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Title: A Clue In Wax
Author: Fred M White
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: A Clue In Wax
Author: Fred M White


Author of "The Phantom Car," "The Grey Woman," "The Riddle of the Rail," etc.

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald,
Thursday, 10 July, 1930.



CHAPTER I.

Clifford Cheriton emerged from the bathroom into his modest sitting-room
in a blithesome frame of mind. For it was one of those perfect April
mornings of which the poet Browning speaks so feelingly, and which
seldom comes in what is traditionally a month of tender greenery and
sunshine. But here was an afternoon--because it was afternoon--full of
flickering lights and shadows and even in the dingy square outside the
prim house in Bennett-street the lilacs were in full bloom, and here and
there a laburnum about to burgeon into its yellow chains. An afternoon
for youth and happiness and everything that goes to make life a joy even
in a drab London street.

In the tiny sitting-room Cheriton's landlady had placed his breakfast on
a table near the window so that he could command some sort of view of
the outside world, and to his bacon and eggs the occupant sat down with
the healthy appetite of an athlete and a man who has little or nothing
on his conscience. There were sporting prints on the wall, a hanging
bookcase containing some five hundred volumes, ranging from Anatole
France's 'Revolt of the Angels' to Manning Foster's latest manual on the
subject of auction bridge. So that it will be seen what a catholic taste
in literature Cheriton possessed. In one corner of the room was a bag of
golf clubs, and on the mantelshelf a rather elaborate silver clock
bearing an inscription to the effect that the owner had won it in the
open mile of the Lanchester school sports 15 years before. Which in
itself was a proof that here was one who had made his mark in one of the
finest scholastic institutions in the country. And to complete the whole
thing, on a peg behind the door were a policeman's helmet and a blue
tunic with three stripes on the arm from which the intelligent observer
would have judged that Cheriton was connected with the police force.

The intelligent observer aforesaid would have guessed right, because
Clifford was a sergeant in the special reserve and had won that position
after three years' service with the Metropolitan Force. Not an unusual
thing to happen in these hard times, when a public school career counts
for little in the battle of life, and many a youth who had set out a few
years before with lofty ambitions had come to regard himself as
fortunate to occupy the front seat in a taxi-cab. And this, in a
measure, had been Clifford's career up to now. Just a sergeant of
police, connected with the Criminal Investigation Department, and the
hope that some day he might rise to inspector's rank.

But it had been a hard row to hoe. A whole year in the humblest capacity
possible for an officer of the law, then, by fortunate chance, the best
part of another year chasing a fugitive from justice across the American
continent, followed by an extradition case that lasted for months. Yet,
on the whole, his time had not been wasted, because it was all
experience, and it was going to help him later on as one of his
superiors had told him only a few days before.

Time was when Cheriton had had ambitions towards literature. That,
indeed, had been the line he had cut out for himself when he left school
and one he had pursued until it had ended in a blind alley and something
like starvation. Criminology was the subject that most fascinated him,
and this it was that had impelled him to the writing of a novel, which
had for a basis the study of an original criminal and the psychology
that goes with the type of lawbreaker who sets out deliberately to prey
on society, much in the same spirit as some men regard adventures in
unexplored portions of the globe. There had been one or two short
stories of Clifford's published in the magazines and a rather longer
effort which had won the approval of the literary agent in whose hands
he had placed his work. But whilst the grass grows the steed starves,
and there had come one bitter moment when the would-be author had to
decide between a potential literary career and something in the nature
of starvation. By this time he had nearly completed his novel, which was
in type so that he had to throw it aside for some months and only work
at it at odd times when he was off duty. And in this work he had been
encouraged by the girl who had done his typing for him at a price that
had barely paid for the paper on which it was written and who now, in
some way or another, seemed to have slipped out of his life.

Anyhow, the story was finished, and for the last eight or nine months
had been in the hands of Messrs. Amber and Lawrence, the famous literary
agents in Whitefriars-street. They had succeeded in finding a publisher
for the book, and had also arranged for its simultaneous appearance on
the other side of the Atlantic. And there, for the moment, the matter
rested.

"Of course, we shall be glad to see anything else you like to send us in
the meantime," Lawrence had told Cheriton, "I don't suppose we shall
hear anything about the book for months--perhaps not for a year. You
see, the publishers are not under contract to supply an account for nine
months after the book appears, and it will be difficult to tell whether
it is a success or not until they communicate with us. Let us have what
you can, my boy--forget all about your novel. When there is anything to
report I will write to you."

And so Cheriton had gone on with his work, trying to convince himself
that there was an end of his literary career. Anyway, there was no time
now to think even about short stories. But there were optimistic moments
when he indulged in day-dreams of future glory, and in these dreams he
could see the eager blue eyes and wistful beauty of Evelyn Marchand, the
girl who had taken so keen an interest in the book when she was acting
in a small capacity as Cheriton's secretary.

What had become of her, he wondered. He had tried to trace her again on
his return from America, and get her to go on with the work in which she
had proved so fine an inspiration. But she had vanished, leaving no
trace behind. She was little more than a girl, working hard to keep
herself and a widowed mother by means of a typewriter and making but a
poor success of it. A pretty girl, more than a pretty girl, with a
delicacy of feature and a natural refinement that told Cheriton plainly
enough a story. The story of a girl well-bred and born and fighting
bravely against adversity and misfortune. There was something in the
perfect spring afternoon that brought that dainty face and charming
smile back vividly to Clifford's recollection.

He put this out of his mind for the moment as he ate his breakfast,
which was a belated meal seeing that he had come off night duty at 4
o'clock that morning, and was free now, not only for the rest of the
day, but for tomorrow as well, it being his monthly day off. Then, when
he had despatched his eggs and bacon and lighted a cigarette, he took
from the mantelpiece a letter which had arrived by that morning's post.
Without any premonition of events he carelessly tore open the envelope
and found that it was a short note from his agents, Amber and Lawrence,
from whom he had not heard for months. It was a mere request that
whenever the recipient had half an hour to spare, the people in
Whitefriars-street would be glad to see him on a matter of considerable
personal importance.

Forty minutes later, Clifford was seated in the luxurious office of the
junior partner and regarding with somewhat envious eyes a series of
black deed boxes with white lettering which were ranged all along one
wall of the room. And on these white letterings were the names of men
who were household words wherever the English language is spoken. Great
novelists, most of them, and Cheriton wondered, half whimsically, if
ever his own name would appear in that glittering constellation.

"Ah, sit down, Cheriton," Lawrence said. "Help yourself to a cigarette.
I dare say you were beginning to wonder if you were ever going to hear
from us again."

The speaker was a tall, spare man with a slightly greying moustache and
a monocle in his left eye. A keen, shrewd individual whose mouth
betrayed a sense of humour.

"Oh, I don't know," Clifford said modestly. "You warned me that it might
be months and, besides, I have been pretty busy in other directions. And
it doesn't matter much whether the book turns out a success or not. You
see, I am a sergeant now, with a promise of promotion, and I have one or
two friends at court who will help me as long as I help myself."

"Yes, I quite appreciate that," Lawrence smiled "I must say you don't
look much like a policeman."

Clifford smiled in his turn. In his suit of pearl-grey twill,
beautifully polished brown shoes and old Lanchester tie, he was about
the last individual in the world to be taken by the man in the street
for a mere policeman.

"However, let us get to business," Lawrence went on. "I heard from
Gardiner and May the day before yesterday with a first account of the
sales of your book. And, by a curious coincidence, this morning, we
heard also from our New York office with a report of the sales on the
other side. My dear young man, do you realise that you are about to
become famous?"

"It hadn't struck me," Clifford said dryly.

"Well, you are. I dare say if you had read the papers you would have
observed what favourable notices your book received on this side. Don't
you ever look at the papers?"

"Very seldom. Just to scan my favourite news sheet and that is about
all. I don't agree with Gilbert that a policeman's life is not a happy
one, but it's dashed hard work and doesn't leave much leisure for
recreation."

"No, I suppose not. Now, see here. Up to the time this account was made
up your book had sold five thousand copies on this side, which means
that the publishers have sent us a cheque for just over L250. That you
can have, less our commission, and take it away with you if you like."

"You don't mean that?" Clifford gasped.

"Indeed I do. And, what is more, the book is selling rapidly. I
shouldn't be at all surprised if you don't made L1000 out of what is
called the library edition. And that is only one side of the matter.
Now, I read your book before I sent a typed copy to America, and I was
sanguine that the American scenes in it which were the result of your
experience over there would attract a good deal of attention. As a
matter of fact, they have. Up to the present moment over nineteen
thousand copies of the book have been sold in the United States, and
that means over L1500 for you. At least the cheque speaks for itself."

Cheriton gazed with open-mouthed astonishment at the speaker.

"Oh, I assure you I am not joking," Lawrence laughed. "That story of
yours is going to be one of the best sellers in America. When the
Americans once take up a thing they don't let it go. Now, what do you
say to an offer for three novels on a 16 per cent basis with L100 each
for the serial rights, and, in addition, a series of six short stories,
annually, at L150 a story."

"Good Lord," Clifford gasped. "Do the Americans pay like that?
Wonderful!"

With a sweep of his hand, Lawrence indicated the white-lettered boxes on
the wall.

"Look at those names," he said. "Known all over the world. Celebrities,
every man jack of them. Making incomes that a Cabinet Minister would
envy. But not on this side, my boy, not on this side. The big money
comes from the States. And that is where yours is coming from in future.
Don't make up your mind in a hurry. You have a career before you, apart
from writing, which may easily become a distinguished one. On the other
hand, you should be able to make four or five thousand a year for a long
time to come by your pen. It doesn't matter if you don't earn a penny in
England; you are going to get it in the States. You will leave here
presently with the best part of L2000 in your pocket, and if you like to
sign the contract, the draft of which our New York agent has sent us,
then there is L1500 a year certain for the next three years. But, as I
said before, don't decide in a hurry. Come back in a few days and let us
know your decision. Personally--but never mind that."

"I have decided now," Clifford said crisply.

"I am quite keen on my present work, but my heart has been with pen and
ink ever since I left school. And I am sure, without boasting, that I
can do better than I have already done. Of course, I have had no time to
write, but on lonely night duty I have had plenty of time to think, and
I have dozens of ideas pigeonholed for both long and short stories. If
you don't mind, I should be glad if you would put this matter through
for me and, when those contracts are ready for signature, I will come
along and sign them."

"Ah, that is just what I expected you to say," Lawrence smiled. "And I
think you are right. Mind you, I am not saying that I am altogether
disinterested, because we are always on the lookout for new clients. Do
you know, that book of yours interests me for more reasons than one. The
psychological study of your criminal is most fascinating. It strikes
quite a new note. And thereby, in a way, hangs a tale. A lady client of
ours sent us a long short story a few weeks ago which, she writes, was
written from notes she made a year or two ago. The treatment was so like
yours that both my partner and myself were struck at once by the
similarity. It was just as if you had been talking over your story with
her and inspiring her. Don't misunderstand me, there is no suggestion of
plagiarism, but it is just as if you had discussed your story at length
with her and she had founded hers on a new angle you had discovered."

Clifford looked up swiftly.

"Is that really so?" he asked. "Of course, I don't want to be personal
and I don't want to ask any impertinent questions, but I wonder if you
would tell me the name of the lady in question. That is, of course, if
you think you can place her story and she is going to publish it under
her own name. If she is using a 'nom de plume,' then please forget that
I asked the question. I have a good reason for asking it."

"Oh, I think we shall place the story easily enough," Lawrence said.
"The lady sent it to us in her own name, and there was no suggestion in
her letter that she wanted to hide herself behind a 'nom de plume.' I
asked her to come and see us, because I think we can do quite a lot with
her."

"And the name?" Clifford asked rather breathlessly.

"The name is Evelyn Marchand."

"Strange, most strange," Clifford murmured. "Before my work was
interrupted and I had to go to America, a Miss Evelyn Marchand did my
typing. I dictated most of the story to her, and she came to my lodgings
for the purpose. I--"

"Would like to meet her again," Lawrence smiled.



CHAPTER II.


Before Clifford could reply a clerk came into the room and laid a
visiting card on his employer's table. Then he vanished as quietly as he
came.

"Now, there is a strange thing," Lawrence said. "This is Miss Marchand's
card. She has evidently called to see me on business, and if you like to
hang about in the waiting-room for a bit, I will tell her that you are
here."

Clifford rose immediately, and for the next quarter of an hour was
cooling his heels in the waiting-room. Then the door opened and Evelyn
Marchand came in.

The same Evelyn Marchand he had known two years before, and yet not the
same. The same almost spiritual beauty, the pleading eyes of clearest
blue, the sunny, rather wistful smile, and the crown of auburn hair. But
no longer the timid child in a cheap, home-made frock, but one who had
suddenly become accustomed to that definite luxury of surrounding which
spells prosperity. She was dressed almost as simply as ever, but it was
the simplicity of art allied to that Parisian exclusiveness of cut and
texture which every daughter of Eve would recognise at a glance, and
which merely fascinates man and puzzles him. But directly the girl
opened her mouth and held out her hand Clifford knew that there was no
change here.

"Oh, Clifford, this is delightful," she said with that dimming
naturalness of hers. "I had wondered what on earth had become of you.
You disappeared in the most extraordinary way. Just in the middle of a
chapter of your book. And never a word to me except that you were
leaving England on business. And I have been wondering ever since if I
did anything to offend you."

"Offend me," Clifford cried. "My dear girl, you couldn't possibly do it.
I couldn't tell you where I was going because it was police business and
my lips were sealed. When I went away I thought it would be for a month
instead of which I was on the other side of the Atlantic for nearly a
year. But why this amazing change? You are not going to tell me that you
made that powder-blue frock, simple as it looks."

Evelyn laughed joyously.

"You can't deceive a policeman," she said. "But I might ask you the same
question. You would hardly call yourself in plain clothes, would you?
You are not going to tell me that the suit you are wearing came from
anywhere but Bond-street."

"Saville Row as a matter of fact," Clifford smiled. "My one
extravagance. I bought myself a spring and autumn suit on the strength
of being made a sergeant, and my old tailors let me have it practically
at cost price. But what about yourself? You are not-er-well, not
exactly--"

"Married," Evelyn said roguishly. "Oh, no."

"Going to be, perhaps," Clifford said greatly daring.

"Not even that, you impertinent person. At least, I--I don't think so.
But it is quite a romance. Many months ago I happened to see an
advertisement in 'The Times,' asking for information as to any family
called Marchand. It was only by a bit of sheer luck that I saw it whilst
I was waiting in a house in Grosvenor-square in connection with some of
my typing. Now, as you know Marchand spelt with a 'c' is a very uncommon
name, and I am under the impression that my mother and myself are the
only two people in the country who can claim that name. I don't think I
should have worried about it, only my mother insisted. So I went to the
address of a firm of solicitors in Lincoln's Inn Fields with all the
evidence I could collect and, after a few days, I heard from those
lawyers that their client was the Earl of Seagrane who is absolutely the
last of his line. They told me he was a rich old gentleman, living in an
ancestral seat called Seagrane Holt, which is on the South Kent coast,
and that as he had no heirs and no one to succeed him, he was anxious to
trace anyone bearing the family name of Marchand with a view of--well,
adopting them. So when all the preliminaries were over, my mother and I
went down to Seagrane Holt and--well--there we have been ever since.
Isn't it a romantic story?"

"Wonderful," Clifford cried. "I am not going to ask you if you are
happy, because you have happiness written all over you."

"Oh, you couldn't help being happy at Seagrane Holt," Evelyn said. "It
is such a glorious old place, with old family servants and everything
just as you read it in Peacock's stories. And then he is such a dear,
kind old man. His life is a romance. He was very wild in his youth, and
when really a boy, ran away to sea and was lost sight of for over 50
years. He became a caddie on some American golf links, and when the late
Earl died and he was advertised for he was working in the professional's
shop making clubs. Of course, he never expected to come into the title,
as when he left England there were half a dozen people between him and
the earldom. However, he did come back when he was obliged to, and,
because he was so lonely and so out of things in England, he advertised
for relatives. And he says mother is a godsend, because she is such a
splendid chatelaine. She seemed to take to managing that great household
in the most natural way. But the Earl is quite a character in his way,
and he hates anything like ceremonial or fuss. So long as the house is
run properly and he gets his golf, which he plays regularly at
Sandchester--"

"Ah, Sandchester," Cheriton replied--or, rather, interrupted with a
half-sigh. "What happy recollections that name conjures up. I used to go
down there with my father every summer before the crash came, and those
days I shall never forget. Do you know, Eve, I have always promised
myself a week-end cottage at Sandchester if ever I was fortunate enough
to attain such a luxury. There was a thatched house there, on the high
ground beyond the golf links looking out over the sea, with woods behind
and--Oh, well, you know the sort of thing I mean."

"Of course I do," Evelyn said. "Why, the park at Seagrane Holt runs
right down to it. Isn't the place you mean just behind the seventh
hole?"

"That is the spot," Clifford cried almost excitedly. "But perhaps it has
been pulled down by now?"

"Indeed it hasn't," Evelyn said. "It is used as a kind of storeroom for
odds and ends. It is part of Lord Seagrane's property. I know it very
well."

"Now, this is almost like a fairy story," Clifford smiled. "Do you think
his lordship would let it to me on lease? I would put it in repair and
see that it was no disgrace to the property. Do you think it could be
managed?"

"I am quite sure it could. I have only to ask anything in reason, and
Lord Seagrane will be only too delighted to meet my wishes. He really is
the dearest old man. Not the popular conception of a great nobleman,
because, you see, he had practically no education, and, for the most
part, his life in America was a very hard one; but the kindest-hearted
man. But what is all this talk about? Are you telling me that you have
suddenly come into a fortune or something of that sort?"

"Upon my word, Eve, you are not far wrong," Clifford laughed excitedly.
"Let me tell you all about it."

In a few words he outlined the extraordinary events of the last hour.
How something like fame had come to him out of the blue, and how, all at
once, he had blossomed from a mere policeman into something very like a
celebrity.

"Wonderful, isn't it?" he concluded. "This morning I hadn't a five-pound
note to bless myself with, and now I am in possession of nearly L2000
and the promise of a good deal more than that, annually. So I am going
to give up being a detective and devote myself to literature in future.
But what a remarkable thing it is that I should find you here just when
Lawrence was telling me of my amazing luck. By the way, he told me
something more than that. He was saying just now that you had also
written a promising story something on the same lines of my type of
work. And then I informed him that you used to act as a sort of
secretary to me. And almost before I had finished telling him a clerk
brought in your card. There is a fate in this. But then I always knew
that we should meet again some day. But, tell me, how was it you
happened to be up in town?"

"Well, I came up to do some shopping, and also to see to a commission
that Lord Seagrane gave me. So I thought that I would call on Mr.
Lawrence to see what he thought of my story."

"You are going back this afternoon?"

"Oh, no," Evelyn said. "Not till to-morrow, anyway. I am on my own after
6 o'clock and I am staying the night at a private hotel in
Mount-street."

"Splendid!" Clifford cried. "In that case, you are going to dine with me
and perhaps we can do a show afterwards. Something wildly extravagant in
the way of a dinner to celebrate the occasion. I believe that I have a
respectable dress suit somewhere or another, and if I can't find it,
then I will hire one. But perhaps you have some other engagement."

Evelyn responded to the effect that the evening was entirely at her
disposal and that she had not been looking forward to it with any great
amount of pleasure.

"I was thinking of looking up an old friend of mine who is secretary to
a city merchant," she said. "But we need not worry any more about that."

"We won't," Clifford said promptly. "Now, look here, you have some work
to do and so have I. If you give me your address I will call for you at
7 o'clock and, meanwhile, I will engage a table at the Clarendon. I have
not been inside that place for five years, though I believe the old head
waiter is still there and will be glad to see me for my father's sake."

On this understanding they parted and, shortly afterwards, Clifford
returned to his lodgings with Lawrence's cheque in his pocket. That he
would pay into the bank the following morning and, meanwhile, he had in
ready money the necessary funds for the evening's entertainment. His
first business was to look up the dress suit he had not worn time out of
mind, to discover that it had not suffered, though perhaps not quite so
up-to-date as he would have liked. A hurried visit to a neighbouring
tailor and the application of a skilfully used hot iron worked wonders,
so that, later on, it was quite an immaculate young man who set out on
foot to pick up his companion in Mount-street.

He had a good deal to think about as he walked along. His own future for
one thing--a future so bright and glowing that he almost trembled when
he thought of it. As if by the lifting of a fairy's wand, he had been
raised almost miraculously from a lowly position in the police force to
something that was very nearly akin to fame. At any rate, he could see
before him now the prospect of a splendid income for many years to come,
and the knowledge that he was his own master, to work when he liked, and
turn his intelligence to that class of literature to which he felt
himself to be best fitted.

And Evelyn. What a beautiful girl she had grown into! She had always
been pretty and attractive with a certain appeal of her own which had
stirred Clifford profoundly. He was beginning to realise now, with
something almost like a shock, that he had always cared for Evelyn
Marchand, though he had never, by word or sign, shown her in what
direction his feelings lay. It would have been selfishness personified
to have done so. As a mere humble member of the police with no prospect
before him, it would have been almost cruel on his part to have made any
attempt to engage the affections of a girl who had come to him in the
first instance as a mere matter of business.

But now everything was changed. For Evelyn was no longer a child
struggling to make money enough to keep herself and her mother from
starvation, but a lovely girl on whom prosperity and happiness had acted
entirely for the best.

So Cheriton walked along the West End streets with his head high in the
air and a feeling in his heart that he had the whole world at his feet.
He did not even care to consider the possibility that the Earl of
Seagrane might have had other views for his attractive young relative.
It was pleasant to know that the present head of the Seagranes was no
haughty aristocrat, but a man who had had to struggle hard in a harder
world and was, therefore, devoid of the shibboleths of the class to
which he had been born. Sooner or later, he would have to meet this old
man and--oh, well, the future could take care of itself.

Here was Evelyn awaiting him, a dainty vision in sea-green with shoes
and stockings to match. A perfect figure of budding English womanhood
with a smile on her lips and a look in those glorious blue eyes of hers
that set Clifford tingling from head to foot. It was as if fortune was
showering all her gifts upon him at once and the knowledge had gone to
his head.

"Splendid," he said. "I suppose the right thing to do is to compliment
you on your frock, isn't it? I have been so long a lonely policeman that
I have forgotten all the little amenities. But you look stunning."

"That is very nice of you," Evelyn smiled. "All the more so because I
believe you mean every word you say."

"And a good deal more than that," Clifford said emphatically. "Now, let
me call a taxi."

"The extravagance of it!" Evelyn mocked. "On a lovely night like this I
should much prefer to walk. Wait a minute till I get a wrap."

She vanished, to reappear again almost immediately, and together they
walked down the street, with Evelyn happy and gay and not realising
exactly what a proud and happy man it was who strode along by her side.
Nor did she seem to be in the least conscious of the attention she was
attracting as she walked across the floor of the Clarendon grill-room to
the table at the far end, which Clifford had engaged an hour before. It
was that beautiful unconsciousness of hers and the sweet serenity with
which she surveyed the room which was not the least of her charms.

It was the head waiter himself who piloted them to their table laid out
for two and saw that they had every attention.

"Capital chap, that," Clifford said when the coffee and liqueur stage
was reached. "It is extraordinary what memories these head waiters have.
That man recognised me directly I came in, though I have not been inside
these walls for five years. He remembered my father and told me how
honoured he was to have the opportunity of waiting on a Cheriton once
more. He seemed to be under the impression I had been abroad all this
time. But I don't doubt for a moment that he knows all about the family
misfortunes, to say nothing of the fact that I am a mere policeman. All
very soothing to my vanity."

"All very pleasant, I am sure," Evelyn said. "Do you know, I have never
dined in a place like this before. I felt horribly frightened when I
came in and wondered if I should do anything that was not quite right
and proper. You see, this is practically my first visit to London since
we went down to Seagrane Holt. It is all very wonderful and fascinating
and some of those women's dresses are marvellous. Gives me a sort of
Arabian Nights feeling. I could sit here watching for hours."

"Well, let's," Clifford suggested. "Unless you would like to go on to a
music hall or something of that sort."

"Oh no, Clifford, I am quite satisfied as I am, to sit here and watch
these people coming and going. It gives me the feeling that I am in the
great world at last. Mind you, I wouldn't change Seagrane Holt for
anything that London had to offer me."

"As ideal as all that," Clifford smiled. "Then you don't find it dull
down there occasionally?"

"Dull, my dear boy, how ridiculous. That lovely old house, filled with
all sorts of wonderful treasures. Pictures and tapestries and furniture
almost priceless. Then the gardens and the lawns and the wonderful
trees! The late Lord Seagrane would have had to sell it if he had lived
much longer. It was quite a mercy in its way that my dear old benefactor
happens to be on exceedingly rich man."

"Oh, is he? How does that come about? I understood you to say that he
worked on some American golf links."

"Yes, that is true enough," Evelyn explained. "But every now and then,
he got the wanderers' fever and went off exploring. Alaska and the
Yukon, and all that kind of thing. Then he would come back again, sure
of his old job because he was a fine workman, to settle down for a year
or two, and then off again. And, eventually, he became really rich. As
far as I can gather, there was a trip he took with an Englishman named
Canton, and they found a copper mine. Canton hadn't any money, but
plenty of friends in the city, and they financed the scheme. Just before
the late earl died, his successor realised all he had made out of that
last desperate adventure, and was prepared to spend the rest of his days
in America, when he came into the title and estates, and came home, very
much against the grain. His partner died in the meantime, and, by some
means or another that I have never had properly explained, contrived to
lose all his money. He had a son called Andrew Canton, who had not long
come down from Oxford, and had nearly qualified for the Bar, and it was
characteristic of the dear old man that he should seek out Andrew Canton
and induce the latter to come and live at Seagrane Holt."

Clifford was conscious of a certain uneasiness which he would have found
it hard to account for.

"And what is the young man like?" he asked.

"Oh, presentable enough--quite the finished product of Oxford. A good
sportsman, but a little rash and impetuous, and, I fancy, a born
gambler. Not that it matters much, because, some day or another, he will
be master of Seagrane Holt and a huge fortune, which will necessarily be
attached to it."

Without quite knowing why, Clifford was not displeased to hear this.

"Oh, then, you are not going to be the nursery story type of heiress?"
he asked.

"Oh dear, no," Evelyn said emphatically. "Lord Seagrane made that quite
clear when we first went to Seagrane Holt. He told my mother and myself
that he was under the deepest obligation to Andrew Canton's late father,
and that, in any case, most of what he had would go to the young man in
question. Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel a sort of conviction that there
was a sort of tragedy behind that statement, because the earl spoke so
strangely about it. He was communicative and yet, at the same time,
reticent, and I seemed to see in his expression a shadow of shame. Of
course, it might be my fancy, but I can't shake off the impression.
Still, it has nothing whatever to do with me, and I am thankful to know
that my mother and myself will be well provided for."

"That is good hearing, at any rate," Clifford said thoughtfully. "I
suppose, to round off the story properly, you and this young man Canton
ought to fall in love with one another and receive the old man's
blessing with the assurance that now he can die happy. You know the sort
of tale I mean."

As he spoke, Cheriton saw the flush on Evelyn's cheek, and a certain
unsteadiness about her lips. Then she laughed, but the laughter did not
seem to ring exactly true.

"That would be a fitting ending, wouldn't it?" she almost challenged.
"But don't you think we are looking a little far ahead? However, you
will be able to judge for yourself when you come down to Seagrane Holt.
When I get back there to-morrow, I shall tell the Earl all that has
happened, and how I met a valued friend who badly wants to rent a
cottage close to Sandchester golf links. Do you know what will happen
when I tell the old gentleman that?"

"How should I?" Clifford asked.

"Well, he will tell me to write you a letter asking you to come down and
stay there for a bit. The mere fact of your being a friend of mine will
prompt him to suggest that at once. And when he hears that you are a
golfer, he will welcome you with open arms. And if you want that
cottage, I am sure you can have it."

They sat there talking happily for the best part of an hour until Evelyn
rose and expressed a desire to leave.

"Why the hurry?" Clifford asked. "And why are you looking across at that
table in the opposite corner?"

"Did you notice that?" Evelyn asked. "You see those men there? I am sure
they are talking about us. The eyes of the taller of the two make me
feel quite uncomfortable. Very silly, of course, but--"





CHAPTER III.

As Clifford and his companion left the restaurant, a pair of bold eyes
followed Evelyn's retreating figure with a mixture of boldness and
malignant intensity that would have caused Clifford's blood to rise if
he had only seen it. Then the door closed behind them, and the tall man
with the magnetic eyes turned to his companion.

"That is the girl," he said. "I spotted her when I was down at
Sandchester last week. Funny that I should have run up against her here
to-night. I wonder who her companion was."

"Oh," the other man said. "That chap Canton, I suppose."

"Oh dear, no. Canton is a different type altogether. I saw him on
Sandchester links, too. He is fair, with grey eyes and a yellowish hair
that curls a bit. You saw Miss Marchand's friend was dark, and I should
say a real he-man by the look of him. Pleasant enough in his way, but an
awkward customer to tackle. When I run up against a man with a mouth
like his, I always give him a wide berth, if possible. It's a dashed
funny thing, Dan, but I have an idea I have seen that guy before
somewhere."

"Oh, is that so, Walt?" the other man drawled. "If so, it must have been
in the States. Bit awkward, if he recognised you, wouldn't it? Rather
spoil our game, eh?"

Walt Bradmain smiled reassuringly. He was a fine figure of a man, well
set up, cultured and easy in conversation, with every suggestion about
him of one who has been accustomed to mix with good society all his
life. His companion, Dan Cleaver, was of shorter, stouter build, but not
without natural advantages, for he would have passed anywhere as the
type of Englishman who is quite at home in country houses where horses
and the performance of them on the racecourse is the main topic of
conversation. Altogether, two very presentable individuals, as was
testified by the assiduous way in which the waiters attended to their
wants. Still, in a flashing glance he had of them as he passed out,
Clifford Cheriton had sized them up in his mind as two exceedingly
choice specimens of the higher strata of criminality. In which he was
not far wrong. But it took a trained eye like Clifford's to see under
the hard and glittering surface, and it was only when the waiters had
retired from the table that the two occupants relaxed from their
splendid superiority and aloofness into what nature had intended them to
be.

"So that's the girl, is it?" Cleaver asked.

"That's the peach," Bradmain responded. "Yes, and I guess one of the
ripest on the tree. A real good looker if ever I saw one. And it is she
who is going to spill the beans for us unless I am greatly mistaken."

"But, say, old hoss," Cleaver responded. "What's that young woman gotter
do with it? Why, old man Seagrane didn't know she was alive a few months
ago. He was going to leave everything he had got to young Andrew Canton
as we know. Didn't he tell Nance Carey so? And didn't she pass the word
on to you?"

"Yes, that's right enough," Bradmain said. "But then old man Seagrane is
not the first venerable ruin that fell for a pretty face, and, mind you,
Canton is playing a fool's game. The old man has paid his debts for him
twice and it won't be long before he is asked to do so for the third
time. Guys that make their pile hard ain't fond of pulling out their
wads to pay a lot of cardsharps and moneylenders. Course, we know he
made his will in Canton's favour, and we know pretty well where that
will is to be found. But if the young cub kicks over the traces too far,
and that lovely bunch of flowers we saw go out just now plays her hand
right, then Seagrane might change his mind and she will get away with
the lot. And if that happens, where do we come in? Mind you, we took a
risk in coming over here--"

"Did we?" Cleaver grinned. "I thought we left the States more or less
for the benefit of our health."

"Well, something like that, perhaps. But not entirely. I figure it out
like this, Dan, we pool our capital and come over here to put it over
old man Seagrane. And I reckon we've only got about four thousand
dollars left. It costs big money to hit the high spot in this country,
playing at being rich colonials and staying at the best hotels. What we
have got to do is to clear out of here as soon as possible and go down
to Sandchester for two or three weeks' golf. We can put up at the Dormy
House there on the cheap, and get away with about forty or fifty dollars
a week. Don't you forget that if old man Seagrane dies without a will,
practically all that he has got goes to the State."

"But we know he has made a will, Walt."

"Oh, we know that," Bradmain said impatiently. "But what is to prevent
the guy altering it? And if he does, Canton will get next to nothing,
and we shall be in the soup. Four thousand dollars clean wasted. That is
where the danger of the girl comes in. When I was down at Sandchester, I
kept my lamps skinned, and I see a few things. And I kept my ears open
and I heard a lot more. I tell you, that peach is the real nigger in the
woodpile if you know what I mean."

Cleaver drummed thoughtfully on the table with his finger nails. He
looked up furtively.

"You are not suggesting any violence, are you?" he whispered. "Because
that ain't in my line, pard. Besides, it's crude and too much like
Chicago for my taste. Don't you forget we are not gunmen, whatever we
used to be in the happy past."

For some time the two men sat there talking in undertones, and keeping a
sharp look-out lest the waiters who hovered about their table should
catch a word here and there that was not intended for alien ears.
Outwardly, at any rate, they were almost faultlessly correct. They had
just that air of bland patronage and familiarity which is permissible
between servants and their masters amongst those who have been born to
the purple. Then presently they paid their bill and passed out into the
road, where they took a taxi to the nearest music hall, and, for the
rest of the evening, gave themselves up to the pleasures of the West
End. They were in no hurry, whatever their quarry might be, and now that
they had made up their minds what to do, and how to accomplish their end
at a minimum outlay, there was nothing else to worry about.

Meanwhile, Cheriton had accompanied Evelyn back to her hotel and said
good-night to her on the doorstep. As he turned away and strolled off in
the direction of his rooms, he told himself that he was the happiest man
in Europe.

Not that he was unduly elated or in the least carried away by the
wonderful spell of good fortune which would have overwhelmed a less
level-headed individual. But then, Cheriton had been through the mill
for three years, and a hard battle he had found it. To begin with, there
was the stern, rigid discipline of the police force--hard enough to a
young man who had left school with apparently all the world before him,
only to find, a little later on, that the sudden death of his father had
left him penniless. Everybody had been astonished to discover that one
of the most brilliant men at the English Bar, and one in the enjoyment
of a princely income, should have frittered everything away in a series
of the wildest speculations. But there it was, and Clifford had had to
make the best of it. Nor was he the type of youth to turn to his
father's many friends for assistance. He would fight his own way in the
world and, like many an ambitious youth of the same bent, he thought he
could see his way to fame and fortune through his pen. And now, at long
last, that weapon had proved a trusty one. Now he could go to the
superintendent in the morning and tell him that, so far as he was
concerned, the police career was at an end.

Not that the time had been wasted, because Clifford's intimate knowledge
of crime and criminology, obtained at first hand, was going to stand him
in good stead in the line that he was cutting out for himself. Almost
before he had reached his lowly lodgings, he had sketched out the rough
outline of a plot for his next story.

And yet, he was dimly aware that there was a fly in the ointment
somewhere. It was all very well to step into a fortune and find the girl
he had been unconsciously looking for almost at the same moment, but
there was more to it than that.

Had he found her too late? Three years is almost a lifetime to a woman
between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two, and it was plain enough
that Evelyn had developed amazingly in that time. She had grown from an
exceedingly pretty child into a divinely beautiful woman, and, moreover,
it had been plain enough to Clifford that her mind had developed almost
as perfectly as her body. She had rather fenced with him when he had had
the temerity to ask if she had bestowed her affections in any particular
direction, and he remembered how she had flushed when she had parried
the question. Then, again, there was the fortunate individual named
Andrew Canton who had been marked out to succeed to the Seagrane estates
and the huge income that went with them. What sort of a young man was
he? Evelyn had spoken fairly well of him, with a hint of that motherly
suggestion that so often leads to a deeper and warmer feeling. Anyhow,
Clifford was going to find out. As soon as he had freed himself from his
responsibilities he would go down to Sandchester and spy out the land
for himself.

With this resolution uppermost in his mind. Clifford let himself into
his apartments with his latchkey, and half an hour later was in bed and
asleep.



CHAPTER IV.


The grand old Tudor pile known as Seagrane Holt stood on an eminence
some three miles from the South Kent coast. The front of it faced the
park, beyond which were the sand-dunes and, beyond them again, the
famous Sandchester golf links. A year or two before, the house had been
practically closed, for the late earl had found it hard enough on a
sadly depleted income and heavily mortgaged lands to keep up a dozen
rooms or so in a state of decent occupation, though he had steadfastly
set his face against discharging any of the old servants, every one of
whom had been born and bred on the property. The shooting and fishing
had been let, and the long array of glass houses had fallen almost into
a state of decay. There was only one head gardener, and he made the best
of a bad job, seeing that at times there was not even enough coke on the
premises to keep the furnaces alight. The lawns had grown long and weedy
and the paths covered with green moss. All very picturesque from a short
distance, but very lamentable from a close point of view. But all that
was changed now. When the present holder of the title had come home, he
had arrived more in a spirit of curiosity than anything else. There was
none of the pride of race or sense of position in him. He had left home
far too early for that, and in all his years of wandering and adventure
he had hardly given the house in which he had been born a single
thought.

But blood and tradition will tell and, almost before the new earl had
realised what a precious heritage his was, the place had got hold of him
and he had plunged enthusiastically into a scheme for bringing it back
to its pristine beauty.

He was a man of little or no education, but certainly not lacking in
shrewdness and common sense. And he had seen in a flash that here was a
paying proposition if it was only properly handled. He instantly
abandoned the idea of letting the house and going abroad again, and
decided, sensibly enough, that here was a haven for his old age beyond
all his dreams. He was full sixty years of age, and, despite his
splendid health and virility, he was beginning to feel that he was not
exactly the man he used to be. He had a natural sense of the artistic
and beautiful, and here was a chance of gratifying it to the full.
Scores of workmen of various sorts came down from London, extra
gardeners were engaged, and, such is the power of money, within a few
months Seagrane Holt emerged, with all its glories and traditions, more
brilliantly than ever.

But though the great reception rooms with their panelled apartments and
the long picture gallery were no longer hidden in dust and gloom, and
the electric light scintillated where smoky oil lamps had feebly
illuminated those treasures before, there was a sense of loneliness that
oppressed Seagrane and refused to be shaken off. True, he had looked up
Andrew Canton, the only son of his late partner, and established him at
Seagrane Holt, with a more than promise that the place would be his own
some day, but the sense of loneliness and want of companionship lay over
the old man like a nightmare. Nor was he getting along with young Canton
quite as well as he had hoped.

He found the young man practically doing nothing and earning no more
than a pittance in some questionable occupation. There was a reason, and
a very strong reason indeed, why Seagrane wanted to do the best he could
for the son of the man who had helped him to found his fortunes, and he
was honest in his intention to do so. But, somehow or another to the
shrewd man of the world Canton did not ring quite true. There was
nothing the matter with his breeding or his manners or his sense of
sportsmanship, though he seemed to be lacking in the finer points. He
was vain, egotistical and headstrong: moreover, he was a born gambler.
Not one of those shrewd, calculating gamblers who study games of chance
with a view of self-aggrandisement and watch the fall of the cards much
as a sportsman studies the form of a horse. He was more of the
hot-headed, impetuous clan--a man who would have been prepared to gamble
away the last penny he had, even if he had a wife and family depending
upon him. It seemed to Seagrane that what he lacked was ballast,
something to keep him on an even keel and arouse in him a proper sense
of responsibility. He would be away for days at a time, and then return
in a sullen mood which invariably ended in a confession of some
speculating folly with more than a hint that Seagrane should step into
the breach and save the situation. Already, Seagrane, making due
allowance for the folly of youth, had done this on two occasions. And he
had given the impetuous youth a broad hint to the effect that he was not
prepared to do so again.

