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Title: The Ringer (1925)
Author: Edgar Wallace
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Language:  English
Date first posted: July 2008
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Title: The Ringer (1925)
Author: Edgar Wallace



DEDICATION:

TO Sir Gerald Du Maurier

My dear Gerald, This book is "The Gaunt Stranger" practically in the form
that you and I shaped it for the stage. Herein you will find all the
improvements you suggested for "The Ringer"--which means that this is a
better story than "The Gaunt Stranger."

Yours, EDGAR WALLACE.




CHAPTER 1


The Assistant Commissioner of Police pressed a bell on his table, and, to
the messenger who entered the room a few seconds after: "Ask Inspector
Wembury if he will be good enough to see me," he said.

The Commissioner put away into a folder the document he had been reading.
Alan Wembury's record both as a police officer and as a soldier was
magnificent. He had won a commission in the war, risen to the rank of
Major and had earned the Distinguished Service Order for his fine work in
the field. And now a new distinction had come to him.

The door opened and a man strode in. He was above the average height. The
Commissioner looked up and saw a pair of good--humoured grey eyes
looking down at him from a lean, tanned face.

"Good morning, Wembury."

"Good morning, sir."

Alan Wembury was on the sunny side of thirty, an athlete, a cricketer, a
man who belonged to the out--of--doors. He had the easy poise and the
refinement of speech which comes from long association with gentlemen.

"I have asked you to come and see me because I have some good news for
you," said the Commissioner.

He had a real affection for this straight--backed subordinate of his. In
all his years of police service he had never felt quite as confident of
any man as he had of this soldierly detective.

"All news is good news to me, sir," laughed Alan.

He was standing stiffly to attention now and the Commissioner motioned
him to a chair.

"You are promoted divisional inspector and you take over 'R' Division as
from Monday week," said the chief, and in spite of his self--control,
Alan was taken aback. A divisional inspectorship was one of the prizes of
the C.I.D. Inevitably it must lead in a man of his years to a central
inspectorship; eventually inclusion in the Big Four, and one knows not
what beyond that.

"This is very surprising, sir,'" he said at last. "I am terribly
grateful. I think there must be a lot of men entitled to this step before
me--"

Colonel Walford shook his head.

"I'm glad for your sake, but I don't agree," he said. And then, briskly:
"We're making considerable changes at the Yard. Bliss is coming back from
America; he has been attached to the Embassy at Washington--do you know
him?"

Alan Wembury shook his head. He had heard of the redoubtable Bliss, but
knew little more about him than that he was a capable police officer and
was cordially disliked by almost every man at the Yard.

"'R' Division will not be quite as exciting as it was a few years ago,"
said the Commissioner with a twinkle in his eye; "and you at any rate
should be grateful."

"Was it an exciting division, sir?" asked Alan, to whom Deptford was a
new territory.

Colonel Walford nodded. The laughter had gone out of his eyes; he was
very grave indeed when he spoke again.

"I was thinking about The Ringer--I wonder what truth there is in the
report of his death? The Australian police are almost certain that the
man taken out of Sydney Harbour was this extraordinary scoundrel."

Alan Wembury nodded slowly.

The Ringer!

The very name produced a little thrill that was unpleasantly like a
shiver. Yet Alan Wembury was without fear; his courage, both as a
soldier and a detective, was inscribed in golden letters. But there was
something very sinister and deadly in the very name of The Ringer,
something that conjured up a repellent spectacle...the cold, passionless
eyes of a cobra.

Who had not heard of The Ringer? His exploits had terrified London. He
had killed ruthlessly, purposelessly, if his motive were one of personal
vengeance. Men who had good reason to hate and fear him, had gone to bed,
hale and hearty, snapping their fingers at the menace, safe in the
consciousness that their houses were surrounded by watchful policemen. In
the morning they had been found stark and dead. The Ringer, like the dark
angel of death, had passed and withered them in their prime.

"Though The Ringer no longer haunts your division, there is one man in
Deptford I would like to warn you against," said Colonel Walford,
"and he--"

"Is Maurice Meister," said Alan, and the Commissioner raised his eyebrows
in surprise.

"Do you know him?" he asked, astonished. "I didn't know Meister's
reputation as a lawyer was so widespread."

Alan Wembury hesitated, fingering his little moustache.

"I only know him because he happens to be the Lenley's family lawyer," he
said.

The Commissioner shook his head with a laugh. "Now you've got me out of
my depth: I don't even know the Lenleys. And yet you speak their name
with a certain amount of awe. Unless," he said suddenly, "you are
referring to old George Lenley of Hertford, the man who died a few months
ago?"

Alan nodded.

"I used to hunt with him," mused the Commissioner. "A hard--riding,
hard-drinking type of old English squire. He died broke, somebody told me.
Had he any children?"

"Two, sir," said Alan quietly.

"And Meister is their lawyer, eh?" The Commissioner laughed shortly.
"They weren't well advised to put their fortune in the hands of Maurice
Meister."

He stared through the window on to the Thames Embankment. The clang of
tram bells came faintly through the double windows. There was a touch of
spring in the air; the bare branches along the Embankment were budding
greenly, and soon would be displayed all their delicate leafy splendour.
A curious and ominous place, this Scotland Yard, and yet human and kindly
hearts beat behind its grim exterior.

Walford was thinking, not of Meister, but of the children who were left
in Meister's care.

"Meister knew The Ringer," he said unexpectedly, and Wembury's eyes
opened.

"Knew The Ringer, sir?" he repeated.

Walford nodded.

"I don't know how well; I suspect too well--too well for the comfort of
The Ringer if he's alive. He left his sister in Meister's charge--Gwenda
Milton. Six months ago, the body of Gwenda Milton was taken from the
Thames." Alan nodded as he recalled the tragedy. "She was Meister's
secretary. One of these days when you've nothing better to do, go up to
the Record Office--there was a great deal that didn't come out at the
inquest."

"About Meister?"

Colonel Walford nodded.

"If The Ringer is dead, nothing matters, but if he is alive"--he
shrugged his broad shoulders and looked oddly under the shaggy eyebrows
at the young detective--"if he is alive, I know something that would
bring him back to Deptford--and to Meister."

"What is that, sir?" asked Wembury.

Again Walford gave his cryptic smile.

"Examine the record and you will read the oldest drama in the world--the
story of a trusting woman and a vile man."

And then, dismissing The Ringer with a wave of his hand as though he were
a tangible vision awaiting such a dismissal, he became suddenly the
practical administrator.

"You are taking up your duties on Monday week. You might like to go down
and have a look round, and get acquainted with your new division?"

Alan hesitated.

"If it is possible, sir, I should like a week's holiday," he said, and in
spite of himself, his tanned face assumed a deeper red.

"A holiday? Certainly. Do you want to break the good news to the girl?"
There was a good--humoured twinkle in Walford's eyes.

"No, sir." His very embarrassment seemed to deny his statement. "There is
a lady I should like to tell of my promotion," he went on awkwardly. "She
is, in fact--Miss Mary Lenley."

The Commissioner laughed softly.

"Oh, you know the Lenleys that much, do you?" he said, and Alan's
embarrassment was not decreased.

"No, sir; she has always been a very good friend of mine," he said,
almost gently, as though the subject of the discussion were one of whom
he could not speak in more strident tones. "You see, I started life in a
cottage on the Lenley estate. My father was head gardener to Squire
Lenley, and I've known the family ever since I can remember. There is
nobody else in Lenley village"--he shook his head sadly--"who would
expect me--I--" He hesitated, and Walford jumped in.

"Take your holiday, my boy. Go where you jolly well please! And if Miss
Mary Lenley is as wise as she is beautiful--I remember her as a
child--she will forget that she is a Lenley of Lenley Court and you are a
Wembury of the gardener's cottage! For in these democratic days,
Wembury,"--there was a quiet earnestness in his voice--"a man is what
he is, not what his father was. I hope you will never be obsessed by a
sense of your own unworthiness. Because, if you are"--he paused, and
again his eyes twinkled--"you will be a darned fool!"

Alan Wembury left the room with the uneasy conviction that the Assistant
Commissioner knew a great deal more about the Lenleys than he had
admitted.



CHAPTER 2


IT seemed that the spring had come earlier to Lenley village than to grim
old London, which seems to regret and resist the tenderness of the
season, until, overwhelmed by the rush of crocuses and daffodils and
yellow--hearted narcissi, it capitulates blandly in a blaze of yellow
sunshine.

As he walked into the village from the railway station, Alan saw over the
hedge the famous Lenley Path of Daffodils, blazing with a golden glory.
Beyond the tall poplars was the roof of grey old Lenley Court.

News of his good fortune had come ahead of him. The bald--headed
landlord of the Red Lion Inn came running out to intercept him, a grin of
delight on his rubicund face.

"Glad to see you back, Alan," he said. "We've heard of your promotion and
we're all very proud of you. You'll be Chief of the Police one of these
days."

Alan smiled at the spontaneous enthusiasm. He liked this old village; it
was a home of dreams. Would the great, the supreme dream, which he had
never dared bring to its logical conclusion, be fulfilled?

"Are you going up to the Court to see Miss Mary?" and when he answered
yes, the landlord shook his head and pursed his lips. He was regret
personified. "Things are very bad up there, Alan. They say there's
nothing left out of the estate either for Mr. John or Miss Mary. I don't
mind about Mr. John: he's a man who can make his way in the world--I
wish he'd get a better way than he's found."

"What do you mean?" asked Alan quickly. The landlord seemed suddenly to
remember that if he was speaking to an old friend he was also speaking to
a police officer, and he became instantly discreet.

"They say he's gone to the devil. You know how people talk, but there's
something in it. Johnny never was a happy sort of fellow; he's forgotten
to do anything but scowl in these days. Poverty doesn't come easy to that
young man."

"Why are they at the Court if they're in such a bad way? It must be an
expensive place to keep up. I wonder John Lenley doesn't sell it?"

"Sell it!" scoffed the landlord. "It's mortgaged up to the last leaf on
the last twig! They're staying there whilst this London lawyer settles
the estate, and they're going to London next week, from what I hear."

This London lawyer! Alan frowned. That must be Maurice Meister, and he
was curious to meet the man about whom so many strange rumours ran. They
whispered things of Maurice Meister at Scotland Yard which it would have
been libel to write, slander to say. They pointed to certain associations
of his which were unjustifiable even in a criminal lawyer, whose work
brought him into touch with the denizens of the underworld.

"I wish you'd book me a room, Mr. Griggs. The carrier is bringing my bag
from the station. I'll go to up the Court and see if I can see John
Lenley."

He said "John," but his heart said "Mary." He might deceive the world,
but he could not deceive his own heart.

As he walked up the broad oak--shaded drive, the evidence of poverty
came out to meet him. Grass grew in the gravelled surface of the road;
those fine yew hedges of the Tudor garden before which as a child he had
stood in awe had been clipped by an amateur hand; the lawn before the
house was ragged and unkempt. When he came in sight of the Court his
heart sank as he saw the signs of general neglect. The windows of the
east wing were grimy--not even the closed shutters could disguise their
state; two windows had been broken and the panes not replaced.

As he came nearer to the house, a figure emerged from the shadowy
portico, walked quickly towards him, and then, recognising, broke into a
run.

"Oh, Alan!"

In another second he had both her hands in his and was looking down into
the upturned face. He had not seen her for twelve months. He looked at
her now, holding his breath. The sweet, pale beauty of her caught at his
heart. He had known a child, a lovely child; he was looking into the
crystal--clear eyes of radiant womanhood. The slim, shapeless figure he
had known had undergone some subtle change; the lovely face had been
moulded to a new loveliness.

He had a sense of dismay. The very fringe of despair obscured for the
moment the joy which had filled his heart at the sight of her. If she had
been beyond his reach before, the gulf, in some incomprehensible manner,
had widened now.

With a sinking heart he realised the gulf between this daughter of the
Lenleys and Inspector Wembury.

"Why, Alan, what a pleasant sight!" Her sad eyes were brightened with
laughter. "And you're bursting with news! Poor Alan! We read it in the
morning newspaper."

He laughed ruefully.

"I didn't know that my promotion was a matter of world interest," he
said.

"But you're going to tell me all about it." She slipped her arm in his
naturally, as she had in the days of her childhood, when the gardener's
son was Mary Lenley's playmate, the shy boy who flew her kite and bowled
and fielded for her when she wielded a cricket bat almost as tall as
herself.

"There is little to tell but the bare news," said Alan. "I'm promoted
over the heads of better men, and I don't know whether to be glad or
sorry!"

He felt curiously self--conscious and gauche as they paced the untidy
lawn together.

"I've had a little luck in one or two cases I've handled, but I can't
help feeling that I'm a favourite with the Commissioner and that I owe my
promotion more to that cause than to any other."

"Rubbish!" she scoffed. "Of course you've had your promotion on merit!"

She caught his eyes looking at the house, and instantly her expression
changed.

"Poor old Lenley Court!" she said softly. "You've heard our news, Alan?
We're leaving next week." She breathed a long sigh. "It doesn't bear
thinking about, does it? Johnny is taking a flat in town, and Maurice has
promised me some work."

Alan stared at her.

"Work?" he gasped. "You don't mean you've got to work for your living?"

She laughed at this.

"Why, of course, my dear--my dear Alan. I'm initiating myself into the
mysteries of shorthand and typewriting. I'm going to be Maurice's
secretary."

Meister's secretary!

The words had a familiar sound. And then in a flash he remembered another
secretary, whose body had been taken from the river one foggy morning,
and he recalled Colonel Walford's ominous words.

"Why, you're quite glum, Alan. Doesn't the prospect of my earning a
living appeal to you?" she asked, her lips twitching.

"No," he said slowly, and it was like Alan that he could not disguise his
repugnance to the scheme. "Surely there is something saved from the
wreck?"

She shook her head.

"Nothing--absolutely nothing! I have a very tiny income from my mother's
estate, and that will keep me from starvation. And Johnny's really
clever, Alan. He has made quite a lot of money lately--that's queer,
isn't it? One never suspected Johnny of being a good business man, and
yet he is. In a few years we shall be buying back Lenley Court."

Brave words, but they did not deceive Alan!



CHAPTER 3


HE saw her look over his shoulder, and turned. Two men were walking
towards them, Though it was a warm day in early summer, and the Royal
Courts of Justice forty miles away, Mr. Meister wore the conventional
garb of a successful lawyer. The long--tailed morning coat fitted his
slim figure faultlessly, his black cravat with its opal pin was perfectly
arranged. On his head was the glossiest of silk hats, and the yellow
gloves which covered his hands were spotless. A sallow, thin--faced man
with dark, fathomless eyes, there was something of the aristocrat in his
manner and speech. "He looks like a duke, talks like a don and thinks
like a devil," was not the most unflattering thing that had been said
about Maurice Meister.

His companion was a tall youth, hardly out of his teens, whose black
brows met at the sight of the visitor. He came slowly across the lawn,
his hands thrust into his trousers pockets, his dark eyes regarding Alan
with an unfriendly scowl.

"Hallo!" he said grudgingly, and then, to his companion: "You know
Wembury, don't you, Maurice--he's a sergeant or something in the
police."

Maurice Meister smiled slowly.

"Divisional Detective Inspector, I think," and offered his long, thin
hand. "I understand you are coming into my neighbourhood to add a new
terror to the lives of my unfortunate clients!"

"I hope we shall be able to reform them," said Alan good--humouredly.
"That is really what we are for!"

Johnny Lenley was glowering at him. He had never liked Alan, even as a
boy and now for some reason, his resentment at the presence of the
detective was suddenly inflamed.

"What brings you to Lenley?" he asked gruffly. "I didn't know you had any
relations here?"

"I have a few friends," said Alan steadily.

"Of course he has!" It was Mary who spoke. "He came to see me, for one,
didn't you, Alan? I'm sorry we can't ask you to stay with us, but there's
practically no furniture left in the house."

John Lenley's eyes snapped at this.

"It isn't necessary to advertise our poverty all over the kingdom, my
dear," he said sharply. "I don't suppose Wembury is particularly
interested in our misfortunes, and he'd be damned impertinent if he was!"

He saw the hurt look on his sister's face, and his unreasonable annoyance
with the visitor was increased. It was Maurice Meister who poured oil
upon the troubled water.

"The misfortunes of Lenley Court are public property, my dear Johnny," he
said blandly. "Don't be so stupidly touchy! I, for one, am very glad to
have the opportunity of meeting a police officer of such fame as
Inspector Alan Wembury. You will find your division rather a dull spot
just now, Mr. Wembury. We have none of the excitement which prevailed
when I first moved to Deptford from Lincoln's Inn Fields."

Alan nodded.

"You mean, you're not bothered with The Ringer?" he said.

It was a perfectly innocent remark, and he was quite unprepared for the
change which came to Meister's face. He blinked quickly as though he had
been confronted with a brilliant light. The loose mouth became in an
instant a straight, hard line. If there was not fear in those inscrutable
eyes of his, Alan Wembury was very wide of the mark.

"The Ringer!" His voice was husky. "Ancient history, eh? Poor beggar,
he's dead!"

He said this with almost startling emphasis. It seemed to Alan that the
man was trying to persuade himself that this notorious criminal had
passed beyond the sphere of human activity.

"Dead...drowned in Australia."

The girl was looking at him wonderingly.

"Who is The Ringer?" she asked.

"Nobody you would know anything about, or ought to know," he said, almost
brusquely. And then, with a little laugh: "We're all talking 'shop,' and
criminal justice is the worst kind of 'shop' for a young lady's ears."

"I wish to heaven you'd find something else to talk about," growled John
Lenley fretfully, and was turning away when Maurice Meister asked: "You
are at present in a West End division, aren't you, Wembury? What was your
last case? I don't seem to remember seeing your name in the newspapers."

Alan made a little grimace.

"We never advertise our failures," he said. "My last job was to inquire
into some pearls that were stolen from Lady Darnleigh's house in Park
Lane on the night of her big Ambassadors' party."

He was looking at Mary as he spoke. Her face was a magnet which lured and
held his gaze. He did not see John Lenley's hand go to his mouth to check
the involuntary exclamation, or the quick warning glance which Meister
shot at the young man. There was a little pause.

"Lady Darnleigh?" drawled Maurice. "Oh, yes, I seem to remember...as a
matter of fact, weren't you at her dance that night, Johnny?"

He looked at the other and Johnny shook his shoulder impatiently.

"Of course I was...I didn't know anything about the robbery till
afterwards. Haven't you anything else to discuss, you people, than crimes
and robberies and murders?"

And, turning on his heel, he slouched across the lawn.

Mary looked after him with trouble in her face.

"I wonder what makes Johnny so cross in these days--do you know,
Maurice?"

Maurice Meister examined the cigarette that burnt in the amber tube
between his fingers. "Johnny is young; and, my dear, you mustn't forget
that he has had a very trying time."

"So have I," she said quietly. "You don't imagine that it is nothing to
me that I am leaving Lenley Court?" Her voice quivered for a moment, but
with a resolution that Alan could both understand and appreciate, she was
instantly smiling. "I'm being very pathetic; I shall be weeping on Alan's
shoulder if I am not careful. Come along, Alan, and see what is left of
the rosery--perhaps when you have seen its present condition, we will
weep together!"



CHAPTER 4


JOHNNY LENLEY looked alter them until they had disappeared from view. His
face was pale with anger, his lips trembled.

"What brings that swine here?" he demanded.

Maurice Meister, who had followed across the lawn, looked at him oddly.

"My dear Johnny, you're very young and very crude. You have the education
of a gentleman and yet you behave like a boor!"

Johnny turned on him in a fury.

"What do you expect me to do--shake him cordially by the hand and bid
him welcome to Lenley Court? The fellow's risen from the gutter. His
father was our gardener--"

Maurice Meister interrupted him with a chuckle of malicious enjoyment.

"What a snob you are, Johnny! The snobbery wouldn't matter," he went on
in a more serious tone, "if you would learn to conceal your feelings."

"I say what I think," said Johnny shortly.

"So does a dog when you tread on his tail," replied Maurice. "You fool!"
he snarled with unexpected malignity. "You half--wit! At the mention of
the Darnleigh pearls you almost betrayed yourself. Did you realise to
whom you were talking, who was probably watching you? The shrewdest
detective in the C.I.D.! The man who caught Hersey, who hanged Gostein,
who broke up the Flack Gang."

"He didn't notice anything," said the other sulkily, and then, to turn
the conversation to his advantage: "You had a letter this morning, was
there anything about the pearls in it--are they sold?"

The anger faded from the lawyer's face; again he was his suave self.

"Do you imagine, my dear lad, that one can sell fifteen thousand pounds'
worth of pearls in a week? What do you suppose is the procedure--that
one puts them up at Christie's?"

Johnny Lenley's lips tightened. For a while he was silent. When he spoke
his voice had lost some of its querulous quality.

"It was queer that Wembury was on the case--apparently they've given up
hope. Of course, old Lady Darnleigh has no suspicion--"

"Don't be too sure of that," warned Meister. "Every guest at No. 304,
Park Lane, on that night is suspect. You, more than any, because
everybody knows you're broke. Moreover, one of the footmen saw you going
up the main stairs just before you left."

"I told him I was going to get my coat," said Johnny Lenley quickly, and
a troubled look came to his face. "Why did you mention that I was there
to Wembury?"

Maurice laughed.

"Because he knew; I was watching him as I spoke. There was the faintest
glint in his eyes that told me. I'll set your mind at ease; the person at
present under suspicion is her unfortunate butler. Don't imagine that the
case has blown over--it hasn't. Anyway, the police are too active for
the moment for us to dream of disposing of the pearls, and we shall have
to wait a favourable opportunity when they can be placed in Antwerp."

He threw away the end of the thin cigarette, took a gold cigarette--case
from his waistcoat pocket, selected another with infinite care and lit
it, Johnny watching him enviously.

"You're a cool devil. Do you realise that if the truth came out about
those pearls it would mean penal servitude for you, Maurice?"

Maurice sent a ring of smoke into the air.

"I certainly realise it would mean penal servitude for you, my young
friend. I fancy that it would be rather difficult to implicate me. If you
choose for your amusement to be a robber baron, or was it a Duke of
Padua?--I forget the historical precedent--and engage yourself in these
Rafflesish adventures, that is your funeral entirely. Because I knew your
father and I've known you since you were a child, I take a little risk.
Perhaps the adventure of it appeals to me--"

"Rot!" said Johnny Lenley brutally. "You've been a crook ever since you
were able to walk. You know every thief in London and you've 'fenced'--"

"Don't use that word!" Maurice Meister's deep voice grew suddenly sharp.
"As I told you just now, you are crude. Did I instigate this robbery of
Lady Darnleigh's pearls? Did I put it into your head that thieving was
more profitable than working, and that with your education and entry to
the best houses you had opportunities which were denied to a
meaner--thief?"

This word was as irritating to Johnny Lenley as "fence" had been to the
lawyer.

"Anyway, we are in, the same boat," he said. "You couldn't give me away
without ruining yourself. I don't say you instigated anything, but you've
been jolly helpful, Maurice. Some day I'll make you a rich man."

The dark, sloe--like eyes turned slowly in his direction. At any other
time this patronage of the younger man would have infuriated Meister; now
he was only piqued.

"My young friend," he said precisely, "you are a little over--confident.
Robbery with or without violence is not so simple a matter as you
imagine. You think you're clever--"

"I'm a little bit smarter than Wembury," said Johnny complacently.

Maurice Meister concealed a smile.

It was not to the rosery that Mary led her visitor but to the sunken
garden, with its crazy paving and battered statuary. There was a cracked
marble bench overlooking a still pool where water--lilies grew, and she
allowed him to dust a place for her before she sat down.

"Alan, I'm going to tell you something. I'm talking to Alan Wembury, not
to Inspector Wembury," she warned him, and he showed his astonishment.

"Why, of course..." He stopped; he had been on the point of calling her
by name. "I've never had the courage to call you Mary, but I feel--old
enough!"

This claim of age was a cowardly expedient, he told himself, but at least
it was successful. There was real pleasure in her voice when she replied:
"I'm glad you do. 'Miss Mary' would sound horribly unreal. In you it
would sound almost unfriendly."

"What is the trouble?" he asked, as he sat down by her side.

She hesitated only a second.

"Johnny," she said. "He talks so oddly about things. It's a terrible
thing to say, Alan, but it almost seems as though he's forgotten the
distinction between--right and wrong. Sometimes I think he only says
these things in a spirit of perversity. At other times I feel that he
means them. He talks harshly about poor, dear father, too. I find that
difficult to forgive. Poor daddy was very careless and extravagant, but
he was a good father to Johnny--and to me," she said, her voice
breaking.

"What do you mean when you say Johnny talks oddly?"

She shook her head.

"It isn't only that: he has such strange friends. We had a man here last
week--I only saw him, I did not speak to him--named Hackitt. Do you
know him?"

"Hackitt? Sam Hackitt?" said Wembury in surprise. "Good Lord, yes! Sam
and I are old acquaintances!"

"What is he?" she asked.

"He's a burglar," was the calm reply. "Probably Johnny was interested in
the man and had him down--"

She shook her head.

"No, it wasn't for that." She bit her lip. "Johnny told me a lie; he said
that this man was an artisan who was going to Australia. You're sure this
is your Sam Hackitt?"

Alan gave a very vivid, if brief, description of the little thief.

"That is he," she nodded. "And, of course, I know he was--an unpleasant
sort of man. Alan, you don't think that Johnny is--bad, do you?"

He had never thought of Johnny as a possible subject for police
observation. "Of course not!"

"But these peculiar friends of his--?"

It was an opportunity not to be passed.

"I'm afraid, Mary, you're going to meet a lot of people like Hackitt, and
worse than Hackitt, who isn't a bad soul if he could keep his fingers to
himself."

"Why?" she asked in amazement.

"You think of becoming Meister's secretary--Mary, I wish you wouldn't."

She drew away a little, the better to observe him.

"Why on earth, Alan...? Of course, I understand what you mean. Maurice
has a large number of clients, and I'm pretty sure to see them, but they
won't corrupt my young mind!"

"I'm not afraid of his clients," said Alan quietly. "I'm afraid
of--Maurice Meister."

She stared at him as though he were suddenly bereft of his senses.

"Afraid of Maurice?" She could hardly believe her ears. "Why, Maurice is
the dearest thing! He has been kindness itself to Johnny and me, and
we've known him all our lives."

"I've known you all your life, too, Mary," said Alan gently, but she
interrupted him.

"But, tell me why?" she persisted. "What do you know against Maurice?"

Here, confronted with the concrete question, he lost ground.

"I know nothing about turn," he admitted frankly. "I only know that
Scotland Yard doesn't like him."

She laughed a low, amused laugh.

"Because he manages to keep these poor, wretched criminals out of prison!
It's professional jealousy! Oh, Alan," she bantered him, "I didn't
believe it of you!"

No good purpose could be served by repeating his warning. There was one
gleam of comfort in the situation; if she was to work for Meister she
would be living in his division. He told her this.

"It will be rather dreadful, won't it, after Lenley Court?" She made a
little face at the thought. "It will mean that for a year or two I shall
have no parties, no dances--Alan, I shall die an old maid!"

"I doubt that," he smiled, "but the chances of meeting eligible young men
in Deptford are slightly remote," and they laughed together.



CHAPTER 5


MAURICE MEISTER stood at the ragged end of a yew hedge and watched them.
Strange, he mused, that never before had he realised the beauty of Mary
Lenley. It needed, he told himself, the visible worship of this policeman
to stimulate his interest in the girl, whom in a moment of impulse, which
later he regretted, he had promised to employ. A bud, opening into
glorious flower. Unobserved, he watched her; the contour of her cheek,
the poise of her dark head, the supple line of her figure as she turned
to rally Alan Wembury. Mr. Meister licked his dry lips. Queer that he had
never thought that way about Mary Lenley. And yet...

He liked fair women. Gwenda Milton was fair, with a shingled, golden
head. A stupid girl, who had become rather a bore. And from a bore she
had developed into a sordid tragedy. Maurice shuddered as he remembered
that grey day in the coroner's court when he had stood on the witness
stand and had lied and lied and lied.

Turning her head, Mary saw him and beckoned him, and he went slowly
towards them.

"Where is Johnny?" she asked.

"Johnny at this moment is sulking. Don't ask me why, because I don't
know."

What a wonderful skin she had--flawless, unblemished! And the dark grey
eyes, with their long lashes, how adorable! And he had known her all her
life and been living under the same roof for a week, and had not observed
her values before!

"Am I interrupting a confidential talk?" he asked.

She shook her head, but she did not wholly convince him. He wondered what
these two had been speaking about, head to head. Had she told Alan
Wembury that she was coming to Deptford? She would sooner or later, and
it might be profitable to get in first with the information.

"You know, Miss Lenley is honouring me by becoming my secretary?"

"So I've heard," said Alan, and met the lawyer's eyes. "I have told Miss
Lenley"--he spoke deliberately; every word had its significance--"that
she will be living in my division...under my paternal eye, as it were."

There was a warning and a threat there. Meister was too shrewd a man to
overlook either. Alan Wembury had constituted himself the girl's
guardian. That would have been rather amusing in other circumstances.
Even as recently as an hour ago he would have regarded Alan Wembury's
chaperonage as a great joke. But now...

He looked at Mary and his pulse was racing.

"How interesting!" his voice was a little harsh and he cleared his
throat. "How terribly interesting! And is that duty part of the police
code?"

There was the faintest sneer in his voice which Alan did not miss.

"The duty of a policeman," he said quietly, "is pretty well covered by
the inscription over the door of the Old Bailey."

"And what is that?" asked Meister. "I have not troubled to read it."

"'Protect the children of the poor and punish the wrongdoer,'" said Alan
Wembury sternly.

"A noble sentiment!" said Maurice. And then: "I think that is for me."

He walked quickly towards a telegraph messenger who had appeared at the
end of the garden.

"Is Maurice annoyed with you?" asked Mary.

Alan laughed.

"Everybody gets annoyed with me sooner or later. I'm afraid my society
manners are deplorable."

She patted the hand that lay beside hers on the stone bench.

"Alan," she said, half whimsically, half seriously, "I don't think I
shall ever be annoyed with you. You are the nicest man I know."

For a second their hands met in a long, warm clasp, and then she saw
Maurice walking back with the unopened telegram in his hand.

"For you," he said jovially. "What a thing it is to be so important that
you can't leave the office for five minutes before they wire for
you--what terrible deed has been committed in London in your absence?"

Alan took the wire with a frown. "For me?" He was expecting no telegram.
He had very few personal friends, and it was unlikely that his holiday
would be curtailed from headquarters.

He tore open the envelope and took out the telegram. It was closely
written on two pages. He read: "Very urgent stop return at once and
report to Scotland Yard stop be prepared to take over your division
tomorrow morning stop Australian police report Ringer left Sydney four
months ago and is believed to be in London at this moment message ends."

The wire was signed "Walford."

Alan looked from the telegram to the smiling old garden, from the garden
to the girl, her anxious face upturned to his.

"Is anything wrong?" she asked.

He shook his head slowly.

The Ringer was in England!

His nerves grew taut at the realisation. Henry Arthur Milton, ruthless
slayer of his enemies--cunning, desperate, fearless.

Alan Wembury's mind went back to Scotland Yard and the Commissioner's
office. Gwenda Milton--dead, drowned, a suicide!

Had Maurice Meister played a part in the creation of that despair which
had sent her young soul unbidden to the judgment of God? Woe to Maurice
Meister if this were true!



CHAPTER 6


The Ringer was in London!

Alan Wembury felt a cold thrill each time the thought recurred on his
journey to London.

It was the thrill that comes to the hunter, at the first hint of the
man-slaying tiger he will presently glimpse.

Well named was The Ringer, who rang the changes on himself so frequently
that police headquarters had never been able to circulate a description
of the man. A master of disguise, a ruthless enemy who had slain without
mercy the men who had earned his hatred.

For himself, Wembury had neither fear nor hatred of the man he was to
bring down; only a cold emotionless understanding of the danger of his
task. One thing was certain--the Ringer would go to the place where a
hundred bolts and hiding places were ready to receive him.

To Deptford...?

Alan Wembury gave a little gasp of dismay. Mary Lenley was also going to
Deptford--to Meister's house, and The Ringer could only have returned to
England with one object, the destruction of Maurice Meister. Danger to
Meister would inevitably mean danger to Mary Lenley. This knowledge took
some of the sunlight of the spring sky and made the grim facade of
Scotland Yard just a little more sinister.

Though all the murderers in the world were at large, Scotland Yard
preserved its equanimity. He came to Colonel Walford's room to find the
Assistant Commissioner immersed in the particulars of a minor robbery.

"You got my wire?" said Walford, looking up as Alan came in. "I'm awfully
sorry to interrupt your holiday. I want you to go down to Deptford to
take charge immediately und get acquainted with your new division."

"The Ringer is back, sir?"

Watford nodded. "Why he came back, where he is, I don't know--in fact,
there is no direct information about him and we are merely surmising that
he has returned."

"But I thought--"

Walford took a long cablegram from the basket on his table. "The Ringer
has a wife. Few people know that," he said. "He married her a year or two
ago in Canada. After his disappearance, she left this country and was
traced to Australia. That could only mean one thing. The Ringer was in
Australia. She has now left Australia just as quickly as she left this
country; she arrives in England tomorrow morning."

Alan nodded slowly.

"I see. That means that The Ringer is either in England or is making for
this country."

"You have not told anybody?" the Commissioner asked. "I'd forgotten to
warn you about that. Meister was at Lenley Court, you say? You didn't
tell him?"

"No, sir," said Alan, his lips twitching. "I thought, coming up in the
train, that it was rather a pity I couldn't--I would like to have seen
the effect upon him!"

Alan could understand how the news of The Ringer's return would flutter
the Whitehall dovecotes, but he was unprepared for the extraordinarily
serious view which Colonel Walford took of the position.

"I'll tell you frankly, Wembury, that I would much rather be occupying a
place on the pension list than this chair at Scotland Yard when that news
is published."

Alan looked at him in astonishment; the Commissioner was in deadly
earnest.

"The Ringer is London's favourite bogy," Colonel Walford said, "and the
very suggestion that he has returned to England will be quite sufficient
to send all the newspaper hounds of Fleet Street on my track. Never
forget, Wembury, he is a killer, and he has neither fear nor appreciation
of danger. He has caused more bolts to be shot than any other criminal on
our list! The news that this man is at large and in London will arouse
such a breeze that even I would not weather it!"

"You think he'll be beyond me?" smiled Alan.

"No," said Walford surprisingly, "I have great hopes of you--and great
hopes of Dr. Lomond. By the way, have you met Dr. Lomond?"

Alan looked at him in surprise. "No, sir, who is he?"

Colonel Walford reached for a book that lay on his table, "He is one of
the few amateur detectives who have impressed me," he said. "Fourteen
years ago he wrote the only book on the subject of the criminal that is
worth studying. He has been in India and Tibet for years and I think the
Under--Secretary was fortunate to persuade him to fill the appointment."

"What appointment, sir?"

"Police surgeon of 'R' Division--in fact, your new division," said
Walford. "You are both making acquaintance with Deptford at the same
time."

Alan Wembury turned the closely--set pages of the book. "He is a pretty
big man to take a fiddling job like this," he said and Walford laughed.

"He has spent his life doing fiddling jobs--would you like to meet him?
He is with the Chief Constable at the moment."

He pressed a bell and gave instructions to the messenger who came.
"Lomond is rather a character--terribly Scottish, a little cynical and
more than a little pawky."

"Will he help us to catch The Ringer?" smiled Alan and he was astonished
to see the Commissioner nod.

"I have that feeling," he said.

The door opened at that moment and a tall bent figure shuffled in. Alan
put his age at something over fifty. His hair was grey, a little
moustache drooped over his mouth and the pair of twinkling blue eyes that
met Alan's were dancing with good--humour. His homespun suit was badly
cut, his high--crowned felt hat belonged to the seventies.

"I want you to meet Inspector Wembury who will be in charge of your
division," said Walford and Wembury's hand was crushed in a powerful
grip.

"Have ye any interesting specimens in Deptford, inspector? I'd like fine
to measure a few heids."

Alan's smile broadened.

"I'm as ignorant of Deptford as you--I haven't been there since before
the war," he said.

The doctor scratched his chin, his keen eyes fixed on the younger man,
"I'm thinkin' they'll no' be as interesting as the Lolos. Man, there's a
wonderful race, wi' braci--cephalic heads, an' a que--er development of
the right parietal..."

He spoke quickly, enthusiastically when he was on his favourite subject.

Alan seized an opportunity when the doctor was expounding a view on the
origin of some mysterious Tibetan tribe to steal quietly from the room.
He was not in the mood for anthropology.

An hour later as he was leaving Scotland Yard he met Walford as he was
coming out of his room and walked with him to the Embankment, "Yes--I
got rid of the doctor," chuckled the colonel, "he's too clever to be a
bore, but he made my head ache!" Then suddenly: "You're handing over that
pearl case to Burton--the Darnleigh pearls I mean. You have no further
clue?"

"No, sir," said Alan. He had almost forgotten that there was such a case
in his hands.

The Commissioner was frowning. "I was thinking, after you left, what a
queer coincidence it was that you were going to Lenley Court. Young
Lenley was apparently at Lady Darnleigh's house on the night of the
robbery," and then, seeing the look that came to his subordinate's face,
he went on quickly: "I'm not suggesting that he knew anything about it,
of course, but it was a coincidence. I wish we could clear up that little
mystery. Lady Darnleigh has too many friends in Whitehall for my liking
and I get a letter from the Home Secretary every other day asking for the
latest news."

Alan Wembury went on his way with an uneasy mind. He had known that
Johnny was at the house on the night of the robbery but he had never
associated "the Squire's son" with the mysterious disappearance of Lady
Darnleigh's pearls. There was no reason why he should, he told himself
stoutly. As he walked across Westminster Bridge he went over again and
again that all too brief interview he had had with Mary.

How beautiful she was! And how unapproachable! He tried to think of her
only, but against his will a dark shadow crept across the rosy splendour
of dreams: Johnny Lenley.

Why on earth should he, and yet--the Lenleys were ruined....Mary was
worried about the kind of company that Johnny was keeping. There was
something else she had said which belonged to the category of unpleasant
things. Oh, yes, Johnny had been "making money" Mary told him a little
proudly. How?

"Rot!" said Alan to himself as an ugly thought obtruded upon his mind.
"Rubbish!"

The idea was too absurd for a sane man to entertain. The next morning he
handed over all the documents in the case to Inspector Burton and walked
out of Scotland Yard with almost a feeling of relief. It was as though he
had shaken himself clear of the grisly shadow which was obscuring the
brightness of the day.

The week which followed was a very busy one for Alan Wembury. He had only
a slight acquaintance with Deptford and its notables. The grey--haired
Scots surgeon he saw for a minute or two, a shrewd old man with laughing
eyes and a fund of dry Scottish humour, but both men were too busy in
their new jobs to discuss The Ringer.

Mary did not write, as he had expected she would, and he was not aware
that she was in his district until one day, walking down the Lewisham
High Road, somebody waved to him from an open taxicab and turning, he saw
it was the girl. He asked one of his subordinates to find out where she
and Johnny were staying and with no difficulty located them at a modern
block of flats near Malpas Road, a building occupied by the superior
artisan class. What a tragic contrast to the spacious glories of Lenley
Court! Only his innate sense of delicacy prevented his calling upon her,
and for this abstention at least one person was glad.



