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Title: The Corner House
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: July 2010
Date most recently updated: July 2010

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Corner House
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Brisbane Courier, 19 July, 1905.

*



CHAPTER I.--The House Next Door.


A brilliant light streamed from the open doorway of No. 1 Lytton-avenue,
making a lane of flame across the pavement, touching pinched gaunt faces
that formed a striking contrast to the dazzling scene within. Outside it
was cold and wet and sodden, inside was warmth, the glitter of electrics
on palms and statuary and flowers, a sliding kaleidoscope of beautiful
dresses. A touch of this grateful warmth came soft and perfumed down the
steps, a drawn Lazarus huddled in his rags and shivered.

"What's all this mean?" he growled to an equally indigent neighbour.
There was a clatter and clash of harness as carriage after carriage
drove up. "This ain't quite Park-lane, guv'nor."

"Anyway, it's the fashion," the other growled hoarsely. "I ought to
know, because I used to be one of them before the accursed drink--but
that is another story. Ever heard of the Countess Lalage?"

"Oh, that's it. Lovely woman with a romantic history. Rich as thingamy,
been proposed to by all the dukes what ain't married already. Read it in
one of the evening papers."

Poverty and want were jostling with well-dressed content on the
pavement. It was one of the strangest and most painful contrasts that
can be seen in the richest city in the world. And the contrast was
heightened by the meanness of the Corner House.

Black, dark, deserted, grimy shuttered windows--a suggestion of creeping
mystery about it. Time ago the corner house was the centre of what might
have been a thrilling tragedy. Some of the older neighbours could tell
of a cry in the night, of the tramping of feet, of a beautiful woman
with the poison still in her hand, of the stern black husband who said
never a word, though the shadow of the scaffold lay heavily upon him.

Since then the corner house looked down with blank shuttered eyes on the
street. None had ever penetrated its mystery, nobody had crossed its
threshold from that day to this. The stern dark man had disappeared; he
had locked up his house and gone, leaving not so much as a caretaker
behind.

Strange that this dark, forbidding house should stand cheek by jowl with
all that was modern and frivolous and fashionable. Even in the garden
behind Lytton-avenue the corner house frowned with sightless eyes out of
its side windows, eerie and creeping in the daytime.

But the heedless throng of fashionables reeked nothing of this. The
Countess Lalage was their latest craze. Who she was or where she came
from nobody knew nor cared. She was young and wonderfully beautiful in a
dashing Southern way, her equipages were an amazement to the park; she
must have been immensely rich, or she would never have entertained as
she did. There must have been a Count Lalage at one time, for generally
a pretty little girl rode with the Countess, and this child was her
daughter. The Countess spoke casually of large South American
concessions and silver mines, so that Oxford-street and Regent-street
bowed down and worshipped her.

She had purchased No. 1 Lytton Avenue, just as it stood from an American
millionaire who had suddenly tired of society. Paragraphs in the cheap
society papers stated with awe that the sale had been settled in five
minutes, so that on the spot this wonderful Countess Lalage had signed a
cheque for more than two hundred thousand pounds.

She stood now at the head of the marble staircase, a screen of palms
behind her, receiving her guests. If she were an adventuress, as some of
the critics hinted, she carried it off wonderfully well. If so, she was
one of the finest actresses in the world. A black silk dress perfectly
plain showed off her dark flashing beauty to perfection. She wore a
diamond spray and tiara; a deep red rose at her breast looked like a
splash of blood. Truly, a magnificent woman!

She had an easy word and a graceful speech for every one. An old
diplomatist, watching her earnestly, went away muttering that she must
be to the manner born. Her smile was so real and caressing, but it
deepened now, and the red lips quivered slightly as a bright-eyed,
square-headed young man came up the steps and bowed over her hand.

"So you came, after all, Dr. Bruce?" she said playfully. She pressed his
hand gently; her eyes were soft and luminous on his face. Any man whose
affections had not been pledged elsewhere would have felt his pulses
leaping. "Why?"

"Need you ask?" Gordon Bruce said gallantly. "You are my patroness, you
know. Your word is final in everything. And since you declared at a
fashionable gathering that Dr. Gordon Bruce was the man for nerve
troubles, I have found it necessary to hire a second horse."

The dark eyes grew more caressing. A more vain man would have been
flattered. To be the husband of Countess Lalage meant much; to be master
of all this wealth and splendour meant more. But the quiet elation in
Bruce's tones was not for the Countess, if she only knew it.

The flowing tide of satin and silks and lace sweeping up the staircase
swept young Gordon Bruce along. He passed through the glittering rooms
faint with the perfume of roses. There was a dim corridor full of
flowers and shaded lights. Gordon Bruce looked anxiously about him. A
glad light came into his eyes.



CHAPTER II.--Hetty.


The figure of a girl rose out of a bower of palms and ferns and stood
before Gordon Bruce with a shy welcome in her violet eyes. Just for a
moment Bruce found himself contrasting this fresh English beauty with
the Lalage Southern loveliness to the detriment of the latter. There was
a purity and sweetness, a wonderful tenderness of expression about Hetty
Lawrence that had always appealed to Bruce.

He had known Countess Lalage's governess for years. He admired her
independence of character, too, though on the whole he would have
preferred her taking the home that her uncle Gilbert Lawrence, the great
novelist, was ever urging upon her. But she would have a home of her own
soon.

"Gordon, I am so glad you have come," she whispered. "I have stolen away
for half-an-hour as Mamie is better. If she wants me I have told the
nurse--"

"She can't want you half so badly as I do," Gordon laughed as he bent
down and kissed the shy lips. "And that queer little creature will have
to learn to do without you altogether before long. Four new patients
to-day, Hetty. And I have taken the house in Green-street."

"Can we really afford it?" Hetty asked anxiously.

Bruce kissed her again. He loved that little pathetic, anxious look of
hers. He spoke confidently of the time when Harley-street should be
theirs. There was a strength, and reliance about her lover that always
comforted Hetty.

"I shall be glad," she whispered, after a thoughtful pause, "glad to get
away from here."

"That's flattering to me. But I thought you liked the Countess."

Hetty glanced fearfully around her. Nobody was near--only the palms--and
the scented roses could hear her confidences.

"I have tried," she confessed, "and I have failed. She fascinates and
yet repels me. There is some strange mystery about her. Gordon, I feel
sure that there is the shadow of some great crime on her house. It
sounds weak--hysterical, perhaps--but I can't get it out of my mind."

"But, darling, the Countess has been a good friend to me."

"I know. You are strong and ambitious, and she is helping to make you
the fashion. But has it ever struck you why?"

"Perhaps it is because she has the good taste to like me," Gordon
laughed.

"Because she loves you," said Hetty, in a thrilling whisper. "Because
her whole heart and soul is given over to a consuming passion for you.
There is a woman who would go any length to win a man's love. If a
husband stood in the way she would poison him; if a woman, she would be
destroyed. Gordon, I am frightened; I wake up in the middle of the night
trembling. I wish you had never come here; I don't know what I wish."

Gordon looked down into the troubled violet eyes with amazement. Surely
he would wake up presently and find that he had been dreaming. Countess
Lalage with all the world at her feet, and he a struggling doctor. Oh,
it was preposterous! And yet little words and signs and hints unnoticed
at the time were coming to his mind now.

"I wish you hadn't told me this," he murmured, uneasily. "It would have
been far--"

He paused. From overhead somewhere came the sound of a frightened
wailing cry, the pitiful call of a child in terror. Hetty was on her
feet in a moment, all her fears had gone to the winds.

"Mamie," she exclaimed. "Of course, nurse has crept off to the rest of
the servants. Poor little wee frightened soul."

Hetty flashed off down the corridor, and was gone leaving Bruce to his
troubled thoughts. Just before going, Hetty stood on her toes, and
kissed her lover lightly on the lips. It was, perhaps, a goodnight
caress, for there was a chance that she might not return.

There was a sound at the top of the corridor, just the suggestion of a
swish of silken drapery, and Gordon Bruce half turned. Under a cluster
of electric lights stood Leona Lalage; she must have seen everything. It
might have been fancy, it might have been a guilty conscience, but just
for the moment Countess Lalage seemed transformed into a white fury with
two murderous demons gleaming in her dark restless eyes. Then her silk
and ivory fan fell from her hands, and Gordon hastened to recover it.

When he looked up again the mask of evil passion was gone. The Countess
was smiling in her most fascinating manner.

Gordon could not know that the long filbert nails had cut through the
woman's glove and were making red sores on the pink flesh. He did not
know that he would have stood in peril of his life had there been a
weapon near at hand.

"You must not flirt with my governess, Dr. Bruce," she said. "I would
have given a great deal not to have seen what I saw just now."

The rebuke sounded in the best of taste. Gordon bowed.

"I have a good excuse," he said, "in fact, the very best. As I told you
some months ago, I have known Miss Lawrence for years. We have always
understood one another, but because I was in no position to marry
nothing has been said. Won't you be the first to congratulate me on my
engagement?"

"Then fetch me an ice. By the time you return I shall have thought of
something pretty to say. Ah, I have pricked my finger. The ice, my dear
boy, the ice. The finger will not hurt till you return."

Her hand had shot out grasping for something to steady herself on--the
whole world spun around her. She had given her whole passionate,
tempestuous soul to this man; she had never dreamt that she could fail
to gain his love. She had never failed before, she had only required to
hold up her hand ...

She clasped the stem of a rose passionately. The cruel thorns cut into
the soft white flesh, but there was pleasure in the very pain. Another
moment and she would have flashed out her secret and despair to the
world. For the moment she was crushed and beaten to the earth. Yet she
spoke quite quietly and evenly, though the effort brought the blood
thrilling to her temples.

She was alone now; she could give vent to her passionate anger. She
smashed her fan across her knee, she tore her long gloves into
fragments. Dimly in a mirror opposite, she saw her white ghastly face,
and the stain of blood where she had caught her lips between her teeth.

"So I have to sit down and submit to that tamely," she murmured. "You
little white-faced cat, you pink doll, so you are going to get the best
of me. We shall see; oh, yes, we shall see. If I could be somewhere
where I could tear myself to pieces, where I could scream aloud and
nobody could hear! If I could only face him now and smile and say
honeyed words! To-morrow, perhaps, but not to-night. Even I have my
limits ... He's coming back!"

One glance at the dim mirror and Leona Lalage flew down the corridor.
The music of the band was like the sound of mocking demons in her ears.
As she flew up the stairs she could see the blank windows of the corner
house staring dreadfully in. Then she locked the door behind her, and
flung herself headlong down on the bed.

Only for a minute, a brief respite; then she must go down to her guests
again.



CHAPTER III.--The Face at the Window.


Hetty darted up the secondary staircase intent only on her little
charge. The child was unusually nervous and imaginative, as if she had
been frightened by the ghost stories of a foolish nurse. Alternatively
her mother's pet and encumbrance, Mamie had been driven back upon
herself. And she had given up all the love of her heart to Hetty.

It was quite silent upstairs; there was no sign of a maid anywhere. As
Hetty reached the landing the frightened bleating cry broke out again.
There was only a night-light in the nursery; a little white figure sat
moaning in bed.

"You poor little mite," Hetty said tenderly. "There, there. I shall stay
here and not leave you any more until you go to sleep. Where is
Richards?"

"She said she wouldn't be a minute," Mamie sobbed. "I had one of my
headaches and I couldn't go to sleep. Then I began to get frightened and
I wanted somebody to talk to me. I could hear the people and the music
downstairs, so I just got out of bed and went into the corridor."

"Ah, that is why your feet are so cold. Well?"

"I stood in the corridor for some time," Mamie continued with her head
on Hetty's shoulder. "The blinds were up and I could see those wide
windows in the corner house. Richards' father was a footman there and
she told me all about the poor dead lady and the dark husband who never
said anything--"

"Richards shall tell you no more stories," Hetty murmured. "Go on, pet."

"And then I began to think about it and wonder. And when I was wondering
and wondering and looking into those dark windows I saw a light."

"You saw a light? In one of those windows? Nonsense!"

"Dearest, it was not nonsense at all. The shadow of the light was all
across my nightdress. I was so frightened that I could not call out
because the corner house is empty and it must have been a ghost. But
that was not all."

"You fancied that you saw something besides the light?"

"I am certain," said Mamie with a resolute nod. "There was a face, a
face looking out of the window. Oh, such a terrible face! It was dirty
and grimy and one eye was all discoloured, and both the eyes were wild
and fierce and hungry just like that new tiger at the Zoo. Then the face
went away and I screamed, and that's all, dearest, and oh, I am so
dreadfully tired."

The little dark head fell back and the troubles were forgotten for the
moment. The child was breathing regularly and peacefully now. More
disturbed and uneasy than she cared to admit, Hetty crept out into the
corridor. A certain amount of light from the house and the street fell
on the blank side of the corner house. There were the two blank windows
at one of which Mamie had seen the face.

It must have been imagination, seeing that the corner house had been
deserted for years. Hetty knew its story as well as anybody else.

Was it possible that some crime or tragedy was being enacted behind
those grimy walls, all unknown to the police? The house was reported to
be luxuriously furnished, the front of the place was all shuttered.
Stranger things are happening in this London of ours every day in the
week.

She could certainly mention the matter to--. Hetty stopped suddenly and
caught her breath. A faint light had commenced to glow in the corner
house, gradually the blank window shaped to a luminous outline. The
light grew stronger and stronger till Hetty could see the balustrade of
the staircase. And then, surely enough there came a face to the window.

A dreadful face, a face dull and dissipated, with horrible watery red
eyes, yet full of malice and cunning and passion. There was a bristle of
whiskers and a moustache, as if chin and razor had for days been
strangers. As suddenly as the face had come it turned. A hand shot out
from somewhere as if seeking for the throat of the strange apparition, a
fist was uplifted and the figure disappeared, evidently going down
before a cruel and crushing blow. The light vanished; it had probably
been overturned and gone out.

"Good heavens!" Hetty cried. "Did you see that?"

She was conscious that somebody was by her side. She looked and found
that her companion was the Countess. No answer came. Hetty touched the
other's arm. She was shaking from head to foot like a reed in the gale.

"Did you see that?" Hetty demanded, again.

The woman by her side was slowly recovering herself. A minute later, and
she was her cold calm self again.

"I saw nothing," she said, between her teeth. "And you saw nothing. It
was some trick of the imagination. There is nobody in yonder house. When
I took this place a year ago so that I could be near--what am I talking
about? I have been working too hard at my pleasures lately: I shall have
to take a rest."

"I am not suffering from any delusions," Hetty said, coldly.

"All the same, you will say nothing," Leona Lalage hissed. "What you
have seen or what you imagine you have seen to-night is to remain a
secret between us for all time. Do you understand me? There is no better
friend than I in all the world, and there is no more dangerous enemy.
See?"

She gripped the girl's arm with fearful force. A strong man would have
had no more firm a clasp. Hetty winced under the pain, but no cry
escaped her lips. There was some dark mystery here, some evil connection
between the desolation of the corner house and the brilliant
establishment in Lytton Avenue. Else why would Countess Lalage have been
so far from the centre of the small world called Society?

"'It is nothing to me," Hetty said coldly. "If you desire to avoid a
scandal for the sake of the house, my lips are sealed. If you have
nothing further to say to me, I will go and see if Mamie is still
asleep."



CHAPTER IV.--Weaving the Net.


Hetty rubbed her eyes with the feeling that it had all been a dream. It
was not yet very late, only a little after midnight, and the brilliant
saloons were still crowded with guests. Down below in the dining rooms
people were supping, there was the dreamy music of a band somewhere. As
if nothing in the world had happened Countess Lalage sat smiling
brilliantly and chatting with not the least distinguished of her guests
Mr. Gilbert Lawrence, the famous novelist.

Hetty's uncle was evidently flattered. He liked talking of his own work,
for his heart was in it, and he had for audience one of the most
brilliant and beautiful women in London. His voice was something
high-pitched, and it carried easily to Hetty's ears. Apparently, Bruce
was gone, for the girl could see nothing of him anywhere. She was only
too glad for a chance to sit down quietly and ponder over the disturbing
events of the evening. Nobody was likely to be particularly interested
in Leona Lalage's governess.

The little man with the keen, restless eyes and the pince-nez did not
suggest the popular idea of the novelist. He chattered on with frank
egotism. The world made much of him, and he took it for granted that all
the world was interested in his work. And he was talking eagerly to
Leona Lalage about the corner house. Hetty caught her breath eagerly.
That dark and evil place seemed to have suddenly become part and parcel
of her life. Instinctively she half hid herself behind a great dragon
vase full of palms.

"Fact is, I used to know the man who lived there," Gilbert Lawrence was
saying in his quick staccato way. "And I was once in the house. No, I
never met the wife. A depressing gloomy house like Tom Hood's haunted
mansion. Just the place to plan a murder in, and never to be found out.
After the scandal I worked out a novel on the subject."

Leona Lalage's eyes gleamed like points of fire. They seemed to be burnt
into her face. Hetty could see the restless play of the jewelled hands.

"Did you ever publish it?" she asked, eagerly.

"Never had the chance to write it," Lawrence cried. "But I worked it all
out. Wicked woman, revenge, plot to bring hero within the grip of the
law. It's pigeon-holed in my writing-desk, and labelled, 'The Corner
House.' But I don't suppose it will ever be written."

"Worth stealing," a society journalist lounging by remarked. "I could
write a novel, only I can never think of a plot. Your old housekeeper is
asleep long ago. Where do you carry your latchkey?"

"Ticket pocket of my overcoat," laughed Lawrence. "But you'll be found
out, Stead. Being a critic, the public would never take you seriously."

The Countess' eyes flamed again suddenly. Hetty, watching, was utterly
puzzled. What was there in this trivial conversation that held this
woman almost breathless? She had the air of one who has taken a great
resolution. She seemed like a man face to face with death, who sees a
way out.

A great many of the guests had by this time departed. It was growing
very quiet in the streets now, the jingle of harness and the impatient
pawing of horses had almost ceased. A soldierly-looking man came up to
Leona Lalage, and held out his hand.

"But you are not going to Aldershot to-night, Captain Gifford?" Leona
asked. "A cab? How extravagant!"

"Motor car," the stolid dragoon replied. "I've got a 15 horse-power
Daimler that I can knock seventy miles an hour out of at a pinch. And no
danger of being picked up for scorching on a dark night like this."

The Countess put her hand to her throat as if she had found some trouble
with her breathing. Those wonderful eyes of hers were gleaming like
electric flashes. Her face was white but her lips were drawn narrow with
resolution. She rose, and sauntered carelessly to the door.

"I dote on motors," she said. "Nothing pleases me better than to go out
in my own alone. I am coming to see your steed, Captain. The rooms are
so hot here that I have a great mind to run away with it."

Gifford murmured something about the honour and pleasure. There was no
vehicle to be seen in the dark street besides the gleaming mass of brass
and steel that quietly simmered by the pavement.

"A beauty!" the Countess exclaimed, "And the same action as my own. I
believe I know as much about it as my chauffeur. Captain Giffard, let me
try it alone, do. Harris, give me a coat. No, one of the gentlemen's
overcoats--that gray one will do. Do let me go round the square alone!"

Gifford consented with outward urbanity. Few men could say no when Leona
Lalage asked for a favour. With a man's coat over her gleaming black
dress and ivory shoulders she sprang into the car, and the next moment
she was flying round the corner. She laughed recklessly as she passed
out of sight, a laugh with a ring of insolent triumph in it.

Ten minutes, twenty minutes passed, whilst Gifford fidgeted with a
half-chewed cigarette in his teeth. Then there was a distant whirr, two
flaming eyes, and the gleam of brass and steel.

"An adventure!" the Countess cried gaily. "I have been dodging a couple
of policemen, or I should have been back before. Beware of the high
road. Goodbye Captain, and if ever you wish to dispose of your Daimler,
give me the first offer."

She passed up the steps with a face white but smiling, a queer lingering
smile that boded ill to some one.

A few guests of the higher Bohemian type still lingered, but with easy
tact the hostess contrived to get rid of them. Her absence had not been
noticed, the little escapade on the motor was not mentioned.

The look of triumph faded from her eyes, she had grown worn and weary.
The roses were wilting on the walls, the lights were mostly down now.
Hetty, looking in to see if anything was wanted, found herself driven
away almost fiercely.

"I am tired, weary, worn-out," the Countess cried. "I am sick of it all,
sick of the world, and sick to death of myself. Go to bed."

The house was quiet at last, there was a passing cab or two, the heavy
tramp of a policeman. Up in the nursery little Mamie was still sleeping,
she was flushed and uneasy and murmuring as she slept. The recreant
nurse lay on her back snoring loudly. Well, Hetty was a light sleeper,
and her room was just opposite the nursery. Nurse would have slept
through an earthquake.

Hetty returned to her room, but not to sleep. The vague shadow of some
coming trouble lay upon her. She was young and healthy and she was
engaged to one of the best men on earth. And they were going to be
married soon. She ought lo have been superlatively happy.

Yet she was restless and uneasy. She had never known what it was to be
nervous before. There was a dull booming noise somewhere, a knocking
that seemed to proceed from the corner house. Hetty heard something fall
with a thud, she could have sworn to a stifled cry. A door opened and
closed somewhere, there was a strong draught as if the basement had been
opened. Hetty's heart was beating in some strange unaccountable way. A
little cry brought her to her feet.

But it was only Mamie whimpering and crying for her. The child was awake
and sitting up in bed whilst the nurse still slept. Mamie was hot and
feverish.

"I am so sorry," she said, "but my throat is all parched up. Dearest, do
please get me some soda water."

"All right, darling," Hetty whispered. "Lie down and be quiet, and I
will see what I can do for you. I shan't be long."

There was everything that Hetty required in the dining-room. She crept
softly down the marble staircase in her stockinged feet; down below in
the hall a solitary point of flame in the electric corona made fitful
shadows everywhere. There was one light also in the big, dark,
dining-room, which was always left there, so that Hetty had no
difficulty in finding a syphon of soda water. She crept out into the
hall again and paused.

Cigarette smoke. Smoke of a pungent acrid kind that might have been
smoked in the house but never beyond the kitchen. And it was fresh, too,
for a trailing wreath of it hung heavy on the air. Without a doubt
somebody was in the morning room.

Yes, Hetty could hear the chink of a glass, the fizz of something
aerated. Her heart was beating painfully, but she was not afraid. Dimly
in a mirror opposite, she could see a hand reflected. But she could not
see the face. The girl deflected the mirror slightly, so that the head
and shoulders of the intruder were dimly focussed upon it.

A cry rose to her lips, but she stifled it. In a sudden, blind,
unreasoning fear she fled noiselessly up the stairs. She had seen that
man's features. It was the face of the man from the corner house!



CHAPTER V.--In the Morning Room.


The house seemed suddenly to have developed into a place of horrors.
Hetty had never been quite happy there. She had always distrusted and
been a little afraid of Countess Lalage. There was something inscrutable
about her face, a satanic suggestion behind her brilliant beauty.

There were little signs, too, that only a woman notices. It was as if
the girl had found herself in a house of criminals. It was all
wonderfully refined and luxurious, a perfectly appointed house, but
after a year there Hetty knew absolutely nothing as to the past of her
employer.

She flew up the stairs headlong with that blind unreasoning terror upon
her. A big clock suddenly striking two went off in her ears like a rife
shot. She caught a glimpse of her own face in a mirror. Was that white
seared visage her own sunny, happy face?

Without ceremony she darted into Countess Lalage's bedroom. The lights
were still up, and the mistress of the house was brushing out her long
black hair. She was cool and collected enough now.

"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded.

"A man in the morning room," gasped Hetty, "A man with a horrid crooked
nose and hands all over queer orange spots. Shall I alarm the house--"

"Come with me," Leona Lalage replied "You are dreaming. Of course, there
is no man in the house. Come along."

There was no sign of fear or dismay or anything else about the woman in
white with the long black hair streaming over her shoulders. Yet she was
annoyed, and her brains were working quickly. It was quiet in the
corridor, save the little fretful whine from the child for something to
drink.

"Ah, you have been down for Mamie," the Countess exclaimed. "She had one
of her turns again. Give the poor child some of that soda-water and then
follow me. Be quick."

Mamie drank greedily and thirstily. Then her head dropped and her eyes
closed. With her heart still beating furiously, Hetty ran down the
stairs. There was nobody in the morning room but Countess Lalage. She
was smiling in a contemptuous manner.

"I have been in every room," she said. "There is positively nobody
there. I shall have to send you away for a change of air. If you have no
further dreams to tell me we had better go to bed."

Hetty had nothing to say. She was tired and worn out, and the cool
contempt of her employer was galling. The Countess came into her bedroom
presently: all her coldness had gone. She was the winning, gracious
woman now as the world knew her. She had a little medicine glass in her
hand.

"I am sorry I spoke harshly to you just now," she said. "Drink this. It
is my own pet mixture of sal volatile and a spirit of my own. It will
act like a charm on those frayed nerves of yours."

Hetty drank the mixture gratefully. The few kind words were soothing. If
there was anything really wrong the Countess could not have behaved like
that. Her head touched the pillow, something delicious and warm seemed
to float over her, and she was sound asleep.

Leona closed the door behind her with a snap. She was alert and vigorous
as a general in action now. She passed downstairs swiftly but firmly,
and into the morning-room. One by one she snapped up the electric lights
till the whole room was bathed in a golden glow.

"Now, you scoundrel, come out," she cried.

The heavy curtains parted and the figure of a man emerged. He was short,
yet powerfully made, with a curious twist from the hip as if he were
deformed in some way. Ragged hair fringed his chin and lips. His long
nose was crooked on one side; his equally long hands were covered with
great orange freckles. An object of mistrust and suspicion everywhere.

The man's eyes were perhaps the worst part of him--dull, red, and
bloated, full of a certain ferocious cowardliness. They were the eyes of
a man who drank to excess. The red rims twitched.

"None of that with me," he growled. "Do you know who I am, Countess
Lalage? I am Leon Lalage, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and your
husband. Incomparable woman, you cannot alter that fact. For better or
worse, for richer or poorer, till death do us part!"

Death was near parting them now if the gleam in Leona Lalage's eyes
meant anything. She would have given half her splendour, years of her
life, to see that man lying dead at her feet. If she could have slain
him and safely disposed of his body she would have done so.

"How did you find me out?"

The man laughed silently, horribly, his body twisting as if on wires.

"Never mind that," he said hoarsely. "I did find you out, and here I am.
Oh, it was a cunning plot of yours--so near and yet so far away. And as
much brandy as I could drink so that I might drink myself to death, and
after that perhaps a handsome monument testifying to my virtues. But I'm
not going to stand it any more. I'm not going back there."

No reply for a moment, nothing but a quick heaving of the broad bosom, a
livid play like summer lightning in the dark eyes. The man lighted a
cigarette and puffed it noisily.

"I've got you, my lady," he said hoarsely. "Last time we parted you were
not so comfortable as you are now, a troisieme and a few francs per day
out of the cards when the police were complaisant. Here you have
everything. There are a score of things that I could pawn for enough to
keep me going for months. Ma foi, but you must be very rich."

"I have not L20 of ready money in the world."

"Give me carte blanche and I will put that right for you. I bear no
malice. Reverse the positions and I shall do my best to put you out of
the way. But I am not going back there any more."

"What do you propose to do then?"

"Retire to the Continent. To-morrow you let me have L500 as a guarantee
of good faith. Then I leave you--for the present. After that you can
marry the young doctor who has won your affections and be happy--for,
say a week."

Leona Lalage's white teeth came together with a click. It was good for
the man that she had no weapon in her hand. It was hard work to keep
down the tornado of passion that filled her. It seemed hard to imagine
that she had once loved this man. Heavens! what a fool she once was.

"You know too much," she said quietly. "If that fool Giuseppe had done
his duty you would have gone down to your drunkard's grave in ignorance.
But you are not going on the Continent to-morrow or the next day. Fool,
fool, have you not lived long enough to know that all that glitters is
not gold! For the moment I am living on my reputation and the splendour
of this house. Not one penny have I paid for it. People hold documents
and title deeds of mine that are forgeries. I have a grand coup that may
come off, and again it may fail. For the moment I am penniless."

The man nodded. The woman was speaking the truth, and he knew it.

"And in the meantime what do you propose to do?" she asked, swiftly.

"There is but one thing for it," the man responded. "There is ever
before my eyes the fear of the police. Therefore I go back to my prison
house till you are ready. But I have escaped once, and I shall escape
again. Play me false and I will come out and denounce you before a whole
crowd of your painted butterflies. I could say to your medical Adonis--"

"Be silent," Leona Lalage hissed, "take heed lest you go too far.
Begone, get back to your kennel, anywhere out of my sight. Do you think
I want to keep you near me an hour longer than is necessary."

He was gone at last; the hall door closed behind him. His footsteps
echoed on the pavement a few yards and then stopped. After that the
whole world seemed to be wrapped in silence. It was nearly dawn before
Leona Lalage crept into bed. She carefully locked away some papers that
she had almost committed to heart. There was triumph in her sleepy eyes.

"Freedom and revenge," she murmured. "What good words they are.
To-morrow! Well to-morrow shall be my destruction or my Waterloo!"



CHAPTER VI.--A Visitor.


On the whole, Gordon Bruce was persuaded that the world was a pleasant
place to live in. He had youth and intellect and ambition that looked
likely to be satisfied. Two years before he had recklessly ventured his
small capital on a suite of ground floor rooms in Duke street and for
some little time he had had a hard struggle to keep up appearances, and
pay the instalments as they became due on this somewhat showy furniture.

But it had all come right in the end. He had had a little luck, but his
great good fortune, or so it seemed, was when he had been called in to
attend little Mamie Lalage. The Countess was just beginning to swim then
upon the high tide of popularity. That the woman in her passionate,
headstrong way had fallen in love with him Bruce never dreamt. It was
only Hetty's woman's eyes and woman's instinct that had found the truth.

But the Countess was the fashion, and her doctor looked like being the
fashion, too. A Duchess had taken him up; she had firmly persuaded
herself that Bruce had saved the life of one of her children. From a
hundred or two, Bruce suddenly found his income expanded to as many
thousands. No wonder that his dreams were pleasant as he lay back
smoking a cigarette after dinner. There was only one drawback--most of
those two thousand pounds were on his books.

Well, his credit was good. If he could lay his hands upon a hundred or
two now, he would begin to furnish the house in Green-street at once.
Then when the season was over he and Hetty could be married. Yes, on the
whole Gordon Bruce's cigarette just then was an enchanting one.

There was a ring at the hall and a servant came in. Gordon hoped that it
was not a patient. He was dressed for a party, where he hoped to meet
Hetty; not a grand affair, but a few friends in Gilbert Lawrence's
luxurious chambers. Bruce looked at the card in his hand.

"I wonder who Herr Max Kronin is?" he muttered. "Ask the gentleman in."

He came, a mild-looking elderly German, heavy grey moustache, and eyes
hidden, behind a pair of silver-rimmed spectacles. He was slow of speech
and gasped a great deal as if he had some trouble at his heart.

"You wished to speak to me," said Gordon. "Pray sit down."

The elderly stranger did so, and immediately, the atmosphere was
impregnated with an odour of strong tobacco.

"It is not as a patient I came," he said. "I take the liberty to occupy
some of your valuable time. If you are in no hurry--"

"Not in the least," Bruce replied. "I have half-an-hour at your
disposal. Your case--"

"Ach, but I have no case, I am not what you call a patient. It is
another matter--a matter of sentiment."

Gordon bowed again; evidently a lunatic of the harmless type.

"Some days ago you bought a picture," Herr Kronin proceeded. "It was a
small picture of the early Dutch School, signed J. Halbin. A woman
nursing a sick child, and the father looking on. Not a valuable
picture."

"Certainly not," Bruce agreed. "I happen to know an expert who told me
so. It took my fancy and I gave ten pounds for it, which, I understand,
is about a tenth of its full value."

Herr Max Kronin nodded approvingly.

"That is so. Otherwise I should not be here to-night. As pictures go,
L100 is not much. But that picture belonged to my mother's family--in
fact, she is descended from the J. Halbin who painted it. It was sold
some years ago at a time of great distress. We were sorry. Sentimental,
you say, but it would be a bad world without sentiment. My sister, she
never ceased to mourn over that picture. When the good time comes she
try to get him back. But he has disappeared. Picture my delight when I
see him in a little time ago in a shop window. I go home for my
cheque-book--for I am not a poor man, Herr Bruce, now--and I hurry back
to the shop. On my way I send a telegram to my sister to say the picture
is found. When I reach the shop you have beaten me by ten minutes."

Herr Kronin paused, overcome by deep distress. His eyes behind the big
glasses looked appallingly at Bruce.

"So, you want to buy it from me," he suggested encouragingly.

"Oh, that is it, Herr Bruce, beyond doubt that is it. It will be easier
for me, I shall not be so distressed, if you let me make a bargain with
you. Herr Bruce, I will give you L200 for the picture."

Bruce hesitated for a moment. But why not? The man was wealthy, and the
picture was worth half what he asked, perhaps more, for experts are not
always correct. And L200 would mean the beginning of the furnishing of
the new house. Dim visions of a happy honeymoon rose before him.

"Very well," he said. "You shall have the picture. It is there on the
sideboard wrapped up as my expert friend returned it. Where shall I have
the pleasure of sending it for you?"

"I will take him with me." Kronin said eagerly. "It will be good to feel
that I have got him, that there will be no more cups slipped from ze
lip. Sentiment again! But there is no sentiment about these banknotes,
my friend."

He counted out forty L5 Bank of England notes on the table with a hand
that trembled strangely. He seemed restless and eager to be away now, as
if fearful that Bruce might change his mind. The whole thing might have
been a dream save for the crisp crackling notes on the table.

"Never rains but it pours," Bruce smiled as he thrust the notes in his
breast pocket. "To-morrow every penny goes for that wonderful lot of old
furniture in Tottenham Court road. What a pleasant surprise for Hetty!"

It required some strength of mind to keep the secret from the girl, but
Bruce managed it. It seemed to him that Hetty looked a little white and
drawn, but as the evening went on the happy look came back to her eyes
again. There was a small fernery at the back of the dining-room into
which Gordon hurried Hetty presently.

"My dearest girl, what is the matter?" he asked.

It was good to be with him there, to feel the pressure of his hand, and
to look into his keen, resolute face. With Gordon by her side Hetty felt
equal to meeting any terrors. Yet after a lapse of a few hours the whole
thing seemed so vague and intangible that she hesitated to speak.

"Is it the corner house again?" Bruce suggested playfully.

"Don't laugh, dear," Hetty whispered. "The place haunts me. I never seem
to be able to get away from the horrors of it. And last night--"

"Go on darling. I promise you not to laugh again."

By degrees Hetty told her story. It was real enough to her, but to
Bruce's practical mind it sounded unsubstantial and shadowy. After all,
she might easily have imagined the face at the window, and as to the man
in the morning-room he had only been mistily reflected in a dim old
mirror.

"But I should recognise him, anywhere," Hetty protested.

Bruce thought that she would probably never have the chance, but he did
not say so.

"Did Countess Lalage allude to it this morning?" he asked.

"Not a word," Hetty admitted. "She was glad to see me better; she
breakfasted with Mamie and myself, and she was altogether charming,
but--"

"But? There is much behind that word. You don't like her, Hetty?"

"I am afraid of her; I mistrust her; she frightens me. Call it prejudice
if you like, but there is something wrong about that woman. Did she find
out anything about us last night, Gordon?"

"I had to tell her, of course," Gordon, replied. "She accused me of
flirting with you, and I had to speak for your sake."

"And what happened after that?"

"Upon my word I forget. Oh, yes. She sent me at once for an ice, saying
that she would think of something pretty by the time I returned. She
must have forgotten all about it, for when I got back she had vanished."

It was Hetty's turn to hold her peace now. Leona Lalage had not felt
equal to facing Gordon at that moment. Even her iron will and resolution
were not equal to the strain.

"If I was only out of the house," she said. "If I was only out of that
house."

Gordon bent and kissed the quivering lips. His little secret was on the
tip of his tongue, but he repressed it.

"It will not be for long, dearest," he whispered. "Courage darling."

If he had only told her; if he had only spoken then!



CHAPTER VII.--At the Corner House.


Bruce walked home slowly and thoughtfully. The sound of a church clock
striking the hour of 1 came vaguely to his ears. As a matter of fact he
was more disturbed by Hetty's disclosures than he cared to admit. Hetty
was not in the least given to hallucinations, and, after all, there was
something mysterious about Countess Lalage. Still, she was so rich, and
she was a favoured guest in some of the best houses.

Bruce put his latchkey in the door and let himself in. As he did so a
motor came up and pulled to the pavement. The whole concern was a dull
black like silk; it was absolutely the most noiseless machine Gordon
Bruce had ever seen. It came like a ghost out of the darkness; like a
black phantom it stood to command.

The driver was clad in goggles and leather coat, thereby proclaiming the
fact that he was used to a high rate of speed. He placed a note in
Bruce's hand; there was an interrogative gleam in his eyes.

"For me?" Bruce asked.

The man merely made a gesture with his hands. Then followed a sign, by
which Bruce knew that he was speaking to a dumb man, a startling
affliction for a smart chauffeur.

Not that it mattered much, seeing that the letter was addressed to
Bruce. The note inside was evidently dashed off in a violent hurry. It
was an agitated request to the recipient to come in the motor at once;
there was no address, nothing more than this agitated plea. Under the
circumstances there was nothing startling in the presence of the
automobile.

Bruce started off, only staying long enough to get his professional
black bag. He might have satisfied a little of his curiosity on the way,
only his companion's affliction prevented that. He was on familiar
ground presently as the car flew along smoothly as a boat sails down
stream, until at length it pulled up with a jerk at the end of
Lytton-avenue.

The car had stopped just before the corner house!

Evidently it was going to be a night of surprises. If Bruce had any
astonishment he concealed it behind his professional manner. For the
corner house was dark and deserted no longer. A brilliant light burnt in
the hall. The door was opened presently by a woman who had a Spanish
mantilla over her head. Her hair was down, and in the gleam of the
lamplight Bruce could see that it was wonderfully long and fair and
beautiful. Bruce spoke to her, but she only replied in what he deemed to
be Spanish.

So far as he could see there were no signs of dust or desolation about
the corner house. The hall was clean and bright, there was a thick
carpet on the stairs. Every door was shut save one on the first floor,
into which the fair beauty with the lovely hair led the way. Four or
five gas jets were flaring away with a hissing roar. A draught from
somewhere made them flicker restlessly on a large room absolutely devoid
of furniture save for an old-fashioned four-post bedstead in the middle.
The air was close and stuffy, as if the window had not been opened for
months. There were barred shutters before them.

The Spanish beauty said something, and pointed to the bed. A man in a
deep sleep lay there--so deep a sleep that at first Bruce took him to be
dead. But there was just the slightest flicker of a pulse, a quiver of
the eyelids. On a table close by was a glass containing, from the odour
of it, laudanum. A half-empty phial of it was clenched in the patient's
hand.

A small, twisted man, with a nose all crooked on one side, and fingers
covered with huge orange-coloured freckles! Bruce choked down a cry of
amazement. It was indeed proving a night of surprises.

Here was the very man whom Hetty had seen at the window of the corner
house--the very man whose features, as seen from the morning room, had
been reflected in the mirror. It was impossible that there could be any
coincidence here. Once seen the man could never be forgotten. It looked
as if the new mystery of the corner house was going to be explained.

Just for a moment Bruce almost lost his self-possession. The beauty with
the fair hair was regarding him curiously. He felt half annoyed that he
had been so near betraying himself. The medical man was uppermost now.
Evidently the patient was in a state of almost collapse from alcoholic
poisoning. As is usual in such instances, sleep had forsaken the
wretched man, and he had had recourse to drugs. He had taken an
overdose, and medical aid had been summoned just in the nick of time.

