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Title: Again the Ringer (1929)
Author: Edgar Wallace
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eBook No.: 0800761.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2008
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Title: Again the Ringer (1929)
Author: Edgar Wallace


CONTENTS:
---------

I    THE MAN WITH THE RED BEARD
II   CASE OF THE HOME SECRETARY
III  THE MURDERER OF MANY NAMES
IV   A SERVANT OF WOMEN
V    THE TRIMMING OF PAUL LUMIERE
VI   THE BLACKMAIL BOOMERANG
VII  MISS BROWN'S 7,000 WINDFALL
VIII THE END OF MR. BASH--THE BRUTAL
IX   THE COMPLETE VAMPIRE
X    THE SWISS HEAD WAITER
XI   THE ESCAPE OF MR. BLISS
XII  THE MAN WITH THE BEARD
XIII THE ACCIDENTAL SNAPSHOT
XIV  THE SINISTER DR. LUTTEUR
XV   THE OBLIGING COBBLER
XVI  THE FORTUNE OF FORGERY
XVII A "YARD" MAN KIDNAPPED


* * * *



I - THE MAN WITH THE RED BEARD


To the average reader the name of Miska Guild is associated with slight
and possibly amusing eccentricities. For example, he once went down
Regent Street at eleven o'clock at night at sixty miles an hour, crippled
two unfortunate pedestrians, and smashed a lamp standard and his car. The
charge that he was drunk failed, because indisputably he was sober when
he was dragged out of the wreckage, himself unhurt.

Nevertheless, an unsympathetic magistrate convicted, despite the conflict
of medical evidence. Miska Guild went to the Sessions with the best
advocates that money could buy and had the conviction quashed.

The inner theatrical set knew him as a giver of freakish dinner parties;
had an idea that he gave other parties even more freakish but less
descriptive. Once he went to Paris, and the French police most obligingly
hushed up a lurid incident as best they could.

They could not quite hush up the death of the pretty chorus-girl who was
found on the pavement outside the hotel, having fallen from a fifth-floor
window, but they were very helpful in explaining that she had mistaken
the french windows for the door of her sitting-room. Nobody at the
inquiry asked how she managed to climb the balcony.

The only person who evinced a passionate interest in the proceedings was
one Henry Arthur Milton, a fugitive from justice, who was staying at the
hotel--not as Henry Arthur Milton, certainly not as "The Ringer", by
which title he was known; indeed, he bore no name by which the English
police could identify him as the best-wanted man in Europe.

Mr. Guild paid heavily for all the trouble he had caused divers police
officials and came back to London and to his magnificent flat in Carlton
House Terrace quite unabashed, even though some of the theatrical
celebrities with whom he was acquainted cut him dead whenever they met
him; even though the most unpleasant rumours surrounded his Paris trip.

He was a man of thirty, reputedly a millionaire three times over. It is
certain that he was very rich, and had the queerest ideas about what was
and what was not the most amusing method of passing time. Had the Paris
incident occurred in London neither his two nor his three millions would
have availed him, nor all the advocacy of the greatest lawyers averted
the most unpleasant consequences.

One bright November morning, when the sun rose in a clear blue sky and
the leafless trees of Green Park had a peculiar splendour of their own,
the second footman brought his breakfast to his bedside, and on the tray
there was a registered letter. The postmark was Paris, the envelope was
marked "Urgent and confidential; not to be opened by the secretary."

Miska Guild sat up in bed, pushed back his long, yellowish hair from his
eyes, bleared for a moment at the envelope and tore it open with a groan.
There was a single sheet of paper, closely typewritten. It bore no
address and began without a conventional preamble: 'On October 18 you
went to Paris, accompanied by a small party. In that party was a girl
called Ethel Seddings, who was quite unaware of your character. She
committed suicide in order to escape from you. I am called The Ringer; my
name is Henry Arthur Milton, and Scotland Yard will furnish you with
particulars of my past. As you are a man of considerable property and may
wish to have time to make arrangements as to its disposal, I will give
you a little grace. At the end of a reasonable period I shall come to
London and kill you.'

That was all the letter contained. Miska read it through; looked at the
back of the sheet for further inspiration; read it through again.

"Who the devil is The Ringer?" he asked.

The footman, who was an authority upon such matters, gave him a little
inaccurate information. Miska examined the envelope without being
enlightened any further, and then with a chuckle he was about to tear the
letter into pieces but thought better "Send it up to Scotland Yard," he
commanded his secretary later in the morning, and would have forgotten
the unpleasant communication if he had not returned from lunch to find a
rather sinister-looking man with a short black beard who introduced
himself as Chief Inspector Bliss from Scotland Yard.

"About that letter? Oh, rot! You're not taking that seriously, are you?"

Bliss nodded slowly. "So seriously that I'm putting on two of my best men
to guard you for a month or two."

Miska looked at him incredulously.

"Do you really mean that? But surely...my footman tells me he's a
criminal; he wouldn't dare come to London?"

Inspector Bliss smiled grimly. "He dared go into Scotland Yard when it
suited him. This is the kind of case that would interest him."

He recounted a few of The Ringer's earlier cases, and Miska Guild became
of a sudden a very agitated young man.

"Monstrous...a murderer at large, and you can't catch him? I've never
heard anything like it! Besides, that business in Paris--it was an
accident. The poor, silly dear mistook the window for her sitting-room
door--"

"I know all about that, Mr. Guild," said Bliss quietly. "I'd rather we
didn't discuss that aspect of the matter. The only thing I can tell you
is that, if I know The Ringer--and nobody has better reason for knowing
him and his methods--he will try to keep his word. It's up to us to
protect you. You're to employ no new servants without consulting me. I
want a daily notification telling me where you're going and how you're
spending your time. The Ringer is the only criminal in the world, so far
as I know, who depends entirely upon his power of disguise. We haven't a
photograph of him as himself at Scotland Yard, and I'm one of the few
people who have seen him as himself."

Miska jibbed at the prospect of accounting for his movements in advance.
He was, he said, a creature of impulse, and was never quite sure where he
would be next. Besides which, he was going to Berlin--"If you leave the
country I will not be responsible for your life." said Bliss shortly, and
the young man turned pale.

At first he treated the matter as a joke, but as the weeks became a month
the sight of the detective sitting by the side of his chauffeur, the
unexpected appearance of a Scotland Yard man at his elbow wherever he
moved, began to get on his nerves.

And then one night Bliss came to him with the devastating news, "The
Ringer is in England," he said.

Miska's face was ghastly.

"How--how do you know?" he stammered.

But Bliss was not prepared to explain the peculiar qualities of Wally the
Nose, or the peculiar behaviour of the man with the red beard.

When Wally the Nose passed through certain streets in Notting Dale he
chose daylight for the adventure, and he preferred that a policeman
should be in sight. Not that any of the less law-abiding folk of Netting
Dale had any personal reason for desiring Wally the least harm, for, as
he protested in his pathetic, lisping way, "he never did no harm" to
anybody in Notting Dale.

He lived in a back room in Clewson Street, a tiny house rented by a deaf
old woman who had had lodgers even more unsavoury than Wally, with his
greasy, threadbare clothes, his big, protruding teeth, and his silly,
moist face.

He came one night furtively to Inspector Stourbridge at the local police
station, having been sent for.

"There's goin' to be a 'bust' at Lowes, the jewellers, in Islington,
to-morrer, Mr. Stourbridge; some lads from Nottin' Dale are in it, and
Elfus is fencin' the stuff. Is that what you wanted me about?"

He stood, turning his hat in his hands, his ragged coat almost touching
the floor, his red eyelids blinking. Stourbridge had known many police
informers, but none like Wally.

He hesitated, and then, with a "Wait here," he went into a room that led
from the charge room and closed the door behind him.

Chief Inspector Bliss sat at a table, his head on his hand, turning over
a thick dossier of documents that lay on the table before him.

"That man I spoke to you about is here, sir--the nose. He's the best
we've ever had, and so long as he hasn't got to take any extraordinary
risk--or doesn't know he's taking it--he'll be invaluable."

Bliss pulled at his little beard and scowled. "Does he know why you have
brought him here now?" he asked.

Stourbridge grinned. "No--I put him on to inquire about a jewel
burglary--but we knew all about it beforehand."

"Bring him in."

Wally came shuffling into the private room, bunked from one to the other
with an ingratiating grin.

"Yes, sir?" His voice was shrill and nervous.

"This is Mr. Bliss, of Scotland Yard," said Stourbridge, and Wally bobbed
his head.

"Heard about you, sir," he said, in his high, piping voice. "You're the
bloke that got The Ringer--"

"To be exact, I didn't," said Bliss gruffly, "but you may."

"Me, sir?" Wally's mouth was open wide, his protruding rabbit's teeth
suggested to Stourbridge the favourite figure of a popular comic artist.
"I don't touch no Ringer, sir, with kind regards to you. If there's any
kind of work you want me to do, sir, I'll do it. It's a regular 'obby of
mine--I ought to have been in the p'lice. Up in Manchester they'll tell
you all about me. I'm the feller that found Spicy Brown when all the
Manchester busies was lookin' for him."

"That's why Manchester got a bit too hot for you, eh, Wally?" said
Stourbridge.

The man shifted uncomfortably. "Yes, they was a bit hard on me--the lads,
I mean. That's why I come back to London. But I can't help nosing, sir,
and that's a fact."

"You can do a little nosing for me," interrupted Bliss. And thereafter a
new and a more brilliant spy watched the movements of the man with the
red beard.

He had arrived in London by a ship which came from India but touched at
Marseilles. He had on his passport the name of Tennett. He had travelled
third-class. He was by profession an electrical engineer. Yet, despite
his seeming poverty, he had taken a small and rather luxurious flat in
Kensington.

It was his presence in Carlton House Terrace one evening that had first
attracted the attention of Mr. Bliss. He came to see Guild, he said, on
the matter of a project connected with Indian water power. The next day
he was seen prospecting the house from the park side.

Ordinarily, it would have been a very simple matter to have pulled him in
and investigated his credentials; but quite recently there had been what
the Press had called a succession of police scandals. Two perfectly
innocent men had been arrested in mistake for somebody else, and Scotland
Yard was chary of taking any further risks.

Tennett was traced to his flat, and he was apparently a most elusive man,
with a habit of taking taxicabs in crowded thoroughfares. What Scotland
Yard might not do officially, it could do, and did do, unofficially.
Wally the Nose listened with apparent growing discomfort.

"If it's him, he's mustard," he said huskily. "I don't like messing about
with no Ringers. Besides, he hasn't got a red beard."

"Oh, shut up!" snarled Bliss. "He could grow one, couldn't he? See what
you can find out about him. If you happen to get into his flat and see
any papers lying about, they might help you. I'm not suggesting you
should do so, but if you did..."

Wally nodded wisely.

In three days he furnished a curious report to the detective who was
detailed to meet him. The man with the red beard had paid a visit to
Croydon aerodrome and had made inquiries about a single-seater taxi to
carry him to the Continent. He had spent a lot of his time at an
electrical supply company in the East End of London, and had made a
number of mysterious purchases which he had carried home with him in a
taxicab.

Bliss consulted his superior.

"Pull him in," he suggested. "You can get a warrant to search his flat."

"His flat's been searched. There's nothing there of the slightest
importance," reported Bliss.

He called that night at Carlton House Terrace and found Mr. Miska Guild a
very changed man. These three months had reduced him to a nervous wreck.

"No news?" he asked apprehensively when the detective came in. "Has that
wretched little creature discovered anything? By gad, he's as clever as
any of you fellows! I was talking with him last night. He was outside on
the Terrace with one of your men. Now, Bliss, I'd better tell you the
truth about this girl in Paris--"

"I'd rather you didn't," said Bliss, almost sternly.

He wanted to preserve, at any rate, a simulation of interest in Mr.
Guild's fate.

He had hardly left Carlton House Terrace when a taxicab drove in and
Wally the Nose almost fell into the arms of the detective.

"Where's Bliss?" he squeaked. "That red-whiskered feller's
disappeared...left his house, and he's shaved on his beard, Mr. Connor. I
didn't recognise him when he come out. When I made inquiries I found he'd
gorn for good."

"The chief's just gone," said Connor, worried.

He went into the vestibule and was taken up to the floor on which Mr.
Guild had his suite. The butler led him to the dining-room, where there
was a phone connection, and left Wally the Nose in the hall. He was
standing there disconsolately when Mr. Guild came out.

"Hullo! What's the news?" he asked quickly.

Wally the Nose looked left and right.

"He's telephonin' to the boss," he whispered hoarsely, "But I ain't told
him about the letter."

He followed Miska into the library and gave that young man a piece of
news that Mr. Guild never repeated.

He was waiting in the hall below when Connor came down.

"It's all right--they arrested old red whiskers at Liverpool Street
Station. We had a man watching him as well."

Wally the Nose was pardonably annoyed, "What's the use of having me and
then puttin' a busy on to trail him?" he demanded truculently. "That's
what I call double-crossing."

"You hop off to Scotland Yard and see the chief," said Connor, and Wally,
grumbling audibly, vanished in the darkness.

The once red-bearded man sat in Inspector Bliss's private room, and he
was both indignant and frightened. "I don't know that there's any law
preventing me taking off my beard, is there?" he demanded. "I was just
going off to Holland, where I'm seeing a man who's putting money into my
power scheme."

Bliss interrupted with a gesture. "When you came to England you were
broke, Mr. Tennett, and yet immediately you reached London you took a
very expensive flat, bought yourself a lot of new clothes, and seemingly
have plenty of money to travel on the Continent. Will you explain that?"

The man hesitated, "Well, I'll tell you the truth. When I got to London I
was broke, but I got into conversation with a fellow at the station who
told me he was interested in engineering. I explained my power scheme to
him, and he was interested. He was not the kind of man I should have
thought would have had any money, yet he weighed in with two hundred
pounds, and told me just what I had to do. It was his idea that I should
take the flat. He told me where to go every day and what to do. I didn't
want to part with the old beard, but he made me do that in the end, and
then gave me three hundred pounds to go to Holland."

Bliss looked at him incredulously.

"Did he also suggest you should call at Carlton House Terrace and
interview Mr. Guild?"

Tennett nodded. "Yes, he did. I tell you, it made me feel that things
weren't right. I wasn't quite sure of him, mind you, Mr. Bliss; he was
such a miserable-looking devil--a fellow with rabbit's teeth and red
eyelids..."

Bliss came to his feet with a bound, stared across at Stourbridge, who
was in the room.

"Wally!" he said.

A taxicab took him to Carlton House Terrace. Connor told him briefly what
had happened.

"Did Wally see Mr. Guild?"

"Not that I know," said Connor, shaking his head.

Bliss did not wait for the lift; he flew up the stairs, met the footman
in the hall.

"Where's Mr. Guild?"

"In his room, sir."

"Have yon seen him lately?"

The man shook his head.

"No, sir; I never go unless he rings for me. He hasn't rung for half an
hour."

Bliss turned the handle of the door and walked in. Miska Guild was lying
on the hearthrug in the attitude of a man asleep, and when he turned him
over on his back and saw his face Bliss knew that the true story of the
chorus-girl and her "suicide" would never be told.



II - CASE OF THE HOME SECRETARY


There were two schools of thought at Scotland Yard. There were those who
believed that The Ringer worked single-handed, and those who were
convinced that he controlled an organisation and had the assistance of at
least half a dozen people.

Inspector Bliss was of the first school, and instanced the killing of
Miska Guild in proof.

"He's entirely on his own," he said. "Even his helper in that case was an
innocent man who had no idea he was being used to attract the attention
of the police."

"By the way, is there any news of him?" asked the Assistant Commissioner.

Bliss shook his head. "He's in London; I was confident of that--now I
know. If you had told me, sir, a few years ago, that any man could escape
the police by disguise, I should have laughed. But this man's disguises
are perfect. He is the character he pretends to be. Take Wally the Nose,
with his rabbit's teeth and his red eyes. Who would have imagined that a
set of fake teeth worn over his others and a little colouring to his
eyelids, plus the want of a shave, would be sufficient to hide him from
me? I am one of the few people who have seen him without make-up, and yet
he fooled me."

"Why do you think he is in London?"

Chief Inspector Bliss took out his pocket-case and, opening this,
searched the papers it contained for a letter.

"It came this morning."

Colonel Walford stared up at him. "From The Ringer?"

Bliss nodded. "Typewritten on the same machine he used when he wrote to
Miska Guild--the 's' is out of alignment and the tails of the 'p's' are
worn."

Colonel Walford put on his glasses and read: "Michael Benner, now under
sentence of death, is innocent. I think you knew this when you gave
evidence against him at the Old Bailey, for you brought out every point
in his favour. Lee Lavineki killed the old man, but was disturbed by
Benner before he could get the loot. Lee left for Canada two days after
the murder. Be a good fellow and help save this man."

There was no signature.

"What's the idea?" The Commissioner looked up over his glasses.

"The Ringer is right," said Bliss quietly. "Benner did not kill old
Estholl--and I have discovered that Lavinski was in England when the
murder was committed."

The crime of which he spoke was one of those commonplace crimes which
excite little interest, since the guilt of the man accused seemed beyond
doubt and the issue of the trial a foregone conclusion. Eatholl was a
rich man of seventy, who lived in a small Bloomsbury hotel. He was in the
habit of carrying around large sums of money--a peculiar failing of all
men who have risen from poverty to riches by their own efforts.

At four o'clock one wintry morning a guest at the hotel, who had been
playing cards in his sitting-room with a party of friends, came out into
the corridor, and saw Benner, who was the night porter, emerge from the
old man's room, carrying in his hand a blood-stained hammer. The man's
face was white, he seemed dazed, and when challenged was speechless.

Rushing into the room the guest saw old Estholl lying on the bed in a
pool of blood, dead. The porter's story after his arrest was that he had
heard the old man's bell ring and had gone up to his room and knocked.
Having no answer he opened the door and went in. He saw the hammer lying
on the bed and picked it up mechanically, being so horrified that he did
not know what he was doing.

Benner was a young married man and in financial difficulties. He was
desperately in need of money and had tried that evening to borrow seven
pounds from the manageress of the hotel. Moreover, he had said to the
head porter, "Look at old Estholl! If I had half of the money that he
has in his pocket I shouldn't be worrying my head off tonight!"

Protesting his innocence, Benner went to the Old Bailey, and, after a
trial which lasted less than a day, was condemned.

"The hammer was the property of the hotel, and Benner, had access to the
workroom where it was usually kept," said Bliss; "but, as against that,
the workroom, which is in the hotel basement, was the easiest to enter
from the outside, and the window was, in fact, found open in the
morning."

"Is there any hope for Benner?"

Bliss shook his head. "No. The Court has dismissed his appeal--and
Strathpenner is not the kind of man who would have mercy; old Estholl
was, unfortunately, a friend of his."

The Commissioner looked at the letter again, and ran his fingers through
his hair irritably. "Why should The Ringer bother his head about Benner?"
he asked, and the ghost of a smile appeared on the bearded face of the
detective.

"The trouble with The Ringer is that he can't mind his own business," he
said. "That little note means that he is in the case--he doesn't drop
letters around unless he's vitally interested; and if he's vitally
interested in Benner, then we're going to see something rather dramatic.
By the way, the Home Secretary has sent for me in connection with this
affair."

"Is he likely to be influenced by you, Inspector?" asked Colonel Walford
dryly.

"If I agree with him, yes; if I don't, no," said Bliss.

He went back to his room to learn that a visitor had called, and before
his secretary told him her name he guessed her identity.

She was a pretty girl, despite the haggard lines which told of sleepless
nights. She was dressed much better than when he had seen her at the Old
Bailey.

"Well, Mrs. Benner," he said kindly, "what can I do?"

Her lips quivered.

"I don't know, sir...I know Jim is innocent. He's incapable of doing such
a horrible thing. I called at the Home Office, but the gentleman wouldn't
see me."

Again Bliss looked at her clothes: they were obviously new. As though she
read his thoughts: "I'm not in a bad way, sir--for money, I mean. A
gentleman sent me twenty five-pound notes last week, and that paid off
all poor Jim's debts and left me enough to live on for a bit."

"Who sent the money?" asked Bliss quickly, but here she could not give
him information. It had arrived by post and was unaccompanied by any card
or name.

"It might have been a woman who sent it?" suggested Bliss, though he knew
better. "There was no letter at all?"

She shook her head.

"Only a piece of paper. I've got it here."

She fumbled in her bag and produced a strip of paper torn off the edge of
a newspaper, on which was typed "DON'T LOSE HOPE."

The "a" was out of alignment, the tail of the "p" was faint. Bliss smiled
to himself, but it was a grim smile.

"You're under distinguished patronage," he said ironically, and then, in
a more serious tone: "I'm afraid I can do very little for you. I am
seeing one of the officials at the Home Office this morning, but I'm
afraid, Mrs. Benner, you'll have to resign yourself to--"

He did not finish his sentence, as he saw her eyes close and her face
grow a shade paler.

Bliss pulled out a chair and bade her sit down; and somehow the sight of
this woman in her agony brought a pang to a heart not easily touched.

"No hope?" she whispered, and shook her head in anticipation of his
answer.

"A very faint one, I'm afraid," said the detective.

"But you don't think he's guilty, Mr. Bliss? When I saw Jim in
Pentonville he told me that you didn't think so. It is horrible,
horrible! He couldn't have done such an awful thing!"

Bliss was thinking rapidly. He had a dim idea of The Ringer's methods,
and now he was searching here and there to find the avenue by which this
ruthless man might approach the case.

"Have you any relations?"

She shook her head.

"No brothers?"

Again she gave him the negative.

"Good! Now, Mrs. Benner, I'll do the best I can for you, and in return I
want you to do something for me. If the man who sent you that money
approaches you, or if anybody who is unknown to you calls on you or asks
you to meet them, I want you to telephone me here."

He scribbled down the number on a slip of paper and passed it across to
her. "If anybody comes to you purporting to be from Scotland Yard, or to
have any position of authority whatever, I want you to telephone to me
about that also. I'm going to do what I can for your husband, and, though
I'm afraid it isn't much, it will be my best."

It was half-past two when he arrived at the Home Office, and, by some
miracle, Mr. Strathpenner had arrived. He was the despair of his
subordinates, a man without method or system. There were days when he
would not come to the office at all; other and more frequent days when he
would put in an appearance an hour before the staff left, with the result
that they were kept working into the night.

The Eight Honourable William Strathpenner, His Majesty's principal
Secretary of State, was a singularly unpopular man, both in and outside
his party. He was pompous, unimaginative, a little uncouth of speech,
intolerable. He had worn his way into the Cabinet as other men had done
before him; not by genius of oratory or by political character, but the
sheer weight of him had rubbed a place through which he had fallen, first
to a minor office under the Crown, and then, by a succession of lucky
accidents, to the highest of the subordinate Cabinet positions.

A thin man, short-necked, broad-shouldered, he had the expression of one
who was constantly smelling something unpleasant. Political cartoonists
had helped to make his face familiar, for his was an easy subject for
caricature. The heavy, black, bristling eyebrows, the thick-lens
spectacles, the bald head with the black wisps brushed across, his
reddish nose--a libel on him, since he was a lifelong abstainer--made him
unpleasant to look upon. He was almost as unpleasant to hear, for he had
a harsh, grating voice and punctuated his sentences with an irritating
little cough.

He kept Bliss waiting twenty minutes before he was admitted to the august
presence; and there seemed no reason for the delay, for Mr. Strathpenner
was reading a newspaper when he came in. He looked at the slip which
announced the name of his visitor.

"Bliss, Bliss? Of course. Yes, yes, you're a police officer--ahem! This
Benner case...yes, I remember now; I asked you to see me--ahem!"

He blinked across the table at Bliss, and his face had more than ever
that unpleasant-smell expression.

"Now what do you know about this, hey? I haven't seen the Judge, but
there's no doubt in my mind that this blackguard should suffer the
extreme penalty of the law. This report, of course, is bunkum." He tapped
the newspaper with his finger. "The usual bunkum--ahem! I don't believe
in confessions--you don't believe in confessions?"

"Confessions, sir?" The inspector gazed at him in astonishment.

"Haven't you seen it?" Strathpenner threw the paper across the table.
"There it is. Use your eyes...third column..."

It was not in the third, but the fifth column, and the item of news was
headed: "Hotel Murder Confession. Remarkable Statement by Red-handed
Murderer."

'Ottawa.

'A man named Lavinski, who shot two policemen in cold blood in the
streets of Montreal last night, when detected in the act of breaking into
the Canadian Bank, and was shot by a third policeman, has made a
remarkable statement before a magistrate who was called to his bedside at
the hospital.

'Lavinski is not expected to recover from his wounds, and in the course
of his statement he said that he was responsible for the murder of Mr.
Estholl, for which a man named Benner lies under sentence of death in
London. Lavinski says that he made an entrance to the hotel knowing that
Mr. Estholl carried large sums of money in his pocket, that he took a
hammer intending to use the claw to open the door in case it was locked.

'Estholl woke up as he entered the room, and Lavinski says that he struck
him with the hammer, though he was not aware that he had inflicted a
fatal injury. He then discovered that the dead man had a hanging
bell-push in his hand, and fearing that he had rung it, he made his
escape without attempting to search his pockets. The statement has been
attested before a magistrate.'

Bliss looked up and met the Home Secretary's gaze.

"Well? Bunkum, eh? You've had no official notification at Scotland Yard?"

"No, sir."

"I thought not; I thought not--ahem! An old trick, eh, Inspector? You've
had that sort of thing played on you before. It won't save Benner, I
assure you--ahem! I assure you!"

Bliss gaped at him. "But you're not going to hang this man until you get
this statement over from Canada?"

"Don't be absurd, Inspector, don't be absurd! If a Secretary of State
were to be influenced by newspaper reports where would he be, eh? Did you
read the last paragraph?"

Bliss took up the paper again and saw, later: 'The man Lavinski died
before he could sign the statement he had made before Mr. Prideaux.'

"Let me tell you, sir"--Mr. Strathpenner wagged an admonitory
finger--"His Majesty's Secretary of State is not to be influenced by
wild-cat stories of this kind...by newspaper reports, by--ahem--hearsay
evidence as it were! What are we to do? I ask you! On the unsigned
deposition of a--er--convicted murderer caught in the act. Release this
man Benner?"

"You could grant him a respite, sir," interrupted Bliss.

Mr. Strathpenner sat back in his chair and his tone became icy.

"I am not asking your advice, Inspector...If I lose my pocket-book or my
watch I have no doubt your advice will be invaluable--ahem--to secure its
recovery. Thank you, Inspector."

He waved Bliss from the room. The detective went across to Scotland Yard,
but Walford had gone. The only thing he knew was that the death-warrant
had not been signed. It is part of the Home Secretary's duty to affix his
name to a document that will send a fellow-creature from this life, and
one of the bravest men who ever sat in a Cabinet refused the second offer
of the office for this reason.

Mr. Strathpenner, at any rate, was not in any way distressed by his duty.
He had summoned the Judge who had tried the case to meet him the next
day, and he went back to his house in Crowborough that night without a
single qualm or misgiving.

He was a widower; lived alone--except for a large staff of servants,
which included a French chef, and he dined, a solitary figure in the big
mahogany-panelled dining-room, a large German philosophical work propped
up before him for he was an excellent linguist and had a weakness for
shallow philosophies if they were propounded with sufficient
pretentiousness.

He was so reading at the end of his meal when the visitor was announced.
Mr. Strathpenner looked at the card suspiciously. It read: "Mr. James
Hagger, 14, High Street, Crouchstead."

Now, Crouchstead was the West of England constituency which had the
honour of being represented in Parliament by the Home Secretary, and,
since he held his seat by the narrowest of majorities, he resisted the
temptation to send the message which rose too readily to his lips.

"All right, show him in here."

He looked at the card again. Who was Mr. Hagger? Probably somebody very
important in Crouchstead; somebody he had shaken hands with, probably. An
important member of the Crouchstead Freedom Club, likely enough. Sir.
Strathpenner loathed Crouchstead and all its social manifestations; yet
he screwed a smile into his face when Mr. Hagger was ushered to his
presence.

The visitor proved to be a very respectably dressed man, with a heavy
black moustache which drooped beneath chin level.

"You remember me, sir?" His voice was deep and solemn. "I met you at the
Freedom banquet. I'm the secretary of the Young Workers' League."

Oh, it was the Young Workers' League, was it, thought Mr. Strathpenner.
He had almost forgotten its existence.

"Of course...naturally...sit down, Mr. Hagger. Will you have a glass of
port?"

Mr. Hagger deposited his hat carefully on the floor.

"No, sir, thank you, I'm a lifelong abstainer. I neither touch, taste,
nor handle. Of course, I realise that a gentleman like you has to have
likker in the 'ouse. It's about this man Benner..."

The Minister stiffened.

"We've been 'aving a talk, some of the leaders of the party in
Crouchstead, and we've come to the conclusion it'd be a great mistake to
hang that man--"

Mr. Strathpenner shook his head sadly. "Ah Mr. Hangar, you've no idea how
deeply I have considered this subject, and with what reluctance I have
been compelled, or shall be compelled, to allow the law to take its
course. You realise that a man in my position..."

He continued his justification in terms which he had applied before to
stray members of Parliament who had strolled into his room in the House
of Commons, and had expressed views similar to those which Mr. Hagger was
on the point of enunciating.

"Now, let us leave this--er--unpleasant subject. Will you take some
coffee with me? By the way, how did you come?"

"I was brought up from the station in a fly," said Mr. Hagger. He was
very apologetic. "You quite understand, Mr. Strathpenner, that I had to
do my duty. The committee paid my fare up, and I thought it'd be a good
chance of seeing you. I've heard about your wonderful house, and I didn't
want to miss the chance of seeing it."

Here he touched the Home Secretary on his soft side. The house had an
historic as well as an artistic value; it was one of the innumerable John
o' Gaunt hunting lodges that stud the county of Sussex. It was
indubitably pre-Elizabethan. Mr. Strathpenner was prouder of his home
than of any of his attainments. He led the visitor from room to room and
was almost genial in his response the visitor's interest.

"...Haunted, of course--all these old places are haunted. There's a
dungeon...the previous owner used it as a coal-cellar! A Philistine,
sir--a boor--ahem--or something objectionable. Come this way."

He opened a stout oak door and preceded his visitor down a flight of
stone stairs; showed him not only the dungeon, which had been carefully
restored to its earlier grimness, but a lower prison chamber, six feet by
six, approached through a stone trapdoor.

"Let me show you..."

He went before the other down the ladder.

"We have ringbolts here, almost worn through with age, where the
unfortunate prisoners were chained. And yet the place is fairly well
ventilated."

"It's a funny thing," said Mr. Hagger, as he carefully descended the
ladder, "that the flyman who brought me up from the station told me to be
sure to ask you to show me your dungeon."

"Extraordinary," said Mr. Strathpenner, not ill-pleased. "But the place
has quite a local reputation."

* * * * *

His Majesty's judges are not to be kept waiting. Sir Charles Jean, the
senior Common Law Judge, looked at his watch and closed the case with a
vicious snap.

"The Home Secretary said that he would be here at half-past four."

"I'm very sorry, sir," said the official who was with him. "I've been on
the phone to Mr. Strathpenner. He left the house an hour ago and should
be here at any moment. It's rather foggy, and he's a very nervous
traveller."

"Where is his secretary, Mr. Cliney?"

"He has gone down to Crowborough with some documents for signature--he
had only gone ten minutes when Mr. Strathpenner phoned through."

"I'm afraid I can wait no longer. I will see him in the morning. I hope
you'll impress upon Mr. Strathpenner that there is, in my mind, a very
grave doubt about Benner's guilt."

He might have added that he did not think that would have very much
influence with the Minister, who had on a previous occasion ignored the
recommendation of a judge.

He had hardly gone before the official heard the rasping voice and
nervous cough of his chief, and hurried into the secretary's office.

"Sir Charles Jean, eh? And gone? Ahem! Well, well, well! I can't be at
the beck and call of judges, my dear man. Or Ringers either, my friend,
eh?--ahem! Or Ringers either!"

"Ringers, sir?" said the astonished official.

There was a dry, rasping chuckle.

"Visited me last night, the scoundrel--ahem! That will be something to
tell Mr. What's-his-name--Bliss. By the way, call him up and tell him
that when I return from Paris on Friday I should like to see him."

"Paris, sir?" asked the startled official. "There's a meeting of the
Cabinet on Friday morning."

"I know, I know," testily.

He opened a portfolio, took out a sheet of paper and stared at it
owlishly. The official saw the document and thought it a moment to pass
along the message.

"Sir Charles asked me to tell you that he is very doubtful as to whether
this man should be executed--"

But the other was scrawling his name.

"There will be a respite of fourteen days," he said. "The matter may come
up for consideration next Wednesday after the arrival of the depositions
from Canada."

He blotted the sheet and pushed it across to the Undersecretary.

"The respite may be announced in the newspapers," he said.

* * * * *

"I ought to have known," said Bliss ruefully, "that Strathpenner was the
easiest man in the world to impersonate. The curious thing is, it did
strike me when I was talking to him."

"How is he?" asked Walford.

"When they released him from his lower dungeon," said Bliss, with the
ghost of a smile in his eyes, "he was slightly insane, but not, I think,
quite so insane as Mr. Hagger of Crouchstead, who is no longer a
life-long abstainer. Mr. Strathpenner used the lower dungeon as a wine
cellar, and they had to live on something. They might be living there
still if The Ringer hadn't been obliging enough to send me a wire."



III - THE MURDERER OF MANY NAMES


i.


Mr. Ellroyd arrived in England six months after the Meister murder, when
the police of the world were searching for one Henry Arthur Milton,
'otherwise' (as the police bills stated in eighteen languages) 'known as
The Ringer.'

They translated "The Ringer" variously and sometimes oddly, but, whether
he saw it in Czecho-Slovakian or in the Arabic of Egypt, the reader knew
that this Henry Arthur Milton was a man who could change his appearance
with the greatest rapidity.

Perhaps not quite so readily as Mr. Ellroyd could and did change his
name.

In Australia, which was his home, he was Li Baran; in Chicago he was Bud
Fraser, Al Crewson, Jo Lemarque, Hop Stringer, and plain Jock. Under
these pseudonyms he was wanted for murder in the first degree, for he was
a notorious gunman and bank robber.

In New York he bore none of these names, but several others. Canada knew
him as a bigamist who had married under three different names, one of
which was the Hon. John Templar-Statherby.

He came to England from Malta (of all places in the world), and he came
handicapped with a Ringer complex. Now the vanity of the criminal is a
matter which has formed the subject of many monographs, and Joseph
Ellroyd, in spite of his poise, his middle age, and his undoubted
philosophy, was vain to a degree.

He wanted the publicity of The Ringer, and in his first unlawful act
(which was the daylight hold-up of the Streatham Bank) he publicly
identified himself with The Ringer.

If you think it extraordinary in a man whose one desire in life should
have been to preserve a modest anonymity and pursue his own peculiar
graft, attracting as little attention to himself as possible, you make no
allowance for his complex, or, as Superintendent Bliss said, for his
desire to put the police on the wrong track. Bliss was wrong. Joe's chief
urge was vanity.

He derived immense satisfaction from the sensation which resulted. "Again
The Ringer!" said a flaming headline. The phrase tickled Mr. Ellroyd. His
second coup was a little less spectacular--the smashing of an hotel safe.
But what it lacked in news value as a piece of craftsmanship (though the
haul subsequently proved to be a large one) was compensated by the three
words scrawled across the safe door: "AGAIN THE RINGER'"

A month later Mr. Joe Ellroyd went to his bedroom to change for dinner.
He was staying at the Piccadilly Plaza Hotel, for he was a gentlemanly
man and a classy dresser. He entered the room switching on the light and
closing the door.

When he turned he looked first into the muzzle of a large Browning pistol
and then into the completely masked face of the man who held it.

"Ellroyd your name is, isn't it?"

Joe blinked at the gun, and his hand dropped carelessly to his pocket.

"Keep 'em up!" said the stranger. "This gun doesn't make much noise, and
I could catch you before you fell. My name is Henry Arthur Milton--I am
wanted by the police for killing a gentleman who deserved to die."

"My God--'The Ringer'!" gasped Joe.

"The Ringer--exactly. You are using my name to cover certain vulgar
robberies--you are wanted for other and worse offences in various parts
of the world. I object to my name being used by a cheap skate of a
gunman. I have a greater objection to its use by a thief. I have taken a
lot of trouble to find you, and my original intention was to hand you
over to the mortuary keeper. I am giving you a chance."

"Listen, Milton--" began Joe.

"I am warning you. I shall not wain you again. If you are a wise man you
will not need a second warning. That is all. Step over here--and step
quickly!"

Joe obeyed. The man moved to the door, and the lights went out.

"Don't move--you're against the window and I can see you."

A second later the door opened and closed. There was the sound of a
snapping lock.

Joe, breathing heavily, went cautiously forward, turned on the lights and
tried the door. It was, as he suspected, locked. But there was a
telephone...

Before he picked up the instrument he saw the cut of trailing wires.

"The Ringer!" he breathed, and sat down heavily on his bed, wiping the
cold perspiration from his face. It was remarkable that there was
perspiration to wipe, for Joe was the coolest man that ever shot a
policeman.

For two years after Joe lived without offence, as he could well afford to
do, for he was a comparatively rich man.

And then one day in Berlin...

* * * * *

"Auf wiedersehen!"

The perfect stranger, with the elaborate friendliness which is too often
the attribute of his kind, flourished his hat extravagantly.

"So long!" said Henry Arthur Milton, coldly indifferent.

Why this sudden activity? he wondered. He passed out on to the
Friedrichstrasse and nobody would imagine that he was in the slightest
degree concerned with the big fat man he had left at the entrance to the
bahnhof. His fingers said "snap!" to a watchful taxi-driver.

"Kutscher! Do you .see that gentleman in the black coat with the fur
collar?"

"Most certainly: the Jew!"

Arthur Milton nodded approvingly and opened and closed the door of the
taxi once or twice in an absent-minded manner.

"Is that insight or eyesight?" he asked.

"I know him," said the kutscher complacently. "He is from Frankfort and
his name is Sahl--a dealer in sausages."

Mr. Milton inclined his head.

"A local industry," he said lightly. "Now, my friend, drive me to the
Hotel Zweinerman und Spiez."