CHAPTER 7


"I SAW your copper this morning," said Johnny flippantly. He had gone
back to lunch and was in a more amiable mood than Mary remembered having
seen him recently.

She looked at him open--eyed.

"My 'copper'?" she repeated.

"Wembury," translated Johnny. "We call these fellows 'busies' and I've
never seen a busier man," he chuckled. "I see you're going to ask what'
busy' means. It is a thieves' word for detective."

He saw a change come to her face.

"'We' call them?" she repeated. "You mean 'they' call them, Johnny."

He was amused as he sat down at the table.

"What a little purist you're becoming, Mary," he said. "We, or they, does
it matter? We're all thieves at heart, the merchant in his Rolls and the
workman on the tram, thieves every one of them!"

Very wisely she did not contest the extravagant generalisation.

"Where did you see Alan?"

"Why the devil do you call him by his Christian name?" snapped Johnny.
"The man is a policeman, you go on as though he were a social equal."

Mary smiled at this as she cut a round of bread into four parts and put
them on the bread plate.

"The man who lives on the other side of the landing is a plumber, and the
people above us live on the earnings of a railway guard. Six of them,
Johnny--four of them girls."

He twisted irritably in his chair. "That's begging the question. We're
only here as a temporary expedient. You don't suppose I'm going to be
content to live in this poky hole all my life? One of these days I'll buy
back Lenley Court."

"On what, Johnny?" she asked quietly.

"On the money I make," he said and went back to his bete noire. "Anyway,
Wembury isn't the sort of fellow I want you to know," he said. "I was
talking to Maurice about him this morning, and Maurice agrees that it is
an acquaintance we ought to drop."

"Really?" Mary's voice was cold. "And Maurice thinks so too--how funny!"

He glanced at her suspiciously.

"I don't see anything amusing about it," he grumbled. "Obviously, we
can't know--"

She was standing facing him on the other side of the table, her hands
resting on its polished surface.

"I have decided to go on knowing Alan Wembury," she said steadily. "I'm
sorry if Maurice doesn't approve, or if you think I'm being very common.
But I like Alan--"

"I used to like my valet, but I got rid of him," broke in Johnny
irritably.

She shook her head.

"Alan Wembury isn't your valet. You may think my taste is degraded, but
Alan is my idea of a gentleman," she said quietly, "and one cannot know
too many gentlemen."

He was about to say something sharp, but checked himself, and the matter
had dropped for the moment.

The next day Mary Lenley was to start her new life. The thought left her
a little breathless. When Maurice had first made the suggestion that she
should act as his secretary the idea had thrilled her, but as the time
approached she had grown more and more apprehensive. The project was one
filled with vague unpleasant possibilities and she could not understand
why this once pleasing prospect should now have such an effect upon her.

Johnny was not up when she was ready to depart in the morning, and only
came yawning out of his bedroom when she called him.

"So you're going to be one of the working classes," he said almost
jovially. "It will be rather amusing. I wouldn't let you go at all,
only--"

"Only?" she waited.

Johnny's willingness that she should accept employment in Maurice's
office had been a source of wonder to her, knowing his curious nature.

"I shall be about, keeping an eye on you," he said good--humouredly.

A few minutes later she was hurrying down crooked Tanners Hill toward a
neighbourhood the squalor of which appalled her. Flanders Lane has few
exact parallels in point of grime and ugliness, but Mr. Meister's house
was most unexpectedly different from all the rest.

It stood back from the street, surrounded by a high wall which was
pierced with one black door which gave access to a small courtyard,
behind which was the miniature Georgian mansion where the lawyer not only
lived but had his office.

An old woman led her up the worn stairs, opened a heavy ornamental door
and ushered her into an apartment which she was to know very well
indeed. A big panelled room with Adam decorations, it had been once the
drawing-room of a prosperous City merchant in those days when great
gentlemen lived in the houses where now the poor and the criminal herded
like rats.

There was an air of shabbiness about the place and yet it was cheerful
enough. The walls were hung about with pictures which she had no
difficulty in recognising as the work of great masters. But the article
of furniture which interested her most was a big grand piano which stood
in an alcove. She looked in wonder at this and then turned to the old
woman.

"Does Mr. Meister play this?"

"Him?" said the old lady with a cackle of laughter. "I should say he
does!"

From this chamber led a little doorless ante--room which evidently was
used as an office, for there were deed boxes piled up against one wall
and a small desk on which stood a covered typewriter.

She had hardly taken her survey when the door opened and Maurice Meister
came quickly in, alert and smiling. He strode toward her and took both
her hands in his.

"My dear Mary," he said, "this is delightful!"

His enthusiasm amused her.

"This isn't a social call, Maurice," she said. "I have come to work!"

She drew her hands free of his. Had they always been on these
affectionate terms, she wondered. She was puzzled and uneasy. She tried
to reconstruct from her memory the exact relationship that Maurice
Meister had stood to the family. He had known her since she was a child.
It was stupid of her to resent this subtle tenderness of his.

"My dear Mary, there's work enough to do--title deeds, evidence," he
looked vaguely round as though seeking some stimulant to his imagination.

And all the time he looked he was wondering what on earth he could find
to keep her occupied.

"Can you type?" he asked.

He expected a negative and was amazed when she nodded.

"I had a typewriter when I was twelve," she smiled. "Daddy gave it to me
to amuse myself with."

Here was relief from a momentary embarrassment. Maurice had never
wished or expected that his offer to employ the girl should be taken
seriously--never until he had seen her at Lenley Court and realised that
the gawky child he had known had developed so wonderfully.

"I will give you an affidavit to copy," he said, searching feverishly
amongst the papers on his desk. It was a long time before he came upon a
document sufficiently innocuous for her to read. For Maurice Meister's
clientele was a peculiar one, and he, who through his life had made it a
practice not to let his right hand know what his left hand did, found a
difficulty in bringing himself to the task of handing over so much of his
dubious correspondence for her inspection. Not until he had read the
paper through word by word did he give it to her.

"Well, Mary, what do you think of it all?" he demanded, "and do, please,
sit down, my dear!"

"Think of it all? This place?" she asked, and then, "You live in a
dreadful neighbourhood, Maurice."

"I didn't make the neighbourhood. I found it as it is," he answered with
a laugh. "Are you going to be very happy here, Mary?"

She nodded. "I think so. It is so nice working for somebody one has known
for so long--and Johnny will be about. He told me I should see a lot of
him."

Only for a second did the heavy eyelids droop. "Oh," said Maurice
Meister, looking past her. "He said you'd see a lot of him, eh? In
business hours, by any chance?"

She did not detect the sarcasm in his tone.

"I don't know what are your business hours, but it is rather nice, isn't
it, having Johnny?" she asked. "It really doesn't matter working for you
because you're so kind, and you've known me such a long time, but it
would be rather horrid if a girl was working for somebody she didn't
know, and had no brother waiting on the doorstep to see her home."

He had not taken his eyes from her. She was more beautiful even than he
had thought. Hers was the type of dainty loveliness which so completely
appealed to him. Darker than Gwenda Milton, but finer. There was a soul
and a mind behind those eyes others; a latent passion as yet unmoved; a
dormant fire yet to be kindled. He felt her grow uncomfortable under the
intensity of his gaze, and quick to sense this, he was quicker to dispel
the mist of suspicion which might soon gather into a cloud.

"I had better show you the house," he said briskly, and led her through
the ancient building.

Before one door on the upper floor he hesitated and finally, with an
effort, slipped the key in the lock and threw open the door.

Looking past him, Mary saw a room such as she had not imagined would be
found in this rather shabby old house. In spite of the dust which covered
everything it was a beautiful apartment, furnished with a luxury that
amazed her. It seemed to be a bed and sitting--room, divided by heavy
velvet curtains which were now drawn. A thick carpet covered the floor,
the few pictures that the room contained had evidently been carefully
chosen. Old French furniture, silver light brackets on the walls, every
fuse and every fitting spoke of lavish expenditure.

"What a lovely room!" she exclaimed when she had I recovered her breath.

"Yes...lovely." He stared gloomily into the nest which had once known
Gwenda Milton, in the days before tragedy had come to her. "Better than
Malpas Mansions, Mary, eh?" The frown had vanished from his face; he was
his old smiling self. "A little cleaning, a little dusting, and there is
a room for a princess--in fact, my dear, I shall put it entirely at your
disposal."

"My disposal!" she stared at him. "How absurd, Maurice! I am living with
Johnny and I couldn't possibly stay here, ever."

He shrugged.

"Johnny? Yes. But you may be detained one night--or Johnny may be away.
I shouldn't like to think you were alone in that wretched flat."

He closed and locked the door and followed her down the stairs.

"However, that is a matter for you entirely," he said lightly. "There is
the room if you ever need it."

She made no answer to this, for her mind was busy with speculation. The
room had been lived in, she was sure of that. A woman had lived there--
it was no man's room. Mary felt a little uneasy. Of Maurice Meister and
his private life she knew nothing. She remembered vaguely that Johnny had
hinted of some affair that Meister had had, but she was not curious.

Gwenda Milton!

She remembered the name with a start. Gwenda Milton, the sister of a
criminal. She shivered as her mind strayed back to that gorgeous little
suite, peopled with the ghost of a dead love, and she had the illusion
that a white face, tense with agony, was peering at her as she sat at the
typewriter. She looked round with a shudder, but the room was empty and
from somewhere near at hand she heard the sound of a man humming a
popular tune.

Maurice Meister did not believe in ghosts.



CHAPTER 8


ON the afternoon of the day that Mary Lenley went to Meister's house the
Olympic was warped into dock at Southampton. The two Scotland Yard men
who had accompanied the ship from Cherbourg, and who had made a very
careful scrutiny of the passengers, were the first to land and took up
their station at the foot of the gangway. They had a long time to wait
whilst the passport examinations were taking place, but soon the
passengers began to straggle down to the quay.

Presently one of the detectives saw a face which he had not seen on the
ship. A man of middle height, rather slight, with a tiny pointed beard
and a black moustache appeared at the ship's side and came slowly down.

The two detectives exchanged glances and as the passenger reached the
quay one of them stepped to his side and said: "Excuse me, sir, I did not
see you on the ship." For a second the bearded man surveyed the other
coldly. "Are you making me responsible for your blindness?" he asked.

They were looking for a bank robber who had crossed from New York, and
they were taking no chances. "May I see your passport?"

The bearded passenger hesitated, then slipping his hand into his inside
pocket pulled out, not a passport but a leather note--case. From this he
extracted a card. The detective took it and read: CENTRAL INSPECTOR
BLISS. C.I.D. Scotland Yard. Attached Washington Embassy.

"I beg your pardon, sir."

The detective pushed the card back into the other's hand and his attitude
changed.

"I didn't recognise you, Mr. Bliss. You hadn't grown a beard when you
left the Yard."

"Who are you looking for?" he asked harshly.

The second detective gave a brief explanation.

"He's not on the ship, I can tell you that," said Bliss, and with a nod
turned away.

He did not carry his bag into the Customs, but depositing it at his feet,
he stood with his back to the wall of the Custom House and watched the
passengers disembark. Presently he saw the girl for whom he had been
looking.

Slim, svelte, immensely capable, entirely and utterly fearless--this was
the first impression Inspector Bliss had received. He never had reason to
revise his verdict. Her olive skin was faultless, the dark eyes under
delicately pencilled eyebrows were insolent, knowledgeable. Here was a
girl not to be tampered with, not to be fooled; an exquisite product of
modernity. Expensively and a little over--dressed, perhaps. One white
hand glittered with diamonds. Two large stones flashed on the lobes of
her pink ears. As she brushed past him there came to the sensitive
nostrils of Mr. Bliss the elusive fragrance of a perfume that was strange
to him.

She had come on board at Cherbourg, and it was, he thought, a remarkable
coincidence that they should have travelled to England on the same boat,
and that she had not recognised him. Following her into the Custom House,
he watched her thread her way through piles of luggage under the
indicator M. His own customs examination was quickly finished. He handed
his bag to a porter and told him to find a seat in the waiting train, and
then he strolled toward where the girl, now hidden in the little crowd of
passengers, was pointing out her baggage to the customs officer.

As though she were aware of his scrutiny she looked over her shoulder
twice, and on the second occasion their eyes met, and he saw a look of
wonder--or was it apprehension?--come into her face.

When her head was turned again, he approached nearer, so near that
looking round, she almost stared into his face, and gasped.

"Mrs. Milton, I believe?" said Bliss.

Again that look. It was fear, beyond doubt.

"Sure! That's my name," she drawled. She had the soft cultured accent of
one who had been raised in the Southern States. "But you certainly have
the advantage of me."

"My name is Bliss. Central Inspector Bliss of Scotland Yard," he said.

Apparently the name had no significance, but as he revealed his calling,
he saw the colour leave her cheeks, to flow back again instantly.

"Isn't that interesting?" she said, "and what can I do for--Central
Inspector Bliss of Scotland Yard?"

Every word was like a pistol shot. There was no doubt about her
antagonism.

"I should like to see your passport."

Without a word she took it from a little hand--bag and handed it to him.
He turned the leaves deftly and examined the embarkation stamps.

"You've been in England quite recently?"

"Sure! I have," she said with a smile. "I was here last week. I had to go
to Paris for something. From there I made the trip from Cherbourg--I was
just homesick to hear Americans talking."

She was looking hard at him, puzzled rather than frightened.

"Bliss?" she said thoughtfully, "I can't place you. Yet, I've got an idea
I've met you somewhere."

He was still examining the embarkation marks.

"Sydney, Genoa, Domodossola--you're a bit of a traveller, Mrs. Milton,
but you don't move quite so fast as your husband."

A slow smile dawned on the beautiful face.

"I'm too busy to tell you the story of my life, or give you a
travelogue," she said, "but maybe you want to see me about something more
important?"

Bliss shook his head. In his sour way he was rather amused.

"No," he said, "I have no business with you, but I hope one day to meet
your husband."

Her eyes narrowed.

"Do you reckon on getting to heaven too?" she asked sardonically. "I
thought you knew Arthur was dead?"

His white teeth appeared under his bearded lips for a second.

"Heaven is not the place I should go to meet him," he said.

He handed back her passport and turning on his heel walked away.

She followed him with her eyes until he was out of sight, and then with a
quick little sigh turned to speak to the customs officer. Bliss! The
ports were being watched.

Had The Ringer reached England? She went cold at the thought. For Cora
Ann Milton loved this desperate man who killed for the love of the
killing, and who was now an Ishmael and a wanderer on the face of the
earth with the hands of all men against him and a hundred police packs
hot on his trail.

As she walked along the platform she examined each carriage with a
careless eye. After a while she found the man she sought. Bliss sat in
the corner of the carriage, apparently immersed in a morning newspaper.

"Bliss!" she said to herself. "Bliss!"

Where had she seen his face before? Why did the sight of this
dour-looking man fill her soul with terror? Cora Ann Milton's journey to
London was a troubled one.



CHAPTER 9


WHEN Johnny Lenley called at Meister's house that afternoon, the sight of
his sister hard at work with her typewriter was something of a shock to
him. It was as if he recognised for the first time the state of poverty
into which the Lenleys had fallen.

She was alone in the room when he came and smiled up at him from a mass
of correspondence.

"Where's Maurice?" he asked, and she indicated the little room where
Meister had his more important and confidential interviews which the
peculiar nature of his clientele demanded.

"That's a rotten job, isn't it?"

He hoped she would say "no" and was relieved when she laughed at the
question.

"It is really very interesting," she said, "and please don't scowl,
Johnny, this is less boring than anything I have done for years!"

He looked at her for a moment in silence; he hated to see her thus--a
servant. Setting his teeth he crossed the room and knocked at the door of
Meister's private bureau.

"Who is there?" asked a voice.

Johnny tried to turn the handle but the door was locked. Then he heard
the sound of a safe closing, the bolt slipped back and the lawyer
appeared.

"What is the secret?" grumbled Johnny as he entered the private
apartment.

Meister closed the door behind him and motioned him to a chair.

"I have been examining some rather interesting pearls," he said
meaningly, "and naturally one does not invite the attention of all the
world to stolen property."

"Have you had an offer for them?" asked Johnny eagerly.

Maurice said he had. "I want to get them off to Antwerp tonight," he
said.

He unlocked the little safe in the corner of the room, took out a flat
cardboard box, and removing the lid he displayed a magnificent row of
pearls embedded in cotton wool.

"There are at least twenty thousand pounds worth," said Johnny, his eyes
brightening.

"There is at least five years' penal servitude," said Maurice brutally,
"and I tell you frankly, Johnny, I'm rather scared."

"Of what?" sneered the other. "Nobody is going to imagine that Mr.
Meister, the eminent lawyer, is 'fencing' Lady Darnleigh's pearls."
Johnny chuckled as the thought occurred to him. "By gad! You'd cut a
queer figure in the dock at the Old Bailey, Maurice, Can't you imagine
the evening newspapers running riot over the sensational arrest and
conviction of Mr. Maurice Meister, late of Lincoln's Inn Fields, and now
of Flanders Lane, Deptford."

Not a muscle of Maurice's face moved, only the dark eyes glowed with a
sudden baleful power.

"Very amusing," he said evenly. "I never credited you before with an
imagination." He carried the pearls to the light and examined them,
before he replaced the cardboard lid.

"You have seen Mary?" he asked in a conversational tone.

Johnny nodded.

"It is beastly to see her working, but I suppose it is all right.
Maurice--"

The lawyer turned his head.

"Well?"

"I've been thinking things over. You had a girl in your service named
Gwenda Milton?"

"Well?" said Maurice again.

"She drowned herself, didn't she? Have you any idea why?"

Maurice Meister was facing him squarely now. Not so much as a flicker of
an eyelid betrayed the rising fury within him.

"The jury said--" he began.

"I know what the jury said," interrupted Johnny roughly, "but I have my
own theory."

He walked slowly to the lawyer and touched him lightly on the shoulder as
he emphasised every word.

"Mary Lenley is not Gwenda Milton," he said. "She is not the sister of a
fugitive murderer, and I am expecting a little better treatment for her
than Gwenda Milton received at your hands."

"I don't understand you," said Meister. His voice was very low and
distinct.

"I think you do." Johnny nodded slowly. "I want you to understand that
there will be very serious trouble if Mary is hurt! They say that you
live in everlasting fear of The Ringer--you would have greater cause to
fear me if any harm came to Mary!"

Only for a second did Maurice drop his eyes.

"You're a little hysterical, Johnny," he said, "and you're certainly not
in your politest mood this morning. I think I called you crude a week
ago, and I have no reason to revise that description. Who is going to
harm Mary? As for The Ringer and his sister, they are dead!"

He picked up the pearls from the table, again removed the lid and
apparently his eyes were absorbed in the contemplation of the pearls
again.

"As a jewel thief--"

He got so far when there came a gentle tap at the door.

"Who's there?" he asked quickly.

"Divisional Inspector Wembury!"



CHAPTER 10


MAURICE MEISTER had time hastily to cover the pearls, toss them back into
the safe and lock it before he opened the door. In spite of his iron
nerve, the sallow face of the lawyer was drawn and white, and even his
companion showed signs of mental strain as Alan appeared. It was Johnny
who made the quicker recovery.

"Hallo, Wembury!" he said with a forced laugh. "I don't seem to be able
to get away from you!"

There was evidence of panic, of deadly fear, something of breathless
terror in the attitude of these men. What secret did they hold in common?
Alan was staggered by an attitude which shouted "guilt" with a tongue of
brass.

"I heard Lenley was here," he said, "and as I wanted to see him--"

"You wanted to see me?" said Johnny, his face twitching. "Why on earth
should you want to see me?"

Wembury was well aware that Meister was watching him intently. No
movement, no gesture, no expression was lost on the shrewd lawyer. What
were they afraid of? Alan wondered, and his heart sank when, looking past
them, he saw Mary at her typewriter, all unconscious of evil. "You know
Lady Darnleigh, don't you?" he asked.

John Lenley nodded dumbly.

"A few weeks ago she lost a valuable string of pearls," Alan went on,
"and I was put in charge of the case."

"You?" Maurice Meister's exclamation was involuntary.

Alan nodded. "I thought you knew that. My name appeared in the newspapers
in connection with the investigations. I have handed the case over to
Inspector Burton, and he wrote me this morning asking me if I would clear
up one little matter that puzzled him."

Mary had left her typewriter and had joined the little group. "One little
matter that was puzzling him?" repeated John Lenley mechanically. "And
what was that?"

Wembury hesitated to put the question in the presence of the girl. "He
wanted to know what induced you to go up to Lady Darnleigh's room."

"And I have already given what I think is the natural explanation,"
snapped Johnny.

"That you were under the impression you had left your hat and coat on the
first floor? His information is that one of the footmen told you, as you
were going upstairs, that the coats and hats were on the ground floor."

John Lenley avoided his eyes. "I don't remember," he said. "I was rather
rattled that night. I came downstairs immediately I recognised my
mistake. Is it suggested that I know anything about the robbery?" His
voice shook a little.

"Of course no such suggestion is put forward," said Wembury with a smile,
"but we have to get information wherever we can."

"I knew nothing of the robbery until I read about it in the newspapers
and--"

"Oh, Johnny," Mary gasped the words, "you told me when you came home
there had been a--"

Her brother stared her into silence. "It was two days after, you
remember, my dear," he said slowly and deliberately. "I brought the
newspaper in to you and told you there had been a robbery. I could not
have spoken to you that night because I did not see you."

For a moment Alan wondered what the girl was going to say, but with a
tremendous effort of will she controlled herself. Her face was
colourless, and there was such pain in her eyes that he dared not look at
her.

"Of course, Johnny, I remember...I remember," she said dully. "How
stupid of me!"

A painful silence followed.

Alan was looking down at the worn carpet; his hand was thrust into his
jacket pocket. "All right," he said at last. "That, I think, will satisfy
Burton. I am sorry to have bothered you." He did not look at the girl:
his stern eyes were fixed upon Johnny Lenley. "Why don't you take a trip
abroad, Lenley?" He spoke with difficulty. "You are not looking quite as
well as you might."

Johnny shifted uneasily under his gaze. "England is good enough for me,"
he said sulkily. "What are you, Wembury, the family doctor?"

Alan paused. "Yes," he said at last, "I think that describes me," and
with a curt nod he was gone.

Mary had gone back to her typewriter but not to work. With a gesture
Maurice led the young man back to his room and closed the door quietly.

"I suppose you understand what Wembury meant?" he said.

"Not being a thought reader, I didn't," replied Johnny. He was hovering
between rage and amusement. "He has got a cheek, that fellow! When you
think that he was a gardener's boy..."

"I should forget all that," said Mr. Meister savagely. "Remember only
that you have given yourself away, and that the chances are from today
onward you will be under police observation--which doesn't very much
matter, Johnny, but I shall be under observation, too, and that is very
unpleasant. The only doubt I have is as to whether Wembury is going to do
his duty and communicate with Scotland Yard. If he does you will be in
serious trouble."

"So will you," replied Johnny gruffly. "We stand or fall together over
this matter, Maurice. If they find the pearls where will they be? In your
safe! Has that occurred to you?"

Maurice Meister was unruffled, could even smile.

"I think we are exaggerating the danger to you," he said lightly.
"Perhaps you are right and the real danger is to me. They certainly have
a down on me, and they'd go far to bring me to my knees." He looked
across at the safe. "I wish those beastly things were a thousand miles
away. I shouldn't be surprised if Mr. Wembury returned armed with a
search warrant, and if that happened the fat would be in the fire!"

"Why not post them to Antwerp?" asked the other.

Meister smiled contemptuously.

"If I am being watched, as is very likely," he said, "you don't suppose
for one moment that they would fail to keep an eye on the post office?
No, the only thing to do with those wretched pearls is to plant them
somewhere for a day or two."

Johnny was biting his nails, a worried look on his face.

"I'll take them back to the flat," he said suddenly. "There are a dozen
places I could hide them."

If he had been looking at Maurice he would have seen a satisfied gleam in
his eyes.

"That is not a bad idea," said the lawyer slowly. "Wembury would never
dream of searching your flat--he likes Mary too much."

He did not wait for his companion to make up his mind, but, unlocking the
safe, took out a box and handed it to the other. The young man looked at
the package dubiously and then slipped it into his inside pocket.

"I'll put it into the box under my bed," he said, "and let you have it
back at the end of the week."

He did not stop to speak to Mary as he made his way quickly through the
outer room. There was a sense of satisfaction in the very proximity of
those pearls, for which he had risked so much, that gave him a sense of
possession, removed some of the irritable suspicion which had grown up in
his mind since Meister had the handling of them.

As he passed through crowded Flanders Lane a man turned out of a narrow
alley and followed him. As Johnny Lenley walked up Tanners Hill, the man
was strolling behind him, and the policeman on point duty hardly noticed
him as he passed, never dreaming that within reach of his gloved hand was
the man for whom the police of three continents were searching--Henry
Arthur Milton, otherwise known as The Ringer.



CHAPTER 11


LONG after Lenley had taken his departure Maurice Meister strode up and
down his tiny sanctum, his hands clasped behind him.

A thought was taking shape in his mind--two thoughts indeed, which
converged, intermingled, separated and came together again--Johnny
Lenley and his sister.

There had been no mistaking the manner in Lenley's voice. Meister had
been threatened before and now, so far from moving him from his
half-formed purpose, it needed only the youthful and unbalanced violence of
Johnny Lenley to stimulate him in the other direction. He had seen too
much of Johnny lately. Once there was a time when the young man was
amusing--then he had been useful. Now he was becoming not only a bore
but a meddlesome bore. He opened the door gently and peeped through the
crack. Mary was sitting at her typewriter intent upon her work.

The morning sun flooded the little room, and made a nimbus about her
hair. Once she turned her face in his direction without realising that
she was being watched. It was difficult to find a fault in the perfect
contour of her face and the transparent loveliness of her skin. Maurice
fondled his chin thoughtfully. A new interest had come into his life, a
new chase had begun. And then his mind came uneasily back to Johnny.

There was a safe and effective way of getting rid of Johnny, with his
pomposity, his threats and his stupid confidence.

That last quality was the gravest danger to Maurice. And when Johnny was
out of the way many difficulties would be smoothed over. Mary could not
be any more adamantine than Gwenda had been in the earliest stages of
their friendship.

Inspector Wembury!

Maurice frowned at the thought. Here was a troublemaker on a different
plane from Lenley. A man of the world, shrewd, knowledgeable, not lightly
to be antagonised. Maurice shrugged his shoulders. It was absurd to
consider the policeman, he thought. After all, Mary was not so much his
friend as his patroness. She was wholly absorbed in her work when he
crossed the room and went softly up the stairs to the little suite above.

As he opened the door he shivered. The memory of Gwenda Milton and that
foggy coroner's court was an ugly one. A little decoration was needed to
make this room again as beautiful as it had been. The place must be
cleaned out, decorated and made not only habitable but attractive. Would
it attract Mary--supposing Johnny were out of the way? That was to be
discovered. His first task was to settle with John Lenley and send him to
a place where his power for mischief was curtailed. Maurice was a wise
man. He did not approach or speak to the girl after the interview with
her brother, but allowed some time to elapse before he came to where she
was working.

The little lunch which had been served to her was uneaten.

She stood by the window, staring down into Flanders Lane, and at the
sound of his voice she started.

"What is the matter, my dear?" Maurice could be very fatherly and tender.
It was his favourite approach.

She shook her head wearily. "I don't know, Maurice. I'm worried--about
Johnny and the pearls."

"The pearls?" he repeated, in affected surprise. "Do you mean Lady
Darnleigh's pearls?"

She nodded. "Why did Johnny lie?" she asked. "It was the first thing he
told me when he came home, that there had been a robbery in Park Lane and
that Lady Darnleigh had lost her jewels."

"Johnny was not quite normal," he said soothingly. "I shouldn't take too
much notice of what he said. His memory seems to have gone to pieces
lately."

"It isn't that." She was not convinced. "He knew that he had told me,
Maurice: there was no question of his having forgotten." She looked up
anxiously into his face. "You don't think--" She did not complete the
sentence.

"That Johnny knew anything about the robbery? Rubbish, my dear! The boy
is a little worried--and naturally! It isn't a pleasant sensation to
find yourself thrown on to the world penniless as Johnny has. He has
neither your character nor your courage, my dear."

She sighed heavily and went back to her desk, where there was a neat
little pile of correspondence which she had put aside. She turned the
pages listlessly and suddenly withdrew a sheet.

"Maurice, who is The Ringer?" she asked.

He glared back at the word.

"The Ringer?"

"It's a cablegram. You hadn't opened it. I found it amongst a lot of your
old correspondence."

He snatched the paper from her. The message was dated three months
before, and was from Sydney. By the signature he saw it was from a lawyer
who acted as his agent in Australia, and the message was brief: "Man
taken from Sydney Harbour identified, not Ringer, who is believed to have
left Australia."

Mary was staring at the lawyer. His face had gone suddenly haggard and
drawn; what vestige of colour there had been in his cheeks had
disappeared.

"The Ringer!" he muttered..."Alive!"

The hand that held the paper was shaking, and, as though he realised that
some reason for his agitation must be found, he went on with a laugh: "An
old client of mine, a fellow I was rather keen on--but a scoundrel, and
more than a scoundrel."

As he spoke he tore the form into little pieces and dropped the litter
into the wastepaper basket. Then unexpectedly he put his arm about her
shoulder.

"Mary, I would not worry too much about Johnny if I were you. He is at a
difficult age and in a difficult mood. I am not pleased with him just
now."

She stared at him wonderingly.

"Not pleased with him, Maurice? Why not?"

Maurice shrugged his shoulders.

"He has got himself mixed up with a lot of unpleasant people--men I
would not have in this office, and certainly would not allow to associate
with you."

His arm was still about her shoulder, and she moved slightly to release
herself from this parental embrace. She was not frightened, only a little
uncomfortable and uneasy, but he allowed his arm to drop as though his
gesture had been born in a momentary mood of protection, and apparently
did not notice the movement by which she had freed herself.

"Can't you do something for him? He would listen to you," she pleaded.

But he was not thinking of Johnny. All his thoughts and eyes were for the
girl. She was holding his arms now, looking up into his face, and he felt
his pulses beating a little faster. Suppose Johnny took the detective's
advice and went off to the Continent with the pearls--and Mary! He would
find no difficulty in disposing of the necklace and would secure a sum
sufficient to keep him for years. This was the thought that ran through
Meister's mind as he patted the girl's cheek softly.

"I will see what can be done about Johnny," he said. "Don't worry your
pretty head any more."

In his private office Meister had a small portable typewriter. Throughout
the afternoon she heard the click--click of it as he laboriously wrote
his message of betrayal.

That evening, when Inspector Wembury came back to Flanders Lane Police
Station, he found a letter awaiting him. It was typewritten and unsigned
and had been delivered by a district messenger from a West Central
office. The message ran:

'The Countess of Darnleigh's pearl necklace was stolen by John Lenley of
37, Malpas Mansions. It is at present in a cardboard carton in a box
under his bed.'

Alan Wembury read the message and his heart sank within, him, for only
one course was open to him, the course of duty.



CHAPTER 12


WEMBURY knew that he would be well within his rights if he ignored this
typewritten message, for anonymous letters are a daily feature of police
life. Yet he realised that it was the practice that, if the information
which came thus surreptitiously to a police station coincided with news
already in the possession of the police, or if it supported a definite
suspicion, inquiries must be set afoot.

He went to his little room to work out the problem alone. It would be a
simple matter to hand over the inquiry to another police officer, or even
to refer it to...But that would be an act of moral cowardice.

There was a small sliding window in the door of his office which gave him
a view of the charge room, and as he pondered his problem a bent figure
came into his line of vision and, acting on an impulse, he jumped up from
the table, and, opening the door beckoned Dr. Lomond. Why he should make
a confidant of this old man who was ignorant of police routine he could
not for the life of him explain. But between the two men in the very
short period of their acquaintance there had grown a queer understanding.

Lomond looked round the little room from under his shaggy brows.

"I have a feeling that you're in trouble, Mr. Wembury," he said, his eyes
twinkling.

"If that's a guess, it's a good one," said Alan.

He closed the door behind the police surgeon and pushed forward a chair
for him. In a few words he revealed the problem which was exercising his
mind, and Lomond listened attentively.

"It's verra awkward." He shook his head. "Man, that's almost like a
drama! It seems to me there's only one thing for you to do, Mr. Wembury--
you'll have to treat John Lenley as though he were John Smith or Thomas
Brown. Forget he's the brother of Miss Lenley, and I think," he said
shrewdly, "that is what is worrying you most--and deal with this case as
though it were somebody you had never heard of."

Alan nodded slowly.

"That, I'm afraid, is the counsel I should give myself, if I were
entirely unprejudiced in the matter."

The old man took a silver tobacco box from his pocket and began slowly to
roll a cigarette.

"John Lenley, eh?" he mused. "A friend of Meister's!"

Alan stared at him. The doctor laid significant emphasis on the lawyer's
name.

"Do you know him?"

Lomond shook his head.

"Through my career," he said, "I have followed one practice when I come
to a strange land--I acquire the local legends. Meister is a legend. To
me he is the most interesting man in Deptford, and I'm looking forward to
meeting him."

"But why should Johnny Lenley's friendship with Meister--" began Alan,
and stopped. He knew full well the sinister importance of that
friendship.

Maurice Meister was something more than a legend: he was a sinister fact.
His acquaintance with the criminal law was complete. The loopholes which
exist in the best drawn statutes were so familiar to him that not once,
but half a dozen times, he had cleared his clients of serious charges.
There were suspicious people who wondered how the poor thieves who
employed him raised the money to pay his fees. There were ill--natured
persons who suggested that Meister paid himself out of the proceeds of
the robbery and utilised the opportunities he had as a lawyer to obtain
from his clients the exact location of the property they had stolen. Many
a jewel thief on the run had paused in his flight to visit the house in
Flanders Lane, and had gone on his way, leaving in the lawyer's hands the
evidence which would have incriminated him. He acted as a sort of banker
to the larger fry, and exacted his tribute from the smaller.

"Let me see your anonymous letter," said the doctor.

He carried the paper to the light and examined the typewritten characters
carefully.

"Written by an amateur," he said. "You can always tell amateur typists,
they forget to put the spaces between the words; but, more important,
they vary the spaces between the lines."

He pursed his lips as though he were about to whistle.

"Hum!" he said at last. "Do you rule out the possibility that this letter
was written by Meister himself?"

"By Meister?" That idea had not occurred to Alan Wembury. "But why? He's
a good friend of Johnny's. Suppose he were in this robbery, do you
imagine he would trust John Lenley with the pearls and draw attention to
the fact that a friend of his was a thief?"

The doctor was still frowning down at the paper.

"Is there any reason why Meister should want John Lenley out of the way?"
he asked.

Alan shook his head.

"I can't imagine any," he said, and then, with a laugh: "You're taking
rather a melodramatic view, doctor. Probably this note was written by
some enemy of Lenley's--he makes enemies quicker than any man I know."

"Meister," murmured the doctor, and held the paper up to the light to
examine the watermark. "Maybe one day you'll have an opportunity,
inspector, of getting a little of Mr. Meister's typewriting paper and a
specimen of lettering."

"But why on earth should he want Johnny Lenley out of the way?" insisted
Alan. "There's no reason why he should. He's an old friend of the family,
and although it's possible that Johnny has insulted him, that's one of
Johnny's unpleasant little habits. That's no excuse for a civilised man
wanting to send another to penal servitude--"

"He wishes Mr. John Lenley out of the way"--Lomond nodded emphatically.
"That is my eccentric view. Inspector Wembury, and if I am an eccentric,
I am also a fairly accurate man!"

After the doctor left, Alan puzzled the matter over without getting
nearer to the solution. Yet he had already discovered that Dr. Lomond's
conclusions were not lightly to be dismissed. The old man was as shrewd
as he was brilliant. Alan had read a portion of his book, and although
twenty years old, this treatise on the criminal might have been written a
few weeks before.

He was in a state of indecision when the telephone bell in his room
shrilled. He took up the instrument and heard the voice of Colonel
Walford.

"Is that you, Wembury? Do you think you can come up to the Yard? I have
further information about the gentleman we discussed last week."

For the moment Alan had forgotten the existence of The Ringer. He saw now
only an opportunity of taking counsel with a man who had not only proved
a sympathetic superior, but a very real friend.

Half an hour later he knocked at the door of Colonel Walford's room, and
that moment was one of tragic significance for Mary Lenley.



CHAPTER 13


JOHN LENLEY, after a brief visit to his house, where, behind a locked
door, he packed away carefully a small cardboard box, had gone to town to
see a friend of the family.

Mary came home to an empty flat. Her head was aching, but that was as
nothing to the little nagging pain at her heart. The little supper was a
weariness to prepare--almost impossible to dispose of.

She had eaten nothing since breakfast, she remembered, and if she had
failed to recall the fact, the queer and sickly sensation of faintness
which had come over her as she was mounting the stone steps of Malpas
Mansions was an unpleasant reminder of her abstinence.

She forced herself to eat, and was brewing her second cup of tea when she
heard a key turn in the lock and John Lenley came in. His face was as
black as thunder, but she had ceased to wonder what drove Johnny into
those all too frequent tempers of his. Nor was there need to ask, for he
volunteered the cause of his anger.

"I went out to the Hamptons' to tea," he said, as he sat down at the
table with a disparaging glance at its meagre contents. "They treated me
as though I were a leper--and those swine have been entertained at
Lenley Court times without number!"

She was shocked at the news, for she had always regarded the Hamptons as
the greatest friends of her father.

"But surely, Johnny, they didn't--they weren't horrible because of our--
I mean because we have no money?"

He growled something at this.

"That was at the back of it," he said at last. "But I suspect another
cause."

And then the reason flashed on her, and her heart thumped painfully.

"It was not because of the Darnleigh pearls, Johnny?" she faltered.

He looked round at her quickly.

"Why do you ask that?--Yes, it was something about that old fool's
jewellery. They didn't say so directly, but they hinted as much."

She felt her lower lip trembling and bit on it to gain control.

"There is nothing in that suggestion, is there, Johnny?" It did not sound
like her voice--it was a sound that was coming from far away--a strange
voice suggesting stranger things.

"I don't know what you mean!" he answered gruffly, but he did not look at
her.

The room spun round before her eyes, and she had to grasp the table for
support.

"My God! You don't think I am a thief, do you?" she heard him say.

Mary Lenley steadied herself.

"Look at me, Johnny!" Their eyes met. "You know nothing about those
pearls?"

Again his eyes wandered. "I only know they're lost! What in hell do you
expect me to say?" He almost shouted in a sudden excess of weak anger.
"How dare you, Mary...cross--examine me as though I were a thief! This
comes from knowing cads like Wembury...!"

"Did you steal Lady Darnleigh's pearls?"

The tablecloth was no whiter than her face. Her lips were bloodless. He
made one effort to meet her eyes again, and failed.

"I--" he began.

Then came a knock at the door. Brother and sister looked at one another.

"Who is that?" asked Johnny huskily.

She shook her head.

"I don't know; I will see."

Her limbs were like lead as she dragged them to the door; she thought she
was going to faint. Alan Wembury stood in the doorway, and there was on
his face a look which she had never seen before.

"Do you want me, Alan?" she asked breathlessly.

"I want to see Johnny."

His voice was as low as hers and scarcely intelligible. She opened the
door wider and he walked past her into the dining--room. Johnny was
standing where she had left him, by the little round table covered with
the remains of the supper, and the clang of the door as Mary closed it
came to his ears like the knell of doom.