The corner house, the mystery--everything was now forgotten. Bruce
called for hot water, he made a sign for it, he simulated the mixing of
mustard in a pot. Fortunately his companion's native intelligence was
equal to the strain. She vanished with a quick nod of her head.

The house was wonderfully quiet; not a sound came from anywhere. The
repulsive figure of the man lay there like some new and hideous form of
death. Who he was and why he came there Bruce did not dare to think for
the present. Perhaps the dark owner of the house had returned; perhaps
this was the very man himself. Certainly there was no foul play here, no
audacious criminal invasion of the house, seeing that the light in the
hall could be seen from the street.

Surely they were a long time getting that hot water. In such a case as
this hurry was everything. Bruce crept from the room and looked over the
banisters. The whole place was in darkness!

Bruce caught his breath sharply. He had scarcely time to consider what
it all meant when the light flared up again, and the fair woman returned
with a kettle and basin and a tin of mustard.

The doctor slipped off his dress-coat and turned up his sleeves. In a
prim sort of way his fair attendant took the coat away and hung it up
carefully in the dim recesses of a big cupboard at the far side of the
room. With great care and patience Bruce contrived to coax a quantity of
the hideous mixture of mustard and water down the unconscious man's
throat.

For the next hour the struggle between life and death was a severe one.
Once the strong emetic had done its work something like consciousness
returned. The patient staggered backwards and forwards across the room
on Bruce's arm until the latter was fagged and weary and the moisture
dripped from his forehead.

The first faint streaks of dawn were breaking as Bruce donned his coat
and deemed it safe to proceed home. He made the woman with the golden
hair understand that he would come again.

She shook her head and smiled as she held out three pounds and three
shillings.

Evidently this kind of thing had happened before, and this was the fee
usually paid. Bruce slipped the money in his pocket, feeling that he had
earned it. The guide picked up a Bradshaw from the table and indicated
Dover therein. Two strapped portmanteaus were on the floor.

The meaning of this was all plain enough. Bruce had had his fee and was
dismissed because these strange people were leaving for the Continent at
once, provided the patient was well enough to travel. Suddenly the hall
light went out again and once more the house was in darkness. There was
the sound of a heavy footfall outside. Bruce put his back to the wall
prepared for eventualities.

A scraping of a match, a flood of light again, a queer half-amused smile
on the Spaniard's face, as she noted Bruce's expression. Then the front
door was opened, and he was bowed out politely. Before he had time to
cross the road the light was out again and the whole home in darkness.

The cool morning air was grateful after the stuffy atmosphere of the
corner house. Here was an adventure to think about and ponder over.
Strange coincidence that he of all men should have been called there! It
never occurred to Bruce that the thing could be anything but
coincidence.

Should he keep the whole matter to himself he wondered. At any rate he
need not tell anybody but Hetty. Perhaps that drunken lunatic was some
relation to the master of the corner house; he might have found his way
into Lytton Square in a state of semi-insanity by favour of a careless
servant. The thing was capable of a very practical solution.

Bruce put the thing out of his mind for the time being. The next morning
was a busy one. When the back of it was broken he drove to Tottenham
Court road, where he managed to secure the old-fashioned furniture which
had so taken his fancy. He felt pleased with his bargain, but as he
repaired to the Lotus Club to lunch with Gilbert Lawrence, nothing
remained of the old Dutchman's bank notes.

Lawrence was deep in the early edition of 'The Star.' He nodded to Bruce
and looked up from his paper eagerly.

"By Jove, listen to this," he exclaimed. "Here's a strange thing for
you. Some houses seem famed for tragedy, like some men are."

"Something in your line?" Bruce asked. "Well, I should say so. Listen:"

THE TRAGEDY OF THE CORNER HOUSE.

"'The Corner House keeps up its reputation. A mysterious murder in Raven
Street, where an undiscovered crime happened years ago.

"'At a little past twelve to-day a policeman on duty in Raven Street saw
that the door of an unoccupied furnished house was open, and proceeded
to investigate the premises. In a room upstairs he found the body of a
man with his throat cut and a horrible wound at the back of his head.
Robbery appears to be the motive. The matter is all the more mysterious
as the place called the Corner House has been supposed to be shut up for
years. It was here that the famous 'Corner House' poisoning mystery took
place.

"'Later.--The murdered man is described as being of misshapen
appearance, a nose very much hooked on one side, and long hands covered
with orange-coloured warts--'"

"What?" Bruce cried. "Read that over again."

"Do you mean to say you know anything about it?" Lawrence asked.

"He was my patient," Bruce said hoarsely. "I was with him at daybreak."

Lawrence dropped 'The Star' and gazed at the speaker with absolute
amazement.



CHAPTER VIII.--Paul Prout.


There was something about the corner house mystery that gripped the
public imagination. There was about it both the realism and the romance
that always go to make up a popular sensation.

In the first place the corner house was already marked as the scene of
one unsolved tragedy. For years it had been shut up, for years the boys
of the locality had challenged one another to go down the area steps
after dark, for years nobody had crossed the threshold. Then the door
had been left open for the public eye to look on another tragedy.

The victim was no ordinary man either. People flocked to view the body
as morbid folks will do on such occasions. The victim of the crime was
no more attractive in death than he had been in life. There were the
crooked limbs, the hideous hooked nose, the claws with the orange
splashes on them.

But nobody identified the dead man; the police had not expected anything
of the kind. The inquest had been formally opened at the corner house,
and at the suggestion of Sergeant Prout, who had the case in hand, was
adjourned for a fortnight. It was hard to get the people out of the
house afterwards.

They were gone out at last and Sergeant Prout was left to make his
investigations in peace. Up to now he had hardly as much as examined the
body. An attempt had been made to find the owner of the house, or the
agents, but without success.

"It's a queer thing," said Prout, scratching his snaky little head
reflectively; "a very queer thing. Now here's a house for you. Given a
man of energy and pluck who has learnt its story, and what is to prevent
his taking possession and living here as if the place was his own? He
comes and picks the lock, he has his servants in, and gives out that he
is Jones or Robinson, and there's an end of it so long as he holds his
head high and pays his creditors. Of course there is the risk of the
real man turning up, but criminals must always take chances. In a way
that's what happened. The poor fellow was lured here to be murdered by
someone who pretended that the house was his. It's a very pretty case."

It was a puzzling one, too. Every policeman who had been on night duty
in Lytton Avenue for months was closely examined. Once or twice a night
the doors of the house had been tried without effect. Nobody had ever
been seen to come away or enter. No suspicious characters had been seen
loafing about. Not one of the officers had ever seen a light in the
place.

"I'll go and look at the gas meter." said Prout.

He was an efficient officer in his way, only like most members of the
force, he lacked imagination. Give him something to work on, and there
was not a more efficient detective in New Scotland Yard. But there was
no clue here, so he had to fall back on the old familiar methods.

Here was the gas meter under the stairs as usual. Behind it was the
grimy, dirty card, which showed no entry for years. It was marked "taken
5th February," in other words the meter had been read the day the owner
had disappeared. By reading the index Prout saw that a hundred odd cubic
feet of gas had been used since.

Here was something to go upon. Beyond doubt that gas had been used
lately. Prout made a careful examination of the burners, sniffing and
blowing at all of them. He found out one thing, only the burners in the
hall and the bedroom where the murdered man had been found had been used
for a long time. In a bedroom at the top of the house was a paraffin
lamp with quite a new wick in it. With a stump of pencil Prout made a
rapid calculation on the wall-paper.

"Lamp used by murderer waiting for his victim," he deduced. "Did not
want any more light than was necessary, so probably lay low in a back
room. When the hour for the victim came, lighted the hall gas so as not
to look suspicious. Then why the dickens didn't the officer on duty
notice it?"

"Because it wasn't there when he passed, Prout." said a quick voice that
caused the detective to turn with a start. "There was a confederate, of
course. Nothing easier than for the confederate to listen for the
officer's footsteps and put out the gas till he had gone by. Other
people didn't matter."

"Right as usual, Mr. Lawrence," said Prout, beaming approvingly on the
great novelist. "Why don't you come and join the force?"

Lawrence modestly disclaimed the compliment. As a strong romantic writer
he found a fascination in crimes of this kind; indeed, he boasted that
practically all his living dramas were founded on life. He had a
wonderful faculty for tracing the motive of a crime. Many a useful hint
had he given to Scotland Yard.

"What the theory here, sir?" Prout asked respectfully.

"A vulgar one," said Lawrence. "Robbery either from the person or
indirectly. I don't see how anybody could possibly be jealous of a poor
misshaped creature like that. We can put the Socialistic element out of
the case. Have you found anything?"

Prout had found nothing. He had not had time yet to examine the
deceased's coat and clothing. He was just about to do so. The first
examination disclosed a pocket-book containing some score of more or
less recent pawn tickets made out in various names, and a letter in an
envelope.

"This looks like business," Prout exclaimed. "The letter is not sealed.
Anyway, it was written here with the pen on the mantelpiece and that
penny bottle of ink; see how pale it is and what shabby paper, evidently
a ha'porth purchased from some huckster's shop. Isn't that right, sir?"

Prout scrawled in his pocket-book with the pen. The ink was just the
same pallid hue. The pen was a 'J,' and the letter had evidently been
written with a 'J' too. Prout had every reason to be satisfied.

"What do you think of the letter, sir?" Prout asked.

There was no date and no address. There was a deal of flourish about the
letter as if the writer had learned his craft abroad. It ran as follows:

Dear Friend and Partner,--At last the luck of the deuce has departed and
my virtue has its own reward. I have found my man. At first my man
blustered, but logic, mon cher, logic gets the best of temper always. I
parted with him and he parted with L400. In sovereigns, Mark the cunning
of the man! No notes or cheques for him. But money in cash I dare not
send to you. Therefore I have changed my gold for notes, and L200 in
forty lovely crisp bits of paper I forwarded herewith. They are numbered
from 190753 to 190792. This I tell you for precaution's sake. I am
waiting for the cipher from K and this I will enclose. Next Saturday I
propose to salute you. Till then with my most distinguished admiration,
Number One.

"What do you think of that?" Prout asked.

"Proves robbery," Lawrence said, crisply. "The murderer got away with
the notes, but knew nothing of the letter. You go your way and I'll go
mine. I am greatly mistaken if I don't throw a strong light on the
mystery yet."

"You mean that you have a clue, sir."

"Certainly I do. This is a most amazing case. Why, it is copied from the
plot of one of my own novels. And, stranger still, that novel has not
yet been written!"



CHAPTER IX.--The Missing Notes.


It was late in the afternoon before Prout hit upon the trail he was
looking for. He had been keeping the telegraph and the telephone busy.
The scent was still hot, and it was just possible that he might come
upon some traces of the missing notes before they left the country.

At any rate, it could only have been hours since they found their way
into the hands of the murdered man. According to his letter, he had
received L400 in gold probably the result of some blackmailing
transaction--after which he had hastened to turn them into banknotes for
transmission, probably abroad.

Now there is only one place of business where a man can turn so large a
sum of money into notes, and that place must be a bank. There are a
great many banks in London, and the difficulty in finding the right one
was enhanced by the fact that nobody besides Prout knew that there was
anything wrong about those particular notes. On the face of it, the
transaction was a very casual one.

It was nearly four o'clock before Prout raised the trail. On the
previous day but one a cashier at the National Credit Bank had changed
L400 in gold into notes for a stranger who answered to the description
of the murdered man. Prout dashed down to Leadenhall-street in a fast
hansom. The cashier was a little nervous, but quite willing to speak
freely.

"I remember the transaction perfectly well," he said. "We do a lot of
money changing and that kind of thing, as our foreign connection is a
large one. I should not have heeded the matter but for noticing the
curious disfigurement of the man's hands."

"Covered all over with orange blotches, eh?" asked Prout.

"Quite so. The man was all twisted from his hip, and he had a crooked
nose."

"You needn't say any more." Prout said crisply. "That's the man. You
changed the gold for the victim of the corner house tragedy. Got the
numbers?"

The numbers were forthcoming, of course--190753 to 190832, the first
half of which eighty L5 notes had been alluded to in the murdered man's
letter.

"So far so good," Prout remarked. "It's not a very pleasant experience,
but I am sorry I have not finished yet. I shall have to trouble you to
come as far as Raven-street with me and identify the body."

It was well over at length, but the mild little cashier had nothing to
say except that he really must go over to the Raven's Arms and have a
little brandy. Abstemious man, as he was, he felt it was necessary.
Presently the blood came back to his face again, and his dilated pupils
contracted.

"That's the man, sergeant," he said. "And I hope I have seen the last of
him. Are you going to advertise these notes?"

Prout replied for the present he had no intention of doing anything of
the kind. The thief knew nothing about the letter, or he assuredly would
have destroyed it. He would imagine that he had got off scot free with
his booty, and thus might walk into the trap prepared for him.

"We shall lie low for the present," Prout said. "And I will ask you to
do the same. You may mention this matter to your manager, but not to
another soul. I'll try and get down before five and see your manager
myself."

It was not a bad day's work, and it spurred on Prout to fresh
endeavours. He carefully examined the fireplace, he tested the windows,
but nothing rewarded his endeavours beyond a blacklead-brush thrown into
the corner of the scullery together with a cake of blacklead recently
opened.

"Now where does this come in?" he asked himself. "There's isn't a grate
in the house that has been touched for years. And this cake is not quite
dry yet. And a bit of yellow soap in the tray over the sink that would
be as hard as a chip if it had been there since the people left. But it
hasn't. Murderer may have washed his hands, which is exceedingly likely,
but what did he want blacklead for?"

Prout looked keenly around him. He opened the back door into a yard that
gave on to a lane at the back of the house. The bricks were damp and
mossy, and on them was something that looked like the print of wheels.
The door leading to the lane was wide, and on the edge on both sides
something patchy glistened. Prout touched it with his fingers.

"Now what does it mean?" he asked himself. "What game were they
playing?"

The black edging of the gate-posts was fresh blacklead.

The little discovery gave a new twist to Prout's thoughts as he drove
down to the National Credit Bank. He had no particular object save to
see the manager and impress upon him that in the interests of justice
the whole thing must be kept a profound secret. There was no difficulty
about that, the cashier was indignant for he had already given his
promise on the matter.

"Not that you will ever see those notes again, sir," said Prout. "By
this time they are probably on their way to the Continent, whence they
may begin to dribble back one by one in the course of months. Still, one
never can tell."

The manager was sympathetic; at the same time he looked at the clock,
which was drawing very near to closing time. There was a lull outside in
the traffic. Prout took up his hat and prepared to depart.

But the same moment his friend the cashier came rushing in. His eyes
were gleaming behind his spectacles.

"A most extraordinary thing, sir," he stammered. "Those notes that
Sergeant Prout came about just now are--"

"Get on," the manager said impatiently, "Get on."

"Have been paid in to the credit of a customer, or part of them."

"Numbers?" Prout snapped. "Which part of them?"

"190753 to 190792," the cashier replied.

"Every note," Prout cried, "every blessed note mentioned in the dead
man's letter."



CHAPTER X.--A Policy of Silence.


Gilbert Lawrence lighted a cigarette and waited for Bruce to speak. It
wanted some little time to luncheon. The doctor's statement was likely
to add piquancy to the meal.

"Well, one hears some queer things," the novelist said at length. "I've
been fascinated with that corner house for years. As I told you before,
I built up a romance round it. Some day I mean to take the papers out of
my pigeonhole and work it up."

"Did you ever put me in it?" Bruce asked gravely.

"Well, upon my word. I fancy it was something like it," said Lawrence.
"There was a hero like yourself, only he wasn't a doctor, and a girl
like Hetty. Also there was a mysterious assignation in the corner house
after midnight, and, as a matter of course, a body. None of these
stories are complete without a body."

Bruce chafed under the flippancy. He was quite undecided what to do.
Beyond all question the patient whom he had attended under such
mysterious circumstances was the murdered man. Was it his duty at once
to go to the police and tell them all he knew? On the other hand he had
no desire to violate professional confidence. Certainly the lovely
Spaniard and the people of the house could have nothing to do with the
murder. If they had, they would never have called in a doctor's aid and
paid him a handsome fee to save the life of that poor dissipated wretch.
It must have happened after they had gone.

"Tell us all about it," Lawrence asked eagerly.

Bruce related his story without going into details. Rarely had a
raconteur a more flattering audience. Most men would have laughed the
whole thing to scorn. But the novelist knows the vast possibilities of
life, and Lawrence paid his companion the compliment of believing every
word he said.

"Upon my word, a most remarkable thing," he exclaimed.

"You have said that before," Bruce replied irritably. "What I am
thinking about at present is my own awkward position. Shall I go to the
police and tell them everything or shall I respect confidence."

"Pursue a policy of masterly inactivity," Lawrence suggested after a
thoughtful pause. "Say nothing for the present. The matter has not been
brought before you officially yet. There will be an inquest, which will
only last a few minutes, for the simple reason that the police will ask
for an adjournment. Meanwhile I will go and have a chat with the man who
has the case in hand. If the time comes when you must speak, why speak,
of course."

Bruce fell in with this suggestion, and sat down to lunch with what
appetite he could. He was terribly disturbed and uneasy. He was dining
that night with Countess Lalage, who was giving one of her brilliant
little parties. There would be a chance of a cosy little chat with Hetty
afterwards, but all the same as Bruce dressed he wished that he was not
going.

Even the great beauty and the refinement of his surroundings failed to
sooth him this evening. Usually this kind of thing pleased him. He
noticed vaguely that the Countess was dressed in some cloudy lace, all
like sea foam, and that the dark eyes were unusually brilliant and
glittering.

There was a score of guests in the drawing-room, all laughing and
chatting together. Hetty was there also, looking, to Bruce's eyes, the
sweetest and prettiest of them all. She owed nothing to artificial
beauty.

"I owe you a deep apology," the Countess whispered, as she held Bruce's
hand. "I was exceedingly rude to you the other night. I ought to have
waited for your ice, and more especially, I ought to have waited to
congratulate you. I am very glad for Hetty's sake. She is a good girl,
and I shall miss her."

The voice ran true and clear; there was deep sincerity in the eyes of
the speaker. Bruce was melting, despite himself. Hetty must be wrong. A
brilliant woman like that would never throw herself at the feet of a
mere doctor. Nobody could look in her eyes and doubt her goodness and
truth.

"It in very good of you to say so," Bruce murmured feebly.

The Countess pushed him from her with a merry smile.

"You are distant to-night," she said. "Go and talk to Hetty. Not that I
am going to let her monopolise you all the evening. I am too jealous of
your reputation for that. Now go and make the most of your time."

Hetty looked up shyly. There was a faint little smile on her face. She
wore a single stone diamond heart on her breast. But for this Bruce
would not have known how quickly she was breathing.

"What is it?" he asked. "What is the matter, sweetheart?"

Hetty smiled up into her lovers face. From under her long lashes she
could see that Leona Lalage was regarding her intently.

"Talk in an ordinary manner," she whispered; "say anything foolish--the
sort of bald nonsense young men chatter in drawing-rooms. And don't
forget that the Countess is watching every gesture intently."

"She struck me as being rather nice," Bruce replied. "And I am quite
sure that she was sincere in her congratulations."

Hetty said nothing further on that head. The Countess was a wonderful
actress. She would have deceived the strongest, coolest head in the
world. But even that magnificent actress could not blind a woman's
instinct.

"Perhaps," Hetty said, after a long pause. "Perhaps. And yet something
tells me that you are in great danger. Smile and say something
foolish--I feel those eyes going through me. That woman loved you, and
you never gave her a thought. You passed her by for me. And who would
look at me when she was about?"

"I would for one," Bruce laughed. "I am not fond of your tempestuous
woman. Have there been any other signs and manifestations?"

"Don't laugh at me, Gordon," Hetty whispered. "I knew there was
something wrong with that dreadful corner house. You nave heard of the
tragedy?"

Bruce nodded. He would keep his secret for the present even from Hetty.
In any case this was not the place to discuss the great adventure.

"Well, I fancy I can tell you more about it," Hetty went on. "Only you
must not look so interested. Try and assume the idiotic expression of a
lover on the stage. Last night I could not sleep. I have been terribly
restless lately. I got up to fetch a book from the schoolroom, which is
in the front at the top of the house. The blind was up, the window was
not closed, so I looked out. The air was so cool that it did my head
good. I was there about a quarter of an hour. I heard the noise of a
door being closed and whispers on the pavement. Those people had come
out of the comer house, two of them--a man and a woman."

"What time would that be?" Bruce asked as casually as possible.

"About half-past four. It must have been about that time, because just
after I got back to my room the clock struck five. A motor car came up,
one of the quietest I have ever heard. As the woman got in she stumbled,
and the man swore at her. Then there was the strangest thing, the dull
side of the motor car gleamed in places like silver, as if something had
been rubbed off it by the woman as she fell. What do I think it was?
Well, so far as I could make out, the car was all hung with black
crape."



CHAPTER XI.--The Notes are Traced.


The best part of two days had passed, but there was no abatement in the
sensation caused by the fresh tragedy of the corner house. An
enterprising newspaper had made a determined effort to trace the
whereabouts of the real owner of the premises and drag his pitiful story
afresh into the daylight, but he was not to be found. No relative came
forward with the hope of gain. And it looked as if the new tragedy was
going to be as deep a mystery as the old one.

Of course the police knew nothing. Sarcastic remarks were made at their
expense. Other papers hinted at startling disclosures to be made at the
adjourned inquest. There were many startling rumours contradicted as
soon as they were made.

"Even you are puzzled, uncle," Hetty said to Lawrence. She was off for
the afternoon; she had called at the novelist's chambers to meet Bruce
there with an eye to a little shopping and a visit to the new house in
Green-street. "I know you are interested. Can't you make anything out of
it?"

"Well, I can and I can't," Lawrence said thoughtfully. "I'm puzzled, of
course, and I am very much interested in this kind of thing. But really
I am puzzled over one of the most remarkable coincidences that ever
happened in the experience of a man who his made a pretty penny out of
coincidences. In this instance the long arm has taken a form that is
positively uncanny."

"Perhaps I can help you," Hetty suggested.

"So you shall later on," Lawrence replied. "For the present I have my
hands full. I've had some hard problems to solve in the way of plots,
but never one like this. Here's Bruce coming along the street. Run away
and leave me to my puzzle."

Hetty determined to think no more about it for the present. It was a
lovely afternoon, she was conscious of the fact that her dress suited
her to perfection, and was she not going to spend a long afternoon with
the man of her choice in the fascinating occupation of house furnishing?

It was the first half-day Bruce had taken off for a long time. All his
patients this morning had behaved in a perfectly satisfactory manner.
The sun was shining out of a cloudless sky, everything seemed fair and
prosperous. It was one of the days when everything seems well--the kind
of day that often precedes disaster.

Hetty chatted along by the side of her lover happy enough. She would
have made light of the fears had they occurred to her now. After all,
what could the Countess do? That love and revenge business was all very
well in books. Gordon was a resolute man, perfectly capable of taking
care of himself, and the Countess was not likely to do anything to
prejudice her position in society.

Thus Hetty out of doors and in the sunshine. She and Bruce had a
thousand plans to make, a score of shops to look into. Their tastes were
the same, and principally lay in the direction of the old and antique.

"We won't bother about the drawing room," Hetty said gaily. "That can
take of itself for the present. Two fans and a bulrush as somebody says.
And the other rooms, so long as they are light, won't matter. But the
dining-room must be quite the thing. Oh, if you could only afford to get
the lovely oak we saw at Capper's! We must think of you alone, just at
first, Gordon."

She looked up with such a sunny smile that Bruce regretted the presence
of others. There was not a happier pair in London. They turned into
Capper's presently, and for the first time that day Hetty was conscious
of a little pang of envy.

"I am not going to look at another thing," she said. "But it does seem
hard that we have not got another hundred pounds, Gordon."

Bruce kissed her behind the demure corner of a Japanese screen. His eyes
were dancing with mischief and pleasure.

"You can spend the hundred pounds as you please, dearest," he said. "I
am going to tell you a secret. I have had a lovely slice of luck. Forty
five-pound banknotes that I never for one moment expected came my way."

"Then you can buy the old oak," Hetty said rapturously.

"Always thinking of others," Gordon smiled. "To tell you the truth I
have bought and paid for the old oak. Consequently the money set aside
for that goes to your side of the house. No, I have no choice in the
matter. I am going to let you do exactly as you please."

The sedate head of the firm in personal attendance smiled. The lovers
were not sorry to be rid of him when he was called away for a moment. An
official-looking person was standing by the desk with a package in his
hand.

"These banknotes were paid to your firm?" he asked.

Mr. Capper admitted the fact as he glanced at them. They had been paid
to him two days ago and by him passed on to a wholesale firm of
upholsterers.

"In fact," he said, "the customer who gave them me is now in the shop."

The official-looking man stepped forward. As he came into the light
Bruce recognised him for Sergeant Prout. A sense of uneasiness came over
him.

Prout touched his cap and then indicated the notes.

"A word with you, Dr. Bruce," he said. "These notes, 190,753 to 190,792,
were in the possession of the man found murdered at the corner house in
Raven Street. We know they were stolen from him. The next day they were
paid here in purchase of some furniture."

"Some mistake," said Bruce. "I certainly paid forty five-pound notes
here the day after the murder, but they came into my possession the
night before. If those are the notes you say they are I never touched
them."

Prout turned the notes over and opened them out like a pack of cards.

"Is not that your signature endorsed on even one?" he asked.

"Good heavens," Bruce cried hoarsely, "it is. It would be futile to deny
it."



CHAPTER XII.--Prout is Puzzled.


Hetty moved instinctively to her lover's side. His face was ghastly
pale, but he held his head high and looked Prout proudly in the eyes.
The latter waited. He had made no accusation; it was not his cue to
express an opinion one way or another. Hetty looked at him approvingly.

"If there is anything wrong about the notes," Capper began, "I can
only--"

"From your point of view there is nothing wrong," said Prout. "A mere
coincidence, sir. If I could only have a few minutes' private
conversation with you, doctor?"

Bruce led the way outside. He was utterly bewildered. Those notes had
passed into his possession quite honestly, they were for value received,
and they never left his possession until he parted with them to Capper.
Why, they were in his possession hours before he was called into the
corner house.

The strangely assorted trio turned into a tea-room close by. They had a
table to themselves where they could talk freely.

"Now say it all over again," Bruce asked. "I am perfectly dazed. Let me
know what I am accused of doing."

Prout replied that for the present there was no accusation.

"It's like this," he said, laying the fateful notes on the table. "A man
who has got to be identified is found dead--murdered, beyond a doubt, in
an unoccupied house in Raven-street. All the circumstances of the case
point to robbery. On searching the body we find a letter written by the
deceased to a friend saying that his is forwarding some banknotes. He
gives the number of those banknotes amongst others--numbers 190,753 to
190,793. All this is set out clearly in the letter. Now, will you please
to examine those notes, doctor, and tell me the numbers."

Bruce turned them over one by one. There was no mistake about the matter
at all. They were the same numbers as those given in the handwriting of
the dead man. The whole thing seemed impossible, but there it was.

"One moment," Hetty asked eagerly. "How do you know that the letter in
your possession really was written by the murdered man?"

Prout glanced admiringly into the pretty flushed face.

"That's a clever question, miss," he said, "but I have a reply to it. We
have found a woman near the docks where the unknown stayed for a day or
two. As she cannot read or write she got him to write her a line or two
to her landlord's agent, sending some arrears of rent and promising the
balance shortly. That scrap of paper has come into my possession."

"And of course it tallies," Bruce said smoothly. "Those things always
do."

"It does, sir," Prout went on. "The question of handwriting is
established. How those notes came into your possession we have yet to
find out."

"They never came into my possession," Bruce cried. "There is some
mistake--"

Prout tapped the pile of papers significantly.

"Here they are with your signature on the back of every one of them," he
said. "There is nothing singular about that, seeing that so many
tradesmen insist upon having banknotes endorsed. Question is, What's the
explanation?"

For the life of him Bruce could not say. It was absurd to suppose that
by some mistake the Bank of England had issued two sets of notes of the
same series of numbers. There was no mistake about the murdered man's
letter either.

"Perhaps you'd like to tell your story, sir," Prout suggested.

"My story is quite simple," Bruce replied. "Some little time ago I
bought a picture by J. Halbin. I gave a few pounds for it. Early in the
evening of the day preceding the corner house murder I had a visitor. He
was an elderly Dutchman, who gave his name as Max Kronin. He had heard
of my purchase and wanted the picture for family reasons. He offered me
L200 for it, and paid me in notes--the notes that are on the table
there."

"Which identical notes must have been in the possession of the murdered
man for many hours after you say they passed into your possession."

"Take it or leave it," Bruce said desperately. "It's like some horrid
nightmare. From the time I received the notes from the elderly Dutchman
till I parted with them to Capper they were never out of my possession."

"Of course, you know where the Dutchman is to be found."

Bruce shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

"He took the picture away," he said, "and I thought no more of the
matter, he said something about going to Antwerp. In the face of the
damning evidence you have piled up against me, my story sounds
hysterical and foolish."

Prout was not to sure of that. He had seen too many startling
developments in his time to be surprised at anything.

"Of course, it wants a bit of explaining away," he said. "Still,
supposing for argument sake you were the thief, how could we possibly
connect you with the corner house and the poor fellow who was murdered
there?"

It had come at last. Bruce braced himself for the ordeal. Just for the
moment there was a terrible temptation to hold his tongue. The story of
his visit to the corner house was known to those only who would not dare
to speak. Once he told the truth he realised that he was putting a noose
around his neck.

And yet as an honourable man he was bound to speak, indeed he had
already spoken, for Gilbert Lawrence had been made privy to part of the
story.

"You couldn't prove it," he said, moodily, "but I can, I must. Prout, I
am the sport of either a most amazing piece of misfortune or else the
victim of the most cunning and diabolical scheme that man ever dreamed
of. I was actually in the corner house within an hour or so of the
murder."

A queer little cry broke from Hetty. Her face was deadly pale, her eyes
dilated with horror. It was only for a moment, then she slipped her hand
into that of her lover and pressed it warmly. Even Prout seemed uneasy.

"You are not bound to say anything further, sir," he muttered meaningly.

"Ah, I know what you mean," Bruce went on recklessly. "Don't you see
that as an honest man I am bound to speak out. Just a I reached my rooms
that night a motor drove up to my house with a note for me:--"

"Ah! I should like to have a look at that note," said Prout.

"I destroyed it. There was no object in keeping it. I tore it up then
and there and pitched it on the pavement. The motor was driven by a dumb
man, who conveyed me to the corner house. It struck me as strange, but
then the owner might have returned. When I got there I found the man
subsequently murdered suffering from a combination of alcoholic
poisoning and laudanum. It was hard work but I managed to save him. A
Spanish woman--the only creature besides my patient I saw--paid me a fee
of three guineas, and there ends the matter."

Prout's expression was that of a man who by no means shared this
opinion, but he said nothing on that head.

"Did you speak to the Spanish woman," he asked.

"I couldn't, for the simple reason that she knew no English," said
Bruce. "I know I am putting a terrible weapon in your hands but I have
no alternative. If there is anything else that I can tell you--"

Prout rose and bowed to Hetty.

"It's not fair, sir," he said. "It's giving me too great an advantage.
If you take my advice, you'll go at once and explain the position to
some smart solicitor--Ely Place for choice."



CHAPTER XIII.--Second Sight.


Hetty clung to Bruce's arm as if fearful for her safety. Of course, he
was absolutely innocent, but how far the world would believe it was
quite another matter. For the girl was quick and clear-sighted, and it
needed no explanation to show her Bruce's terrible position.

Her nimble wit pointed to conspiracy.

But it was only a vague idea at present. She forced a brave smile to her
lips.

"We won't discuss it, dearest," she said. "The mere idea of your guilt
is absurd to any one who knows you. I cannot realise it yet, the whole
thing is so terribly mixed up and involved. The one man to get to the
bottom of things is Gilbert Lawrence. The police will see nothing here
beyond a mere vulgar crime. My uncle Gilbert will bring a novelist's
imagination to work on it. And, whatever happens, there will be one
person who believes implicitly in you."

Bruce pressed the little hand under his arm silently. He did not feel
equal to speaking just for the moment. Despite the pain and trouble at
her heart Hetty spoke bravely. She forced a smile to her face. Bruce
felt that he had never loved the girl by his side so much as he did at
that moment.

Lawrence was fortunately at home. He had just finished a story, so that
his frame of mind was complaisant. But as he listened to the dramatic
events of the afternoon he grew deeply interested.

"We thought you would help us," Hetty said.

"I am probably the only man in the world who can help you," Lawrence
replied. "To a certain extent I seem to have got you into this mess, and
I must get you out of it. My dear young people, I am going to astonish
you presently. Now, all I know up to now is that these notes have been
traced to Bruce, and that by a dreadful coincidence he actually was one
of the last people to see the murdered man before the tragedy. His
little part Bruce has already told me, but I purposely asked no details.
He has not yet informed me how the notes really reached his pocket,
because the assumption that he stole them is ridiculous."

"Thank you for that," Bruce said gratefully.

"Nonsense, my dear fellow. Now let me open your eyes. Behold the great
force of a man who is gifted with second sight. Where did you get those
notes? Was it not on the same evening as the murder?"

Bruce nodded. He was beginning to have some feeling of hope.

"Score one to me. Recently you bought some article of value. Say it was
a piece of Battersea china or a Chippendale chair, an engraving after
Reynolds, or a picture. On the whole I am inclined to suggest a picture
of the Dutch school with a history."

Lawrence's eyes fairly beamed as he spoke.

"Another one to you," said Bruce. "I did buy an old Dutch picture
recently. But how on earth you managed--"

"Never mind that yet. I didn't get this information from you. Behold the
picture! You are sitting in your room on the night previous to the
murder--a few hours before it in fact. Enter to you a more or less
picturesque individual who tells you a story of a picture. It is an
heirloom in his family. The family have had to part with it in their
dark days. Now the same picturesque individual has become rich. Imagine
his delight when he sees this family treasure in a shop window."

"Amazing," Bruce cried. "That's exactly what did happen. But how could
you possibly have known that considering that until an hour ago not a
soul knew of it, not even Hetty!"

Lawrence puffed his cigarette in huge enjoyment.

"So far the oracle has spoken correctly," he went on. "The picture was
in the shop window. The old man had no cheque book. He hurried home to
get it, and by the time he returned the picture was gone. There's a
pathetic little incident for you, quite in the fashion of a lady's
novelette. The picturesque old man wants the picture and he offers you
L200 for it, which you accept. He pays you in bank notes and you place
these notes in your inner coat pocket."

"I shall wake up presently and find it a dream," said Bruce. "If you had
been present at the interview you could not have described it better."

"End of the first act," Lawrence said with pardonable triumph. "You are
just going into your rooms when a motor comes up. It looks like a
coincidence, but the driver has been lurking about waiting for you. Do
you suppose it was chance that you were picked out of all the doctors in
London?"

"I thought, perhaps," Bruce began, "that my name--"

"Fiddlesticks! You are the victim of a vile conspiracy, my dear fellow,
if ever there was one. Now let me go on with my visions. The motor is an
unusually silent one, and it was painted a dull lustreless black."

"Correct to a fault," Bruce cried.

"Well, we shall hear more of that lustreless black motor later on when I
come to go closely into the mystery and show the police what asses they
are. You address a question to the driver and he turns out to be dumb.
He takes you to the corner house, where you are received by a fair woman
with a mantilla over her head so that you have the very vaguest idea of
her features. If you were asked to swear to her identity you couldn't do
it, I suppose?"

"At the present moment I should not swear to my own," Bruce said
helplessly.

"Well, you can leave other people to do that. You find your patient half
dead between drink and drugs, and after a time you pull him round. As
you go away you sign to the Spanish woman that you are coming again. She
says no, and by means of a Bradshaw and some labelled luggage--say to
Dover--leads you to believe that the people of the house are going
abroad at once."

"Marvellous!" Bruce cried. "It is exactly as you have said."

"Of course it is," Lawrence replied. "One question more. How many times
did the hall gas go out when you were there?"

Bruce looked at the speaker absolutely too astounded to say a word.



CHAPTER XIV.--"Crowner's Quest."


Hetty was conscious of a sea of curious eyes and white, eager faces. As
the days went on public interest in the corner house mystery had not
abated. All sorts of vague stories had got about, and in some mysterious
way the name of Dr. Gordon Bruce was mixed up in it.

Why he had not been arrested Bruce could not imagine. The tale he had
volunteered to Prout and his signature on the back of the notes were
almost in themselves enough to hang a man. Perhaps a little private
conversation between Prout and Lawrence had had the effect of postponing
matters. Bruce was not in the least likely to run away; on the contrary,
he had volunteered to give evidence at the adjourned inquest. Hetty also
would have something to say that would be in favour of her lover.

"After all, they can't definitely say that those notes were ever in the
possession of the murdered man," she whispered to Bruce. "He wrote the
letter, of course, but they don't know he really possessed the notes."

"I am afraid they do," Bruce replied. "They are going to call a cashier
from the National Credit Bank who positively identified the deceased as
the man who changed L400 in gold for notes, part of which notes were
numbers 190753 to 190792, or the notes I paid to Capper. That piece of
evidence cannot possibly be shaken."

Hetty admitted the fact with a sigh. She had no illusions as to the
future. Unless something like a miracle happened Gordon was certain to
stand in the dock charged with the murder of a man unknown. Examined in
the cold light of day, Gordon Bruce's story was an extraordinary one.
Hetty was forced to admit that from the lips of a stranger she would not
have believed a word of it.

And Gilbert Lawrence now refused to say anything. He was the one person
who seemed to be thoroughly satisfied. There was some comfort to be
derived from this, but not much, as Hetty told herself miserably.

The inquest was sensational from the very start. After the dead man's
landlady of the home by the docks and her landlords agent proved the
handwriting of the deceased. Sergeant Prout told the story of the
missing bank notes. A good few of the packed audience knew Bruce by
sight, and as the evidence proceeded he found the scrutiny of so many
eyes quite trying.

Even the most guilty when brought to book are not without some feeling
of shame, however defiant they may appear, but it is a horrible thing
when the innocent has to stand and answer to a criminal charge. A wave
of indignation passed over Bruce, to be followed by utter helplessness.

"Courage dear old boy," Hetty whispered. "It will all come right in the
end. Good will come out of this evil."

Bruce shut his teeth tightly and nodded. Still in Prout's evidence he
seemed to hear the voice of his judge passing sentence.

Prout concluded his evidence at length, every word of which told dead
against the one man seated there. Not half-a-dozen people in the room
would have acquitted him on the criminal charge.

"Do you propose to go any further today?" the coroner asked.

Prout was understood to say no, when Bruce rose. His face was deadly
pale, a tiny red spot burning on either cheek. But he had his voice
under proper control; there was no look of guilt about him.

"If you have no objection, sir, I should like to give evidence." he
said.

The presiding official was decidedly taken aback. He looked at Prout,
who made no sign. He was not so prejudiced as most of the people there.

"Really if you will be guided by my opinion you will do nothing of the
kind," he said, much as a magistrate might address a prisoner in the
dock. "If you were called it would be a different matter. On the whole
the best plan would be for you to be represented by a solicitor, who
would put questions likely to--er--tell in your favour."

Bruce smiled grimly. He knew perfectly well what a terrible significance
lay behind these formal words. At the same time, he had no desire to
take any advantage. There was an electric thrill in the audience as he
was sworn. They thrilled with a deeper intensity as he proceeded. If
ever a man stood up and committed moral and social suicide Dr. Gordon
Bruce was that man at this moment.

There was scarcely a sound to be heard till he had finished. People
thrust forward, eager that no word should be missed. A sudden sneeze
caused the whole court to start violently. It was a strange weird story,
that only one listener believed in, and that was Hetty.

The coroner had nothing to say. The thing was bad enough, and he did not
wish to be too hard on a medical colleague. A curious juryman had a lot
or questions to ask, especially about the mysterious Spanish woman and
the motor-car.