"What you want, my lad," the old man said. "Is some steadying effect. I
don't mind you having your fling, but you are thirty years of age now,
and it is time you began to realise that you haven't as many brains as
you think. Until a young man does this, he is likely to be at the mercy
of any well-dressed card-sharper who comes along. Now, look here, son, I
have been making inquiries about some of your so-called friends, and it
seems to me that they are a pretty shady set. I have knocked about the
world all my life, and I flatter myself that I can recognise a rascal,
even if I meet him in the dark. You have got to settle down. I don't
want to rub it in, but, I ask you, what were your prospects when I
turned up and dragged you out of the city? Pretty darned thin, eh? Now,
here is one of the finest properties in the land, with its place in
history and all these family treasures got together by men whose names
are famous, to say nothing of the means of keeping it up. It will be
practically all yours one of these days if only you have sense enough to
hold it down, but I am not such a darned fool as to give you the
opportunity unless I see a change for the better. I would rather make it
a home of rest for broken-down gamblers. And that is about all, my boy.
But I mean it--yes, I mean it all right."

Canton listened rather sullenly, with a frown on that weakly handsome
face of his.

"Oh, I know I have been a fool," he admitted grudgingly. "This is some
place, of course, but it is dull, infernally dull. You don't seem to
cotton to your neighbours and I am not going to blame you for that,
because they strike me as a set of duds, too. But what is a paradise
without an Eve or two in it?"

Seagrane looked shrewdly at the speaker. "Boy, you have said it," he
exclaimed. "I never thought of that. Of course, we do want some women."

It was after this conversation that Seagrane set about finding relatives
of the family. And, in the end, Evelyn and her mother were invited down
to Seagrane Holt for a short stay, which ended in their taking up their
quarters under that splendid and hospitable roof. Moreover, the scheme
was a success from the first moment. The house badly wanted a mistress,
and in Mrs. Marchand they found it. There was no veiled opposition in
the servants' quarters, the mere fact that Mrs. Marchand was born at
Seagrane Holt herself was quite sufficient for those who found
themselves under her gentle and persuasive sway.

And within a week of Evelyn's coming there wasn't even a dog on the
estate that was not her devoted slave. Old Seagrane chuckled and rubbed
his hands as he saw how well everything was going, and said nothing,
though he smiled to himself when he realised that Andrew Canton had been
at Seagrane Holt for a whole four months without the slightest sign of
restlessness or a disposition to run up to London on one of those
expensive flights of his, and the old man's mind was beginning to see
the realisation of all his dreams.

Andrew Canton, a reformed character, married to Evelyn. With a wing in
the great house placed at their disposal and in the future the chatter
of children and the patter of their feet in the old corridors.

Yes; that was the idea. So, for the present, at any rate, there were
peace and tranquility under the ancient roof-tree and the promise of
even better things to come. It would have been, perhaps, wiser of the
old man if he had not so openly hinted to Evelyn at the dream in the
back of his mind. She liked Canton because he was young and by no means
unattractive. He could be amusing when it pleased him, and, so far as
outdoor sports were concerned, he could hold his own with most people.
And so it seemed to the girl that she might do a great deal worse,
though she knew perfectly well that her heart was not touched, and that
Andrew Canton had no thrill for her. Still, gratitude is a fine feeling
when it is genuine, and perhaps but for that meeting with Clifford in
London--.

It was about twelve o'clock on the morning following the encounter with
Cheriton that Evelyn returned to Seagrane Holt and found the Earl
sitting under one of the ancestral cedars on the south lawn, placidly
reading his 'Times.'

"Hello, my dear," he said. "Got back, have you? Well, did you find
London looking much the same as it was when you last saw it? Want to go
back there and live, by any chance?"

"Oh, no, uncle," Evelyn smiled. "That is the first time I have been in
London since you came into our little house at Dalston like a great big
fairy and spirited mother and myself down here. I feel as if I never
wanted to see London again."

The old man looked at Evelyn fondly. It was just the sort of remark he
had hoped her to make, and it pleased him immensely.

"That's right, little girl," he said. "That's right. Well, what about
that story of yours?"

"Oh, I think that is going to be all right," Evelyn said. "Mr. Lawrence
was quite pleased with it. He encouraged me to go on, and I think I
shall. And then when I had talked with him I had quite an adventure."

"You don't say. Spill it."

"Well, it was like this. Did you hear me speak of a man called Clifford
Cheriton? No, I don't think you ever did."

"Sounds like the hero of one of your own stories," Seagrane chuckled.
"Tell me all about him, honey."

"I was going to, uncle. You see, when I was little more than a child,
and trying to get a living with my typewriter, I met Mr. Clifford
Cheriton quite accidentally, and he told me he wanted some typing done.
I don't really believe he did, because he was only a policeman who
thought he could write, and I am sure that he had to go without one or
two little luxuries in order to pay me for my work. I didn't realise it
at the time, but I discovered it afterwards. I did work for him for
about a year, and then he had to go to America before the long story we
were engaged upon was finished, and I lost sight of him altogether. You
can imagine how surprised I was to meet him in Mr. Lawrence's office,
and to hear that he had made a tremendous hit with the book that I had
helped him with. The novel has been an immense success in America, and
it is going to be just as popular on this side. Anyhow, Mr. Cheriton
left Mr. Lawrence's office with me with nearly L2000 in his pocket, and
commissions lasting him for years. I don't believe he was half as
pleased as I was. He is going to leave the police force and devote
himself to writing in future."

"He seems to have told you quite a history," Seagrane said dryly. He did
not fall to notice the girl's heightened colour. "I guess he was
flattered at the interest you took in his work. But that was rather a
high spot for a policeman, wasn't it?"

Evelyn laughed happily.

"Well, you see, Mr. Cheriton is not an ordinary policeman. His father
was Sir Charles Cheriton, K.C., and one of the most famous barristers in
London. He died not long after Mr. Cheriton left school, leaving the
latter nothing. I think it was an extraordinarily plucky thing for
Clifford Cheriton to go into the police force like that and work himself
up to sergeant's rank in so short a time. If he had stayed where he is,
he would have gone very far. But I am sure he has made a wise decision."

"You seem to have had a pretty long talk."

"Yes, uncle, we did," Evelyn said demurely. "You see, he took me to dine
at the Clarendon last night on the strength of his great good fortune,
and I suppose we were pretty intimate. And, oh yes, I had almost
forgotten. When Mr. Cheriton was a boy he used to come down here with
his father every summer holiday to play golf. And he says they were the
happiest times of his life. And now that he is independent and must have
his exercise regularly, he wants to come down here whenever he likes."

"Oh, he does, does he?" Seagrane said dryly. "Attracted by the beauty of
the neighbourhood, no doubt."

If Evelyn saw the point, she wisely ignored it and allowed it to pass
serenely over her head.

"Partly, I suppose," she murmured. "But I think more for old
associations' sake than anything else. He spoke of different spots in
the neighbourhood, more particularly about that old cottage of yours on
the sand-dunes at the back of the seventh hole. He said that he had
always wanted to buy that and make it a week-end cottage. One of the
little dreams a poor man has when he begins to see that fortune is not
altogether against him. And if he can't buy the cottage, he wondered if
you would let him have it on a long lease."

"Yes, and I suppose he persuaded you to put it to me just like that,
knowing that I can refuse you nothing," the old man chuckled. "What's he
like? Is he one of those pretty boys?"

"Certainly not," Evelyn cried indignantly. "He is a splendid type of
man. Anyone who has gone through what he had without complaining must
ring true. I thought you would like to have someone of that sort to play
golf with yourself."

"Shrewd kid," Seagrane chuckled. "There is not a man in the world who is
keener on a game of golf than I am. But it is not everybody I care to
play with. Give me a real good sportsman who will play the game for its
own sake and doesn't make an excuse for every bad stroke he makes. And
doesn't want to have bets on. There are only about half a dozen people
down here that I care to turn out with, though I am able to hold my own
with most of them at my handicap."

"Oh, don't be so modest," Evelyn laughed. "Your handicap of scratch is
by no means a complimentary one, and I am sure the committee here didn't
give it you simply because you are president of the club by right of
your title, and the fact that you are the landlord of the links. I am
certain you would enjoy a game against Clifford."

"I thought it was Cheriton just now," Seagrane said shrewdly. "Oh, well,
it doesn't much matter. Then I suppose you want me to let that young man
have a lease of the cottage, is that it?"

"Yes, uncle," Evelyn said frankly "I want you to let him have a long
lease of it so that he can furnish it to please himself and play his
golf, and do his writing in a spot where there is no one to disturb him.
Of course, I am not going to ask you to do this until you have seen him
first."

"Well, I dare say that can be managed. When does he want to come? I
suppose it will take him some time to clear up his affairs in London and
all that sort of thing."

"Oh, no, I should think not. He told me he would be free by the end of
the week. And if he can manage that, he will come down here on Saturday
and put up at the Dormy House. Then you will be able to see him early
next week--"

"Dormy House nothing," the old man replied. "If that young man is a
friend of yours, he is a friend of mine. I suppose, haply, he has met
your mother?"

"Oh, yes, he knows mother," Evelyn explained.

"Well, you tell her all about it and ask her to send the guy a note
saying that I shall be glad to see him as a guest here this week-end and
he can stay as long as he likes, and she can mention, too, the matter of
the cottage, and if I find this beau of yours is half you say he is,
then he can have it on a lease for as many years as he chooses. Fact is,
we don't have half enough people down here. Now, you run along to Ma and
fix the whole thing up and leave me to my study of English politics,
which is more than I can grasp at times."

"That is very nice and kind of you, uncle," Evelyn said gratefully.
"I'll go and ask mother to write that letter now."



CHAPTER V.


Clifford Cheriton was, however, not destined to get clear of London
quite as soon as he expected. On the face of it, all that he had to do
was to hand in his resignation and take leave of his colleagues within
the next seven days. But when he presented himself at Scotland Yard on
the Monday morning his superior officer greeted him with the curt
information that there was a rather important piece of work to be done
and that he, Cheriton, must think himself exceedingly lucky to have part
of it placed in his hands. He looked at Inspector Merrick in dismay.

"Well, what is biting you now?" the latter rasped. He was one of the
older school that is fast dying out and believed in direct methods. A
man of little education who had obtained his present post partly by
influence and partly by a sort of dogged determination which had often
led him to follow up successfully a clue that cleverer men had
abandoned. "You look at me as if I had done you a mischief, instead of
putting a real class job in your way. What's the matter with you?"

"Oh, nothing," Clifford said. "Only I came up this morning on purpose to
tell you that I was leaving in a week."

"Oh, did you?" Merrick snorted. "That more or less depends upon you, my
lad. Come into a fortune or something of that sort? Or getting tired of
hard work."

"Well, perhaps I have come into a fortune," Clifford smiled. "At any
rate, I have prospects, and substantial ones, which make it possible for
me to live very comfortably without working at all. At least, what you
would call work. And if it is all the same to you, I should like to say
good-bye to the Yard on Saturday."

"Well, you won't," Merrick snapped. "At least, not until you can get to
the bottom of a bit of business in connection with a strange affair at
the Grand Park Hotel. We can't have chaps like you coming in at a
moment's notice and wanting to go. Now, look here, Cheriton, I don't
want to stand in your way and I don't want to appear nasty, but, with
one thing and another, we are bunged up here and there is nobody I can
think of who can take your place. If you hadn't been for about a year in
America, the assignment would have gone elsewhere. But there is not
anybody just now who knows the States, and that is where you come in. If
you can get the thing through within a week, well, then, you can pack up
and quit. Or perhaps you might get it far enough advanced and leave
somebody else to round it off. But you are not going to leave us in the
lurch in this casual way."

"I don't want to," Clifford retorted. "It is rather a nuisance, but
still, I am at your disposal and there is no occasion to say any more
about it. What's the idea?"

"Well, it's like this," said a slightly mollified Merrick. "There is an
American woman staying at the Grand Park Hotel who rang us up last night
saying that she had been robbed of a whole lot of jewels. It appears
that, instead of handing them in to the office of the hotel, as she
ought to have done, she kept them in a small steel-lined trunk concealed
under a false bottom. At least, that is what she says, and I am bound to
confess that the list she supplied us tallies with certain purchases she
made from time to time at Tiffany's in New York. We have more or less
proved that by telephone. Fine thing, that Atlantic telephone, eh? A bit
expensive, but likely to prove useful to us in the long run. But I am
getting away from the point. I have seen this lady and I am inclined to
think that she is telling the truth. She has been staying where she is
for the last fortnight, and when I heard that she hadn't paid her bill
because she had not received certain remittances from New York, I
thought it was a put-up thing. She told me that she had pawned a diamond
ornament in the Strand, seeing that she had run out of funds, and when I
came to inquire into that she was sure enough telling the truth. I have
never heard of her before, but she says she is well known on the other
side of the water as a vaudeville actress."

"What is her name?" Cheriton asked.

"Name of Nance Carey."

"You don't say?" Cheriton exclaimed. "I know all about her. At least,
all about her that is necessary for my purpose. She is not quite in the
first flight, but very near it. I happened to come across her in
America, and she was introduced to me by a man high up in the police
force. She started life somewhere in the wilds of Arizona, where she
lived the life of a cowboy. She can ride and shoot with the best of
them, and I believe that she knows all the mining camps in the
Northwest, because she played in what the Yankees call one-hoss towns
all over the mining district, when she went on the stage. Exceedingly
good-looking and smart as they make 'em, But clever in an unscrupulous
sort of way and always ready to turn admiration to account. But what on
earth is she doing in England?"

"I asked her that," Merrick replied, "and I didn't get a particularly
satisfactory reply. However, that is nothing to do with the case. I want
you to go down and see her and get her own story, and, afterwards, see
what you can do for her. In the meantime, she is more or less in pawn in
her hotel."

Swallowing his disappointment as best he might, Cheriton went off to the
Grand Park Hotel, and, a little later, found himself seated in the
private sitting-room of the bereaved actress. He remembered her
perfectly, but he was not altogether displeased when he found that their
recognition was not mutual. Miss Carey did not even call his name to
mind when he mentioned it. She looked up from the card he had given her
and favoured him with one of her celebrated smiles.

"So you are Sergeant Clifford Cheriton," she asked. "Come to help me in
my trouble. Well, I should say we shall get on very well together. You
look more like a gentleman than a policeman."

"I suppose it is possible to be both," Cheriton smiled.

"Not in America, not there by a whole street," the actress smiled.
"Leastwhile, there may be exceptions, but I never met them. Now, you
just sit down on that settee and we'll have a heart-to-heart talk. It's
like this. I thought I would quit for a few months and take a long
vacation. I have had a pretty hard life and I want to lie on the shelf,
sonny. So I packed up my grip and I came East on the first Cunarder I
could catch. Then I stayed in Paris for a few weeks, and when I landed
in England I was what you call broke to the world. But there were funds
waiting for me in New York, and I cabled for a remittance. It didn't
come, because my business man had gone off to California for a spell, so
I had to do the best I could till he got back. But it was darned
awkward, because I had no friends on this side and only a few cents in
my wallet."

"That must have been very distressing," Clifford murmured.

"I'll tell the world it was. And me stranded in England with nothing but
my name to go on, and putting up at a swell hotel like this where my
suite alone costs me a hundred dollars a week. Now, I ain't saying that
is an extortionate charge, but it is pretty salty when you have got
nothing but a few dimes in your pocket."

"Quite a new experience for you, I suppose?"

"Well, it is and it isn't. I have known the times out West when I have
had to lie in bed for the best part of two days waiting for a square
meal. And I have been out on the prairie with nothing between me and
starvation besides a hunk of stale bread and a bit of dried meat. But I
wasn't worrying much, because I know my remittances will come along in a
day or two, now. So I just slipped out a day or two ago and put a
diamond bracelet in soak. That gave me about a hundred dollars to carry
on with, but it didn't pay my bill or anything like it. So I told the
manager of this hotel exactly how I stood, and I guess he had to make
the best of it."

All this with a dazzling smile and a flash of white teeth, just as if
the actress was relating some pleasing experience.

"It would have been better, perhaps," Clifford suggested, "if you had
handed your jewel case to the manager and asked him to put it in the
hotel safe."

"Yes, we can all be wise when it is too late, can't we? Between you and
me, I did show him a few of my pretty things, and I guess that satisfied
him that I wasn't just an impostor. But when he hinted that I might let
him take care of those diamonds, I told him that they were safer with
me, and that was what you call the end of the first chapter."

"You mean that you kept them in your own possession?"

"I guess I did. Now, I am not going to say a word against the manager of
the hotel, because my experience is that those sort of people don't
talk, and, again, he gave me good advice, which I was foolish enough to
ignore. And why? Well, I'll tell you. I have got a sort of suitcase that
isn't altogether a suitcase as much as a light safe. Cane on the outside
and the lining, metal. Just the sort of thing no one would take any
notice of because it looks like the kind of case a woman would keep odds
and ends in. And in that case is a false bottom, and in that false
bottom I kept all my jools. Sounds a bit like the house that Jack built,
doesn't it? Now, I put that case in my dressing-room and locked it away
in a wardrobe. I know the contents were safe the night before last,
because I looked to see. You understand I was contemplating another deal
with my friend the pawnbroker in the Strand, and I picked out an emerald
clasp that seemed to suit my purpose. A few hours later--just after
breakfast, as a matter of fact--I decided to change the emerald for a
ruby, and then I found what had happened."

"Everything had vanished, in fact?"

"Every blessed bit. And, mind you, the lock hadn't been forced, neither
had the lock of my dressing-room door. And if you gave me all the money
in all the world, I couldn't give the ghost of a guess as to how the
thief found out that I was carrying my jools in that case or that there
was a false bottom to it. Anyway, the jay got away with the lot, and now
I have only got a few dollars till I hear from America. I have given the
manager of the hotel an address in New York he can call up by that new
Atlantic telephone service so as to establish my respectability or
whatever you like to call it, and I believe he is going to do so. But
that has got nothing to do with you, Mr. Detective. Your business is to
find out where my jools have gone and how they were taken. I tell you I
was real hopping mad when I made that discovery of my loss, because I
have just got to sit here cooling my heels and reading the newspapers
till I hear from my business man in New York. It may be a week longer.
Meanwhile, I am just like a pampered canary in a golden cage without the
means to open the door. Say, can't you help me?"

"I will do my best," Cheriton said. "Now, first of all, have you told
anybody about your loss?"

"I guess I am not that sort of mammy's girl," Miss Carey dimpled. "I
never squealed, even when I saw that there was nothing in the bottom of
the cage. I just rang the bell quietly for the manager and told him what
had happened. He is a wise guy, and I quite agreed with him that not a
single word of this should be spoken to anybody but the police. I don't
think there is a person in the hotel who knows that I have been robbed."

"So much the better," Cheriton replied. "All you can do for the moment
is to make the best of your loss and your unfortunate position.
Meanwhile, I will go and interview the manager and come back to you when
I have anything to report."

The manager of the Grand Park Hotel confirmed in every detail what
Cheriton had just heard.

"I am afraid I can't help you, sergeant," he said. "At first I thought
it was some new sort of trick that was being played upon me by a mere
adventuress who found herself unexpectedly unable to meet her bill. But
when I saw those jewels, I had to change my opinion."

"You are quite sure they were genuine."

"My dear, sir," the manager said impressively, "I have handled too much
of that sort of thing in my time to be deceived. I should say that those
gems were worth between twenty and thirty thousand pounds. I tried to
persuade the lady to hand them over to me for safe custody, but I didn't
worry much when she refused. You see, it was no funeral of mine.
Besides, I gathered from the chambermaid who looks after the suite that
Miss Carey's wardrobe is worth almost as much as her jewels. And when I
had a satisfactory reply from New York, of course I didn't worry any
more about it. So if you imagine that this is a case in which the
manager of the hotel bought a gold brick, you are entirely mistaken. I
have every reason to believe that Miss Carey is one of America's leading
actresses."

"Well, not quite that," Cheriton demurred. "But she has a big reputation
in the musical comedy line. When we met just now I didn't remind her
that it wasn't the first time that we had been face to face, but, as a
matter of fact, I was introduced to her in New York, though she has
entirely forgotten it. Mind you, I don't mind that, because it may prove
very useful later on. What I should like to do now is to go through the
register of your present customers. It is pretty obvious to me that the
robbery was committed by somebody staying in the house, a visitor
probably, or it may even be a servant."

"A servant, eh?" the manager asked. "Well, it is possible. We rather
pride ourselves on our staff, but, considering that there are about a
hundred and eighty of them, there is just a chance that one or more of
these may be the guilty ones."

"Yes, I quite agree with you there," Cheriton said. "But I should be
more inclined to gamble on a visitor. However, let us go through your
more recent arrivals."

It was a long job, and late in the afternoon before Clifford had
finished. There were well known people to be eliminated and others who
were entirely beyond suspicion. But towards the bottom of the list there
were individuals of whom no one knew anything, just the odd flotsam and
jetsam that come and go in a great hotel, and then are heard of no more,
Clifford made a mental note of some of these, and three sets of names he
carefully entered in his pocket-book.

"I have got two lots here," he exclaimed, "that I should like to have a
little conversation with. I don't say that any of them have anything to
do with the trouble, but I should like to know what they were doing
between twelve and dawn on the night of the robbery. You see, it is my
business to look after the well-dressed thief. I mean the man or woman
who is well educated and has all the outward signs of mixing with good
society. As a matter of fact, a good many of them do mix with good
society, because they have been born and bred into it. Others have
acquired it by careful observation and a natural gift for that sort of
thing. Here and there a man can do it, but it is a role in which women
excel. If you ask me to give you an opinion, I should say that this job
was the work of a man and a woman, the woman being already acquainted
with Miss Carey. I must ask her presently."

"Then you think they were staying in the house?"

"I do," Clifford said. "And, what is more, the couple I suspect had a
double bedroom on the same floor as Miss Carey's suite. It would be a
very easy matter for the woman to see that the coast was clear while the
man tackled the work. I suppose it is no uncommon thing for a visitor to
have a bath at two or three o'clock in the morning. I mean, after they
come in from dancing at a night-club, or something of that sort?"

"Oh, well," the manager explained. "A great hotel like this is something
like a fair. People come and go at all times. And if a woman was seen
going along the corridor at two o'clock in the morning on her way to the
bathroom it wouldn't raise the slightest suspicion."

"That is just what I mean," Clifford said. "She could be playing about
in one of the bathrooms in the middle of the night and keeping an eye
open for interruption at the same time. Then the man could get to work,
feeling pretty sure that his victim was fast asleep in her bedroom. Now,
look here, Mr. Manager, what about these two?"

With that Clifford laid a finger opposite two names in his note-book,
and the manager nodded as he did so.

"Yes, I see what you are driving at," he remarked. "Those people were
here for one night and that the night when the robbery took place. I
will make definite inquiries, but I think you will find that they came
here for dinner and left by taxi after breakfast the following morning.
The names are not familiar to me, and, in any case, they are probably
assumed ones--presuming them to be the culprits."

"Well, if you don't mind. I should like to have a few words with the
chambermaids and the hotel porter, and the waiter who looked after them
at dinner and breakfast."

"I will call them if you like," the manager responded. "But the evening
waiter has not come on duty yet. You can see the breakfast room waiter
and the chambermaid."

"All right," Clifford said. "I dare say they will serve my purpose. Only
don't allow them to think that the trouble is in any way connected with
Miss Carey."

Within half an hour, Clifford had a fairly accurate description of the
couple in which he was interested, and then he went upstairs again to
see his distressed client.

"Well?" she asked eagerly. "Well?"

"It is not so easy as all that," Clifford smiled. "I think, however,
that I have unearthed a likely clue. But before going any further, I
want to ask you a pertinent question. And I am going also to suggest
that you don't speak definitely until you are very satisfied that you
are saying what is correct. I don't mean for a moment to infer that you
will make any attempt to mislead me, but one forgets sometimes, Now did
you ever tell anybody--anybody, mind--about your jewels?"

"Newspaper men and that crowd, say?"

"No, no. They, of course, would speak of your priceless gems and so on,
because that is their business. I mean friends, especially lady friends
liable to talk. Now did you never confide in some soul-mate, feminine,
the story of the shabby case with the false lining? Think, think hard,
Miss Carey."

Miss Carey thought until her forehead was lined and worn, and her
flexible mouth grew stern.

"I had a maid once," she said, "who was with me for some few months
before she got married and left me more or less in the soup, way back
somewhere in the West. A New Yorker she was, and as cute as they are
made. An imitative little cuss and a born mimic. Yes, Sadie Blunt might
have known because she knew that I had my jools when on the road. But
you don't suggest that Sadie after this long time came all the way on my
tracks to put it over me like this when she could have done it out
yonder."

"It does sound improbable, but you never know," Cheriton agreed. "And
yet sometimes clever little mimics grow into still more clever crooks.
And now, if you don't mind, perhaps you will be so kind as to show me
the steel-lined case in which your gems were deposited. Finger-prints?
Oh no; the class of people we are dealing with are not likely to work
without rubber gloves."

Miss Carey seemed to be getting bored with the interview. She had no
objection to the course suggested by Cheriton--all she wanted at the
moment was to get out of the hotel into the fresh air on this lovely
morning, and watch life in the park.

"If I can't join in it I can watch it," she sighed. "So you just nose
around here as much as you like and if any miracle happens, 'phone me
later."

Clifford wanted nothing better than to be left alone in that luxurious
sitting-room with the suitcase to examine. This he proceeded to do as
soon as Miss Carey had vanished. There was nothing in it but some
letters and a couple of newspapers of a more or less remote
date--American papers of the yellow variety. On the centre page of one
of them was a photographic reproduction of two men and under it the cut
line: "A Gross Miscarriage of Justice. The Leading Actors in the Test
Case."

They were the two men Cheriton had seen at the Clarendon on the night
that he and Evelyn Marchand had dined there!



CHAPTER VI.


It might have been nothing more than a coincidence, but it was certainly
strange that in the steel-lined suit-case Cheriton should have come
across a newspaper containing the photographs of the two men who had
been dining at the Clarendon on the night when he had been there with
Evelyn, and whom she declared were talking about her. Cheriton had taken
particular notice of them at the time, so that the photographs in the
newspaper he had found in Nance Carey's suitcase left no doubt in his
mind that these were the identical individuals who, apparently in
prosperous circumstances, were doing themselves so well in one of
London's premier restaurants. Whether or not they had anything to do
with the loss of Miss Carey's diamonds, Cheriton was not concerned to
know for the moment, but it was certainly a significant discovery.

He was still turning this over in his mind when Nance Carey came back
from her stroll in Hyde Park.

"I guess you haven't done much," she suggested.

"Well, I must confess that I haven't," Cheriton replied. "Now, would you
mind answering me a question in turn? Can you tell me anything in
connection with some set of circumstances in the United States called
the Test Case?"

Cheriton happened to be looking directly at his companion when he asked
the question, and he noticed that the fresh colour in her cheeks drained
into a sort of deadly whiteness and that her lips trembled. It was only
for a moment, but the impression was there and Clifford registered it.

"The Test Case?" Nance Carey said with a brave attempt to keep her voice
steady. "Oh, let me see. It does seem to strike a familiar chord. And
yet I can't for the life of me connect it with anything likely to be of
use to you. But why do you ask me the question?"

"I can hardly tell you," Cheriton said evasively. "You see, we policemen
have to make note of even the smallest things. You know, I was in
America myself for a year in connection with a criminal we were anxious
to extradite, and when I was there I saw a good deal of the work of the
New York police. I shouldn't have spoken on the subject to you, but I
found in your suitcase a newspaper which I examined more or less
casually."

With that, Cheriton produced the sheet and pointed out the photographs
on the front page to the actress.

"There are the men," he said. "Curiously enough, their names are not
given, nor can I find any allusion to them in any part of the
letterpress. But, hazarding a guess, I should say that they were two
criminals who had been lucky enough to slip through the meshes of the
law. You see what it says underneath--a gross miscarriage of justice."

By this time Nance Carey had quite recovered her equanimity.

"Perhaps," she said. "And, on the other hand, they might be two men who
had been wrongly convicted. I should have thought that even a detective
would have seen that there were two sides to a question."

There was something mocking, almost challenging, in the way in which the
actress spoke. And yet, a few moments before she had been moved deeply
enough when Cheriton had alluded to the Test Case. However, he swept the
matter on one side now as if he had dismissed it from his mind, and
proceeded to discuss the loss of the jewels from another angle.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "Now, Miss Carey, I am going to tell you
that I haven't gone very far, except to satisfy myself that this robbery
was committed by somebody in the hotel."

"A servant, perhaps," she suggested.

"No, I don't think so. Probably somebody who has been watching your
movements for a long time, knowing perfectly well that it is your habit
to travel with a great deal of personal property in your possession. I
should like to see your maid."

"Well, I guess I haven't got one just now," the actress said. "My last
one left me in Paris. Met an old lover of hers and went off without a
word to me, to marry him."

"Really, I wonder--but it is no use dwelling on that point--at least,
not yet. Now, somebody has been trailing you probably for weeks. Not the
ordinary type of jewel thief, but one of the leaders in the profession.
A man and his wife who were staying in this hotel and left shortly after
breakfast on the day that you discovered your loss are being traced. I
have seen the waiter and the chambermaids, and, from them, I have a very
accurate description of both the man and the woman. They gave the name
of Mr. and Mrs. Martin, with an address near Folkestone. I have no doubt
by this time that the constable who is acting with me has found the
taxi-man who drove them to the station, and in the course of the day I
ought to be on their track. I will come back here to-morrow morning if I
have anything further to report."

With this, Clifford bowed himself out and made his way to the manager's
office. Yes; the latter said, the taxi-cab driver had been found by the
commissionaire, who had called him and he had quite a lot to say. He had
picked up the lady and gentleman at the hotel door when summoned by the
commissionaire, and had driven them to Victoria Station. There, as there
happened to be no porter available, he had asked a fellow taxi-man to
look after his cab for a moment or two whilst he himself had carried the
passenger's luggage and seen it placed in the guard's van.

It would be an easy matter now to discover from the booking clerk where
the couple had taken tickets for, and, for the moment, Clifford had only
to mark time and wait developments.

They came, the next morning when he went to Scotland Yard to report
progress to Inspector Merrick. He found the latter in one of his worst
moods.

"Well, you have made a pretty nice hash of it, Cheriton," he said. "A
proper wild goose chase you led the plain-clothes man. He came in here
last night, having spent most of the day at Folkstone, to inform us that
Mr. and Mrs. Martin are highly respectable people who have been living
on their own estate for the last twenty-five years and who appear to be
quite well connected. The man is a J.P. and a prospective Conservative
candidate for his division. That is the worst of you kid-glove amateurs.
I always said it was a mistake to have gentlemen at Scotland Yard,
except, perhaps, the Commissioner and one or two people like that. I
never knew a public school man who was worth his salt as a detective.
Give me a common or garden policeman I can train."

This was an old obsession of Merrick's and Cheriton allowed it to pass.
He rarely came in contact with his superior without being compelled to
listen to some gibe at the higher type of men now being drafted into the
service.

"I am sorry," he said. "It looked to me a very likely clue, and, at any
rate, I thought it worth following up. Even now, I am not sure that it
isn't. I know that the lady called Mrs. Martin did have a bath at an
hour past two o'clock in the morning of the robbery, and I should like
to see her and ask her if she noticed anything suspicious while she was
passing and returning along the corridor after her visit to the
bathroom."

"Well, you can wash that all out," Merrick said. "It seems to me that
you have lost more than twenty precious hours and wasted the time of
your subordinate. I am taking the case out of your hands altogether."

"Oh, you are, are you?" Cheriton retorted a little savagely. "Then, in
that case, I don't feel myself any longer bound to the Department. If my
services are no longer needed then I suppose I can go on Saturday?"

"You can go now, as far as I am concerned," Merrick snarled. "And good
riddance to you."

"Thanks very much," Cheriton smiled. "Good-bye, Inspector Merrick, and
good luck to you."

Five minutes later, Cheriton had shaken the dust of Scotland Yard from
his feet and walked briskly along the Embankment with the air of a man
who has shaken a great responsibility from his shoulders. He had always
known that Merrick hated him and had done all he could to stand between
him and promotion. But that was the attitude of the old dyed-in-the wool
type of detective towards education in any form.

It seemed to Cheriton that he might have held himself in check a little
longer and enlightened Merrick on the question of the newspaper he found
in the steel-lined suit case and how agitated Miss Carey had been when
he mentioned the matter of those two photographs. He felt convinced, at
the back of his mind, that the actress knew those men intimately, and
that they were in some way connected with the loss of her jewels.

That is, if the jewels were ever lost at all. The hotel manager had been
convinced of their genuineness, but then, even experts had been deceived
sometimes by clever imitations. It was just possible that there were one
or two genuine specimens amongst the lost gems--indeed, one of these had
been pawned possibly to give the case an air of verisimilitude.
Altogether it was a very pretty case as it stood, and one that in
ordinary circumstances, Cheriton would have been only too pleased to
investigate. But now that Merrick had taken it out of his hands, and he
had been practically kicked out of Scotland Yard, it was going to be no
business of his, he told himself, to put Merrick wise with regard to the
newspaper discovery.

By the time he had reached his rooms, Cheriton had put the case out of
his mind altogether. He was his own master now, with a small fortune in
the bank and an assured income before him. He was free to come and go as
he pleased, free to get on with the work in which his heart was, and
free as soon as he could settle matters in London to go down to
Sandchester and play as much golf as he liked. Congenial work every
morning with a round in the afternoon, and the evening to call his own.
He had already planned out the framework of a new novel, and, with all
the eagerness of a schoolboy, he wanted to get into it without delay.

But there were several things to do; new golf clubs to be purchased, a
visit to his old tailor, who would welcome him with open arms. And then,
perhaps, at the end of the week, Sandchester luring him down to that
delectable spot.

It was nearly the end of the week before he had finished, and he
returned to his rooms for the last time, there to do his final packing
for the exit on the morrow. There was a solitary letter waiting for him
in a strange handwriting. He tore it open and looked at the signature.

It came from Seagrane Holt, and was signed Marion Marchand.

Evelyn's mother, of course. And Evelyn's mother writing on behalf of
Lord Seagrane inviting him down to the Holt for as long as he liked,
coupled with the information that the writer would be only too pleased
to see him again and renew her friendship with one who had been so kind
to her daughter in the days gone by. Cheriton was not to trouble to
reply, but come down at once, and, if he would send a telegram saying
what time his train would arrive at Sandgate, a car would be there to
meet him.

And so it came about that just before lunch the following day, he found
himself at Seagrane Holt sitting at a table with Mrs. Marchand opposite
him.

"I am glad you could come so quickly," she said. "Evelyn told me all
about that wonderful meeting of yours in London, and how you had
suddenly become a celebrity."

"Not quite that," Clifford said modestly.

"Oh, but you are. Evelyn said so, and so did Mr. Lawrence. And in the
last two or three weeks I have seen your name in several newspapers.
Isn't it a funny thing that one day you have never heard of a person and
then the next day you find his name everywhere. But I dare say you think
it rather strange Lord Seagrane and Evelyn are not here to meet you. As
a matter of fact, they had to go to Maidstone on business--at least,
Lord Seagrane had--and he thought you wouldn't mind if he asked Evelyn
to go with him. Those two are wonderfully good friends. I don't know
what he would do without her."

"Oh, of course, I don't mind," Cheriton said. "I think it true
hospitality on his lordship's part to treat me just as if I were an old
friend. I suppose Mr. Andrew Canton has gone along with them."

It seemed to Cheriton that a shadow crossed Mrs. Marchand's pleasant
features. He thought he could read a coldness in her eyes, and, at the
same time, something like anxiety.

"Oh, Andrew Canton," she said. "No, he is not at Holt for the moment. He
has been in town the last few days. He has been a good deal in town the
last couple of weeks."

With that remark, Mrs. Marchand passed on to generalities. But to the
trained detective's mind it was plain that the subject of Andrew Carton
was not a pleasant one. Yet here was a man who, according to what Evelyn
had told him, was destined at no distant date, to inherit Seagrane Holt
with all its priceless treasures, to say nothing of the huge income with
which to keep it up. Just the sort of man in fact, that a woman with a
marriageable daughter would favour as her future son-in-law. Indeed,
Evelyn had almost hinted that an arrangement like that was as good as
settled. But certainly not in Mrs. Marchand's mind, if he could read the
signs aright.

"This is a wonderful old place," Cheriton said by way of changing the
conversation.

"I can quite understand how happy you and Evelyn are here."

"Yes, indeed," Mrs. Marchand agreed enthusiastically. "Even now it seems
like a happy dream. Because it was such a hard struggle in the old days.
And those sordid streets! Shall I ever forget them! The more you see of
Seagrane Holt, the more you will fall in love with it. And the more you
will like the dear old man that it belongs to. He is what some people
would call a rough diamond, but he has a heart of gold. You will find
him so full of energy and vitality, and if he does have occasional fits
of moodiness and depression, then I am sure you will make allowances for
them. I am telling you this, because I believe you intend to spend a lot
of your time down here."

"At least half the year, I hope. My ambition is to get hold of that old
cottage looking over the golf links and restore it more or less to what
it was when it was built, more than two hundred years ago. You see, I
know the place Mrs. Marchand, and I have sketched out all the
improvements that I want to do. Furnished in period style with a large
lounge-hall-sitting-room and two or three bedrooms. Then a woman to come
in daily to look after my requirements and, if Lord Seagrane will permit
it, the extension of the electric light. But I am counting my chickens
before they are hatched I am afraid."

"Oh, I don't think so," Mrs. Marchand smiled. "Evelyn told Lord Seagrane
what you wanted, and when he heard what a good friend you had been to us
in the days of poverty he jumped at the idea. I am quite sure you can
have all the improvements you want, indeed he told me that there was far
too much old furniture in his house, and he proposed going over some of
it with you so that you can take your pick. And mind, not a word about
payment. If you really want to annoy him, you have only to make a
business of what is a pleasure to him."

"It seems to me that I walked straight out of dreary old London into a
sort of grown-up fairyland," Cheriton said.

"Well, it is something like that," Mrs. Marchand laughed. "Lord Seagrane
likes you already, and if you will only give him a game of golf
occasionally you will win him entirely. I believe he plays a very good
game for his age, but there are very few men he cares to play with. Just
one or two who come down from London occasionally for the sheer love of
the game. You see, he is rather old-fashioned, and the young men in
picturesque pullovers and alarming plus-fours who want to make the game
a gamble are his special aversion."

"I am not very keen on them myself," Cheriton remarked. "It is a great
game, is golf, and one you can play for its own sake without introducing
the money element. If you don't mind I think I will walk down to the
Dormy House presently, and arrange for a locker. I am hoping that it
will be possible for me to become a full member of the club though,
possibly, I shall have to wait for that for some considerable time."

"Indeed you won't," Mrs. Marchand told him. "You see, the links belong
to his lordship and carry the right of election to any friend of his. Of
course, he would not abuse that privilege, but I think you can safely
count on becoming a regular member of our famous club. Would you like me
to ask one of the men to carry your clubs?"

"Oh, no, thank you," Cheriton said. "It will be a joy to have them in my
hands again. Besides I want to see old James's face when I walk into the
Dormy House bar. You see when my father was alive, we used to come down
here a great many week-ends, and always in August, and James, the Dormy
House steward was quite a chum of mine when I was a kid. He is getting
an old man now; but when I knew him he had a wonderful memory for faces.
I don't think anybody ever played golf, even once, at Sandchester that
James didn't recognise by name if he turned up ten years later. I don't
think he will have forgotten me, though I have not seen him since I was
a boy at school."

"Just as you like," Mrs. Marchand said. "I dare say you want to have a
look round the links for the sake of old times. And by the time you get
back here to tea at four o clock, our absent ones will have returned."

It was a little later that Cheriton crossed the park in the warm
sunshine of a perfect afternoon, carrying his bag of clubs in his hand.
He could see various figures dotted about the links and, beyond them the
stretch of golden sands fringed with the creamy white of the incoming
tide, and his heart fairly sang within him with the joy of life that was
sweet to his lips. He came presently to the club-house itself, a fine
structure looking out over the Channel. And beyond that, a little to his
right the Dormy House, where members foregathered for week-ends and
talked over the battles of the day, or played their game of bridge as
the case might be. And there behind the long bar, was an oldish man with
white hair and side whiskers looking the typical picture of the
gentleman's servant he had once been before he came to preside over the
fortunes of the Dormy House. He looked up as Cheriton came in and bade
him a respectful good afternoon.