"What do you want, Wembury?" John Lenley spoke with difficulty. His heart
was beating so thunderously that he felt this man must hear the roar and
thud of it.

"I've just come from Scotland Yard." Alan's voice was changed and
unnatural. "I've seen Colonel Walford, and told him of a communication I
received this afternoon. I have explained the"--he sought for words--
"the relationship I have with your family and the regard in which I hold
it, and just why I should hesitate to do my job."

"What is your job?" asked Lenley after a moment of silence.

"Immediately, I have no business."--Wembury chose his words deliberately
and carefully. "Tomorrow I shall come with a warrant to search this house
for the Darnleigh pearls."

He heard the smothered sob of the girl, but did not turn his head.

John Lenley stood rigid, his face as white as death. He was ignorant of
police procedure, or he would have realised how significant was Alan's
statement that he did not possess a search warrant. Wembury sensed this
ignorance, and made one last desperate effort to save the girl he loved
from the tragic consequences of her brother's folly.

"I have no search warrant and no right to examine your flat," he said.
"The warrant will be procured by tomorrow morning."

If John Lenley had a glimmering of intelligence, and the pearls were
hidden in the flat, here was a chance to dispose of them, but the
opportunity which Alan offered was not taken.

It was sheer mad arrogance on Lenley's part to reject the chance that was
given to him. He would not be under any obligation to the gardener's son!

"They are in a box under the bed," he said. "You knew that or you
wouldn't have come. I am not taking any favours from you, Wembury, and I
don't suppose I should get any if I did. If you feel any satisfaction in
arresting a man whose father provided the cottage in which you were born,
I suppose you are entitled to feel it."

He turned on his heel, walked into his room, and a few seconds later came
back with a small cardboard box which he laid on the table. Alan Wembury
was momentarily numbed by the tragedy which had overwhelmed this little
household. He dared not look at Mary, who stood stiffly by the side of
the table. Her pallid face was turned with an agonised expression of
entreaty to her brother, and it was only now that she could find speech.

"Johnny! How could you!"

He wriggled his shoulders impatiently.

"It is no use making a fuss, Mary," he said bluntly. "I was mad!"

Turning suddenly, he caught her in his arms, and his whole frame shook as
he kissed her pale lips.

"Well, I'll go," he said brokenly, and in another instant had wrenched
himself free of her kiss and her clinging hands, and had walked out of
the room a prisoner.



CHAPTER 14


NEITHER Alan Wembury nor his prisoner spoke until they were approaching
Flanders Lane Police Station, and then Johnny asked, without turning his
head.

"Who gave me away?"

It was only the rigid discipline of twelve years' police work that
prevented Alan from betraying the betrayer.

"Information received," he answered conventionally, and the young man
laughed.

"I suppose you've been watching me since the robbery," he said. "Well,
you'll get promotion out of this, Wembury, and I wish you joy of it."

When he faced the desk sergeant his mood became a little more amiable,
and he asked if Maurice Meister could be intimated. Just before he went
to the cell he asked, "What do I get for this, Wembury?"

Alan shook his head. He was certain in his mind that, though it was a
first offence, nothing could save Johnny Lenley from penal servitude.

It was eleven o'clock at night, and rain was falling heavily, when Alan
came walking quickly down the deserted stretch of Flanders Lane, towards
Meister's house. From the opposite side of the road he could see above
the wall the upper windows; one window showed a light. The lawyer was
still up, possibly was interviewing one of his queer clients, who had
come by a secret way into the house to display his ill--gotten wares or
to pour a tale of woe into Meister's unsympathetic ear. These old houses
near the river were honeycombed with cellar passages, and only a few
weeks before, there had been discovered in the course of demolition a
secret room which the owner, who had lived in the place for twenty years,
had never suspected.

As he crossed the road, Alan saw a figure emerge from the dark shadow of
the wall which surrounded the lawyer's house. There was something very
stealthy in the movements of the man, and all that was police officer in
Wembury's composition, was aroused by this furtiveness. He challenged him
sharply, and to his surprise, instead of turning and running, as the
Flanders Laner might be expected to do in the circumstances, the man
turned and came slowly towards him and stood revealed in the beam of
Inspector Wembury's pocket lamp, a slight man with a dark, bearded face.
He was a stranger to the detective, but that was not remarkable. Most of
the undesirables of Deptford were as yet unknown to Alan.

"Hallo! Who are you, and what are you doing here?" he asked, and
immediately came the cool answer:

"I might ask you the same question!"

"I am a police officer," said Alan Wembury sternly, and he heard a low
chuckle.

"Then we are brothers in misfortune," replied the stranger, "for I am a
police officer, too. Inspector Wembury, I presume?"

"That is my name," said Alan, and waited.

"I cannot bother to give you my card, but my name is Bliss--Central
Detective Inspector Bliss--of Scotland Yard."

Bliss? Alan remembered now that this unpopular police officer had been
due to arrive in England on that or on the previous day. One fact was
certain: if this were Bliss, he was Alan's superior officer.

"Are you looking for something?" he asked.

For a while Bliss made no reply.

"I don't know what I'm looking for exactly. Deptford is an old division
of mine, and I was just renewing acquaintance with the place. Are you
going to see Meister?"

How did he know it was Meister's house, Alan wondered. The lawyer had
only gone to live there since Bliss had left for America. And what was
his especial interest in the crook solicitor? As though he were reading
the other's thoughts, Bliss went on quickly: "Somebody told me that
Meister was living in Deptford. Rather a 'come down' for him. When I knew
him first, he had a wonderful practice in Lincoln's Inn."

And then with an abrupt nod he passed on the way he had been going when
Wembury had called him back. Alan stood by the door of Meister's house
and watched the stranger till he was out of sight, and only then did he
ring the bell. He had some time to wait, time for thought, though his
thoughts were not pleasant. He dared not think of Mary, alone in that
desolate little flat, with her breaking heart and her despair. Nor of the
boy he had known, sitting on his plank bed, his head between his hands,
ruin before him.

Presently he heard a patter of slippered feet coming across the
courtyard, and Meister's voice asked: "Who is that?"

"Wembury."

A rattle of chains and a shooting of bolts, and the door opened. Though
he wore his dressing--gown, Wembury saw, when they reached the dimly lit
passage, that Meister was fully dressed; even his spats had not been
removed.

"What is the trouble, Mr. Wembury?"

Alan did not know how many people slept in the house or what could be
overheard. Without invitation he walked up the stairs ahead of the lawyer
into the big room. The piano was open, sheets of music lay on the floor.
Evidently Meister had been spending a musical evening. The lawyer closed
the door behind him.

"Is it Johnny?" he asked.

Was it imagination on Alan's part, or was the lawyer's voice strained and
husky.

"Why should it be Johnny?" he demanded. "It is, as a matter of fact. I
arrested him an hour ago for the Darnleigh pearl robbery. He has asked me
to get into communication with you."

Maurice did not reply: he was looking down at the floor, apparently deep
in thought.

"How did you come to get the information on which he was arrested, or did
you know all the time that Johnny was in this?" he asked at last.

Alan was looking at him keenly, and under his scrutiny the lawyer
shuffled uneasily.

"I am not prepared to tell you that--if you do not know!" he said. "But
I have promised Lenley that I will carry his message to you, and that
ends my duty so far as he is concerned."

The lawyer's eyes were roving from one object in the room to another. Not
once did he look at Wembury.

"It is curious," he said, shaking his head sorrowfully, "but I had a
premonition that Johnny had been mixed up in this Darnleigh affair. What
a fool! Thank God his father is dead--"

"I don't think we need bother our heads with pious wishes," said Alan
bluntly. "The damnable fact is that Lenley is under arrest for a jewel
robbery."

"You have the pearls?"

Alan nodded.

"They were in a cardboard box--there was also a bracelet stolen, but
that is not in the box," he said slowly. "Also I have seen a sign of an
old label, and I think I shall be able to trace the original owner of the
box."

And then, to his astonishment, Meister said: "Perhaps I can help you. I
have an idea the box was mine. Johnny asked me for one a week ago. Of
course, I had no notion of why he wanted it, but I gave it to him. It may
be another box altogether, but I should imagine the carton is mine."

Momentarily Alan Wembury was staggered. He had had a faint hope that he
might be able to connect Meister with the robbery, the more so since he
had discovered more than he had told. The half--obliterated label had
obviously been addressed to Meister himself, yet the lawyer could not
have been aware of this fact. It was one of the slips that the cleverest
criminals make. But so quick and glib was he that he had virtually
destroyed all hope of proving his complicity in the robbery--unless
Johnny told. And Johnny was not the man who would betray a confederate.

"What do you think he will get?" asked Maurice.

"The sentence? You seem pretty certain that he is guilty."

Maurice shrugged. "What else can I think--obviously you would not have
arrested him without the strongest possible evidence. It is a tragedy!
Poor lad!"

And then all the dark places in this inexplicable betrayal were lit in
one blinding flash of understanding. Mary! Wembury had scoffed at the
idea that Meister wished to get her brother out of the way. He could see
no motive for such an act of treachery. But now all the hideous
possibilities presented themselves to him, and he glared down at the
lawyer. He knew Meister's reputation; knew the story of Gwenda Milton;
knew other even less savoury details of Meister's past life. Was Mary the
innocent cause of this wicked deed? Was it to gain domination over her
that Johnny was being sent into a living grave? This time Meister met his
eyes and did not flinch.



CHAPTER 15


"I DON'T think you need trouble about Miss Lenley." Alan's voice was
deadly cold. "Fortunately she lives in my division, and she trusts me
well enough to come to me if she's in any trouble."

He saw the slow smile dawn upon the lawyer's face.

"Do you think that is likely. Inspector Wembury?" Meister asked. His
voice had a quality of softness which was almost feline. "As I
understand, you had the unhappy task of arresting her brother: is she
likely to bring her troubles to you?"

Alan's heart sank. The thought of Mary's attitude towards him had
tortured him since the arrest. How could she continue to be friendly with
the man who was immediately responsible for the ruin and disgrace of her
brother?

"The Lenleys are an old family," Meister went on. "They have their
modicum of pride. I doubt if poor Mary will ever forgive you for
arresting her brother. It will be terribly unjust, of course, but women
are illogical. I will do what I can for Miss Lenley, just as I shall do
what I can for Johnny. And I think my opportunities are more obvious than
yours. Can I see Johnny to--night?"

Alan nodded.

"Yes, he asked me if you would see him at once, though I'm afraid you can
do very little for him. No bail will be granted, of course. This is a
felony charge."

Maurice Meister hurried to the door that led to his room, slipping off
his dressing--gown as he went.

"I will not keep you waiting very long," he said. Left alone in the big
room, Alan paced up and down the worn carpet, his hands behind him, his
chin on his breast. There was something subtly repulsive in this
atmosphere. The great piano, the faded panelling, the shabby richness of
the furnishing and decoration. The room seemed to be over--supplied with
doors: he counted four, in addition to the curtain which hid the alcove.
Where did all these lead to? And what stories could they tell, he
wondered.

Particularly interested was he in one door which was heavily bolted and
barred, and he was staring at this when, to his amazement, above the
frame glowed suddenly a long red light. A signal of some kind--from
whom? Even as he looked, the light died away and Meister came in,
struggling into his overcoat.

"What does that light mean, Mr. Meister?"

The lawyer spun round. "Light? Which light?" he asked quickly, and
following the direction of the detective's finger, he gasped. "A light?"
incredulously. "You mean that red lamp? How did you come to notice it?"

"It lit up a few minutes ago and went out again." It was not imagination
on his part: the lawyer's face had gone a sickly yellow.

"Are you sure?" And then, quickly: "It is a substitute for a bell--I
mean, if you press the bell on the outer door the lamp lights up; bells
annoy me."

He was lying, and he was frightened too. The red lamp had another
significance. What was it?

In those few seconds Meister had become ill at ease, nervous; the hand
that strayed constantly to his mouth trembled. Glancing at him out of the
corner of his eye, when he thought he was free from observation, Alan saw
him take a small golden box from his pocket, pinch something from its
contents and sniff at his thumb and finger. "Cocaine," guessed Wembury,
and knew that his theory was right when almost immediately the lawyer
became his old buoyant self.

"You must have imagined it--probably a reflection from the lamp on the
table," he said.

"But why shouldn't there be somebody at the front door?" asked Alan
coolly, and Meister made an effort to correct his error.

"Very probably there is," He hesitated. "I wonder if you would mind,
inspector--would it be asking you too much to go down to the front gate
and see? Here is the key!"

Alan took the key from the lawyer's hand, went downstairs across the
courtyard and opened the outer gate. There was nobody there. He
suspected, indeed he was sure, that the lawyer had asked him to perform
this service because he wished to be alone in the room for a few minutes,
possibly to investigate the cause of and reason for that signal.

As he went up the stairs he heard a sharp click as though a drawer had
closed, and when he came into the room he found Meister pulling on his
gloves with an air of nonchalance.

"Nobody?" he asked. "It must have been your imagination, inspector, or
one of these dreadful people of Flanders Lane playing a trick."

"The lamp hasn't lit since I left the room?" asked Alan, and when Meister
shook his head, "You are sure?"

"Absolutely," said the lawyer, and too late saw he was trapped.

"That is very curious." Wembury looked hard at him. "Because I pressed
the front door bell, and if the lamp was what you said it was, it should
have lit up again, shouldn't it?"

Meister murmured something about the connections being out of order, and
almost hustled him from the room.

Alan was not present at the interview at the police station. He left
Meister in the charge of the station sergeant, and went home to his
lodgings in Blackheath Road with a heavy heart. He could do nothing for
the girl; not so much as suggest a woman who would keep her company. He
could not guess that at that moment, when his heart ached for her, Mary
had a companion, and that companion a woman.



CHAPTER 16


LONG after Johnny Lenley had been taken away Mary Lenley sat numbed,
paralysed to inaction by the overwhelming misfortune which had come to
her. She sat at the table, her hands clasped before her, staring down at
the white cloth until her eyes ached. She wished she could weep, but no
tears had come. The only reminder she had of the drama that had been
played out under that roof was the empty feeling in her breast, it was as
though her heart had been taken from her.

Johnny a thief! It wasn't possible, she was dreaming. Presently she would
wake up from this horrible nightmare, hearing his voice calling her from
the lawn...But she was not at Lenley Court: she was in a block of
industrial flats, sitting on a cheap chair, and Johnny was in a prison
cell. The horror of it made her blood run cold. And Alan--what vicious
trick of fate had made him Johnny's captor? She had a vivid memory of
that scene which had preceded Johnny's arrest. Every word Alan had spoken
had been burnt into her brain. Too well she realised that Wembury had
risked everything to save her brother. He had given him a chance. Johnny
had only to keep silence and spend the night in getting rid of those
pearls, and he would have been with her now. But his fatal hauteur had
been his undoing. She had no bitterness in her soul against Alan Wembury,
only a great sorrow for him, and the memory of his drawn face hurt her
almost as much as Johnny's mad folly.

She heard the bell tinkle faintly. It rang three times before she
understood that somebody was at the front door. Alan perhaps, she
thought, and, getting up stiffly, went out into the hall and opened the
door. A woman stood there dressed in a long black mackintosh; a black hat
enhanced the fairness of her hair and skin. She was beautiful, Mary saw,
and apparently a lady.

"You've made some mistake--" she began.

"You're Mary Lenley, aren't you?" An American, noted Mary, and looked her
astonishment. "Can I see you?"

The girl stood aside, and Cora Ann Milton walked into the room and looked
round. There was a faint hint of disparagement in her glance, which Mary
was too miserable to resent.

"You're in trouble, aren't you?"

Uninvited, she sat down by the half--opened drawer of the table, took a
jewelled case from her bag and lit a cigarette.

"Yes, I'm in trouble--great trouble," said Mary, wondering how this
woman knew, and what had brought her here at such an hour.

"I guessed that. I hear Wembury pulled your brother for a jewel theft--
he caught him with the goods, I guess?"

Mary nodded slowly. "Yes, the pearls were in this house. I had no
knowledge that they were here."

She wondered in a dim way whether this American was Lady Darnleigh; so
many members of the aristocracy have been recruited from the United
States that it was possible.

"My name's Milton--Cora Ann Milton," said the woman, but the name meant
nothing to Mary Lenley. "Never heard of me, kid?"

Mary shook her head. She was weary in body and soul, impatient that this
intruder into her sorrow should leave her.

"Never heard of The Ringer?"

Mary looked up quickly.

"The Ringer? You mean the criminal who is wanted by the police?"

"Wanted by everybody, honey." Despite the flippancy of her tone, Cora
Ann's voice shook a little. "By me more than anybody else--I'm his
wife!"

Mary got up quickly from her chair. It was incredible! This beautiful
creature the wife of a man who walked everlastingly in the shadow of the
gallows!

"I'm his wife," nodded Cora Ann. "You don't think it's a thing to boast
about? That's where you're wrong." And then, abruptly: "You're working
for Meister, aren't you?"

"I am working for Mr. Meister," said Mary quietly; "but really, Mrs.--"

"Mrs. Milton," prompted Cora.

"Mrs. Milton, I don't quite understand the object of your visit at this
time of night."

Cora Ann Milton was regarding the room with shrewd, appraising eyes.

"It's not much of an apartment you've got, but it's better than that cute
little suite of Meister's."

She saw the colour--come into the girl's face and her eyes narrowed.

"He's shown it to you eh? Gosh, that fellow's a quick worker!"

"I don't understand what you mean." Mary was slow to anger, but now she
felt her resentment merging into anger. At the back of her mind was a
confused idea that, but for Johnny's misfortune, this woman would never
have dared to see her. It was as though his arrest had qualified her tor
admission to the confidence of the underworld.

"If you don't know what I mean, I won't say much more about it," said the
woman coolly. "Does Meister know I'm back?"

Mary shook her head. Mrs. Milton was sitting by the table, and was taking
a handkerchief from the little bag on her lap: she was very deliberate
and self--possessed. "I don't think he's very much interested in your
movements, Mrs. Milton," said Mary wearily. "Do you mind if I ask you not
to stay? I've had a great shock this evening and I'm not in a mood to
discuss Mr. Meister or your husband or anybody."

But Cora Ann Milton was not easily abashed. "I guess when all this
trouble is over you'll be working late at Meister's house," she said,
"and I'm wondering whether you'd like to have my address?"

"Why on earth--" began Mary.

"Why on earth!" mimicked the other. "I guess this is an age of freedom
when the only place you see a chaperon is a museum. But I should like you
to get in touch with me if...anything happens. There was another girl
once...but I guess you don't want any awful example. And, say, I'd be
much obliged to you if you'd not mention the fact to dear Maurice that
The Ringer's wife is in town."

Mary hardly listened to the latter part of the speech. She walked to the
door and opened it suggestively. "That means I've got to go," said Cora
Ann with a good--natured smile. "I'm not blaming you, kid. I guess I'd
feel that way myself if some dame came floating in on me with all that
guardian angel stuff."

"I don't require guardianship, thank you. I have a number of friends--"

She stopped. A number of friends! Not in all London, in all the country,
was there any to whom she could turn in her trouble, except to--Alan
Wembury. And Maurice?

Why did she hesitate at Maurice? In the last day or two a subtle change
had come over their relationship. He was no longer the natural refuge and
adviser to whom she would go in her distress.

Cora Ann was watching her from the doorway; keen, shrewd eyes seemed to
be reading her every thought. "That man Wembury's a decent fellow. I hope
you're not going to be sore at him for pinching your brother?"

Mary made a weary gesture: she had reached almost the end of her tether.

Long after the girl had gone, she sat by the table, trying to understand
just what this visit of Cora Ann Milton's meant. Had she followed the
woman down the stairs, she might have discovered.

Cora turned into the dark, deserted street, walked a few paces, and then,
as if by magic from some mysterious underground trap, a man appeared by
her side, so unexpectedly and silently that she started and took a step
away from him.

"Oh!...you scared me!" she breathed.

"Did you see the girl?"

"Yes, I saw her. Arthur"--her voice was broken and agitated--"why do
you stay here? Don't you realise, you fool, what danger..."

She heard his low chuckle.

"Cora Ann, you talk too much," he said lightly. "By the way, I saw you
this afternoon."

"You saw me?" she gasped. "Where were you?" Suddenly: "Arthur, how am I
to know you when I see you? I've got that spookish feeling that you're
round me all the time, and I'm for ever peering into people's faces as I
pass them--I'll be pinched for being too fresh one of these days!"

Again he chuckled.

"Surely my own loving wife would know me?" he said ironically. "The eyes
of love could penetrate any disguise."

He heard her teeth snap in anger. Arthur Milton had the trick of
infuriating this beautiful wife of his.

"I'll know what you look like now," she said.

Suddenly there was a click and a white beam of light flashed in his face.

"You're a fool!" he said roughly, as he knocked the lamp down. "When you
can see, others can see."

"I wish 'em joy!" she whispered. For she had looked into a face that was
covered from forehead to chin by a square of black silk, through which a
pair of wide--set eyes stared down at her.

"Did you get my letter?" he demanded.

"Yes--the code, you mean. I thought the newspapers did not publish code
messages?"

He did not answer and mechanically she felt in her bag. The envelope she
had put there was gone.

"What is it?" he asked quickly and when she told him: "Cora, you're a
goop! You must have dropped it in this girl Lenley's flat! Go and get
it!"

Cora Ann hurried up the stairs and knocked at the door. It was
immediately answered by Mary.

"Yes, I've come back," said the woman breathlessly. "I dropped a letter
here somewhere: I've only just missed it."

Mary turned back and together they searched the flat, turning up carpets
and shaking out curtains, but there was no sign of the letter.

"You must have lost it elsewhere." The woman was so agitated that she was
sorry for her. "Did it have any money--"

"Money? No," said Cora Ann impatiently. "I wish it had."

She looked round the room in bewilderment. "I know I had it before I came
in."

"Perhaps you left it at your own home?" suggested Mary, but Cora Ann
shook her head, and after another thorough search she began to doubt
whether she had brought it out with her.

Mary Lenley closed the door upon her finally with heartfelt thanksgiving,
walked listlessly back to the table and sat down. Her tea was cold and
bitter. She pulled open a little drawer in the table where the spoons
were kept, and looked down in amazement. The letter for which they had
sought lay on top of a miscellaneous collection of spoons and forks. It
was simply inscribed on the envelope "Cora Ann", and had no address.
Perhaps the address was inside, she thought, and after some hesitation
pulled out its contents, a square white card covered with groups of
letters and figures, written in an almost microscopic hand. It did not
need any very great acumen on her part to know that she was looking at a
code: if she had been more experienced in such matters, she would have
realised how ingenious a code it was.

She replaced the card, put it again in the drawer and waited for the
woman to return. What had happened was obvious: when she had taken her
handkerchief from the bag, the letter bad slipped into the drawer, which
had been slightly open, and in moving she must have closed the drawer,
which ran very easily, without noticing the fact.

That night, before she went to bed, Mary took the letter into her room
and locked it away in one of the drawers of her dressing--table where
she kept her few trinkets, and, having locked it away, forgot all about
it.



CHAPTER 17


IT was a month later that Mary Lenley sat in the marble hall of the
Central Criminal Court and waited with folded hands and a set, tragic
face for the jury's finding. She had gone into court and had heard the
preliminaries of the evidence, but the sight of that neat figure in the
dock was more than she could bear, and she had gone out to wait with
fatalistic resignation for the final curtain of the drama.

The door leading to the court opened and Alan Wembury came out and walked
over to her.

"Is it--ended?" she asked huskily.

Wembury shook his head. "Very soon now, I think," he said quietly.

He looked as if he had not slept, he was hollow--eyed, haggard, a man
distracted.

"I'm sorry, Alan." She put out her hand and gently touched his. The touch
of her hand almost brought the tears to his eyes.

"You don't know how I feel about this, Mary; and the horrible thing is
that I am getting the credit for the arrest--I had a letter from the
Commissioner yesterday congratulating me!"

She smiled faintly.

In every tragedy there is a touch of grotesque comedy, and it seemed to
be supplied in this case by the unsought honour that had come to this
reluctant police officer.

He sat by her side and tried to comfort her, and if his efforts were a
little awkward, a little gauche, she understood. And then Maurice came
into the hall, his old, immaculate self. His silk hat was more shiny than
ever, his spats were like the virgin snow. He might have come straight
from a wedding party but for his lugubrious countenance.

"The judge is summing up," he said. "I wish you'd go into court, Wembury,
so that you can bring news of what happens."

It was a crude request, which Alan diagnosed as a wish on the part of the
lawyer to be alone with Mary.

"There goes a very clever young man," said Meister, as he watched the
broad--shouldered figure of the detective disappear through the swing
doors. "Unscrupulous, but then all police officers are unscrupulous. A
climber, but all police officers are ambitious."

"I've never found Alan unscrupulous," said Mary.

Maurice Meister smiled. "That is perhaps a strong word to employ," he
agreed carelessly. "After all, the man had to do his duty, and he was
very ingenious in the method he employed to trap poor Johnny."

"Ingenious? Trap?" She frowned at him.

"That did not come out in the evidence. Nothing that is detrimental to
the police force ever comes out in police court evidence, my dear," said
Maurice with a meaning smile. "But I am on the inside of things, and I
happen to know that Wembury has been on Johnny's trail ever since the
robbery was committed. That was why he came down to Lenley Court."

She stared at him. "Are you sure? I thought--"

"You thought he came down to see you, to get your congratulations on his
promotion?" said Maurice. "That is a natural error. My dear, if you think
the matter over, you will realise that a detective officer must always
pretend to be doing something other than he actually is doing. If you
were to tax Wembury with his little act of duplicity, he would of course
be indignant and deny it."

She thought a while. "I don't believe it," she said. "Alan told me that
he had not associated Johnny with the crime until he received an
anonymous letter."

"S--sh!" said Meister warningly.

Alan had come out of the court and was walking towards them.

"The judge will be another ten minutes," he said, and then, before
Meister could warn her, the girl asked: "Alan, is it true that you have
been watching Johnny for a long time?"

"You mean in connection with this offence? No, I knew nothing about it. I
did not suspect Johnny until I had a letter, written by somebody who was
in a very favourable position to know all about the robbery."

His eyes were on Maurice Meister.

"But when you came down to Lenley Court--"

"My dear,"--it was Maurice who interrupted hastily--"why ask the
inspector these embarrassing questions?"

"It doesn't embarrass me," said Alan curtly. "I went to Lenley Court to
see Miss Lenley and to tell her of my promotion. You're not suggesting
that my visit had anything to do with the robbery, are you?"

Maurice shrugged his shoulders.

"I was probably giving you credit that you did not deserve," he said,
with an attempt to pass the matter off humorously. "As a solicitor I am
not unacquainted with these mysterious letters which the police are
supposed to receive, and which cover the operations of their--noses, I
think is the word for police informer."

"You know it's the word for police informer, Mr. Meister," said Alan.
"And there was nothing mysterious about the letter which betrayed Lenley,
except the writer. It was written on typewriting paper, Swinley Bond No.
14."

He saw Meister start.

"I have made a few inquiries amongst the stationers of Deptford, and I
have discovered that that particular paper is not supplied locally. It
comes from a law stationer's in Chancery Lane and is their own especial
property. I tell you that in case you would like to take the inquiry any
further."

With a nod he left them together. "What does he mean?" asked the girl, a
little worried.

"Does anyone know what any police officer means?" asked Maurice, with a
forced laugh.

She was thoughtful for a while, and sat for a long time without speaking.

"He suggested that Johnny had been betrayed by--by somebody--"

"Somebody who did not live in Deptford, obviously," said Maurice quickly.
"Really, my dear, I shouldn't take too much notice of that cock-and-bull
story. And it would be well if you did not see too much of Wembury
in the future."

"Why?" she asked, looking at him steadily.

"There are many reasons," replied Maurice slowly. "In the first place, I
have a clientele which would look a little askance at me if my secretary
were a friend of a police officer. Of course," he went on hurriedly, as
he saw the look in the girl's face, "I have no wish to dictate to you as
to your friends. But I want to be of help to you, Mary. There are one or
two matters which I would like to discuss after this unpleasant business
is over. You can't live alone in Malpas Mansions."

"Johnny will be sent to prison, of course?" she nodded.

It was not the moment for delicacy.

"Johnny will be sent to penal servitude," said Meister: "you've got to
get that fast in your mind. This may mean seven years for him, and you
must reconcile yourself to that possibility. As I say, you can't live
alone--"

"I can't live anywhere else but Malpas Mansions," she said. The note of
determination in her voice was unmistakable. "I know you mean to be kind,
Maurice, but there are some things which I cannot do. If you care to
employ me, I'll be pleased to work for you. I don't think I'm
sufficiently competent to work for anybody else, and I'm sure no other
employer would give me the wages you have offered. But I'm living at
Malpas Mansions until Johnny returns."

There came a dramatic interruption. The swing door opened and Alan
Wembury walked out. He stood stock still for a moment, looking at her,
and then slowly paced across the tiled floor.

"Well?" she asked breathlessly.

"Three years penal servitude," said Alan. "The judge asked if anything
was known of him and I went into the box and told the Bench all I knew."

"And what did you know?" asked Meister. He was on his feet now, facing
the detective.

"I know that he was a decent boy who has been ruined by associating with
criminals," said Wembury between his teeth; "and some day I am going to
take the man who ruined Johnny Lenley, and put him in that court." He
pointed back to the swing door. "And when I go into the box it will not
be to plead for the prisoner but to tell the judge a story that will send
the man who betrayed John Lenley to a prison from which he will never
come out!"



CHAPTER 18


To Maurice Meister, The Ringer was dead. He treated as a jest, or as one
of those stupid legends which to the criminal mind is gospel, all the
stories of Henry Arthur Milton's presence in England. The three months
which followed Johnny's sentence were too full to allow him time even to
consider with any seriousness the whispered hints which came to him from
his unsavoury clients.

Scotland Yard, which acts only on definite knowledge, had taken no step
to warn him, and that was the most comforting aspect of the situation.
Mary came regularly to work, and from being an ornament to the
establishment, developed into a most capable typist. She often wondered
whether it would not be fair to Maurice to tell him of the interview she
had had with Cora Ann Milton; but since The Ringer's name was never again
mentioned, she thought it wisest to let the matter drop. If she had not
severed all association with Alan Wembury, she saw very little of him.
Twice she had almost met him in the street, but he had obviously avoided
her. At first she was hurt, but then she realised that it was Alan's
innate delicacy which was responsible. One day in the High Street she saw
him and before he could escape intercepted him.

"Alan, you're being very unkind," she said, and added mischievously:
"People think that you will not know me because of my dubious relations!"

He went red and white at this, and she was instantly sorry. There was
something childlike about Alan.

"Of course I meant nothing of the sort. But you're being I rather a pig,
aren't you? You've avoided me like the plague."

"I thought I was being rather delicate," he said ruefully, and, grasping
the nettle firmly: "Have you heard from Johnny?"

She nodded. "He is quite cheerful, and already making plans for the
future," she said, and added: "Won't you take me to tea somewhere on
Wednesday--that is my early day?"

It was a very happy, man who went back to the station house. Indeed, he
was so cheerful that old Dr. Lomond, busy at the sergeant's desk writing
a report upon a drunken motorist, looked over his glasses and rallied him
in his dour way.

"Have ye had money left ye?"

"Something better than that," smiled Alan. "I've rid myself of a dull
ghost."

Lomond clucked his lips derisively as he signed his name with a flourish
and blotted the report.

"That means that you've had a quarrel with a girl, and she's suddenly
decided to make it up," he said. He had an uncanny habit of getting into
the mind of his audience. "I'm no' saying that matrimony is no' a good
thing for any man. But it must be terribly risky for a police officer."

"I'm not contemplating matrimony," laughed Alan.

"Then I wonder ye're not ashamed of yourself," said the doctor as he
shuffled down to the fire and shook off the ash of his cigarette into the
grate.

"You ought to be a happy man," said Alan. "Colonel Walford told me he had
written you a letter of thanks for the work you did in the Prideaux
case."

The old man shook his head.

"Man, I'm no' proud of my work. But poisoners I abominate, and Prideaux
was the most cold--blooded poisoner I have ever known. A strange man
with a queer occiput. Have you ever noticed the occiput of poisoners? It
juts oot from the back of the heid."

As he was talking a stocky, poorly dressed man had come into the charge
room. There was a grin on his unshaven face as he made his way to the
sergeant at the desk. He had all the aplomb of a man in familiar
surroundings, and as he laid his ticket of leave on the desk he favoured
the sergeant with a friendly nod.

"Why, Hackitt!" said Wembury. "I didn't know you were out."

He shook hands with the ex--convict and Sam Hackitt's grin broadened.

"I got my brief last Monday," he said. "Old Meister's giving me a job."

"What, Sam, are you going into the law?"

The idea tickled Hackitt.

"No, I'm going to clean his boots! It's a low job for a man of my
ability, Mr. Wembury, but what can you do when the police are 'ounding
you down all the time?"

"Hounding grandmothers!" said Alan, with a smile "You fellows hound
yourselves down. So you're going to valet Meister, are you? I wish you
luck."

Sam Hackitt scratched his unshaven chin thoughtfully.

"They tell me Johnny Lenley's been put away, Mr. Wembury? That's bad
luck."

"Did you know him?" asked Alan.

Sam Hackitt hesitated.

"Well, I can't say that I know him. I went down to the country to see him
once, when he was a swell. I knew he was on the crook then, and somebody
put up a joke for him and me."

Alan knew what "a joke" meant in the argot of the criminal classes: it
meant a robbery, big or small.

"But I didn't take it on," said Sam. "It was a bit too dangerous for me,
and I don't like working with amachoors. They're bound to give you away
if they're a bit too impetuous. Especially as this gentlemen who was
putting up the money for the joke wanted us to carry a shooter--not for
me, thank you!"

Alan was acquainted with the professional burglar's horror of firearms.
But surely the man who had planned the robbery was as well aware of the
dangers of a burglar being captured with firearms in his possession?

"Who is the Big Fellow, Sam?" he asked, never for one moment expecting a
truthful reply; for only in a moment of direst necessity would a thief
betray his "big fellow" or employer.

"Him? Oh, he's a chap who lives in Sheffield," said Sam vaguely. "I
didn't like the job, so I didn't take it on. He's a nice boy--that young
Lenley, I mean. It's a pity he went crook, a gentleman of his education."

And then he changed the subject abruptly.

"Mr. Wembury, what's this yarn about The Ringer being in London? I heard
about it when I was in Maidstone, and I sent a letter to your boss."

Alan was surprised. The Ringer belonged to another plane, and although
the little criminals were greatly intrigued by the operations of this
super--criminal, he had not connected any of them with the man for whom
the police were searching.

"He's drowned, as a matter of fact," said Sam comfortably. "I read about
it when I was in 'stir'." [Stir = Prison. E.W.]

"Did you know him, Sam?"

Again the ex--convict scratched his chin.

"I'm one of the few people who've seen him without his make--up," he
grinned. "The Ringer, eh? What a lad! There never was a bloke who could
disguise himself like that bird!"

The sergeant had copied particulars of Sam Hackitt's brief into a book,
and now handed the ticket of leave back to the man.

"We may be asking to see you one of these days, Hackitt, if the Ringer
turns up," said Wembury.

Sam shook his head.

"He'll never turn up: he's drowned. I believe the newspapers."

Dr. Lomond watched the stocky figure disappear through the doorway and
shook his head.

"There goes a super--optimist," he said, "and what a heid! Did you
notice, Wembury, the flattening of the skull? Man, I'd like to measure
him!"



CHAPTER 19


THE days that intervened before Wednesday were very long days and each
seemed to consist of much more than twenty--four hours. Alan had a note
from the girl in the morning, asking him to meet her at a little teashop
in the West End, and he was at the rendezvous a quarter of an hour before
she was due to arrive. She came at last, a trim, neat figure in blue
serge, with just a little more colour in her cheeks than was ordinary.

"I'm being a dutiful servant," she said. "I would have met you at
Blackheath, only I was afraid that some of Mr. Meister's clients might
have seen you and thought I was in secret communication with the police
over their grisly pasts!"

He laughed at this. He had never seen her so light--hearted since the
old Lenley Court days.

The teashop was only sparsely patronised. It was an hour before the rush
of shoppers filled each seat and occupied every table, and he found a
quiet corner where they could talk. She was full of hopeful plans for the
future. Maurice (he hated to hear her call Meister by his Christian name)
was going to start Johnny on a poultry farm: she had worked out to a day
the end of Johnny's period of imprisonment.

"He has three months remitted for every year if he is on his best
behaviour," she said. "And Johnny is being very sensible. When he wrote
the other day he told me he was going to earn his full marks. That will
be wonderful, won't it, Alan?"

He hesitated to ask the question that was in his mind, but presently he
put it to her, and she nodded.

"Yes, he writes about you, and he has no resentment at all. I think you
could be a very good friend to him when he comes out."

Her own days were so filled, she told him, that the time was passing
rapidly, more rapidly than she had dared hope. Maurice was most kind.
(How often she repeated that very sentence!) And life at Malpas Mansions
was moving smoothly. She had been able to employ a little
maid-of-all-work.

"A queer little thing who insists upon telling me all the horrors of
Deptford." She smiled quietly. "As though I hadn't enough horrors of my
own! Her favourite hero is The Ringer--do you know about him?"

Alan nodded.

"He's the hero of all the funny--minded people of Deptford," he said.
"They love the thought of anybody outwitting the police."

"He is not in England, is he?" Alan shook his head. "Are you terribly
interested in The Ringer?" she went on. "Because, if you are, I can tell
you something--I have met his wife."

He opened his eyes wide at this.

"Cora Ann Milton?" he said incredulously, and she laughed at the
impression her words had made on him.

She told him of Cora Ann's visit, and yet for some reason, which she did
not understand herself, she did not give a faithful account of that
interview, or even hint that Cora Ann had warned her against Meister. It
was when she came to the code letter that he was more interested.

"I've only just remembered it!" she said penitently; "it is in my bureau
and ought to be sent to her."

"A code card--that is very important," said Alan. "Do you think you
could bring it to me tomorrow?"

She nodded.

"But why on earth did she come--the night Johnny was arrested, you say?"
said Alan. "Have you seen her since?"

Mary shook her head. "Don't let's talk about The Ringer. It's shop to
you, isn't it? It's shop to us both--ugh!" She shivered.

They strolled through Green Park together and dined at a little
restaurant in Soho. He told her of his new bete noir--the black-bearded
Inspector Bliss, and was so vehement on the subject that she
dissolved into laughter. It was the day of days in Alan Wembury's life,
and when he left her, after seeing her on a tramcar bound southward,
something of the colour of life went with her.

Meister had asked the girl to call at his house on her way home, but
mentally Mary had laid down a formula which was subsequently to serve her
well. She had fixed nine o'clock as the utmost limit she could work in
the house, and as it was past that hour when she reached New Cross, she
went straight to Malpas Mansions. One little luxury had been introduced
into the flat: Maurice had insisted that she should be connected with the
telephone system, and this was a great comfort to her.

The bell was ringing as she unlocked the door, and, lighting the gas,
hurried to the little table where the instrument stood. As she expected,
it was Meister.

"My dear girl, where have you been?" he asked testily. "I have been
waiting for you since eight o'clock."

She glanced at the watch on her wrist: it was a quarter to ten.

"I'm sorry, Maurice," she said, "but I didn't definitely promise I'd
call."

"Have you been to a theatre or something?" he asked suspiciously. "You
didn't tell me anything about it?"

