senior proctor. This threat, if it were carried out
meant ruin to him, the end of Miss Mercy's patronage, the destruction of
all his mother's hopes; and it was not surprising that he took the
easiest course. They were married secretly at Cheltenham and lived
together in a little village just outside the city of Oxford.

'Of course the marriage was disastrous for Marling. He did not love the
girl; she hated him with all the malignity that a common and ignorant
person can have for one whose education emphasised her own uncouthness.
The upshot of it was that he left her. Three years later he learnt from
her mother that she was dead. In point of fact that was not true. She had
contracted a bigamous marriage with a man named Smith, who was eventually
killed in the war. You have told me, Mr Carlton, that you found no
marriage certificate in her handbag.

'By this time, owing to circumstances which I will explain, Marling had
the handling of great wealth. He was oddly generous, but the pound a week
which he allowed his wife's mother was, I suspect, in the nature of a
thanksgiving for freedom. The money came regularly to her every quarter
and while she suspected who the sender was, she had no proof and was
content to go on enjoying her allowance. Later this was improperly
diverted to her daughter, who, on the death of her mother, assumed her
maiden name.

'Marling came to be my tutor, and I honestly think that in his care--I
would almost say affectionate guidance--I had improved in health, though
I was far from well, when Miss Mercy had her seizure. In my crazy despair
I remember I accused Marling of killing her, for I saw him pour the
contents of a green bottle into a glass and force it between Miss Mercy's
pale lips. I am convinced that I did him a grave injustice, though he
never ceased to remind me of that green bottle. I think it was part of
his treatment to keep my illusion before my eyes until I recognised my
error.

'On the death of Miss Mercy I was so ill that I had to be locked in my
room, and it was then, I think, that Mrs Edwins proposed the plan which
was afterwards adopted, namely, the substitution of Marling for myself.
You will be surprised and incredulous when I tell you that Marling never
forgave the woman for inducing him to take that step. He told me once
that she had put him into greater bondage than that in which I was held.
From his point of view I think he was sincere. I was hurried away to a
cottage in Berkshire; and I knew nothing of the substitution until months
afterwards, when I was brought to Park Lane. It was then that he told me
my name was Marling and that his was Harlow. He used to repeat this
almost like a lesson, until I became used to the change.

'I don't think I cared very much; I had a growing interest in books and
he was tireless in his efforts to interest me. He claimed, with truth,
that whatever imprisonment I suffered, he saved me from imbecility. The
quiet of the life, the carefree nature of it, the comfort and mental
satisfaction which it gave me, was the finest treatment I could have
possibly had. He made me acquainted with the pathological side of my
case, read me books that explained just why I was living the very best
possible life--again I say, he was sincere.

'Gradually the cloud seemed to dissipate from my mind. I could think
logically and in sequence; I could understand what I was reading. More
and more the extent of the wrong he had done me became apparent. He never
disguised the fact, if the truth be told. Indeed, he disguised nothing!
He took me completely into his confidence. I knew every coup he
engineered in every detail.

'One night he returned to the house terribly agitated, and told me that
he had heard the voice of his wife! He had been to the flat of a man
called Ingle; and whilst he was there a charwoman had come in and he had
recognised her voice.

'He was engaged at that time with Ingle in manoeuvring an amazing
swindle. It was none other than the impersonation of the Foreign Minister
by Ingle, who was a brilliant actor. The plot was to get the Minister to
Park Lane, where he would be drugged and his place taken by Ingle, who,
to make himself perfect in the part, had spent a week examining films of
Sir Joseph Layton. In this way he had familiarised himself with Sir
Joseph's mannerisms; and he had paid one stealthy visit to a public
meeting which Sir Joseph had addressed, in order to study his voice. The
plan worked. Sir Joseph went into a room with Marling, drank a glass of
wine and was immediately knocked out--I think that is the expression.
Ingle waited behind the door all ready made up; and Marling told me he
bore a striking resemblance to the Minister. He went out from the house,
drove to the House of Commons and delivered a war speech which brought
the markets tumbling down.