"You left that lady behind you?" he said. "Who is to testify to that? If
you can prove such to be the case, why--"

The curious one shrugged his shoulders. Then a loud clear voice rang to
the roof, the voice of a woman who declared that she could prove it. A
ripple of amazement followed. Before it died away Hetty became conscious
of the fact that the voice was hers, and that she had spoken.

In a dreary kind of way she found herself answering questions. Somebody
had placed a book in her hands and had told her to kiss it.

"I live next door to the corner house," she said. "I could not sleep on
the night in question. At a little before five--"

"How do you fix the time?" came from the inquisitive juryman.

"Because my bedroom clock struck the hour as I got back. I heard
somebody leave the corner house. I looked out of the window and saw a
motor car that appeared to be draped in black. As a woman from the house
got on to it she seemed to push some of the drapery aside, for I saw the
gleam of the rail. She was a fair woman with a mantilla over her head.
The car went off without the faintest noise, and that is all I know."

"Are you a friend of the prison--, I mean of Dr. Bruce?" asked the
inquisitive one.

Hetty was bound to admit that she was more than that. The interrogative
juryman sniffed and suggested that Dr. Bruce might have been in the
house then.

"Impossible," Bruce cried "At a quarter to five I was at home. The hall
porter and two of the maids were down and will testify to the fact."

A ripple of excitement followed. A reporter rose and held up his hand.

"I desire to be sworn, sir," he said. "It so happens that I can throw a
little light on this matter. I did not leave the office of my paper till
four in the morning of the day to which this young lady alludes. The
clock on Gregory's store struck five as I reached Garret-street, which,
as you know, runs into Raven Street. A few seconds later a fast motor
passed me without the slightest noise."

"Perhaps you had better describe this motor," said the coroner.

"It was draped or some way disguised in black. A woman sat by the
driver, with a cloud of lace over her head. I could just catch a glimpse
of a brass rail where the drapery was disturbed."

Prout snapped his note-book together and put it in his pocket.

"After that," he muttered, "I give it up; it's beyond me."



CHAPTER XV.--Lawrence Prophesies Again.


The puzzled and slightly dissatisfied audience poured out of the inquest
hall with a feeling that they had been defrauded.

There was no chance of a verdict of murder against Bruce after the last
two bits of startling and quite unexpected evidence. Two credible
witnesses had proved that one of the people who had called Bruce to the
corner house had remained after he had left. The case was just as
fascinating, and at the same time as puzzling as ever. The real culprit
as yet might have to be found, but there was no getting away from these
facts about the stolen banknotes. Still, the coroner's jury were not
called to try that question, and at the suggestion of Prout the matter
was adjourned for a month.

Bruce was allowed to take his own way, a result he had not confidently
expected. The vulgar curiosity of the passing crowd annoyed him.
Standing outside the vestry hall was a carriage and a pair of horses.
Leona Lalage, seated inside, smiled brilliantly on Bruce and his
companion, and the footman opened the door.

"I managed to get inside," the Countess said. "Did anybody ever hear so
foolish a fuss? And that silly juryman!"

"I am afraid I should have shared his opinion under similar
circumstances," said Bruce. "You see my guilt--"

"I shall not listen to a word of it," the Countess cried. "The mere
suggestion is revolting to one's common sense. Fancy you committing a
vulgar crime like that! Jump in, and let us get away from this awful
crowd. Where shall I drive you?"

It was all the same to Hetty so long as she got away from the insolent
people, They must go back and have tea at Lytton Avenue. There would be
nobody present, and the Countess would not be at home to anybody.
Nothing could be sweeter or more sympathetic than her manner.

To lounge there in that dimly-lighted and perfectly appointed room was
soothing and restful. Bruce carried his head a little higher as he made
his way home.

There was a smell of tobacco in his room and a vision of Lawrence with
his heels on the mantelpiece smoking a cigarette. He was looking at a
paragraph in an early edition of the 'Globe' that seemed to give him
satisfaction.

"So you've got back," he said. "Rather a sensational bit of copy for the
papers over the inquest, eh? That pompous juryman's face was a study
when Hetty and that reporter chap knocked him out of time."

"I didn't see you," said Bruce.

"All the same I was there all the time. I fetched the Countess Lalage
in. As I entered I bought a copy of the 'Globe.' The first thing that
took my eye was the very strange advertisement inside by the theatrical
notices."

Bruce glanced carelessly at the paragraph. Then his eye brightened. It
ran as follows:--

"Danger.--The danger lies in the second floor back bedroom of the corner
house.--Z."

"Toujours the corner house," Bruce cried. "What do you make of it?"

Lawrence looked at his friend with a twinkle.

"I'll tell you any opinion later on," he said. "I think that after an
exhibition of my marvellous powers, you can safely leave the matter to
me. Should you like to have a little bit of an adventure this evening?"

Bruce replied that he was just in the frame of mind for something of the
kind. He was far too restless to settle down to anything.

"It may be lively and it may be the reverse," said Lawrence, "but it is
nothing more or less than an hour or two spent in the corner house. We
are going there after ten, and I prophesy that we shall catch something;
if we are very lucky it may be the being with the secret."

"In other words you propose to drag my unlucky self into
house-breaking?"

"Nothing of the kind. I have procured the key to the back part of the
premises from Prout, who has the profoundest respect for my sagacity.
When I pointed out that notice in the 'Globe' to him he proposed to have
the house watched, which is so like a policeman's intellect."

It was a little past ten when the two friends went out upon their
errand. There was nothing of note until the house was reached. The
blinds were all closely drawn, so that the adventurers had to grope
their way from room to room, the suggestion of a light being out of the
question.

"We'll sit in the hall," said Lawrence. "We'll take it for granted that
the owner is a hospitable man, and permit ourselves the luxury of
tobacco."

It was a long and weary vigil, and when the clock struck midnight Bruce
heartily wished himself out of it. It was a strain on the nerves, too,
sitting in that dark silent house waiting for something that might not
come. Lawrence did not usually display any bulldog qualities, but he sat
on grimly now.

The traffic grew quieter, only a solitary pedestrian or a tramping
policeman passed the house. Then came a firm footstep that paused before
the house with a suggestion of listening or waiting for someone on the
part of the wayfarer.

Bruce's heart beat a little faster as he heard a shuffle on the step and
the muffled rattle of a latchkey in the door. There was a breath of
welcome fresh air in the stuffy place, the impact of two bodies, and
Lawrence rushed upon the newcomer. There was a muttered curse and a
fall.

"Got him," Lawrence cried, "I knew we should. Or he's got me. Light the
gas, Gordon; we'll have to risk it this time."

Bruce fumbled for the bracket, and found it at length. There was a
flaring rush and then dazed eyes made out a tall man with a pair of
blazing angry dark eyes, and a beard quivering with rage.

"Come my man, what's your name?" Lawrence panted.

"My name, sir," said the other coolly and clearly, "is Mr. Garrett
Charlton, the owner of this. And who are you?"



CHAPTER XVI.--Mr. Charlton Speaks.


For once in his life Lawrence was utterly taken aback. He could do no
more than stammer out an apology and assure the stern dark-eyed stranger
that nothing in the way of a liberty was intended.

"You see, I have found something out," he said. "I rather hoped--indeed,
I have still hopes--that the culprit--"

"What on earth are you talking about?" Charlton asked impatiently.

"But surely, my dear sir, the tragedy that took place here so
recently--"

"So recently! Ah, this is a veritable house of tragedies. I must get you
to explain. I have come here direct from Paris to get certain papers.
Put the gas out and come into the dining-room where the shutters are up.
We don't want the police fussing about. You can tell me everything. If I
don't make a mistake you are Mr. Gilbert Lawrence, the novelist."

"And I remember you now," Lawrence replied. "So you know nothing of what
has been happening lately?"

The story was told at length, Charlton listening with a certain amount
of interest.

He looked like a man under the cloud of a great sorrow, the
contemplation of which was never far from his eyes.

"This is an accursed house," he said presently. "My father went mad here
and committed suicide. My wife did the same thing, but then she was the
victim of one of the greatest fiends that ever took mortal guise."

Mr. Charlton's melancholy eyes seemed to be fixed on space. Just for the
moment he had forgotten that he was not alone. Lawrence gave a
sympathetic cough. As a matter of fact he had not yet explained what he
was doing there and the longer the explanation was postponed the better
he would he pleased.

"You remember the case of my wife?" Charlton asked suddenly. "Ah, I see
you do. Well, I am going to tell you my story. You are a man of
sentiment and feeling, or your novels greatly belie you. And a doctor
always respects confidence. When my wife died there was an inquiry
extending over many days. The great question was: Had she poisoned
herself, did she take poison by misadventure, or did I kill her? Nine
people out of every ten believed I was guilty. I let them believe it at
the risk of my neck, and why?"

The speaker asked the question quite fiercely.

"Because you loved your wife and respected her memory," said Lawrence.

"Correct. You are a man after my own heart, sir. My wife committed
suicide because she thought I no longer loved her, and that I had
transferred my affections to the woman who acted as her companion.

"That woman was perhaps the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. We
never dreamt the depth of her wickedness, that she was a gambler and a
forger. But she was. And when the gaol loomed before her she took my
wife's jewels to sell and so save herself from exposure."

"But she never got those jewels out of the house. She was found out by a
piece of good luck--whether good or bad luck I shall leave you to guess.
She had barely time to throw the gems down the well which is in the
little courtyard behind the house, and my wife saw it all. The woman was
informed that on my return from a journey I should be told everything.
She knew that investigation would follow. And what did that fiend of a
woman do. She forged a letter from me in which I made the most violent
love to her and asked her to fly with me. Mind you, that letter was
posted and delivered here. It was very easy to contrive that it should
find its way into the hands of my poor wife; it was safe to reckon upon
her emotional temperament. She read the letter; she took from a drawer a
phial of some sleeping draught, and she poisoned herself."

Charlton paused and wiped his forehead. He spoke quite calmly and
collectedly, but the great drops stood on his face.

"I got home sooner than expected, got home in time to find my wife dead
and that fatal letter in her hand. The woman who was the cause of all
the mischief entered the room just too late to get the letter back. She
was off her guard for the instant, and I saw it all in a flash. The part
about the jewels I got later from one of the servants who had been
afraid to speak before.

"I said nothing--for my dear wife's sake I was silent. You see I could
prove nothing. No jury would have got anything out of the fiend who
brought this about. The letter I carefully concealed. I took the risk of
hanging and as people blamed me my wife's good name was saved."

"I am afraid I don't follow your reasoning," Bruce said.

"I do," Lawrence observed. "At the time it was quite natural. But it
seemed a pity to let that woman get off scot free."

A queer, hard smile came over Charlton's face.

"Nemesis is slow but sure," he said. "My turn will come. That letter is
locked up in the safe yonder. Would you like to see it and compare it
with my own ordinary handwriting? Oh, that was a wonderful woman!"

Charlton proceeded to open a safe in the wall and took from it two
letters.

"There," he exclaimed. "That is the letter, the other sheet is my own
handwriting. Did you ever see a more marvellous imitation? There are
times when I feel as if I really must have written the letter myself.
Look at it, Mr. Lawrence."

Lawrence had pounced upon it eagerly. His lithe little frame was
thrilling with excitement. He held his head back as if sniffing at some
pungent odour.

"Here's a discovery," he said, excitedly. "Here's a perfect revelation.
Mr. Charlton, will you trust me for four and twenty hours with this
letter? I've found out something that fairly takes my breath away."

"As you please," Charlton said, indifferently. "All discoveries are the
same to me now. But why do you smell that letter?"

"I'm on the scent," Lawrence laughed. "All the same, if I am correct it
will be no laughing matter for somebody before long."



CHAPTER XVII.--The Gamblers.


The lights were flaring at No. 1 Lytton Avenue, as they seemed to flare
almost day and night. The red carpet crossed the pavement; inside the
banks of flowers nodded their brilliant heads, there was a rustle of
silken drapery and a ripple of laughter from the drawing-room. It was
all typical of a life of pleasure.

In one corner was an oblong table, surrounded by an eager, silent group.
A bald-headed man with a matted black beard and a great curved nose was
taking the place of banker. The great financier Isaac Isidore was as
keen over the banknotes here as he was over the millions he gambled in
the city.

No servants were present, they had been sent away long ago. Tempting
things were set out on a side table, and whoever wanted anything helped
himself. The players were so intent upon their game that nothing could
be heard beyond their laboured breathing.

They were gambling in earnest, there were hundreds of pounds in notes
and gold on the dull green cloth. A handsome youth, who was ruining
himself and his estate as speedily as possible, sat easy and collected
next to a young society lady, whose husband would have been shot rather
than see her in such company. A pretty marchioness, the daughter of an
American millionaire, was plunging greedily and losing as steadily.
Countess Lalage smiled with perfect equanimity as she saw her own
counters vanishing. She pushed over two small notes with a little sigh.
She did not look as if they were the last she had in the world, but they
were.

The whole brilliant house of cards must topple down soon unless help
came from somewhere. Already capitalists in the city were asking
questions about the securities they held, the hearts of certain
tradesmen were beginning to grow anxious.

"Lend me L500, Lady Longmere," the Countess asked gaily.

"Not a cent," Lady Longmere cried in a high nasal voice. "I guess my
luck's just in, and I'm going to make the most of it. I'm L8000 to the
bad, and once I make that up you don't catch me at this game again. If
Longmere knew that I had broken my word like this he would kill me."

"Who'll lend me a few hundreds?" Leona Lalage cried with a red spot on
her cheeks.

Nobody replied. They were all under her own roof, they had all enjoyed
her hospitality times out of mind, but not one of them was prepared to
lend her money. And Leona had had a fearful run of luck lately. Out of
all those dainty smiling friends of hers seated round that table there
was not one who did not hold her I.O.U. for considerable sums of money.
She was beginning to be talked about. That very morning in the Park a
well-known society leader had ignored her until recognition was forced
upon her by sheer audacity.

"No one to help me at all?" she pleaded. Her voice was low, but she
shook with passion. The big financier growled out that he would trust
her to L50. In two minutes this was gone, and the banker made no further
sign.

She must go on, it was absolutely necessary. Audacity would carry her
far, but even she had need of ready money. And luck must turn now, if
she had a hundred or two she was certain of it. It was madness, to sit
there, and watch that golden stream change hands and not share it. She
could have risen up and smitten her guests, and turned them furiously
out of the house, but she had to sit there and smile. The gambler's
fever was upon her, and there was dire necessity for some ready money on
the morrow. She rose from the table with a sudden resolution. As she
turned, she saw Lawrence looking critically round him.

"You don't play," she said. "What interest is there to you?"

"It is a fine study in human nature," Lawrence replied. "All the evil
emotions are here nicely chained up. I like to watch and study for
myself. Let me sit down and smoke a cigarette and study."

Leona Lalage flew up into her own room. She was going to do a desperate
thing. She had always recognised the fact that at some time or other it
might be necessary to disappear suddenly and mysteriously from the
brilliant field, and that is not possible even to the cleverest without
money. Desperately needy as she had been more than once lately, she had
never broken into the little reserve that she kept for emergencies.

"Our hostess has gone to rob a bank," the gentlemanly youth suggested.

"Or to pawn jewels," Lady Longmere laughed. "Isidore, why didn't you
offer to lend her money on her tiara?"

"Because it is probably paste," the banker said coolly. "Hein, I have
seen enough of society women to know something of the value of their
gems."

The spiteful little ripple of laughter was hushed as Leona Lalage
returned. There was a flush on her face and a glitter in her eyes that
Lawrence did not fail to notice. A little sheaf of banknotes fluttered
in her hands.

"Give me gold for these," she cried. "Gold, red gold, two hundred
sovereigns. Now, we will see whether fortune is still going to spite
me."

For an hour they played on steadily with varying fortune. The clocks
were striking two as three of the party dropped out, having lost
everything. A great pile of gold stood before Leona Lalage, a large pile
of notes opposite Lady Longmere. There were only five in the game now,
and the banker was losing in a manner that caused the beads to stand out
on his bald head. He shovelled out the last of his notes and his
remaining gold and shook his head.

"I have gone to my limit," he said. "Gordon, give me a brandy and soda.
Would you like to take my place, Lady Longmere?"

The American beauty shook her head and smiled.

"Not I!" she said. "I've got all my season's losings back, and I've done
with this kind of thing, right here. I'm very fond of Longmere in my
funny way, and I am not going to deceive him any more. But I shall be
afraid to go home with all these notes on me."

"I'll take them off your hands and give you a cheque," said Isidore. "I
shall want a lot of notes in the morning."

He scribbled out a cheque, and then, with the custom of his class, went
through the whole pile of notes down to the last one. There was a
puzzled frown on his face.

"Are they bad?" Lady Longmere asked quizzically?

"It isn't that," said Isidore. "I've got a fine head for figures, and
some of the numbers of these notes strike me as familiar. They are
identified in my mind with some sensation or tragedy. It seems to
me--ah! got it!"

"What is it now you have got?" Leona asked.

"Why, the corner house," Isidore cried. "Forty of these notes form part
of the money taken from the body of that poor murdered fellow in the
comer house. Here they are--190,793 to 190,832. Now which of you was it
who came here to-night with these particular notes in your pocket?"

The gamblers looked at one another uneasily, but not one word was said.



CHAPTER XVIII.--Lawrence is Mysterious.


Despite his vast wealth and the manner in which he was courted and
flattered by society, Mr. Isaac Isidore had contrived to remain single.
He had only one passion, and that was the making of money by ingenious
schemes; in fact, had he not been a capitalist he would have made a
wonderfully good novelist, as Lawrence often said. Mystery and intrigue
were the very air he breathed, and for recreation he asked for nothing
better than a romance by Gaboriau or Du Boisgobey.

He was breakfasting rather later, but quite modestly, in his chambers
when Lawrence called on him the next morning. There were a good many
points in common between the two men despite their different
dispositions.

"Funny thing over those notes last night," said the man of money. "I
suppose that is what you came to talk to me about."

"What a luminous mind yours is," Lawrence replied. "That's just why I
did come. As you know I am deeply interested in clearing up the Corner
House mystery. I've got nearer to it than anybody imagines. Do you
happen to have any idea who came with those particular notes last
night?"

"Not the ghost of one," Isidore admitted. "I can read men and minds, but
motives are sometimes beyond an amateur like me. Do you know?"

"Yes," said Lawrence, "I do."

"Which means that you are not going to tell me?"

"Not for the present, my boy. Without boasting, I do know, but I could
not prove it yet; at least, not to the legal mind. Have you got those
notes?"

Isidore intimated that they were in his safe. He took out the whole
roll, and asked Lawrence to sort out the particular ones for himself.

"I only want one," Lawrence explained, "and this one will do admirably.
I am going to take it away, if you don't mind. You will be able to
recognise it by this queer yellow stain. Why didn't you decline to take
them last night?"

"Why should I?" Isidore asked coolly. "They came to me through a third
party for value received, to that they are quite good. When these notes
are presented the bank is bound to cash them. I'd give sixpence to know
what is behind that queer, clever, ingenious brain of yours."

Lawrence laughed and departed with the assurance that Isidore should
know soon enough. He spent the rest of the morning at the club, and
after luncheon took his way gaily in the direction of Lytton Avenue.

The Countess was at home, and glad to see her visitor. The back
drawing-room was cool and secluded, and opened on to the garden. Leona
Lalage lounged back in a deep chair and indicated the cigarettes on a
table.

"I have told Saunders not to admit any more visitors," she said.
"Positively I shall break down if I don't get a rest soon. Does Mamie
make too much noise for you! If so, call to Miss Lawrence."

Mamie and Hetty were playing together in the garden. The child was
shouting merrily. Fond of children, Lawrence disclaimed any feeling of
annoyance.

"Children and dogs never bore me," he said. "I wish I had a garden like
yours. Pleasant perfumes always stimulate the imagination. Did you ever
notice how the smell of certain flowers recalls vivid recollections?"

A sudden pallor came over the listener's face, it was gone in an
instant, and a deep carmine flush succeeded it.

"Sometimes horrible recollections," she said in a low voice. "A certain
flower you love gets mixed up with a tragedy, and you never care for it
afterwards."

"Of course, I've noticed that," said Lawrence thoughtfully. "For
instance. I once was exceedingly fond of the smell of tuberose, but--"

A little ornament fell from the table by Countess Lalage's side and a
cry escaped her. Lawrence looked up in mild surprise.

"Nothing the matter, I hope?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing." came the reply. "Only I was so silly as to place the
wrong end of my cigarette in my mouth, and burnt my lips. What's
tuberose?"

Lawrence gave the necessary information. He was a little surprised to
hear that his hostess had never heard of the tuberose. Nor, fond of
flowers as she seemed, did she appear an the least interested.

"That child's noise makes my head ache," she said.

Lawrence stepped into the garden, Mamie welcomed him eagerly. No books
of hers were half so popular as the novelist's impromptu stories.

"Tell me a tale." she demanded, imperiously.

Lawrence complied with resignation. It was all about a beautiful bad
woman who guarded a precious treasure locked away in a box covered with
paintings of exquisite flowers. Mamie clapped her hands with delight.

"Like mother's Antoinette cabinet in the drawing-room." she said.

"That's it," Lawrence said gravely, but with a glance at Hetty that
caused her to flush a little. "And the key is like this one. We'll give
it to Hetty, and some time when the wicked woman is out of the way she
may get the tiny little phial that is in the cabinet so that we can do
all kinds of wonderful things with it."

"Perhaps we could get it now," Hetty smiled.

Mamie clapped her hands again. A signature look passed between the two
conspirators. A small key changed hands. Before the story proper was
finished Countess Lalage came down the steps into the garden. Admiration
was necessary to her, and the idea of a man's preferring Mamie's
conversation to hers was absurd.

"How you spoil that child." she said. "Hetty, take her away."

But Lawrence would not hear of anything of the kind. He would like to
have his tea out in the garden if Hetty would fetch it for him. Hetty
came back presently, and handed the tea to her uncle. He hardly dared to
look at her, but a smile on her lips told him she had succeeded. As he
left the house presently Hetty followed him out. She nodded
significantly.

"What does it all mean?" she asked.

"That you shall know all in good time," Lawrence replied. "It's a
pleasure to have you to do anything for one, Hetty. How quickly you took
in my parable. It was rather paltry to talk over a child's head like
that, but if ever there was a case when the end justifies the means this
is one. Of course, you got it?"

"Of course I did. A tiny glass bottle with a tiny glass stopper."

She took it from her pocket and held it out. There were a few drops of
amber-hued liquid inside. Hetty would have removed the stopper, but
Lawrence grabbed it.

"Don't touch it," he exclaimed, "keep as far from it as possible. There
is real danger here if you only knew it. And whatever you do, don't you
go near a soul in the house till you have washed your hands with Sanitas
or some pungent disinfectant of that kind. You must be very careful
about this."

Hetty promised, wondering.

"Where did you get that key from?" she asked.

"Well, I borrowed the original and had a copy made," Lawrence confessed.
"You see I was bound to have a copy, as I am going to return the little
bottle as soon as I have more or less verified its history. Now I want
you to get away after dinner and come as far as my chambers to meet
Bruce."

Hetty promised and went her way homeward. She was sorely puzzled, but on
the whole she felt wonderfully bright and happy. The mystery was still
as dark as ever, but she had faith in Lawrence. But there was much to be
done before one good man's name was cleared.



CHAPTER XIX.--Stolen!


Not till now did Gordon Bruce fully appreciate the blow that a cruel
fate had dealt him. At first he had been confused and bewildered, and a
little disposed to doubt the evidence of his sense. There was a vague
hope that it was a trick, a mistake that a moment would rectify.

He had not been arrested yet, his own voluntary evidence, backed up so
strangely by the evidence of Hetty and the reporter, had staved that off
for the present. But really things were almost as bad. He had his own
friends, of course, who were prepared to back him up through thick and
thin, but there were others who passed him with a cold bow, or cut him
altogether. He had called at one or two houses professionally, where he
had been informed that his services would no longer be required. It was
a bitter pill to swallow, but Bruce met it bravely. Even Hetty did not
quite guess what he was suffering.

He was only too glad of any excuse to meet her now. Anything to get away
from himself and his own disturbed thoughts. And he had not so very much
faith in Lawrence despite the latter's pretty gift of prophecy. The
artistic temperament is always a sanguine one.

Hetty was waiting for him now in Lawrence's study. She looked bright and
cheerful so that Bruce kissed her passionately. It would be hard if he
could not live up to her courage and devotion.

"My poor boy," she whispered. "My poor boy! But it is not going to last.
The truth is bound to come out before long. And then it will be like one
of those queer bank panics--only weather the storm, and you will be more
sought after than ever."

Bruce forced a smile to his lips.

"If you can be brave so can I," he said. "And perhaps Lawrence will
bring off one of his wonderful problems. But one thing I am pretty sure
of--it has nothing to do with your employer, Countess Lalage."

Lawrence came up puffing one of his eternal cigarettes. His manner was
full of confidence.

"I wanted to have a chat with you two people," he said. "In the first
place I have made a startling discovery. Of course, you know that the
victim of the Corner House tragedy changed L400 for notes at the
National Credit Bank. We know that somehow or other half those notes
found their way into the possession of our friend Bruce here. Now, did
it not strike you is strange that nobody should worry about the other
half?"

"Perhaps already disposed of elsewhere?" Hetty suggested.

"Perhaps. Or the poor fellow might have had them in his pocket with the
list. But the notes were there, and as a matter of fact, I have quite
recently had them all in my hands."

Bruce's listless manner departed. His respect for Lawrence began to
revive again.

"When did you see them?" he asked "Did Prout--"

"Prout! That estimable man is not likely to help much in a complicated
case like this. As a matter of fact I saw those notes in Isaac Isidore's
chambers this morning, they had been paid to him in a certain
fashionable house where they were gambling heavily last night. Can you
guess where the house is?"

Bruce shook his head. Hetty shook her finger at him disapprovingly.

"How slow you are," she said. "Where does anything happen that touches
on this case? And I know where there was some heavy gambling going on
last night. The incident took place in the drawing-room of No. 1, Lytton
Avenue."

"Is that really a fact?" Bruce cried.

"Honestly," said Lawrence: "I was there and saw it. Isidore has a
perfect figure memory, and spotted those numbers at once. But
unfortunately it was impossible to identify the person who introduced
the notes into the room, as there were so many of those bits of paper on
the table. But I shall find out. I know what the evening's next move
will be."

"Do enlighten us a little," Hetty pleaded.

"Well, I will. From the very first the mystery has developed exactly on
the lines laid down on that skeleton story I told you of. My locale was
the corner house, and the plot started there. Did I not forecast all
about the Spaniard and the lights going out and everything. It is easy
when you know how it is done. Therefore I was quite prepared for the
next move."

"But nobody has seen this plot," said Hetty.

"My dear girl, what I have just told you proves the contrary. Much as I
owe to coincidence, I am not going to swallow that. Now I have not so
much as taken the trouble to look at that synopsis which was
pigeon-holed in my desk a long time ago. It would be useless to look for
it."

"And why?" asked Bruce.

"Because I feel quite sure it isn't there," said Lawrence. "Now take my
keys, Hetty. I am pretty methodical, as you know; I always know exactly
where to put my hand on everything. Unlock the panel on the left-hand
side. Tell me what you can see in the pigeon-hole to the right."

Hetty unlocked the desk and searched as desired.

"There is nothing whatever in that pigeon-hole," she said.

"As I expected," said Lawrence. "Stolen! There's a pretty piece of
valuable information for you. The person who stole that is at the bottom
of the crime. In other words, the key to the future movements of the
criminal is in my hands!"



CHAPTER XX.--"Uneasy Lies the Head--"


The rose-tinted silken blinds were drawn in the boudoir, the house in
Lytton Avenue was hushed, there was a smell of eau-de-cologne on the
perfumed air. Society deeply regretted to hear that Countess Lalage was
suffering from nervous prostration. Leona Lalage lay there pressing her
hands to her head fiercely. It was only latterly that she had suffered
from these nerve troubles. Hitherto she had regarded herself as
absolutely invincible to anything of the kind.

A queer sort of fainting fit had been followed by a ghastly sense of
fear. Intrigue had hitherto been the very air that this woman breathed.
Now she was frightened, every ring of the bell sent her heart into her
mouth.

She was horribly frightened. If she could only have seen her antagonist
it would have been bearable. But she was fighting shadows. Whichever way
she turned she found herself checkmated and beaten.

Somebody had found her out. It must be so, because all her plans were
anticpated by the terrible antagonist who worked in the dark. Her case
was much like that of a desperate criminal who takes one huge sum to
conceal the loss of another until the inevitable crash comes.

"If my brain gives way now," she muttered, "if my reason plays me false
now even for a day I--but I dare not think of it. Well what do you
want?"

A liveried servant looking into the darkened room murmured that Dr.
Bruce had arrived. Bruce came in with his softest professional manner.
He was sorry to hear that anything was wrong, he asked a great many
pertinent questions.

"You have overdone yourself," he said with his cool hand on the fevered
pulse. "Few men could stand the strain of your present life. You must go
away at once to some very quiet place and be in the open air all day--"

Leona Lalage laughed aloud. The touch of those cool fingers thrilled
her. To go away now, to abandon it all just when--. Ah, the thing was
impossible. She might just as well have cast herself off Waterloo
Bridge.

"Excuse me," she gasped, "I am a little mad to-day. My dear boy, I
cannot go away, the thing is impossible. If you could only look into my
heart--but nobody can do that. Oh, Gordon, Gordon."

Her voice sank to a thrilling whisper. Bruce touched her hand
soothingly. The mere contact of his fingers seemed to madden her.

"Don't do that," she said, in the same strained whisper. "If you only
knew how I cared for you, how I love you. There is nothing I would not
do for you! I am rich and powerful, and men who know say I am beautiful.
Take me away, make me your wife, and you shall never know a moment's
pain. Your good name is gone, Gordon--but what does that matter. If--"

She paused as Gordon recoiled from her. His eyes were full of loathing.

"Forget this," he said, sternly. "Put it from your mind, as I shall do.
It is a passing madness. My future wife would blush if she could hear
you."

The woman's eyes dilated, her bosom heaved. She might have been waking
as from a trance. She was fighting passionately for the mastery of
herself. It was a short, sharp fight, but it left her trembling from
head to foot.

"Forget it," she said, hoarsely. "I--I never meant a word of it. Leave
me now. Send me something to soothe these frayed nerves of mine. Only
leave me alone."

The door closed quietly behind Bruce. Just for a moment the lace-clad
figure lay motionless on the couch. Then she rose and swept up and down
the room like a tornado. She had shown her hand, she had betrayed her
secret, and the man who had her heart scorned her. She was filled with
shame and rage and hate.

"I began to be sorry," she murmured. "My remorse spoilt my rest, I
thought that all the world would turn from him, and that he would come
to me, and then--Well, the dream is dispelled, for he will never come to
me now. They say that a woman who loves at forty is capable of every
madness. I was mad just now. And now there is but one thing to live for,
I will live for that; ah, yes, I will live for that!"

She sat down quietly for a moment with her hands locked together. That
indomitable will was acting on the racked body. She crept upstairs
before dinner white and shaky; she came down shimmering in white, and
diamonds in her magnificent hair and corsage, smiling, brilliant, as if
she had the whole world at her feet. Hetty looked at her with dazed
admiration.

"That dreadful headache has gone," the Countess cried. "I am myself
again. We will dine quietly together, you and I, and go to hear Melba
presently. Come, you can leave Mamie for just one night."

Leona Lalage swept into her box later on with the air of one who feels
that she is the centre of all attraction. Society was charmed and
gratified, distinguished men dropped into the box on the grand tier, and
whispered their congratulations. The brilliant stream of diamonds in her
hair was no brighter than the woman's eyes.

The house was fairly full on the fall of the curtain after the first act
of the new opera. There was light and life and movement there. And Melba
was scoring new triumphs. The curtain fell on the second act amidst a
crash of applause and the waving of handkerchiefs. Leona Lalage had an
artistic soul and she was moved.

"Wonderful!" she cried. "Ah, to have a gift like that. To think that the
human voice--"

She paused as some one entered the box.

A slight dark man, almost a half caste, with black hair and glasses. He
was immaculately dressed; his style was quiet, with a touch of humility
about it.

"Countess," he said "I kiss your hand. I have come from Paris to see
you. If I could have a word with you alone--"

"Louis," the Countess cried, "ah this is good of you! We will have a
little chat in the foyer. Hetty, will you keep guard till I return."

Her smile was light and pleasant. But it faded to a white mask once she
and her companion were outside the box.

"Quick," she whispered "Quick. Has the blow fallen?"

"A blow," said the other. "That is a poor word. It is absolute
destruction."



CHAPTER XXI.--Peril.


One quick gasp, a deadly pallor of the face ghastly behind the
artificial colouring, and the woman was herself again. She led the way
to a secluded seat, where they could talk without the chance of being
overheard.

"Now tell me about it, Louis," she said.

"Madame, there is but little to tell. You are indebted to that Paris
firm for nearly a hundred thousand pounds. They call themselves
financial agents, but they are money-lenders of the hardest type.
Maitrank is as hard as your diamonds, and he has found you out,
Countess."

"Found me out! Why, only yesterday I had a letter from him consenting to
a further advance on the property at San Salvator. And after all said
and done, there is a property at San Salvator. On that I have
borrowed--"

"Nearly half a million from first to last. I ought to know, for it was I
who added those fresh papers to the original deeds, and forged those
reports of the prosperity of the mine. Maitrank seemed quite satisfied
till yesterday. Then he made a great discovery. It was an unfortunate
discovery, and a cruel piece of luck for you."

"Go on, man. I am all impatience."

"I am coming to the point fast enough, You know Lefevre of Lyons?'"

"Of course. Did we not raise money on the San Salvator property from him
also? That was nearly a hundred thousand pounds."

"Quite so," Louis Balmayne said coolly, "for I also manipulated those
papers. The romance of the mine and the way it came into your possession
fascinated Lefevre. He lent you money at a great rate of interest, but
he lent it. On him comes the misfortune. Lefevre has been speculating
and burnt his fingers badly. He wanted money badly. He comes to Paris to
borrow it from Maitrank--"

The Countess smote her fan on her gloves passionately.

"You need not tell me any more," she whispered hoarsely. "He offered the
San Salvator as security to Maitrank, and the murder is out."

"Precisely. But not quite in the way you imagine. Directly Maitrank saw
those deeds he knew exactly what had happened. But that wonderful man
did not betray himself. His confidential secretary told me that he never
turned a hair. He simply regretted that he had no spare capital; he got
a warrant for your arrest, and he will be in London to-morrow morning."

"Ah! If I could only lay my hands on a good sum, Louis! Then I might
induce Maitrank to wait. For the sake of his own pocket he would keep
the secret. He will do nothing so long as he can recover part of his own
property."

"You are a wonderful woman," Balmayne said admiringly. "You have guessed
it. As to the money, it is to your hand. The coast is clear now, the
incumbrance is out of the way. We have only to act at once."

"And where is the money you speak so casually about?'"

"The means of safety, madame, seem to me to dangle at the end of a
rope."

The woman's eyes gave a flash of triumph.

"Ah!" she exclaimed. "I had forgotten that. In the press of other things
it had been swept out of my mind. A professional acrobat like yourself
should make light of a task like that. The way is all clear for the
experiment. But when?"

"What better time could we have than to-night?"

"To-night. Impossible. There are matters to be got ready. My absence at
this hour would attract attention. If I could only be in two places at
once!"

"So you can," Balmayne said coolly. "I have taken the liberty to borrow
the only machine in London that permits you to do that seemingly
impossible feat. Put that long cloak over your dress and come with me.
It is not your cloak, but it does not matter. I pledge my word that you
shall be back here at the end of an hour--long before the performance is
over. Come."

There was no further hesitation. This was an adventure after the woman's
own heart. With the purloined cloak covering her from head to foot she
passed down the steps and into the roadway. Nobody noticed her, for the
spectacle was not a very uncommon one. Under the shadow of the portico a
little way off stood a motor watched by a nightbird who would have done
anything for a few coppers.

"I like this," Leona Lalage exclaimed, "it braces the nerves. If those
people in New York only do as they promise I shall be free yet. A little
courage and I shall pluck safety from the Corner House yet."

The motor passed along swiftly in the darkness. Inside the opera house
many people noticed that Countess Lalage's box was only tenanted through
the second act of the new opera by a very pretty girl in white with no
ornaments in her hair. Hetty, on the other hand, noticed nothing at all
but the stage; she had actually forgotten that her employer was not
there. The opera was a rare treat to her, and she revelled in music.

There was a veritable scene of triumph at the end of the third act, and
whilst the curtain was raised for the second time Countess Lalage and
her companion returned. They strolled into the box with the calm air of
people quite accustomed to this sort of thing; they might have been
merely flirting outside.

"Twelve o'clock," Balmayne whispered; "not a minute later. On this
occasion the longest way round will be the shortest way home."

The applause was gradually dying down. Hetty conscious of a figure
behind her, moved back. The box door shut and the air grew oppressive.
Leona Lalage, still talking earnestly to her companion, motioned Hetty
to open it.

She did so just as a telegraph boy came along with one of the
orange-coloured envelopes in his hand. He looked at the address and at
the number on the box.

"Box 11a, grand tier?" he suggested. "Miss Lawrence?"

"For me," Hetty replied. "What a strange thing!"

The boy passed on whistling under his breath. Outside Hetty opened her
message. Her fingers trembled slightly.

"On no account let Countess leave house before midnight," it ran. "When
she gets home keep her there till after twelve, at all costs."



CHAPTER XXII.--For Love and Duty.


Hetty gazed at the strange unsigned message with the feeling that she
was being made the victim of some foolish joke. But who would play her a
silly prank like that? Perhaps, Gordon had had something to do with it.

At any rate, she must act. If it turned out to be a hoax she could
apologise afterwards. But, on the other hand, it might be a matter of
life and death; it might affect her lovers honour. It was a good thing
that Hetty had been fortunate to handle the telegram where she could be
secluded from the sharp eyes of her employer. Otherwise she would
assuredly have betrayed herself. She tore the telegram into tiny
fragments and pushed them under the edge of one of the mats. It was far
better to be cautious.

She had herself well in hand when she stepped back into the box again.
At any hazard she was going to carry out the instructions to the very
letter. And she had a fairly good excuse ready to her hand. If Mamie was
no better when she got home she would use that as a lever.

The performance came to an end at length. The dapper, smiling little
Balmayne handed them both into the carriage and then went off smoking a
cigarette like any honest gentleman whose conscience is at peace. Once
home Hetty flew up to her little patient. She seemed to be restless and
disturbed.

"Dr. Bruce has been, miss," nurse remarked. "He says Miss Mamie is not
to be left alone. The Countess was to be told that."

Hetty was deeply interested. Was this another mere coincidence or was
Bruce acting here like a puppet in the hands of the mysterious person
who seemed to be pulling the strings in the drama? Anyway, it
strengthened her hands.

There was a light supper in the dining-room. Countess Lalage talked
fitfully, from time to time glancing at the clock. The gilt hands were
striding on towards a quarter to twelve.

"I'm going to make a late call!" Leona Lalage said suddenly.

"I should like you to see Mamie first," said Hetty. She spoke coolly
enough, but her heart was beating furiously. "She is not at all well to
night. Dr. Bruce has been here, and says she is not to be left alone. A
mother's care--"

The Countess laughed lightly. Her mood seemed friendly.

"Very well," she said. "I'll come up for a moment. I'm not going far,
and I shall not be a long time away. If there is a crisis in the case--"

"Mamie is far worse than you imagine," Hetty said coldly. "Your own
constitution is so magnificent that you cannot understand weakness in
others. If Mamie were mine I should be in grave anxiety about her."

Leona Lalage laughed again. Once more she glanced at the clock.

"Come along then," she said gaily. "I know I am a bad mother."