"I expect you have forgotten me, James," Clifford said.

The old man put on his spectacles and, directly he had done so, a smile
broke out on his face.

"Lor' bless you, no, sir," he said. "You was just a big schoolboy when I
saw you last, but your father will never be dead so long as you are
alive, sir."

"Fishing, aren't you?" Cheriton laughed. "Waiting for a lead eh? You
vain old man! Still keeping up the pose of remembering everybody who
ever crossed this doorstep."

The old man laughed in appreciation of the joke.

"Deed and it's true, sir!" he said. "Just as if I should forget a
Cheriton! You was only a lad when I see you last but I recollect. Ay,
and the way Sir Charles got that poor boy off when he fell into trouble
and never charged me a halfpenny. Let me see, it's Mr. Clifford
Cheriton."

"Go up top," Cheriton smiled. "I am coming more or less to live here,
James. That old cottage behind the seventh hole. His lordship is letting
me have it on lease. I am staying with him until we get matters
settled."

"Delighted to hear it, sir. And his lordship is one of the best. Not a
bit like the old Earl, but a Marchand, every inch of him, all the same.
Rare popular he's made hisself since he come from America. Well, well,
to think--Beg pardon, sir."

Old James broke off to speak to a newcomer who asked for some sort of
drink. There were two individuals in fact and as Cheriton glanced at
them he started slightly.

For they were the same two men he had seen at the Clarendon and
photographed in Miss Carey's American newspaper!



CHAPTER VII.


Clifford's training stood him in good stead as he watched the new-comers
and appeared to study them with mild interest. Just the sort of interest
that one would have expected a golfer to regard another who is a
stranger to him. All the same, he rather resented the way in which he
had been pushed aside by the tall man, though it was no time to show
what he was feeling. The tall man leant over the bar and addressed James
as if he had been some quite ordinary individual.

"Two stone-gingers and gin," he commanded. "Wake up, barkeeper; don't be
all day about it."

Old James visibly stiffened. He was not accustomed to being addressed as
barkeeper by Dormy House visitors, for James was the type of man who had
shaken hands with royalty more than once, and the name of a certain
popular prince was inscribed in his autograph book, to say nothing of
ambassadors and a large section of the British aristocracy. In his way,
James was a celebrity, spoken of all over the world, and he certainly
resented the newcomer's easy impudence.

But, all the same, James knew his place and said nothing, whilst he
busied himself in the bar attending his customers. All this time
Clifford was studying the two customers carefully and wondering where on
earth he had seen the tall one before. But, for once in a way, his keen
memory for faces failed him. He could see, like some dim picture from
the past, a scene in a New York garden restaurant with which the tall
man was connected. But, for the life of him, Cheriton could not attach
the two together. He waited, smoking a cigarette, until the two
strangers had finished their drinks and left again.

"Who are those two, James?" he asked.

"I don't know, sir," James said. "They come down here in a car this
morning and put their names down for a week. The tall man calls hisself
Mr. Walt Bradmain and the little fat one as looks like a jockey is Mr.
Dan Cleaver. I understand that they are Australians--rich men home after
a great many years, just to see the country and play a few rounds of
golf."

"Oh, that's it, is it? Not exactly the class of people who frequent the
Dormy House, unless things have changed very much since I was here
last."

"I don't know about that, sir," James said. "But though they look
Bond-street, Bond street isn't all blue blood. If those men belong to
our class then I am very much mistaken. Of course, sir, it isn't for me
to criticise gentlemen who come down here, but if those two are any
class--"

Old James broke off abruptly, as if conscious that he was going too far.
Before Cheriton could make any response, another man walked into the bar
and asked the steward if he had seen a gentleman called Bradmain
anywhere about.

"He's just gone out, sir," James told him. "Up to his bedroom, I think.
There was another gentleman with him and I think he has gone into the
billiard-room."

The speaker was a young man, extremely good-looking in a slightly
effeminate way, with easy, rather indolent manners and evidently on the
best of terms with himself. But weak, Cheriton thought, almost
unconsciously, as he noticed the lines of the mouth under a toothbrush
moustache, and vain. He turned on a heel and left the bar without
another word.

"Then you don't know him, sir?" James asked.

"I haven't the pleasure," Cheriton said.

"Haven't you, sir? I think you told me just now as you was staying with
his lordship."

"So I am. But I can assure you that I never saw that gentleman before.
Oh by the way, does he happen to be Mr. Andrew Canton by any chance?"

"That's right, sir," James smiled.

"But they told me he was in London."

"So he was, sir, but I suppose he come down from London this morning
unexpected like. And I rather fancy that it was in the same car that
brought the two gentlemen who have just gone out."

"Well, I suppose I shall meet him presently," Cheriton said. "Does he
play much golf?"

"No, not much, sir. Fits and starts as you may say. Be a good player,
the professional tells me, if he wasn't so impatient and easily
discouraged. Too fond of running up and down to town night-clubs and all
that sort of thing. But there, sir, perhaps I am saying what I didn't
ought to."

Whereupon, Cheriton changed the conversation, and, a few minutes later,
was on his way back to Seagrane Holt. He was a little disturbed in his
mind to find that the Earl's potential heir was on what appeared to be
friendly terms with two men whom Cheriton put down in his mind as real
wrong 'uns. He remembered what Mrs. Marchand had said about those
frequent visits to town on the part of the young man, and now, after a
lapse of some time they seemed to have recommenced again. If Cheriton
was any judge of men, those two individuals he had just encountered came
from across the border line and there was a strong probability that they
had run down to Sandchester with some sinister object of which Andrew
Canton was the centre. If this was so Cheriton would make it his
business to frustrate the plan.

But, meanwhile there were other things to think about. He had to meet
his kindly host whom he found waiting for him on the broad stone terrace
in front of Seagrane Holt, and welcomed him quite as cordially as he had
expected.

He saw a big, powerful old man, who looked quite the part he had been
called upon to play, in his well-cut breeches and gaiters and rough
Harris tweed jacket, a man in the prime of life, with wiry grey hair,
standing upright on his head, grizzled eyebrows, and neatly trimmed
short beard and moustache. He held out his hand in a powerful grip.

"Now, this is real kind of you," he said. "Don't you get thanking me for
asking you down here, because the thanks are all the other way on. I
have heard all about you from that lil' gel, and how kind you were to
her and her mother when they were living on sixpence a week and earning
it. So you are a big man in your own way now, Mr. Cheriton, like your
father was before you. And I know all about him."

"Oh, do you, sir?" Cheriton asked.

"Yes, I guess I do. I left the old country when I was a kid a little
higher than a bee's knee, but I never forgot I was a Briton, and the
more I saw of the world and the older I got, the more proud I grew of
the fact. You see, out in the States we got a lot of English papers, and
there was never a week passed that I didn't read one or two of them.
That is how I knew all about Sir Charles Cheriton K.C., and what a real
big bug he was. Seems funny, don't it? There was me kind of taking an
interest in a perfect stranger and never asking a single question about
my own folk. But then, my mother died when I was a small nipper and my
father--well, he was what you call hot stuff. Never spoke to me without
a clout on the side of the head or an ugly word, and him ruining himself
all the time with the horses. But I don't want to keep you here talking
all day. Come inside, my boy, come inside."

It was good to be there having tea in that fine old hall with its
priceless carpets and tapestries, and the figures in armour ranged round
the open walls dimly lighted by the rays of sunshine that filtered in
through the painted windows. And strangely enough, that unconventional
old gentleman seemed to fit perfectly into his comparatively new
surroundings. At a small table Mrs. Marchand presided over the tea
equipage with Evelyn helping. A rather silent Andrew Canton seemed to
half sulk in the background, and Cheriton did not fail to notice that he
more or less scornfully refused the offer of tea and helped himself to a
large whisky and soda from an old open buffet instead. Moreover, it
occurred to Cheriton that the atmosphere between himself and the future
owner of Seagrane Holt was inclined to be antagonistic. The young man's
insolent blue eyes were turned from time to time on Evelyn with a
certain admiration, but there was something lacking and behind it all a
suggestion that Canton was bored with his surroundings. Presently he
vanished altogether, and was not seen again till dinner time.

It was after tea was finished that Seagrane suggested an inspection of
the house.

"I guess you would like to see over it," he said.

"Why, of course," Cheriton responded eagerly. "I know one or two English
country houses but I have never been a guest in a real show place like
this before. There is nothing I should like better than to make its
acquaintance."

Accordingly Seagrane led the way through one room after the other, then
upstairs into the long picture gallery, and after that, to a rambling
storeroom almost in the roof. There he pulled up a beautiful specimen of
a Carolean armchair, and flung himself down in it.

"Now, you bring up another," he said. "Light your cigarette while I
smoke my pipe. There is some very fine stuff here as you can see for
yourself. But I have no use for it--there is more than enough of this
sort of thing down below."

"This is quite a museum," Cheriton exclaimed. "I am no great judge but
in my father's prosperous days he was a collector of old furniture and
carpets and our house in Eaton Square was full of it. I should say that
that carpet over there was Persian."

He pointed to a large carpet that lay more or less open on the floor,
and Seagrane nodded carelessly.

"I dare say," he said. "Pity for it to stay up here like this, isn't it.
You see, I was thinking that it would look very nice on the floor of
that cottage looking over the golf links. The cottage you are hankering
after."

"Did Miss Marchand tell you that, sir?"

"She did. And she spilt a whole lot more. My dear boy, I know all about
you and your ambitions, and I sympathise with them. Made good, you did,
when the old man handed in his checks, and left you to face the world
alone. Brought up as you were to every luxury you never batted an eyelid
nor asked a friend to help you when the smash came. Oh yes, the lil' gel
told me all about it--thinks a pile of you she does."

Cheriton's heart warmed to the old man, and he was conscious of a
certain uplift which he would have been at some pains to describe. But
then, he thought of one or two little hints that Mrs. Marchand had
dropped, and reined in his feelings.

"That was very nice of Miss Marchand," he said. "I did have a pretty
hard time of it for three years, but I always had a feeling that I was
going to pull through."

"And you did, my boy, you did. Lord. I only wish young Andrew was made
of the same sort of stuff."

"You must not be too hard upon him," Cheriton murmured.

"Hard upon him," the old man laughed. "Me! Just the other way on. When
he first came here some months ago, I ought to have shown him that I am
not made of soft stuff, though, between you and me, I believe that I
have got quite a power of sentiment hanging around my ego somewhere. My
boy, when I found Andrew Canton, he was getting a bare living in a city
office, and giving no satisfaction at that. His employer told me that he
should not have kept him for another fortnight. But then, one makes
allowances for young people and that is how it was. So I brought him
down here and let him know a bit too soon that, if all went well, he
would be owner of this shack some of these days. And now I am wondering
if I didn't make a mistake."

"Meaning that you have changed your mind, sir?"

"Waal, not exactly that. You see, Andrew's father and me was partners.
It is only 20 years ago and it seems like yesterday that I saw Major
Canton for the first time. He had been in the British Army and quit it
when Andrew was no more than a kid. So he left Andrew in England in the
care of relatives to come out west to make a fortune. He was a bit of a
golfer and he played occasionally on the links where I was employed.
And, somehow or another, I told him my story and he told me, in return,
what I didn't know--that there were only two lives between me and the
earldom of Seagrane. Not that the story thrilled me much, because I
didn't see myself in England saddled with a grand place like this and no
money to keep it up with. Waal, in my turn, I told Canton of a copper
prospect I had hit up against in the far north-west on one of those
excursions of mine. I was always a restless guy and at times I had to
throw up my work and go prospecting. But it was generally a waste of
time, but I knew that there was a job always waiting for me when I got
back to the golf club where I really belonged. Do I interest you?"

"Very much indeed," Cheriton murmured.

"Waal, then, I will go on with the next chapter. I knew the stuff was
there, but I hadn't a bean to work it with and I couldn't see my way to
run down to New York and talk pretty to those dollar princes in Wall
Street. Then Canton told me that he had got a thousand or two locked up
in England and he was prepared to put them into my scheme if I could
prove to him that it was good. Waal, to make a long story short, I did,
and it was good. But we had to fight for it. I don't mean that we had to
fight the authorities, but some hoboes who had jumped my claim. We don't
call it murder in those parts, and the police are not kinder
inquisitive. But I can tell you that it cost three lives before we put
the fear of God in the heart of the gang who hoped to get away with what
didn't belong to them. And then something happened--something I did
which I have been ashamed of ever since."

"Please," Cheriton protested. "Don't tell me what you don't want to say.
It is very flattering to be taken into your confidence like this, but
you don't know very much about me, except what you have heard from a
girl who knows nothing of the world and whose gratitude has led her to
exaggerate what was little more than a mere passing politeness."

"My boy, I like to hear you talk like that," the old man said. "But I
have taken a fancy to you--took a fancy to you as soon as I saw you on
the terrace. But let it be as you say. I did a wrong thing, a mean thing
that will always haunt me. And it seemed to me that I had a chance of
righting that wrong. That is why I sought out Canton's boy when I came
back to England some years after my late partner was dead. I hoped to
find Andrew as good a man as his father and--well--I haven't. It was all
right at first, but when the novelty had worn off, Seagrane Holt seemed
to lose its attractions. It was all running up to Town for three or four
days, and coming back, as you young people say in this country, looking
like nothing on earth. I see now that I let that young man have too much
money. Two thousand a year I allow him, which didn't seem overmuch to
one who would have this place to call his home and over five million
dollars to keep it up. Gambling it was, yes, and drinking, as well. So I
had another idea. I advertised for relatives and I found them. The
sweetest lady and the dearest girl in the world. I brought them down
here, and, for the next two or three months, Andrew never went near
London. And that made me mighty happy, because I dreamed a dream. God
forbid it should turn out to be a nightmare."

"I think I understand," Cheriton said sympathetically.

"Yes, I see you do. I thought those two would fall in love with one
another, and that Andrew would see his way to mend his manners. And so
he did for a long time. Mind you, I still think that he has a sincere
admiration for the lil' gel, and I know that if I put gentle pressure
upon her, she would marry him if only out of gratitude. But should I be
justified in doing this? It is all very well for Andrew to stay down
here for two or three weeks, dancing attendance on the lil' gel, and
then flitting off to London for a long week-end and coming back bearing
marks that are plain to an old man of the world like myself. I know that
lil' gel. If she gave herself to a man, she would give herself entirely,
and if he didn't act the man, she would break her heart. And here is
Andrew running up and down to Town again now, just in the old way. I
don't know what to do."

The brooding melancholy that Mrs. Marchand had spoken of was on Seagrane
now, and his mind seemed to be far away. It was as if he were communing
with himself, and utterly unaware that he was in the presence of another
person. And all the time he was thrusting a knife into Cheriton and
twisting it in the wound. It was almost as if he were warning Cheriton
to build no hopes of a future happiness with Evelyn as his companion.

Then, as suddenly as it had come, the cloud rolled away, and the old
gentleman was himself again.

"But let's talk business," he said briskly. "You want a place here where
you can play your golf and get your exercise and work on your novels in
between without any distractions. That's why you thought of the cottage
by the links. Well, my boy, you can have it, and welcome. I'll do it up
as you like, and you are welcome to borrow any furniture, such as chairs
and tables and carpets, from the junk here. That lil' old bureau yonder,
for instance. Just the thing to write at."

Seagrane pointed to an ancient Dutch, bowfronted bureau in satinwood,
exquisitely inlaid.

"Yes, I know," he went on, as Cheriton began to protest. "A lovely
thing, but then Seagrane Holt is crammed with lovely things. Mrs.
Marchand says there are far too many, and she's right. Cayn't see the
wood for the trees. If we sold half of it the place would be all the
better. So you take what you like, and welcome. I'll see to the rest.
Electric light and all that. And find you a woman on the estate to see
to your comfort. Plenty of time on my hands, so that it will be a
pleasure."

A little later on Clifford rambled about the grounds and in the glorious
gardens, whilst Seagrane wrote his letters. It was a perfect evening,
and only one thing was wanted to make it complete. And presently, that
something emerged from the house and joined Clifford on the terrace.

She came with the sunlight gleaming in her hair and filling her eyes
with a golden glow. Evelyn at her sweetest and best. Evelyn the centre
of an exquisite picture.

"So here you are," she said. "What a long talk you must have had with
Lord Seagrane. I hope you are going to like him, for to my mind he is
the dearest old man in the world."

"There I am inclined to agree," Cheriton smiled. "We seemed to hit it
off from the first. I am to have the cottage by the links, and nothing
would do but I must allow his lordship to furnish it from here. Lovely
stuff."

"Yes, isn't it? Clifford, are we dreaming?"

"Meaning?" Cheriton asked. "Oh, I see. Shall we wake presently and find
that I am still a mere policeman and you with your typewriter trying to
make a living? Perhaps it might be in some ways better if we were."

"Clifford, what on earth do you mean?"

"Well, we were not entirely unhappy. Fairy godparents usually make some
sort of restriction which has to be obeyed if we are to live happy ever
after. This reservation very often takes the form of a marriage arranged
by the godparents. Quite the Victorian tradition, Evie. Sorry, I wish I
hadn't said that."

For Evelyn's face had suddenly flamed, and something like a shadow
dimmed her eyes for a moment. The scarlet flush deepened as Andrew
Canton came down the terrace towards them. He was in a dinner jacket
suit without overcoat, and was evidently on his way to dine somewhere
abroad. A little way behind him came Seagrane, walking slowly with bent
head.

"What are you two conspiring about?" Canton asked none too pleasantly.
"It's past seven o'clock."

"Plenty of time to dress," Evelyn laughed. "Why are you so early adorned
in the purple and fine linen?"

"Dining with some guys he has picked up at the Dormy House," Seagrane
growled ominously. "Far better at home. But no gambling, mind. Remember,
I have warned you."

Canton turned away with a scowl.

"Silly old fool," he muttered. "Just as if I couldn't take care of
myself. Before that conceited ass Cheriton, too."





CHAPTER VIII.

Seagrane certainly lost no time in carrying out his promise to Cheriton
as far as the cottage was concerned. He waved a fairy wand, which in
this case, took the form of a cheque book, and immediately a small army
of workmen descended upon the place and in the course of a week, had
done marvels. It was an easy task to transform the two rooms downstairs
into one large lounge-hall-sitting apartment, connected with the
bedrooms above by a fine bit of oak stair-casing looted from somewhere
in the recesses of Seagrane Holt. The garden was cleared of its weeds
and planted, the electric light installed.

Then from the Holt came beautiful furniture, pictures, and hangings, and
everything calculated to make the cottage an ideal residence. In all
this the old man delighted because it gave him a chance of showing
Cheriton what a fine business man he was when once he applied himself to
anything. There was only one drawback, and that was in connection with
the water supply.

As the cottage lay so low, the well in the garden had in it a tang of
salt, and though Clifford was prepared to make light of this, Seagrane
would hear nothing of it.

"If the thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well," he said in
his breezy way.

"I am not going to see you settled down in that shack without a proper
water system. I will see to it that it is connected with the Holt
supply. It will take a week or two, and, meanwhile, you must continue to
be my guest. You can work here all day if you like and have your meals
in the cottage if you are busy, but you must continue to sleep at the
Holt. There is nothing else for it."

Clifford expressed his gratitude, and there for the moment the matter
rested. He was not to know, then, that tragic events hinged on this
necessary delay.

"I don't know what I have done to deserve all this kindness," he said.
"Only a few days ago we were absolute strangers."

"You were kind to the lil' gel," Seagrane replied.

He said it, too, in a voice that showed how deeply he was attached to
Evelyn, though, when he spoke that peculiar melancholy expression that
Cheriton had noticed from time to time crossed his face, and something
like a sigh broke from him. And it seemed to Cheriton that he knew the
reason why.

Outwardly, at all events everything at Seagrane Holt was moving on oiled
wheels. There was no shadow of coming trouble there, no sinister cloud
in the sky to suggest tragedy, but Cheriton, with that peculiar insight
into things which is the prerogative of a novelist, seemed to sense that
all was not well in that fair domain. And he knew, without being told,
that Andrew Canton was at the bottom of it.

He knew that from the expression on Seagrane's face when he looked at
the young man who was destined, some day or another to take his place at
Seagrane Holt. A something between sorrow and anger, a hesitation and a
doubt, as if he were asking himself if it was not yet too late to change
matters.

And then there was Evelyn herself. Evelyn outwardly gay and cheerful
and, apparently, on the best of terms with Andrew Canton. Whether she
cared for him or not it was hard to say, but as to that Cheriton had his
doubts. There were times when those two laughed and talked together, and
were the best of friends, and then again signs that angry words had
passed between them and something suggestive of a quarrel, only to be
patched up when they were under the eye of Seagrane himself.

And all this puzzled and bewildered Cheriton and took a good deal of the
savour out of the salt of life. He no longer doubted what his feelings
towards Evelyn were, and without undue conceit on his part, he believed
that she, on her side, was by no means indifferent. They had been close
friends in the past when poverty had been their common lot, and nothing
could wipe out the recollection of those days even in the refined
atmosphere of Seagrane Holt. And now that Cheriton was more or less
settled down in his ideal cottage, working in perfect solitude at his
new novel, he could not altogether suppress the thoughts that came into
his mind from time to time.

They were not altogether loyal thoughts he was bound to admit. He had
come down there at Seagrane's invitation and been received with open
arms. He had been treated with all the honour due to a man of honesty
and integrity. He had had favours showered upon him, and yet, here he
was in his solitary moments almost planning that which savoured of
ingratitude.

And he knew perfectly well what would be the fate of Evelyn if she
married Andrew Canton. He knew that she would be marrying a gambler and
a waster, and, given his head and the passing of the years, Seagrane
Holt and its glorious surroundings would be a thing of the past. And the
instinctive knowledge that Seagrane himself shared these views did not
render the situation any more tolerable. Still, Seagrane had told him
definitely that Evelyn was intended for Carton and that their marriage
would be the consummation of the old man's wishes. He had expressed a
hope that his dream would not turn into a nightmare, and, so far as
Cheriton could see the dread had not turned the old man from his
purpose, so far. Still, there was Evelyn's happiness to consider, and
that must take precedence of everything else. There was only one thing
for it, and that was to wait and watch in the hope that Canton would
make some silly slip and cause the old man to reconsider his position.
Cheriton was pondering deeply over this one morning a fortnight later,
and he left his desk after two or three hours hard work with the
intention of going over to the Holt to lunch. He turned into the
sand-dunes through a belt of cover which was a short cut to the house
and where, in the old days the late Earl had bred and reared his
pheasants. Here was a narrow grassy ride, and, as Cheriton advanced
along it, his footsteps made no sound on the thick grass beneath him.
Then suddenly, there came to his ears the sound of voices. He turned at
a right angle to see thirty yards in front of him, Seagrane talking
earnestly to Andrew Canton. The old gentleman had a letter in his right
hand which he was pounding angrily with his fist.

It was almost impossible for Cheriton to go forward and he feared that
if he turned back he might be seen. He had no wish whatever to hear the
conversation between the two but in the circumstances it was
unavoidable. Perhaps they would move on in a minute or two and then he
could follow at a discreet distance. But Seagrane showed no signs of
stirring from the spot and his voice came clearly to Cheriton's ears.

"Is it true or not?" the old man shouted.

"I think I can explain," Canton stammered.

Cheriton could see that he was anxious and agitated and that his face
was white with fear.

"Well, go on," the old man said harshly. "I will listen to anything in
reason. But how are you going to explain away this letter? It came with
the rest of the post after you had gone out this morning. You see who it
is from? A money-lender. An infernal, thieving shark of a money-lender.
Addressed to me by name. The writer says that you borrowed L300 from him
three months ago, and when the bill came due it wasn't met. Now, is that
true or not?"

"Well, you see, it is like this--"

"Is it true or not?" the old man shouted angrily. "Did you go to this
blackguard and obtain that money from him?"

"Well, in a way I did."

"In a way, indeed. L300 for three months and on the top of that half as
much again for interest. Lord knows how much per cent. And you used my
name."

"Not exactly," Canton stammered.

"What do you mean by not exactly? Do you suppose that man would have let
you have a brass farthing if he hadn't known who I was and what
everybody is aware I am doing for you? Now, don't be a liar as well as a
profligate. Only a few months ago you were glad to draw thirty shillings
a week, and that was more than you were worth. And now L2000 a year is
not enough for you. You must get into debt over your gambling
transactions."

"I--I assure you, sir, that to oblige a friend--"

"What, more lies," the old man cried, almost beside himself with rage.
"Friend, indeed. Now, look here, young man, for the first and last time
I want you to understand that I am in earnest. I know how difficult it
is to make money--yes, and to keep it. I will pay this rascal and if
this happens again out you go, neck and crop. And if I do close my doors
to you, then you need not expect me to open them again. Now you have got
to make me a promise."

"Of course, sir, of course," Canton said with a sort of mock humility,
that jarred on the listener. "Anything you like. This is going to be a
lesson to me."

"Yes, but it wouldn't have been if I hadn't found you out. Now, listen,
you are going to stay here for the next six months without going ten
miles from Holt. No London for you till you know how to behave yourself.
I haven't got another word to say; but if you break your promise, then
by heaven--"

Seagrane broke off abruptly and turned towards the house, and Canton
followed like a whipped dog behind him.



CHAPTER IX.


Cheriton, once he had made a start on the new novel, was giving himself
almost heart and soul up to it. He worked all the morning, with an
interval for lunch and a round of golf afterwards, and then on again in
the evening until it was time to dress for dinner and walk across the
links to the Holt. So that his visits to the clubhouse and the Dormy
House were few and far between. He was rather astonished and somewhat
uneasy in his mind when he was putting his clubs in his locker one
afternoon to see those two strangers close behind him resuming their
coats and changing their shoes. It was still intensely warm and bright,
even though it was getting on towards the second week in May, and,
overhead, the clouds were gathering ominously as if a thunderstorm was
not very far off.

"Looks like a change," the tall man remarked to Cheriton. "We could do
with a few showers on the links. The greens are like glass, and even a
poor player like myself, begins to fancy his drive on the hard ground."

"Yes, I had noticed that myself," Cheriton said politely. "Are you
gentlemen staying here long?"

"All depends," the shorter man said. "We are over here for a long
holiday from down under, after being away from the old country for
umpteen years, and there is a lure about this place that seems to hold
me and my chum here. But I guess we will have to be back in town in a
day or two."

"Well, I don't think we will go out again this afternoon, Dan," the man
called Bradmain said. "I don't see myself caught out on the long hole in
a waterspout. Best thing we can do is to toddle across to the Dormy
House and see if we can make up a four at bridge. I know Canton is
there, and perhaps this gentleman here will make up the table. Name of
Cheriton, I think, sir. Isn't that right?"

"Perfectly right," Cheriton said. "But I am afraid you will have to
excuse me. I have an appointment presently, and I couldn't stay more
than half an hour in any case."

It was polite fiction, of course, but Cheriton had not the slightest
desire to sit down and play cards, even for nominal club stakes, with
two men whom he regarded as sheer adventurers. It was not for him to say
so, because it was no business of his, and, after all was said and done,
a golf club does not stand exactly on the same social footing as a
social one. Nevertheless, when once he had changed into his ordinary
kit, he strolled across into the Dormy House, which he would not have
done if he had not heard that familiar allusion to Canton. He knew now
what he had suspected before--that Canton's frequent absences from Holt
in the evenings had been due to the fact that he was meeting these two
suspicious individuals at the Dormy House. Canton played quite a good
game of bridge, but Seagrane played a better, and he, Cheriton, a better
one still. It was strange, then, that Canton should care to turn his
back upon the refined atmosphere of Seagrane Holt when he was in a
position to command a game of bridge quite equal, if not superior, to
that which he had been seeking three nights out of four, lately, at the
Dormy House.

And Canton was one of those rash, headstrong players who might have been
quite good had he not persistently over-called his hand and inevitably
regarded the rule for sitting quiet when holding cards which made
contract for the callers almost impossible. And if there was anything
underhanded going on here, it seemed to Cheriton that he might do worse
than spend half an hour in the comfortable smoking-room of the Dormy
House watching the play. So he lingered behind a moment or two and then
strolled casually into the smoking-room, where he saw Canton and a
stranger already seated at a table with Bradmain and Cleaver.

Evidently the stranger was no member of the confederacy, for Cheriton
knew him as an occasional visitor who came down from London for an odd
day now and then as a break in his work at the Home Office. He was a
certain Edward Stringer and quite beyond any sort of suspicion.

"It is getting very dark," Stringer suggested. It was, as the speaker
said, growing exceedingly dark. Great masses of clouds had piled up
overhead and, every now and again, came the rumble of thunder.

"Oh, this isn't good enough," Cleaver said. "We shan't be able to see
the cards. Turn on the lights."

A waiter coming into the room heard the request and immediately flooded
the room with light. At that moment, a tremendous crash of thunder
overhead seemed to shake the building, and a blaze of lightning caused
the electric lights to look no brighter than thin threads of flame.

"Better pull the blinds down, too," Bradmain suggested. "Ah that's
better. Now then let's cut."

The game began and Cheriton strolled over from the armchair in which he
had thrown himself, and idly watched the play. There was no longer any
reason for making an excuse for not playing himself, under a plea of an
engagement, for the rain was now falling in torrents and could be heard
lashing on the terrace outside.

"By the way," Bradmain said casually, as he dealt the first hand, "what
points are we playing?"

"Oh, five shillings," Canton said with equal carelessness.

"Five shillings a hundred?" Stringer remarked. "Well, gentleman, I think
that is rather more than I care to play."

Canton burst into an unpleasant laugh.

"Five shillings a hundred be sugared," he said. "Five-shilling points. I
never play for less."

"Then," Stringer murmured, "I am afraid I must decline."

"But you needn't," Canton pointed out. "You can play for threepence if
you choose. I am quite sure that either of us three will be willing to
carry you on our backs, and settle the difference. Don't spoil the
game."

"Oh, well, in that case," Stringer said cynically, "go on. It won't be
the first time I have played bridge in the same circumstances with
first-class players who like to have heavy stakes on. I will call my
corner half a crown if you like."

"Just one moment," Bradmain said. "I left my cigarette case downstairs.
I'll be back in a moment."

The cards were dealt in Bradmain's absence, and the game began. It
proceeded with varying fortunes until the end came and a fresh cut for
partners followed. This time Cleaver and Bradmain cut together, and
Cheriton drew a little closer to the table. He did not know, exactly,
what he expected to see, although he was not without suspicions. The
cards were made, and handed to Bradmain, whose deal it was, when Cleaver
rose.

"Get on with it," he said. "Whilst you are doing so, I will step across
to the telephone booth and send a call to the station about those
cigarettes of mine. The parcel should have been here a week ago. Just a
moment."

So saying, Cleaver crossed the room to the telephone booth, which was
situated in a sound-proof box in a sort of loggia in a distant corner.
He had scarcely shut himself in when there came a vivid flash of
lightning with its accompanying thunder, when the lights went out,
leaving the room in utter darkness.

So unexpected was this that silence followed. Then the voice of old
James, the steward, was heard as he fumbled his way into the room. By
this time somebody had struck a match.

"I expect a fuse has blown out, gentlemen," James said. "I will see to
it at once. Oh yes, sir,"--this in answer to Stringer--"I know all about
such things."

James vanished, and for the next few moments the four players sat round
the card table in silence. And then, as suddenly as it had gone, the
light was back once more.

"I think you will find that all right, gentlemen," James said as he
looked in once more. "It was just as I thought. The electric current
fused the circuit on this floor. It was only a matter of putting in
another wire."

Cleaver came across from the telephone box. "Gosh, that was a nasty
one," he exclaimed. "I thought I was a goner when that flash come. Just
as if somebody hit me on my listening ear with a sledge-hammer."

Cheriton made a mental note of the grammatical lapse, but said nothing.
For the moment the veneer of gentility had gone.

"Well, it's all right now," Bradmain said. "Come on, partner. My deal,
isn't it?"

"Certainly," Stringer murmured. "Cards already cut and to your hand, Mr.
Bradmain."

"Of course," Bradmain murmured. "That light business put it entirely out
of my mind. Hope it won't happen again."

He proceeded to deal, and when the cards were sorted and the other three
players ready, Bradmain called one diamond. To this Canton on his left
went one no trump. Cleaver and Stringer passing this call, Bradmain
called two diamonds, to which Canton responded eagerly with two no
trumps. After a little hesitation, Bradmain elected to try three
diamonds, to elicit from Canton almost a yell of three no trumps.
Cleaver shook his head, as did Stringer, and Bradmain promptly doubled.

"Redouble," Canton stammered. "And L50 on the side."

For some time Bradmain scanned his hand. "I'll see you," he said at
length. "This is going to be some fun, surely. I like your pluck,
Canton."

"And I admire yours," Canton smiled. "Lead on, Macduff."

Standing quietly in the background, Cheriton scanned Canton's hand. On
the face of it, there seemed to be every chance of Canton pulling off
his redouble. But it was not quite impregnable, as Cheriton, with his
intimate knowledge of the game, could see, unless there was some sort of
support in his partner's hand.

"Mind, I never backed you," Stringer murmured.

"I wouldn't worry about that," Canton grinned. "You sit pat and watch me
sweep the board."

It was not entirely an idle boast. Cheriton noted that in Canton's hand
lay:

Spades: Ace, six.

Hearts: Ace, nine, two.

Diamonds: Ace.

Clubs: Ace, Queen, Jack, seven, six, five, three.

A one no trumper truly, and, perhaps, two, but by no means a certainty
unless there was some support on the other side of the table from
Stringer. And the latter had said nothing. Then, when Cleaver had led
his nine of diamonds. Stringer laid down his hand. There was one trick
in it--the king or hearts.

"Another bet?" Bradmain challenged.

"Yes," Canton snapped. "Double or quits."



CHAPTER X.


It would have been a mad enough declaration on Canton's part and a still
wilder redouble. Cheriton, standing there casually looking on, could see
that as he moved presently round the table and caught a glimpse of the
cards that Bradmain and Cleaver were holding between them. He shrugged
his shoulders slightly as he moved in the direction of the window beyond
the curtains of which it seemed to him that he could see a gleam of
light. As he pushed these back he saw a glimmer over the sea, then a
flood of sunshine out of a sky that was rapidly clearing. The storm was
over, and there was no reason now for the artificial light in the
smoking-room.

To a great extent Cheriton was no longer interested in the card play,
though he was not surprised to hear a smothered exclamation from Canton
and to see an ill-disguised gleam of triumph on the faces of the two
strangers.

"Bad luck," Bradmain commiserated. "I should certainly have gone two no
trumps on that hand if it had been dealt to me. But, my dear chap,
surely you were not justified in increasing your call. I took a certain
amount of risk in calling three diamonds, and if you had been wise you
would have left me in and--yes, perhaps doubled yourself."

"Oh, get on with it," Canton said impatiently. "You can hold the
post-mortem afterwards."

Then followed another deal and a declaration of three spades from
Cleaver, which resulted in game and rubber. A suggestion that there was
time for another one was politely negatived by Stringer. He glanced out
of the window to where the sun was shining and rose from his seat.

"No, thank you," he said a little icily. "I didn't come down here to
play cards and I am sorry that I was unfortunate enough to be Mr.
Canton's partner in that very audacious call of his. I see it is quite
fine now, and after all this long dry spell, it will be possible to play
on the links again in a few minutes. A great advantage of a sandy
course. I think I shall potter round by myself for an hour or two."

"Well, in that case, I think we had better reckon up the spoil," Cleaver
smiled. "Let me see."

He began to make a rapid calculation on the back of his scorer and threw
it across to Canton.

"Will you be good enough to check that?" he asked.

With a white face and trembling lip, Canton added up the figures that
Cleaver had given him.

"Quite correct," he said in as steady a voice as he could command. "I
owe you--"

"There is one little thing you have overlooked," Stringer interrupted.
"And that is the fact that I am playing at half a crown a hundred, and
you, Mr. Canton, are carrying the difference between that and five
shillings a point. In other words, my total indebtedness amounts to a
comparatively few shillings and you have to make up the balance."

Canton smiled a ghastly smile. For the moment he had forgotten this
extra burden altogether.

"Oh, well," he said as carelessly as he could. "Just work out the
difference, Cleaver, will you? I suppose it means another hundred or
so."

"A good deal more than that," Cleaver declared.

The reckoning was settled at length and, with a casual glance at it,
Canton pushed the paper into his pocket.

"Well," he said, "this has been rather a hectic afternoon for me. But
then, if one didn't have these sort of experiences bridge would not be
the fascinating game it is. Of course, I haven't got all that money in
my pocket. And if you chaps don't mind, I shall have to give you a
cheque."

"Of course, my dear fellow, of course," Bradmain said genially. "I only
regret the necessity."

"I don't even happen to have my chequebook in my pocket," Canton said.
"You shall have it to-morrow. No, not to-morrow, either, unfortunately I
have rather a pressing engagement which will probably mean that I shall
be away for the night. But I shall be here the day after, and if you
chaps are knocking about at lunch-time, the plunder will be there."

With that, Canton made what he hoped was a fine exit, and Cheriton
followed him out on to the links. They walked side by side, together, in
the direction of Seagrane Holt and for some little time, no word passed
between them. It was Cheriton who broke the silence at length.

"That was a mad call of yours," he said.

"Oh, yes, perhaps it was. But any fool can be wise after the event. I
suppose you saw my hand?"

"I did," Cheriton said. "And all that I could see in it were four
certain tricks. And your partner's only re-entry card was the king of
hearts. I have played a good deal more bridge than you have, and I know
a good deal more about it."

"I dare say you do," Canton sneered. "Mean to say you would not have
gone one no trump on my hand?"

"Yes, certainly I should, holding four aces, to say nothing of that long
string of clubs. But if my opponents had called two diamonds I should
have left it in. And made five tricks straight away. Perhaps more. Or,
alternately, I should have called three clubs, or even four clubs,
because you had six tricks certain in that suit if you had been left in,
with three aces and another trick in hearts."

"Oh, what the deuce is the good of talking?" Canton cried. "The mischief
is done now, and I haven't a bean to pay with. My next quarter's
allowance isn't due for two or three weeks and I simply dare not ask the
old man to advance the date."

Cheriton nodded. He knew perfectly well why Canton feared further to
encounter Seagrane's wrath from that conversation he had overheard in
connection with the money-lender's letter came back to his mind
significantly.

"And how are you going to pay those men?" he said. "You can't let three
weeks or a month elapse when you are dealing with absolute strangers.
How on earth did you come to be connected with them at all?"

"Well, it was like this," Canton said. "I ran against them in town. It
was at one of the night clubs."

"Oh, indeed," Cheriton said dryly. "Wouldn't it be rather more correct
to say that they ran up against you? Don't you think it is more than
probable that they followed you down here with the intention of robbing
you at cards?"

"Oh, don't talk rot," Canton cried. "Chaps of that type! Anybody can see
they are all right--rolling in it and all the rest of it. You can't
deceive me--"

"No? For my part, I regard those two as a pair of dangerous crooks.
Don't forget I have had three years in the London Police Force, where it
was my business to keep a special eye upon that type of adventurer. Oh
yes, I know they look all right, and generally speak all right. But I
notice a lapse now and again that tells me a story. However, it is no
use discussing that, because you have lost your money and, as far as I
can see, speaking on the spur of the moment, there was nothing
underhanded about it. And even if those men are what I think they are,
it would take us months to prove it, and then they would still maintain
that you owed them some hundreds of pounds. And so you do."

"Yes, I am afraid that is right," Canton agreed. "Look here, Cheriton,
can't you help me out? I simply dare not go to the old man, and that
money must be paid. I will swear to you, if you will only act the pal
this once. I will never touch a card again as long as I live. And
directly I get my allowance I will pay you L400 back the same day. I can
easily do that because the old man makes it a point that I should stay
down here and give London a miss so it will be easy enough for me to
sustain life down here for three months on a hundred quid."

Cheriton shook his head resolutely.

"I am afraid I can't do anything of the sort," he said. "I don't say I
couldn't find the money, but I can see no reason why I should. My dear
fellow, a very few weeks ago I was as poor as you were when you first
came down here. No, I am afraid you must get out of it as best you can."