It was a very comfortable taxi: Berlin is famous for the luxury of these
public vehicles, but it was a taxi. There was nothing remarkable about it
except that its driver had ignored the summons of half a dozen of the
passengers who had arrived by the Hamburg express, and had instantly
responded to the signal of Henry Arthur Milton. But there was no spring
lock on the door--he had tried that before he got in. And the driver was
following the conventional route.

Mr. Milton stroked his dark toothbrush moustache. His colouring gave him
a somewhat saturnine appearance. His black glossy hair, his heavy black
eyebrows, a marked lugubriousness of expression, corrected the
attractions of good features and rather nice eyes.

Before the barrack facade of the hotel the cab stopped. Milton gripped
his suitcase and alighted.

"Wait for me, I shall be five minutes."

The hotel porter stood at the open door of the cab, his face set in the
hospitable smile for which he was engaged. He sought to secure the
suitcase, but was frustrated.

"Is Mr. Pffiefer in the hotel?"

The porter would see--immediately. Arthur Milton followed him into the
hotel; but when the porter, having inquired, discovered that Mr.
Pffiefer's name did not appear in the guest list, and turned to inform
the elegant Englishman, he had vanished. There was an elevator opening
from the vestibule, and into this Arthur Milton had stepped.

Truthfully speaking, quite a number of so-called coincidences are
interpretable into inevitable effects of quite logical causes. The Hotel
Zweinerman, for example: one gravitated there naturally. Englishmen were
swept into the Zweinerman as by some mystic force.

As to the second floor--Mr. Milton chose the second floor because thereon
were large and often unoccupied suites. He knew the hotel this way and
that way, as the saying goes, and he knew that the largest, the most
expensive suite usually reserved for plutocrats in a hurry was that which
was to the right front of the elevator. So that, if there had been any
English plutocrat rushing through the capital in mad haste, No. 9 would
be his suite.

He tried the door of No. 9, opened it boldly, as a man might who had made
a genuine mistake. It was a large bedroom, floridly decorated, furnished
heavily. The room was empty; obviously it had not been occupied for some
days--obviously, at any rate, to Henry Arthur Milton, who had the gift of
observation.

There was a small calendar on the mantelpiece, an oxidised silver frame
with a day in large letters. The day was "Mittwoch," 7th, which was
Wednesday--it was now Friday, the 9th, but the chambermaid had not turned
the little knob which would bring the calendar up to date.

Between the bed and the bathroom door was a writing-table--an unusual
position, for the writer would sit in his or her own light. And on the
table was a pale pink blotting-pad, which Milton would not have favoured
with a second glance--only the writing was in English.

He reconnoitred the bathroom before he made any other inspection of the
pad. From the bathroom a second door gave access to a sitting-room.
Escape was a simple matter.

Detaching the top sheet of blotting-paper, he carried it to the bathroom
and bolted the door. There was no mistaking the "B" or the firm,
masculine "M"--they were not in German or Latin handwriting.

Milton read slowly.

"Suffering snakes!" he breathed.

It was the name of the man to whom the letter was addressed which excited
his profanity. The significance of the florid preamble did not come home
to him until he read, later, the London telegram in the Deutsche
Allgemeine Zeitung.

"Bless my soul!" said Mr. Milton, and, going into the bathroom, locked
the door. A hot, wet towel wiped his eyebrows from existence (they had
taken him an hour to fix before he left Hamburg); the toothbrush
moustache yielded instantly to the same treatment. Opening his suitcase,
he took out a light fawn coat and a shapeless hat...

* * * * *

There went down the lift a man with a somewhat vacuous expression. He
wore large rimless glasses and a vivid necktie. His face was hairless,
his head so closely cropped that it might have been shaved. In the
vestibule he saw the big sausage-maker from Frankfort interviewing the
manager. With him was another detective.

Milton shuffled up to the reception clerk, grief in his voice and tone.

"I have brought for the gentleman of No. 9 an account. But he is gone."

"Account!" A reception clerk dealing with nobodies is altogether a
different person from a reception clerk dealing with somebodies. "You
should have brought it when the gentleman was here," he grumbled.
Nevertheless he turned the pages of a book. "Mr. Smith, 249, Doughty
Street." he said in English.

"Do not give addresses!"

His companion was obviously in authority. The book closed with a bang.

"Write!" he barked.

Mr. Milton shuffled forth humbly.

The cab-driver who had brought him to the Zweinerman stood guard in the
doorway.

"I want a cab--" began the hairless man, peering shortsightedly through
his glasses.

"Engaged!"

The new Mr. Milton passed into the street. Near the Tiergarten he bought
the Government newspaper, and then he understood what all the bother was
about:

"THE RINGER IN BERLIN!

"The So-Infamous English Criminal Traced, to Germany..."

("Good Lord!" said Henry Arthur Milton, and read on):

"Henry Arthur Milton, an English criminal, is believed to be in hiding in
Berlin. Following an atrocious robbery and murder near London, the
miscreant escaped to Germany, and has had the audacity to address a
letter to Chief-Central Superintendent of Police Bliss..."

("They never get our titles right," he murmured):

"...deriding the police efforts to capture him. That letter was posted in
Berlin! The Ringer, as he is called, is a master of the art of disguise
and owes his name [Ringer of Changes] to that fact. The crime for which
he is now sought by the Berlin police is..."

(The Ringer read on and on, a set grin on his face):

"...Hitherto The Ringer has killed, but has never robbed. Man after man
he has slain for some wrong done either to himself or to humanity. But
robbery has never before been his object..."

"Dear me!" said Henry Arthur Milton, still smiling mirthlessly. "That is
certainly amusing! Joe has forgotten something!"

He left Berlin by the night train on a passport which described him as
Eric Ressermans, a native of Munchen.

He went on board the English boat as Joseph Sampson, of Leeds. But that
was not the name that he wrote in the guest book at the Craven Street
Hotel.

He spent the whole of the next day examining the files of a newspaper for
particulars of the interesting crime with which his name had been
associated.


ii.


It was half-past two o'clock on a wet, cold morning when the mail van
from London came out of the Great West Road and turned towards Colnbrook
and Slough. A motor scout on duty at the juncture of the roads saw from
his shelter the red-painted motor-van pass. It skidded as it turned (he
afterwards stated), and he thought he heard the driver laugh.

The mail van was late, but once out of the West Road, speeding would be
impossible until Slough was passed. The road winds and turns abruptly and
is rather narrow. Moreover, ahead of the driver was the narrower street
of Colnbrook.

The van had travelled to within a mile of that village when the driver
saw a red lamp in the road and jammed on his brakes. Ahead of him, in the
light of his headlamps, he saw a man in shining oilskins, who was
pointing to the side of the road.

He stopped the car, and, as he did so, the solitary wayfarer came out of
the glare of the lamps into the patch of darkness level with the driver's
seat.

"What is the matter?" It was the guard inside the van.

"Get down!"

The driver saw the automatic in the stranger's hand-saw it was pointed at
him, and gripped the lever...

It was the sound of the shot which brought the guard leaping to the road,
revolver in hand. He was alive when the police found him two hours later.
The van had been driven into a field near the end of the Colnbrook
by-pass. He told his fragment of tale, but was dead before the magistrate
arrived to take his statement.

There were two clues, so attenuated that Superintendent Bliss rejected
the one and was baffled by the other.

A motor-cycle with sidecar had passed through Colnbrook at five minutes
after three. It had been driven by a man in a brown leather coat who was
talking to somebody in the sidecar--evidently a woman--for he addressed
her as "my dear girl." To the police officer who saw him he shouted "Good
night." Ten minutes later he should have been in Slough, but was not seen
in that town. There was, however, an explanation for this: he might have
turned off on to the Windsor Road.

The second piece of evidence was on the mail van itself. Scrawled in
chalk along the side were the words: "Again The Ringer!"

Mr. Bliss read this and his bearded lips curled derisively. He might
sneer at this piece of bravado, but the country had for the moment lost
its sense of humour. Newspaper columns protested at the "immunity of this
arch-assassin." None the less, Mr. Bliss maintained his opinion.

Colonel Walford, Assistant Commissioner of Police, leaned back in his
padded chair, a wandering quill toothpick between his teeth, and
listened.

"If it is The Ringer, then he has changed his method," said
Superintendent Bliss. "You know, sir, that he has never killed except to
fulfil some crazy vendetta of his--he's a man of means...why, you've told
me the same thing a score of times!"

Colonel Walford shifted uneasily in his chair.

"Well...yes. But you can't get over the fact that the words 'Again the
Ringer' were written in chalk on the mail van, that they were found
scribbled on the safe door of the Rugeley Hotel--and you remember that
Streatham robbery...Still..."

He was of two minds: Mr. Bliss had one.

'"Again The Ringer'!" he scoffed. "As if Milton would descend to that
kind of tomfoolery! He has killed people--but there has been a reason
behind it. He is a self-appointed executioner of nasty men."

The colonel shook his grey head, "I don't know--this letter from Berlin
in which he confesses he was the murderer...giving details which only he
could know..." He shook his head again.

But Bliss was not convinced "One always gets these sham
confessions--there was enough published the morning after the murder to
supply a mischievous busybody with all the information he required. The
problem to me is: how did the murderer know that there was a registered
package containing 160,000 American dollars in the van? I only found that
out yesterday."

"Dollars? Why on earth?"

"The package was from the London Textile Bank to a Mr. Elliott, of Long
Hall, near Slough. It was insured with underwriters, so that only the
insurance people will be the losers."

"But why dollars?"

Bliss could supply an explanation. Mr. Elliott, a wealthy and a self-made
man, dabbled in the fine arts. There was in the country at that moment
the newly-discovered Maltby Velasquez. It was the property of a French
dealer, who had stipulated, in view of the erratic behaviour of his
native currency and an ingrained suspicion of sterling, that payment
should be made in dollars.

"The picture has been bought to all intents and purposes, and was to have
been delivered yesterday. I am seeing Mr. Elliott tonight."

"And if you see The Ringer--" began Walford.

"The Ringer? Huh!"

As he walked down the corridor a messenger handed him a telegram. Bliss
read and nodded. On the whole, he was not sorry to get the intimation
this telegram contained.

Mr. Forsythe Elliott, being a public-spirited man, might well have
complained that none of the theories so ingeniously advanced by him in
letter, even by telegram, had been accepted. Or, if the police had acted
upon them, certainly there had been no acknowledgment of the inspiration.

He had seen Bliss for a few minutes.

"He treated the matter quite casually," he reported to his saturnine
young secretary. "You might imagine that a double murder and robbery was
an everyday occurrence! I have no wish to be hard on the police, but I do
think..."

What Mr. Elliott did think he related at length.

And then, to his annoyance, coming back from a brisk country walk, his
servant informed him that Mr. Bliss had not only arrived, but had been in
the house for the greater part of an hour. Later he saw the bearded
figure strolling aimlessly across the lawn, and wagged his finger in
playful admonition, though in truth Mr. Elliott was very annoyed indeed.

"You said six," he said reproachfully. "Well, have you a clue? You look
tremendously mysterious."

"I cannot afford to be mysterious," said the man from London quietly. "I
have just been having a chat with your secretary."

"An extremely able young man," said Elliott.

"Young?" The bearded man shook his head. "He's not so young as he
appears. Would you call him reliable?"

The eyebrows of Mr. Forsythe Elliott rose in amazement.

"Reliable? Well, I have had him for the greater part of six months."

"Then he must be reliable."

There was a touch of irony in the tone.

Mr. Elliott was all for dropping such unimportant matters as his
secretary; was, indeed, ready to repeat and amplify the theories that he
had already propounded.

"Obviously it is The Ringer," he said. "I have made a very careful study
of this man. In fact, I have read every scrap of information I can beg,
borrow, or buy."

"My view is," continued the undaunted master of Long Hall, "that he
escaped from this country after the last affair, went to Germany--you, of
course, know all about the letter, because it was addressed to you,
according to the newspapers--and, being hard up--these fellows are
invariably gamblers--he has returned and is living somewhere in this
neighbourhood."

But his hearer gave him no encouragement. Not that Mr. Elliott required
such a stimulus.

"My secretary says--and Leslie is something of a motor-cyclist--that this
wretched assassin probably never uses the roads at all, but takes to the
field paths."

"You surprise me," said his audience politely.

* * * * *

In the few minutes he had alone with his secretary later Mr. Elliott
expressed his utter lack of faith in the official police. The young man
did not answer. Mr. Elliott thought he looked a little nervous. He had
never known him so jumpy before. That night at dinner: "You know The
Ringer?"

"Very well indeed."

"He interests me tremendously" (Mr. Elliott was almost enthusiastic).
"Although I cannot afford to lose so large a sum--as a matter of fact, I
don't lose it at all, but if I did the fact that The Ringer was
responsible gives the crime a certain cachet. Now, my theory..."

It was difficult even to contend against theories, for surely there was
no atmosphere better calculated to put a man in good humour, even with
the crankiest of cranks, than the raftered dining-room of Long Hall.

The cloth had been removed, the super-polished surface of the dark table
reflected the long-stemmed port glasses. Mr. Elliott reached out and
helped himself to another cigarette from the silver box and lit it with
the glowing end of the first.

He was tall and broad-shouldered; good-looking in his rugged way. The
untidy hair was streaked with grey; he looked all that he confessed
himself to be--a man of the people who had come to fortune by his own
industry. In every sense he was a contrast to the young man who sat on
his left, gloomily absorbed in his own dark thoughts.

Leslie Carter's voice said "public school." His face was moulded more
finely than his employer's, his hands were more shapely, his movements
had something of an athletic grace. The sombre man sitting opposite,
twisting the end of his little beard to a point, noticed that from time
to time Mr. Elliott shot a puzzled glance at his secretary. And Leslie
Carter's attitude throughout the meal had been a little puzzling. He had
scarcely spoken a word, hardly raised his eyes from the plate, though his
vis-a-vis had been the second prettiest girl Mr. Bliss had ever seen.

Sullen--sulking about something--worried? The visitor was not sure.

"...the third crime of the character committed during the past three
months," Forsythe Elliott was saying; "and all occurring within a radius
of twenty--say thirty--miles. That can only mean that our friend The
Ringer has his headquarters in Berkshire."

"It was not The Ringer."

The other man shook his head emphatically, was about to say something
else, but stopped himself. Instead, he looked swiftly from his host to
the secretary, and Mr. Elliott understood. Presently: "You might tell
them to have the car ready for Mr. Bliss."

The young man looked up with a start.

"All right," he said, and rose.

When he had gone the visitor drew his chair nearer to where Elliott sat.

"What is his financial position?" asked Bliss.

Elliott shrugged his broad shoulders.

"He's always broke--that kind of kid always is."

"Have you asked him whether he told anybody about the money coming to
you?"

His host shook his head. "No; I have had no opportunity. He had to go to
Germany--his brother, who is in Hamburg, sent for him."

"He went to Germany--when?"

Elliott considered. "The day after the robbery. In any event, I should
have let him go, but it happened that I went off to Paris to fix up about
the picture. I should, in the ordinary course of events, have taken the
money with me."

His guest tugged at his little beard. "In Berlin, eh? The murder was
committed on Monday night--he could have reached Berlin by Wednesday--the
date the letter was posted--he could have been back here on Thursday.
When did your secretary return?"

Mr. Elliott was obviously uncomfortable. "Yesterday--Friday. But, good
heavens! You don't suggest...?"

"I'm not suggesting anything," said the other. "I am merely following the
avenues of possibility. The fact is that I have already spoken to your
secretary...do you mind if I talk to you outside? I have a strong
objection to talking in a room."

Elliott went to the door.

"I hate wasting good wine, but I suppose you don't mind."

Elliott turned to see him looking admiringly at the ruby glass.

"Here's destruction to The Spurious Ringer!"

The host came back to the table and poured wine into his half-empty
glass.

"That, Mr. Bliss, is a toast I can drink. At the same time, I'm not so
sure that you're right."

He carried his argument into the night and past the waiting car. At the
far end of the lawn were three high firs, and it was not until they
reached these that Elliott stopped. He might not have stopped even then,
but he stumbled over a coiled rope that lay on the grass.

"What the devil--" he checked himself and asked: "Now, what do you want
to say about Leslie?"

"His brother was not ill--the telephone message which you passed on to
him was a hoax. And a blundering hoax. Did you notice how worried he was
at dinner?"

"I did notice," admitted Elliott, and the other laughed.

"He's worried because he found a small cottage on your estate that is
supposedly empty, but which contains the motorcycle and side-car that the
robber and murderer has been using. He put these two facts together--the
fake phone message from London which took him to Germany in order that he
might be incriminated, and the discovery of the cycle. Probably he has
found out something else. I hadn't time to ask him."

"He told you this?"

"Yes, Joe, he told me this."

Joe Ellroyd (Forsythe Elliott was almost the toniest alias he had ever
used) turned to fly, but a hand gripped his arm, and he felt curiously
weak.

"You're doped, Joe--that last toast was my mercy! You went to Berlin and
wrote a letter to Bliss. I found the blot of it--that was a coincidence.
But I should have found you anyway. I think I warned you once before..."

* * * * *

In the house a telephone bell rang, and the secretary answered it.

"Mr. Bliss? But Mr. Bliss is here, in the grounds with Elliot!..."

Bliss, at the other end of the wire, spoke quickly.

"I had a wire telling me not to come tonight. Phone the local police and
have them up as quickly as you can...got a gun? Take it, arm the servants
and search the grounds."

He himself arrived an hour later, but neither Elliott nor his visitor was
found. It was not until the dawn came and showed the still figure
swinging on a branch of the highest fir that Elliott's absence was
explained.

When they got him down they found a half-sheet of paper and a ten-pound
note pinned to the dead man's sleeve.

'Please give the bank-note to the public hangman and offer him my
apologies for this invasion of his province.'

There was no signature--but Inspector Bliss knew the writing.



IV - A SERVANT OF WOMEN


Once upon a time, in those absurd days of war, when the laws governing
the sanctity of human life were temporarily suspended, a flying officer,
making a reconnaissance to the north-west of Baghdad, saw the solitary
figure of a man lying in the desert land. By his side was a dead camel.

The flying officer, whose name was Henry Arthur Milton, dipped down to
take a closer view, and as he did so he saw the man's hand raised feebly
as though signalling for help.

Captain Milton shut off his engines, having found a likely landing-place,
and five minutes later was examining the wounded man, a person of some
importance, to judge by the trappings of his camel and his own raiment.

He was wounded in the shoulder, half delirious with thirst, and proved to
be one Ibn el Masjik. He had been wounded in a skirmish with British
troops, and after the rescuer had made him comfortable El Masjik had a
request to make.

"I am the chief of a fighting clan and I could not survive the disgrace
of being taken prisoner. Therefore I ask you as a favour that you take me
to the city of my father, and I will give you my parole that I will not
fight against your people, nor shall any of my tribe fight."

Milton spoke Arabic as though it were his mother-tongue. He was also a
man of unconventional habits, and although he had no more authority to
carry out the wishes of his prisoner than he had to take upon himself the
command of the British Army in Mesopotamia, he did not hesitate.

His aeroplane made a journey of a hundred and seventy miles, landed
within half a mile of the walled city of Khor, and at some risk to
himself (for the local inhabitants were unaware of his errand of mercy)
delivered the wounded man to the care of his friends.

"Come to me when this war is ended," said Ibn el Masjik; "and, though all
the world be against you, I shall be for you. If you are poor, I will
make you rich. My father's city is for your asking."

This time he spoke in English, for he had in his youth been educated at a
preparatory school in Bournemouth, his father being a rich man with a
leaning to Western ideals.

Henry Arthur Milton remembered this promise some years later, when he was
hard pressed, and for six months was the guest of Ibn el Masjik, whose
father was now dead. Mr. Milton saw the administration of an Eastern city
and a Near Eastern people who snapped their scornful fingers at authority
which was too far away to be effective.

This white-walled city stood on the edge of the wilderness, and time had
passed it by. Raiding parties went out unashamed and returned laden with
booty and slaves. Milton saw men and women sold in the market-place, saw
life unchanged from what it had been in the days when Mahomet's uncle was
guardian of the Kaaba, and the Prophet's disciples were praying in
Medina.

One night Henry Arthur expostulated about certain practices, and the
thin, ascetic face of Ibn el Masjik lit up in a smile. He tossed a
half-smoked cigarette into a silver vase, lit another, and settled
himself more comfortably on the cushions.

They were in the dining-room of his palace--a tall, bare apartment, with
lime-washed walls and vivid, silken colourings--and a Circassian girl sat
at his feet and ate sweetmeats noisily.

"My friend," he said, "it is a far cry to Bournemouth, Hampshire. Slavery
is merely a name for service, and it is a matter of form whether it takes
the shape you see here in Khor or in some dingy northern town where men
and women have to leave their beds at the sound of a whistle and hurry
through rain and sleet to the prison-houses you call factories. My slaves
are more pleasantly treated: they have the sunshine; they are well fed:
they sleep in their own houses."

He was perfectly frank about the traffic. There was a little port on the
Ked Sea where one could buy, under the very noses of a British
administration, this kind of artisan--at a price.

"Not always can I buy what I desire," he explained. "My women ask me all
the time for such a man, and where may he be found?" He sighed heavily.
"Yes, the West is creeping upon us, and Kemal's new law concerning women
has reached even here."

He shrugged his shoulders, smoothed his white silken robe more decorously
about his knees, and smiled reminiscently.

"I do not object. There is a piquancy in the new custom which is very
amusing. And we differ from most other tribes in that our women are never
veiled, and have rights of choice."

After Milton came back to Western Europe he frequently corresponded with
his blood brother, and at the back of his mind he always had Khor as a
final sanctuary in case things went wrong.

The police might suspect that Henry Arthur Milton, whom they called The
Ringer, had many homes, but they did not know where. There was, for
example, a villa on the outskirts of Cannes, very convenient for a man
who wished to make a rapid exit from one country to another. He rented a
small flat overlooking the little Sok in Tangier; he had certainly a
house which was a semi-detached residence in Norbury, and here he spent a
greater part of his time than any of his enemies imagined.

There was a small garden at the back of the house which he cultivated,
and across the dividing wall it often happened that he discussed with his
neighbour such mundane matters as the depredations of cats.

He had few opportunities, for Captain Oring, that grey-bearded man who
had dreamed for forty years of a shore life was captain of a small tramp
vessel which traded between London and Suez. He was not only captain but
part proprietor, he and his sons holding three-quarters of the shares in
this little vessel.

One of the "boys" was his chief officer, another his chief engineer, a
third attended to the business end in London. He had, also, a daughter, a
floridly-pretty girl, who kept the home for her brother and did an
immense amount of housework in such time as she could spare from the
pictures.

On an occasion when The Ringer was absent from London the girl
disappeared. Her father was at sea, and it was from him, months later,
that The Ringer heard the story.

Captain Orin did not tell him coherently--it was not the sort of story
that a father could tell straightforwardly--and Henry Arthur Milton
listened to the broken narrative with a cold-bloodedness which was his
chief characteristic.

"My boy found her after a lot of trouble...she's with my sister now, in
the country. Naturally, I've tried to find the people, but what chance
had I got in London? I can't go to the police...I don't want her name in
the papers, do I? If I ever meet this man..."

"You won't," said The Ringer. "But perhaps I shall--I travel about a
lot."

(In the neighbourhood he was registered as Mr. Ernest Oppenton, and his
profession was described as "commercial traveller.")

Captain Oring went away to sea, with his sons and his grief and his
patched-up little steamer; and Henry Arthur Milton had certain urgent
business which took him to Berlin--so urgent that you might imagine that
the matter of Lucy Oring had entirely slipped from his mind.

But nothing ever escaped him, and on his return to London he became a
great frequenter of that type of West End club which appears on and is
struck from the register so very rapidly that you might not know it had
ever existed.

He overheard a little; waiters told him something. It is extraordinary
how confidential an Italian waiter will become to a man who speaks his
language. Women told him most of all, for he paid for drinks with great
munificence.

On a certain afternoon a scene was enacted at one of the great London
termini which was so commonplace that only very keen observation would
have noted it as being out of the ordinary.

The nice-looking old lady with the white hair and the cameo brooch saw
the train come slowly along the platform of Victoria Station, and moved
nearer to the barrier.

Presently, the passengers began to trickle past the ticket-collector, not
in the hurried way of suburban season-ticket holders, but with the
leisure which is peculiar to travellers from a distance. She watched
carefully, and after a while she saw the pretty girl with the black
suitcase. She was dressed in dark brown and carried in her other hand a
bunch of autumnal flowers.

The nice old lady intercepted her.

"My dear, are you Miss Clayford? I thought so! I am Mrs. Graddle. I
thought I would come along and see you safely across London."

The girl nodded gratefully.

"I was wondering what I should do. Are you from the agency?"

The nice old lady smiled.

"Oh, dear no! But a friend of mine at the agency keeps me informed about
the engagements. I like to do what I can for young people. Now, you must
come along and have tea with me. I understand it is a perfectly awful
place you are going to! Forty pounds a year for a nursery governess is
scandalous! And in a little country village where there is nothing to see
and nothing to do...!"

* * * * *

She rattled on as she accompanied the girl through the booking-hall to
the station yard, and Elsie Clayford listened dismally. Forty pounds a
year was a small sum, but she understood that her new employers were very
nice people, and that the home was comfortable. It was her first
engagement.

"I'd like you to stay a few days with me," said Mrs. Graddle, as she
signalled a cab. "I've got a lovely little house in St. John's Wood, and
we have young society. I have already telephoned to Lady Shene, and she
agrees. You might do a theatre or two..."

Elsie had not the vaguest idea who Mrs. Graddle was. She guessed that the
old lady was a member of one of those organisations which undertake the
care of young girls. It was a matter for satisfaction that such societies
existed.

For instance, as she had met her white-haired guardian she had noticed a
lank-looking man with long black hair and large horn-rimmed spectacles;
and this sinister-looking individual had looked at her so oddly that she
felt a queer little thrill of fear. And now he was standing at her elbow
as the cab drew up at the kerb.

"Get in, my dear," said Mrs. Graddle, as Elsie pushed in her suitcase.
The girl obeyed, and the old lady was following when the man with the
spectacles caught her arm, and, drawing her gently aside, shut the cab
door.

"King's Cross," he said to the driver, and, still holding Mrs. Graddle's
arm, he pushed his head through the open window space. "Your train leaves
at 5.32. Lady Shene will probably meet you at Welwyn Station. Have you
money for the cab fare?"

"Ye-es," said the panic-stricken Elsie.

"Good. Don't talk to people unless you know them; especially angelic old
birds like this one."

He waved the cab on.

"What's the idea?" demanded Mrs. Graddle, breathlessly.

The man had already called another cab.

"Get in," he said; and she obeyed tremblingly. The man followed.

"I've told him to drive through the park. I'll drop you at the end of
Birdcage Walk."

"I've a good mind to give you in charge!" There was a whimper in the old
woman's voice. "Who do you think you are?" He did not answer this
question.

"You've been convicted twice--once in Leeds and Manchester," he said;
"and for a number of offences. You get acquainted with somebody in a
registry office who keeps you supplied with information regarding the
movement of servants. I understand that you're not above touting and
using the cinemas to discover stage-struck girls."

"You can't prove anything," she interrupted. "And even if you arrest
me--but you're not going to do a thing like that."

She opened her bag with trembling fingers, groped in the interior and
took out a wad of bank-notes.

"Be a good man and don't make any trouble," she pleaded.

The Ringer took the notes from her hand, counted them deliberately.

"Sixty-five pounds doesn't seem a very adequate bribe," he remarked.

She opened an inner purse, and sorted out two notes, each for a hundred
pounds.

"That's all I've got." Old Mrs. Graddle was inclined to be hysterical.
"You 'busies' can't keep your noses out of anything!"

The Ringer tapped at the window and the cab stopped. It was now raining
heavily, and there were few pedestrians about.

"Have you any children?" he asked.

"No," she said quickly.

"Apart from the beastliness of your job, do you ever realise what it
feels like to be a father or a mother, to be waiting and hoping for
somebody to come back...to be uncertain about their fate?"

"I don't want any argument with you," she said, with surprising savagery
for so picturesque an old lady. "You've got your money, and that's all
you care about! I've got no children!"

"I think you're right," he said, cryptically; and opened the door for
her.

"Let him drive on to the Tube station," she demanded; but he shook his
head.

"You can get out and walk. You'll be wet through, probably, and die--and
if you do I shan't stop laughing!"

She said something which no angelic old lady should have said. The Ringer
smiled. As she moved quickly towards Parliament Square, he paid the
cabman.

"Turn round and go back," he said, slipped on a mackintosh which he
carried over his arm, took off his glasses, and wiped away his small
moustache before the cabman had turned the nose of his machine in the
other direction. He was taking no risks--the more so since he was well
aware for what destination Mrs. Graddle was bound.

In the circumstances she went to a lot of unnecessary trouble in taking
an Underground train to South Kensington and doubling back by taxi.
Eventually she reached her pleasant home in St. John's Wood in a
condition of semi-exhaustion.

It was a very nice house, with a beautiful dancing floor; this was
necessary, for Mrs. Graddle gave select parties. The peculiar servants
she employed were decorating the ballroom when she arrived, but she was
not interested in the coming festivities of the evening. She went
upstairs to the small study, where her son was eating greasy toast and
reading the evening newspaper.

"Hullo! Did you get her?" he asked pleasantly.

He was a lethargic man of thirty, heavy-featured, heavy-eyed, and
decidedly plump. On one finger he wore a diamond ring of great value;
stones sparkled from his ornate cravat. He listened while she told her
breathless story, stroking his small moustache.

"That's pretty bad," he said. "Who was he? Do you know him? A 'busy'?
It's awkward--damned awkward! They know about the Leeds and the
Manchester affair too; that's rotten!"

He had reason for his perturbation. Only by the skin of his teeth had he
succeeded in keeping clear of the Manchester charge, and it would have
been much more serious for him than for his mother.

"What are you scared about--I paid the feller, didn't I?" She rang the
bell viciously, and when the servant came: "We shan't want the room for
that girl; she's not coming," she snapped, and when the servant had
closed the door: "For God's sake don't sit there shaking like a jelly,
Julian! There's nothing to be afraid of!"

But Julian thought there were many things to be afraid of, and enumerated
a few.

"I've been dreading this," he quavered, "ever since that Oring girl was
found. Let's go down into the country, mother--what about Margate? We
could stay there for a month or two till this affair blew over--"

"It has blown over," she interrupted, and went upstairs to change from
her street clothes, which were most uncomfortably damp. Julian Graddle
never felt less like following his legitimate profession. He had to go
into the West End to attend to two clients for he was a ladies'
hairdresser--an extremely useful trade to his mother: for women gossip to
one another. They talk of servants who are leaving them, of girls who
have got into scrapes. Some of his mother's best "finds" had been located
by Julian in the course of his working day.

He was certainly not at his best after a series of sharp admonitions from
his best client--a lady whose temper was by no means equable at the best
of times, and he came to his second call more rattled than ever. The next
day he had to attend at the shop which employed him, and he lived on
tenterhooks, growing bolder, however, as the day progressed without a
sign of a policeman.

In the evening, as he was leaving, the clerk at the desk handed him a
slip of paper.

"Miss Smith, 34, Grine Mews, telephoned for you specially."

He frowned at the paper, but the time was convenient. "Six-thirty," said
the note. "Miss Smith, very urgent. Pay on completion of work."

He was not at all surprised to be called to a mews. So many fashionable
people had converted garages into artistic flats, and in the course of a
normal week he made acquaintance with at least three.

The occupant of 34, Grine Mews, was obviously terminating her occupation.
There was a board displayed, informing the world that "this handsome and
commodious flat" was to let. He knocked at the narrow door, which was
immediately opened.

"Come in," said a man's voice pleasantly. "Are you the hairdresser? Miss
Smith has been waiting for you."

Julian stumped wheezily up the steep stairs. They were uncarpeted, and so
was the landing. There was also the queer smell which attaches to houses
that have been long unfurnished. Possibly Miss Smith was only just moving
in, and was the victim of that enticing notice.

His conductor opened a door.

"This way. It is rather dark, but I'll get a light."

Julian entered unsuspectingly. The door slammed behind him--then there
was a click, and a bare lamp hanging from the ceiling glowed dimly. The
room was empty of furniture; the floor and mantelpiece were covered with
dust. Over the little window a heavy horse-rug had been fastened with
forks.

"Don't move," said the stranger.

His face was covered with a half-mask: a habit of The Ringer's when he
was not wearing disguise.

"If you raise a bleat I shall shoot you through the stomach, and you will
die in great agony," he said, calmly; and Julian's face went green at the
sight of the pistol in the man's hand.

"What--what--?" he began.

"Don't ask questions. Go through that doorway."

Like a man in a dream, the prisoner obeyed. The inner room had a rickety
table and a dark-coloured sofa, evidently left by a former tenant. On the
table was a glass of red wine, and to this The Ringer pointed.

"Drink," he said, curtly.

The man turned an agonised face to him.

"Is it poisoned?" he whimpered.

"No, but I will tell you very frankly it is drugged. I'm not going to
kill you--I promise you."

Julian gulped down the draught.

"Who are you?" he asked hollowly.

"People call me The Ringer," said Henry Arthur Milton.

It was the last word Julian Graddle remembered.

That night The Ringer had a long consultation with Captain Oring.

"He is the man all right, so we need not distress your daughter by
bringing her up to identify him. Where is your ship lying?"

"She's lying at Keeney's Wharf, Rotherhithe," said Captain Oring,
pondering the problem before him. "If I thought this was the man--"

"He is the man; but you're to do nothing drastic. He is to be kept alive
and in good health. You will arrive at El Sass on the 23rd as I reckon
the time--a day or two more or less doesn't matter, because you will be
expected. You will arrange to hand him over at night to a crew of Arabs
who will come out in a boat for him. Here is the money for his
passage--two hundred and sixty-five pounds. His mother is paying the
fare."

His two sons were with Captain Oring, and one of them spoke.

"If this is the man, Mr. Oppenton, we don't want any payment. I'd like to
take the swine and beat his head off, but if you say no--well, your word
goes."

What really was to happen to the man was explained before, in the middle
of the night, they went down to the little garage at the end of the
garden, where Mr. Julian Graddle was sleeping soundly, and bundled him
into an old car. He was taken to Keeney's Wharf when the night watchman
was dozing, and laid in a bumpy berth in a very uncomfortable little
cabin...

To Ibn el Masjik The Ringer wrote a letter, and sent it overland by a
series of aeroplane posts. It began:

'From his friend Arthur, to Ibn el Masjik, the servant of God, on whom be
peace!

'I have thought much over the trouble which you confided to me, and of
Certain Ones in your house who desire to follow the Western custom,
making their hair short like men. Also, that you can find none in your
city who may do this service for you.

'Now, El Masjik, I am sending to you a man very skilful in such things: a
slave who has no protection of the law, and you shall keep him in your
house all the days of his life, and I ask only that he be a servant to
women, such a one as they may beat with their slippers.

'On the fourteenth day of the Month of the Pilgrimage a little steamer
shall come to the port of El Saea and you shall send...'

He gave the most minute instructions for the disposal of Mr. Julian
Graddle--instructions that he knew would be obeyed to the letter.

A fortnight later he saw an advertisement in the agony columns of three
daily newspapers:

'Will Julian Graddle, who disappeared from London, please communicate
with hie anxious and sorrowing mother?'

And when he read this The Ringer laughed. He had read such appeals
before, addressed by parents who sought daughters. And where those
daughters had gone, and why they did not answer, the angelic Mrs. Graddle
knew best.



V - THE TRIMMING OF PAUL LUMIERE


"It is not for me, sir, ever to say anything which suggests criticism,"
said Chief Inspector Mander with great diffidence: "the only thing I say
is that possibly The Ringer has become too specialised a problem with
you. You are, as it were, living too near to the subject."

Superintendent Bliss chewed on a quill toothpick thoughtfully. He
disliked Mander extremely--but he was not singular in that.

Mander had very nice manners, spoke the King's English with a certain
refinement of tone, looked well in evening dress, had fine company
manners, and was suspected of employing his superiority in these respects
to secure the rapid promotion which had come to him.

You searched his records without finding any great accomplishment. He had
figured in a few unimportant cases, and had had charge of a murder--but
the murderer had given himself up to justice, and had made a full
confession to the local divisional inspector before Mander came on the
scene; so there was no merit in that.

But he had, however, a wonderful knack of appearing clever to the right
people. Bliss was not the right person. He never thought Mander was
clever: invariably he referred to Inspector Mander in terms that were
neither complimentary to the inspector nor commendable in himself.

Bliss was going to the south of France, partly on business, partly on
holiday. He had not the slightest doubt in his mind what Mander was
after; he had a malignant pleasure in the thought that, if there was one
man at Scotland Yard to whom he would like to hand over The Ringer case
it was Mr. Mander, he of the aristocratic nose and the fair moustache.

"All right--take control while I am away. I'll arrange for my clerk to
turn over anything that comes. It isn't going to be an easy job for you."

"So you have found," said Mander, with a smile.

"So you will find, Inspector," replied Bliss emphatically.

He had not left London before he saw in the columns of a daily newspaper
that "Chief Inspector Mander had assumed control of The Ringer case
during the absence of Superintendent Bliss."

Mander was strong on publicity.

On the following day a letter arrived at Scotland Yard. It was addressed
to Superintendent Bliss, and those who were in the habit of handling his
correspondence had no doubt as to who was the writer.

"The Ringer? Rubbish! Why does he write? Does he write to Bliss?"

The man took the letter with a contemptuous smile and tore open the
envelope. The letter was written on just that coloured paper which The
Ringer invariably used.

'Mr. Paul Lumiere is a man for whom I have no affection. He began life as
a common thief; he is a sweater of labour, a trickster; and he once
treated a friend of mine very badly--not so badly that he deserves the
shades, but badly enough to deserve robbing.

'I purpose taking from him the sum of 30,000--or its equivalent. This
will be the price offered to Eandwell and Coles, the Bond Street
jewellers, for a diamond and emerald chain. After the chain has been
acquired by its purchaser it will be acquired by me.'

"Who is Paul Lumiere?" demanded Mander. His immediate subordinate went
forth to make enquiries. There was, he discovered, no Paul Lumiere in any
of the available directories.

"Sheer braggadocio!" said Mander, who had a line of classy words. "I
suppose this is the sort of thing that impresses Bliss."