The child looked flush and ill, her hand was hot, and she groaned in her
sleep. The Countess bent and kissed her carelessly. She moved to her own
room and Hetty followed. There was just a touch of hauteur in the manner
of the Countess as she intimated that she had nothing further to say.

"Perhaps I have something to say to you," Hetty said between her teeth.

The hour had come to show her pluck and courage, and Hetty was not going
to flinch. It wanted ten minutes to twelve by the clock on the
dressing-table.

"You are forgetting yourself," the Countess said coldly. "Leave the
room."

"When I have finished," Hetty replied. "You heard Dr. Bruce's message.
He said that child should not be left. You may urge that I am
sufficient, but there is a time for a mother's care. If I had my way you
should not go."

It all sounded sorry nonsense in Hetty's ears, but she was playing her
part, and merely talking against the clock. With blazing eyes the
Countess advanced, but Hetty did not flinch.

"Stand aside," she said furiously, "and let me pass. If it was not for
the child and the love she has for you I should dismiss you on the spot.
Now go."

"I shall not go," Hetty cried. She was surprised at the ease with which
she was working herself up into a genuine passion. "Nor shall you pass.
You shall stay here as long as I please. Ring the bell and have me put
out."

Sheer astonishment got the better of Leona Lalage's rage. That Hetty
above all people should turn upon her like this was amazing. She looked
again at the clock, which pointed to four minutes to twelve.

"You are disturbed and hysterical tonight," she said. "Go and lie down.
I am a strong woman and if you provoke me too far--"

"You shall not go." Hetty gasped. "I say you shall not go. Nothing less
than physical power will induce me to yield."

The anger of the other woman blazed out again magnificently. At the back
of her mind was a haunting fear that Hetty was acting a part. It was
absolutely imperative that she should leave the house at once. How if
Hetty had discovered this and was taking this coarse to prevent her
keeping her appointment?

The mere suggestion added flame to her anger. She caught Hetty by the
arm and dragged her from the door. There was a crash and a tear as the
dress sleeve parted, the quick rattle of a key in the lock, and a
defiant smile from Hetty.

"I may be mad," she gasped, "but there is method in it. I may not--"

A deadly faintness came over her, she staggered to a chair and fell into
it. As she did so the great clock on the landing boomed the hour of
midnight.

Nothing mattered now, the thing was done, the victory accomplished. In a
vague kind of way Hetty heard the cry of rage and disappointment uttered
by her companion, she felt the key snatched with cruel force from her
hand, there was a whirl of draperies and footsteps flying down the
stairs.

Hetty dragged herself to her feet. She was utterly exhausted with her
fight, but there was the fierce triumph of knowing that she had won. She
had played her part and the rest of it was in cleverer hands than her
own.

Meanwhile the Countess was tugging with impatient fingers at the hasp of
the drawing-room windows. There was murder in her heart.

"The little Jezebel," she muttered. "Was it madness, or what? At last!"

The window flew open and she raced down the garden like a hare.



CHAPTER XXIII.--Ten Minutes Past Twelve.


Mr. Garrett Charlton sat in Lawrence's chamber the same evening
impatiently waiting for him in response to a telegram. It was already
long past eleven, and the visitor was thinking of departing, when
Lawrence came in.

He had evidently hurried fast, for he was out of breath. He signified to
his companion to sit down, and lighted a cigarette.

"I couldn't possibly come before," he said. "I've been busy all the
evening on this business, and as it was I had to leave a little matter
to chance. I fancy that you will not be sorry that I persuaded you to
stay in London."

"To me it is the gloomiest place in the world," said Charlton.

"That I can easily understand. But you are still of the same
opinion--you still value the good name of your dead wife?"

"I would give all I possess in the world to clear it. Lawrence."

"It shall be done; I pledge you my word that it shall be done. I have
the key to the mystery--I have had it from the first. That is why I
persuaded you not to go away again, and not to let anybody know you were
in London. But we have by no means done with the corner house yet. We
are going to spend an hour or so there this very night."

Charlton looked up in quick surprise.

"You and I are going there secretly?" he asked. "Do you mean now?"

"As soon as I have finished this cigarette," Lawrence said, coolly. "We
may be too late to see the beginning of the play, but I have faith in my
assistant. Now come along. You have brought your latchkey as I asked
you?"

Charlton nodded. He was a man of few words. He said nothing when
Lawrence gave him a pair of goloshes to put over his boots, and in
silence the two set out for Raven-street. The place was practically
deserted as they came to the house, so that to enter without being seen
was a matter of no difficulty.

"We are in time," Lawrence whispered, "in good time. I felt sure I could
trust the one I picked out to assist me. If I had not been detained I
should have been here before. There is not much for us to do."

"Are we waiting for somebody?" Charlton asked.

"That's it. For the present we have to sit here in the passage with the
kitchen door open and watch for the faint gleam of light in the
courtyard. It is safe to have a light there because there are blank
walls on either side. I think, I rather think, that I am going to
astonish you presently."

Charlton said nothing, but from the sound of his laboured breathing it
was evident that the spirit of adventure was upon him. They sat there
for some time with the two doors open, so that they might see through
the grimy windows into the courtyard beyond. It was weary work, and the
minutes passed slowly.

"I'm not a patient man," Lawrence muttered, "but I could manage with a
cigarette. Under the circumstances, perhaps I had better not."

Charlton's heavy breathing ceased for a moment.

"I have good sight," he said "And unless I am greatly mistaken I saw a
figure cross the dim light by yonder window. There it is again."

It was like a shadow and quite as noiseless. Lawrence pressed the slide
of his repeater. The rapid little pulse beat twelve and then stopped.

"Between midnight and a quarter past," he muttered. "That's about the
time. We had better creep a little closer to the window. That's one
advantage of being in a house in the dark--you can see everything that
is going on outside without being spotted by anybody. Come along and see
what you shall see."

They reached the kitchen window and looked out. There was a figure
there, and what looked like another in the background. A lantern stood
on the flags: the first figure pitched something on the ground that
looked like a coil of rope.

"What on earth is that?" Charlton asked.

"A rope," Lawrence replied. "Can't you guess what that rope is for?"

"I am afraid I am utterly in the dark, Lawrence," said Charlton.

"Are you? There is a well in that courtyard. And if perchance anything
valuable got into that well, I should say that a rope would be the best
way of getting it out. Now do you understand."

Charlton nodded. It had been his whim and mood after the tragic death of
his wife to leave those fatal jewels where that wicked woman had dropped
them. So far as he was concerned the cause of all the trouble might be
at the bottom of the sea. They were gone, and only he and another person
knew the secret of their hiding place. That she might come back and try
to regain them he never troubled himself about. Even if it had occurred
to him, he would not have moved in the matter.

"That fiend probably told some accomplice," he said.

Lawrence chuckled. He could see further than his companion. He could see
the figure of a woman dressed in foreign fashion with a shawl over her
head. She had long fair hair. Her back was to the window all this time.

"The Spaniard with the mantilla," Lawrence whispered, "the evil genius
of the house. We shall see something more presently. Not that we are
going to interfere. On the whole, I rather want these people to get the
jewels."

Charlton said nothing. He was deeply interested. The man outside raised
the lantern, and the dim light fell upon the ghastly outline of
Charlton's white set face as he pressed against the panes. At the same
instant the woman chanced to glance in the same direction.

Charlton gripped Lawrence's arm with convulsive force.

"Man," he said sternly, "that fiend of a woman was my dead wife's late
companion."



CHAPTER XXIV.--Treasure Trove.


Just as she was with her lace and silks and long flowing train Leona
Lalage raced down the garden. With a bitter little smile she wondered
what her society friends would say if they could see her at this moment.
The thorns of a rose bush caught a drooping mass of frippery and tore it
away, but the woman paid no heed. Her dressmaker's bill need never be
paid.

She came at length breathless with running to the end of the garden. A
little green gate led to the lane which divided Lytton Avenue from the
comer house. It was absolutely quiet there. Leona Lalage could catch
just the faintest humming noise, then a glaring white eye flamed out.

Behind it was a black motor and the form of Balmayne.

"Never can trust a woman as to time," he growled. There was not the
faintest shadow of politeness in his manner now.

"Didn't I say twelve sharp?"

"I was detained," the Countess gasped. "After all, what are a few
minutes?"

"Everything, Maitrank reaches Charing Cross in a little over half an
hour, and it is absolutely imperative that I should see the arrival and
find out where he stays. I suppose you can see that?"

The Countess had no more to say. She held out her hand silently. She
tore all her long train of lace and silk away as if it had been rags,
she buttoned a cloak over her dress; a blonde wig and face shawl over
her head completed the disguise.

"Come along," she said. "I've got the key of the courtyard. Not that we
are in the least likely to find anything there?"

"And why not?" Balmayne growled. "Stranger things have happened. I know
a poor man at this minute who owns one of the richest gold mines in the
world. He won't work it because when the gold was found he quarrelled
with his partner on the spot and killed him. That's a fact."

"I'd get it out of him," Leona said between her teeth. "I'd like to bind
him and torture him bit by bit until he yelled out the truth. Well,
Charlton was always a strange man, and the jewels may be there yet. That
is one of the reasons why I took up my abode in Lytton Avenue."

"One of the reasons," Balmayne said sardonically.

"Never mind that, we know too much about one another to say much. I'll
open the door whilst you push the motor in. Quiet as the grave."

It was very quiet and still there when once the gates were closed.
Balmayne took one of the lamps from the motor and extinguished the
other. In the centre of the place was the well, partially covered over
by a flat stone. There was a windlass, but no rope. Balmayne produced
one. Very carefully he fitted it to the windlass. His dark eyes gleamed
and dilated.

Quickly he lowered the rope till the bulge of it showed that the bottom
was reached. He wound up the rope again, and as he did so a grunt of
satisfaction escaped him. It was far better than he expected.

"Here's a piece of rare good luck," he exclaimed. "Why, the well is
dry."

"I always heard that there was only a foot or two of water in there,"
the Countess said. "It was never used in my time--people don't care to
drink well water in London. Still, it is a slice of luck as you say."

"Got to get down there all the same," Balmayne grunted. "I'll make a
loop in the rope and put my foot in it. You used to be pretty strong at
one time. I suppose you can manage to let me down safely?"

Leona smiled with contempt as she surveyed the slim figure before her.
She was always proud of her strength. She bared her beautiful white arm
and showed the strong sinews and muscles under the skin.

"You need not be afraid," she said.

"If I couldn't--ah!"

She broke off, her voice rose to a scream. She grew whiter far than the
linen about her shoulders. Balmayne laid his hand on her mouth in an
instant.

"Fool," he exclaimed, hoarsely. "Do you want to bring the police upon
me?"

Leona pointed to the window, against which Charlton's face had been
pressed a moment before. The dimness of it, the stern accusing eyes made
up a picture so grim, so ghostly, that the woman's heart turned to water
within her. The fear of yesterday took the strength out of her limbs.

"The face," she gasped, "the face of Charlton. At the window. It was
just for an instant, and seemed to read my soul. Can't you see it?"

Balmayne could see nothing, and said so bluntly. As a matter of fact,
the face was gone. But the terror of the Countess still remained.

"Of course, there was no face there," Balmayne flared out. "That's the
worst of doing this kind of thing with a woman--one never knows when
she's going to have an attack of nerves. The idea of Charlton standing
at the window and knowing what we are going to do is too good. Pull
yourself together."

The trembling fit passed away, the woman was herself again. All the
same, Balmayne was not without misgiving as he put his foot in the loop.
But the crank of the windlass turned steadily and smoothly, the stone
walls slid by, and presently the adventurer stood at the bottom of the
well. There was no water, nothing but a slight dampness underfoot.

A moment later and Balmayne was up again. Leona Lalage looked at him
enquiringly, he had no breath to speak. With gleaming eyes, Balmayne
held two rusty old cases over his head. Leona grasped the motor lamp,
and Balmayne forced back the clasps of the cases.

"Got them," he croaked. "What do you think of this, my noble Countess?"

A stream of living fire, a ripple of all the colours of the rainbow,
Balmayne shut the cases as if jealous of the eyes of the night.

"Saved." he said. "Take these and hide them, take the rope and hide
that. I must be off to Charing Cross like the wind. This is, perhaps the
best night's work I have had in my experience. Now begone."

A moment later and the courtyard was deserted.



CHAPTER XXV.--A Check.


"No you don't," said Lawrence coolly. "Of course, it would be a very
dramatic finish to the night's adventure, but I can't permit it. Go
easy."

Charlton gave up the struggle. Those jewels, the cause of all his
misfortunes, had lain there at the bottom of the well, where he had
intended them to stay. He hated the very mention of them. Had not
diamonds inspired some of the most awful crimes since crime began?

They should stay there for all time, those stones with the blood upon
them, but now when they were being carried off by the woman who had
robbed him of all that life holds dear, Charlton's passion flared out.

He would have followed those people and demanded them. But Lawrence held
him back until his passion was spent. He yielded suddenly.

"After all it matters little," he said.

"It matters a great deal," Lawrence replied. "You want your jewels
back--"

"My dear sir, the first beggar in the street can have them for all I
care."

"Well, you don't want those people to get them. Neither will they for
long. It is all part of my little scheme. If you had dashed out just now
you would certainly have caused a great sensation, and there would have
been a great gap in the dazzling ranks of fashion, but you would have
ruined my plans."

"But will those people be punished eventually?"

"Of course they will. But there are viler crimes than the theft of
diamonds. There is the conspiracy to rob a good man of his good name, to
make the lives of that man and the girl he is going to marry dark for
the sake of a passing caprice. I tell you this has been done and a
murder has been committed in the doing of it. And I am going to get to
the bottom of the foul tangle."

It was not the usual voice of Gilbert Lawrence that spoke. There was a
dogged grimness about him that would have surprised his friends. "Let us
light the gas and smoke here for a time," he said. "There is not the
slightest chance of those people coming back, and there are no windows
overlooking this one. I have a good deal to say to you."

Charlton made no objection. He was evidently in the company of a man who
knew quite well what he was doing.

"I will be guided entirely by you," he said. "You tell me that that vile
woman will be punished, and I believe you. Strange that she should be
mixed up with the lives of people you care for also. You must have been
sure of your ground to let her escape you to-night."

Lawrence flicked the ash from his cigarette.

"I am," he said "See, I am familiar with her plot before she carried it
out. As I told you before, the whole thing is founded on a novel of mine
which has yet to be published. How she got the thing is a mystery. But
she has got it. It could not possibly have been a coincidence."

"If you know where she lives--" Charlton began.

"My dear sir, I know who she is. From the very moment that Bruce told
his strange story I felt pretty certain that the Spanish business was a
disguise."

"But it is no disguise. My wife's companion was a Spanish blonde."

"Then during the time that woman was in your house she wore a wig. You
may make yourself pretty clear on that point. The creature you saw
to-night in the courtyard has no doubt passed at different times under
many names, but to the world she is at present known as Countess
Lalage."

"I have heard of her. But she is very rich."

"So meet people think. To my mind she is a brilliant adventuress. With
beauty and brains and audacity a woman like that never need want for
money. Of course, the crash will come sooner or later, but meanwhile she
is having a good time. But you are going to see any patience rewarded. A
murder has been committed here, and that woman knows all about it. Out
of that murder came the terrible charge that hangs over my friend Bruce,
and she knows all about that. I know all about it, too, but knowing and
proving are two very different things. It is a fight in the dark between
us, but I am going to win at the finish."

"You wouldn't force her to confess?"

"Not a woman like that. Get her back to the wall and she will be
dangerous. Bless the man, if she knew I was her antagonist she would not
hesitate to ask me to dinner and poison me over one of her excellent
dishes. When I strike I must strike her down to the ground. My lines are
laid pretty carefully, and she is going into them one by one. She walked
into one of them to-night."

"Did you know that she was coming here."

"My dear sir, I was the means of letting her know the jewels were still
in the well. She is very hard up for money--I found that out at her
house the other night--and that is why I waited here this evening. She
is playing out my story, you see. And she has gone off for the present
with your diamonds."

"Which will be a powerful weapon in her hands."

Lawrence laughed silently. He seemed to be intensely amused about
something. He took a flat brown paper parcel from his pocket.

"You saw those people go off with the diamonds," he said. "You saw those
gems flash and dazzle in the light of the lamp. I am going to give you a
surprise now, and the surprise of our predatory friends will come later
on. Your wife's gems were three rows of diamonds and a collar of the
same set plain in silver."

"How did you know that?" Charlton asked.

Lawrence proceeded to unpack his parcel. Inside were two cases which he
opened and exposed in the light of the flaming gas.

"Will you have the goodness to took at these," he asked.

Charlton did so. There was a blank surprise on his face.

"I should like to know what you make of them," said Lawrence.

"Amazing!" Charlton cried. "Why these are my wife's diamonds, the real
stones beyond doubt."



CHAPTER XXVI.--The Black Motor.


A certain sense of elation had taken possession of Hetty. She had been
tried in the fire, and she had not been found wanting. She had done her
work well, and she knew it. And she was not quite satisfied. Things were
going on here that she ought to know. At any moment she might come
across important information that would be of the greatest use to
Gordon. She no longer had the slightest doubt that the Countess was at
the bottom of the business that threatened to deprive him of his good
name.

As soon as the weakness was passed, she followed Leona Lalage. She heard
the latter fumbling with the sash of the drawing-room window, she felt
the sudden rush of air. The owner of the house had barely reached the
garden before Hetty was after her. It was all for Gordon's sake, she
told herself; for him she would do anything.

She crept on until the green door in the wall was reached. It was risky
to peep out, but Hetty had to hazard that. The black motor car was in
front of her, so that she was behind the gleaming lights. With a thrill
Hetty recognised that motor. It was the same one that she had seen
leaving the Corner House on the morning of the murder. She was destined
to see more of it before long. But she saw other things; she saw Leona
tear the skirt of her dress away; a wild cry of surprise rose to her
lips, but she choked it down. Here before her was the Spanish woman of
Gordon's story. The sudden flood of light set Hetty trembling from head
to foot.

For the present she was not destined to obtain further information. The
big gate of the courtyard of the Corner House was closed upon her. But
she waited. Wit! Her little white teeth shut together; she would have
waited there all night. She heard Lalage's sudden cry; she heard the
muttered conversation that followed.

She was only just in time to get back behind the green gates when the
Countess emerged again with something in her hand. Her head was held
high, her eyes gleamed with triumph. Then the great black car shot
noiselessly away, and Hetty crept back to the house.

She managed to gain her bedroom unseen, she stood with a fast-beating
heart at the head of the landing listening. All the servants had gone to
bed long ago, there were only one or two of the electrics burning.

A moment later Countess Lalage came out of her bedroom and swept down
the stairs. All signs of her disguise had gone; she was dressed from
head to foot in a new and magnificent gown, black set off with red, her
diamonds flashed and streamed in the light. Evidently the adventures of
the night were not over, for the Countess would not have taken all that
trouble had she not expected some one.

Hetty crept back to her room and softly closed the door. She could hear
the snap of the electric switches as Leona Lalage proceeded from room to
room downstairs until the whole place was brilliant with light.
Evidently some one was to be welcomed royally. And crime and light do
not go very well together.

Or perhaps it was a crime. With all the servants in bed anybody alone
with Leona Lalage and Balmayne would have a dangerous time.

"I must see further into this," Hetty told herself. "When this honoured
guest comes I will creep downstairs and listen. It's not a very nice
thing to do, but if ever the end justifies the means, surely this is a
case in point."

She had to listen and wait a long time. Meanwhile the black motor was
throbbing its way to Charing Cross. It was quite late as it passed under
the archway into the station. But strange to say the motor was no longer
black but it gleamed with lacquer and steel and brass like the perfect
beauty that it was.

There were only a few passengers by the train, one an old bent man with
a gray moustache and a hooked nose coming down over it. His boots and
hat and gloves were shabby enough, but his fur-lined overcoat, which he
wore in spite of the warm night, was a magnificent garment of real
sable. He stepped along the platform absently. As he looked round for a
cab, Balmayne halted him.

"Can I be of any service to you. Herr Maitrank?" he asked.

The little man's eyes twinkled shrewdly. He seemed to be amused about
something.

"What a lucky meeting," he exclaimed. "If that is your motor you can
drive me to the Metropole and sup with me. You are a clever young man,
so clever that you will not pretend this meeting is an accident."

"I'm not going to try and deceive you," said Balmayne. "I'm going to
play the same with all the cards on the table."

"So? Then you know why I am here?"

"Yes. You have come to look into Countess Lalage's affairs."

"With a view to saving myself the loss of many thousand pounds. The
money itself would not make much difference to me, but I love my money.
To make it is the whole end and aim of my life. Lie to me, deceive me,
abuse me, anything you like, and I care nothing. But rob me of money,
ah!"

The little beady eyes gleamed angrily, the speaker spat furiously.

"I found out by chance," he went on. "A bit of good luck showed me how I
had been swindled. But I said nothing--ah, I said nothing, because in
this case silence is golden! And nobody knows but myself. Thinks I, that
woman is a long way from being played out yet--she has resources. Some
people would have made a fuss and cried out and spoilt everything, but
not so Maitrank. I come here to get my money and I shall have it, mark
you. But I am not easy in my mind."

"About your money, Herr Maitrank?"

"About my money! No. I shall get that all right. What I am uneasy about
is this: How did you know I was coming, and why?"

Balmayne shrugged his shoulders.

"That is my affair," he said. "Perhaps I have been prepared for
this--perhaps I have had a watch kept on you. But no matter. We have had
time and we are ready. Will you come and see the Countess now?"

Maitrank hesitated a moment and nodded.

"It will give me a good supper free," he said, "and a glass of wine. And
if you try any tricks on me, heaven help you, for I won't!"



CHAPTER XXVII.--A Glass of Wine


Hetty's patience was rewarded at last. She could hear the faint murmur
of the motor in the street; there was a sudden rush of air as the front
door opened, and the voice of the Countess in her most honeyed tones as
she ushered somebody into the dining-room. Instantly the girl crept
downstairs and hid herself behind the portiere over the door. It was an
audacious thing to do, but her audacity paid, as it generally does.

All the lights in the room were ablaze at one end of the table was a
dainty supper, flanked by a couple of gold-topped bottles. A little
shabby man with a hooked nose was in the act of taking off a heavy
fur-lined coat.

"How good of you to come," the Countess said. "Sit down and let me wait
upon you--there is no need at all to ring for the servants. You can talk
and eat at the same time. There! I will give you some of the cigarettes
you are so fond of."

The meal was finished presently. Hetty caught the scent of cigarette
smoke. The Countess lounged back in her chair, smoking too. She seemed
perfectly self-possessed. She looked so easy and comfortable that
Maitrank was filled with admiration.

"You are quite well and blooming?" he asked. "Ah, it is an easy
conscience."

"I've no conscience at all," the Countess laughed. "If I had possessed
such a thing I should not be here at this moment."

Maitrank muttered. "Perhaps not. Also you would not have robbed me of
the best part of L100,000. Charming swindler, where is my money?"

"Most courteous of Shylocks, it is all spent. I am going to be frank
with you, which is very virtuous on my part, seeing that you have found
me out. That San Salvator property is worth exactly nothing. Also it is
mortgaged in four places. But for a bit of pure bad luck I should have
got more out of you for it."

"Ay, ay," Maitrank showed his yellow fangs in a grin, "that is true. Go
on."

"You have found me out, and I must pay you. It is no question of honour,
I am bound to do so to save my face. But meanwhile I must find another
victim."

"Meanwhile you will do nothing of the sort," said the usurer. "I am not
going to wait. Give me half and I will hold the sword suspended for a
fortnight. Give me those diamonds, and I will write a receipt for
L30,000."

A little flush of colour crept into Leona Lalage's cheek.

"They are worth half as much again," she cried. "You are a coward to
take advantage of your position like that, and with a woman, too."

Maitrank grinned again, in no way abashed.

"I never want another woman like you to deal with," he said. "I prefer a
man, however great a scoundrel he may be. But you would have robbed me;
I have turned the tables on you. And I am going to squeeze you. Give me
those diamonds, take a receipt for the sum I mentioned, and I wait a
fortnight."

"And if I refuse your offer," said Leona between her teeth.

Maitrank glanced meaningly round the luxurious room. He took in the
works of art, the carpets and skins, the flowers, and the soft shaded
light.

"This place is more comfortable than a gaol," he said coolly.

He saw nothing of the murderous look in the eyes of his companion.
Nobody had seen him enter the house, nobody even knew that he was in
London. All the servants had gone to bed. Lalage had by her hand an
accomplice ready for anything.

She checked the words that rose to her lips. She produced pen, ink, and
paper. With a passionate gesture she tore the diamonds from her throat
and breast and hair.

"Take them," she said hoarsely; "take them, and write me a receipt at
once before I repent. Better do anything than come between a woman and
her jewels. There, a glass of wine. To your speedy ruin and
destruction."

She poured out the amber liquid from a fresh bottle into a fresh glass
and drank it down. With a shaking hand she filled another glass for
Maitrank, who accepted it gallantly. The diamonds he slipped coolly into
his pocket.

"Never lose your temper," he said. "It leads to apoplexy. Ah, my fine
madam, you thought to pinch me, but I have pinched you instead."

The Countess rose with her eyes blazing. She pointed to the door.

"Begone!" she cried. "Go, before I do you mischief. See, I help you on
with your coat. Now go, and don't let me see that ugly yellow face of
yours for a fortnight."

Maitrank chuckled as he paused down the steps. A policeman bade him
goodnight, a policeman chatting to a man in evening dress. The policeman
passed along the empty road, the other followed Maitrank. A second later
and Maitrank staggered, and fell headlong in the roadway.

The policeman had passed out of sight now. Like a flash the man in
evening dress was upon the form of the unconscious capitalist. He was
picked up as if he had been a feather-weight. An instant later and he
was back at No. 1 Lytton-Avenue again.

"Quick!" the Countess whispered. "You managed that very cleverly,
Balmayne. We have a credible witness who saw this creature leave the
house, thanks to you."

"And the idea of drugging the glass before pouring out the wine, thanks
to you," said Balmayne. "I must get this chap through the garden and on
the motor at once. Give me a few minutes' start, and he's not likely to
trouble us again."

Hetty sped from her hiding place through the hall into the garden. The
little green gate was open, and beyond the motor, once more in its black
guise. Hetty stood there just a minute, wondering what next she should
do. If there was only somebody near that she could confide in and send a
message by! If she could only prevent Balmayne from starting on his
mysterious errand!

There was no time to be lost, for she could hear Balmayne coming down
the garden. And then a happy inspiration came to her. From her head she
removed the gold and ornamented dagger with its long steel pin. She
stooped down.

Balmayne came with his burden, which he flung in and covered with a rug.
He pulled at the lever, and the great machine started, and then dragged,
as if some great weight was hanging on behind.

A snarling curse came from Balmayne's lips.

"A thousand maledictions on it!" he muttered. "Both back tires are
punctured!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.--A Check.


Balmayne danced down the lane with impotent fury. Despite her peril and
the fear that was in her heart, Hetty smiled. Here was a daring and
audacious rascal engaged in some desperate and, no doubt, cunning scheme
who was utterly baffled by a mere girl and a hairpin.

Hetty checked the smile, for that might have grown hysterical. She had
to brace herself to the effort, an easier task, seeing that Gordon Bruce
was uppermost in her mind. For him she would have dared and done
anything. The woman who was at the bottom of this thing was his deadly
enemy. To gain her secrets must help in Gordon's final victory.

Balmayne knelt down there with one of the lamps in his hand. His face
was not good to look upon. Leona Lalage watched him eagerly.

"Is it a very bad puncture?" she asked.

"It isn't a puncture at all," Balmayne snarled, "at least not an
accidental one. Some mischievous fiend must have passed down the lane
just now and done this for pure wickedness. There are two long slashes
in the tires."

"And the mending will be a matter of time?"

"Rather. An expert couldn't do it under an hour. Both those tires will
have to come off. Now what are we to do?"

The Countess clasped her hands together in hopeless rage.

"If I only had that ruffian here!" she said. Her voice was low, she
strode backwards and forwards like an angry wolf.

"Oh, if I only had him here! I should like you to hold him down so that
I--"

"Drop it," Balmayne said rudely. "What's the good of that theatrical
nonsense? If something is not done at once our plans are utterly ruined.
Don't stand there like a tragedy actress, but suggest something."

"But what can I suggest? This thing has taken me utterly by surprise.
The only thing is to carry that thing back into the street and lay him
down where you found him. A policeman saw him leave the house. It will
be thought that he had a fit in the street, and we shall not be
suspected."

"And meanwhile the policeman on the beat has been at least twice past
the spot where the body ought to be," Balmayne sneered. "People in fits
don't get out of the way and then come back again."

"True," the Countess exclaimed. "I had not thought of that. Wheel your
motor into the courtyard of the Corner House before a policeman comes
this way, and carry him back into the house."

There was nothing else to do, and Balmayne complied muttering. The
autocar was disposed of, and Balmayne, breathless and dripping under the
weight of his burden, staggered back into Lytton-avenue Gardens again.
Once the little green gate was closed he could breathe more freely. But
the perils and dangers of the night were not over yet.

The unconscious form of Maitrank was cast carelessly on the grass.
Balmayne wiped his heated forehead. The moon came out from behind a
ragged bank of cloud and fell on the face of the sleeping capitalist. It
was so white and still that he might have been dead already.

The white, still face looked up, the murderous dark one looked down.
Balmayne kicked the body in a sudden spurt of passion.

"You miserly old dog," he growled. "A nice dance you are leading us. I
wish I knew what on earth to do with you."

The Countess gripped his arm convulsively.

"Kill him," she said in a hoarse whisper that thrilled Hetty. "That is a
sure and easy way out of the peril. We can prove that he left the house,
nobody can prove that he ever returned. I have my jewels, back; there is
nothing that we can be traced by. And the secret dies with him."

Balmayne gave a shudder. Even he recoiled.

"I have never had that on my conscience," he whispered. "And if we do--"

"Kill him," urged the Countess. "Kneel down and pin that wrap over his
face. He is an old man and the drug has effected his heart. He will go
off quietly in his sleep. Then you can throw him down the well in the
courtyard of the Corner House."

"Can I help you?" cried Hetty, with a voice so steady that it astonished
herself.

"I had a dreadful headache, so I thought I would steal down into the
garden. Have you killed a burglar or something of that kind?"

Leona Lalage was the first to recover herself.

"Something of that kind," she said. "My friend Mr. Balmayne was bringing
my motor back when he found this poor fellow unconscious in the lane.
Mr. Balmayne called out to me for assistance and I fortunately heard."

Hetty nodded. Truly the woman was magnificent.

"Had you not best get him into the house?" Hetty suggested. "It is not
cold, but anyone who is ill, to lie on the damp grass--"

The Countess touched Balmayne. She had turned her face away, fearful
lest the expression of it should be seen.

"Convey him into the house," the Countess ordered.

There was nothing for it now but to obey. Hetty followed slowly and
crept up to her own bedroom. Once there she dropped into a chair, and
just for the moment the whole world seemed to be whirling before her
sightless eyes.



CHAPTER XXIX.--A Knock at the Door.


But it was not for long that Hetty remained like that. There was much to
be done yet and much to learn. The thought of Gordon spurred her on. If
she could get this woman into her power and force her to speak all would
be well. Hetty never doubted for a moment that Leona Lalage was at the
bottom of her lover's misfortunes.

If she could only communicate with Gordon! But how was that to be done?
Hetty thought for a moment. Then the inspiration came to her. In her
stockinged feet she crept down to the basement to the housekeeper's room
and closed the door behind her. She was not more than a minute gone and
when she reached her room again it was with the knowledge that she could
count on somebody now.

These two fiends would not dare to do him any harm now. All the same,
Hetty made up her mind not to go to bed. She had Mamie in her own room,
the door of which she left purposely open. If the worst came to the
worst she could ring the electric alarm on the top landing and rouse the
household. Mamie was sleeping peacefully with her head on her hand.

"You poor little soul!" Hetty murmured. "Ah, you poor little soul!"

Meanwhile the precious twain downstairs had laid their burden on a couch
in the dining-room. Balmayne himself poured out a glass of wine, and
carried it unsteadily to his lips. He was worn out and shaking; he did
not know what to do. It was not often that he was so hopelessly beaten
as this.

"A mischievous boy with a pocket knife, and a white-faced cat of a
governess with a headache," she said bitterly. "It's maddening to think
of a little thing like that coming between us and our schemes. And if I
thought for a moment that Hetty Lawrence really suspected anything--"

"Pshaw!" Balmayne growled. "She doesn't suspect anything. Her manner was
too simple and natural for that. And the girl carries her goodness and
purity in her face. Oh, you can laugh, but that girl lives in another
world than ours. When I looked at her just now, she reminded me of what
I might have been."

The Countess gave a low scornful laugh. Balmayne sentimental was
amusing. She had the profoundest contempt herself for girl's of Hetty's
type. It was always a mystery to her what men could see in them.

"Well, she saved us from murder tonight," Balmayne said, looking grimly
down into the white face on the sofa. "By Jove, he's coming to!"

Maitrank stirred and stirred uneasily. Then he opened his eyes and
stared round him. His quick, active mind was beginning to work. But
those eyes were a little uneasy and fearsome as they saw both Leona and
Balmayne there.

"What has happened?" Maitrank asked. "Have I been asleep, or what?
There's something that seems to burn into my brain. Have I been ill?"

"Looks like it!" said Balmayne. "You left here all right some time ago."

"I know. I remember that now. I said good-night to the Countess--eh, eh,
the Countess! and there was a policeman outside talking to a man in
evening dress. He said good-night to me and I walked down the road. I
don't recollect anything else."

He paused in some confusion. He had the profoundest respect for the
cunning and audacity of the people with whom he had to deal. Was this
some startling new plot that they had been working on him?

"Then how did I get back again?" he asked.

"I found you in the road." Balmayne said boldly. "I was going away from
here, seeing that my services were no longer required. I happened to
find you. I was just in time, for one of the street prowlers was going
through your pockets. Probably your fur coat attracted his attention. It
is fortunate--"

Maitrank plunged his hands into his pockets.

"I have been robbed!" he cried, "robbed of those diamonds! Ah, tell me
what's this new trick you have played on me! Help! Help!"

He yelled aloud. The scream of rage and disappointment rang through the
house. It caused a servant to turn over sleepily and wonder what the
matter was, it roused little Mamie, and brought her up in bed with a
scream of fear. Hetty heard it too, and wondered if murder was not being
committed after all.

She could not stand there doing nothing. She ran downstairs and burst
into the dining-room. She had a good excuse at the end of her tongue.
The Countess turned upon her fiercely and demanded what she was doing
there.

"Mamie," Hetty said sharply. "The child has been greatly frightened. She
is calling for you. Will you please go up at once?"

It was all so simple and natural that Leona Lalage could say nothing for
a moment. The stranger was standing up searching his pockets wildly. His
eyes gleamed with hatred and defeat and baffled avarice. He knew that he
had been made the victim of some trick, but there was no name for it
yet.

"I will come up," Leona said, anything to get Hetty out of the room. "It
is very unfortunate that this should have happened here."

The door closed behind them. Maitrank's fingers crooked and reached for
Balmayne.

"Dog," he hissed, "dog. I'll be even with you yet. How it has been
managed I do not know yet, but I shall find out. My diamonds, give me my
diamonds."

Balmayne took the bare throat of the speaker in his grip and shook
Maitrank as a reed is shaken in the wind.

"Be silent!" he hissed; "have a care or--"

There was a loud imperious knocking at the front door.



CHAPTER XXX.--Prout Gets a Clue.


Sergeant Paul Prout was beginning to come to the conclusion that the
Corner House mystery would have to be relegated to the long list of
crimes concerning which Scotland Yard is fain to be silent. At any rate,
the matter was utterly beyond him. Given a clue to work on, no man in
the force could display more tenacity and skill. But there was nothing
to go upon and Prout was utterly devoid of imagination.

Of course there was always the chance of coming on the track obliquely.
None knew better than Prout how frequently one crime interlocked with
another, and how often in looking for one particular criminal another
had been arrested.

He came into the Inspector's office in answer to a summons. Inspector
Manton passed over some papers to his subordinate.

"I want you to read them and act upon them," he said. "You'll have to
put that Corner House business out of your head for a day or two at any
rate. It appears that a gang of cosmopolitan swindlers have established
their headquarters somewhere in Soho, and by means of using several
addresses they are getting a tremendous quantity of goods which they
proceed to turn into money. Here is one of their advertisements cut from
the 'Standard.' You had better answer it, and get in touch with the
fellows that way. But nobody can manage that sort of thing better than
you."

Prout felt himself quite capable to account for this matter. He
proceeded to lay the whole particulars before a friend in the wholesale
silver-plate line--just the kind of article the gang of thieves
affected--and so procured the genuine address of a genuine trader for
the purpose of the capture.

"I expect you'll get orders from five or six addresses," said Prout. "If
so, send the stuff on, not too much at a time, and ask for references.
You'll get the reference of course; in other words, Jones and Company,
of Gray's Inn, will recommend Smith and Company, of Market-street. When
you get all the references in let me know, because by that means I shall
be in possession of every address used by these fellows."

To keep the big swindle going on and to avoid awkward mistakes it was
necessary for the confederates to meet at intervals. By small purchases
at one address or another Prout had pretty well got to know all the gang
by sight, and by following one or another he discovered at last where
the rendezvous was--a public house of not too good repute in White Lane,
leading off Oxford-street.

Next day a sallow, seedy, broken down shop assistant sought and obtained
a bedroom at the Orange Tree public-house. He seemed to have money, and,
therefore, he was welcome. He hinted that he was 'in trouble' over some
stolen goods from his late employer's shop, and the Orange Tree received
him with open arms.

It was weary work sitting there and pretending to drink, but patience
his its reward at last. Gradually the shy swindlers became accustomed to
the seedy shop assistant, who even went out of his way to give them
hints as to credulous firms. It seemed to Prout that he knew all the
gang at last save one.

And this one he particularly wanted to see, because the name was unknown
to him. In all the swindlers in London it was the first time Prout had
heard of one called 'Frenchy.' And the particular member of the
gang--absent from London on business seemed to be the leader of them
all. Once Frenchy showed himself, Prout would give the sign, and within
an hour the gang would be laid by the heels.

He came at length, a little dapper man, with a slight hump between the
shoulders, a nose slightly crooked on one side. He appeared to take his
warm welcome quite as a matter of course, he discarded a pair of gray
suede gloves, and called for a bottle of champagne.

Behind his paper Prout gave a start. Here was a case where the pursuit
of one crime led to another. The leader of the gang of thieves had large
orange coloured freckles on his hand the same as Prout had seen on the
hands of the victim of the Corner House tragedy.

Prout was calm again in an instant. In a dejected way he was looking
admiringly at the new-comer. The little man's English was quite good,
but all the same he spoke with an accent that had a strange French
flavour about it.

Just on closing time Prout, lounged out in his most dejected style, and
bought a late paper.

"Now, look here." he said to the man with the papers. "Those men are to
be arrested, but so far away from here as not to give any suspicion of
the house being watched. The little dandy chap who just came in is to be
left to me. That's all."

Apparently it was quite sufficient. As the gang separated one by one,
each was picked up by an officer in plain clothes. The little man in the
suede gloves went cautiously on till he came to a workingman's flat off
Gray's Inn Road, and here for the first time he became conscious that he
was being followed.

"And what do you want with me?" he asked. "So you are the young man who
got into trouble over a mistake as to your employer's goods."

"I want to speak to you for a moment," said Prout.

The little man pointed gaily up the stairs. Prout followed him into a
room and shut the door. The next instant the small Frenchman was on his
back and the handcuffs encircled his wrists.

"No use making a noise here," said Prout coolly. "It was a good idea of
yours to hide yourself amongst respectable working men."

The little man struggled silently, furiously.