"All right, all right," Clinton said desperately. "I dare say there are
other men in the world who will see me out. In fact--yes I am going to
see one of them to-morrow. A man I am playing golf with all day at
Sandwich and dining with him afterwards. That is why I shall be away
from here to-morrow night. A chap called Stuart Landon. I dare say you
have heard of him."

Cheriton responded to the effect that the name was a strange one to him
and, a few moments later, they separated before the park gates at
Seagrane Holt, Cheriton to go back to his cottage for an hour or two's
work and Canton to fling himself down in the hall, where he was still
brooding over his ill-luck, as he called it, when Evelyn came into the
room.

"Why, what is the matter?" she asked. "You look as if some terrible
misfortune had happened to you."

Canton made a decision on the spur of the moment.

"It has, old thing, it has," he cried. "Evelyn, I have made the most
awful fool of myself. Mind you, I didn't mean to do it, but you know how
these things happen."

"Yes, I know how they happen to you," Evelyn said a little sadly. "But
what is the trouble? Gambling again?"

"Well, something like that," Canton admitted. "You see, it was just a
game of bridge in the Dormy House with those two chaps I told you about.
The most wonderful hand you ever saw. And, of course, when one of my
opponents doubled me, I redoubled. If it hadn't been for one card, I was
within sight of a small slam. I can assure you, my dear girl--"

"Yes, I have heard it so often before," Evelyn said wearily. "And that
one card made all the difference, of course. Andrew, don't you know that
you are making all of us miserable and unhappy? And yet, when we came
here first, Seagrane Holt was a sort of paradise. But how much did you
lose?"

"Hundreds," Canton whimpered. "Look here, Eve, won't you try to talk the
old man round? You could do it on your head."

"Yes," Evelyn said bitterly. "And have the same thing happen over again
next week. You will never stop gambling while you have a penny in your
pocket or someone to go to to make up your losses. I am tired of all
these misunderstandings and troubles, which are entirely of your making.
No, you need not speak. I am not going to do anything of the sort. If
you haven't the pluck to face your benefactor, I won't."



CHAPTER XI.


It was characteristic of Canton's volatile nature that he showed no
signs of the trouble in which he had plunged himself during the time
that the party at Holt sat round the dinner table. He laughed and joked
and was more or less the soul of the gathering, whilst Evelyn was
quieter than usual and Cheriton was watching developments. Seagrane
himself seemed to be lost in a fit of more or less moody distraction.

The dinner was drawing to an end and the cigarettes were lighted before
Canton made the next move.

"That was a bit of a thunderstorm this afternoon," he said. "It was so
dark in the smoking-room of the Dormy House that we had to play our
bridge by artificial light."

Seagrane looked up with a scowl on his forehead.

"What!" he demanded. "Playing cards again? I thought you told me only a
few hours ago--"

"Well, just a friendly game, you know," Canton said airily. "My dear
benefactor, you don't call playing bridge for small stakes in the
friendly atmosphere of a golf club, gambling, do you? Surely you didn't
mean that?"

'"How much did you lose?" the man demanded sternly.

Canton lied without turning a hair.

"Lose?" he said. "How much do you suppose a man loses when he is playing
threepence a hundred? We only had three rubbers altogether, so you can
judge for yourself."

It was a daring, audacious remark to make, seeing that at least two
people sitting at the table knew how deeply Canton had committed himself
only a few hours ago. But it seemed to suffice Seagrane, and when Canton
realised that he had got away with it his spirits rose proportionately.

"As a matter of fact, I have done with gambling," he said. "I shall
never back another horse and never play cards for more than nominal
stakes. That is the advice Stuart Landon gave me a long time ago, and he
is one of the most level-headed chaps that ever stepped on Sandwich golf
links."

"I should like to meet him," Seagrane said with grim humour. "Any friend
of yours who is as sensible as that deserves encouragement. You had
better ask him down here."

"Do you really mean that?" Canton asked delightedly. "Then I will.
Topping chap, Landon. I heard from him this morning, and he asked me to
go over to Sandwich tomorrow for a day on the links there. He wants me
to dine with him afterwards and spend the night. And if it's all the
same to you, sir, I should like to bring him back with me if he can
come."

"Delighted," Seagrane smiled. "Bring your friend by all means and as
many more like him as possible."

Dinner was finished at length, and presently Cheriton found himself
strolling on the terrace with Evelyn. Mrs. Marchand was reading in the
hall, whilst Seagrane was writing letters in the library. Canton had
vanished somewhere. Not that the two on the terrace were in the least
concerned as to his whereabouts.

"Clifford," Evelyn said suddenly, "what are we going to do about Andrew?
Do you know that he is spoiling life for everybody in the house? Making
everybody wretched."

"Yes, I know," Cheriton said almost under his breath. "And take care,
Evelyn, that he doesn't spoil yours."

He spoke on the spur of the moment, without considering what he was
saying, for the words had been almost forced from him. In the fading
light, he could see how Evelyn had flushed and then how pale her face
had grown again.

"It is so difficult, Clifford," she said, "so difficult. That dear old
man! Was there ever anybody like him before? But I think he is beginning
to realise that his scheme--"

She broke off abruptly, and her face flamed again.

"Let me finish for you," Cheriton said gently. "He is beginning to see
what a perilous thing it would be that the son of his old partner and
the girl he loves so dearly were forced into one another's arms. That is
what you were going to say."

Evelyn moved along by Cheriton's side.

"Well, we can put that on one side for the moment," Cheriton said. "Do
you know, I feel like a traitor here, and I think you can guess the
reason why. But we can also put that on one side for the moment. Now,
did you realise how deliberately Canton was lying to the old gentleman
at dinner-time?"

"Oh, you know that, too, do you?" Evelyn cried.

"Of course I do. I was present at the Dormy House this afternoon when
that game of bridge was in progress, and--"

"And you know how much Andrew lost."

"Need I go into details, Evelyn?"

"No, because Andrew told me himself. I happened to come into the hall
not long after tea, and he was sitting there looking the picture of
misery. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me. He was playing
bridge with three strangers--"

"Well, let us say two strangers and a gentleman," Cheriton corrected
dryly. "One of them was all right, and he came in merely to make up the
table, but, unless I am greatly mistaken, the other two men were common
swindlers. You see, after three years in the Detective Force, I flatter
myself that I can tell the fraternity at a glance. Not that I detected
anything wrong, because I didn't. So far as I could see, the money was
honestly lost and honestly won. Mind you, it is just possible that those
two men cut together by a trick, but I was not near enough to detect
that. Anyway, they were playing for high stakes and side bets, and, at
the finish, Canton was some hundreds of pounds down."

Cheriton did not say anything to Evelyn as to the request Canton had
made to him, from motives of delicacy, but she seemed to read the truth
into his statement.

"And he tried to borrow money from you," she said. "Oh, don't deny it,
because I feel certain. And, of course, you declined to listen to any
such suggestion."

"I should have done," Cheriton said evasively.

"Ah, you mean that you did. Never mind. Andrew asked me to interpose
between himself and Lord Seagrane, telling me bluntly that I could twist
him round my little finger."

"And you refused too?" Cheriton asked.

"I did because I am getting sick and tired of the way in which Andrew is
bleeding his benefactor and breaking his solemn promises over and over
again. And the barefaced lies he told to-night, knowing perfectly well
that neither you nor I could contradict him. And there is another thing,
Clifford. I am quite sure that Andrew has hit upon some way of raising
that money. You saw how cheerful he was at dinner to-night, so different
to what he generally is. Did you note the sort of challenge in his eyes
as he spoke so lightly about playing bridge for threepenny points? It
was a defiance to us to betray him to the dear old man. I am afraid,
Cliff, terribly afraid."

"Then you don't believe the story about this man Landon? I mean that
Canton is not going to Sandwich at all."

"No, Clifford. I think he is going to London on some sinister business
which embraces the raising of funds to pay those men who won his money.
And I dare not give the dear old gentleman even a hint of my
suspicions."

"I quite see that," Cheriton said. "And my own position is exactly the
same as yours. I couldn't approach the Earl and tell him what I saw in
the Dormy House this afternoon. And yet I feel that I ought to do
something. Anyway, I will wait and see, as Mr. Asquith said on a certain
occasion. But if any harm threatens you, Evie, then it will be a
different matter. But won't it be hard for Andrew to cover his tracks?"

"Why should it? He knows that he can take one of the small cars and
drive himself. He will probably start after breakfast when the Earl is
in the library as is generally the case, and then drive alone to London.
Spend the night there and come back here the next day with a message to
the Earl from this Landon thanking him for his invitation and saying
that his engagements will not permit him to come just yet, but that at
some early date he will be only too delighted. Oh, it looks so simple."

It was a hopeless discussion altogether, and Cheriton was glad to
abandon it for something more personal. But it came back to him as he
lay in bed thinking the matter out after the rest of the household was
asleep. A few days more and he would be settled in his cottage
altogether, and his room in Seagrane Holt would know him no more. But
twist and turn as he would, he could see no way out with honour and no
loss of self-respect.

He was up early in the morning and working in his cottage till he
realised that breakfast would be a thing of the past at Seagrane Holt
unless he hurried there.

When he arrived Seagrane had finished his meal and was already busy in
the library. Of Canton there was no sign to be seen. An inquiry for him
from the servant who waited at table elicited the information that Mr.
Canton had come down early and had left the house almost immediately in
one of the small cars, and driven off alone, ostensibly for Sandwich. A
moment later Evelyn entered.

"Oh, I am so glad you have come," she cried, "for Andrew has gone, and
the small Holbein in the gallery is missing, as I discovered quite by
accident just now. What shall we do?"



CHAPTER XII.


Cheriton looked up from his breakfast and did not fail to note the
alarmed expression on Evelyn's face.

"What's that?" he demanded. "I don't quite understand. I will join you
outside on the terrace in a minute or so, and then we will talk the
matter over."

"Well, it's like this," Evelyn said, a little later, as she and Cheriton
moved up to the top end of the terrace, so as to be away from any
possible listeners. "In one comer of the gallery is, or rather was, a
small panel picture about two feet square, painted by Holbein. There is
a story attached to the picture, connected with a one-time Countess of
Seagrane who came from a prominent Dutch family. She was married when
quite a child and, before she came to England and settled down at the
Holt, she was painted by Holbein, and ever since then the picture has
hung in the spot where it is, or was. I don't know why, but from the
first few days I was here that picture fascinated me. It was such a
pretty, pathetic face, and all the more alluring because there is a
tragedy behind it."

"How did you find out all this?" Cheriton asked.

"Oh, from the family archives. They are in bound volumes in the library,
and I have read most of them."

"Does the Earl know anything about it?"

"No, he doesn't. He loves this place and everything belonging to it, but
he is not in the least interested in his ancestors. He says they were a
dissolute, idle, plundering lot, and people he is not at all proud of. I
don't think he would notice the Holbein was gone in twenty years."

"Perhaps not. But how came you to spot it?"

"Well, it was like this, Cliff," Evelyn said. "I loved that old picture,
and I traced most of them in the archives I was telling you about just
now. And, as I told you, the picture of Anna, fourth Countess of
Seagrane, particularly appealed to me. She died young, after a very
unhappy life in which there was a lover and something like a tragedy. So
I began to weave a story around her, part of which I have already
written, and I hope to finish it some day when I have time. I know that
the portrait hung in its proper place last night, and when I came back
from the bathroom this morning it had gone. I am quite sure than Andrew
took it with him when he left just now."

"That is a serious accusation," Cheriton said gravely. "What makes you
feel so certain?"

"Well, I was just coming back from feeding the doves when Andrew came
hurriedly down the steps to the two-seater which was waiting for him.
His golf clubs were already there and his kit bag. He seemed a bit
anxious to avoid me and that was because he was carrying under his arm a
brown paper parcel about two feet square, so I said nothing, and,
indeed, I thought nothing at the time. But in the face of what I have
just told you, I am quite sure that the picture was hidden there. Now,
my dear boy, what are we going to do about it?"

Cheriton listened gravely to the story that Evelyn had to tell. He had
not the slightest doubt whatever that the unhappy young man had adopted
this means of paying off his indebtedness to the two strangers. No doubt
he had hit upon the scheme on the spur of the moment, feeling fairly
certain that he could raise sufficient money on the picture to liquidate
the debt at a minimum of risk of exposure.

"Is the painting valuable?" he asked.

"Oh, yes; it is a Holbein in his best period. It is starred in the
catalogue which is kept in the library, and it is suggested that it is
worth two or three thousand pounds. And, mind you, Cliff, that catalogue
was compiled thirty years ago."

"Yes; I quite see what you mean," Clifford said. "In other words, it has
enormously increased in value. Yes, I think you are right. But what do
you expect me to do? You don't suggest that I should speak to the Earl
about it?"

"Well, perhaps not yet," Evelyn said. "Because we don't know for
certain. But isn't there any way of preventing that unfortunate young
man from committing an act of crime?"

"I am afraid not," Cheriton said. "By this time, he has probably reached
London if we only knew it. And he must know of some way of disposing of
that picture or he would not have taken it. Mind you, I don't think he
means to sell it. I should say that his idea is to pawn it, to raise
enough money to pay his debts and redeem it later on. You know his
sanguine temperament. Of course, the picture never will be redeemed
unless Canton makes a clean breast of it to the old gentleman, which he
is not in the least likely to do."

"Oh, it's dreadful," Evelyn sighed. "To think that he should so far
forget himself! Cliff, can't you suggest anything? Can't you follow
him?"

Cheriton shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

"Follow him where?" he asked. "My dear girl, that picture will be pawned
before I can get half-way to London."

"But isn't it just possible that Andrew will call at Sandwich Golf Club
on his way up? It only means making a slight detour. He might do that so
as to provide against any such contingency as his friend Landon calling
him up here."

"If such a person exists," Cheriton said cynically.

"Oh, but I know he does," Evelyn said. "I have heard Andrew speak of him
more than once. But can't you ring up Sandwich Golf Club and find out?
Andrew may be there, and, if he is, then you can speak plainly to him."

"A good idea," Cheriton said. "I will waste no time, but go across to
the club house at once and ascertain."

Without another word, he made his way thoughtfully across the links,
thinking furiously as he went. Indeed, he had given the business of
those bridge rubbers a good deal of thought after he had gone to bed on
the previous night, and the more he turned it over in his mind the more
sure he grew that, in some ingenious way, those two scoundrels had laid
a trap for Canton, into which he had walked with his eyes open. But how
had it been done? It would have been an easy matter for the strangers to
cut together, but he could not for the life of him see how it had been
possible to deal those hands under the eyes of one who was not only a
fine bridge player himself, but also a late member of the Scotland Yard
organisation. If it was a pure accident, then it was just the sort of
hand calculated to lure a desperate gambler like Canton into making a
fool of himself. With his excellent card memory Cheriton could actually
place those hands exactly as they were dealt, and he did so
subconsciously in his mind as he walked along.

More and more convinced was he that the whole thing was a cunning scheme
which had been thought out carefully beforehand and taken advantage of,
owing to the fact that the thunderstorm had caused the electric light to
fail. And the mere fact that the game had been played openly in the card
room at the Dormy House with a man of the highest integrity as the
fourth of the party, gave the whole thing an air of open honesty that it
would be hard indeed to controvert.

More than that, the game was played with two fresh packs of cards which
the steward had brought in unopened, as Cheriton was in a position to
know for himself.

But was the failure of the electric light in any way connected with the
thunderstorm? Possibly it was, but then, just before darkness fell upon
the room, Cleaver had gone across to the telephone box in the corner,
and, once shut in the sound-proof cabinet, it was possible for him to
remove the lamp illuminating it and blow out a switch by means of
pressing any bit of metal to the positive and negative poles of the
terminal.

Yes; that was it. Or something like it. And then again, before the game
began Bradmain had gone out of the room saying that he had forgotten his
cigarettes. No doubt that was some part of the scheme but, turn it over
in his mind as he would, for the life of him Cheriton could not see how
it was worked.

Still, there was plenty of time for that, and Cheriton resolutely swept
the problem on one side, seeing that there was a much more pressing task
before him.

Once he reached the club house, he turned up the telephone directory and
called up the Sandwich Links. It was a rather irritating delay, in
consequence of cross-country communication, and more than two hours had
elapsed since Andrew Canton had left the Holt before the familiar
'hello' at the other end of the wire told Cheriton that he was through.

"Name of Cheriton," he said briefly. "I am speaking to you from
Sandchester Club House. Does Mr. Landon happen to be there this morning?
He is a member, I think."

"Hold on a moment," said a voice at the other end, "and I will
inquire...Are you there? No. Mr. Landon has not been here to-day. I
don't think he is in Sandwich at all. One moment. No; he is not in
Sandwich. The caddie master says he took his clubs away with him the day
before yesterday."

"And nobody has been there this morning inquiring for him?"

"No, I am quite sure of that. You see, I am the steward speaking, sir,
and I have been on duty ever since we opened to-day. If anybody had
asked for Mr. Landon he must have spoken to me."

Cheriton briefly thanked the speaker for the information, or rather the
want of it, and turned away wondering what to do next.

His real inclination was to go straight to the Earl and tell him all
about it. Really, it was beyond reason that Canton should behave like
this, and have his tracks covered by two people who were under almost as
great an obligation to the old man as was the delinquent himself. The
odds were a thousand to one that Seagrane would never discover that the
Holt had been deprived of one of its most priceless treasures, and,
therefore, if he and Evelyn maintained silence, they stood almost as if
they were accessories after the fact.

But before returning to the Holt Cheriton turned into the Dormy House
for a few moments' conversation with old James, the steward. It was a
fine morning, and the place was deserted, everybody being out on the
links.

"Got many people staying here now?" Cheriton asked casually.

"No, sir, only those two gentlemen you know of and Mr. Stringer. We
never have many people here in the middle of the week."

"No, I suppose you don't. I wonder if you will do me a favour, James. I
want to put through a trunk call, and I will give you the number. It may
take some time to get through, meanwhile I think I will go up in the
billiard-room and knock the balls about."

The fictitious number on a non-existing exchange that Cheriton gave to
the old steward whilst he went upstairs to the billiard-room, which was
on the same landing as the bedrooms, and there made a rapid inspection
of the three out of four bedrooms which he knew must be occupied by the
visitors. That belonging to Stringer he recognised at a glance, so that
it had no concern for him. Neither did he glean much from the other two
rooms, except that in an empty fireplace he picked up a crumpled screw
of paper which, when it came to be unfolded, disclosed the fact that it
had originally been the wrapper of a pack of Messrs. de la Rue's playing
cards. Cheriton smiled to himself.

"Now, what the dickens does this mean?" he said under his breath. "An
absolutely clean wrapper and very recently removed from its contents. I
should say that either Mr. Bradmain or Mr. Cleaver turned this out of
his pocket last night when he came up just before dinner. Um! I must go
into this."

Cheriton lounged downstairs, presently to be informed by James that the
exchange could not be found, neither was there such a name in the
telephone directory.

"I am sorry, I must have made a mistake, James," Cheriton said lightly.
"That is the worst of dealing in names and figures from memory. However,
it doesn't matter because I can refer to my correspondence when I get
back to Holt, and telephone from there. Oh, by the way, James, have you
got any secondhand cards? I want a pack or two for an experiment."

"No, sir. I am sorry to say I haven't," James replied. "My instructions
are to use the same packs of cards three times, and then send them to
the Millstone Institute."

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter. Yes, I will take those two packs of cards
that were used yesterday in the smoking-room. I mean the packs you
brought in just before the thunderstorm. I suppose they haven't been
used again?"

"No, sir," the steward explained. "There was no play last night at all."

"Then I will take those packs and pay the full price for them. And, look
here, James you need not mention anything about this."

James gave the desired assurance, and a few moments later Cheriton was
crossing the links in the direction of the Holt. Directly he met Evelyn,
she saw at once from the expression on his face that he had been wasting
his time.

"Well?" she demanded. "Well?"

"I wish to goodness I could say it was well," Cheriton said, with a
shake of his head. "I got on to Sandwich, only to find as I expected,
that Canton had not been near the place. I could not have spoken to
Sandwich less than two hours after he had left here and, by that time,
he would be in London. Moreover, his friend Landon is not at Sandwich,
because he was playing elsewhere. At any rate, he had taken his clubs
with him."

"Oh dear," Evelyn cried. "What shall we do now?"

"Nothing," Cheriton said curtly. "The only thing I can see for it is to
wait till Canton comes back to-morrow and accuse him point-blank of
having stolen the picture. We shall know at once from the expression on
his face whether he has been successful in Town or not, because he has
certainly not been in a very amiable frame of mind if he has failed to
raise enough money on the Holbein to pay those scoundrels. Mind you,
Evelyn, there are lots of pawnbrokers and art dealers in London who know
their business and who would not hesitate for a moment to advance
anything up to a thousand pounds on that picture. They would recognise
its genuineness at a glance and hand over a cheque for a sum of money
bearing a big rate of interest, always with the off-chance that the
painting was not redeemed, in which case it would be a remarkable
bargain for them. What I mean is, that directly Canton with his easy
assurance went into the shop looking like a man of means, but obviously
hard up for money, business would be done at once. And no questions
asked, either. Scores of our aristocracy sell pictures under the rose,
especially in these hard times. Mind you, there is just a chance, a mere
shadow of a chance, of my being able to prove that Canton was swindled
out of that money. But it will take time and goodness knows where those
two adventurers will be before I have reached a solution. If they are
going to stay down here a fortnight, I think I shall be able to wring
the money out of them and compel Canton to get the Holbein back again.

"But would he do it?" Evelyn asked.

"I should take jolly good care that he did," Cheriton said grimly. "It
would be my business to hand the money back to him telling him that we
had discovered exactly what he did and insist upon going up to Town with
him and having the Holbein handed over to me so that I could bring it
here once more. Meanwhile, we can do no more than wait and see."

And with this Evelyn had to be content.

The day dragged slowly on, with Cheriton brooding over the problem of
the card scene and the wrapper which he had obtained from Cleaver's or
Bradmain's bedroom. He sat working this out for an hour or two in the
seclusion of his cottage, using certain information that he had acquired
during his three years at Scotland Yard, in an endeavour to discover
whether or not those cards were marked. But the snag that obtruded
itself across the stream of every flow of thought lay in the fact that
those two packs of cards had come out of James' storeroom, and that
neither of them had been opened until the steward himself had placed
them on the table. There was no getting over that.

And yet the packs looked different. They were the same size, the same
class, and, obviously, from the same makers. And yet, in some way, they
were subtly different. Different designs on the backs, of course, as is
essential in bridge cards or any game where two packs are used, but in
the case of one deck a sort of greasiness on the backs that shone
streakily when held slantingly to the light. With the aid of a powerful
microscope, which Cheriton had used professionally in the old days, he
could make out little waves of something that looked like wax very, very
finely drawn strands of wax, with here and there a sort of blot which
felt greasy to the touch. In the ordinary way this would not be noticed,
as the lively pattern on the back of the cards hid these tell-tale
marks, but under the microscope they stood out clearly enough.

Now, how, in the name of fortune, had these things got there? Cheriton
asked himself. They could not have been there when the pack was opened,
and Cheriton had seen that operation himself. Moreover, it was equally
strange that the other pack showed no such signs, however closely
Cheriton looked. He would have to send the peculiarly marked pack to
Scotland Yard for scientific examination, finger-prints and the like, in
which case it might be possible to trace the identity of both Bradmain
and Cleaver. This might necessitate sending photographs of the
finger-prints to New York, which would take time, but Cheriton was not
going to be deterred by that. It was a fascinating mystery which might
be used profitably in some future story of crime, and Cheriton was not
inclined to forfeit that opportunity. And, in the meantime, he would
have to possess his soul in patience.

Seagrane Holt was a fairly early house, and 11 o'clock at night saw the
household abed. But not to sleep so far as Cheriton was concerned, for
he wanted to sketch out his work for the next day or two, so he lay in
his pyjamas with a shaded light over his bed whilst he turned on his
side, pencil and notebook in hand, jotting down ideas as they came
along.

It was a fascinating and absorbing business, and time passed rapidly
until Cheriton was aroused by the clock over the stables striking the
hour of one. He was about to extinguish his light when the silence was
broken by two dull thumps, which seemed to come from the library below,
over which his bedroom was situated. Once again came the dull thuds, and
Cheriton jumped out of bed and made his way to the door. The bumps had
ceased by this time, and a sort of purring hiss followed. To the alert
ear of the trained detective the sounds were ominous enough.

Beyond all shadow of a doubt burglars were at work in the library.
Moreover, Seagrane's safe was situated there, and it was not a
particularly efficient one, as Cheriton had noted on more than one
occasion. There was no weapon handy, and Cheriton regretted the fact.
But a heavy poker in the grate afforded an excellent substitute, and
Cheriton grasped it as he stole out of his room and softly crept down
the stairs, only to see that Seagrane, evidently also aroused by the
noise, was in front of him.

Seagrane had switched on a stair light, and was, like Cheriton, clad in
pyjamas. From under the library door Cheriton could see a thin gleam of
illumination, evidence of the fact that the thieves there had turned on
the lights. Before Cheriton could warn Seagrane that assistance was at
hand, the latter had flung open the door of the library and challenged
the marauders boldly.

"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" he demanded. "And what are
you up to with that safe? Ah, would you?"

The last words came with a snarl as Cheriton flung himself down the
stairs. If the burglar was armed, as was sure to be the case, then
Seagrane was taking his life in his hands. Cheriton could catch the
beginning of a struggle, and then the sound of a shot and the fall of a
body.

As Cheriton burst into the library he saw Seagrane prone and silent on
the floor, and a masked man grabbing at a litter of papers on the floor.
He turned as Cheriton hurled himself forward, and made for the open
window. Cheriton grabbed him by the hand for a moment before he wrenched
himself free, leaving a fragment of rubber glove behind him. Seagrane
lay there, ominously still.



CHAPTER XIII.


It was some hours later before Cheriton was able to visualise in a
proper order the tense events that happened in the library at Holt. He
just remembered, subconsciously, that he had been too late to see what
had taken place between Seagrane and the midnight intruder, but in time
to grapple with the man before he could get away. And in so doing he was
taking a certain risk, because the burglar still had an automatic in his
hand, and it was only the sudden appearance of Cheriton and his quick
rush that had saved him from the same fate as the poor old man, lying
silently there, evidently at his last gasp.

With a dexterous twist and turn, Cheriton was upon the man and had
grasped him by the right wrist with a peculiar grip that he had learnt
in the course of his police training. Then they had swayed to and fro
towards the long, central window of the library that opened on to the
terrace, after which the murderous assailant had managed to break away,
leaving the torn rubber glove behind him and, what was more important,
his revolver, before he dived headlong through the curtains and, by
means of the open window, into the night.

It was only that truly tenacious grip which came near to dislocating the
ruffian's wrist that had compelled him to drop his revolver and fight
desperately for freedom. In the struggle his mask had not fallen off,
and Cheriton was bound to confess to himself that he had the vaguest
idea as to the general appearance and size of the intruder.

But, of course, all that came back to him later on. Meanwhile, he had to
act, and act promptly. And it was here that his three years' training at
Scotland Yard stood him in good stead. He bent over the unconscious form
lying on the carpet and saw that poor Seagrane was past all surgery. He
had been shot through the throat, and evidently the bullet had severed
his spinal cord at the top of the neck. After that Cheriton gave one
glance round the room, noting the papers scattered about outside the
open safe, and then he began to act.

A deathly silence reigned over the house.

It was quite evident that nobody on the premises had heard the fatal
shot fired. In a way, this was something to the good, for, just then,
the less confusion and interruption the better. Locking the library door
was preceded by an examination of the big Persian carpet for something
that might be a clue. But beyond the automatic lying there, which
Cheriton did not even touch, there was nothing except a round object
about the size of a half-crown and perhaps four times as thick, that
seemed impressed into the carpet close by the weapon. Cheriton stooped
over this and very gently detached it from the strands that held it in
place. It was a sort of wax medallion and might have borne some kind of
imprint, save that a heel had evidently trodden it flat, the sort of
smooth heel that leaves no characteristic mark behind. Possibly the
object had been there before, and as a clue was valueless. But all the
same. Cheriton dropped it more or less absently into the pocket of his
pyjamas before he turned the key in the lock and made his way through
the hall to an alcove beyond where he knew that the telephone was
installed. Without delay, he called up Fakenham Police Station, that
being the nearest constabulary centre, and in a few moments was through.

"Hello, hello," he said. "Is that Fakenham Police Station? Oh, it is.
Anybody listening?"

This was an intimation to a curious operator likely to be in search of
information.

"That's all right," the voice at the other end said. "I have seen to
that. Who is it speaking?"

"My name is Cheriton," Clifford responded. "I am a guest at Lord
Seagrane's, and I am speaking to you from Seagrane Holt. His lordship
was murdered a few minutes ago, and I was just fifty seconds too late to
see the crime committed. Can you send over an inspector at once?"

"I am Inspector Shallock," the voice said. "I will be there in twenty
minutes, bringing a couple of my men. Would you mind seeing that the
room where the crime was committed is kept clear?"

"That you may rely upon," Cheriton said. "There is not a soul in the
house awake except myself, and I don't propose to alarm anybody until
you have arrived. Meanwhile I have touched nothing, and have also turned
the key in the library door, and put it in my pocket. You ought to be
able to find a clue if there is one, before there is any occasion to
wake the servants. Come up to the front of the house quietly, and I will
be waiting downstairs in the hall to let you in."

There was no more to be said, so Cheriton solemnly climbed the stairs to
his bedroom, where he proceeded to dress himself. As he flung his
pyjamas on the floor the wax disc dropped out, and quite casually
Cheriton picked it up and threw it into a drawer, where it lay amongst
his collars. Then, almost before he had finished, he heard signs
outside, and, presently, he was opening the library door to admit
Shallock and his men.

"You behaved very discreetly, Mr. Cheriton," the Inspector said. "Most
men would have lost their heads over a discovery like that. It was the
best thing you could have done not to arouse the household. That would
have meant half a dozen people ranging about all over the library and
mixing their foot-prints and fingerprints with those of the murderer."

"I don't think you will find any fingerprints," Cheriton said. "But
perhaps I had better explain. I had been working in my bedroom overhead
till very late--up to one o'clock, in fact--when I heard suspicious
noises down in this room. I got out of bed and went out on the landing,
only to discover that Lord Seagrane was in front of me. He entered the
room before I could catch him up, and immediately challenged the
intruder. It was a reckless thing to do, but Lord Seagrane was a man of
extraordinary courage and afraid of nothing. He must have made a rush at
the intruder, who shot him in his tracks just before I could come on the
scene. He would have shot me too only I used a police dodge, and closed
with him with that wrist grip you probably know of, and forced him to
drop his weapon. Almost at the same time I tore his rubber glove, which
gave way, or I believe I should have had him. However, unfortunately, I
didn't, and he plunged headlong through the window, which was open at
least four feet, and vanished. There is the automatic and there is the
glove. The mere fact of the glove being there makes me feel certain that
you won't find any fingerprints. The automatic may help you."

Inspector Shallock regarded Cheriton approvingly. "Very good, indeed,"
he said. "You might have been a policeman yourself."

"Well, as a matter of fact, I was," Cheriton said.

"Oh, yes. Come to think of it, I have heard of you. You used to be
connected with Scotland Yard, didn't you? Left it to turn novelist. I
was at the Yard yesterday, and I was talking to a man named Merrick
about it. Your Inspector, wasn't he?"

"Yes, and I was his sergeant. But don't you think we are wasting time,
chatting like this?"

Shallock accepted the reproof, and set about a thorough search of the
library. But there was nothing to be seen and no sign of a clue, so that
Shallock was bound to confess presently that he was beaten. He shook his
head gravely.

"Evidently a premeditated affair," he said. "And cunningly worked out. I
have done all I can. Before I came here, I left instructions to have
every police station within 50 miles warned and a special eye to be kept
on anything suspicious in the way of a car. You see, Mr. Cheriton, I am
convinced this is no local business. The burglar came down here for some
specific purpose, probably travelling in a two-seater, with the car
hidden under cover of darkness not far off, and the confederate hanging
around the house in case there should be an alarm. Now, how long is it,
do you think, between the time that the shot was fired and your getting
us on the telephone?"

"Certainly not more than eight minutes," Cheriton said.

"Well, that is good, anyway. Within ten minutes we were calling up
police stations all round the neighbourhood, which means that the
murderer could not have had more than ten minutes' start at the very
outside. All I can do now is to lock up this room again, and seal it.
Meadows, lock those windows."

Shallock gave the order to one of his subordinates, and a few minutes
later the police force was in the hall.

"I will search round the grounds with my men to see if we can pick up
any footprints," the Inspector said. "Not that I hope for much in that
direction, because the ground is dry and the murderer has only to cross
the terrace and let himself down on to the drive below. Then he would
make his way down the avenue into the main road where his car was
waiting for him to get back to London as fast as possible. I am quite
sure these chaps came from Town. Now, Mr. Cheriton, if you don't want to
accompany us, I will say good-night to you. I shall be over again the
first thing in the morning to see if anything has turned up. And I must
leave you to acquaint the family here with the news of the tragedy. A
very sad business indeed. I only met the Earl once, and it seemed to me
that he was not the sort of man to have an enemy in the world. Oh, by
the way, as you are a friend of the family, do you know if his lordship
kept any valuables in the safe? It is open, as you saw, with papers
scattered all over the floor. But I don't suppose that man was after
papers. A big sum of money or jewels."

"There are no family jewels whatever," Cheriton said. "I happen to know
that. The late earl sold every one of them. He was a noted spendthrift
and gambler and when he died there was practically nothing left that he
could turn into money. Not even an ounce of old plate. My poor old
friend never carried much money or had much money about him. He paid
everything by cheque. And if there was five and twenty pounds in that
safe I shall be very much surprised."

"All this complicates matters," Shallock said thoughtfully. "But surely
there must have been some object of outstanding value in the safe that
brought that ruffian down here. Anyone can see at a glance that it
wasn't an amateur job. However, it is no use wasting time talking about
that. As I said before, I will be over here first thing in the morning,
and, meanwhile, I will arrange with the coroner about the inquest."

With that Inspector Shallock took his leave and Cheriton went sadly
upstairs again to his bedroom.



CHAPTER XIV.


He threw himself down on the bed and tried in vain to sleep. He lay
there until daylight and he heard the servants, who were now moving
about the house. Outside, the birds were singing in the gardens and now
and then a blithe whistle came from one of the hands engaged amongst the
flower beds. There were sounds, too, of cheerfulness amongst the
domestic staff, till Cheriton could stand it no longer. He rose and
bathed and shaved and then went out into the park, where he stayed till
nearly nine o'clock before he returned to the cheerful south dining-room
where breakfast and Evelyn awaited him.

"You are out early," she said. "I thought I was the first up. But where
is the Earl? He ought to have been down an hour ago. As I came past his
room, I didn't hear a sound. It is not often that he sleeps so late."

There was nothing for it but to tell the truth, not that it needed much
preparation on Cheriton's part, for Evelyn, looking up into his face,
saw the deep shadow in his eyes.

"Is there anything very wrong, Cliff?" she asked.

"Very wrong indeed, my dear," Cheriton said sadly. "Evelyn, you must
prepare yourself for a great shock."

"Not the dear old man," Evelyn cried.

Very slowly, Cheriton shook his head.

"I am afraid so," he said. "It is terrible."

"But impossible. When? Where? How did it happen? And all the house going
on as if nothing out of the common had taken place. Why wasn't I told
before?"

"Because it was considered necessary not to alarm anybody," Cheriton
explained "You see, I found the--the body--"

Evelyn gasped and all the colour drained from her cheeks. "Go on," she
murmured. "Tell me everything."

"The poor old gentleman was murdered," Cheriton said in little more than
a whisper. "There were burglars in the library and by some unfortunate
chance he heard them. I heard them, too, and I was going down to
investigate when I saw that the Earl was in front of me. Then a shot was
fired, and when I entered the library; Seagrane was lying dead on the
floor. I was almost in time to capture the man; indeed, we had a
struggle before he slipped a glove off his hand and got away through the
open window. And then, my dear girl, when I realised what had happened,
instead of rousing the household, my police training came uppermost, and
I telephoned to the authorities at Fakenham. When you innocent people
were asleep last night, the police were actually in the house. They may
have captured the miscreant by this time, because every station for
miles round was warned within ten minutes of the crime. The poor old man
lies in the library, the door of which is locked and the key is in the
possession of the police. I am going to ask you to break this news to
your mother. Tell her what has happened, and warn her that the
authorities will be here shortly, and they will probably want to
cross-examine every servant who slept here last night. It will be more
or less of a formality, of course, but he is certain to do it."

"Very well," Evelyn said, the tears running down her cheeks. "I will go
up to my mother's room at once. Meanwhile, you had better be going on
with your breakfast."

"Breakfast!" Cheriton echoed. "As if I can eat a mouthful. I have seen
one or two ghastly tragedies in my time, but nothing that has upset me
like this."

It was after 10 o'clock before Shallock returned with his men, and, by
that time the blinds had been drawn and a mournful silence brooded over
the Holt. It was Mrs. Marchand that Shallock first asked to see.

"I am very sorry to trouble you, madam," he said. "Of course Mr.
Cheriton has told you by this time what happened last night. I want,
with your permission, to ask you a few questions and then to see the
indoor servants, one by one. There is no occasion for them to be
unnecessarily alarmed, because I am convinced that none of them knows
anything about the tragedy. Now, madam, if you please. You have been
acting for some considerable time as the late Earl's housekeeper. In
that capacity you would know all about his habits--"

"They were very simple," Mrs. Marchand said, with an understanding
smile. "He was one of the most open men I ever met. And so long as
everybody about him was happy and comfortable, he cared little for
himself."

"Quite so. But that is not precisely what I meant. You have heard, of
course, that when we went into the library last night we discovered that
the safe had been broken open and that papers were scattered all over
the place. Now, to your knowledge, did the Earl keep any considerable
sum of money in the safe, or valuable securities, or anything of that
sort?"

"I am quite sure he didn't," Mrs. Marchand said. "I have seen that safe
left open for hours at a time and I know that all the Earl's securities
were held by his bankers. The only thing of value in that safe was his
lordship's will, and that he made himself not very long ago and had it
witnessed by the butler and cook. I know this because he told us that if
anything happened to him we should find his will in the safe."

"And this will, madam. Do you happen to know anything of its contents?
The chief beneficiaries and so on."

"The estate and the main portion of the Earl's fortune go to his adopted
son, Mr. Andrew Canton. Then there are legacies to myself and my
daughter, and others to old servants who have been on the staff for
years."

"Is Mr. Canton in the house just now?"

"Why, no," Mrs. Marchand said, rather startled by the question. "Surely
you don't--"

"Suggest anything," the inspector smiled gently. "Not for one moment.
But it is my duty to explore every avenue, because one never knows where
a single question may lead."

"No, Mr. Canton is away just now," Mrs. Marchand explained. "He went off
yesterday morning early to play golf at Sandwich with a friend of his.
But he will probably be back to lunch and then--But, good gracious, he
was going to bring back a friend with him to stay, and probably he does
not know of the awful thing that has happened here. If you will excuse
me for a moment, I will go and remind Mr. Cheriton of this and get him
to telephone to Sandwich and let Andrew know everything."

Mrs. Marchand flew into the morning-room, where Cheriton was waiting on
events, and in a few words told him what was required. Just for the
moment Cheriton was rather taken aback.

"You'll telephone to Sandwich, won't you?" Mrs. Marchand asked. "We
couldn't possibly have a stranger here just now."

"Of course not," Cheriton agreed promptly. "Leave it to me and I will
see what can be done."

As a matter of fact there was nothing to be done. The futility of
calling up Sandwich in the face of Cheriton's knowledge was plain on the
face of it. He would have to state presently, in quite a casual way,
that Canton was not at Sandwich and that he was not bringing a friend to
Seagrane Holt, and on this latter fact he could gamble on a certainly
seeing that Canton had not been near Sandwich. Moreover, Canton, with
poor old Seagrane's warning still in his ears, would lose no time in
returning to Holt directly his sinister errand to London was
successfully accomplished. Neither was there much chance of Canton
picking up information concerning the tragedy by the way. At the very
earliest the story could only reach the midday editions of the London
evening papers, and no doubt by that time Canton would be on his way
back to Holt.

