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Title: The Sentence of the Court
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Sentence of the Court
Author: Fred M White


*


Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday, 4 December, 1913.


*


Promotional Advertisement placed in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday,
3 December, 1913.

THE SENTENCE OF THE COURT.

'The Sentence of the Court,' the new serial by Fred M. White, which will
begin in the 'Herald' to-morrow, is the story of a leading London
eye-specialist, who is a rogue from the crown of his glossy top hat to
the sole of his patent leather boots. He has a practice, which includes
members of the Royal family, and he is also member of Parliament for a
straight-laced constituency, but he has kept his gambling and his
private life so well concealed, that it is not until the sheriff's man
actually surprises him in his rooms, on the evening before an operation
upon a Royal patient, and tells him his furniture will be sold to
satisfy a debt, that he has any fear of detection. A curious chance--it
turns out of course to be more than a chance--gives him the opportunity
of raising the money to pay that debt. Just after the bailiff has
disappeared he finds an even more unwelcome intruder in his room, and in
the intruder's hand is a Browning pistol. The intruder is not, for this
time, at any rate, a burglar. He has come to the eye-specialist with an
offer of a fee more than sufficient to pay that debt if he will attend a
certain patient in the East End of London. Of that patient, and how he
came to have his face riddled with a discharge of small shot, and of his
employer, a certain wealthy old miser in the same house, and of the old
man's beautiful daughter, and of Dr. Gilray's attempt to win her from
her lover, and how it ended, this is not the place to tell. The story
itself will solve that problem. And no reader who has once acquainted
himself with this plot is likely to drop it until that solution is
reached.


*



CHAPTER I.--A MIDNIGHT MESSENGER,


Everard Gilray struggled to be free. What did this outrage mean? Who was
this ragged, seedy fellow, who had thus dared to attack him on his own
doorstep on the stroke of twelve? And this was not some slum in the East
End--it was the respectable, dull, decorous Harley-street. Gilray had
had slipped his Yale key in the front door, the polished mahogany portal
stood open, showing the luxury and comfort and elegance of the hall in
the dim, shaded electric light when this ragged nomad had emerged from
the shadows and gripped him by the shoulder.

A beggar no doubt, some impudent fellow relying on the lateness of the
hour and the stillness of the street to enforce a demand for alms.

Gilray turned fiercely upon him, his left shot out, and the ruffian
staggered under the force of the blow. The street outside was absolutely
deserted, there was no sign of a policeman anywhere. And Gilray's house
contained things of price. The servants had long gone to bed, it was
impossible to alarm them.

The man was evidently desperate, his courage was growing in proportion
to the lack of danger. All this Gilray could read in his hungry,
glittering eyes. This was the kind of thing that led to murder. Here, in
Harley-street. Gilray wondered what people would say...his
patients...constituents, his many friends in society. Possibly--

He staggered back under a furious onslaught, and fell against a table in
the hall. The shabby man followed quickly in, and shut the front door.
He looked a little less dangerous and desperate now, but there was a
grim smile on his face.

"Seems to have been a bit of a misunderstanding, sir," he gasped.

"You infernal scoundrel," Gilray cried. "What do you mean by it? If you
had asked me civilly for assistance I would have helped you. But to
attack me like this----"

"Who attacked you?" the man demanded sulkily. "I put my hand on your
shoulder. I always put my hands on their shoulders, same as detectives
do. 'Tis allowed by the law. 'Tis a symbol, that's what it is. Tells as
'ow you're my prisoner without using the word."

Gilray gasped. A curious feeling of nausea oppressed him. He felt sick
and giddy and curiously unreal, as if he were some unworthy person
masquerading as himself. The man was quite calm and collected now, and,
in his way, not disrespectful.

"I am your prisoner, then," he said, hoarsely.

"If you please, sir, Sheriff of London. What's called a Writ of
Attachment. You see, as there is a Bill of Sale on your goods 'ere,
there was no other way. Two hundred and thirty-eight pounds four
shillings. You've got to come with me to Brixton Prison. Get the money
from your friends to-morrow. Sorry to be so late, sir, but I missed you
as you was going out to dinner. You got away in your taxi, only a few
seconds in front of me."

Gilray shuddered. He wondered if that pallid face in the Venetian mirror
opposite was his own. That immaculately cut dress suit was a mockery.
The pink-shaded hall, the thick Persian carpet, the pictures and the
flowers were all a mockery. He was no longer Everard Gilray, the petted
and fashionable eye specialist, a popular Member of Parliament, one of
the idols of the hour. He was a hunted wretch with disgrace and worse
before him. To-morrow he would be a byword, a failure, his specific
services would be required no longer.

He pointed a shaking finger in the direction of the dining-room, that
wonderful room in crimson and old oak that was the admiration of all his
lady patients. Gilray was a born collector, he never could resist the
artistic and the beautiful--he never could resist anything that cost
money. He made 10,000 pounds a year, and he was doubly that in debt.

The more money he made the more hopeless grew his position. Betting,
gambling, the Stock Exchange--every desperate remedy had been tried. And
every venture found him nearer the brink. He was a humbug, a fraud--if
nothing worse.

"Sit down," he said hoarsely, "sit down and help yourself. Brandy,
whisky, a cigar--anything. I suppose you could not accept a cheque?"

"I could not, sir," the man said. "They never take cheques in these
cases. Cash down and paid to the Sheriff. To-morrow----"

"Oh, curse it, man, there can be no to-morrow in my case," Gilray burst
out passionately, "Can't you see that this means absolute ruin to me?
Why, to-morrow I go to a palace to operate on Royalty. I shall not be
there. Enquiries will be made the story will get abroad, and my practice
will be dead. I represent a constituency in the north--a stern and rigid
set who would turn and rend me if they knew to truth. Can't you see that
I must have time, man? Go away and come back to-morrow night. I'll have
the matter settled by then."

The man with the glass in his hand shook his head resolutely. "Can't be
done, governor," he said. "More'n my place is worth; I've got a missis
and three kids, and one of 'em's a cripple. Not for all the money----"

Just for an instant something like murder gleamed in Gilray's eyes. He
seemed to be moving in a blood-red mist out of which loomed that man's
lean and narrow throat. Why not kill him and pretend that he had found
him here stealing the plate? No, that would not do. Inquiries would be
made, and the whole story come out. The man must be bribed; there was
money yonder in the oak secretaire. Gilray pulled open the desk and
tossed aside a heap of papers. Bills, bills, bills! Threatening letters,
money-lending circulars, pressing hints from solicitors. Curse the
bills! Curse the money-lenders who were sucking the life's blood out of
him!

But they could keep; nothing mattered now as long as this fellow could
be got rid of. He was there at the instance of the one creditor whom
Gilray had least feared. That was always the way. Yes, here was the
money almost thrown at him earlier in the day by a grateful American
patient. Twenty pounds in gold and some notes. Gilray took the
sovereigns, and laid them in a neat pattern on the polished oak table.
They glittered and gleamed temptingly in the light.

"Look at them!" Gilray said hoarsely. "Just think what they mean to a
man like you. They are a small fortune. And they are yours for the
asking. Take them and put them in your pocket!"

The man's fingers went mechanically in the direction of the good red
gold. The dirty hands hovered over the shining coins; Gilray could hear
the fellow's quick and strenuous breathing.

"Take 'em away!" he said. "Take 'em away, or I'll do you a mischief!
What do you mean by temptin' a poor man in this way. It's cruel of you,
sir."

"But where is the harm?" Gilray pleaded hoarsely. "And how are you going
to suffer? Nobody saw you come here, and nobody will see you go away.
You have not been able to execute your warrant. Circumstances have been
against you. To-morrow I am at the palace. I'm not going to run away,
you know. If the money owing is not paid by mid-day, come back here and
take me. Don't be a fool, man--don't stand in your own light."

The sheriff's minion was hesitating now, his eyes twinkled and watered
as if the gold dazzled them. Gilray snatched up the heavy, clinking
coins, and thrust them in the other's hand.

"There!" he said. "I knew that you would think better of it. Did you
ever have so much money before? Did you over make it so easily? And all
for waiting a few hours. There is no danger to yourself, and you help
me. Do you suppose that I don't mean to meet this liability? I've got to
do it. If not, I might just as well jump into the Thames. Put the gold
in your pocket."

Gilray turned his back, knowing that he had won. He heard the muffled
clink of the sovereigns as they dropped in the tipstaff's pocket. For
the moment, at any rate, the situation was saved!

Gilray was alone--the man had gone. He breathed more freely as he came
back to the dining-room and helped himself liberally to brandy. This was
not one of his usual habits, he was very rigid about that kind of thing.
His was a popular figure at West End dining-tables, but he had never
been known to exceed one glass of claret or hock. He was practically a
non-smoker--one could not indulge in that kind of thing and retain the
steady, steel-like hand necessary for the delicate eye operations. And
tomorrow, for the first time, he was called upon to attend a Royal
patient.

And to-morrow he had to find that money. It was a mere trifle, and yet
it was as big as a mountain. He had absolutely reached the end of his
resources. There was not a money lender in London who would look at his
paper, not a friend from whom he could borrow.

He knew what a dainty, delicate plant was an operating surgeon's
reputation. Here he was surrounded with every luxury in a house full of
costly trifles, pictures, work of art, rare silver, and he could not
touch a single object there. They were only nominally his--they belonged
to a creditor under an assignment. To take one of those precious
treasures and raise money on it would be fraud.

Where was the money to come from? About two hundred and fifty pounds. A
mere bagatelle. Gilray had spent that a score of times on a ring or
cameo. And now----

He came back with a start to the reality of things. The house became a
human habitation again, and somebody was moving in the basement. There
was now no light in the hall, and the thick curtains in the dining-room
effectively screened the gleam of the electrics from the road outside.
Doubtless some burglar was at work below there under the impression that
everybody was asleep. Well, Gilray would know how to deal with him. He
wanted something to vent his rage and passion upon. He had run up
against a night of adventure, and he would see the trouble through.

He crept to the door of the dining-room and waited. In the black,
velvety darkness of the house he seemed to hear all the more clearly.
Beyond question somebody was fumbling his way upstairs. It was possible
to make out a soft footfall, the crack of a board, a sound of somebody
breathing hard.

There was a smell of humanity there too, humanity that sleeps out of
doors and wears its clothes far too long. Gilray touched the switch.

Just for a moment the blinding flood of light dazzled him. He made out a
tall, spare figure in a shabby tightly-buttoned frock coat, once of
fashionable cut, and with the evidence of the hand of Bond-street upon
it.

He saw a dark, clean-shaven face, a pair of keen, glittering eyes,
glistening in a face that bore evidence of recent illness or privation.
And in one of the long, lean, capable-looking hands was a Browning
automatic pistol.

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

"We'll come to that presently," the stranger said.

An educated man with the public school label on him, Gilray thought.

"No occasion for violence, Doctor Gilray. I rather fancy I can find you
the money you are just now so sorely in need of."




CHAPTER II.--THE WHITE HAND.


Gilray stared wonderingly at the speaker. He could only wait for the
other man to speak. It looked that night as if all the world had gone
mad, as if law and order, and the sacred rights of property were no
more. For this man was not shirking or abashed; there was no suggestion
of an apology about him. On the contrary, his manner was coolly
contemptuous, even superior; it was as if a magistrate were addressing a
first offender.

He was a waster, of course, and a failure--even his cool and easy
audacity could not conceal that. But he was undoubtedly a strong man,
and Gilray did not fail to recognise the fact.

"How did you get here?" he stammered.

"Does it matter?" the other asked. "Let it suffice that I am here.
Before long you will be glad I came. Permit me to introduce myself. Mr.
Horace Vorley, whilom Doctor Vorley, very much at your service.

"You mean that you are not on the Medical Register now?"

"Precisely. You catch my meaning exactly. The old story of two men and
one woman, and that woman happened to be my wife. I took matters in my
own hands...Since then I have had a series of adventures in many
lands, mostly taking the form of strife between myself on the one side
and the authorities on the other. If you would give me a biscuit----"

"There are light refreshments in the dining-room," Gilray said,
"and--and whisky."

"Thank you very much. I have eaten practically nothing to-day. I was
searching for food in your kitchen. You see, I thought that Warner--the
bailiff who was here just now--would have remained a little longer. When
you left the front door open I followed you into the house. I also took
the liberty of listening to your conversation with Warner. It looked
like being a big struggle between you, so I stopped down in the kitchen.
What did you give him to buy him off?"

Gilray exploded with impatient passion. How dared Vorley come here like
this. What did he mean by treating the house as if it were some hotel?
What business was it of his? Did he want the police to be telephoned
for?

"Not a bit of good," Vorley coolly said, as he finished the sandwiches.
"Upon my word, you have a pretty taste in whisky, sir. And these are
really Villar Corona cigars. Let me ask you a question. Where are you
going to get the money to pay that debt to-morrow? If it is not
discharged by four o'clock the bailiff will be back again. At the
present moment you have not one penny in the world. If the truth leaks
out you are professionally ruined. Now, don't bluster, and don't lie
about it. I was looking in here when you were discussing matters with
Warner. Oh, if you could only have seen the white, anxious misery of
your face; if you could only have heard the hoarse despair in your
voice! You were pleading desperately for your social life. Man, do you
want me to get you that money?"

Gilray laughed somewhat mirthlessly. He was beginning to like this
blunt, outspoken man.

"That money! I'd give anything for it," he said. "Still, it is absurd to
hear you talk of finding it! You are palpably penniless, seedy,
desperate; and until a few moments ago, hungry. And you talk of finding
me money! You find two hundred and fifty pounds! Ridiculous."

"Nevertheless, I can," Vorley said emphatically. "Before daybreak. That
is, if you are prepared to perform a secret operation and to forget all
about it afterwards."

"You came here to ask me to do this?"

"In a measure--yes. There is a man in whom I am deeply interested who
has met with an accident to his eyes. He cannot for certain reasons show
up in public, in fact he is hiding in a shady quarter near the river. No
occasion to go into details. It's a queer business altogether. But this
man needs the very highest skill, and I came West to-night to get it for
him. My idea was to call on Evershed--he's a good chap, and we were pals
at one time. I was hanging about on his doorstep making up my mind. Then
I saw Warner stop you, and my way was clear."

"Warner is an old acquaintance of yours, I presume," Gilray sneered.

"Once more you show your quickness and intelligence," Vorley said
urbanely. "When I was going headlong to perdition, Warner was a frequent
guest in my house. We were good friends. So when I saw him to-night
fighting with you on your doorstep I saw my way. Here was the
fashionable and popular Dr. Gilray being arrested on a writ of
attachment! You see, I know all the jargon. What a revelation! People
don't let things go so far as writs of attachment unless they are in
desperate need of money. My chance lay plain before me, and I took it in
both hands. Now, do you need that money?"

"I would give my soul for it," Gilray said hoarsely. "If you can prove
to me that you----"

"Man, you must take my word for it. And you must ask no questions. I
cannot get a shilling for myself, but I can get you three hundred
guineas for the secret operation. The man who handles the cash is a
miser of the worst possible type. But the operation means much to him. I
told him what I proposed to do, and he scoffed at the suggestion. No
surgeon of good repute, he held, would come at dead of night to one of
London's deadliest slums and perform such an operation as that
required."

"But the patient might come here?"

"The patient is ill, he has had a bad accident. And there are other
reasons why the thing should be carried out with every precaution. The
danger of it----"

"Oh, there is danger, then? I see I am going to earn my money."

"Glad to hear that you have made up your mind," Vorley said, smiling for
the first time. "'My poverty, and not my will consents,' as
Shakespeare's Apothecary said. As a matter of fact, everything that I
could see to is ready for you. You will need an anaesthetist, and you
could not have a better one than myself. All the needful appliances are
on the spot. So come along."

Gilray hesitated no longer. The hand of Fate was clearly directing the
thing, fortune for once in a way was fighting on his side. The
difficulty that had been before him threatening his ruin was solved--he
would be able to keep faith with Warner.

"Very well," he said. "I will trust to your word. The money will be paid
to me----"

"In gold, if you like, as soon as the operation is over. But we are
wasting time here. Come on."

Gilray, after that, waited only to get his necessary instruments
together, and presently he and Vorley were walking eastward together. A
passing taxi was hailed by Vorley, and an address given that was
somewhere at the back of the Tower of London. They were in a maze of
mean streets presently, dark and narrow thoroughfares, dirty and
ill-smelling, with dim lights gleaming here and there behind faded
curtains. A few gas lamps struggled fitfully against the pervading
gloom. Even these ineffectual gleams were lost presently, for,
dismissing the taxi, Vorley turned through a broken-down gateway that
seemed to give on to some open space, evidently a disused wharf or
shipbreaker's yard, littered with refuse, amongst which Gilray stumbled
along painfully, sweating, and uncertain on his feet. He could faintly
catch the glimmer and hear the drip of water somewhere as he groped his
way blindly in the dark.

"Where are you leading me?" he asked hoarsely.

"Take my hand," Vorley whispered. "I know every inch of the way. This is
a treacherous place at night. A false step to the right or left and you
are over the edge, and into one or the disused old locks. At one time a
prosperous trade in the building of ships was carried on here, now the
place is deserted and derelict. We are just about to cross the
sluice-plank over one of the waterways. Be careful, man, be careful! Put
your hand on my shoulder and shuffle your feet along."

Gilray with a shudder compiled. He was suffering all the tortures of a
vivid imagination. He would have given five years of his life to be back
in his own house again. But there was no turning back now, and the
vision of the rich reward to come spurred him on.

They were on firmer ground presently with something that looked like the
outline of a house ahead. It seemed to be a fair-sized building, but
there were no lights anywhere and the place was all in darkness. At this
point Vorley paused and struck a match which he concealed as far as
possible in the hollow of his hand. The fitful light disclosed what
appeared to be a kind of basement to the house, with a door to which a
flight of steps gave access. A sudden puff of wind and out went the
match. Vorley swore under his breath.

But Gilray was no longer attending to the movements of his guide. He
stood almost transfixed to the spot, all his fear gone, listening and
wondering. For in the house away back in the darkness a girl was staging
the 'Jewel Song,' from 'Faust.' The voice was glorious, divine. Its free
abandon, its exquisite quality and purity of tone amazed Gilray. Here,
wasting the silver of her notes, was assuredly some great star of Opera.

"Come on," Vorley whispered, noting his companion's amazement. "I'll
show you queerer things than that yet. Now, get inside and wait till I
come for you. The basement is dark and damp, but you can sit there for a
moment. As to myself, I shall have to enter the house another way."

Gilray followed with blind obedience. He was thrust without ceremony
into a dark room, and the door was locked behind him. Then, as Vorley's
footsteps died away it seemed to him that he was neglected and deserted
in a world of darkness and desolation. He heard something squeak and
scurry, he felt something warm move over his foot. Gilray shuddered and
his hair stiffened as he recognised the fact that the place was full of
rats. He could hear them scrambling up the damp walls, and high above
all he could hear the owner of that divine voice singing the passionate
music as if her soul were in it.

Well, here was a link with the better side of humanity at any rate. So
long as that glorious music continued Gilray could take heart of grace.
He strained his ears, he heard the liquid notes break off suddenly and a
woman's voice screaming in deadly fear. The screams went on for a moment
or two, then ceased with a gurgling cry. It was as if a hand had been
placed on the throat of a nightingale to stop its melody.

Every individual hair seemed to stand up straight on Gilray's head. He
could hear the heavy tread of feet above him as if several persons were
engaged in a deadly struggle, he could hear muffled curses and something
that might have been the crack of a revolver.