"Whenever The Ringer sends that kind of letter he follows it up with a
coup." warned the sergeant.

Mr. Mander made derisive noises.

He was working in his office that night when the sergeant, who had gone
off duty hours before, walked into his room.

"I've found Paul Lumiere," he said; and, producing an evening newspaper
from his pocket, he pointed to a paragraph which he had marked:

'Mr. Paul Lumiere, the American millionaire, who arrived from New York
last week, is buying Old Masters for his private gallery, and yesterday
bought a lovely example of the early Flemish school for a thousand
guineas from Messrs. Theimer, of Grafton Street.'

Mander was instantly alert.

"Get on to the principal hotels, and find out where he is staying."

It was not difficult to locate Mr. Lumiere. He had a suite in London's
most crowded hotel. When Mander put through a call he found that the
millionaire, who went early to bed, had retired to his room, and was not
to be disturbed. Nor, when Mander made a personal call, did he have any
greater success.

He decided to call the next morning, but before he made his visit he
dropped in at the Bond Street jeweller's whose name had been mentioned in
the letter.

The head of the firm was in the south of France, and he saw the managing
director.

"Mr. Paul Lumiere? Oh, yes. We have had some negotiations with him. He is
buying some jewellery from us--the Alexandria necklace, to be exact." And
then, suspiciously: "Is there anything wrong about him?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing!" said Mander, impatiently. Like all men of his
peculiar mentality, he resented being asked questions. "He is all
right--a millionaire or something. I am merely looking after his
interests, I don't mind telling you--I shall probably have to tell you
later, in any case--that an attempt is being made to rob him; and I want
you, when the time comes, to afford me all the assistance you possibly
can." The managing director was naturally curious, but Inspector Mander
was not in the mood to satisfy that curiosity.

He called in at Scotland Yard to look through his letters before going on
to the Revoy Hotel, and found that Mr. Paul Lumiere had made matters very
easy.

There was a note from him, enclosing a letter of introduction. It bore
the printed letter-head of Police Headquarters in New York City.

'DEAR SIR, May I personally commend to your care Mr. Paul Lumiere, of
this city? Mr. Lumiere, who is going to Europe, has for some months past
been the recipient of threatening letters from The Ringer.

'There may be nothing to this, but I happen to know that Mr. Lumiere has,
for some reason or other, incurred, the animosity of this man. Will you
be good enough to give Mr. Lumiere any assistance he may require?

'Sincerely, E. B. SULLIVAN.'

The covering note was a formal invitation asking Bliss to call, and a few
minutes after reading these epistles Inspector Mander was shown into the
millionaire's suite.

Mr. Lumiere was a tall, not ill-looking man, with a short, grey moustache
and a mop of iron-grey hair. He had a nervous little trick of screwing up
his mouth every few seconds, but apparently this was no evidence of any
apprehension so far as The Ringer was concerned.

"Sit right down, Captain--I'm glad to know you. Say, who is this bird,
The Ringer? Milton, eh? Never met him, but I'm not scared--no, sir..." He
talked rapidly, continuously. Mander, who was not averse from hearing
himself talk, waited impatiently for the opportunity.

He received the impression that The Ringer and the cause of his vendetta
was not unknown to Mr. Lumiere. Once or twice the millionaire referred
vaguely to "this girl Fleitcher," but who "this girl Fleitcher" was he
did not explain.

"The only thing I know," said Mander, "is that he has threatened to rob
you. He says that you are buying jewellery to the value of thirty
thousand pounds--"

Lumiere's jaw dropped. "Well, I'll be--, the Alexandriff necklace! A
hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Now, how in hell did he know that?"

* * * * *

Mr. Mander was not in a position to answer the inquiry.

"I want you to do me this favour: Whenever you go to Randwell and Coles
ring me up and I will go with you. If you take money--"

"Am I crazy?" demanded the other, contemptuously. "I'll pay with a
banker's draft if I pay at all. But I'll certainly tip you on when the
negotiations reach that point. What do you think of that picture--?"

For the next ten minutes he talked of his recent purchases--the
sitting-room was littered with works of art that he had been offered or
had bought.

Mr. Mander returned to his office with a fixed smile. For once in his
life The Ringer had made a mistake. He had a different type of man to
deal with from Bliss. Bliss was tired, lived too near the problem of The
Ringer to adjust himself instantly to every new development. A fresh
brain, a fresh outlook, and methods which, Mr. Mander flattered himself,
were a little out of the ordinary, would produce results for which
Superintendent Bliss had groped in vain.

In his exhilaration, he sat down and wrote a long letter to the absent
superintendent, telling him just how the case was developing, and giving
him a bare outline of the measures he was taking to meet and defeat the
machinations of Henry Arthur Milton.

'Naturally, I shall take no chances' [he wrote]. 'Lumiere has promised
that in no circumstances will he make the purchase without notifying me.'

He made a second call upon Randwell and Coles, and had a long conference
with the manager.

"You understand that when Mr. Lumiere buys this necklace it is to be
taken by two trustworthy assistants to him at the hotel. In no
circumstances must he buy it here and take it away with him. I will
arrange that you have four of the best men from Scotland Yard to escort
your salesmen. It would be better perhaps, if you came yourself to take
the banker's draft. You can have the detectives to guard you back to Bond
Street."

The manager laughed.

"A banker's draft wouldn't be of much use to The Ringer," he said; and
then: "Perhaps you would like to see the article which Mr. Lumiere is
trying to buy. We're asking thirty-five thousand, but I think the
purchase price will be nearer thirty; naturally, we're after the best
price we can get, but he's a very shrewd man and knows more about
precious stones than most people I have met."

He unlocked a safe in his private office and took out a tray on which lay
a long and dazzling chain of diamonds and emeralds.

"Some of these stones weigh eight carats. Those three emeralds"--he
pointed with his little finger--"are worth something like 5,000 in the
open market. As a matter of fact, we get very little profit, because the
value of this chain, which came to us from Russia, is in the stones and
not in the setting."

Mander interviewed the Assistant Commissioner and gave him particulars of
the steps he had taken to safeguard the chain.

"It comes down to a question of system," he graciously explained. "I am a
great admirer of the work of Superintendent Bliss, but it has always
struck me as being a little haphazard, and left open all sorts of avenues
of escape.

"In this case, I purpose, if you have no objection, utilising the full
strength of the Yard. I shall have the hotel surrounded by detectives; I
shall have men in every corridor; and if The Ringer can get in or out he
will be a much cleverer man than I gave him credit for."

The Assistant Commissioner, who had a very high regard for the genius of
Bliss, listened coldly.

"One thing you must be careful about, Inspector, is a possible
confederate--probably a woman," he said. "The Ringer is a quick and
efficient worker."

Mr. Mander smiled.

"I also have some sort of reputation, sir," he said; and the Assistant
Commissioner was too polite to ask for particulars.

Mander, in his way, was very thorough. He took a census of every room
occupied at the hotel and paid particular attention to the guests whose
rooms were adjacent to Mr. Lumiere's suite. The room adjoining Lumiere's
own bedroom was occupied by a Miss Gwerth Stacey, who had arrived at the
hotel on the same day as Lumiere. She was an American and a physical
culture expert. Lumiere, who confessed that he had had several chats with
her, said she was a fanatic on the question of hotel fires.

She told him that she never went into an hotel without making a survey of
her position and discovering the quickest way of leaving the building--a
quite unnecessary precaution so far as the Revoy Hotel was concerned, for
in every room there was a fire alarm.

"Trail her up," said Mander to one of his subordinates. "She's the most
suspicious-looking individual in the hotel."

All the trailing, however, revealed no more than that she attended
lectures on hygiene and physical culture which were being delivered at
that period by a Swedish authority. She had apparently one or two
professional friends in London with whom she occasionally went to supper
and a dance.

But Mander was taking no risks: he instructed a woman detective to make
this athletic lady her especial care. He chose the five best detectives
at the Yard and gave them detailed instructions as to what they were to
do in certain emergencies, and, in addition, earmarked four reliable men
to accompany the jeweller to the hotel.

That pilgrimage of commerce came on the very day he completed his
arrangements. A telephone message brought him to the jewellers' and he
interviewed the managing director in his private office.

"We have agreed to a price, and Mr. Lumiere is taking possession of the
chain this afternoon at half-past four."

That was all Mander wanted to know.

He put into movement the machinery he had created to circumvent Scotland
Yard's cleverest and chiefest enemy. Plain-clothes officers were detailed
to watch every railway terminus: a corps of watchers was distributed
about the hotel; and at four o'clock, when the jewellers' manager stepped
into a car that waited in Bond Street, four stalwart detectives closed in
on him and entered the machine with him.

At the entrance to the hotel were two police officers in uniform. In the
corridor on Mr. Lumiere's floor two detectives, Mander's most reliable
officers, were awaiting them.

The inspector was with Mr. Lumiere when the treasure arrived, and the
millionaire chuckled as he saw this unusually large party crowd into the
room.

"Lock the door," said Mander, authoritatively, and his order was carried
out.

The jeweller took a case from his inside pocket, laid it on the table,
and opened the cover. Under the overhead light of the glass chandelier
the beautiful rope flashed into a thousand hues.

"You've got a bargain, Mr. Lumiere," said the manager.

The purchaser shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm not so sure that it's a great bargain," he said, good-humouredly.
"At any rate, you have your money."

He took a banker's draft from his pocket and handed it to the jeweller,
who examined it carefully and slipped it into his pocket-case.

"What do you intend doing with this piece of jewellery?" asked Mander. "I
presume you're going to put it into the hotel safe?"

Mr. Lumiere smiled and shook his head.

"I've something more secure than any hotel safe in my room," he said.
"Nobody knows about it but myself, and I can only assure you that I will
put it in a place that not even you and your detectives could find."

Mander frowned at this.

"Why not--" he began.

"My friend," said Mr. Lumiere, quietly, "I trust nobody! If you do not
know where I have placed it, and none of your intelligent officers--one
of whom may be The Ringer for all I know--sees where it goes, I have only
myself to blame if it is lost."

He took up the case, walked quickly into his bedroom, and closed the
door.

The jeweller looked at the detective and chuckled.

"I shouldn't be surprised it he's right," he said. "These people who are
in the habit of carrying stones are very seldom robbed."

Mander was in something of a quandary; he had no authority to demand that
he should be shown where the jewels were hidden, and the suggestion which
was thrown out by Lumiere that one of his men might possibly be The
Ringer gave him a moment's uneasiness. He was so impressed that he had
them lined up and looked closely at one after the other. They were
clean-shaven, and none of them bore the slightest resemblance to the
description he had had of this notable individual.

"I suppose it's all right--" he began.

And then he heard a cry in the corridor outside, and a quick scamper of
feet. Instantly he was outside the door, in time to see a woman flying
along the corridor, pursued by the two detectives. She turned an angle of
the wall, and fled to the stairs.

Mander dashed back into the room and tried the door of Lumiere's bedroom;
it was locked.

"Are you there...Mr. Lumiere?"

He tapped on the panel, but there was no answer. He shouted again, and
then flung all his weight against the door. The lock was a stout one, and
did not budge.

"Come here, two of you fellows!" he shouted, savagely; and two of the
heaviest detectives applied their shoulders to the door. There was a
crack, and a crash, and the door flew open.

The room was empty. It was a large bedroom, from which led two other
doors, one apparently into the bathroom and the other to the corridor.
This, they found, was unlocked. There was no sign of Lumiere, nor of the
diamond rope.

The windows were fastened, and exit from here would have been almost
impossible, for the suite was on the fourth floor, and there was a sheer
drop; and there was no means by which even a cat could have climbed down.

Mander's face was very pale. He realised that something had happened,
something that might be very unpleasant to himself. He rushed into the
corridor in time to see the two detectives bringing back a protesting and
dishevelled young lady, whom he recognised as Miss Stacey.

She was incoherent with wrath. It was a long time before she could make
any understandable statement.

"Now come across, my girl--you were working with The Ringer," said
Mander, when he had taken the girl into the sitting-room. "He handed you
the stuff and you bolted with it--where is Mr. Lumiere?"

"Are you crazy?" she demanded, shrilly. "Who is The Ringer, anyway? The
fire-bell went, and I ran downstairs. Just as I had got to the hall,
these two..."

Mander looked at her incredulously.

"Fire-bell?" he said. "There's been no fire alarm."

"The fire-bell went, I tell you," she insisted, "and the indicator
dropped, and the red light burnt."

He followed her into her room and discovered that she had spoken only the
truth. The bell was still ringing; a red light glowed at the side, and
the indicator which dropped at the ringing of the bell showed plainly.

He returned to Lumiere's room, stunned with amazement. By this time, the
hotel staff had gathered. Nobody had seen any sign of Mr. Lumiere.

"What is that door?" He pointed to a plain door opposite the bedroom of
the missing man.

"That is the baggage lift," said the valet.

Mander made his way quickly down the stairs to the hall. His policemen
were still on guard at the door, but they had seen no sign of the missing
millionaire.

He was about to turn into the manager's office when he heard a
well-remembered and much-disliked voice.

"Have you lost him?" He spun round on his heels, to meet the unpleasant
smile of Superintendent Bliss.

"I came back this afternoon, after I had your letter," said Bliss, in his
deliberate way. "I gather you've had some trouble?"

By this time Mander was nearly hysterical. "I've had no trouble," he
almost shouted. "I took every precaution. I have had every entrance
guarded--"

"Go back to the Yard and leave this case to me, will you?" said Bliss.

It was late that night when a miserable detective inspector was summoned
to his superintendent's office. He found Bliss chewing at a half-smoked
cigar.

"Sit down, Mr. Mander," Bliss's voice was icily polite. "In the first
place," he said, "let me explain why I came back from Nice. When I got
your letter I pretty well knew that The Ringer was purposely taking
advantage of your innocence. He knew I'd left London--you saw to that!
And when he addressed the letter to Bliss he knew very well that Mr.
Mander would open it.

"It was the cleverest little coup that he'd ever planned, and I've not
the slightest doubt--this may bring a little comfort to you--that he
would have tried it on me, and possibly have succeeded. Do you know the
firm of Randwell and Coles?"

"I know they are jewellers, that is all," said Mander, unhappily.

"Randwell and Coles," said Bliss, "are names which cover the identity of
a very rich man who changed his name some years ago to Chapman. It was
previously Lumiere, and when The Ringer told you that he was going to rob
Lumiere, that was the Lumiere that he meant."

"And who was the other Lumiere?"

He saw Bliss smile, and his jaw dropped.

"The Ringer?" he squeaked.

Bliss nodded.

"The millionaire in his suite at the Revoy was our dear friend. To get
possession of the thirty thousand pound necklace was a very simple
matter, with a forged bank draft, always supposing that he could find a
mug at Scotland Yard who would vouch for him. He found one. You left the
unfortunate jewellers no doubt as to the bona fides of Mr. Lumiere. If
you had cabled to New York, to Mr. Sullivan, of the police department,
you would have discovered that Mr. Sullivan died last year; and if you
had ever seen a letter-head from Police Headquarters at New York you
would also have known that the heading of the letter you received was
printed in London.

"As to the fire alarm--I'm not so sure that that wasn't as clever as
anything The Ringer has ever attempted. He knew all about this girl who
was living next door; knew exactly her horror of fires, and she served
him rather well, because at the psychological moment, by inserting a
steel needle through the plaster of the wall and short-circuiting the
fire alarm, he was able to send that timorous female flying for her life
with the two people who had been set to watch the passage running after
her.

"That gave him the opportunity he wanted. He slipped into the luggage
lift, went down into the basement; he had his quick-change ready, and was
out through the service entrance before you could say 'knife'!"

Mr. Mander said nothing.

"The Ringer isn't easy, is he?" asked Bliss, maliciously.



VI - THE BLACKMAIL BOOMERANG


There was a man who had an office in Chancery Lane, who described
himself as The Exsome Domestic Agency. His ostensible business was the
placing of domestic servants in new situations, and he specialised in
that type of servant who had reason for not applying to his or her late
employer for the indispensable "character".

He did not advertise this fact, either in the newspapers or on his nice
note-heading, but it was pretty well known that he would supply necessary
credentials for a consideration.

'This man [or woman] we know to have been employed, by Mr. Hackitt, who
is now in India. Mr. Hackitt left England in a hurry, but in a letter to
us he spoke in the highest possible terms of...'

Mr. Exsome was very friendly with his clients. He would talk to them,
drink with them, and sometimes learn important facts. Mr. Exsome had
another Agency which called itself the Secret Service Bureau. In this
capacity he was a private detective, and, as such, would call upon the
late employers of his servant clients.

Was it true that Mrs. Z---- had once entertained Mr. Y---- in the absence
of her husband? Was she aware that there was a blackmailer trying to make
capital out of the knowledge? And would she leave everything in the hands
of the Secret Service Bureau--at a fee to be settled later?

Mrs. Z----, in a panic would agree, and from time to time would pay the
exorbitant fees of her "protector". In this way "Skid" Exsome made a very
large income.

His intimate associates called him "Skid" because he had the knack of
side-slipping most of the dangers that came his way.

He had a lovely house near Egham, a flat in Maida Vale, and ran the most
expensive of cars. For these luxuries two people had paid with their
lives (Mrs. Albany's suicide will be remembered), and hundreds had paid
in cash. To build his own house he had broken many; to provide for the
jewels with which his phlegmatic wife bedecked herself many jewels had
been sold and many little properties mortgaged.

Mr. Exsome had never been convicted--he had "skidded" most effectively.

Mrs. Leadale Verriner once employed a butler who vanished one morning
with the contents of her jewel-case. She was out hunting at the time, and
returned to find her flimsy safe ripped open and property to the value of
3,000 gone. It was not until after she had communicated with the police
that she remembered that there were other things in the case besides
jewellery.

She did not go grey or haggard. She was a sane and wise as well as a
pretty woman. She went to Scotland Yard and interviewed Bliss and told
him all about Bobbie, who was now in India, and about her grumbling,
difficult and jealous husband. She did not tell Mr. Bliss very much about
the letters that Bobbie had written; but the superintendent was a man of
the world and a good guesser.

When the butler was arrested he was interviewed at Scotland Yard. Most of
the jewellery had been disposed of; the letters, he said glibly, he had
destroyed. "Threw them into the fire," was his explanation.

"I hope you did, Cully," said Bliss, who knew the butler's record rather
well. "You'll get five for this job; but if, when you come out, you put
the black on this lady I'll undertake to get you another fourteen."

"If I drop dead this minute," said Cully virtuously, "I burnt them
letters."

He did not drop dead that minute, proving beyond any doubt whatever that
Providence gives a miss to the most tempting invitations.

Cully got a three, and, coming out, looked for another job. The Exsome
Agency was pretty well known in Dartmoor, and to Mr. Exsome he went. That
gentleman also knew Cully's record and treated him most kindly. In the
course of a couple of lunches, and an evening spent at a music-hall and
worse, Cully made mysterious references to letters.

The next day he brought them to the office and "Skid" read them very
carefully. He checked up Mrs. Leadale Verriner's social and financial
position, discovered that she had an income of her own of two thousand a
year, and that her husband was even better off.

He bought the letters, after some bargaining, for 320, and they
immediately came within the operations of the Secret Service Bureau...

Mrs. Verriner listened without comment to the apologetic "detective" who
called upon her.

"No, it isn't your late butler," said Mr. Exsome. "I've taken a great
deal of trouble to seek out that unfortunate man. He told me he threw
them away, at a spot where the man who has approached me found them."

She was a little haggard now, possibly because Bobbie was married, and
had written long, incoherent, rather foolish letters explaining his
treachery and how everything was for the best.

Mr. Exsome waited for her to speak and then went on: "This man wishes to
get to Australia and start life afresh--"

"It is a very common excuse, isn't it?" she asked coldly, and Mr. Exsome
knew that she was going to be very difficult--the kind of woman who would
go to the police if she was not handled rightly. He proceeded to handle
her rightly.

He rose from his chair with a certain brusqueness.

"Well, madam, I've done all I possibly can, and there the matter ends so
far as I am concerned. This blundering fool of a man may very well
approach your husband, though why he should I don't know. But, as I say,
these people are perfect fools--"

She signalled him to sit down again, and thenceforward she began to pay
and pay, and one by one the letters were returned to her--all except the
only one that counted.

On the loneliest comer of her pretty little Berkshire estate was a small
cottage, rented by a French artist, who spent occasional week-ends at the
place. He kept no servants, for the simple reason that his language could
not be understood.

Mrs. Verriner had had one or two talks with this long-haired gentleman
with the twirling black moustache, and in his florid, extravagant way, he
had placed his demesne--which cost him a pound a week--at her disposal.

Soon after Mr. Exsome began to draw on his new source of revenue she took
the Frenchman at his word--to his undisguised amazement.

"I have people coming to see me whom I don't wish to receive at the
house," she said. "It would be very convenient, Monsieur Vaux, if I could
tell them to come here. Naturally, I would arrange these meetings while
you were away."

"Why, certaine'ment!" smiled her tenant. "When I am in residence I will
elevate to this little flagpole a small tricolour. Madam, I place in your
hands the key of my little chateau!"

When the flagstaff was bare she strolled across to the cottage, unlocked
the back door, and in the very plain sitting-room furnished with
sketches, finished and unfinished, she listened to Mr. Exsome's newest
explanation.

* * * * *

On a balmy spring evening Mr. Exsome was smoking a fragrant cigar in his
Maida Vale flat. The letter came by hand, which puzzled him. It was
typewritten and bore a typewritten signature:

'I have discovered that you are a professional blackmailer. I do not like
blackmailers, professional or amateur. Find another occupation. I shall
not warn you again.

The typewritten signature was "The Ringer," and Mr. Exsome's jaw dropped,
for just then the newspapers were full of the recent exploits of that
criminal.

His complacent wife came in soon after.

"Why, Ernie, you're looking very pale. What's the matter?"' she asked.
"Got your income tax assessment--"

She could be heavily jocular.

"Shut up!" he snarled.

Now, even he knew that it would take a big skid to avoid The Ringer; but
he was on a good thing in Mrs. Leadale Verriner, had indeed only touched
the edge of her resources. In a foolish moment of confidence, she had
told him she would be very rich when her uncle died, and her uncle, as
Mr. Exsome had already discovered, was nearer to eighty than seventy.
This time he was out for big money, and it looked reasonable odds on his
getting what he wished. As for The Ringer--Going out that evening to the
car that waited at the door, he saw a newspaper boy who carried an
amazingly cheering poster: "The Ringer Located."

He bought a paper, his hand so trembling that he could hardly see the
print; presently he found the item and learnt little except what he had
discovered on the poster.

* * * * *

Once upon a time a certain unpleasant gentleman was consigned by The
Ringer to a hot little town set in the wastes of the Arabian desert, for
offences which need not be particularised. And there for three months he
performed the office of hairdresser and head shingler to the women of one
Ibn el Masjik.

One day he conceived the idea of setting forth the story of his wrongs in
a long, long letter to the Foreign Minister of Great Britain, and, by
bribery and corruption, persuaded a camel-driver named The Accursed (for
some ancient sin of his forefathers) to carry the letter to a civilised
place. He also wrote to his mother, but that letter was lost the night
our accursed camel-driver got drunk in Benarim and the unveiled women
with whom he was spending the evening went through his turban in the hope
of finding money to pay them for the trouble .of throwing him out of the
window.

The letter reached Whitehall and was sent across to Scotland Yard.
Inspector Bliss was hardly stirred by the fate of Mr. Julian Graddle, but
he was tremendously interested in certain sequences of cause and effect.
Somebody had been indiscreet; a wronged father (who was also a seagoing
captain and Mr. Graddle's custodian) had spoken highly of his neighbour
who had engineered the kidnapping.

Bliss had something to go on. A police tender raided a house in Norbury.
The Ringer escaped by the back door of a tiny garage as the tender halted
at the corner of the street. He was in his respectable car with a heavy
red moustache and a heavier pipe; he passed Bliss, and the superintendent
did not give him more than a glance.

That evening every private police wire radiating from the instrument room
at Scotland Yard carried the duplication of this message:

'Very urgent: very urgent. Hold brown Buick two-seater T.D. 7418. Seen
ten minutes ago Great West Road stop Staines report Slough report
Maidenhead report Beading report stop Arrest and detain driver of car
stop Dangerous carries firearms stop Report Bliss Scotland Yard.

"I think," said Inspector Mander, fingering his fair moustache, "that
this is where we get him."

A buoyant soul was Inspector Mander. Failure was so normal a condition
that a very recent and flagrant misfire of his, which would have crushed
most men, had not more than momentarily depressed him.

Superintendent Bliss regarded him with an unfriendly eye.

"You will be interested to learn that the car has been discovered in
Epping Forest, which is exactly opposite the direction to that in which
he was seen moving. And if you want an afternoon's occupation you will
probably work out the route he followed. I have already done so, but you
are so much cleverer than I that you may be able to show me a point."

The next clue Scotland Yard received was from the Berkshire police. There
was, apparently, living on the estate of Mrs. Leadale Verriner, a French
artist who occupied his bungalow only during the week-end. In his
absence, as he learnt when he returned rather earlier than usual, some
unauthorised person had been living in the bungalow and had been sleeping
in a room which the artist did not use. He left behind a small map on
which two routes were traced in red ink one leading to the south of
England and one--and this explained the disposition of the car--through
Hounslow, Hampton, and by a circuitous route to North London.

"I'd better go down and see this Frenchman and have a look at the
cottage," suggested Mander.

"Do you speak French?" asked his chief, coldly.

"No, sir, but I can make myself understood--"

"The question is whether he'll make himself understood. Leave him to the
Berkshire police."

Mrs. Leadale Verriner got to know of the burglary from her tenant, and at
first she was a little alarmed.

"I will tell you the truth, my dear madam. At first I said nothing
because I thought it was your friend! You are a lady; I have placed my
house at your disposition. What is more likely than that you should say:
'Very good, you shall sleep here tonight. I am sure my friend Mr. Vaux
would not object.' And would I object, madam? Most assuredly I would not!

"But when I hear of this Ringer, I say, 'Ha, ha!' I do not fear this
Ringer--I snap my fingers at him and say 'Pff!' I search the little room
and what do I discover? The map. This, I think, is strange. And then I
find a revolver--I do not tell the police about that! I think I will keep
that revolver for myself, though I am not nervous truly! But it is a
souvenir. And then I find you have been away in London, so your friend
could not have been here, and I speak to the police."

She bit her lip thoughtfully. She was growing rather peaked; there were
dark shadows under her eyes. She had been to London to negotiate a
mortgage on a house she owned in Wiltshire. And her husband was growing
suspicious--an easy process--of the real cause for her clandestine
meetings with Mr. Exsome in the artist's cottage. "You don't think he
came--while my friend was here, that he was in the house all the time?"

He shook his head and smiled.

"He would not be so ungallant," he said, so archly that she stiffened.

Exsome was growing more and more requiring. The few hundreds that were to
send the unknown owner of the letters to Australia had been succeeded by
a demand for a thousand. Her husband's present suspicion was but a
foretaste of the attitude he would adopt if the letters ever came to his
notice. She had got to the point where she could not sleep; she was
making her last desperate effort to satisfy the rapacity which Mr. Exsome
interpreted in terms more suave.

Exsome waited patiently. He knew to the minute when to put on the screw
and when to release it. Frantic letters were coming to him from his
victim telling him the progress she was making in the rather protracted
negotiations which were going on between herself and a lawyer. Early one
afternoon he received a wire:

'Meet cottage eight o'clock. Bring letters. Cash ready.'

It was a large sum he had demanded--the ultimate squeeze. Thereafter any
further demands would drive her to Scotland Yard, and Mr. Exsome knew
just where to stop.

He got the letter out of his safe, put it in his pocket, and was on the
point of going to the little club in Soho, where one can bet race by
race, when an urgent telephone call came through for him.

There are more than eighteen thousand constables in the Metropolitan
Police Force, and it would be very remarkable if there were not one or
two crooks among them. One of these had been fired out of Scotland Yard
for malpractice, but had kept in touch, through a friend, with a great
deal that was happening at police headquarters, and he was a very useful
servant to Mr. Exsome.

"It's Joe," said the voice, and when Joe spoke in a tone so urgent that
his voice was almost unrecognisable, Mr. Exsome sat up and took notice.

"Anything wrong?" he asked quickly.

"I've just had it straight," said the speaker rapidly. "Bliss has got
information against you. Somebody's raised a squeak--name of Lynn."

Mr. Exsome nodded. He remembered the Lynn case--the son of a wealthy
member of the Stock Exchange who had got himself into very serious
trouble and had, in consequence, enriched Mr. Exsome's treasury to an
incredible amount.

"Is there a warrant?" he asked.

"There will be tomorrow. You'll be under observation from tonight."

"Thank you, Joe," said Mr. Exsome gratefully.

He was prepared for such a crisis. His bank was only a few doors from the
flat in which he lived. He arrived there twenty minutes before closing
time, and drew so substantially upon his balance that the manager had to
be sent for to make delivery from the private vault.

He went back and saw his wife. She had a private account of her own and
needed no provision.

"I shall be away for a few months," he said, and she accepted his hasty
departure philosophically.

He read the telegram again. He would go by train to Windsor, taking his
bicycle, would cross Windsor Great Park, and reach the cottage in the
twilight. The bicycle would get him to Slough and the main Western
line...there was a boat leaving Plymouth for a French port that night. By
the time the warrant was issued he would be well away.

Everything worked according to plan. He rode at his leisure through the
deserted park, and came to the cottage a quarter of an hour before the
time of his appointment. There was nobody in sight on the road. He passed
through the garden gate and made a circuit of the house. Near the hedge
which separated the artist's little garden from the park somebody had
been digging. A deep trench had been cut--he was only faintly interested
in this.

He pushed at the back door--it was open. So the lady had arrived! He left
his bicycle against the wall and entered, closing the door softly behind
him. The door of the sitting-room was ajar, and a light was burning.

"Well, madam--" he began cheerfully as he entered.

"Shut the door," said the pleasant-faced man who was sitting at the other
side of the table.

* * * * *

Mr. Exsome stopped and stared.

"You don't know me?" The stranger smiled. "You'll be interested to learn
that you're one of the few people who have ever seen The Ringer without
his make-up."

"The Ringer?" croaked Exsome, and his face went green.

"Don't run--I can shoot quicker than you can move." His right hand was
caressing a Browning. "Won't you sit down?"

The blackmailer sank back into a chair. He was speechless, could only
gape at Judgment.

"You've had a fair warning, I think?" He asked the question in a
pleasant, conversational tone. "I've been on your trail for quite a long
time, but you've been so clever that it's been a little difficult to
identify you, and I've been rather busy myself lately," He smiled. "And
then I happened to be staying here. I've got one or two little
bolt-holes, you know--they're rather necessary.

"When Mrs. Verriner said she had a friend to meet I feared the worst;
but, then, I'm not a censor of morals. Curiosity and interest induced me
to stay in the house one day when you came--you never know what you may
learn of value if you listen hard enough. Of course, I am so much of a
gentleman that if it had been a vulgar love affair I shouldn't have
listened at all. But it wasn't a vulgar love affair; it was a vulgar
blackmailing affair. Did you bring the letter?"

Exsome nodded dumbly.

"Put it on the table. Throw on to the table also the money you drew from
the bank. I phoned you this afternoon and got you on the run--oh yes! I
know all about Joe; that was only natural, for I made a very thorough
inquiry about you and your connections."

He waited a little while, and then said sharply: "The letter and the
money!"

Exsome obeyed; and then he found his voice.

"Is that all you want?" he asked huskily.

The Ringer shook his head.

"I want something more. I've been looking up your cases. I don't suppose
you ever think of them--they're not nice, are they? Do you remember that
unfortunate lady who was found with her head in a gas oven? And the girl
who walked into a pond and stayed there? And that elderly clergyman who
went a little wrong in his head after you'd taken sixteen hundred pounds
out of him? Now, take only those few cases." Mr. Exsome remembered them
rather well. The memory of them was very vivid at that moment. Perhaps
for the first time he was seeing another point of view.

"That's all," said the Ringer, and rose. "Let's go outside."

The morning mail brought Mrs. Leadale Verriner two letters--one from the
lawyer regretting his inability to arrange the mortgage; the other (and
this was registered) a letter three years old, and she nearly fainted.

With it was a slip of paper which said:

'I shall not trouble you again. All the money I received from you I have
paid into your London account.'

Bewildered, yet half-swooning with joy, she pushed the letter into the
grate.

Ten minutes later her banker rang her. The money had arrived by post.

"Only your name written on a postcard was with the banknotes."

Her husband was in town. That afternoon she saw the tricolour flying and
strolled across to the cottage. The Frenchman was in his garden, a long
cheroot between his teeth, and he greeted her volubly.

"Here is your key, Monsieur Vaux," she said in her excellent French. And
then, with a smile: "You were very busy yesterday afternoon. One of my
gardeners told me he saw you digging frantically!"

She looked round the garden; there was no sign of the trench the
gamekeeper had reported, but the earth had been turned and a new oval
garden-bed had appeared amid the rank grass.

"There I shall plant forget-me-nots," said Mr. Vaux, "which shall remind
of one small service which I was able to render you, madame."

She thought he was referring to the key. He was, in point of fact,
thinking of something quite different.



VII - MISS BROWN'S 7,000 WINDFALL


Mr. Gilbert Orsan was an industrious writer: he might not, perhaps, rival
that inventor of tales who, if rumour does not lie, produces a novel a
week and a play a fortnight. And he certainly could not be credited with
the fabulous income of that restless man; for Mr. Orsan was not paid for
his contributions to journalism. He wrote letters on genealogy and the
thriftlessness of the poor, and similar cheerful subjects.

As to the thriftlessness of the poor, he might claim to be an authority.
The rents due to him were sometimes, on the aggregate, as much as a
thousand pounds in arrears. He owned a very considerable amount of house
property in the south, east, north, and west of London.

Sometimes the most unpleasant things were said about him--both as
landlord and employer. For he was also the proprietor of the Orsan
Stores, which had branches in every part of the metropolis. He invariably
wrote about these outcries against his humanity as "carefully
engineered". He referred to them as "artificial grievances", and put them
down to "the unscrupulous agitations of Communists."

Communism was a great blessing to Mr. Orsan. He ascribed all criticism to
the "growing spirit of lawlessness engendered by the pestiferous
doctrines of Moscow."

Yet, if the truth be told, there were thousands of people who hated
Moscow and Mr. Orsan with equal ferocity.

Lila Brown should have been one of these, but she was too sore at heart
to hate any but herself.

Yet Mr. Orsan had behaved very generously to her. As he said in his
god-like way, These Things Happen, and there was no sense in Making
Mountains out of Molehills. She ceased to be Mr. Organ's
housekeeper-secretary and went to live at Schofields boarding-house at
Hythe, on four pounds a week, which was little enough to keep two people,
even though one of the two lived on an exclusive diet of milk and patent
barley.

* * * * *

A quiet man went to live at Schofield's. He was of uncertain age, rather
good-looking, and his hair was greyish at the temples. He had one trick
of inviting and inspiring confidence, and another of making people talk
about things that they could never dream they would ever discuss with
their nearest friends. And he loved babies, and handled them
beautifully--he had once "walked" an Edinburgh hospital.

So, in the course of the quiet weeks when Superintendent Bliss was
seeking him in every part of England except Hythe, the engaging man
learned all about Mr. Orsan and his menage, and the little passage that
led from the garage to the study, which Mr. Orsan used when he took
friends to the house who could not go more openly without endangering his
reputation for sanctity.

And Miss Brown showed him his portrait signed "Gilly", which was both
intimate and anonymous. For she had reached the stage where she had to
tell somebody or die.

The nice man was sympathetic and understanding, and, since his mind was
on results rather than causes, he gave her no cause for embarrassment.

Mr. Orsan lived in a beautiful house overlooking Hyde Park, but on its
unfashionable frontier. His connection with his business was a very
slight one. For two hours a day he attended his head office and dictated
reproofs to the various heads of departments, watched salary lists with
the eye of an eagle, punished the petty defalcations which are the common
experience of storekeepers, told his general manager the story of how he
started life with nothing and by his industry and application to business
had amassed a fortune--and then went back to his room, the windows of
which looked across the budding green of trees, and composed the letter
or the lecture (for he was in demand as a speaker at literary societies)
which occupied his attention at the moment.

This writing-room was a lovely saloon, all gold and jade green, with a
great marble fireplace, and it was famished in Empire style. It was very
unlike the cupboards where his shop assistants slept, and bore no
comparison with the hovels in which his tenants lived and died. Mr. Orsan
was strong for gentility, and the footman who took a card to him wore
knee breeches, with the golden tassels of aiguillettes dangling from his
shoulders. Mr. Orsan read the card, fingered his greying side whiskers,
rubbed his bristling black eyebrows, and pursed his lips.

"Superintendent Bliss? Who the deuce is Superintendent Bliss? Show him
in, Thomas."

Bliss entered and instantly annoyed the great man by expressing, by his
attitude and manner, less deference and respect to him than he felt was
due from a public servant. Bliss put his hat on the floor and sat down
uninvited--an objectionable action to Mr. Orsan, who was strong for
proper behaviour.

"Well, sir," he said impatiently, "I presume you wish to see me about
that defaulting cashier of mine? I would much rather you saw my general
manager. I do not, as a rule--"

"I haven't come to discuss defaulting cashiers, Mr. Orsan," said Bliss
brusquely. "My visit is in regard to a letter you wrote which was
published in this morning's Megaphone dealing with the criminal classes
and the urgent need for extending capital punishment for felonies."

Mr. Orsan sat back in his chair, put the tips of his fingers together,
and inclined his head more graciously. That Scotland Yard should take
notice of his views on criminals was especially flattering.

"Of course, of course! I had forgotten that," he said. "I think you will
agree with me, Inspector--or Superintendent, or whatever you are--that
the only way to deal with the habitual criminal--"

"I'm not even asking you for your views on the habitual criminal," said
Bliss, who had no finesse.

Mr. Orsan hated being interrupted, and showed it. "In your reference to
criminals," Bliss went on, unconscious of the fact that he had ruffled
the magnate, "you spoke of a certain man, The Ringer. You said it was
disgraceful that the police allowed this criminal to remain at large and
that his crimes had gone unpunished."