"Now, what's the good of that?" said Prout in his most soothing voice.
"With these bracelets on you can't possibly get at the revolver in your
hip pocket. I am a police officer, and by this time the whole of your
lot are in custody. I've got the key of the door in my pocket, and I'm
going to search the room."

The little man's language burst out furiously. Nothing less than war
between France and England should wipe out this insult to the tricolour.
Prout had burst open a desk and was examining the papers there as
tranquilly as if he were stone deaf. He came across something present
that caused his eyes to gleam and his heart to beat with a feeling of
triumph.

"Now you can come along with one," he said. "If you like to walk you
can, and if you like to pay for a cab I am agreeable. What do you say?"

The little man elected to have a cab. When Bow Street was reached Prout
had the satisfaction of finding that all this circle had been netted. He
received the warm congratulations of the Inspector modestly.

"Got your case complete?" asked the latter.

"I've done more than that, sir," said Prout. "I've stumbled on something
important relating to that Corner House business. And if you don't want
me any more, I'd like to go and see Mr. Gilbert Lawrence."

There was nothing more to be done for the present. Ten minutes later
Prout was knocking at the door of Lawrence's chambers.



CHAPTER XXXI. An Urgent Call.


Lawrence was burning the midnight oil, and therefore impatient of
interruptions. But upon hearing Prout's name he finished the chapter he
was writing and slung up his reading lamp. He was hospitable over his
cigarette and whisky.

"Come to tell me you have made a discovery, eh?" he asked. "No need to
tell me that, I can see it in your face. Sit down man--one o'clock in
the morning is comparatively early for a novelist. Go on."

"It's a great discovery, sir," said Prout. "I have found the brother of
the murdered man."

"What, the Corner House victim? Is that really a fact?"

"Indeed it is, sir. A good deal better looking than the other poor
fellow, but directly I set eyes upon him I couldn't fail to see the
likeness. And when he took off his gloves, and showed the big orange
spots, I felt certain."

"I suppose you can lay hands upon him at any time?"

"Rather!" Prout grinned. "He's my prisoner. Arrested him to-night in
connection with some long firm frauds. I arrested him in his own
lodgings so that I should have a chance to search the room, and what did
I come across but a few letters written by the murdered man to this
brother of his."

"Surely a curious coincidence!" Lawrence cried.

"Not at all, sir. There's a marvellous freemasonry amongst criminals.
I've started at hunt for a watch and chain, and found a bank robbery.
Once in looking for a missing man I dropped upon a sensational
bankruptcy. One never knows. But touching these letters. They are
undoubtedly the same handwriting as the letter we found on the corner
house victim. I've put them together, and I am certain."

"Do they contain anything likely to help us, Prout?"

"Well, that I can't say for the present sir," Prout replied, "I have
only looked at one. Seeing that you are so interested, I came here at
once. But one thing I have discovered--if I was a creditor of a certain
Countess who shall be nameless, I should go and sit on the doorstep
until I had got the money."

Lawrence winked never so slightly. He had his own ideas on that head. He
read the one letter that Prout handed to him and smiled. Beyond doubt
the letter had been written by the queer mis-shapen outcast who had been
found dead in the Corner House. As Lawrence returned the letter he
looked at his watch.

"It wants some time of two o'clock yet." he said. "My friend, Dr. Bruce,
does not go to bed early, so I shall go round and look him up. We'll go
into the other letters carefully when we have time, Prout, but for the
present I should like to borrow this one if you have no objection. What
do you say?"

Prout had no objection to make. He had made a great discovery, but he
felt pretty sure that he would need Lawrence's ingenious mind and fine
imagination before he had succeeded in solving the problem.

"Take it, and welcome, sir," he said. "I shall have my hands full for
the next day or two, and anyway there is no hurry."

With the feeling that great events were in the air, Lawrence hurried
round to Bruce's rooms. There was a light in the front window that
disclosed the fact that Bruce had not gone to bed. He came to the door
himself, looking fagged and worn out.

"I have had a trying day," he said. "My dear fellow, I am losing my
connection almost as fast as I made it. I shall have to give it up."

"Rot!" Lawrence cried. "I've got some news for you. Prout has been with
me, and has left a letter in my possession. What do you think of that?"

Bruce lead the letter slowly and carefully. Beyond establishing the fact
that the murdered man had a brother he could see very little in it.

"Unless there are other letters," he concluded.

"There are five more which I have not read yet. I understand there are
allusions to a certain Countess who, as Prout politely put it, shall be
nameless. My boy, I feel quite certain that this will lead to--what's
up?"

The shrill clatter of the telephone bell tinkled in the next room. The
ring was repeated in a few seconds imperiously.

"The telephone for me," said Bruce. "I hope I shan't have to go out
to-night. I'll get you to excuse me tor a moment. Are you there?"

A whispered voice came back; it was Hetty's voice:

"For heavens sake come here at once, Don't wait but--"

The voice ceased; nothing more could be heard but the humming of the
wire. Bruce swished into the dining-room and huddled on his coat.


CHAPTER XXXII.--Touch and Go.


Balmayne relaxed his grip of the old man's throat as the knocking was
repeated. Some accident might have happened, but on the other hand it
was possible that there was some real and tangible danger here.

"I didn't mean to go quite so far," he muttered. "Only this time you
have made the grand mistake of your life. Be silent now and you shall
get your jewels back. It is the only way."

Maitrank nodded breathlessly. He did not lack pluck, but he was an old
man and the rapidity of events dazed him. All the glittering electrics
in the room were whirling like a wheel.

"I'm not going away till I've got them," he said doggedly.

Balmayne hastened to the door. He might want some ready lie; on the
other hand, his diplomacy might be needed. But he set his teeth a trifle
closer as he saw Dr. Bruce standing there. "I have been called," he
said.

"In that case come this way," Balmayne replied. He dared not ask a
direct question. He was racking his brains to know who had summoned the
doctor and why. "There is nothing the matter."

"I did not gather that from Miss Lawrence's message," said Bruce,
uneasily.

Balmayne concealed a smile. He had got it. There was only one way in
which Hetty could have summoned her lover, and that was by means of the
telephone. That there was such an instrument in the house he knew quite
well. And why did Hetty Lawrence do this thing? Was she merely
frightened, or had she learnt a great deal more than the conspirators
imagined?

In the garden she might have seen a great deal. She might have heard a
great deal, too, as Balmayne was bound to admit. But then when she had
disclosed herself in the garden her face was quite tranquil, there had
been nothing on it but a certain natural surprise.

It was impossible to suspect Hetty of being an actress. The girl was too
open and natural for that. And in his queer way Balmayne admired the
gentle womanliness of an innocent girl.

Still, it was just as well to be on the safe side. There must be no
suspicion that there had been any foul play here.

"Miss Lawrence meant well," Balmayne said, "but really there was no
occasion to send for you at all. A mere accident."

Bruce bowed. He knew that he had done a foolish thing in betraying the
fact that Hetty had sent for him. And her message would not have been in
the nature of a prayer had not the need been urgent.

"You shall see our friend presently," Balmayne went on. "Herr
Maitrank--I mean the Countess's friend--made a late call here. I had
occasion to go out after he had left and found him lying unconscious in
the road. Whilst there it seemed he was robbed of certain valuables. He
was so good as to suggest that it might have been here that he lost his
gems--I mean his valuables."

The fellow was lying smoothly enough, but Bruce knew that he was lying.
There would be awkward explanations presently when Hetty Lawrence came
to speak; for instance, how would it tally with the pretty story that
Balmayne was bringing the unconscious form of Maitrank by the garden
gate when he was found in the street?

But already Balmayne was prepared for that. His luminous cunning brain
saw the whole way clear. To save the situation a great sacrifice would
have to be made. A coup de theatre was necessary.

"Perhaps it was as well that Miss Lawrence took matters in her own hands
and sent for you," he said thoughtfully. "At any rate your presence may
get us out of a certain degree of responsibility. The patient, if I may
so call him, is quieter now, and you will have no difficulty with him.
Of course, that is if he will see you at all. If not you will acquit us
of any discourtesy."

Bruce bowed again. He would have given a good deal to know what the
other was driving at. Was there any real meaning in the chatter, or was
it all for the purpose of delay? Bruce hinted that it was late.

"And you want to get home," Balmayne cried. "Pardon me. I will go and
see if they are ready for you."

He passed out, closing the door behind him. Then he sneezed loudly
twice, and instantly Leona Lalage appeared at the head of the stairs. He
flew up to her silently on the thick carpet and laid his lips to her
ear.

"Dr. Bruce is here," he whispered. "That little fool of a governess of
yours took it in her head to call him on the telephone. Of course, he
knows nothing, but if Bruce and our friend Maitrank meet, goodness knows
what will happen."

"I see, I see," the Countess replied. "If we could only scheme some
plan--"

"I have a plan already arranged. It requires a great sacrifice, but you
will have to make it. Give me those diamonds."

"What, the diamonds that have caused all this trouble to get. Never!"

"Give me the gems," Balmayne said doggedly. "Everything depends upon you
doing what I tell you now. Besides, we shall get them back again. By
sheer force of circumstances the tables have been turned in Maitrank's
favour. Give me the gems."

He spoke fiercely with his eyes gleaming. He saw the heave of Leona's
magnificent white breast, the look of anger on her face. And meanwhile
the precious minutes were stealing on rapidly.

"Very well," he said, "then I shall wash my hands of the whole business.
Fool, do you want to stand in the dock? And there are other dupes with
not a tithe of the wit and brains of Maitrank. The gems!"

The Countess turned on her heel, and disappeared. A moment later, and
she was back with the glittering stream of fire in her hand.

"There," she whispered. "Take them. It is the bitterest moment of my
life for--"

Balmayne stopped to hear no more, but hurried quickly down the stairs.


CHAPTER XXXIII.--Baffled!


Leona Lalage had scarcely returned to her own room when Hetty came out
of hers. She had heard the loud knocking at the door, and had instantly
guessed who it was. But the strange silence that followed the answering
of that summons puzzled her. The whole house was wonderfully still now,
a silence that seemed to tell of dark mysteries. She looked over into
the hall below. She could not remain here any longer. She would go down
into the library and wait there. Those two people were quite capable of
murdering her lover as well as Maitrank. She opened the library door,
and to her great surprise Bruce stood before her.

As she would have cried out he laid his hand on her lips. He could feel
that she was trembling from head to foot.

"My darling," he whispered, "what does it all mean?"

"I cannot tell you," Hetty said helplessly. "But I have been seeing
strange things all the evening. I got frightened and sent for you."

"And I am afraid I betrayed the fact," Bruce admitted. "I might have
thought of some other way of accounting for my presence here. Still,
that rather piratical-looking young man seemed to think you had done
right. What's this about some man picked up in the garden?"

"What did Mr. Balmayne tell you?" Hetty asked in reply.

Bruce explained shortly. Hetty came closer to him.

"Lies, lies, lies!" she whispered. "There is not a word of truth in what
he said. The old man came here because the Countess had robbed him of a
lot of money. There were some diamonds that he was going to take in part
payment. He had the diamonds. Then he was drugged and cleverly got out
of the house. They had so managed it that a policeman saw him leave. A
little further on the drug took effect. Balmayne brought the body back
and carried it down the garden to the motor car waiting at the back. I
saw all this; then I had an inspiration. With my ornamental hairpin I
slashes open two of the tires of the car so that it was impossible to
take the old man away. It was too risky to carry him back to the
roadway, so they had to bring him back to the house and trust to luck
for the rest."

"And you say you saw all his?" Bruce asked.

"Every bit of it. Gordon, put your ear down close to me. They were going
to murder that poor old man in the garden. It took all my courage and
all my nerve to appear at that moment, because they might have done me a
mischief also."

Hetty ceased to speak for a moment The recollection of what she had gone
through overcame her. Bruce kissed her tenderly.

"But I managed it," Hetty went on. "When the critical moment came I was
astonished at my own calmness. They suspected nothing. I was merely out
there because I had a headache and could not sleep. So I saved that
man's life. It was some time after that I lost my nerve and telephoned
for you."

"Are there more horrors to come, dearest?"

"No, for the time being the horrors are all over. That old man came to
himself again, and swears that he has been robbed. He made an awful
scene. He woke Mamie up, and I had to get her mother to come and see
her. I believe Balmayne was nearly making an end of his victim when you
knocked. And, oh, my dear boy, I shall be so glad to get away from this
awful house."

"You shall leave it to-morrow, never to return," Bruce declared.

"No; not yet. The secret of the shadow that lies over you is bound up in
this house. Till it has passed away I stay here. But it is dreadful. The
silence of it frightens me. How still it all is now!"

It was very silent then. To the casual eye here was everything that the
heart could desire. It seemed hard to associate vulgar crime with all
this artistic beauty, with the pictures and statues and flowers.

Suddenly the silence was broken by a laugh. It was the croaking kind of
laugh that could only have proceeded from the lips of an old man. But
there was pleasure in it. It came strangely after the note of tragedy
that had dominated the evening. A door opened somewhere, and the laugh
came once more.

Then there was the voice of Balmayne in a key of mirth. The front door
was opened, the call of a cab whistle thrilled down the street, It was
almost as if there were two sets of people in the house, one family
given over to the dark and gloomy, and the other all comedy and smiles.

On the impulse of the moment Bruce opened the library door and looked
out. It was hard after what Hetty had told him to believe the evidence
of his senses.

There was the man who twice within the last hour had been in danger of
his life chatting quietly with the man who had robbed him. The two were
evidently on the best of terms, for Maitrank was laughing heartily, and
Balmayne stood opposite smoking a cigarette like a host who speeds a
parting guest.

Outside was the clatter of hoofs and the jingle of harness. The hall
door stood open; Balmayne politely helped Maitrank on with his heavy
coat. Hetty, standing in the background, began to wonder if she was
dreaming.

"What can it all mean?" she whispered.

Bruce could say nothing. At every turn of this mystery it seemed to grow
more tangled and knotted. He waited until the two had passed into the
roadway; he heard the exchange of good-nights, and then the cab rattled
away. Balmayne came back, and looked quite carelessly into the library.
Hetty had already stepped out of the side door and had gone up to her
room. She had no desire for Balmayne to know that she had been with
Bruce.

"You see our patient gone," Balmayne said smoothly. "As a matter of
fact, the whole thing was a ridiculous mistake. But you must not blame
us. The blame is due to your charming young lady who sent for you. But
that is one of the drawbacks of your noble profession. Goodnight."

Bruce murmured something. He was too dazed for the moment to speak
coherently.


CHAPTER XXXIV.--A Clever Move


Balmayne's move had been a clever one, and quite worthy of a mind like
his. He recognised at once that Bruce's presence there meant danger. If
Maitrank, in the excitement of the moment, chose to speak out, all the
delicately-laid plans would be ruined.

He must have the diamonds back again. The old man could never have
proved that they had come back once more into Leona Lalage's possession
by means of a clever plan but he was in a position now, to say and do a
great deal of mischief. But for the accident to the motor, things would
have been different.

But there was nothing to be gained by going back. With the diamonds
stuffed in his pocket, Balmayne returned to the dining-room. Maitrank
sat on the sofa with his head between his hands moaning to himself. He
had slipped off his heavy sable-lined overcoat, for the atmosphere of
the room was oppressive.

His keen intellect had not quite come back to him, he was still
suffering from the effects of the drug. He had been robbed just at the
moment when everything seemed to be going in his favour. His vanity was
touched.

Balmayne picked up the coat and laid it on the table. There was just a
dexterous motion and a flash of his white hands, then he smiled with the
air of one who is perfectly and wholly satisfied with something.

"Are you better now?" he asked.

Maitrank looked up with a wolfish gleam in his eyes.

"I am getting to be myself again," he croaked. "You have got the better
of me this time, but it will never happen again. Ah, you are keen and
you are clever, but the old wolf as ever wiser than the young one. I
have been robbed."

"You are pleased to say so," Balmayne said smoothly.

"I have been robbed, I tell you. What was the trick I know not yet, but
I shall find out."

"You left this house all right with the diamonds in your possession,"
Balmayne went on; "you cannot deny that fact. We can find a policeman
who will be able to testify to the fact that you went unmolested."

Maitrank groaned. He was still more or less childish over his loss.

"Where are the diamonds?" he asked "Tell me that, rascal!"

"Taken from you by some prowling night-bird as you lay unconscious.
Which pocket did you place them in?"

"In the breast-pocket of my inner coat. Bah, why argue over it?"

"You would be prepared to swear that in a court of law?"

"Well, perhaps not," Maitrank admitted. "But I had them in my
possession."

"Then search once more--look everywhere. You might have changed them
from one pocket to the other quite unconsciously. Be quick, because I
have sent for a doctor to examine you."

"Keep the doctor to yourself," Maitrank snapped. "I'm all right. See,
there is nothing in any of my pockets. My overcoat could not--"

He paused with a dazed expression as he produced from his big coat a
handful of what looked like streaming fire. He gave a glad cry, the cry
of a mother who has found some child that she deemed to be lost. He
carried the stones to his lips and kissed them.

"I must have changed them," he sobbed. "I changed them and forgot;
perhaps I had them in my hands looking at the beauties."

"Bah, you grow old, you get senile," Balmayne said contemptuously. "You
have had an experience to-night that should be a warning to you. Now put
it to yourself. We try to rob you--you above all men in the world, who
hold us in the hollow of your hands. Surely you pay us a very poor
compliment! Our cue is to conciliate you, to find other victims to pay
what we owe you and keep you silent. Once you are satisfied you will
never tell--you will enjoy the sport of seeing others bitten too well.
But you keep a carriage in the future and have no more fits in the
street."

Maitrank grinned in sinister fashion.

"You are a clever young man; without doubt you are a very clever young
man," he said. "And perhaps I have been mistaken. And I am suspicious; I
have good cause to be. One reads in books of honest men who are the
souls of integrity. Ah! But then I have never met with such a one in
business."

"And touching this doctor?" Balmayne asked.

"Go along with your doctor," said Maitrank now, in great good humour.
"If you will have the goodness to call a cab I will get back to my
hotel."

But Bruce knew nothing of this change of things. He was utterly puzzled.
As he walked home he could make nothing of it. Hetty's story was too
circumstantial to be anything but absolutely true. There must have been
same strong reason for this change of part. Perhaps Lawrence could throw
some light on it. He might even know the man Maitrank. At any rate he
was on very friendly terms with Isaac Isidore, who would be sure to have
the names of all the European capitalists at his fingers' ends.

Bruce put the whole thing resolutely out of his mind, and went to bed.
It was not till after luncheon that he found time to see Lawrence, to
whom he told Hetty's story and the strange scene he had witnessed the
night before.

"This is a complication," Lawrence said, as he puffed at his cigarette
thoughtfully.

"It has no part in the original scheme for your destruction, which was
founded on my lost skeleton novel. There is no doubt in my mind now that
the Countess had made up her mind to get you under her thumb. So far I
can follow her--indeed I have followed her in a fashion that would
startle that lady if she knew everything. But people of that kind have
many irons in the fire, and what you tell me looks like one that has
nearly burnt her fingers. Our game is to sift the incident, and try and
turn it to advantage. I am going to show you some pretty sport presently
connected with those diamonds. Also I am going to use them so that we
shall get Maitrank on our side."

"I wish I was as sanguine as you are," said Bruce.

"I'm more," said Lawrence. "I'm certain I have gathered up pretty well
all the cards by this time. Now you put on your hat and come with me.
I'm going to have a few words with Isaac Isidore."



CHAPTER XXXV.--A Powerful Ally.


Isaac Isidore was lunching at his chambers in his own simple way. A hard
trying life like his, to say nothing of half his nights spent in
society, called for a careful regime. Plain food and a total absence of
intoxicants enabled the man to get through an enormous amount of work
and pleasure.

He was glad to see Lawrence as usual.

Had he not preferred the atmosphere of finance, Isidore would have made
a fine novelist of the sensational order. His fine imagination enabled
him to bring off so many of the surprises with which he constantly
terrified his brother capitalists.

"Anything to do with the mystery?" he asked.

"I should say a great deal," Lawrence chuckled. "In the first place, I
should like to hear something of the history of one Maitrank."

"You don't mean to say he's in it!" Isidore cried, grimly amused. "The
cunningest fox in all Europe. Truly the Lalage is a wonderful woman! But
I see our friend Dr. Bruce is burning to tell me a story. Play go on."

Bruce proceeded to relate all that had happened the previous evening.
Isidore shook with suppressed laughter, though he never spoke a word.
The narrator quite failed himself to see the humorous side of the
matter.

"What do you think of it?" Lawrence asked at length.

"I think that but for the pluck and courage of a girl, friend Maitrank
would have gone to his account before now," Isidore said more seriously.
"I must confess that I find the mystery of it all exceedingly
fascinating. Maitrank is not the man who forgets and forgives in a
moment. What on earth could have induced him to grow so friendly with
that fellow Balmayne all at once?"

"That I leave you to guess," Bruce replied. "It is beyond me."

"But it is not in the least beyond me," Lawrence remarked coolly, as he
reached for a cigarette. "To a certain extent I hold the key to the
situation. Accident strengthens my hands, as it generally does in
dealing with people of this kind. And I am going to make a powerful new
ally in this new business. I need not ask you if you are personally
acquainted with Maitrank, Isidore?"

"Oh, I know the man well enough," Isidore replied. "I will give you an
introduction to him right enough. But you won't get much from that
quarter."

Lawrence begged to differ. In the first place, he anticipated
considerable entertainment. He was not selfish, he said, and had no
desire to keep it to himself.

"You must have your comic relief to even drama," he said "We haven't had
much humour up to now, but that is coming. By the way I hope your
Continental friend is not subject to apoplexy?"

Lawrence chuckled to himself with the air of a man who has a joke which
is too good for the world in general. Isidore was puzzled and
interested.

"Tell you what," he exclaimed, "I'll try and get Maitrank on the
telephone. He has a sort of office at the Metropole."

It was a little before five when the trio reached the Metropole. A suite
of rooms had been chartered by the Hungarian capitalist and there he had
already established a secretary and a clerk or two to look after his
affairs. He was seated in his shirt sleeves with a big black cigar in
his mouth, when his visitors entered. He extended two fingers to
Isidore, to the others he merely bowed.

"And what can I do for you?" he asked.

"You might be disposed to answer a few questions," said Bruce quietly.
"I was the doctor who was called in to see you last night. But for the
courage of a young girl, I might to-day have given evidence at the
inquest held on the body of a most distinguished capitalist called
Maitrank."

Lawrence nodded approvingly. Bruce had struck the right note.

"I should like to hear more of this," Maitrank cried.

Bruce plunged into his story. He had a most interested listener. The
small gray eyes of the listener were fixed intently on the narrator's
face. The black cigar died out between his fingers.

He had no questions to ask; there was no doubt on his face. If ever a
man was telling the simple truth it was Bruce at that moment. There was
something like a smile on Maitrank's face when Bruce came to the part
that Hetty had played in the stirring drama of the previous night.

"I never forget a favour," said Maitrank, hoarsely. "The young lady
shall have a very practical evidence of my gratitude. She saved my life,
and she ended up by getting my property returned to me."

"I don't want to pry into your affairs," said Lawrence. "But would you
mind telling me one thing? The Countess owes you money?"

"Well, yesterday she owed me nearly L100,000. I have got part of that
back in the way of jewels, hence my change of attitude last night. By a
clever trick, that woman robbed me of a fortune. When I found it out I
said nothing. It was no cue of mine to make a fuss about it. If I had
done so I should have lost everything. So I came to England. By way of a
start I obtained possession of diamonds to the value of some L30,000."

"You are quite certain of that?" Lawrence asked, meaningly.

"My dear sir, they are in my possession. If you are still cynical on the
point I will show them to you."

Lawrence desired nothing better. In a few minutes the stones lay on the
table. The novelist picked them up, and took from his pocket a small
file which he coolly rubbed on the facet of two of the larger stones.
Maitrank smiled. Any diamond would stand that test. With a grave look,
Lawrence handed the stones back, the tested diamonds were dull and flat.

"Paste!" Maitrank cried, with a yell that rang through the building.
"Paste, as I am a sinner. Deluded and fooled again. Rich as I am I would
sacrifice every penny to be even with that woman."



CHAPTER XXXVI.--A Faint Clue.


It was a day or two later before Lawrence saw Prout again. In the
meantime he had not been idle. In some vague way or another he felt sure
he was on the track of the Corner House mystery. A dozen theories were
formed and abandoned. If Prout had only possessed Lawrence's
imagination!

"But is there anything in the letters?" the latter asked after Prout had
given him a precis of their contents. "Something we can go by?"

"I'm afraid not, sir," Prout admitted. "The only thing I have
established so far is that my prisoner is the brother of the murdered
man. Oddly enough, he has no idea that the writer of those letters is
dead. And as he declines to disclose his own name, we cannot discover
the identity of his murdered brother."

Lawrence read over the letters carefully, there was less here than he
expected. They were all full of vague schemes of making money by various
shady ways, and all bewailed the fact that the writer could not obtain
the necessary capital to start. Really the letters were hardly worth
reading.

But patience is generally rewarded. Here was a hiatus after a series of
regular dates. The writer had been drinking heavily, somebody had got
hold of him, and was detaining him somewhere against his will. He was
not allowed to say where he was. His last letter of the series hinted at
a possibility of large sums of money.

"I'm afraid it's no good, sir," said Prout when Lawrence had finished.

"I don't quite agree with you," Lawrence said. "The man was detained
against his will. Where was he detained? In the Corner House? Because
his gaoler was afraid of his discretion. Now go a step further and ask
who detained him yonder. You can answer that question for yourself."

"Countess Lalage," Prout muttered. "But why?"

"Ah, that is the point. Get to that, and the problem is solved. Now
listen to me, Prout. The rascal who wrote those letters and the rascal
who received them were brothers. They were fond of each other, which you
will admit is possible. I see that for some reason of your own you have
concealed the fact from the prisoner that his brother is no more. If you
tell him the truth he will probably make some startling admission."

Prout nodded admiringly. Lawrence took a photograph from his pocket.

"Tell him the news abruptly," he said. "And when the man has digested
that, show him the photograph. It is a recent one of Countess Lalage. I
want to know if he recognises her."

Prout departed on his errand. It was easy enough for him to obtain a
private interview with the prisoner, who received him with polite
mockery. His instinct told him that Prout wished to learn something.

"You are welcome," he said, "it is so dull here that even the
conversation of a mere detective is pleasing."

"The detective was sharp enough to get you here," Prout said.

"Ah, well, even the great Napoleon made a mistake or two:"

"Which you are likely to do yourself," said Prout, "if you try to be too
smart. I want you to answer me a few questions, which don't affect your
case at all. Give me the desired information and I'll make matters as
easy as I can for you on your trial. I can't get you off, but I can
lighten the case."

The other man nodded. Prout was talking sense now.

"Go on, mon brave," he said. "I will do what I can for you--and myself."

"It's about those letters I found in your possession," Prout said, "the
letters to you from your brother. I know they are from your brother,
because I have seen him, and also his handwriting. You need not be
afraid of him, because he is far beyond being injured by anyone in the
world."

"Say," the other whispered, fiercely. "Poor Leon--is he dead?"

Prout nodded. It was some little time before the other spoke. His next
question startled the detective.

"Was he murdered?" came the hoarse whisper.

"He was. You didn't know he was dead, yet you guessed how he died. He
was the victim of what you call the Corner House--"

"Ah, I remember now. I was too busy to read, but I heard people speaking
about it. My poor brother, my poor Leon."

"Leon--?"

"Leon Lalage."

"Your brother's name was Leon Lalage?" Prout asked.

"That is so, and my name is Rene. To think we were once happy boys
together on my mother's flower farm in Corsica!"

Rene Lalage bowed his head and wept after the manner of his nation. He
had offered Prout a far more valuable clue than he had expected. All
sorts of possibilities were opening out before the eyes of the
detective.

"I am interested in getting at the truth about your brother's death," he
said. "That is why I am here to-day. Before you knew how he came by his
death you asked me if your brother had been murdered. Why?"

"Because there was one who hated him, I cannot and will not say any more
than that. He stood in the way of somebody. So long as he kept away it
was all right. But Leon was not one of that sort. He was as brave as a
lion. Had he not been so fond of drink he might have done anything. But
there was something in the blood of both of us that took us into evil
ways. Thank God our mother is dead, the flower farm gone, and the secret
of the wonderful perfume that made the name of Lalage famous for two
centuries is buried in my mother's grave."

"One more question and I have done," said Prout. "Your brother had some
one to fear. Now was that some one a man or a woman?"

"A woman. I can't say more than that."

Prout was fairly satisfied. He produced a photo, that Lawrence had given
him.

"Is that the woman by any chance?" he asked.

Rene Lalage thought not. All the same, he seemed puzzled. But he could
not be definite, and Prout was fain to be content.

"This seems to be a great lady," the prisoner said. "She conveys nothing
to me except as to her eyes. No, it is not possible. And she would not
be in English costume. Some years ago she was in England playing at one
of the theatres or music halls. There was a fine picture of her in one
of the papers--Lalage, the dancer."

Prout felt that he was getting on.

"Can you tell me the name of the paper?" he asked.

Rene Lalage confessed himself puzzled. Compatriots had shown him the
paper, but he had forgotten. There was a headpiece to the paper with a
woman on it blowing a trumpet. It seemed to be all actors and the like.

"It has gone from my mind," he said. "It is so long ago. Even then my
brother and this woman had drifted apart. I am not happy in my mind
to-day, for your news has disturbed me more than I can tell. Even a
rascal like myself can be possessed of a heart, eh?"

"If I come again can you refresh your memory?"

"It is possible. It is not for me to say. Only poor Leon must be
avenged!"

The speaker clutched Prout passionately by the arm. His whole frame was
all quivering with passion.

"The vengeance comes closer," said Prout; "it is closer than you
imagine. And I fancy that your evidence will hang the murderer."



CHAPTER XXXVII.--The Talk of the Town.


Lawrence was profoundly interested in what Prout had to say. The latter
had given far more information than he had imagined.

"You have given me some valuable clues," he said. "In the first place we
now know the real name of the murdered man. Strange that it should be
the same as the fascinating Countess! And stranger still that our
brilliant adventuress did not call herself something else when she
engineered herself into society. But probably that is part of the
reckless, audacity of her nature. It was very foolish because it jogs up
the brains of a man like myself who has knocked about artistic and
theatrical London for so long. And I distinctly recollect a Lalage, a
dancer, who made a hit at the halls some seven or eight years ago."

"And whose portrait appeared in one of the smart papers," said Prout. "I
wonder if you can remember the name of the paper. It may be alive or it
may be dead, but the ornamental heading had a woman playing a trumpet on
it. This is in your line, sir, more than in mine."

Lawrence cogitated over the matter.

Eight years ago his position had been very different to what it was now.
Then he had to be eager and alert, to study every journal that published
fiction. In those days he had had the whole list at his finger ends. His
face suddenly lightened.

"I've got it," he cried. "The paper was called the 'Talk of the Town.'
It was a sort of pioneer to the 'Sketch,' but of a lower type. For a
time it had a great vogue, but a prosecution for libel killed it. If it
is possible to see a file--"

"That's easy." Prout put in. "You'll get a file right enough, and in all
probability be in a position to purchase the copy you want. Frampton's
in Holborn make it a business to stock all papers and back numbers,
charging a shilling for a penny paper and so on. They've got millions of
moribund journals."

Lawrence remarked that he would make it his business to step round to
Frampton's without delay. It was just possible that he had not squeezed
all the information that he wanted out of Prout.

"Did you find out anything about the past of those fellows?" he asked.

"Well, I didn't, sir," Prout replied. "The poor fellow seemed so cut up
over the death of his brother. Very sentimental, those foreigners. He
kept talking of the days when they were together on the flower farm in
Corsica. They come of a pretty good stock, for my man spoke of a scent
that their family had made for two centuries, the secret of which died
with--"

"What!" Lawrence shouted. "What! Say that again."

"I hope there is nothing wrong, sir," asked Prout.

"Wrong?" Lawrence cried as he paced the room. "Not much. Why, you are
giving me the master key to the situation. Look me up again this
evening. I guess I shall be able to astonish you. I'm off to Frampton's
now. I must have a copy of that paper if it costs me a hundred pounds."

Frampton's establishment consisted merely of cellars where grimy men
seemed to be busy with piles of journals. After a little trouble and a
reference or two to a ponderous ledger a file of the 'Talk of the Town'
was produced. There were not more than two hundred altogether, but
Lawrence had the satisfaction of knowing that they were complete. Some
of them were duplicated many times.

At the end of an hour Lawrence found what he wanted. Here was the
portrait of a striking woman in Spanish costume, her eyes were dark, her
hair wonderfully fair. Lawrence's hands trembled a little as he folded
up the paper.

"And what do you want for this?" he asked.

Frampton incidentally replied that half a-crown was the price. It would
have been cheap to the purchaser at a thousand times the money. It was a
little later that Bruce came round to the novelist's room in response to
an urgent telephone message. He looked pale and anxious, he was fighting
hard, but he found that the odds were terribly against him.

"Have you made any new discoveries?" he asked.

"I flatter myself I have," said Lawrence. "Here is a copy of a paper now
extinct called the 'Talk of the Town.' On the front page is a photo of a
Spanish dancer. Behold she is called Lalage, the Spanish premiere. Look
and see if you have ever seen her before."

"Lalage." Bruce cried. "The Spanish--and the same name! Why, that is the
same woman who received me on that fatal night at the corner house!"



CHAPTER XXXVIII.--Maitrank Strikes.


Meanwhile the brilliant society season was drawing to a close. Few smart
functions remained, but there would be no more dashing affair than the
forthcoming ball at Lytton Avenue. The supper was coming from Paris, the
decorations were unique, the flowers were to cost upwards of a thousand
pounds. The society papers had more or less veracious paragraphs, a
score of lady journalists were making copy of the affair.

Thus Maitrank chuckled over his invitation. He was going to take his
vengeance for the trick played on him in his own good time. He had
purposely kept out of the way of the Countess. He set the cables in
motion, and after a due response or two he closeted with the head of a
smart firm of lawyers in Ely Place.

"You are quite sure of my position?" he croaked.

"Quite, sir," the lawyer responded.

"According to the papers drawn up at the time, you can take possession
and demand your money at any moment. You are in the same position as a
landlord distraining for rent. If you wish us to act--"

"I do," Maitrank snapped. "I wish you to act at eleven o'clock to-morrow
night. No need to stare at me like that, sir. I know what I am doing.
And I am prepared to pay you handsomely for your services."

The lawyer bowed his strange client out. He had only to obey
instructions. He went back to his desk pondering on the sensation that
society was going to get shortly. Maitrank went straight away to
Lawrence.

"I have done what you asked," he said curtly, "you are a wonderful man,
you novelist; see you at our dear friend the Countess's to-morrow. Good
night."

By the time that Maitrank had bowed with humility over the hand of his
hostess the following evening nearly all fashionable London had gathered
in those spacious suite of rooms. The decorations were superb, unique,
there was no better music to be obtained in Europe. Folk were talking
with bated breath of the great chef who had come from Paris to
superintend his supper.

It was the crowning glory of a wonderful woman's career. She stood
smiling before her guests in a dress that had cost Worth a sleepless
night. A duke was just congratulating her upon her good taste and
feeling. A couple of gorgeous footmen were casting back the curtains of
the supper room. Down below in the hall something like an altercation
seemed to be going on.

"It's a man, my lady," a blushing footman stammered. "He declines to go
away. I called in a policeman, and he showed him a paper, after which
the police went, saying it seemed all right and legal or something like
that. The fellow says he must see you."

Perhaps a creditor beyond all patience and in desperate need of money.
Leona Lalage sailed out of the room into the hall, where two
seedy-looking men awaited her.

"Well, what is it you want tonight?" she demanded, haughtily.

A long slip of paper was thrust into her hand. Her quick brain grasped
the significance. Maitrank had struck, and struck hard. These men were
in possession for nearly L100,000--vulgar bailiffs such as come and sell
the goods of poor people who cannot pay their rent. Leona Lalage
remembered now the conditions under which she had borrowed money from
Maitrank. He had her in his power.

It seemed a vile thing to do when she had put him off with the very
jewels from about her neck. And she was powerless--she could not have
these men turned into the street. Most of her guests would understand
sooner or later. To-morrow this would be public property. Once the
tongue of rumour started the crash was bound to follow.

Leona Lalage looked round her helplessly for the first time in her life.
Maitrank stood there grinning like a hideous mask enjoying her
confusion. He had come to enjoy this where a more sensitive man would
have stayed away. Revenge to him was nothing unless he could feast his
eyes upon it.

"You scoundrel, you cur!" she hissed "If I had a weapon in my hand, I
would kill you and die happy. Why have you done this thing?"

"Why do you foist me off with paste jewels?" Maitrank asked, coolly.
"Ah, you may stare with amazement! You are a very clever actress,
madam."

"Paste?" Lalage gasped. "Paste! Why for their sake--impossible!"

"I will sell them to you for the price of your bouquet," said Maitrank.
"It is my turn now. Won't you have your guests in to supper?"

The Countess looked round her hopelessly. The sound of the music, the
ripple of laughter, the murmur of voices maddened her. She knew the
crash must come some time, but she had not dreamt of a humiliation like
this. Lawrence came sauntering down the steps. She flew to him.

Could he help her. She was in great trouble, and she knew that she could
trust him. She owed Maitrank a lot of money; he had chosen to humiliate
her by actually putting these vulgar bailiffs in to-night, of all times.
Those pleading eyes would have melted a heart of stone. Lawrence seemed
to be greatly distressed.

"I fancy I can see a way out of the difficulty," he said. "I do not wish
to pry into your affairs, but in a novelist's business one gets to know
things. And I, too, am in a great quandary. Do you recollect the flower
farm near Ajaccio?"

"I am going mad," Leona whispered. "To allude to that to-night! Well, I
have got on in the world like other people. No need to allude to that.
What can it possibly have to do with the matter?"

"One never knows," said Lawrence. "But I see you remember. You also
remember the marvellous secret of the tuberose scent. For my own
purposes I require a little of it; my story demands it. I am talking
business now. Give me the little bottle from the Antoinette cabinet in
your boudoir, and I will get rid of those men for you."

Slowly Leona Lalage took the speaker in from head to foot. Her face had
grown deadly pale. But she could make nothing of Lawrence's face. All
the same it was quite evident that he meant every word that he said.

"You shall have it," she said suddenly. "How you got to know so much of
my history you shall tell me presently. But the tuberose is yours."

She flashed along the hall. Directly she was gone Lawrence signalled to
Maitrank, who stood in the background. The latter produced a letter,
which he handed to the foremost of the two intruders.

"As you see, this is from the solicitor who employs you," he said. "If I
like to change my mind, and ask you to go, you are to obey. I ask you to
go. Say nothing of this, and I will see you are suitably rewarded in the
morning."

The man looked and nodded. He winked at his companion, and together they
strode out of the house. With a silent laugh Maitrank crept up the
stairs.

"I trust you," he croaked. "You promised me a better vengeance than I
could get for myself. See that I get it."

"More for the sake of others you shall get it," Lawrence cried. "It's
flattering to the vanity of a novelist to have a millionaire for one of
his puppets."

The Countess came sweeping back again with one tiny phial in her hand.
Lawrence did not need to look to see that it was the right one. Unknown
to the Countess, he had had it in his possession before.

"There!" she cried. "And now to keep your part of the compact. If you
have got round Maitrank you are a genius. Where are the men?"

"Gone!" said Lawrence. "I waved my hand and they have departed. Nobody
but us three has any knowledge of the truth."

A quiet sigh escaped from the listener. She smiled again.

"It is a debt I can never repay," she said. "Will you stay after the
others have gone and tell me how you learnt my early history?"

"That is just what I should like to do," Lawrence said coolly.



CHAPTER XXXIX.--Lawrence Shows His Hand.