"No, I've been to see a friend."

"A man?"

Mary Lenley possessed an almost inexhaustible fund of patience, but the
persistence of this cross--examination irritated her, and he must have
guessed this, for, before she could reply, he went on: "Forgive my
curiosity, my dear, but I am acting in loco parentis to you whilst poor
Johnny is away, and I'd like to know--"

"I went to dinner with a friend," she interrupted shortly. "I'm sorry I
have put you to any inconvenience, but I did not exactly promise, did I?"

A pause.

"Can't you come round now?"

Her "No" was very decisive.

"It is much too late, Maurice. What is it you want doing?"

If he had answered right away she might have believed him, but the pause
was just a little too long.

"Affidavits!" she scoffed. "How absurd, at this time of night! I'll come
down earlier in the morning."

"Your friend was not by any chance Alan Wembury?" asked Meister's voice.

Mary considered that a very opportune moment to hang up the receiver.

She went into her little bedroom to change whilst the kettle was boiling,
and the draught from the open window slammed the door behind her. She lit
the gas, and closed the window with a thoughtful frown. She had given her
servant a holiday, and the girl had left before her. Because of a
threatening rainstorm, Mary had gone round the flat closing every window.
Who had opened it? She looked round the room and a chill crept down her
spine. Somebody had been in the room: one of the drawers in her chest had
been forced open. As far as she could see, nothing had been stolen. Then
with a gasp she remembered the code letter--it was gone! The wardrobe
had been opened also; her dresses had been moved, and the long drawer
beneath had been searched. By whom? Not by any ordinary burglar, for
nothing except the letter had been taken.

She went back to the window and, pulling it open, looked down. There was
a sheer drop into the yard of fifty feet. To the right was the tiny
balcony jutting out from her kitchenette, and by its side a balance lift
by which the households in Malpas Mansions could obtain their supplies
from the tradesmen in the yard below. The lift was at the bottom, and she
could see the long steel ropes swaying gently in the stiff breeze that
was blowing. A nimble man could climb to the level of the balcony without
any superhuman effort. But what man, nimble or otherwise, would risk his
neck for the sake of turning over her few poor possessions and extracting
Cora Ann's letter?

She had an electric torch in the kitchen, and she brought this to make a
closer inspection. It was then she found the wet footprints on the
carpet. It was a new carpet and had the disadvantage of showing every
stain. Two muddy footprints were so clearly on view that she wondered she
had not seen them when she came into the room.

She made another discovery: the dressing--table where she had left a
number of brushes neatly arranged was all disarranged. She found one of
the clothes brushes at the foot of the bed, and it had evidently been
used to brush somebody who was very untidy, for it was wet and had a
smear of mud at the end of the bristles. Nor had the cool intruder been
satisfied with a rough toilet: he had used her hair--brushes; in the
white bristles she saw a coarse black hair. She had seen its kind before:
her father had a trick of straightening his beard with any brush that was
handy. Somebody with a beard, a black beard, had tidied himself before
the glass. She began to laugh, the idea was so absurd; but it was not
long before she was serious again.

She heard the bell ring in the kitchen, and opened the front door to find
the man who acted as porter to the block.

"I'm sorry to bother you, miss, but has anybody been in your flat whilst
you have been out?"

"That's just what I was wondering, Jenkins," she answered, and led him
into the room to show him the evidence of the visit.

"There has been a man hanging around the block all the evening," said the
porter, scratching his head; "a fellow with a little black beard. One of
the tenants saw him in the back courtyard just before dark, having a look
at the tradesmen's lift, and the lady who lives on the opposite landing
says before that he was knocking at this door for ten minutes, trying to
make somebody hear. That must have been about eight o'clock Have you lost
anything, miss?"

She shook her head.

"Nothing valuable." She could not explain the exact value of The Ringer's
code card.



CHAPTER 20


A MAN with a beard! Where had she heard about a man with a beard? And
then she suddenly remembered her talk with Alan. Inspector Bliss! That
idea seemed too fantastic for words.

She took the telephone directory, and turned the pages until she found
the Flanders Lane police station. A gruff voice answered her. Mr. Wembury
had not returned. He had been out all day but was expected at any minute.
She gave her name and telephone number, and insisted upon the private
nature of the call. An hour later the telephone bell rang and Alan's
voice greeted her. She told him in a few words what had happened, and she
heard his gasp of astonishment.

"I don't think it could possibly have been the person you think," he
said, and she realised he was probably speaking in a room where other
people were. "But if it's not too late, may I come round?"

"Do, please," she said without hesitation.

Alan came after such a remarkably short interval that she suggested he
must have flown.

"A taxi," he explained. "One doesn't often see them in High Street,
Deptford, but I was fortunate."

It was the first time he had been in the flat since Johnny's arrest. The
very arrangement of the furniture aroused ugly memories. She must have
divined this, for she led him straight to her room, and showed him the
evidence of the visitor's presence.

"Bliss?" he frowned. "Why on earth should Bliss come here? What on earth
did he expect to find?"

"That is what I should like to know." She could smile now. It was rather
wonderful how comforting was the presence of Alan Wembury. "If it were
the letter, he could have come and asked for it."

But he shook his head. "Have you anything here of Meister's--any
papers?" he asked suddenly.

She shook her head.

"Keys?" he suggested.

"Why, yes, of course!" she remembered. "I've the keys of the house. His
old cook is rather deaf, and Maurice is seldom up when I arrive, so he
has given me a key of the outer gate and the door."

"Where do you keep them?" asked Alan.

She opened her bag.

"I carry them about with me. Besides, Alan, why on earth should Mr. Bliss
want the keys? I suppose he can see Mr. Meister whenever he wishes."

But Alan's mind was on another trail. Did Bliss know of the visit of Cora
Ann Milton to this girl? Supposing he had set himself the task of hunting
down The Ringer--and Alan Wembury had not been notified that the Central
Office were playing a lone hand--would he make this difficult entry in
order to test his suspicions? And suppose he were after the letter, how
would he have heard of it?

"Only one man would have come after that letter--and that man is The
Ringer," he said with conviction.

He had left the front door open when he came in, and now, as they
returned to the dining--room, the porter appeared in the hall.

"Here you are, miss," he called eagerly. "The fellow's outside. What
about calling a policeman?"

"Which fellow?" asked Wembury quickly. "Do you mean the bearded man?"

Evidently the porter did not know Alan for a police officer.

"Yes, sir. Don't you think we ought to call a policeman? There's one on
point duty at the end of the road."

Wembury brushed past him and ran down the stairs. Emerging into the
night, he saw a man standing on the opposite side of the road. He made no
attempt to conceal himself: indeed, he was standing in the full light of
the street lamp, but drew aside as Wembury crossed the road, and long
before he reached the stranger he knew that Mary's surmise had been
correct. It was Bliss.

"Good evening. Inspector Wembury," was the cool greeting.

Without preliminary, Alan made his accusation.

"Somebody has broken into Miss Lenley's flat to--night, and I have
reason to believe it is you, Bliss."

"Broken into Miss Lenley's flat, eh?" The central inspector was rather
amused. "Do I look like a burglar?"

"I don't know what you look like, but you were seen in the courtyard just
before dark, examining the food lift. There's no doubt that the man who
entered Miss Lenley's room gained admission by that means."

"In that case," said Bliss, "you had better take me down to your funny
little police station and charge me. But before you do so, I will make
your job a little easier by confessing that I did climb that infernal
rope, that I did force the window of Miss Lenley's bedroom, that I did
inspect the flat. But I did not find what I expected to find. The man who
was there before me got that."

"Is that your explanation?" asked Wembury, when the other had finished,
"that there was another man in the flat?"

"Exactly--a perfect explanation, though it may not satisfy you. I did
not climb the rope until I had seen somebody else go up that way, and
open the window. It was just before dusk. Your friends will doubtless
tell you that I immediately went up the stairs and knocked at Miss
Lenley's door, and, receiving no answer, decided to make my entrance the
same way as the unknown intruder. Does that satisfy you, Mr. Wembury, or
do you think that as a police officer I exceeded my duty in chasing a
burglar?"

Alan was in a quandary. If the story the man told was true, he had
perfect justification for his action. But was it true?

"Did you turn out the contents of the drawers by any chance?"

Bliss shook his head.

"No, I'm afraid our friend forestalled me there. I opened one drawer and
gathered from its confusion that my predecessor had made a search. I
don't think he found what he wanted, and that he will very likely come
again tonight. That is why I am here. Have you any further questions,
inspector?"

"No," said Alan shortly.

"And you're not thinking of inviting me to meet your superintendent?
Good! Then I think my presence for the moment is a little superfluous."
And, with a jerk of his shoulder, he turned and strolled at a leisurely
pace along the sidewalk.

Going back to the girl, Alan told her of his interview, and loyalty to
his cloth prevented his giving his own private views on the matter.

"He may be speaking the truth," he said. "Of course it was his duty to
follow a burglar. If he is lying, we shall hear no more of it, but if he
is telling the truth he will have to report the matter."

He left her half an hour later, and as he went out of the flat he looked
round for Bliss, but there was no sign of him. When he returned to the
police station, he was taken aback to learn that Bliss had indeed
reported the burglary, given times and full particulars, and had added a
note to his report to the effect that Divisional Inspector Wembury had
charge of the case.

Alan was baffled. If Bliss's account was true, who could have been the
first man to climb up the rope? And what other object had he in burgling
Mary Lenley's flat than a search for the code? It brought The Ringer too
near for comfort. Here was a mystery, which was never solved until that
night of horror when The Ringer came to Meister's house.

Two little problems were recurring to Mary Lenley from day to day. Not
the least important of these was contained in the formula, "Shall I tell
Maurice?" Should she tell Maurice that she had been to tea with Alan
Wembury...should she tell him of the burglary that had been committed
the night before? On the whole she felt the least unpleasant confession,
the one which would probably absorb him to the exclusion, was the second
of her adventures.

Maurice was not down when she arrived, and Mr. Samuel Hackitt, newly
installed in the Meister household, was polishing wearily the window that
looked out on to the leads. He had made his appearance a few days before,
and in spite of his unpleasant past Mary liked the little man.

"Good morning, miss." He touched an invisible cap. "The old man's still
up in bed, bless his old heart!"

"Mr. Meister had a heavy night," she said primly.

"'Thick' is the word I'd use," said Sam, wringing out a leather cloth at
his leisure.

Very wisely Mary did not encourage any further revelations.

"Funny old house, this, miss." Sam knocked with his knuckle at one of the
panels. "Holler. It's more like a rabbit warren than a house."

Mr. Meister's residence had been built in the days when Peter the Great
was still living in Deptford, She passed this news of historical interest
on to the wholly unimpressed man.

"I never knew Peter...King, was he? That sounds like one of Meister's
lies."

"It's history, Sam," she said severely, as she dusted her typewriter.

"I don't take any notice of history--that's lies, too," said Hackitt,
calmly. "Lor' miss, you don't know all the his'try books I've read--
'Ume, Macaulay, Gibbons, the feller that wrote all about Rome."

She was astounded.

"You've read them?"

He nodded. "Studied 'em," he said solemnly, so solemnly that she laughed.

"You're quite a student: I didn't realise that you were such a well read
man."

"You have to do something in 'stir'," said Sam, and she realised that
this reading of his had whiled away some period of his incarceration.

He had an extraordinary stock of knowledge on unlikely subjects. Possibly
this was gained under similar circumstances. Once or twice he strayed to
the piano, although this had been dusted and polished, as she could see
in her face reflected in the black top; but the piano fascinated him, and
probably he had a higher respect for Mr. Meister because of his musical
qualities than for his knowledge of the law. He depressed a key that
tinkled sharply and apologised.

"I'm going up to Scotland Yard tomorrow, miss," he said, and she thought
it had something to do with his recent imprisonment, and expressed only a
polite interest. "Never been there before," said Sam complacently, "but I
suppose it's like every other busy's office--one chair, one table, one
pair of handcuffs, a sergeant and forty--five thousand perjuring liars!"

The entrance of Meister at that moment cut short his speculations.
Maurice looked shaky and ill, she thought. After he had gruffly dismissed
his new servitor, he told her he had slept badly.

"Where did you go--," he began.

She thought it was an excellent moment to tell him of her burglar. And
because she did not wish to talk of Cora Ann she made no reference to the
stolen letter. He listened in amazement, until she came to the interview
which Alan had had with Inspector Bliss.

"Bliss! That's queer!"

He stood up, his eyes tightened, as though he were facing a bright light.

"Bliss...I haven't seen him for years. He's been in America. A clever
fellow...Bliss...humph!"

"But don't you think it was extraordinary, Maurice, that he should climb
up into my flat, or that there should have been anybody there before
him--what profit can they find in burgling my poor little apartment?"

Maurice shook his head.

"I don't believe it. Bliss wanted to find something in your room. The
yarn about another man having gone up is all bunk."

"But what could he find?" she insisted, and Maurice Meister was not
prepared to offer a convincing reason.

Bliss! He had no right in Deptford, unless--Maurice was both puzzled and
apprehensive. The advent of a Central man to Deptford could only indicate
some extraordinary happening, and in his mind he went over the various
events which might be calculated to interest that exalted policeman.
Strangely enough, Deptford at this moment was unusually well behaved.
There had been no serious charges in the division for three months, and
Meister, who had his finger in more lawless pies than his worst enemy
gave him credit for, knew that there had been no steal of such importance
that Scotland Yard would send one who was reputedly its most promising
officer to conduct an independent examination.

By some extraordinary process, peculiarly his own, he decided that there
was nothing sinister in this attention. Probably Headquarters were trying
out the new divisional inspector, and had sent this wise and experienced
officer to discover the extent of his acquaintance with the Lenleys.

Meister's breakfast was not an elaborate meal, and was usually served in
his little bureau. This morning it consisted, as usual, of a cup of
coffee, a small plate of fruit and a biscuit. He unfolded the newspaper
by the side of his table and glanced at it idly. His life was so full
that he had little time for, or interest in, the great events of the
world; but a news item at the top of the columns caught his eye.

PRISON RIOT CONVICT SAVES THE LIFE OF DEPUTY GOVERNOR

He glanced through the description, expecting to find a name with which
he was familiar, but, as is usual in these cases, a strict anonymity was
preserved as to the identity of the prisoner concerned. There had been a
riot in a county jail; the ringleaders had struck down a warder and taken
possession of his keys, and would have killed the deputy governor, who
happened to be in the prison hall at the time, but for the bravery of a
convict who, with the aid of a broom handle, defended the official till
armed warders came on the scene. Maurice pursed his lips and smiled. His
regard for the criminal was a very low one. They were hardly human
beings; he speculated idly on what reward the heroic convict would
receive. Something more than he deserved.

Opening the box of cigars that was on the table, he bit off the end and
lit a long, black cheroot, and as he smoked his mind vacillated between
Mary and her peculiar experience. What was Bliss doing in Deptford, he
wondered; he tried to recall the man as he had known him years before,
but he was unsuccessful.

Hackitt came in to clear away the breakfast things, and, glancing
familiarly over Meister's shoulder, read the account.

"That deputy's a pretty nice fellow," he volunteered. "I wonder what made
the boys get up against him. But the screws are bad."

Meister raised his cold eyes.

"If you want to keep this job, you'll not speak unless you're spoken to,
Hackitt."

"No offence," said Hackitt, quite unperturbed. "I'm naturally chatty."

"Then try your chattiness on somebody else!" snapped Maurice.

The man went out of the room with the tray, and had gone a few minutes
before he returned, bearing a long yellow envelope. Meister, snatching it
from his hand, glanced at the superscription. It was marked "Very Urgent
and Confidential" and bore the stamp of Scotland Yard.

"Who brought this?" he asked.

"A copper," said Sam.

Maurice pointed to the door.

"You can go."

He waited till the door had closed upon his servant before he tore open
the flap, and his hand shook as he drew out the folded typewritten paper.

SIR, I have the honour to inform you that the Deputy Commissioner,
Colonel Walford, C.B., wishes to see you at his office at Scotland Yard
at 11.30 in the forenoon tomorrow. The matter is of the greatest
importance, and the Deputy Commissioner wishes me to say that he trusts
you will make every effort to keep this appointment, and notify him by
telegram if you cannot be at Scotland Yard at the hour named.

I have the honour to be, sir, etc.

A summons to Scotland Yard! The first that Meister had ever received.
What did it portend?

He rose to his feet, opened a little cupboard and took out a long bottle
of brandy, and splashed a generous portion into a glass, and he was
furious with himself to find that his hand was shaking. What did Scotland
Yard know? What did they wish to know? His future, his very liberty,
depended on the answer to those questions. The morrow! The very day he
had chosen to put into execution certain plans he had formulated.
Unconsciously Scotland Yard had given Mary Lenley a day of respite!



CHAPTER 21


AT the lawyer's request, Mary came early to work the following morning,
and she was surprised to find Maurice up and dressed. He was one of those
men who usually was meticulously careful as to his dress, and indeed was
almost a dandy in this respect. But he was usually a slow dresser and
liked to lounge about the house in his pale green dressing--gown until
the arrival of clients or the necessity for a consultation with counsel,
made him shed that garment.

When she came in, he was walking up and down the room with his hands
clasped behind him. He looked as if he had not slept very well, and she
remarked upon this.

"Yes, I slept all right." He spoke jerkily, nervously, and he was
obviously labouring under some very strong emotion. It never occurred to
Mary Lenley that that emotion might be fear. "I have to go to Scotland
Yard, my dear," said Meister, "and I was wondering"--he forced a smile--
"whether you would like to come up with me--not into the Yard," he added
hastily, when he saw the look of repugnance on her face. "Perhaps you
would like to stay at a--at a tearoom or somewhere until I came out?"

"But why, Maurice?" The request was most unexpected.

He was not patient to answer questions.

"If you don't wish to come, don't, my dear--" he said sharply, but
altered his tone. "There are one or two things I would like to talk to
you about--business matters in which I may need a little--clerical
assistance."

He walked to her desk and took up a paper.

"Here are the names and addresses of a number of people: I wish you to
keep this paper in your bag. The gentlemen named should be notified if
anything--I mean, if it is necessary."

He could not tell her that he had passed that night in a cold sweat of
fear, alternating snatches of bad dreams with an endless cogitation on
the unpleasant possibilities which the morrow held. Nor could he explain
that the names which he had written down and chosen with such care, were
men of substance who might vouch for him in certain eventualities. He
might have confessed with truth that he wanted her company that morning
for the distraction he needed during the hours that preceded his
interview with the Commissioner; and if the worst happened, for somebody
to be at hand whom he could notify and trust to work in his interests.

"I don't know what they want me for at Scotland Yard," he said, with an
attempt at lightness. "Probably some little matter connected with one of
my clients."

"Do they often send for you?" she asked innocently.

He looked at her quickly. "No, I have never been before. In fact, it is a
most unusual procedure. I have never heard of a solicitor being sent
for."

She nodded at this. "I thought so," she said. "Alan told me that they ask
you to come to Scotland Yard either to 'pump' you or catch you!"

He glowered at this. "I beg of you not to give me at second hand the
vulgarities of your police officer friend. 'To pump you'--what an
expression! Obviously they have asked me to go because I've defended some
rascal about whom they want information. Possibly the man is planning to
rob me."

The point was such a sore one that Mary very wisely refrained from
carrying it any further.

Maurice possessed no car of his own, and it was characteristic of him
that the local garage could supply no machine of sufficient magnificence
to support his state. The Rolls which came to him from a West End hirer
was the newest and shiniest that could be procured, and to the admiration
and envy of the Flanders Laners, who stood in their doorways to watch the
departure, Mary drove off with her employer. His nervousness seemed to
increase rather than diminish as Deptford was left behind. He asked her
half a dozen times if she had the paper with the names of his influential
friends. Once, after an interregnum of gloomy silence on his part, she
had tried to make conversation by asking him if he had seen an item in
the newspaper.

"Riot in a prison?" he answered abstractedly. "No--yes, I did. What
about it?"

"It is the prison Johnny is in," she said, "and I was rather worried--he
is such an impetuous boy, and probably he has done something foolish. Is
there any way of finding out?"

Meister was interested.

"Was Johnny in that jail? I didn't realise that. Yes, my dear, we'll find
out if you wish."

He evidently brooded upon this aspect of the prison riot, for as the car
was crossing Westminster Bridge he said: "I hope Johnny is not involved:
it would mean the loss of his marks."

She had hardly digested this ominous remark before the car turned on to
the Thames Embankment and pulled up just short of the entrance to
Scotland Yard.

"Perhaps you would like to sit in the car and wait?"

"How long will you be gone?" she asked.

Mr. Meister would have given a lot of money to have been able to answer
that question with any accuracy.

"I don't know. These official people are very dilatory. Anyway, you can
amuse yourself as you wish."

As he was talking he saw a man drop nimbly from a tram--car and slouch
across the road towards the arched entrance of police headquarters.

"Hackitt?" he said incredulously. "He didn't tell me he was coming. He
served me my breakfast half an hour before you arrived at the house."

His face was twitching. She was amazed that so small a thing could have
so devastating an effect.

"All right," he nodded and scarcely looking at her, strode away.

He stopped at the entrance to the Yard as some creature of the wild might
halt at the entrance of a trap. What did Hackitt know about him? What
could Hackitt say? When he had taken the man into his employ, he had not
been actuated by any sense of charity--on the contrary, he felt he was
securing a bargain. But was Hackitt in the pay of the police--a "nose,"
sent into his house to pry amongst his papers, unearth his secrets,
reveal the mysteries of locked cellars and boarded--up attics?

Setting his teeth, he walked down the gentle slope and turned into
Scotland Yard.



CHAPTER 22


MARY elected to spend the first part of her time of waiting in the car
with a newspaper, but the printed page was a poor rival to the pageant of
life that was moving past. The clanging trams crowded with passengers,
the endless procession of vehicles crossing the beautiful bridge, the
panorama of London which was visible through the front windows of the
car. She wondered if business would call Alan Wembury to headquarters,
and had dismissed this possibility when he made a very commonplace
appearance. Somebody walked past the car with long strides: she only saw
the back of him, but in an instant she was out on the sidewalk. He heard
her voice and spun round.

"Why, Mary!" he said, his face lighting up. "What on earth are you doing
this side of the world? You haven't come with Meister?"

"Did you know they've sent for him?"

Alan nodded.

"Is it anything very important? He is a little worried, I think."

Wembury might have told her that Meister's worry before he went to
Scotland Yard was as nothing to what it would be after.

"You didn't bring Mr. Hackitt by any chance?" he smiled, and she shook
her head.

"No, Maurice didn't know that Hackitt was coming--I think that rather
distressed him. What is the mystery, Alan?"

He laughed. "The mystery is the one you're making, my dear." And then, as
he saw the colour come to her face, he went on penitently: "I'm awfully
sorry. That's terribly familiar."

"I don't mind really," she laughed. "I'm pretending that you're a very
old gentleman. Do you often have these important conferences? And who is
that, Alan?"

A beautiful little coupe had drawn noiselessly to the kerb just ahead of
their own car. The chauffeur jumped down, opened the lacquered door, and
a girl got out, looked up at the facade of Scotland Yard and passed
leisurely under the arch. Though it was early in the morning, and the
place was crowded, a cigarette burnt between her gloved fingers and she
left behind her the elusive fragrance of some eastern perfume.

"She's a swell, isn't she? And an old acquaintance of yours."

"Not Mrs. Milton!" said the girl in amazement.

"Mrs. Milton it is. I must run after her and shepherd her into a nice
airy room."

She dismissed him with a nod. He took her hand in his for a moment and
looked down into her eyes.

"You know where to find me, Mary?" he said in a low voice, and before she
could answer this cryptic question, he was gone.

At the request of a policeman, the driver of her car moved the car beyond
the gateway and came to a halt at a place where she had a more
comprehensive view of the building. It did not look like a police
headquarters: it might have been the head office of some prosperous
insurance company, or a Government building on which a usually staid
architect had been allowed to give full play to his Gothic tendencies.
What was happening behind those windows? What drama or tragedy was being
played out in those rooms which look upon the Embankment? She thought of
Johnny and shivered a little. His record was somewhere in that building,
tabulated in long cabinets, his finger--prints, body--marks, colouring.
It was dreadfully odd to think of Johnny as a number in a card index. Did
they have numbers in jail also? She seemed to remember reading about such
things.

She was suddenly conscious that somebody was staring in at the car, and,
turning her head, she met a pair of humorous blue eyes that twinkled
under shaggy grey eyebrows. A tall, bent figure in a homespun suit, with
an impossible brown felt hat on the back of his white head, and he was
obviously wishing to speak to her. She opened the door of the car and
came out.

"Ye'll be Miss Lenley, I think? My name's Lomond."

"Oh, yes, you're Dr. Lomond," she smiled. "I thought I recognised you."

"But, my dear leddy, you've never seen me!"

"Alan--Mr. Wembury says you look like every doctor he has ever known."

This seemed to please him, for his shoulders shook with silent laughter.

"Ye're no' curious, or you'd ask me how I knew you," he said. And then he
looked up at Scotland Yard. "A sad and gloomy--faced place, young
leddy." He shook his head dolefully. "You've no' been called here
professionally?"

As he spoke, he fumbled in his pockets, produced a silver tobacco--box
and rolled a cigarette.

"They've dragged me from my studies to examine a poor wee body," he said,
and at first she took him literally, and thought he had been brought to
identify some drowned or murdered man, and the look of antipathy in her
face was not lost on the doctor.

"She's alive," he gurgled, "and no' so unattractive!" He held out his
long hand. "I'd like to be meeting you more often, Miss Lenley. Mebbe
I'll come along and see you one day, and we'll have a bit chat."

"I should love it, doctor," she said truthfully.

She liked the old man: there was a geniality and a youthfulness in that
smile of his that went straight to her heart. She watched him shuffling
laboriously, the cigarette still twisting and rolling in his hand, until
the grey pillars of the gateway hid him for view. Who was the poor wee
body? She knew that he referred to a forthcoming cross--examination, for
Alan had told her of his exploit with the poisoner Ann Prideaux. And then
it flashed upon her--Cora Milton! She felt rather sorry for Dr. Lomond:
he was such a nice, gentle soul; he would find Cora Ann Milton a
particularly difficult lady.



CHAPTER 23


MARY did not see Central Detective Inspector Bliss walk quickly through
the stone doorway of Scotland Yard. He scarcely acknowledged the salute
of the constable on duty, and passed along the vaulted corridor to the
Chief Constable's room. A slight, bearded man, pale of face, brusque of
manner, he might hold the respect of his subordinates, but he had no
place in their affections.

"That's Mr. Bliss," said the officer to a younger constable. "Keep out of
his way. He was bad enough before he went to America--he's a pig now!"

Mr. Maurice Meister, sitting on a hard form in one waiting--room, saw
him pass the open door and frowned. The walk of the man was oddly
familiar.

Sam Hackitt, ex--convict, lounging in the corridor in charge of a plain
clothes police officer, scratched his nose thoughtfully and wondered
where he had seen the face before. Mr. Bliss opened the door of the Chief
Constable's room, walked in and slammed the door. Wembury, gazing
abstractedly through the double windows which gave a view of the
Embankment, turned his head and nodded. Every time he had met Central
Inspector Bliss he had liked him less.

The bearded man made for the desk in the centre of the room, picked up a
sheet of paper, read it and grunted. A trim messenger came in and handed
him a letter, he read the address and dropped the envelope on the table.
Turning his head with an impatient growl, he asked: "Why is the Assistant
Commissioner holding this inquiry, anyway? It's not an administration
job. Things have changed pretty considerably since I was here."

Alan withdrew his attention from the new County Council building. "The
Chief Constable had the case in hand," he said, "but he's away ill, so
Colonel Walford is taking it for him."

"But why Walford?" snarled Bliss. "He has about as much knowledge of the
job as my foot!"

Alan was very patient. He knew that he would be meeting Bliss that
morning and had it in his mind to ask him about that mysterious visit he
had paid to Malpas Mansions, but Bliss seemed hardly in a communicative
mood.

"This is a pretty big thing. If The Ringer is really back--and
headquarters is pretty certain that he is--"

Bliss smiled contemptuously. "The Ringer!" And then, remembering: "Who is
this man who wrote from Maidstone Prison?"

"Hackitt--a fellow who knew him."

Bliss laughed harshly. "Hackitt! Do you think that Hackitt knows anything
about him? You're getting pretty credulous at Scotland Yard in these
days!"

The whole attitude of the man was offensive. It was as though he wished
deliberately to antagonise the other.

"He says he'd recognise him."

"Bosh!" said Bliss scornfully. "It's an old lag's trick. He'd say
anything to make a sensation."

"Dr. Lomond says--" began Alan, and was stopped by an explosive snort
from the bearded detective.

"I don't want to know what any police surgeon says! That fellow's got a
hell of a nerve. He wanted to teach me my business."

It was news to Wembury that the pawky old police surgeon had ever crossed
swords with this querulous man.

"Lomond's a clever fellow!" he protested.

Bliss was turning the leaves of a book he had taken from the table.

"So he admits in this book of his. I suppose this sort of thing impresses
you, eh? I've been two years in America, the home of all this
anthropology sort of muck. I've met madmen who could give points to
Lomond. Suppose Hackitt says he knows The Ringer, who else is going to
identify him?" he asked, throwing down the volume.

"You, for one. I understand you tried to arrest him after the Attaman
case."

Bliss looked at him sharply. "I? I never saw the swine. He had his back
to me the day I went to pinch him. I just laid my hands on him when--
bingo! I was on the ground with four inches of good knife in me. Who's
seen him?"

"Meister?" suggested Alan.

The other man frowned. "Meister! Will he ever have a chance of talking?
That is what I want to know!"

It was the second surprise of the morning for Wembury. "Why shouldn't
he?"

But Inspector Bliss avoided the question. "I'll bet Meister never saw him
plainly in his life. Too full of dope, for one thing. The Ringer's
clever. I hand it to him. I wish to God I'd never left Washington--I had
a soft job there."

"You don't seem very happy," smiled the younger man.

"If you'd been there they'd have kept you there," snapped the other.
"They wanted me back at the Yard."

In spite of his annoyance Wembury laughed. "I like your manners, but I
hate your modesty," he said. "And yet we seem to have been catching 'em
all right. I haven't noticed very much depression amongst the criminal
classes since you returned."

But Bliss was not to be drawn. He was studying the title page of the book
in his hand, and was on the point of making some sarcastic reference to
Dr. Lomond and his anthropological studies when Colonel Walford came in
and the two men stiffened to attention.

"Sorry, gentlemen, to keep you waiting," he said cheerfully. "Good
morning, Bliss."

"Good morning, sir."

"There's a letter for you, sir," said Wembury.

"Yes," growled Bliss impatiently. "The Assistant Commissioner can see
that for himself."

"The man who wrote to you from Maidstone is here, sir," reported Alan.

"Oh, Hackitt?"

"You don't think he knows The Ringer, do you, sir?" asked Bliss with a
contemptuous smile.

"Honestly, I don't. But he comes from Deptford. There's just a remote
chance that he's speaking the truth. Have him up, Wembury--I'll go along
and tell the Chief Commissioner I am taking the inquiry."

When he had gone: "Hackitt!" said Bliss. "Huh! I remember him. Five--six
years ago I got him eighteen months at the London Sessions for
housebreaking. A born liar!"

Two minutes later, in response to Alan's telephoned instructions, the
"born liar" was ushered into the room.

Mr. Samuel Cuthbert Hackitt had the pert manner of the irrepressible
Cockney. He stood now, in no wise abashed by the surroundings or awed by
the imponderable menace of Scotland Yard.

Alan Wembury smiled a greeting.

"Hallo, Mr. Wembury!" said Sam cheerfully. "You're looking bright an'
'ealthy."

He was looking hard at Alan's companion.

"You remember Mr. Bliss?"

"Bliss?" Sam frowned. "You've changed a bit, ain't yer? Where did yer get
your whiskers from?"

"You shut your ugly mouth," snapped Bliss, and Sam grinned.

"That's more like yer."

"Remember where you are, Hackitt," warned Wembury.

The ex--convict showed his white teeth again. "I know where I am, sir.
Scotland Yard. You don't arf do yourselves well, don't you? Where's the
grand planner? Meister's got one! Look at the flowers--love a duck,
everything the 'eart can desire."

If looks could kill, the scowl on the face of Bliss would have removed
one law breaker from the world. What he might have said is a matter for
conjecture as the Commissioner came back at that moment.

"Good mornin', sir," said Sam affably. "Nice pitch you've got here. All
made out of thieving and murder!"

Colonel Walford concealed a smile. "We have a letter from you when you
were in prison, Hackitt." He opened a folder and, taking out a sheet of
blue note--paper, read: '"Dear Sir: This comes hoping to find you well,
and all kind friends at Scotland Yard--'"

"I didn't know Bliss was back," interjected Sam.

"'There's a lot of talk about The Ringer,'" continued the Colonel, "'down
here--him that was drowned in Australia. Dear sir, I can tell you a lot
about him now that he's departed this life, as I once see him though only
for a second and I knew where he lodged.' Is that true?"

"Yes, sir," nodded Sam. "I lodged in the same 'ouse."

"Oh, then, you know what he looks like?"

"What he looked like," corrected Sam. "He's dead."

Colonel Walford shook his head, and the man's jaw dropped. Looking at
him, Alan saw his face change colour.

"Not dead? The Ringer alive? Good morning, thank you very much!" He
turned to go.

"What do you know about him?"

"Nothing!" said Hackitt emphatically. "I'll tell you the truth, sir,
without any madam whatsoever. [Madam = telling the tale. EW]
Nosing on a dead man's one thing," said Sam earnestly; "nosing on a live
Ringer is another, I give you my word! I know a bit about The Ringer--
not much, but a bit. And I'm not goin' to tell that bit. And why? Because
I just come out of 'stir' and Meister's give me a job. I want to live
peaceable without any trouble from anybody."

"Now don't be foolish, Hackitt," said the Commissioner "If you can help
us we may be able to help you."

Sam's long lip curled in a sardonic smile.

"If I'm dead, can you help me to get alive?" he asked sarcastically. "I
don't nose on The Ringer. He's a bit too hot for me."

"I don't believe you know anything," sneered Bliss.

"What you believe don't interest me," growled the convict.

"Come on--if you know anything, tell the Commissioner, What are you
afraid of?"

"What you're afraid of," snapped Hackitt. "He nearly got you once! Ah!
That don't make you laugh! I'm very sorry; I come up here under what is
termed a misapprehension. Good--bye, everybody."

He turned to go.

"Here, wait," said Bliss.

"Let him go--let him go!" The Commissioner waved Sam Hackitt out of
existence.

"He never saw The Ringer," said Bliss when the man had gone.

Walford shook his head. "I don't agree. His whole attitude shows that he
has. Is Meister here?"

"Yes, sir--he's in the waiting--room," replied Alan.



CHAPTER 24


A FEW seconds later came Maurice Meister, his debonair self, yet not
wholly at his ease. He strode into the room, examined his wrist--watch
ostentatiously, and looked from one to the other.

"I think there must be some mistake," he said. "I thought I was going to
see the Chief Constable."

Walford nodded. "Yes, but unfortunately he's ill; I'm taking his place."

"I was asked to call at eleven--thirty; it is now"--he consulted his
watch--"twelve--forty--nine. I have a case to defend at the Greenwich
Police Court. God knows what will happen to the poor devil if I'm not
there."

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting," said Colonel Walford coldly. "Take
a seat."

As he went to sit, putting his stick and hat on the desk, he looked at
Bliss. "Your face is vaguely familiar," he said.

"My name is Bliss," replied the detective. The eyes of the two men met.

So this was Bliss: Maurice averted his eyes from that defiant stare. "I'm
sorry--I thought I knew you."

He seated himself carefully near the desk, placed his hat on the table
and drew off his gloves.

"It is a little unusual, is it not, to summon an officer of the Royal
Courts of Justice to Scotland Yard?" he asked.

The Assistant Commissioner settled himself back in his chair: he had
dealt with men far cleverer than Maurice Meister.

"Now, Mr. Meister, I am going to speak very frankly--that is why I
brought you here."

Meister's brows met. "'Brought' is not a word I like, Mr. Walford."

"Colonel Walford," prompted Alan. The Colonel took up a minute paper and
read a line or two.

"Mr. Meister," he began, "you are a lawyer with a large clientele in
Deptford?"  Meister nodded. "There isn't a thief in South London who
doesn't know Mr. Meister of Flanders Lane. You are famous both as a
defender of hopeless cases--and--er--as a philanthropist." Again
Meister inclined his head as though at a compliment. "A man commits a
burglary and gets away with it. Later he is arrested; none of the stolen
property is found--he is apparently penniless. Yet you not only defend
him personally in the police court, and through eminent counsel at the
Old Bailey, but during the time the man is in prison you support his
relatives."

"Mere humanity! Am I--am I to be suspect, as it were, because I--I help
these unfortunate people? I will not see the wives and the wretched
children suffer through the faults of their parents," said Maurice
Meister virtuously.

Bliss had stepped out of the room. Why, he wondered, in some
apprehension.

"Oh, yes; I'm sure of that," answered the Colonel dryly. "Now, Mr.
Meister, I haven't brought you here to ask you about the money that you
distribute from week to week, or where it comes from. I'm not even going
to suggest that somebody who has access to the prisoner in a professional
capacity has learnt where the proceeds of the robbery are hidden, and has
acted as his agent."

"I am glad you do not say that, Colonel." Meister had recovered his nerve
by now; was his old urbane self. There was danger here, deadly,
devastating danger. He had need for a cool head. "If you had said that, I
should have been extremely--"

"I'm not insisting on it, I tell you. The money comes from somewhere,
Meister. I am not curious. Sometimes you do not support your clients with
money--you take their relatives into your employment?"

"I help them in one way or another," admitted Meister.

The Colonel was eyeing him closely.

"When a convict has a pretty sister, for example, you find it convenient
to employ her. You have a girl secretary now, a Miss Lenley?"

"Yes."

"Her brother Went to prison for three years on information supplied to
the police--by you!"

Meister shrugged his shoulders. "It was my duty. In whatever other
respect I fail, my duty as a citizen is paramount."

"Two years ago," said Walford slowly, "she had a predecessor, a girl who
was subsequently found drowned." He paused, as though waiting for a
response. "You heard me?"

Maurice sighed and nodded. "Yes, I heard you. It was a tragedy. I've
never been so shocked in my life--never. I don't like even to think
about it."

"The girl's name was Gwenda Milton." Walford spoke deliberately. "The
sister of Henry Arthur Milton--otherwise known as--The Ringer!"

There was something in his tone which was significant. Meister looked at
the Colonel strangely.

"The most brilliant criminal we have in our records--and the most
dangerous."

Two spots of dull red came into the sallow face of the lawyer.

"And never caught. Colonel--never caught!" he almost shouted. "Although
the police knew that he was passing through Paris--knew the time to a
minute--he slipped through their fingers. All the clever policemen in
England and all the clever policemen in Australia have never caught him."

He gained control of his voice; was his old urbane self in an instant.

"I'm not saying anything against the police. As a ratepayer, I am proud
of them--but it wasn't clever to let him slip. I don't mind saying this
to you because you're new to the business."

The Commissioner overlooked the implied insolence of this reference to
his recent appointment.

"He should have been taken, I admit," he said quietly. "But that is
beside the point. The Ringer left his sister in your care. Whether he
trusted you with his money I don't know--he trusted you with his
sister."