Evidently he had been forgotten, murder was being done upstairs, and
whatever the danger, he must not be found there. He fumbled for the
door, only to find it fast locked, so he groped for some other outlet.
As he did so there was a heavy fall in the room above, and after that
silence like that of the grave. It was so silent that Gilray fancied he
could hear the blood pulsing through his brain.

Something snapped, and a gleam of light darted like a lance across the
floor and flooded the dark brick floor of the cellar-like room. A huddle
of rats scampered away into the shadows. A trapdoor opened and a hand
and arm appeared through the opening--a slim, white, velvet-skinned arm
and hand traced with delicate blue veins a hand that had known no
labour, daintily manicured, pink as to the polished nails, a hand
moreover blazing with a glittering of antique diamond rings.

"Lord," Gilray gasped "Lord, I'd give my reputation and my good name to
be well out of this!"




CHAPTER III.--THE SARD INTAGLIO.


Gilray moved back as if that long, slim hand was some fearful thing
fraught with peril. Yet he was strangely fascinated by it, it aroused
all his artistic sense and love of the beautiful. Nor was he blind to
the value of those beautiful old rings that decked it with their
glittering brilliants. It seemed to him that he had seen one of them
before in a famous collection of jewels. Surely the one with the panel
of stones had been part of the D'Alencus treasures.

Gilray could have sworn that he had once had it in his hand for
inspection; that it was something he at one time had been half disposed
to buy. Sweating and trembling as he was from hand to foot, he could not
keep these thoughts out of his mind.

The slim, white arm advanced, the slender fingers, with the nails of
pearl were almost on his foot, the waving light made circles of flame in
the shadows, he could see the gleaming eyes of the terrified rats. He
could see, too, the dark slime on the floor. Then the trap-door opened
wider, and there was a sudden crash. Something was going to happen now.

But there was nothing to be desperately afraid of, after all. A big
slice of the wall seemed to fall away, and behind the light of an
electric torch Gilray could discern the outline of a slender figure.
There was about it something pathetic and appealing--something that
seemed to bring back Gilray's manhood again. He could not but see that
the girl was in some trouble, and the idea flashed across him that her
trouble had arisen because she had gone out of her way to assist him.
She was gathering courage now. "You--you are Dr. Gilray?" she whispered.

Gilray replied hoarsely that he was. He wished that he could see his
companion a little more plainly. As if in answer to his desire, the girl
placed the torch on a ledge above her head, and stood out in the
gleaming rays of it. And then, just for a moment, Gilray forgot his
fear, forgot all his troubles and misfortunes, in the contemplation of
that perfect face.

He was conscious of the exquisite chiselling of her features, the creamy
ivory tint of her skin, and the clear lucent ruby of the pathetic lips.
He saw the glint of gold and amber in the piled up masses of her hair,
the violet grey eyes all heavy with unshed tears.

The girl was in trouble beyond all doubt, but the lines of sorrow on her
face only added to her beauty, She was wrapped from head to foot in some
soft clinging black drapery, but a wisp of fine old lace rippled about
the white column of her throat, and another filmy wave was visible above
her tiny ankles. Gilray's artistic eye apprised the value of the
gossamer lace and the lovely old paste buckles on her shoes. Here was a
mean, rat-haunted house in a mean and noisome neighbourhood allied with
the beautiful and the costly in the strangest possible fashion, and
Gilray would have given a good deal to know the meaning of it all.

"I came for you," the girl, explained. "I am sorry that you should have
been left here so long."

She spoke as he had expected, in a voice low, sweet, and refined, yet
just a little haughty. There was, too, a faint suggestion of hauteur
about the face and in the carriage of the dainty head.

"It is nothing," Gilray hastened to explain. "I came here
professionally, you understand. I knew it was an unconventional visit,
so I was prepared to find an unconventional reception."

"So I understood. Will you come this way, please?"

"Might I not ask," Gilray stammered, "would it not be just as well for
me to know where I am and the name of the people here? For instance; you
are----"

The girl's face grew cold and hard.

"Does it in the least matter?" she asked. "I believe that the situation
was made quite plain to you. It really was good of you to come, and Dr.
Vorley is grateful. But as we are never likely to meet again my name can
be nothing to you."

Gilray stammered some kind of apology. But he would have been something
more than human not to have expressed some curiosity anent the situation
in which he found himself. Beautiful women, were no strangers to him; he
had seen beauty day by day in the most perfect, the most exquisite
settings. But never before had he met a woman who moved him as this one
did. He would have to marry some day, of course, he had always told
himself that. Moreover, it was imperatively necessary that he should
marry money. He could not forget the latter fact even in the midst of
his surprises. Perhaps the girl was a heiress in her way, despite her
sordid surroundings. Were there not those rings, that priceless lace,
the old paste buckles to be accounted for?

"I am very sorry," he stammered. "You see, I sometimes have patients who
wish to remain anonymous. I always decline to advise them. I had
forgotten that to-night's business was exceptional. Is it not time that
I saw my possible patient?"

The girl murmured that she had come to bring him to the patient, and
without further ado led the way up a flight of steps into a corridor the
walls of which were dark with age and grime. The floor apparently had
not been scrubbed for years, yet here and there were scattered Persian
prayer rugs that would attract admiration in Regent or Bond street. A
picture or two, panels in oils, whose value could be seen at a glance,
hung carelessly and crookedly on the dingy walls. Gilray took in all
this with amazement, feeling more and more bewildered as he walked
along. Presently he and his guide reached a square hall in which glowed
a solitary electric lamp. It was strange to find electricity installed
in so remote and sordid a house as this. Yet the hall was large and
lofty, and had apparently at one time been richly decorated, for along
the cornice Gilray could see peeling flakes of tarnished gold, and on
the ceiling the faint remains of an allegorical painting. He remembered
now what Vorley had said as to the time when this fragrant district had
boasted fields and fair houses, houses wherein more than one chapter of
past history had been made.

Down a flight of oaken stairs, rich with carved rails and balusters,
Vorley came noiselessly. His coat was torn, his face was dirty, and one
eye was partially closed. He had a bloodstained handkerchief across his
forehead. It was then that Gilray, looking about him, noticed evidence
of a struggle. A table and a couple of chairs had been overturned, and
on the bare floor was a horribly suggestive dim red patch. With a
shudder he remembered the din and confusion he had heard above him while
imprisoned in the hideous darkness of the basement vault.

"Sorry to keep you so long waiting," Vorley said. "Did you hear
anything?"

"It certainly seemed to me at one time as if some disturbance was going
on. I also heard somebody singing most divinely. Probably I have to
thank the young lady here for----"

"You are quite mistaken," the girl said coldly. "Are you not wasting
time?"

She bowed and vanished into one of the unlighted rooms leading from the
hall. As she closed the door behind her Gilray heard the click of a
switch.

"What an exquisite creature!" he remarked involuntarily.

"Pretty girl, isn't she?" Vorley said carelessly. "You didn't get much
out of her, I expect. Did she by any chance tell you her name?"

"She did not. She promptly checked all curiosity on the point."

"Umph, I thought so! As you will never see her again, probably it
doesn't matter. We had a little bit of a scrimmage here, as you heard.
It's a queer household, Lord knows how queer. But we're not poor, we can
afford to pay for our little fancies. Still, come this way--your patient
is upstairs. And a nice handful he is."

In one of the bare oak-beamed upper rooms the patient lay upon a plain
iron bedstead. Vorley had rigged up an apology for an operating table,
and by an ingenious arrangement of incandescent lamps and reflectors a
powerful light was thrown directly upon it. Here, too, were all the
necessary appliances for the administration of an anaesthetic, and it
needed no second glance to see that Vorley had made no false boast when
he claimed to understand this side of the business.

On the bed lay a big, heavy man, with luxuriant beard and whiskers.
Between his frequent groans he was cursing in some language that sounded
like German. A silk handkerchief was tied across his eyes. It was a
queer pattern, in which orange spots predominated, and the design
impressed itself upon Gilray's memory.

"It's all right, old man," Vorley said cheerfully to the man on the bed.
"The oculist is here. No need to mention names, no need to do so on
either side for that matter, but I've got the best that Harley-street
can produce. Let's get that bandage off and see what really is the
matter."

The bearded man muttered something that might have been gratitude. As
Gilray removed the bandage he saw that the face was all raw and
bleeding. Here and there were tiny punctures with raised edges, and the
whole appearance went to show that the man had been wounded at long
range by a charge of small shot. Both eyelids were granulated and
suppurating and the inflammation was intense, making it plain that the
sufferer was then quite blind, even if his sight was not lost for ever.

"Get him on the table and give him a whiff of ether," Gilray commanded.

With some trouble this was accomplished, and at last the patient lay
inert and unconscious, ready for the operator. Directly Gilray had his
instrument in his hands everything else was forgotten. He was no longer
a stranger in a house of fear, he was the born genius with science on
his side fighting for a man's sight. For an hour or more with his
marvellously delicate touch he worked at the injured eyes, the grim
rigidity of his face slowly relaxing as he moved on inch by inch towards
victory.

He tossed the last bit of sponge aside, and wiped his face. Vorley was
gazing at him with undisguised anxiety.

"Well?" he asked. "Are you satisfied?"

"Quite," Gilray said. "It was a very near thing, but I've managed it.
The man has escaped total blindness by a sheer miracle. But he will get
right again. All that's needed now is scrupulous care. A good,
non-irritating antiseptic for washing purposes must be applied
frequently and the eyes rebandaged closely after every application. Keep
this going for a week, and then let the patient have light gradually;
follow my directions carefully, and you'll not need me any more. And now
we had better be going."

"Isn't there something to be done first?" Vorley asked.

"So far as I am concerned, nothing except the fee. I think you suggested
that I could have this in cash, if necessary. A cheque in the
circumstances might be difficult to negotiate. If the money is
handy----"

Vorley chuckled, as if amused.

"Oh, you can have the hard gold if you prefer it," he said. "You will
have to see the old man. Never mind what his name is. He's waiting for
you in the room at the end of the corridor downstairs. Walk in, assure
him of the success of the operation, and the money is yours. I'll wait
for you and see you part of the way home."

Gilray followed the directions. He knocked at the door but no reply
came, so he walked in and looked about him. He saw a desk with a
swinging light over it, a desk piled high with gold, hundreds and
hundreds of sovereigns, and stacks of bank notes. Behind the desk was a
huge fire-proof safe full of books and papers that looked like
securities.

Gilray fairly gasped at the evidence of all this wealth; he was gasping
still as a door on the far side opened, and an old man came in. With a
snarling cry of anger he banged down the top of his desk and turned to
the intruder with raised hand. On the finger of the hand Gilray could
see a Sard Intaglio, magnificent, and priceless.

"Who are you, and what do you want here?" the old man demanded. "Speak,
or I'll--I'll kill you."




CHAPTER IV.--THE THREE COSWAYS.


Gilray shrugged his shoulders almost indifferently. He was getting
accustomed to these dramatic episodes. Besides, he had nothing to be
afraid of. Let him only get his money and he would not trouble this
amazing household again. All the same, there was something exceedingly
striking about this remarkable old man. He might have come straight from
a stage setting, so strange was his aspect.

He was 'Gaspard' and 'Shylock' in one--tall and lean, and high of
forehead from which the leonine grey hair was tossed carelessly back; he
had thin, dark, hatchet-like features, and eyes that glowed like stars
behind his gold-rimmed glasses. His keen, clever face was lined and
wrinkled, his skin the colour of old parchment. To strengthen the
likeness to the classical example of miserliness, he wore a kind of
dressing-gown of velvet, and on his head was a skull-cap of the same
material.

Surely he must be part and parcel of some stage production, Gilray
thought. The room was almost the exact counterpart of the scene where
Gaspard gloats over his treasures. The walls were almost bare, the
carpet was thick with dust, there was a table and two kitchen chairs
beside the great desk that stood under one of the windows. But the walls
were not quite bare, for here and there a picture had been hung, and on
the far side was a genuine Commonwealth chair or two. That the pictures
were things of price Gilray knew at a glance--there were very few
frequenters of Christies' rooms who were better judges than he.

"What are you doing here?" the old man asked again. "Who are you, and
what do you want? How did you get into the house? And who let you in?
And how much?"

"Three hundred pounds in gold."

"Too much. Far too much. My good man, where am I to get it from? I am
poor, miserably, hopelessly poor. The fools outside think I'm rich. They
grumble when I ask for my interest, they treat me violently. You know
that I am poor."

He asked the question in a voice that was almost pleading. His keen eyes
seemed to flicker over Gilray's face. There was a cunning here nearly
allied to madness. Beyond question this old man was enormously rich. He
was a miser, the garnering of gold was a mania with him. Obviously the
type of madman to be humoured.

"There is some mistake," Gilray said. "I am an oculist. I practise in
Hurley-street. The name of Gilray may be known to you. I came here
to-night with Dr. Vorley to see a patient. I was," he said, "to have a
fee of three hundred guineas----"

"Pounds curse him," the old man snarled. "He has no consideration for my
poverty. And three hundred pounds is a deal of money. I am a poor old
man, sir, a miserable old man----"

"I do not doubt it for a moment," Gilray said, curtly. "That is not the
point. I came here on a distinct understanding, and I have done my work.
I may say without boasting that I have been perfectly successful. Dr.
Vorley sent me here to get my fee. Where is it?"

The old man's eye blazed dangerously. He shook with the passion that
possessed him.

"Have a care, have a care," he said hoarsely. "I know you, Dr. Gilray.
Bills, bills, and yet more bills. Papers in the hands of the Jews
renewed over and over again. Betting and gambling. Cigars at six pounds
the hundred, and champagne at a guinea a bottle. And yet representing
one of the most Puritan consequencies in England. Pah! I could ruin you
to-morrow."

"Still, I have earned my money," Gilray protested.

"True, true! I take your word for it. You have done a great service, and
you shall have your money. But it's a great wrench, a very great
wrench."

The old man raised the flap of his desk as if there were something
inside it struggling to escape from him and groped for a wash-leather
bag. With a longing look, the look of a mother saying farewell to a
child, he handed the round leather bag heavy with gold to Gilray.

"You will find the contents quite correct," he said. "If you like to
count them----"

With a wave of his hand Gilray dropped the bag into his pocket. The old
man chuckled. Then he frowned as he saw Gilray looking intently at a
triangular object on the table.

It was a frame in gold and rubies in three panels, each panel containing
a miniature portrait of some beautiful woman. There was no need for
Gilray to ask whose work it was--the softness, the velvety smoothness
and exquisite colouring proclaimed the artist to the connoisseur.

"You are interested in these pretty toys?" the old man asked carelessly.

"I cannot resist them," Gilray admitted, "It is one of my vices. And
Cosway's work specially appeals to me. May I look at these?"

The old man gave a grudging consent. He might be a moneylender or a
pawnbroker, as probably he was, but he loved these things for their own
sake.

"Gon on," he said. "Examine what you like and keep your silence after.
Those are not my things. They come to me in the way of business. They
are security for borrowed money. Not my money, please understand, but
the money of the capitalist who employs me. For I have nothing."

"And you are not afraid of keeping things here? Burglars?"

The old man chuckled again.

'"No burglars could come here," he said. "They know better than put
their wits against those of Daniel Harley----"

Gilray made a mental note of the name.

"Because I am ready for them. Not that they know or guess. But my
electrical alarms are perfect--the man who tries to get in here is held
a prisoner till the police come. Geoffrey Herepath worked it all out for
me. A young man, that, who will be a Kelvin some of these days. You know
him--you are on a commission before which he gave evidence the other
day. He knows that which before long will revolutionise the traffic of
the world. You see, I read the papers, I keep myself abreast of the
times."

But Gilray was barely listening. He knew Herepath by name, of course;
they had met more than once lately, and there was no great love lost
between them. Still, Herepath was a long way from Gilray's thoughts just
now. He was engrossed upon these exquisite miniatures.

"The three Miss Hessingdales, are they not?" he asked.

The old man's brow clouded; he was growing hard and suspicious again.

"You know too much," he said. "Let me show you something now not quite
so famous."

Daniel Harley laid his hand on the bell, and the door opened to admit
the girl whom Gilray had seen earlier in the evening. She had discarded
the black wrap now, she stood there all in white. Her grace and beauty
seemed strangely out of place in that bare, desolate room, her fair face
flushed as she saw that the old man was not alone.

"My second keys," he said. "Oh, they are here by my side all the time.
My dear, this is Dr. Gilray. My daughter Enid, sir."

The girl flashed an imploring glance at Gilray. He rightly interpreted
the look to mean that he was to meet her as a stranger. He bowed as he
took the slender pink fingers in his, he thrilled at the contact of her
warm flesh. The man was touched as he had never been touched before,
moved to his soul. A wife like that, to call that exquisite creature his
own! The rich wife that was a necessity to him. And to love her as well,
to have his arm around that slender waist, to feel his lips pressed to
that little scarlet mouth! His senses reeled as he thought of it. And
there was nobody in the way, no rival in the field.

He was still pondering the matter after Harley had dismissed him with no
suggestion that he should come there again. Still, he had a good excuse,
he could almost demand a further inspection of the man upon whom he had
just operated. Side by side with Vorley he walked the silent streets
till the Tower Bridge was passed. Here Vorley paused, and called for a
taxi from the rank.

"We had better part here," he said. "Goodbye, and many thanks."

"I might have to see my patient again," Gilray suggested.

"I think not," said Vorley drily. "Put him out of your mind. You said
there would be no further occasion for you to come again. Oh, yes, Miss
Harley is a lovely girl, and no lover comes her way, but all the same,
keep your hands from the fire, or you will get burnt. Good-night."

Vorley turned on his heel and departed without another word.

Gilray, as he lounged back in the taxi, smiled to himself. He would be
able to find his way back to that house of mystery with but little
trouble, he told himself. He would first make a few inquiries, and quite
satisfy himself as to the girl's prospects. But for his own folly and
prodigal life, he would not have needed to have given money a thought.
Had all been well with him, he would gladly have taken Enid without a
penny.

He was thinking of the girl and her exquisite beauty as he got into bed;
she disturbed his dreams throughout a restless night. Still, now that he
had the money to meet that pressing claim, he could wholeheartedly give
his attention to his morning's work until the stress was over and
luncheon came. With that meal he picked up his 'Daily Messenger,' and
tried to forget his professional labours. Then his knife and fork
clattered on his plate as his eye met a paragraph that caused his heart
to beat rapidly----

"Robbery in Park Lane. Van der Knoot treasures missing. A mysterious
robbery took place last night in Park-lane, at the residence of Mr.
Isidore Van der Knoot, the famous collector and dealer. It appears that
the family were away from home, the servants are at the house in
Scotland, and the premises are in charge of a trusted caretaker, who has
been in Mr. Van der Knoot's employ for years.

"Just as it was getting dark, Walker, the caretaker, noticed a
suspicious noise in the front drawing-room. On his going to see the
cause he was attacked by a strange man, and a desperate struggle took
place. Walker defended himself with a pistol charged with shot, and
avows that he left his mark on the thief. He was overpowered, and
rendered insensible, and when he came to himself found that nothing was
missing save a three-panelled frame containing Cosway miniatures,
presumably the portraits of the famous Misses Hessingdale.

"Probably the intruder, fearing the pistol shot would cause a general
alarm, decamped without attempting to remove any of the numerous other
treasures in the apartment. So far there is no clue to the thief, for
the attack he made when disturbed was so fierce and sudden that Walker
declares his utter inability to give any description of his assailant.
The police, however, have the matter in hand, and are using every
endeavour to trace the daring thief."