"Thank you so much, Clifford," Mrs. Marchand said gratefully. "I was
quite alarmed when the inspector asked about Andrew."

"But he has to ask about everybody."

"Yes, I suppose he has. Still, it is very upsetting."

Mrs. Marchand went back to the Inspector and Cheriton sat patiently on
events. It was a long and dreary wait, but at length Shallock emerged
from his examination with a moody brow.

"I can't make top nor tail of it," he confessed. "Fairly baffled I am.
This is a case of Scotland Yard if ever there was one. I shall advise
the Chief Constable, Major Mills, to invite the assistance of London.
The man I should like to get down here, if possible, is my old friend
Inspector Merrick."

"And my late chief, remember," Cheriton smiled. "One of the old bulldog
breed, but not quick in the uptake, as the Scots say. By the way, is the
inquest fixed for to-morrow?"



CHAPTER XV.


It was some time after lunch when Canton put in an appearance. He seemed
greatly agitated and disturbed, having picked up news of the tragedy
when stopping on the way home for petrol.

"This is a pretty business," he said to Cheriton. "Any sign of a clue to
the assassin so far?"

"None," Cheriton said briefly. "By the way, Inspector Shallock was
asking for you when he was questioning the staff."

"As if I could tell him anything!"

"You will be asked to account for your movements during the last
twenty-four hours like the rest of us. In fact, you'll have to."

Canton fairly gasped. The colour left his face and his lips held a tinge
of blue. Then he recovered himself.

"No trouble about that," he swaggered.

Cheriton ignored this characteristic gesture on Canton's part. He could
see that the latter was badly shaken.

"Well, that's all right," he said. "But you quite understand why every
person in the house will have to account for his or her movements within
the last twenty-four hours."

Canton took a new line altogether.

"Now, look here, Cheriton," he said. "You don't like me and I am not
particularly fond of you. But that is no reason why we should quarrel
over this business."

"Quarrel?" Cheriton echoed. "What about?"

"Just as if you didn't know what I mean. We are both after the same
object, though I need not give that object a name. The old man had
certain plans for me, and I was quite prepared to follow them, when you
came bobbing along to spoil everything. I may be a fool, but I am not
such a fool as you think. I know what you are after, because I happen to
have a pair of eyes in my head and it doesn't require much to see a hole
through a ladder."

"I think that will do," Cheriton said quietly. "Let us keep to the
point. You have been away from here for forty-odd hours, just at the
time when your presence was most needed. You went down to Sandwich with
the intention of playing golf there, and it was understood that you were
going to bring a friend back with you. That was the idea, wasn't it?"

"But I couldn't," Canton said, perhaps a little too eagerly. "Landon was
unable to join me, and--"

"I should not pursue that line if I were you," Cheriton interrupted.
"Because it is likely to lead you into all sorts of trouble. As a matter
of fact, when I had time to think after the tragedy happened, I
telephoned to Sandwich to inform you of what had taken place. And they
told me you hadn't been near the Golf Club, and, moreover, that your
friend Landon had taken his clubs away a day or two before without
giving any date for his return. Now, of course, I am not concerned with
your comings and goings, and it doesn't matter twopence to me why you
deceived the poor old man into believing that you were going to Sandwich
when, in reality, your destination was somewhere else. What that
destination was and what secret mischief you were up to I am not in the
least curious to know. But you weren't at Sandwich and you didn't spend
the night there with your friend. I am merely warning you that the
police will certainly want to know where you were last night, and if you
tell them a lie, however innocent it may be, you are simply asking for
trouble."

The truculent expression faded from Canton's face and he regarded the
speaker with the air of a schoolboy who has just been caught out in some
piece of mischief.

"Oh, very well," he said sulkily. "I suppose I have got to thank you for
that, anyhow. Fact of the matter was I had a pressing reason for
spending yesterday and last night in London. It was private business on
my part and I don't see how it concerns the murder in the least."

"There I am inclined to agree with you," Cheriton said. "All I am doing
is going out of my way to warn you. And with that there is no more to be
said."

Nevertheless, it was a palpably uneasy Canton who strolled away, leaving
Cheriton to his thoughts. Not that he was left in solitude long, for
within a few moments Inspector Shallock arrived at the house, together
with a tall, iron-grey man, whose moustache and general bearing bespoke
the military type of the old school. This individual was introduced to
Cheriton as the Chief Constable, Major Mills.

"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Cheriton. I understand from Shallock
that, until recently you were a member of the Scotland Yard Detective
Force. In that case you ought to be able to help us. When this business
was brought to my notice I was particularly struck by Shallock's
description of the way in which you kept all the facts away from the
household until after Shallock was on the spot. A most mysterious affair
altogether. And no clue."

"Except the automatic," Cheriton pointed out.

"Well, yes, there is that. We have had a good look at that and
discovered that it is of American manufacture. There is a private mark
on it which probably represents a number in the books of the American
company who made it. It may be possible, through these marks, to trace
the actual purchaser. But it is going to be a long business, and,
meanwhile, we have nothing to go on. Can you suggest anything?"

"I am afraid I can't," Cheriton said candidly. "But what about a car? I
mean, presuming the murderers came in a car; have you any trace of it?"

"Not one," Shallock interposed. "All the patrols were out directly we
got the alarm, but it seems that the roads last night, for miles around,
were absolutely deserted between 12 and 2. More than that, I have had a
talk with the village constable, who was out all night. It appears that
Sir Israel Benstein, the great bullion merchant, whose property adjoins
Lord Seagrane's, had been losing from his covers large quantities of
pheasant's eggs. These have been stolen in the night by thieves, and,
when the case was reported to me, I gave Beccles, that is the local man,
orders to hide in the wood and see if he couldn't identify the thieves.
He told me he went out last night shortly after 10 and didn't get back
to bed much before daylight. The cover in which he was hiding was within
a quarter of a mile of Seagrane Holt, and if any car had come and gone
within a mile between the hours or the time when Beccles was on duty, he
would certainly have heard it. And he is absolutely sure that, after 11
o'clock and the moment he returned to his cottage, not a single car went
along the road. You see, Mr. Cheriton, how much more difficult it makes
it for us."

"That is pretty obvious," Cheriton said. "I feet pretty sure myself that
the murderers used a car, but the evidence of your man seems to knock
that on the head altogether."

"And what do you suggest now?" Major Mills asked. "A crime of revenge,
perhaps. You see, Seagrane was a man of whose past we know nothing, and,
according to statements he has made from time to time, he must have
passed through some rough experiences."

"So he told me," Cheriton said, "more than once. But I don't think this
is a case of a vendetta. As I informed Inspector Shallock, Lord Seagrane
walked boldly into the library and challenged the intruder. More than
that, he grappled with him. That the man was masked I saw for myself.
But, surely, if he had been an enemy of Seagrane's, then the latter
would have called his name before grappling with him. Then don't forget
the safe door had been forced, and documents and papers were strewn all
over the floor. I don't believe for a moment that the murderer really
intended to commit a crime, beyond safe-breaking; but when he found
himself in a powerful grip, he did not hesitate to shoot. I feel pretty
sure that he was looking for something in that safe, and what that
something was and whether or not he got away with it is the puzzle we
have to solve."

"Yes, but Shallock tells me, after a conversation with Mrs. Marchand,
that there was nothing of value in the safe," the Chief Constable
pointed out.

"Possibly not. Possibly his lordship had moved it somewhere else, and
therefore the burglary and the subsequent murder were what one might
call wasted efforts. However, it is no use standing here talking
generalities. I have been on to Scotland Yard this morning by telephone
and they are sending a good man down here. An inspector by the name of
Merrick. Meanwhile, we might as well look at the papers in the library
and see if they point to anything."

But a careful search amongst the papers led to nothing of the least
importance. They were mostly such things as leases and tenants'
agreements, invoices and estimates--what one would expect in connection
with a large estate.



CHAPTER XVI.


"Just one moment," Cheriton said, before the others turned to leave. "We
have made a thorough search of all those papers and noted their
contents. But there is one important document that seems to be missing."

"And what may that be?" Major Mills demanded.

"Lord Seagrane's will. We know that he made it a few months ago, Just
after Mrs. Marchand and her daughter came to live at Holt. They are
distant relatives of his--in fact, the only two persons related to
Seagrane who are alive to-day. Now Seagrane is dead, the title is
extinct, and I know that he was anxious to provide for Mrs. Marchand and
her daughter--in fact, he did so. He made that will himself and had it
witnessed by the butler and the cook. When this was done, he told Mrs.
Marchand that if anything happened to him, his will would be found in
the safe. And now we know that it is not to be discovered."

"But you are not suggesting that those scoundrels came all that way and
took such an enormous risk to gain possession of a man's will, are you?"
Mills asked. "What on earth would be the good of a piece of paper like
that to them?"

"None whatever," Cheriton agreed promptly. "I am merely calling
attention to the fact that not only has a mysterious murder been
committed, but also that a document of the last importance cannot be
found. And if no trace of it is eventually made, then the Seagrane
estates and all the money settled on them by the late Earl will go to
the Crown. And I am quite sure that my poor friend Seagrane never
intended anything like that. His idea was to leave the property and a
huge income attached to it to the son of his late partner. That is, Mr.
Andrew Canton, who is, at the moment, in the house. The understanding
seems to have been that Mr. Canton should marry Mrs. Marchand's
daughter, and that would have rounded off the romance that the poor old
gentleman had at the back of his mind. I presume that he also left a
certain sum of money to Mrs. Marchand herself, but as to that I cannot
say, because the testator never mentioned it to a soul, and nobody knew
what the contents of the will were, and even the witnesses were left in
ignorance."

"Yes," the Major said thoughtfully. "I suppose they would be. But isn't
it just possible that his lordship destroyed that will with the
intention of making another? He was a rather impetuous character, and if
anything upset him--say a trifling dispute with his heir--then I think
he was very likely a person to have torn up his testament in a moment of
anger."

To this Cheriton made no reply. The Major's shrewd remark had opened up
a fresh field for thought altogether. There was something undoubtedly to
be said in support of a theory that the will had been torn up and thrown
into the fire. Just about the time, perhaps, when that unsavoury money
lending business had cropped up and Seagrane had had that scene with
Canton.

"However, I should like to know something further about this will,"
Mills went on. "Shallock, go and find the butler and the cook and ask
them to come here for a moment."

Shallock returned a few moments later followed by the butler, Eccles,
and the cook, to the establishment. They were both looking a little
alarmed, the cook especially.

"There is nothing to be frightened about," Mills said. "I only want to
ask you a question or two. Now, I am given to understand that you two
witnessed your late master's will."

The speechless cook turned to Eccles.

"Very well," Mills said. "Let him speak for both."

"There isn't much to say, sir," the venerable butler took up the tale.
"I can't exactly remember the date without having time to think, but
about five months ago, more or less, his lordship called me and my wife
here, into the library, to witness his will. We knew it was his will,
because he said so. So we just put our signatures to it, according to
instructions, and, when that was done, he gave us a pound note each and
sent us away. What was inside that document, I don't know any more than
the dead, sir. And that is all I can tell you."

"No, it isn't," the portly cook said. "Don't forget as that wasn't the
only time we was witnesses to his lordship and see him sign a bit of a
document."

"There now," Eccles exclaimed. "If I hadn't gone and forgotten all about
it! Let me see now, when was it? Not so very long ago. Yes, it were
Friday fortnight. It was only on one sheet of paper, the same sort as
the will was wrote on, and we wasn't in the library two minutes."

There was nothing more to be said or done as far as the two servants
were concerned, and, with a wave of his hand, the chief constable sent
them back to their work.

"Yes," he said. "I am quite satisfied that a will existed, and I might
suggest that the other single sheet of paper was something in the way of
a codicil. Of course, that may be mere surmise, and, in any case, it
doesn't lead us any further. But I refuse to believe that the burglar
who was here the night before last came here for the purpose of stealing
a will. What on earth would be the good of it to him? If he did take it
away with him, then the first thing he would do would be to destroy it.
No criminal, unless he were mad, would be fool enough to keep a thing
like that. It would be equivalent to having his own execution warrant on
his person."

Mills and his subordinate went their way presently, having first
intimated that the inquest would take place next morning at eleven
o'clock in the great hall at Holt, and that everybody in the house must
be prepared to give evidence.

Eleven o'clock the following morning came and went, and three or four
dreary hours passed in what appeared to Cheriton to be a sheer waste of
time. One after the other, the servants came forward and testified,
after which the local constable also spoke on oath, and then towards
four o'clock in the afternoon the Coroner adjourned the proceedings for
a month. As the conference broke up, Cheriton found himself suddenly
face to face with his old inspector, Merrick.

"Well, this is a strange meeting, Mr. Cheriton," the other said. "Fancy
coming down here--"

"So they put the case in your hands after all, did they?" Cheriton
interrupted. "Yes. I knew they were thinking of doing something of the
kind."

"A very wise move too," Merrick said in his most pompous fashion. "Of
course, I know our relationship is not what it used to be, because you
have turned into a gentleman again and you don't have to come into my
office and salute me any longer. We are just man to man, and I ask you,
very respectfully, not to interfere in this business. There is an old
saying that once a policeman, always a policeman, and there is a lot of
truth in this, too. However, you stick to your books and leave me to
handle this case without butting in, if you understand what I mean.
Besides, it has nothing to do with you, though I won't say that your
handling of the case to start with was anything but good."

This was Merrick at his best, or worst, from the point of view in which
it was regarded, so Cheriton merely smiled and permitted himself to
remark that it was not for a humble individual like himself to come
between the famous inspector and the execution of his duty. So, although
he had not forgotten the wax disc that was at present lying upstairs in
his collar drawer in his bedroom, and which might prove something in the
way of a clue, he said nothing about it to Merrick; neither was he going
to do anything of the sort. Let Merrick work on the case as he liked,
but that was not going to prevent him from doing his best to get to the
bottom of this strange case.

He would have liked to have had a few more words with Canton, but the
latter had disappeared somewhere, so he wandered, presently, into the
great hall, now cleared of all signs of the inquest and its sordid
surroundings. A footman came in with the tea equipage and proceeded to
lay out the table. Just as he had finished Evelyn entered listlessly and
announced the fact that her mother was not coming down, as the events of
the day had been too much for her and she was lying down till
dinner-time.

"A pretty trying day for all of us," Cheriton agreed. "And only a few
hours ago--"

"Yes, I know what you are going to say," Evelyn murmured. "A few hours
ago and we were all so happy."

"Something like that," Cheriton said. "But, Evie, were we so very happy?
Comparatively, yes, but you know what I mean."

Evelyn turned her frank, open gaze on Cheriton's face. "I understand,"
she said. "Oh, why should we pretend and play at the conventions in this
dark hour? You are alluding to the poor, dear old man's idea of romance.
With me for one of the central characters, Andrew Canton for another. I
could never have gone through with it, never. And I am not quite sure
that latterly my dear benefactor would have wished me to. I mean, after
the way in which Andrew was constantly deceiving him. Those gambling and
other debts. The lies and deceit."

Evelyn stopped as if unable to proceed.

"I would have done my best,"--she took up the thread again--"without
complaining. But I could not have married Andrew. I tried to think I
could once, but now--"

She could get no further, so Cheriton hastened to speak.

"Try and forget it," he said soothingly. "We have so many more important
things to think of."

"I hope you don't think me selfish," Evelyn smiled faintly through the
gathering tears. "What did Andrew say when he was called this afternoon?
I wasn't there, Cliff--I could not bear to listen to all that
cold-blooded business. No doubt it was necessary, but it seemed so
callous to me. So, when I found that I wasn't wanted, I left."

"Canton wasn't wanted, either," Cheriton explained. "Or at least, like
you, he wasn't reached. But I managed to save him from the risk of
making a fool of himself."

"What quite does that mean?" Evelyn asked.

"Well, over that Sandwich business. If Canton had gone into the box this
morning and glibly told the Coroner that he was at Sandwich all day
before the Earl died and that he spent the night there, the truth would
certainly have come out sooner or later, and Canton would have been
suspected. His recklessness and his gambling weaknesses would have been
made much of, also his disputes with the Earl over money matters. We
imagine that these things are secret from the household, but they seldom
are. And servants, like their employers, are not free from gossip. And
don't forget that it is common property that Canton inherits everything
here, including the private fortune which has been settled on the
estates. All depending on Canton's good behaviour, of course. Looking at
it from the police point of view, the one person who benefits by the
death of his late lordship is Canton. He goes into the witness box and
testifies on oath that he was at Sandwich on the night of the murder.
What will the authorities think when they discover that the statement is
a lie?"

Evelyn paused with the milk-jug in her hand.

"But surely," she began, "you don't suspect--"

"Perhaps not, but Merrick of Scotland Yard, who has the case in hand,
surely will. And then--"

Cheriton stopped short as Canton lounged moodily into the hall. He
frowned at the two seated there.

"Another conspiracy," he sneered. "What are you putting your heads
together about?"

"You," Cheriton responded promptly. "I was just telling Evelyn that the
late Earl's will can't be found. It is not in the safe where he told
Mrs. Marchand to look for it in case he died. And if it never turns up,
then your chance of ever getting a penny of the money isn't worth the
proverbial cent."

Canton gasped as he collapsed into a chair.



CHAPTER XVII.


It required no great discernment to see that Cheriton's declaration with
regard to the missing will had shaken Canton to the centre of his being.
The ingrained selfishness of the man was written all over him. Even at
that moment, with the dead body of his benefactor lying in the house, he
was thinking of his own interests to the exclusion of everything else.

"I don't quite understand you," he said presently, when he had partially
recovered his somewhat scattered wits.

"I thought I had made it plain enough," Cheriton said. "Perhaps I ought
not to mention it just now when I have so many more serious things to
think of. But it is not a matter to be too lightly regarded. The
detectives, under the guidance of Major Mills, have ransacked everything
in the library, and there is no sign of Lord Seagrane's will to be
found. This is all the more remarkable because Mrs. Marchand was told
that if anything happened to him it would be in the safe.

"And it wasn't?" Canton asked eagerly.

"Not a trace of it. Perhaps you will understand now how the
disappearance of this will affects you."

"But surely there must be a will somewhere," Canton almost wept. "I know
the old man--"

"I don't think I should speak of him like that if I were you, Andrew,"
Evelyn suggested gently. "We were talking about you when you came in,
and Clifford was telling me all about that Sandwich affair. So you see,
there is no reason why we should not discuss the matter openly."

"What has that got to do with it?" Canton snarled.

"Don't you think you are a bit quick in taking up that line," Cheriton
said sternly. "And don't forget that you will have to explain where you
were and what you were doing when you told that ridiculous story about a
day's golf at Sandwich and your friend Landon. However, that is not what
we were discussing. Sooner or later, we shall know where you went, so I
am not going to argue any further on that point. But you must be aware
that during the last few weeks you have been giving Lord Seagrane a deal
of anxiety."

"In what way?" Canton demanded.

"Well, in the matter of that money-lending business for one thing. Yes,
I know all about it."

Canton's jaw dropped and his face flushed. He was wondering how on earth
Cheriton had learnt this, though the latter was not in the least
disposed to tell him.

"That is a solitary instance," Cheriton went on. "And there are others.
Now, my idea is that the poor old gentleman was so annoyed with you that
he destroyed his will with the intention of making another. That so
often happens, and fate interposed to prevent him doing anything of the
sort. I am quite sure that the missing will will never be found."

In this it looked as if Cheriton was right, for the next two or three
days passed without any signs of the will and it was still undiscovered
when the funeral took place. It was a quiet ceremony, attended by few
people, because Seagrane had not encouraged the advances of his
neighbours, and, besides the tenants and the workmen on the estate,
there was nobody in the churchyard when the remains of the murdered man
were laid in the family vault. As they were all turning away from the
graveside, Cheriton was not a little astonished to see, amongst the
casual visitors, Bradmain and Cleaver from the Dormy House, both of whom
had donned black clothes for the occasion.

With an idea uppermost in his mind, Cheriton followed them in the
direction of the Dormy House. He spoke to them and then Bradmain turned
and addressed him.

"This is a very sorry business," he said. "Me and my friend thought we
would come and pay our last respects to the old Earl, seeing that we had
met him more than once or twice on the links, which, I understand, were
his private property. I hope you won't be long in laying the murderer by
the heels."

Cheriton responded appropriately enough, though he smiled to himself to
see that both Bradmain and Cleaver were wearing black gloves for the
occasion. So they walked side by side as far as the Dormy House, where
the two men disappeared, and Cheriton found himself alone in the bar,
behind which stood James, the steward, busy with his usual vocation.

"Sorry I could not get up to the funeral, sir," he said. "But one thing
and another detained me until it was too late."

"You don't look very busy," Cheriton said. "Do you mean that you have
got many people staying in the house?"

"No, sir," James responded. "Only those two gentlemen who have just come
in."

"Are they remaining any time?"

"I believe they are, sir. I think I heard one tell the other this
morning that they might just as well go on here for the present rather
than be spending their time in London. But Mr. Bradmain, he is going up
for the weekend."

Cheriton allowed this remark to pass in silence, because he was feeling
his way up to an inquiry which might, or might not, have some bearing on
the Seagrane Holt tragedy. It was James himself who afforded the
opening.

"No sort of clue, sir, I suppose?" he asked.

"So far, nothing. But in cases like this it is astonishing how many
blind alleys the detectives run up before they finally emerge on the
right road. For instance, they might suspect even you or me or those two
gentlemen who have just gone upstairs. Now, I wonder if they could
account for their movements on the night of the murder. I am only
putting this as a test case, though you never can tell where crime is
concerned."

"I don't think I should worry about them, sir, if I were you," James
said. "Because, you see, in a manner of speaking, I should be a witness
for the defence. Now, according to what come out at the inquest, his
lordship was murdered just after 1 o'clock. You told the coroner that,
didn't you, sir?"

"Oh, there is no question about the time," Cheriton said.

"Very well then, sir. You see, Mr. Bradmain he suffers a lot from what
he calls gastric indigestion. Catches him in the stomach something
dreadful, especially at night, and there is nothing for it but a little
neat brandy."

"Indeed," Cheriton smiled. "But what on earth has that got to do with
the successful alibi? Mind you, I am only using the word alibi in the
ordinary sense, and not suggesting for a moment that it is anything but
an idle theory. However, go on."

"Well, sir, It's like this. I happened to be up very late on the night
that the poor old Earl was killed. It must have been twelve o'clock or
after that I was free to go to bed, and just as I was climbing the
stairs I heard somebody groan. So I just stood still for a few minutes,
wondering where the noise came from. Then I located it in a
double-bedded room where those two gents sleep. I didn't like to butt
in, in a manner of speaking, sir, so I just waited. Then, presently, out
on the landing comes Mr. Cleaver in his pyjamas, and, catching sight of
me, says as how his friend is mortal bad, and would I go downstairs into
the bar and get him a wineglassful of neat brandy. So I nipped down
again, and got the brandy whilst all the time the groans were going on.
Mr. Cleaver he took the glass from me and I naturally waited out on the
landing to see if I should be needed again. Then the groans stopped, and
I heard Mr. Bradmain gasp that that was better, and, after a few
minutes' conversation which I overheard, Mr. Cleaver he comes out again
and says it's all right now, and there was no reason for me to sit up
any longer."

"Well, that effectually explodes any ridiculous suggestion that these
gentlemen had anything to do with the murder," Cheriton smiled. "All the
same, James, it would be just as well if you didn't mention this
conversation to anybody in the circumstances, even a joke like that
might lead to a lot of gossip."

A word or two more and Cheriton walked out of the Dormy House and turned
his footsteps in the direction of the cottage. There he would be alone
as long as he chose without any chance of interruption and with ample
time to think over a certain theory which was forming in his mind with
regard to the murderer.

In any case, he was not going to take Merrick into his confidence. Let
that individual go his own way and he, Cheriton, would go his. And they
would see later on which of them had been right in his deductions.

For a long time Cheriton sat in the solitude of his room and allowed his
mind to play on certain recent events. He took from a drawer in his
writing table the two packs of playing cards he had obtained from James
a few days before. But the more he studied these and worked on them with
the limited means at his disposal the more puzzled he became. Those
extraordinary marks and those little threads of wax baffled him
completely.

Then an idea occurred to him. He packed up the cards carefully and
restored them to their place. Then, it being not far from dinner-time,
he went back to Seagrane Holt and announced the fact that he was going
to town on the morrow, and that he might not be back for two or three
days.

"Just personal business," he said casually.



CHAPTER XVIII.


But it was anything rather than personal business that had induced
Cheriton to turn his back on Seagrane Holt in the midst of that tragic
crisis. At twelve o'clock the following day he found himself seeking
admission to a flat in Gower-street and sending in his card, on which
was pencilled a word or two, after which the man who answered the door
informed him that Mr. Trevor Penton was at home and would be glad to see
him.

Trevor Penton was a scientist whose knowledge of analysis had been more
than once of considerable assistance to Scotland Yard. He belonged to
the new school of chemists in criminology who can take a pinch of fluff
found in a workman's coat pocket and resolve the mass into its component
parts. He had been at school with Cheriton and they had kept up their
friendship, more or less, ever since.

Yet Fenton declined to call himself an analytical chemist, his ambition
lying more in the theatrical line. He was the author of a dozen unacted
plays and a number of sketches of which only one so far had seen the
light of publicity. All his spare time was passed with members of the
profession and he was a popular member of one or two theatrical clubs.

He was not in the sitting-room at the moment that Cheriton entered, so
that the latter had time to look about him and notice that three or four
photographs of musical comedy celebrities had been added to Penton's
large collection.

In the centre of these, on the mantelpiece, was a photograph of a young
woman, scantily, not to say daringly, dressed, and underneath the
signature "Yours lovingly, Nance Carey."

Here was a discovery. Cheriton could not see the full significance of it
for the moment, but he would later on. For the moment, he had forgotten
all about Miss Carey and the loss of her diamonds, to say nothing of the
way in which he had been dismissed from the Police Force by Inspector
Merrick not so very long ago. Now, the whole thing flashed into his
mind.

But he said nothing of this for the moment when Penton entered and
greeted him with boisterous enthusiasm.

"Up on the spree, eh?" the latter said. "Our latest celebrity scattering
his money about, what?"

"Nothing of the sort," Cheriton responded. "I am up here on business,
and pretty serious business at that. I suppose you have read all about
the Seagrane tragedy?"

Penton became grave at once.

"I had forgotten that you were actually staying in the house," he said.
"Now, just where do I come in?"

Cheriton laid the two packs of cards on the table and proceeded to
explain precisely how they had come into his possession. Penton examined
them through a microscope and then, leaving the room for a few moments,
proceeded to his workshop in an attic at the top of the flat where, with
the aid of his man and his complete outfit, he tested for fingerprints.
Half an hour later, he was back in the flat again.

"This is rather a funny business, old chap," he said. "There are
distinct impressions of four-sets of finger-marks on these cards, but
they are superimposed one over the top of the other so closely that it
is almost impossible to separate them. I should say that these cards
were used for some game which did not last long. Am I right?"

"Absolutely," Cheriton said. "They were used in a game of bridge played
in the Dormy House at Sandchester golf links two days before Lord
Seagrane was murdered. They were only used for one rubber and it only
occupied three hands altogether. Then the table was broken up, and I got
hold of those cards. Mind you, I am not suggesting that they have
anything to do with the crime, but, on the other hand, it is possible
that there is a clue behind them. Then you mean to tell me that you
can't possibly manage to obtain a set of individual prints."

"No, I don't think I can," Penton said frankly. "But there is one fairly
marked print which shows a peculiar characteristic. It is evidently a
right thumb, and I should say marked the cards when the holder was
dealing. A right-handed man who held the pack loosely in his left hand
and dealt with the right, pressing the ball of his thumb and part of the
first joint as he flicked each card over the table. But what puzzles me
is, though I can see the crease in the thumb, just at the first joint,
and a few faint whorls above, the upper part of the thumb makes no mark
at all. And that is very strange. Of course, it is possible that the
individual card-player I have alluded to has followed some occupation
which has rubbed the whorls off his thumb altogether, or he may have had
a scald or burn or something of that sort. But I should hardly think
that, because the whorls stop so suddenly, just as if they had been cut
off with a knife. However, if you like, I will give the matter a more
severe test and let you know all about it in a day or two."

Cheriton made no reply for a moment or two. He stood there in puzzled
thought. He had watched the play of that particular game with more than
usual carefulness for he had been intent upon detecting anything in the
way of cheating on the part of Bradmain and his companion. It seemed to
him, therefore, that with his trained police mind he would have been
certain to notice if there had been anything the matter with the thumbs
of either of the players. However, for the moment, he would have to put
that consideration on one side. He had gone now as far as he could, and
he would be compelled to wait for a further report from Penton.
Moreover, he was not positively sure that Canton had been cheated at
all, though he could not altogether dismiss from his mind the impression
that he had seen somewhere in print or in actual play exactly the same
hands dealt in a rubber as had been on that particular afternoon in the
Dormy House.

"Well, thanks very much old chap," he said to Penton. "I will run in
again in a day or--"

"Here, not so fast," Penton interrupted. "We are going to lunch
together. I don't come in contact every day with a literary swell of the
first water like you, so I am going to show you off at one of our
theatrical clubs."

"Very well, I don't mind," Cheriton said. "By the way, how is the
dramatic composition getting on?"

"Absolutely rotten," Penton admitted. "But I peg away at it, boy, I peg
away. I shall get through some day. You see, I have got hosts of friends
in the profession."

"So I noticed," Cheriton said dryly as he glanced at the mantelpiece.
"By the way, here is a new one. Where did you manage to steal that
from?"

"What, Nance Carey? Oh, she gave it to me all right. She is one of those
vaudeville stars or so-called stars, from America. Come over here for a
holiday, she says. But quite willing to sign a contract on this side for
L100 a week if she can get it. Not a bad sort, though no longer in the
chicken stage. She's the one who had her jewels stolen from the Grand
Park Hotel the other day. You might have seen the case in the papers."

"I thought I recognised the lady," Cheriton said. "As a matter of fact I
had the case in hand at first. But I made a botch of the first stage and
my Inspector told me off, whereupon I sent in my resignation and,
between ourselves, glad of the chance. If you want to know my private
opinion, I should say that there was no robbery at all and that the
whole thing was a fake for the sake of advertisement; but this is not
for publication."

"I think you are wrong," Penton said. "Anyway the lady went to Armstrong
of the Comus and pleaded temporary poverty and he gave her a part in a
new revue sketch which she is playing in at the present moment. Because
I am doing something for Armstrong and have the run of his theatre, I
came in contact with the lady, hence her picture in my collection."

"I should like to see her again," Cheriton observed. "We met at the
Grand Park and all that."

"Well, perhaps we shall at lunch-time today," Fenton said. "It is a
mixed club I am taking you to, and I know that Nance Carey is an
honorary member. Only she has been rather seedy the last day or two.
Most remarkable affair. She was playing that sketch I told you about in
a charity matinee, when she suddenly threw up her hands and rushed from
the stage and collapsed in her dressing-room. All right a little later,
but much shaken. Nerves."

"Possibly," Cheriton said dryly. "But more like a new form of
advertisement. How did she account for it?"

"I don't know because I wasn't there. But one of those critic chaps who
does gossip in a cheap paper claims to know all about it, and wrote a
lot in his rag next day. Let me see, which day last week was it? Anyway,
if you care to look whilst I change my coat and get a brush up you will
find most of the current and old newspapers on that oak table yonder."

Cheriton hastily ran through the columns of Penton's daily penny sheet
until he found what he wanted. It was all there with headlines, and the
writer had let himself go.

"The scene in the Comus last Thursday, when a talented actress from the
other side of the herring pond, in the form of Miss Nance Carey,
suddenly broke down and hurried from the stage, was due to a sudden
attack of nerves, a disease from which even the most seasoned histrions
occasionally suffer. She tells me that such a thing has never occurred
to her before. For the benefit of those who were not present I can tell
them that the sketch was a comedy in which Miss Carey was a young wife
who mixes up the name of a horse with that of a woman which is no
novelty in sketches and has little to do with the story. As the young
wife lolls on a couch the action of the story calls for the butler to
enter with the four o'clock edition of the evening paper, and in this
instance it was actually that very edition of the 'Evening Messenger.'
Miss Carey unfolded it, and after one glance at the inside, threw up her
hands and fled from the stage. She--"

But Cheriton read no further. What he wanted to do now was to get hold
of that evening edition of the 'Messenger.' There were evening papers on
the oak table, and presently amongst them he laid hands on that which he
was seeking. It was the racing edition of the 'Messenger,' published at
four o'clock on that especial Thursday which happened to be the day
following the murder of Seagrane, or rather some thirteen hours after
the discovery of the crime. There was uppermost in Cheriton's mind at
that moment the memory of the two men whose photographs he had seen in
the paper he found in Nance Carey's steel-lined case.

And there in the sheet he held in his hand he found in the stop-press
edition one line that ran thus:

"Lord Seagrane was found murdered this morning."



CHAPTER XIX.


Cheriton had fully expected to find something in that particular early
racing edition of the 'Messenger' which might connect Miss Carey with
her exhibition on the stage the afternoon following the death of Lord
Seagrane. But nothing so intensely dramatic as the one line in the
stop-press news.

There could be no doubt that those impressive words had sent Nance Carey
off the stage in a condition bordering on collapse. But why? What had
happened to connect the actress with the strange crime at Seagrane Holt?
She could not have been within miles of the place when Seagrane was
struck down, and yet the murder had most profoundly affected her. Nor
could Cheriton find on the inside page of the 'Messenger' anything else
which was likely to have brought about that exhibition of emotion.

Then there flashed into his mind the recollection of the old American
newspaper which he had discovered in Nance Carey's steel lined case when
he had started his investigations of the disappearance of her jewels. He
remembered the portraits of those two men whose names were not given,
but who were apparently connected with some sensational crime on the
other side of the Atlantic--the two men whom he now knew to be Bradmain
and Cleaver. And both of these, at the present moment, were in the
neighbourhood of Seagrane Holt and had been when the murder was
committed. Of course, this might be mere coincidence, and, on the other
hand, it might lead to a startling discovery. And yet, on the face of
it, Bradmain and Cleaver had a perfect alibi.

There was old James, who was, no doubt, prepared to go into the
witness-box and swear that at the hour when the crime had been committed
those two were in their bedroom in the Dormy House of the Sandchester
Golf Links. There was no doubt that this evidence on the part of so
respectable a man as James would go far to clearing the two strangers of
any complicity in the murder.

Still, with his three years' experience of detective work, Cheriton had
seen more than one cast-iron alibi break down on investigation and he
was not going to allow this one to pass as a matter of course. All the
same it behoved him to step warily and do nothing that was likely to put
those two men on their guard. They would know, of course, as everybody
within miles of Seagrane Holt already knew, that Scotland Yard had the
case in hand in the person of Inspector Merrick, so that he, Cheriton,
would start at a great advantage in his investigations, for those two
would never suspect that he was pursuing a line of policy of his own
with the object of handing the criminals over to justice.

Cheriton sat there, pondering the matter in his mind and wondering
whether or not to take Trevor Penton into his confidence. After all, why
not? Penton derived a certain portion of his income from Scotland Yard
and he was the last man in the world to betray a secret. Therefore, when
Penton came into the room, Cheriton opened the 'Messenger' and placed a
forefinger impressively on the startling line in the stop-press edition.

"I want to call your attention to this," he said. "You see what it is.
Just as this particular edition of the paper was going to press after
the morning following Seagrane's death, news of the murder reached the
office. They had only time to shove a few words into the 'fudge,' but,
no doubt, the later editions contained full particulars. Now, mark you,
at a matinee in the Comus Theatre on that afternoon a copy of the four
o'clock edition was handed to Nance Carey, who was on the stage playing
a part in a sketch. She had to open the paper in the discharge of her
business and make some flippant allusion to a paragraph therein. Or
rather, a supposed paragraph therein. Any old paper would have done for
her purpose, but I suppose the actor who was playing the part of the
butler was reading the news himself while he waited for his cue, and
thought the paper he carried in his hand would do as well as anything
else, which, of course, it did. Now if you can find anything inside
those two sheets to send an actress into hysterics, I will ask you to be
good enough to point it out to me. I can discover nothing of the sort.
My dear fellow, it was that one pregnant line in the stop-press edition
that carried the Carey woman off her feet."

"But why?" Penton asked. "She didn't know Seagrane."

"How are we to be sure of that? My impression is that she did. Mind you,
Seagrane had lived a very hectic sort of life in America and must have
come in close contact with many queer characters of whom we know
nothing. As a matter of fact, he was rather reticent about his past.
Still, we need not go into that. Now, look here, old chap. Before my
sudden exit from Scotland Yard, I was told off to inquire into the loss
of Nance Carey's jewels. You didn't know that, I suppose?"

"Of course I didn't," Penton replied.

"Well, anyway, I was. And in the course of my inquiries I had occasion
to examine a steel-lined suitcase from which the property was lifted.
And in that case I discovered an old American newspaper containing what
I presume to be the photographs of two American criminals. They were in
some way connected with what the Press called the 'Test Case.' No names
were given under the photographs, but I recognised them as two men who
are staying at the present moment within a few miles of Seagrane Holt.
They are passing themselves off as rich Australians, but that does not
deceive me, because I was the best part of a year in America and I am
quite sure that they are Yankee crooks."

"Very interesting," Penton murmured. "Then you think they are down there
with evil intent."

"I am sure of it. Mind you, they never came near Seagrane Holt and I
don't know whether one of them ever spoke to Lord Seagrane. But there
they are apparently wasting their time playing golf, which game is only
a blind. And they have got what appears to be an unshakable alibi, which
fact I established before I came up here to-day. I can't tell you any
more than that at present and I am going to ask you to forget my story
until I ask you to remember it again. Now, about Miss Carey. Is she a
particular friend of yours?"

"No, not specially," Penton said carelessly. "I find her rather nice and
charming, but there is no getting away from the fact that she is well
over forty. She doesn't look it, but I know that she has been in
American vaudeville for nearly twenty-five years. Started as a kid on
what they call the western circuit. Doing small towns and all that sort
of thing for years. She has some strange stories to tell about her
adventures, and I should say that one way or another she has had a
pretty hard life. But what does all this lead to?"

"Well, I can hardly tell you yet," Cheriton said. "I only wanted to make
sure that your friendship with this woman would not make you
antagonistic, because I want you to help. I want you to arrange, if you
can, so that I can meet Miss Carey in a social way. Say lunch, or
dinner, or something of that sort. 'Fancy meeting you' sort of thing."

"Oh, I think I can manage that here and now," Penton said. "She
generally lunches at the very restaurant that I am taking you to and we
are almost certain to meet her there."

"Good," Cheriton cried. "Now, one more question before we set out in
search of food. About those wax impressions on the cards. Are they pure
wax?"

"No, they are not," Penton explained. "The tiny fragments I found are
mixed with some sort of material, the name of which I know though it
would convey nothing to you. I mean the scientific name. It is something
with a shade of plaster of Paris in it which is used by plastic
surgeons."

"I suppose you mean those sort of chaps who build up professional
beauties and take out their wrinkles."

"Something of that sort. However, I will make a more careful examination
this afternoon and let you know exactly what the component parts of the
mixture are."

With that Cheriton was content for the moment. It would be quite time to
mention the wax disc he had discovered on the library floor at Holt when
he was ready to take the next step in his own negotiations. He was
hoping that the disc corresponded with Penton's analysis.

They left Penton's flat a little later and went off on foot in the
direction of the Bohemian restaurant in Soho where the scientist elected
to lunch. It was a small place with a rather cosmopolitan clientele, and
by the time the two friends arrived there, most of the tables were
occupied. It was only near the door that accommodation could be
afforded.

They were about to sit down and take their places when Cheriton almost
by instinct--an instinct gained in the Police Force--glanced round the
room and, as he did so he pulled up suddenly and grasped Penton by the
arm.