"And I hold to that opinion," said Mr. Orsan firmly. "I suppose it has
rubbed you up the wrong way at Scotland Yard. Well I'm afraid I can't
help that. As a public man, writing on a matter of national interest, I
must speak the views which, as I feel, are generally held."

Bliss laughed.

"It is very interesting to read your views, Mr. Orsan, but we aren't very
much troubled by them. Scotland Yard is there to be kicked, and if we
weren't kicked we should think something unusual was happening. I merely
came to warn you that it is a very dangerous thing to mention this man or
to draw attention to yourself in the way you have, especially in view of
the fact that we have reason to believe he has been staying at Hythe
recently."

Mr. Orsan frowned. Hythe? It had a familiar sound. "Why at Hythe?" he
asked.

"There is a young lady at Hythe who calls herself Mrs. Tredmayne, but is,
I believe, a girl named Brown who was recently in your employ. I don't
know whether she has any grievance against you; I only know that to all
appearances she has reasonable grounds for grievance. She was once your
secretary-housekeeper--rather a pretty girl--"

"I know all about Miss Brown," snapped Orsan. "A very nice--er--young
lady who had the misfortune to...Well, I don't wish to discuss it with
you, and--"

"It is unnecessary to discuss it at all, Mr. Orsan," said Bliss in his
hard, metallic voice. "It would take more than Miss Brown to shock
Scotland Yard. The only point is that if the man who was living in the
same boarding-house at Hythe was The Ringer, then there is every reason
for you to expect trouble. I think it is very undesirable that you should
call attention to yourself and your antagonism to The Ringer."

Mr. Orsan rose and towered over the detective.

"Let me tell you, Mr. Bliss, that I am surprised to hear you offer such a
suggestion! Is it not my duty as a citizen to denounce this man--aye, and
to denounce the police for their laxity in their treatment of him?

"So far from avoiding any reference to The Ringer, I shall make it the
subject of my next letter to the Megaphone--the editor of which is a
personal friend of mine," he added significantly, as though mat statement
conveyed a terrible threat.

Bliss shrugged his shoulders and rose, picking up his hat. "Does it occur
to you that it would be a simple matter to use you as a bait to catch
this man?" he asked. "Or that it might make our task considerably easier
if we encouraged you to denounce, as you call it, The Ringer?"

That had not occurred to Mr. Orsan; it did not occur to him now. After
Thomas had shown the visitor from the premises Mr. Orsan pushed aside the
sheet on which he had been inscribing his remedies for poverty (remedies
which did not include decent housing and higher wages) and, ringing for
his secretary, gave orders that every available piece of data concerning
Henry Arthur Milton, better known as The Ringer, should be accumulated
for reference. Having done this he began a letter to the editor of the
Megaphone, which began:

'Sir,--When Pliny the Younger spoke of that "indolent but agreeable
condition of doing nothing," he surely had in view the attitude of the
police towards "the biggest rascal that ever walked on two legs" [see
Pliny's letters]--The Ringer...

He wrote with vehemence, with passion, with a tremendous sense of
importance. He called for an instant investigation of police methods, he
hinted that Scotland Yard was not sacrosanct, and introduced such Latin
tags as 'Non sibi sed patrice', to justify his own energy, and 'Quis
custodiet ipsos custodes', to explain the inaction of the police.

His letter did not create a furore: little bits of it were cut out by the
gentleman who "made up" the Megaphone in order to allow space for a
dog-racing advertisement; but it certainly attracted attention. At
Scotland Yard Bliss read the letter and grinned mirthlessly.

"It is a pity," he said, "that the old man forgot that 'Those whom the
gods destroy write letters to the newspapers'."

Inspector Mander smiled his disapproval of the flippancy. "There's a lot
in what he says," he stated.

Mr. Bliss turned cold eyes upon his incompetent assistant. "There's a lot
in what you say, and yet you're hardly worth listening to," he said
unkindly.

Two days after the epistle was published the inevitable letter came to
Mr. Orsan. It was typewritten, posted in the north-west district of
London, and began without conventional introduction.

"You're a very amusing letter-writer. Are you as good a debater? I am
thinking of giving a Christmas dinner to all your unfortunate tenants,
and I have taken the Herbert Hall for that purpose. At nine o'clock in
the evening I am prepared to appear on the platform and debate with you
the question of Capital Punishment. Show this to Bliss. Reply through the
advertisement columns of the Megaphone."

It was signed, in a flourishing hand, "Henry Arthur Milton."

"Swank," said Mr. Orsan vulgarly.

He telephoned through to Scotland Yard, and was infuriated when Bliss,
with the greatest coolness, invited him to call on him.

"I shall be at home all the afternoon," repeated Mr. Orsan.

"So shall I," was the reply. "Call at three o'clock. I may be able to
give you exactly ten minutes."

Swallowing his pride, the magnate drove down in his limousine to Scotland
Yard and suffered the indignity of being kept waiting for a quarter of an
hour before ho was admitted to the bare business-like office where
Superintendent Bliss worked.

The detective took the letter and read it through.

"Well?" he asked, when he had finished. "Are you going to take up the
challenge?"

"Take up the challenge?" Mr. Orsan stared at him. "Do you seriously
suggest that this man will come to the Herbert Hall to debate...it's
preposterous!"

"If he says he'll come to the Herbert Hall, he'll come," said Bliss.
"Exactly what will happen to you I don't know, but I should imagine
something unpleasant. You'd better put the advertisement in, and I will
do my best to keep you from harm."

Mr. Orsan was not frightened; he was merely surprised. "Do you mean to
tell me, Inspector--"

"Superintendent," murmured Bliss.

"Does it really matter what you are?" asked Mr. Orsan impatiently. "You
are a public servant, which is all that concerns me. Do you really mean
to tell me that you take this balderdash seriously?"

"I certainly do, and I advise you to do the same."

In the course of the next few days Mr. Orsan attained to the eminence of
a public figure. Another letter from him, which quoted that received from
The Ringer, was published in every newspaper in the land.

It was ascertained that the Herbert Hall, which is one of the largest in
London and is situated in South Kensington, had been engaged through an
agent for the use of an unknown patron, who had paid the rent in advance;
and that a large firm of caterers had received orders to provide
refreshments for three thousand people. They also had been paid in cash.

There was some suggestion that the proprietors of the hall should cancel
the letting, in the public interest, but Scotland Yard got busy to
prevent this. Mander interviewed the owners of the hall and the caterers
and told them to let matters stand as they were.

He himself was, at his own request, put in charge of the police
arrangements.

"I want this chance, chief, to wipe out the mistake I made over the
Lumiere case," he pleaded. "I shall make no mistake here."

Bliss was unwilling to do this, but Mander's appeal was seconded by a
high authority, for the inspector had made many useful friends, and in
the end Bliss yielded.

"It's a chance for you, Mander, but it's very nearly your last chance,"
he said. "I hate putting you in charge, and I doubt if I'd do it if I
wasn't convinced that whoever tackles The Ringer at this little Christmas
party of his will get it in the neck."

Mander smiled. "If he's a man of his word he'll have to be a magician to
get away."

"He's a man of his word, all right. Take the case, and God help you."

It was not difficult to secure guests at this party. Mr. Orsan's tenants
lived in solid blocks, in little mean streets where every house looked
like the other, in tenements which had been up to date in the 'seventies
and were no longer up to date. To every occupier came an invitation,
printed on a private press. Mr. Orsan became famous. He was pointed out
in restaurants as the man who would meet The Ringer in debate.

Superintendent Bliss had made only one suggestion to his subordinate.

"I advise you to have four doctors within reach of the platform and an
ambulance ready to rush Orsan to the hospital," he said.

"Why four?" asked Mander.

"Two for each of you," snarled Bliss, and again Mr. Mander smiled.

"If he turns up I'm a Dutchman."

"You are what you are and nothing can alter you," said Bliss bitterly.

It was on Christmas Eve that Mr. Orsan received the second letter.

"Do not fail me. If you do not turn up I shall wait for you on the
platform for ten minutes, and no longer."

But, for the moment, Mr. Orsan was not concerned about The Ringer. A new
protagonist had appeared in the field. He had received a communication
from a Mr. Arthur Agnis, and not only a communication, but a call.

Mr. Agnis, a shock-headed, bearded man, was a strenuous opponent of
capital punishment. He had, he said, argued against capital punishment
wherever the English language was spoken, and he came with the request
that if The Ringer did not turn up he might be allowed to argue in his
stead. He seemed a respectable man, was well dressed, and treated Mr.
Orsan with the greatest deference. Moreover, he arrived in his own car.

"My point is this, sir," he said. "You're being taken down to the
Herbert Hall, and it is pretty clear that The Ringer will not
appear--it's a hoax, if ever there was one. Why not let us have the
debate?"

It seemed a very good idea, especially as Mr. Orsan had his speech
already in type.

As a matter of precaution, he communicated with Scotland Yard.

"Arthur Agnis!" said Mander softly. "By gad!" He got on the telephone to
Orsan.

"By all means, let him come," he said. "Where does he live?"

"I didn't trouble to ask him," said Mr. Orsan. "He is telephoning me
tonight to get my decision. He seems a very charming and well-spoken
man."

"He would be!" said Mander, smiling to himself.

There were certain arrangements to be made. Mounted police were drafted
to control the crowd of curious onlookers that surrounded the hall;
policemen in plain clothes were called for duty by the thousand, and
orders were given that only ticket holder were to be admitted.

"Don't forget," warned Bliss on Christmas afternoon, when he met his
subordinate at the Yard, "that Henry Arthur Milton does not depend upon
wigs and beards. When he impersonates a man he is that man. His voice,
his gestures, his tricks of speech--he has the whole box of tricks."

"Trust me," said Mander.

"I'd rather not," replied Bliss, and left the man to his fate.

The ticket-holders began to queue up as early as four o'clock in the
afternoon. By seven the hall was packed, and the tables which had been
set on the floor and in the galleries were filled. A band had been
engaged to keep them occupied and amused; there was to be dancing after
the debate.

At half-past eight Mander, accompanied by four armed officers, went to
Orsan's house and was shown up into his beautiful library-sitting-room.
When they went in the urbane gentleman looked up over his glasses and
pointed to chairs.

"Sit down, please. I want to finish this letter to the Megaphone."

He wrote steadily for a quarter of an hour, then put down his pen,
blotted the paper, and, collecting the sheets together, folded them into
an envelope.

"It has occurred to me that this man might be--er--a suspicious person."

"That's already occurred to me, sir," said Mr. Mander. "You needn't worry
about him. The moment he gives his name at the door he will practically
be surrounded by police. We have left a space in front of the platform so
that he can come forward, because we want to see just what he is going to
do."

"He's not likely to do anything--rash, is he?" asked the other nervously.

"Trust me, sir," said Mander. It was a favourite expression of his--and,
happily, the man he guarded did not know the right answer.

The car was waiting at the door, and in this the five were driven to the
Herbert Hall and admitted at a private entrance. As the hands of Mr.
Orsan's watch pointed to nine its wearer walked forward on to the
platform with his bodyguard, and the audience, forgetting, in the cheer
of the blessed feast, their natural and year-long grievance against their
oppressor, cheered in the sycophantic way of tenants saluting their
landlord.

He went nervously to the platform and stood with folded hands, waiting.
There was a deathly hush; privileged reporters who had been admitted made
a brief examination of the hall, wondering whence The Ringer would come.

Then there was a stir; a bearded man strode into the beam of the
limelight, which was focused, by Mander's orders, not on the figure
standing on the stage, but upon the space where the debater would take
his position.

"As The Ringer hasn't come," he began, in a high-pitched voice, "I'd like
to take issue with you, Mr. Orsan, on the subject of capital punishment.
I've got a few notes here--"

He reached for his hip pocket. Before he could withdraw its contents a
cloud of detectives surrounded him. Before anybody in the hall realised
what was happening he was whisked away.

"I think that's all, air," smiled Mander. "I shouldn't advise you to stay
any longer; we don't want to take any unnecessary chances."

He left to the bodyguard the task of escorting the charge to safety, and
dashed off to interrogate his bearded prisoner. Mr. Agnis was livid of
face, violent of tongue.

"You pull my beard again," he screamed, "and I'll beat the head off you!
All England shall ring with this outrage!"

"It's a real beard," muttered one of the detectives to Mander, "and he's
got papers on him that prove he's what he says he is."

The inspector examined these quickly. A horrible mistake had been made.

"Why did you come here at all?" he asked.

"Because I was invited here," howled Agnis. "I was brought down from
Manchester. A gentleman gave me twenty-five pounds to come and debate the
question of capital punishment with old Orsan."

The eyes of Mander and his second-in-command met blankly.

"Anyway," said Mander after a while, "that disposes of The Ringer. I said
he'd never come, and he hasn't. Now, if anybody looks silly over this
business it's Bliss."

He went back to Scotland Yard and found Bliss waiting impatiently for
news.

"Why the hell didn't you telephone?" said the superintendent savagely
when he told the story.

He was out of Scotland Yard, flying to Mr. Orsan's house, before Mander
could think of an adequate reply.

One of the resplendent footmen admitted him.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Orsan is at home; he's been home some time."

"Where is he?"

"In his writing-room, sir."

But Orsan was not in his writing-room. He was not in his bedroom.
Eventually they found him trussed up in a small box-room at the top of
the house, gagged and handcuffed, and there he had been since three
o'clock that afternoon, when The Ringer went for him through a private
passage leading from the garage, before he made himself up at his leisure
in Mr. Orsan's own bedroom, wearing Mr. Orsan's own clothes (even Mr.
Orsan's own watch), and had appeared on the platform at the Herbert Hall.

He had not gone alone. The library safe had been forced; some seven
thousand pounds' worth of negotiable securities had been taken. How
negotiable they were Miss Brown could have told them, for a month after
the robbery she received bank-notes to their full value, with a line of
writing which ran: "A present from Horace."

Which was curious, because she knew nobody named "Horace."



VIII - THE END OF MR. BASH--THE BRUTAL


"Bash" was really clever. He stood out from all other criminals in this
respect. For the ranks of wrongdoers are made up of mental
deficients--stupid men who invent nothing but lies. They are what the
brilliant Mr. Coe calls in American "jail bugs". The English criminal,
because he does not dope, becomes a pitiable and whining creature who
demands charity, and the American criminal develops into a potential
homicide.

Bash was a constant, but not, in the eyes of the law, an habitual
criminal. He had never been charged because he had never been caught. He
was an expert safe-breaker and worked alone.

He might have been forgiven, and, indeed, admired by scientific and
disinterested students of criminology for his burglaries, for he had none
of the nasty habits of part-time burglars, which means that he was never
in the blue funk that they were. But Bash earned his name of infamy from
a practice which neither police nor public ever forgave. He was never
content to work with the knowledge that there was a watchman sleeping
peaceably on the premises he was supposed to guard.

He would first seek out the unfortunate man, and, with a short and
flexible life-preserver, beat him to insensibility. The same happened to
several unhappy servants. He spared neither man nor woman. He had
suspected of doing worse than bludgeon, but no comp complaint had been
made public.

It was Inspector Mander who suggested that Bash was a name by which one
Henry Arthur Milton might be identified. He developed his thesis with
great skill but little logic, and Mr. Bliss, on whom the interesting
theories were tried, listened with a face that betrayed none of the
emotions he felt.

"He has got the same methods as The Ringer; in many ways he has the same
identity--nobody knows him--"

"He may be Count Pujoski," suggested Bliss.

"Who is he?" asked Mander, interested.

"I don't know--nobody knows. There isn't such a person," said Bliss
calmly. "If the fact that you don't know two people proves that you know
one means anything, how much easier it is not to know three!"

Mander pondered this, having no sense of humour.

"I don't see how--" he began.

"Get on with your funny story," said Bliss.

But Mr. Mander had run short of arguments.

"I often wonder why you don't write a pantomime" (Bliss could be foully
offensive) "or a children's play! The Ringer! Good God!" All his contempt
was comprehended in that pious ejaculation.

"The only connection I see," said Bliss, "is the possible connection
between The Ringer and our bashing friend. The newspapers have got hold
of the story of what happened to Colonel Milden's parlourmaid, and that
is the sort of thing that will make The Ringer see red. If he isn't too
busy putting the world right in other directions and he gives his mind to
Mr. Bash, we shall be saved a lot of trouble."

Bliss had discovered by painful experience that The Ringer had
extraordinary sources of information; it was pretty certain that he was,
in some role or other, in the closest touch with the great underworld of
London. It was equally certain that none of the men he employed had the
least idea of his identity.

There was a reward offered for his capture, and the average criminal
would sell his own brother at a price--especially if he were certain that
no kick was coming from the associates of the man betrayed.

Who was Bash? At least a dozen men in London must know--the receivers who
fenced his stolen property, close confidants who had at some time or
other worked with him. But these would never tell. There were times when
Superintendent Bliss sighed for the good old days of the rack and the
thumb-screw. What they would not squeak to the police, however, they
might very well tell to a "sure-man".

In Penbury Road, Hampstead, was a small detached house with a tiny garden
forecourt and a narrow strip of garden behind. Here dwelt Mr. Sanford
Hickler, a man of thirty-five, athletic, sandy-haired, slightly bald. He
was both arty and crafty, and his house in Hampstead was full of arty and
crafty objects--ancient dower chests that might have dated back to the
Middle Ages and certainly came from the Midlands.

Mr. Hickler had greeny wallpaper and yellowy candlesticks, and his study
was littered with junk that he called "pieces". Some of these pieces he
had picked up in Italy, and some he had picked up in Greece; most of them
would hardly be picked up at all. And there were a few maternity homes
for the lepidoptera family hanging on the wall, which were distinguished
by the name of tapestry. Mr. Hickler's hobby was literature. He was a
graduate of a famous university, and he knew literature to be something
that was no longer manufactured. He studied literature as one studies a
dead language or the rums of Ur. It did not belong to today. With the
passing of the years his mind had broadened. He had come to the place
where the works of the late Mr. Anthony Trollope were literature.

He was sitting one evening reading the sonnets of Shakespeare when there
was a knock at the door, and his maid, who was also his cook, came in.
She had just put on the brown uniform and the coffee-coloured cap and
apron which were the visible evidence of her transition.

"A Mrs. Something or other to see you, sir. She came in a car."

Mr. Hickler put down his sonnets. "Mrs. Something or other came in a car?
What does she want?"

"I don't know, sir--she said it's about books."

"Show her into the drawing-room," he said. A great many boring people
went to see Mr. Hickler about books. He had a local reputation as a
poetaster.

"Very good."

He put a slip of paper to mark his place in the volume he had been
reading, and went up the short, narrow passage to the tiny room, more
arty and crafty than any of the others, since it was furnished with one
settle, a spinet, two Medici prints, and a rush carpet. And there he saw
a figure that was out of all harmony with the aesthetic surroundings.

The lady was big, squat, and old-fashioned; a more revolting figure he
never hoped to see. Her hair was obviously dyed; a large and fashionable
hat sat at a large and unfashionable angle over her spurious locks. Her
face was powdered a dead white, and she exhaled a perfume that made Mr.
Hickler shudder.

The modishness of her headgear was discounted somewhat by the length of
her skirt and the antiquity of her fur coat.

"No, thank you, I won't sit down," she said in a shrill voice. "You're
Mr. Hickler? Will you see this for me, please?"

He took the book she offered to him in her large, gloved hand, and saw at
a glance that it was a veritable treasure--the very rare Commentaries of
Messer Aglapino, the Venetian. Turning the leaves reverently, he peered
down at the print, for the lights in his house were so shaded that it
hardly seemed worth while to have lights at all.

"Yes, madam, this is a very rare book--probably worth three or four
hundred pounds. I envy you our possession."

He handed the book back with a courteous little bow.

"Mrs.--?"

"Mrs. Hubert Verity. You probably know our family. They are Shropshire
people. I only wish my nephew was Shropshire in spirit as well as in
birth."

She raised her black eyebrows and closed her eyes. Evidently her nephew
was not especially popular.

"Won't you sit down?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"I prefer to stand." Her high-pitched voice was very painful to the
sensitive ears of Mr. Hickler. "I don't know why I should trouble you
with my affairs; but I never could stand a miser, and Gordon is a miser.
My dear husband was thoroughly deceived by him or he would never have
left him thirty thousand pounds, which was quite as much as, if not more
than, he left me.

"I've had a lot of misfortune owing to these terrible Stock Exchange
people who tell you shares are going up when they're really going
down--and well they know it! And when I went to my nephew today to ask
him for a trifling loan--I must put The Cedars in a state of repair, with
dear Alfred coming back from South Africa in the spring--he showed me his
passbook!

"I could have laughed if I wasn't so enraged. I said to him: 'My dear
boy, do you imagine that I am a fool? Do you think I don't know you well
enough to know that you keep your money fluid, like the miser that you
are!' It was a dreadful thing to call one's own nephew, but Gordon
Stourven deserves every word. I could tell the Income Tax Commissioners a
few things about Gordon." She tossed her grotesque head and simpered
meaningly. And then she looked at the book.

"Three hundred pounds...and I want the money very badly. I suppose you
wouldn't like to buy it?"

The book was worth five hundred at least, but Mr. Hickler hesitated. His
inclination was to buy; his sense of discretion told him to temporise. "I
am not in a position now to buy the book," he said, "but if you would
give me the first offer, perhaps I could take your name and address."

She gave the name of her house in Kensington. "I shall be out of town
until next Wednesday week. I go to Paris for my dresses." She said this
importantly, and Mr. Hickler did not laugh. "I like you: you're
businesslike. If Gordon Stourven had half your straightforwardness life
would be ever so much more enjoyable. That man is so mean that he will
not have a telephone in his office. I said to him: 'My dear boy, do you
imagine I'm coming through this horrible city to Bucklersbury and
climbing to the top floor of a wretched office building just to see you?'
In fact, I offered to pay for the telephone myself..."--Mr. Hickler
listened, apparently without interest; and later accompanied the lady as
she waddled to her car. She insisted upon leaving the book behind, and
for this concession he was grateful.

He waited till the car had disappeared and then he went back to the
house, closed the door, and took the volume into his sitting-room,
turning the pages idly. Somebody had been looking through it that very
day: there was a bookmark--a credit slip from the Guaranty Trust, of that
day's date, and it showed the exchange of a draft for 180,000 dollars
into English currency.

Mr. Hickler turned the slip over and over. The book had been in the
possession of Mr. Gordon Stourven; and here was Mr. Gordon Stourven's
name scribbled in pencil on the top of the slip. A man who dabbled in
cash finance, obviously, and a wealthy man. It was all very interesting,
all very foreign to the art and the craft and the aestheticism in which
Mr. Hickler lived his normal life.

The next day business took him to the City, and he drove down in the
cheap little car that he permitted himself--the car that has its
hundred-thousand duplicates up and down the land. There were two blocks
of offices in Bucklersbury, but the first he entered was the one he
sought.

Mr. Gordon Stourven's name was painted in black on one of the many
opalescent slides that filled an indicator. He lived on the fifth floor
and his number was 979. Mr. Hickler took the elevator, toiled down the
long corridor, and after a while stopped before a door on the glass panel
of which was "Gordon Stourven", and, in smaller characters at the bottom
left-hand corner:

'The Vaal Heights Gold Mining Syndicate.

'The Leefontein Deeps.

'United American Finance Syndicate.

Since the panel also announced that this was the general office, he
turned the handle and stepped in.

An L-shaped counter formed a sort of lobby, in which he waited until his
tapping on its surface brought a bespectacled and unprepossessing young
lady.

"Mr. Stourven's out," she said promptly and hoarsely. "He's gone to lunch
with his aunt."

Mr. Hickler smiled faintly. "I had better wait and see him," he said, and
held up a little parcel. "This book is the property of the lady and I
wish to return it."

She looked at him for a long time before she decided to lift the flap of
the counter and invite him across the linoleum-covered floor to a small
inner office. She pulled a chair from the wall.

"You'd better sit down," she said jerkily. "I don't know whether I'm
doing right--I've only been at this place for two days. The young lady
before me got sacked for pinching--I mean stealing--I mean taking a
penny-halfpenny stamp. You wouldn't think anybody would be so mean, would
you? But she was--he told me himself! And he's worth thousands. I'm going
myself today."

"I'm sorry to hear that," smiled Mr. Hickler.

"I'm only staying to oblige him," explained the bespectacled girl. "He
mislaid his keys this morning and the way he went on to me about it was a
positive disgrace. Why should I pinch anything out of his old safe?"

Hickler did not encourage conversation. He very badly wished to be left
alone. Presently his desire was gratified.

There was the safe, embedded in the wall. Curious, he mused, what faith
even intelligent people have in five sides of masonry! It was an American
safe that grew unfashionable, except among the burglaring classes, twenty
years before. He examined it thoughtfully. Two holes drilled, one below
and one above the lock...even that wasn't necessary. A three-way key
adjustment would open that in a quarter of an hour.

He stepped to the door softly and looked through a glass-panelled circle
in the opaque glass. The girl was at her desk, writing laboriously, her
mouth moving up and down with every figure she wrote. He put his hand in
his hip pocket and took out his little cosh--a leather-plaited
life-preserver.

The girl could be dealt with very expeditiously; but the danger was too
great. Stourven might return at any moment. He took another and a closer
scrutiny of the safe and smiled. Then he went to the desk and examined
the memoranda and the papers. The only thing that really interested him
was the carbon sheet of a type-written letter--and a letter so badly
typewritten that he guessed it was the work of the disgruntled young lady
with spectacles. It was addressed to a Broad Street Trust Company and
bore that day's date.

'Dear Mr. Lein--I am prepared to close the deal to-morrow and will meet
you at your lawyer's as arranged. I do not agree with you that I have a
great bargain. The property must be developed--it seems to have fallen
into a pretty bad state of disrepair. In the circumstances I do not think
that 18,700 is a very attractive price. However, I never go back on my
word. I quite understand that lawyers require cash payments, and in any
circumstances my cheque wouldn't be of much use to you, tor I keep a very
small balance at the bank.'

Mr. Hickler replaced the letter carefully where he had found it. He had
not removed his gloves since he left his house. It was a peculiarity of
Mr. Hickler that he never removed his gloves except in his own home.
People thought it was because he had been nicely brought up, but that was
not the reason.

He went into the outer office, still carrying the book. "By the way, I
don't think you should have invited me into Mr. Stourven's private
office. If I were you, I shouldn't say you took me there." He smiled
benignantly at her.

Yes, he was glad he didn't have to tackle this bespectacled imbecile. She
looked like one of those thin-skulled people with whom one might easily
have an accident; and she was wiry and vital--the sort of shrimp who, if
one didn't get her at the first crack, would scream and raise hell.

On his way downstairs he stopped to inquire at the janitor's office
whether there were any offices to let and what were the services. The
janitor told him.

"By the way, what time do the cleaners start their operations?" he asked.

This was rather an important matter. The hours the office cleaners
arrived and left very often determined an operation.

They came on at midnight, explained the porter. So many of the offices
were let to stockbrokers, who in the busy season worked very late. There
were two entrances to the building; the other was an automatic lift,
which tenants could operate themselves, the general elevator going out of
action at 9 p.m.

All this Mr. Hickler learned, and more. There were two offices to let in
the basement. The porter very kindly took him down and flattered them to
their face.

"No, sir, I go off at six, but we've got a night man on duty. We have to
do that because we've a great deal of property and money in this
building. One of our tenants, Mr. Stourven, was asking me that very
question this morning. He's only been here a fortnight himself--he came
from somewhere down in Moorgate. A very nervous gentleman he is too." The
porter smiled at the recollection.

Mr. Hickler, who was paying the closest attention to the accommodation of
the offices, explained that he thought of founding a small literary
society in the City for clerks who, in the hours so crudely devoted to
the mastication of beef-steak pudding, might enrich their souls with an
acquaintance with the souffles of Keats.

The porter thought it was a very good idea. He did not know who Keats
was, but had a dim notion that he was the gentleman who had found a
method of destroying beetles and other noxious friends of the
pestologist.

The little car went back to Hampstead at a slow rate, was garaged in the
tiny shed at the end of the garden before Mr. Hickler went into his
house, stripped his gloves and gave his mind to the evening's occupation.

He was clever, very clever, because he devoted thought to his trade. He
applied to a transaction such as tonight's the same minute care, the same
thought, the same close analysis as he gave to a disputed and obscure
line of one of the earlier English poets.

Nobody knew very much about him; nobody guessed why he had called his
tiny cottage "The Plume of Feathers". Even the bronze ornament above the
knocker on his door, representing, as it did, such a feathery plume, did
not explain his eccentricity.

Yet the name of his house was one of the most careless mistakes he ever
committed, and if there had been the remotest suspicion attached to him,
if Scotland Yard had been even aware of his existence, the Plume of
Feathers would have been illuminating--for it is the name of an inn
immediately facing Dartmoor Prison, an inn towards which Mr. Hickler had
often cast wistful eyes on his way to the prison fields.

He was not Mr. Hickler then; he was just plain James Connor, doing seven
years' penal servitude for robbery with assault, to which sentence had
been added a flogging, which he never forgot.

He was prison librarian for some time; cultivated his fine taste in
belles lettres with the grey-backed volumes of the prison library. Only
two men in London knew of his connection with that dreadful period of
inaction. One of them, as Bliss rightly surmised, was the greatest of the
fences--great because he had never betrayed a client and had never been
arrested by the police.

Mr. Hickler expected a telephone call concerning the book, but it did not
come. At half-past seven he put a small suitcase and a rough, heavy
overcoat in the back of his car, and drove by way of Holloway to the
Epping Forest road. Here, in seclusion, he made a rapid change of
clothes; drove back to Whitechapel, where he garaged the car, and made
his way to Bucklersbury on foot.

The only evidence that the activity of the human hive was slackening was
discoverable in the fact that one of the two doors which closed each
entrance was already shut. He awaited his opportunity, stepped briskly
into the deserted passage, found the automatic lift, and went up to the
top floor. The corridor here was, except for one lamp, in darkness. There
was no light in any of the offices, and that was a great relief.

Mr. Stourven's outer door was, of course, locked, but only for about
three minutes. By that time Mr. Hickler was inside and had shot the bolt.
He did not attempt to put on the lights, preferring the use of his own
hand-lamp.

Both the outer office and the inner office were empty. He made a quick
examination of the cupboards, tried the windows--he was free from all
possibility of interruption.

Setting his lamp on the floor, he took the remainder of his tools from
his pocket and set to work on the safe--the easiest thing he had ever
attempted. In twenty-five minutes the key he had inserted some thirty
times gripped the wards of the lock. It went back with a snap. He turned
the brass handle and pulled open the heavy door of the safe.

He was on his knees, peering into the interior. He had scarcely time to
realise that the safe was empty except for thousands of fragments of thin
glass before he fell forward, striking his head on the edge of the safe.

Bliss had a letter. It was delivered by a district messenger, and he knew
it was from The Ringer before he opened it. It came to him at his private
residence.

You will find our friend Bash in office No. 979, Greek House,
Bucklersbury. He is, I should imagine, quite dead, so he will not be able
to tell you h6w splendid an actor I am. I went to see him at his artistic
little place in Hampstead--my most difficult feat, for I had to keep my
knees bent all the time I was talking to him in order to simulate
dumpiness. You should try that some time.

'I persuaded him to burgle a safe in my office. Inside the safe I
smashed, just before I closed the door, a large tube of the deadliest gas
known to science. I will call it X.3 and you will probably know what it
is. It was then in liquid form, but, of course, volatilised immediately
to a terrific volume.

'And the moment he opened the door he was dead, I should imagine, but you
might make sure. And you had better take a gas mask. You are too good a
man to lose.

There was no signature but a postscript. 'Or why not send Mander without
a gas mask?'



IX - THE COMPLETE VAMPIRE


There was a skid on the road out of St. Mary Church which, since it came
before no court and involved no drawing of plans for the further
bewilderment of a dazed jury, need not be described in too great detail.

It is sufficient to say that motor-car A took a hairpin turn at
thirty-five miles an hour, saw motor-car B proceeding in the opposite
direction at about the same pace, and swerved to avoid a collision, both
cars being on the wrong side of the road, but A being more on the wrong
side than B.

Dropping all alphabetical anonymity, the Hon. Mr. Bayford St. Main's car
kept its balance and suffered no harm, but the other waltzed round in its
own length, turned turtle into an over-flooded ditch, and its one
occupant would most certainly have been drowned if Bay had not had the
wit and the muscle to effect a rescue. His strength was as the strength
of ten, not because his heart was pure, but because he was terribly
exhilarated over his engagement, and even more exhilarated as a result of
a lunch he had had with his rather parsimonious father at Torquay.

"Go easy with that Napoleon brandy, my boy! That cost me a hundred and
eighty shillings a bottle--and I only got it as a special favour from a
maitre d'hotel at Monte Carlo."

"Everybody does," said Bay.

Straddling the ditch, he lifted the car sufficiently to allow the
imprisoned man to escape.

"Dreadfully sorry--I don't know whose fault it was," said Bay with great
politeness. The victim smiled weakly.

"Lots of people have predicted various ends for me," he said, "but nobody
suggested that I should die in a ditch."

He was--he announced this with rather ridiculous pomposity--Marksen, the
explorer.

"Good Lord!" said Bay, in tones of awe.

He had never heard of Marksen the explorer, but he knew exactly the tone
that the moist man expected.

"I'd better take you back to Babbacombe in my car," he began, but at this
point the gardener came on the scene. He and his mistress had witnessed
the accident from the crest of the high bank which was in the main the
real cause of the accident.

"If you'll come up to the house, sir, madam will telephone to Babbacombe
to a garage and you'll be able to dry yourself."

Mr. Marksen agreed gratefully, but the tall young man who had overturned
him insisted upon returning to the nearest point of civilisation to
obtain the necessary breakdown gang. They shook hands soberly at the foot
of the stone steps which led from the roadway to madam's invisible
demesne.

"I hate to say the trite thing, but you've saved my life--undoubtedly,"
said Mr. Marksen, whose dignity nothing could ruffle. "To think of the
perils I have endured, the dangers I have passed, and then to find myself
in a Devonshire ditch..."

"Yes, yes; deuced awkward," replied Bay hastily. He had a wholesome dread
of scenes.

"Some day I shall be able to repay you, Mr. St. Main," said Marksen.

He followed the gardener into beautifully-ordered grounds. There were
close-cropped lawns and flower beds ablaze with the joyous banners of
spring, and a red-roofed little house, just as picturesque as a modern
house can be when it is masquerading as an old house. Here was a very
stately lady of sixty who wore silk mittens, a white cap, and on the
bosom of her black alpaca dress, a large ornament which was cameo on the
one side and a hand-painted photograph on the other.

It was a beautifully furnished little house, and when Mr. Marksen had
enjoyed a hot bath and had attired himself in the brand-new suit of the
gardener (rashly purchased for the funeral of an aunt who took a turn for
the better the day the clothes were delivered), Mrs. Reville Ross (this
was the name of his hostess) conducted him from room to room, exhibiting
her treasures with immodest pride. There were certain incongruous
features which Mr. Marksen could not fail to observe. A cheap crayon
enlargement of a cheaper kind of photograph seemed out of place in the
sunny drawing-room.

"My dear husband," said Mrs. Ross proudly. "He was killed on the railway
but was insured. My daughter." She turned the big cameo to reveal the
highly coloured portrait of a pretty girl of sixteen. "You must have
heard of her." She mentioned the name of a famous American cinema star.
"English!" said Mrs. Ross in triumph. "Everybody thinks she's American.
She'd lose her job if it was known she was. Betty Ross. I've got a piece
of newspaper somewhere--American newspaper--where she says she's never
been to England. She comes over secretly every year to stay with me for a
month. She worships me, that girl. She bought this house--I got my own
servant, shooter, gardener, car--everything. Nothing's too good for me."

Mr. Marksen listened and was interested. He had been interested ever
since he had heard the old lady speak in the good old English of
Limehouse and realised that the chatelaine of the pseudo-Elizabethan
house was not all that she appeared to be.

Coincidences belong to real life rather than to fiction, and there are
three coincidences in this story--one of which does not count; the
gardener's name was Fate--Herbert Arthur Fate. Superintendent Bliss, of
Scotland Yard, might have fashioned a poem on this odd fact.

* * * * *

Nobody would suspect Mr. Bliss of poetical leanings, yet in truth he was,
if not a student, a lover of the more robust forms of poetry.

He invariably referred to Louise Makala as "the lady called Lou," and on
two occasions had spoken with her for the good of her soul. Louise was
not easily impressed, less readily scared: Superintendent Bliss certainly
did not frighten her--she regarded him as a bore, thought once that he
was on the sentimental side, and attacked him on that flank, only to,
discover that what she had thought was mush was really a rigid sense of
decency.

Lou had a flat in Grosvenor Street, a magnificent apartment, with an
impressive approach. She had a butler and a couple of footmen; a night
and a day chauffeur; a cottage in the country which bore the same
resemblance to a cottage as a hunting-box bears to a tin of sardines; a
flat in the Etoile, and a small house in Leicestershire where she kept
half a dozen hunters. She was the most beautiful creature that Bliss and
the majority of men had ever seen--to have seen her was the principal
experience of any man's day, and her occupation in life, reducible to
modern terms, was vampire. Her victims were many and they were all
immensely rich. She did not select them: they did their own selection.

"Who is that lady?" asked the Honourable George Cestein of the hotel
porter at Felles Hotel.

The hotel porter told him she was Miss Blenhardt, that her father was a
very rich Australian, and that she had, at the moment, the best suite at
the hotel. The Honourable George followed her from the hotel and picked
up the glove, handkerchief, or whatever it was she dropped, and within
twenty-four hours...

"Either you sign a cheque for twenty thousand pounds or I will scream and
send for the police." George had no more than kissed her, but why, oh
why, had he chosen his own private suite at the Margravine Hotel for this
attention?

He stared at her horrified. Her dress was torn, her hair dishevelled--but
these artistic touches were her very own handiwork. George raved but made
a quick decision. Louise's own maid put in an appearance. The open cheque
was signed and cashed, George threatening to go immediately to Scotland
Yard. She had heard such threats before, would hear them again. The
substantial fact was a roll of notes valued at 20,000.

The first time she met Bliss she had a moment of panic, but it did not
last very long. "Do you know Sir Roland Perfenn?" he asked her sternly.
And she laughed. For Sir Roland is a Privy Councillor and a great
ecclesiastical lawyer, and he was the last person in the world to bear
evidence of his very heavy loss.