Gilray threw the paper on one side, and paced up and down the room.
There was no doubt in his mind as to what had become of the missing
Cosways. He had had them in his hand not many hours before. They had
been stolen, and old Daniel Harley must have known it. But if so, why
had he paraded the treasures in such an open fashion? He must have known
that he was running a risk, under the eyes of a total stranger. Was the
man he had attended, the thief? Was the picturesque old miser, Daniel
Harley, a mere vulgar receiver? And did that exquisite girl with the
face that recalled the pure features of a Madonna know?

Bah! The suggestion was ridiculous, incredible, impossible of belief.
There must be some proper common-sense explanation of the mystery. There
might be some----

Gilray's reflections were suddenly broken by the opening of the room
door and the entrance of his neat and quiet body servant.

"You are wanted on the telephone, sir," said the man. "Mr. Geoffrey
Herepath would like to speak to you. A matter that admits of no delay,
sir."




CHAPTER V.--A SECOND MINIATURE.


Gilray nodded and walked as far as the inner consulting-room, where the
telephone was placed. He was vaguely asking himself who this Herepath
was who wished to speak to him so urgently. The name was oddly familiar,
and yet for the moment he could not recall where he had heard it. It
seemed in some way to be directly concerned with the stirring events of
the past few hours. But then there had been so much to think about and,
in any case, what did it really matter? Probably Herepath was no more
than a casual patient who would see him to-day and would be gone
to-morrow. There were hundreds of such, each regarding his or her own
particular case as being of the first importance. And yet Gilray was
annoyed because for the moment he could not place the name.

He took off the receiver and made the usual signal that he was there.

"Is that Doctor Everard Gilray?" a voice asked. "Oh, yes, I am Mr.
Geoffrey Herepath speaking. We have met before at one or two scientific
gatherings. I am an engineer--an electrical engineer."

"I begin to remember," Gilray said with practical professional glibness.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Herepath, to be sure. Is there anything I can have the
pleasure of doing for you?"

"Yes, you can give me an appointment," the voice at the other end of the
line said. "I am sorry to say that I have been burning the candle at
both ends, doctor. You see, I am an inventor as well as an engineer, and
I prefer to do my own drawings. I dare not trust the secret of the
process I have on hand now to anybody else. I once had a valuable set of
drawings copied by a dishonest assistant who is now living on his own
estate and motoring in a Rolls Royce car.

"There are scores and scores of minute lines on my plans, and I have to
sit up half the night over them as I cannot find the time during the
day. Lately I have experienced great difficulty in doing the work, and
last night my sight failed me altogether. For some little time I could
see nothing whatever. I went to my own doctor this morning early and he
sent me to you. He took quite a serious view of the case and told me I
must not lose a minute. Can you see me to-day?"

"I'll see you to-day with pleasure," Gilray said. "Hold a moment whilst
I consult my appointment book...Are you there? Oh, yes, I can manage
it. Say half-past one."

The voice at the other end of the 'phone murmured thanks, and the
conversation ended. Gilray went back to his consulting-room, still
somewhat puzzled. He did not recollect the man Herepath, and yet the
name seemed quite familiar to him. He was sure that he had heard it
quite lately, sure that he knew the man.

"Upon my word, I believe I have it," Gilray suddenly exclaimed.
"Herepath was the name that queer old man down by the Docks spoke of
last night. Herepath was the man who fitted up all those boasted burglar
alarms in that mysterious house. Evidently a friend of the family. Very
odd that I should so soon come in contact again with that queer crowd.
Looks rather like fate. Anyway, it should give me a chance of following
up my acquaintance with the beautiful Enid Harley. What a face, what a
figure, what a voice. And probably rich into the bargain. It's any odds
that the old miser is a Croesus. Never was there such a chance for a
poor devil situated as I am. I'd willingly marry the girl if she hadn't
a penny--if I only dared. But I must--I must--find a wife with money."

The old troubles came swooping down upon him again. True he had found
the money to pay out that threatened attachment; he had already spoken
to his solicitor on the telephone and despatched the money by special
messenger. So far that ghost had been laid. But there were many other
ghosts gibbering and mocking him, a veritable crowd of blue devils in
the form of azure envelopes, littering his desk. He might manage to put
off the great catastrophe for a week or two longer, but the end was
inevitable unless some miracle happened, unless, for instance, he could
prove to his creditors that he had a rich marriage in prospect.

He must find out all about Enid Harley and her father, and it seemed as
if good fortune had tossed the opportunity into his lap in the shape of
Herepath.

He had no appointment for an hour or two yet; he was tired of his own
melancholy thoughts. To distract his attention he took up a newspaper
and began to read mechanically. Apparently the 'Herald' was more
enterprising than the 'Messenger,' and had much more to tell than its
contemporary had about the mysterious outrage at Van der Knoot's place
in Park-lane.

"Strange how everything keeps working in one line," Gilray muttered.
"Here we are back to it again. I'm no judge of such things, if I did not
see the missing miniatures of the beautiful Misses Hessingdale in the
mysterious house by the river last night. Now what possible connection
can there be between a millionaire collector who lives in Park-lane and
a grasping old miser who has a house in the East End of London? Is
Harley the head of a clever gang of international thieves who make a
speciality of robbing people of valuable works of art? If so, it did not
seem to worry him much when I spotted those priceless miniatures last
night. And if he is a thief, what is Enid Harley? But, no--a girl with a
face like her's could be nothing but good and pure. I wonder if I shall
find any further information here."

As a matter of fact, there were several little points in the case the
'Messenger' man had missed. For instance, the 'Herald' stated that Mr.
Van der Knoot's man Walker had been partially blinded by having snuff or
pepper dashed into his eyes, and that there was a clue in the shape of a
portion of a tie that Walker had torn from the throat of his assailant.
The clue was in the possession of the police, and they, of course, had
sanguine hopes that it would quickly lead them to the thief. Gilray
smiled as he read.

"How, these newspapers help the criminal," he muttered. "Here is the
thief, presumably by the very nature of his occupation a close student
of the daily press, made a present of the information that the police
possess a goodly portion of the tie he was wearing at the time he
committed the outrage. Of course, the part of the tie he retained is in
the fire by this time."

Gilray's immaculate butler broke in upon his master's meditation with,
the information that if he was not engaged, Inspector Gillespie, of
Scotland Yard, and another person would like to see him at once. Gilray
fairly started. Had he been traced to the Docks last night? Was he about
to be dragged into some sensational case? Well, if so, this was only one
more straw added to the burden.

"I'll see the Inspector at once," he said. "Show him into the
consulting-room."

Inspector Gillespie was sorry to trouble Doctor Gilray, but his business
was urgent. Possibly the doctor had heard of the mysterious affair in
Park Lane the night before. Perhaps he had read something of it in the
papers.

Gilray breathed a little more freely. Evidently this affair had nothing
to do with the equally mysterious house at Poplar. A glance at Inspector
Gillespie's companion strengthened his impression. The man looked
something between a gentleman's servant and a policeman in plain
clothes, and he had a bandage over his eyes.

"I have just been reading the story," Gilray said. "Most interesting, I
am sure."

"Very puzzling, too, sir," the inspector proceeded to explain. "We have
no clue except that of a torn scarf. My companion is Walker. At the
moment he told us all he could in his shaken up condition; since then he
has been able to recall things a bit and has given us a closer
description of the thief. But the poor fellow is badly handicapped by
the injury to his eyes. For the moment, at any rate, he is practically
blind, and if we did make an arrest couldn't help us much. His own
doctor had done what he can, and says his sight will improve with time.
But to us time is everything, and you can see how we are hampered by
Walker's loss of sight. His medical man suggested that a specialist
might expedite a cure. That is why I came to you, sir."

Gilray professed himself, with truth, ready to do anything to help.
Apart from the professional side, he was now deeply interested in this
business; he seemed to see that here was fate playing into his hands. He
put his patient on a couch and removed the bandage from his eyes. He was
the brilliant oculist now, and could think of nothing but his work. Nor
did it take him long to get to the bottom of the mischief. He worked
with a hand as steady as a rock, worked with the delicate instruments
and brushes as fine as the point of a needle. Finally he applied some
soothing fluid and replaced the bandage.

"There," he said, "that will be all right. You feel better already?"

"Thank you very much, sir, I do indeed," the grateful patient murmured.
"The smarting has all gone and my eyes don't run any more. How long
shall I be, sir, before----"

"Two days," Gilray said quietly. "The lotion night and morning. Take the
bandage off this evening. Eight and forty hours hence you will see as
well as ever."

"I should have liked him to have seen this first," the inspector said as
he produced a fragment of torn silk from his pocket. "This is a piece of
the thief's scarf, doctor. The only clue we possess."

Gilray put out his hand for the thing. As he looked at it he had some
difficulty in repressing a cry. For the particular green ground and the
queer arrangement of orange dots and splashes on it were quite familiar
to him. It was the very pattern of the scarf he had seen bandaged over
the eyes of his midnight patient at the house by the dock side.

But for his professional restraint and training he would assuredly have
betrayed himself.

"Very interesting," he said coolly, "but rather fragmentary. And now,
Inspector, if there is nothing else----"

Gillespie took the hint and departed with Walker in his train. All the
rest of the morning patients came and went, and, though Gilray performed
his tasks with amazing skill and assurance his mind was far away. He was
wondering what all this was to lead to, and how it was destined to bear
upon his fortunes. He was still brooding upon it when Geoffrey Herepath
was announced.

He saw a tall, fair man, with a handsome, clever face, shrewd eyes, and
a mouth relieved from hardness by a humorous, rather tender droop at the
corners. He saw a man with power and intelligence written all over him.
Then a flash of recognition came into his eyes.

"Your name puzzled me," he said. "I could not place you, though it was
quite familiar. Why you were connected with me in that Clarges case some
two years ago. I mean to take it up again when I have time. I am still
convinced that there is money in it, and that we are the victims of a
conspiracy."

"Certain," Herepath said. "I, too, am biding my time. But I have plenty
of troubles of my own on hand just now, doctor. I think I explained
everything to you on the telephone. I am anxious for your verdict."

"Quite right," Gilray replied. "I like to hear a man speak like that.
Take off your coat and vest--and shirt. It is a theory of mine, based on
one or two small successes, that these eye troubles are sometimes merely
muscular...Yes, that will do nicely...Now I am going to put
something in your eyes. No, not belladonna; I have a far better
preparation than that, and one that causes no after inconvenience."

As Gilray bent in examination over his patient, he could see that
Herepath had round his neck a slender gold chain to which a medallion
was attached--an oval medallion containing a portrait which looked like
a photograph on vellum or celluloid coloured by hand. He could see that
this was the likeness of a girl, as he looked again his whole frame
stiffened.

It was the photograph of Enid Harley.

Gilray opened his lips to speak, but not sound came. It was some little
time before he could control himself sufficiently to say----

"That will do for the present. Let me bathe your eyes with this
lotion...Yes, you can see quite as well as ever, I mean as well as you
could when you came here."

"As well as I could when I came here, doctor, that sounds ominous. What
is the----"

Herepath paused and Gilray passed his hand across a damp forehead.

"I--I can't tell you yet," he said. "It is far too early. You will have
to come to me again in a week. In the meantime don't do any night work,
and keep your eyes off those plans. Come again at this time next
Thursday."

Gilray was alone again, alone and struggling with a fierce temptation.
So that was the man who had robbed him of the girl, and her fortune. Her
father who...it was preposterous. And it was so easy, so very easy
to...

Gilray dropped into a chair, trembling from head to foot.

"I see my way, I see my way," he whispered hoarsely. "And, by heavens,
I'll do it."




CHAPTER VI.--MADAME NINON DESTERRE.


Most of the houses in Park Gardens are small, and possess no gardens in
the true sense of the word, but Number 4 differs from the rest, inasmuch
as it stands in its own compact grounds overlooking Regent's Park, and
therefore in summer presents an outlook reminiscent of sylvan shades in
the heart of a peaceful woodland country. At one time the house had
belonged to a famous artist, with an income equal to his refined
extravagances, and the whole place had been remodelled according to his
designs.

At his death the house, with all decorations and furniture complete, had
been offered for sale, and was promptly secured by the present owner,
known to her friends as Madame Ninon Desterre. The sale had caused some
sensation at the time, and certain of the papers had striven to learn
something of the history of the fair purchaser.

They had little to show as the result of their labours beyond the fact
that Ninon Desterre was the young widow of a wealthy French recluse of
mature years, who had devoted his considerable fortune to the collection
of pictures and various other works of art. Monsieur Desterre was a
Frenchman beyond question, but for many years prior to his death he had
lived in Brazil, to which country he had gone after a violent quarrel
with some member of the Academie Francaise in connection with a disputed
old master. There he was supposed to have married the young daughter of
a noted painter, whose career had been cut short by malaria just as he
saw before him the opportunity of making a great name.

All this was very interesting to a certain class, and all of it was
gravely absorbed as authentic. So far as the work-a-day world was
concerned, it took little or no interest in the new owner of 4, Park
Gardens. She was young, rich, and very beautiful, and a perfect hostess,
who gave most charming and delightful entertainments. The result was
that Ninon Desterre had become quite a prominent figure in society.
Really it did not matter in the least where she came from so long as she
gave those recherche lunches and dinners--little dinners to which
everybody who was anybody looked eagerly forward. She was always
beautifully dressed, and possessed a wit and bonhomie really remarkable
for one who could not be more than five-and-twenty at the outside.

She sat in her own pink and gold boudoir with the wonderful Lelys and
Watteaus on the walls, and those marvellous Persian carpets at her
dainty feet. This was the delight and wonder of her intimates. It was
never the same for seven days together.

There would be fresh pictures and carpets and Louis Seize furniture week
by week, and all of the same matchless quality. It was as if Madame had
somewhat a vast museum of artistic treasures, from which it was her mood
to remodel and refurnish her sanctum at regular intervals.

She lay back with a tiny scented cigarette between her lips, in a
wonderful carved chair, upholstered in silk tapestry.

Gowned for the evening in some diaphanous material, shell-pink in tint,
she looked like some exquisite exotic flower. The red gold of her hair
glittered in the firelight, and the glow was reflected in her clear,
innocent amber-brown eyes. There was neither crease nor wrinkle on her
face, nor did she owe one single charm to art. All that kind of thing
Ninon Desterre despised. There would be plenty of time for that twenty
years hence.

She was not alone. On the other side of the fireplace stood a tall,
dark, good-looking man. He would have been still more striking looking
but for a disfiguring scar on one cheek and a lameness in one leg. There
was some suggestion of the soldier about him, and he had the air of a
man who had travelled widely. At the same time his big slender hands
bespoke the artist.

"Did you manage it all right, Hector?" Ninon asked.

"I'm not quite sure," the man responded "It was touch and go at one
time. How much longer is this to go on, Ninon? Is there any real
occasion for it?"

The girl's face changed for a moment. The fascinating smile vanished,
the little red mouth grew hard.

"You seem to forget Daniel Harley," she said. "So long as he lives to
trouble us, we must go on. Oh, you are a brave, strong man, and I am as
little afraid of trouble as most women, but our master is there. We
cannot defy him; without him we cannot move hand or foot. He was here a
day or two ago, and some very plain words passed between us. He wants to
know why it is I am dissatisfied. He pointed out that I was taking no
risks that nothing could bring me, or you for that matter, within the
grip of the law. He looks upon his cunning scheme as perfect."

"To give the devil his due, it is," Hector Marsail said grudgingly.

"Oh yes, I suppose so. But I am getting tired of it, all the same, old
boy. I know I have heaps of money to spend, and that every tradesman in
London would black my boots if I asked him to do so. Some of the best
people in England come here as my friends. And I have carte blanche to
spend what I like with Paquin and Worth. But, it is the lie that galls
me, the sense of being a slave. To be in the power of that old man. But
what is the use of talking? So long as he is alive----"

Marsail nodded moodily. He, too, could feel the gall of the chain about
his neck.

"We must go on," he said. "Why did I ever go near that rascally old man?
I could have borrowed money from a score of other sharks. And yet his
terms looked so easy. Oh, confound it, what use is there in moralising?
That hoary-headed old rascal could drive me out of society by holding up
his hand. Some day I shall lose my temper and kill him. Why, he wasn't a
bit grateful over that Park Lane affair, though he is pretty certain to
make ten thousand out of Van der Knoot over the transaction."

"That was very neatly done, Hector," Ninon smiled. "And what an
advertisement for the Dutch financier who was the happy possessor of
Cosway's Three Miss Hessingdales. But I did not ask you to come here
earlier than my other guests to talk of what has happened. Old Harley
gave me a message for you. I was simply to say that Lady Stratton's
diamond necklace is a fraud. I mean the one her husband purchased for
her in Vienna when he floated his big company. He paid some twenty
thousand pounds for it to Kreitzer, who sold it to him as having been
once in the possession of the Catherine of Russia. It was a downright
swindle, of course, and I believe that Harley was in it. Anyway, the
stones are not worth more than a fifth of what they cost Stratton, and
the history of the necklace is pure fake."

"The genuine Catherine necklace exists, of course, Ninon."

"Oh yes. Harley knows who has it, but he declines to say. Trust the old
fox for keeping a piece of information like that to himself. As a matter
of fact, I detected the fraud at the Duchess of Blanton's the other
night. I could see that the diamonds were all right, but as soon as I
caught sight of the settings I had my doubts as to the necklace being
historical. I pretended to admire the gems, and had them in my hand.
Quite a casual inspection convinced me that I was right. I think I know
the hand that set those stones."

"I feel quite sorry for the vulgar, good-natured old soul. And I was
glad for my own sake, Hector--glad and sorry at the same time. You see
Harley had been accusing me of neglecting his interests lately; in his
coarse way he said I was not paying my expenses. I mollified him by
telling him of Lady Stratton's necklace, and he told me to see you----"

Marsail muttered something under his breath. There was an ugly frown on
his handsome face.

"Then the next act is up to me," he said. "Curse all of them, curse all
dealers who lay themselves out to swindle fools who have made money. I
suppose every man is a fool in some way. Here is Stratton, a man who has
made his money in the City by gulling investors, a financier with no
scruples, and who regards everybody else as a knave at heart. Yet he
parts with a small fortune on the strength of a pretty little fairy tale
told him by a dealer in Vienna. And now I am to put this right. Well, I
suppose I must do it, as I always do anything you ask me."

Something like a sigh of relief escaped Ninon's lips as a knock was
heard and a servant entered. She was afraid that Marsail was about to
drop into some warm avowal. She dreaded such an outbreak--it was one of
the few things she feared. The man would have given his soul for her,
and she knew it. He was the one man in the world, too, who could make
her heart beat faster. Some day his strength would overpower her and he
would take her away from all this to the simple, healthy life he
instinctively belonged to. Well, some day, perhaps, she would be willing
enough to go. But not yet, not yet. It would be hard to give up all this
wealth and luxury, this possession of so much that the heart of a woman
naturally longs for.

"Your guests are arriving, Madame," the servant murmured.

"I'll come down at once," Ninon replied. "Don't frown, Hector. I know
you expected to have me all to yourself this evening. But I have a
musical prodigy coming--a new tenor. Before long everybody will be
talking about him. I have fifty or sixty people coming to hear him
to-night."

Marsail smiled with the air of a man who makes the best of it.