"Do you mind if we don't lunch here at all?" he whispered hurriedly. "We
haven't taken our seats yet and if we go out again are not likely to
attract any attention."

"Oh, as you like," Penton said. "It's all the same to me. But why this
sudden change of mind?"

"Glance at that top table in the corner under the big palm," Cheriton
said. "I think you will see that the lady we are seeking is seated there
with a companion. And that companion happens to be Andrew Canton whose
name you must have seen in connection with the late Lord Seagrane's. It
is vital that those two shouldn't know I have seen them together."



CHAPTER XX.


After these few words Penton led the way outside and a few moments later
the two were seated at a table in a restaurant on the other side of the
road. Penton asked but few questions, but the replies he received were
quite sufficient for his purpose. Presently they parted, and Cheriton
turned his steps in the direction of Lincoln's Inn Fields, where, at
Mrs. Marchand's request, he was going to see one of the partners in the
famous legal firm of Prendergast, who had been for generations the
family solicitors to the Seagranes.

They were a firm of such distinction that in signing their letters they
simply used the word 'Prendergasts,' just as if they had been connected
with the nobility, and, indeed, they were not far apart from such
distinction. In the gloomy offices Cheriton waited for some time until
at length he was admitted to the presence of a tall man of aristocratic
appearance who gave the name of Arthur Prendergast and asked his
business. When Cheriton had stated this, Mr. Prendergast frowned.

"A singular affair altogether," he said. "And all the more complicated
because, as you are aware, Mr. Cheriton, there is no sign whatever of
our late client's will."

"He might have destroyed it," Cheriton suggested.

"Now, I should think that exceedingly probable," the lawyer said. "When
the late Lord Seagrane came into the title he visited us and gave
certain instructions. In the first place, we were to call in all the
mortgages and discharge them. He wished to clear the estate, and as the
mortgagees in ordinary circumstances were extremely unlikely to see any
of their money again, we had no great difficulty in doing this
forthwith. This absorbed the best part of a quarter of a million. Then
we had instructions to put all the property on the estate in perfect
condition, and that meant at least another fifty thousand pounds. We
were told to spare no expense, but to get the work done at once, which
we accordingly did. What with that and the installing of electric light
and the water plant and all the rest of it, there was nothing left out
of half a million. And then we were to settle the estates on the next of
kin. But, you know, there is no next of kin in what we lawyers call tale
male. That is, so far as we know, Lord Seagrane was the last surviving
member of his race. At least, so he said."

"And I believe he was right," Cheriton replied. "But, then, he had an
adopted son."

"Precisely. Mr. Andrew Canton. Failing anybody else, the property would
have been Mr. Canton's and a magnificent income besides. We didn't make
the will, because the old gentleman had a curious idea that he could do
it better himself. Anyway, he showed it to us, and we advised him that
it was watertight. And there was an end as far as we were concerned."

"But the last month or two Lord Seagrane was not entirely satisfied with
the way Canton was going on."

"Ah, if you know that, then I can speak more freely," Prendergast said.
"He was extremely dissatisfied, and some correspondence on the subject
passed between us. From what I could gather, it seemed extremely likely
that his lordship intended to make a fresh arrangement just before he
was murdered. If we can't find that will, which I shrewdly suspect has
been destroyed, then it will be extremely awkward for Mr. Andrew Canton,
and he will get nothing. He is no relation of his late lordship's."

"As a matter of fact, he wasn't," Cheriton said. "But I am thinking more
about--more about Mrs. Marchand and her daughter. It will be extremely
hard--"

"I don't think you need worry much about them," Prendergast interrupted.
"You see, we hold securities of his lordship's which represent something
in the neighbourhood of a hundred thousand pounds. This he intended to
leave to Mrs. Marchand and her daughter, and they will probably get it,
because they are collateral relations of his, and if no other claimants
appear--a contingency very remote--Mrs. Marchand will naturally take it
all."

Cheriton did not remain much longer after this explanation on the
lawyer's part, because it had cleared up the very point that was
troubling him. Whatever happened now, Mrs. Marchand would be amply
provided for and need have no fear as to the future. There was just one
question that he asked before he took his leave. And that was what
became of the property in case the will was lost or had been destroyed.

"In that case," Prendergast said, "the whole property goes to the Crown.
It is rather unfortunate that it should be so, but perhaps it is best
that the property should go to the State rather than to a young man who
might gamble it all away."

It was a thousand pities, Cheriton told himself as he made his way
homewards. Still, those he cared most for were being looked after, and
it was a matter of absolute indifference to him whether Canton had to
get his own living or not. For Canton had become mixed up with some very
doubtful people, and Cheriton began to wonder whether or not that young
man knew more of the tragedy at Holt than appeared on the surface.

There was his journey to London, for instance, which he had so carefully
concealed. So far as Cheriton could see, there was no reason for doing
anything of the kind. If he had told Seagrane on the morning before the
murder that he had wanted to go to London for a few hours, the old
gentleman would most certainly have given his consent. Of course, there
was the fact that Canton needed the money desperately to meet his card
obligations to those two sharpers, and there was the missing Holbein to
account for the deception and the hurried visit to London under cover of
a day's golf at Sandwich. And there were other suspicious points which
had to be cleared up.

For instance, how had Canton become on such friendly terms with Nance
Carey as to be in a position to take her out to lunch? And then,
again...Oh, well, it was perhaps better to put these things out of his
mind, Cheriton decided, until he had a few hours' quiet to himself, when
he could get his theories into proper focus. And this he would be in a
position to do soon, because on the morrow he was going to take up his
headquarters permanently at the cottage. In the meantime, Mrs. Marchand
and Evelyn would remain at the Holt, probably for many months, because
male heirs would be advertised for and, failing them, the State would be
involved in a dragging routine of red tape, and the estate would have to
be maintained meanwhile in its present condition.

So Cheriton, after declining to remain to dinner at the Holt that
evening, shut himself up in the cottage and lighted his pipe with the
intention of devoting the next few hours to ironing out his theories and
reducing them to something like a logical series of events.

First of all, those two swindlers at the Dormy House. For what purpose
had they come down to Sandchester? And why had they lured Andrew Canton
into their clutches? Possibly because they were short of money to carry
on their campaign and they had recognised an easy victim in Canton
directly they had met.

But why had they gone to all that trouble to swindle him? It was a
swindle, Cheriton felt convinced, though, at the same time, he could not
see his way to prove it. That wax and other things on the back of the
cards what did they mean? And, then, again, Cheriton felt almost certain
that he had seen that particular hand of cards played before, or,
falling that, he had heard of it somewhere. He had a perfect card memory
himself, and he could almost visualise, after a lapse of this time,
exactly how those four hands lay on the table. He got up from the table
where he was seated and went across to his book-shelf and took down
Manning Foster's latest volume--or one of his latest volumes--entitled
'Auction Bridge for All.' He would search amongst what that leading
British authority on bridge had to say about freak hands in his chapter
on 'Actualities.'

Almost before he had begun to flutter over the leaves of the work in
question he paused and closed it again. To make quite sure he would try
to arrange those hands from memory, and, this done, compare his
interpretation with the 'obiter dicta' of a master of the game. So he
laid the book aside for the time being and took from a drawer a pack of
cards and began carefully to sort them out into hands as they might have
been on that fateful afternoon in the Dormy House. This would be a far
better plan than hunting out a specimen hand in 'Auction Bridge for All'
and then merely thinking that it was the same.

Once the cards were sorted into hands--hands that seemed to Cheriton to
correspond with the same as dealt in the Dormy House rubber--it was time
to look up the authority.

Yes, here it was just as he had worked it out from memory.

ACTUALITY 6. LURE OF A HUNDRED ACES.

Here is a case in which the Declarer clung tenaciously (how I sympathise
with him!) to his hundred aces to his downfall.


                       [Player Y]
                       S.: J., 10, 8, 7, 2.
                       H.: K., 8, 5, 4.
                       D.: 10, 5.
                       C.: 10, 4.
                      ____________________
    [Player A]       |         Y          |  [Player B]
    S.: 9, 4, 3.     |                    |  S.: K., Q., 5.
    D.: 9, 7, 4, 2.  | A                B |  H.: 10, 7, 6.
    H.: Q., J., 3.   |                    |  D.: K., Q., J., 8, 6, 3
    C.: K., 8, 2.    |_________Z__________|  C.: 7.

                       [Player Z]
                       S.: A., 6.
                       H.: A., 9, 2.
                       D.: A.
                       C.: A., Q., J., 9, 6, 5, 3.


Score: Game all. Y Z 18 in rubber game. Z dealt and bid one no trump. A
and Y, no bid. B, two diamonds. Z, two no trumps. Finished.

Winning the first trick with the ace of diamonds, Z put Dummy in with
the king of hearts and led ten of clubs, losing his finesse. Whereupon A
B made one club and five diamonds, defeating contract.

This is what Cheriton read in Foster's classic, and when, book in hand,
he came to compare it with his own laying out of the cards, he
discovered that he was only wrong with regard to some small cards in
Spades. So here was an absolutely convincing proof of the fact that the
impostors had actually borrowed the basic idea of their scheme from
Manning Foster's volume, without even taking care to alter it in the
smallest detail. The root idea was to lure Canton on to bid high with a
tempting hand headed by four Aces and the long array of Clubs. The first
bid of no trumps was sound, but the second was risky and the third
idiotic, always bearing in mind the fact that the foe had called two
Diamonds. But Canton had plunged rashly, just as he was confidently
expected to do, and had met with disaster. But how had it been worked?

For a long time Cheriton sat there thinking. He was trying to visualise
the scene with its accompanying storm and the failure of the electric
light. And then a light as blinding, flashed in front of his eyes. He
jumped to his feet.

"Ass that I am!" he murmured. "Of course. I must have been an idiot not
to have seen it before."



CHAPTER XXI.


It was working out more or less plainly, for if Cheriton could not see
quite all the way as he sat there in his cottage with the cards on the
table before him, at least he began to see something like daylight at
the end of a dark tunnel.

He knew now, at any rate, that a cunning trick had been played on Andrew
Canton at the Dormy House by those rascals masquerading as golfers. He
knew that they had used one of Mr. Manning Foster's examples of actual
hands, played, as recorded in his standard work on the game so as to
lure Canton on to gamble and put money in their pockets, not, perhaps,
because they actually needed the money, but probably more with a view to
getting him in their power. It was not for Cheriton to know that the
confederates were very nearly at the end of their resources, as he would
have done had he been in a position to overhear the conversation between
the pair that evening at the Grand Park Hotel when he had been dining
with Evelyn, on the night when he had so unexpectedly come into what was
a potential fortune.

But for some reason or another, Bradmain and Cleaver were more than
anxious to get a strangle-hold on Canton, and they had deliberately
banked upon that rash and headstrong nature of his. But, for the moment,
it did not look as if they had been altogether successful in their
efforts. Cheriton had not yet had an opportunity of directly challenging
Canton with the fact that he had sold the Holbein or pawned it, though
feeling quite sure that something of the sort had happened; in which
case Canton had probably paid off the debt which he had incurred on the
afternoon of the thunderstorm. And, knowing Canton as he did, Cheriton
felt quite sure that before long that rash and headstrong young man
would find himself in the same mess again. And this time there would he
no possibility of liquidating the debt.

But how had that particular trick been worked? Cheriton had in front of
him on the table the actual trap itself, proved by the example boldly
lifted from Mr. Manning Foster's book, and from that point of view there
was no doubt whatever.

But how had the trick itself been worked? Cheriton could see clearly
enough that the confederates had laid their plans some way ahead, and
were waiting for the first opportunity to put the scheme into practice.
And the thunderstorm had given them their opportunity, an opportunity,
moreover, worked out in the presence of other people, so that it had
looked as if the whole thing had come about naturally. But it hadn't, as
Cheriton could see, now.

He remembered how Bradmain had gone downstairs to get the cigarettes he
pretended he had forgotten, and how Cleaver had suddenly thought of an
urgent telephone message he must send, both of which incidents happened
so soon after it became dark that it was necessary to turn on the lights
in the smoking-room. That being beyond dispute, it was not a difficult
matter for Bradmain to go into his bedroom, or wherever it was, and
bring back in his pocket a pack of cards so arranged that Canton was
dealt the hand which had brought about disaster.

And the second pack could be so easily changed by Bradmain when the
lights went out. He would change it for the one already cut and slip the
cards in actual play into his pocket. There would be no difficulty,
either, in getting a pack of cards of the same make as those used in the
club, for they were of the ordinary type, and it was a thousand to one
that nobody would notice the difference in the backs. Then, when
everything was ready, Cleaver would slip into the telephone box where
nobody was watching him and, by the medium of removing a lamp inside
from its socket and pressing a piece of metal to the positive and
negative poles, plunge the whole room in darkness.

The more Cheriton thought over this, the more certain he was that he had
hit upon the solution. The exchanged cards would lie innocently on the
table until the lights came on again, and nobody would think of cutting
or shuffling them once more. So far, Cheriton was absolutely satisfied.

But this left a great deal to be explained. For instance, there was the
question of the wax on the backs of the cards, which wanted a deal of
accounting for in view of the fact that the scheme worked by the
confederates did not call for any new and ingenious system of marking.
And, having got so far, Cheriton decided to leave the problem for the
present.

Shortly after breakfast the following morning, he went as far as
Seagrane Holt to discuss with Mrs. Marchand the conversation he had had
with Prendergast the day previous. Before he reached the house he came
in contact with Andrew Canton, who was moodily walking across the links.

"Well," the latter said. "Anything moving this morning?"

"Nothing to speak of," Cheriton said. "I was just going across to see
Mrs. Marchand with a view to telling her what I heard yesterday in
London when I called upon Prendergasts, the family lawyers, at her
request."

Canton pricked up his ears at this.

"Oh, did you?" he cried. "Well, what about it?"

"I am afraid there is not very much to say," Cheriton said. "It seems
that there is no sign whatever of any trace of the late Earl's will. He
made it himself, and his lawyers merely glanced at it because he asked
them if they could see any sort of loophole in it. Mr. Arthur
Prendergast told him that it was watertight, whereupon Seagrane took it
away, and that appears to be the last that anybody has seen of it.
Seagrane Holt has been searched from top to bottom and searched in
vain."

"Rather a pity, isn't it?" Canton said carelessly.

"For you, yes," Cheriton agreed. "My dear fellow, you don't seem to
understand. Don't forget that you were no relation whatever to the late
Lord Seagrane, and if he died without a will, as seems more than
probable, then you don't inherit a penny."

The cigarette dropped from Canton's lips and he stood there, gaping at
Cheriton with undisguised dismay.

"You don't mean to say that," he cried.

"Indeed I do. It is as plain as a pikestaff. There is no doubt that Lord
Seagrane made a will in your favour, leaving you all his estates
absolutely unencumbered, which means that you would have had an income
of at least L40,000 a year. But if he destroyed that will--"

"But why on earth should he destroy it?"

"Well, my dear man, ask yourself a question. Haven't you been doing your
best for weeks past to induce the poor old gentleman to change his mind?
Those gambling debts of yours, your frequent visits to London, and last,
but not least, that money-lending business. Now, my opinion is that
Seagrane tore up his will or burnt it, with the intention of making
another one on quite different lines. He probably intended to leave you
considerably less, and with what he intended you to have so closely tied
up that you couldn't possibly get it all. Naturally, he would not say
anything about that to you or to anybody else. He might have done this
even by way of a codicil, because you remember that the butler and his
wife witnessed another document not so very long ago, of the contents of
which they knew nothing."

"But that seems to have vanished, too."

"Yes, there is that," Cheriton agreed.

"Look here, Cheriton," Canton said anxiously. "What is all this leading
up to? Are you going to tell me that if that will can't be found I get
nothing?"

"Well, that is about what it comes to," Cheriton said. "As I pointed out
to you before, you are no relation to the dead man. In fact, he seems to
have no male relatives at all. This being so, then the estate and its
income go to the Crown. I understand there is a considerable sum of
money in securities, which is held by Prendergast, and these will
probably go to Mrs. Marchand and thence to her daughter, because those
two are the only collateral relatives so far as we know. It is very
gratifying to know that they will be provided for at any rate."

But this thought seemed to bring no consolation to Canton, who started
blankly at Cheriton for a moment or two and then turned on his heel
without another word.

It was later on in the afternoon and Cheriton was returning to his
cottage, lunch being over, and he having told Mrs. Marchand the result
of his visit to London, when just beyond the strip of wood behind his
cottage he came in contact with Inspector Merrick, who seemed to be
looking for something.

"Ah, smelling out a clue?" Cheriton asked, jokingly.

"Something of the sort," Merrick admitted.

"I wonder if you would like me to help you," Cheriton suggested.

"Not in the least," Merrick said flatly. "Now, look here, my boy, don't
you get butting into this business. You know what a hash you made of
that missing jewel case."

"Guilty, my lord," Cheriton laughed. "But wouldn't you be astonished to
find that that missing jewel case had some connection with the mystery
of Seagrane?"

"Come off it," Merrick said impatiently. "You are talking like a
novelist now, not a detective. And, as I told you before, I have got no
use for gentlemen at Scotland Yard. If you know anything you can tell
me; and if you don't like to tell me, you can keep it to yourself. You
stick to your novel-writing, my boy, and leave the police-work to those
who understand it."

"Oh, all right," Cheriton said. "I was going to give you a pointer or
two. But no matter. It's a week now, since the poor old Earl was
murdered, and I don't mind betting you sixpence that you are no nearer
the solution of the crime than you were then."

"Time, my boy, time," Merrick said airily. "At any rate, I have got to
thank you for helping me to the extent that you grappled with the actual
murderer, and forced him to drop his automatic. I have ascertained that
it is of American manufacture, with the maker's private mark on it.
Shall I tell you what I did? Well, I had the automatic photographed and
also every mark on it. We almost dissected it, so as to get picture
impressions of every part. Then we transmitted the whole thing across
the Atlantic by the telephone photo process. The thing went through
beautifully and enabled the American police to get in contact with the
manufacturer at once."

"That was very smart," Cheriton admitted.

"I flatter myself it was," Merrick said complacently. "But that is not
the whole story. I heard this morning that the actual seller had been
seen, and he is perfectly certain that he disposed of that weapon about
six months ago to a Chicago criminal who is familiarly known amongst his
pals as 'Thumbscrew Jake.' But, unfortunately, Thumbscrew Jake
disappeared from Chicago early in the year and he has not been seen
since. Which is rather a remarkable thing, seeing that the police had
nothing in particular on him, and he wasn't wanted for the moment. At
least he wasn't wanted in Chicago, though, no doubt, the police
elsewhere would have been glad to meet him. So you see, we now know the
actual name of the owner of the automatic that was found in the library
at Seagrane Holt, and it is only a question of time before we lay hands
upon him."

"Congratulations," Cheriton murmured. "You have done very well so far.
But do you think that the man who committed that crime is a long way off
by this time?"

"You bet he is," Merrick said emphatically. "You don't suppose he would
hang on round here, do you?"

"Well, I don't see why he shouldn't," Cheriton said. "You haven't a
shred of evidence against anybody except that revolver, and the owner of
that wouldn't worry about it overmuch, seeing that it is a common
American make, with thousands like it all over the United States. It
would never occur to him that the weapon had a private mark, and that of
late, American small-arms makers have taken to registering their sales.
I don't suppose that the murderer knew anything about that."

Merrick looked a trifle less impatient. "Well, there is that," he said.

"And another thing," Cheriton went on. "So far as we can gather, there
is absolutely nothing missing from Lord Seagrane's safe. He possessed no
jewels or valuables of any portable kind, and even the few pounds that
he had in the safe was undisturbed. In my opinion you won't get much
further until you have ascertained what the murderer was after. It was
not money and it was not jewels, and so far as we can gather, no papers
of any kind are missing."

Merrick, more or less graciously, conceded the point, and Cheriton went
quietly on his way. It seemed to him that he could have told Merrick a
good deal if the latter had been more inviting in his manner, and
Cheriton was not disposed to go out of his way to say anything about his
discoveries. All the same, he was perfectly sure that there was a close
connection between the affair of the missing jewels at the Grand Park
Hotel and the tragic death of Lord Seagrane. Before long, he was going
to put that issue beyond doubt, and, accordingly, a day or two later he
ran up to town again and called on Penton.

"Well, here we are again," the scientist said. "No, my dear boy, I have
nothing fresh to tell you."

"So I expected," Cheriton replied. "But perhaps this will help you. I
didn't mention it before."

With that he took from his pocket a disc of wax which he had found on
the floor of the library immediately after Lord Seagrane's death. He
handed it over to Penton, who proceeded to examine it with the aid of a
microscope.

"Where did you get this from?" he asked.

Cheriton proceeded to go into details.

"Well," Penton said. "This is rather a curious thing. It is exactly the
same wax composition that I have found on the back of the playing cards.
I should like to examine it more carefully. If you will wait here a
moment or two, I will take it up to my laboratory and melt it down."

He was away for a moment or two, and then returned with an eager
expression on his face.

"Now this is a funny thing, Cheriton," he said. "See what I have found
in the middle of that wax."

With that, Penton produced a mass of wax more or less still in a state
of flux, and lying right to the centre of it was a finger nail. Cheriton
stared at it in astonishment.

"Do you mean to say," he cried, "that you found that finger-nail in the
centre of the wax?"

"Precisely. It was there, flattened out, and kept flat by the wax as it
cooled under pressure. Oh, you need not look at it my boy, it is a
genuine finger-nail all right, and a precious ugly one at that. Now,
what do you make of it?"

Cheriton shook his head. It was impossible to make anything of it. For
the moment, all he could do was to stare at the thing in puzzled
astonishment.

"I am done," he confessed. "Utterly knocked out. There must be a
solution somewhere, and possibly I may find it later on. Meanwhile the
best thing I can do on the spur of the moment is to ask you to keep this
thing and produce it in evidence when called upon to do so. You found it
in the course of a scientific investigation, and your testimony may be
useful. Meanwhile, what about that introduction to Miss Carey?"

"Why not call on her?" Penton suggested. "You were told off to trace the
thieves who got away with her jewels and it would be only polite to call
and ask about them."

"Not at all a bad idea," Cheriton approved. "As a private individual, I
could do that. Where is she?"

"Same place," Penton explained. "Grand Park Hotel."

"Really! I thought she was more or less on the rocks."

"So she was. Couldn't pay her bill a little time back and the hotel
management inclined to regard the jewel robbery as a fraud. But
vaudeville actresses of the Carey type can always manage to raise money
sooner or later, and the fair Nance is no exception to the rule. I have
an idea that some rich and infatuated American theatrical 'fan' came to
the rescue. However, it is a matter that doesn't concern me--all I know
is that Nance is still at the caravanserai in question, and presumedly
she has satisfied the authorities there and is an honoured
guest--paying."

It seemed to Cheriton that the advice was sound. In the face of the
recent amazing discovery, it might be just as well not to bring in
Penton as an introducer to Nance Carey, the more especially as the lady
was so obviously related to the very men whom Cheriton more than
suspected of murder, or, at any rate, were aware that such a crime had
taken place. Far wiser to call upon Miss Carey as a sympathetic friend.

So, in due course, Cheriton presented himself at the Grand Park, and
asked if he could see Miss Carey. On hearing that she was in, he sent up
his card, and a little later he found himself seated in Miss Carey's
private sitting-room.

"Well, I guess this is rather curious," she said as she shook hands and
indicated the silver cigarette box on a table. "Do make yourself at
home, Mr. Cheriton. Am I to understand that you are taking my case up
again?"

"No," Cheriton explained. "I was removed by my superiors more or less in
disgrace because I set those under me on what was considered a false
trail. So they fired me."

"Too bad," the actress sympathised. "I wished you had gone on, because I
liked you, and the guy who is on the case now is not the sort one could
be friendly with. What are you doing now?"

Cheriton proceeded to explain.

"And the gems are still missing?" he asked.

"Yes, and darned likely to be. However, it doesn't matter so much now,
and there are plenty more where the others came from. So sit down and
chat. It was real kind of you to come here in this friendly way and
condole with me."

Miss Carey proved to be a witty and agreeable talker, and so Cheriton
let her go on with anecdotes concerning her past life, which was just
the very thing he wanted her to do. And a very hard life it seemed to be
for a girl thrown on her own resources at an early age in a theatrical
world of sorts.

"I was in it from a kid," she told Cheriton. "First a fairy, and after
that child's parts. They go down well in the States. Then anything from
Juliet to Doll Tearsheet. I have played in Shakespeare all across
America, from 'Frisco to Alaska. Starved a good part of the time. I
remember once the company was snowed up in the Klondike, and four of our
crowd died of starvation. Fact. We were dug out that time by a couple of
prospectors who happened along with their dogs and sledges. Just in the
nick of time. Good sorts, they were, you bet. It was years after that
when I met one of them quite by accident in New York. I could have
fallen on his neck and kissed him. But Mr. Canton just laughed..."

Cheriton held himself in with an effort.

"Ever see the other man again?" he asked, carelessly.

"What, Marchand? Why, that's curious."

The speaker stopped suddenly and changed colour.

"What am I talking about?" she laughed. "Wonder what made me say
Marchand when I never heard the name before. Simpson was the name of the
other man, leastwise that's what he called himself, only you never know
out there in the back blocks."

Cheriton allowed the correction to pass casually, as if the name held no
interest for him. But he did not forget that Marchand was Seagrane's
family name, and that at some time in his life the late Earl passed
years prospecting in the wilds. And here was this woman pretending she
had mistaken Marchand for Simpson. This call was not going to be a waste
of Cheriton's time.

"You ought to write your reminiscences," he said. "It would have a ready
sale. Most stage books have. Bring it right up to date. For instance,
explain how it was that you came to have that breakdown on the stage the
other afternoon, I mean when the butler in the sketch handed you a copy
of the Evening Messenger, and you ran off the stage."

"Oh, that. Well, between you and me, I saw something in the paper that
upset me. Any little trifle like that puts me out when I am on the
stage. It isn't worth talking about."

Cheriton fixed his eyes on the speaker.

"Are you sure; are you quite sure," he asked, "that it was not just a
line you read in the stop press edition?"



CHAPTER XXII.


Nance Carey seemed to stiffen as if from an electric shock. Or as if
Cheriton's fixed gaze had hypnotised her.

"Why do you ask me that?" she whispered.

"We will discuss the point presently," Cheriton said. "Now, did you see
something in that identical newspaper that caused you to throw up your
arms and rush into the wings? Mind you, this is not mere, vulgar
curiosity on my part."

"But you are not a detective now," the woman parried.

"Perhaps not; but I am still more than interested in the case. The
matter was taken out of my hands, and I let it go willingly. And there
would have been an end of it so far as I was concerned. But in crime
there are cross-currents, and very often when following up one clue the
police stumble on another which is connected with a different charge
altogether. And something of the sort has happened here--I mean the
investigation into the loss of your gems opens up a field in a new
direction."

"Can't you put it a little more plainly?" Miss Carey asked.

"All in good time. So far as I am personally concerned, the loss of your
valuables ceased to interest me as soon as I was taken off the case. And
I am inclined to believe that Scotland Yard takes the same view, being
more or less convinced that you never lost any valuables at all. In
other words, that the whole thing was nothing more than an advertising
stunt."

For some reason, for the moment puzzling to Cheriton, Nance Carey shed
her anxiety and nervousness like a garment. The pleasant smile returned
and she was herself again.

"Well, you are clever!" she exclaimed admiringly. "Now, how on earth did
you stumble on that?"

"Am I to understand that it is a true bill?" Cheriton asked with a
corresponding smile. "You are by no means the first lady on the stage to
lose gems that never existed."

"Oh, I know it is an old dodge," Miss Carey admitted coolly. She was
quite at her ease now. "Now I am going to let you into a secret. When I
decided to come to England I did so because there was a reason. I had
worked up quite a big following in the States, and better things were
ahead, when it became imperative that I should quit America and try my
fortunes here. I said nothing to anyone and just came. I felt sure that
my reputation on the other side would win me engagements here, so I had
no anxiety as to the future in that way. But I had saved no money--we
people on the stage seldom do and after paying my passage I had
practically nothing left besides the emerald that I pawned to pay my
hotel bill. When the money I raised on the emerald was gone, which was
much quicker than I had expected, I wrote to an admirer in America,
asking for the necessary dollars. But I realised that two or three weeks
would have to elapse and I had to bluff those jays at the hotel in the
meantime. Get me?"

All with the perfect ease and assurance and, withal, carrying no
suggestion of the professional adventuress behind it.

"And I presume the money came," Cheriton smiled.

"You betcher. And why not? When a man wants to marry a woman as badly as
my beau wants to wed me, there's nothing in it on the dollar question.
And if he happens to be a few years younger than me, that's his funeral,
Mr. Cheriton."

"Quite," Cheriton agreed. "Then may I take the liberty of congratulating
you on the happy event?"

"Well, I ain't so sure," Miss Carey said thoughtfully. "I'd like to quit
the stage, but there's an obstacle in the path."

"Meaning that you are married already?"

"Something like that. Of course, in America one can easily get round
that, but the man I married when I was seventeen gave me such a sickener
of matrimony that I decided that one venture of the kind was enough for
me. And now I ain't so sure. If it wasn't for my lil' gel I wouldn't
think twice."

"Your daughter, Miss Carey? Is she with you, here?"

"No, she isn't. She's with friends in America who know how to look after
her, and if her father tries on any of his dirty tricks he's likely to
bump into a heap of trouble."

This with a fierce intonation that spoke of tragedy and storm in the
past of the actress.

"She is evidently very dear to you," Cheriton murmured.

"I'll tell the world she is. Mind you, I cared for her father when she
was born and I suppose that makes a difference. But she's a sweet kid
and lovely as a star. It was only lately that her father got into touch
with her again and that was more by accident than anything else. It just
happened. And he wanted the child. Told me he should claim her unless I
listened to what he had to say. You can imagine what an asset, as he
called it, she would be in the house of a man who gets his living by
card-sharping and luring young men with money to drink the sort of dope
he obtains for the purpose. But I fought--fought like a tiger cat, I
did. She thinks that her father is dead because he never told her what
was the relationship between them."

Nance Carey spoke rapidly with all the fire and force of one who has
suffered and knows herself to be in the right. In a way Cheriton felt
his heart warming towards her.

"And in the end, you won," he suggested.

"You bet I did. The child is safe now. And to make assurance doubly
sure, I came over here. And here I am."

"You must have had a hard life," Cheriton said.

Nance's laugh had a tinge of bitterness in it.

"I should worry," she said. "Well, what do you expect, brought up as I
was without a single friend in the world. And I haven't done so badly,
either. I was getting a hundred and fifty dollars a week when I quit the
States, and--"

"But I am not quite sure why you left America," Cheriton interrupted.

"Well, I told you, didn't I? I ran away from my husband. He was after me
for two reasons, first of all, to get a hold on the kid and, secondly,
for as much of my salary as he could lay his hooks on. And there was
something else. But I guess we needn't go into that, Mr. Detective."

Cheriton murmured something that sounded like agreement with this
sentiment, but, all the same, there was a great deal of information that
Nance Carey could give him, and he was not going to leave her until he
had extracted the last bit.

"Go on," he said. "I am very interested."

"In my life, you mean?" Nance asked. "Now, where was I? What was I
telling you just now?"

"You were telling me just now," Cheriton said in his softest most
insinuating manner, "something about a man you called Simpson. But you
didn't say it was Simpson to begin with, you said it was Marchand. Now,
look here, Miss Carey, I may no longer be a detective, but I have a most
powerful reason for playing my old game in connection with the death of
a man for whom I had a liking that amounted to affection. I mean Lord
Seagrane, who was murdered the other day. When you saw that brief
paragraph in the stop-press edition of the Messenger, you were so moved
by it that you rushed from the stage and were unable to go on with your
part. I was certain of that, because I could not find anywhere in the
Messenger a word, other than those I have just mentioned, calculated to
upset you. Therefore, you must not be surprised that I was rather struck
just now when the word Marchand slipped out and you immediately
corrected it to Simpson. Now, you might just as well admit without
further cross-examination on my part, that at one time in your life you
met the late Earl. And you met him in company with his partner, Canton,
who was the father of Andrew Canton with whom I saw you lunching at a
restaurant in Soho a day or two ago. You won't deny that."

A long, deep sigh escaped Nance's lips.

"I guess you are too many for me," she said. "You think I am shielding
somebody."

"I am absolutely sure you are," Cheriton said.

"Well, what if I am?" the woman asked defiantly. "Why should I be
dragged into this affair?"

"My dear lady," Cheriton responded soothingly, "I have not the least
desire to drag you into it. But it is publicity that is troubling you, I
give you my word that your name shall be kept out of the case
altogether. Let us consider the position. Lord Seagrane was murdered in
his library by some scoundrel who was not out to rob him of jewels or
money because there was nothing missing. What the man was after, we
don't know, but he was after something, and I am very much afraid that
he got it. I don't think for a moment that he meant to kill Seagrane,
but that is another question altogether. Of course you have read all
about the case."

"So far as it has gone," Nance murmured.

"Yes, I can see you have. And I have more than a suspicion that you can
tell us a thing or two which may lead to the arrest of the actual
murderer. Do you happen to know anything of a man called Bradmain, or,
alternately, an individual named Cleaver?"

Just for a moment Nance Carey made no reply. Cheriton could see by the
heaving of her chest and the whitening of her lips that his question had
shaken the woman to the core.

"Why do you ask?" she fenced.

"I might retort, why don't you reply?" Cheriton said. "But I am not
going to force you to say anything you don't want to. But this I can
tell you--a few days before Lord Seagrane's death two men calling
themselves Bradmain and Cleaver came down to Sandchester Golf Links,
ostensibly on a holiday. They were extraordinarily poor players and
hardly the type one expects to see on a championship course like
Sandchester. They posed as two rich colonials from Australia. All the
same I didn't believe it, because, you see, I spent a year in America in
connection with my detective work and learnt the language. More than
once I have heard those two men glibly using phrases which can only have
emanated from a native-born Yankee. Now, would you mind telling me if
you know anything of either of these men?"

It seemed to Cheriton that the woman was fighting for time. She looked
at him with an expression in her eyes that one sees in those of a hunted
animal.

"There is no hurry," Cheriton said. "Perhaps we had better go back to
your own life story."

Once more Nance Carey breathed freely.

"Well, I told you something of that," she said. "I told you how I
travelled all over the American continent, from San Francisco to Alaska,
getting a bare living, and sometimes worse than that. It was a struggle
in those early days and all the more so because the man I married was a
waster and a loafer and would never have been employed with the company
I joined if I hadn't sort of pulled him through. He drank, too, and I
bear the marks of his ill-treatment to this day. But somehow I clung to
him as women do. Funny isn't it, Mr. Cheriton, how a woman will give her
heart for a blackguard to tear, when another one values a good husband
less than her 'Peke.' But there came a time when I couldn't stand it any
longer, and when the child was growing a biggish girl. I was lucky
enough to find friends who more or less adopted her. They were rich and
powerful friends and I knew that her future was assured. I thought too,
that I was clear of my husband, but he turned up at intervals, and I had
to give him nearly all I earned to get rid of him. Then he managed to
find the child and get in conversation with her, not saying who he was
but making up his mind that she would help him in one of his disgraceful
undertakings. And he actually dared to come to me and make the
suggestion that I should get the child back and all link up together in
a swell apartment in New York, where young fools with money could be
lured to play cards for big stakes. And I need hardly tell you that the
child was to be the lure. She is nearly twenty now and a prettier and
more fascinating girl there isn't in the States."

"And of course, you refused," Cheriton said.

"Refused? Of course I did. This was in Alaska, where my husband had come
with one or two others of his own sort, partly to see me and partly
prospecting. If you have any idea what the climate is like out there you
can imagine the state in which our company found themselves from time to
time. And that is where I met Major Canton and his friend Simpson."

"Call him Marchand," Cheriton said.

"Oh, very well, Marchand, if you like. It is a good many years ago, and
perhaps I have forgotten. Well, as I said, they helped us out of a tight
place, and when things had improved a bit we saw those two from time to
time. We were up amongst the silver and copper mines, and our audience
consisted principally of prospectors from all over the world. Of course,
amongst these were Major Canton and Lord Seagrane. I didn't know he was
Lord Seagrane then, and he didn't know it himself. And I should not have
known about it now if I hadn't read a lot about it in the papers about a
year ago. A romance of the peerage, and all that sort of thing. You can
imagine their headlines. And when I read all that I knew that my Mr.
Marchand and the Earl were one and the same person. Not that I thought
much of it at the time, because I never expected to hear of Lord
Seagrane again, much less see him personally."

"Oh, then you met him here?"

"No, I didn't. He was pointed out to me in the grill-room of a London
hotel as the centre figure in a story, and directly I looked at him, I
recognised him. But, mind you, he came very near to losing that big
fortune of his."

"Oh!" Cheriton murmured gently. "Oh?"

"Yes, indeed," Miss Carey went on. "You see, Major Canton had one
weakness. He drank. It was only at long intervals, but when he did break
out, he went fairly on the bust. I expect that is why he had to leave
the British Army. Just about the time I am speaking of, the partners had
located what looked like a gold claim, and Major Canton was left on
guard while Seagrane came down country with the dogs to get some tools.
You see, they were a pretty tough lot up there, and if they had both
come down together, somebody would have jumped their claim. Eventually,
Seagrane got back only just in time. There was a fine dust up, with
revolver shooting and all the rest of it, but the two Englishmen held
their own, and it seems that they had struck the richest claim found in
Alaska for years. And even then, mind you, it was touch and go, because
the Major had one of his fits on and it took Seagrane all his time to
restrain him. Seagrane's idea was to keep to himself in his tent,
together with his partner, and fight shy of the gang that was always
hanging around Jerry Costigan's saloon. But one night, Canton insisted
upon going down for a drink and the friends came to blows over it. It
was the first time they ever quarrelled and I knew that Seagrane felt it
very much. He was so disgusted that he let Canton go and he went. But he
never came back."

"You mean that he disappeared?" Cheriton asked.

"No, sir," Nance Carey said impressively. "He didn't. In the saloon he
got boasting and quarrelling in his cups, and in the trouble that
followed he was shot through the heart. There wasn't any inquest or
proceedings or anything of that sort, because they don't worry over a
shooting in far Alaska, where the law don't count. But Seagrane was very
much distressed, and blamed himself severely because he had allowed his
partner to go, knowing pretty well what might be likely to happen. But
all his sorrow couldn't bring Canton back again, and Seagrane had to
make the best of it. He got one or two people round him and in the
course of a few weeks made his fortune and sold his claim to a
syndicate. But he told me, the last time I saw him, that he should never
cease to blame himself for the way he had let his friend go, though,
candidly, I can't see what he had to reproach himself with."

"And that was the last time you saw him?"

"Yes. Till he was pointed out to me in the restaurant the other day. I
had meant to renew our acquaintance, if possible but that was not to be.
And that is about all I can tell you with regard to Lord Seagrane and
his fortune."

"It doesn't seem to help much," Cheriton said. "Still, it is interesting
and throws a side light on Seagrane's character and also explains
certain remarks he made to me with regard to an incident in his life
which he inferred that he had never ceased to regret. I suppose that is
what he meant."

"Yes, he was just like that," Nance agreed. "Is there anything else I
can tell you?"

"I am wondering," Cheriton said, though, indeed he was not wondering at
all. "Oh, yes, did you ever happen to hear of a matter called the Test
case?"

Once more, Nance Carey changed colour. Once more her lips whitened and
her face assumed a tense expression.

"Why are you asking me this?" she inquired.

"We will come to that presently," Cheriton said. "Now, do you happen to
know anything about the case in question?"