"I treated her well," protested Meister. "Was it my fault that she died?
Did I throw her into the river? Be reasonable. Colonel!"

"Why did she end her life?" asked Walford sternly.

"How should I know? I never dreamt that she was in any kind of trouble.
As God is my judge!"

The Colonel checked him with a gesture. "And yet you made all the
arrangements for her at the nursing home," he said significantly.

Meister's face paled. "That's a lie!"

"It didn't come out at the inquest. Nobody knows but Scotland Yard and--
Henry Arthur Milton!"

Maurice Meister smiled. "How can he know--he's dead. He died in
Australia."

There was a pause, and then Walford spoke.

"The Ringer is alive--he's here," he said, and Meister came to his feet,
white to the lips.



CHAPTER 25


MAURICE MEISTER faced the Assistant Commissioner with horror in his eyes.

"The Ringer here! Are you serious?"

The Commissioner nodded.

"I repeat--he's alive--he's here."

"That can't be true! He wouldn't dare come here with a death sentence
hanging over him. The Ringer! You're trying to scare me--ha! ha!" He
forced a laugh. "Your little joke, Colonel."

"He's here--I've sent for you to warn you."

"Why warn me?" demanded Meister. "I never saw him in my life, I don't
even know what he looks like. I knew the girl he used to run around with
an American girl. She was crazy about him. Where is she? Where she is,
he is."

"She's in London. In this very building at this very moment!"

Meister's eyes opened wide.

"Here? The Ringer wouldn't dare do it!" And then, with sudden violence:
"If you know he's in London, why don't you take him? The man's a madman.
What are you for? To protect people--to protect me! Can't you get in
touch with him? Can't you tell him that I knew nothing about his sister,
that I looked after her and was like a father to her? Wembury, you know
that I had nothing to do with this girl's death?"

He turned to Alan.

"I know nothing about it," said the detective coldly. "The only thing I
know is that if anything happens to Mary Lenley, I'll--"

"Don't you threaten me!" stormed Meister.

"I don't know what women see in you, Meister! Your reputation is foul!"

Meister's lips were trembling. "Lies, more lies! They tear a man's
character to rags, these scum! There have been women--naturally. We're
men of the world. One isn't an anchorite. The Ringer!"--he forced a
smile. "Pshaw! Somebody has been fooling you! Don't you think I should
have heard? Not a bird moves in Deptford but I know it. Who has seen
him?"

"Meister, I've warned you," said Walford seriously as he rang a bell.
"From now on your house will be under our observation. Have bars put on
your windows; don't admit anybody after dark and never leave the house by
night except with a police escort."

Inspector Bliss came in at that moment.

"Oh, Bliss--I think Mr. Meister may need a little care taken of him--I
put him in your charge. Watch over him like a father." The dark eyes of
the detective fell upon the lawyer as he rose. "The day you take him I'll
give a thousand pounds to the Police Orphanage," said Meister.

"We don't want money so badly as that. I think that is all. It is not my
business to pass judgment on any man. It is a dangerous game that you are
playing. Your profession gives you an advantage over other receivers--"

It was the one word above all others that Meister hated.

"Receiver! You hardly realise what you are saying."

"Indeed I do. Good morning."

Meister polished his hat on his sleeve as he walked to the door. "You
will be sorry for that statement, Colonel. For my own part, I am unmoved
by your hasty judgment." He looked at his watch. "Five minutes to one--"

He had left behind his walking stick. Bliss picked it up. The handle was
loose, and with a twist he drew out a long steel blade. "Your swordstick,
Mr. Meister--you seem to be looking after yourself pretty well," he said
with an unholy grin.

Meister shot one baleful look at him as he went out of the room.

He scarcely remembered leaving the Chief Constable's office, but walked
down the corridor and into the yard like a man in a dream. It was not
possible. The Ringer back in London! All these stories at which he had
scoffed were true. A terrible miracle had happened. Henry Arthur Milton
was here, in this great city, might be this man or that...he found
himself peering into the faces he met between the Yard and the sidewalk
where his car was parked.

"Is anything wrong, Maurice?" asked Mary anxiously, as she came to meet
him.

"Wrong?" His voice was thick, unnatural; the eyes had a queer, glazed
expression. "Wrong? No, nothing is wrong--why? What can be wrong?"

All the time he was speaking, his head turned nervously left and right.
Who was that man walking towards him, swinging a cane so light-heartedly?
Might he not be The Ringer? And that pedlar, shuffling along
with a tray of matches and studs before him, an unkempt, grimy,
dirty-looking old man--it was such a disguise as The Ringer would love
to adopt. Bliss? Where had he seen Bliss before? Somewhere...his voice,
too, had a familiar sound. He racked his brains to recall. Even the
chauffeur came under his terrified scrutiny: a burly man with a long
upper lip and a snub nose. That could not be The Ringer...

"What is the matter, Maurice?"

He looked at her vacantly. "Oh, Mary!" he said. "Yes, of course, my dear,
we ought to be getting home."

He stumbled past her into the car, dropped on to the padded seat with a
little groan.

"Do you want to go back to Deptford, Maurice?"

"Yes--back to Deptford."

She gave instructions to the chauffeur and, entering the car after him,
closed the door. "Was it something awful, Maurice?"

"No, my dear." He roused himself with a start. "Awful?...No, a lie,
that's all! Tried to scare me...tried to scare Maurice Meister!" His
laugh was thin and cracked and wholly unnatural. "They thought it would
rattle me. You know what these police commissioners are...jumped up army
officers who have been jobbed into a soft billet, and have to pretend
they understand police work to keep it!" His face changed.

"That man Bliss was there--the fellow you told me about. I can't quite
place him, Mary. Did your--did Wembury tell you anything about him?" She
shook her head.

"No, Maurice, I only know what I told you."

"Bliss!" he muttered. "I've never seen a detective with a beard before.
They used to wear them years ago: it was quite the ordinary thing, but
nowadays they're clean--shaven...he comes from America, too. Did you
see Hackitt?"

She nodded. "He came out about ten minutes before you and got on a tram."

He heaved a deep and troubled sigh. "I wish I'd seen him. I'd like to
know what they asked him about. Of course I know now: they brought him
there for an altogether different reason. They're sly, these fellows; you
never know what they're after. The truth isn't in them!"

He was feeling in his pocket for the little cushion--shaped gold box,
and Mary pretended not to see. She had guessed the nature of the
stimulant which Maurice took at frequent intervals, and of late he had
made no disguise of his weakness. He snuffled at a pinch of white,
glittering powder, dusted his face with a handkerchief, and a few seconds
later was laughing at himself--another man. She had often wondered at
the efficacy of the drug, not realising that every week he had to
increase the dose to produce the desired effect, and that one day he
would be a cringing, crawling slave to the glittering white powder which
he now regarded as his servant.

"Wembury threatened me, by gad!" His tone had changed: he was now his
pompous self. "A wretched hireling police officer threatened me, an
officer of the High Court of Justice!"

"Surely not, Maurice? Alan threatened you?" He nodded solemnly, and was
about to tell her the nature of the threat when he thought better of it.
Even in his present mood of exaltation he had no desire to raise the
subject of Gwenda Milton.

"I took no notice, of course. One is used to dealing with that kind of
creature. By the way, Mary, I have made inquiries and I've discovered
that Johnny was not involved in the prison riot."

She was so grateful for this news, that she did not for one moment
question its authenticity. Mary did not know that Scotland Yard was as
ignorant of what happened in the prison as the Agricultural and Fisheries
Board. But when he was under the influence of the drug, Maurice lied for
the pleasure of lying: it was symptomatic of the disease.

"No, he was not in any way connected with the trouble. It was a man
named--I forget the name, but it doesn't matter--who was the
ringleader. And, my dear, I've been thinking over that burglary at your
house." He half-turned to face her, the drug had transformed him: he was
the old loquacious, debonair and carefree Meister she knew. "You can't
stay any longer at Malpas Mansions. I will not allow it. Johnny would
never forgive me if anything happened to you."

"But where can I go, Maurice?"

He smiled.

"You're coming to my house. I'll have that room put in order and the
lights seen to. You can have a maid to look after you..."

She was shaking her head already. "That is impossible," she said quietly.
"I am not at all nervous about the burglary, and I am quite sure that
nobody intended harming me. I shall stay at Malpas Mansions, and if I get
too nervous I shall go into lodgings."

"My dear Mary!" he expostulated.

"I'm determined on that, Maurice," she said, and he was a picture of
resignation.

"As you wish. Naturally, I would not suggest that you should come to a
bachelor's establishment without rearranging my household to the new
conditions; but if you're set against honouring my little hovel, by all
means do as you wish."

As they approached New Cross he woke from the reverie into which he had
fallen and asked: "I wonder who is on the rack at this moment?"

She could not understand what he meant for a moment.

"You mean at Scotland Yard?"

He nodded. "I'd give a lot of money," he said slowly, "to know just what
is happening in Room C 2 at this very second, and who is the unfortunate
soul facing the inquisitors."



CHAPTER 26


DR. LOMOND could neither be described as an unfortunate soul, nor the
genial Assistant Commissioner as an inquisitor. Colonel Walford for the
moment was being very informative, and the old doctor listened, rolling
one of his interminable cigarettes, and apparently not particularly
interested in the recital.

Lomond was possessed of many agreeable qualities, and he had the dour
humour of his race. Alert and quick--witted, he displayed the confidence
and assurance of one who was so much master of his own particular subject
that he could afford to mock himself and his science. His attitude
towards the Commissioner was respectful only so far as it implied the
deference due to an older man, but an equal.

He paused at the door.

"I'll not be in the way, will I?"

"Come along in, doctor," smiled the Commissioner.

"Poor old Prideaux!" he shook his head sadly. "Man, it's on my conscience
sending a man to be hanged in the suburbs! There was a dignity about
Newgate and an historical value to being hanged at Tyburn. I wish I
didn't know so much about criminology. Have ye ever noticed Wembury's
ears, sir? He exhibited these appendages of the embarrassed Wembury in
the manner of a showman. A tee--pical criminal ear! In conjunction with
the prognathic process of the jaw suggests a rabid homicide! Have ye ever
committed a murder?"

"Not yet," growled Alan.

Lomond finished rolling his cigarette, and the Commissioner, who had been
waiting patiently for this operation to be concluded, spoke: "I wanted to
have a little chat with you, doctor."

"About a woman," said Lomond, without looking up.

"How the devil did you guess that?" asked the surprised Walford.

"I didn't guess; I knew. You see, you're a broadcaster--most people are.
And I'm terribly receptive. Telepathic. It's one of the animal things
left in me."

Bliss was watching, his lips lifted in derision.

"Animal?" he growled. "I always thought telepathy was one of the signs of
intellect. That's what they say in America."

"They say so many things in America that they don't mean. Telepathy is
just animal instinct which has been smothered under reason. What would
you have me do for the lady?"

"I want you to find out something about her husband," said Walford, and
the doctor's eyes twinkled.

"Would she know? Do wives know anything about their husbands?"

"I'm not so sure that he is her husband," said Bliss.

The old man chuckled.

"Ah! Then she would! She'd know fine if he was somebody else's husband.
Who is she?"

The Commissioner turned to Wembury.

"What is her real name?"

"Cora Ann Milton--she was born Cora Ann Barford."

Lomond looked up suddenly.

"Barford--Cora Ann? Cora Ann! That's a coincidence!"

"Why?"

"I was hearing a lot about a Cora Ann, a few months ago," said the
doctor, lighting his limp cigarette.

"You don't want me, sir?" said Bliss. "I've got some real work to do!" He
walked to the door. "Doctor, here's a job after your own heart. A man
with your wisdom ought to catch him in a week."

"I ignore that," said the doctor, smoking placidly, and the sound of his
chuckle pursued Bliss down the corridor.

And now Lomond was to hear the police story of The Ringer. The
Commissioner opened a dossier.

"The history of this man is a most peculiar one, and will interest you as
an anthropologist. In the first place, he has never been in our hands.
The man is an assassin. So far as we know, he has never gained a penny by
any of the murders of which we suspect him. We know almost for certain
that during the war he was an officer in the Flying Corps--a solitary
man with only one friend, a lad who was afterwards shot on an
ill-founded charge of cowardice made by his colonel--Chafferis--Wisman.
Three months after the war ended Chafferis--Wisman was killed. We
suspect, indeed we are certain, the murderer was The Ringer, who had
disappeared immediately after the Armistice was signed--didn't even wait
to draw his gratuity."

"He was no Scotsman," interjected Lomond.

"He had refused the D.S.O.--every decoration that was offered to him,"
Walford went on. "He was never photographed in any of the regimental
groups. We have only one drawing of him, made by a steward on a boat
plying between Seattle and Vancouver. It was on this boat that Milton was
married."

"Married?"

Walford explained.

"There was a girl on the ship, a fugitive from American justice; she had
shot a man who had insulted her in some low--down dance hall in Seattle.
She must have confided in Milton that she would be arrested on her
arrival in Vancouver, for he persuaded a parson on board to marry them.
She became a British subject and defeated the extradition law," he
continued. "It was a foolish, quixotic thing to do."

Lomond's eyes twinkled.

"Ah, then, he must be a Scotsman. He's really a terror, eh?"

"If people knew this man was in England, there would be trouble," said
the Colonel. "He certainly killed old Oberzhon, who ran a South American
agency of a very unpleasant character. He killed Attaman, the
moneylender. Meister, by the way, was in the house when the murder was
committed. There has been method in every killing. He left his sister in
Meister's charge when he had to fly the country over the Attaman affair.
He did not know that Meister was giving us information about his
movements. And, of course, Meister being the brute he is..." He shrugged.

"The Ringer knows?" Lomond moved his chair nearer to the desk. "Come
that's interesting."

"We know he was in Australia eight months ago. Our information is that
he is now in England--and if he is, he has come back with only one
object: to settle with Meister in his own peculiar way. Meister was his
solicitor--he was always running around with Gwenda Milton."

"You say you have a picture of him?"

The Commissioner handed a pencil sketch to Lomond, and the doctor gasped.

"You're joking--why--I know this man!"

"What!" incredulously.

"I know his funny little beard, emaciated face, rather nice eyes--good
Lord!"

"You know him--surely not?" said Wembury.

"I don't say I know him, but I have met him."

"Where--in London?"

Lomond shook his head.

"No. I met this fellow in Port Said about eight months ago. I stepped off
there on my way back from Bombay. I was staying at one of the hotels,
when I heard that there was a poor European who was very sick in some
filthy caravanserai in the native quarter. Naturally I went over and saw
him--the type of creature who pigs with natives interests me. And there
I found a very sick man; in fact, I thought he was going to peg out." He
tapped the picture. "And it was this gentleman!"

"Are you certain?" asked Walford.

"No man with a scientific mind can be certain of anything. He had come
ashore from an Australian ship--"

"That's our man, sir!" exclaimed Wembury.

"Did he recover?"

"I don't know." Lomond was dubious. "He was delirious when I saw him.
That is where I heard the names 'Cora Ann'. I saw him twice. The third
time I called, the old lady who ran the show told me that he had wandered
out in the night--the Lord knows what happened to him; probably he fell
into the Suez Canal and was poisoned. Would he be The Ringer? No, it's
not possible!"

The Commissioner looked at the sketch again.

"It almost seems like it. I've an idea that he is not dead. Now you may
be useful, doctor. If there is one person who knows where The Ringer is
to be found, it is Mrs. Milton."

"Cora Ann. Yes?"

"Doctor, I was more than impressed by your examination of Prideaux. I
want you to try your hand on this woman. Bring her up, inspector."

When the door closed on Wembury he drew another paper from the folder.
"Here are the ascertainable facts about her movements. She returned to
this country on a British passport three weeks ago. She is staying at the
Marlton."

Lomond adjusted his glasses and read. "She came overland from Genoa--
British passport, you say. Is she--er--married?"

"Oh, there's no doubt about that; he married her on the boat, but they
were only a week together."

"A week? Ah, then she may still be in love with him," said the cynical
Lomond. "If my Egyptian friend is The Ringer, I know quite a lot about
this woman. He was rather talkative in his delirium, and I'm beginning to
remember some of the things he told me. Now, let me think! Cora Ann..."
He turned suddenly. "Orchids!...I've got it!"



CHAPTER 27


IT was at that moment that Cora Ann was ushered in. She was brightly and
expensively dressed, and for a moment she stood looking from one to the
other, poising the cigarette she held between her gloved fingers.

"Good morning, Mrs. Milton." The Commissioner rose. "I asked you to come
because I rather wanted my friend here to have a little talk with you."

Cora scarcely looked at the shabby doctor: her attention was for the
moment concentrated on the military--looking Commissioner.

"Why, isn't that nice!" she drawled. "I'm just crazy to talk to
somebody." She smiled round at Wembury. "What's the best show in London,
anyway? I've seen most of 'em in New York, but it was such a long time
ago--"

"The best show in London, Mrs. Milton," said Lomond, "is Scotland Yard!
Melodrama without music, and you are the leading lady."

She looked at him for the first time.

"Isn't that cute! What am I leading?" she asked.

"Me, for the moment," said the cheerful Scot. "You haven't seen much of
London lately, Mrs. Milton--it is Mrs. Milton, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"You've been abroad, haven't you?"

"I certainly have--all abroad!" she replied slowly.

Lomond's voice was very bland. "And how did you leave your husband?" he
asked.

She was not smiling now. "Say, Wembury, who is this fellow?" she
demanded.

"Doctor Lomond, police surgeon, 'R' division."

The news was reassuring. There was a note of amusement in her voice when
she replied. "You don't say? Why, you know, doctor, that I haven't seen
my husband in years, and I'll never see him again. I thought everybody
had read that in the newspapers. Poor Arthur was drowned in Sydney
Harbour."

Dr. Lomond's lips twitched and he nodded at the gaily attired girl.
"Really? I noticed that you were in mourning."

She was baffled: something of her self--confidence left her. "Why,
that's not the line of talk I like," she said.

"It's the only line of talk I have." He was smiling now. "Mrs. Milton, to
revert to a very painful subject--"

"If it hurts you, don't talk about it."

"Your husband left this country hurriedly three"--he turned to Wembury--
"or was it four years ago. When did you see him last?"

Cora Ann was coolness itself. She did not answer the question. Here was a
man not to be despised. A crafty, shrewd man of affairs, knowledge in the
deeps of his grey--blue twinkling eyes.

"You were in Sydney three months after he reached there," Lomond
continued, consulting the paper which Walford had given him. "You called
yourself Mrs. Jackson, and you registered at the Harbour Hotel. You had
suite No. 36, and whilst you were there you were in communication with
your husband."

The corners of her mouth twisted in a smile. Cora's sarcasm was a
tantalising thing.

"Isn't that clever! Suite No. 36 and everything! Just like a real little
sleuth!" Then, deliberately: "I never saw him, I tell you."

But Lomond was not to be put off.

"You never saw him, I guess that. He telephoned. You asked him to meet
you--or didn't you? I'm not quite sure." He paused, but Cora Ann did not
answer. "You don't want to tell me, eh? He was scared that there was
somebody trailing you--scared that you might lead the police to him."

"Scared!" she repeated scornfully. "Where did you get that word? Nothing
would scare Arthur Milton--anyway, he's dead!"

"And now has nothing to be scared about--if he was a Presbyterian," said
Lomond--it was Lomond at his pawkiest. "Let's bring him to life, shall
we?" He snapped his fingers. "Come up. Henry Arthur Milton, who left
Melbourne on the steamship Themistocles on the anniversary of his
wedding--and left with another woman."

Up to this moment Cora Ann had remained cool, but at the mention of the
name of the ship she stiffened, and at his last words she came to her
feet in a fury.

"That's a lie! There never was another woman." Recovering herself, she
laughed. "Aw, listen! You put a raw one over there! I'm a fool to get
sore with you! I don't know anything, that's all. You've got nothing on
me--I needn't answer a single question. I know the law; there's no third
degree in England, don't forget it. I'm going."

She moved towards the door, Wembury waiting to open it, his hand upon the
knob.

"Open the door for Mrs. Milton," said Lomond, and added innocently: "It
is Mrs. Milton, isn't it?"

She flung round at this. "What do you mean?"

"I thought it might be one of those artistic marriages that are so
popular with the leisured classes," suggested Lomond, and she walked
slowly back to him.

"You may be a hell of a big doctor," she said, a little breathlessly,
"but your diagnosis is all wrong!"

"Really--married and everything?" Scepticism was in his voice.

She nodded. "First on the ship by a parson, and that's legal, and then at
St. Paul's Church, Deptford, to make sure. Deptford is a kind of home
town to me. Next to an ash--pit I don't know any place I'd hate worse to
be found dead in. Folks over home talk about Limehouse and Whitechapel--
they're garden cities compared with that hell--shoot! But I was married
there by a real reverend gentleman. There was nothing artistic about it--
except my trousseau!"

"Married, eh?" The old Scot's voice spoke his doubts. "Liars and married
men have very short memories--he forgot to send you your favourite
orchids."

She turned suddenly in a cold fury--a fury which had grown out of her
increasing fear of this old man.

"What do you mean?" she asked again.

"He always sent you orchids on the anniversary of your wedding," said
Lomond carefully, and never once did his eyes leave hers. "Even when he
was hiding in Australia, he in one town, you in another--when he was
being watched for, and you were shadowed, he sent you flowers. But this
year he didn't. I suppose he forgot, or possibly he had other use for
orchids?"

She came nearer to him, almost incoherent in her rage.

"You think so!" She almost spat the words. "That's the kind of thought a
man like you would have! Can't get that bug out of your head, can you?
Another woman! Arthur thought of nobody but me--the only thing that hurt
him was that I couldn't be with him. That's what! He risked everything
just to see me--just to see me. I must have met him on Collins Street
but didn't know him--he took the chance of the gallows just to stand
there and see me pass."

"And well worth the risk. So he was in Melbourne when you were there--
but he did not send you your orchids?"

She flung out her hand impatiently.

"Orchids! What do I want with orchids? I knew when they didn't come--"
She stopped suddenly.

"That he had left Australia," accused Lomond. "That is why you came away
in such a hurry. I'm beginning to believe that you are in love with him!"

"Was I?" she laughed. "I kind of like him," Cora took up her bag. "Well,
that is about all, I guess." She nodded to the Colonel and walked a step
nearer the door. "You're not going to arrest me or anything?"

"You are at liberty to go out, when you wish, Mrs. Milton," said Walford.

"Fine!" said Cora Ann, and made a little curtsy. "Good morning,
everybody."

"Love is blind." The hateful voice of the inquisitor arrested her. "You
met him and didn't recognise him! You want us to believe that he was so
well disguised that he could venture abroad in Collins Street in
daylight--oh no, Cora Ann, that won't do!"

She was very near the end of her control. Rage shook her as she turned
back to her tormentor.

"On Collins Street? He'd walk on Regent Street--in daylight or
moonlight. Dare? If he felt that way, he'd come right here to Scotland
Yard--into the lions' den, and never turn a hair. That's the fool thing
he would do. You could guard every entrance and he'd get in and get out!
You laugh--laugh, go on, laugh, but he'd do it--he'd do it--"

Bliss had come into the room.

Looking past the doctor, she might see him. Alan Wembury did not follow
the direction of her eyes--only he saw her face go white, saw her sway
and caught her in his arms as she fell.



CHAPTER 28


No woman is wholly saint, or, in this enlightened age, innocent of the
evil which rubs elbows with men and women alike in everyday life. Mary
Lenley had passed through all the stages of understanding where Maurice
Meister was concerned, beginning with the absolute trust which was a
legacy of her childhood, and progressing by a series of minor shocks to a
clearer appreciation of the man as he really was, and not as she, in her
childish enthusiasm, had pictured him. And with this understanding ran a
nice balance of judgment. She was neither horrified nor distressed when
there dawned upon her mind the true significance of Gwenda Milton's fate.
Nobody spoke to her plainly of that unhappy girl. She had perforce to
piece together from extrinsic evidence, the scraps of information so
grudgingly given, and fill in the gaps from her imagination.

It was a curious fact that she did not regard herself as being in any
danger from Maurice. They had been such good friends; their earlier
relationships had been so peculiarly intimate that never once did she
suspect that the pulse of Maurice Meister quickened at the sight of her.
His offer to place the suite upstairs at her disposal, she had regarded
merely as an act of kindness on his part, which, had it been considered,
he would have made, and her own refusal was largely based upon her love
of independence and a distaste for accepting a hospitality which might
prove irksome, and in the end, unworkable. Behind it all, was the
instinctive dislike of the woman to place herself under too deep an
obligation to a man. Two days after the interview at Scotland Yard, she
came one morning to find the house filled with workmen who were fitting a
new sash to the large window overlooking the leads.

"Putting some bars up at the window, miss," said one of the workmen. "I
hope we're not going to make too much noise for you."

Mary smiled. "If you do I'll take my work into another room," she said.

Why bars at the window? The neighbourhood was an unsavoury one, but never
once had Mr. Meister been subjected to the indignity of harbouring an
uninvited guest in the shape of a burglar. There was precious little to
lose, so far as she could see, though Mr. Meister's silver was of the
finest. Hackitt was never tired of talking about the silver; it
fascinated him.

"Every time I polish that milk jug, miss, I get nine months," her told
her, and the mention of imprisonment brought her mind back to Scotland
Yard.

"Yes, miss," said Sam, "I saw the Chief Commissioner--it's funny how
these coppers can never find anything out, without applying to us lags!"

"What did he want to see you about, Hackitt?"

"Well, miss"--Sam hesitated--"it was about a friend of mine, a
gentleman I used to know."

He would tell her nothing but this. She was intrigued. She asked Meister
at the first opportunity what the ex--convict had meant, and he also
evaded the question.

"It would be wise, my dear, if you did not discuss anything with
Hackitt," he said. "The man is a liar and wholly unscrupulous. There's
nothing he wouldn't say to make a little bit of a scare. Have you heard
from Johnny?"

She shook her head. A letter had been due that morning but it had not
arrived, and she was unaccountably disappointed. "Why are you putting
these bars up, Maurice?"

"To keep out bad characters," he said flippantly. "I prefer that they
should come through the door."

The little jest amused him. His general manner suggested that he had had
recourse to his old system of stimulation.

"It's terribly lonely here at night," he went on. "I wonder if you
realise how lonely a man I am, Mary?"

"Why don't you go out more?" she suggested.

He shook his head.

"That is the one thing I don't want to do--just now," he answered. "I
wouldn't mind so much if I could get somebody to stay later. In fact, my
dear Mary, I won't beat about the bush, but I should be very greatly
obliged to you if you would spend a few of your evenings here."

He probably anticipated the answer he received.

"I'm sorry, Maurice, but I don't wish to," she said. "That sounds very
ungrateful, I know, after all you have done for me, but can't you see how
impossible it is?"

He was looking at her steadily from under his lowered lids, and
apparently did not accept her refusal in the light of a rebuff.

"Won't you come to supper one night and try me? I will play you the most
gorgeous sonata that composer ever dreamt! It bores me to play to
myself," he went on, forestalling her reply. "Don't you think you could
be very sociable and come up one evening?"

There was really no reason why she should not, and she hesitated.

"I'll think about it," she said.

That afternoon an unusual case came to Mr. Meister, the case of a drunken
motorist who was arrested whilst he was driving a car, and she was
preparing to go home that night when Mr. Meister came hurrying in from a
visit to the unfortunate.

"Don't go yet, Mary," he said. "I have a letter I want to write to Dr.
Lomond about this wretched prisoner. Lomond has certified him as being
drunk, but I am getting his own doctor down, and I want this old Scotsman
to be present at the examination."

He dictated the letter, which she typed and brought to him for his
signature.

"How can I get this to Lomond's house?" he asked, and looked up at her.
"I wonder if you would mind taking it? It is on your way--he has
lodgings in Shardeloes Road."

"I'll take it with pleasure," said Mary with a smile. "I am anxious to
meet the doctor again."

"Again? When did you see him last?" he asked quickly.

She told him of the little conversation they had had outside Scotland
Yard. Meister pinched his lip.

"He's a shrewd old devil," he said thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure that he
hasn't more brains than the whole of Scotland Yard together. Give him
your brightest smile, Mary: I particularly want to get this man off a
very serious charge. He is a very rich stockbroker who lives at
Blackheath."

Mary wondered, as she left the house, what effect her bright smile might
have in altering the diagnosis the doctor had made; she very rightly
surmised that the police surgeon was not the type of man who was
susceptible to outside influence.

Dr. Lomond's rooms were in a dull little house in a rather dull little
road, and the landlady who answered her knock seemed to have taken
complete control of the doctor's well--being.

"He's only just come in, miss, and I don't think he'll see you."

But Mary insisted, giving her name, and the woman went away, to return
immediately to usher her into a very Victorian parlour, where, on the
most uncomfortable of horsehair chairs, sat the doctor, an open book on
his knees and a pair of steel--rimmed pince--nez gripped to the end of
his nose.

"Well, well, my dear," he said, as he closed the book and came cautiously
to his feet. "What is your trouble?"

She handed him the letter and he opened it and read, keeping up a long
string of comment in an undertone, which she supposed was not intended to
reach her.

"Ah...from Meister...the slimy scoundrel...About the drunk...I
thought so! Drunk he was and drunk he is, and all the great doctors of
Harley Street will no' make him sober...Verra well, verra well!"

He folded the letter, put it in his pocket and beamed over his glasses at
the girl.

"He's made a messenger of ye, has he? Will ye no' sit down. Miss Lenley?"

"Thank you, doctor," she said, "I am due at my flat in a few minutes."

"Are ye now? And ye'd be a wise young leddy if ye remained in your flat."

What made her tell the doctor, she did not know: before she realised what
she was saying, she was halfway through the story of her burglary.

"Inspector Bliss?" he mused. "He was the man--yes, I heard of it. Alan
Wembury told me. That's a nice boy, Miss Lenley," he added, looking at
her shrewdly. "I'll tell you something. You wonder why Bliss went into
your flat? I don't know, I can't tell you with any accuracy, but I'm a
psychologist, and I balance sane probabilities against eccentric
impulses. That's Greek to you and almost Greek to me too, Miss Lenley.
Bliss went into your room because he thought you had something that he
wanted very much, and when a police officer wants something very much, he
takes unusual risks. You missed nothing?"

She shook her head.

"Nothing except a letter which didn't belong to me. It was left in my
place by Mrs. Milton. I found it and put it in the drawer. That was the
only thing taken."

He rubbed his stubbly chin.

"Would Inspector Bliss know it was there? And if he knew it was there,
would he think it worth while risking his neck to get it? And if he got
it, what would he discover?"

Lomond shook his head.

"It's a queer little mystery which you've got all to yourself, young
leddy."

He walked out into the passage with her and stood in his carpeted feet on
the top step, waving her farewell, a limp cigarette drooping from under
the white moustache.



CHAPTER 29


ONE unpleasant change had come over Maurice Meister since his visit to
Scotland Yard: he was drinking heavily, the brandy bottle was never far
away from his table. He looked old and ill in the mornings; did what he
had never done before--wandered into his big room soon after breakfast,
and, sitting down at the piano, played for hours on end, to her great
distraction. Yet he played beautifully, with the touch of a master and
the interpretation of one inspired. Sometimes she thought that the more
dazed he was, the better he played. He used to sit at the piano, his eyes
staring into vacancy, apparently seeing and hearing nothing. Hackitt used
to come into the room and watch him with a contemptuous grin, speaking to
him sometimes, well assured that the mind of Meister was a million years
away. Even Mary had to wait by him patiently for long periods before she
could obtain any intelligible answer to her questions.

He was afraid of things, jumped at the slightest sound, was reduced to a
quivering panic by an unexpected knock on his door. Hackitt, who was
sleeping in the house, had dark stories to hint at as to what happened in
the night. Once he came and found Maurice's table littered with brandy
bottles, all empty save one. Two days after the workmen had left the
house, Alan Wembury, dozing in the charge room at Flanders Lane, waiting
for the arrival of a prisoner whom he had sent his men to "pull in",
heard the telephone bell ring and the exchange between the desk sergeant
and somebody at the other end of the line.

"For you, Mr. Wembury," said the sergeant, and Alan, shaking himself
awake, took the instrument from his subordinate's hand.

It was Hackitt at the other end, and his voice was shrill with
apprehension.

"...I don't know what's the matter with him. He's been raisin' hell
since three o'clock this morning. Can't you bring a doctor along to see
him, Mr. Wembury?"

"What is the matter with him?" asked Alan.

The scared man at the other end would not vouchsafe an opinion.

"I don't know--he's locked up in his bedroom and he's been shoutin' an'
screamin' like a lunatic."

"I'll come along," said Alan, and hung up the 'phone, as Dr. Lomond
appeared from the cells.

This was the second time he had been called that night to deal with a
case of delirium, and his presence at the police station at that hour of
the morning was very providential. In a few words Alan retailed Hackitt's
report.

"Drink it may be, dope it certainly is," said Dr. Lomond, pulling on his
cotton gloves deliberately. "I'll go along with ye. Maybe I'll save an
inquest!"

But Alan was half--way out of the station--house by now, and Dr. Lomond
had to run to overtake him.

In a quarter of an hour Wembury was pressing the bell in the black door.
It was opened immediately by Hackitt, dressed in shirt and trousers, his
teeth chattering, a look of genuine concern on his face.

"This is a new stunt, isn't it, Sam?" asked Wembury sternly. "Ringing up
the police station for the divisional surgeon? Why didn't you send for
Meister's own doctor?"

Hackitt thought that this was a foolish question but did not say so.

"I didn't know who his doctor was, and he's been shouting blue murder--I
didn't know what to do with him."

"I'll step up and see him," said Lomond. "Where is his room?"

Going to a door, Sam opened it.

"Up here, sir."

Lomond looked up and presently the sound of his footsteps treading the
stairs grew fainter. "You were afraid you'd be suspected if he died,
eh?" asked Wembury. "That's the worst of having a bad record, Hackitt."

He picked up a silver salver from the table--Meister had surprisingly
good silver. Sam was an interested spectator.

"That's heavy, ain't it?" said Sam with professional interest. "That'd
sell well. What would I get for that?"

"About three years," said Alan coldly, and Mr. Hackitt closed his eyes.

Presently he remembered that he had a communication to make. "'Ere, Mr.
Wembury, what's Bliss doin' on your manor?" [Manor = district. E.W.]

"Bliss? Are you sure, Sam?"

"I couldn't make any mistake about a mug like that," said Sam. "He's been
hanging about since I've been here."

"Why?"

"I don't know," confessed the ex--convict. "I found him hiding upstairs
yesterday."

"Mr. Bliss?" To say that Wembury was surprised is to describe his
emotions mildly.

"I said to him 'What are you doin' up here?'" said Sam impressively.

Wembury shook his head. "You're lying," he said.

"All right," retorted the disgusted Sam. "All you fellers hang together."

The feet of Lomond sounded on the stairs, and presently he came in.

"Is he all right, doctor?" asked Wembury.

"Meister? O, Lord, yes. What a lad! Meister? Good old English family
that. Nearly came over with the Conqueror--only the Conqueror lost the
war."

Lomond smelt at the decanter that was on the table, and Wembury nodded.
"That's the poison that is killing him."

Lomond sniffed again. "It's no' poison, it's Scotch! It's the best way of
poisoning yourself I know. No!"--he took a pinch of snuff from an
imaginary box. "Cocaine, Wembury--that's the stuff that's settling
Meister."

He looked round the room. "This is a queer kind of office, Wembury."

"Yes," said Alan soberly, "and some queer things have happened in this
room, I should imagine. Have they put the window bars in?" he asked,
addressing Sam, and the man nodded.

"Yes, sir. What are they for?"

"To keep The Ringer out!"

Sam Hackitt's face was a study. "The Ringer!" he gasped. "That's what
they're for? Here! I'm through with this job! I wondered why he had the
bars put in and why he wanted me to sleep on the premises."

"Oh--you're afraid of The Ringer, are you?" Lomond asked, interested,
and Wembury intervened.

"Don't be a fool, Hackitt. They're all scared of The Ringer."

"I wouldn't stay here at nights for a hundred thousand rounds," said Sam
fervently, and the doctor sniffed.

"It seems a fearful lot of money for a very doubtful service," was his
dry comment. "I'd like you to go away for a while, Mr. Hackitt."

He himself closed the door on the perturbed Sam.

"Come up and look at Meister," he said, and Alan followed the slow-moving
doctor up the stairs.

"He's alive all right," said Lomond, standing in the doorway.

Meister lay on his tumbled bed, breathing stertorously, his face purple,
his hands clutching at the silken coverlet.

A commonplace sordid ending to what promised to be high tragedy, thought
Alan.

And at that moment something gripped his heart, as though an instinctive
voice whispered tremendously that in this end to his first scare was the
beginning of the drama which would involve not only Maurice Meister, but
the girl who was to him something more than the little carriage child who
passed and who swung on the gate of his father's cottage, something more
than the sister of the man he had arrested, something more than he dared
confess to himself.



CHAPTER 30


ONCE or twice during the hour of strenuous work which followed, he heard
Sam Hackitt's stealthy feet on the stairs, and once caught a glimpse of
him as he disappeared in a hurry. When he came down it was nearly seven
o'clock. Sam, very businesslike in his green baize apron, with a pail of
water and a wash--leather in his hand, was industriously cleaning the
windows, somewhat hampered by the bars.

"How is he, sir?" he asked.

Alan did not reply. He was at the mysterious door, the bolted door that
was never opened and led to nowhere.

"Where does this door lead?"

Sam Hackitt shook his head. It was a question that had puzzled him, and
he had promised himself the pleasure of an Inspection the first time he
was left alone in the house.

"I don't know, I've never seen it open. Maybe it's where he keeps his
money. That fellow must be worth millions, Wembury."

Alan pulled up the bolts, and tried the door again. It was locked, and he
looked round. "Is there a key to this?"

Sam hesitated. He had the thief's natural desire to appear in the light
of a fool.

"Yes, there is a key," he said at last, his anxiety for information
overcoming his inclination towards a reputation for innocence. "It's
hanging up over the mantelpiece. I happen to know because--"

"Because you've tried it," said Alan, and Sam protested so violently that
he guessed that whatever plan he may have formed had not yet been put
into execution.

Alan walked to the door leading to the room above and listened: he
thought he heard Meister talking. By the time Lomond returned, Alan
Wembury was growing a little weary of a vigil which he knew was
unnecessary. If he had admitted the truth to himself, he was waiting to
see Mary Lenley.

Lomond worried him a little. This enthusiastic amateur in crime detection
seemed to have come under the fascinating influence of Cora Ann. He had
seen them together twice and had remonstrated.

"She's a dangerous woman, doctor."

"And I'm a fearfully dangerous man," said Lomond. "I like her--I'm sorry
for the poor wee thing. That is my pet vice--being sorry for women."

"Mind that you aren't sorry for yourself some day!" said Wembury
quietly, and the doctor chuckled.

"Eh? What is that? A warning to young lads?" he asked, and changed the
subject.

Wembury was standing outside the house when the police surgeon returned.

"I'll go up and see this poor laddie," he said sardonically. "Are ye
waiting for somebody?"

"Yes--no. I'm waiting for one of my men," said Alan, and the doctor
grinned to himself--he had at last succeeded in making a police officer
blush.

Meister was dozing when he looked in at him, and he came downstairs to
inspect again the room which was both office and drawing--room of
Meister's establishment.

Sam came in and watched the doctor's inspection with interest.