"Does he say I do?" she asked coolly, and of course Bliss would have to
say "No" to that.

"It has come to my notice..." he began, and told the story of the
all-too-gallant Sir Roland.

"Produce your Sir Roland, dear my Mr. Bliss," she said. "It is a fairly
simple matter--if I remember rightly, his name is in the Telephone
Directory."

But Bliss was not in a position to accept her advice. He could, however,
talk to her like a father "So far you've only caught men who dare not
squeal and who would rather pay than look foolish. But sooner or later
you'll catch a man who looks like a gentleman and talks like one--but
isn't! And you'll go to the Old Bailey, and when the Judge asks what is
known about this woman, I shall step up on to the witness stand and say
'This lady is a notorious blackmailer,' and you'll go down for twenty
years."

She only laughed.

"When a general loses a battle he's finished," she said, "and if a
lion-tamer makes a mistake he's mauled...and, Mr. Bliss, if you pull that
one about the pitcher going often to the well, I'll scream for help!
No--if I make a mistake I'll pay. But I shan't make a mistake. Will you
have a cocktail?" Bliss smiled grimly and shook his head. She was sitting
on the arm of a big and expensively covered settee, and she drooped her
head on one side and into her fine eyes came a quizzical smile.

"Instead of warning me you ought to ask my help," she said. "I think I'm
the only person in London who could catch The Ringer for you!"

Bliss winced at this: he thought the remark a little indelicate in view
of The Ringer's more recent success.

"Mind that he does not catch you!" seemed a feeble retort in the
circumstances, but she did not gloat over the weakness of his tu quoque.

"The Ringer! Good heavens! If Scotland Yard was officered by women he
would have been caught years ago! I wish he would try me--look!"

She went to the fireplace and produced something from nowhere--she did
not trust him sufficiently to show him the tiny marble-faced door of the
wall cupboard.

"Have you a licence for that pistol?" asked Bliss professionally, and she
laughed.

"Don't be silly! Of course I have! And I can use it! I really did live in
Australia for two years--I was married to an imitation squatter. He had
delirium tremens for six months in the year and was recovering the other
six. We lived on a lonely station and I was taught gun work by a man who
had killed three policemen in the State of Nevada. If I give you The
Ringer what do I get--a medal?"

He shook his head.

"It will stand in your favour when you come in front of a Judge," he
said.

Lou was very amused.

She made her big mistake six months after this conversation. It was in
the matter of "Bay" St. Main--who was young and harum-scarum, and was, as
we know, engaged to be married to Rendlesham's youngest and richest
daughter. Let us do justice to Bay--when he was invited to a convenient
snuggery to take tea with this beautiful chance acquaintance he had no
more in his mind than the possibility of a thrilling lark. He had the
vanity of a normal young man, which meant that he was vainer than the
average woman; and that this lovely creature should so readily succumb to
the kind and admiring glances he shot at her was distinctly flattering.

Quite a number of people thought that the tall, fair-haired and
classical-featured Bay was immensely wealthy. His father was worth a
million, but his father liked to see his money stay home with him.
Bayford's allowance was absurdly small--he realised very clearly that the
chance of his father's helping him honour a cheque for fifteen thousand
pounds was a poor one.

As a matter of fact, he didn't really think at all; he was in that
condition of horror and shock which inhibits thought. He could stare,
pale-faced, at this lovely being in her self-made dishevelment, and when
he did speak his words were ludicrously inadequate.

"Why, you--nasty creature!" he squeaked. "I didn't! I just kissed you. I
think you're foul to--to make such a suggestion--I really do!"

Louise had no more regard for youthful horror than for middle-aged
vituperation. She stated her terms for the second time.

"Fifteen thousand? I haven't got fifteen thousand pence--"

And then he remembered and gasped. That morning his father-in-law-to-be
had placed to his credit exactly that sum. Bay was buying a partnership
in an underwriting business--thirty thousand was the purchase price. Pa
St. Main's half was to come on the morrow. Bay was to hold a one-third
interest of the whole. Louise had very accurate information about the
financial standing of her cases.

"Don't talk nonsense," she said. "I know your credit to a penny. You have
over sixteen thousand in the Piccadilly branch of the Western Bank."

It was now that Bay St. Main's brain began to function, and he reviewed
dismally the possible items of embarrassment. Item No. 1 was St. Main
Senior, who already leaned towards devoting his fortune to the
establishment of Sailors' Institutes--he had in his early youth served
before the mast. Item No. 2 was Lord Rendlesham, a High Churchman who
virtuously deplored the laxity of the age. Item No. 3 was Inez
Rendlesham, very lovely and austere and intolerant of vulgarity. It was
difficult to discover any expression of popular activity, from cross-word
puzzles to shingling, that did not come into that category.

And, thinking, Mr. St. Main grew paler and paler.

Eventually he signed the cheque and waited, imprisoned with the
enchantress, until the money was drawn. During that time he told her
incoherently when he thought of such women as she. Lou, who had heard
everything that could be said on the subject much more eloquently
put--Sir Ronald had once moved the Court of Arches to tears--listened and
did not listen.

She was too bored to tell him just what was her point of view. She could
have recited her formulae without thinking. Men are born robbers,
unscrupulous, remorseless, pitiless. She stood for avenging womanhood.
Men must pay sometimes. Et cetera. What she did say was: "Yours is a sad
case--you might apply to the police or you might find The Ringer and tell
him all about it. I'd love to meet him."

Which was very foolish of her.

The time came for the return of the maid and his release. He hurled at
her one tremulous malediction, but he did not invent the fiction that he
was a close personal friend of the Chief Commissioner. For this she was
frankly grateful.

Mr. Bayford St. Main went out into the busy street and walked aimlessly,
unconsciously westward. To whom should the news be broken? To his father?
He closed his eyes and shuddered at the thought. To Rendlesham? Picturing
Miss Rendlesham's comments, he had a vision of a broken icicle--irregular
and frigid lengths of speech, cold, cutting-edged.

His mind searched frantically for rich relations, for wealthy and
philanthropic friends. There was nobody in the wide world to whom he
could appeal.

"Why--Mr. St. Main, I declare!"

Bay had turned and blinked owlishly at the man who had laid an almost
affectionate hand on his arm.

"Hallo...Mr.--um--eh--Marksen, of course." Bay gripped at the murmured
reminder, though who Mr. Marksen was--"Oh, yes, the--um--I hope you
weren't fearfully ill after that car business?"

He made an instant appraisement of his companion. Mr. Marksen might be
very rich--some of these exploring johnnies are: they find buried cities
and unbury them, and dig up all sorts of gold things. Unless, of course,
they go exploring the North Pole, when they have to be supported by
public subscriptions. He looked rather like that kind in his well-worn
golf suit, his foul and massive briar pipe, his gold-rimmed spectacles,
and little yellow moustache. He had grown the last since they last met,
thought Bay. Here, however, he was wrong. Mr. Marksen had the moustache
before the accident, but had lost it in the ditch--and his spectacles.

"I could have sworn I saw you coming out of Lethley Court. I used to have
a friend who lived in that hotel, and somebody was telling me the other
day that--um--quite a notorious--um--person lived there. A lady
called...well, well, well, it is no business of mine."

Bay looked at his companion aghast. "A--a lady?" he stammered.

"More or less," said Mr. Marksen, "more or less. A friend of mine got
into serious trouble over--um--a perfectly innocent folly, and I was able
to help him; but you couldn't be interested--"

Bay was more than interested--he was enthralled. "Come round to my flat,
will you?" he asked urgently.

Mr. Marksen looked at his watch and hesitated before he said "Yes."

* * * * *

Remember always that Bliss spoke the truth when he said that The Ringer
did not merely dress, but lived the part he played.

His insatiable curiosity had brought him on to the track of the lady
called Lou. He had been standing within six feet of the entrance to the
Lethley Court Hotel when Lou and her victim had driven up, but, not being
quite sure of the method, had missed the maid when she went out to cash
the cheque. There was no question at all in his mind when, eventually,
Bay had staggered out of the hotel with a face the colour of chalk.
Curiously enough, it was only then that he recognised his rescuer.
Perhaps Bay's face was that colour after he had fished a brother motorist
from beneath an overturned car.

Bay had his apartment near Bury Street, and the man in the golf suit
strode by his side, smoking his big pipe furiously, and spoke no word
until they were alone in the sitting-room which looks out upon Ryder
Street.

"I'm going to tell you something," said Bay with a desperate effort to be
philosophical. "I've been fearfully, badly caught--naturally, you'll
think I'm a fearful cad and all that sort of thing, but I swear to you
that I hadn't any idea of anything--you know what I mean?"

Happily, Mr. Marksen knew what he meant, otherwise, from the disjointed
narrative which followed, he might have gained only the scrappiest idea
of what Mr. Bayford St. Main rightly described as his fearful
predicament.

"Fifteen thousand--humph!" said Marksen. "And the money isn't yours? Do
you mind if I say 'humph' again? I don't know what it means, but it seems
the correct thing to say. Anyway, I will get the money back."

Bay gaped at him.

"How?...when?"

"I'll ask her for it; the cheque will come to you tonight."

Mr. St. Main did not believe him.

"You need not worry about whether the cheque will be honoured or not--it
will be," said Mr. Marksen thoughtfully. "The only doubt I have in my
mind is whether she has an heroic streak. You wouldn't be able to tell me
much about that. If she has that slither of theatrical heroism in her
make-up, everything may be deucedly complicated. However...did she say
anything when you were rude to her?"

Bay tried to think.

"Yes--she said I might apply to that johnny who is always doing something
ghastly--The Ringer, that was the feller! She said she'd love to meet
him."

"Dear me," said Mr. Marksen, shocked. "Whatever will she say next?"

He ambled out without a word of farewell. Bay was not in a condition to
protest at his abrupt exit.

The lady called Lou rarely left her Grosvenor Street flat after dinner.
The theatres and the fashionable restaurants knew her not. Invariably she
dined at home, sometimes alone, sometimes with one she had marked for
treatment. The vanity of men! Seldom did a victim tell his dearest friend
of his experience. There was an occasion when she had caught in
successive weeks two close friends neither of whom was aware of the
other's misfortune.

This night she had dined alone, and had retired to her beautiful little
drawing-room to draw cheques and to examine accounts. Her overhead bill
was a heavy one. There was the flat and an apartment very occasionally
used, but which was sometimes very handy.

She was, by the ordinary tests, a strictly proper lady. Her "cases" might
call her blackmailer--they could not truthfully call her worse. She was
businesslike, cool-blooded, and a shrewd investor in real estate; never
drank, seldom smoked, and certainly never gambled. So methodical was she
that when the second footman came into the room and announced that the
Marquis de Crevitte-Soligny was waiting in the little sitting-room, she
was thrown off her balance, and consulted her engagement book with a
puzzled expression. "The Marquis de Crevitte--? Show him in, Bennett."

He might be a friend of a friend; the visit a consequence of an
enthusiastic description.

She did not know the tall, white-haired man with the trim, grey
moustache, who bowed over her hand. He was handsome, tall, soldierly, and
in the lapel of his faultless evening coat was the red rosette of an
officier.

"Madame does not remember me?" he asked in French.

She shook her head. "I ask a thousand pardons, but I do not, Monsier le
Marquis."

"Good!"

This time he spoke in English, turned slowly and, walking to the door,
locked it with great deliberation.

In an instant she was at the fireplace, the marble-faced cupboard swung
open, but before her hand could close on the butt of the
automatic--"Don't touch that. I am covering you with an ugly little
pistol that fires shot--it would not kill you, but it would make such
alterations to your face that you would be compelled to go out of
business. Turn!" She turned, empty-handed.

"Who are you?" she asked, and she saw him smile.

"I am the man you expressed a desire to meet--The Ringer!"

She stared at him incredulously. "The Ringer? That's a wig, is it?"

He nodded. "Sit down, sister brigand! You caught a young friend of mine
today for fifteen thousand pounds."

Not a muscle of her face moved. "I'm afraid you're talking about
something that I do not--understand--" she began.

He laughed softly and laid the squat pistol on the table, drew up a
chair, and sat down.

"This is going to be a longer business than I thought, Mrs, Rosier." Now
he had got beneath her guard, for he saw her wince. "I'm not blaming you
for preying on naughty-minded men. You deserve all that they lose. You
choose them with such care that I can only admire you--"

There was a knock. The Ringer moved silently to the door and as silently
turned the key.

"Come in," said Lou breathlessly. Pink spots burnt in her two
cheeks--there was a light in her eyes that stood for triumph. It was
Bennett, the footman.

"Mr. Bliss, madam."

She looked at The Ringer steadily; he was standing by the table, his hand
hiding the pistol. "Show him up," she said steadily. Before he could
speak the door was opened wider; evidently Bliss was on the landing
waiting. He glanced from the girl to the immaculate-looking foreigner.

"I can see you later, Miss Makala--it isn't very important."

"But no," protested The Ringer. "It is I who am de trop."

"You can wait where you are." Her voice was hard. She stood now close
enough to the half-closed cupboard door to reach for the gun, when Bliss
crossed between them. The Ringer shrugged his shoulders delicately. "I am
in the way, but it does not matter--this gentleman is--?"

"Inspector Bliss, of Scotland Yard!"

The Ringer inclined his head.

"An extraordinary coincidence! You shall advise me, Inspector. In
Devonshire there is an old lady who lives in a nice house--but she is
under the impression that her daughter is Miss Stella Maris, the famous
cinema star! And her daughter is no such person! Now should one leave the
poor lady in her illusion? Or should one say to her: 'No, madam--your
daughter is...whatever she is'?"

Lou's face was whiter than any of her victims had been; the hand that
came to her quivering lips shook perceptibly.

"I don't know exactly that I am concerned," said Bliss brusquely; and
then to Lou, lowering his voice: "I can get my business over in a minute,
Miss Makala. Have you ever met a man named Marksen?"

He described Mr. Marksen even as she was shaking her head. "We believe it
is The Ringer--he has been making inquiries about you, and every
description we have had is the same. Do you know any private detective of
that name?"

"No," she said.

Bliss turned to scrutinise the other occupant of the room. That gentleman
was gazing at himself in a mirror, gently smoothing his moustache.

"Who is this gentleman?" he asked.

She cleared her voice.

"The Marquis de Crevitte-Soligny," she said in a low tone. "I have known
him for years."

Bliss stayed only long enough to give her instructions as to what she
must do if Mr. Marksen called. She listened with apparent absorption.

They heard the street door close on the detective.

"Now," said The Ringer cheerfully, "I want you to draw a cheque for
fifteen thousand pounds payable to Bayford St. Main."

"And if I don't--?" she challenged.

He smiled in her face.

"I shall go and tell your mother what a naughty girl you are," he said
softly, "and that her darling daughter, so far from being a rich cinema
star, is a low little vamp--and that, I think, would hurt her more than
the death of her dear husband."

He was watching for the effect of this piece of mimicry and saw her face
go livid and the fires of hell come into her eyes.

"Don't insult my dear mother!" she breathed, And then he knew that he had
won--he had discovered where the blackmailer could be blackmailed.

* * * * *

"Lou's gone out of business," reported Bliss. "She's sold up her flats
and gone to live in Devonshire somewhere. I'll bet The Ringer scared
her!"

He had: but not in the way Mr. Bliss thought.



X - THE SWISS HEAD WAITER


There was a broad streak of altruism in the composition of Henry Arthur
Milton, whose other name was The Ringer. There was, perhaps, as big a
streak of sheer impishness. At Scotland Yard they banked on his vanity as
being the most likely cause to bring him to ruin, and they pointed out
how often he had shown his instant readiness to resent some slight to
himself. But Inspector Bliss, who had made a study of the man, could not
be prevailed upon to endorse this view.

"He chooses the jobs where his name has been used in vain because they
give him a personal interest," he said; "but the personal interest is
subsidiary."

It was never quite clear whether the Travelling Circus offended through
the careless talk of "Doc" Morane or whether there was an unknown and
more vital reason for the events at Arcy-sur-Rhone.

Now, as a rule, systematic breakers of the law are so busy with their own
affairs that they do not bother their heads about the operation, much
less speak slightingly of their own kind. But the Travelling Circus were
kings in their sphere, and were superior to the rules which govern lesser
crooks. There were three of them: Lijah Hollander, Grab Sitford, and Lee
Morane. Li was little and old, a wizened man. Grab was tall and hearty, a
bluff, white-haired man, who was, according to his own account, a farmer
from Alberta. "Doc" Morane was a tough looker, broad and unprepossessing,
ill-mannered. Whether he had ever been anything but a doctor of cards
nobody knew or cared.

The Doc was the leader of the gang and had a definite part to play.
Little Li Hollander supplied one gentle element, Grab the other; it was
the Doc who got rough at the first suggestion of a victim that the game
was not straight. Mr. Bliss had expressed the view before that The Ringer
controlled the best intelligence department in Europe; apparently he
should have included the Western Ocean. The SS Romantic was sixteen hours
from Southampton and the smoke-room was almost empty, for the hour was
midnight and wise passengers had gone early to bed, knowing that they
would be awakened at dawn by the donkey engines hoisting passengers'
baggage into the tender at Cherbourg. A few of the unwise had spent the
evening playing poker, and among these was a newspaper man who had been
to New York to study the methods of Transatlantic criminals--he was the
crime reporter of an important London newspaper. He was a loser of forty
pounds before he realised exactly what he was up against, and then he sat
out and watched. When the last flushed victim had gone to bed, he had a
few words to say to the terrifying Doc and his pained associates.

"Forty pounds, and you can give it back tonight. I don't mind paying for
my experience, but I hate paying in money."

"See here," began the Doc overpoweringly.

"I'm seeing here all right," said the imperturbable scribe: "that's been
my occupation all the evening. I saw you palm four decks and it was
cleverly done. Now do you mind doing a bit of see--here? There's a Yard
man comes on board at daybreak. I'm the crime reporter of the Megaphone,
and I can give you more trouble than a menagerie of performing fleas.
Forty hard-earned pounds--thanks."

The Doc passed the notes across and, dropping for the moment his role of
bully-in-chief, ordered the drinks.

"You've got a wrong idea about us, but we bear no malice," he said when
the drinks came. "The way you were going on I thought you might be that
Ringer guy!" he chuckled amiably. "Listen--if The Ringer worked in the
State of New York he'd have been framed years ago. He tried to put a
bluff on me once, but I called him. That's a fact--am I right, Grab?"

Grab nodded. "Surely," he said.

The report of this conversation was the only evidence Bliss had that
there was any old grudge between The Ringer and the Circus. Very
naturally he could not know of the subsequent conversation on the Col de
Midi.

"No, I never met him--we had a sort of phone talk. I was staying at the
Astoria in London," the Doc went on, his dead-looking face puckered in a
smile. "If I'd met him I don't think there would have been any doubt
about what'd have happened--eh. Grab?"

The white-haired Grab agreed. He was a living confirmation of all that
the Doc asserted, guessed, believed, or theorised.

That was about the whole of the conversation. The Circus left the boat at
Cherbourg and travelled south, for this was the season when rich
Englishmen leave their native land and go forth in search of the sun. Doc
and his friends lingered awhile in Paris, then took separate trains for
Nice. Here they stayed in different hotels, packed up a parcel of money
which had once been the exclusive property of a bloated Brazilian, missed
Monte Carlo--Monte does not countenance competition--and went, by way of
Cannes and San Remo, to Milan. Milan drew blank, but there are four easy
routes into Switzerland.

"There's a new place up the Rhone Valley full of money," said Doc. "They
threw up two new hotels last fall, and they've opened a new bob run
that's dangerous to life and limb. The Anglo-Saxon race are sleeping on
billiard tables and parking their cash in their pockets."

* * * * *

A week later...

"Mr. Pilking" came into the Hotel Ristol, stamping his boots to rid them
of the snow, for a blizzard was sweeping down the Rhone Valley and the
one street of the little village of Arcy-sur-Rhone was a white chasm
through which even the sleighs came with difficulty.

He was a big, florid man, red-faced, white-haired, and he wore a ski-ing
suit of blue water-proofed cloth. He had left his skis leaning against
the porch of the hotel, but he still carried his long ash sticks.

Mr. Pilking stopped at the desk of the concierge to collect his post, and
clumped through the wide lounge to his room. His post was not a heavy
one; the guests at the hotel knew him as a business man with large
Midland and Northern interests; not even on his holidays could he spare
himself, he often said--but his post was very light.

Arcy-sur-Rhone is not a fashionable winter resort. It lies on a shelf of
rock, a few thousand feet above the Rhone Valley, and is not sufficiently
high to ensure snow, but at an elevation which appeals to people whose
hearts are affected by higher altitudes. There is generally a big and
select party at the Ristol in January, for Arcy has qualities which not
even St. Moritz can rival. The view across the Lake of Geneva is superb,
the hotel is so comfortable that its high charges are tolerable, and it
can add to its attractions the fact that in all its history it had never
consciously harboured an undesirable in the more serious sense of the
word. The ski-ing was good, the bob run one of the best in Switzerland;
it enjoyed more than its share of snow, and the hotel notice-boards were
never disfigured with that hateful notice Patinage Fermi.

As to whether or not Mr. Sam Welks was altogether desirable, there were
several opinions. He was a stoutish man who wore plus-fours all day,
never dressed for dinner, talked loudly on all occasions, and was
oracular to an offensive degree. Mr. Pilking saw him out of the corner of
his eye as he passed. He was standing with his back to a pillar, his
waving hands glittering in the light of the electroliers--for Mr. Welks
wore diamond rings without shame.

"...Gimme London! You can say what you like about scenery and that sort
of muck, but where's a better scene than the Embankment on a spring day,
eh? You can 'ave your Parises an' Berlins an' Viennas; you can 'ave
Venice an' Rome. Take it from me, London's got 'em skinned to death, as
the Yankees say. An' New York...! Why, I've made more money in London in
a week than some of them so-called millionaires have made in a month o'
Sundays! There's more money to be made in dear old London..."

He always talked about money. The dark-haired head waiter, who spoke all
languages, used to listen and smile quietly to himself, for he knew
London as well as any man. The head waiter was new to Arcy-sur-Rhone; he
had only been a week in the place, but he knew every guest in the hotel.
He had arrived the same day as Mr. Pilking and his two friends who were
waiting for him in his ornate sitting-room.

Doc Morane looked up as Grab came clumping into the room.

"Look at Grab!" he said admiringly. "Gee! I've got to go play that
she-ing game--I was a whale at it when I was a kid. Maybe, I'll take Sam
out and give him a lesson!"

Old Li Hollander, nodding over an out-of-date visitors' list, woke up and
poured himself a glass of ice water.

"We're dining with that Sam Welks man tonight, Grab," he said. "I roped
him into a game of bowls after lunch, and he wanted to bet a hundred
dollars a game. I could have beaten him fifty, but thought I'd give him a
sweetener. That man's clever!"

The Doc was helping himself to whisky. "I like a clever guy," he said,
"but I don't like head waiters who remind me of somebody I've seen
before."

Grab looked at his leader sharply. "All head waiters look that way," he
said. "Maybe we've seen him somewhere. These birds travel from hotel to
hotel according to the season. Do you remember that guy in Seattle, Doc,
the feller you had a fight with when you were running around with Louise
Poudalski?"

The Doc made a little face. The one person in the world he never wished
to be reminded about was Louise Poudalski, and if there was a memory in
that episode which grated on him, it was the night in a little Seattle
hotel when a German floor waiter had intervened to save Louise from the
chastisement which, by the Doc's code--even his drunken code, for he was
considerably pickled on that occasion--she deserved. He often used to
wonder what had happened to Louise. He had heard about her years ago when
he was in New York--she was keeping house for a Chinaman in New Jersey,
or was it New Orleans?

"Louise," said Li reminiscently, "was one of the prettiest girls--"

"Shut up about Louise," snarled the Doc. "Are we sweetening this Welks
man tonight or are we giving him the axe?"

Grab was for sweetening; but then, in matters of strategy, Grab was
always wrong. Li thought that Sam Welks was a "oncer".

"These clever fellows always are. Let 'em win, and they stuff the money
into their wallet and tell you they know just when to stop, and that the
time to give up playing is when you are on the right side. Soak him
tonight and maybe you'll get him tomorrow. The right time to watch a
weasel is the first time."

Doc Morane agreed, and Li, dusting the cigar ash from his waistcoat and
brushing his thin locks, went down in search of the sacrifice.

Mr. Welks was talking. There seldom was a moment when he was not talking;
and Li saw, hovering in the background, the new head waiter, a tall, dark
man with a heavy black moustache.

Mr. Welks was in a truculent mood. The manager of the hotel, in the
politest possible terms and with infinite tact, had suggested that it
would be a graceful compliment to the other guests if he conformed to the
ridiculous habit of dressing for dinner.

"Swank!" Mr. Welks was saying to his small and youthful audience--the
young people of the hotel got quite a lot of amusement out of studying
Mr. Welks at first hand in preparation for giving lifelike imitations of
him after supper.

"It's what the Socialists call being class-conscious. It's the only thing
I have ever agreed with the Socialists about. I have lived in Leytonstone
for twenty-three years man and boy, and I have never dressed for dinner
expect when I have been going out to swell parties--why should I here,
when I am out on an 'oliday? It's preposterous! I pay twenty shillings in
the pound wherever I go. I am paying seventy-five francs a day for my
soot, and if I can't dress as I like I'll find another hotel. I told this
manager--I'm John Blunt. What's the idea of it? Why should I get myself
up like a blooming waiter?"

Mr. Hollander thought he saw a faint smile on the face of the head
waiter, though apparently he was not listening to the conversation.

"That's my view entirely," said Li. "If I want to dress I dress; if I
don't want to dress, I don't dress."

"Exactly," said Mr. Welks, kindling towards his supporter.

Li took him by the arm and led him to the bar.

"If there's going to be any fuss I'm with you," he said. "And that
gentleman, Mr. Pilking, a very nice man indeed, although an American" (Li
was born in Cincinatti) "he holds the same opinion."

They drank together, and Mr. Welks gratefully accepted the invitation,
extemporised on the spur of the moment, that he should dine in Mr.
Pilking's private room that night.

The Doc and Pilking strolled providentially into the bar to confirm this
arrangement, and for an hour the conversation was mainly about Mr. Welks,
his building and contractor's business, the money he made during the war,
the terrible things that happened to competitors who did not profit by
Mr. Welks's example, his distaste of all snobbery and swank, his clever
controversies with the Board of Trade, and such other subjects as were,
to Mr. Welks, of national interest.

It was after he had drifted off that a curious thing happened which was a
little disquieting. The three shared in common a sitting-room, out of
which opened on the one side Grab's bedroom and on the other side the
Doc's. Li had his bedroom a little farther removed. The Doc went up to
his room to make a few necessary preparations for the dinner and the
little game which was to follow. He pushed down the lever handle of the
sitting-room door, but it did not yield, and at that moment he heard the
sound of a chair being overturned. There should have been a light in the
sitting-room, but when he stooped to look through the keyhole there was
complete darkness.

He went along to the door of his own bedroom and tried that. This, too,
was bolted on the inside. The Doc retraced his footsteps to Pilking's
room. Here he had better luck. The door was unfastened, and he entered,
switching on the light. The door communicating between the bedroom and
the sitting-room was wide open. He went in, turned the switch, and walked
to the door, which, to his surprise, he found unbolted. He passed through
the door leading to his own bedroom, and here he had a similar
experience, the door opening readily.

There was no sign of an intruder, no evidence that anything had been
disturbed. If the chair had been overturned it had been set on its feet
again. He opened the door of the long cupboard, which might conceal an
intruder, but, save for his clothes suspended on hangers, it was empty.

Returning through the sitting-room, he went out into the corridor. As he
did so he saw a man come, apparently from the stairs, stand for a moment
as if in doubt, and then, catching sight of the Doc, turn swiftly and
disappear-not, however, before Doc Morane had recognised the dark-haired
head waiter. Very thoughtfully he returned to his apartment and made
another search. Nothing, so far as he could see, had been disturbed. He
locked the doors and opened a suitcase which stood on a small pedestal.
There must have been over a hundred packs of cards in that case, each
fastened with a rubber band and each representing half an hour's
intensive arrangement. These had no appearance of having been disturbed.
He relocked the grip and went slowly back to his companions, and at the
earliest opportunity told them what had happened.

"Somebody was in the room," he said, "and I pretty well know who that
somebody was."

Elijah was obviously worried. "Maybe that waiter is an hotel 'tec," he
said. "Up at St. Moritz the Federal people sent a couple of 'tecs into
one of the hotels and pinched the Mosser crowd."

Mr. Sam Welks did not go to his host's room that night unprepared for the
little game that was to follow. It was Li who had suggested it. "Mr.
Pilking was not particularly keen," he said. He didn't like playing for
money; one wasn't sure if the people who lost could really afford to
lose.

The talkative Sam had bridled at the suggestion-this was over cocktails
before dinner.

"Speakin' for meself," he said, "I don't worry about people losin'. If
they can't afford to lose they shouldn't play. That foreign-lookin'
waiter feller had the nerve to tell me not to play cards with strangers.
I told him to mind his own business. I never heard such cheek in my life!
If anybody can catch me, good luck to 'em! But they couldn't. I've met
some of the cleverest crooks in London, an' they've all had a cut at me."

He chuckled at the thought. "Bless your life! When a man's knocked about
in the world as I have it takes a clever feller to best him. See what I
mean? It's an instinct with me, knowin' the wrong 'uns. I remember once
when I was stayin' at Margate..."

They let him talk, but each of the three was thinking furiously. It was
Doc Morane who put their thoughts into words.

"That waiter was frisking the apartment," he said, "and that means no
good to anybody. We'll skin this rabbit and get away tomorrow if he looks
like squealing-"

"He'll not squeal," said the saintly Li, who was the psychologist of the
party. "He wouldn't admit he'd been had. The most he'll do is to ask for
a No. 2 seance, but I'm all for getting while the road's good. This is
going to be one large killing!"

The dinner in the little salon was a great success. Grab, who was
something of a gourmet, had ordered it with every care.

Under the mellowing influence of '15 Steinberger Cabinet, Mr. Welks grew
expansive. He wore his noisiest plus-fours, and, as a further gesture of
defiance against the conventions, a soft-collared shirt of purple silk.

"You've got to take me as I am," he said, "as other people have done
before. I don't put on side and I don't expect other people to. My 'ome
in Leytonstone is Liberty 'All-I don't ask people who their fathers
was-were. I could have been a knight if I'd wanted to be, but that kind
of thing doesn't appeal to me. Titles-bah!"

The time came when the dinner table was wheeled out into the corridor and
a green-covered table was brought into the centre of the room. Again Mr.
Pilking made his conventional protest. "I don't like playing for money.
Although I know you two gentlemen, I don't know Mr. Welks, and I've
always made a rule never to play with strangers."

He said this probably a hundred times a year, and it never failed to
provoke the marked victim.

"Look here, mister," said Welks hotly, "if my money's not good enough for
you, you needn't play! If it comes to that, I don't know you. Money
talks-hear mine!"

He thrust his hands into his pockets and took out a thick roll of Swiss
bills, and from a pocket cunningly placed on the inside of his
plus-fours, a thicker wad of Bank of England notes.

"The Swiss are milles-which means a thousand-an' these good old English
notes are for a hundred. Now let's see yours!"

With a perfect assumption of hesitancy, Mr. Puking produced a goodly pile
and his companions followed suit.

For the first quarter of an hour the luck went in the direction of Mr.
Welks-which was the usual method of the Travelling Circus.

Unseen by any. Doc Morane "palmed" a new pack. The substitution was made
all the easier by the fact that Welks was separating the larger from the
smaller notes which represented his inconsiderable winnings.

"Cut," said the Doc, offering the pack.

"Burn 'em," replied Mr. Welks, professionally.

* * * * *

Something went wrong with the hand. Welks should have held four queens
and the Doc four kings. These latter appeared in Doc Morane's hand all
right, and the betting began.

Li threw in his hand when the bidding reached six hundred pounds. Grab
retired at eight hundred. The Doc brought the bidding to a thousand.

"And two hundred," said Mr. Welks recklessly.

Doc Morane made a rapid calculation. This man was good for a few
thousands if he was gentled.

"I'll see you," he said, and nearly collapsed when the triumphant Mr.
Welks laid down four aces.

Li took the pack from the table, and with a lightning movement dropped it
to his lap as he slipped a new pack into its place. Li was the cleverest
of all broad-men at this trick.

"Burn 'em," said the Doc as the pack was offered to him.

This time there could be no mistake. The four knaves came to him, and he
knew by Li's nod and Grab's yawn that they each held one ace, king and
queen. Mr. Welks drew two cards-which was exactly the number he should
have drawn. The Doc knew that he now held two kings and three tens.

They bid up to eight hundred, which was more than any sane man would bet
on a "full house."

"I'll see you," growled Doc Morane.

Mr. Welks laid down a small straight flush.

"You'll have to take a cheque," said the Doc when he recovered.

"I'll take the cash you've got and a cheque for the rest," said Welks. He
was a picture of fatuous joy. "I'm a business man, old boy, but I know
something about poker, eh?"

That ended the party; they were too clever not to accept his invitation
to the bar for a celebration. The three went upstairs together and Doc
Morane locked the salon door.

"Somebody was in here before dinner, planting new decks of cards," he
said. "Did you lamp that head waiter? I'll fix that bird!"

"What are we going to do?" asked Li fretfully. "Do we get or stay?"

"We're not leaving till we get that money and more," said Grab savagely.
"What do you say, Doc?"

Doc Morane nodded. "Me an' Welks are like brothers," he said,
significantly. "We're going she-ing on the Midi slopes to-morrow morning,
and I'll hook him for tonight. You fellows stay home and fix those
cards."

A little railway carried a small and cold party to the ski-ing fields
early the next morning. Because the upper stretches of the line were
snowed under the party descended on the Col de Midi, which is a
razor-backed ridge which mounts steeply up to the precipice face of the
Midi Massif.

Mr. Welks was no mean exponent of the art, and led his companion up the
snowy slopes. And all the time he sang loudly and untunefully the vulgar
song of the moment.

The head waiter had not been in the train. Once or twice the Doc looked
round to make sure. He saw a Swiss guide signalling frantically, but
nobody seemed coming their way, and when Mr. Welks pulled up after an
hour's laborious climb they were alone.

"You're not a good skier, my friend," he said pleasantly. The Doc wiped
his perspiring forehead and growled something.

"A little farther," said Mr. Welks, and went on. The Doc noticed that he
went tenderly along the crest of a snowy cornice, but did not understand
why until he had passed and, looking back, saw that they had passed a
snowy bridge over a deep chasm. "Dangerous, eh?" Mr. Welks smiled
gleefully. "You can take off your skis."

"Why?" asked the Doc, frowning.

"Because I ask you."

The Doc took off his skis: he invariably did what he was told to when the
teller covered him with a Browning pistol. Mr. Welks lifted the skis and
threw them into the chasm.

"On the other side of this ridge is Italy," he said pleasantly. "That is
where I am going. What will happen to you I don't know. It is impossible
to walk back. Perhaps the head waiter-who is the best detective in
Switzerland-will rescue you. He was going to arrest you, anyway. By the
way, it was I who planted the cards last night."

"Who are you?" The Doc's white face was whiter yet.

Mr. Welks smiled.

"My wife had a little friend in Seattle-one Louise Poudalski. Remember
her?" Before Doc Morane could reply, The Ringer was flying down the
Italian slope, his skis raising snow like steam...



XI - THE ESCAPE OF MR. BLISS


There was an incident on the Oxford and Henley Road, which may be
recorded as a matter of interest, since it marked the introduction of
Superintendent Bliss to Silas Maginnis.

Mr. Bliss, who was (despite certain poetical tendencies) a great realist,
always believed that the name "Silas" was the imagining of story-writers.
All his life he had never met a human being who bore such a name; never
once had he written "Silas" on any charge sheet.

Naturally, he knew that Silas Maginnis had arrived in the neighbourhood.
The ruined chapel of Chapel-Stanstead, a veritable Norman relic which, to
the discredit of the county, had been allowed to fall into decay, was now
made whole, thanks to the generosity of an American philanthropist-and to
a variety of other causes.

It had stood in a swampy marsh, but when the Wollingford Brick Company
had begun operations on an adjoining property, and the Wollingford
District Council had made certain improvements to the banking of a little
river which ran through the shallow valley of Wollingford, the land
became automatically drained, and there stood high and dry the four walls
of the chapel, a couple of arches intact and eight little pillars.

Said the vicar of Wollingford: "You should see the chapel, Mr. Bliss: it
is rather beautiful, and I don't suppose that it cost more than a
thousand to restore. Mr. Mountford-he's the American who paid for the
restoration-has fixed up a caretaker who is almost as interesting as the
chapel! My curate is holding a service there next Sunday. Go along and
see the chapel-and Silas!"

But Superintendent Bliss was not a churchman. He went to Wollingford at
week-ends solely for the purpose of recreation.

He liked to spend his week-ends out of town. He had a cottage between
Oxford and Newbury and some forty-five acres of indifferent land which he
inherited from an aunt. In addition, he had the shooting rights over a
couple of hundred acres. This latter cost him no more than a gun licence,
for the owner of the shoot was a wealthy and grateful man to whom Bliss
had once rendered a very important service.

On Saturday mornings the detective could be seen, with a gun under his
arm and a lurcher at his heels, loafing along likely hedges, a pipe
between his bearded lips and an ancient and battered hat on the back of
his head. Here he touched a new life and found new interests which helped
to dispel the cobwebs with which his drab work at Scotland Yard
encumbered his brain.

Sometimes he met the vicar of Wollingford, an elderly man but a deadly
shot, and occasionally he foregathered with Mr. Selby-Grout, a
middle-aged man who had recently acquired Wollingford Hall and the
lordship of the manor. He was a taciturn man of fifty, grey-haired and
heavy-moustached, whose principal occupation in life was shooting.

Sometimes, as they sat in the pale spring sunlight discussing lunch,
Bliss would talk of his work, and if the question of Mr. X arose it was
because a foreign bank in which Mr. Selby-Grout had an interest had been
victimised.

The lord of the manor was rather scornful on the subject of restored
chapels.