Down below the beautiful rooms were rapidly filling with Ninon's guests.
They were distinguished people, for the most part ready and eager to
come to Park Gardens, despite the fact that they expected to be politely
bored by the new tenor. There was a chatter of voices, and a ripple of
laughter as Ninon came forward. She had an appropriate word and jest for
everybody there, and she made no mistakes as to the names.

"This is quite an unexpected honour, Dr. Gilray," she said as the latter
stepped forward. "I began to be afraid that you had turned your back on
society altogether."

Gilray murmured some polite nothing, as Ninon turned away to greet some
newcomer. He was somewhat cynically asking himself why he had come at
all. It would have been better perhaps if he had turned his back on
society long before. In that case he would not have been harassed as he
was. What a set of chattering fools these people were! And what was the
sense of getting into debt for the mere sake of a lot of other people
who cared nothing about you? Here was Hector Marsail, for instance. What
was an athlete and a sportsman like Marsail doing at this gathering?

"Bored to death, and so am I," Gilray told himself. "Hullo! What's
this?"

He paused and looked at Marsail in astonishment. The rooms were a trifle
overheated and the night was warm. The athlete had taken from his pocket
a small silk handkerchief and passed it over his face. In the gleam of
the electric lights Gilray plainly saw the pattern. It had a peculiar
pale green ground and on it the dots and splashes of orange that Gilray
had seen on the handkerchief over the eyes of his Poplar patient and on
the ragged piece of scarf shown him by Inspector Gillespie.

"I seemed destined to come in contact with this amazing brotherhood," he
mused. "But it's a far cry from a rascal in a riverside house to a man
like Marsail. Am I in contact with something criminal, or is it merely a
coincidence?"

Gilray looked up and gave an amazed start, as he found himself almost
face to face with Enid Harley. She was dressed in white, and her face
was pale as her dress. She looked strangely out of place there with her
unhappy air and the patient suffering in her eyes.

Gilray made a step forward, but his hostess was before him. Never mind,
he would get a chance to speak to her presently. He looked upon this as
a happy omen. He told himself with exultation that he held all the
cards, that he need be afraid of no man, least of all of Geoffrey
Herepath. He could see the smile on Ninon Desterre's face and hear the
light laughter from her lips. But he could not hear what she was saying
to Enid.

"My dear," she whispered. "I'm so glad you came. But your face! You
might be attending your own funeral. Go up to my room at once and wait
for me. At once, I say. I have something to say to you that cannot be
delayed."




CHAPTER VII.--A COMPACT.


Gilray pressed a little closer to the two women, he was anxious to hear
what was passing between them. He was doing now what he would have
scorned to do a year or so ago. His debts and his desperate troubles
were sapping the moral fibre of the man. He was so nervously eager to
get to the bottom of this mystery that his gentlemanly instincts were
crushed out. Apparently he stood raptly contemplating one of the
pictures on the wall. Ever and again words came to him, but he could
make very little of them! Then he started.

Ninon Desterre was talking. Just for a moment she seemed to forget
herself, for her voice was raised eagerly.

"Your esteemed father will never have enough," she exclaimed. "It is a
growing disease, this money making. He told me that when he had made a
million...more than that was...a profit of fifty thousand a year! If
some of my pretty boys only knew, my dear. They would not go to America
to look for a rich wife. Why, if you cared to, you might be a
duchess...Very well, I won't."

Gilray edged away. He had learnt all that he required for the moment. So
the dainty little white beauty with the innocent face and beautiful eyes
was heiress to a million. The miser of Poplar was worth that and more!
It looked as if the stars in their courses were fighting on his side
now.

True, there was a rival in the path, but Gilray would know how to get
rid of him. He had the weapon ready to his hand, and he would not
hesitate to strike when the proper time came. And nobody would know;
nobody would be any the wiser. He did not see how the crime he
contemplated could possibly be brought home to him.

He moved on a little further until he came to a group of people whom he
recognised. A popular novelist was fighting a battle of wits with a
sculptor of repute, and others stood round listening to the merry duel.
Gilray put aside all his troubles for the moment and became as
interested as the others.

He did not know that Ninon had watched him as he had moved off.

"That man was listening," she said. "I felt it in my bones. Now, why was
he listening. What have we to do with a fashionable oculist? Does he
know you?"

"Well, he does, and he does not," Enid replied. "I was rather startled
when I saw him here. I thought he failed to recognise me, and I was
thankful for it. Are you sure he was listening, Madame Desterre? It
makes me uncomfortable to think of such a thing."

"Certain of it, little one, certain of it. I never make mistakes of that
kind. But why should it make you uncomfortable?"

"Well, Dr. Gilray came to our house last night. A friend of my father's
brought him. We have a--gentleman staying with us who met with an
accident to his eyes. Oh, don't ask me anything about how it happened,
for I don't know. I live in queer surroundings. Sometimes I feel that
things are being done that will reach the ears of the police some day. I
am not consulted, I have only to fetch and carry, and do as I am told
without asking questions. This man with the injured eyes is lying in our
house. How and when he came I don't know. I am not surprised now at
anything that takes place at home. All I know is that it was necessary
to have an eye specialist at once, and one was fetched near midnight. I
had to see him first, for we were not quite prepared for his visit. The
man was Dr. Gilray. He was to ask no questions, and in return for his
services he was to have a special fee. When the operation was over my
father paid him three hundred guineas."

"Who would not be a popular surgeon?" Ninon said, smilingly. "Go on."

"He took the money, and he asked no questions. He must have known that
there was something strange and unusual in the circumstances. Had I been
in his position I should have refused."

Again Ninon smiled. The story seemed vastly to amuse her.

"Had you been in Dr. Gilray's position you would have done nothing of
the sort," she said. "On the contrary, you would have prayed for many
other such unusual calls. But we must not talk any more here. Go to my
room."

"Not yet," Enid pleaded. "Oh, not yet! There is somebody coming here I
must see. If I were to miss him I should never forgive myself."

Ninon hesitated, against her better judgment. She had a soft spot in her
heart for Enid Harley. There was danger in the delay she knew quite
well, but she did not want to be hard.

"We women are never really business-like," she said. "Even the hardest
of us sometimes allows her heart to get away with her head. And I never
could resist a romance, Enid. Mr. Herepath is late, eh?"

"Yes, he is," Enid said innocently. Then she coloured up to the roots of
her hair. "How--how did you guess?"

"Guess, my child. Guess! Am I so old a woman that I have no curiosity as
to affairs of the heart? Have I not had my own little episodes? Oh, I
know why that brilliant young man comes here. When his great invention
is complete he will be rich, he will take you away from here, and a very
good thing too. I give you another quarter of an hour. If the prince has
not come by that time, you must go to my room, and wait for me there.
Now, mind you have only a quarter of an hour."

There was a mock frown on Ninon's face as she flitted away in the
direction of a group on the other side of the room. Someone was speaking
in Enid's ear, she felt a pressure of her hand. Then she looked up into
the eager, tender eyes of Geoffrey Herepath.

"Here's a fine piece of luck for me, darling," Herepath whispered.

"I heard that you were coming," Enid whispered. "And I had to be here in
any case. I came on business for my father, and Madame Desterre has
given me a quarter of an hour. After that I have something to give her,
she has some instructions for me, and then back home I must go."

"Then my luck is not so great as I had expected," Herepath said. "A
quarter of an hour? Let us not waste a precious minute of it. Let me
show you the way."

The rosy flush was still on Enid's cheeks as she followed. It was not
often fortune smiled on her like this. Here had been a strange romance,
an hour stolen here and there, a gradual advance from mere liking to
fervent love for Geoffrey Herepath even before she realised that he too
cared for her.

Nobody besides Madame Desterre suspected the existence of this
affection. This was not the first time she had given the lovers one of
their golden opportunities. Doubtless she had found out that Enid was
coming here tonight, doubtless also, she had known of it for some
considerable time before Enid had been made aware that she was to pay
her a visit. It was all very fortunate and pleasant, but at the same
time disturbing.

The lovers were seated in the loggia, which they had all to themselves.
In a dimly-lit cosy corner behind a bolt of palms they nestled side by
side. Geoffrey's arm was about her waist, and her red-gold head drooped
on his shoulder. The world was a long way off just then.

"You are silent to-night, dear," Herepath whispered.

"I generally am when I am happy," Enid answered softly. "It is so
delightful to get away from that horrible old house of ours. You know
it, you discovered all those electric appliances to keep burglars away.
Not that any of them are in the least likely to visit us. My father
poses as a poor man----"

"Don't you think that he may be a poor man, Enid? Men of his temperament
have strange delusions."

"Possibly, Geoffrey. I don't know what to think. Madame Desterre says he
is rich. They have a good many business transactions together. I have
been here many times with art treasures. I have some to-night. I know my
father better than most people, or at any rate as far as it is possible
for anyone to really know him. And when he dies I have a feeling that he
will leave nothing."

"Then I shall get a poor wife, after all," Geoffrey said banteringly.

"I think so. Will it make any difference, Geoffrey?"

Herepath took the pretty, inquiring face between his hands and kissed
the red lips.

"Nothing could make any difference," he said. "You only ask the question
because you know I should answer it in this way. As for money, I shall
have enough for two."

"Then you are still prospering with the new invention, dear? But your
eyes. Remember what you told me about them. Remember that you promised
to get assistance with those drawings, that you would not work at
night."

"Oh, yes, yes." Herepath said a trifle impatiently. "I know. I engaged
an assistant who proved too clever for me. He took a too intelligent
interest in his work. He was learning the heart of things. A little
longer and my secret would have been his. He was a spy in the pay of a
firm in the north. I managed to lead him into a kind of blind alley, and
then dismissed him. My dearest girl I had to do my own work. And my eyes
have been very queer lately."

"Geoffrey. You frighten me. You must go to some good oculist at once.

"My dearest little girl, I have already done so. I saw Gilray, who, by
the way, is here tonight. I am to call upon him again in a day or two."

"And what did he say? Was he at all doubtful? Geoffrey, you don't know
how anxious I am."

"Well, he pronounced no judgment. He said it was too early to be
definite. But he told me that I was not to do any more drawing just now,
and that I was to spare my eyes as much as possible till he saw me
again. He did not say that there is really anything serious."

But Enid was not so easily satisfied. She was pondering over the matter
after Herepath had gone. It occurred to her as strange that Geoffrey
should have consulted Gilray. In a way Gilray was coming into her life.
She seemed to be meeting him now at every turn. And, in some strange,
uneasy fashion, she had a feeling that he was watching her. She felt an
impulse to get out of his sight. Anyway she was anxious to finish her
business now and get back home. She waited impatiently for the best part
of half an hour in Madame Desterre's boudoir, but the mistress of the
house did not come. Something was evidently detaining her. Surely Enid
had not misunderstood her instructions. She crept timidly down into the
hall again, where a little knot of people were discussing some subject
with a good deal of interest. Enid could see that Gilray was one of the
group.

A small man was speaking, a little man with a fat, flat face, out of
which, on either side of an aggressively hooked nose, gleamed a black
eye hard as a diamond. Gilray moved round and stood by Enid's side. His
own eyes were only a shade less hard and brilliant than those of the man
who was talking so rapidly.

"That is Mr. Van der Knoot," Gilray whispered. "The man whose house was
burgled."

Gilray, as he spoke, was startled to see the colour fade from Enid's
cheeks. Her hand went involuntarily to her side, her lips parted in a
sudden gasp. She stood there white and rigid.

"There is no clue," the German financier was saying. "There never will
be a clue. The police expect to do great things with that torn scarf,
but I cannot see how they can use it. By this time it will be that the
other part has been destroyed. I shall my miniatures see never again.
And I paid--it was three thousand guineas for them."

"But what use can they be to anybody?" a guest asked eagerly. "Stolen
property like that is so easily identified, it is property with a
history----"

"Ah, my young friend," said the German sententiously, "you but little
know of the hardened collector. He no honesty has when on his hobby, no
moral sense. He anything would take, and gloat over it in secret. He
would the price pay for his own private gratification, and never let a
soul know what he had got. Why, there are collectors who to see my
treasures come, well-known men and quite honourable in other ways, that
I would not leave by themselves in my galleries for a single moment. No,
no," he said regretfully, "I shall look upon my beautiful Cosways never
any more."

"I am not so sure of that," Gilray said. "Now what would you give me if
I could put you in the way of getting them back once more? If I told you
exactly where they were----"

Gilray paused and glanced at Enid. He saw her hand once more go to her
left side, he caught in her eyes a look of terror and entreaty. She was
imploring him to be silent.

"Oh, you mock me, you make fun of my misfortune," sighed Van der Knoot.
"It is to me, alas, a certainty, that I shall my treasures never see
again."

Enid swayed a little and Gilray caught her hand in a firm grasp. None of
the others seemed to notice them. They could not hear the girl's
quivering whisper in Gilray's ear:

"It you are a gentleman you will say no more."

"It is a compact," was Gilray's answer. "A compact between us. You shall
give me my reward later on."




CHAPTER VIII.--THE HIGH ROAD OF ADVENTURE.


Here at last it appeared to Gilray was Fortune holding out both hands to
him. He had formed a compact with Enid, showing that she was more or
less under an obligation to him. It would have been a difficult matter
to state precisely what that obligation was, but no doubt time would
help him to give it some satisfactory definition. Anyway, Enid had been
desperately afraid lest he should speak, lest he should say something
that might put Van der Knoot on the track of his missing miniatures.
Gilray had certainly seen the precious pictures in the hands of Daniel
Harley. Whether they had been stolen or not it did not in the least
matter--perhaps there was some strange story attached to their
appearance in the queer dock-side house, some plausible explanation.
Even the blackest evidence sometimes becomes commonplace when the
witnesses for the defence enter the witness-box.

What did it matter? Suppose Daniel Harley was a thief, what then? At any
rate he was a man of immense wealth and Enid was his only child. If
there should be any scandal it would be an easy matter Gilray argued to
himself, to shield her good name. People would be sorry for her, she
would have the sympathy of everybody. It is not a difficult matter to
extend the hand of friendship to a girl who has a million or so of her
own. Folks would tell the story of the beautiful wife of the popular and
fashionable Doctor Gilray--and envy her. Assuredly everything was going
the right way now, his creditors would wait when they knew everything.
And the girl was already more or less in his power. But he must not let
her see that yet.

Enid had been watching Gilray as these thoughts rushed swiftly through
his mind, with a look of appealing alarm upon her face. He noted her
expression and turned to her again with gentle deference.

"You may rely on me implicitly," he whispered almost tenderly. "You have
not the faintest cause for fear. Remember that a doctor regards the
confidence of his patient as sacred. I have already forgotten what I saw
in that old house of yours. But you won't forget me, Miss Harley. You
will let me see you sometimes."

Gilray paused. It seemed to him that he had put the matter with great
delicacy. Enid's lip quivered in a smile, her eyes were eloquent of her
thanks, and yet she felt conscious of being in some sort of trap,
although she could not see the bars.

"I very rarely come here, Dr. Gilray," she said. "You have been very
kind, perhaps more kind than you know. Oh, how all this mystery worries
me."

Enid spoke the last few words impulsively, and then, as if, suddenly
conscious that she was saying too much, pulled herself up short and with
another murmur of thanks slipped from Gilray's side and moved towards
the door.

He made no attempt to detain her, he was perfectly satisfied with the
progress of affairs so far. So he leisurely turned to listen to the woes
of the unfortunate rich, as expounded by the disconsolate Van der Knoot
who, the centre of a knot of sympathisers, was still bitterly lamenting
his misfortune.

"I am only one of many," he fumed. "Look you at the scores of thievings
of this kind that have in London happened lately. Always it is the small
things worth the most that go from us. What is it the police are doing?
They have, it would seem, no way to check this kind of thing. It is for
my wife I am more sorry than for myself. You see, it was to her that the
stolen miniatures belonged really."

Mrs. Van der Knoot fidgeted uneasily. There was a deep flush on her
dark, handsome face.

Already she had made more than one attempt to change the conversation.
She seemed to suggest an aloofness from her husband's somewhat vulgar
ostentation. As the daughter of an impoverished Irish peer the
Honourable Mrs. Van der Knoot despised the wealthy Teuton plebeian she
had wedded for his money. So long as she was free to indulge in her
bridge, her turf, and her stock Exchange gambles unmolested she was
prepared to tolerate his coarse city friends, but this was no place for
the manners of Throgmorton-street.

"You are boring these good people here," she said coldly. "Really,
anyone would think that it was a serious matter. And, anyway the loss is
mine, not yours. You brought me those pretty miniatures, because I took
a fancy to them, and now they are stolen. My dear Ninon, are we to be
permitted any bridge to-night?"

Ninon's dancing, mischievous eyes suddenly grew steady. She had been
watching the whole scene with infinite amusement, nothing had escaped
her. From behind her mask of frivolity and inconsequence she saw into
the heart of things as few around her did.

"I am desolated, ma cherie," she cried. "It cuts me to the soul to
disappoint you. But alas! this evening it cannot be. You have sat in the
music room and listened enraptured to my wonderful tenor, and for
to-night that must suffice. On the stroke of 12 I shall have to turn you
all out, for I have to go further. Behold the Peris outside the gates of
Paradise. I blush for my hard, cold inhospitality."

She flitted like a butterfly to another group of guests, but left them
almost as quickly as she came, and caught Enid in the doorway. Here, in
a flash, she became another woman, cold and persistent, with the light
of a great determination gleaming in her eyes.

"I love the life of a kaleidoscope," she said rapidly. "My foi, how
things develop in the course of a few seconds; I have had to rearrange
all my plans, little Enid. I have to go out when but a little time ago I
was hoping to retire early. There is no occasion for our conference
after all. Still, I have a few questions to ask, and you must reply to
them freely. What was Dr. Gilray saying to you, and what reason have you
to be afraid of him?"

"Oh, if I only knew," Enid said passionately. "Take me somewhere so that
I can speak to you without fear of interruption...Yes, this will do.
You asked me a question--let me reply by asking you one in my turn. What
is the meaning of all this mystery? Why am I treated as if I were some
child, some baby who cannot understand? Why am I a mere puppet in the
strange transactions that take place between my father and you and that
drunken, good natured Doctor Horace Vorley?"

"My dear child, let business matters alone. They are not for you to
worry about. Be content with your life as it is. I want you to believe
me when I say that I am your friend. I asked you a question. And I asked
it with a sincere desire for your own welfare. Are you in that man's
power?"

"I don't know," Enid said helplessly. "I don't know. He forced me to
make a kind of friendly compact with him. He spoke nicely enough, and
yet there was something in his voice that made me hate him. He--he knows
that I have the Hessingdale miniatures here in my possession."

Ninon Desterre's face grew hard, and her eyes gleamed wickedly.

"Oh, indeed," she said. "So our brilliant Gilray guessed so much, did
he? He has nosed out, has he, that you came here tonight bringing a
parcel purporting--only purporting, mind--to contain the missing
miniatures?"

"But, my dear Madame, it does not contain the missing miniatures. And
they belong to Mrs. Van der Knoot."

"They don't, you silly little cabbage. I give you my word of honour they
don't. I cannot explain, but you can accept my statement implicitly. It
is all a most complicated business matter, child, that you could never
understand. And Gilray thinks he has found something out. My dear child,
why did you clasp your hand to the place where the parcel is in that
dramatic manner? I was watching you. Of course you made the Doctor think
you had something hidden. He's a very clever man, is Dr. Gilray."

"But he knew about the miniatures before. He was at our river-side house
last night. I told you he came down to see a patient who is, well,
hiding I call it, with us. The miniatures were on the table in my
father's room and Dr. Gilray saw them. He had them in his hand. Had he
chosen to open his lips to-night he could have ruined me, and all of us.
Cannot you see the danger?"