"I saw Wembury outside," he said, with the easy familiarity of his class.
"I suppose he's waiting to see Miss Lenley."

The doctor looked round.

"Who is Miss Lenley?"

"Oh, she's the typewriter," said Sam, and the doctor's eyebrows rose.

"Typewriter? They have a sex, have they? What a pretty idea!" He lifted
the cover of the machine. "What's that one--male or female?"

"I'm talking about the young lady, sir--the lady who works it," said
the patient Sam.

"Oh, the typist? Who is she?" Lomond was interested. "Oh, yes! She's the
sister of the man in prison, isn't she?"

"Yes, sir--Johnny Lenley. Got three for pinchin' a pearl necklace."

"A thief, eh?" He walked over to the piano and opened it.

"A gentleman thief," explained Sam.

"Does she play this?" The doctor struck a key softly.

"No, sir--him."

"Meister?" Lomond frowned. "Oh, so I've heard!"

"When he's all dopy," explained Sam. "Can't hear nothing! Can't see
nothing. He gives me the creeps sometimes."

"Musical. That's bad."

"He plays all right," said Sam with fine contempt for the classics. "I
like a bit of music myself, but the things he plays--" He gave a
horrible imitation of Chopin's Nocturne--"Lummy, gives you the fair
hump!"

The front door bell called the ex--convict from the room, and Dr.
Lomond, sitting on the piano stool, his hands thrust into his pockets,
continued his survey of the room. And as he looked, a curious thing
happened. Above the door, concealed in the architrave, the red light
suddenly glowed. It was a signal--from whom? What was its significance?
Even as he stared, the light went out. Lomond went on tiptoes to the door
and listened. He could hear nothing.

Just then Hackitt returned with half--a--dozen letters in his hand.

"The post--" he began, and then suddenly saw Lomond's face.

"Hackitt," asked the doctor softly, "who else is in this house beside you
and Meister?"

He looked at him suspiciously. "Nobody. The old cook's ill."

"Who gets Meister's breakfast?"

"I do," nodded Sam; "a biscuit and a corkscrew!"

Lomond looked up at the ceiling. "What's above here?"

"The lumber--room." Hackitt's uneasiness was increasing. "What's up,
doctor?"

Lomond shook his head. "I thought--no, nothing."

"Here! You ain't half putting the wind up me! Do you want to see the
lumber room, doctor?"

Lomond nodded and followed the man up the stairs, past Meister's room to
a dingy apartment stacked with old furniture. He was hardly out of the
room when Wembury came in with Mary Lenley.

"You're getting me a bad name, Alan," she smiled. "I suppose I shouldn't
call you Alan when you are on duty? I ought to call you Inspector
Wembury."

"I'd be sorry if you didn't call me Alan. Now it does require an effort
to call you Mary. Never forget that I was brought up to call you Miss
Mary and take off my cap to your father!"

Mary sighed.

"Isn't it odd--everything?"

"Yes--it's queer." He watched her as she took off coat and hat. "People
wouldn't believe it if you put it in a book. The Lenleys of Lenley Court,
and the Wemburys of the gardener's cottage!"

She laughed aloud at this.

"Don't be stupid. Heavens, what a lot of letters!"

There was only one which interested her: it was addressed in pencil in
Maurice Meister's neat hand. Evidently its contents were of such
engrossing interest that she forgot Alan Wembury's presence. He saw the
colour surge to her pale cheek and a new light come to her eyes, and his
heart sank. He could not know that Meister had repeated his invitation to
supper and that the flush on Mary's cheek was one of anger.

"Mary," he said for the second time, "are you listening?"

She looked up from the letter she was reading.

"Yes."

How should he warn her? All that morning he had been turning over in his
mind this most vital of problems.

"Are you all right here?" he asked awkwardly.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean--well, Meister hasn't the best of reputations. Does your brother
know you're working here?"

She shook her head and a shadow came to her face. "No--I didn't want to
worry him. Johnny is so funny sometimes, even in his letters."

Alan drew a long breath. "Mary, you know where I am to be found?"

"Yes, Alan, you told me that before." She was surprised.

"Well--er--well, you never know what little problems and difficulties
you may have. I want you--I'd like you to--well, I'd rather like to
feel that if anything unpleasant occurred--" He floundered on, almost
incoherently.

"Unpleasant?" Did he guess, she wondered? She was panic stricken at the
thought.

"And you were--well, distressed," he went on desperately, "you know what
I mean? Well, if anybody--how shall I put it?...If anybody annoyed you,
I'd like you to come to me. Will you?"

Her lips twitched. "Alan! You're being sentimental!"

"I'm sorry."

As he reached the door she called him by name. "You're rather a dear,
aren't you?" she said gently.

"No, I think I'm a damned fool!" said Alan gruffly, and slammed the door
behind him.

She stood by the table thinking; she had a vague uneasiness that all was
not well; that behind the habitual niceness of Maurice Meister was
something sinister, something evil. If Johnny was only free--Johnny, who
would have sacrificed his life for her.



CHAPTER 31


THERE was a way into Meister's house which was known to three people,
and one of these, Maurice hoped, was dead. The second was undoubtedly in
prison, for John Lenley had surprised the lawyer's secret. Meister's
grounds had at one time extended to the bank of a muddy creek, and even
now, there was a small ramshackle warehouse standing in a patch of
weed-grown grass that was part of Meister's demesne, although it was
separated from the house in Flanders Road by a huddle of slum dwellings
and crooked passage--ways.

That morning there walked along the canal bank a young man, who stopped
opposite the factory, and, looking round to see if he was observed,
inserted a key in the weather--beaten door and passed into the rank
ground. In one corner was a tiny brick dwelling which looked like a
magazine, and the same key that had opened the outer gate opened the door
of this, and the stranger slipped inside and locked the door after him
before he began to go down a winding staircase that had a been put there
in recent years.

At the bottom of the stairs was a brick--vaulted passage, high enough
for a short man to walk without discomfort, but not sufficiently elevated
to admit the stranger's progress without his stooping. The floor was
unlittered, and although there were no lights the newcomer searched a
little niche half a dozen steps up the passage and found there the four
electric torches which Meister kept there for his own use. The passage
had recently been swept by the lawyer's own hands.

He expected that very soon a delicious visitor would pass that way,
escaping the observation of the men who guarded the house, and he himself
had conducted Mary Lenley through the passage which held none of the
terrors that are usually associated with such subterranean ways.

The stranger walked on, flashing his light ahead of him. After three
minutes' walk the passage turned abruptly to the left, and finally it
terminated in what had the appearance of a cellar, from which there led
upward a flight of carpeted steps. The stranger went cautiously and
noiselessly up these stairs. Half--way up he felt the tread give and
grinned. It was, he knew, a pneumatic arrangement by which a warning lamp
was lit in Meister's room. He wondered who was with him now, and whether
his forgetfulness of the signal embarrassed the lawyer.

He came to a long panel and listened. He could hear voices: Meister's
and--Mary Lenley's. He frowned. Mary here? He thought she had given up
the work. Bending his ear close to the panel, he listened.

"...my dear," Meister was saying, "you're exquisite--adorable. To see
your fingers move over that shabby old typewriter's keys is like watching
a butterfly flit from flower to flower."

"How absurd you are, Maurice!" said Mary. Then came the slow sound of
music as Meister sat at the piano. Mary's voice again, and the sound of a
little struggle.

Meister caught her by the shoulders and was drawing her to him when,
staring past her, he saw a hand come round the corner of the door.

He only saw this and in another second, with a scream of terror, Meister
had flown from the room, leaving the girl alone.

She stood rooted to the spot terror--stricken. Farther and farther along
the wall crept the hand and then the panel swung open and a young man
stepped into the room.

"Johnny!"

In another instant, Mary Lenley was sobbing in the arms of her brother.



CHAPTER 32


It was Johnny Lenley!

"Darling--why didn't you tell me you were coming back?...This is a
wonderful surprise! Why, I only wrote to you this morning!"

He put her away at arm's length and looked into her face.

"Mary, what are you doing in Meister's office?" he asked quietly, and
something in his tone chilled her.

"I'm working for him," she said. "You knew I was, Johnny, before--before
you went away." And then her hand went up to his face. "It's wonderful to
see you--wonderful! Let me look at you. You poor boy, have you had a bad
time?"

To the watchful and interested Mr. Hackitt, who had made an unobtrusive
entrance and with whom sentiment was a weak point, this seemed an
unnecessary question.

"Not so bad as it might have been," said Johnny carelessly. Then: "Why
did you go to work at all? I left money with Maurice and told him I
didn't want you to work any more. It was the last thing I told him at the
Old Bailey."

Hackitt clicked his lips impatiently. "Left money with Meister? You're
mad!"

But Lenley did not hear. "Did he stop the allowance?" he asked, his anger
rising at the thought.

"No, Johnny, he didn't...I didn't know there was an allowance even."

The brother nodded. "I see," he said.

"You're not angry with me, are you, Johnny?" She raised her tearful eyes
to his. "I can't believe it is you. Why, I didn't expect you home for an
awful long time."

"My sentence was remitted," said Lenley. "A half--lunatic convict
attacked the deputy governor, and I saved him from a mauling. I had no
idea that the authorities would do more than strike off a few days from
my sentence. Yesterday at dinner--time the governor sent for me and told
me that I was to be released on licence."

Again Mr. Hackitt registered despair. Johnny Lenley's notions had never
been as professional as he could have desired them, and here he was
admitting without shame that he had saved the life of one of his natural
enemies! The girl's hands were on her brother's shoulders, her grave eyes
searching his face.

"You're finished with that dreadful life, haven't you?" she asked in a
low voice. "We're going somewhere out of London to live. I spoke to
Maurice about it. He said he'd help you to go straight. Johnny, you
wouldn't have had that terrible sentence if you had only followed his
advice."

John Lenley bit his lip. "Meister told you that, did he?" he asked
slowly. "Mary, are you in love with Maurice?" She stiffened, and he
mistook her indignation for embarrassment. "Do you love him?"

"He has been kind," she said coldly. She struggled hard to think of some
favourable quality of Meister.

"I realise that, dear," he nodded, "but how has he been kind?" And then,
seeing her distress, he gripped her shoulders and shook her gently, and
the hard face softened, and into the grey, deep--set eyes came the old
mother look she had loved in him. "Anyway, you'll work no more."

"Then I must work at once." She laughed, but there was a catch in her
throat. "And you must be very patient...if you want to see Maurice he'll
be down soon now--I think you scared him."

He watched her as she went back to her table, and then caught Hackitt's
eye and jerked his head. "Sam, what's the idea?" Mr. Hackitt shrugged.

"I've only been here a few days. You're a man of the world, Johnny. Ever
seen a tiger being kind to a skinned rabbit? I don't know anything more
than that."

Lenley nodded. "Is that so?" he said.

He had come straight to the lawyer's to liquidate old debts and make an
end of an unprofitable association. And then London and the stink and
grime of Flanders Lane would know him no more: he would find fields where
he could work without the supervision of over--armed guards, and with
the knowledge that peace and comfort lay at his day's end. He stood by
the door, talking to Sam, questioning him, never doubting where Meister's
"kindness" would ultimately end. And then the lawyer came into the room.
His eyes were all for the girl: her nimble fingers flashing amongst the
keys. He went round to her and dropped his hands on her shoulders.

"My dear, forgive me! I'm just as jumpy as I can be, and I'm imagining
all sorts of queer things."

"Maurice!"

The lawyer spun round, his colour coming and going. "You!" he croaked.
"Out!...I thought..."

Johnny Lenley smiled contemptuously. "About two years too soon, eh? I'm
sorry to disappoint you, but miracles happen, even in prison--and I'm
one."

With a tremendous effort the lawyer recovered his balance and was his old
genial self.

"My dear fellow"--he offered a wavering hand, but Lenley apparently did
not see it--"sit down, won't you? What an amazing thing to happen! So it
was you at the panel....Hackitt, give Mr. Lenley a drink...you'll find
one in the cupboard...well, this is a sight for sore eyes!"

Hackitt offered the drink, but the other shook his head. "I want to see
you, Maurice." He looked significantly at Mary, and rising, she left the
room.

"How did you get your ticket?" asked Meister, helping himself to the ever
handy bottle.

"The remainder of my sentence was wiped out," said Lenley curtly. "I
thought you'd have read that."

The lawyer frowned. "Oh! Were you the lag who saved the life of the
governor? I remember reading about it--brave boy!"

He was trying to get command of the situation. Other men had come
blustering into that office, and had poured a torrent of threats over the
table, leaving him unmoved.

"Why did you allow Mary to go on working for you?"

Meister shrugged. "Because, my dear fellow, I can't afford to be
charitable," he said blandly.

"I left you the greater part of four hundred pounds," Lenley's voice was
stern and uncompromising, "the money I got from my first thefts."

"You were well defended, weren't you?"

"I know the fee," said Lenley quietly. "When you had had that, there was
still the greater part of four hundred left. Why did you stop the
allowance?"

The lawyer sat down again in the chair he had vacated, lit cigar, and did
not speak until he saw the match almost burning his fingertips.

"Well, I'll tell you. I got worried about her. I like you, Johnny, I've
always been interested in you and your family. And it struck me that a
young girl living alone, with no work to do, wasn't exactly having a fair
chance. I thought it would be kinder to you and better for her to give
her some sort of employment--keep her mind occupied, you understand, old
man? I take a fatherly interest in the kid."

He met the challenging eyes and his own fell before them.

"Keep your fatherly paws to yourself when you're talking to her, will
you, Maurice?" The words rang like steel on steel.

"My dear fellow!" protested the other.

"And listen!" Lenley went on. "I know you pretty well; I've known you for
a long time, both by reputation and through personal acquaintance. I know
just how much there is in that fatherly interest stuff. If there has been
any monkey business as there was with Gwenda Milton, I'll take that nine
o'clock walk for you!"

Meister jerked up his head.

"Eh?" he rasped.

"From the cell to the gallows," Lenley went on. "And I'll toe the trap
with a good heart. You don't misunderstand me?"



CHAPTER 33


THE lawyer got up slowly. Whatever else he was, Maurice Meister was no
coward when he had to deal with tangible dangers.

"You'll take the nine o'clock walk, will you?" he repeated with a sneer.
"What a very picturesque way of putting things! But you won't walk for
me. I shall read the account in bed."

He strolled across to the piano and sat down, his fingers running
swiftly over the keys. Softly came the dirge--like notes of "Mort d'un
Cosaque"--a dreary, heart-stirring thing that Maurice Meister loved.

"I always read those accounts in bed," he went on, talking through the
music; "they soothe me. Ever go to the cinema, Johnny?" 'The condemned
man spent a restless night and scarcely touched his breakfast. He walked
with a firm step to the scaffold and made no statement. A vulgar end to a
life that began with so much promise.' Hanged men look very ugly."

"I've told you, Maurice--any monkey business, and I'll get you even
before The Ringer." Johnny's voice shook with suppressed passion.

"Ringer!" he laughed. "You have that illusion, too? How amusing!"

The tune changed to "Ich liebe dich."

"The Ringer! Here am I, alive and free, and The Ringer--where is he?
That sounds almost poetical! Dead at the bottom of Sydney Harbour...or
hiding in some unpleasantly hot little town, or in the bush with the
sundowners--a hunted dog."

A man was standing at the barred window behind him, glaring into the
room--a bearded face was pressed to the pane.

"The Ringer is in London, and you know it," said Lenley. "How near he is
to you all the time. God knows!"

As though the eavesdropper heard, he suddenly withdrew.  But for the
moment Maurice Meister had no mind for The Ringer. The music intoxicated,
enthralled him. "Isn't that lovely?" he breathed. "Is there a woman in
the world who can exalt the heart and soul of a man as this--is there a
woman worth one divine harmony of the master?"

"Was Gwenda Milton?" snarled Lenley. The music stopped with a crash and
Meister, rising, turned to Lenley in a cold fury.

"To hell with Gwenda Milton and Gwenda Milton's brother, alive or dead!"
he roared. "Don't mouth her name to me!" He snatched the glass of whisky
he had put on the top if the piano and drained it at a draught. "Do you
think she is on my conscience--she's not! Any more than you or any other
weak whining fool, soaked to the soul with self--pity. That's what's the
matter with you, my dear boy--you're sorry for yourself! Weeping over
your own miseries. The cream of your vanity's gone sour!" Suddenly his
tone changed.

"Ach! Why do you annoy me? Why are you so inexpressibly common? I won't
quarrel with you, my dear Johnny. Now what is it you want?"

For answer the caller took from his pocket a small package and opened it
on the desk. Inside, wrapped in cotton wool, was a little jewelled
bangle. "I don't know how much is due to me; this will make it more."

Meister took the bangle and carried the glittering thing to the light.
"Oh, this is the bracelet--I wondered what you had done with it."

"I collected it on my way here: it was left with a friend of mine. That
is all I had for my three years," he said bitterly. "Three robberies and
I've only touched a profit on one!"

Maurice stroked his upper lip thoughtfully.

"You are thinking of your second exploit: the little affair at Camden
Crescent?"

"I don't want to discuss it," said Johnny impatiently. "I'm finished with
the game. Prison has cured me. Anyhow, in the Camden Crescent job, the
man who you sent to help me got away with the stuff. You told me that
yourself."

In that second a plan was born in Meister's mind. "I told you a lie," he
said slowly. And then, in a more confidential tone: "Our friend never got
away with it."

"What!"

"He hid it. He told me before I got him off to South Africa. There was an
empty house in Camden Crescent--where the burglary was committed--there
is still. I didn't tell you before, because I didn't want to be mixed up
in the business after the Darnleigh affair. I could have got half a dozen
men to lift it--but I didn't trust them."

Irresolution showed in Lenley's face; the weak mouth drooped a little.
"Let it stay where it is," he said, but he did not speak with any great
earnestness.

Meister laughed. It was the first genuine laugh of his that the day had
brought forth. "You're a fool," he said in disdain. "You've done your
time, and what have you got for it? This!" He held up the trinket. "If I
give you twenty pounds for it I'm robbing myself. There's eight thousand
pounds' worth of good stuff behind that tank--yours for the taking.
After all, Johnny," he said, adopting a tone of persuasion, "you've paid
for it!"

"By God, I have!" said the other between his teeth. "I've paid for it all
right!"

Meister was thinking quickly, planning, cross--planning, organising, in
that few seconds of time.

"Knock it off to--night," he suggested, and again Lenley hesitated.

"I'll think about it. If you're trying to shop me--"

Again Meister laughed. "My dear fellow, I'm trying to do you a good turn
and, through you, your sister."

"What is the number of the house? I've forgotten."

Meister knew the number well enough: he forgot nothing. "Fifty--seven.
I'll give you the twenty pounds for this bracelet now."

He opened his desk, took out his cash--box and unlocked it. "That will
do to go on with."

Lenley was still undecided; nobody knew that better than the lawyer. "I
want full value for the rest if I go after it--or I'll find another
'fence'."

It was the one word that aroused the lawyer to fury. "'Fence'? That's not
the word to use to me, Johnny."

"You're too sensitive," said his dour client.

"Just because I help you fellows, when I ought to be shopping you...."
The lawyer's voice trembled. "Get another 'fence', will you? Here's your
twenty." He threw the money on the table, and Lenley, counting it,
slipped it into his pocket. "Going into the country, eh? Taking your
little sister away? Afraid of my peculiar fascinations?"

"I'd hate to hang for you," said John Lenley, rising.

"Rather have The Ringer hang, eh? You think he'll come back with all that
time over his head, with the gallows waiting for him? Is he a lunatic?
Anyway--I'm not scared of anything on God's Almighty earth."

He looked round quickly. The door that led to his room was opening.

It was Dr. Lomond: Hackitt had left him in the lumber room and had
forgotten that he was in the house. The doctor was coming into the room
but stopped at the sight of the young man.

"Hallo--I'm awfu' sorry. Am I butting in on a consultation?"

"Come in, doctor--come in. This--is--a friend of mine. Mr. Lenley."

To Meister's surprise the doctor nodded.

"Aye. I've just been having a wee chat with your sister. You've just come
back from the--country, haven't you?"

"I've just come out of prison, if that's what you mean," said the other
bluntly, as he turned to go. His hand was on the knob when the door was
flung open violently and a white--faced Hackitt appeared.

"Guv'nor!" He crossed fearfully to Meister and lowered his voice.
"There's a party to see you."

"Me? Who is it?"

"They told me not to give any name," gasped Sam. "This party said: 'Just
say I'm from The Ringer'."

Meister shrank back.

"The Ringer!" said Lomond energetically. "Show him up!"

"Doctor!"

But Lomond waved him to silence. "I know what I am doing," he said.

"Doctor! Are you mad? Suppose--suppose--"

"It's all right," said Lomond, his eyes on the door.



CHAPTER 34


PRESENTLY it opened, and there came into view of the white--faced
Maurice a slim, perfectly dressed girl, malicious laughter in her eyes.

"Cora Ann!" croaked Meister.

"You've said it! Gave you all one mean fright, eh?" She nodded
contemptuously. "Hallo, doc!"

"Hallo, little bunch of trouble. You gave me heart disease!"

"Scared you, too, eh?" she scoffed. "I want to see you, Meister."

His face was still pallid, but he had mastered the panic that the name of
The Ringer had evoked.

"All right, my dear, Johnny!" He looked hard at Lenley. "If you want
anything, my dear boy, you know where you can get it," he said, and
Johnny understood, and went out of the room with one backward glance of
curiosity at the unexpected loveliness of the intruder.

"Get out, you!" Maurice spoke to Hackitt as though he were a dog, but the
little Cockney was unabashed.

"Don't you talk to me like that, Meister--I'm leaving you today."

"You can go to hell," snarled Maurice.

"And the next time I'm pinched I'm going to get another lawyer," said Sam
loudly.

"The next time you're pinched you'll get seven years," was the retort.

"That's why I'm goin' to change me lawyer."

Maurice turned on him with a face of fury. "I know a man like you who
thought he was clever. He's asked me to defend him at the Sessions."

"I don't call that clever."

"Defend him! I'd see him dead first."

"And he'd be better off!" snapped Sam.

Lomond and the girl made an interested audience.

"That's what you get for helping the scum!" said Meister, when his
truculent servant had gone.

Obviously he wanted to be alone with the girl, and Dr. Lomond, who had
good reason for returning, said that he had left his bag upstairs in
Meister's room, and made that the excuse for leaving them. Maurice waited
until the door closed on the old man before he spoke.

"Why--my dear Cora. Ann. You're prettier than ever. And where is your
dear husband?" asked Meister blandly.

"I suppose you think that because you're alive, he's dead?"

He laughed. "How clever of you! Did it take you long to think that out?"

She was staring round the room. "So this is the abode of love!" She
turned fiercely upon the lawyer. "I never knew Gwenda--I wish to God I
had! If Arthur had only trusted me as he trusted you! I heard about her
suicide, poor kid, when I was on my way to Australia and flew back from
Naples by airplane."

"Why didn't you wire me? If I had only known--"

"Meister--you're a paltry liar!" She went to the door through which the
doctor had passed, opened it and listened. Then she came back to where
Meister sat lighting a cigar. "Now listen--that Scotch sleuth will be
coming back in a minute." She lowered her voice to an intense whisper.
"Why don't you go away--out of the country--go somewhere you can't be
found--take another name? You're a rich man--you can afford to give
up--this hole!"

Maurice smiled again.

"Trying to frighten me out of England, eh?"

"Trying to frighten you!" The contempt in her voice would have hurt
another man. "Why, it's like trying to make a nigger black! He'll get
you, Meister! That's what I'm afraid of. That is what I lie in bed and
think about--it's awful...awful...!"

"My dear little girl"--he tried to lay his hand on her cheek, but she
drew back--"don't worry about me."

"You! Say, if I could lift my finger to save you from hell I wouldn't!
Get out of the country--it's Arthur I want to save, not you! Get away--
don't give him the chance that he wants to kill you."

Maurice beamed at her.

"Ah! How ingenious! He dare not come back himself, But he has sent you to
England to get me on the run!"

Cora's fine eyes narrowed. "If you're killed--you'll be killed here!
Here in this room where you broke the heart of his sister! You fool!"

He shook his head. "Not such a fool, my dear, that I'd walk into a trap.
Suppose this man is alive: in London I'm safe--in the Argentine he'd be
waiting for me. And if I went to Australia he'd be waiting for me, and if
I stepped ashore at Cape Town...No, no, little Cora Ann, you can't catch
me."

She was about to say something when she heard the door open. It was the
"Scotch sleuth"; whatever warning she had to deliver must remain
unspoken.

"Had your little talk, Cora Ann?" asked Lomond, and in spite of her
anxiety the girl laughed.

"Now listen, doctor, only my best friends call me Cora Ann," she
protested.

"And I'm the best friend you ever had," said the doctor.

Meister was in eager agreement. "She doesn't know who her best friends
are. I wish you'd persuade her."

Neither gave him encouragement to continue. He had the uncomfortable
feeling that he was an intruder in his own house, and the arrival of Mary
Lenley gave him an excuse to wander to the little office alcove where he
was out of sight but not out of hearing.

"I like meeting you, Cora Ann," said the doctor.

She laughed. "You're funny."

"I've brought the smile to the widow's eye," said Lomond unsmilingly.

She shot a swift sidelong glance at the man. "Say, Scottie! That widow
stuff--forget it! There are times when I almost wish I was--no, not
that--but that Arthur and I had never met."

He was instantly sympathetic. "Arthur was a bad lad, eh?"

She sighed. "The best in the world--but not the kind of man who ought to
have married."

"There isn't any other kind," said Lomond, and then, with a cautious look
round at Meister: "Were you very much in love with him?"

She shrugged. "Well--I don't know."

"Don't know? My dear young person, you're old enough to know where your
heart is."

"It's in my mouth most times," she said, and he shook his head.

"Ye poor wee devil! Still, you followed him to Australia, my dear?"

"Sure I did. But that kind of honeymoon takes a whole lot of romance out
of marriage. You don't have to be a doctor to know that."

He bent over her. "Why don't you drop him, Cora Ann? That heart of yours
is going to wear away from being in your mouth all the time."

"Forget him?" Lomond nodded. "Do you think he wants me to forget him?"

"I don't know," said Lomond. "Is any man worth what you are suffering?
Sooner or later he will be caught. The long arm of the law will stretch
out and take him, and the long leg of the law will boot him into prison!"

"You don't say!" She looked round to where Meister was sitting by Mary
Lenley, and her tone grew very earnest. "See here. Dr. Lomond, if you
want to know--my Ringer man is in danger, but I'm not scared of the
police. Shall I tell you something?"

"Is it fit for me to hear?" he asked.

"That'll worry me!" she answered sarcastically. "I'm going to be frank
with you, doctor. I've a kind of hunch there is only one man in God's
wide world that will ever catch Arthur Milton--and that man is you!"



CHAPTER 35


Lomond met her eyes.

"You're just daft!" he said.

"And why?"

"A pretty girl like you--hooking on to a shadow--the best part of your
life wasted."

"You don't say!"

"Now, you know it's so, don't you? It's a dog's life. How do you sleep?"

"Sleep!" She threw out her arms in a gesture of despair. "Sleep!"

"Exactly. You'll be a nervous wreck in a year. Is it worth it?"

"What are you trying out?" she asked breathlessly. "What's your game?"

"I'll tell you--shall I? I wonder if you'll be shocked?" She was looking
at him intently. "Wouldn't it be a good idea for you to go away and
forget all about The Ringer? Cut him out of your mind. Find another--
interest." He laughed. "You think I'm being unpleasant, don't you? But
I'm only thinking of you. I'm thinking of all the hours you're waiting
for something to happen--with your heart in your mouth."

Suddenly she sprang to her feet. "Listen! You've got some reason behind
all this!" she breathed.

"I swear to you--"

"You have--you have!" She was in a fury. "You're a man--I know what men
are. See here--I've put myself in hell and I'm staying put!"

She picked up her bag from the table.

"I've given you your chance," said Lomond, a little sadly.

"My chance. Dr. Lomond! When Arthur Milton says 'I'm tired of you--I'm
sick of you--you're out,' then I'll go. My way--not your way. You've
given me my chance--Gwenda Milton's chance! That's a hell of a chance,
and I'm not taking it!"

Before he could speak she had flung from the room.

Meister had been watching, and now he came slowly to where the doctor was
standing. "You've upset Cora Ann."

"Aye," nodded Lomond, as he took up his hat and bag thoughtfully. "Aye."

"Women are very strange," mused Meister. "I rather think she likes you,
doctor."

"You think so?" Lomond's manner and voice were absent. "I wonder if she'd
come out and have a bit of dinner with me?"

"How marvellous it would be if she liked you well enough to tell you a
little more about The Ringer," suggested Maurice slyly.

"That's just what I was thinking. Do you think she would?"

Maurice was amused. Evidently there was no age limit to men's vanity.
"You never know what women will do when they're in love--eh, doctor?"

Dr. Lomond did not reply; he went out of the room, counting the silver in
his hand.

Meister's head was clear now. Johnny was a real menace...he had
threatened, and a young fool like that would fulfil his threat, unless...
Would he be mad enough to go to Camden Crescent that night? From Johnny
his mind went to Mary. His love for the girl had been a tropical growth.
Now, when it seemed that she was to be taken from him, she had become the
most desirable of women. He sat down at the piano, and at the first notes
of the "Liebestraum," the girl entered.

He was for the moment oblivious of her presence, and it was through a
cloud of dreams that her voice brought him to realities.

"Maurice...." He looked at her with unseeing eyes. "Maurice." The music
stopped. "You realise that I can't stay here now that Johnny's back?" she
was saying.

"Oh, nonsense, my dear!" His tone had that fatherly quality which he
could assume with such effect.

"He is terribly suspicious," she said, and he laughed.

"Suspicious! I wish he had something to be suspicious about!"

She waited, a picture of indecision. "You know I can't stay," she said
desperately.

He got up from the piano, and coming across to her, laid his hands on her
shoulder. "Don't be silly. Anyone would think I was a leper or something.
What nonsense!"

"Johnny would never forgive me."

"Johnny, Johnny!" he snapped. "You can't have your life governed and
directed by Johnny, who looks like being in prison half his life."

She gasped. "Let us see things as they are," he went on. "There's no
sense in deceiving oneself. Johnny is really a naughty boy. You don't
know, my dear, you don't know. I've tried to keep things from you and it
has been awfully difficult."

"Keep things from me--what things?" Her face had gone pale.

"Well--" his hesitation was well feigned--"what do you think the young
fool did--just before he was caught? I've been his best friend, as you
know, and yet--well, he put my name to a cheque for four hundred
pounds."

She stared at him in horror.

"Forgery!"

"What is the use of calling it names?" He took a pocket--book from his
dressing--gown and extracted a cheque. "I've got the cheque here. I
don't know why I keep it, or what I'm going to do about Johnny."

She tried to see the name on the oblong slip, but he was careful to keep
it hidden. It was, in fact, a cheque he had received by the morning post,
and the story of the forgery had been invented on the spur of the minute.
Inspirations such as this had been very profitable to Maurice Meister.

"Can't you destroy it?" she asked tremulously.

"Yes--I suppose I could." His hesitation was artistic. "But Johnny is so
vindictive. In self--defence I've got to keep this thing." He put the
cheque back in his pocket. "I shall never use it, of course," he said
airily. And then, in that tender tone of his: "I want to talk to you
about Johnny and everything. I can't now, with people walking in and out
all the time and these policemen hanging round. Come up to supper--the
way I told you."

She shook her head. "You know I can't. Maurice, you don't wish people to
talk about me as they are talking about--Gwenda Milton."

The lawyer spun round at the words, his face distorted with fury. "God
Almighty! Am I always to have that slimy ghost hanging round my neck?
Gwenda Milton, a half--wit who hadn't the brains to live! All right--if
you don't want to come, don't. Why the hell should I worry my head about
Johnny? Why should I?"

She was terrified by this sudden violence of his.

"Oh, Maurice, you're so unreasonable. If you really want--"

"I don't care whether you do or whether you don't," he growled. "If you
think you can get along without me, try it. I'm not going on my knees to
you or to any other woman. Go into the country--but Johnny won't go with
you, believe me!"

She caught his arm, frantic with the fear his half--threat had roused.
"Maurice--I'll do anything you wish--you know I will."

He looked at her oddly. "Come at eleven," he said, and: "If you want a
chaperon, bring The Ringer!"

The words were hardly spoken when there came three deliberate raps at the
door, and Maurice Meister shrank back, his shaking hand at his mouth.
"Who's there?" he asked hoarsely.

The deep tone of a man answered him. "I want to see you, Meister."

Meister went to the door and flung it open. The sinister face of
Inspector Bliss stared into his.

"What...what are you doing here?" croaked the lawyer.

Bliss showed his white teeth in a mirthless smile. "Protecting you from
The Ringer--watching over you like a father," he said harshly. His eyes
strayed to the pale girl. "Don't you think, Miss Lenley--that you want a
little watching over, too?"

She shook her head. "I am not afraid of The Ringer," she said; "he would
not hurt me."

Bliss smiled crookedly.

"I'm not thinking of The Ringer!" he said, and his menacing eyes wandered
to Maurice Meister.



CHAPTER 36


THE return of John Lenley was the most supremely embarrassing thing that
had ever happened within Maurice Meister's recollection. If he had
resented the attitude of the young man before, he hated him now. The
menace in his words, the covert threat behind his reference to Gwenda
Milton, were maddening enough, but now there was another factor operating
at a moment when it seemed that all his dreams were to be realised, and
Mary Lenley, like a ripe plum, was ready to fall into his hands; when
even the fear of The Ringer had evaporated in some degree, there must
enter upon the scene this young man whom he thought he would not see
again for years.

Prison had soured and aged him. He had gone away a weakling, come back a
brooding, vicious man, who would stop at nothing--if he knew. There was
nothing to know yet. Meister showed his teeth in a smile. Not yet...

Maurice Meister was no coward in his dealings with other men: he had all
the qualities of his class. Known dangers he could face, however deadly
they might be. He could have met John Lenley and without wincing could
have told him of his evil plan--if he were sure of Mary. Yet the sight
of a door opening slowly and apparently through no visible agency brought
him to the verge of hysteria.

The Ringer was alive: the worst of Meister's fear died with the sure
knowledge. He was something human, tangible; something against which he
could match his brains.

That afternoon, when they were alone, he came in to Mary and, standing
behind her, dropped his hands upon her shoulders. He felt her stiffen,
and was amused.

"You haven't forgotten what you promised this morning?" he asked. She
twisted from his clasp and came round to meet his eyes.

"Maurice, was it true about the cheque? You were not lying?" He nodded
slowly. "We're alone now," she said desperately. "Can't we talk...is it
necessary that I should come tonight?"

"Very necessary," said Meister coolly. "I suppose you are aware that
there are three people in the house besides ourselves? Do, for Heaven's
sake, take a sane view of things, Mary; see them as they are, not as you
would like them to be. I have to protect myself against Johnny--an
irresponsible and arrogant young man--and I am very much afraid of--"
he nearly said "fools" but thought better of it--"young men of his
peculiar temperament." He saw the quick rise and fall of her bosom: it
pleased him that he could stir her even to fear. How simple women were,
even clever women! He had long ceased to be amazed at their immense
capacity for believing. Credulity was one of the weaknesses of human-kind
that he could never understand.

"But, Maurice, isn't this as good an opportunity as we can get? Nobody
will interrupt you...why, you are here with your clients for hours on
end! Tell me about the cheque and how he came to forge it. I want to get
things right."

He spread out his hands in a gesture of mock helplessness.

"What a child you are, Mary! How can you imagine that I would be in the
mood to talk of Johnny, or plan for you? Keep your promise, my dear!"

She faced him squarely. "Maurice, I'm going to be awfully plain-spoken."
What was coming? he wondered. There was a new resolution in her
voice, a new courage in her eyes. She was so unlike the wilting,
terrified being of the morning that he was for a moment staggered. "Do
you really wish me to come tonight...just to talk about the cheque that
Johnny has forged?"

He was so taken aback by the directness of the question that he could not
for the moment answer. "Why, of course," he said at length. "Not only
about the forgery, but there are so many other matters which we ought to
talk over, Mary. If you're really going into the country, we must devise
ways and means. You can't go flying off into Devonshire, or wherever it
is you intend settling, at a minute's notice. I am getting some
catalogues from one of my--from a house agent I represent. We can look
over these together--"

"Maurice, is that true? I want to know. I'm not a child any longer. You
must tell me."

She had never looked more lovely to him than in that moment of challenge.

"Mary," he began, "I am very fond of you--"

"What does that mean--that you love me?" The cold--bloodedness of the
question took his breath away. "Does it mean, you love me so much that
you want to marry me?" she asked.

"Why, of course," he stammered. "I am awfully fond of you. But marriage
is one of the follies that I have so far avoided. Does it mean anything,
my dear? A few words mumbled by a paid servant of the Church..."

"Then you don't want to marry me, Maurice?" she said quietly. "I am right
there, aren't I?"

"Of course, if you wish me--" he began hastily.

She shook her head. "I don't love you and I don't wish to marry you, if
that is what you mean," she said. "What do you really want of me?' She
was standing close to him when she asked the question, and in another
instant she was struggling in his arms.

"I want you--you!" he breathed. "Mary, there is no woman in the world
like you...I adore you..."

Summoning all her strength, she broke free from his grasp and held him
breathlessly at arm's length. "I see!" She could hardly articulate the
words. "I guessed that. Maurice, I shall not come to this house tonight."

Meister did not speak. The wild rush of passion which had overcome him
had left him curiously weak. He could only look at her; his eyes burnt.
Once he put up his trembling hand as though to control his lips. "I want
you here tonight." The voice was scarcely audible. "You have been frank
with me; I will be as frank with you. I want you: I want to make you
happy. I want to take away all the dread and fear that clouds your life.
I want to move you from that squalid home of yours. You know what has
happened to your brother, don't you? He's been released on ticket-of-leave.
He has two years and five months to serve. If I prefer a charge of
forgery against him, he will get seven years and the extra time he has
not served. Nine and a half years...you realise what that means? You'll
be over thirty before you see him again."

He saw her reel, thinking she was going to faint, caught her by the arm,
but she shook off his hand. "That puts the matter in a different light,
doesn't it?"

He read agreement in a face which was as white as death.

"Is there no other way, Maurice?" she asked in a low voice. "No service I
can render you? I would work for you as a housekeeper, as a servant--I
would be your best friend, whatever happened to you, your loyalist
helper."

Meister smiled.

"You're getting melodramatic, my dear, and that is stupid. What a fuss
over a little supper party, a little flirtation."

Her steady eyes were of his. "If I told Johnny--" she began slowly.

"If you told Johnny, he'd come here, and be even more melodramatic. I
should telephone for the police and that would be the end of Johnny. You
understand?"

She nodded dumbly.



CHAPTER 37


AT five o'clock Meister told her she could go home for the evening. Her
head was aching; she had done practically no work that afternoon, for the
letters were blurred and illegible specks of black that swam before her
eyes. No further reference was made to the visit of the evening, and she
hurried from the house into the dark street. A thin fog lay on Deptford
as she threaded a way along the crowded side--walk of High Street.

Suppose she went to Alan? The thought only occurred to be rejected. She
must work out her own salvation. Had Johnny been at home when she
arrived, she might have told him, even if he had not guessed from her
evident distress that something unusual had occurred.

But he was out; had left a note on the table saying that he had gone to
town to see a man he knew. She remembered the name after a while; it was
a gentleman farmer who had been a neighbour of theirs in the old days at
Lenley. It was a dismal thought that all these preparations of Johnny's
would come to naught if--She shuddered. Either prospect she did not dare
think about.