"It's a pity these damned Americans haven't something better to do with
their money," he growled. "I haven't seen the church, but the other day I
saw the half-witted verger, or sexton, or whatever he is...He has Church
Cottage-the Yankee bought that, too. Silas something. Have a look at him.
He's madder than the Yankee who put him there."

A week after this Mr. Bliss met Silas Maginnis.

Mr. Mander strolled into his chief's office on the following Friday
afternoon, and he took with him an elaborately drawn map of England and a
brand new theory about The Ringer.

The day being what it was, Mr. Bliss had no desire to read maps or
examine theories; his little car was waiting in the courtyard, and, in
addition to a suitcase in which he had packed the newest book that a
subscription library could supply, the car carried a market basket in
which was packed a weekend's supply of provisions.

Being independent of trains and time-tables, he settled down with
resignation to listen.

"Fire ahead, but keep it short," he said.

Inspector Mander spread the map.

"Tor three months nothing has been heard or seen of The Ringer," he said
impressively. "My view is that he is still in England--"

"Your view is probably supported by the fact that I had a letter from him
yesterday. I seem to remember that I told you," said Bliss wearily. "I
presume that all these crosses in black ink are intended to show the
scenes of his activities, and the crosses in red ink where he is most
likely to appear next."

"They are all near a railway station-" began Mr. Mander, anxious to avert
the demolition of his "theory."

"Everything is near a railway station in England," said his superior
coldly. He glanced at the map, and was irritably amused to note that a
certain village in Oxfordshire bore an extra large red cross. "Why
Wollingford?" he asked.

Here Mr. Mander could elaborate his theory, "You have had three letters
from him recently," he said, with the deliberation of one who is
revealing a great discovery. "One was posted in the Paddington district,
one was posted at Reading, one was posted at Cheltenham. I have been
studying these postmarks very carefully, and I have compared them with a
time-table. They all coincide with the theory that this man is operating
from somewhere near Oxford."

Bliss glanced at the figures on the sheet of paper which his subordinate
placed before him. It was true that he had received three letters written
by the portable typewriter which was part of The Ringer's baggage. One
had warned him about the impending departure of a gentleman who had
swindled a very large number of shareholders, and who was packing his bag
to catch the Air Mail when Bliss descended on him; another was a
sympathetic inquiry after the health of the superintendent, who had been
knocked over in Whitehall by a motor-lorry without any serious damage;
and the third bore reference to some statement attributed to Bliss in
connection with one of The Ringer's most daring exploits-"a statement
which I am sure that a man with your peculiar sense of fairness could not
have made," said the writer politely.

And, since all the documents in the case of The Ringer went automatically
to Inspector Mander, he had seen these three letters, and, less from
their contents than their superscription, had evolved his great idea.

Bliss pushed the note back and shook his head. "Your time-table tells me
nothing except that you are most industrious when you are pursuing dud
clues," he said crushingly. But it took a lot to crush Mr. Mander.

At the moment Scotland Yard was less interested in The Ringer than in a
gang which was engaged in the forging and uttering of letters of credit
on an extensive scale. The master criminal is supposed to be a figment of
the novelist's imagination-and usually he is; but somewhere in England
was a brilliant criminal who, with the aid of a small printing press, was
literally coining money.

Complaints had flowed into Scotland Yard for eighteen months: they came
from places as far apart as Constantinople and Stockholm. Twice, the
agents of Mr. X had been caught, but the police were unable to trace the
head of the business, except that all the evidence pointed to the fact
that he operated from England and worked through a super-agent in Paris.

Bliss was thinking of Mr. X as his little car sped down the Great West
Road. There had come to him that week the faintest hint of a whisper that
one Elizabeth Hineshaft might lead him to the forger; but Elizabeth, when
she was interviewed at Holloway Prison, had shown no enthusiastic desire
to offer information. She was rather a pretty woman, and he knew no more
of her friendships than that she had many.

She ran with Bossy Clewsher, a great organiser of spieling clubs, who had
made more than a fortune out of high-class gambling hells in Mayfair and
Regent's Park, and would have made another when he opened a similar club
in the very heart of the West End if it had not been for the activities
of Bliss.

He arrested Bossy one unpleasant night and took Elizabeth in the same
net. Unfortunately for this lady, she was in possession of a small
portfolio-it was between overlay and mattress.

It is rather difficult to explain what that portfolio contained, or how
she came to possess it. One does not wish to cast reflections upon the
character of under-secretaries of State, especially middle-aged
under-secretaries who ought to have known better. She was a very
attractive girl, and even budding statesmen do incomprehensively stupid
things.

There would have been no harm in it if the papers in the portfolio were
plans of a new submarine fleet or a scheme for attacking the Russian
fleet, or such things as are usually stolen in stories.

The documents actually contained in that flat leather wallet were letters
written by the leaders of two parties dealing with a possible fusion of
party interests. Mr. Z was the intermediary and had been promised Cabinet
rank if he pulled off the deal, so that when he discovered his loss he
was not unnaturally agitated. His advertisement:

'LOST: Probably in a taxicab between Birdcage Walk and Maida Vale, a red
leather portfolio containing papers of no value to anybody but the
owner,' etc., appeared in every newspaper.

Mr. Bliss found the portfolio and unwittingly became involved in the
highest kind of politics. Lawbreakers are not severely punished for
stealing Cabinet secrets, and it is quite possible that Elizabeth might
never have had that particular piece of stealing brought up against her.
Only, with the portfolio was found a flat case containing a large number
of small phials containing a narcotic favoured by drug addicts, and, with
this evidence that she had a fairly large clientele. She was an old
offender, though young in years. There were seven distinct counts to her
indictment, and when these were supported by a record of five convictions
her sentence was inevitable. She was sent down for the term of five
years, and when somebody in the public gallery heard the Judge deliver
judgment he burst into tears.

"Find the weeper," said Bliss after this had been reported to him; but
the quest was unsuccessful.

The whisperers of the underworld hinted in their vague way that Elizabeth
was well beloved. She certainly lived in the style of one who had
unlimited sources of income; her jewels were worth thousands, and her
flat was furnished regardless of cost.

If you ask why, in these circumstances, she bothered her head to peddle
dope, there is this reply: that criminals are all a little mad. Did not
the notorious Al Finney, with twenty thousand in the bank, go down to the
shades for a cheap swindle that could not have netted him more than fifty
pounds?

Bliss was musing on these queer inconsistencies when his car drew up at a
small garage on the outskirts of Colnbrook. He invariably stopped here
for a week-end supply of petrol. The garage keeper knew him and came out
with a letter in his hand.

"It was left here an hour ago," he said.

"For me?" demanded Bliss in surprise, and then, when he saw the
typewritten envelope: "Who left this?"

The man did not know. He had found the note stuck to the door with a
glass-headed pin, such as photographers use to hang up films.

He tore open the letter. It consisted of six typewritten lines: 'Take the
Reading road. It is a long way round, but safer. I don't know exactly
what they are preparing for you, but it is something unpleasant. And I
don't want you to die.'

The Ringer! There was no doubt about that typewriting. Bliss smiled
grimly. So Mander had been more or less right. The Ringer's headquarters
were somewhere in this neighbourhood.

When his petrol tank was filled and three extra tins loaded into the back
he resumed his journey. West of Maidenhead he had two alternative routes:
he could pass through Henley; he could follow the main road to Reading,
as The Ringer advised. He chose Henley and whatever danger lay beyond.

It was quite dark now, and, clear of Henley town, he switched on his
headlights, stopped the car, and, taking an automatic from his handbag,
laid it on the seat beside him.

Wollingford lies off the main road. He came to the place where he had to
turn and slowed down. Invariably he came this way. The road was narrow
and for a mile was between high hedges. Presently his headlamps revealed
the little Norman chapel, and in its shadow the tiny cottage where the
"crazy" caretaker lived. He passed this, followed the sharp turn of the
lane, and then suddenly his foot went down on the brake.

Standing in the middle of the road, and in the glare of the headlamps,
was a figure with outstretched arms. Bliss stared at the twisted face,
the wide eyes, the foolishly-smiling mouth, and his hand dropped to his
gun. For a second he experienced a little thrill of apprehension, but the
man was unarmed.

"What do you want?" he demanded, and stepped down from the car.

The stupid face contorted into a leering smile. "He told me to stop you,
master...the big man on the bicycle. He took me from my cottage and said,
'Stand there and stop him.'"

His voice was uncannily shrill, and when he chuckled Bliss felt a cold
shiver run down his spine.

"He came on a bicycle...it made noises like a devil...bing-bang! And he
said, 'Stay there-I cannot cut the wire!'"

"The wire?"

The strange figure turned, and, pointing into the darkness, chuckled
again.

Bliss found an electric torch and walked down the road. He had not far to
go. A stout wire had been fastened across the road a few feet from the
ground. It was just high enough to miss the little windscreen and catch
the driver.

When he walked back to the car the mad-looking caretaker had vanished.
Getting into the car, he backed it until he came to the caretaker's
cottage, and, getting down, he knocked at the door. There was no answer.
Bliss was puzzled and more than a little perturbed.

He drove on to where the wire was stretched, stopped long enough to cut
it and throw the loose end over the hedge, and reached his own cottage a
very thoughtful man.

He locked all the doors carefully before he retired and slept till late
the following morning. Almost the first person he saw after breakfast was
Mr. Selby-Grout. He was leaning over the cottage gate, a big pipe between
his strong teeth, his gun resting against the gate.

"Hullo!" he boomed. "What about Henfield Wood?"

It was only then that Bliss remembered that he had accepted an invitation
to shoot over the man's land.

On the way across the fields he related what had happened the previous
night, and Mr. Selby-Grout listened with a frown.

"I should think the crazy brute put the wire there himself," he said. "I
saw him this morning snooping round my house-in fact, he was in my
library when I came down. How on earth he got there I don't know. He said
he'd made a mistake and came through the wrong door. He often comes up to
the house to beg food from the servants. By gad, there he is!"

Bliss turned his head and looked. They were nearing the plantation which
was known as Henfield Wood, and he caught a glimpse of a figure
disappearing behind a belt of bush.

"There he goes!" A man was running across the open towards a cut road
which formed a boundary to the property. Bliss saw him leap a low hedge
and disappear, apparently into the earth.

"I'd like to take a shot at the devil!" growled the owner of the land.

It was some time before he recovered his equanimity. They walked a little
way into the wood, and then both men loaded.

"I'll bet he's frightened away every feather of game," said Mr.
Selby-Grout; and then, most unexpectedly: "Did you ever hear of a woman
called Elizabeth Hineshaft?"

"Yes-I see you've been reading the newspapers," smiled Bliss. "I got her
a term of penal servitude this week."

"Oh, you did, did you?"

Click!

It was the sound of a gun-hammer falling, but Bliss did not look round.

Click!

"What's wrong?"

Selby-Grout was staring at the gun in his hand. His face was white and
streaming with perspiration; the hand that held the gun was shaking.

"I don't know...that fellow rattled me," he said hoarsely.

He was trembling from head to foot.

"For God's sake, what is wrong with you?"

The man shook his head. "Let's go back."

They walked for a long time in complete silence.

"I'd give a lot of money to know if he is working with The Ringer," said
Bliss, speaking his thoughts aloud.

The gun dropped from the nerveless hand of his companion. For a second he
swayed as though he were about to fall, and Bliss gripped him by the arm.

"The Ringer!" His breath came in gasps, "...my library--he was
there--cheque-book on my table--!"

At eleven-thirty that morning a handsome-looking limousine drew up
before the Leadenhall Street branch of the Western Counties Bank, and a
man in the livery of a chauffeur interviewed the manager. He had a letter
bearing the note-heading of Wollingford Hall.

The letter was written in Mr. Selby-Grout's characteristic handwriting.
He needed thirty-three thousand pounds in cash. It was not unusual that
Mr. Selby-Grout should make large withdrawals. The cheque which
accompanied the letter was duly honoured.

The manager of the Western Counties afterwards remarked to his assistant
that Mr. Selby-Grout's account was hardly worth keeping. No sooner did
big sums come in than they were withdrawn. Subsequently he repeated this
to Superintendent Bliss, and showed him some significant figures, but
this was after Bliss returned to Scotland Yard and found a long
typewritten letter awaiting him.

'MY DEAR BLISS, You are under a great obligation to me-twice have I saved
your life! Honestly, I did think that your Mr. X was waiting to shoot you
on the Henley road. You see, I know all about his romantic love affair
with Elizabeth.

'I only discovered the wire too late to remove it. I guessed that he was
staging a shooting accident; for a week he has been rehearsing that
accidental shooting-holding his gun first one way and then another.

'Eventually I think he decided to shoot you while the gun was under his
arm. He became quite an adept at this method, and you will find certain
trees in the wood simply peppered with shot.

'So sure was I that I took a haversack full of dud cartridges with me
this [Saturday] morning to his library-he keeps his guns and cartridges
in that noble apartment-and made an exchange. Otherwise you would be
dead.

'I also borrowed a blank cheque-the note-paper I have had for a week.

'Yes, I was the American who restored the chapel-by letter. I appointed
myself caretaker. I had to live in the neighbourhood without exciting
suspicion. I have been after Mr. X-whose real name is Whotby-for the
greater part of a year. You will find his printing press in his
dressing-room.

'Why do I betray my fellow criminal? Does dog eat dog, you ask? Alas! he
does! It is for your dear sake that I give him away-your life is too
precious to risk. Think well of me, your benefactor.

'P.S.-I should not have saved Mander.'

Mr. Bliss was not as flattered by these gracious references to his life
as he might have been. On the other hand, he agreed about Mander.



XII - THE MAN WITH THE BEARD


The trouble with Mr. Bliss, from the point of view of the Yard, was that
he tried to do too much himself. He had, moreover, a furtive and secret
method of working, consulted nobody, and seldom informed even his
immediate superior that he was taking on some especial task until the
moment was ripe for an arrest.

An example of his methods was the case of the brothers Steinford. London
had become flooded with forged ten-shilling notes-ten-shilling notes
being much easier to pass than the pound variety. He took the case
himself, and immediately it vanished as a subject of discussion; when the
conferences were called and the forged bills came up for examination.
Bliss would content himself with saying: "Oh, yes, I'm seeing to that."
No further comment was made.

He took a journey or two into the Midlands, went down into Wales, to
interview a man serving a sentence, and, with his assistance, found a
gentleman named Poggy, who kept a baked potato-can and lived in East
Greenwich.

But the solution of the mystery was never revealed. Nobody was arrested,
and when the forgery was mentioned in Mr. Mander's private office he
would look at his sycophantic sergeant, and they would raise their
eyebrows together and smile. All of which indicated a deep disparagement
of Mr. Bliss and his methods.

In the Rowley murder case it was the same. Bliss didn't bother to look
for the tall, dark man who had been seen in the neighbourhood of Mr.
Rowley's house, but scoured London to find an old carpet slipper, the
fellow of that which had been left behind in the kitchen of Mr. Rowley's
house on the night of the murder.

In this case, of course, he was successful; but, as Mr. Mander often
said, it is the exception which proves the rule.

There appeared in the pages of a popular weekly periodical an article
entitled: "Can The Ringer Be Caught?" Its author was described as "the
greatest living authority upon this super-criminal." His name was
modestly withheld. It described certain exploits of Henry Arthur Milton,
and dealt with the failure of those who were responsible for his capture.
One passage ran:

'There is no doubt that those engaged in the search are either stale or
inefficient. Contemporaneously with his activities, a strange inertia
seems to have settled on the officers in charge of the various cases.'

Now, every man has his favourite word, and, the less literate he is, the
more frequently it is employed. Mr. Bliss, who had read many reports
written by the officer, knew that "contemporaneously" was a great pet
with Inspector Mander. If he had a second fancy it was for "inertia", and
these words occurred many times in the article.

He rang the bell, and the messenger came. "Ask Mr. Mander to see me,
please," he said.

Inspector Mander arrived cheerfully, but at the sight of the periodical
spread out on the superintendent's desk he changed colour.

"Have you read this article, Mander?"

Mr. Mander cleared his throat.

"No," he said boldly.

"An interesting one-you should take it home and study it," said the icy
voice of Superintendent Bliss. "It is full of queer English, and is
obviously written by a man who, in addition to being a fool and disloyal
to his superiors, is also extremely illiterate."

Bliss did not look up, yet a furtive glance told him that Mr. Mander's
face had gone a deep red.

"He says, amongst other things," Bliss went on, "that-well, I'll read it:
The Ringer is not so clever as people think he is. By a series of lucky
chances, he has escaped detection; but, sooner or later, the one man at
Scotland Yard whose name perhaps is less known to the public than the
officer who is associated with The Ringer and his nefarious acts will
bring him to justice.

"I gather from this rather involved sentence that there is a
super-intelligence at Scotland Yard. Do you happen to know whose it is?"

"No," said Mander loudly.

Bliss folded the paper, picked it up, as though it were some noxious and
evil-smelling thing, with the tips of his finger and thumb, and dropped
it carefully into the wastepaper basket.

"It isn't the paper," he explained, "it's the article that makes me sick.
I can only say that whoever wrote that article is a very bold man. It is
a challenge to The Ringer, and I have never known him to ignore a
challenge. I shall be interested to see if the writer is still alive at
the end of next week because it contains some very rude references both
to The Ringer's courage and his genius."

There was a silence, which, with an effort, Mr. Mander broke.

"Who do you think wrote it?" he asked, a little huskily.

Bliss shook his head. "Obviously an hysterical woman," he said icily,
fished the periodical from the wastepaper basket, and handed it to his
subordinate. "Read it-it will give you a laugh."

There were, apparently, people who agreed with the writer of the article.
Mr. Mander lived in Maida Vale, and it was his practice to travel home by
Tube. Police-Constable Olivan, who stepped into the Tube compartment with
him one night, was among the number. He grinned, touched his helmet, and,
with an apology, sat down by the side of the inspector.

Mr. Mander was not averse from being saluted by policemen: he was one of
those men who believe that detective-inspectors should carry a gold badge
or something equally distinguishing, so that common individuals should
not rub elbows with him without realising the honour his presence gave
them.

"Do you mind if I smoke, sir?"

Police-Constable Olivan was obviously going off duty; he carried a rolled
waterproof cape between his knees, and he took the liberty, after
consulting the inspector, to light a clay pipe.

"Oh, yes, sir, I recognised you; I've seen you in several big cases," he
said, a smile on his rubicund face. "It's a funny thing-I was only
talking to our sergeant this morning about you, sir, if I might be so
bold."

Mr. Mander inclined his head graciously to indicate that Police-Constable
Olivan could be as bold as he liked, so long as the talk was
complimentary.

"I read a bit in the paper-I forget the name of it-about this Ringer, and
I said to my sergeant: 'I bet the gentleman that feller means is Mr.
Mander.'"

"I haven't read the article, constable," said Mr. Mander.

"You ought to, sir," said the other earnestly. "It's the talk of our
division. Do you know what I think, sir, if I might say so without being
disrespectful to my superiors? I think a flat-footed policeman could
catch that Ringer better than some of the people that's taken an 'and in
it."

"I wouldn't say that," demurred Mr. Mander.

The constable nodded. "Naturally you wouldn't, sir; I understand the
police service very well. I've been twenty-three years a constable. They
offered to make me a sergeant when I'd done seven years' street-duty, but
I wouldn't look at it.

"I haven't got the education," he added explanatorily, "and I can't be
bothered to go to school with a parcel of young policemen."

"So you think that you could catch The Ringer, eh?" Mander looked at the
police officer with an amused smile.

"Good Lord, no, sir!" the man hastened to excuse himself. "All I say is
that if I was assistant to a gentleman like you-somebody that gave me
confidence-we'd run him to earth in a week-if you'll excuse my saying
'we'."

He took out his pipe, looked round the compartment as though to be sure
that there was nobody near enough to hear him, and bending towards Mr.
Mander, said in a low, confidential voice: "I don't mind telling you,
sir, there's a man keeping a money-lender's business near where I live
who might be The Ringer. He's only been in the place about two months;
he's seldom at home, and when he does come home it's always at night."

"What does he look like?" asked Mander, interested.

"He's got a little beard, rather like Mr. Bliss, sir. I don't even know
whether he's a money-lender. I know he's got the premises that old
Isaacstein used to have: but there it is!"

Constable Olivan grew confidential about himself. He had been married
seventeen years, and nobody had a better wife, unless, he added hastily,
Mr. Mander was married. Mr. Mander denied that happy state.

It was easy to see that Police-Constable Olivan was tremendously
interested in the high politics of the police force. Mander glowed under
the enthusiastic admiration of his subordinate.

"If I'd had any sense," said the policeman, "I'd have gone into the
C.I.D. years ago. It's too late now. It fairly makes me writhe when I see
fellows getting away with it as they are every day. Look at those
ten-shilling forgers: nothing's been done about it! In our division they
say that there's going to be a lot of changes at Scotland Yard, and, with
all due respect, sir, I think it's about time."

Mr. Mander thought so too. "Where is this house where the mysterious
Ringer lives?" he asked flippantly.

The constable drew a little plan on the palm of his hand.

"I'll ride on with you and take a look at the place," said Mr. Mander,
and Olivan nearly dissolved with gratification.

"If any of my mates saw me with you, sir," he said humorously as they
left the station, "it'd be a rare feather in my cap! But only two of our
division live round here. It's hard to find a house..."

As they trudged through the dark streets he enlarged upon every
policeman's grievance, which is mainly confined to the question of pay
and allowances.

They came at last to a narrow crescent, where houses stood shoulder to
shoulder. They must have been built in the 'sixties, and they bore the
unmistakable stamp of the 'sixty architects' atrocious minds. Flights of
stone stairs led up to the front doors; there was a little narrow
basement, protected by railings; and above the level reached by the stone
stairs was another floor.

"That's my house." The police-constable pointed. "When I say it's my
house, I mean I've got three rooms there." He thought a moment and added
a kitchenette; he was evidently not a fast thinker. "If you'll come
along, sir, I'll show you the other place."

Half-way along the crescent the houses were divided by a narrow lane,
about wide enough to take the wheels of a cart.

"That's the house." He pointed to the corner premises. "And this is what
always strikes me."

He led the way down the passage. On the right was a wall the height of a
tall man's chin, and over this Mander commanded an uninterrupted view of
a back garden. At the end of the garden was a solid-looking building
which, Olivan explained, comprised the premises of a firm of electrical
instrument makers, the entrance being in the street running parallel to
the crescent.

Except for one window set upon an upper floor, the back of the premises
which showed on to the garden of the mysterious stranger was black.

"See that window?" said Olivan impressively. "I'll tell you something
about that, sir. I came home rather late one night, suffering from
insomnia or indigestion, as the case may be, and I had a walk round and a
smoke. I come along this very passage, and what do you think I saw? A
ladder up to that window! That's funny, I thought. I didn't know that
this fellow had moved into the house then. I continued my stroll, and
when I come back the ladder wasn't there!"

He said this dramatically. Mr. Mander scratched his chin.

"Electrical instrument makers, eh?" he said thoughtfully. "I'd like to
have a little private investigation here, constable. What time are you
off duty tomorrow night?"

"Seven o'clock, sir. It's about eight by the time I get home."

"Could you meet me at the end of this street at half-past eight?"
suggested Mander. "I don't want you to be in uniform--you understand?"

"Quite, sir," said the constable gravely. "You want the whole thing to be
private."

"And I don't want you to mention the fact to any of your friends, your
sergeant, or your inspector. In fact, this is a private matter between
ourselves. If I pull off anything, you may be sure you won't be the
loser."

"Very good, sir."

Constable Olivan saluted. He insisted upon walking with Mander back to
the end of the street.

"There's a lot of bad characters around here, sir, and, although I know
you're quite capable of looking after yourself, I shouldn't like anything
unpleasant to happen in our neighbourhood." Which was very thoughtful of
him.

When Mander got to the office next morning he found Bliss had already
arrived and had twice sent for him. With a little sinking of heart, his
mind instantly flew to his ill-timed literary effort; but Superintendent
Bliss had evidently forgotten all about that unhappy lapse.

"The Ringer is in London," he said. "I had a phone message from a
call-box this morning, and, although I was able to locate the box in the
Kingsland Road, I haven't been able to track the gentleman. I want to
warn you."

Mr. Mander was startled.

"Warn me, sir? Why?"

"Because I have an idea that you are immediately concerned," said Bliss
grimly. "If you feel you'd like to go after this gentleman, you're at
perfect liberty to do so. I have a couple of cases which will occupy all
my tune and probably take me out of town a good deal."

Mr. Mander smiled. "I don't know that there's much to go on," he said. "A
telephone message from the north of London doesn't give us a great deal
of assistance."

Bliss looked up at the ceiling. "I seem to remember reading an article in
which the writer said that the big mistake they were making at Scotland
Yard was in waiting for definite clues. I also seem to remember that
there was some talk of anticipating The Ringer's movements and working
out a theory as to what be would do next."

Mander coughed. "Yes, I read the article," he said awkwardly. "Nonsense,
I call it."

"Damned nonsense, I should call it," said Bliss; and for a moment his
subordinate hated him, for he loved that little article, the composition
of which had occupied so much of his time.

He considered the matter all the morning. The telephone message had come
from North London, and that fitted with Constable Olivan's theory. He
might be wildly guessing; at the same time, luck runs in curious grooves,
and who knew if that stolid man might not be the instrument for bringing
Mander's name prominently before the world as the single-handed captor of
The Ringer?

It was an old trick of The Ringer's, too, to call up Scotland Yard.

When Mander met his new assistant that night he had half formulated a
working theory.

Constable Olivan in mufti was less imposing than Constable Olivan in
uniform. He wore a purplish suit, a silver watch-guard decorated with
athletic medals, and on his feet a pair of white gymnasium shoes. "He's
in the 'ouse, sir." Olivan was in a state of excitement. "He come up in a
taxicab and let himself in with a key. I'll tell you something, sir: I've
been making a few inquiries in the neighbourhood, and that house is
practically unfurnished.

"He's got one little bedroom where he sleeps, and all the other rooms are
empty. They took old Isaacstein's money-lending sign away yesterday, so
he's not in that business. Isaacstein was the fellow who was pinched for
receiving about; two months ago."

They made their way to the passage and took up a position near the wall.
After an hour their vigilance was rewarded. There came the click of a
door opening, and presently Mr. Mander espied a dark figure stealing
through the garden towards the building at the end. He waited some time,
then heard a thud, like the sound of a door closing.

Ten minutes passed, and then Mander, with the assistance of the
constable, climbed over the wall and went stealthily in the direction of
the building.

There was nobody in sight. The man, whoever he was, had vanished, and
after a little search Mander discovered where he had gone. Near the wall
of the instrument maker's little factory was a wooden trap-door, and when
Mander tried this he found it was unbolted. He peered down into the
darkness, but could see and could certainly hear nothing. Replacing the
trap, he returned to his companion.

"He may be just an ordinary burglar," he said. "I want to make sure
before reporting."

He gave Olivan his private address and telephone number, and the
constable volunteered to keep watch until two o'clock in the morning,
after which, "nature being what it is," as he reluctantly confessed, he
could not maintain the surveillance.

It was a little after eleven when Mr. Mander reached his home, and he had
hardly entered the hall of the respectable boarding-house where he had
his residence when the telephone bell rang.

"For you, Mr. Mander," said the landlady, bustling out from the
sitting-room which she called an office.

Mander went in. It was Olivan's excited voice.

"Excuse me, sir. He come out of the house and I trailed him. He went to
one of the public telephones in the street and I heard him call Victoria
7000--isn't that Scotland Yard?"

"Yes, yes," said Mander impatiently. "Did you hear what he said?"

"No, sir. He shut the door after he gave the number."

Mander thought quickly. "Ring me up in ten minutes' time. I'm going to
get on to the Yard."

In a few minutes he was connected with his own office, and after a little
delay found somebody who could give him information.

"Yes, there's been a message through from The Ringer tonight. I don't
know how genuine it was. I wrote it out and, as a matter of fact, I was
just going to call you up to give it to you. I'll get it now."

"What was it about?" asked Mander impatiently. "Anyway, it doesn't
matter, so long as you're sure it was from The Ringer. Do you know where
the call came from?"

The officer in charge had taken the precaution of locating the message.
It must have been the very box from which the spying Olivan had seen the
man telephone.

In ten minutes Constable Olivan came through.

"Wait for me," said Mander. "I'll pick you up near the wall. And listen,
Olivan; don't mention this to a soul--not to anybody in the division, or
to any police officer you meet or may know..."

"Trust me, sir," said Olivan's reproachful voice.

The taxicab that carried Inspector Mander of Scotland Yard to the
rendezvous did not move fast enough for him. He jumped out, paying the
driver at the corner of the street and, hurrying along, met Olivan.

"I thought I told you--" he began.

"Excuse me, sir," said the police officer, "in a case like this I've got
to do me own thinking. I thought I'd have to have a consultation with
you, and what's the good of doing it just outside his garden, where he
might be hearing every word?"

The intelligence of this reply was rather staggering.

"Yes, of course." Mander seldom admitted that he was wrong, but he did so
now. "Well, where is he?"

"In the factory, sir. He's made two journeys, and the last time, sir, I
saw him take a gun out of his pocket and look at it before he put it
back. It was an automatic, I'm sure, because I heard the jacket come
back."

Now to do Mr. Mander every justice, he was not deficient in courage, and
the fact that he might confront an armed Ringer did not in any way deter
him, the more especially as he had also brought an automatic from his
house in preparation for any such emergency, and he was a fairly good
shot.

He gave his instructions in a low voice as they walked rapidly towards
the passage. "I'll go into the factory and you keep guard in the garden.
You haven't got your police whistle?"

"Yes, I have sir," said Olivan proudly. "I brought that with me in
case--"

"You're an extremely intelligent man, constable," said Mander graciously.
"If you hear me shout blow your whistle--not before, you understand? When
I've got him I don't mind who helps to put him inside. If there's any
credit going for this job I want it myself."

"I think we ought to have it, too," said the constable. If Mr. Mander
noticed the "we", he did not contest the claims of his humble friend to
recognition.

There was no sound in the garden when Mr. Mander was assisted over the
wall. He went straight to the trap-door, opened it, and flashed down the
light of an electric lamp. There was a flight of stone steps, and down
this he went, extinguishing the lamp before he moved into the vault-like
passage which apparently ran under the factory.

He heard a queer sound: a distant whirr, a thud. Along he crept and
turned into another passage which ran at right angles, not daring to use
his lamp. And then, stretching out his hand to feel his way, he touched a
human shoulder. Instantly he grappled with the unknown. The rough hair of
a beard brushed his face as he gripped the intruder's throat.

"Go quietly," he shouted. "I've got you, and the house is surrounded by
police!"

He heard the sound of running feet and then silence. "I want you--"

Something hard and violent caught him under the jaw and he staggered
back.

"I've got you covered; don't move!"

As he spoke he flashed the lamp upon the bearded man.

It was a very dishevelled Inspector Bliss.

Next morning there was a discussion at the Yard. "Naturally, the
constable did not blow his whistle when he heard you shout," said
Inspector Bliss with exaggerated politeness, "because the constable was
Henry Arthur Milton, who had been playing you for the sucker that you
are!

"Could you not choose some other time to make your dramatic appearance
than the moment when I had located the printing works of the biggest gang
of forgers that has ever operated in London? Happily, I had phoned
through to Scotland Yard for my reserves, and the most important of the
gang were caught.

"Why do you imagine I spend my nights in an empty house if I hadn't some
reason for it? It took me three months to locate that factory. It took
you three minutes nearly to bust up three months' work! However, I'm
bearing you no malice. The Ringer caught you, and that is my complete
satisfaction."

As Mr. Mander walked towards the door Bliss called him back.

"You ought to write an article about this adventure of yours," he said
offensively.



XIII - THE ACCIDENTAL SNAPSHOT


People have the most unlikely hobbies. Mrs. Gardling occupied her moments
of leisure with photography. She had a small studio at the back of her
house in Hampstead: it was one partitioned half of a garage that had been
built to house four cars. Mrs. Gardling had only one car, though she
could have afforded more.

Her favourite subjects were flowers, and she was dealing with some
perfect Easter lilies in an exquisite Venetian vase that night when The
Ringer, who was fleeing for his life, broke into her garage in his search
for petrol.

He came out of complete darkness through the partition door into the
blinding light of photographic lamps just as Mrs. Gardling was making an
exposure. She saw him for a second before his hand closed over the switch
and turned out the lights. But she saw him, as few people had ever done,
without disguise.

As the lights went off he heard a drawer being pulled out and something
hard scrape along the wood.

"Don't move or I'll shoot!" she said, and heard him laugh and the door
slam behind him.

By the time the police came he had vanished. They told her they were
pursuing a motor-car thief, but they did not tell her who that thief was
because they were chary of talking about him and the newspapers getting
to know that they had so nearly caught the man they were seeking.

So Mrs. Gardling cherished that photographic negative of Easter lilies
rather as a curiosity than from its intrinsic value. Henry Arthur Milton,
for his part, was quite unaware that this deadly thing was in the
possession of a lady against whom he found it necessary at a later period
to operate.

The Ringer was in Berlin, a favourite haunt of his. Superintendent Bliss
had a letter from him bearing a Charlottenburg postmark. The letter
began, as usual, without formality:

'There is a lady with a club in Hogarth Street, Soho, on whom it might
be worth your while to keep an eye. I thought of dealing with her myself
because her baseness [doesn't that word look queer?] had not brought her
within the purview of the law. I think she might be very gently "moved
on."

'She dispenses drink in prohibited hours--a mild offence, but sufficient
to put a check to her other activities. [Name: Mrs. Erita Gardling (born
Demage). Address: The Bed Monk Club, Hogarth Street. Previous conviction
at Manchester, March 7, 1921, conspiracy to defraud. Six months second
division.]

Henry Arthur Milton was an exasperating man, and nothing distressed Mr.
Bliss as this habit of putting the police under an obligation to him. He
knew, before the wire he addressed to the Manchester police was answered,
that The Ringer's data were exact.

The matter was handed to the divisional police, a raid was staged, and in
due course Mrs. Gardling appeared before a police magistrate and was sent
to prison with hard labour for three months.

Ordinarily this would have been a harsh sentence for selling liquor after
hours, but the police found many things which were not described or even
hinted at in The Ringer's letter. The amenities of the club were
apparently much more extensive than desirable.

Who it was that had betrayed the fact that the raid was made at the
instigation of the notorious criminal, Bliss found it difficult to
discover. He was a stickler for official secrecy, and it is no
exaggeration to say that when Mrs. Gardling turned round as she was
leaving the dock and said, in a voice vehement with fury: "You can tell
your friend The Ringer that he'll be sorry he ever interfered with me,"
Bliss was furious.

The divisional inspector denied that he had revealed the part The Ringer
had played; the other detectives in the raid were equally emphatic,
though it was one of these who had light-heartedly taunted Mrs. Gardling
with the name of the informant.

Mrs. Gardling was a rich woman who had afforded to marry her daughter
into respectable society. How madam obtained her wealth was no mystery.
She ran profitable side-lines to the club business, and many a cheque for
a large amount had gone into her bank as the price of her silence about
certain disreputable happenings to which she was privy.

When she was waiting to be removed to Holloway she saw the detective who
had given her the identity of the informer, and he was rather agitated
because his chief had had an unpleasant interview with Bliss and had
passed the kick down.

"For the Lord's sake, Mrs. Gardling, don't mention the fact to anybody
that it was I who told you The Ringer squeaked on you."

She, who should have been wilting in shame, was boiling with anger.

"I'd like to know that fellow!" she said, incoherent in her justifiable
annoyance. "I'd spend ten thousand pounds to get him! Oh, yes, of course
I've heard of him, you fool--who hasn't?"

"It's a curious thing," said the loquacious officer of the law, "that the
only time I ever met you before, Mrs. Gardling, was the night he broke
into your house and pinched petrol--"

She stared at him. "The Ringer? Was that man The Ringer?" she gasped.
"Your people said it was a burglar--"

"Car thief," he corrected, rather satisfied with the sensation he had
created. "Yes, that was The Ringer. It's a regular coincidence! He busts
your house and now he's bust you!"

But Mrs. Gardling wasn't thinking of coincidences. She had permission to
see her well-married daughter before the removal to Holloway.

"Annie," she said, "go up to 'The Linnets' and in the studio you'll find
a black tin box full of negatives. Take it to the bank and ask the
manager to keep it locked up till I come out."

"Aren't you going to appeal, mamma?" asked her daughter.

"I'll be out quicker by saying nothing," she said. "And get the lease of
that house in Maddox Street; we can wangle a licence for it--we'll call
it 'The Furnace Club'. I thought that out last night."

So passed to a prison laundry in North London the famous Mrs. Gardling,
and her mind during the period of her incarceration was equally divided
between plans for her new club and methods by which she could bring to
justice the man she loathed.

It was unfortunate to some extent that Annie, her daughter, desired most
passionately to assist her mother in her material rehabilitation. The
well-married one was a bright girl, brisk and businesslike, and too well
she knew the power of the Press. Her mother had been absent for a month
when she sent out a little helpful propaganda for the Furnace Club.

She was not a particularly clever writer, but, as some of us know, it is
not necessary to be clever to be interesting, and the news editor of the
Weekly Post-Herald, scanning the typewritten effusions she sent to him,
and scanning them with an apathetic eye, came upon a paragraph which
quickened his interest. He rang a bell and sent for a reporter.

"Call on this woman and see what there is in the story." He
blue-pencilled the paragraph.

During the following week there appeared an interesting column. "The
Ringer's Vengeance," it was headed, a little hectically, and it told the
story of the midnight visit, When Mrs. Gardling was photographing
flowers.

"My mother has often spoken to me of the man's face which had appeared on
the negative, but because she has always had a sympathetic heart towards
the unfortunate she never brought this picture to the notice of the
police.

"I have no doubt at all that The Ringer concocted these stories about my
mother, who is perfectly innocent of all the dreadful things which have
been said about her..."

In the course of the article it was stated that the interesting negative
was in a safe place and that "more would be heard of it."

Curiously enough, Bliss did not give the article a great deal of
attention, and the only thing which really interested him was the
revelation that the Furnace Club was to be opened in the near future
under the care and management of the well-married daughter.

As for this lady, she realised that she had said a great deal too much
and refused all further interviews, quaking a little as to what would be
the effect upon her fond mother when that resolute woman came out of
prison.