"Oh, yes," Ninon said gravely. "I can see danger of a sort, mark you. It
was a good thing, a very good thing, that our friend the doctor did not
speak--especially for him. He came here to spy out the land, no doubt,
and he has put two and two together and made them five. I think I see
his motive. You are young and lovely, Enid, and some of these days you
will be the happy possessor of great wealth. On the other hand, Gilray
is poor and ambitious. No wonder that he artfully managed to make a
compact with you, that he took advantage of your position. But do not be
afraid. I shall know how to deal with the ambitious doctor when the time
comes. Now just go quietly home, and don't let this stupid affair
trouble you any more. The compact, if you chose to think it as such,
will not be very troublesome after all."

Enid smiled gratefully. She was wonderfully comforted by Ninon's
assurance. She was beginning to realise that there was some strange
power and force behind this brilliant society butterfly; that she had a
purpose in posing as a woman of whom nothing mattered in the world
besides gaiety and self-indulgence. At the same time Enid still resented
being treated as a child whose thoughts and opinions were of no
consequence.

"I should like to feel sure," she began timidly, "that what you say as
to the miniatures----"

"Is true," Ninon interrupted shortly. "Of course it is. We are
exceedingly clever business people, my dear, so clever that we do
nothing to bring us within the grip of the law. We believe in the truth
of the saying that there is a fool born every minute, and some fools are
very rich, and we arrange our business accordingly, my dear, that is
all. And now, if you like, I will call Mrs. Van der Knoot here, and she
shall tell you herself that the Cosway miniatures no longer belong to
her. She shall even give you information that would afford some folks a
good income for life. But, thank goodness, you don't belong to that
class, Enid. Now, shall I call Mrs. Van der Knoot?"

Enid smiled in spite of herself. All that Ninon was saying sounded
ridiculously wild and extravagant, but her manner gave the impression
that she was quite in earnest.

"No, no, do not call her. I could not speak to her on such a matter. The
mere idea frightens me," said Enid, quickly. "Only I am getting so tired
and weary of this nightmare existence. How much longer am I to live in
it?"

"Not much longer, dearie. Have patience. It is only young people who
cannot wait for anything. The older one gets the less time seems to
matter. Now go back to your taxi and don't come here again until I send
for you. Good night, my dear, and pleasant dreams."

The guests were dropping away one by one, the beautiful rooms were being
gradually deserted. One of the last to go was Gilray. He stood for a
moment bending over the hand of his hostess. He had something easy and
pleasant to say as usual, for his compliments were always well turned.

"It is always such a pleasure to come here," he murmured. "You strike an
original note. There is no salon in London quite like your's, Madame
Desterre. May I come again soon?"

"As soon as to-morrow night," Ninon said with one of her fascinating
smiles. "Come and dine with me at 9 o'clock. I shall be quite alone for
once. I will show you a way out of your troubles. Only it will not be by
means of a marriage, at least not the marriage you are at present
contemplating, my dear doctor. Now I have warned you."

"Are my troubles public property?" Gilray asked, a trifle coldly. "Am I
to be told that?"

"You will be told what I choose to tell you," Ninon said coolly. "My
dear, clever doctor, when you know me better you will find that I always
get my own way. And it is quite dangerous for people to interfere with
me. If you are only sensible you will be happy and prosperous yet.
Good-night, and mind you are punctual to-morrow evening."

Gilray went away conscious of a vague sense of defeat. What did the
woman mean? Why had she spoken in that frankly impertinent way of his
affairs? Was there a hand of steel under that exquisite little velvet
glove? Gilray was asking himself these questions as he passed down the
garden to the road. From somewhere in the background he caught the flash
of a lamp, he could hear the purring of a motor engine. The car swept by
him a moment or two later, the light gleaming inside. As he looked he
caught sight of Madame Desterre, a companion by her side. It was only
for a moment, but that moment sufficed to disclose the dissipated
features of Horace Vorley.

In a flash Gilray hailed a passing taxi cab.

"Keep that motor in sight," he commanded. "Follow it to the end of the
world if necessary. Here's a sovereign on account of your fare. Now
then, get a move on you or you'll be too late."




CHAPTER IX.--ALONG THE ROAD.


It was done rashly and on the spur of the moment. Exactly what he was
going to discover Gilray had not the faintest notion. It seemed a
ridiculous thing for a prominent Harley-street specialist to be setting
out on a wild, midnight adventure like this with no logical excuse, and
no notion where the escapade might lead him. Madame Desterre had annoyed
and piqued him. She had spoken of his private affairs with thinly-veiled
insolence, and she had, moreover, threatened him. Who was this giddy,
glittering society butterfly who ventured to pit her wits against his?
He would show her that this sort of thing was not to be tolerated.

Gilray's blood was up now, and he was determined to see the matter
through. The more knowledge he gained the better armed would he be for
the fray, if fray there was eventually to be. He had been warned to make
no further advances towards Enid Harley: he had been threatened with
serious consequences if he did so. Indeed, it seemed to him that Madame
Desterre had almost gone so far as to offer him a bribe. She had
certainly given him a hint to the effect that his troubles would be at
an end if he did as he was told. Assuredly his financial embarrassments
must be quite well known to the beautiful and fascinating Frenchwoman.

But was she quite the frivolous, featherheaded, little creature he took
her to be? Of course, she was witty and intellectual, and she had a
profound knowledge of artistic things. This latter, no doubt, she had
acquired from her late husband. But she was something more than a
wealthy widow whose sole ambition it was to make the most of life. In
the first place, she evidently knew all about the mystery surrounding
the strange old house amongst the crumbling wharves. She, it was clear,
was personally acquainted with the dissipated and eccentric Vorley. She
could, no doubt, have told the police all about the disappearance of
those miniatures from Park Lane. And Enid had been at Park Gardens that
night with those very missing Cosways on her person. Why? And why, also,
had Mrs. Van der Knoot been so indifferent over her loss?

It was a little disturbing to reflect how easily Madame Desterre had
read his intentions with regard to Enid Harley. Still, it did not much
matter--he was going on all the same. The woman had learnt a great deal
about him, and if in return he could learn a little of her queer
movements, then so much the better.

Probably the car was not going very far, possibly to the place near the
Docks. No doubt an hour or so would see the end of the night's
adventure.

Thus thought Gilray in his self-conceit; but he began to grow uneasy
when the car and taxi sped on from crowded streets to suburbs where the
houses grew more and more scattered, and at last ran into the open
country. Here it was not policy to get too near the car, so the taxi
kept the best part of half a mile behind. Gilray put his head out of the
window and addressed the driver.

"Where are we?" he asked. "How far from town?"

"A good ten or fifteen miles I should say, sir," the man replied.
"Getting towards Sevenoaks, if I'm any judge."

"The car in front does not seem to be a very speedy one."

"Well, that's where I'm a bit puzzled, sir," said the driver. "She's a
fifty to sixty Gainsborough, that car is, and she could leave us
standing if she liked. It's no business of mine, of course, sir, but it
looks to me as if them parties in front have tumbled to it as we're a
following 'em and are having a bit of a game with us."

Gilray rejected the suggestion impatiently. Probably, he told himself,
there was something wrong with the car. If they knew that he was in
pursuit, they would have shaken him off long ago There would be no
object in luring him into the country like this. Besides, how could
Madame Desterre know that he was following her. The mere fact of a taxi
in her wake would not arouse her suspicions.

For another half-hour or more the two vehicles sped along, the car in
front gleaming like a star. Gilray could see the glow before him. The
road in front stretched away straight and level, so that the tall light
of the car was plain to the eye. Then suddenly it vanished as if it had
been wiped out of existence altogether. The astonished taxi driver
pulled up in amazement.

"Well, that's the funniest bloomin' thing I've ever struck," he muttered
"Now where the dickens have they got to? Couldn't have met with an
accident or we should have heard the smash."

"Get to the spot and see," Gilray cried angrily. "We'll fathom this
thing."

The taxi pulled up so far as the driver could judge, exactly at the spot
where the lights had vanished. Then, detaching a lamp, he and Gilray
made a careful investigation of the road. They saw the freshly-indented
marks of a corded tyre leading to the soft glassy side of the road, and
there they vanished abruptly in a tangle of blackberry bushes. There
were no further tyre marks, no sign of the car, and no traces of any
accident. It was as if some giant hand had picked up the big
Gainsborough and carried it away bodily.

"Drive on," said Gilray shortly. "These people have hit upon some clever
dodge to hide their tracks. We shall pick them up again presently. For
some reason or other they have put their lights out."

The taxi driver shrugged his shoulders. All roads were the same to him
so long as he got his fare and his petrol held out. He sped along at his
top speed till the road made a sharp drop into a long valley where, at
the foot of the hill, a house loomed large by the roadside. At this
moment there was a heavy report, like the crack of a heavy rifle and the
taxi swayed dangerously. Then it came to a stop with a shudder like some
wild creature mortally wounded.

"Here's a pretty go," exclaimed the driver. "I've busted a tyre. And,
what's more, I ain't got never a spare one nor a 'Stepney' with me.
We'll have to stay here the night, sir. Anyhow, we shan't be able to get
away till I can raise another bloomin' tyre from somewhere."

Gilray swore under his breath. He cursed himself heartily for the insane
folly and idle curiosity that had impelled him to take this foolish
trip.

"What's the place opposite?" he asked. "It looks to me rather like a
public-house. Can't I see a sign hanging over the door?"

"Somebody's been a-emptying a lot of scrap-iron here," the driver
muttered. "Here's the jagged bit that did for my tyre. Cut it clean
through an' through, it has. If I could put my dooks on the blasted fool
as did this--Eh? Oh, beg your pardon, sir. Oh, yes, it's a pub all
right. 'The Blue Anchor.' Looks like a decent kind of a place. Shall I
knock 'em up, sir?"

Gilray nodded impatiently. He was thinking about his important
appointments for the morrow. The taxi-driver hammered at the door of the
inn, and presently an upper window was opened, a head was thrust out,
and a surly voice demanded to know what all the noise was about. Then
the head withdrew, and the door downstairs was opened.

"You can have a bed if you like," the innkeeper explained none too
civilly. "There's a fire in the kitchen and some cold meat on the
dresser. You'll find all you need there. I'll light the lamp and you can
help yourself to what you want from the bar. No. 9 is the bedroom. My
wife's away and the barmaid's away, and I'm supposed to be in bed with
the 'flue. That's why you've got to help yourselves and make the best of
it. There's a sofa in the kitchen where your man can sleep. Here's the
lamp, and here's the matches, and now, good-night."

The surly landlord vanished without another word. It was not exactly a
cordial greeting, but there was nothing to be gained by grumbling.
Anyway, the kitchen fire was a good one, and the cold meat left little
to be desired. As soon as he had finished his meal the tired chauffeur
flung himself down on the couch.

"Excuse me, sir," he said. "First time I've rested for thirty hours."

He closed his eyes and was instantly fast asleep. There was no sound in
the house besides the steady noise of his breathing. Gilray envied the
man his ability to sleep. He would have given a good deal for the same
gift. He was very tired and very disappointed, and yet he had never felt
more disinclined for sleep in his life. He looked about him for
something to distract his attention from his moody thoughts.

It was a fine old inn, evidently a survival of the old coaching days.
The walls of the kitchen were lined with oak panelling of quaint design,
the rafters were black with age. It seemed almost impossible to connect
this place with trouble and strife. The whole house seemed to be steeped
in a slumber as profound as that of Rip Van Winckle, and at the sudden
bark of a dog in the distance Gilray fairly started.

He started again a moment later at a heavy footfall overhead. It seemed
to him that he could hear somebody coming down the stairs. Then a door
appeared to open somewhere, and from behind it came the sound of a
laugh. It was a light, silvery laugh, and could only have come from a
woman's lips.

Where had he heard that laugh before? It struck a familiar chord in
Gilray's ear. He was absolutely certain that he had heard it before.
Just for a moment he associated it with Madame Desterre. But that was
quite impossible, for the volatile little Frenchwoman was miles behind
or miles ahead--it was impossible to say which.

At any rate, Gilray was going to find out, if he could, the origin of
that laugh. There was no reason, at all why he should not go to bed. He
had his candle and a box of matches, and therefore ought to have no
trouble in locating room No. 9 that the landlord had allotted him.

He lit the candle and made his way cautiously up the stairs. It was not
quite as late as he had expected, for as he passed up, a grandfather
clock on the landing proclaimed the hour of one. As he reached the big,
square space from which the bedrooms branched off, he stopped suddenly
and blew out the candle. He had the box of matches in his hand, so that
he could light it again any moment that he chose. He could hear that
laugh again distinctly, just as careless and gay as ever. It seemed to
come from one of the rooms on the right, though it was impossible to
locate the precise apartment. Over the doors were quaintly-carved
numbers on small oak shields depending from brass studs. Here was No. 9
all right, as Gilray could see by striking a match. The door was closed,
and he was about to open it when once more rang out that easy laugh.
Behind the door next to his somebody was talking.

He bent down to listen, for it seemed to him that he was on the track
now. He could only catch a word here and there, but they thrilled him to
the core, set him tingling from head to foot with excitement and
curiosity.

"Mrs. Van der Knoot...Oh, there was no mistake about the name, of
course. Yes, you were quite successful...We'll give him a lesson."

"He's a dangerous chap," another, deeper, voice replied. "Clever and
unscrupulous, and most desperately hard up. If you think that
Gilray----"

He heard no more. It was maddening. And the worst of it was he had not
the faintest idea as to who was taking his name in vain. Was this some
cunning trap that he had been lured into? Well, if so, they should get
nothing out of him. If it was a trap, then it was an extremely cunning
one. If Madame Desterre had had anything to do with it, then it should
go hard with her later. He would show her what it was to come between
him and his plans.

He jumped back into the darkness as the door of the room opened
suddenly, and a lance of light flashed across the landing. He would
learn now who these people were.




CHAPTER X.--IN THE DARK.


Just for a little while Gilray could see nothing. True, the door was
open, and he could hear a chatter of voices, but he had darted into the
shadow that lay black on one side of the corridor so that only a glimpse
into the bedroom was afforded him. He could make out a portion of the
panelled wall with a picture or two upon it, there was the outline of a
Chippendale cabinet full of old china. One of the pictures was
undoubtedly a Millet, as Gilray's trained eye could see at a glance.
These were unusual objects to encounter in a wayside inn, and at any
other time he would have noted them with astonishment.

But so many amazing things had happened during that wonderful evening
that it seemed to Gilray now that he was past all further astonishment.
Otherwise he might have gasped aloud as a man emerged from the
mysterious room carrying a candle in his hand. The candlestick was of
old silver, but it was not this fact that specially attracted Gilray's
attention. The man was the landlord of the Blue Anchor: the somewhat
dishevelled individual whom he had seen but a little time before with
tumbled hair and limbs encased in crude pyjamas.

The man was transformed. His hair now was sleek and well groomed, he was
dressed in immaculate evening clothes. The cut of the coat and the set
of the white vest spoke eloquently of Bond-street; the glossy linen and
carefully tied bow left nothing to be desired. It was almost impossible
to believe that it was the same man, but Gilray knew that his eyes did
not deceive him.

The man with the candlestick made his way downstairs, humming some
operatic snatch to himself as he went, and a minute or two later it
seemed to Gilray that he could hear the faint hum of a car in the
distance. But for the moment he was not curious on that score. The door
of the room nearly opposite was wide open now, and he was going to make
it his business to find out what was going on inside. He moved
noiselessly across the corridor, and stood within the doorway of a
bedroom exactly opposite.

Then he rubbed his eyes in astonishment. It was like some scene torn out
of the pages of the Arabian Nights' Entertainment. The sitting-room was
furnished to perfection, the old panelled walls were covered with
pictures, there was silver and china and bronze of price, the table and
chairs and cabinets were of Chippendale's best period. In the middle of
the room was a gate-legged table on which a dainty supper was set out,
the flowers were sprays of blue orchids like a cloud of butterflies, the
candles were dimly shaded. Gilray could see the gleam of wine in the cut
glass decanters, the bloom on the grapes, and the pink hue of the
peaches.

There were three people in the room--Madame Desterre, just as Gilray had
seen her an hour or so before, Vorley changed almost out of all
knowledge, and as immaculately clad as the man who had just gone
downstairs. The other guest was a tall, slender woman with dark eyes,
clean-cut features, and a small head crowned with a magnificent mass of
black hair. There were diamonds in her ears and a tiara of brilliants
flashing and dazzling like stars across the sombre wonder of her hair.

"Good heavens, what does it all mean?" Gilray muttered to himself. "What
sort of a public house have I tumbled upon? Landlords in Bond-street
clothes carrying Queen Anne silver candlesticks, and sitting-rooms
furnished by Chippendale! Moreover, if the dark woman yonder is not
Princess Helena of Pau, then I am either mad or my eyes have failed me.
Now, what on earth is that eccentric lady doing here?"

Just for the moment the most amazing Princess in Europe was smoking a
cigarette. Gilray watched her in fascinated curiosity. He had met the
Princess more than once, he had heard a great deal about her
extravagances and her boundless generosity. She spent much of her time
in England, and was persona grata everywhere. Somewhere in the
background there was a complacent spouse, but he was seldom met with
very far from Monte Carlo.

"Don't you think it is time we were on the move, Ninon, my dear?" the
Princess suggested. "This is a very charming adventure and the supper
was exquisite. The peaches were a dream. And I have positively fallen in
love with this quaint old place; but business, carissime, business."

"You are a reproach to me, Princes," Ninon Desterre said, showing her
teeth in a dazzling smile. "For the moment I had almost forgotten the
serious side of the evening. But be content--everything counts to the
one who knows how to wait."

The Princess tossed the end of her cigarette into the fire.

"Ah, that is never me," she sighed. "To me it is not capable to wait. It
is a gift that none of my family possess. You see it is this money--I
must have it. If the drama of the evening fails, positively, I shall be
what you call broke to the world. My good friend the doctor Vorley
smiles. He does not understand what I mean."

"Madame, it is the only thing in the world I do understand," Vorley
said, gravely. "It has been my condition since the days when I was at
school. There are rare intervals when the sun shines--metaphorically
speaking, it is going to shine to-night, that is if you are patient. The
scheme cannot fail. I am here to see that it does not."

The Princess smiled like a child who has been presented with a new toy.
She laughed delightfully. Gilray, watching them, was wondering whether a
tragedy, or a comedy was in progress. That some mischief was afoot he
did not doubt for a moment. He was still turning the question over in
his mind when the man, whom he knew only as the landlord of the inn,
returned, looking as if something had displeased him.

"I'm very sorry, good people," he said, "but I cannot get the car to go.
What are we going to do? It is quite a mile from here to the castle----"

"Walk," Ninon decided promptly. "It is fine night, fairly dry under
foot, and I know that there is a good road to the castle. We can turn
down the avenue by the stables and enter by the Monk's door. It would be
far better for us to do that than to drive up to the front entrance and
be properly announced. I did contemplate some such plan at the start.
I've my overshoes in the car and the Princess already has hers on or she
could not have got in so quietly as she did. For certain obvious reasons
the Doctor brought his goloshes. I presume you have a pair?"

"Oh, I'm all right," the landlord responded. "Don't worry about me,
Ninon. Perhaps it will be our best plan to walk after all. In which case
we had better be off."