The last guest had departed, the strain of music had died away. The
lights were out and the flowers were wilting on the walls. Leona Lalage
had discarded her dress for a fascinating wrap, and was seated in her
boudoir making a cigarette and trying to read something from the
expression of Lawrence's face.

"And now what does it all mean?" she asked gaily. "In the first place
tell me how you got your influence over Maitrank."

"Knowledge is power," said Lawrence, "so long as you keep it to
yourself. Why did you tell me that you had never heard of the tuberose
perfume?"

"That is easy. I had no desire to speak of my humble past. I was brought
up near that flower farm where Mme. Lalage made that marvellous perfume.
I am passionately fond of it, the more so that you cannot get it now. I
use it sometimes in the evening after the others have gone to bed. But
how did you know--"

"Never mind that. Years ago I got a whiff of it in Vienna, and it
appealed to my imagination. I saw a way of bringing it into fiction,
much as it was done in the case of the play called 'Dora.' I am going to
do so."

"But how did you know that I had it?"

"I noticed it one night, very faintly I admit, but there it was. You
denied the fact to me, and I had to force your hand. It sounds very
clever, but commonplace enough when you once see how the trick is done."

The Countess stirred uneasily in her chair. She felt there was more to
follow.

"I have to my hand," Lawrence went on, "the materials for a magnificent
romance. Let us go back a little while. Some week or two ago here we
discussed the Corner House. I said it would make the scene of a capital
romance. I went further and said I had already sketched the story out.
You recollect that?"

The Countess nodded. Her lips were narrow and drawn in tightly.

"Strange to say," Lawrence proceeded, "although immediately there was a
tragedy at the Corner House, just on the lines of my story--the story
that I said I should probably never write. Now that was very strange."

"Very strange indeed," the Countess said hoarsely.

"The more I thought it over the more certain I became that my brain had
been picked, and that my plot was being used by some designing person to
bring trouble and disgrace upon a man who is destined to be related to
me. I waited for a little time to see how matters were developing, and
then decided to refresh my memory from the skeleton plot of that
unwritten story. When I looked in my desk I could not find the plot.
Why? Because it had been stolen.

"I was quite certain of the fact when I looked for it. And all the time
this Corner House tragedy was being enacted exactly as I should have
written it. There were other complications, of course, but the plot was
the same."

"It sounds incredible," the Countess said.

"Not to me," Lawrence replied meaningly. "The person who stole my plot
did not know that I had it thoroughly by heart. And when my young friend
Bruce went to the Corner House and got into all that trouble, I was in a
position beforehand to tell him all that had happened. The scheme over
those notes was also mine. I knew perfectly well how the whole thing was
worked so as to make an innocent man appear guilty. I knew before I
heard Bruce's story all about the old German and the picture."

"Perhaps you knew also the culprit," the Countess suggested.

Lawrence did not appear to hear the question, so be proceeded.

"There were other notes as well mentioned in that fateful letter. But
what had become of the other notes? Nobody seemed to know or care about
that. But the numbers were known, and strangely enough, eventually they
turned up in this very house. They were paid over the gambling table the
night that Isidore gave a cheque to the Marchioness. The question is,
who paid those notes over, who was it who first brought them into the
room that night?"

"A question that can never be solved," the Countess gasped.

"You are mistaken," Lawrence said quietly. "I have handled those notes,
and I have solved the problem. They were produced in the first instance
by you."

Leona Lalage was on her feet in a moment. Her face was pale as ashes.

"You are wrong," she cried. "It could not have been so."

"It was so, because of the scent of them. Every one of these notes
was--and is very slightly impregnated with the smell of tuberose."

There was a long, long silence, a silence that could be felt.



CHAPTER XL.--Another Coil.


Lawrence stretched out his hand for a cigarette as if he had said the
most natural thing in the world. A less clever man would have shown
something like triumph. But Lawrence had thought this all out as
carefully as if it were really a new melodrama he was writing. The time
had come when matters must be forced into the channel to suit himself.
Already he had laid the lines carefully.

This woman must be made to own that the missing notes had really come
from her, or at least part of them. Once this was done the novelist felt
pretty sure of his game. But though he wanted to startle and alarm his
companion, he didn't desire to expose his suspicions too far.

"A very singular circumstance, is it not?" he asked quietly.

Leona Lalage had recovered herself, she did not know that Lawrence had
been purposely busy over his cigarette to give her an opportunity of so
doing.

"Really, I ought to be indignant," she cried.

"Surely not," Lawrence murmured quietly. "I have made no accusations. In
taking up the matter on behalf of Gordon Bruce, I have to make searching
inquiries. I naturally ask myself where are the rest of those notes. By
a strange fate they turn up here. Isidore identifies the numbers and I
identify the scent. I am more or less able to prove that it was you who
produced the notes the night of the card party. You went to your room to
get some cash which you changed into gold. Therefore the notes were in
your possession."

"But I'll swear to you," the Countess broke in vehemently. "I'll
swear--"

"My dear friend, there is no occasion to do anything of the kind. Am I
making any kind of accusation against you? Ridiculous! Why, black as
things look against my friend Bruce, I don't suspect him. All I want you
to do is to try and recollect whence you got those notes."

Leona Lalage kept her face half hidden behind her fan. For the life of
her she could not tell whether this man was playing with her or not.
Hitherto men had been her puppets, hitherto she had regarded all of them
as fools. Lawrence smoked calmly on, as if he were discussing the
weather or something equally exciting.

"I'll try," she said, "but then I handle so much money. I play cards, I
bet on horses. There are scores of ways. But I'll try."

Lawrence rose and took his leave. He dropped in at the nearest telephone
call office and late as it was rang up Isidore. The latter was waiting.

"It's all right," he said. "I have had Balmayne here as you suggested.
And I have told him exactly as much as you desired him to know. He's
just off in a great hurry, for any money to Lytton Avenue."

As a matter of fact, Balmayne's cab passed Lawrence a minute or two
later.

The latter smiled as if well pleased with himself.

"Splendid so far," he murmured. "She'll walk into the trap, in fact they
both will. And now I think I have really earned a good night's rest."

Leona Lalage was raging up and down the room as Balmayne entered. The
first saffron streaks of dawn were making the electrics thin and yellow.
Evidently something had gone wrong. Balmayne waited for his companion to
speak.

"I came here with pretty bad news," he said, after a pause. "I went off
with Isidore to talk business, and he let out something that absolutely
startled me."

"It can't be as bad as my news," Leona said, gloomily. "They have traced
the rest of the missing notes directly to my possession."

"What!" Balmayne cried, "were you mad enough to--"

"I am afraid so. It is no time for idle recrimination. The gambling
fever was on me the other night and I felt that I must play. I tried to
borrow money on that evening, but not one of the wretches would trust me
with a shilling. I had those notes upstairs; they formed my rescue in
case of a collapse. It seemed to me that nobody would be any the wiser.
I brought them down and gambled with them. And beyond all doubt, Gilbert
Lawrence has traced them to me."

"Will you be so good as to tell me how?" Balmayne said.

In a few words the story was told. Balmayne listened moodily. With his
further knowledge of facts he saw the danger.

"This is dreadful," he said. "The man who died at the Corner House
changed four hundred sovereigns into notes. Part of them he put into a
letter to send to a certain person who appears to have been nameless. We
know that he was going to send that money to his brother."

"Of course. But, thank goodness, we are the only people who know that."

"Exactly where you are mistaken," said Balmayne, bitterly. "They all
know it. Isidore let it out to-night. The fellow Prout, who has the
Corner House case in hand, by a piece of amazing luck has arrested a
criminal on another charge. In that criminal's possession were certain
letters addressed to him by the--by Leona Lalage, in fact. In other
words the police have discovered the dead man's brother Rene!"

The Countess paused in her agitated walk. She had been striding up and
down the room impatiently. She paused now with her hand to her head as
if somebody had shot her in her stride, and collapsed into a chair.

"Say that again," she groaned. "Say that again."

"My words were perfectly plain," Balmayne said, impatiently. "Rene
Lalage is in the hands of the police; they know he is brother to the
murdered man by certain letters found in his possession. Also we know
that in their queer way those two rascals were very fond of one another.
There is not much suspicion yet, or Isidore would not have told me so
much to-night. But when ill-luck begins to dog one, it is amazing how
far that ill-luck goes. For instance--"

"Well? Go on, nothing could be worse than what has happened."

"Oh, can't it? It only wants Garrett Charlton to turn up now. We must
get those notes from Isidore at any hazards. They will remain in his
possession--in fact, he told me to-night that he had them. He said--"

But the Countess did not heed. Absolutely worn out in mind and body she
had fainted.



CHAPTER XLI.--Prout is Indiscreet.


Heavy as were these blows, a few hours' sleep braced Leona Lalage for
what she knew to be a trying ordeal. By the time that breakfast was a
thing of the past she had sketched out a new plan of campaign. The
terrible unseen force from behind had driven her from her strong
position. In future she would have to recognise the fact that she was
hopelessly beaten, and all that she could expect now was to cover up her
tracks and prevent the final solution of the mystery.

On the whole, an appearance of candour would be best. She would go
straight to Prout, who had the Corner House tragedy in hand, and tell
him everything, at least everything that Lawrence had found out. She
never guessed for a moment that this was exactly what the novelist
expected her to do, in fact, he had apparently told all he knew to gain
this end. Also, at his suggestion, Isidore had blurted out the fact that
Prout had succeeded in laying Leon Lalage's brother by the heels.

On the whole, this would be by far the best thing to do. It was just
possible that her fascinations might elicit something further from
Prout. Leona Lalage might not have felt quite so easy in her mind had
she known that the little snake-headed detective was fresh from a long
interview with Lawrence.

He was profoundly impressed by the graciousness of his visitor. He even
dusted an office chair for her with a clean handkerchief. He seemed a
simple sort of man. Leona Lalage had not a high opinion of the police.

"I have come to have a chat with you," she said with her most brilliant
smile, "on the subject of the Corner House. They tell me you have made
an arrest that by a wonderful chance will have an important bearing on
the case."

Prout grew wooden. His official manner caused Leona to hide a smile.
Really, it would be child's play to get the better of this man.

"I am afraid you are mistaken, madame," he said.

"Indeed, no. Mr. Isidore spoke of it quite freely. It appears that a
brother of the dead man has come into your hands. Is not that so?"

Prout grudgingly admitted that it was. He was also severe on the
indiscretion of certain people. Mr. Isidore ought to know better. The
Countess was charmed. Evidently she was going to do exactly as she
pleased with this man. Every question that she asked him he contrived to
answer in some way that betrayed his knowledge.

"Not that I am asking for sheer curiosity," she said gaily. "You see I
am also in a position to throw a little light in a dark place. Do you
know that the rest of the missing notes have been in my possession?"

Prout was surprised. Not that he ought to have been surprised after the
strange things that had come in his way professionally. The way he
conveyed the impression that all this was news to him was artistic. He
asked a score of questions, he made voluminous notes solemnly in a large
book.

"You have really been of great service to me, madame," he said. "It was
very good of you to come and tell me straightforwardly. Now, let us see
if we can trace those notes to the possession of the previous holder."

Leona Lalage intimated that was the only thing she desired for the
moment. But at the same time she made it pretty clear to Prout that the
thing was impossible. Her keen desire was to show him the impossibility
of the proceeding, and induce him to give up any further investigations
in that direction.

"You see I have the good fortune to be exceedingly rich," she said, with
her most fascinating smile. "I don't value money as much as I should. To
me it is a mere medium for enjoyment. I gamble, and bet, and all that
kind of thing, in fact I generally have a large sum of money in paper in
the house. I might have got those notes from a betting man at Ascot, or
at Goodwood, or even the card table. But at the same time I'll try my
best to assist you."

Pout was profuse. He was very anxious over those notes. He had certainly
had the good fortune to take into custody one Rene Lalage, the brother
to Leon Lalage, who had been murdered in the Corner House.

"Strange they should be the same name as myself," the Countess said.

"Not in the least," Prout hastened to reply. "I find the mane is a very
common one at Marseilles, and along the Mediterranean generally."

The Countess smiled. She had risen prepared to take her departure. If
she had any knowledge of faces she had made a good impression.

"It seems hardly credible," she said. "I mean the story of the Corner
House as told by Dr. Bruce. That Spanish woman, for instance."

Prout shook his head in a non-committal fashion. He had heard some
amazing statements made by suspects in his time, statements so wild that
they carried guilt on the face of them. And yet he had personally proved
many of these statements to be true. The Countess smiled as she turned
to the door.

"I am not easily impressed," she said, "and as to that Spanish
woman--eh, Dr. Bruce must have been taking lessons from Mr. Lawrence."

"The woman did exist all the same," Prout said innocently. "In fact, I
don't mind admitting that I've got a portrait--"

He paused and looked down. The smile faded from Leona's face.

"Who told you that it was a portrait of--I mean where did you--"

"Rene Lalage. As you are interested, and as you come here to assist me,
madame. I don't mind going so far as to show you the picture. It came
from a weekly paper--"

"I know--I mean, what do I mean?" the Countess said hoarsely. "Really I
don't know why I should be so interested."

Prout took a sheet of paper from his desk and held it up. It was a
portrait of a fair Spanish Gipsy. The letterpress and border had been
cut away.

"What do you think of that?" Prout asked.

Leona Lalage said nothing. She could only look and look in a fascinated
way.

"It--it proves nothing," she said with an effort presently. "A pleasant
face. Don't you think that she is a little like me?"



CHAPTER XLII.--Fear!


Leona Lalage held herself up, talking bravely about the weather, whilst
Prout was dumb with admiration of her audacity. Her very recklessness
inspired his respect. He little knew of the deadly fear and suffering
concealed behind that smiling mask. The last thing he saw as he closed
the door of the brougham was an averted face and a small hand.

The blood horses dashed on, whilst Leona Lalage lay back against the
cushions and fainted for the third time in her life. It had been a
wonderful effort to put the deadly feeling off so long, but her iron
will had conquered.

She came to herself again with a shudder and a feeling of anguish in
every limb. She was not suspected yet, or even a fool of an English
detective would not have shown her that picture. Broken and agitated as
she was, her quick brain began to work again.

In the first place she must get those notes back from Isidore. Even if
they had to be obtained by force, it must be done. She took a visiting
card from her case, and in as steady a hand as possible pencilled a line
or two on the back asking Isidore to come round and dine with her that
evening. Once this was done and left at the capitalist's rooms she felt
a little easier in her mind. She was doing something.

Hence she drove on to the Metropole with the hope of seeing Maitrank.
She had to wait there till she was angry and impatient. Hitherto she had
not had to wait. She was going to get to the bottom of that diamond
business if she had to stay all day. A stolid clerk came out and said
Herr Maitrank was disengaged.

Maitrank, in his shirt-sleeves, was smoking one of his black cigars. He
made no apology for his attire nor for the rank tobacco between his
yellow teeth. How different the last time when they had met in the
millionaire's office.

"Why did you keep me waiting so long?" the Countess demanded.

Maitrank chuckled. He admired a fighter, and here was one to his hand.
It was pretty audacious in a woman who had swindled him out of a
fortune.

"I was merely deferring the pleasure, my dear," he said. "What can I do
for you? Any fresh loan on the banks of the clouds or castles in the air
or anything of that kind? Or do you wish to sell me any diamonds?"

"I swear to you," the Countess said, "that I was innocent over those
diamonds. I honestly believed them to be genuine, and worth far more
money than the sum for which I parted with them. I feel now that I have
been tricked. You old wolf, you had the real stones taken away for some
purpose of your own."

She bent over the table and shook her clenched hand angrily in the old
man's face. He showed his teeth in a snarl.

"Gently, gently," he growled. "Let me look at those gems. I have them
here. See, are those the ones you passed over to me?"

He pitched the glittering gauds contemptuously on the desk. Leona
examined them carefully. So far as she could see no change had been
made. And where the stones had been filed she could see the dull
scratched edges. Was this the work of the hidden enemy or another cruel
stroke of ill fortune?

"They look like the same," she admitted grudgingly. "I'm afraid you're
right there."

"Take them back to the place where you purchased them," Maitrank
grinned.

Leona was silent. Whence the gems came was no business of her opponent.
He seemed to be pleased about something. And he made no allusion to his
money, which was a very bad sign. The Countess brought up the subject.

"What are you going to do?" she asked meaningly.

"I am going to do nothing--for the present," Maitrank replied. "I am
going to pursue what that admirable diplomatist Beaconsfield called a
policy of masterly inactivity. If I do not get my money in cash I shall
in another way."

"But you are going to get it?" Leona said eagerly. "I have practically
effected a loan with the firm of Ernstein, of New York--why do you
laugh?"

"Because I am amused, because I am greatly amused. You are wasting your
time and all your pretty schemes there. The name of a firm means nothing
in business nowadays. I have a different name in every capital in
Europe. Also I have another different name in New York. For instance, my
firm is called Ernstein & Co., 149 Broadway. Ah, ah!"

"So I have been corresponding with you all the time?"

"Yes. As the English say, that is about the size of it. Those letters of
yours! Oh, oh! The fun I have had out of this. And the magnificent
lies!"

But Maitrank was alone. The Countess had bounced in a fury out of the
room. At every turn fate seemed to be against her now.

That deadly fear was coming on her again. It was hard to be baffled and
beaten at every turn like this, and yet not be able to strike a single
blow in return. There was the haunting terror that her enemies know too
much, and that the sword would fall when they pleased. Otherwise the
cruel, greedy nature of Maitrank would never have held her off like
this. He seemed to be resigned to the loss of the money, but he was
evidently going to take it out in another way. Leona would have given
years of her life to know which way.

There was nobody to turn to, nobody to advise her now, but Balmayne. He
had done pretty well on the whole; he had contrived to keep himself out
of danger, and at the first sign of the collapse he would fly.

But anybody was better than the sapping away of mind and body brooding
alone. Balmayne listened to everything with a grave face.

"I quite agree with you over those notes," he said. "They must be
recovered at any cost from Isidore."

"Think," Leona whispered, "set your wits to work. Meanwhile I have asked
him to come here to-night to dine. Between now and then we shall surely
find some way. At present I can only think of drugging and stealing his
keys. But with our experience we can surely find better methods than
that."

"Isidore won't come," Balmayne said, curtly.

The prophecy proved to be correct. Isidore regretted that he had another
engagement to dine out this evening. Perhaps it was only a pleasure
deferred to the end of the week. Leona tore the paper up passionately.



CHAPTER XLIII.--A Slice of Luck.


Lytton Avenue was quiet for once, and Leona Lalage was glad of it. She
said truthfully that she had a splitting headache, so that she was
thankful to be alone and lie down on a couch in the drawing-room with
the lights lowered and eau-de-Cologne on her temples. Hetty sat a little
way off engaged on some fancywork. It seemed hard to imagine that all
this refinement and enviable luxury covered crime and mystery.

It was a little before eleven that Balmayne came in. He was very quiet
and subdued; he sat and unfolded an evening paper. He shot a sign across
to the Countess from a pair of eyes that gleamed like flames.

"I should like a fresh handkerchief, Hetty," she said. "Would you mind?"

Hetty was off at once. Balmayne jumped to his feet.

"You must try and pull yourself together," he said. "There has been an
amazing piece of luck. Isidore was dining at the Lotus with Lawrence. We
came down the steps together. There was a fire close by, and a hansom
backed on to the pavement. To make a long story short, Isidore fainted
with the pain of a broken collarbone, and they took him to Charing Cross
Hospital."

"You took him. In that case I need not ask--"

"You need not. I didn't take him personally. I took his keys."

Leona Lalage was off the sofa directly. She motioned to the door. As
Hetty came back the sufferer crossed the room languidly, saying she was
going to lie down on her bed. She required no attention; she only wanted
to be absolutely quiet.

Once upstairs Balmayne followed. There was nobody on the landing.

"Now is your chance," he said. "It is a pretty neat turn of fortune for
us. I've got the motor round, and will meet you at the corner of the
street. You had better he disguised."

"But I have only one disguise in the house--the old one."

"All the better. You are used to that, and carry it off naturally. I
have the key not only of the safe, but of the street door as well. All
you have to do is to proceed to the sitting-room where you have been
before, and help yourself. Then you can slip into Isidore's bedroom and
lay the keys on the dressing-table. He will imagine that he left them
behind when he changed his evening clothes. Are you up to it or not?
Really, you look fearfully ill to-night."

The dark eyes were gleaming in the white face. Despite her racking head
and her tired limbs, Leona was gradually summoning back her latent
forces. Her hand no longer trembled, the wild beating of her heart was
stilled.

"You can rely upon me," she whispered. "I shall not fail you. Too much
depends upon my success or failure to-night. Go round and get the motor
whilst I slip into my old disguise. The thing can be done swiftly; I can
be back here again before anybody knows that I have gone."

"Lock your door as a precaution," Balmayne whispered. "I'm going now."

In the shadows Hetty listened to as much of the talk as she could hear.
But nobody was going to leave the house without her knowledge. Behind
the hangings in the hall she waited. Her patience was not unduly tried.
There was a light footstep presently, a pause as if of precaution, and
the Countess came downstairs. Her hair had become blonde, there was a
lace shawl over her head, her skirts were short and trim.

She flashed across the hall without the slightest sound; she had passed
into the street before Hetty deemed it prudent to follow. The girl was
taking a terrible risk for the sake of her lover, and she knew it. But
she must follow.

She did presently, keeping the Spanish figure in sight till the corner
of the road was reached. There stood the black motor with its dull
sides. The figure of the Countess sprang into it lightly. There was a
touch of the lever, a click of metal, and then the swift machine was out
of sight like a flash.

"Well, I can do no more at present," Hetty told herself. "I had better
go to my room and wait for her return. What a wonderful woman! Half-dead
a few minutes ago, and now ready for a desperate errand like this!"

The motor sped on until it came at length to the corner of the street
where Isidore's chambers were situated. It was a very quiet road, and
few people were about. Quite calmly and collectedly Leona alighted.

"It's the fifth house," she said. "I shall trust to chance that the
people are in bed. If not, I dare say I shall have a good tale to tell."

"Go in and win," Balmayne whispered. "Always back your luck."

Leona Lalage came to the house at length. So far as she could see no
lights were anywhere except in the hall, where there was a faint spot of
gas. Everything was going to turn out favourably. Evidently the landlady
had gone to bed, or the gas would not be so low. It was easy to pick the
latchkey out of the bunch that she held in her hand. The lock turned
easily and smoothly, and she was in the hall.

Silence everywhere. Evidently the whole household was in bed. There was
another tiny crumb of gas burning on the landing, just outside Isidore's
sitting-room door.

The door of the room was closed. Leona opened it quietly and boldly and
entered. The place was in absolute darkness.

Where was she to find the matches, for she had none of her own? She
fumbled her way to the fireplace, but could find nothing she required.
It seemed to her that she could hear somebody breathing in the room
besides herself. But this she put down to the worn and disordered state
of her nerves.

Ah, there were the matches at last. She could hear them rattling as they
fell to the floor. She struck one, and the sudden flare half blinded
her. Then she turned all the burners on, and the sudden glitter of it
made her start. Really she was a good deal more ill and shaky than she
had imagined.

Light at last. The blinds were up, but that did not matter. Leona turned
and looked round the room. A man, seated in a chair, a dark and gloomy
man, with brooding eyes, rose and confronted her.

"A strange place to meet," he said, "but we have met at last."

Leona Lalage strove to speak, but the words froze on her lips. She was
face to face with Garrett Charlton!



CHAPTER XLIV.--At Last.


For the first time in her life Leona Lalage felt inclined to give up the
struggle. Turn whichever way she would fate was ever against her. The
shock of these constant surprises was fast breaking down her iron
nerves.

She stood there face to face with the last man in the world she desired
to see. Her breath came fast as if she had been running far, there was
not a trace of colour on her cheeks. Charlton could see the black pupils
dilating like those of a cat. The woman had been brought to bay.

If she could only get away! But Charlton stood between her and the door.
He would recognise her now as his late wife's companion, but once her
disguise was put aside would he recognise the Countess Lalage!

The shock was dying away. After all, what was the accusation? And yet
Charlton was looking at her with the eyes of a man who has found out
everything. They stood confronting one another for some time in silence.
It was Charlton who first spoke. He came a step or two nearer.

"So we have met at last," he said. "Well, murderess?"

"That is a word that does no harm," Leona said. "What have I done?"

"What I have said. You murdered my wife as surely as if you had driven a
knife into her breast. She found you out in my absence. And to shield
yourself and come between husband and wife you forged an infamous
letter. Oh, you well knew the emotional nature you had to deal with, you
counted on it. That forgery had the desired effect and my wife poisoned
herself. You would have got that letter back, but I returned
unexpectedly. I kept that letter which would have saved my good name,
but I preferred to remain silent so that it might go to the world that
my wife had found no suicide's grave. I have that letter."

"I don't doubt it," Leona said coolly. Her restless eyes were seeking a
way of escape. "But many would say it was no forgery at all. You cannot
prove that I had anything to do with it. There, let me pass." She
advanced, but Charlton waved her back.

"Not yet," he said. "I am not going to throw this chance away. I came
here to see Mr. Isidore, and elected to wait. It was one of the best
hour's work I ever did. When you leave here it will be for a gaol."

Leona smiled scornfully. She had no fear of that.

"On what charge, may I ask? she demanded.

"On a charge of theft. You robbed my wife and she found you out. One of
the servants found you out as well. You had barely time to conceal those
jewels and get away. After a time you came back for them. You stole them
from their hiding place."

"Ah, this is serious. How did you know that?"

"Because I saw you--you and your infamous accomplice, Balmayne."

"Then it really was your face in the window!" Leona cried. "There, I
have admitted it, though I had not meant to do so. Not that it matters.
I could swear that I had denied it all along. If you have witnesses--"

"I had witnesses; I was not in the house alone. There are other people
interested in the Spanish woman with the fair hair and mantilla--the
woman who was in the Corner House at the time of the murder!"

The scornful smile froze on Leona's face. She had utterly forgotten for
the moment that she stood face to face now with two grave perils.

"The name of your witness?" she demanded, hoarsely.

"All in good time," Charlton replied. "Now I have found you once again I
can punish you and clear my wife's good name at the same time. I have
only to lock the door and summon the police by way of the window. If
everything else fails I can have you punished for the theft of those
jewels."

"That is if you can find any trace of them."

"I have seen them; I have had them in my hands." Charlton was about to
say more, but he checked himself in time. After all, the woman and her
accomplice had not stolen the real gems, but the paste imitations. But
Lawrence would be in a position to clear that point.

"If I confess," Leona suggested--"if I confess, will you promise--"

"I promise nothing. You are in no position to dictate terms. Sit down
and tell me the history of the forgery."

The woman's eyes flashed again. All this was taking time. Balmayne would
wonder what had happened to her. From the bottom of her heart she was
praying that he might come up and see. Not that there was much real hope
of that--physical courage was not one of Louis Balmayne's strong points.

No, if there was a way to safety she would have to find it herself. And
there was a long knife under the folds of her dress. If she could only
get a chance to use it! After that the fair Spaniard would disappear,
never to be seen again. Of her real identity this man could not possibly
know.

"I'll tell you," she said. "I procured a letter of yours. I cut out
words here and there, and made a long letter of them. Then I had the
whole thing photographed. After that my task was easy, it was only a
matter of time. Even from a child I always had a gift that way. If you
will give me paper and pen I will show you."

Charlton complied. Leona Lalage used the pen, which she expressed
herself as very dissatisfied with, she called for another.

Charlton rummaged on a table with his head down. Like a cat Leona sprang
forward. Something bright glittered in the air. The man turned just in
time to save the steel crashing between his ribs, it glanced off between
his shoulders, there was a sharp spasm of pain as he fell. Just for an
instant he was unconscious. Then, as suddenly as it had gone, reason
came back to him. He heard the trip of feet down the stairs, he heard
the rattle and banging of a door. He was bleeding freely, but be managed
to drag himself to the window.

"Murder," he yelled. "Police, arrest that woman; she has tried to kill
me."



CHAPTER XLV.--A Chase.


Meanwhile, Balmayne had been waiting impatiently for the return of his
companion. Half-an-hour passed, and there was no sign of her return.
There had been so many accidents and strokes of ill-luck lately that
even Balmayne was nervous. He had half a mind to go and see what was
wrong, but he changed his mind and lighted a cigarette instead.

He was angry and afraid at the some time. Twice already the same
policeman had passed the black motor, and had examined it critically.
The third time he came round he would be pretty sure to want to know why
it was still there. If--

A sudden cry smote the air, a yell of murder followed by the quick rush
of footsteps. A police-whistle screamed hoarsely, there were answering
whistles out of the darkness. The rush of footsteps drew nearer. The
next instant, sobbing breathlessly, Leona Lalage flung herself headlong
into the car.

"What on earth," Balmayne began, "what on earth--"

"Don't stop to ask questions," Leona panted. "Get along quickly. Go home
by as long a route as you can. Ah, they are coming."

A policeman was coming. He hailed the car. He could have no suspicion of
its occupants as yet, he only sought information. Balmayne pulled the
lever and the car started. The officer yelled instructions to somebody
in the darkness; from point to point the message went along. There was
no escape unless good luck stood on their side. And the motor was
terribly swift.

"And now perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me what it's all about,"
Balmayne growled as the motor sped along. "What was the fuss about?"

"I found Charlton there," Leona panted. "Above all persons in the world,
I found Charlton there. He was sitting in the darkness waiting for
Isidore--"

"Then you haven't even got the notes?"

"The notes! I had more important matters to think of. I found matches
and lighted the gas. And there sitting opposite me was Charlton. It was
part of my wretched luck that I should have stumbled on him in this
disguise. Had I been differently dressed he would never have recognised
me. I--. Faster, faster."

A policeman stepped out of the gloom and tried to pull up the car. It
flashed by him at the rate of 70 miles an hour.

"I would have made some excuse and got away," Leona went on. "But he had
me fast. He was going to send me to gaol. That would have been a pretty
thing for Countess Lalage! But he only knew me for what I used to be. If
I could only get away and destroy the disguise he would never get on my
track again. I pretended that I could not fight him any more; I lulled
his suspicions to sleep. I was going to show him how the forgery was
done. He stooped to get me a pen and the knife went into his shoulder.
Had he not moved I should have killed him. He managed to creep to the
window and give the alarm."

Leona stopped for want of breath. Her face was streaming with moisture.
The fierce rush of cold air cooled her heated temples.

"There was nothing else for it," she said. "I wish I had killed him,
then I should have got the notes and returned home comfortably. As it is
half the officers in London are looking for the car at the present
moment. See that!"

She tugged at Balmayne's arm. A cordon of men were drawn up across the
road. With marvellous dexterity Balmayne whipped the car round almost
into a set of men who scattered right and left. One clung to the back of
the car for a moment, but Balmayne beat him off at length.

"Turn down Churton-street," Leona whispered. "There seems to be nobody
at that corner. If we can only get round by way of Hill Crescent we may
manage to escape yet. Once in the square we can baffle them."

It was quiet enough in Churton-street. And again in Collin's Crescent,
which was so near home that the long line of Lytton Avenue could be
seen. But there again standing figures came out of the gloom and the car
sped on.

"So near and yet so far," said Balmayne between his teeth. "The best
thing would be to climb the railings and hide in one of the gardens,
only it would mean abandoning the car. And we might just as well give
ourselves up as that."

Leona nodded, the spirit of adventure was upon her now, it fired her
blood. And there was something intoxicating about that maddening pace.
Still, they could not go on at that speed for ever. Another half in hour
at that speed and the petrol must give out. Balmayne was growing
anxious.

"Another dash round, then I must try the lane at the back of the house,"
he said. "The car can't go on like this for ever."

They sped on again, finding the avenues of escape gradually closing in.
Day and night there are always people in the London streets, and the
news was flying far that murder had been committed, and that the
culprits were escaping in a fast motor. By an extra spurt of speed a
rope drawn across the roadway near the avenue was just escaped. A yell
of execration followed from the crowd.

The car flashed round the corner of Lytton Avenue on two wheels. There
was a jolt and a crash as the flying machine went over a balk of wood
laid across the road, and the next instant the occupants were rolling
across the path. Just for the moment there was nobody in sight.

"Quick," cried Balmayne, as he pulled his companion to her feet. "You
don't seem to be hurt. It's a mystery we were not killed? There's a rail
out of the long line of rails in the square yonder, close here. Ah! Now
you squeeze through and I'll follow. We shall save our skins yet."

They crawled through and hid themselves in the black shrubs. A policeman
came running up and surveyed the wreck thoughtfully. His lantern played
all over it, he stooped down and rubbed at the dull frame-work
vigorously.

"Why, what's this?" he exclaimed. "What does the game mean?"

"Found anything out, mate?" another officer asked.

"Found out a lot," said the first policeman. "This motor's as bright as
your lantern really. It's all covered over with blacklead."



CHAPTER XLVI.--Hetty Learns Something.


A search was being made for the fugitives in every place but the right
one. The railings of the square were high, so that it never occurred to
any one that the culprits might have escaped that way. They had got off
somehow. In the opinion of most of the people there they had stopped the
motor and started it again on its headlong course, after which they had
mingled with the crowd.

Gradually Lytton Avenue grew quiet again. Leona Lalage stood up so that
the light of a lamp outside showed her up in a ghastly fashion. She had
lost her fair wig somewhere, her face was all cut and bleeding, her left
ankle was painfully sprained.

"Do I look very dreadful?" she asked.

"Your face is all cut about," Balmayne growled. "I should think that you
will not be able to show up in society for some time to come."

Leona Lalage thought little about that. She had about her those who were
skilful in the way of paint and powder. An artist in face treatment
would remove all traces of those cuts in a short time. What she was most
anxious to do now was to find herself at home. Those nerves were coming
back again.

"Let us get in," she said hoarsely. "A cold bath, to say nothing of a
deep, deep drink. I want brandy, a lot of brandy, and soda water. Is the
coast clear?"

The coast was clear apparently, and the two culprits crept out. They
reached the house at length and tried the door. It was fast! The
Countess shook her hands passionately.

"Where's the sense in making that noise?" Balmayne growled. "Why didn't
you bring our latchkey as I suggested, instead of leaving the front door
open. Some zealous policeman found it open and rang the servants up."

"We must try the back gate," Leona suggested.

They crept round there unseen by dint of this and that doorway, but
there was no luck that night. The little gate was fast. Hetty had seen
to that. She had made up her mind to know what time the Countess
returned, together with all other information possible.

"You'll have to knock them up," said Balmayne, between his teeth. "It
will take time and it will be dangerous. But there's nothing else for it
that I can see. Say you have had a spill out of a cab or something of
that kind. When you have bustled them off upstairs again I'll sneak into
the house. I could do with a cigarette and a brandy and soda quite as
much as you can."

It was hard work to make anybody hear, especially as a watchful
policeman might come along at any moment. But presently a light gleamed
behind the stained glass of the front door, and then Hetty's face came
into sight. She looked heavy and sleepy, a white wrap was about her
shoulders.

But her stare of amazement was quite unaffected. She it was who had
locked the front door with the full determination of only opening it at
her will. But she had not expected to see a figure like this.

"I--I was nearly asleep," she stammered, "when I heard the bell. And the
moment I heard it I came down, Why--why--oh, what has happened?"

There was no acting here--at least not for the moment. Hetty's gentle
heart was touched by the physical wreck before her. Here was a woman in
distress who wanted the aid and assistance of a sister.

"Let me look at you," she said tenderly. "Let me get water and some
towels."

But the Countess thrust her fiercely aside.

"I can do all that for myself presently," she said. "I--I was lured on a
fool's errand, and I have had a narrow escape of my life. Don't ask any
questions yet. Go to the sideboard and get me brandy; there are some
syphons of soda water there. Give me a lot, fill the glass; more
brandy."

The soda water hissed and bubbled in the long glass. Leona raised it to
her lips and drained it to the last drop. A little splash of colour
crept back into her scarred cheek, she drew a long, shuddering sigh.

But Hetty's curious eyes were upon her. Surely some further information
was needed of this midnight adventure. And just for the moment Leona
Lalage could think of nothing that sounded like the truth. She would
have to appeal to Hetty and throw herself on her kindly feeling.

"I am going to my room now," she said. "I feel better. Hetty, I have
done a foolish thing to-night. I--I did it for the sake of another. It
was a plot to rob and perhaps murder me, but I didn't know it. Promise
me on your honour that you will never speak of this to a soul."

The promise thrilled on Hetty's lips. But might not this be all part of
the conspiracy by which her lover's good name had terribly suffered?
Perhaps later on, her testimony on this head might be all important.

There was a faint moaning cry in the doorway, a tiny white figure stood
there. Mamie had been awakened by the ringing of the bell, she had
missed Hetty, and had come down in her childish way to see what was the
matter.

"Oh, mother," she said. "What is the matter? What have they been doing
to you?"

She advanced rubbing her terrified eyes, but Hetty barred the way, and
caught the little one up in her arms.

"It is nothing, darling," she said as she kissed the white lips. "Mother
has been masquerading, it is a part of her dress. You must come to bed
with me at once; there is a terrible draught here. Come along."

Hetty swept out of the room and went up the stairs, glad to escape
without giving the word that would have sealed her lips. To-morrow Bruce
should know all of this. She slipped into her bedroom and locked the
door. She was longing for the time when she could get away from this
horrible house. She was staying for Gordon's sake. But how much longer
would she be called upon for the sacrifice?

Meanwhile Balmayne had crept in downstairs. He crossed over and helped
himself liberally to brandy. He took a second glass, and a third. But
there came none of the glow of courage to his heart.

"What's to be done now?" he asked.

Leona made no reply. Her eyes were fixed moodily on space.



CHAPTER XLVII.--Flown.


With a white oblong sheet of paper in his pocket with the signature of
the chief magistrate at Bow-street, Prout went down jauntily to call
upon Lawrence. The latter looked at him smilingly.

"You are going to arrest Countess Lalage?" he asked.

"Well, I don't know anything about that," Prout said, taken aback. "But
I've certainly got a warrant for the arrest of Leona Lalage. Mr.
Lawrence, I've solved the problem of the blacklead I found in the corner
house."

"That's clever. How did you manage it?"

"Well, fortune was kind to me. I couldn't think what that blacklead was
doing there."

"I could have told you. I knew that as far back ago as the first inquest
on Leon Lalage. Our friend the Countess has a fast motor. It was so fast
that she could be in two places at once. But it became necessary to
disguise the motor--the black motor that Miss Lawrence and the newspaper
man saw. It must be a disguise that would come off easily. What better
than blacklead, that could be removed from the bright parts with a damp
rag and restored with a touch? The black motor came to grief last night,
I see."

"Ah! You read that in the paper, sir. And, of course, you knew all about
the attempt on the life of Mr. Charlton by the fair Spaniard. Well, she
was seen to escape in that motor, and near the scene of the smash we
found the wig. The manufacturer of the car has been seen and he is
prepared to swear whom he sold it to. Therefore, knowing what we do I
took the liberty of swearing an information before Sir John at
Bow-street, and I've got the warrant for the arrest of Leona Lalage in
my pocket. We shall get her on one charge if we fail in another."

"You can't fail," said Lawrence quietly. "When I come to give evidence
the character of my friend, Dr. Bruce, will be restored beyond question.
By the way, I have not heard how Mr. Charlton is to-day."

Prout remarked that Charlton was better. Fortunately no great damage had
been done. He was suffering from some loss of blood, but in a day or two
the patient would be able to give evidence.

There would be enough sensation for the papers to-morrow.

The detective went calmly on his way to Lytton Avenue. The Countess was
not down yet, but if the caller would send up his business it should be
attended to. Prout was firm, but his business was for the private ear of
the lady of the house alone, and he would wait her good pleasure. He was
quite easy in his mind, seeing that he was not alone, but accompanied by
two officers in plain clothes, one being stationed in the front of the
house and the other at the rear.

It was Hetty who came back with the second message that the Countess
would see her visitor presently in her dressing room. The girl started
as she recognised the features of the detective.