She could hardly consult her husband on the matter, for Mr. Leppold, that
dark, handsome man, was not on speaking terms with his mother-in-law, and
whenever her name obtruded into the conversation he invariably excised
it.

"Don't talk to me about that old so-and-so," was his favourite
expression.

Ann Leppold bridled but was silent. Mrs. Gardling had been very rude to
Alfred, though undoubtedly her exasperation had cause. He had first
appeared at the club as Count Giolini. He wasn't a count at all--this
fact was not discovered until after the marriage. In other respects she
had little to complain of; he was a well-off man, had a beautiful flat
off Jermyn Street, lived expensively, presented jewels to his wife, and
took her away every year to Monte Carlo, Deauville, and other fashionable
resorts.

She often wondered what his business was, for, although he claimed to be
something in the City, he had no office, and spent most of his time in
the West End of London. Whatever it was, it did not keep him very busy.
He was never away for more than a few days at a time, and, generally
speaking, his life was quiet and inoffensive.

She spoke to him about The Ringer but he was rather uninterested. Most of
the evenings at home he spent reading the newspapers, the City pages
being of special significance, for he was a frugal man who had invested
well and hoped some day to retire and live in Paris, a city for which he
had a great affection, though he seldom went there.

She was an avid reader of newspapers herself, but confined her studies to
those fascinating episodes which are revealed in the courts of law.

One night--it was about a week before her mother was sent to prison--she
laid the paper down on her knees.

"It's perfectly awful the way these robberies are going on, Alf," she
said. "One of these gangs took over forty thousand pounds' worth of
diamonds from a place in Hatton Garden on Sunday, and got away without
leaving a trace. I think the police must be in it. Now, if I were the
police--"

"You're not," snapped her husband from behind his newspaper; "and the
best thing you can do is to shut up."

Annie closed her lips firmly. When she had been married somebody had
given her a book entitled How to be Happy though Married, and she had
learned the lesson of bearing and forbearing.

At Scotland Yard they accepted this succession of burglaries with
philosophic calm. The police were only human, and if shop-owners refused
to take elementary precautions, such as employing watchmen or buying
safes which offered six hours' resistance to the best of burglars, that
was their lookout.

The police did all they possibly could, and followed a routine which is
usually very effective. But Scotland Yard had neither second sight nor
the power of divination.

"It might be Lewing or Martin or Crooford," speculated Mr. Bliss, "or it
may be that Paris gang that come over specially for these jobs."

The gangs which operate from foreign cities are the most difficult to
trace. Paris is seven hours from London, and, supposing that one of the
gang were in London, making all the preliminary investigations,
completing the time-table, and getting together the necessary apparatus
and tools, they could arrive on Saturday evening, and leave on Monday
morning with the bulk of their loot.

"The thing to do is to find the caretaker," said Bliss. By this he
referred to the one member of the gang permanently established in London.

Mr. Leppold did not even read the interview with his wife in the Weekly
Post-Herald, he merely saw her name in a column of print and admonished
her. "The advice I give to you, my girl, is to keep out of the public
eye. There's no reason why you should go shoving yourself forward into
the limelight."

"I am doing something for my poor, dear mother," said Mrs. Leppold hotly,
"and I've a good mind to get that box out of the Northern and Southern--"

Mr. Leppold became instantly interested.

"Does your mother bank at the Northern and Southern?"

"She has for years," said Annie complacently, because the Northern and
Southern is rather an exclusive banking company. "She keeps all her
papers--what are you laughing at?"

"I wasn't laughing," said Alt Leppold as he took up his newspaper again;
but she gathered, from the fact that the sheet shook convulsively, that
he was lying.

"What's the joke?" she demanded.

"Something I read in the paper," was his reply.

After she had gone to bed he went into his study and put through a call
to Paris. For six minutes he spoke cryptically. He often spoke over the
Paris wire, and he always spoke cryptically. The next day he went to the
south of London and had tea with a bearded Army pensioner who was a
widower and lived alone in two rooms in a model dwelling, and had a
grievance against society, particularly that eminent section of society
represented by the Stewards of the Jockey Club.

"They ought to warn off..."

He named a number of eminent trainers whose horses had not won that
afternoon at Hurst Park. This bearded man backed horses on a system,
though his employers would have dropped in their tracks if they had even
suspected his favourite recreation. If he had not backed horses, Mr.
Leppold would never have got to know him.

He soothed the disgruntled punter with certain alluring prospects.

"You stay on for a month, then off you pop to South America or South
Africa or anywhere you like. There's five thousand pounds--more than
you'd earn in fifty years--"

"I should lose my pension," said the man, looking at him from under his
beetling black brows. "And what about my good name?"

"You'll lose that anyway," said Mr. Leppold coolly. "The first time your
boss knows that you owe money to bookmakers your name will be mud. I'm
paying you five hundred pounds on account," he went on, counting out the
notes. "I trust you, and you've got to trust me. I'll knock twice on the
side door, like this." He sounded a morse B on the table. "All you've got
to do is to let us in."

The man moved uncomfortably.

"What about tying me up?" he suggested.

"You needn't worry about that," said Mr. Leppold, secretly amused. "We'll
stick an alibi on to you that you couldn't blow off with dynamite."

The man gathered up the money, and after Mr. Leppold had left put it in a
safe place. He thought the scheme was a very simple one, that detection
was impossible. The prisons of Great Britain and the United States are
filled with men who have harboured similar illusions.

When Mr. Leppold got home that night he found his wife a preening piece
of self-importance.

"I've had a letter from dear mother," she said, "about that Ringer."

For once he did not silence her.

"What about that Ringer?" he demanded.

"It's his photograph that mother took. I've been talking on the phone to
Scotland Yard." (Mr. Leppold blinked, but said nothing.) "A gentleman
named Bliss said it's most important, and I'm to get the photograph
tomorrow and take it to him. It appears they haven't got a picture of
this fellow, and I might get the thousand pounds reward."

"Good luck to you, my girl!" said Mr. Leppold heartily. "That fellow
ought to be hung--he double-crossed a friend of mine." He did not
particularise the friend or the circumstances.

He was in a very cheerful mood throughout the dinner, of which he partook
sparingly, for one thinks most quickly on an empty stomach. After the
meal was over he went to the study, locked the door, and took from a safe
a small leather packet of tools and put it into his overcoat pocket.

He could afford to be cheerful, for he was embarking upon one of the
easiest jobs he had ever undertaken.

At half-past ten o'clock he arrived at a bar near Shaftesbury Avenue, and
saw, without any apparent recognition, the two men who had arrived from
Paris that night. Ten minutes later he walked out of the saloon and the
two men followed him. At a convenient place he stopped to light a cigar,
and they came up with him.

"The thing's sweet," he said. "There's enough foreign currency in the
vault to make it worth while--about seven thousand pounds in Treasury
notes and eighteen thousand in bank-notes."

"Is it a dead shop?" asked one.

"No," said Mr. Leppold, "it's live. The assistant manager lives over, but
he's gone into the country to see his mother who's ill."

How Mr. Leppold obtained all these details is entirely his own business.

He walked down a side street, tapped at the private door of the bank, and
it was opened instantly. He was hardly inside before the other two joined
him. The door was locked.

"What about this tying up?" asked Mr. Leppold of the bearded man, but the
watchman showed no inclination to submit to any tying.

"You can tie me before you go," he urged. "I'd like to see how you do the
job." Leppold, who was a man of few words, nodded. He had no need of a
guide; he opened the steel grille leading to the vault and went down the
stone steps, followed by three men; the key of that grille was the one
duplicate he possessed.

At the end of a short passage was another grille. Workmen had been here,
and great oblong cavities had been chiselled in the stone. "They're
putting a real safe door on," explained Mr. Leppold, and added: "About
time!"

The bearded watchman gaped at the three experts as they attacked the
lock. In an hour it was removed and the heavy steel-barred door swung
open. A light burned in the arched roof and showed the contents of the
vault. Stacked in three lines were a number of deed boxes, and at the
sight of these Mr. Leppold, who had a grim sense of humour, chuckled.

"Half a minute," he said.

He walked quickly along till he came to a deed box, and this he tapped
with his knuckle.

"Ma's," he said sardonically.

It bore the initials "S. A. G.," Mrs. Gardling's Christian names being
Sarah Ann. "My missus is going to get a thing out of there tomorrow
that'll do The Ringer a bit of no good."

"What about this money?" said one of his companions impatiently, and for
half an hour they were working industriously, collecting and sorting.

The three men wore overcoats and each overcoat was cunningly pocketed.
They were swift workers all, and the money was disposed of almost as soon
as it was brought into view.

"Now I think we'd better tie up whiskers," said Leppold, and produced a
rope from his pocket.

They looked around, but the bearded man was not in the room. They saw
him, however, on the other side of the grille; he had a black box, which
was open, and at the moment they came in sight of him he had produced a
dark-looking negative and was holding it up to the light.

"Who locked this gate?" demanded Mr. Leppold.

The watchman looked round.

"I did," he said calmly. "You left the key in the lock, which was rather
foolish."

"Well, unlock it, quick!" He was carrying in his hand the small kit of
tools with which they had forced the downstairs lock.

Suddenly the watchman's arm shot through the grating, and there was an
automatic attached to it. The muzzle pressed against Mr. Leppold's
stomach.

"Hand over those tools!"

The dazed man obeyed.

"And if any of you pull a gun," said the 'watchman' calmly, "you'll know
less about the cause of your death than the coroner who sits on you."

"Who the hell are you?" asked Leppold.

"My name is Henry Arthur Milton, vulgarly called The Ringer," said the
other. "And, by the way, if you want the real night watchman you'll find
him tied up in the manager's office--really tied up. And the least you
can do is to tell the police that you did the tying."

"I've been trailing that ancient sinner for a few days; I was, in fact,
in his bedroom when you were discussing tonight's little adventure. He
was a little surprised when he got the signal on the door an hour too
soon."

He folded the negative and carefully put it in his pocket.

"Give my love to mamma," he said, as he moved out of view and out of
range. Mr. Leppold never forgave him that, and even in the morning, when
the police arrived, he was still brooding upon the insult.



XIV - THE SINISTER DR. LUTTEUR


Inspector Mander had a great friend--at least, Miss Carberry was not as
great a friend as he could have wished her to be.

He thought Scotland Yard was the most interesting place in the world and
talked about it all the time. She had a weakness for musical comedy, and
the more respectable kind of night clubs, where the orangeade sold after
licensed hours really is orangeade. When he talked of crime she was
bored. When she told him of the perfectly marvellous dance records that
had recently been issued he tried to bring the subject back to crime.

She frequently met a distinguished stranger, who would have taken her to
musical comedies and night clubs, but was afraid he would get her a bad
name, so they dined at nice little restaurants instead. She called him
Ernest, which was not his name, though she was unaware of the fact. As to
her apathy in the matter of Scotland Yard's activities, she was not to be
blamed.

There is nothing romantic about crime. To be a successful detective does
not require a super-intelligence, but the power of reducing your mind to
the lowest possible level of intelligence. The great detectives are those
who are able to lower their mentality to the level of the men whose
ill-work they are endeavouring to counteract.

This was the thesis of an impromptu lecture which Superintendent Bliss
delivered to his crestfallen subordinate.

"The trouble with you, Mander," he said, "is that you try to be clever.
Instead of being your natural self and establishing contact with the
normal criminal mind you waste the time you should devote to sleeping in
working out theories based, as far as I can gather, upon those
sensational detective novels which were so popular twenty years ago. I
have a feeling that you are writing a monograph on cigar ash."

Mr. Mander writhed under the accusation.

"A criminal of the type I am looking for," Bliss continued remorselessly,
"does not wear evening dress or frequent the more fashionable restaurants
of the West End. You are more likely to find him in a public-house near
the Elephant and Castle, and there is no need for you to employ logic or
deduction. All you have to be is a good listener, for Libby is the type
of man who makes a serial story of his adventures."

"I wasn't exactly looking for Libby," said Mr. Mander, stung to defence.
"I had a theory about The Ringer--"

Superintendent Bliss groaned.

"Libby is a common and a cheap maker of counterfeit coins," he said. "He
is a sordid, ten-conviction criminal. If you are under the impression
that The Ringer has the slightest association with that type of
individual you are greatly mistaken."

But here Mr. Bliss was to some extent wrong. The incidence of the
underworld, the real cheap, hard-labour men, never failed to interest
Henry Arthur Milton. His view of the lower strata of law-breakers was no
more flattering than were those of Superintendent Bliss; but, as it
happened, he was at that moment especially absorbed in the career of
quite a number of very poor people, most of whom gained their livelihood
by illicit means.

The Ringer was lodging at a house in Enther Street, Lambeth--rather
larger than the ordinary type of poor house--a place kept scrupulously
clean, where the scrubbing brush sounded most of the day. His landlady
was Mrs. Kilford, a widow. She had two daughters, one of whom, Nelly, was
both pretty and curious. The prettiness he recognised; her curiosity he
discovered when she went up to his room one morning with a cup of
unpalatable tea and lingered at the door to discuss her affairs.

"...Of course, he's much older than me, but quite refined. Mother says he
ought to come to the house, but he won't. He's terribly shy."

"Blushing lad," said Henry Arthur Milton, who was in a cheerful mood.

He had no particular business in London at the moment except to avoid the
attentions of people who wished to see him very badly. He was certainly
not passionately interested in the love affairs of his landlady's
daughter. More exhilarating was the knowledge that right opposite him
lived one called Libby, who was a maker of counterfeit coins; for The
Ringer had an especial grudge against manufacturers of half-crowns, who
rob little tradesmen and other people to whom half a crown is quite an
enormous sum of money.

He was returning home rather late one night when he saw Nelly at the
corner of the mean street in which he lived. She was talking to a man who
was a head taller than she and who, when he came abreast, turned his face
so that Henry Arthur Milton could not see it very distinctly. As he
passed he heard Nelly say: "But I have never been a lady's maid."

He expected her the next morning to offer her confidence, but she was
remarkably silent. A week later her mother told him tearfully that Nelly
had run away and married Mr. Hackitt. The only consolation so far as The
Ringer could gather was that the marriage had been most properly
performed at a registrar's office and a copy of the marriage certificate
had been forwarded to the landlady. More amazingly, the bride announced
that she and her husband were going to Paris for their honeymoon.

"Which is in France," explained the landlady unnecessarily.

The Ringer could not spare a corner of his mind to be occupied by Nelly's
love affair. He dismissed the matter and devoted his entire attention to
the undoing of Libby.

He himself never attempted to usurp the functions of the law. If a
criminal committed an offence for which the law could punish him he was
satisfied that the machinery of Scotland Yard should be put in motion.

One night, on information received, the Flying Squad descended on Mr.
Libby and removed him with a hundredweight of metal, a number of
excellent dies and electro-plating apparatus, and when the affair was
cleared up Superintendent Bliss decided to comb the neighbourhood for the
informant, who, he knew, was The Ringer. But that gentleman had
anticipated some such move and had disappeared.

It was in the Strand between eleven and twelve one night when the theatre
crowds were turning out and the roadway was a confusion of cars,
taxicabs, and omnibuses that he saw and recognised Nelly's mysterious
lover. There was no need to see his face; The Ringer remembered people by
their backs, their walk, the movement of their hands, and he was as well
satisfied that this man was Hackitt as though he were identifying him
from a studio portrait.

Mr. Hackitt had no right to be in London; he should have been in Paris on
his honeymoon. He certainly had no right whatever to be wearing a top hat
and a coat obviously made by a good tailor. He was alone, moving in the
leisured manner of one who was walking by preference. And by his side was
a lady who was not Nelly.

Since it was the business of The Ringer to know the affairs of his
enemies, he recognised the lady as a Miss Carberry, who was friendly with
Inspector Mander. If she had not been "attached" to Inspector Mander he
would not have known her at all.

"But how perfectly fascinating!" said The Ringer.

It was a few days after this that the centre of his interest changed to
Esher.

The nursing home of Dr. Lutteur in that village was a beautiful if modest
house situated in ample grounds, and if the doctor's clientele was not
large it was exclusive. He was an extremely agreeable gentleman, who went
out of his way to make his clients comfortable and happy, and there were
few establishments which could equal it in point of comfort and
up-to-date equipment. He was a fairly wealthy man, unmarried, had no
hobbies but his work, and was beloved by his patients and the few people
who were admitted into the limited circle of friendship.

He could afford to pick and choose his patients, and if he showed a
preference for those who promised to give him the least trouble he could
hardly be blamed.

Mr. Roos, his new patient, was hardly the kind he would have chosen, for
Mr. Roos was rather hearty, not to say boastful--a noisy man, and the
doctor disliked noisy men. "An aunt of mine came to you, doctor, about
four or five years ago. She wrote out to me in South Africa and said
you'd looked after her better than any other doctor she'd ever had, and
you're the man for my money!"

He had had a nervous breakdown on the ship; in fact his condition was
such that he was nearly landed at Madeira, he said. "Cash is no object to
me. I can promise you this--that if you take me in you're not going to be
bothered with visitors, because I don't know anybody in this damned
country and don't want to!"

He exhibited certain signs of nervousness; his hands shook, his face
twitched at odd intervals; the shrewd Dr. Lutteur diagnosed the case as
the after-effects of heavy drinking. But he did not like noisy people, or
hearty people, or people who talked loudly of their vast possessions.
Nevertheless, he gave a bed and a room to his new patient, prescribed a
diet, and was agreeably surprised to discover that Mr. Roos was content
to lie in bed and read newspapers and showed no inclination to disturb
his other patients.

There were three, the most interesting of whom was an elderly lady who
had been under his care for two years. Mr. Roos saw her once in the
garden being wheeled about in a bath-chair, a pale, severe woman who
regarded him with the greatest suspicion. A surly gardener, who had been
rude to her for picking his spring flowers and had been given a week's
notice by the doctor, said her name was Timms--Miss Alicia Timms.

Roos had been there the greater part of the week when a visitor called.
It was the afternoon, when the patients were resting in various parts of
the grounds, and when Mr. Roos found it rather difficult to prevent
himself from falling asleep, for the weather was warm, the silence, the
fragrance of the fresh spring air, all things combined to induce that
pleasant state of coma which attends a good luncheon.

The doctor's study was under his bedroom, and the shrill voice of the
woman pierced with startling distinctness the quiet of the house. He
heard her angry protestations, heard the doctor's frantic request for
silence, and then the voices sank to an indistinguishable rumble of
sound, which only occasionally rose to audibility.

Mr. Roos had risen that day and was lying fully dressed upon his bed. He
gathered up his book and his spectacles and went into the grounds, whence
he saw the station fly carrying the visitor down the drive towards the
main road. Dr. Lutteur's three prize patients were dozing; the
disgruntled gardener was very wide awake.

"I shan't be sorry to leave here, anyway," he said. "You never see
anybody but a lot of old people, and you don't see them long before one
of 'em pops off! We've only had one patient here that didn't peg out."

"Thank you, my cheery soul," said Mr. Roos.

But the gardener insisted, with a certain gloomy satisfaction, on the
high mortality of patients at Dr. Lutteur's house.

"Naturally, they die because they're old. I suppose he's a pretty good
doctor but you can't make old people young, can you? The only one that
didn't die here was an old gentleman who was taken away by his relations.
And they know they're going to die--they're always making their wills.

"That old lady over there. Miss Timms--she's worth pots of money! Mind
you, I respect her; she's left every penny to a lady's maid who used to
look after her. I know because I witnessed the will and I had a good look
at it because the old lady had a sort of fainting fit after she'd
signed."

"Do you remember the name of the lady's maid?" asked Mr. Roos,
carelessly. The gardener looked up at the sky for inspiration.

"Yes, Hachett or Hackitt, or some such name. The last old lady that died
here left all her money to a woman called--I forget her name; the only
thing I do remember about her is that she fell in the river and was
drowned about six months after she'd drawn the money. And then there was
an old gentleman named--I don't remember his name--who left fifty
thousand pounds to a girl whose father he knew when he was a boy.

"I was telling this to the young lady who came down here yesterday when
the doctor was at Bagshot; a nice-looking girl she was, very much like
that young lady who came in the cab to see the doctor about an hour ago."

Late that night, when the patients were asleep, or should have been
asleep, the girl who had called earlier in the day came to the house. Mr.
Roos, lying full length on the floor, with a small microphone fixed to
his ear, listened with the greatest interest to the more or less confused
conversation.

"...Well, I may be curious, but I've found you out!...followed you to
Waterloo Station...What is the meaning of it?..."

Later she became less truculent, agreed to something or other. Mr. Roos
heard the words "little house."

He could not have heard it all, because when he learned, two or three
days later, that the doctor was called away on business to Paris and had
left a locum tenons to look after the inmates of the home he was taken by
surprise. The patient left the nursing home within an hour of receiving
this information; but it took a long time for him to locate the doctor.

* * * * *

The quietness of Enther Street, Lambeth, was disturbed by a loud scream.
The hour was 2 a.m. and in this drab neighbourhood a midnight scream was
not an unusual phenomenon. At the corner of the street two policemen had
met at the limit of their respective beats, and they were, contrary to
regulations, smoking. One turned his head in the direction of the sound
and remarked casually that somebody was "getting a lacing." They waited
expectantly for the second and the successive cries, but they did not
come.

Now a succession of such screams is normal. One shrill cry of horror that
has no companion has a sinister significance. The two officers walked
slowly down the street. They saw a window open and a tousled head stuck
out.

"Next door," said the owner of the head--a man. "That's the first noise
the new people have made since they've been here. Half a tick. I'll come
down."

These police officers were not unused to the ways of the officious
informant: they were rather amused. The man came out from his front door
wearing an overcoat.

"There's a man and a woman live there; they moved in last Monday.
Nobody's seen either of 'em. My missus, though, saw 'em move in--brought
their furniture in a motor-van one night when it was raining. Nobody's
ever seen 'em go out."

One of the police looked up at the mean face of the house. It consisted
of two floors, the ground and the upper. A tall man with a fishing rod
could reach the guttering of the slate roof. There were two windows
above, a door and a window below--the kind of brick box you can have for
a few shillings a week.

"Well," said the officer of the law, with the profundity of his kind,
"you can't do anything to people because they don't come out of their
houses."

The neighbour agreed, and there the party might have dispersed, the
policemen to their interrupted smoke, the householder to his bed, only
the second policeman saw a light in the upper window. It flickered up and
down, grew to yellow brightness, and sank to a dull red. "That room's on
fire!" he said, and whipped out his truncheon.

The hammering on the door awakened the street. A panel smashed and a
gloved hand went in, groping for the lock. As the door was flung open a
great cloud of smoke rolled forth.

"Get the people out of the other houses, Harry!" spluttered the officer.
"Mr. What's-your-name, run to the fire alarm at the corner."

He blundered into the house, felt his way up the stairs and threw open
the door of the front room. The heat of the blazing floor drove him back,
but he saw the woman lying half on and half off the smouldering bed.
Bracing one foot upon a burning rafter, he reached out and dragged her
through the flames.

It was a superhuman task to carry the weight down those narrow stairs
that sagged under him. He blundered once on the landing and nearly fell.
Presently he staggered out into the open. The fire engines arrived at
that moment. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later, and they laid the
woman on a stretcher and rushed her to the nearest hospital.

She was still living, in spite of the knife wound in her side, but died
after admission. She was young and rather pretty.

The policeman telephoned to his superior and went back to pursue his
inquiries, the affair having occurred on his beat.

Inspector Mander reported to his chief the following morning.

"It's a very ordinary case. A man named Brown knifed his wife, and in the
struggle the lamp must have overturned. We haven't got Brown yet, but
I've circulated his description."

Bliss had read the official report furnished by the divisional inspector.

"Apart from the fact that nobody knows that his name is Brown, and nobody
has ever seen him, and that the floor was sprinkled with petrol, and that
the house was deliberately set on fire, your account and prognostications
seem fairly accurate. The case had better go to Lindon. It is in his
area."

All day long detectives and firemen searched amid the blackened debris
for the missing man. But he was some distance away and very much alive.

Dr. Lutteur sat in his study, a medical work propped up on the table
before him, a long cigar between his even white teeth. He closed the
book, put it away on a shelf, and drew from a drawer of his desk a sheet
of foolscap paper. He read this carefully, then he rang the bell. A
nursing sister answered it within a few minutes.

"Oh, sister, about Miss Timms; she's been bothering me all day about
making a new will."

"She only made one a month or so ago," said the nursing sister. "Didn't
she leave all her money to a woman called Hackitt?"

The doctor nodded.

"Apparently she's changed her mind," he said. "She wishes now to leave it
to the daughter of an old friend of hers, a Miss Carberry. I've got the
name in the will." He pointed to the document. "Will you come along and
witness it?"

The nursing sister looked dubious. "She doesn't seem to be in a condition
to make a will. Do you think it's wise--" she began.

"It amuses her. She'll probably change her mind again in the course of a
few days," said the doctor calmly. "Let us go up and get her signature
while she's still awake. The night sister can witness it as well as you."

The clock was striking one; the doctor had locked away the new will in
his safe, had risen and was preparing for bed when a perfect stranger
rang the bell of the nursing home. He had come in a car and had three
companions. Lutteur looked at the bearded face and wondered where he had
seen it before.

"My name is Superintendent Bliss, of Scotland Yard," said the caller in
cold and even tones. "I am inquiring into the death of a woman called
Brown, who was murdered in Enther Street, Lambeth. I am also inquiring
into the death of two other women who were legatees of estates left by
former patients of yours. I shall ask you to accompany me to the Kingston
Police Station."

It was all very formal and meaningless. Weeks after, when Dr. Lutteur was
awaiting execution, he could not quite understand what had happened.

"Lutteur's system," explained Mr. Bliss to Inspector Mander, "was a very
simple one. He ran a nursing home, and there is no suggestion that any of
the patients who died in his charge were the victims of foul play. They
died natural deaths, but he chose his patients rather well. He scoured
the country, looking for wealthy women without any near relations.

"By some means he persuaded them to go into his home--we found the most
marvellous collection of literature, with expensive photographs of the
grounds, and the treatment rooms--and, once there, the rest was a fairly
simple matter.

"He first of all chose the legatee. Then, either by the administration of
a drug which destroyed their will power or by his personal magnetism he
induced them to make a will in favour of his nominee. Whether he married
the nominee in every case I do not know. He certainly married Mrs.
Kilford's daughter and killed her when he discovered that she knew who he
was. He would have done the same with the girl Carberry--"

"Carberry?" said Mander. "I know a girl called Carberry. By the way, how
did you get on to this story, chief?"

"Information received," said Bliss diplomatically. "And don't call me
chief!"



XV - THE OBLIGING COBBLER


Doctors are credited with an aversion for their own medicines. It was
because of this aversion that Henry Arthur Milton found himself with two
feuds on his hands. The first of these was with two brothers named
Pelcher. They were specialists, but nobody referred to them by that
title. The police called them "The Two"; damaged house-holders found
descriptions which varied in their vitriolic quality according to their
wealth of vocabulary.

Marlow Joyner, the latest of their victims, lay in bed with his head
heavily bandaged, and told, haltingly and painfully, the story of his
experience to a select audience consisting of a London police magistrate,
Superintendent Bliss, and two police stenographers. For Mr. Marlow Joyner
was on the danger list, and the doctors said that it was going to be a
toss-up whether he ever left his bed alive. Happily, as it proved, the
doctors were wrong, but it was touch and go for a week.

Bliss took the deposition back to Scotland Yard.

"I don't know which I'd rather take, The Two or The Ringer, but I know
which would be the greatest loss to society."

"Maybe The Two is The Ringer?" suggested Inspector Mander hopefully.

Bliss turned his cold eyes upon the fatuous man.

"The Ringer has adopted many disguises," he said, "but I cannot remember
that he has ever appeared at one and the same time as two people--except
to the hopelessly intoxicated."

In a sense, the Superintendent was right, in a sense, wrong. There was an
occasion when The Ringer was three men, but, as the greatest of
tale-tellers has said, "that is another story."

What was a secret to Scotland Yard was no secret to The Ringer, who,
through his peculiarly effective organisation, was able to bring home to
these two respectable young men--they lived in the suburbs and in their
spare time cultivated roses--responsibility for their many acts.

For five weeks he sought evidence which would convince a police
magistrate, but this was difficult to come by, and in the end he decided
that this was a matter for "private treatment."

In the early hours of the morning the two brothers were picked up in the
street in which they lived and rushed to the hospital.

They were as terribly bludgeoned as any of their victims had been, and it
was eight weeks before the first of them was convalescent. They gave no
information to the police except that they had been attacked by "a gang
of toughs." Neither told the story of the solitary man who accosted them
late one night.

"You've heard of me--I am The Ringer, and I'm rather annoyed with you two
thugs..."

While they had been debating how best to deal with the man--naturally,
they were disinclined to make trouble so close to their own
home--something hit the nearest. It might have been a rubber truncheon;
the victim wasn't sure. His brother, who rushed to the rescue, had no
doubt at all that it was something effective. The blow that caught him
did not stun him, but knocked him out. When he awoke he was in the one
bed and his brother was in the next. They were released from hospital at
last and reached, spontaneously, a common agreement.

"From what you and I know, Harry," said one, "we ought to get this bird."

* * * * *

The second feud was developed more violently, in a fashionable Viennese
cafe, when "Kelly" Rosefield missed the man he hated with his first shot.
The strange man in the black wideawake hat fired the second, and Kelly
went down with a bullet in the bony part of his shoulder. The curious
thing about it was that the successful marksman was entirely in the
right.

Kelly used to beat up his woman partner when he felt that way. They lived
in an expensive block of flats; the interfering gentleman who stole in
upon them one night--Kelly had most carelessly left the flat door
open--lived in the apartment beneath. What he did to the wife-beater was
a subject for comment, commiseration, and explanation among Mr.
Rosefield's friends for many a day. Kelly explained his injuries
variously. He had been knocked over by a car, he had fallen against a
lamp standard, he had been thrown when riding a spirited blood horse. And
in all these prevarications he was assisted by the woman called
Carmenflora, who had most reason to gloat over his enlarged countenance.

Carmenflora was more bitter than her man; and when the matter ended as it
did, and Kelly was lying in hospital--nobody quite certain as to the
brand of spiritual consolation appropriate to his condition--Carmenflora
went forth and looked for the interfering gentleman.

But Henry Arthur Milton knew that other people were looking for him. You
cannot shoot off automatics in Viennese restaurants, fashionable or
unfashionable, without inviting the attention of the local constabulary.
He faded to Berlin.

Four months later he was entering his London hotel and came face to face
with Carmenflora, who recognised him. She said nothing, but he caught the
flicker of her eyes, read their story, and, going up to his room, packed
his handbag, phoned for his bill, and was out of the hotel in half an
hour.

Therefore there were three people looking for The Ringer or 18,004, if
the active and intelligent members of the Metropolitan Police Force be
included.

There were people who called The Ringer clever. He never laid claim to
any such title. He was painstaking, thorough, left nothing to chance,
examined his ground with the finicky care of a very conscientious staff
officer.

He did not believe in luck, good or bad, and found no excuse for such
failures as he had. He had his vanities, but they were of a harmless
sort, judged by the meaner ones common to humanity.

"I'll get that feller if I have to wait fifty-five years," said Kelly
extravagantly.

Now Kelly was, by the Scotland Yard standard, a pretty bad man. He was a
thief and an associate of thieves, and, with the assistance of his
partner, who was courteously described as his wife, he had cleaned up
considerable sums of money, mainly from susceptible young men, for
Carmenflora was pretty and could be very, very attractive.

Bliss heard of his arrival and sent a polite sergeant to inquire if he
was staying long in London.

"I'm a British subject and you can't deport me," said Kelly hotly. "I'm
here on private business."

"We can't deport you further than Wormwood Scrubs," said the police
sergeant gently, "but that's one of the foreign countries you'd hate to
visit, Kelly. And that's just where you'll be if I find you giving nice
little supper parties to young gentlemen."

Kelly winced at that, for the previous night he had entertained the
impecunious son of a millionaire. Most millionaires' sons are
impecunious, but their fathers will pay almost anything to keep the
family name out of the newspapers. But this was the merest sideline. "If
it hurts you to see somebody else getting a free drink--" he began.

The polite sergeant became impolite very suddenly. "Let's fan you for
that old gun of yours," he said, and Kelly submitted to the outrage. As
he could afford to do, for his automatic was well hidden.

When the visit was reported to Bliss the superintendent was rather
interested.

"I've just had a report through from the Austrian police," he said.
"Kelly's been shot up by somebody and Blunthall advances a theory that the
somebody was The Ringer. If that is so The Ringer is in London."

He sent for Mander, who had his uses.

"I have an idea that we may get a line to The Ringer through Kelly," he
said. "And there's another little matter which I'd like you to clear up.
You remember the two brothers Pelcher, who were admitted to the Lewisham
Hospital pretty well beaten up about six months ago?"

Mander remembered.

"I want them kept under observation. I don't say they are The Two, but
the information I have from the divisional inspector has made me a little
suspicious. If they are The Two then that is The Ringer's work also."

"They seem fairly respectable men: they are both working in the City--"
began Mander.

"That doesn't make them respectable," said the superintendent.

Kelly was a wealthy man. He could afford to live in the best hotel; he
could afford to employ private detectives in his search for the man he
loathed. He could also have afforded to have given his "wife" and partner
complete control of her jewellery; but, like so many of his kind, he was
mean to an extraordinary degree. For example, in all their Continental
journeyings his wife invariably travelled second-class, while he lorded
it in superior accommodation.

But his chief eccentricity was in relation to the jewels. His vanity
demanded that his lady should appear beautifully and, indeed,
extravagantly bedecked. Her necklace, her diamond bracelet, her rings and
brooches he carried in a long case which fitted into his hip pocket.
Every evening before dinner the jewels were given to her; every night, on
her retirement, they were taken away and safely stored in the case.

There was an excellent reason for this. A previous partner, who had
slaved for him and whom he had misguidedly trusted with jewellery, had
disappeared, carrying with her about two thousand pounds' worth of
portable property.

He was "serving out" the evening allowance of adornment, when the
floor-waiter knocked at his door and told him there was a man who wished
to see him. Kelly, whose mind ran to detectives, asked for a description,
and was relieved to learn that the caller was an elderly gentleman.

"Gentleman" was perhaps an exaggeration; he was obviously a working man;
he confessed to being a cobbler--a mender of old shoes--a grey-haired
man, shabbily attired, who wore spectacles and a bristling, iron-grey
moustache. He was obviously nervous, and would not speak until the
partner had been peremptorily ordered into the next room.

"It's about a lodger of mine, sir," said the cobbler nervously. "I don't
want to interfere with anything I ought not to interfere in. I've lived
in the same house for twenty-five years and I've never owed anybody a
shilling, let alone got myself mixed up in any scandal. This lodger of
mine..."

The lodger had been staying with him three weeks--a quiet man, who only
went out in the evenings--a perfectly natural thing to do, since he was,
as he said, a night watchman.

"But I've had my suspicions of him," said the cobbler-landlord, who gave
his name as Hays; "and the other night, after he went out, I opened his
bedroom door with one of my keys and I found the table covered with plans
of this hotel.

"I didn't know it was this hotel," he went on, "but it happens to be the
only hotel in the street."

"Plans?"

The cobbler felt in his pocket, produced a transparent sheet of paper and
smoothed it out on the table.

"Here you are, sir," said Mr. Hays, and pointed to an
inscription--"Kelly's room." And then a cross: "Wife's jewels kept here."

Kelly looked and gasped. The cross marked exactly the place where in the
daytime the jewellery was securely locked in a dressing-trunk.

"I said to myself," proceeded Mr. Hays, "this man must be a burglar, and
my job is to go along and warn the gentleman--"

"What's he like?" asked Kelly, easily.

Mr. Hays's description was not very graphic. There were one or two points
which left no doubt in the mind of Kelly who the burglar was. He made a
few rapid inquiries. The cobbler lived alone in a small house on the
outskirts of Finchley.

"He's out all night, is he?" said Kelly thoughtfully. "What about letting
me in after he's gone one night?"

Mr. Hays hesitated and murmured something about the police.

"Never mind about the police, old boy," said Kelly, producing a
convincing number of Treasury notes.

The next morning he gave his orders to his partner.

"You get back to Vienna by the first train and wait for me. I'll be
returning in a day or two."

"What have you got on?" she asked, not unused to these sudden fits.

His answer was offensive.

That afternoon he paid his bill--his wife had already taken every bit of
baggage and he could stroll forth unencumbered to the rendezvous.

He was not the only person who had received a visitor the night before.
The brothers Pelcher were playing a peaceful game of dominoes in their
ornate, over-decorated little drawing-room when the maid-of-all-work
announced Mr. Hays.

"Hays? Who's Hays, Harry?" asked one of the other, but the information
was not forthcoming. Mr. Hays was a cobbler, a greyish man with a
bristling moustache and a nervous manner. He had a small house in
Finchley and a lodger...

"It's not for me, gentlemen, to put my nose into other people's affairs.
I am a respectable, law-abiding citizen, as you gentlemen are. But I read
the papers, and I got a headpiece that can put two and two together."

He paused, but the two silent men did no more than stare at him in their
normally unfriendly manner.

"If you're not the two gentlemen who was knocked about one night some
months ago, then I've made a mistake and I won't trouble you any
further--I mean, two gentlemen named Pelcher...I read it in the papers. I
keep a Press cutting book of things like that."

"It's a curious thing that this lodger of mine should have been looking
over my shoulder as I was a-reading that bit about you two gentlemen
being beaten up. 'Why do you keep that?' said he, laughing. When I told
him I always pasted up horrors, he said: 'There's one thing they didn't
tell the police--they didn't say anything about Henry Arthur Milton.'"

Both the brothers looked up quickly.

"Did he say any more?" asked Harry.

The cobbler fondled his unshaven chin.

"Yes, he did, sir, and that's why I've come to see you. He said: 'Those
two fellers ought to have been settled, and one of these days I'm going
down to have a look at them.'"

At their invitation, he described his lodger. The brothers looked at one
another, and then Harry began to ask questions. When he was through with
his inquiries he said to Hays: "If we gave you a couple of quid, what
about going to the pictures tomorrow night and lending us the key of your
house? You say he don't go out till ten?"

"Eleven," corrected Mr. Hays.

For five pounds the cobbler surrendered the key. Kelly had paid twice
that amount for the key's duplicate.