Gilray smiled grimly. Wherever these people were going he intended to
follow. He also was equipped with goloshes, for he had originally
intended to return from Park Gardens to Harley-street on foot when he
saw the car that had led him into this wild and mysterious adventure.

"Then the expedition primitive sets out afoot," the Princess cried
gaily. "In that case we must make a move at once, for there is no time
to be lost. I fly to tidy myself. It is not longer than two little
seconds that I keep you waiting."

"Keep to your word," Ninon said. "One of us must stay behind. I am very
sorry for you, my dear landlord, but that fate must be yours. It is
essential that the car should be ready to start the very minute we
return. If I were you, I should muffle myself up and get that
unfortunate taxi-driver in the kitchen to do the work. Then you can
either follow us on to the Castle or stay here till we come back. I must
fly and tidy myself, too."

The Princess had already vanished into her room, and Gilray deemed it
prudent to seek his. Where these people went he would follow.

Possibly he would learn something that he could turn to advantage. Ninon
Desterre had threatened him, and he was not the one to forget that kind
of thing. Also she had promised him a way out of his troubles if he was
wise enough not to thwart her wishes. Well, perhaps he might use her to
advantage and get his own way at the same time. There was nothing
criminal here as he had at first imagined--the presence of the Princess
guaranteed that. Possibly the whole adventure was based on some
political intrigue, and he was going to see to that.

He lit his candle cautiously and looked about his bedroom. It was
furnished according to its needs, quite as handsomely and tastefully as
the apartment on the other side of the wide corridor. Evidently it had
recently been used by some lady of fashion as a dressing-room, for the
dressing-table was littered with scent bottles and powder puffs and
there was a pearl-mounted comb and a pair of ivory-backed brushes
bearing a coronet in diamonds. They would do quite well for him, Gilray
decided grimly. He would come back here very soon again and investigate
this mysterious inn where the bedrooms were furnished in Chippendale and
the guests used hair brushes with diamond coronets on the backs. It
might pay him to do so.

He was quite ready now, even to his overcoat and goloshes, for his
self-appointed spying mission. Very quietly he opened the door and
listened for the movements of the conspirators. He could follow a
whisper of voices and some laughter, then the stairs began to creak and
afterwards was silence. Gilray cautiously locked his door and dropped
the key in his pocket. He was taking no risks, he was not going to give
that wonderfully well-dressed landlord the chance of prying into his
room to see if he was sleeping. He stood at the top of the stairs
looking down until he saw the last of the party vanish into the night,
and was pleasantly surprised to see that the landlord accompanied them.

"I wonder what my patients would say if they could see me now," Gilray
soliloquised. "I should not have a shred of reputation left. But I feel
that some way there is a fortune in this queer night's business. It may
give me the power to dictate terms to Madame Desterre. Anyway, I've got
Enid Harley to fall back on--my salvation certainly lies there."

It was quite an easy matter to follow the party in front. The night was
not very dark and there was no wind. The landlord had dropped out
somewhere, for Gilray could distinctly make out that there were only
three people in front of him. They turned off the high road presently
and passed through a fine old gateway which brought them to a
magnificent pile of buildings with lights a-gleam from quite a hundred
windows.

What place was this, Gilray wondered? He had heard it spoken of as the
Castle, but that had not conveyed much to him. Evidently it was some
great country seat and obviously there was a big function going on
within its walls.

Gilray pressed eagerly forward, for he had lost sight of those whom he
was following for a moment. He was close to a door now, and he was
examining carefully when he gave a savage exclamation.

Somebody had grasped him from behind in a grip that left him helpless.
The door he had been scrutinising was flung open and he was fairly
tossed inside as if he had been a feather. He scrambled to his feet with
an oath, but he was too late. The door closed behind him; he heard the
sharp click of its bolts as the key turned in the lock. They had tricked
him again and he was a prisoner.

Then for a moment he lost his head. He fairly raced along the
brilliantly-lighted corridor in which he found himself and turned like a
hunted fox into a room where a man was seated. Mechanically he took off
his coat--his hat was goodness knows where--and turned in a dazed way to
the stranger.

"Don't you apologise," the latter said. "If you've come any distance,
you are doing quite the right thing. I've been here before, so I know
the ropes. You will find everything for the comfort of cold and thirsty
humanity on the sideboard. Help yourself."




CHAPTER XI.--A SOCIAL FUNCTION.


Gilray was amazed at his reception, but he steadied himself with one
hand upon the table. He must not betray himself before the stranger who
so kindly took his presence for granted. There would be plenty of time
for an explanation later on. It would be as well too, if he followed the
other man's suggestion. He was feeling jumpy and nervy, as well he
might, when all the circumstances were taken into consideration. So he
quietly helped himself to a whisky and soda, and gulped it down. The
generous old cordial warmed his blood and restored his flagging spirit.

Where was he, and what was going on? That he would have to find out as
quickly as possible. To try to explain his presence there by a bold
recital of the plain truth was out of the question. His host or hostess,
as the case might be, would rightly refuse to believe him. They would
probably hand him over to the police, and then a ruinous scandal would
be caused. He had no desire that his professional reputation should
suffer.

He was evidently in a very large house, a house presumably in the
occupation of some person of immense wealth. The place was humming like
a hive; he could hear the chatter of voices in the distance, the sliding
of feet over a floor; and the faint strains of a band. He wondered why
and by whom he had been forced into his present position. It was just
possible that the whole thing was an elaborate practical joke. "It seems
to me that I have met you somewhere before," Gilray said, fighting
cautiously for an opening. "Really, your face is very familiar. If you
are one of the--er--family----"

"No such luck, Dr. Gilray," the other interposed laughingly. "Merely a
family friend. It is not for me to call myself a relative of the Duke of
Glenday, husband of the charming Duchess, nee Miss Pamela Dewitt, some
time of Chicago, and the richest heiress in the States. Not that I am a
pauper, but we can't all live at Glenday Castle."

Gilray smiled. He was getting on. The mere fact that this man recognized
him was in his favour, but he was not thinking of that. He had contrived
to clutch the fact that he was at Glenday Castle, the palatial residence
of the Duke of Glenday, and his beautiful wife. He had heard something
of this evenings' function; his lady patients had been chattering about
it for days. Something like fifteen hundred guests had been invited to a
dance and fancy fair. Every guest had been expected to pay a sum of five
guineas for his or her ticket. It was one of the Duchess's brilliant
ideas in aid of some of her pet charities. Gilray seemed to have heard
it said that the tickets were transferable. He was beginning to feel a
little easier in his mind. If this were true, there was no reason why he
should not see the adventure through serenely. He would be tolerably
certain to find scores of people here that he knew, and his presence
would pass in the crowd. He no longer contemplated a lame apology for
his intrusion and a speedy retreat after making it. Oh, dear, no. He
rose buoyantly on his self-conceit.

"I suppose this is a very brilliant function, Mr.--er--Mr..." he began.

"Herries, Jack Herries, of the Rifle Brigade at your service," the other
man said. "Brilliant--I believe you my boy. It is absolutely it. Nothing
like it has ever been seen in the county before. There are two bands and
two dancing floors, to begin with. There's a fancy fair in the royal
suite, a music hall show in the gallery, pictures somewhere above, and a
real imitation, if I may use the expression, of a country fair in the
winter garden. Everybody's here, from Princess Helena of Pau downwards."

Gilray pricked up his ears. He was learning something.

"Is the Princess staying in the house?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, and about a hundred people besides. She's got all her family
jewels here. I've never seen such a display of diamonds outside a
drawing-room or on a gala night at the opera. Go and have a look at it
for yourself. As a matter of fact, it is quite out of my line. Never did
care for these swagger functions. Give me a quiet rubber of bridge, and
I'm content. But don't let me keep you."

Gilray divested himself of his goloshes. A glance in a long gilt mirror
convinced him that he was perfectly all right, and would pass muster
anywhere. If somebody had played a practical joke upon him, they were
not going to gain much by it.

"I've never been here before," he explained. "Apparently I was wrongly
directed, for I came in by a side door. Which turning do I take?"

The man called Herries gave the necessary directions. A sudden turn at
the end of the corridor brought Gilray into the centre of the
festivities. He had attended some brilliant gatherings in his time, but
never such a one as this.

A magnificent space, some three hundred feet square, paved with mosaic,
and covered by a lofty lantern roof, lay before him. The whole area was
dotted with groups of palms and ferns and brilliant banks of tropical
flowers. The place was heated almost unpleasantly, but in that warm,
rather moist, atmosphere, the red and gold and azure orchids flourished,
and the creeping plants rose to the roof. Cunningly hidden here and
there amongst the luxuriant leafage were clusters of electric lights
gleaming out like shafts of sunshine. Under the waving branches of the
trees rows of tents had been erected, and each of them contained some
extravagantly advertised show, after the manner of a country pleasure
fair. The charge for admission to each had been fixed at five shillings,
and it was held to be a point of honour that every guest should do the
fair honestly and thoroughly.

Nothing was wanting even to the tent of the fortune-teller, a swarthy
bearded Indian, carefully made up for the part, and now for a moment
relaxing his Delphic labours, and smoking a cigarette in the opening of
his tent. A constant laughing stream of well-dressed men and women moved
along, talking at the top of their voices, for the proprietors of the
various shows were vociferously insistent, and advertised their
attractions in stentorian tones.

For a moment Gilray had an impulse to put aside his curiosity, to forget
the errand that had brought him there, and abandon himself to the gaiety
of the hour. He was feeling more at home now; there were plenty of
acquaintances present; and he had already acknowledged the smiles and
bows of a score of people he knew. At the same time, it was just as well
to remember that he was not there for amusement only. In the distance he
could see Madame Desterre laughing and talking to a little group of her
intimates, with Vorley hanging watchfully in the background.

Gilray made his way towards them, and presently found himself by the
side of the beautiful volatile Frenchwoman.

She arched her eyebrows with a pretty gesture of surprise. There was not
the faintest suggestion of embarrassment in her manner as she came
forward, and Gilray looked in vain for any trace of mischief or
amusement.

"So we are determined to meet twice in the same night," she said. "Now
why did you not tell me last evening that you were coming here later?"

"I did not know myself when I left your house," Gilray said. "It was
quite early when you dismissed us so cruelly, and it seemed a pity to go
home."

"Oh, yes, perhaps. And how did you get here?"

"I took a taxi-cab. It was the quickest, and, in fact, the only way."

"Extravagant man! I am afraid you do not properly appreciate the value
of money, my dear doctor. You will be sorry for it some of these days."

Gilray shot a quick glance at his companion. He was wondering if she
meant anything by that remark, if there was some hidden threat or sting
in it. But Ninon was innocently smiling, as apparently in rapt
admiration she contemplated the bewildering tangle of gold and crimson
orchids bowered overhead.

"I am no miser," he said coldly, "and besides I have only myself to
consider."

"For the moment, yes. But you will not remain a bachelor all your life,
doctor. There will come a time when you will meet the right woman.
Perhaps you imagine that already you have met the right woman. Am I not
curious, doctor, dear?"

Gilray set his teeth together. Under all this lightness, and behind that
dazzling smile, the woman was again warning him, again defying him to go
his own way. She must be made to understand.

"Curiosity is at once a weakness and charm of your sex," he said. "Who
could resist Madame Desterre when she invites one's confidences so
prettily. Yes, I fancy I have found the fair one. Your young friend,
Miss Enid Harley, is very beautiful."

"Lovely," Ninon murmured. "Oh, yes, I understand your meaning. You pay
me a great compliment in thus giving me your secret. A case of love at
first sight, eh? Well, I have read of such things, I am prepared to
believe that there may be authentic cases. But then, such sudden
affection must be mutual to render the little romance complete."

"It generally lies in the hands of the man, Madame. If the man is clever
and capable. If he has a fair conceit of himself, he can soon inspire
the object of his regard with love."

"Yes, yes. But if there is another lion in the path? What then,
Monsieur?"

Ninon looked up swiftly as she spoke. She saw the sombre gleam in
Gilray's eyes, she caught the savage knitted frown on his forehead.

"There are ways and means," he said. "All is fair in love and war,
Madame Desterre. I hope you will realise that I am not the man to----"

Gilray hesitated, conscious of the fact that he was going too far.

"To stick at trifles," Ninon finished the speech for him. "No, I don't
think you are. But unfortunately for you, I have other views for my
charming little Enid. And when I make up my mind to do a thing, doctor,
I usually contrive to see it done. Now I could find a wife for you
equally charming and equally rich. Let me introduce you to her--she is
under this very roof at the present moment."

"Madame, an Englishman's affections are not like those of a Frenchman,
made to order. Pardon me, if I decline your offer."

"Then you defy me," Ninon made no pretence of politeness now. "It is to
be a duel a la morte? Good. Then I warn you that the time is not far
distant when you will bitterly rue the day you crossed my path. Turn
back before it is too late, I implore you. Ah, you laugh."

Gilray smiled at this exhibition of passion. Yet there was a note in
Ninon's voice that told him she was not playing, but meant every word
she said.

But he would treat it as a play nevertheless, so with a shrug of the
shoulders, he said----

"Now we come to the melodrama. Woman, I defy you. You shall not come
between me and the dream of my lifetime. Do your worst."

Ninon met his forced raillery with a similar weapon.

"Oh, I shall," she said, and laughed merrily. "It is just as well, sir,
that you and I should thoroughly understand each other. There is yet a
chance for you to see the error of your ways. If you will not be warned
by me, then perhaps you will listen to the mysterious being yonder who
reads humanity's fortune in the stars. I mean the Indian person opposite
who looks into the future for a fee. Come and spend five shillings on
him. It may save you from a fate so terrible that I shudder at the mere
contemplation of it. Do come."




CHAPTER XII.--THE FORTUNE-TELLER.


Gilray smiled. After all it was a difficult matter to be angry long with
Ninon Desterre.

"I know my fortune already," he said. "Most men of ambition do. We make
our own, Madame Desterre. It is a mere matter of selection."

"Really! But is there not a popular saying to the effect that nothing
happens but the unexpected? Man may propose, you know, but the power of
disposing lies elsewhere. Ah, you are ambitious for political honours
and a seat in the Cabinet. To reach that goal you must give all your
time to the game, and be independent of your profession. Therefore, you
follow the lines of the least resistance and look for a rich wife----"

Gilray smiled again. He was not going to be drawn any more. On the
contrary, he was here to find out what Ninon Desterre was doing. It
amused and flattered his egregious self-conceit to imagine that he had
utterly deceived the pretty Frenchwoman, and that she was in blissful
ignorance of the fact that he had tracked her every step of the way from
London. If there was some clever moneymaking scheme afoot well then he
might as well share it. If he could force himself into the conspirators'
ring he could demand his price. And a few thousands pounds just now
would mean salvation. Perhaps it might help him if he could manage to
get an introduction to the Princess.

He had seen her as the thought came to him, and in another moment she
came up. She fairly glittered with the diamonds she was wearing. It
seemed to Gilray that she was adorned far more extravagantly now than
she had been at the time she left the old inn.

"Let me present Dr. Gilray, Princess," Ninon said. "Dr. Gilray is one of
the leading authorities on the eye. He is an autocrat in his profession.
Whenever he issues his commands there is nothing for us but to obey."

The Princess smiled dreamily. She extended her hand with a charming
frankness that was all her own. Her dark beauty was positively dazzling.

"I have heard of you," she said. "My uncle the Duc de Medoni was a
patient of yours. He says that you gave him new sight. Ah, well, it is a
dreadful thing to have trouble with the eyes. Fancy not being able to
witness so charming and delightful a scene as this. Not to see the
colours and the lovely flowers."

"You came over on purpose, Princess," Gilray hazarded.

"Well, not quite. You see, I am a guest of the Duchess. I have been
staying in this delightful house for days. Positively it is an asylum
for me, Dr. Gilray. I am so poor that it is to me impossible to stay in
one of your London hotels."

Gilray murmured his condolences. He was perfectly grave and sympathetic.
But he spoke with his tongue in his check all the same. It seemed
impossible to associate this brilliant dark beauty with poverty. Her
dress was the latest and daintiest costly frivol from Paris; she stood
there pleading impecuniosity with twenty thousand pounds' worth of
diamonds flashing in her hair and glistening on her corsage.

"It is a terrible thing to be poor," Gilray said, gravely. "I speak from
experience. It makes us dread the future."

"Is that why you are afraid to have your fortune told?" Ninon Desterre
asked coldly. "Princess, I have challenged the doctor to have his
fortune told. He puts me off by saying that an ambitious man knows his
own fortune. All the same, I am quite sure that he is moved by some
silly, superstitious fear."

"I love it," the Princess cried. "There is nothing I enjoy better than
the telling of one's fortune. I am so poor that nothing the seers reveal
to me can be worse than the reality."

"And you are going to try your fate again, Princess?" Gilray asked.

"Positively, yes. You shall go and pave the way for me. Never let it be
said that a man is afraid to hear the truth--I will wait for you here."

Gilray hesitated a moment, suspecting a trap. Possibly these people
after all suspected that he was watching them and had planned to get him
out of the way. Yet there was no eagerness in the Princess's manner. It
was very difficult to connect her with anything definitely wrong. It was
also very difficult to refuse a request so charmingly and winningly
made.

"You have only to command me and I obey," he smiled. "When the tent is
empty----"

"Which is now," Ninon exclaimed. "See, Lady Blessinglay is just leaving.
Go in at once and we will wait and hear what the seer has to say. I'm
told he is wonderful."

It was quite dark within the tent. Gilray found himself gripped by the
hand, and quietly but firmly led to a seat. Then a dim light appeared
from somewhere, and Gilray could just make out the outline of a tall
figure wrapped in some clinging gown. The seer bent over his hand, just
visible in the dim light, and examined it gravely.

"You regard this thing as nonsense?" the seer asked gravely.

"Not for you," Gilray retorted. "There is a business side to everything.
Hand-reading will ever remain popular whilst a fool is born every
minute.

"We shall see," the seer went on importantly. "You are Dr. Gilray, of
Harley-street, the man who looks to the eyes of the fashionable world.
Nothing wonderful in my knowing all about that, you may say. You have a
large practice, you are young and popular, and you have already made
something of a name for yourself in the House of Commons, And yet with
it all you are not a happy man, Dr. Gilray."

"Can anyone lay claim to be entirely happy?" Gilray asked indifferently.

"True. Happiness is a relative quality. You can make some people happy
with a slice of suet pudding. Another is miserable though his head
carries a crown. But you are not happy, and all the more miserable
because your misfortunes are your own fault."

"I am not denying it, magician. If the average man could only analyse
himself candidly, he would find that his misfortunes were usually of his
own making."

"That is exactly what I expected you to say. With some the curse of
drink, with others merely ostentation. There is no more fruitful source
of misery than ostentation. It is the curse of our ruling classes, and
it is rotting the backbone of England. And that is your trouble. You
must have a house in Harley-street, even if you have to go to the Jews
for the money to pay for the lease and the furniture. Then everything
must be on the most lavish scale. At this moment you are up to your ears
in debt; you don't know which way to turn for money. It only needs a
feather on the wrong side of the scale to put the balance in favour of
disaster."

"Truly you are a wonderful man," Gilray said sardonically. "Go on. I
neither admit nor deny a word you say. If this is blackmail----"

"Do you want me to throw you out of the tent? Do you want me to break
every bone in your miserable body? If so, kindly repeat that remark
again, Dr. Gilray. I am here to save you from yourself. You are
meditating a crime, sir."

"A crime!" Gilray started. He was moved from his attitude of cold
contempt at last. "Since you know so much, what is this crime you speak
of?"