She went to her room and presently came her little maid--of--all--work
with the announcement that a gentleman had called to see her.

"I can't see anybody. Who is it?"

"I don't know, miss. He's a fellow with a beard."

She walked quickly past the girl across the dining--room into the tiny
hall.

"You don't know me, I think," said the man at the door. "My name is
Bliss."

Her heart sank. Why had this man come from Scotland Yard? Had Maurice, in
one of those paroxysms of unreasonable temper, sent him?

"Come in, please."

He walked into the room, a cigarette drooping from his bearded mouth, and
slowly took off his hat, as though he were reluctant to pay even this
tribute of respect to her.

"I understand your brother's been released from prison today--or was it
yesterday?"

"Yesterday," she said. "He came home this morning."

To her surprise, he made no further reference to Johnny, but took from
his pocket a morning newspaper and folded it to show a column on the
front page. She read the advertisement his finger indicated.

X2Z. LBa4T. QQ57g. LL4i8TS. A79Bf.

"What does it mean?" she asked.

"That is what I want to know," said Bliss, fixing his dark eyes on her.
"It is a message either from The Ringer to his wife, or from his wife to
The Ringer, and it is in a code which was left at this flat last week. I
want you to show me that code."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Bliss"--she shook her head--"but the code was stolen--
I thought by--"

"You thought by me?" His lips twisted in a grim smile. "So you didn't
believe that cock--and--bull story I told about my having seen a man
climbing into the flat and going up after him? Miss Lenley, I have reason
to believe that the code was not taken from your house, but that it is
still here, and that you know where it is."

She had a feeling that, insulting as he was, he was merely testing her.
His attitude was that of a man who wished to be convinced.

"The code is not here," she said quietly. "I missed it the night I came
back and found the flat had been burgled."

She wondered if the peculiar look she saw indicated relief or scepticism.

"I'll have to take your word," he said, and folded up the paper. "If what
you say is true, no other person than The Ringer and his wife has this
code."

Mary was a trifle bewildered. "Of course," she said, "unless the person
whom you saw climb into my room--"

"My theory is that that was The Ringer himself," said Bliss. He had not
taken his eyes off her all the time he had been speaking. "Are you scared
of The Ringer, Miss Lenley?"

In spite of her trouble she smiled. "Of course not. I told you today. Why
should I be scared of him? I have done him no harm, and from what I know
of him he is not the kind of man who would hurt any woman."

Again that fleeting smile. "I'm glad you have such a high opinion of the
scoundrel," he said, in a more genial tone. "I am afraid it is one that I
do not share. How do you like Meister?"

Everybody asked her that question; it was beginning to get on her nerves;
and he must have seen this, for, without waiting for her answer, he went
on quickly: "You've got to look after that brother of yours. Miss Lenley.
He's a pretty foolish young man."

"So Maurice Meister thinks," she was stung into replying.

"Does he?" The answer seemed to amuse him. "That is about all. I'm sorry
to have disturbed you."

He walked to the door and turned round.

"Rather a nice fellow, Wembury, eh? A bit of an impetuous young fool, but
rather nice?" Again he did not wait for an answer, but pulled the door
close behind him, and she opened it in time to see him shut the front
door. She herself had to go out again; the shops did not close till
seven, and the evening was the only time she had for marketing. She made
a list of all the things that Johnny liked; steadfastly kept out of her
mind the pitiful possibilities which might disturb this housekeeping of
hers.

With a basket on her arm she went out into the Lewisham High Road and
shopped for an hour, and she was hurrying back to Malpas Mansions when
she saw a tall man walking ahead of her. He wore a grey overcoat, but she
could not mistake that shuffling gait and bent shoulders. She intended
passing him without speaking, but almost before she came abreast. Dr.
Lomond, without turning his head, hailed her. "It's fine to see a lassie
with a basket, but the eggs ye bought were no' so good."

She gasped at this and laughed. It was the first time that day she had
been genuinely amused.

"I didn't know I was under police observation," she said.

"It's a verra peculiar thing, that few people do," he said drily. "But I
was watching ye in the egg shop--lassie, you've a trusting disposition.
Those new--laid eggs you bought are contemporaneous with the eggs of the
great roc." And then, seeing her rueful face in the light of a shop
window, he chuckled. "I tell ye this, Miss Lenley; I'm a verra good
obsairver. I obsairve eggs and skulls, jaws, noses, eyes and detectives!
Was Mr. Bluss very offensive?" (He always referred to the ill--favoured
inspector as "Bluss".) "Or was it merely a social call?"

"Did you know Mr. Bliss had been to see me?" she asked in astonishment.

The old man nodded "He's been around here a' the afternoon. When he came
to Malpas Mansions I happened to be passing and gave him good night, but
he's a sorry fellow wi'oot any milk of human kindness in his dour
system."

"Are you watching somebody now?" she asked mischievously, and was
staggered when he pointed ahead. "Yon's the fellow," he said.

"Mr. Bliss?" She peered into the night, and at that moment saw in the
light of a street standard the dapper figure of the Central Inspector.

"He interests me, that body," admitted Lomond. "He's mysteerious, and
mysteerious things are very attractive to a plain, matter--of--fact old
man like me."

She left him to his chase and got back to the Mansions just as Johnny
returned. He was in excellent spirits; joked with her on her marketing,
and uttered gloomy forebodings as to the effect upon his digestion. She
could not remember when she had last seen him in that mood. And then he
said something which gladdened her heart.

"That fellow Wembury isn't such a bad chap, after all. Which reminds me
that I ought to call at Flanders Lane and register myself."

She heard this with a little pang.

"You are on ticket of leave, aren't you, Johnny. If anything happened...
I mean, if you were silly again, would you have to serve the full
sentence?"

"If I'm silly again?" he asked sharply. "What do you mean?" And then with
an air of unconcern: "You're being silly now, Mary. I'm going to lead a
highly respectable life."

"But if you were--"

"Of course I should have to serve the unfinished portion of my sentence
in addition to any other I might get; but as I'm most unlikely to be what
you call silly, we needn't consider that. I suppose, Meister's finished
with you for the day? I hope in a week or two you'll be finished with him
for good. I don't like you working there, Mary."

"I know, Johnny, but--"

"Yes, yes, I quite understand. You never work there at night, do you,
dear?"

She could say "No" to this truthfully.

"I'm glad. You'll be wise to see Maurice only in business hours."

He lit a cigarette, blew a cloud of smoke into the air. Johnny was trying
to frame the lie he must tell her.

"I may be late tonight," he said eventually. "A man I know has asked me
to go to supper in the West End. You don't mind, do you?"

She shook her head. "No. What time will you be back?"

He considered this before he answered. "Not before midnight--probably a
little later," he said.

Mary found her breath coming more quickly. "I--I may be late myself,
Johnny. I've promised to go to a party...some people I've met."

Would he be deceived? she wondered. Apparently he was, for he accepted
her story of this mythical engagement without question.

"Get as much fun out of life as you can, old girl," he said, us he
stripped his coat and walked into his bedroom. "I suppose it'll be a
ghastly party after the wonderful shows we had at Lenley Court in the old
days. But wait till we get on to our farm; we're going to do a bit of
hunting--keep a horse or two..."

He was in his bedroom now and she did not hear the remainder of his
highly coloured plans.

He left the house by eight o'clock, and she sat down to wait for the
hours to pass. How would this day end? And what would Alan think about it
all? Alan, to whom she was something sacred and apart. She closed her
eyes tightly us if to shut out some horrible vision. The world would
never again be the same as it was. She had thought that, the day Johnny
went away, when she had walked down the broad steps of the Old Bailey,
her heart broken, her future wrecked. But now she watched the minute hand
of the little American clock move all too quickly towards the hour of
fate, she realised that her supreme hour of trial had yet to come.



CHAPTER 38


THE fog which lay over Deptford extended to a wider area. An hour after
Mary had had her little talk with Johnny, a powerful two--seater car
came whizzing through the mist which shrouded the countryside between
Hatfield and Welwyn, turned from the main road into a bumpy cart track
and continued till, ahead of the driver, loomed the great arch of an
abandoned hangar. The place had been an aerodrome in the days of the war,
but it had been sold and re--sold so often that the list of its owners
was of considerable length.

Stopping the car, he dimmed the lights and stepped briskly from the
machine, walking towards the hangar. He heard a dog bark and the
challenge of a man's voice. "Is that you, Colonel?"

The motorist answered.

"I've got your machine ready and it's all tuned up, but you won't be able
to take your trip to Paris tonight. The fog's thick, and I've just been
on the 'phone to the Cambridge aerodrome. They say that one of their
pilots went up and found the fog was two thousand feet deep and extending
over the channel."

"What could be nicer?" said the man called "Colonel Dane" cheerfully.
"Fog driving is my speciality!"

The keeper of the hangar grunted something about every man to his taste,
and walked ahead, swinging a dim lantern. Using all his strength, he
rolled back the soft squeaking door of the hangar, and a long propeller
and a portion of the fuselage of a Scout machine were revealed in the
nickering light of the lantern.

"She's a beauty, Colonel," said the man admiringly. "When do you expect
to come back?"

"In a week," said the other.

The collar of his overcoat was turned up and it was impossible to see
anything save a pair of keen eyes, and these were only visible at
intervals, for his soft felt hat was pulled down over his forehead and
afforded a perfect shade.

"Yes, she's a beauty," said the man. "I've been tuning her up all the
afternoon."

He was an ex--Air Force mechanic, and was for the moment the tenant of
the garage, and the small cottage where he lived. Incidentally, he was
the best paid aeroplane mechanic in England at the moment.

"The police were here today, sir," he said. "They came nosing around,
wanting to know who was the owner of the 'bus--I told them you were an
ex--officer of the Flying Corps who was thinking of running a light
aircraft club. I've often wondered what you really are, sir?"

The man whom he called "Colonel" laughed softly.

"I shouldn't do too much wondering, Green," he said. "You're paid to
think of nothing but struts and stays, carburettors and petrol supply!"

"I've had all sorts of theories," the imperturbable Green went on. "I
thought maybe you were running dope to the Continent. If you are, it's no
business of mine." Then he went off at a tangent. "Have you heard about
The Ringer, sir? There's a bit in tonight's paper."

"The Ringer? Who on earth is The Ringer?"

"He's a fellow who disguises himself. The police have been after him for
years."

Green was the kind of man who had the police news at his finger--tips
and could give the dates of the conviction and execution of every
murderer for the past twenty years. "He used to be in the Air Force, from
what they say."

"I've never heard of him," said the Colonel. "Just stand outside, will
you. Green?"

He walked into the hangar and, producing a powerful electric lamp from
his pocket, made a minute examination of the aeroplane, testing wires,
and eventually climbing into the fuselage to inspect the controls.

"Yes, she's all right," he said as he dropped lightly down. "I don't know
what time I shall be going, but probably some hour of the night. Have her
taken out behind the garage facing the long field. You've been over the
ground--I don't want to get her scratched before I start to rise."

"I've combed the ground, sir," said Green complacently.

"Good!"

"Colonel Dane" took from his pocket a flat wad of notes, counted a dozen
and placed them in the hand of his assistant.

"Since you are so infernally curious, I will tell you, my friend. I am
hoping tonight to be running away with a lady--that sounds a little
romantic, doesn't it?"

"She's somebody's wife, eh?" said Green, scenting a scandal.

"She's somebody's wife," agreed the Colonel gravely. "With any kind of
luck I shall be here either at two o'clock tomorrow morning or two
o'clock the following morning. The thicker the fog, the better I shall
like it. I shall be accompanied by a lady, as I have told you. There will
be no baggage, I want to carry as much juice as I can."

"Where are you making for, Colonel?"

The Ringer laughed again. He was easily amused tonight.

"It may be France or Belgium or Norway or the North Coast of Africa or
the South Coast of Ireland--who knows? I can't tell you when I shall
return, but before I go I shall leave you enough money to live in comfort
for at least a year. If I'm not back in ten days, I advise you to let the
garage, keep your mouth shut, and with any kind of luck we shall be
meeting again."

He picked his way back to the car, and Green, with all the curiosity of
his kind, sought vainly to catch a glimpse of his face. Never once had he
seen this strange employer of his, who had engaged him by night, and by
night had visited him, choosing always those conditions which made it
necessary to wear either a long mackintosh or a heavy ulster.

Green was always under the impression that his employer wore a beard, and
in subsequent evidence that he gave adhered to this statement. Bearded or
clean--shaven, he could not have penetrated beyond the muffling collar
even now, as he escorted the "Colonel" back to his car.

"Talking about this Ringer--" began Green.

"I wasn't," said the other shortly, as he stepped into the car and jammed
his foot on the self--starter. "And I advise you to follow my example.
Green. I know nothing about the fellow, except that he's a dangerous
man--dangerous to spy upon, more dangerous to talk about. Keep your mind
fixed on aeroplanes. Green; they are less deadly!"

In another few seconds the rear light of his car was out of sight.



CHAPTER 39


SAM HACKITT had other trials than were represented by a vigilant
constabulary. There was, for example, a lady whom in a misguided moment
he had led to the altar--an act he had spent the rest of his life
regretting. She was a loud, aggressive woman, who hated her husband, not
for his offences against society but for certain weaknesses of his which
led him to neglect his home--a collection of frowsy furniture in a dingy
little room off Church Street.

Sam was as easy--going as most criminals, a fairly kind man, but he
lived in terror of his wife. Since his release from prison he had very
carefully avoided her, but the news of his return had spread, and there
had been two scenes, one on Meister's doorstep and one in High Street,
Deptford, when a raucous virago had followed him along the street
explaining to the world at large the habits, character and delinquencies
of Mr. Samuel Hackitt.

One day, Sam in an off moment had strolled up west, and in a large window
in Cockspur Street he had seen many glowing booklets describing the
wonder of the life on the western prairies of Canada; and though
agriculture was a pursuit which had never wholly attracted him, he became
from that instant an enthusiastic pioneer. But to reach Canada, money was
needed, and to acquire property required more money. Sam Hackitt sat down
cold--bloodedly to consider the problem of transportation and
sustenance. He had sufficient money saved to buy his ticket, but this he
did surreptitiously, passing the emigration doctor with flying colours.
Sam decided that, all being fair in love and war, and his relationships
with Mr. Meister being permanently strained, it would be no hurt to his
conscience to help himself to a few portable and saleable souvenirs.

That which he most strenuously coveted was a small black metal cash-box,
which Meister usually kept in the second drawer of his desk. The
lawyer, by reason of the peculiar calls made upon him, generally had a
large sum of money in his cash--box, and it was this which Sam most
earnestly desired.

There had been no opportunity in the past two days even to look at the
box, and now, with the return of Johnny and his own summary ejection--
Meister, as an act of grace, had told him he could stay on for the
remainder of the week--a moment of crisis had arisen.

He had no grudge against Mary Lenley, but he had found a sense of bitter
resentment growing towards the girl that day when, after the sixth
attempt to walk into the room and make a quick extraction, he found her
covering her typewriter before going home.

"You are leaving us, Hackitt?" she said on this occasion.

Sam thought that he could leave with greater rapidity if she would be
kind enough to give him an opportunity of opening the second drawer of
Mr. Meister's desk.

"Yes, Miss. I can't stand Meister any longer. I suppose you're glad about
your brother coming back, Miss?"

"Very glad. We're going into the country."

"Taking up farming, Miss?" asked Sam, interested.

She sighed.

"I'm afraid we shan't be much use as farmers."

"I thought of going in for farming myself," said Sam. "I've had a bit of
experience--I worked in the fields down at Dartmoor."

"Are you going to farm in England?" she asked, surprised out of her mood.

Sam coughed. "I'm not exactly sure. Miss, but I thought of going abroad.
Into the great open spaces as it were."

"Sam, you've been to the pictures," she accused him, and he grinned.

"This is no country for a man who's trying to get away from the arm of
the police," he said. "I want to go abroad and make a fresh start."

She looked at him oddly.

"Why are your eyes always on Mr. Meister's desk? Is there anything wrong
with it?" she asked.

"No, no, Miss," said Sam hastily, "only I thought of giving it a rub up
tomorrow. Look here, miss,"--he walked nearer to her and lowered his
voice to a confidential tone--"you've known old Meister for years,
haven't you?"

She nodded.

"I don't suppose you know very much about him except that he's a snide
lawyer," said Sam outrageously. "Don't you think it'd be a good idea if
you had another young lady in to help you? This may be my last word to
you."

She looked at him kindly: how well he meant. "There isn't enough work for
two people," she said.

He nodded knowingly.

"Yes, there is. Miss. You make enough work--do a little bit of miking."

"'Miking'?"

"Slowing up, ca' canny--it's a Scottish expression."

"But why should I do that? It wouldn't be very honest, would it?" she
smiled in spite of herself.

The honesty of things never made any very great appeal to Sam Hackitt.

"It mightn't be honesty, but it'd be safe," he said, and winked. "I hope
you won't be offended, but if I had a sister I wouldn't pass her within
half a mile of Meister's house."

He saw her expression change and was instantly apologetic, and took the
first opportunity of getting out of the room.

There was only one way for Sam: the steel grille which protected the
window leading on to the leads was an effective barrier to the average
thief, but Sam was above the average And, moreover, when he cleaned the
windows that morning, he had introduced a little appliance to the lock,
an appliance which the maker had not foreseen. If Alan Wembury had
examined the bars carefully he would have seen a piece of steel wire
neatly wrapped round a bar, and had he followed the wire to its end he
would have discovered that it entered the lock in such a way that a
person outside the window had only to loosen the wire and pull, to force
back the catch. It was an ingenious contrivance and Sum was rather proud
of it.

That night, after Alan Wembury had gone, Sam crouched on the leads. He
heard Alan come and go. It was an unpleasant experience crouching there,
for the fog was alternated with a drizzle which soaked him through and
chilled him to the bone. He heard Meister talking to himself as he paced
up and down the room, heard the rattle of knife against plate, and then
Sam cursed. Meister was at the piano--he might be there for hours. And
Sam hated music. But apparently the man was in a fitful mood: the music
ceased, and Sam heard the creak of a chair, and after a while his
stertorous, regular breathing. The lawyer was asleep and Sam waited no
longer. A quick pull and the grille was unfastened. He had greased the
window sash and it rose noiselessly.

Meister sat at the piano, his eyes wide open, an unpleasant sight. Sam no
more than glanced at the little table, near the settee, which was covered
by a cloth. Tiptoeing across the room, he reached for the switch and
turned out the lights.

The fire burnt low; but he was a famous night worker, and by touch
located the drawer, fitted the little instrument he carried into the
lock, and pulled. The drawer opened, and his hand groped in the interior.
He found the cash--box instantly, but there were other treasures. A
small cupboard under the disused buffet held certain priceless articles
of Georgian silver. He went back to the window, lifted inside his
portmanteau and packed until the case could hold no more. Lifting the
suit--case, he stepped softly back towards safety, and was nearly
opposite the mystery door when he heard a faint click and stood,
petrified, all his senses alert.

It might have been a cooling cinder in the fire. He moved stealthily, one
hand extended before him, an instinctive gesture common to all who work
in the dark. He was opposite the mystery door, when suddenly a cold hand
closed on his wrist!

He set his teeth, stifled the cry which rose, and then, with a quick
jerk, wrenched free. Who was it? He could see nothing, could only hear
quick breathing, and darted for the window. In a second he was on the
leads and in another he was racing across the courtyard. The fear of
death in his heart.

There could be only one explanation for that cold and deathly hand--The
Ringer had come for Meister!



CHAPTER 40


EARLY that evening Alan Wembury made a hurried call at Meister's house.
The girl was gone but Meister was visible. He came down in his inevitable
dressing--gown and was so gloomy and nervous a man that Alan formed the
impression that he had been sent for so urgently to soothe the lawyer's
nerves.

But in this he was wrong.

"Sorry to bother you, inspector..." Meister was, for the first time in
his life, at a loss as to how he should proceed. Alan waited. "The fact
is...I've got a very unpleasant duty to perform--very unpleasant. To
tell you the truth, I hate doing it."

Still Alan said nothing to encourage the coming confidence and Meister
hardly wanted encouragement.

"It's about Johnny. You understand my position, Wembury? You know what
the Commissioner said to me? I am under suspicion--unjustly, it is
true--but I am suspect by police headquarters."

What was coming next? Alan wondered. This was so unlike the Meister he
knew that he might be excused his bewilderment.

"I can't afford to take risks," the lawyer went on. "A few weeks ago I
might have taken a chance, for the sake of Mary--Miss Lenley. But now I
simply dare not. If I know of a felony about to be committed or
contemplated, I have only one course--to inform the police."

Now Alan Wembury understood. But he still maintained his silence.

Maurice was walking nervously up and down the room. He sensed the
antagonism, the contempt of the other man, and hated him for it. Worse
than this, he was well aware that Alan knew that he was lying: knew full
well that the betrayal was cold--blooded and deliberate.

"You understand?" asked Meister again.

"Well?" said Alan. He was nauseated by this preliminary. "What felony is
Lenley committing?"

Meister drew a long breath.

"I think you should know that the Darnleigh affair was not Johnny's first
job. He did the burglary at Miss Bolter's about a year ago. You
remember?"

Wembury nodded. Miss Bolter was an eccentric maiden lady of great wealth.
She had a house on the edge of Greenwich--a veritable storehouse of old
jewellery. A robbery had been committed and the thieves had got away with
8,000 worth of jewels.

"Was Lenley in that--is that the information you are laying?"

"I am laying no information," said Maurice hastily. "I merely tell you
what I believe to be true. My information, which you will be able to
confirm, is that the jewels were never got away from the house--you will
remember that the burglars were disturbed at their nefarious work."

Alan shook his head. "I still don't understand what you're driving at,"
he said.

Meister looked round and lowered his voice. "I understand from some hint
he dropped that he is going to Camden Crescent tonight to get the jewels!
He has borrowed the key of the house next door, which happens to be my
property and is empty. My theory is that the jewels are hidden on the
roof of No. 57. I suggest--I do no more than suggest, that you post a
man there tonight."

"I see!" said Alan softly.

"I don't want you to think that I intend harm to Johnny--I'd rather have
cut off my right hand than hurt him. But I have my duty to do--and I am
already under suspicion and deeply involved, so far as John Lenley is
concerned."

Alan went back to Flanders Lane police station with a heavy heart.
He could do nothing. Meister would report to headquarters that he
had given him the information. To warn John Lenley would mean
ruin--disgrace--probably an ignominious discharge from the service.

He sent a man to take up a position on the roof of Camden Crescent.

Within an hour he had his report. He was standing moodily before the fire
when the telephone bell rang. The sergeant pulled the instrument over to
him.

"Hallo!" He looked up at the clock mechanically to time the call in his
book. "What's that?" He covered the receiver with his hand. "The night
watchman at Cleavers reports there's a man on the roof in Camden
Crescent."

Alan thought for a moment. "Yes, of course. Tell him not to worry; it is
a police officer."

"On the roof of Camden Crescent?" asked the sergeant incredulously.

Alan nodded, and the officer addressed himself to his unknown vis-a-vis.

"That's all right, son. He's only one of our men...eh? He's sweeping the
chimney...yes, we always have policemen sweep chimneys and we usually
choose the night." He hung up the receiver. "What's he doing up there?"

"Looking round," said Alan indifferently.

His men were searching for another criminal that night. Sam Hackitt had
disappeared from Meister's house, and the slatternly woman who was known
as Mrs. Hackitt had been brought in earlier in the evening charged with
fighting. It was the old sordid story...a younger woman who had taken
the erratic fancy of the faithless Sam. In her fury Mrs. Hackitt had
"squeaked"--the story of Sam's plans was told to the station sergeant's
desk--and two of Wembury's men were looking for him.

Dr. Lomond had once said that he felt the police were very hard on little
criminals, that they sought crime, and grew callous to all the sufferings
attendant upon its detection. Alan wondered if he had grown callous.
Perhaps he had not. Perhaps no police officer should. They came to be
rather like doctors, who have two personalities, in one of which they can
dissociate from themselves all sentiment and human tenderness. And then
the object of his thoughts appeared and Wembury's heart leapt. John
Lenley came into the charge--room, nodding to the sergeant.

"I'm reporting here," he said.

He took some papers out of his pocket and laid them on the desk.

"My name's Lenley. I'm a convict on licence."

And then he caught Wembury's eye and came over to him and shook hands.

"I heard you were out, Lenley. I congratulate you." All the time he was
speaking, there was in his mind the picture of that crouching, waiting
figure of justice on the roof of Camden Crescent. He had to clench his
teeth to inhibit the warning that rose to his lips.

"Yes, I came out yesterday," said Johnny.

"Your sister was glad to see you?"

"Yes," said Lenley curtly, and seemed disinclined to make any further
reference to Mary.

"I'd like to find a job for you, Johnny," said Alan, in desperation. "I
think I can."

John Lenley smiled crookedly.

"Prisoners' Aid Society?" he asked. "No, thank you! Or is it the
Salvation Army you're thinking of? Paper sorting at twopence a
hundredweight? When I get a job, it will be one that a waster can't do,
Wembury. I don't want helping; I want leaving alone."

There was a silence, broken by the scratching of the sergeant's pen.

"Where are you going tonight?" asked Alan. At all costs this man must be
warned. He thought of Mary Lenley waiting at home. He was almost crazy
with the fear that she might in some way conceive the arrest of this man
as a betrayal on his part.

John Lenley was looking at him suspiciously. "I'm going up west. Why do
you want to know?"

Alan's indifference was ill assumed. "I don't wish to know particularly,"
And then: "Sergeant, how far is it from here to Camden Crescent?"

He saw Johnny start. The man's eyes were fixed on his.

"Not ten minutes' walk," said the sergeant.

"Not far, is it?" Alan was addressing the ticket--of--leave man. "A
mere ten minutes' walk from Camden Crescent to the station house!"

Johnny did not answer.

"I thought of taking a lonely stroll up west," Alan went on. "Would you
like to come along and have a chat? There are several things I'd like to
talk to you about."

Johnny was watching him suspiciously. "No," he said quietly. "I've got to
meet a friend."

Alan picked up a book and turned the leaves slowly. He did not raise his
eyes when he said: "I wonder if you know whom you're going to meet? You
used to be a bit of an athlete in your early days, Lenley--a runner,
weren't you? I seem to remember that you took prizes?"

"Yes, I've got a cup or two," he said, in a tone of surprise.

"If I were you"--still Alan did not raise his eyes from the book--"I'd
run and not stop running until I reached home. And then I'd lock the door
to stop myself running out again!"

The desk sergeant was intrigued.

"Why?" he asked.

Johnny had turned his back on Wembury and was apparently absorbed in the
information he was giving to the sergeant. Then he walked to the door.

"Good night, Lenley, if I don't see you again," said Wembury.

Johnny spun round. "Do you expect to see me again?" he asked. "Tonight?"

"Yes--I do."

The words were deliberate. It was the nearest to a warning that he could
give consistent with his duty; and when, with a shrug, Johnny Lenley went
out into the night, the heart of Alan Wembury was sore.

"What fools these people are!" he said aloud.

"And a good job, too!" returned the sergeant. "If they weren't fools,
you'd never catch 'em!"

Wembury would have gone out had it not been for his promise to meet Dr.
Lomond here. He did not want to be round when the inevitable happened and
Johnny Lenley was brought in--unless he had taken the hint. Had he? It
seemed impossible of belief that he could have the situation so plainly
put before him, and yet ignore the warning.



CHAPTER 41


LOMOND had just shuffled in and was cursing the weather when there was a
heavy footfall in the corridor outside and the lawyer lurched in. His
overcoat was open, his silk hat was on the back of his head, an
unaccustomed cigarette drooped from his lips. The transition from the
dark street to the well--lit charge--room temporarily blinded him. He
leered for a long time at the doctor.

"The man of medicine and the man of law!" he said thickly and thumped
himself on the chest. "My dear doctor, this is almost an historic
meeting!"

He turned to Alan. "Have they brought him in? I didn't think he'd be fool
enough to do the job, but he's better away, my dear Wembury, very much
better."

"Did you come to find out? You might have saved yourself the trouble by
telephoning," said Alan sternly.

The whole mien of Meister suddenly changed. The look that Alan had seen
in his eyes before reappeared, and when lie spoke his voice was harsh but
coherent.

"No, I didn't come for that." He looked round over his shoulder. The
policeman had come from the door to the sergeant, and was whispering
something to him. Even the doctor seemed interested. "Hackitt cleared out
and left me alone--the dirty coward! Alone in the house!"

Up went the hand to his mouth.

"It got on my nerves, Wembury. Every sound I heard, the creak of a chair
when I moved, a coal falling from the fire, the rattle of the windows--"

Out of the dark beyond the doorway loomed a figure. Nobody saw it. The
three men talking together at the desk least of all. Inspector Bliss
stared into the charge--room for a second and vanished as though he were
part of some magician's trick. The policeman at the desk caught a glimpse
of him and walked to the door. The sergeant and the doctor followed at a
more leisurely pace.

"Every sound brings my heart into my mouth, Wembury. I feel as though I
stood in the very presence of doom."

His voice was a husky whine.

"I feel it now--as though somewhere near me, in this very room, death
were at my elbow. Oh, God, it's awful--awful!"

Suddenly he swayed, and Alan Wembury caught him just in time. Fortunately
the doctor was at hand, and they sat him on a chair whilst Sergeant
Carter delved into his desk for an ancient bottle of smelling--salts
that had served many a fainting lady, overcome in that room by her
temporary misfortunes.

"What's the matter with him?"

"Dope," answered the doctor laconically. "Take him into the inspector's
room, sergeant, he'll be all right in a few minutes!"

He watched the limp figure assisted from the charge--room and shook his
head. Then he strolled back to the main door and into the corridor. He
was peering out into the night.

"What is it, doctor?" asked Alan.

"There he is again!" Lomond pointed to the dark street.

"Who is it?"

"He's been watching the station ever since Meister came in," said Lomond,
as he came back to the charge--room and drew up a chair to the fire.

"Who is the mysterious watcher?" asked Wembury, smiling.

"I don't know. It looked like Bliss to me," said Lomond, rolling a
cigarette; "he doesn't like me--I don't know why."

"Do you know anybody he likes--except Bliss?" growled Wembury.

"I heard quite a curious thing about him at the club this afternoon,"
said Lomond slowly. "I met a man who knew him in Washington--a doctor
man. He swears that he saw Bliss in the psychopathic ward of a Brooklyn
hospital."

"When was this?"

"That is the absurd part of it. He said he saw him only a fortnight ago."

Wembury smiled. "He has been back months."

"Do you know Bliss very well?"

"No, not very well," admitted Wembury. "I never met him until he returned
from America. I had seen him--he's u much older man than I, and my
promotion was rather rapid. He was a sub--inspector when I was only a
constable--hallo!"

A man strode into the charge--room and walked straight to the sergeant's
desk. It was Inspector Bliss.

"I want a gun," he said shortly.

"I beg pardon?" Carter stared at him.

"I want an automatic."--louder.

Wembury chuckled maliciously.

"That's right, sergeant--Central Inspector Bliss from Scotland Yard
wants an automatic. What do you want it for, Bliss? Going ratting?"

Bliss favoured him with a crooked smile.

"Yes, but you needn't be afraid, though. What's it to do with you?"

"Quite a lot," said Wembury, quietly, as the sergeant produced an
automatic. "This is my division."

"Any reason why I shouldn't have it?" demanded the bearded man.

"None," said Wembury, and as the other made for the door: "I should sign
for it, though. You seem to have forgotten the routine, Bliss."

Bliss turned with a curse. "I've been away from this damned country, you
know that."

The doctor's eyes were twinkling. "Good evening, Mr. Bliss."

For the first time it seemed Bliss noticed the police surgeon's presence.
"'Evening, Professor. Caught The Ringer yet?"

"Not yet," smiled Lomond.

"Huh! Better write another book and then perhaps you will!"

"We are amused," responded Lomond dryly. "No, I haven't caught The
Ringer, but I dare say I could put my hand on him."

Bliss looked at the other suspiciously. "Think so? You've got a theory,
eh?"

"A conviction, a very strong conviction," said Lomond mysteriously.

"Now you take a tip from me. Leave police work to policemen. Arthur
Milton's a dangerous man. Seen his wife lately?"

"No--have you?"

Bliss turned. "No; I don't even know who she's living with."

The doctor's face hardened. "Would you remember you're speaking of a
particular friend of mine?" he demanded.

Inspector Bliss allowed himself the rare luxury of a chuckle. "Oh, she's
caught you, too, eh? She does find 'em!"

"Have you never heard of a woman having a disinterested friend?" demanded
Lomond.

"Oh yes, there's one born every minute," was the harsh reply, and, seeing
Wembury's disapproving eye on him: "You're a bit of a sentimental Johnny,
too, aren't you, Wembury?"

"That's my weakness," said Alan coolly.

"That girl Lenley--she's in Meister's office, isn't she?"

Wembury smiled his contempt. "You've found that out, have you? There are
the makings of a detective in you," he said, but Bliss was not perturbed
by the studied insult.

"Sweet on her, they tell me. Very romantic! The old squire's daughter and
the love--sick copper!"

"If you must use thieves' slang, call me 'busy'. Were you ever in love,
Bliss?"

"Me! Huh! No woman can make a fool of me!" said Inspector Bliss, one hand
on the door.

"It takes a clever woman to improve on God's handiwork. What are you
doing down here, anyway?" retorted Alan rudely.

"Your job!" snapped Bliss, as he went out, banging the door behind him.



CHAPTER 42


Carter was intrigued.

"It's curious that the inspector doesn't know station routine, isn't it,
sir?"

"Everything about Mr. Bliss is curious," said Alan savagely. "Bliss!
Where he got his name from I'd like to know!"

Lomond went to the door of the inspector's room, where Meister lay under
the watchful eye of a "relief". He was rapidly recovering, the doctor
said. As he returned, a policeman came in and whispered to Wembury.

"A lady to see me? Who is it?"

"It's Cora Ann Milton," said Lomond, again displaying that uncanny
instinct of his. "My future bride!"

Cora Ann came in with an air in which defiance and assumed indifference
were blended. "Say, is there something wrong with your date book,
doctor?"

Alan regarded the old doctor suspiciously as Lomond took the woman's hand
in his.

"There's something wrong with you. Why, you're all of a dither, Cora
Ann."

She nodded grimly. "I never wait longer than an hour for any man."

Wembury looked up at this.

"Good Lord! I was taking ye to dinner!" gasped the doctor. "I was called
down here and it slipped out of my mind."

Cora Ann looked round with every indication of distaste.

"I can't blame you. If I were called to a place like this my mind would
slip a cog. So this is a police station? My idea of hell, only not so
bright!" She looked at Wembury. "Say, where's your fancy dress? Everybody
else is in uniform."

"I keep that for wearing at parties," he smiled.

She shuddered.

"Ugh--doesn't it make you sick? How can you stay here? There must be
something wrong with a man's mind who likes this sort of life."

"There's something wrong with you," said Lomond quietly. "There's a queer
vacant look in your eye."

She eyed him steadily. "The vacancy isn't in my eye--I haven't had
anything to eat since lunch!"

Lomond was all remorse. "You poor hungry mite--could you not eat by
yourself?"

"I prefer to take my meals under the eye of a medical man," said Cora.

"I'm not so sure that it would be safe," he bantered. "Do you think I'll
poison you?"

"You might poison my mind."

All the time Wembury was listening with undisguised astonishment. What
was the doctor's game? Why was he making friends with this girl?

"Are you going to take pity on a poor hysterical female?" she demanded.

There was an element of desperation in her tone; it was as though she
were making one last effort to...what? Alan was puzzled.

"I'd love to, Cora Ann, but--" Lomond was saying.

"But! But!" she mocked. "You're a 'butter', eh? Listen, Scottie, you
won't have to pay for the dinner!"

He grinned at this. "That's certainly an inducement, but I've got work to
do."

In a second her face had grown haggard. "Work!" She laughed bitterly, and
with a shrug of her shoulders walked listlessly towards the door. "I know
the work! You're trying to hang Arthur Milton. That's your idea of work!
All right."

"Where are you going now, lassie?" asked the doctor, anxiously.

She looked at him, and her smile was a little hard. "It's too late for
dinner. I think I'll go and have supper and a music lesson at the same
time. I've a friend who plays the piano very, very well."

Lomond walked to the door and peered out into the fog after her. "That
sounds like a threat to me," he said.

Alan did not answer immediately. When he spoke his voice was very grave.

"Doctor--I wish you wouldn't make love to The Ringer's wife."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean--I don't want the possibility of two tragedies on my mind."

Carter, who had been into the room where Meister was lying, came back to
his desk at that moment.

"How is he now?"

"He's all right, sir," said the sergeant.

Tramp, tramp, tramp!

Alan's keen ears had caught the sound of the measured march, the peculiar
tempo of a man in custody, and he drew a long breath as Johnny Lenley,
his arm gripped by a plain--clothes policeman, came through the door and
was arrayed before the desk. There was no preliminary.

"I am Detective--Constable Bell," said the tall man. "This evening I was
on the roof of 57, Camden Crescent, and I saw this man come up through a
trap--door in the attic of No. 55. I saw him searching behind the
cistern of 57, and took him into custody. I charged him with being on
enclosed premises for the purpose of committing a felony."

Lenley stood looking down at the floor. He scarcely seemed interested in
the proceedings, until he raised his head and his eyes found Wembury's,
and then he nodded slowly.

"Thank you, Wembury," he said. "If I had the brain of a rabbit I
shouldn't be here."

Carter at the desk dipped his pen in the ink. "What is your name?" he
asked automatically.

"John Lenley." Silence and a splutter of writing.

"Your address?"

"I have no address."

"Your trade?"

"I'm a convict on licence," said Johnny quietly.

The sergeant put down his pen.  "Search him," he said. Johnny spread out
his arms and the tall officer ran his hands through his pockets and
carried what he had found to the desk. "Who put me away, Wembury?"

Alan shook his head. "That is not a question to ask me," he said. "You
know that very well." He nodded to the desk to call the prisoner's
attention to the man who was, for the moment, in supreme authority.

"Have you any explanation for your presence on the roof of 57, Camden
Crescent?" asked the sergeant.

Johnny Lenley cleared his throat.

"I went after some stuff that was supposed to be planted behind a
cistern. And it wasn't there. That's all. Who was the snout? You needn't
tell me, because I know. Look after my sister, Wembury; she'll want some
looking after, and I'd sooner trust you than any man--"

It was unfortunate for all concerned that Mr. Meister chose that moment
to make his bedraggled appearance. He stared foolishly at the man in the
hands of the detectives, and Johnny Lenley smiled.

"Hallo, Maurice!" he said softly.

The lawyer was staggered.

"Why--why--it's--it's Johnny!" he stammered. "You haven't been getting
into trouble again, have you, Johnny?" He raised his hands in a gesture
of despair. "What a misfortune! I'll be down at the court to defend you
in the morning, my boy." He ambled up to the sergeant's desk. "Any food
he wants, let him have it at my expense," he said loudly.

"Meister!" The word came like the clang of steel on steel. "There was no
swag behind the cistern!"

Mr. Meister's face was a picture of wonder and amazement.

"No swag behind the cistern? 'Swag?' I don't know what you're talking
about, my boy."

Lenley nodded and grinned mirthlessly.

"I came out too soon for you. It interfered with your little scheme,
didn't it, Meister? You swine!"