"Is there anything wrong?" she asked. Prout gave his information in a
low voice. He could trust Hetty, and besides, she might have some
valuable information to impart.

"Did you see anything queer last night, Miss?" he asked.

Hetty hesitated. It seemed hardly fair. And yet so much might depend
upon her speaking. Nothing could save the Countess from arrest now.
Rapidly, but clearly, she told Prout all that there was to tell.

"That clinches it," he said. "Now where did they hide themselves?"

A bell rang somewhere overhead, and Prout was summoned by a tall
footman, who sniffed at him suspiciously as he led the way upstairs. In
a magnificent wrap Leona Lalage sat. There was a cup of coffee before
her. In a flash she saw exactly what had happened. Her hand did not
shake now, the cigarette between her lips was steady. She had known that
sooner or later this blow must fall.

It was only in a very strong light that traces of last night's adventure
could be seen on her face. Just a little sigh of passionate regret
escaped her, and then she was her own calm smiling self again.

"I fancy--I--have seen you before," she said. "Are you not the detective
who has the corner house mystery in hand?"

Prout admitted that such was the case.

"I am not here about that," he said, "at least, not for the present. I
am afraid I have some bad news for you. I am speaking to the lady who is
known to people generally as Countess Lalage."

"I am Countess Lalage," was the calm reply.

"As you like, madame," Prout said indifferently. "I have a warrant for
the arrest of Leona Lalage on a charge of attempted murder. I can't say
any more at present, and it will be as well for you to say as little."

The Countess bowed, not for an instant did she change colour.

"I'll dress at once," she said. "My bedroom door is locked, so this is
the only way I can escape, Set out something dark for me to wear,
Hannah."

She called thus to her maid inside. With a smile she intimated to Prout
that she might keep him a little time waiting. It did not matter how
long seeing that he had his bird fast in the toils.

A quarter of an hour passed, and then a trim maid with dark short hair,
and in the smart starched style peculiar to good servants, appeared. She
gave one glance of indifference at Prout, and then passed down the
stairs. From his window he could see the very neat figure crossing the
square.

Time passed and he grew impatient. He coughed as he looked into the
bedroom. Then he said something strong under his breath. Nobody was
there. The opposite door was locked, but the bird had flown.

With a disturbed face Prout passed into the street. The men were still
there.

"Seen anybody leave the house?" Prout asked..

"Nobody but a servant, and a pretty one," the other said.

"Then you be after her as soon as possible," Prout groaned. "We're done,
Smithers. That smart lady's-maid was Countess Lalage!"



CHAPTER XLVIII.--Hetty speaks Out


There was a good deal of whispering and talking in corners and under the
trees at Longmere House. A fussy little man with an eyeglass seemed to
have a great deal to say. Lady Longmere laughed somewhat scornfully as
he watched him. A great pile of strawberries were on her plate.

"I have a great many faults," the pretty American heiress said, "but
scandal never was one of them. Look at that little wretch of a Mosley
Harcourt. Nobody likes him, and nobody is free from his poisonous
tongue, but he goes everywhere because he has the very latest gossip."

Hetty nodded absently; in society parlance, Lady Longmere had taken
Hetty up. Since the night of the card party at Lytton Avenue, when her
ladyship had foresworn cards for good and all, she had seen a good deal
of Hetty. And she was one of the few who stuck loyally to Bruce.

"Here's your young man," she said presently. "He didn't want to come,
but I made a special journey and persuaded him. Never hide yourself at
times like this."

"Gordon is very sensitive," said Hetty. "That's the kind of thing that
hurts."

She clutched at the handle of her sun shade passionately as a society
leader responded to Bruce's uplifted hat by a cold stare.

"And Gordon saved that woman's life," Hetty said. "He sat up all one
night with her and part of the second. It's very hard Lady Longmere."

Lady Longmere replied generally that it would benefit Bruce in the long
run. Lady Rockingham came up and said it was very hot. After his rebuff
Bruce stood by as if unconscious of Lady Rockingham's presence.

"Surely your ladyship knows Dr. Bruce!" Hetty said with a vivid splash
of colour on either cheek. "A little time ago I understood that Dr.
Bruce--"

"Dr. Bruce perfectly understands," Lady Rockingham said coldly.

"But you evidently don't," Hetty said coolly. "I was going to give you
ladyship a little information. I fancy you were present at Lytton Avenue
the night of the card party when those mysterious notes were produced.
It was never known exactly who paid them over to Mr. Isidore, but I know
now. They came from Countess Lalage; indeed she admitted as much to my
uncle, Mr. Lawrence."

Bruce drew Hetty gently away. The girl was sore and angry, and might be
betrayed into saying something that she would be sorry for afterwards.
After all, it did not matter much so long as they had one another.

The grounds were large and secluded; their were plenty of spots there
for lovers. They might have been far away in the country.

"I have been talking to Lawrence," Bruce said. "My dear little girl, I
have only learnt lately what you have endured for me. If these people
had found you out they would most certainly have murdered you."

Hetty smiled lightly. She had her own reward. It would be mainly due to
her that her lover's good name would be cleared.

"But it makes my blood boil to see you treated in that way by that
woman," she cried. "Especially after what you did for her. I long to
tell her who the real culprit was, and that in a few days a woman in
whose house she had been would be arrested for the crime."

"I'm glad you didn't," Bruce smiled. "What a sensation those good people
will have presently! And most of them have been on intimate terms with
our Countess. My darling, I shall never be easy in my mind till you are
out of that house."

"And I shall never go till I can make some arrangements for Mamie,"
Hetty said. "Of course the secret cannot be kept much longer, and then I
suppose everything will be seized by the creditors. But even the
servants are in the dark as yet."

Bruce nodded moodily. He seemed to have something on his mind that he
could not throw off. The cloud lifted a little under Hetty's
blandishments; it was impossible to sit looking into those clear eyes
and be wholly unhappy.

"You have some trouble," Hetty said anxiously.

"I have," Gordon said, "but I shan't tell it to you to-day. Let us talk
of something else. Let us forget the world for ourselves."

A band was playing somewhere; there were voices pitched high close by;
then came the clear laugh of Lady Longmere.

"Say, what a comedy!" she said. "What does it matter? It will be
something to say afterwards that we knew the woman."

"I can't believe it," said Lady Rockingham. "Mr. Harcourt, are you quite
clear and certain of your facts? Who told you?"

"Shouldn't dare to speak thus of the fascinating Lalage," Harcourt, the
little man with the eyeglass, drawled. "Should be afraid of a knife in
my back, or something horribly Corsican of that kind. Can't tell you any
more except I know the police had a warrant for her arrest, and that
she's bolted."

"And she's got a diamond star of mine worth a thousand pounds!" Lady
Rockingham screamed. "A stone was missing, and she offered to have it
replaced for me out of her stock of loose diamonds. I made a friend of
that woman, a vulgar adventuress, who steals brooches and the like."

"Be a lesson to us all," Harcourt said sapiently, "for at least a month.
And then we shall run the next flashy adventurer who comes along. Give
me the money, and I'll put any gutter flower-girl in society, and at the
top of all in a month. It's only a question of cash."

The speaker passed on. Hetty seemed amused about something.

"So the story has leaked out," she said. "But it has its funny side.
Fancy Leona Lalage getting Lady Rockingham's star like that! It was the
sort of cynical thing she would have enjoyed."

Bruce held up his hand for silence.

"What are the boys saying in Piccadilly?" he asked.

The cries came nearer; a familiar name was mentioned.

"Latest society scandal!" came the shrill voices. "Latest society
sensation! Flight of the Countess Lalage!"



CHAPTER XLIX.--In the Dead of the Night.


The story flashed like lightning from one end of London to the other.
Leona Lalage had been an important personage. Her face was familiar to
the society paper window; no report of a great function was complete
without a description of her dress. She was a constant source of 'copy'
to the paragraphists; her dinners and her parties were things to imitate
and envy. And now the crash had come.

It was the sensation of the hour. Every penny paper had a portrait of
sorts of Leona Lalage. The wildest rumours were afloat. As far as
anybody knew for the present, the Countess was not at home, and the
servants could give no clue as to her whereabouts.

To-morrow a whole hoard of tradesmen would be down upon Lytton Avenue,
but for the present Hetty was left in peace. Mamie was very far from
well, flushed and feverish, so that at eleven o'clock she decided to
call in Bruce. She rang the bell, but no servant appeared. She rang
again, and went down presently into the basement to investigate.

There was no sign of a servant to be seen anywhere. They had all packed
up their boxes, and fled, as rats quit a sinking ship.

Hetty was alone in the house. At any rate there was the telephone. Dr.
Bruce was out, they told her, but expected in shortly, when he should
have the message. It was not nice to be alone in so large a house with a
sick child, but Hetty had no fear. All the horrors and all the tragedies
had gone with the Countess. It was quite late when Bruce arrived. He
asked no questions, as Hetty let him in herself. And Hetty said nothing
of the fact that she had been deserted. It would only make Gordon
uneasy, and she was certain that she could manage alone.

"Of course you can, darling," Bruce said fondly. "It ever there was a
born nurse you are one. I don't like the look of the child at all. She
ought to be got away from here to the seaside. Fresh air and salt water
is what she wants."

The child lay between waking and sleeping. Her cry was for water.

"Not too much water," said Bruce. "A little now, and some fresh cold
water later on. I shall give her a few of those drops I prescribed for
her last week. Four now, and four in an hour's time. But be very careful
as to the dose."

Hetty produced the little phial marked 'poison,' and examined the label.
She had administered the medicine before, usually she kept it locked up.
As she poured out the drops she had a curious sensation that she was
being watched. Her hand shook so that she had to try again before she
was satisfied.

"Are you nervous to-night?" Bruce asked.

"Not more than usual," said Hetty. "Once I get away from this house I
shall be all right, and that looks as if it won't be long."

Bruce lingered as if loth to depart. The house seemed wonderfully
silent. Bruce went down the stairs presently, accompanied by Hetty.

"Good-night, my darling," he said, as he kissed her fondly. "You'll be
compelled to leave here to-morrow, and I only hope the child will be
better. Thank goodness, Gilbert Lawrence will be only too glad to have
you."

Hetty fastened the door carefully. Now that she was alone she was
feeling more horribly nervous than ever. She locked most of the
downstairs doors, and it was only sheer self-contempt that prevented her
from fastening her bedroom door. It required a deal of courage to sleep
in a large, empty house.

Mamie had half dropped asleep, but she opened her eyes again as Hetty
entered.

"You have been so long," she said, pitifully, "so very long. And why
didn't you come when I heard you standing by the door."

"I wasn't standing by the door," Hetty said, quietly.

"But indeed you were. I called out and you said 'Hush' very quietly.
Then I heard the rustle of your dress as you went down the stairs."

Hetty murmured something to the effect that she had forgotten. There was
no reason to contradict and argue over a child's fancies. Mamie murmured
again.

"Take the drops first," Hetty suggested, Mamie declined fretfully. She
wanted water, and that on the table was quite warm. With a patient smile
Hetty went downstairs to get more. Mamie drank thirstily. Hetty picked
up the little bottle to pour out the drops.

By sheer habit she looked at the label. It was the same, and not the
same. Hetty stifled a cry of surprise. She had made no mistake
before--of that she was certain. Then what could possibly have happened?
Somebody had crept into the room in her absence and changed the bottles!

There could be no doubt about that. The label had the same chemist's
name on it, with the red caution of 'Poison' underneath. The girl put
the bottle to her nostrils and noticed the difference in the smell.

The discovery turned her sick and faint. That any one should
deliberately try and take an innocent life like this filled her with
loathing.

Mamie had dropped into what looked like a sound sleep. Hetty lay on the
bed with her light out. She had the switch to her hand, she could lie
there with the chance that the fiend who had done this thing would come
back. More than one person in the house had known that that medicine was
an experiment. If Mamie died it would do Bruce incalculable harm. And
she herself might suffer. A thousand horrors rose out of the darkness
and mocked at Hetty.

She lay there waiting patiently. Soon it seemed to her that somebody was
in the room. She could hear breathing that was not her own, and the
creep, creep of drapery. There was a faint rattle on the stand where the
medicine stood, so faint that it would not have been heard by any but
strained ears.

Hetty could stand it no longer. Her fingers went out to the electric
switch; there was a sudden snap, and the room was bathed in light. There
was a startling cry from a woman who stood just under the light with a
bottle in her hand the real bottle, as Hetty could see quite plainly.

"Now I have got you, murderess!" Hetty cried.

The woman reached up a long white hand, and taking the bulb of the
swinging electric light in her grasp desperately, crushed it to pieces.
Then there was swift darkness again and the rush of flying feet.



CHAPTER L.--Threatened Ruin.


If there was a dark mystery any longer, it was confined to the Corner
House now. Hetty was not likely to see any more of Lytton Avenue. It was
fortunate for her that Mamie was so much better in the morning, for as
soon as the business of the day had commenced there was a rush of people
to Lytton Avenue.

They poured in thick and fast till the law intervened in the person of a
posse of officials who represented the Sheriff of London, and then Hetty
was permitted to pack up her belongings and those of the child and
depart. Gilbert Lawrence received them with open arms. Bruce was there,
pleased enough to get Hetty from the house where she had suffered so
much. But here was a white despairing look that caused Hetty to forget
her own troubles.

The white look did not even vanish when Hetty spoke of her previous
nights adventure.

"It was part of a plot to ruin us both," Bruce said moodily. "I should
have been charged with criminal carelessness, which is fatal to a doctor
and you would have been guilty of administering an overdose. That
woman--we know who she was--changed the bottles once, and would have
changed them again--in fact that is why she returned--the Countess."

"Oh, no," Hetty cried. "She never could have done that. Her own child,
Bruce? Fancy a mother sacrificing the life of her own child to gratify a
vengeance! I could not think as badly of her as that."

Bruce smiled wearily

"Are you quite sure," he asked, "that Mamie is her own child?"

Hetty had no reply for the moment.

That idea had never occurred to her before. Certainly she had never
looked upon the Countess as a model mother; indeed, she had never seen
her display what might be called natural affection.

"We shall probably never know," she said after a pause. "But as to your
own trouble, Gordon, dear, Gordon, why don't you confide in me?"

The appeal in the thrilling tender voice touched him. He took the slim
figure in his arms and kissed the red lips.

"It's ruin," he said simply, "nothing else. A little time ago it looked
to me as if all my ambitions were to be realised. And then this crushing
misfortune comes upon me. My practice falls away, and I could not get my
money in. Of course I can't dun patients like mine. It didn't matter
till lately, because the guineas I got from consultations were keeping
me going. But these morning callers call no more. I was pressed here and
there, and borrowed money."

"Not from those people who advertise, Gordon?"

"I am afraid I was as foolish as that," Bruce said, with a faint smile.
"That sort of people seem to know when one is under the weather. And
there was one very plausible fellow who sent me a confidential letter. I
fell into the trap, and if I can't find L500 to-morrow I am ruined."

Hetty turned pale. But no word of reproach passed her lips. It was no
time for that. And she knew by repute the kind of creditor that Gordon
had. She merely asked the name of the obdurate creditor.

"I shall find some way out of it," she said. "Now go back to your work.
Courage dearest."

She kissed him tenderly and pushed him from the room. Already she had
made up her mind exactly what to do. Mamie must sit down and be good
till teatime, after which she should go in the park and feed the swans.
Half an hour later and Hetty was calling upon Isaac Isidore to ask his
advice.

Isidore received his visitor warmly. He had taken a great fancy in his
calm way to the pretty, plucky girl who had played so fine a part in the
elucidation of a great mystery and a cruel wrong. He listened to what
Hetty had to say.

"I thought you would find a way out," she suggested.

"Well, so I can," Isidore smiled. "I am not going to offer to lend that
young man money because that would wound his pride. Besides, there will
be no occasion. Now, can you let me know the name of Bruce's creditor."

Hetty gave the desired information. There was a peculiar smile on the
face of her companion.

"I fancy I can see my way to settle this business," he said. "In my
early days I saw a deal of the shady side of finance--as a lad I was in
the office of one of the very worst of them. I know all about this
fellow. He is going to climb down, he is going to take a reasonable rate
of interest, and he is going to give your lover time. You can make your
mind easy about that."

And Isidore pulled at his cigar thoughtfully. He seemed so strong and
confident that Hetty was strangely comforted.

"I thought I could rely upon you," she said gratefully. "Mr. Isidore,
you have taken a great load from my mind."

Isidore finished his cigar, after which he took a frugal omnibus to the
city, getting down in the neighbourhood of Cheapside. He found himself
presently in a dingy office off Ironmonger-lane, and face to face with a
fat, oily man, who recognised him with a mixture of admiration and
apprehension.

"It's about that business of Dr. Gordon Bruce," Isidore said curtly.
"Now, my friend Wolffman, you know me and I know you. I don't want to
ruin you body and bones, but I shall do so unless you listen to reason.
You are going to write to Dr. Bruce, and tell him the matter shall stand
over for the present--"

"But my principal!" gasped Wolffman. "The lady who is paying me--"

"To ruin Dr. Bruce," Isidore said, as coolly as if a great light had not
suddenly broken in upon him. "So your friend is in London?"

Wolffman wriggled uneasily. He wanted to lie badly, but with those eyes
upon him he could not do so.

"She was yesterday," he stammered.

"Ah, then, you must dissemble with her. Tell her any lie you like so
long as you let Dr. Bruce alone. I guessed there was some scheme on hand
when I heard that you had written to the Doctor. Good-bye, Wolffman and
recollect that your ruin or otherwise depends upon yourself."

Isidore went out smiling blandly. He had made a great discovery.

"The Countess again," he murmured "She's in this, as I thought. And so
she is still in London, after all. How interested Prout will be!"



CHAPTER LI.--The Wolf is Unchained.


Prout was not surprised to receive the information that his quarry was
still in London; indeed he would have been astonished to know the
contrary. Every port and every outgoing vessel had been carefully
watched. Still, the woman had accomplices somewhere. It was absurd to
believe that in the simple guise of a maid she could have found a hiding
place where she would be safe from the grip of the law.

"Find Balmayne, and you'll find her," Prout said. "If we get on the
track this week we shall catch her; if not, she may get away. Vigilance
is bound to be relaxed sooner or later. That is why delay is on the side
of the prisoner."

"And if she does get away?" Isidore asked.

"Then she will go to some of her earlier haunts on the Continent," said
Prout.

"They always do. We can count upon that with absolute certainty."

"And you know all about her early haunts?"

Prout confessed that up to the present he had but the sketchiest idea of
the past of the brilliant adventuress who called herself Countess
Lalage. He was just a little piqued that he should have been so easily
gulled, especially as the case was exciting so ominous an amount of
public attention. From all parts of the Continent stories were coming in
telling of this and that swindled capitalist. The woman had flaunted for
years with the money she had obtained by fraud. It was calculated that
besides her debts she had got away with nearly a million of money.

It seemed incredible but there it was, and there it will be again so
long as human cupidity and human greed exist. Maitrank was the only man
who was silent over his losses. He had been a fool but the money was
gone, and there was no reason why he should betray his folly aloud to
the world.

"I think I'll go down to Holloway and see Rene Lalage," Prout said
thoughtfully. "I dare say I shall be able to advise him to tell me
something as to the past of the Countess. If only he were not secure,
that woman would have to look to herself. He believes that the woman
betrayed and murdered his brother, and he is a Corsican. Give him a few
hours start, and the law would be rid of Leona Lalage."

In his cell at Holloway Rene Lalage was disposed to be communicative. He
spat furiously, his dark eyes gleamed at the mention of the woman.

"She was bad, utterly bad from a child," he said. "She was a distant
connection of the family. As a girl she set us all aflame with her
beauty. She was the vainest and most cruel girl in the village. If she
could rob another girl of her lover she was happy, and happier still in
flinging him aside after. She was delighted when she could breed a
quarrel between two friends and get them to fight.

"Why she married Leon I cannot say. Perhaps it was because he bullied
her. But Leon was no saint and he drank, and he got into gaol, and Leona
left him. For a long time we did not hear what had become of her. Then I
saw her in Paris at a circus. A little time later and she was mixed up
in politics in Rome. But she got steadily on, living in a more luxurious
way till I lost sight of her altogether."

"We heard afterwards that she had gone through a form of marriage with a
great nobleman, and that she was living in great splendour in England.
But we know better. Leon and I had spent our little fortune long ago and
sold the farm. After that we had to live by our wits, as you are aware,
Signor Prout."

"Then we both drifted to England, neither of us knowing where the other
was. I met Leon quite by accident. He said he had found his wife, and
that she seemed to be rolling in money. She managed to lure him to the
Comer House where she kept him prisoner. But he got some money from her,
and part of that he promised me. I never got it, as you know, and you
can guess the reason why."

"Leon was in the way; he had to be got rid of. If it had to be murder,
why that woman would never have hesitated. We shall find out that it was
done some way. And if ever I get out of this I will track her day by day
and hour by hour. I will lure her into some quiet place, and then I
shall plunge my knife into her as she plunged hers into my brother as he
lay helpless. I tell you this, policeman as you are, because I am
reckless, and there is blood in my eyes. Once I am free, my vengeance
shall be complete. You may hang me, but you can't deprive me of that."

He spoke furiously under his breath, with the veins standing out on his
forehead. He seemed to have almost forgotten the presence of Prout. The
next moment he was quiet and smiling again, but Prout was not deceived.
Once that man was free he would never go back on his word.

On the whole, the interview produced nothing of importance. Nor was
Lawrence subsequently able to deduce anything from it.

"The fellow told you really nothing," he said thoughtfully, "at least,
nothing that we can put to any practical use. He has his own vengeance
to gratify, and therefore he is not in the least anxious to assist the
law."

"He knew more than he would tell," said Prout.

"Of course he did. I shouldn't wonder if he knew where that woman is
hiding, I am still of opinion that if you can find Balmayne you can find
the chief culprit. If you come to me to-morrow evening I may manage to
hammer out something, but my brain is addled for the present. I have a
theory of my own, but it sounds a little too cold at present."

Prout dutifully returned the following evening, but Lawrence had nothing
fresh to offer. He still clung to his new theory, but it was not
sufficiently developed for practical use. And he didn't want to be
laughed at, he said.

"I never laugh at your suggestion," Prout replied.

"Well, you're not going to have the chance over this now," said
Lawrence.

"If I had my own way--what a row those newsboys are making!"

There were yelling in the street below.

As they passed their raucous cries uprose so that from the babel some
sense could be made.

THE CORNER HOUSE MYSTERY! STARTLING DEVELOPMENTS!

Rene Lalage's escape from Holloway! A warder seriously injured!

The culprit succeeds in getting clear away!



CHAPTER LII.--The Cage is Opened.


There was the sound of a faint scratching as if a mouse was working
somewhere. The warder in the courtyard pronounced it to be a mouse, and
pushed on. Then a figure, almost invisible in the gloom, crept along the
top of the wall and dropped feet foremost into the street. It was
nothing but luck that stood Rene Lalage in such good stead all along. A
crumbling bit of plaster, some repairs going on in the gallery overhead,
a ladder, and a couple of gimlets left about by one of the carpenters
engaged on the job.

Well, he was free. He did not hesitate for a moment. He darted swiftly
down the road with the air of a man who knows exactly what he is doing
and where he wants to go. The man had not been convicted yet, therefore
he had the advantage of wearing his own clothes.

Using the tramline was a bit of a risk, but Lalage took it. He wanted to
be on familiar ground before his escape had been discovered. He had one
object steadily in view, and after that was done he cared nothing. He
came at length to a dismal looking road leading off Waterloo Bridge.
Before what seemed an empty house he paused and knocked. A feeble gleam
filtered in the fanlight, and the door opened.

The man behind staggered back and muttered something that sounded like
admiration. Rene Lalage stepped inside and shut the door.

"The others have not come yet," he said coolly. "I had arranged for the
ceremony to take place without me. I was being detained elsewhere. But
behold I am here to take my vengeance in my own hands. When the others
come they will be surprised to see their leader again, Beppo."

The man addressed as Beppo nodded and grinned. There was nothing
prepossessing about him. He looked the kind of man to avoid on a dark
night. He led the way to a back room, furnished only with a long table
and a few chairs. Presently there was another knock at the door, and
four men came in.

Picturesque, cut-throat-looking ruffians that might have come straight
from the stage of the Surrey Theatre. These men were pleased to call
themselves, conspirators. But no patriotic business brought them here
to-night.

Evidently Rene Lalage passed as leader of them. They greeted him with
shouts of approval and many strange manifestations of pleasure. One by
one they produced tobacco and cigarette papers until the room was dim
with smoke.

"You got my letter, Luigi?" Lalage asked. The man addressed as Luigi
nodded.

"Good!" Lalage went on. "That letter was written in gaol. It looked so
innocent that the people there passed it. They did not know that every
letter had a meaning. It seemed all about my defence. You acted on that
letter?"

"I did," Luigi growled. "I saw Antonio at once. It was not long before
he was on the track. Your man will be here to-night."

They smoked on for some little time idly. These men were prepared for
most things, but they preferred idleness and tobacco to anything else.
It was only Lalage who was restless and uneasy. As the time passed he
glanced impatiently at the door.

Then there came another knock without.

Beppo crept to the door. He came back presently followed by two men. The
latter one was dressed in superior fashion to the rest. With a yell
Lalage flew across the room and turned the key in the lock.

"Enter, Signor Luigo Balmayne," he cried mockingly. "Signor, I have the
honour to wish you a very good evening. You are most welcome."

Balmayne promptly collapsed into the chair that Beppo had put for him.
He glanced in a white and agitated way round the room. There was not a
friendly face to be seen anywhere. Given immunity from protection, and
not one man there would have refused to cut his throat for a handful of
coppers.

There was no avenue of escape. The man's life was in danger, and he knew
it. With mocking politeness Lalage tendered him a cigarette. He pushed
it aside; he could not have smoked for untold money. There was a great
lump in his throat now, a wild beating of his heart.

"You know me?" Lalage said. "We have met before. It was you who betrayed
me to the police at Ravenna. In the dock there I swore to be revenged
upon you. And I am of my word."

Balmayne tried to say something, but failed.

"I had two years for that," Lalage went on, "two weary years which is an
agony to a restless man like myself. You betrayed me, because I was in
your way, and so that you could keep the spoil to yourself. You were
poorer and less prosperous in those days than you seem to be now. You
are rich."

"I am as poor as yourself," Balmayne contrived to say.

"Ah! That is good hearing. You came here to-night expecting to see
Ghetti. But we took the liberty of using Ghetti's name. It is only by
the merest accident that I am here to-night to carry out this work. My
good friends here would have done it for me otherwise. But I was
fortunate enough to escape from the gaol yonder, and here I am."

Balmayne glanced miserably about him. He was not listening at all. He
was calculating the chances of escape, of the fate that lay before him.
Had this thing taken place in Corsica he would have been in no doubt for
a moment. All these men were joined together by blood ties or something
of that kind, and insult to one was an insult to another.

They had lured him there, and he had come with his eyes open. He cursed
his folly. But then he had been hiding, and his money was gone. It
seemed like a wonderful slice of luck to find Ghetti in London. And
behold there was no Ghetti at all, only this trap and the knowledge that
his time was come.

"Well?" Lalage burst out, furiously. "Why don't you speak; what have you
got to say before I put the knife into your heart?"



CHAPTER LIII.--Face to Face.


Balmayne grovelled helplessly. There were tears in his eyes. The man
could plot and intrigue, he could make the weapons for others but he had
no heart for them himself. He was an abject coward without feeling for
anyone but himself. He would have left his nearest to starve or die
without a prick of conscience, but, he was nervous for himself. And he
read his sentence in Lalage's eyes.

"Get up!" the latter cried. "Why do you grovel there? Faugh! you sicken
me. Is there no spark of manhood in you at all? You are going to die."

An approving chorus followed from the others.

"You hear that," Lalage went on. "You are going to die. Your life has
been given over to me to do as I please with. There is one way to save
your delicate skin, one way to freedom if you choose to take it."

Balmayne rose from the floor. Some thing like hope crept into his
haggard eyes.

"It shall be done," he said hoarsely "Speak."

"Ah, I knew you would listen to reason; I knew there was nothing so vile
and degraded that you would not do to save yourself. Answer me the
question, then. Tell me at once where I can find Leona Lalage?"

Balmayne started. Not that he desired to show any courage and refuse. He
knew why, none better, Lalage wanted to see his brother's wife. And he
would have betrayed her to save himself without the smallest hesitation.

It would mean the loss of all his plans, it would mean hiding in poverty
in England instead of something like luxury on the Continent, but he did
not hesitate. Leona Lalage would never have acted like that.

"I will show you where she is," he said hoarsely.

"Of course you will," Lalage laughed. "Heaven be praised you are no
countryman of mine? Oh you dog, you gutter cur, you slimy reptile, to
betray a mere woman like this! And not even to make a good fight of it.
But whilst I revile you and try to get the blood into your white
cowardly cheeks it is good that you should obey. I spare your life
because it will not be for long."

Balmayne sat there without a word. He had no feeling, no sense of shame.

"I am going to take this man with me," said Lalage as he rose. "He is
known to you all, and you have marked him well. In his way he will
betray us if he can. He will not go to the police, because they may ask
awkward questions, and as like as not there is a warrant out for his
arrest also. But he is a man of many ideas. If anything happens to me,
repeat it to the Brotherhood at the headquarters. After that I would not
give a week for the life of this Balmayne."

Balmayne nodded and turned. He knew only too well what that threat
meant. So far he could see there was no way out of it whatever. He had
come to the end of his resources. If he could only get away from this!

"Good-night, comrades," said Lalage. "I shall return presently. Come on,
dog, follow at the heels of your master."

Lalage struck out boldly into the street followed by Balmayne. There was
only one thing uppermost in his mind, one great project that filled his
untutored brain. A great wrong had been done, and he was to right it by
blood. There was no crime about this, it had been the custom of his race
for centuries.

His own kin had been done to death, and he was going to avenge the
murder. To this end he had caused Balmayne to be lured from his hiding
place by those who knew how to bait the trap for the rascal. Once
Balmayne was in his power he would be controlled to speak. And the night
was very dark.

Balmayne slunk by the side of his companion. He longed to cry aloud that
here was a man who had escaped from gaol, to have him bound hand and
foot, and to feel that he was out of the way for the present. He wanted
to go to the nearest policeman and tell him all this.

But then the police would want to know too much, and he did not feel
that he himself was anything like out of the wood.

Again, there was the Brotherhood. That it was no idle threat on the part
of Lalage Balmayne knew only too well. Once he betrayed the latter his
life was not worth a week's purchase.

"We are getting near the spot?" Lalage asked.

"We are getting very near now," Balmayne croaked.

They had come to a better part of the town. They paused at length before
Lytton Avenue. The house of many festivities was dark and dismantled.
There was no sign of life or movement there.

"A good idea," Lalage muttered. "An excellent doubling of the tracks.
May I guess that you are going to meet Leona Lalage here to-night?"

Balmayne nodded. He spoke so low that the other hardly caught the words.

"Here is the latch key," he said. "There are several of them. There is
no caretaker on the place as yet. Go in, you have no further need of
me."

Lalage entered gently. He stood in the pitchy darkness for some time. He
could not hear a sound. Presently his patience was rewarded. There was
the click of a key in the door and something swished by him.

Lalage thrust out his arm and grasped a silken shoulder.

"Not a cry," he whispered hoarsely. "I don't know the house and you do.
I am going to hold on to you and you are going to guide me to a back
room where we can turn on the electric light in safety. And recollect
that I have two hands, and that there is a long knife in the other one."

The woman moved on without further sound or protest. She came at length
to a room at the back of the house, she fumbled along the wall. There
was a click, and the place was flooded with brilliant light.

Leona Lalage fell back with a faint cry. Just for a moment she covered
her eyes with her hands. Lalage stood like a statue. He smiled, but
there was nothing of mirth in it.

"Rene Lalage!" Leona said. "You have come here to kill me!"



CHAPTER LIV.--A Stab in the Dark.


"If there is one thing that is likely to come between you and Bruce,"
said Lawrence, as he struggled into his overcoat, "it is your devotion
to that child, Hetty. There is nothing the matter with her at all. She
is merely suffering from strawberries. I had an idea to work this
afternoon, contrary to my usual custom, and I soothed Mamie with
strawberries. Blame me as you like, but there it is."

Hetty laughed. It was past eleven, and Lawrence was going down to his
club for an hour. The little girl had been a bit more fretful than
usual.

"I'm so sorry for the child," she said.

"And so am I. You've done as much for her as if she were your own, but
all the same I should not be sorry if somebody claimed her. I've never
had the slightest doubt that she is no relation to the Countess at all."

"Then why should a woman like that encumber herself--"

"My dear child, I don't look upon it in that light at all. The child
gave our picturesque friend a certain distinction--'My husband is dead,
and this is my only child,' and all that sort of thing. It pays in
society."

With which cynical remark Lawrence lighted a cigarette and departed.
From above the fretful voice of Mamie called to her dear Hetty. In
sooth, the child was running a great risk of being spoilt.

"What is it darling?" Hetty said. "What can I do for you?"

Mamie was thirsty. She scornfully refused a suggestion of soda-water;
nothing would content her but a certain fruit salt that came from a
certain place some way off. She was quite sure that she could not do
without it, and that unless the salt was forthcoming she would have a
dreadful headache in the morning.

"All right," Hetty said cheerfully. "I'll go and get it for you."

There was the best part of a mile to go; it was getting very late, but
Hetty had not been out all day, so that she enjoyed the walk. She made
her way back along the darkness of Alton Square. Most of the houses were
dark, and nobody was to be seen.

From a little way off came the sound of rapid footsteps. The step grew
swifter, and there was the sound of another behind. As if by magic a
half score of people seemed to spring from under the trees against the
square yonder.

It all seemed like a dream to Hetty after, a confused mist out of which
came two struggling figures, there was the flash of a knife, and Hetty,
heedless of danger, darted forward with an idea of interfering.

The cry that rose to her lips was stifled, a firm hand grasped her arm,
and a hand was laid tightly over her mouth.

"You must say and do nothing," a hoarse voice whispered, "it is a fair
quarrel and a fair punishment. Accept my deepest apologies for handling
a lady so roughly, but I am but the creature of circumstance."

Hetty's heart was beating violently. The struggle seemed interminable,
but in reality it was a mere matter of seconds. Then one figure fell to
the ground and lay there rigid and motionless. It was too dark to see
more than the outline of the tragedy, and almost before it had begun it
had dissolved away, leaving only that ominously still figure lying prone
in the roadway.

Hetty's antagonist had vanished also. He had gone clean out of sight
before Hetty realised that she was free. Then she called loudly for
help. A policeman came from somewhere, and Hetty was pouring out her
tale.

"Seems pretty bad," said the policeman gruffly, as he flashed his
lantern down on the white still face. "This here's a job for the
ambulance."

He whistled again and again, and presently the ambulance came trotting
up. It was only when the body was raised that Hetty recognised the white
still face. With a thrill it came to her that she was looking at
Balmayne.

She was conscious of no feeling of astonishment. At every turn she
seemed to be brought into contact with the central figures of the Corner
House tragedy. A sudden inspiration came to her.

"As it happens, I know the gentleman." she said. "When I was governess
to the Countess Lalage's little girl he frequently came to the house. I
am a niece of Mr. Gilbert Lawrence, the novelist, who lives close by.
There is a room to spare in his house, and this looks like a bad case.
If you will follow me--"

The sergeant in charge of the ambulance had no objection to make. A
little later, and Balmayne was stripped and in bed. A doctor who had
been summoned shook his head as he made his diagnosis of the wound.

"Critical," he said. "There has been a great loss of blood, too. It is
all a matter of constitution now. Till I can send a nurse in--"

Hetty nodded. She perfectly understood. And Bruce had often told her
that she was one of the best nurses he had ever met. There was nothing
to do for the moment beyond watching over the patient to see that no
change occurred.

Hetty sat there all alone for some time wondering. It looked as if fate
was playing into her hands. If the man lying at the point of death could
only speak, if he could only be induced to do so.

Balmayne opened his eyes and looked languidly about him. It was quite
evident that he had not the slightest idea what had happened.

"Where am I?" he murmured, faintly.

Hetty explained in a few words. The patient was not to talk. He was to
lie there and try to sleep again. If he did so and obeyed instructions,
before long he would be out and well again.

A queer smile played over the listener's face.

"Till next time," he said. "It's all over with me. The pitcher has gone
too often to the well, and it has got broken at last. And I deserved all
I got--there is no question whatever about that."

"You are not to say another word," Hetty said sternly.

"All right. Only that you are an angel of goodness. If I could only tell
you--"

He lay back exhausted and closed his eyes again.



CHAPTER LV.--The Corner Horse Again.


There was no chance for Balmayne from the first. He was perfectly
conscious all the time; he was to have anything that he required. He was
absolutely cynical and callous as to the future. He had always played
the coward's part all his life and now, strangely enough, when he came
to die he showed the greatest indifference.

He smiled into the face of the man whose good name he might have
cleared, but he gave no sign. So hard and callous a nature was
impervious to kindness. Anybody who did a kind action for its own sake
was a fool in Balmayne's eyes.

There was only one that he cared to see and that was Hetty. In a curious
way the girl's goodness and purity appealed strongly to him. As to his
future he cared nothing. He wanted to know if anything had been seen of
Leona Lalage, and when Hetty replied to the contrary he seemed to be
greatly astonished.

"You are sure she has not been near Lytton Avenue?" he asked.

Hetty was quite sure of that. Only that day the magnificent decorations
of No. 1 Lytton Avenue had been sold on the premises, and nobody could
have been there besides those who were interested in the sale.

"Strange thing," said Balmayne to himself. "A most remarkable thing!
Miss Lawrence, will you do a favour for me. I would not trust anybody
else. But if you will give me your promise I shall be easy. There is
only one thing I have done that I really am sorry for, and you can set
it right for me."

"I will do anything I can to make your mind easy," Hetty said.

"Ah, you are a good girl. If I had seen more like you I should have been
a better man. But I was brought up in a hard school. Its about Mamie.
Did it ever strike you that the child was no relation to Leona Lalage?"

"My uncle has always said so," Hetty replied.

"And he is perfectly right. That wonderful man always is right. Mamie is
the only child of a sister of mine who lives in Florence. I wanted her
once to impoverish herself to help me in one of my schemes and she
refused. By way of revenge I had her child stolen. That is some four
years ago. She never knew I had a hand in it; she deems Mamie to be
dead. When I am gone I want you to write to my sister and tell her what
I am saying. Only you must get the address."

"Only tell me," Hetty exclaimed. "Poor woman! What is the address?"

"I cannot tell you from memory. But I am going to ask you to find the
address. You know the little bedroom I used to occupy at the top of the
Lytton Avenue house. There is a cupboard in the corner, and the board
next the fireplace comes up. In the recess you will find a little box
full of papers. On one paper is my sister's address. The other papers I
will ask you to burn unread."

"If I could get into the house," Hetty said. "I would cheerfully do what
you ask."

"That is quite easy. I have a latchkey in my waistcoat pocket. You have
only to go and get the papers and nobody will be any the wiser. I felt
quite sure you would do this thing for me."

Balmayne murmured something more and closed his eyes. When the nurse
came up to him an hour later he was dead. He had passed away quietly in
his sleep. How he came by his death, and who his assailants were nobody
knew. There were many dark passages in that dark life known only to
itself and its Maker.

It was a few days later before Hetty thought of her promise to Balmayne.
It was a fine bright afternoon with a strong sunshine, so that even the
deserted house in Lytton Avenue looked almost cheerful. With a feeling
that she might have been taken for a burglar or a house-breaker, Hetty
let herself in.

Everything was gone even to the electric fittings The place was
dismantled and dirty, the floors grimy with the tramp of many feet. A
door closed with a sullen bang and Hetty started.