"Oh, so you begin to understand me," the seer said quietly. "You give me
credit after all for some little foresight. The crime you have in your
mind is one that may never be found out. It will inflict cruel injury on
one who is powerless to retort; it may mean the ruin of two lives. But
you will not care for that. The ground will be clear for you, and you
will flatter yourself that you are on the way to safety."

"All this is Greek to me," Gilray said in a voice that was none too
firm. "If your desire is to impress me, you have gone quite the wrong
way about it. I suppose you go on the principle of firing blindly in all
directions in the hope of hitting a stray bird somewhere. But you have
missed the mark this time."

"My bullet has gone to the centre of the target, Dr. Gilray. I have
warned you, so look to yourself if you refuse to heed that warning. The
rich marriage you picture in your mind will never be yours; persistence
in the course you contemplate will end in ruin and disgrace. There is no
bride coming out of the East for you."

"In that case I am wasting my time," Gilray said as he rose to his feet.
"I can only conclude that you are somebody who knows me, and that the
seance is an elaborate jest. Let me compliment you on it and wish you
good night."

The seer merely bowed in silence, and made no effort to detain the
visitor. There was a smile on Gilray's lips as he emerged from the tent
into the glitter of lights and the movement of the brilliant throng; but
the smile was not in his heart. Indeed, he was more shaken and disturbed
than he cared to admit. As he had suggested, the fortune-telling might
have been no more than admirable fooling, but the arrow had gone very
near the mark. He was not particularly pleased to find the Princess and
Ninon Desterre awaiting him.

"You look like a man who has seen a ghost," the latter declared.

Gilray muttered something under his breath. The Princess moved forward
in the direction of the tent. She seemed childishly eager for her turn
to peep at Fate.

"I hope the magician will be less candid with the Princess than he was
with me," Gilray said. "Upon my word, there is no limit to the impudence
of this sort of people. I presume they make it their business to hang
about the areas of West End houses and pick up the gossip of the
kitchen. Really----"

He saw the mischievous gleam in Ninon's eyes and stopped suddenly. He
had an uneasy feeling that she could throw some light on the seer's
knowledge of his affairs. But she chattered away in the most
inconsequential manner, making such shrewd remarks on passing guests
that, in spite of himself, Gilray was interested. It seemed hard to
believe that this vivacious little Frenchwoman could really be serious
even for a moment. She was still laughing when the door of the tent
opened, and Princess Helena came out.

"The most wonderful man," the Princess exclaimed. "Positively he
thrilled me. I am amazed that I did not fall fainting at his feet. My
dear, when I tell you----"

"Tell me something else first," Ninon interrupted quietly. "Princess,
will you please tell me what has become of your diamonds? Positively you
have not one left."




CHAPTER XIII.--"STOP THIEF!"


For a moment Princess Helena made no reply. It struck Gilray that she
looked a little pale and distrait, much as if she had been suddenly
aroused from sleep. The pupils of her eyes were dilated, and Gilray
suspected drugs. As a fashionable doctor, he knew the symptoms.

Certainly the Princess had disappeared into the fortune-teller's tent a
few minutes before in full possession of all her faculties, and wearing
all those magnificent jewels. And here she was now with not a single
stone in her hair or on her corsage. It was no time to stand on
ceremony. Gilray laid his hand on the Princess' shoulder, and shook her
sharply.

"Tell what has happened," he demanded. "It may be nothing but a joke,
but it is possible to carry such jokes too far. Where are your
diamonds?"

The Princess lifted her hands to her head, then rapidly felt her neck
and breast. It was as if she were trying to struggle back to
recollection of things. Certainly she was behaving exactly like one just
recovering from the effects of some powerful drug. And yet she appeared
lively enough as she had emerged from the tent. She must be roused
anyway. Gilray spoke again, very sharply this time. Then he could see
intelligence returning.

"My diamonds?" the Princess whispered. "What about my diamonds?"

She was awake and in earnest now. She took a step forward, clutching at
her breast.

"What has happened?" she demanded. "All at once I felt quite faint.
Why--yes, yes, my jewels have gone--somebody has stolen them!"

Gilray waited to hear no more. He was quite convinced that this was no
jest. Even in the fun and excitement of a fancy fair under such a roof
as that no guest would so far forget good manners as to take for a joke
the jewels of a Princess. There were limits even where the 'smart set'
was concerned, and the Duchess of Glenday would assuredly not be pleased
to be considered one of that coterie. Beyond all question the Princess
had been the victim of an audacious robbery.

There was no time to be lost. The magician must be still in the tent;
indeed, he could not have left without being seen, for it was only three
or four yards away. Without further hesitation Gilray darted forward and
lifted up the canvas flap. He intended to get to the bottom of this.

"Here, you there," he commanded, "what is the meaning of this? What have
you done with the Princess Helena's diamonds?"

No reply came from the dim recesses of the tent. There was no sound of
any movement. Gilray had an uneasy feeling that he was alone there. He
fumbled nervously at his watch chain for his match-box, and struck a
vesta. As the flame brightened he looked anxiously around for any sign
of the magician.

The tent was empty, its late occupant had vanished like a dream.

This startling discovery for a moment deprived Gilray of the power of
thought. Where on earth had the fellow gone to? He was certainly there
but a few minutes before. It was equally certain that he had not come
out by way of the tent door. Gilray struck another match, and made a
more careful search.

Ah, there it was--he had found it. A long clean slit on the far side of
the tent explained the rascal's unnoticed escape. Gilray eagerly pushed
his way out. Right in front of him was an avenue of palms and orchids,
and at the end of it, not many yards away, was a door leading to the
garden. By this door lay a long black gown, and by the side of it a
black wig and beard. It was now beyond all question that the Princess
had been made the victim of a bold and carefully planned conspiracy.

Gilray rushed back to the spot where he had left the Princess and Madame
Desterre. He found them no longer alone, but the centre of an eager and
excited crowd of guests. The coolest and most collected person there was
the Princess herself.

"I cannot explain," she said. "I do not profess to know. Like so many of
you, I go in to see the magician. He bids me to take a seat, and he
tells me things. He tells me the most amazing things connected with my
past life. I am so upset that I feel quite queer. Then he gives me a
handkerchief saturated with some scented stuff, and bathes my face with
it. Then for a moment or two I remember nothing. When I come out I feel
faint, and my good friend, Ninon Desterre, cries out that my diamonds
are gone. And they are gone. Some thief has stolen them."

The tall figure of the Duke of Glenday pushed through the excited mob of
guests.

"This is very distressing, Princess," he said. "When someone came
running to me to tell me what had happened I could hardly credit my own
ears. That such a thing could happen under my roof grieves me beyond
measure. You are quite sure that it is not some jest?"

"There is no jest about it, your Grace," Gilray interrupted. "A short
time ago I had a personal interview with the alleged magician. When I
came out of the tent the Princess went in. I stood chatting with Madame
Desterre till her Highness came back. She was then without the jewels
she was wearing when she entered the tent so short a time before."

"Whereupon you raised an alarm, sir?" the Duke asked.

"No, I didn't. I was so staggered for a minute or two by the discovery
that I was not capable of thinking of anything else. It seemed such an
amazing thing to happen in a house like this. Directly I recovered my
presence of mind I dashed into the tent to challenge the occupant. But
no occupant was there. I was certain he had not left by the ordinary
exit, and making a quick search I found a long slit cut in the back of
the tent by which he had escaped. He had evidently hurried along a
corridor at the back of the tent, and escaped to a door leading to the
garden. By that door you will find a black cloak and a beard and wig
thrown off by the thief as he left the house. The police should be
telephoned for."

An excited murmur followed this statement. Many pretty, daintily-dressed
women had been under the spell of the magician during the evening, but
none of them had lost as much as an earring. Evidently the rascal had
coolly waited the chance of a big haul.

"Let the police be telephoned for at once," the Duke said, "it is just
as well perhaps that nothing worse happened. That ruffian might have
caused serious consequences by his reckless use of chloroform. I suppose
it was chloroform."

"I am quite certain of it," Gilray said. "As an operating surgeon who
uses anaesthetics every day, I should know, your Grace."

"Oh, so you are a doctor. Pardon me, but I do not recognise your face.
But probably you are one of my wife's guests. At a moment like
this...you understand."

Gilray flushed a little. He knew perfectly well what the Duke meant. He
was putting it as politely as possible, but all the same he was asking
for his unknown guest's credentials, how he got there, and whence came
his invitation. The inquiry if pressed home might land Gilray in a very
awkward predicament.

Madame Desterre gracefully and easily came to the rescue.

"Dr. Gilray," she said sweetly, "who belongs to my party. Her Grace told
me----"

"Not another word, please," the Duke interrupted. "I apologise to Dr.
Gilray. Nay, more, I have to thank him heartily for the great services
he has performed. You think the Princess was drugged, doctor? Yes? Ah,
here is Mr. Lascelles, my secretary. You have heard everything,
Lascelles? Do you know anything about this fortune-teller? Who engaged
him?"

"I am responsible, Duke," the smooth haired secretary replied. "I
engaged the few professionals we have here this evening. Of course, to
produce a better effect it was necessary to change the names of some of
them. The magician was Zana, of Bond-street."

"Ah, yes. Quite a well-known man, Lascelles. The fashionable charlatan
most of our best women consult. It's all arrant nonsense, of course, but
Zana has a good reputation. They tell me he makes thousands a year, that
he keeps a motor, and belongs to some good clubs. It seems very strange
a man like that should run the risk of arrest in this way. It is any
odds on his being caught. The man must be mad."

"I can't make it out at all," the puzzled secretary replied. "All Zana
stipulated for was that his name should not be disclosed, and that I
should consent to his being disguised. As there was no objection to
that, I consented. When I paid him his fee a day or two ago he told me
he should motor down for his performance ready dressed, and I gave him
directions as to the door to enter by. I am quite sure there is some
mystery here that we have not yet fathomed."

For the moment at any rate there was nothing more to be said or done. No
doubt the bold and daring thief was by this time miles away, for the man
who could plan such a coup would assuredly have a motor waiting for him
in some secluded spot close at hand.

Pending the arrival of the police the festivities of the evening were
resumed, but all the gaiety had gone out of them. Everybody seemed
worried and listless. The Princess behaved magnificently over her great
loss. No doubt, so she affected to believe, the gems would be recovered
in time. Meanwhile she had a rather distressing headache, and would be
grateful if the Duchess would allow her to retire to her room.

Madame Desterre, with a strange, mocking smile upon her lips, turned to
Gilray.

"You are in my debt," she said. "Ma foi! you might have been accused of
the theft yourself. Was it not a bold thing to come here uninvited? May
I ask why you did so?"

"I could put a few questions in my turn," Gilray retorted. "Meanwhile
let me thank you. But all the same, we do not give our confidences to
our enemies."

"No, but there are times when in reality those we regard as enemies are
our dearest friends, Dr. Gilray. I beg you to cherish that remark, for I
shall recall it to you again some day. So those silly young men have
come back from the chase. They have done no more than ruin their pretty
shoes, I fear."

Half a dozen of the younger men had burst suddenly into the garden, and
were talking excitedly together. They had rushed off on the impulse of
the moment with a vague hope of capturing the thief. For the last hour
they had been ineffectively searching the grounds. Almost on their heels
came another lot of excited young men, who seemed to be half carrying,
half dragging, some struggling burden between them.

"Got him," one cried in tones of triumph. "Got him. Found him in the
bottom of a ditch where he seems to have fallen. Rather shook him up, I
fancy. Steady, old chap, you're not likely to get away again. Hand over
those diamonds."

The captive struggled to his feet, protesting vigorously.

"Fetch Mr. Lascelles,"' he demanded. "Leave me alone, I say. A fine time
I've had of it. This is an outrage. I'll make a police court matter of
it as sure as my name is Zana."




CHAPTER XIV.--A MISSING LINK.


There was to be no interruption of the festivities, that, the Duke had
insisted upon. But all the pleasure and healthy excitement had vanished.
Already more than one guest had suddenly developed a thoughtfulness for
his chauffeur--whose very existence he had previously forgotten. It was
all very well for the bands to play, for the younger people to fling
themselves into the pleasure of the dance, but the chill breath of
suspicion lay over all, like an unexpected frost in a garden of flowers.

The police were expected now at any moment. Even in so brilliant a house
as Glenday Castle it was impossible to feel gay and light-hearted with
the advent of a detective force from Scotland Yard. Somehow the thought
of their coming disturbed the Princess much more than the loss of her
diamonds.

Meanwhile she was consoling herself with a cigarette before the cheery
flickering of a wood fire in her bedroom. She lay back, with one hand
thrown behind her dark head, listening to the lamentations of her
hostess.

"My dear Pamela, why distress yourself," she asked. "I am not worrying.
My only trouble is that I shall have to be at the beck and call of those
dreadful police for goodness knows how long. They will dog me like my
shadow. They will drag me from comfortable country houses to unpleasant
police stations, and ask me to identify impossible thieves. In my
opinion the whole affair is political."

"My dear Helena, you don't really mean that?"

"But I do," the Princess protested. "When that silly revolution broke
out, and my brother was driven from his little tin principality, he took
certain things with him. Amongst them were what the revolutionary party
are pleased to call the Crown jewels. Pah, there never were any Crown
jewels. All those ornaments that delightful boy of yours calls my 'war
paint' belonged to our family absolutely. As my brother is a confirmed
and hardened bachelor, and also as the dynasty is no more, he handed the
jewels over to me. The Republicans were furious, and vowed to get them
back. And, ma foi! dear Pamela, it looks to me as if they had
succeeded."

"But you have not mentioned this matter to anybody. You did not tell my
husband."

"Nor anybody else so far as that goes. I shall now, of course, be
compelled to inform the police. But, beyond them, only to my intimates
must this secret be known. It is not one of my ambitions to find myself
the subject of many paragraphs in the society papers. For my part I
should like to go to bed. But I suppose I shall have to wait till those
stupid police have done with me. And I should like to see Ninon
Desterre. There is no body who amuses me as she does."

The Duchess took the hint, and rang the bell. She hoped that Ninon
Desterre would prove an efficient remedy. Would the Princess mind if she
slipped away and looked after her guests? Things had been unpleasant
enough without giving people the chance to remark as to her absence.

Ninon Desterre came up to the bedroom presently, and closed the door
carefully behind her. Apparently the unhappy affair had had no effect
upon her brightness and gaiety. She made no kind of apology, nor did she
allude to the robbery at all. The Princess smiled gratefully.

"You are always so tactful," she said. "So soothing to the nerves.
Probably I shall have to engage you as companion at an enormous salary
till people have forgotten my loss. I could refer any question on the
subject to you, and thus avoid the inevitable mental collapse. Or at
least I would do so if I had the money. I would like to see my husband's
face when he hears what has happened."

The Princess rippled with laughter as she spoke. Her husband was
notoriously as mean as he was wealthy. The Princess could have all the
money she needed if she would only stay at home.

"And now I shall have to go back," she said with a dazzling smile. "I
have nothing left, next year's allowance is mortgaged. Ah, what a true
friend you are to me."

Just for a moment Ninon looked a little uneasy. Then the door burst
open, and the Duchess literally flung herself into the bedroom.

"I should have knocked, of course," she gasped excitedly. "But my
feelings got the better of me. They have caught the thief. Some of the
young men got on his track, and ran him down in the grounds. He is
downstairs at the present moment. I have not seen him, nor have I any
details; but they have caught him all right. I felt that I must come up
and tell you at once."

"Have they got my diamonds back?" the Princess asked.

"My dear Helena, I haven't the faintest notion. But I presume that as
they have the thief your jewels are not very far off. I do hope it is
going to be all right."

Ninon Desterre slipped quietly from the room. Apparently she had no
intention of offering the Princess her congratulations until she was
sure that they were justified. Downstairs in the scented garden she
found an excited group gathered about a man in evening dress, a tall
fair man, who at the first sight did not much resemble a professional
thief. Nor was he displaying emotions that suggested guilt or dismay. On
the contrary, he seemed to be exceedingly angry and astonished.

For a moment Ninon laid her hand on her heart, as if she had some little
difficulty with her breathing. Then the radiant, easy smile came back to
her lips.

"What is it, Zana!" she cried. "What are they doing with you?"

The man called Zana looked up as if he had suddenly recognised a friend.

"That is precisely what I am asking, Madame Desterre," he said with a
bow. "I give my own professional name and nobody believes me. It is very
good of you, Madame, to come to my assistance. Why have I been treated
thus? What am I accused of?"

At that moment the Duke came forward accompanied by a bulky,
official-looking man. A thrill ran through the assemblage. The police
had arrived.

"Here is Inspector Gillispie," the Duke explained. "I have told him
everything. It seems to me that the explanation of this person here
should be made to the Inspector."

The audience crowded round eagerly. But there was no suggestion of fear
on the prisoner's face. On the contrary, he greeted Gillispie with
evident signs of pleasure.

"Now perhaps we shall get a little common sense," he exclaimed. "As far
as I can gather, Inspector, there has been a jewel robbery, and I am
accused of the theft. They say that I was engaged here to give a
thought-reading and fortune-telling performance, and that the lady came
to my tent. Then they say I robbed her, and made my way into the
grounds, where I was pursued and caught in a ditch. As a matter of fact,
this is the first time I have been in the house."

"You were specially engaged to come down here," the Inspector said.

"I was. There is no need to disguise it. Mr. Lascelles engaged me and
paid me my fee. I was to come here, but nobody was to know that I was
Zana. My idea was to bring a make-up with me, and change into it in my
car at the last moment. I drove through the gates of the park about
midnight, and, near the house my car was stopped and my driver was sent
back another way. That I was told was necessary in order to have the
traffic properly regulated. I took this for granted, and placed myself
in the hands of the man who said he was sent to guide me. We seemed to
be going away from the house, and I mentioned the fact. The reply I got
was a violent blow on the head which stunned me. When I came to my
senses I was on my back in a dry ditch, my make-up was gone, and I was
bound hand and foot by ropes. As there was a gag in my mouth I could not
call for help. Of course I realised that some mischief was afoot, but
what it was I could not imagine. My one idea was to get out of those
confounded ropes. I had just managed to do so when I was pounced on by
half a dozen of these gentlemen, and dragged here before I had an
opportunity of offering a word of explanation. For the moment I was too
sick and upset to resist, but I am feeling better now, and I want to
know what it all means."

The guests looked from one to the other a little disappointed. The
dramatic possibilities of the situation had changed. They felt that they
were no longer confronted with a cool and daring theft, but a
justifiably angry man. The vehemence of Zana's statement seemed to
emphasise its truth. Still, the puzzle and the mystery of the situation
remained.

"The man seems to me to be speaking the truth, your Grace," Gillispie
said. "If he is, then we shall have to look a good deal further.
Evidently it was a very clever and carefully prepared job. What I should
very much like to know is where the thieves got the information that
Zana was coming here. I suppose you could recognise your assailant, Mr.
Zana?"

"I am afraid not," Zana responded. "You see it was very dark, and not
thinking of any such business as this, I did not take much notice of the
man. I was anxious to get to my performance, and I took him, naturally,
for one of the household servants. No. I'm afraid I can't help you much
there."

The Inspector wasted no time in further questioning. All he wanted now
was a lantern and a chance to find some clue in the grounds. But the
search party had already done much to obliterate any hurried trace the
thief might have left. The Inspector therefore was not sanguine. He
would commit himself to no theory, he had nothing to suggest beyond a
cautiously hazarded guess that the robbery might be the work of the same
gang that had obtained possession of Van der Knoot's precious
miniatures. Intimating that he could always find Zana if he wanted him
for further particulars the officer went off.