'But before this happened there was a tragedy at 704, Park Lane.
Apparently, when Marling approached Ingle the actor-convict had been in
some doubt as to whether he should go to meet him. Ingle at first
suspected a trap and wrote a letter declining to meet. Afterwards he
changed his mind, but left the letter on his writing desk and the
charwoman, Mrs Gibbins, seeing the envelope was marked "Urgent, By Hand,"
came to the conclusion that her master had gone out and forgotten the
letter; and with a desire to oblige, she herself brought it to Park Lane.
Marling opened the door to her and had the shock of his life, for
immediately he recognised her. He invited her into the library and there
she slipped on the parquet floor and fell, cutting her head again the
corner of the desk. They made every effort to restore her: that I can
vouch for. They even brought me down to help, but she was dead, and there
arose the question of disposing of the body.

'Marling never ceased to blame himself that he did not call in the police
immediately and tell them the truth, but he was afraid to have his name
mentioned in connection with a man who had recently been discharged from
prison; and in the end he and Mrs Edwins took the body to Hyde Park and
dropped it in the water. You tell me there were signs of a struggle, but
that is not so. The footprints were Mrs Edwins' and not the dead woman's.

'Marling never saw the letter which the woman brought, it must have
fallen from her pocket when they were carrying her down the slope towards
the canal. He told me all about it afterwards; and I know he spoke the
truth.'

(Here Mr Harlow's narrative was interrupted for two hours as he showed
some signs of fatigue. It was resumed at his own request just before
midnight.)

'Marling regarded his crimes as jokes, and always referred o them as
such. It is, I believe, a common expression amongst the criminal classes
and one which took his fancy. The great "joke" about Sir Joseph was the
plan to restore him to his friends. I think it was partly Ingle's idea,
and was as follows. Two nigger minstrel suits were procured, exactly
alike, and it was arranged that Ingle, at a certain hour, should get
himself locked up and conveyed to what Marling invariably called "the
lifeboat"--'

'Lifeboat?' interrupted Jim quickly. 'Why did he call it that?'

'I will tell you,' resumed Mr Harlow. 'You will remember that he
presented a police station which he had built only about fifty yards from
this house; he made this presentation with only one idea in his mind: if
he were arrested it was to that police station that he would be taken!

'Sir Joseph lay under the influence of drugs in the room off the
underground garage until the moment arrived, when he was stripped, his
upper lip shaved and his face covered with the black make-up of a
minstrel. He was then taken through the little door, which you say you
have seen, along a locked passage to one of the stairways beneath the
cells, and the substitution was an easy matter. Every bed in every cell
lilts up, if you know the secret, like the lid of a box; beneath each bed
is a flight of steps leading to the passage and to the garage--'

Jim ran into Evory Street station.

'I want to sec Harlow quick!' he said breathlessly.

'He's all right; he was asleep the last time I saw him,' said the
inspector on duty.

'Let me see him,' said Jim impatiently; and followed the jailer down the
corridor till they stopped outside Cell No 9.

The jailor squinted through the peep-hole. Suddenly he uttered an
exclamation and turned the lock. The cell was empty!

When they visited the garage, the dark blue car was gone; and though this
was found later abandoned on the Harwich road, the Splendid Harlow had
vanished as though the earth had opened; nor was he ever seen again,
though sometimes there came news from the continent of gigantic
operations engineered through Spanish banks by an unknown plutocrat.

The Splendid Harlow had cached most of his money in Spain, but though Jim
visited that country, he pursued no inquiries. People on their honeymoon
have very little time for criminal investigation.

'If I had only known about that infernal police station!' he said once,
as they were loafing through the Puerta del Sol.

Aileen changed the subject at the earliest possible moment.

For she had known about the plank beds which were doors to freedom.

It was too good a joke for Harlow to keep to himself. And in telling her
he ran very little risk. He was an excellent judge of human nature.



THE END




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