"Of course I do," Nance admitted. "It was in connection with a robbery
of jewels and plate from a great mansion in Alabama. Carterville was the
town, which is in the centre of the cotton belt, and the owner was an
exceedingly rich man of good family, which had been established there
for over two hundred years. I forget his name for the moment, but we
will call him Smith, if you like. Mr. Smith had married a society wife,
a well-known American beauty from New York, where she had been
accustomed to mix with what you people call the cream of society. Smith
was very fond of his wife, and nothing was too good for her. As a very
rich man, he could give her anything she required, and that is how she
came to possess such a store of jewels. Everybody in America knew all
about them and you can imagine how the swell crooks hankered after a
haul like that. And two of them laid a plan to get hold of the lot. It
was an elaborate plan, involving a good deal of trouble and expense, and
was all the more difficult because Mrs. Smith was very popular with her
servants, amongst whom she reckoned a good many negroes. Of course,
there is no slavery in the United States now, but the old traditions are
very hard to break, and the Smiths had lived on their property for
generations. Therefore, there were a lot of native servants about who
were devoted to their master and mistress. It is no exaggeration to say
that some of them would have died for them. And these were a danger to
the robbers and had to be got rid of. So those two thieves hit upon an
ingenious plan. They didn't try to rob the house out and out, because
they knew that that would be a failure. But they did contrive to get
hold of some of Mrs. Smith's minor jewellery and hide it in the quarters
of some of the coloured servants. An anonymous letter did the rest, and
the servants, without any fuss or bother, were moved outside the house.
And then came the robbery, which was a failure. The thieves managed to
get clear, though for some hours they were actually in the hands of the
police, and their lawyer managed to save their skins for them by
eliciting the fact that valuables were missed in the house and found in
the servants' quarters. The lawyers maintained that the two thieves were
caught in circumstances that pointed to them having lost their way, and
seeing that they hadn't got their hands actually on the gems and that
Mr. Smith could not deny the peculations of his servants the crooks were
discharged. Of course, their lawyer knew all about the anonymous letter,
because his clients told him, they having sent it themselves. That is
the story."

"But why all the Press agitation?" Cheriton asked.

"Well, there wasn't so very much," Nance explained. "It was the Alabama
newspaper the 'Freespeaker' that took the matter up and proclaimed it to
be a gross miscarriage of justice."

"Yes, I am aware of that." Cheriton said. "When I was examining your
steel-lined suitcase, during the time I had your affair in hand, I found
a newspaper containing two photographs and underneath were the words.
'The Test Case. A Gross Miscarriage of Justice.' Now, Miss Carey. I am
asking you a plain question. I want to know which of the two men whose
photographs are given happens to be your husband."

Nance Carey turned a frightened gaze on the speaker.

"You are too clever for me," she whispered. "My husband is the tall man
with the black hair and moustache."



CHAPTER XXIII.


With the admission as to the identity of the tall man in the newspaper
photograph with her rascally husband, Nance Carey burst into a flood of
tears. Cheriton stood by helplessly until the storm subsided and the
actress wiped her eyes.

"I feel better now," she gulped. "I was more than a fool to leave that
paper about. I had it long ago when the case first attracted attention,
and somehow it got into my belongings. I must have used it unconsciously
for packing purposes. Don't tell me that my husband is mixed up in the
Seagrane Holt business."

"I never said anything of the kind," Cheriton evaded. "But one must
explore every avenue--that is, speaking as a detective. It's too bad to
worry you like this, anyway."

But Cheriton was not feeling that the long interview had been wasted
when he took his leave and in due course returned to his cottage. He
would have to think things over before he made his next move, and he was
not disposed to hurry matters. He knew now, at any rate, the history of
poor Seagrane's secret, and how he had regarded his lapse on the night
of Major Canton's death as a real betrayal of his friend and partner. It
was an exaggerated view, but Seagrane had not looked at it in that
light. Hence his determination to make up to the son what he had more or
less deprived the father of in the way of fortune.

But had recent events and Canton's behaviour of late caused Seagrane to
change his mind shortly before his tragic end? And, if so, had Andrew
Canton in some way learnt of this? It was possible that the quarrel ever
the money-lender had been only one of a series of such scenes between
the two, and perhaps a hint let drop by Seagrane of his change of view.
And then Cheriton suddenly remembered that Eccles, the butler, also his
wife, the cook, had witnessed a remoter document than the will. And,
further, Seagrane had been more reticent about this than he had been
over his will, which he spoke of as such, to those two trusted servants.

Probably this was a codicil, the contents of which would not arouse
Canton's curiosity--he was far too careless to ask himself any questions
of that sort.

So far as it was possible to judge, nobody seemed to benefit by the
murder, presuming that the safe in the library contained no article of
value that was missing. No priceless gem or something of that kind, not
even bank notes or negotiable securities. And if Canton was in any way
connected with that dreadful business, then the last thing in the world
he would want to steal and destroy would be the document that placed him
in possession of Seagrane and a princely income. And yet...

There might be--there probably were--incidents in Canton's recent career
that he was more than anxious to conceal from his old benefactor.
Indeed, exploits like these could well be used by the blackmailing
fraternity whose business it is to keep a careful watch on the doings of
young men of fortune like Andrew Canton. There would be scores of that
type of scoundrel well aware that Canton had become the heir of the late
Lord Seagrane. And, if he had made a bad slip, why then...

Perhaps it would be as well to caution Canton and at least learn from
him where he pawned the Holbein and where he spent the night of the
murder. If he could satisfactorily account for his time that tragic
night, then he would be secure from the unpleasant attentions of
Inspector Merrick, who was almost certain to subject him to a pretty
rigid cross-examination.

And, strangely enough, this sort of a theory was uppermost in Cheriton's
mind when he met Merrick a few hours later.

"You seem disgruntled, Merrick," he said. "I'm afraid that I shall have
to give you a hand, after all."

"Many thanks," Merrick said sourly. "All the same, I shall be sincerely
grateful if you will refrain from butting in. You may form what theories
you like so long as you don't act on them. You clever amateurs are the
curse of the profession. How many times have one of you scared off the
bird when it was almost in the net by one silly-ass trick or another? So
you keep off it."

"I'll keep off your trail at any rate," Cheriton said. "All the same. I
have my ideas. But have you made a move?"

"Have I made a move?" the Inspector shouted. "I should smile, as the
Yanks say. Only this is entirely between ourselves. One thing, you
always did know how to keep your mouth shut. I know the name of the man
who left the revolver in his lordship's library. How's that for a
start?"

"Congratulations," Cheriton murmured. "May I be permitted to hear some
of the details?"

He knew he was going to get these details almost without asking, so
puffed up was the Inspector, and to full of self-importance. After all
it was only one detective speaking to another.

"It was like this." Merrick said. "I had the weapon you found
photographed. Then it was taken to pieces by a practical gunsmith, and
the sections were photographed in detail, and the whole lot transmitted
by photo-telephone across the Atlantic. Once the transmission was in the
hands of the New York police, it didn't take them long to trace the gun
to the makers and thence to Chicago, in which city the actual seller had
a shop. As they have taken lately in America to register the sale of
firearms, the purchaser was located. That run was sold to a man known as
'Thumbscrew Jake.' He probably had another name, but the police can't
say what that name is--not that it matters much."

Cheriton appeared to be following the story with the keenest interest,
as, indeed he was. But there was nothing on his face to show Merrick
that he had heard the name before.

"That was smart of you, Merrick," he said.

"Did you get any details of the gentleman in question?"

"Yes, the cablegram was pretty comprehensive. A big chap who has a heavy
moustache and beard. Not that that helps much as he is probably without
both by this time. But he has one peculiarity which is that he is minus
the top joint of his right thumb. This is why he is called Thumbscrew
Jake. He was in the murder gang at Chicago for a short time and then
vanished. They say that he digs that blunted thumb into the throat of
his victim and he leaves a mark that puzzled the doctors for a long
time."

"Sounds like a nasty brute," Cheriton said thoughtfully. "Just the last
man in the world you would like to meet in the dark. So you think he is
in England, Merrick?"

"Well either he is or some brother crook just pinched his gun," Merrick
replied. "If he was the man who was in his lordship's library on that
night it ought to be easy to hunt him down through his missing thumb.
And yet I am not so satisfied that he is the individual I require, as
the old song says. There is another man I am keeping an eye on."

"What, another one!" Cheriton cried in mock alarm, though he knew
perfectly well who Merrick was alluding to. "You amaze me, old
preceptor. Do you mean to say that there were two of the murderers and
not one alone?"

"I should not be at all surprised," Merrick said. "And I think I have
told you too much already."

"My dear chap," Cheriton said, "I think your memory must be failing. A
sad thing for a detective."

"What on earth do you mean?" Merrick demanded.

"Well, my dear fellow, you told me that story about Thumbscrew Jake
before. Don't you remember?"

"By Jove, so I did," Merrick said, for him, a little diffidently. "But
then, I was only leading up to the climax when you interrupted me. I
believe I could tell as good a magazine story as you. The climax, as a
matter of fact, lies in the statement that Thumbscrew Jake has been seen
in England and identified."

"Do you mean by yourself?"

"No, I don't," Merrick said. "I mean that one of the Yard men with a
description of Jake in his possession claims to have spotted him down in
the East End. And when I came to discuss the matter, I came to the
conclusion that he was right. At any rate he has got on the trail of a
man who has lost the top of his right thumb, and who answers pretty
correctly to the description of Thumbscrew Jake."

"Oh, then in that case your work is practically finished."

"Oh, I won't say that. All I have done up to now is to establish that
Thumbscrew Jake's revolver was found in Lord Seagrane's library,
following his death and unless the man can prove to me that he parted
with that weapon to somebody else, then I have got a very strong case
against him. Now I dare say you will conclude from that that I am
concentrating entirely upon this American ruffian. But I am not."

"That's right," Cheriton said approvingly. "Never neglect one clue
because another one appears to be particularly strong. Who is the other
man you are alluding to?"

"I don't mind telling you. I wonder you haven't spotted him yourself."

"Well, go on," Cheriton said impatiently.

"Well I mean Andrew Canton. Who benefits by the death of Lord Seagrane?
So far as I can see nobody else but Canton. It is common knowledge in
the village that the old gentleman more or less adopted Canton because
he was the son of his lordship's late partner. From inquiries I have
made I have discovered that two servants at Seagrane Holt witnessed his
lordships will and it seems to be generally understood that under that
document Canton came into everything."

"That is perfectly right," Cheriton agreed. "Lord Seagrane told me so
himself. He also told Mrs. Marchand and her daughter. You are on firm
ground there."

"Of course I am," Merrick went on. "But from what I can ascertain there
was a good deal of friction before the old gentleman died between
himself and his heir. Gambling debts and all that kind of thing. And if
that wasn't bad enough Canton has got into the hands of the
blackmailers. He is rash and headstrong and extremely prodigal with his
money which is what you might expect from a brainless youth who suddenly
found himself lifted from poverty into riches. Just the type of youth
that the swell mob in London mark down for easy prey. And he was because
he was in London more than half his time and drifted into the company of
a set of men who have been under the observation of the police for
years. There is a matter of a man and a woman who work together for the
express purpose of compromising wealthy youths through the medium of the
female. It is quite on old game and you know as much about it as I do. I
have every reason to believe that for some time past Canton has been
foolishly paying hush money to the male bird. If he had come to us we
could have put an end to the whole thing in five minutes. But of course
that is the last thing a fool like young Canton would do."

"All this is news to me," Cheriton said.

"But it is a fact all the same."

Cheriton was quite prepared to believe it.

If these facts were correct, and he saw no reason to doubt it, then it
would account for a great deal that was puzzling him.

"And that isn't all," Merrick continued. "On the day of Lord Seagrane's
death Canton went off as he said to play a day's golf at Sandwich and
spend a night with a friend there. As a matter of fact he did nothing of
the kind. He sneaked off up to London. I believe with the object of
raising money. He did raise money at a certain picture dealer's in
Upperton-street. I haven't ascertained yet what the security was, but I
know that the owner of the business lent him some hundreds of pounds.
And I know that two days later the young man was just as hard up as
ever. Can't you see the temptation he had to get rid of his benefactor?
It wouldn't be the first time that such a thing had happened where a
young man desperately in need of money and an old gentleman who held the
purse-strings were concerned."

"I think I see what you are driving at," Cheriton said. "You think that
Canton came back to Seagrane Holt very late on the evening of the crime
and that when everybody supposed he was in London he was actually in the
house. Mind you he could have come home and got into Seagrane Holt
without anybody being a bit the wiser, because he knew the place as the
back of his hand and he was aware of the movements of the servants and
all that sort of thing. Then he could have left the premises--"

"Precisely," Merrick interrupted.

"Oh, not quite as precise as all that," Cheriton said. "You absolutely
ignore that fact that I myself was at grips with the actual murderer and
should have downed him if the rubber glove he was wearing had not come
away in my hand."

"Very likely. I give you all that," Merrick said. "But it doesn't follow
that the man you got hold of actually fired the shot. Let us suppose for
a moment that Canton had a confederate. He is known to be in desperate
need of money and that confederate would naturally belong to the gang
that was blackmailing him. The confederate would be an expert in
safe-breaking and of course, it was he who opened it. He opened it so
that Canton could get something out of the safe which could be turned
into cash. Mind you, this is only theory, but I want you to understand
that I have two strings to my bow."

For some time Merrick continued in the same strain before Cheriton could
manage to get rid of him and went thoughtfully on his way towards
Seagrane Holt.

And he had, indeed, much food for thought at that moment. He did not
believe that there was anything sound in Merrick's theory as to Canton
having an actual hand in the crime. He might have fallen so low and been
so desperately in need of money as to allow himself to be persuaded into
a safe robbery with a view to getting hold of certain valuable
securities which could be turned into cash. And then the unexpected had
happened, and Lord Seagrane had appeared in the library at the very
moment when Canton and his companion were getting away with their spoil.
It was fairly plain, at any rate, that the actual deed of violence was
not a premeditated one. Seagrane had forced the hand of the criminals,
and, by the impetuous way in which he had attacked the man with the
india-rubber glove had brought about his own destruction. It was
possible, therefore, that Canton had imported a professional burglar
into the house, never dreaming for a moment of the tragic consequences
to follow.

It was rather a desperate resolve, but it seemed necessary to warn
Canton of what was hanging over him. Not for a single moment did
Cheriton believe that Canton had gone so far as to take the life of his
benefactor. But if he persisted in sticking to the story of his visit to
Sandwich, and told that to Merrick, then he might find himself almost
within the shadow of the rope.

So far as Cheriton had been able to ascertain, Merrick had not yet had
speech with Canton. He would probably not take that step yet, because,
before doing so, he would want to make absolutely sure of his ground. If
his conclusion were correct, then his intention was to see Canton
without delay and warn him.

But Canton was not to be found at Seagrane Holt, and, therefore,
Cheriton went across to the golf club to find him. He was not at the
clubhouse either, but was finally run to earth in the smoking-room of
the Dormy House, where he was playing bridge with Cleaver and two
visitors. So far there was no sign whatever of the man Bradmain.

Cheriton waited until his opportunity came and when Canton placed his
cards on the table as dummy quietly told him that he had something
serious to say which would be communicated to Canton downstairs as soon
as the rubber was finished. Canton frowned and was half inclined to
ignore the request, but something in the expression of Cheriton's face
alarmed him, and he muttered to the effect that he would come directly.

"Oh, all right," he said. "Seems to me I can never get a moment's peace
nowadays. There is always something serious the matter."

Down below, Cheriton had a few words with old James, the steward and
then casually asked if he had seen anything of Mr. Bradmain in the last
few days.

"No, sir I haven't," James said. "He went up to London a day or so after
that shocking affair at Seagrane Holt, and he hasn't returned yet."

"You mean that he has left altogether, eh?"

"Oh dear, no, sir," James explained. "I know he is coming back, because
Mr. Cleaver told me so. Seems as his friend has got some worrying
business in London connected with his Australian property which he could
not neglect."

The information was quite sufficient for Cheriton for the moment, for he
turned and waited until Canton, in no amiable frame of mind, joined him.

"Well, what's it all about?" the latter demanded.

Cheriton led the way outside and began what he had to say, whilst Canton
listened sulkily.

"It's like this," Cheriton said. "You know what I was before I came down
here, and you may, or may not, be aware of the fact that I was at
Scotland Yard with Inspector Merrick as my chief. You know who I
mean--the man who has the murder case in hand."

"Oh, that hangdog brute," Canton growled.

"Well, you can call him that if you like. He and I are on fairly
friendly terms, and he has kept me informed of the result of his
investigations. I may tell you, in confidence, that he has made some
exceedingly important discoveries. Before I go any further, I am going
to ask you a question."

"And I may not be disposed to answer it."

"Oh, I think you will," Cheriton said. "To begin with, did you ever hear
of a man named Thumbscrew Jake?"

Canton's expression of bland surprise was so frank and open that when he
said the name conveyed nothing to him, Cheriton had no difficulty in
believing it.

"Oh, well," he said. "That is satisfactory as far as it goes. Now, when
a detective has a case like this in hand, he naturally suspects
everybody. He would suspect his own mother if she happened to be within
a mile of the scene of the crime, and that is why you have not escaped
observation."

"But, my dear chap!" Canton protested.

"Yes, I know all about that. All I want to do is to warn you to be
perfectly open and frank when you come to be cross-examined by Merrick,
as you will be. Now, you told me and Mrs. Marchand that you had gone off
to play golf with a friend at Sandwich and were spending the night with
him. To put it bluntly, that was a lie. You went to London with the
intention of raising enough money to pay what you lost to Bradmain and
Cleaver, and you were going to borrow--in fact, you did borrow--the cash
on the security of a picture that you took out of the house."

"How do you know that?" Canton demanded.

"Oh, never mind how I know it. Frankly between ourselves was that true
or not?"

"Well, it is," Canton said, as if the words had been dragged from him.
"I was in a devil of a mess, and didn't know what to do. I dared not go
to the old man, so I took a risk. But most of this you know already."

"Yes," Cheriton said impressively. "But the serious point is that
Merrick knows it as well. And he knows that you are mixed up with one of
the most dangerous blackmailing gangs in London. As a victim, of course.
Now, whatever you do when Merrick comes to talk to you as he will, for
heaven's sake tell him the truth. If you try and prevaricate, you will
very likely find yourself behind prison walls for a more or less
indefinite period, charged with the murder of Lord Seagrane. Now, if you
like, you can go back to your bridge again."

With that, Cheriton turned on his heel, leaving the unhappy Canton
staring after him, and made his way to Seagrane Holt with the object of
seeing Evelyn again.

But in this he was disappointed. Both Mrs. Marchand and Evelyn were out,
but on the hall table was a telegram addressed to Cheriton which he
proceeded to tear open.

It was from Penton and ran as follows:--

"Important developments. Made great discovery. Come up and see me
without delay."

An hour later, Cheriton had caught a late train and was on his way to
see Penton in London.



CHAPTER XXIV.


Cheriton had a good deal to occupy his mind during his journey to
London. First of all, there was that ten or twelve minutes' conversation
he had had with Evelyn just after he had ordered the car to take him to
the station. He was standing in the hall with Penton's telegram in his
hand and a preoccupied look on his face when Evelyn appeared and, to his
surprise, he saw that she had been crying.

He had never seen Evelyn give way to a weakness like that before,
though, in the past, there had been many occasions when she had been
tried to the uttermost. So that he was deeply concerned and showed it
plainly enough.

"Whatever is the matter?" he asked. "Tell me, Evelyn--there ought to be
no secrets between us just now. I have to go to London almost at once on
important business connected with our tragic mystery, but I can give you
ten minutes. If there is anything wrong, please let me know."

Evelyn looked at him with her frank, open gaze.

"It isn't that, Clifford," she said. "I have been thinking. Now, you
know why I am here and how mother and myself came. And you know what was
in the back of the dear old gentleman's mind."

Cheriton's face hardened a little.

"Unfortunately, I do," he said. "But I don't think that you are bound to
sacrifice the happiness of a lifetime merely for the sake of a
sentiment."

"No, I feel that myself," Evelyn said. "But there are other
considerations. You remember what you told me the other day as to what
was likely to happen to this beautiful old place and all our
benefactor's money in case he happened to die without a will. I feel
sure that he did."

"Well, it certainly looks like it," Cheriton admitted.

"That is just what I think. Andrew Canton would be more or less a beggar
and will have to go back to work and earn his own living, which he
really is not capable of doing. And mother and myself will be
comparatively rich. This is what is troubling me. Do you really think
that during the last two or three weeks of his life our benefactor was
altering his attitude towards the son of his late partner? I know he
always used to hint at some episode in his life of which he was ashamed.
And I always had the impression that, in some way, this wrong was
connected with Major Canton."

With his knowledge that such was actually the case, Cheriton said
nothing. He had found out all about the episode in the gambling saloon
years before, more or less by accident, and there was nothing to be
gained by repeating the story. So far as he was concerned, Evelyn would
never hear it.

"I am inclined to agree with you there," he said. "And I am more
inclined to agree with you that Lord Seagrane intended to make a change
with regard to the property. My impression is that he destroyed his will
and was going to make another one at an early date. He might have done
so, because there was a document, witnessed by Eccles and his wife, of
the contents of which they know nothing. It is strange that that paper
disappeared on the top of the mystery of the missing will. Still the
will might have been put on the file and the other paper with it. I
can't see any reason why the murderer wanted to get hold of the will
because, in any case, he couldn't benefit by it. If he suppressed it,
everything went to the State, and if he dared to come forward with it in
his possession, he would stand a very strong chance of being hanged."

"Yes, I can see that," Evelyn said. "But I am perfectly sure that the
dear old man never intended Seagrane Holt and the income attached to it
to go to the State."

"Of course not," Cheriton exclaimed. "My point is that he destroyed his
will before he had made another. That sort of thing has happened over
and over again."

"Then you don't think--" Evelyn hesitated.

"You might just as well say it," Cheriton smiled. "You were going to say
I didn't think that, in the light of recent events, the poor old chap's
original scheme was intended to materialise. He told me it was a dream,
and he hoped it would not turn out to be a nightmare."

"I don't quite follow you," Evelyn said.

"Well, the dream was to see Andrew Canton as master of Seagrane Holt and
all its revenue, with you as its mistress. That was the dream, and,
through it, Seagrane hoped to make good some wrong that he had done in
the past. But I am convinced in my mind, of late, that he began to see
how unfair it was to try and plan others' lives for them. It doesn't
matter whether Andrew Canton has to go back to work or not. To my mind,
it is the best thing that could happen to him. He is headstrong and
reckless, and a born gambler. He would have made ducks and drakes with
the estate, and, sooner or later, Seagrane Holt would have had to be
sold for the benefit of his creditors. And you are not going to marry
him, Evelyn; indeed, I don't think that you could do anything of the
kind. I don't see you giving your hand where your heart did not follow.
Besides, why should you subject yourself to a life of misery and
suffering for the sake of a mere sentiment? And a very sloppy sentiment
at that, I consider."

"I don't know what to do," Evelyn said.

"It isn't what you want to do, it is what you ought to do, and you know
that as well as I do. And don't forget this. If you carry out the old
gentleman's wishes, then you will have a husband who is living on you.
My child, I am going to ask you a very plain question. Has he ever made
love to you?"

"N-no, I should hardly call it that," Evelyn said. "I think he likes and
admires me, and there are sides to his character that I find rather
attractive. But love on either side in the best sense of the word, no."

"I think that ends it, then," Cheriton said. "Why should you keep Andrew
Canton? I am sure your mother doesn't want to, and she will come into
all the available capital that Mr. Prendergast told me about. And that
will be over a hundred thousand pounds. But you can touch none of it
till your mother's death, which, in the ordinary course of events, will
not be for many years. Everything else will go to the State."

"It is all very distressing," Evelyn sighed. "But I am glad we have had
this little talk."

"So am I," Cheriton smiled. "Because, my dear Evelyn, there is only one
man in the world you are going to marry, and that man is myself."

Cheriton had not intended to betray his feelings in this fashion, but,
at the same time, he was strongly opposed to Evelyn sacrificing herself
for what might be, from her womanly point of view, a sense of duty. He
saw the colour flame in her cheeks and the moisture in her eyes. It was
as if he had suddenly told her something that she had been dimly
conscious of for some time, some vision which had become a reality. And
she knew in that moment, what she had concealed from herself, womanlike,
for a long time, that from the very first there had never been anyone
for her but the man by her side.

It was a moment of great temptation for Cheriton, but he brushed it on
one side. There was no reason why he should not speak now, since
Seagrane's dream had turned out to be the nightmare he feared, and there
was no reason why Evelyn should sacrifice herself for the sake of a
gambler and a spendthrift. If it were possible for Seagrane to look down
and see what was going on below, then Cheriton was convinced that he
would smile approval on the new order of things.

"We will talk about this when I come back from London," he said. "I
can't stay another moment now. And don't you forget what I have told
you."

With that, he stepped into the car and drove to the station. In the
train, where he had a compartment to himself, he sat for some time
turning his conversation with Evelyn over in his mind. And then, with an
effort, he put her altogether on one side, and concentrated on the
problem before him.

There was a good deal to go upon, and much that fitted in with the
theory he had formed at the back of his mind. To begin with, he knew now
that Bradmain, as he called himself, was Nance Carey's husband. He knew
also that the individual in question was fully cognisant of certain
episodes in the life of the late Lord Seagrane. Those episodes centered
around a fight for fortune, in which Seagrane had won, though he had
more or less sacrificed his partner in the process. That, however, was
merely a personal view of the late Earl, and one for which no ordinary
individual could have unduly blamed him.

There was no getting away from the fact that Bradmain and his
accomplice, Cleaver, knew all about the past of Seagrane, and, for some
reason or other, had followed him to England, and, in due course, had
taken themselves to their headquarters at the Dormy House at
Sandchester. Whether or not they had met the late Earl face to face, or
whether he knew of their presence in the neighbourhood, it was
impossible to say. It may have been that Seagrane knew of the presence
of those two men; but, if so, he kept the knowledge to himself, probably
because the twain were connected with what he had regarded as a blot
upon his honour. That is, they must have known all about the gambling
saloon episode and the death of Canton's father.

But of one thing Cheriton was certain. It was no mere accident that
brought Bradmain and Cleaver to Sandchester. They were after something,
and what that something was Cheriton would have given a year's income to
know. Certainly not jewels or valuables, because nothing in that line
was missing. And here was the knot in the problem he had to solve.



CHAPTER XXV.


He found Penton awaiting him, and immediately the latter began to go
into details.

"I only found out certain things this morning," he said. "And when I did
make an important discovery I thought I would wire you at once. I have
been very busy lately, and it was only last night that I had an hour or
two to spare and went into the matter of that wax disc you left behind.
You remember my showing you a finger-nail that I found in it?"

"I don't think I am likely to forget," Cheriton smiled. "But what is
this going to lead up to?"

"Well, this," Penton said impressively. "That nail was a thumb-nail, and
it was not in the wax by accident. It was part of the artificial top
joint of a right-hand thumb. I can establish that beyond a shadow of a
doubt."

Cheriton breathed a little more quickly, for the name of Thumbscrew Jake
flashed into his mind.

"How did you establish that?" he asked.

"Well, it was like this," Penton explained. "You gave me two packs of
cards to look at, and you told me at the same time that one of them had
been substituted for a pack supplied in the smoking-room of the Dormy
House at Sandchester. Now, are you quite sure that that was so?"

"As sure as I can be of anything. You know all about that young fool
Andrew Canton and the rubbers of bridge in the Dormy House, where he
lost some hundreds of pounds to those two shady Americans. Well, I
racked my brains for a long time to discover how the swindle was worked.
And when the solution came to me I could have kicked myself for not
thinking of it before. There was a thunderstorm going on at the time,
and it was so dark that the lights had to be switched on. That was all
right, and the man Bradmain left the room on some pretence or other, and
I am sure he came back with a pack of cards already arranged in his
pocket to replace those already cut for dealing on the table. Then
Cleaver remembered a telephone message he had to send, and slipped into
the sound-proof box in the corner of the smoking-room, where he monkeyed
with the electric fittings and put the lights out. It didn't take James,
the steward, who was a handy man, long to make good the damage, and the
game was resumed. I felt sure there was something wrong, and I puzzled
over the matter until I reached the solution I have just given you. That
is why I managed to get the cards that had been used from James and
brought them to you. And now you can go on."

"Well, I don't mind admitting," Penton said, "that, at first go off, I
was as baffled as you were. I could not make out why I could see no
sign's of whorls on the thumb impress of one of the players. And I
should probably be as much in the dark as ever if you hadn't turned up
later on with that piece of wax. But when I came to examine that, I
discovered not only a thumb-nail, but certain filaments which could only
have been the artificial skin that plastic surgeons make when they are
engaged upon work of minor importance. Of course, if it is facial
manipulation, then they graft on live skin, but for a missing finger or
anything of that kind there is really no necessity to take the trouble.
There is a preparation which does equally well, and nobody who wasn't
endowed with extraordinary sight could detect the difference. The stuff
is a trifle waxy, which would account for the very minute particles of
that material which I found on the back of the cards. I was just a
little suspicious from the very first, but I dare say I should have gone
on being puzzled indefinitely if you hadn't handed me that flat piece of
wax. And then, when I came to put two and two together, I came to the
conclusion that the man who was one of the four card players was the
possessor of an artificial joint to his thumb, and that he lost it in
the struggle you had with him in the library at Seagrane Holt on the
night of the Earl's death. You tore off his india-rubber glove with so
powerful a grip that the artificial thumb-tip came away too, and, in the
excitement of the moment, you probably trod on it and flattened it out.
Perhaps it was the murderer himself who stepped on it, but it doesn't
matter in the least. Anyhow, it is a priceless clue, and one that is
likely to put the rope round the miscreant's neck--that is, provided you
can find him."

"Oh, I can find him easily enough," Cheriton cried. "He is still putting
up at the Dormy House at Sandchester, and is evidently under the
impression that he has got clean away without leaving any sort of a clue
behind him."

"But what price his missing joint?"

"Oh, yes, there is that. Still, he can easily hide his hand in a glove
and say he has had a sprain or something of that sort. Then he could
probably find some plastic surgeon who would do it for him and naturally
say nothing about it, because doctors don't discuss their patients, even
professionally. And, by Jove, now I come to think of it, Bradmain went
up to town very soon after the murder, and has been away ever since. He
told James, the steward, that he had been called away on some business
connected with his colonial property, and that he hoped to get back in
the course of a few days. Now, it is pretty long odds that if he was the
man with the missing joint he is in London somewhere having the mischief
repaired. I suppose it isn't possible to get in contact with the surgeon
who is undertaking the operation?"

"It isn't easy," Penton said with a dry smile. "I admit there are very
few plastic surgeons in London, and most of them would be too busy on
really paying jobs to take on a little thing like a thumb-joint, but I
believe there are assistants who do such things 'sub rosa' in their
spare time."

"I see what you mean," Cheriton said. "I can quite understand how one of
these chaps can so alter a criminal as to place him beyond recognition."

"They could that," Penton agreed. "I know three men in the game who
could so change us that even our own mothers wouldn't know us. And, mind
you, they can do that either permanently or temporarily. There is a man
in London at the present moment who the police would give their heads to
get hold of, and yet he is walking about under their very noses so
transformed that he has every appearance of belonging to another
nationality than his own. What do you think of that?"

"How did you find that out?" Cheriton asked.

"Ah, my dear boy, now you are asking me to betray professional secrets.
And don't forget that you are no longer a member of the detective force
at Scotland Yard. I do know it and I hope to put my knowledge to
practical use."

"But surely a reputable plastic surgeon--"

"Yes, but they are not all of such high repute. I mean that a good many
of them employ assistants who are almost as clever as themselves. These
are paid men, whose salaries are not particularly handsome. Now, suppose
one of them gets into trouble. Drink or gambling debts or a bit of
forgery. How easy it is for them to let some star of the underworld know
that they can so disguise him that he can go into a bank and cash a
cheque, and, an hour or two later, become another man altogether. You
see, that sort of thing does away with false beards and moustaches and
wigs and places the criminal in another class altogether. See what I
mean? It is being done, I assure you."

"The deuce it is," Cheriton said.

"Yes, and on both sides of the Atlantic, too."

"So I should imagine," Cheriton observed thoughtfully. "It is pretty
plain that Bradmain--it must be Bradmain because he was the one who had
to go to London after the murder on 'business'--had his operation in the
States, because I can practically identify him with a particularly
poisonous scoundrel known to the underworld as 'Thumbscrew Jake.' This
man has many names under which he works, but the one I gave you is the
one that sticks because he really has lost the top joint of his right
thumb, and at one period of his career was proud of it. Sort of thug.
But now that he has climbed high in his profession the loss and the
nickname had to be washed out, hence the plastic surgery. Now if I can
lay my hand on that man I have Lord Seagrane's murderer."

"Then you think that he shed his sinister nickname and got that
artificial top joint in the States before he came here?"

"That's my idea," Cheriton responded. "Then, for some unholy reason or
another, he decided to visit this country in company with the other
scoundrel Cleaver. Mind you, they both knew all about Seagrane and his
past, particularly the way in which he made his fortune, to say nothing
of his partner, Major Canton who was shot in a gambling brawl. Of course
they came over to rob Seagrane on a grand scale. He may or may not have
recognised them, but if he did, he said nothing, and he was the last man
in the world to stand anything that savoured of blackmail. I would give
a whole lot to know what they were after the night they burgled the
library. It wasn't money or securities or anything of that sort because
nothing was missing. But they didn't visit Seagrane Holt for nothing.
Nor did they stage that cunning alibi for amusement. Did I tell you
about that?"

"I don't think so," Penton said.

Cheriton went on to explain the story of the sudden attack of illness
and how the services of James, the steward, had been secured to obtain
brandy for the sufferer.

"Sounds all right, doesn't it?" he concluded. "But James never saw the
sufferer--only heard his groans and the talks between the two men which
might have only been one man talking and imitating the other's tone. All
the time Bradmain might have been in the library at Holt, which was
easy, as the Dormy House is an old one and exit and entry to the bedroom
occupied by those two could have been easily managed with a length of
rope. But all this is waste of time. By now Bradmain has a new
thumb-joint. Is it possible to get in touch with the surgeon who made
it?"

"A vital point, that," Penton agreed smilingly.

"The whole point," Cheriton cried emphatically. "If you can do that, the
problem is solved."

"Then it is solved," Penton said. "I am going to take you to call on the
man who made it."



CHAPTER XXVI.


Cheriton's eyes lighted up expectantly. "Do you mean to say," he said
when he got over his first feeling of astonishment, "that you are taking
me to see the man who can put me on the track of--"

"Well, I didn't quite say that. It is pretty obvious to me, from what
you have just said, that, whoever Lord Seagrane's murderer was, he must
have lost the first joint of his right hand thumb. And, that being so he
would see the danger of not having the damage repaired without loss of
time. Of course he has not the slightest idea that you held the clue and
that the piece of wax you gave me is going to be an important exhibit in
the case. But I am going to take you to see a man named Harness, who is
more than suspected of illicit operations, face-lifting and all that
sort of thing, where certain criminals are concerned. You can see the
importance of this to a man who wants an absolutely cast-iron disguise."

"I should think I could," Cheriton said. "If you could transform a
wanted burglar into a respectable citizen or a bank forger into a
Spanish nobleman, then you are going to give Scotland Yard something
quite new to think about."

"Scotland Yard is thinking about it already," Penton said dryly. "They
have had more than one case lately that has entirely baffled them. And I
shrewdly suspect Harness is the genius who is causing all the trouble.
However, that matter can stand over for the present. Come along with me
and see what we can do."

"You mean call upon the man himself?"

"That's the idea. But it is not going to be easy. Harness is a very
brilliant man, and did some fine service in the war. As a matter of
fact, we were at Oxford together, and also received our training at the
same hospital. During the war, and after for some time, Harness was the
right-hand man of Furgus McAlpine, who, as you probably know, is the
finest manipulative and plastic surgeon living to-day. And Harness would
have gone to the top of the tree himself only, unfortunately, he cannot
keep off the drink. He is one of those chaps who can keep sober for
weeks or months and then start an orgy lasting for weeks. The very worst
type of drunkard. Besides, he is a drug addict. Of course, McAlpine had
to get rid of him, and since then he has got a living as best he can. We
can't actually prove that he is in touch with the criminal classes, but
we very shrewdly suspect it, so you will see that we are not going to
have it all our own way."

Once in the street Penton hailed a taxi and gave the driver certain
directions which led, presently, to one of those mean narrow streets in
North Battersea which is given over mainly to tenants occupying a single
room, with, here and there, a sort of lodging-house. Before one of these
Penton paused, and instructed the taxi-driver to wait. In response to
his knock on a door which had not received a coat of paint for year, a
queer little atom of a servant appeared. She was thin and stunted, and
might have been any age between 15 and 30, for, though her body was
obviously ill-nourished, her face had all the pert, audacious expression
peculiar to the born Londoner of a certain class. When Penton asked a
question she shook her head.

"I don't understand you," Penton said. "Mr. Harness lives there. He has
been here for some time."

"No, 'e don't," the child-woman responded in a high falsetto. "'E bin
gone from 'ere the best part of a week."

"Have you any idea where he is at present?"

"Can't say," came the reply. "When Mr. 'Arness went away, 'e didn't
leave no address."

Penton smiled as he put his hand in his trousers pocket and produced
four shining half-crowns. These he displayed temptingly on his hand
before the little servant, who regarded them gloatingly as if she had
never seen so much money in her life before, which was probably the
case.

"Like to have these?" Penton asked casually.

"Not 'arf," came a hoarse whisper.

"Very well, then; they are yours if you will only tell me where I can
find Mr. Harness."

"14 Epsom-place, Gower-street," the response came in a whisper, after
which the front door closed rapidly.

"Good enough," Penton said, as he gave the taxi-man fresh directions.
"It is evident that our friend Harness has had a stroke of luck. He only
stays in a filthy hole like that when he is at the end of his
resources."

The address in Gower-street was a distinct improvement on the first one
and it was in the comparatively luxurious sitting-room that Penton ran
his quarry to earth. A tall, thin man with a face white and drawn and
eyes that watered under twitching lids, rose to his feet and angrily
demanded to know the meaning of this unexpected intrusion. It was
evident from his manner that he was not entirely sober, as witness a
half-empty whisky bottle and syphon on a table at his elbow.

"Come, come, Harness," Penton said. "It is no use to treat me as if I
was an entire stranger."

"Who is the other fellow?" Harness asked sulkily.

Penton made the necessary introduction and then flung himself into a
chair, as if to intimate that the interview was likely to be a more or
less lengthy one.

"And what does your friend want with me?" Harness demanded.

"We will come to that presently," Penton said. "Now, look here, Harness,
we used to be very good friends in the old days, and I want to do my
best for you now. I called to see you in Battersea, but found that you
had left. My dear fellow, I can speak quite freely before my friend
Cheriton, and I propose to do so. He is interested in plastic surgery,
not for himself, but in connection with a friend of his."

"Well?" Harness growled. "Well? What's the game?"

"Very comfortable quarters, these," Penton said, apropos of nothing.
"Much better than that dreadful hole where you have been existing for
the last few weeks. I suppose you have had a big stroke of luck lately?"

"What the devil has that got to do with you?"

"I think it will pay you to listen civilly to what I have to say,"
Penton responded. "Now, listen. I can see you are only half sober, but
you are sane enough to be able to understand that you are in extreme
danger."

"Oh, I am, am I?" Harness sneered.

"Yes, indeed, you are. I suppose you heard all about the famous
Consolidated Bank forgery? Yes, I see you did. Now, the police are
looking for Miles Fenton, who is the moving spirit in that affair, and,
sooner or later, they will lay their hands upon him. It won't be the
first time he has been in gaol, so you will understand how it comes
about that his fingerprints are recorded at Scotland Yard. By a strange
combination of circumstances, the authorities managed to get the
fingerprints of another man who doesn't resemble Fenton in the least,
and those two sets of fingerprints are identical. I suppose a
coincidence like that would never strike a plastic surgeon who is
helping a criminal to escape justice."

Harness was sitting up now and following what Penton had to say with
breathless attention.

"No," he breathed heavily. "That is just where a slip might come about.
Am I to understand that the second man you speak of has been arrested?"

"Not yet, but he is being most carefully watched, and the police can
have him at any moment they wish. They are perfectly sure that the
second man, if I may use the expression, is Fenton himself, perfectly
disguised after he went through the hands of a plastic surgeon who shall
be nameless."

"Go on," Harness said hoarsely. "Go on."