For the greater part of the night the brothers discussed possibilities.
Said one: "If we leave him in the house this old bird will put up a
squeak. On the other hand, if we get in quiet and drop him somewhere,
there will be no squeak at all, and nobody can swear that we went in."

There was agreement here. The second of the ferocious fraternity
suggested knocking off a car. They found one the next night: a doctor's
coupe, standing outside a house to which he had been called; and they
drove cheerfully to the place of judgment.

It was a tiny house, with a tiny garden; and if the brothers had searched
diligently in the untidy forecourt they would have discovered a board
announcing that "this desirable residence" was to let.

This had been taken down by the cobbler when he had obtained possession
of the premises a week before. He had apparently spent very little in
furniture; for, although the passage had a narrow strip of carpet, the
stairs were bare.

"The room at the head of the first flight of stairs," murmured one
brother to the other before they inserted the key. "Have you got your
rubbers on, Harry?"

Harry nodded. He had already covered his feet with snow boots.

They went in and closed the door noiselessly behind them. Harry went
first up the stairs and paused by the closed door at the head. Somebody
was inside. They heard a slight noise. Harry took out his life-preserver
with a mirthless little grin, and gently turned the handle.

"Who's that?" said a voice from the dark interior. The occupant of the
room, unfortunately for himself, was silhouetted against the uncurtained
window. Harry saw the gun with the bulging silencer at the end, and threw
himself aside. There was a flash of light, a loud "plop!" and before the
man with the pistol could shoot again the life-preserver got home.

Two men got down from a car near Burlington Gardens, and each walked in a
different direction. That, in itself, was a suspicious circumstance if it
had been observed that at this hour--it was nearly ten--Burlington
Gardens is more or less deserted save for cars that are taking a short
cut to Regent Street.

A constable observed the machine, a closed car of American make, noted
that the lights were on, and jotted down mentally the hour at which he
saw it. When he returned from the perambulation of his beat the car was
still there.

Burlington Gardens is not a parking place; there was no restaurant or
hotel which might justify this "obstruction". He took the number and
waited for the owners to reappear. He was relieved towards midnight and
passed on the information and complaint to the officer who took his
place.

At two o'clock the car had not been moved, and its occupants had not
appeared. The only person who saw the two men was a night wanderer, an
elderly vagrant, who subsequently gave information to the police.

At a little after three the sergeant to whom the matter was reported went
up to the car and looked inside. In the light of his lamp he saw a
motionless figure huddled on the floor, its head on its chest. He jerked
open the door...

By the time the ambulance arrived they had laid the unfortunate man flat
on the pavement. He was living--was to live for many years, though his
appearance was never quite the same again.

The battered Kelly had a story to tell the police, and he spoke with
difficulty.

"...two fellers...one of 'em was The Ringer!...He took my jewel-case from
my hip-pocket...my watch and chain...about eighteen hundred quid..."

The two brothers, who had separated in Burlington Gardens, met again at
the corner of the street in which they dwelt. They had walked in single
file within sight of one another until they were within easy reach of
home, and then they joined up.

"I'm betting this feller doesn't use a cosh again for years."

"Is he dead, Harry?" asked his companion.

"It wasn't worth killing him," said Harry, complacently. "I want to have
a look at that case as soon as we get indoors. I'll bet there are
sparklers there worth thousands. And as for money..." His fingers closed
on a thick wad of notes that he bad neither counted nor examined.

They opened the door of their modest dwelling and walked into the
drawing-room. Harry went first. "Clear?" he shouted.

Before the brothers could reach the door it was opened, and the front
garden seemed more or less filled with constabulary.

"Robbery with violence is one of the most serious offences that can be
committed," said the Judge, in passing sentence upon the two dazed young
men. "Your unfortunate victim is still in hospital, and, although he is a
man of evil character, and one has the gravest doubts as to the origin of
the property you stole, society must be protected. You will be kept in
prison with hard labour for eighteen months, and will each receive
twenty-five lashes with the cat-o'-nine-tails."

The extraordinary thing was that neither Kelly, the prosecutor, nor the
brothers Pelcher ever mentioned the author of their misfortune.



XVI - THE FORTUNE OF FORGERY


The man who reclined with his arms upon the parapet, looking down upon
the dark water, was shabbily dressed. A "down-and-out", thought Henry
Arthur Milton, smoking an after-dinner cigar, and promenading in the
unexpected warmth of an early spring night along the Embankment.

He saw the man make a sudden jump upwards, gripped him by the arm, and
swung him round.

"If you go into the water I shall have to jump in after you," said The
Ringer pleasantly; "which means that I shall be very wet, very
uncomfortable, and attract attention which I have no desire to attract."

The man was trembling from head to foot. His thin, unshaven face was
gaunt and hollow. The shabby collar about his throat was frayed and
ragged at the edges. "I am very much obliged to you," he said.

It was the voice of an educated man, and his thanks were mechanical. He
was obviously a gentleman; none but a gentleman would have received such
a piece of unwarranted interference without resentment, without whining
his troubles and his woes abroad.

"Come for a little walk," suggested The Ringer.

The man hesitated. "I do not want any money," he said, "or charity of any
kind."

The Ringer laughed softly. "And I am not at all in a philanthropic mood,"
he replied.

He was, in truth, in a pretty bad temper. It was his peculiar complex and
eccentricity that he hated reading letters to the editor in the daily
newspapers abusing the police for their failure to arrest him. There had
been three in a morning journal, and that which annoyed him most had been
written by one Ferdinand Goldford, of Crake Hall, Bourne End.

The Ringer had his own views about coincidences. He regarded them as part
of the normal processes of life. For example, if he picked up a ten-franc
piece in the Strand he would expect to pick up a five-franc piece in the
Lewisham High Road on the same day. He did not think such things were
remarkable, and was only astounded when they did not happen.

The coincidence in this case was that he was very annoyed with Mr.
Ferdinand Goldford, and that he should have rescued this human wreck from
self-destruction.

"I think you ought to know," said the shabby man walking by his side,
"that I was released from prison this morning, after serving two months
for burgling a house in the country. I broke in to get what I thought was
my own. The chief witness against me was the butler, who does not know
me. The rest of the family are abroad."

"I hope they were having a good time," said The Ringer politely. "And as
to your having been released from prison, believe me, I am so grateful
that I have never been admitted into one that you may regard me as a
spiritual complement."

The name of the wayfarer was Lopez Burt. He had once been an officer of a
cavalry regiment in India. Mr. Milton was not surprised to learn this. He
had been the heir-presumptive of a rich and eccentric father, whose
eccentricities took serious shape while Burt was in India. He had left
the whole of his fortune, no inconsiderable amount, to a cousin.

Lopez Burt might have contested the will, but he was not in a position,
until months afterwards, to discover that his father had been "rather
strange" in his manner for two years before his death, that he had lived
with the fortunate cousin, and had made a new will at a period when he
was quite incapable of any intellectual effort.

"I'm not kicking," he said philosophically. "The poor old governor came a
cropper on his head in the hunting field, and was never the same after
that. The Goldfords kept this fact from me--"

"The who-fords?" asked The Ringer, immensely interested. "Not, by any
chance, the Goldfords of Crake Hall, Bourne End?"

The man walking by his side nodded.

"That's the place I burgled," he said, almost cheerfully. "I came an
awful mucker in the Army. You see, I got into debt, never dreaming but
that I should have pots of money some day. Then there was some trouble
over card debts, and I had to clear out.

"There was a lady in it, too," he added vaguely, "but I needn't mention
her. Anyway, I landed in England with about fourpence-ha'penny, and after
that...well, I hadn't any desire to see the Goldfords and throw myself
upon their tender mercies. And I hadn't the evidence then about the
governor being of unsound mind. Sounds like an old lag's story, doesn't
it?"

The Ringer shook his head. "It sounds remarkably unlike any old lag's
story that I've heard," he said. "I have a top floor flat in the Adelphi.
Will you come up and have a bite and a bath?"

"No," said the other, with emphasis.

The Ringer shook his head.

"Then I'm afraid I shall have to give you a punch on the nose," he
remarked regretfully. "I am rather touchy on the subject of people
refusing my invitations."

He heard the man chuckle. "All right, I'll take your charity. I'm so
hungry that I haven't any spirit left. My last meal was a piece of bread
I scrounged from a garbage tin last night. That sounds picturesque, but
it wasn't."

The Ringer had a new furnished flat, which he had taken from a gentleman
who had gone to Canada for a year: a pleasant, simply-furnished
apartment, with hair carpets and stuff covers, and two or three cupboards
containing valuables tightly locked--the usual "let".

"There is the bathroom." He threw open the door and switched on the
light. "You had better eat something terrifically digestible. Try some
sandwiches. I have a supply sent in to me every day."

He found a suit of clothes, a shirt, a collar, a pair of old shoes and
the requisite etceteras, opened the bathroom door and threw them in on to
the floor.

"Thank me when you come out, but don't be effusive," he said, and went
out to hunt up sheets for the bed in the spare room.

At two o'clock in the morning The Ringer, who was a very good listener,
came to the subject which was nearest his heart.

"These Goldbugs--Goldfords, is it?--seem to be a pretty unpleasant
family." He looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully and whistled. "I
suppose you've none of your former belongings? Have you any letters from
your father?"

Lopez Burt looked at him quickly. "Why do you ask that? Yes, I have quite
a lot. They are in a box at my old Army bankers, with one or two other
documents of no particular value."

The Ringer nodded. "Is it possible to get those letters?"

Again Burt cast an odd look at his host.

"Will you tell me what the idea is?" he asked quietly.

Henry Arthur Milton stretched back in his chair and looked past him.

"I think I ought to tell you that I'm clairvoyant," he said. "Most of us
are. The moment I saw you I had a feeling that you were the heir to a
great fortune, and I naturally wondered why a man so favoured by the gods
was contemplating such an early retirement from life."

"Great fortune!" scoffed the other. "What rot you're talking!"

The Ringer inclined his head graciously.

"That's one of my weaknesses," he said. "The truth is, I am talking rot!
I have absolutely no knowledge in regard to the law affecting wills and
such things. I presume that your cousins are now enjoying their
ill-gotten gains and are rolling in wealth. How much money was there?"

"Seventy thousand pounds," said the other with a wry face. And then, with
a shrug of his thick shoulders: "What does it matter?"

"How was the money left?" interrupted The Ringer.

"It had been left in equal parts to Mr. Ferdinand Goldford, Miss Lena
Goldford, his sister, and Mr. Anthony Goldford, his brother. The funny
thing about it was that the names were not specified.

"The poor old governor simply wrote, 'To the children of my late
brother-in-law, Tobias Goldford', and that is where the dispute came in."

"Dispute?" said The Ringer quickly. "Was the will disputed?"

His visitor made a grimace of weariness.

"Don't let us talk about it."

"But I very much want to talk about it," said The Ringer. "Hasn't the
will been made absolute, or whatever happens to these things?"

"Probate hasn't been granted--no. I thought of popping in, but a lawyer
fellow I met on my tramp to London told me I hadn't a dog's chance. The
trouble is that there's a fourth son by a former wife of Tobias, and in
persuading the old man to make the will they'd forgotten all about him.

"He's been in South America and he claims to have a share. Old Tobias, by
the way, was married the first time in South America and had this one
son. There was a devil of a delay while they collected evidence.
Naturally, the other Goldfords were furious with this fellow, and there
have been all sorts of lawsuits--"

"Is Ferdinand Goldford a very offensive man?" asked The Ringer gently.

"He's an utter cad," was the prompt reply.

"I am clairvoyant," murmured Henry Arthur Milton, and a beatific smile
dawned on his face.

Next morning The Ringer was early abroad pursuing his inquiries. He saw a
copy of the will; it had been witnessed by two old servants of the
deceased man, and was signed three months before his death. The Ringer
returned from Somerset House primed with this information.

"Who was Jessica Brown and William Brown?" he asked.

"You mean the witnesses to the will?" Mr. Burt stopped in the middle of a
very hearty breakfast to look up in some surprise. "You've been pretty
early at the job!"

"Where are they to be found?"

"In Heaven," said Lopez Burt grimly. "They only survived the poor
governor by about five months. My lawyer pal--by the way, I met him in
prison again--told me that there might be a chance of upsetting the will
if they were alive. They were a nice old couple. They used to write to me
regularly in India. They knew me when I was a child. I suppose I've
dozens of their letters--"

"Are they in the box, too?" asked The Ringer quickly.

Lopez Burt considered.

"Yes; I don't think there is anything but letters."

"Splendid!" said his host. "This morning you will go along and collect
that box and bring it here."

A week later a smart-looking man of middle age, with an iron-grey
moustache, alighted from an expensive motor-car before the porch of Crake
Hall, and the florid Ferdinand, who had been playing clock golf on the
lawn, loafed across to discover the identity of the visitor.

"Good morning," said the caller brusquely. "I'm Colonel St. Vinnes. Is
Burt anywhere about?"

"Burt?" said Ferdie in amazement. "Do you mean my cousin, Lopez Burt?
Good Lord! I thought everybody knew about him. He got into serious
trouble in India and had to clear out--"

"I know, I know," snapped the other. "But that was before the Lal Singh
affair--the lucky young devil! If he wastes that fortune I'll never
forgive him. I thought he had come back from America--"

Ferdinand Goldford was very much interested. Money fascinated him.

"Is that old Lope you're talking about?" he asked, not concealing his
astonishment. "Got a lot of money, has he? We haven't heard from him."

The Colonel's face expressed astonishment. "He's not here, then? Dear,
dear, dear, that's extremely awkward!"

Ferdinand was impressed.

"Won't you come in?" he invited, and the visitor followed him through the
large square hall into the drawing-room, and found himself being
introduced to Ferdie's brother and sister--florid replicas of Ferdie,
with the same fresh, round faces and small, blue eyes. Mr. Burt had
described them as "pig-cunning", and this was not an inapt description.

"Friend of old Lope's," said Ferdinand loudly, as though he were prepared
in advance to drown their protests. "Colonel--um--"

The visitor supplied his name.

"Old Lope's made a lot of money...in America now." Mr. Goldford spoke
rapidly. They eyed the visitor suspiciously, incredulously. Apparently
the idea of Lope making money was a paralysing one.

"The point is," said the Colonel, looking at his watch, "how can I get in
touch with him? I had a cable saying that he would call here in the
course of the day, but I've got to go back to London. Is it possible for
me to leave a letter for him?"

It was not only possible, but Ferdie was most anxious to facilitate the
process. "Come this way. Colonel."

They passed down a broad passage into a lovely old room, the walls
covered with bookshelves.

"This was the old fellow's library. We don't use it much now. Here's a
table; there is no ink, but perhaps you'd like to use my fountain-pen?"

The Colonel had a pen of his own. Ferdie bustled out to get the necessary
stationery. He came back in a few minutes and explained that this room
was seldom used.

"Too many books, too smelly, too dismal," he said, as he laid the paper
before the visitor. "We can't clear it out till this will business is
settled. That ought to happen in a couple of weeks."

"It seems rather a nice library," said the Colonel, glancing round.

Ferdie smiled. "Don't you believe it! There isn't a book here worth
reading. Look at 'em?"

Certainly the bookshelves had a very solid appearance. There was one
filled with ancient tomes, the covers of which were considerably
dilapidated.

The Colonel wrote his letter, with Mr. Goldford standing over him. He had
sharp eyes and could read "My dear Lope" and "terribly sorry I missed
you..." but he really wasn't trying hard to discover the contents of the
letter. That could easily be steamed open after this military-looking
gentleman had left. Indeed, the Colonel was hardly out of the grounds
before the family were perusing the four-page letter that he had written.

"Nothing--absolutely nothing," said Ferdinand, and his brother agreed.

Certain shares were referred to, but not specifically mentioned. Ferdie
re-sealed the letter and put it aside for his cousin when he called.

"What do I do now?" asked Lopez Burt, when The Ringer joined him at
dinner that night in the little Adelphi flat.

"You will emulate the rabbit who laid low, and maintain a discreet
silence," said Henry Arthur Milton. "I am thoroughly enjoying this
little adventure. You went to the tailors?"

Lope nodded. "It wasn't as ghastly as I thought," he replied, "and I'm
getting almost used to ready-made clothes. They didn't fit me very well
in prison. They're making a few alterations and delivering them tonight.
I suppose you realise I have already spent over a hundred pounds of your
money?"

"You will spend more," said The Ringer cheerfully. "As soon as your
clothes arrive you will pack them, take a taxi and drive to the
Ritz-Carlton. I've already reserved your room in advance. When you get
there you will write to your lawyer, Mr. Stenning-Stenning and Stenning,
isn't it?

"You will say that you have arrived, and you'll be glad if he will come
to dinner one night. He won't come, because he's one of those old
gentlemen who never go out. I have written to him already."

"You've written to him?" said the other incredulously. "Why?"

"You promised to ask no questions," said The Ringer, with one of his rare
smiles. "All I want you to do is to establish the fact that you're living
in luxury somewhere in London."

Lopez Burt shook his head in bewilderment. "I don't know what the idea
is--" he began.

"Don't try. All you have to do is to sit tight and wait for good
fortune," said The Ringer. "I didn't like Mr. Goldford before I saw him.
Why, I cannot explain. When I saw him I loathed him. I made a few
inquiries--some tradesmen are very talkative--and there's no doubt that
these people descended on your unfortunate father at a period when he was
unable to resist their influence.

"He was not staying with them, as you supposed. They were staying with
him. It is an extraordinary piece of good luck that they are constantly
dismissing and engaging servants."

"Where's the luck in that?"

But The Ringer did not explain.

"Another bit of good luck," he went on, "was that there was no stationery
in the library. If there had been I should have taken another course."

"I'm not going to ask any more questions," said Lopez Burt. "You've been
a brick to me, and if ever I can repay you--"

"Not only can you repay me, but you will. I'm trusting you to say nothing
about myself. Here is an address in Berlin: I want you to keep that by
you and never lose it. As soon as you're in a position to do so you can
send me 6,000, which I shall regard as commission well earned."

Lopez Burt smiled. "You'll have to wait a very long time for that!" he
said.

"Not so long," said The Ringer cryptically.

That morning, Mr. Samuel Stenning, the senior partner of Stenning and
Stenning, received a letter. It was addressed to him personally,
expressed, and certain words in the ill-written and illiterate
communication were heavily underlined.

'...I could, tell you things that are going on at old Mr. Burt's place
that would make your hare stand up on end! I know what happened before he
died, when he sent for old Mr. Brown and had a long talk with him...he
wasn't daft then.

'He came down to the libery and I see him put something in a book. It was
on the third shelf, it was called Concrudence. I often wanted to look and
see what it was, but I never had a chants.

'I'll bet it was something about the Goldfords, who are a miserable lot
of people and don't deserve to live in the house of a gentleman. I'll bet
this thing he put in the Concrudence was a showing up for the Goldfords.'

The letter bore the signature "A Friend." Mr. Stenning was not unused to
anonymous letters, and ordinarily would have dropped it in the
waste-paper basket; but he, too, disliked the Goldfords exceedingly, and
had been secretly pleased when a new heir had appeared on the scene and
had disputed their share of their ill-won possessions.

Unfortunately he had been a semi-invalid in the south of France when the
will was made, and had no knowledge of its circumstances; but he was
satisfied in his own mind that old man Burt was not in a condition to
dispose of his property, and if he had had the slightest evidence on
which the will could have been opposed he would have combed the earth for
Mr. Burt's unfortunate son.

It was a remarkable coincidence that that morning he should receive a
note from the Ritz-Carlton announcing the arrival of Lopez Burt in
London.

 "Humph!" said Mr. Stenning. "That's queer!"

He turned the matter over in his mind all day, and the following morning,
instead of going to the office, he and his clerk went down in his car to
Bourne End. Mr. Goldford was not so surprised to see him as he had
imagined he would be.

"Good morning, Mr. Stenning. Have you seen anything of Lope?"

"I believe he is in London," said Stenning, himself astonished. "Did you
know?"

Ferdinand grinned.

"No, I haven't heard from him. Somebody called here for him yesterday and
left a note. You might give it to him if you see him. Is anything wrong?"

"No; I've had some information on which I feel compelled to act," said
Mr. Stenning. "Have you found any documents belonging to your uncle?"

A look of alarm came to the round face of Ferdie. "Documents?" he
squeaked. "No--what documents could there be?"

"Has the place been searched thoroughly?"

"We've had his desk and boxes opened, and most of the letters he left
behind were sent to your office," said Ferdinand. "There has been nothing
else. What do you expect?"

"Can I look in the library?"

Ferdinand hesitated.

"Certainly," he said.

He went in first and must have communicated the news to his brother and
sister, for when Mr. Stenning and his clerk reached the drawing-room
their reception was a chilly one.

"What's the idea of all this nonsense?" asked Ferdinand irritably. "What
documents could he have left? I know you don't think he was in his right
mind, but there's the will, signed and witnessed--"

"By two people who are now dead," said Stenning drily.

Ferdinand's face flushed an angry red.

"That doesn't invalidate the will, does it?" he demanded angrily. "Of
course they're dead. You saw them when they were alive; didn't they tell
you that Mr. Burt was perfectly normal...?"

"What's the use of arguing, Ferdie?" said the shrill voice of his sister.
"Let's go in and see the library."

The lawyer and his clerk accompanied the family into the gloomy room.
Stenning walked up and down, examining the books on the third shelf.
Presently his hand went up. It was Cruden's Concordance.

"I am informed there is something here," he said.

He took down the book, laid it on the table, and it opened on a faded
sheet of paper. Ferdie saw the heading, gasped, and his jaw dropped.

"Good God!" he said.

It was headed "The Last Will and Testament," and was written in the
crabbed hand of old Mr. Burt. The lawyer read the document carefully. It
revoked all former wills, and "particularly the will I made on the
seventeenth of February last, and which I now regard as being neither
just nor equitable," and left the whole of his property to Lopez Henry
Martin Burt, "my dear son."

The signature was undoubtedly that of the dead man. Beyond any question
the witnesses were those who had witnessed the other will--and it had
been made three weeks later!

"I'll dispute this," stormed Ferdinand, pale and quavering. "The thing's
a forgery--there are no witnesses--"

"The same people witnessed the will in your favour," said the lawyer with
quiet malice. "I am afraid this document will make a great difference to
you."

He put the will in his pocket. For a second Ferdie's attitude suggested
that he would take it from him by force.

"It's a forgery!" he bellowed. "I'll dispute it, by God! if I have to
spend every penny..."

"You haven't many pennies to spend of your own, Mr. Goldford," said the
lawyer acidly.

Seven months later Lopez Burt enclosed an open draft for six thousand
pounds in a letter he posted to an address in Berlin. He wrote:

'I don't know exactly how it all happened, but the Court have upheld my
claim. I am still mystified as to how you knew of the other will--that is
the greatest puzzle of all. The document was undoubtedly in my father's
handwriting, and I could swear to the signatures of the two witnesses...

'Do you remember asking me to get the box from the bank? You must have
seen a lot of my father's writing there, and also the letters from the
two servants. If you'd seen the will also you would have agreed that
there was no question as to the authenticity of the document.'

The Ringer purred at this. He was rather proud of his draughtsmanship,
and he had reason to be. He had forged that will in four hours, which was
something of an achievement.



XVII - A "YARD" MAN KIDNAPPED


Government Departments keep a sharp eye on post-prandial oratory. They do
not like their servants, high or low, to talk shop in their leisure
hours. Certainly they strongly discount anything that has the appearance
of being criticism of superiors; and Inspector Mander overstepped the
bounds when, at a police banquet, and in the course of proposing such an
innocuous toast as "The Ladies," he made a reference to The Ringer.

"People sometimes criticise us because notorious criminals remain at
large," he said. (The quotation is from the Outer London News and
Suburban Record.) "I am not so sure that we have done all we might have
done, or that the right methods have been employed to bring him under
arrest. This man is not only a menace to society, but a mark of reproach
against our administration."

If Bliss had not disliked him so intensely, he would have broken
Inspector Mander. It was the knowledge that he actively loathed this
cocksure officer that induced him to excuse his error. Nevertheless,
Inspector Mander stepped upon the carpet before a very high official and
spent a most uncomfortable ten minutes, during which he did most of the
listening.

It was three days after the publication of Mander's speech in a weekly
newspaper that Bliss received a letter from The Ringer.

'I am rather tired of Mander, and I think I will put him where he
belongs. Fools rather terrify me because they have the assistance of
Providence--which is distinctly unfair.

'You may tell Mr. Mander from me that before the end of the week has
passed I shall get him.'

Bliss sent for his subordinate.

"Read this," he said.

Mander read and forced a smile, but the superintendent knew that he was
none too happy.

"He has never threatened you before, has he?" asked Bliss.

Mander laughed, but there was no real mirth in it.

"That kind of bunk doesn't scare me," he said. "I've been threatened
by--"

"By The Ringer?" asked Bliss maliciously, enjoying the officer's
discomfiture.

Mander moved uneasily in his chair.

"Well, no, not by The Ringer, but--er--I don't take very much notice of
that."

And then he brightened visibly.

"You can see, chief, that this fellow's scared of me, and--"

"Excuse me a moment while I laugh," said Bliss sardonically. "Scared of
you! What job are you on now?"

Mr. Mander was dealing with a case of car-stealing. He had got on the
track of a fairly important organisation which, if it did not actually
steal, certainly played the part of a receiver. Bliss listened and
nodded.

"You ought to be safe," he said. "You've got Sergeant Crampton working
with you; he's a pretty intelligent man."

Mander winced.

"The Duke of Kyle--" he began, and the nose of Mr. Bliss wrinkled.

"The Duke of Kyle is a great authority on the breeding of pigs and
nothing else--oh, yes, I read his letter in the Monitor, praising your
speech. That nearly got you hung. But he's no authority on The Ringer."

The Duke of Kyle was one of those peers who had very little occupation in
life other than the breeding of pigs and the inditing of letters to
newspapers. He had written his unqualified approval of Mr. Mander's
speech, and had, moreover, suggested fantastical and not even novel
methods for bringing The Ringer to justice. Bliss had read and had feared
for his Grace.

That night Mander was at Netting Dale Police Station, pursuing his
inquiries, and was coming down the steps when a beautiful limousine drew
up at the door and a lady in evening dress stepped down. She was
fair-haired and very beautiful; her hands sparkled with diamonds; from
her ears hung two glittering stones.

"Can you tell me where I can find Inspector Mander?" she asked, and
Mander, susceptible to feminine charms, lifted his hat. "You're he? Mr.
Bliss said I should find you here."

"Is anything wrong, madam?"

The lady nodded; she seemed a little breathless, considerably agitated.

"It is about my car," she said, lowering her voice, "a coupe. It was
stolen this afternoon while I was shopping in Bond Street. Somebody
enticed the chauffeur away...It isn't the loss of the car. I wonder if I
could speak to you alone? Could you come back to Berkeley Square with
me?"

Mander gave instructions to his men and followed the lady into the
luxurious, delicately-perfumed interior. She was silent for a while.

"It isn't the loss of the car," she said again, "but I foolishly left my
handbag in the pocket. There are letters that--it's very difficult to
tell you this--that I--I wish to recover. I can speak to you
confidentially?"

"Certainly, madam," said Mander.

His proximity to such a fragrant, lovely being was a little intoxicating.

"The Duke and I are not on very good terms, but there has never been a
question of--divorce. These letters will make a tremendous difference to
me. Is it true that such things can be recovered through the--the
underworld?"

Mander smiled. "They say so in books, and it has happened in real life,"
he said, "but it has never been my experience."

If Inspector Mander had been a little more experienced he would have
returned a different answer.

"They're compromising letters, I suppose?"

"Compromising? Yes--well, I suppose they are. They're from a boy--my
cousin. Oh dear, oh dear!" She wrung her hands in despair.

"I'll try to get them for your grace," said Mander gallantly. He did not
know which duchess this was. His acquaintance with the peerage was slight
and sketchy, and the only member he knew was an impoverished lord who
occasionally found himself on the verge of prosecution.

She opened a little flap in the car before her and took out a jewelled
cigarette case--in that half-light the diamond monogram sparkled
brilliantly.

"Do smoke."

He took a cigarette and politely offered her a light to the cigarette she
put between her red lips. There was a little microphone attachment at the
side of the car, and she pressed a button. Mander saw the chauffeur bend
his head towards the earpiece.

"Drive round the park for a little while before you go to Berkeley
Square," she commanded.

In the light of his match Mander had seen the ducal coronet and a "K".
The Duchess of--? Kyle, of course!

"The trouble with Bertie is that he's very indiscreet," she said. "He
writes letters..."

Mander, who had settled himself more comfortably in the corner of the
car, most unaccountably fell asleep at this juncture.

The ringing of the telephone bell brought Bliss from his bed and into the
cold room where the instrument was. Detectives are human, and they never
quite get accustomed to being awakened at half-past three in the morning.

"Mander? What do I know about Mander? Why? Ring him up, my dear man," he
said testily.

"He's not in his house, sir. We haven't seen him since he went away with
the lady."

Bliss was instantly wide awake.

"Which lady?"

The man at the other end of the phone told him of the car that called at
Netting Dale.

"It's the Duke of Kyle's car," said that same Sergeant Crampton in whose
intelligence Bliss had expressed his unbounded faith. "We found it
abandoned on Hamsptead Heath. It had been stolen from his Grace's
garage."

"Have you searched it?"

"Yes, sir. We found rather an important clue--a lady's card, with a few
words scribbled in pencil."

"Bring the car round and pick me up," said Bliss, and was waiting in the
street before the police tender came in sight.

By the light of the headlamps he examined the card. In a woman's hand was
written: The Leek. First left, first right--Stillman.

"Now, look at this, sir," said the sergeant.

He switched on the lights inside the car, which was upholstered in fawn.
The tiny carpet on the floor was of the same colour, but near the
left-hand door was a large red patch, and on the padded upholstery on the
near side of the car a larger patch level with a man's head.

"It's blood," said the sergeant. "I saw him go off, and that's the seat
he occupied."

The local inspector of police was present at the examination.

"What is The Leek? Is there such a place near here?"

The inspector shook his head.

"No, but Stillman is the name of a house agent. He lives in Shardeloes
Road. I've sent one of my men to wake him. He ought to be up by now: will
you come round?"

They drove round to Shardeloes Road and found a sleepy, middle-aged man.

"The Leek is a cottage--I always call it The Leek; that was the former
name of it. It's an empty house on the edge of the heath." He took the
card, examined it, and nodded. "That's right. A lady asked to see it and
I gave her the directions. That's the handwriting of my clerk."

"Have you the keys of this place?"

"Yes, at my office. If you wait, I'll dress."

They waited while he dressed, accompanied him to his office in the steep
hill street, and, crossing the heath, dipped into a depression. The road
ran for some distance through an avenue of trees, at the end of which
were three or four houses. Mr. Stillman stopped the car at the first of
these, and the detectives jumped out. It was a gloomy-looking little
house with a forecourt behind the high wall. They passed into the garden
through a wicket gate, and Sergeant Crampton, using his lamp, led the
way. Presently he stopped.

"Look at this," he said.

On the stone flags were certain red stains, which were still wet. A
little farther along were others. When they reached the door they found
it half open.

Bliss went ahead with Crampton into the musty-smelling house, his lamp
searching the walls carefully. There was blood on the floor, blood on the
walls; the trail led him upward to the front room.

Here the evidence of tragedy was almost complete. There were bloodstains
everywhere, but if there was no sign of the body there was evidence of a
struggle, for one of the walls was spattered red, and near the door he
found the sanguinary print of a gloved hand.

He made a careful scrutiny of every room, but apparently only the front
room had been visited by Mander and his captor.

At four o'clock they were coming out of the house, when a car drove up
and a man stopped out. Crampton went to interview him, and returned with
the information that it was the Duke of Kyle's secretary.

"I had to telegraph to his Grace about the car being stolen," he said.
"His Grace is very much upset. The Ringer visited him last night."

"Where?" asked Bliss quickly.

"At Clane Farm--it is near Sevenoaks. His lordship has a large
pig-breeding establishment there," said this middle-aged gentleman.

Apparently the Duke had been retiring for the night, when somebody had
tapped on the window of his study; he had drawn up the window, and seen a
strange and to him, a terrifying face.

"He was armed," said the secretary, his voice quaking. "He made the most
terrible threats to his Grace. He said he was bringing a Mr. Mander to
stay with him that night, and that they would both be found in the same
condition in the morning."

"Did he notify the police?" asked Bliss.

"No, sir," The secretary shook his head. "His Grace is a very courageous
man. It was very curious that I should have been getting on to him at the
moment that he was trying to get into communication with me. He told me
he was sitting up all night, and that he would be heavily armed."

Bliss noted down the exact location of the pig farm.

"Can you get on to his Grace and tell him that we're coming down almost
immediately?" he asked. "I want to make an examination of this road."

After Mr. Whistle--for such was his peculiar name--had departed the
detective began a systematic search for further clues.

The path outside was of gravel, and, although there were stains which had
the appearance of blood, they were not sufficiently definite or
informative to help very much. Fifty yards along the road, however, Bliss
made a discovery. It was a large piece of bloodstained satin, rolled up
and thrown on one side. From here the evidences of tragedy were clear to
the naked eye. They followed the track of the tell-tale spots across the
Heath until they came to the edge of a pond, where they had ceased.

Bliss observed that the pond was within easy walking distance of the
place where the car had been found, and this puzzled him. If Mander had
been killed, why had not the body been immediately disposed of? Why had
it been taken to the house? This was not the only thing that puzzled him.
The detectives probed into the water with their sticks, but at the place
where the track ceased the water was deep. Bliss gave instructions that
the pond was to be dragged, but did not wait to see the result.

Ten minutes later the police car was speeding across Westminster Bridge
on its southward journey.

Daylight broke before they reached Clane Farm. It was rather a difficult
place to locate, and Bliss regretted that he had not brought the
secretary with him. They found it at last and saw that there were strange
activities, for in the narrow lane they met three men beating the hedges
and obviously searching for something. Bliss stopped the car and was
addressed by the red-faced leader: "Are you the police?" he demanded.
"That's quick work. I only telephoned you a quarter of an hour ago."

"I'm from Scotland Yard," said Bliss. "What's the trouble?"

"Trouble?" roared the man, going red in the face. "Pride of Kent's been
stolen. He couldn't have got out of his pen--"

"Who's Pride of Kent?"

"The finest hog in the country," said the man. "He's taken every first
prize, and I wouldn't have lost him for a thousand pounds. When his Grace
hears about it there's going to be trouble."

"When was he lost?"

"Last night. He was in his sty, and he couldn't have got out by himself,"
said the man. "One of these villagers must have come up and stolen him.
If we catch him there's going to be trouble. I wouldn't be surprised if
he'd been killed. You found blood, didn't you, Harry?"

"Yes, sir, I found blood," said the man he addressed. "It were near the
old building."

"Where is his Grace?" asked Bliss.

The man stared at him. "His Grace? Why, he's in Scotland."

The eyes of Mr. Bliss opened. "In Scotland? Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," said the man impatiently. "I had a letter from his Grace
yesterday. At least, not from his Grace, but from his secretary, Miss
Erford."

Superintendent Bliss did not so much as wince. "Is there a Mr. Whistle?"

The man had never heard of Mr. Whistle.

Bliss regretted even more that he had not brought the "secretary" with
him, though he had no doubt that that gentleman would have found a very
excellent excuse for remaining in London.

"There are lots of people who didn't like Pride of Kent," the man
proceeded. "Some of these pigmen had a grudge against him because he was
a bit savage; but he was the best hog in the county, and I don't know
what his Grace will say if I can't find him."

"Where was this pig kept?" asked Bliss.

The Pride of Kent lived in a handsome mansion which many of his Grace's
tenants might have envied. It was a low building, before which was an
ample yard, where the joy of the piggery could rest at his well-fed ease.
A steel grating was unfastened and the pigman explained just how
impossible it was for anybody but an educated porker to let himself out.

"My theory is that it happened last night," said the man. "There was a
van seen in the lane--"

"What is this?" said Bliss, and, stooping, picked up a round tin. It was
half-filled with a brown, treacly substance. "Have you seen this
before?"

The foreman shook his head. There was a small label on the tin, a wafer
of paper, and on this was written the word "Poison."

"The Ringer is about the most thoughtful man I have ever met with," said
Bliss bitterly, for he recognised the queer "n" that Henry Arthur Milton
invariably made. "We'll have that for analysis," he said. "I suppose the
Pride of Kent was rather fond of sweet things? I thought so. This looks
to me like golden syrup--and something else! I can well understand why he
didn't put up a squeak."

The pigman did not see the grim jest.

"What is that over there?" asked Bliss. He pointed to a range of
buildings, each with its little front forecourt.

"We keep the young pigs there. They are his last litter," said the pigman
proudly. "You won't find a bettor lot in Kent or anywhere else."

The forecourts were filled with little porkers, all engaged at that
moment in their morning meal. At the second pen Mr. Bliss paused. In one
corner was a round felt hat sadly battered and slightly gnawed.

"I think I'd like to go in here," said Bliss, and stepped in among the
terrified little pigs, who scampered in all directions save one--this was
significant. They did not go into the dark little house where they slept
at night. Olio or two did approach the entrance, but turned and fled
instantly.

Bliss stooped low and passed through the door. The man who sat propped up
in one corner bound hand and foot and scientifically gagged stared
pathetically into the eyes of his chief.

"Come in here," called Bliss, and the two detectives who were with him
followed.

It took them some little time to unfasten his bonds, but presently Mr.
Mander staggered out into the light and was stimulated with brandy.

He had nothing to say; he could only babble about a beautiful lady, and
somebody who carried him on his back. His most distinct recollection was
facing the tiny eyes of a dozen little pigs, who resented his intrusion
into their sleeping-quarters.

"Queer, isn't it?" said Bliss absently. "He said he'd put you where you
belonged. I won't be so uncomplimentary as to say that he did."

"This woman was one of the prettiest--"

"I have met Cora Ann Milton before, but I didn't know she was in
England," said Bliss; "and I don't suppose she is this morning."

One of the servants of the house came hurrying towards him. "There's a
telephone message for you, sir."

Bliss waved him aside. "I know all about it. They've found the body of
the Pride of Kent in the pond at Hampstead. I know exactly where the
bloodstains came from. I'm pretty sure I know where that unfortunate hog
was killed."



THE END



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