Before Wembury could realise what was happening, Johnny had the lawyer by
the throat. In a second four men were struggling in a heap on the ground.

As they rolled on the floor, the door of the charge room flung open, and
Inspector Bliss appeared. He stood for a second, and then with one leap
was in the thick of the scrum.

It was Bliss who flung the boy back. He walked to the prostrate Meister.

"Is he hurt?" he demanded.

White with rage, Johnny glared at the lawyer.

"I wish to God I'd killed him!" he hissed.

Bliss turned his hard eyes upon the prisoner.

"Don't be so damned selfish, Lenley!" he said coldly.



CHAPTER 43


ALAN WEMBURY had only one thought in his mind as he walked from the
police station, and that a supremely wretched one. Mary had to be told.
Again he was to be an unwilling messenger of woe. A fog was blowing up
from the river, and lay so thick in some places that he had to grope his
way feeling along the railings. In the dip of Lewisham High Road ii was
clearer, for some reason. Being human, he cursed the log; cursed John
Lenley for his insensate folly; but it was when he thought of Maurice
Meister that he found it most difficult to control his anger. The base
treachery of the man was almost inhuman.

He climbed up the stone staircase of Malpas Mansions and knocked at the
door of Mary's flat. There was no answer. He knocked again, and then he
heard an inner door open with the snap of a lock as it was turned back,
and: "Is that you, Johnny? I thought you had the key."

"No, my dear, it is I."

"Alan!" She took a step back and her hand went to her heart. "Is anything
wrong?"

Her face was twitching with anxiety. He did not answer until he had
closed the door behind him and followed her into the room.

"Is there anything wrong?" she asked again...."Is it Johnny?"

He nodded. She sank into a chair and covered her eyes with her hands.

"Is he...arrested?" she whispered.

"Yes," said Alan.

"For the forgery?" She spoke in a voice little above a whisper.

"For the forgery?" He stared down at her. "I don't know what you mean,
my dear." And she turned a white, bewildered face up to his. "Isn't it
for forgery?" she asked, in wonder; and then, as she realised her
indiscretion: "Will you forget that I asked that, Alan?"

"Of course I'll forget, Mary, my dear. I know nothing about a forgery.
Johnny was arrested for being on enclosed premises."

"For burglary--oh, my God!"

"I don't know what it's all about. I'm a little at sea myself," said
Alan. "I wish I could tell you everything I guess: perhaps I will, even
if I am fired out of the force for it."

He dropped his hand gently on her shoulder.

"You've got to stand up to this, Mary; there may be some explanation. I
can't understand why Johnny should have been such a lunatic. I did my
best to warn him. I still think there is a chance for him. After I leave
here and have seen Meister, I'm going to knock up a lawyer friend of mine
and get his advice. I wish he hadn't gone for Meister."

And then he told her of the scene at the police station, and she was
horrified.

"He struck Maurice? Oh, he's mad! Why, Maurice has it in his power--"
She stopped short.

Alan's keen eyes searched her face.

"Go on," he said gently. "Maurice has it in his power--?" And, when she
did not speak: "Is it the forgery you are thinking of?"

She looked at him reproachfully.

"Alan, you promised--"

"I didn't promise anything," he half smiled, "but I'll tell you this,
that anything you say to me is to Alan Wembury the individual, and not to
Alan Wembury the police officer. Mary, my dear, you're in trouble: won't
you let me help you?"

She shook her head.

"I can't, I can't! This has made things so dreadful. Maurice is so
vindictive, and he will never forgive Johnny. And he was going to be so
nice...he was getting us a little farm in the country."

It was on the tip of Alan's tongue to tell her the truth about the
betrayal, but the rigid discipline of the police force was triumphant.
The first law and the last law of criminal detection is never to betray
the informer.

"It's a mystery to me why Johnny went to this house. He told some story
about there being loot, the proceeds of an old burglary, hidden in a
cistern, but of course there was nothing of the sort."

She was crouching over the table, her head on her hands, her eyes closed.
He thought for a moment she was going to faint, and his arm went about
her shoulder.

"Mary, can't I help you?" His voice was husky. He found a difficulty in
breathing. "I don't care how you think of me, whether it is as the son of
your old servant, as Inspector Wembury the police officer, or just Alan
Wembury...who loves you!"

She did not move; made no attempt to withdraw from his encircling arm.

"I've said it now and I'm glad," he went on breathlessly. "I've always
loved you since you were a child. Won't you tell me everything, Mary?"

And then suddenly she pushed him away and came to her feet, wild--eyed,
her lips parted as at some horrible thought.

"I can't, I can't!" she said, almost incoherently. "Don't touch me,
Alan....I'm not worthy of you....I thought I need not go, but now I
know that I must...for Johnny's sake."

"Go where?" he asked sternly, but she shook her head. Then she flung her
hands out impulsively and caught him in a frenzied clasp.

"Alan, I know you love me...and I'm glad...glad! You know what that
means, don't you? A woman wouldn't say that unless she...she felt that
way herself. But I've got to save Johnny--I must!"

"Won't you tell me what it is?"

She shook her head. "I can't. This is one of the hard places that I've
got to go through without help."

But he was not to be silenced. "Is it Meister?" he asked. "Is it some
threat that he is holding over you?"

Mary shook her head wearily.

"I don't want to talk about it, Alan--what can I do for Johnny? Is it
really a bad charge--I mean, will he be sent to penal servitude again?
Do you think that Maurice could save him?"

For the moment Johnny's fate did not interest the police officer. He had
no mind, no thought for anybody but this lonely girl, battered and
bruised and broken. His arms went round her; he held her to his breast
and kissed her mid lips.

"Don't, please, Alan," she murmured, and realising that she had no
physical strength to resist, he released her gently.

He himself was shaking like an aspen when he moved to the door.

"I'm going to solve a few mysteries--about Johnny and about other
things," he said, between his teeth. "Will you stay here where I can find
you? I will come back in an hour."

Dimly divining his purpose, she called him back, but he was gone.

Meister's house was in darkness when Alan struggled through the fog into
Flanders Lane. The police officer on duty at the door had nothing to
report except that he had heard the sound of a piano coming faintly from
one of the upper rooms.

The policeman had the key of the gate and the front door, and, leaving
the man on duty outside, Alan strode into the house. As he mounted the
stairs, the sounds of a Humoresque came down to him. He tried Meister's
door: it was locked. He tapped on the panel.

"What do you want?" asked Meister's slurred voice. "Who is it?"

"Wembury. Open the door," said Alan impatiently.

He heard the man growl as he crossed the room, and presently the door was
opened. He walked in; the room was in darkness save for a light which
came from one standard lamp near the piano.

"Well, what's that young blackguard got to say for himself?" demanded
Maurice. He had been drinking heavily; the place reeked with the smell of
spirits. There was a big bruise on his cheek where John Lenley had struck
him.

Without invitation, Alan switched on the lights, and the lawyer blinked
impatiently at him.

"I don't want lights. Curse you, why did you put those lights on?" he
snarled.

"I want to see you," said Wembury, "and I would like you to see me."

Meister stared at him stupidly.

"Well," he asked at last, "you wanted to see me? You seem to have taken
charge of my house, Mr. Wembury. You walk in and you go out as you wish;
you turn on my lights and put them off at your own sweet will. Now
perhaps you will condescend to explain your attitude and your manner."

"I've come to ask you something about a forgery."

He saw Maurice start. "A forgery? What do you mean?"

"You know damned well what I mean," said Alan savagely. "What is this
forgery you've told Mary Lenley about?"

Drunk as he was, the question sobered the man. He shook his head. "I
really don't understand what you're talking about." Maurice Meister was
no fool. If Mary had told the story of the forged cheque, this bullying
oaf of a police officer would not ask such a question. He had heard a
little, guessed much--how much, Meister was anxious to learn.

"My dear man, you come here in the middle of the night and ask me
questions about forgeries," he went on in a flippant tone. "Do you really
expect me to be conversational and informative--after what I have
experienced tonight? I've dealt with so many forgeries in my life that I
hardly know to which one you refer."

His eyes strayed unconsciously to a little round table that was set in
the centre of the room, and covered by a fine white cloth. Alan had
noticed this and wondered what the cloth concealed. It might be Meister's
supper, or it might be--Only for a second did he allow his attention to
be diverted, however.

"Meister, you're holding some threat over the head of Mary Lenley, and I
want to know what it is. You've asked her to do something which she
doesn't want to do. I don't know what that is either, but I can guess.
I'm warning you--"

"As a police officer?" sneered Maurice.

"As a man," said Alan quietly. "For the evil you are contemplating there
may be no remedy in law, but I tell you this, that if one hair of Mary
Lenley's head is hurt, you will be sorry."

The lawyer's eyes narrowed.

"That is a threat of personal violence, one presumes?" he said, and in
spite of the effort to appear unconcerned his voice trembled. "Threatened
men live long, Inspector Wembury, mid I have been threatened all my life
and nothing has come of it. The Ringer threatens me, Johnny threatens me,
you threaten me--I thrive on threats!"

The eyes of Alan Wembury had the hard brightness of burnished steel.
"Meister," he said softly, "I wonder if you realise how near you are to
death?"

Meister's jaw dropped and he gaped at the young man who towered over him.

"Not at my hands, perhaps; not at The Ringer's hands, nor John Lenley's
hands; but if what I believe is true, and if I am right in suspecting the
kind of villainy you contemplate tonight, and you carry your plans
through, be sure of one thing, Maurice Meister--that if The Ringer
fails, I shall get you!"

Meister looked at him for a long time and then forced a smile.

"By God, you're in love with Mary Lenley," he chuckled harshly. "That's
the best joke I've heard for years!"

Alan heard his raucous laugher as he went down the stairs, and the echo
of it rang in his ears all the way down Flanders Lane.

He had a call to make--a lawyer friend who lived in Greenwich. His
interview with that gentleman was very satisfactory.



CHAPTER 44


ALAN WEMBURY came into the charge--room and glanced at the clock. He had
been gone two hours.

"Has Mr. Bliss been in?" he asked.

Bliss had vanished from the station almost as dramatically as he arrived.

"Yes, sir; he came in for a few minutes: he wanted to see a man in the
cells," said Carter.

Instantly Alan was alert. "Who?" he asked.

"That boy Lenley. I let him have the key."

What interest had the Scotland Yard man in Johnny? Wembury was puzzled.
"Oh--he didn't stay long?"

"No, sir. Above five minutes."

Alan shook his rain--soddened hat in the fireplace. "No messages?"

"No, sir: one of our drunks has been giving a lot of trouble. I had to
telephone to Dr. Lomond--he's with him now. By the way, sir, did you see
this amongst Lenley's papers? I only found it after you'd gone."

He took a card from the desk and gave it to Wembury, who read: "Here is
the key. You can go in when you like--No. 57."

"Why, that's Meister's writing."

"Yes, sir," nodded Carter, "and No. 57 is Meister's own property. I don't
know how that will affect the charge against Lenley."

As he read a great load seemed to roll from Alan Wembury's heart:
everything his lawyer friend had said, came back to him. "Thank God! That
lets him out! It was just as I thought! Meister must have been very drunk
to have written that--it is his first slip."

"What is the law?"

Wembury was no lawyer, but when he had discovered that the arrest had
been made on Meister's property, he had seen a loophole. Johnny Lenley
went at Meister's invitation--it could not be burglary. Meister was the
landlord of the house.

"Was there a key?" he asked.

"Yes, sir." Carter handed the key over. "It has Meister's name on the
label."

Alan sighed his relief. "By gad! I'm glad Lenley is inside, though. If
ever I saw murder in a man's eyes it was in his!"

Carter put a question that had been in his mind all the evening. "I
suppose Lenley isn't The Ringer?" he asked, and Alan laughed.

"Don't be absurd! How can he be?" As he spoke he heard his name called,
and Lomond ran into the charge--room from the passage leading to the
cells. "Is anything wrong?" asked Alan quickly. "What cell did you put
Lenley in?"

"Number eight at the far end," said Carter. "The door's wide open--it's
empty!" Carter flew out of the room. Alan picked up the 'phone from the
sergeant's desk.

"By God, Lomond, he'll be after Meister." Carter came into the room
hurriedly.

"He's got away all right," he said. "The door is wide open, and so is the
door into the yard!"

"Two of my men, Carter," said Wembury quickly, and then the number he had
asked for came through.

"Scotland Yard?...Give me the night officer...Inspector Wembury
speaking. Take this for all stations. Arrest and detain John Lenley, who
escaped tonight from Flanders Lane police station whilst under detention.
Age twenty--seven, height six feet, dark, wearing a--"

"Blue serge," prompted Sergeant Carter.

"He's a convict on licence," continued Wembury. "Sort that out, will you?
Thank you."

He hung up the receiver as a detective came in.

"Get your bicycle and go round to all patrols. Lenley's got away. You can
describe the man."

To the second man who came in: "Go to Malpas Mansions--Lenley lives
there with his sister. Don't alarm the young lady, do you understand? If
you find him, bring him in."

When the men had hurried out into the thick night, Alan strode up and
down the charge--room. This danger to Meister was a new one. Dr. Lomond
was going and collecting his impedimenta.

"How the devil did he get away?" Wembury put his thoughts into words.

"I have my own theory," said Lomond. "If you allow Detective Inspector
Bliss too near a prisoner, he'll get away easily enough."

On which cryptic note he left.

He had to wait at the head of the steps to allow Sam Hackitt to pass
in--and Hackitt did not come willingly, for he was in the hands of a
detective and a uniformed policeman.

Alan heard a familiar plaint and looked over his shoulder.

"'Evening, Mr. Wembury. See what they've done to me? Why don't you stop
'em 'ounding me down?" he demanded in a quivering voice.

"What's the trouble?" asked Alan testily. He was in no mood for the
recital of petty larcenies.

"I saw this man on Deptford Broadway," said the detective, "and asked him
what he had in his bag. He refused to open the bag, and tried to run
away. I arrested him."

"That's a lie," interposed Sam. "Now speak the truth: don't perjure
yourself in front of witnesses. I simply said: 'If you want the bag, take
it.'"

"Shut up, Hackitt," said Wembury. "What is in the bag?"

"Here!" said Sam, hastily breaking in. "I want to tell you about that
bag. To tell you the truth, I found it. It was layin' against a wall, an'
I says to meself,' I wonder what that is?'--just like that."

"And what did the bag say?" asked the sceptical Carter.

The bag "said" many damning things. The first thing revealed was the
cash-box. Sam had not had time to throw it away. The sergeant opened it,
and took out a thick wad of notes and laid them on the desk.

"Old Meister's cash--box!" Sam's tone was one of horror and amazement.
"Now how did that get there? There's a mystery for you, Wembury! That
ought to be in your memories when you write them for the Sunday
newspapers. 'Strange and mysterious discovery of a cash--box!'"

"There's nothing mysterious about it," said Wembury. "Anything else?"

One by one they produced certain silver articles which were very damning.

"It's a cop," said Sam philosophically. "You've spoilt the best honeymoon
I'm ever likely to have--that's what you've done, Wembury. Who shopped
me?"

"Name?" asked Carter conventionally.

"Samuel Cuthbert 'Ackitt--don't forget the haitch."

"Address?"

Sam wrinkled his nose.

"Buckingham Palace," he said sarcastically.

"No address. What was your last job?"

"Chambermaid! 'Ere, Mr. Wembury, do you know what Meister gave me for
four days' work? Ten bob! That's sweating! I wouldn't go into that
house--'aunted, I call it--"

The 'phone rang at that moment and Carter answered it. "Haunted?"

"I was in Meister's room, and I was just coming away with the stuff when
I felt--a cold hand touch me! Cold! Clammy like a dead man's hand! I
jumped for the winder and got out on the leads!"

Carter covered the telephone receiver with his palm.

"It's Atkins, sir--the man at Meister's house. He says he can't make him
hear--Meister's gone up to his room but the door's locked."

Alan went to the 'phone quickly.

"It's Mr. Wembury speaking. Are you in the house?...You can't get in?
Can't make him hear?...You can't get any answer at all? Is there a light
in any of the windows?...You're quite sure he's in the house?"

Carter saw his face change.

"What's that? The Ringer's been seen in Deptford tonight! I'll come along
right away."

He hung up the receiver.

"I don't know how much of that cold hand is cold feet, Hackitt, but
you're coming along to Meister's house with me. Take him along!"

Protesting noisily, Mr. Hackitt was hurried into the street.

From his hip pocket Wembury slipped an automatic, clicked back the jacket
and went swiftly to the door.

"Good luck, sir!" said Carter.

Alan thought he would need all the luck that came his way.



CHAPTER 45


THE car was worse than useless--the fog was so thick that they were
forced to feel their way by railing and wall. One good piece of luck they
had--Alan overtook the doctor and commandeered his services. The route
led through the worst part of Flanders Lane--a place where police went
in couples.

Wembury's hand lamp showed a pale yellow blob that was almost useless.

"Is that you, doctor?" he asked and heard a grunt.

"What a fearful hole! Where am I?"

"In Flanders Lane," said Wembury. He had hardly spoken the words before a
titter of laughter came from somewhere near at hand.

"Who is that?" asked Lomond.

"Don't move," warned Alan. "Part of the road is up. Can't you see the red
light?"

He thought he saw a pinkish blur ahead.

"I've been seeing the red light all the evening," said Lomond. "Road up,
eh?"

Some unseen person spoke hoarsely in the fog. "That's him that's going to
get The Ringer!" They heard the soft chuckle of many voices.

"Who was that?" asked Lomond again.

"You are in Flanders Lane, I tell you," replied Alan. "Its other name is
Little Hell!"

The doctor dropped his voice.

"I can see nobody."

"They are sitting on their doorsteps watching us," answered Alan in the
same tone. "What a night for The Ringer!"

Near at hand and from some miserable house a cracked gramophone began to
play. Loudly at first and then the volume of sound decreased as though a
door were shut upon it.

Then from another direction a woman's voice shrieked: "Pipe the fly
doctor! 'Im that's goin' to get The Ringer!"

"How the devil can they see?" asked Lomond in amazement.

Alan shivered. "They've got rats' eyes," he said. "Hark at the rustle of
them--ugh! Hallo there!"

Somebody had touched him on the shoulder.

"They're having a joke with us. Is it like this all the way, I wonder?"

Ahead, a red light glowed and another. They saw a grimy man crouching
over a brazier of coke: a watchman. For a second as he raised his hideous
face, Lomond was startled.

"Ugh! Who are you," he demanded.

"I'm the watchman. It's a horrible place, is Flanders Lane. They're
always screaming--it'd freeze your blood to hear the things I hear." His
tone was deep--sepulchral.

"She's been hangin' round here all night--the lady?" he said amazingly.

"What lady?" asked Wembury.

"I thought she was a ghost--you see ghosts here--and hear 'em."

Somebody screamed in one of the houses they could not see.

"Always shoutin' murder in Flanders Lane," said the old watchman
gloomily. "They're like beasts down in them cellars.--some of 'em never
comes out. They're born down there and they die down there."

At that minute Lomond felt a hand touch his arm.

"Where are you?" he asked.

"Don't go any farther--for God's sake!" she whispered, and he was
staggered.

"Cora Ann!"

"Who is that?" asked Alan turning back.

"There's death there--death"--Cora's low voice was urgent--"I want to
save you. Go back, go back!"

"Trying to scare me," said Lomond reproachfully. "Cora Ann!"

In another instant she was gone and at that moment the fog lifted and
they could see the street lamp outside Meister's house.

Atkins was waiting under the cover of the glass awning, and had nothing
more to report.

"I didn't want to break the door until you came in. There was no sound
that I could hear except the piano. I went round the back of the house,
there's a light burning in his room, but I could see that, of course,
from under his door."

"No sound?"

"None--only the piano."

Alan hurried into the house, followed by the manacled Hackitt and his
custodian, Atkins and the doctor bringing up the rear. He went up the
stairs and knocked at the door heavily. There was no answer. Hammering on
the panel with his fist, he shouted the lawyer's name, but still there
was no reply.

"Where is the housekeeper?" he asked. "Mrs. K.?"

"In her room, sir. At least, she was there a few hours before. But she's
deaf."

"Stone deaf, I should say," said Alan, and then: "Give me any kind of
key--I can open it," said Hackitt.

They stood impatiently by whilst he fiddled with the lock. His boast was
justified--in a few seconds the catch snapped back and the door opened.

Only one big standard lamp burnt in the room, and this threw an eerie
light upon the yellow face of Meister. He was in evening dress and sat at
the piano, his arms resting on the top, his yellow face set in a look of
fear.

"Phew!" said Alan, and wiped his streaming forehead. "I've heard the
expression 'dead to the world', but this is certainly the first time I've
seen a man in that state."

He shook the dazed lawyer, but he might as well have shaken himself for
all the effect it had upon the slumberer.

"Thank Gawd!" said a voice behind. It was Hackitt's trembling voice. "I
never thought I'd be glad to see that old bird alive!"

Alan glanced up at the chandelier that hung from the ceiling. "Put on the
lights," he said. "See if you can wake him, doctor."

"Have you tried burning his ears?" suggested the helpful Hackitt, and was
sternly ordered to be quiet. "Can't a man express his emotions?" asked
Mr. Hackitt wrathfully. "There's no law against that, is there? Didn't I
tell you, Mr. Wembury? He's doped! I've seen him like that before--doped
and dizzy!"

"Hackitt, where were you in this room when you felt the hand?" asked
Alan. "Take the cuff off."

The handcuff was unlocked, and Hackitt moved to a place almost opposite
the door. Between the door and the small settee was a supper table, which
Wembury had seen the moment he came into the room. So Mary had not come:
that was an instant cause of relief. "I was here," said Hackitt. "The
hand came from there."

He pointed to the mystery door, and Wembury saw that the bolts were shot,
the door locked, and the key hung in its place on the wall. It was
impossible that anybody could have come into the room from that entrance
without Meister's assistance.

He next turned his attention to the window. The chintz curtains had been
pulled across; Hackitt had noticed this immediately. He had left them
half--drawn and window and grille open.

"Somebody's been here," he said emphatically. "I'm sure the old man
hasn't moved. I left the bars unfastened."

The door leading to Mary's little office room was locked. So was the
second door, which gave to the private staircase to Meister's own
bedroom. He looked at the bolts again, and was certain they had not been
touched that night. It was a dusty room; the carpet had not been beaten
for months, and every footstep must stir up a little dust cloud. He
wetted his finger, touched the knob of the bolt, and although he had
handled it that afternoon, there were microscopic specks to tell him that
the doorway had not been used.

Atkins was working at the sleeping Meister, shaking him gently,
encouraged thereto by the uncomfortable snorts he provoked, but so far
his efforts were unsuccessful. Wembury, standing by the supper table,
looked at it thoughtfully.

"Supper for two," he said, picked up a bottle of champagne and examined
it. "Cordon Rouge, '11."

"He was expecting somebody," said Dr. Lomond wisely and, when Wembury
nodded: "A lady!"

"Why a lady?" asked Wembury irritably. "Men drink wine."

The doctor stooped and picked up a small silver dish, piled high with
candy.

"But they seldom eat chocolates," he said, and Wembury laughed irritably.

"You're becoming a detective in spite of yourself. Meister has--queer
tastes."

There was a small square morocco case under the serviette that the doctor
moved. He opened it. From the velvet bed within there came the glitter
and sparkle of diamonds.

"Is he the kind of man who gives these things to his--queer friends?" he
asked with a quiet smile.

"I don't know." Wembury's answer was brusque to rudeness.

"Look, governor!" whispered Hackitt.

Meister was moving, his head moved restlessly from side to side.
Presently he became aware that he was not alone.

"Hallo, people!" he said thickly. "Give me a drink."

He groped out for an invisible bottle.

"I think you've had enough drink and drugs for one night, Meister. Pull
yourself together. I've something unpleasant to tell you."

Meister looked at him stupidly.

"What's the time?" he asked slowly.

"Half--past twelve."

The answer partially sobered the man.

"Half--past twelve!" He staggered rockily to his feet. "Is she here?" he
asked, holding on to the table.

"Is who here?" demanded Wembury with cold deliberation.

Mr. Meister shook his aching head.

"She said she'd come," he muttered. "She promised faithfully...twelve
o'clock. If she tries to fool me--"

"Who is the 'she', Meister?" asked Wembury, and the lawyer smiled
foolishly.

"Nobody you know," he said.

"She was coming to keep you company, I suppose?"

"You've got it....Give me a drink." The man was still dazed, hardly
conscious of what was going on around him. Then, in his fuddled way, he
saw Hackitt.

"You've come back, eh? Well, you can go again!"

"Hear what he says?" asked the eager Hackitt. "He's withdrawn the
charge!"

"Have you lost your cash--box?" asked Wembury.

"Eh? Lost...?" He stumbled towards the drawer and pulled it open. "Gone!"
he cried hoarsely. "You took it!" He pointed a trembling finger to Sam.
"You dirty thief...!"

"Steady, now," said Wembury, and caught him as he swayed. "We've got
Hackitt; you can charge him in the morning."

"Stole my cash--box!" He was maudlin in his anger and drunkenness. "Bit
the hand that fed him!"

Mr. Hackitt's lips curled.

"I like your idea about feeding!" he said scornfully. "Cottage pie and
rice puddin'!"

But Meister was not listening. "Give me a drink."

Wembury gripped him by the arm. "Do you realise what this means?" he
asked. "The Ringer is in Deptford."

But he might have been talking to a man of wood.

"Good job," said Meister with drunken gravity, and tried to look at his
watch. "Clear out: I've got a friend coming to me."

"Your friend has a very poor chance of getting in. All the doors of this
room are fastened, except where Atkins is on duly, and they will remain
fastened."

Meister muttered something, tripped and would have fallen if Wembury had
not caught him by the arm and lowered him down into the chair.

"The Ringer!..." Meister sat with his head on his hands. "He'll have to be
clever to get me...I can't think tonight, but tomorrow I'll tell you
where you can put your hands on him, Wembury. My boy, you're a smart
detective, aren't you?" He chuckled foolishly. "Let's have another
drink."

He had hardly spoken the words when two of the three lights in the
chandelier went out.

"Who did that?" asked Wembury, turning sharply. "Did anybody touch the
board?"

"No, sir," said Atkins, standing at the door and pointing to the switch.
"Only I could have touched it."

Hackitt was near the window, examining the curtains, when the light had
diverted his attention.

"Come over this side of the room: you're too near that window," said
Wembury.

"I was wondering who pulled the curtains, Mr. Wembury," said Hackitt in a
troubled voice. "I'll swear it wasn't the old man. He was sleeping when I
left him and you couldn't get any answer by telephone, could you?"

He took hold of the curtain and pulled it aside and stared out into a
pale face pressed against the pane: a pale, bearded face, that vanished
instantly in the darkness.

At Hackitt's scream of terror Alan ran to the window. "What was it?"

"I don't know," gasped Sam. "Something!"

"I saw something, too," said Atkins.

Danger was at hand. There was a creeping feeling in Alan Wembury's spine,
a cold shiver that sent the muscles of his shoulders rippling
involuntarily.

"Take that man," he said.

The words were hardly out of his lips when all the lights in the room
went out.

"Don't move, anybody!" whispered Alan. "Stand fast! Did you touch the
switch, Atkins?"

"No, sir."

"Did any of you men touch the switch?"

There was a chorus of Noes.

The red light showed above the door.

Click!

Somebody had come into the room!

"Atkins, stand by Meister--feel along the table till you find him. Keep
quiet, everybody."

Whoever it was, was in the room now. Alan heard the unquiet breathing,
the rustle of a soft foot on the carpet, and waited. Suddenly there was a
flicker of light. Only for a second it showed a white circle on the door
of the safe, and was gone.

An electric hand lamp, and they were working at the safe. Still he did
not move, though he was now in a position that would enable him to cut
across the intruder's line of retreat.

He moved stealthily, both hands outstretched, his ears strained for the
slightest sound. And then suddenly he gripped somebody, and nearly
released his hold in his horror and amazement.

A woman! She was struggling frantically.

"Who are you?" he asked hoarsely.

"Let me go!" Only a whispered voice, strained, unrecognisable.

"I want you," he said, and then his knee struck something sharp and hard.
It was the corner of the settee, and in the exquisite pain his hold was
released. In another second she had escaped...when he put out his hands
he grasped nothing.

And then he heard a voice--deep, booming, menacing.

"Meister, I have come for you...."

There was the sound of a cough--a long, choking cough....

"A light, somebody!"

As Wembury shouted, he heard the thud of a closing door.

"Strike a match. Haven't any of you men torches?"

And when the lights came on they looked at one another in amazement.
There was nobody in the room save those who had been there when the
lights went out, and the door was locked, bolted, had not been touched;
the key still hung on the wall.

Alan stared; and then his eyes, travelling along the wall, were arrested
by a sight that froze his blood.

Pinned to the wall by his own swordstick drooped Maurice Meister, and he
was dead!

From somewhere outside the room came a laugh: a long, continuous, raucous
laugh, as at a good joke, and the men listened and shivered, and even the
face of Dr. Lomond changed colour.



CHAPTER 46


IT was an hour after Meister's body had been removed and Dr. Lomond was
making a few notes.

He was the reverse of nervous. And yet twice in the last half--hour he
had heard a queer sound, that he could not but associate with human
movements.

"I'm going to see Mr. Wembury," he said to the waiting constable. "I'll
leave my bag here."

"Mr. Wembury said he was coming back, sir, if you care to wait," Harrap
told him. "The sergeant's going to make a search of the house. There
ought to be some queer things found here. Personally," he added, "I'd
like to have the job of searching the pantry or the wine--cellar, or
wherever he keeps the beer."

Again Lomond heard a sound. He went to the door leading to Meister's room
and, pulling it open, stared. Alan Wembury was coming down the stairs.

"There are three ways into the house. I've found two of them," he said.

Atkins, who had been searching some of the lower rooms, came in at that
moment.

"Have you finished?" asked Wembury.

"Yes, sir. Meister was a fence all right."

Alan nodded slowly. "Yes, I know. Is your relief here?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right. You can go. Good night, Atkins."

Lomond was looking at Wembury narrowly. He waited until the man had gone
before he drew up a chair to the supper table.

"Wembury, my boy, you're worried about something--is it about Miss
Lenley?"

"Yes--I've been to see her."

"And, of course, it was she who came into the room at that awkward
moment?"

Alan stared at him.

"Lomond, I'm going to take a risk and tell you something, and there is no
reason why I shouldn't, because this business has altered all The Ringer
stuff. What happened tonight may mean ruin to me as a police officer...
and still I don't care. Yes, it was Mary Lenley."

The doctor nodded gravely.

"So I supposed," he said.

"She came to get a cheque that Meister told her young Lenley had forged--a
pure invention on Meister's part."

"How did she get into the room?" asked Lomond.

"She wouldn't tell me that--she's heartbroken. We took her brother, and
although I'm certain he will get off, she doesn't believe that."

"Poor kid! Still, my boy--happy ending and all that sort of thing," said
Lomond with a yawn.

"Happy ending! You're an optimist, doctor."

"I am. I never lose hope," said Lomond complacently. "So you've got young
Lenley? That laugh we heard--ugh!"

Wembury shook his head.

"That wasn't Lenley! There is no mystery about the laugh--one of the
Flanders Lane people going home--normally tight. The policeman on duty
outside the house saw him and heard him."

"It sounded in the house," said Lomond with a shiver. "Well, The Ringer's
work is done. There's no danger to anybody else, now."

"There's always danger enough--" began Wembury, and lifted his head,
listening. The sound this time was more distinct.

"What was that? Sounded like somebody moving about the house," said
Lomond. "I've heard it before."

Alan rose. "There is nobody in the house except the fellow outside.
Officer!"

Harrap came in. "Yes, sir?"

"None of our people upstairs?"

"Not that I know of, sir."

Wembury went to the door, opened it and shouted: "Anybody there?" There
was no answer. "Just wait here. I'll go and see."

He was gone quite a long time. When he returned his face was pale and
drawn.

"All right, officer, you can go down," he said shortly, and when the man
saluted and went out: "There was a window open upstairs--a cat must have
got in."

Lomond's eyes did not leave his face.

"You look rather scared. What's the matter?" he demanded.

"I feel rather scared," admitted Wembury. "This place stinks of death."

But the answer did not satisfy the shrewd Lomond.

"Wembury--you saw something or somebody upstairs," he challenged.

"You're a thought--reader, aren't you?" Alan's voice was a little husky.

"In a way, yes," said the other slowly. "At this moment you are thinking
of Central Inspector Bliss!"

Wembury started, but he was relieved of the necessity for replying. There
was a tap at the door and the policeman entered.

"It has just been reported to me, sir, that a man has been seen getting
over the wall," he said.

Wembury did not move.

"Oh!...How long ago?"

"About five minutes, sir."

"Was that the cat?" asked Lomond satirically, but Alan did not answer.

"You didn't see him?" he asked.

"No, sir; it happened when I was up here," said Harrap. "Excuse me, sir;
my relief's overdue."

Wembury snapped round impatiently. "All right, all right. You can go!"

There was a long silence after the man had gone.

"What do you make of that?" asked Lomond.

"It may have been one of the reporters; they'd sit on a grave to get a
story."

Again came the sound of footsteps--stealthy footsteps moving in the room
upstairs.

"That's not a cat, Wembury."

The nerves of Alan Wembury were at breaking point. "Damn the cat!" he
said. "I don't know what it is, and I am not going up to see. Doctor, I
am sick and tired of the case--heartily sick of it."

"So am I," nodded Lomond. "I am going home to bed." He got up with a
groan. "Late hours will be the death of me."

"Have a drink before you go." Alan poured out a stiff whisky with a hand
that shook.

Neither man saw the bearded face of Inspector Bliss at the window or
heard the grille open noiselessly as the Scotland Yard man came
noiselessly into the room.

"Do you know, doctor," said Alan, "I don't hate The Ringer as much as I
should."

Lomond paused with his glass raised.

"There are really no bad men who are all bad--except Meister--just as
there are no really good men who are all good."

"I want to tell you something, Lomond"--Alan spoke slowly--"I know The
Ringer."

"You know him--really?"

"Yes; well." And then, with fierce intensity: "And I'm damned glad he
killed Meister."

Bliss watched the scene from behind the curtain of the alcove, his eyes
never leaving the two.

"Why? Did he get Mary Lenley?" Lomond was asking.

"No, thank God--but it was only by luck that she was saved. Lomond,
I--I can tell you who is The Ringer."

Slipping from the shadow of the curtains. Bliss came towards Lomond, an
automatic in his hand.

"You can tell me, eh--then who is The Ringer?"

A hand stretched out and snatched at his hat.

"You!" said the voice of Bliss. "I want you--Henry Arthur Milton!"

Lomond leapt to his feet.

"What the hell--?"

No longer was he the grey--haired doctor. A straight, handsome man of
thirty--five stood in his place.

"Stand still!" Alan hardly recognised his own voice.

"Search him!" said Bliss, and Alan stripped off the 'doctor's' overcoat.

The Ringer chuckled.

"Bliss, eh? It doesn't fit you! You're the fellow who said I knifed you
when you tried to arrest me three years ago."

"So you did," said Bliss.

"That's a lie! I never carry a knife. You know that."

Bliss showed his teeth in an exultant grin.

"I know that I've got you. Ringer--that's all I know. Come from Port
Said, did you--attended a sick man there? I thought your woman knew I
suspected you when she was scared that day at Scotland Yard."

Henry Arthur Milton smiled contemptuously. "You flatter yourself, my dear
fellow. That woman--who happens to be my wife--was scared not because
she even saw you--but because she recognised me!"

"That Port Said story was good," said Bliss. "You saw a sick man
there--Dr. Lomond, a dope who'd been lost to sight for years and sunk to
native level. He died and you took his name and papers."

"I also nursed him--and I paid for his funeral," added Milton.

"You tried to make people suspicious of me--you've got a cheek! It was
you who let Lenley out of the cell!"

The Ringer inclined his head.

"Guilty. Best thing I ever did."

"Clever!" approved Bliss. "I hand it to you! Got your job as police
surgeon by smoodging a Cabinet Minister you met on the boat, didn't you?"

The Ringer shuddered.

'"Smoodging' is a vulgar word! 'Flattering' is a better. Yes, I was
lucky to get the post--I was four years a medical student in my
youth--Edinburgh--I present you with that information."

Bliss was beside himself with excitement.

"Well, I've got you! I charge you with the wilful murder of Maurice
Meister."

Alan could bear the gloating no longer.

"I say. Bliss--" he began.

"I'm in charge of this case, Wembury," said Bliss sourly. "When I want
your advice I'll ask you for it--who's that?"

He heard the patter of footsteps on the stairs. In another minute Cora
Ann had flown into her husband's arms.

"Arthur! Arthur!"

"All right, Mrs. Milton. That'll do, that'll do," cried Bliss.

"I told you--I told you--oh, Arthur!" she sobbed.

Bliss tried to pull her away.

"Come on."

"One minute," said The Ringer, and then, to the girl; "Cora Ann, you
haven't forgotten?" She shook her head. "You promised me something: you
remember?"

"Yes--Arthur," she said, Instantly all the suspicions of Bliss were
aroused and he dragged the woman away.

"What's the idea? You keep off and don't interfere."

She turned her white face to his.

"You want to take him and shut him away," she cried wildly--"like a wild
animal behind bars; like a beast--like something that isn't human.
That's what you want to do! You're going to bury him alive, blot out his
life, and you think I'll let you do it! You think I'll stand right here
and watch him slip into a living grave and not save him from it."

"You can't save him from the gallows!" was the harsh reply.

"I can't, can't I?" she almost screamed. "I'll show you that I can!"

Too late Bliss saw the pistol, but before he could snatch it from her
hand she had fired. The Ringer collapsed into a settee.

"You little brute--Wembury!" yelled Bliss.

Wembury went to his assistance and wrenched the revolver from her hand.
As he did so, The Ringer rose swiftly from the place where he had been
lying limp and apparently lifeless, and walked out of the door, locking
it behind him.

"My God! He's gone!" roared Bliss, and threw open the chamber of the
revolver. "Blank cartridge. After him!"

Wembury rushed to the door and pulled at it. It was locked!

Cora was laughing.

"Smash in the panel," cried Bliss. "The key's on the other side," And
then, to the girl: "Laugh, will you--I'll give you something to laugh
at!" With a crash the panel split, and in another few seconds Wembury was
flying down the stairs.

"Clever--clever; aren't you clever, Mister Bliss!" Cora's voice was
shrill and triumphant. "But The Ringer's got you where he wants you."

"You think so--" said Bliss, between his teeth, and shouted for the
officer on duty in the hall below.

"There's a car waiting for him outside," taunted Cora, "and a new
disguise which he kept in the little room downstairs. And an aeroplane
ten miles out, and he's not afraid to go up in the fog."

"I've got you, my lady!" howled Bliss. "And where you are, he'll be. I
know The Ringer! Officer!" he shouted.

A policeman came through the door.

"I'm Inspector Bliss from the Yard. Don't let her out of your sight, or
I'll have the coat off your back."

He ran out, stopping only to lock the door. Cora flew after him, but he
had taken the key, and she turned, to see the policeman opening the long
panel by the door. Then in a flash off came helmet and cape, and she was
locked in the arms of this strange man.

"This way, Cora," he said, and pointed to the panel. "La Via Amorosa."

He kissed her and lifted her through the panel. Presently it closed upon
them. No man saw The Ringer again that night or for the many nights which
followed.



THE END



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