"How dreadful it all looks," she murmured. "I hope I shall never see it
again. Some houses seem to be given over to misery and crime. Now to
find those papers."

The little room was at the top facing the blank windows of the Corner
House. Hetty had no difficulty in finding the box and a very brief
search showed the address she was looking for. The box she emptied in
the grate and set fire to the contents with a match she had brought for
the purpose.

She watched the flames die away, and turned to go. As she did so she
looked out for a moment at the Corner House. The sun was shining
strongly on the grimy windows. It seemed as if somebody was moving
inside. Hetty was certain that she could see a shadowy form there.

She waited just for a moment in eager expectation. There was the form
again, and then the spurt and flare of gas. What would anybody want gas
for at this time of the day? The question was answered immediately, for
a hand went over the gas flame holding something that looked like a
kettle to the flame. Then the hand disappeared and nothing more was to
be seen despite Hetty's patience.

She pondered over this discovery as she went home. It might mean a lot,
it might mean a very little. It was more than possible that Mr. Charlton
had left a caretaker in possession of the house with a view to avoiding
further incursions upon his possessions. If so, that casual way of
boiling a kettle was quite the course a caretaker would adopt.

All the same, Hetty decided to speak of her discovery to Lawrence. He
was busy at his desk when she returned. He looked up quickly, for there
was an expression on Hetty's face that told of some discovery.

"I have been to Lytton Avenue," she said, "to get that address I told
you of. And then I made a discovery, Uncle, how long has there been a
caretaker on those premises, who boils a kettle by the ingenious
expedient of holding it over the gas until it is hot enough?"

Lawrence threw up his pen with a cry of delight.

"You've made a more wonderful discovery than you know," he said. "What a
splendid scheme and how foolish of me not to think of it before. My dear
child you have found the hiding place of Leona Lalage!"



CHAPTER LVI.--Now Then!


The time had come. Leona Lalage knew it as well as if she had seen the
writing on the wall. This man had come for her; she would have no time
to make her peace with the world. When he had his say he would drive his
knife into her heart, and there would be an end of it.

"I--I thought you were in prison," she gasped.

"Oh, then you knew that I was in England?" Rene replied. "I have been in
prison for some time, otherwise you would have done less mischief.
Woman, what has become of my brother--your husband?"

She did not reply for a moment. Her courage was coming back to her, as
it always did when the stress of danger was great. Hard-pushed and
beaten down as she was, she did not wish to die. She had been crushed
flat to earth before, and yet she had recovered.

If she could only gain time! If she could only manage to throw dust in
the eyes of this man! She would ask no questions, because that would be
only by way of making admissions. She must feel her way in the dark.

And there was no avenue of escape whatever. She was alone with this man
in a dark, deserted house. She had come there for a few needed trifles
that she had left behind. Nobody had seen either of them enter. Why, it
was a very premium upon murder and the lust for revenge!

"Where is my brother?" Rene repeated doggedly.

"You know very well where your brother is," Leona replied. "He is dead.
He died in a house that is very close to here."

"He did not die, woman. He was foully murdered."

"Why should I deny it?" Leona said boldly. "My husband was murdered. He
was slain by Dr. Gordon Bruce for the sake of his money."

Rene sneered. He crossed over to the door. Leona laughed aloud.

"Oh, I have not the slightest idea of trying to escape," she said. "Why
should I? I am entirely innocent of the death of your brother."

"You lured him to the Corner House and drugged him. You kept him
prisoner."

"I admit it. Leon discovered my whereabouts and that I was apparently
rich and prosperous. He demanded large sums of money. As a matter of
fact I was driven to my wits' ends for cash then, and I refused. I had
to drug him and detain him to still that fool's tongue of his. He might
have done me a grave mischief. Then I had a bit of luck, and I gave Leon
four hundred sovereigns. He knew where you could be found; he told me he
wanted to send half to you. I allowed him to go so that he could change
his gold into notes for the purpose."

"Yes, yes," Rene said impatiently, "I know all that. Why did you kill
him?"

"Why should I have killed him?" was the cool response. "At the rate he
was going he would have drunk himself to death in another week."

The rage and lust for vengeance was only smouldering in Rene's eyes now.
It was just possible that he had made a mistake after all.

"But you were in the house," he said, "disguised as a Spanish woman--"

"Of course I was. Leon and myself had come to an understanding. He was
going abroad after he had sent you the money. At great risk to myself I
passed between here and the Corner House. I had to disguise myself. And
when everything was ready Leon got at the brandy bottle again. For some
nights he had not slept. When I got to the Corner House late that night
Leon was practically dead. Ah, better for me if I had left him to die."

The passionate despair of the tones touched Rene. It did not seem
possible to the man that this woman was acting.

"But I didn't do anything of the kind," Leona resumed. "I had Balmayne
to back me up. He played the part of a deaf mute servant for me and
fetched Dr. Bruce in the motor car. When Bruce came I departed, at least
I left him on the premises. I dared not stay any longer. Half Bruce's
story was a clever lie. He only told a portion of it. And it has been
proved beyond doubt that the notes Leon intended to send to you were
paid by Dr. Bruce to a firm in the Tottenham Court Road for some
furniture. I am not romancing; you can see all this in the papers. Every
one of those missing notes had Dr. Bruce's signature on the back. How do
you get over that?"'

Rene was, silent for a moment. The woman's tongue was getting round him.
And the practical part of her story was true.

"Now, listen to me," he said hoarsely. "I came here to kill you; I came
here to be avenged on my brother's murderer. When you saw me come in you
were afraid."

"Because I read your errand in your eyes. But I am not afraid now."

"I don't think you are," Rene said, with grudging admiration. "Do you
know how I got here? We lured Balmayne into a trap under the idea that
he was going to meet Ghetti, and I frightened your address out of him.
He betrayed you."

The outburst of rage and scorn that Rene expected was not forthcoming.
She smiled.

"Not in the way you mean," she said. "Balmayne has fooled you to save
his own skin. He knew I should make my story good and prove my
innocence, or he would never have sent you to meet me to-night."

"He had no what you call alternative," Rene growled.

"Yes he had. That man is far cleverer than you. You are a child to him
in cunning with all your boasted brains. If you kill me to-night you
commit a coldblooded murder. But you are not going to do anything of the
kind."

It began to dawn upon Rene that the speaker was right. But he had
another weapon still up his sleeves. His vengeance was not boiling
within him as it had been, the red light no longer danced before his
eyes.

"Get me food," he said "they starve you in those places yonder. I have
tobacco but my stomach craves for food. Go and get me food. I'll go and
lock the area door so that you may not give way to a desire to take the
air. After that you can find me something."



CHAPTER LVII.--A Way Out.


Leona retorted scornfully that she had no desire for flight. But as for
the food that Rene demanded, it was a different matter. Still, Lytton
Avenue had always been an extravagant household, and there might be
welcome food here that would have been looked upon with disdain a few
days ago.

There was nothing in the kitchen, but there were some boxes in the
storeroom beyond--a tin or two of sardines and some biscuits. Also in a
wine cellar Leona found a flask or two of Chianti.

These she handed up to Rene, who returned to the dining-room with them.
His mood had changed for the moment, but Leona was by no means out of
danger yet. He might have been trying her all the time; he might be
gloating over his vengeance. If she could only get rid of him, only
scare him away.

She looked round as if seeking inspiration. She found it presently in
the house keeper's room. Just in front of her was the glitter and sheen
of the telephone. The scheme that she wanted came to her like a flash.

She closed the door of the room softly, and gave a call. It was late at
night, the exchange was quiet, and the answer came swiftly.

"Give me number--well, I forget the number," she said almost in a
whisper.

"I want to be put on to the nearest police station--quick."

"Vine-street," came the staccato reply.

"Number 107--there you are. You are wanted Vine-street.... there you
are--speak up."

A hoarse voice wanted to know what was wrong. But it mattered little
what noise the speaker made at the other end of the wire so long as the
caller spoke under her breath. She proceeded to explain.

"I'm at No. 1 Lytton-avenue," she said, "Countess Lalage's, you know.
Yes, I'm quite aware of the fact that it is an empty house. But there is
a lot of stuff here that is worth fetching. In fact, there is somebody
in the dining-room now. Are you going to do anything, or shall I give
the alarm?"

The gruff voice suggested diplomacy, and promised immediate assistance.
The caller had only to lie low and the desired aid should be on hand
immediately. With a sense of pride and exultation Leona Lalage hung up
the receiver and made her way to the dining-room.

Unless some unforseen event took place, she had saved her own life. But,
all the same, there was danger. The police would probably get Rene, but
also they might get her, which was a much more serious matter. She
softly opened the catch of the back drawing-room window so that she
could reach the garden.

Rene had opened the tin with the point of his knife, and was eating
sardines and biscuits in a wolfish way. The Chianti he drank from the
bottle.

"That is like a breath of old times," he growled, as he finished the
flask. "Let me light a cigarette and then we'll talk again. I am going
to try you high, dear lady. I am going to test your story."

The old gleam was coming back to his eyes. Leona drew a deep breath. She
had half expected this at the time; there was always the chance that
this man knew a great deal more than she imagined. But help must be near
her by this time, and she could always prevaricate.

"Pooh. I am not afraid," she said, with easy contempt. "Say on, say on."

"Ah, I am coming to that fast enough," Rene growled. "You say that you
gave my brother four hundred pounds in gold--"

He paused as he saw Leona listening, not to himself, but to something
outside, eagerly. She was acting perfectly. There was just a suggestion
of alarm in her manner that gave the situation.

"Didn't you hear something?" she whispered.

Rene shook his head. He could hear nothing at all. He said so
impatiently.

It seemed to him that his companion was playing with him.

"You or I, or both of us, are followed," she said. "Come this way. Peep
out of the window without lifting the blind. What do you see?"

A policeman, standing rigidly outside the house, making signs with his
hands to somebody. A sound of feet creeping down the area steps, the
sudden pop and bang of a door forced in by a lever.

"Look to yourself," Leona cried, "they are here! There is a ladder in
the garden that leads out to the roof. Never mind me."

Rene had no intention of doing anything of the kind. A dim, blue-coated
figure stood in the doorway of the dining-room. With one spring Rene was
upon him, and carried him to the floor. There was a groan and a snarl
and a snore, and the policeman lay on his back utterly oblivious for the
moment.

Rene Lalage raced up the stairs. The house was not familiar to him, but
he quite understood the meaning of what Leona had said about the ladder.
As to the woman herself, she was quite at home there. She slipped into
the back drawing-room and thence across the hall into the drawing-room.
The window catch was unfastened, as she had looked forward to this way
out, and an instant later she was in the cool air. She could hear the
shouts and yells in the house; presently she heard the cry of a
policeman far overhead. Rene's means of escape had been discovered, and
he was being pursued over the housetops.

"I hope they get him," Leona said between her teeth. "I hope they get
him. And may they keep him for the rest of his life."

She hurried down the garden to the green gate. A little way beyond it
was a policeman. No escape that way for the present. The garden was all
right, but it would be light in two or three hours.

There was a yell from the roof, and then a policeman's hoarse roaring,
saying that he had 'got him.' The next time Leona looked out the
policeman outside the green gate was gone.

When and where should Leona go now? She was utterly outcast. If it was
possible--

"It is possible," she cried aloud. "Fool not to have thought of it
before. What better hiding-place could I have then in the Corner House!"



CHAPTER LVIII.--Nearing the End.


Rene Lalage made his way blindly up to the roof, where he lay breathless
under the shadow of a chimney. It was too dark to study any further plan
of escape, and too dark for a free dash for liberty.

A false step and he might be dashed to the ground. Better be caught and
taken back to gaol than that.

He waited for what seemed a long time, but was only a few minutes after
all.

Then there were voices coming nearer and nearer, one with a hoarse note
of triumph as the ladder leading to the roof was found.

"This is the way," another gruff voice said. "He's here for any money."

A police helmet appeared cautiously above the skyline, followed by a
bulky body. Then a lane of light played all over the roof. Closer and
closer Rene nestled up in the shadow of the chimney.

He was in the centre of the gleaming light now, and presently his figure
grew distinct and clear.

"Come out of it, my lad," said the gruff one good-humouredly. "We've got
you."

Rene rolled down the roof to a long ledge that the light had shown him.
If he could run along that he could gain the next house, could go a deal
further. Then he might slip down another ladder, and so through a
sleeping household to safety. He rocked unsteadily over on the ledge
with his feet hanging perilously over the parapet; the next instant one
of the police officers, at the risk of his neck, was upon him. Rene
would have wriggled for his knife but he dared not move.

"Come quietly," the officer suggested, "If you want to commit suicide go
on wriggling like that. And if you drag me down that won't save your
life."

Lalage saw the beautiful force of the argument. Besides, he was not
anxious to die yet. His own bitter regret was that he had not completed
his mission. If he had only known that his dalliance with opportunity
had proved his own undoing he would have been moved to a deeper and
fiercer anger.

"I'll come quietly," he said between his teeth. "Have you got the
woman?"

The officer shook his head in a puzzled kind of way. He knew nothing
about any woman. Perhaps those below had accounted for her. There were
lights all over the house when Lalage was led down with the handcuffs on
his wrists.

"Have you got the woman?" he asked again.

Nobody had seen anything of any woman. A light began to dawn upon Rene.

"I'm coming quietly," he said. "To show my friendly feeling. I don't
mind telling you that you have made an important capture. Now during the
last hour have you heard anything of an escape from Holloway?"

The sergeant in charge of the party had heard all about that.

"Party of the name of Lalage?" he said. "What do you know about him?"

The prisoner struck his breast theatrically.

"Simply because I am that distinguished individual," he said. "I tell
you that because in any case you must have found that out before long.
My liberty comes to me in a way that is likely to prove useful. I came
here to take a great revenge. Pah, I may be what you call criminal, but
I am not a burglar. I have not sunk to that yet. I came here to see a
woman. Have you got her?"

"Seen nothing of a woman," growled the sergeant.

"Oh, then I begin to have still deeper suspicions. How did you know I
was here? I was certain that I was never tracked."

"Somebody in the house," the sergeant explained sketchily. "Caretaker or
something of that kind, or so we imagined. Call on the telephone."

Rene broke out into sudden exultation. He saw it all now. He had been
lulled into a false position of security, and Leona had slunk away and
called for assistance on the telephone. He had not known that there was
such a thing in the house. How she must have smiled at him in her
sleeves all the time, knowing that his capture was certain, and that she
had her own avenue of escape.

"What's this about a woman?" the sergeant asked.

Rene checked himself. He grew suddenly calm, but the effort threw him
into a violent perspiration. Well, his time should come yet.

"Take me back to Holloway," he said, sullenly, "and ask your Prout to
see me in the morning. Say it will be worth his while."

Prout came up smiling in the course of the next afternoon. He was
disposed to chaff his prisoner in a mild kind of way.

"The experience was worth the money," the latter said. "My friend had
arranged everything. I got our dear Balmayne in our clutches within an
hour. And I said to him, 'Dog where is Leona Lalage?' And he professed
not to know. But we had means of our own, you understand, to make him
speak. And he spake at last. He told me where to find her. And where do
you think it was?"

"Well," Prout said thoughtfully, "seeing that you were traced to Lytton
Avenue I suppose that you found her there?"

"I did. So you see that she has not escaped from London. Perhaps you
knew that before you come here. Anyway I have told you. And I'll tell
you more if you are not aware of it already. Leona Lalage and the
Spanish gipsy of the Corner House are one and the same woman."

Prout nodded. All this was no news to him. Lalage paced up and down the
cell fiercely. His eyes were full of sullen fire.

"And she killed my brother," he said. "Oh, yes there is no doubt about
that. If I had not been a fool I should have been avenged last night."

"And spoilt my game," Prout said coolly. "Oh, you are going to have all
you need in the way of revenge, but in a legitimate way. Within a few
hours London is going to learn the mystery of the Corner House."



CHAPTER LIX.--Light in the Corner House


Gilbert Lawrence had put away his books and papers with the air of a man
who means to take a holiday. He did not seem in the least surprised.

"Are you astonished?" Hetty asked.

"Well, no," Lawrence said. "You see, the woman was taken by surprise,
she was quite destitute so far as money was concerned at the time, and
she must hide somewhere. At the same time we must not forget the
cleverness of the woman with whom we are dealing. She would argue to
herself that until she could communicate with some or another of her
many accomplices there could be no safer hiding-place than the Corner
House. The very audacity of it would put everybody off the scent.
Charlton hates the place and does not go near it--nobody wants to go
near it, in fact. So therefore it seems to me to be a natural thing to
do."

Hetty permitted herself the luxury of a smile at Gilbert's expense.

"Then why did not you suggest a search there?" she asked.

"That is a fair question," Lawrence admitted. "I put that out of my mind
because, as I told you before the main scheme of the tragedy was taken
from my skeleton plot. In that plot the cause of all the mischief goes
back to hide in the very spot where the mischief was done. Now, in the
course of my diplomacy I had to let the Countess know I had discovered
that somebody had used my brain for inspiration. Under the circumstances
she might not have carried the thing to the end."

"An additional proof of her clever and wonderfully logical mind," said
Hetty.

"On the whole you are doing her no more than justice," said Lawrence.
"Still, we do know where she is now, and I am going to see her. If she
falls into the hands of Prout now, we shall never get her to speak, and
therefore we shall have no end of trouble to clear Bruce's name as it
should be cleared. I'll just run round and get Charlton to accompany me.
And then for a thrilling interview."

Charlton complied without enthusiasm. In a few days he was going to have
everything in the Corner House sold, and subsequently dispose of the
property altogether. It was a little after four o'clock that he put his
key in the latch, and the two entered. A casual glance did not disclose
any marks of occupation, but there were traces of food in the kitchen
and some utensils had evidently been used.

"Look at the bottom of those saucepans," said Lawrence. "See how they
are smoked, at the same time there is no soot on them. Our quarry has
not dared to light a fire by reason of the smoke. It is quite plain that
Hetty was not mistaken when she said she saw a hand holding a kettle
over the gas. And, by Jove, this kettle is warm still!"

For a long time a search of the house disclosed nothing. Up and down
they looked, but no trace of Leona Lalage could be found. Under the
tiles of the roof was a small closet, and in a vague kind of way
Lawrence poked his stick in there. Something soft yielded to his touch.

"Will you kindly step out?" he suggested politely.

A dirty, grimy figure emerged, as unlike the dashing, brilliant Countess
Lalage as could be well imagined. Her face was white and drawn, but
nothing could dim the fire and flash of those wonderful dark eyes.

Ill and worn as she was she carried herself upright as if her black
dress had been a Paris gown. There was a bitter little smile on her
face. She was going to make the best fight she could under the
circumstances, but she was beaten. She had come to the end of her
resources and nobody knew it better than herself.

"I expected this," she said. "I knew that it must come sooner or later.
I am sorry that I cannot receive you in better fashion. Well, you have
hunted me down. What do you propose to do now?"

"To listen to your story," said Lawrence.

"And if I refuse to tell you any story?"

"In that case I shall ask you to listen to mine with what patience you
can. I have no desire to be in the least vindictive; it is a matter of
indifference to me whether you stand in the dock or not. Personally I
would go out of my way to save any woman from that indignity. But if you
will have it you must."

"But I do not share these views," said Charlton. "I recognise this woman
now, though she no longer wears any disguise. There stands my wife's
murderer. I shall never be content till the world knows that."

"I prefer to regard the lady for the present is Countess Lalage," said
Lawrence. "But we can find a better place for discussion than this."

He stood aside politely for the woman to pass. She led the way in her
imperious fashion as if they had been honoured guests of hers. She
carried her dingy dress magnificently. In the drawing-room Lawrence drew
the blinds so that they could see better. The garish light of day shone
on Leona Lalage's pale face, and disclosed the deep black lines under
her splendid eyes. Only the flick and tremor of her lips betrayed her
feelings. With her hands folded in her lap she waited.

"Are you not going to speak first?" Lawrence asked.

"No, I am not," came the slow reply. "Oh, you are a clever man, without
doubt, and you have the air of one who holds all the cards. It will be a
pleasure for me to listen to what you have to say."

Charlton rose, the woman's coolness and nerve were inflammable to him.

"I cannot stay here," he cried. "That woman maddens me. It brings back
all the recollections that I am trying to forget. I shall forget
myself--"

Lawrence laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Patience, a little patience," he whispered. "It is not for very long.
You will please stay here and see a confession signed."

"My confession!" Leona Lalage cried.

"Even so, Madame. I make no idle boast. Before I leave here the name of
an innocent man will be cleared."

Leona Lalage smiled unsteadily. Her lips twitched horribly.

"Go on," she whispered. "Go on, mine enemy."



CHAPTER LX.--Narrowed Down.


It was a curious scene, a scene to remember long afterwards. In all
Lawrence's imaginative writing he had never constructed anything more
striking than this. He was about to hear the story of a strange crime,
and it could not be told in a better setting than the Corner House.

The garish sunlight struggled through the grimy panes. Under ordinary
conditions the drawing-room was a luxurious one. But the fine dust of
years had settled upon pictures and statues and upon the upholstery of
the old Empire furniture. As Charlton paced to and fro a gossamer cloud
of dust seemed to follow him.

In the centre of it all sat Leona. Lawrence could see now that there
were marks and bruises on her face, the result of the auto-car accident,
which showed out now there was no artist to attend to them.

She sat with her hands folded in her lap grimly, patiently waiting for
the novelist to speak. He produced a cigarette.

"You won't mind?" he said.

"I will have one with you," Leone replied. "That will be more
comfortable. Now, will you be so good as to proceed?"

"We will go back to the beginning," Lawrence began. "Here is a very
beautiful and fascinating woman, living all alone in her wealth. Her
talents and her loveliness have taken her into the cream of society."

"Which isn't worth the trouble when you've got it."

"There I presently agree with you. But the lady I speak of is bound to
lead. Wherever she is and whatever walk of life she finds herself in,
she is bound to lead. She flashes out and dazzles London. She lives in a
fine house and entertains royally. But there is one thing that puzzles
me. Why does the lady reside so far from Park Lane or Belgravia or
Mayfair?"

"Lytton Avenue houses are large and they have gardens."

Lawrence smiled as he flicked off the end of his cigarette.

"It is very good of you to assist me in my deductions," he said. "But
that does not quite account for everything; in fact, it accounts for
nothing. There are finer houses in the localities I speak of, with
better gardens. And a lady who pays for nothing has no need to study
economy."

Leona laughed outright.

"I have paid for nothing for years," she said. "L'audace, l'audace et
toujours l'audace! But for circumstances over which I had no control I
might have gone on to my death. But proceed I am interested."

"Let us hope the story will proceed in grip as it proceeds," Lawrence
murmured. "I was interested too. This I say in effect to myself, is a
splendid woman in a halo of mystery. I must study her with a view to a
future heroine. I see her in the park where I can study her features.
After a time I come to the conclusion that I have taken up a magnificent
adventuress."

"Never a truer word in your life," Leona sneered.

"Well, I am glad not to have offended you. Incidentally I am not the
less interested because my young relative Hetty Lawrence holds a
position of some trust in the house of the heroine of the story. I say
to myself that I must know the Countess Lalage. We become quite friends,
in fact."

Leona smiled in a queer, strange way.

"Oh, yes," she said slowly. "We were friends. I bear you no malice. But
if I had only guessed--well, we should have seen something fresh in the
way of obituary notices."

"You would have removed me," Lawrence asked.

"Ay, I should. I should have put you from my path. Make no mistake about
that. But it is no use repining over that. Go on."

"Well, I study you. Then I begin to see my way. It was only the kind of
idea that would creep into the brain of a novelist who does not scruple
to endow even his most intimate friends with ferocious qualities for
business purposes. But I allowed myself to think that the reason why you
had come to Lytton Avenue was because you were in some way interested in
the Corner House. There you have the first faint indication of the
shaping of the story.

"Here in the dull and gloomy Corner House, with its dark and gloomy
tragedy, cheek by jowl with the hardness and glitter and brilliancy of
Lytton Avenue. If my adventurer wants a big dark cupboard to hide
things, where can she have a better one than the Corner House! If I bore
you--"

"Bore me!" Leona cried. "Never more interested in my life. Subtlety of
this kind always appeals to me. Proceed."

"Again, it is a little strange that I have already built a romance round
the Corner House before the heroine came along. I told you once that I
had known the owner of the Corner House before the tragedy. I had my
heroine and I had my plot. A plot of vengeance and wounded pride.

"But stranger still to say the live heroine yourself, is more deeply
interested than I imagined. We will say that she did a foolish thing.
She fell in love with one of her own guests--Dr. Bruce, to be plain."

Leona quivered but said nothing. It was only by a motion of her hand
that she signalled Lawrence to proceed.

"Well, this love came--the wild, unreasoning passion of the South. Dr.
Bruce was pushed on, his fortune was being rapidly made. Then my heroine
makes a discovery in strict accordance with the conditions of the game.
Her governess and the doctor are affianced to one another."

"It is always thus in books," Leona said, with a hard smile.

"Inevitably. But you were not in a book, unfortunately. You were flesh
and blood and you took your own way. You thought you had been slighted.
You made up your mind to get your revenge at any price. All the same,
you could not see your way. You wanted a neat plot to get Bruce into
trouble, for he had bad taste in not caring for you. You used the simple
expedient of stealing mine."



CHAPTER LXI.--Logic.


"Just a moment," Leona said eagerly. "Suppose I deny that. How are you
going to prove that I did so?"

"I am coming to that," Lawrence said, lighting a fresh cigarette. "As
soon as Bruce was in trouble and the plot began to reel off I saw that
it was mine. Of course there were large varyings in the details, but the
scheme was mine. It was even laid on the same spot as my skeleton story.
When I grasped that, I knew quite well that somebody must have stolen my
plot."

"But why must it have been me?" Leona asked.

"'Well, in the first place, because woman's instinct helped me. My niece
said for some time that you were deeply in love with Dr. Bruce and that
she feared for him--item the first. Then I recollected telling you some
details of my story plot--item the second. I came to the conclusion you
had stolen my plot. And you stole it on the very night that I told you
the main incidents."

"How did you find that out?" Leona cried, startled off her balance.

"Glad you admit it," Lawrence said calmly. "When I went to look for the
synopsis I knew perfectly well that I should not find it. And yet it was
there only the day before, as I recollected afterwards. Now, how did you
get it? The night in question you were only out of the room a little
time, and yet in that little time you contrived to lay your hands on my
notes."

"This," Leona murmured, "this is quite thrilling."

"Well, I promise you I shall be more thrilling later on," said Lawrence.
"I had to settle that part before I went any further. I tried to recall
the conversation. How could you have got into my rooms? Then it came to
me like a flash. A journalist who stood by asked me where I carried my
latchkey--a joking suggestion that he would steal my plot. I said that
it was in the ticket pocket of my overcoat."

"Then I began to understand. You were only a little time from the room.
Why did you go from the room? Ostensibly to see Captain Gifford off in
his new autocar. Here was a possible solution. I saw Gifford later, and
he told me that you had been larking off in his car for twenty
minutes--long enough at that time of night to get to my chambers and
back easily.

"That is logical, at any rate. But to go further. You borrowed a man's
coat to put over your shoulders. And the coat you borrowed was mine with
the latchkey in the pocket. That I got from a footman. And when I came
to look for my skeleton plot, it was gone. Then I knew where I had to
search. Leona Lalage was at the bottom of the Corner House mystery. It
was her hand that I had to force. Once that was done the rest was easy."

"So far you have made it quite plain," Leona murmured, "but I fail to
see that all the rest was easy."

"Easy to me," said Lawrence, "whose plot had been stolen. Remember it
was really I who planned that business of palming the notes on to
Bruce."

"Of course, of course," Leona murmured with her hand to her head. "My
mind has not been quite so clear for the last few days. Go on."

"Well, a man had been murdered at the Corner House, which was not a
detail of my plot. I saw that man, and Miss Lawrence had seen him, too.
She saw him, you will remember, one night in one of the windows of the
Corner House. She saw a struggle go on there. The other man was no doubt
Balmayne."

Leona inclined her head as if in consent.

"Afterwards, which is much more to the point, my niece saw Leon Lalage
here. I had better call him your husband, because really there is no
denying that. The man was in your house in the morning-room, and Hetty
saw him. After the business of the notes came out and the story of the
Spanish gipsy was told. I knew perfectly well what had taken place. You
had called Bruce in to your drunken husband by means of your new motor,
and Balmayne playing the deaf mute. After Bruce was gone you killed the
man with a knife you procured at Rosser's, in Regent street. I find the
knife in the dry well behind the house."

Leona said nothing. There was a queer, strained look, half of
admiration, on her face. But she uttered no protest, no denial.

"Now we come to the marvellous evidence against Bruce. There you had
stolen my plot, body and boots. Bruce was poor, so was my hero. You find
out all about that picture he bought, and Balmayne or somebody--it does
not in the least matter who--in the guise of a Dutchman puts Bruce in
possession of L200. These notes he places in his pocket.

"Later on he is called to the Corner House, where he is received by the
Spanish lady, and then he has to handle a man in the last stage of
collapse. The latter part of the plot is your own, and from an artistic
point of view, a great improvement on mine. Murder and robbery make a
fine combination. You had previously arranged the proceedings, the
notes, and their numbers--adopted or suggested doubtless by you as a
precaution--the letter to Rene Lalage and all to be found on the body.
If you can plant those numbered notes on Bruce, then he is ruined for
all time.

"Having gone so far, the rest is easy. And this is where my scheme comes
in again. Bruce has to take his coat off. In the guise of the Spanish
lady a slight variation of my mysterious woman--you hang his coat up
carefully in a closet for him. You knew that L200 in notes was in that
pocket, notes that Bruce had come by quite honestly. The rest is easy."

Leona bent forward to listen. Even Charlton seemed to have forgotten his
troubles for the moment. A beam of light illuminated his sombre face.

"Go on," said Leona. "Nothing seems to be concealed from you. Now please
tell me what happens next."

"The simplest thing in the world. You took the packet of notes from
Bruce's pocket and supplied their place with the forty L5 notes, the
numbers of which were sent out in the letter which Leon Lalage had
intended for his brother. And when Bruce went away he had that damning
evidence in his pocket. And that is how that vile, shameless thing was
done."



CHAPTER LXII.--Confession.


For the first time Lawrence showed signs of indignation. Cool and
logical as he had hitherto been, he could not quite restrain himself in
the presence of this woman, who had no shame or remorse, or anything
save admiring curiosity.

"Directly Bruce told his story," he went on presently. "I knew exactly
what had happened. I knew all about the motor car also. Then it was time
for me to act. I was using the house as a kind of trap for you one night
when Mr. Charlton appeared. He was good enough to pardon the liberty we
had taken, and to tell us his story. Then I began to see my way pretty
clear. It was I who caused you to be informed about the missing diamonds
being still in the well. I had found out that you were in desperate need
of money. Isidore let me into that, also through him I got to know
Maitrank. You came for the diamonds, but you did not get the real ones,
for the simple reason that I had already been down the well and got them
for myself. They were simply and plainly set, so that I had no trouble
in getting paste imitations.

"So far, so good. Maitrank come on the scene and asks for his money. You
have no money, therefore you give him your diamonds. You try to get them
back from him, but you fail in the long run, owing to the courage of a
young girl, who has watched the whole proceedings. I have purposely
refrained from dwelling upon the valuable aid Miss Lawrence has given us
all through."

Leona passed her tongue over her dry lips.

"I wish I had known," she murmured. "Oh, I wish I had known."

"I dare say," said Lawrence drily, "but you didn't know. There would
have been another murder on your soul had it not been for my niece.
Maitrank was furious. But he was a valuable ally to me, in fact I
calculated on that. By his means I forced a confession from you that it
was yourself who paid the rest of those notes to Isidore, and this I can
prove out of your own mouth, by the production of that tuberose perfume.
You were mad and desperate that night to part with the last of your
store."

"How did you know it was the last of my store?" Leona cried.

"Why, it could not logically have been otherwise. Would you have
produced those notes above all others if they had not been the last you
possessed?"

"True," Leona murmured, "true. You are too strong for me."

"Meanwhile the clouds were gathering around you. Prout finds your
husband's brother by a happy chance. Once he has done this, things
become easy for us. The more easy they become for us the more desperate
they grow for you. Then you decide that you must recover those notes
from Isidore. You take out your motor car, so cunningly disguised in
black-lead--"

"That is true; but how did you know?"

"From Miss Lawrence's evidence at the first inquest. Also the evidence
of the reporter. The car was draped, they said. In places it shone.
Those places were where the lead was rubbed off; you could make the car
sombre black and brilliantly light at will.

"You used to lock it up in the yard here. We find a fresh cake of
blacklead in the scullery, which completely puzzled me for a little
time. When I heard about the autocar I knew. But we are getting away
from the point. When luck turned against you it did so completely. You
got into Isidore's rooms, only to find Mr. Charlton there, who was
waiting for him. Again fortune favoured us. Mr. Charlton gave the alarm,
and you had to fly. At length the motor was abandoned, and its secret
disclosed. You disappeared. Sooner or later I was certain of seeing you
again."

"You were. Why? I was quite certain--"

"Because my desperate woman hides by the scene of her crime. I was a
little dubious about you because that comes out in my plot. Perhaps you
counted upon that, and the fact I should not look for you here, after
all. It was a game of subtle cross-purposes. But I did look for you
here, and I found you. It is a rather long story that I have had to
tell, but it has been necessary. And if I repeated it in a court of law
I am afraid it would cause you serious inconvenience."

"It would hang me," Leona cried. "Why should I be afraid to confess it?
You have been too strong for me. Every word you have said is true, every
step you have taken has been fully justified. I was going to defy you at
first, but I am not such a weak and silly fool as that. I have had a
clever antagonist who has beaten me all along. I have been criminally
careless. If I had taken the trouble I could have evolved as good a plot
as one of your own."

"I fancy you could," said Lawrence. "I am absolutely certain of it. I
took you for a dreamer. I argued that if I used this thing you would not
be an atom the wiser. People who talk so much about their own work as
you do are generally very foolish."

Lawrence looked a little confused for a moment. He knew his own weakness
in that respect.

"I have little more to say," he went on. "I have written out a
confession for you in a more condensed form than I have explained to
you. I thought that you might like to sign it. Not that it much matters
whether you do or not."

"The more reason why I should do so," Leona sneered. "If it did really
matter, I would see my right arm rotting off before I put a pen to
paper. But I have had a most worthy antagonist, and I know the game too
well not to play it correctly. Give me a pen and let me finish it."

Lawrence took a fountain pen from his pocket. Without the slightest
hesitation and in a good dashing hand Leona Lalage appended her
signature. It was a great deal more firm and true than either of the
witnessing signatures.

"Now you go and leave me," she cried. "I am sick of the sight of your
faces. Give me a chance. Let me have an hour's start."

Charlton spoke for the first time.

"Never," he cried, "there is another name to clear--"

"Which I shall be able to do," Lawrence interrupted.

"And let that woman go? I tell you never. The very stones in the street
would cry out at me! You hear that knocking at the door? Go and open
it."

Lawrence crossed and opened the street door. Prout stood before him.



CHAPTER LXIII.--A Final Verdict.


"Got a message from Mr. Charlton to follow him here," Prout gasped. "You
don't mean to say that you've got her here, sir?"

"Indeed he has, Mr Prout," Leona said coolly. "Will you come in? We have
been having a pleasant conversation with some pleasing confessions. Have
you come for me?"

The woman was smiling now quite freely. All traces of passion and
anxiety were gone. She knew the end had come, and she was prepared to
accept it without complaint. Prout looked a little awkward as he bowed.

"I shall not slip through your fingers in the same way as before," said
Leona. "I flatter myself I did you very neatly when you called upon me
in Lytton-avenue. But all the same I am going to escape you."

"Its my duty, madame," Prout began, "to ask you to--"

"Accompany you. Presently, but not quite in the way you imagine. I have
made my confession in a way that Mr. Lawrence thoroughly appreciates. It
was I who murdered Leon Lalage, my husband, in this house; it was I who
palmed those notes off on Dr. Bruce. No reason to tell you why now. And
it was I in this very house who robbed my late mistress of her jewels
and forged the letter from her husband that caused her to take poison.
After that I have no more to say. Gentlemen, I am much obliged by your
kind attention, and I say farewell to you, thus."

There was a warning shout from Lawrence, who dashed forward and grasped
the speaker by the wrist. But she wrenched herself away from him, and
placed the table between them. Prout was looking on in a confused kind
of way.

"Close with her," yelled Lawrence. "She's got poison in her hand."

Leona Lalage laughed aloud. She threw back her head, and a few drops
from the little bottle were tilted between her teeth. Almost instantly
she grew livid.

"Swift and sure," she said "It's prussic--"

She said no more. The ashy pallor of her skin grew whiter, there was a
look of horror, swift as summer lightning, in her splendid eyes. Then
she pitched forward, there was a thud and a pile of dust, and she lay
there rigid, motionless.

"Dead," whispered Prout: "dead instantly. It was prussic acid. The whole
room reeks of it. Perhaps it was as well to finish it this way. There'll
be an inquest now and the whole business will come out."

They laid the body on a sofa, and the trio left the Corner House. They
were very silent as they walked along.

"Some houses are accursed," Charlton said at length. "Mine has been the
abode of mystery and crime for years. I shall never enter it again. And
may this be the last of the evils connected with my house."

"Must attend the inquest, sir," said the practical Prout. "Still, if
that was my house, I'd pull it down if I couldn't sell it."

Gordon Bruce was returning from an important consultation when he first
heard the news. It was the sensation of the hour. Public attention in
the Corner House mystery had never relaxed; on the flight of Countess
Lalage it had doubled. Where had she gone, and what was the true
solution of the mystery were the only questions asked.

And here it was all out in the lurid light of day. Dramatic arrest of
the Countess. The suicide and confession. It was flaring in the evening
papers--the boys were yelling at the top of their voices in the street.
The din of it filled Bruce's ears. 'Confession of the crime.' 'The
confession of the murder.' 'The mystery of the motor explained.' 'Dr.
Bruce cleared of the cruel charge.' It seemed strange to Gordon to hear
his name yelled out like this in his own ears. He had a paper thrust
into his hands.

He bought one eagerly enough, and stood spellbound on the pavement
whilst he read. It was all here, even down to a signed copy of the
confession. Lawrence had seen to that. Bruce turned into his club in a
dazed kind of way. The smoking-room was full, he was the centre of a
group, all of which seemed eager to shake hands. It was all so sudden
that Bruce was not himself yet.

He got away at length to his own room. The servants greeted him with
smiling faces, the housekeeper was in tears.

"Not that I ever believed it," she said. "Never from the first. And now
you'll have the finest practice in London. I'd quite forgot, sir, to say
that there is a young lady waiting for you."

There was no need for Bruce to ask who was waiting for him. He closed
the door behind him, and a second later Hetty was in his arms. Then
there was a long clinging caress, and their lips met in the sweetest of
embraces. It was a long time before either of them spoke. Hetty's eyes
were full of happy tears.

"I shall realise it presently," Bruce said at length. "My darling. I
should never have had my good name cleared thus but for you. You are the
bravest girl in the world. And all those dangers for me!"

"I was not afraid, dearest," Hetty said.

"I thought of you. I knew it would come right. I felt from the first
that the truth would come out. And now all those people have gone.
Bruce, you will not be sorry for this after--"

The telephone jingled sharply. Bruce listened to the message with a
smile.

"The Duchess wants me to see her boy at once," he said. "The Duchess you
know; the one who so annoyed you at Lady Longmere's party."

Hetty clapped her hands joyfully.

"That is a good omen," she said. "They will be all after you now, dear."

Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks glowed with happiness. Bruce looked at her
with pride and love in his eyes.

"I dare say," he said. "And it has been a long trying time. Hetty, we
shall be able to get married as I planned. What do you say to July or--"

"You had better," Hetty said demurely--"you had better run away and see
to your Duchess."



The End



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