"Is there any reason to say any more?" Penton retorted. "If the police
theory is right, and they can identify the new man with the old one, so
to speak, then it is going to be rather hard for the plastic surgeon who
undertook the operation. Of course, you need not say anything unless you
like; but if you are wise and elect to be candid with me, then I think I
can save you from well--a criminal conviction. Accessory after the fact,
and all that sort of thing."

Harness surrendered unconditionally.

"You are not a bad sort, Penton," he murmured. "Never were. Always ready
to do a good turn to anybody. But why didn't you come alone to tell me
this?"

"Ah, that I am not at liberty to say," Penton said. "My friend, Mr.
Cheriton is not here out of idle curiosity. And now to come to the
point. Have you, or have you not, had a patient under your hands lately
who happens to be suffering from the loss of the top joint of his right
thumb?"

"I have," Harness confessed. "A chap who came to me saying that he had
heard of me from a friend in New York, and asked me to turn him out a
new top joint for his right thumb, which he had lost in some accident.
Mind you, he is not a bit of the criminal type. Rather more like a
learned professor of sorts. But he was very worried about the loss of
his thumb-joint, and wanted it replaced without further delay. Kind of
vanity, I should call it. You know how often people are sensitive about
these things."

"Interrupting you for a moment," Cheriton said. "Perhaps you wouldn't
mind describing your patient."

"Not at all," Harness said. "I should say he was about sixty, perhaps a
little more. Would be tall, but for a peculiar malformation of the
shoulders which gave him the appearance of a man with a hump. Grey hair
and moustache."

"That doesn't sound a bit like the man I am looking for," Cheriton said.
"Is that your only patient recently?"

"The only bit of luck I have had in three months," Harness said frankly.
"The man came to me in Battersea and offered me a hundred pounds down if
I could guarantee to make the injury good. I had no hesitation in taking
it, and the first thing I did when that money came into my possession
was to leave Battersea and occupy these rooms here. It was here that the
work was done, more or less to the satisfaction of my patient. Mind you,
I am to have a second hundred when the last stage is completed. I am not
altogether satisfied and I don't think I shall earn that second hundred
unless I can put a few finishing touches to the missing joint. So, for
the last day or two, my patient--whose name I don't know and never
asked--comes here every day, or rather every night, and I suppose he
will until we are both absolutely satisfied that the work cannot be
better."

"Then you expect him here to-day?" Cheriton asked.

"I expect him here to-night," Harness corrected. "At about 8 o'clock.
Sometimes an hour later."

"Yes, I quite understand," Cheriton said. "He prefers to come after
dusk. But it doesn't sound a bit like the individual I am interested in.
That is unless his grey moustache and hair happen to be false."

Harness was emphatic on the point.

"Not a bit of it." he cried. "You can't deceive me in matters of that
sort. The moustache is genuine enough. If you saw the man tugging it
sometimes in moments of thoughtfulness you couldn't doubt it. And there
are other signs that I need not go into. You have made a mistake
evidently."

"I am not so sure of that," Penton said. "I can supply you with a dye or
a bleach that will take all the colour out of hair for at least
twenty-four hours. Then the natural hue reasserts itself. A dozen
chemical solutions will temporarily make a black moustache into a white
one."

Cheriton listened to this statement with considerable relief, for he was
beginning to feel that Bradmain had found some other source from which
the damage might be repaired. But after what Penton had just said, he
resolved to go through with his adventure to the finish. At any rate, he
could hang about Gower-street after nine that evening and follow the
mysterious stranger to the place where he lived.

"I don't think we need detain you any longer," Penton said at length.
"If we have made a mistake, we have, and there is an end of it. And, as
to you, Harness, if you are wise, you will take my warning to heart.
Otherwise before long you are going to find yourself standing in the
dock."

A few minutes later, and the two investigators were standing outside on
the pavement together.

"Now, what is the next move?" Penton asked. "I am not exactly a
detective, you know, my side of criminal investigation lying in a
different direction altogether. You heard what I said just now about
those bleachings. Well, I wasn't bluffing. It doesn't sound as if you
are on the track of the right man, though both of these chaps, if there
are two, seem to be minus the top joint of their right thumb. Yet, when
you come to think of it there is nothing particularly strange in that,
because the right thumb is about the most useful digit that a man
possesses. If he is working with tools or machinery and a hand gets
caught in a cog wheel or anything of that kind, it is generally the
thumb of the right hand that suffers first. Still if I were you I
shouldn't abandon the search."

"I am not going to," Cheriton said curtly. "I am going to hang about
here this evening and follow that man wherever he goes. I shall hire a
taxi by the hour and have it standing by the pavement with the engine
running. And when I have satisfied myself that the grey haired man has
reached his home or his hotel or wherever he is putting up, then I think
I know what is to be done next. There is a good deal in what you say
about coincidences, but I am not satisfied that this is one of them. And
don't forget that in the last few days Bradmain has been up in town on
what he is pleased to call important business. And now let us go off
together somewhere and have a meal."

It was shortly after nine o'clock the same evening when Cheriton's taxi
pulled up outside a house in Gower-street, not far from the place where
Harness had taken up his quarters. And there he sat well back in the cab
patiently waiting developments. The best part of an hour passed, and it
was beginning to grow dark when along the pavement on the opposite side
of the road Cheriton spotted a figure of a tall man with a stoop in his
shoulder who came strolling along and paused now and again as if not
altogether certain as to which house in that very long street he wanted.
Outwardly, at any rate, there was absolutely no resemblance between him
and Bradmain. There was the scholarly stoop and the hump between the
shoulders that Harness had mentioned. Under his soft hat, Cheriton could
see a straggly mass of grey hair, and on the upper lip a thick moustache
of the same hue. This was undoubtedly the man that he wanted to see, and
Cheriton was doubly assured when he noticed the stranger knock on the
door of the house where Harness was lodging and finally disappear into
the hall. So far, everything had gone smoothly and the rest appeared to
be a matter of time.

Cheriton turned from his corner seat on to the pavement and spoke a few
words to the driver.

"Listen," he said. "This may or may not be a long job. You saw that man
with the grey hair come down the street and go into a house close by."

"I did that, sir," the driver grinned.

"Very well, then. He may be there a few minutes, or he may be there an
hour, and when he comes out you are to follow and not lose sight of him.
I may have to pull you up presently and leave the cab to follow him. If
I do, then you just wait till I come back. Now, here is a pound note to
go on with. I merely give you this as an earnest of my good intentions."

"All right, guv'nor," the man said cheerfully. "I knows a gentleman when
I sees one. Wot's more, I've been on this game afore. Blime, if I hadn't
been a chauffeur, I'd like to 'ave bin a detective. And if you like to
regard me as your assistant in this matter I shall be flattered."

It was a fairly weary wait, but the man with the grey hair emerged from
the house presently and walked down the road without looking either to
right or left, and evidently quite easy in his mind as to his movements
being unobserved. Behind him the taxi moved slowly, and then, rather to
Cheriton's surprise, the quarry turned into the public baths in a
turning off Endell-street and disappeared through the open portals.

"Municipal baths, guv'nor," the cabby explained. "I often goes there and
has a dip myself. Not a swimming bath, but kind o' cabins, first,
second, and third class."

"Thanks for the information," Cheriton said. "You wait here while I go
inside."

With that, he dived into the rather ill-lighted hall of the public baths
and stood there watching the tall grey man taking his ticket through the
hole in the box office, which was not unlike that familiar to railway
station. Almost before the man had taken his ticket and walked
unconcernedly on, Cheriton presented himself to the collector of customs
and asked for a ticket in his turn. He was just in time to see the grey
man disappear into one of the cabins, so he selected one for himself on
the other side of the corridor and closed the door behind him. It looked
like a long and weary wait, but Cheriton was quite prepared for that. He
was glad to note that the door of the cabin had in it five holes in
diamond pattern probably made for ventilation, and through these he
could see something of what was taking place in the cabin of his
opposite number. Nor had he long to wait for the developments that
followed. If there had only been a little more light it would have been
better; as it was it would not be easy to identify the quarry if--as
Cheriton expected--the man opposite made any drastic changes in his
personal appearance.

A quarter of an hour later the man on the other side of the corridor
bustled out carrying the suitcase with which he had been provided when
Cheriton had first caught sight of him in Gower-street and which
Cheriton had hardly noticed at the time. But he grasped the significance
of it now right enough. In that suitcase was the change of clothing
which had been effected in the privacy of the bath cabin. A very neat
idea, Cheriton thought.

But it was more than a change of clothes, it was a different man
entirely. He came almost charging out of the cabin and was away down the
corridor so rapidly that Cheriton had no more than a cinematic
photograph of the quarry. Nothing like what he wanted in the way of
identification.

There was nothing left for it but to follow swiftly. Outside, the grey
man had hailed a passing taxi and was whirled away with Cheriton's cab
in close pursuit. In the course of time the first cab stopped before the
Acropolis Hotel, and the once grey man got out and paid off his driver.
Almost before he had passed the entrance porch, Cheriton was after him.
But he had to hold back a little for the last thing he wanted was to be
recognised as a sleuth on the track of a suspect.

It was well past 10 o'clock now, and the lounge was almost deserted. In
one corner was the clerks office and opposite it the luggage and
passenger lifts to the upper stories. The liftman of the latter elevator
was still on duty, and it was he who came forward and saluted as the
grey man said something to him which Cheriton, lurking in the shadow
could not catch. Then the lift gate was flung open and the grey man
entered and a moment later was being whirled up to the higher floors.

One thing seemed to be established at any rate. The grey man was
stopping here, if only for the night. Perhaps he had been a resident for
some days. Cheriton decided that he must find out.

A small boy in buttons was yawning in the lounge, evidently waiting for
relief. To him Cheriton showed a pound-note.

"You saw the gentleman who just went up in the lift," he said. "I want
to know his name and how long he has been here."

The lad held out his hand with a grin.

"Been staying 'ere for a week, sir," he said. "Comes from Orstralia.
Nime of Bradmain."



CHAPTER XXVII.


Cheriton turned away from the hotel into which he had tracked Bradmain
and established his identity beyond the shadow of doubt. Just for a
moment he was inclined to marvel at the audacity of the man, who, after
successfully concealing his tracks from the surgeon Harness had been
reckless enough to put up at a big London hotel in his proper name.

But, after all, that line of policy might be a safe one when, and if,
inquiries came to be made, as they undoubtedly would Bradmain would
assert that he had nothing to conceal and, therefore, why should he
endeavour to hide his identity?

Cheriton climbed thoughtfully into his taxi, gave the driver orders to
take him to Penton's rooms, and there paid him.

"Hope it's been orlright, sir," the taxi-man said as Cheriton handed him
another note. "Thank you, sir. This is the best night's work I have done
in a month o' Sundays."

Penton listened with the deepest interest to all that Cheriton had to
say.

"That is precisely what I told you," he said. "There are a dozen
chemical solutions by which a man can change the colour of his hair and,
moreover, he can make the alteration permanent or not as he pleases."

"So it seems," Cheriton smiled. "That is rather an ingenious idea of
Bradmain's to select a private bath in a public washing-place late in
the evening when so few people are about. He could come and go without
observation, and it is long odds that no attendant would be able to say
that the humpbacked old gentleman who went into his private cabin with
grey hair and moustache came out of it again looking twenty years
younger and with the hair on his upper lip as black as ink. I presume
Bradmain changed his clothes in the secrecy of the cabin and spent the
quarter of an hour or so that he was in there in washing his head and
moustache in some cleansing solution. Then he could walk out an entirely
different man."

"That is the idea," Penton agreed. "Now, what are you going to do next?"

"Ah, that depends to a certain extent on Inspector Merrick," Cheriton
remarked. "After all, it is his case, not mine. But I don't mind
admitting to you that I shall take a sort of impish delight in showing
my late chief how entirely wrong he has been in his investigations. I
can't arrest Bradmain though there is no lingering doubt in my mind now
as to his being the actual murderer of my poor friend Seagrane. But why
that crime was committed and what those two were after is still as much
a puzzle to me as ever it was. Perhaps that will come out later on. I
shall go back to Seagrane Holt tomorrow and put Merrick wise as to my
discovery. Of course, I should not have been able to move a yard without
your assistance. But that is no reason why I should tell Merrick so."

Accordingly, the following morning, Cheriton made his way back to
Sandchester with a view of seeing Merrick and putting him on the right
track. But, for the time being, the Inspector seemed to have vanished
and all that Cheriton could find out at the village inn where he was
staying was that he had gone off for the day and was not expected back
till next morning. There was therefore, nothing to do but to wait, and
Cheriton put in the next two or three hours working in his cottage.

It was after lunch that he had the opportunity of seeing Evelyn alone.
He found her almost as much distressed as she had been before he set out
on his journey to London.

"Is there any fresh trouble?" he asked.

"Oh, it seems to be nothing but trouble," Evelyn said. "I don't know
what to think, Clifford. The most extraordinary change has come over
Andrew Canton. He is looking dreadfully ill, and every time somebody
calls or there is a stranger about he is on the verge of collapse. I am
sure he is worried to death by some secret trouble. And when I ask him
what is wrong he merely shakes his head and denies that he has anything
particular on his mind. Can't you see him and ask if you can do
anything? And Clifford, do you honestly think that he had anything to do
with the death of my dear old benefactor?"

"I am absolutely certain that he had not," Cheriton said emphatically.
"He is as innocent of that crime as you are. Of course, he behaved
exceedingly badly over the stealing of that picture and it was foolish
of him to pretend that he went to Sandwich when he was in London. But
then, he was at his wits' ends to pay the money to these cardsharpers at
the Dormy House. He dared not go to Lord Seagrane for money after what
had happened, so he acted the part of the common thief. But I can tell
you this. Within the next few hours the actual murderer of Lord Seagrane
will be in the hands of the police and Canton will have nothing more to
worry about. However, I will see him if you like and try and ascertain
what is on his mind."

Later on in the afternoon, Cheriton encountered Canton on his way back
from the golf links. It was somewhere near the cottage and, at
Cheriton's invitation, Canton came with anything but a good grace into
the sitting-room.

"Well," he asked sulkily, "what is it?"

"I wouldn't adopt that tone if I were you," Cheriton said. "You will
gain nothing by it. Sit down and smoke a cigarette and listen to what I
have to say. And if you are wise and don't want to find yourself even
temporarily, in a prison cell, you will be perfectly candid with me."

"Well," Canton muttered. "Resume."

"You are not very encouraging," Cheriton said. "Anyway, it's like this.
For the last day or two I have been following up a certain line of
investigation of my own and I have made one or two startling
discoveries. At least, a friend of mine has made them for me, which
comes to much the same thing. Before many hours are gone Lord Seagrane's
murderer will be in the hands of the law. Does that make things easier
for you?"

The cloud on Canton's brow did not lift.

"Well, that is something, at any rate," he muttered. "That fool of an
Inspector is under the impression that I had a hand in it. He was asking
me questions yesterday afternoon, that lasted for three hours. And when
he had finished he gave me a nasty hint to the effect that it would be
as well if I stayed where I was, otherwise he might have to take certain
steps."

"In other words arrest you, I suppose?"

"Well, that is the impression he conveyed, and, I believe, intended to
convey. I swear to you, Cheriton--"

"There is no occasion," Cheriton said coldly. "I know perfectly well
that you are innocent on that charge. I hope you were quite candid with
Merrick, and followed my advice as to your movement in London on the
night of the Earl's death."

"I have got to thank you for that, at any rate," Canton said grudgingly.
"I did tell Merrick that I was in London and not in Sandwich and I made
no attempt to conceal from him the fact that I raised money on the
Holbein. I told him the name of the man who advanced the cash, and he
asked no further questions about that because he could verify the facts.
But what he has got in the back of his mind is that there had been more
than one quarrel between Seagrane and myself and that the old man had
either altered his will or was about to do so. You see he had been
nosing around amongst the servants and wormed all sorts of information
from them. And, as a rule, servants know a good deal more about their
master's affairs than we give them credit for. Anyhow, Merrick is under
the impression that I should have benefited by the Earl's death, he
believing that I am next of kin or heir or something of that sort. He
will know better presently. But in the meantime he seems to think that I
managed to get back from London late that night and crept into the house
after the family had gone to bed. Of course I could have done all that,
but the fact remains that I didn't."

"I know you didn't. That is not the point I want to get at. Within a few
hours Merrick will know that he has been entirely wrong, and his
professional interest in you will go. But knowing you are innocent of
that dastardly crime, what is troubling you? I have been talking to
Evelyn and she says that you are in such a nervous condition that you
are on the verge of a breakdown. Why don't you take me into your
confidence? I want to help you if I can, and yet you are putting every
obstacle in the way."

"How do I know that you want to help me?" Canton retorted. "How can you
possibly be a friend of mine? To begin with you never liked me and, more
than that, you have come between me and the girl I hoped to marry."

"I don't think there is any occasion to drag Miss Marchand's name into
this. But since you have done so, it is just as well that I should speak
plainly. You never wanted to marry her. You would never have thought of
her at all if it hadn't been for Lord Seagrane, who more or less
insisted on it. And don't forget that Miss Marchand and myself were
friends long before she ever heard of you. I am going to marry her."

"Oh, you are, are you?" Canton sneered. "Does she happen to be aware of
the fact?"

It was with some difficulty that Cheriton managed to control his temper.

"That we need not go into," he said. "Of course, you can refuse to
confide in me, but I shall find out whether you put obstacles in my way
or not. The main mystery is solved, but there are side issues, and I am
sure that one of them concerns you. Are you being blackmailed?"

Canton stared at the speaker in astonishment. There was fear written in
his eyes and a certain agitation and emotion that told a significant
tale.

"How on earth did you guess that?" he asked.

"Not very difficult, I think. You have been in close contact with two of
the greatest scoundrels in the world for some little time past and a
mere tool in their hands. Now, let me tell you this. You thought that
afternoon in the Dormy House when you lost so much money to Bradmain and
Cleaver that everything was fair and above-board. But it wasn't. You
were deliberately swindled by a cunning scheme which those two rascals
had carefully worked out. It was so beautifully done that, for a long
time, I was deceived myself."

"And you expect me to believe that?"

"My dear Canton, I am going to prove it." With that, Cheriton went on to
describe, at some length, what had taken place in the Dormy House and
how the swindle had been worked. He could see that the disclosure made a
deep impression on Canton, because the latter had abandoned his
truculent mood and was listening with wide-open eyes.

"Well, I suppose I ought to beg your pardon," Canton said. "I can see
now that you're quite right."

"Of course I am right, and I dare say I should be still further right if
I said that you had lost still further money to those ruffians. For the
life of you, you can't see the slightest chance of discharging your
debt."

Canton more or less surrendered at discretion.

"That is right enough in a way," he confessed. "Only I didn't lose money
to the both of them, because Bradmain has been away in London for some
days. But I have had a few games at ecarte with Cleaver
and--er--and--er--"

"Lost, of course," Cheriton said swiftly. "In one word, how much more
have you fooled away?"

"Two or three hundred," Canton said miserably. "I thought I should get
it back again. You see, I rather fancy myself at ecarte, and as Cleaver
confessed to be a poor player--"

"Poor player!" Cheriton echoed scornfully. "If I am correct in my
surmise, both Bradmain and Cleaver are two of the most cunning
card-sharpers in the world. A sorry ass like you would not have the
slightest chance with them. All the same, I don't believe it is the
further debt you can't pay that is worrying you. It's worse than that."

"You're a clever devil," Canton said admiringly. "And you are right. I
had better tell you all about it. It will be a relief to get it off my
mind."

"Go on," Cheriton said encouragingly. "And if I can do anything to help
you. I will do so cheerfully."

"Well, it's like this," Canton said, speaking naturally and easily for
the first time. "As I told you just now, I was out to see if I could get
my money back and--well--I didn't. And then Cleaver began to throw out
strange hints. Mind you, I am dealing entirely with Cleaver now, because
I haven't seen Bradmain for some days. I was rather astonished to find
out that Cleaver knew exactly how things stood at Seagrane Holt. He knew
that Lord Seagrane's will was missing and that, unless it could be
found, my position as regards succession to the estates was not worth a
threepenny-bit. I told him that I was afraid that Lord Seagrane had
destroyed his will and that he would have made another if he hadn't been
murdered and when Cleaver heard this he smiled significantly. And then
he went on with those hints of his. He taunted me with the fact that I
had incurred a further debt I could never hope to pay, and that if he
reported to my clubs that I was a defaulter over card debts I should
have to resign, which meant social disgrace. Oh, he's a cunning devil is
Cleaver. He taunted me with the fact that I couldn't pay what I owed,
and unless the money was forthcoming I should find myself in a very
tight place. Of course, I could see that for myself. And then he took
another line altogether. Supposing, he said, he could show me a way to
make a huge fortune. Suppose he could put in my hands certain
information and certain documents which would mean something like a
million to me, what was I prepared to pay him? Would it be worth
L100,000? Would I sign a paper to that effect? All that sort of thing."

"I hope to goodness you didn't," Cheriton said.

"Oh, my dear chap, nothing has been settled up to the present. Cleaver
said that I should have time to think it over. I am so bewildered that I
don't know whether I am standing on my head or my heels. Here am I,
practically a pauper, and yet offered a huge fortune if I am prepared to
hand over a big sum of money for the information which will enable me to
claim my inheritance. I am not altogether a fool, Cheriton, though I
know you think I am. Of course, if it was all straightforward dealing,
no man situated as I am would hesitate for a moment. But I am absolutely
certain that it is not straightforward dealing. If I do what those men
want me to, I shall find, later on, that I am entirely in their hands,
and I suspect it will be a case of blackmail for years to come. And
after what you have told me, I am absolutely certain of it. What am I to
do?"

"Leave yourself entirely in my hands," Cheriton advised. "I am very glad
you told me this, because it throws a flood of light upon a mystery
which is intimately connected with Lord Seagrane's death. Never mind for
the moment what that mystery is, but if you see Bradmain again pretend
to agree, or at any rate, say that you have not yet fully made up your
mind. And you can be assured that everything is going to be all right."

No sooner had Canton departed than Cheriton went off with the object of
getting in contact with Inspector Merrick. But for that he had to wait
till the following morning, when he looked up his late chief in the inn,
where Merrick was just finishing his breakfast. Merrick greeted him
patronisingly.

"Well, my young friend," he said. "How are things going with you? Solved
the problem yet?"

"You have forgotten that I am no longer a member of the Scotland Yard
Detective Force," Cheriton smiled. "From your point of view, I have
always been a sort of an amateur. But even amateurs succeed sometimes
where professionals fail."

"Meaning to say you have found something, I suppose?"

"Well, I think so," Cheriton said with some sort of hesitation.
"However, I would like to hear what you have to say, first."

"There isn't very much to tell," Merrick said complacently. "To a man of
my experience, the conclusions point only in one direction. And that you
can guess."

"Meaning Mr. Andrew Canton, I suppose?"

"Well?" Merrick asked contemptuously. "Now, mind you, I have had that
young man under observation for some time. It struck me as rather
significant that he should be away from Seagrane Holt on the night of
the Earl's death, especially as those two have been quarrelling very
much of late. That I learnt from the servants. I gather that the young
man has been going the pace, and even resorting to money-lenders, a fact
that the old gentleman very strongly resented."

Cheriton nodded approvingly. He knew that Merrick was on the wrong track
altogether, but he could not but admire the patience with which he had
elicited all this information to the detriment of Andrew Canton.

"I see," Cheriton said thoughtfully. "But I don't regard that as being
quite conclusive."

"Nor should I," Merrick agreed. "But there is more than that. To begin
with, young Canton has told endless lies as to his movements for some
hours before the murder and afterwards. You may be surprised to hear
that he didn't go to Sandwich at all. When he set off in the two-seater
he went direct to London, and there he preceded to pawn a picture he had
stolen from Seagrane Holt for enough money to pay his debts which he
incurred card-playing with two colonial gentlemen golfers who were
staying at the Dormy House at Sandchester."

"Are you quite sure they are gentlemen?" Cheriton asked. "My information
leads me to believe that they are two very shady characters, not
colonial at all, but Americans. And, incidentally, card-sharpers in the
first flight. It would have been just as well, perhaps, if you had
inquired into their antecedents. I can assure you they are worth it."

"But why the deuce should I?" Merrick demanded. "What have they got to
do with the death of the Earl?"

"What, indeed?" Cheriton asked dryly. "I am merely giving you a bit of
information. Meanwhile, I am interrupting you in your story."

"Well, it's like this," Merrick resumed. "That young man had to confess
to me, when I came to put him through it, that the Sandwich story was
all lies. He also made a clean breast of the picture business. And he
didn't make much attempt to conceal the fact that he and the old
gentleman had been on pretty bad terms recently, in consequence of his
carryings-on. Also, he would not have been surprised to hear that Lord
Seagrane had destroyed his will, or, alternatively, had made a codicil
to it which left the property elsewhere. So, you see, here is a man who
would naturally benefit by the death of his benefactor."

"Wait a bit," Cheriton said. "You have been strangely misinformed.
Canton is no relation whatever to the late Earl, and if no will is
forthcoming, the property and the settled income thereon revert to the
State, there being no male heirs."

Merrick's jaw dropped. It was as if he had been struck a blow in the
face. Cheriton restrained a smile.

"Is that really so?" Merrick asked blankly.

"Absolutely," Cheriton grinned. "Even the greatest of us make mistakes
sometimes. As a matter of fact, it was entirely to Canton's interest
that the Earl should live."

"Yes, I suppose that is so," Merrick grudgingly admitted. "Now I begin
to see why that young man was so frank with me. And apparently putting a
rope round his neck at the same time."

Cheriton could have put another construction on Canton's frank
admissions, but wisely refrained from doing so. He was still chuckling
to himself when he saw through the window of Merrick's sitting-room the
figure of Bradmain in a car in which he had obviously just come down
from London. He turned to Merrick.

"Would you like to arrest the murderer of Lord Seagrane within the next
hour?" he asked. "If so, I will do the needful."

"Lead me to him," he cried. "But there, I don't believe you can do
anything of the sort. You amateurs..."



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Cheriton did not stop to argue the point. "That's your man," he said.
"The wealthy gentleman in the car on his way back to the Dormy House
after his visit to London on business. The murderer of Lord Seagrane."

For once Merrick forgot his grievance regarding the importation of
amateurs and gentlemen inside the sacred precincts of Scotland Yard. He
stared at Cheriton with something like admiration in his eyes. But still
cynical.

"Go on," he said. "Let's have the story. But it will have to be a
convincing one before I move."

"I am going to prove my statement beyond the shadow of a doubt,
Merrick," Cheriton replied. "Now listen carefully."

Very briefly, but cogently, Cheriton related all the circumstances, from
the finding of the wax disc to the discovery of the identity of the
grey-haired man with Bradmain. When he had finished it was plain that
Merrick was converted. He jumped excitedly to his feet and suggested
action at once.

"I don't think I should, if I were you," Cheriton said. "It is long odds
that Bradmain carries a weapon of some sort. My idea is that you should
telephone to Faversham for one or two plain-clothes men, and take those
two on the links this afternoon when they are playing their round. To
this I am sure you will agree."

"Quite right," Merrick said.

It was later on in the afternoon when Bradmain and his companion were
out on the course, that they came in contact with three or four
strangers who appeared to be innocently converging from different
quarters. And then, as Bradmain moved on to the next tee, after
holing-out his putt, Merrick stepped up behind him and laid a hand on
his shoulder. Before Bradmain could realise what had happened, his two
arms were twisted behind him and the handcuffs snapped on his wrists.

"What is the meaning of this?" he shouted.

"I shouldn't make a fuss, if I were you," Merrick said. "It would be far
better if you and your friend here came quietly. Wait Bradmain, alias
Thumbscrew Jake, I arrest you on suspicion of having murdered Lord
Seagrane, and I am also detaining you, Dan Cleaver, as an accessory
after the fact."

"Now, look here," Bradmain blustered. "I daresay you think you have got
a very fine case, but that remains to be proved. Anyhow Cleaver has got
nothing to do with it."

It seemed to Cheriton that a significant glance passed between the two
men, and he had his own good reasons for understanding the meaning of
it. Even Merrick hesitated a moment or two, because, from a strictly
legal point of view, there was no very strong case against Cleaver, and,
just for the moment, it might be as well to go easy with Bradmain's
confederate. As to Bradmain himself, he appeared to be utterly
unconcerned.

"What are you going to do with me?" he asked.

"I am going to take you to the county gaol," Merrick replied. "I have a
car waiting for the purpose."

"Going to take me, too?" Cleaver asked.

Merrick indicated that such was his intention.

"Oh, I'll come fast enough," Cleaver said. "I have got nothing to be
afraid of, as you will see later on. But you are not going to hike me
off like this, without giving me a chance of getting a few things from
my bedroom."

"If you take my advice," Cheriton said, "you won't allow him to do
anything of the kind. I have a very good reason, which I will explain to
you presently, why it should be a great mistake to allow Cleaver out of
your sight, even for a few moments. If he wants anything from the
bedroom which he is sharing with Bradmain he can easily tell you what it
is and the steward can fetch it."

Bradmain turned on the speaker with a snarl.

"Very clever aren't you?" he jeered. "Think you know everything, don't
you? But if you look for a month--"

He broke off suddenly as he caught Cleaver's eye; then, without a
further word being spoken, the two prisoners were hurried off in the
custody of the plain-clothes men and Cheriton and Merrick adjourned to
the former's cottage, there to talk over the situation.

"Well, I give you best over this business," Merrick said. "You have been
right from the first and I have been wrong, and I freely admit it. But
what particular reason had you for objecting to those two men going to
their bedroom? It wouldn't have mattered much what they wanted."

"Ah, there you are entirely wrong," Cheriton smiled. "Unless I am
greatly mistaken, we shall find something in that bedroom which will
throw a vivid light on the crime. You had better come along with me and
start the search at once."

Hour after hour passed in the bedroom of the ancient old Dormy House
before Cheriton found what he was looking for. It was discovered at
length behind a loose panel in the oak surroundings of the room, and
when Cheriton held it up to the light, Merrick could read an endorsement
on the back of it.

"His late lordship's will," he cried.

"That's it," Cheriton said. "I felt pretty sure those rascals had got
it. Perhaps I had better tell you how I came to get a lead in that
particular direction."

Very rapidly, Cheriton went over the conversation he had had with Andrew
Canton regarding the offer Cleaver had made him in connection with the
L100,000 reward.

"Oh, that was the game, was it?" Merrick exclaimed.

"Precisely," Cheriton replied. "Mind you, I don't believe that Bradmain
originally went to Seagrane Holt that night with the intention of
stealing the old gentleman's will. He was searching for something
entirely different. My impression is that he was bitterly disappointed
in not finding it. I am sure he didn't find it, because, if he had, we
should have discovered it somewhere in this room. I don't suppose we
shall ever know what those two scoundrels crossed the Atlantic to get.
In any case, it doesn't matter much. Now, I think that after the safe
was burgled and Bradmain got over his disappointment in not finding what
he was looking for, he put that will in his pocket with a view to making
use of it later on. I don't think he meant to kill the Earl, because he
wouldn't have done so if Seagrane hadn't attacked him so savagely. But
again, we need not go into that for the moment. But, after the Earl was
dead and Bradmain got away with the will in his pocket, he began to see
what a powerful instrument he had in his hand with which to blackmail
Andrew Canton. Canton is a weak sort of creature, and when he found
himself face to face with poverty once more, he would almost certainly
have listened to the scheme propounded by Cleaver. In other words, he
would be only too glad to pay L100,000 for a document which would place
him in the possession of a million."

"And you guessed all that, I suppose," Merrick said, "when Canton told
you of his interview with Cleaver."

"Quite," Cheriton said. "I should have been a fool if I hadn't. My mind
jumped at once to the missing will. I will take this with me if you
don't mind and communicate with the family solicitors on the telephone.
No doubt, one of the firm will come down tomorrow and advise us.
Meanwhile, what is going to happen to those two prisoners of yours?"

"Well, they will be brought before magistrates to-morrow and remanded
for a fortnight," Merrick explained. "It will only be a matter of a few
minutes and I shan't want any witnesses for some time to come."

As Cheriton had suggested, the particular Prendergast who had the
Seagrane estate matters in hand came down to Holt on the following
morning, when the missing will was handed over to him.

"Yes," he said. "This is the document that the late Lord Seagrane showed
me, and it is undoubtedly in his own handwriting. As I told you before,
he asked me to go over it with a view to pointing out any flaws, and I
informed him that there were none. But that is not all. Have you looked
at this?"

"I haven't," Cheriton said. "It is in the envelope in which Lord
Seagrane placed it himself and endorsed. I thought it just as well, in
the circumstances, not to make any examination for myself, so I locked
it up last night so that it might be safe. Surely there is nothing wrong
with it."

"You can make your mind easy as to that," Prendergast said with a slight
smile as he turned over the paper. "But there in something here besides
the will. This sheet of paper attached to the back appears to me to be
in the form of a codicil, and, moreover, is attested by the two persons
who witnessed the will. Um--er--yes, most important."

It was only a matter of a few moments before Prendergast had mastered
the contents of the codicil.

"Yes," he said presently. "It puts a different aspect on the affair
altogether. Now, Mr. Cheriton, would you be good enough to ask Mrs.
Marchand and her daughter to give me a few moments of their time? And,
while you are about it, I should like to see Mr. Canton, as well."

A few minutes later they were all together in the library, with
Prendergast standing in the centre with the document impressively
displayed in his hand.

"This is the missing will," he said solemnly.



CHAPTER XXIX.


"Dear me," Mrs. Marchand said placidly. "I suppose that gets over a
great deal of difficulty. Now, wherever did you manage to find it?"

"It is rather a long story," Cheriton explained. "As a matter of fact, I
found it myself. For the sake of one person, at least, it is a good
thing I did so."

As he said this, Cheriton glanced significantly at Canton, who changed
colour. For even he, headstrong and careless as he was, began to see
what had been in the back of Cleaver's mind when that infamous proposal
was made.

"This is undoubtedly the will that was missing," Prendergast took up the
story. "It makes a more than handsome provision for Mr. Canton, together
with the estates and the income. But attached to the will itself is a
codicil, witnessed by the butler, Eccles, and his wife, absolutely in
order. Perhaps I had better read you the codicil at length. It doesn't
run to many lines, but its purpose is perfectly clear. Here it is.

"This is a codicil to my will, dated the first day of May, 192--. I give
and bequeath all my real and personal property of which I die possessed,
to my adopted son, Andrew Canton, always excepting the securities
mentioned in my will which I left to my relative, Mrs. Marchand, and her
daughter, Evelyn. It was my hope at one time that a marriage would take
place between the said Andrew Canton and the said Evelyn Marchand, but,
of late, I have had reason to doubt the advisability of such a union.
Moreover, so far as I am in a position to judge, the said Evelyn
Marchand has bestowed her affections elsewhere and in what I deem to be
a much more desirable quarter. Therefore, it is my will that if Andrew
Canton should marry Evelyn Marchand, then my property, otherwise than
previously disposed of, shall revert to the State. I further direct that
Seagrane Holt shall be kept up by my trustees in an efficient state of
repair and the income thereof handed over to him, provided that in no
case does he ever resort to the borrowing of money or of gambling in any
shape or form. Should this be the case then the property will revert to
the State as aforesaid. And I further direct that my trustees hold the
property at their discretion until the said Andrew Canton reaches the
age of thirty-five years, so that if by then they deem him to be a
worthy person to maintain the dignity of the family, all that I
originally intended for him shall be handed over to him absolutely.

"And that is all," Prendergast concluded. "I must apologise to Miss
Marchand for reading what may appear to her to be a rather cold-blooded
document in her presence, but I think she will understand. Meanwhile, I
will leave you people to talk the matter over, whilst I take a walk
round the grounds. I have only an hour or two to spare. I shouldn't like
to lose this opportunity of renewing my acquaintance with the many
beauties of Seagrane Holt."

With that, the lawyer bowed himself diplomatically out, leaving the
parties chiefly concerned to discuss this extraordinary turn in the
fortunes of them all. It was Andrew Canton, at length, who broke the
embarrassing silence.

"I think it is up to me to speak," he said. "But for me, our benefactor
might have been alive to-day."

"I don't agree," Cheriton said. "You must not take a morbid view of it
like that. Of course, you are not blameless. You caused your benefactor
an enormous deal of unnecessary anxiety; hence the codicil to his will.
I found that will behind a panel in the bedroom occupied by Bradmain and
Cleaver. I felt pretty sure it was there, after what you said to me
concerning your interview with Cleaver when he attempted to blackmail
you. I was convinced that it was through the Earl's will that the scheme
was to be worked. By sheer good luck I managed to avert it. But I am not
here to blow my own trumpet. You are a rich man now, Canton, and if you
will only take this lesson to heart, you may become a respected member
of society, yet."

"I mean to," Canton said with more firmness than he had previously
displayed. "I have had a lesson I am never likely to forget, and I am
going to turn over a new leaf altogether. Also, I firmly agree with what
the Earl said in the codicil. A man like myself has no right to ask a
girl like Evelyn to marry him. It would have been a crime. Besides, I
don't believe she ever would have consented."

Evelyn looked up in the speaker's face with a frank expression in her
eyes and no heightening of colour in her cheeks.

"I never should, Andrew," she said. "You have many good qualities that I
like, and I honestly tried to care for you when I saw that the dear old
man was so bent upon our marriage. It was a sentimental idea on his
part, but one that I was bound to respect. It is a great relief to me to
find that the Earl had changed his mind before he died."

"And, incidentally, told the truth," Canton smiled.

Evelyn took a step in Cheriton's direction and placed her hands, with a
gesture of confidence, in his.

"Yes," she said simply. "There never was anybody but Clifford. He came
into my life when mother and myself were struggling hard to get a
living, and I know that, more than once, he deprived himself of sheer
necessities so that we should have a meal. And those are the sort of
things that a woman cannot forget. I never expected, in those days, to
find myself in a house like this, and, for a time, I was, more or less,
swept off my feet. But after the day I met Clifford once more in the
office of our mutual publishers, then I knew that, sooner or later, I
should have to tell the dear old man that his dream could never be
realised. I don't think it is necessary to say any more."

The meeting broke up presently, and, after Prendergast had been seen off
in his car Cheriton went to his cottage, there to try and do a little
work and forget, for the time being, all the exciting events of the last
day or two. Inside the front door, on the floor, lay a letter which the
postman had delivered in his absence. The writing was not familiar, but
the flap of the envelope bore the address of the Grand Park Hotel.
Inside it was a letter from Nance Carey.

"Dear Mr. Cheriton (it ran),--

"Just a brief line or two before I return to America. I know that I was
not as candid with you the last time we met as I should have been, and I
also know that you were perfectly aware of the fact. When you went away,
it didn't require very much sense to realise that you were on the track
of that dreadful husband of mine and that before very long, he would be
arrested for the murder of Lord Seagrane. Probably by this time the
dread event has happened. Honestly, I think that is the best end for the
man at whose hands I have suffered so much.

"But I am concerned with one thing, and one thing only. That dear child
of mine must never know that she is the daughter of a man who met his
death on the scaffold. She has never heard the name of Bradmain, for
that is not the name in which I was married. What Bradmain's real name
was is a secret that I mean to keep to myself. What I want you to do, if
possible, is to persuade the authorities not to bring prominently before
the public the name of 'Thumbscrew Jake.' If you can do that I shall go
to America comparatively happy and thank you from the bottom of my
heart. I am sorry I shall not be able to see you again, but, I am
returning home the day after to-morrow,

"Yours very sincerely,

"NANCE CAREY."

Cheriton read the letter thoughtfully, and, at the first opportunity,
showed it to Merrick. This was two days later, when Merrick had come
back to Sandchester, after his prisoners were remanded in the county
jail.

"There you are," Cheriton said. "I told you all about Miss Carey and how
I came in contact with her in the course of my investigations and how,
indirectly, she helped me. So now I want you to help her over this
'Thumbscrew Jake' side of the business. You ought to do so even out of
sheer gratitude."

"So I will," Merrick agreed heartily. "The case is so strong that I can
whittle down the details. But we shall never hang Cleaver. It's the one
regret I have."



THE END



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