"He will find nothing," Madame Desterre declared. "It is hopeless.
Moreover, it is time I was getting back home. I have my motor here--can
I take you with me, Dr. Gilray?"

"That is very good of you," Gilray said gratefully, glad enough to have
his home getting problem solved so conveniently. The man with the
taxi-cab could doubtless look to himself. "I am quite ready."

It had been a night of surprises, and Gilray was quite prepared for more
of them. He gave no sign therefore when he recognised Ninon Desterre's
motor car as the one he had followed from the Park Gardens. He would not
say anything, he would not give the game away--yet. There would be
plenty of time when Madame Desterre began to show her hand.

"A very mysterious affair," he said as the car rolled along, and the
lights of London began to twinkle in the distance. "Very cleverly
planned, too. Those people are evidently educated, they use the latest
methods. The chloroforming of the Princess----"

"You really think that they used an anaesthetic of some kind, doctor?"

"I am absolutely certain of it. I see scores of my patients under the
influence of one every week. The yellowish-white colour of the face, the
slight contraction of the pupils of the eyes. That shows the first stage
of chloroform poisoning. In the last the pupils are dilated, but then,
of course, the patient is comatose. The drug was administered by
somebody quite up to his work."

Ninon yawned, as if the conversation had no further interest for her.
She would go out of her way if he liked, and put him down by his own
door. But Gilray preferred to walk. He was not tired, and he wanted to
think. He was still thinking as he let himself into the house and
switched on the lights in his study.

"Now what does it all mean?" he asked himself. "What is it for? And
where do all those other people come in? And what became--by Jove! it
never occurred to me before. Where on earth did Vorley vanish to, and
what became of him?"




CHAPTER XV.--HARLEY ASKS A FAVOUR.


Following the disappearance of Van der Knoot's miniatures, the loss of
Princess Helena's diamonds created something like a sensation of dismay.
It had, of course, been impossible to keep the matter private, there are
far too many society people dabbling in journalism to make such a thing
practicable. The first edition of the evening papers had the news
displayed with a score or so of 'scare heads.' There was not one of the
journals but had its special account by 'one who was present.' A great
many of them had also reached the theory stage.

According to one writer this was the work of a daring and audacious gang
of international thieves. The diamonds had vanished in the capacious maw
that had swallowed the miniatures. The police 'already had a clue.'
According to another authority, this latest outrage was a political move
on the part of certain foreign revolutionists to obtain possession of
what they rightly or wrongly regarded as crown jewels that had
disappeared when their country became a republic.

Gilray read these accounts with a tolerating smile. He knew perfectly
well that the police had no clue, and that Gillispie was as much in the
dark as anybody else. Could Madame Desterre have thrown any light on the
mystery? he wondered. Had she anything to do with the disappearance of
the glittering stones? But then the Princess would hardly be a party to
the disappearance of her own gems. Still, there was that mystery of the
'Blue Anchor' to be accounted for. The Princess was in that. Whatever
secrets Ninon Desterre had, the Princess certainly shared them. Some
day, when he could spare the time, Gilray made up his mind to
investigate the 'Blue Anchor' business. Here was emphatically a case
where knowledge was power. Desperately situated as he was, the truth
might mean something very substantial in the way of money.

And heaven only knew he wanted money badly enough. No sooner was he out
of one difficulty that he was up to his neck in another. Directly one
hydra head was cut off two more seemed to grow in the same place. He
must find some way to see Enid Harley again, the good impression must
not be allowed to fade away. It was something gained that he had formed
a compact with Enid. True, Geoffrey Herepath was in the way, but Gilray
knew how to get rid of him. It almost looked as if the fates were
playing into his hands. Yes, he must in some way gain the freedom of the
house at Poplar.

He worked on till late in the afternoon, taking his cases almost
mechanically. It was past four before he had finished and was free to do
as he pleased. He was glad that he had no engagement for this evening,
so that he could retire early after the fatigue and excitement of the
previous night. He was snatching a hasty cup of tea when his solicitor
was announced.

"Take a cup too, Barker," he said. "Is there anything fresh?"

The dapper man of law helped himself to tea and toast.

"Nothing good," he said. "Why didn't you come and see me as promised?
Or, at any rate, you could have telephoned me. Smith's people are very
nasty. They say that there is no reliance to be placed on your promises.
And, upon my word, you have tried their patience. They decline to
withdraw that bankruptcy petition unless they have a thousand by
Saturday. If you don't want to find yourself gazetted you must find it."

"But, my dear fellow, it's out of the question," Gilray said irritably.
"I couldn't do it. There is absolutely nothing that I can put my hands
on. Every stick and stone in this house is mortgaged, even the lease has
been assigned to raise money. You'll have to find some way, Barker.
Bankruptcy would be ruin to me in more ways than one. Nobody would come
to me afterwards. And Smith's is not the only trouble."

"I know it," said Barker gravely. "You have a pressing need for 5000
pounds. Give me that and I can get you six months' breathing time. By
then, with economy, you should have made enough professionally to clear
yourself. But I can do nothing more for the moment. There is not a Jew
in London who would touch your papers. Can't you do a little in the way
of borrowing? You have many rich lady patients who would probably help
you. And I've had letters from some of your constituents in the North. I
understand that strange rumours are flying about."

To all of this Gilray listened moodily. He was feeling dreadfully
helpless and impatient. There was real danger here, and he must face the
fact. An idea took root in his brain; there was just the chance of the
suggestion succeeding.

"I'll think it over," he said. "There is somebody who might...Yes,
I'll go and see her and to-morrow morning I'll let you know how I get
on."

Half an hour later a taxi dropped him at Park Gardens. He was fortunate
in finding Ninon Desterre at home, and equally fortunate to learn that
she was alone. She received him in her own sanctum, pink and gold room
reserved for her intimates. She looked fresh and charming as ever, there
was no suggestion on her smooth cheek or in her clear eyes that she and
sleep had been strangers for a night or more.

"Do you know I was half expecting you," she said as she pushed over the
silver cigarette box. "You have come to make terms with me. You have
come to tell me that no longer are you going to interfere with my plans
for the happiness of a certain lady."

"I am to do you a favour, eh?" Gilray said with a wry smile. "Well,
perhaps! But in this cold and selfish world very few of us do good kind
things for nothing. It was nice of you to give me an opening, so I'll
come to the point without delay. Have you ever done any gambling?"

"My dear man, my whole life is a gamble," Ninon said coolly. "How true
it is that one half the world does not know how the other half lives!
Have you anything promising? Anything that one could make a fortune out
of without risk?"

"I've not found it yet," Gilray said. "On the contrary, I have been most
shockingly unlucky lately. I have been compelled to give everything as
security to certain people. Of course, I am still making a good income.
But I am in urgent need of a considerable sum of ready money. I want to
borrow 5000 pounds."

"You don't say so," Ninon remarked demurely. "It is a remarkable
coincidence, but I know exactly a score of people who are in precisely
the same predicament. My clear, clever optimist, do you suggest me as
your Chancellor of the Exchequer?"

"I thought that perhaps you could find the money, Madame Desterre."

"Oh, you did! I am greatly obliged by the compliment. It is so
flattering! And now, behold, I will proceed to be as candid as yourself.
I have no money. I never had half that sum in my life. Like the birds, I
live on the grubs and the odds and ends that Providence finds day by
day. Farther than that I give no details. But I might raise the money
for you at a price."

"I am prepared to pay pretty handsomely," Gilray whispered. "May I hear
the terms?"

"Oh, we are a long way yet from the question of terms. I may fail
altogether. If you really are in earnest you must make me a promise."

"I will do my best, Madame. Tell me what that promise is."

Ninon's manner changed suddenly. The smile left her face, she looked
hard and serious.

"Put that silly marriage dream out of your mind," she said. "Think no
more of a certain girl who shall be nameless. Believe me, I am acting as
your friend in giving you this advice. It can only end in trouble and
disaster. Now think over what I said and come to me again in a day or
two. If you pledge your word and are still in the same mind--Ah, my dear
Lady Blessister, how are you? I have not seen you for ages."

She was the old Ninon again in the presence of a suddenly appearing
visitor. She seemed to have forgotten everything but the frivolity of
the moment. Gilray slipped away a moment later, and walked home with no
other company than his moody thoughts. He told himself he was not going
to be tricked in this way--he would not turn back where Enid Harley was
concerned.

He ate his solitary dinner, making up his mind that he would not go out
that night, but would retire early. He had meant to tell his man to take
the receiver off the telephone so that be should not be disturbed.
Confound it, there was the wretched thing trilling away now! In an angry
mood, Gilray crossed the hall, and put the receiver to his ear.

"Yes, I am Dr. Gilray," he said. "You can speak freely. Nobody can
hear."

"I am Daniel Harley," a hoarse voice responded. "You came here a night
or two ago in your professional capacity. It so happens that I have need
of your services again...What? Oh, yes, to-night. You will be well
paid. Eh? Oh, there will be no trouble about that. My daughter will meet
you at Shadwell Station, and conduct you here on foot. Somebody shall
see you part of the way home. Can you come now?"

Gilray demurred for an instant. It was the proper professional thing to
do. But not for a second did he really hesitate. Here in his grasp was
the opportunity for which he had been so strenuously longing. Ah! he
would show Ninon Desterre now what it was to play with him. He would
carry his scheme to success, and laugh at the finish in the face of the
clever Frenchwoman.

"It is rather late," he said, "but I fancy I can manage it. Give me just
a moment to refer to my book...Are you there? Yes. I'll come, Mr.
Harley. I find that I can get to Shadwell Station in about half an hour.
For the present, good-night."

Here at last was Shadwell Station, and here also was Enid, patiently
waiting. Her lovely face flushed as she caught sight of Gilray. Just for
a moment he held her hand in his. There was no mistaking the admiration
in his eyes.

"This is quite an unexpected pleasure," he murmured. "Is it very far
from here to your house?"

Keeping step with his fair guide Gilray excited himself to please. He
was sufficiently clever to keep off personal topics. Scrupulously he
made no allusion to the compact between them. He saw presently as they
walked along that Enid had relaxed her guard, that she was disposed to
be grateful for his attentions. She was smiling now, and a pink flush
was on her cheeks. Gilray chuckled to himself. He was making headway all
right, and he would know how to remove the big obstacle from his path
when the time was ripe for it.

Anyway, for him the time passed all too quickly. It appeared only a
matter of minutes before the dark old house was reached, and Gilray
found himself once more face to face with Daniel Harley. He did not care
now whether the secretive old man with the hooked nose and the piercing
eyes was rich or not. It seemed to him that he was fiercely anxious to
get Enid, even if she came to him without a penny.

"Sit down," the old man said. "Sit where I can see your face. Enid, my
child, you may leave us. If I want you I will ring the bell. Now then,
doctor, we are alone, and there is very little chance of our being
disturbed. You are in need of a large sum of money?"

Gilray stammered before the sudden attack in his question. The words had
been shot at him as if they had formed part of some deadly accusation.

"Why not?" he stammered. "There are very few people who do not want
money. I certainly am not one of the few."

The old man gesticulated impatiently. He leant forward, his eyes
gleaming like a cat's. He laid a yellow claw with a quivering grip in it
on Gilray's arm.

"Shall I show you how to earn it?" he croaked. "Shall I show you how to
make the money you want so badly?"




CHAPTER XVI.--A SPORTING CHANCE


Gilray thought hard as he looked at Daniel Harley. So these people were
thieves, after all. Nobody but a criminal with some shady proposition
would have approached a man in this way. In ordinary circumstances, as a
man of reputation, Gilray would have risen to his feet and left the
house without another word. There was no occasion to tell him that
Daniel Harley was going to make some dishonourable proposal. The very
attitude of the miser was eloquent of that, the furtive glance, the
hoarse whisper, all were so many signs that something underhand was
intended.

Gilray hesitated. He knew perfectly well that he was not to be permitted
to obtain this money he needed by legitimate means. People do not
scatter sums of five thousand pounds as one scatters crumbs for the
birds. Neither was such a sum as this to be gained by the performance of
any ordinary undertaking.

Harley's suggestion would be a criminal one, without a doubt. There was
danger ahead. But then, argued Gilray to himself, would the danger be
any greater than the peril he stood in at that moment? So far as he was
personally concerned, bankruptcy was only a shade better than gaol. He
would have to trust to his own cleverness for a way out of the trouble.
And he was going to be paid 5000 pounds. Much satisfaction lay in that.

Also, he remembered, Harley knew all about him, Harley knew how terribly
he was pressed for money, or he would not have made the suggestion he
did. Harley was waiting now for him to speak, watching him with eyes
that never wavered.

"You seem to take a flattering interest in my welfare," Gilray said at
last. "You assume that I am in urgent need of 5000 pounds. Did you
invite me down here to tell me so?"

"Nothing of the kind," Harley said, angrily. "Do you expect to gain
anything by fencing with me? Would you have come here had you not
expected to benefit by your visit? I tell you there are those of us in
London who know everybody's business. Or can know it if there is need.
Let us suppose that a man came here to me for a loan, I mean to arrange
for a loan from the gentleman who employs me."

"I understand," Gilray sneered. "I also have had costly experiences at
the hands of the money-lenders. I know all the Shibboleths. I never yet
met a man who advanced money himself--there was always somebody behind
him. You are not exactly dealing with a fool, Mr. Harley. What do you
want? Speak plainly, and let us have no humbug."

Harley turned to his desk with a snarl. Furtively unlocking a drawer he
produced a pocket-book, and extracted a packet of Bank of England notes.
They crackled unsteadily in his yellow, tremulous fingers.

"There," he said. "Take them and count them for yourself. You will find
that there are fifty notes for a hundred each. Good paper of the
Governor and Company of the Bank of England, every bit of it. No
suggestion of forgery there, what? No, not yet. Hand them back to me for
the moment. Their destiny lies in your hands. Regard me as the principal
in this matter if you like. Now, are you ready to deal with me?"

"Perhaps. It all depends upon what you require me to do."

"Not so very much, after all. Take one of those cigarettes. You will
find them good, even to your fastidious taste. A cup of coffee? Here it
is, all ready, made by myself from berries specially imported. A
liqueur? What do you say to brandy of 1820? All you have to do is to
ask, and there it is. In the days when I wore the Queen's uniform, and
the Household Brigade were--I'll go and get that brandy."

The old man checked his speech as if fearful that he was saying too
much. He shuffled out, leaving the door open behind him.

"Make yourself at home for ten minutes," he called out. "I have to open
one of my bins at the back of the cellar, and that takes time."

Gilray nodded absently. There were many things to admire in that
strange, dirty old room, with its faded curtains and shabby carpet.
There were pictures of price on the walls, and for the moment the
worried surgeon forgot his forebodings and troubles in examining them.
As he stood near the door studying an old master he was conscious of
voices close by. Surely it was Enid Harley who was speaking.
Instinctively he looked across the dim hall to a room on the far side,
where a lamp was burning. The door was open, and he saw plainly into the
lighted chamber.

He started, and something like an oath escaped him as his eyes fell upon
two people there. As he had surmised, one of them was Enid Harley. The
other figure, equally familiar, was Geoffrey Herepath. The latter was
leaning on the mantelpiece, his eyes shaded by his hand. His attitude
was one of utter dejection.

"You have been very foolish, Geoffrey," Enid said, tenderly. Her accent
was low and caressing; there was no mistaking the affection in her eyes.

Gilray saw one of her slender arms moved forward and placed gently on
Herepath's shoulder. Well, he would find a way to stop all this before
long. He had Geoffrey Herepath's future in the hollow of his hand. He
could drive a wedge between these two which would part them for ever.

As a gentleman he should have turned his back upon them, should have
declined to listen any longer. But some strange fascination kept his
attention fixed. The demon of jealousy was driving him on. He was doing
a thing now that a year ago he would have scorned.

Herepath turned from the fireplace and caught the girl in his arms.
Gilray could see her hands seeking his shoulders, her lips responding to
his. He watched with something like murder rising in his heart. Oh,
anything to stop this; he would do anything!

"I couldn't help, it," Herepath was saying. "I had to go on. I went to
Dr. Gilray, and he examined my eyes. He told me to give up all kinds of
desk work, and that I was not to look at a plan for some time. But what
can I do? I have more than one rival treading close upon my heels. That
scoundrelly assistant of mine nearly betrayed me. And there was one
little flaw in my invention that kept me awake at night. I was tossing
about on my bed when the solution came to me like an inspiration. I
forgot all about my eyes. I forgot everything but the fact that I had
found what I had long sought. I have been working at those drawings ever
since. Yes, up to an hour or so ago. And now the thing is perfect."

"And you have perhaps done yourself irreparable damage, Geoffrey."

"Possibly. For the time being I was mad. I was not responsible for my
actions. As soon as I had drawn the last line my sight failed me.
Everything was black as night. I was in the most intense darkness. It
did not last for half an hour, and yet to me it was an eternity. That is
why I came to you directly that horrible mist cleared away. I had to
have somebody's loving sympathy. I dreaded my own company. If I could
only have had another week I should have been safe. My plans would have
been beyond the reach of my rivals. I should be duly protected by the
law. Only one little week, but what a difference it would have made! A
year from now and I could have taken you away from here. But it is no
use to talk of this, now that I fear the mischief is done. I shall go to
Gilray again the day after tomorrow and get my verdict."

The despair of Herepath's last words was eloquent. They betrayed that
deep down in his mind he had a strong conviction as to his future
prospects. Gilray's jealous glare was slow and cruel as he stood there
in the shadow watching the scene in the room opposite.

"Oh, don't talk like that," Enid cried. "Fate could not be so cruel.
Surely you have not hopelessly injured your sight. At the very worst it
can only mean a few months of enforced idleness. They say that Dr.
Gilray is one of the cleverest oculists in England, that there is nobody
quite like him. He will surely put you right, Geoffrey."

Herepath stooped to kiss the quivering red lips.

"I'm afraid I am talking like a coward," he said. "But just now my
nerves are badly shaken, and I have slept but poorly lately. If only I
could find somebody I could trust! My dear girl, if I hear the worst I
shall never come near you again."

"Geoffrey! As if that could make any difference. How cruel of you to
think so. I should come to you, I should refuse to stay. Nobody could
keep you from me."

Her voice trailed away in a whisper as Harley's shuffling feet were
heard in the passage. Then the door of the room opposite was pushed to,
and Gilray heard and saw no more. Well, he had heard enough. He knew all
about the game now, and it seemed to him that the best cards were his.
There was a thin smile of triumph on his lips as Harley came into the
room hugging a bottle covered with a thick cake of dust and cobwebs.

"There!" he croaked. "Give me the corkscrew. What do you think of that
for brandy? Note the aroma of it, the exquisite bouquet. See how it
trickles into the glass like drops of oil. Drink it and confess that you
have never before tasted anything like it. Cigarette good?"

"I never smoked a better," Gilray said. "They are of a brand made only
for epicures and multi-millionaires. And the coffee is nectar for the
gods. Let me compliment you on the excellence of your taste, Mr. Harley.
Your youth must have been a well-trained one."

Harley gave vent to a low chuckle. His wrinkled features were twisted in
a smile.

"Never mind my youth," he said. "Yes, I have heard the chimes at
midnight. And now let us get to business. I am not likely to detain you
long."

"I am all attention, Mr. Harley. What is it that you want?"

"Let me put my suggestion in the way of a story," Harley said. "I got it
from a very clever tale I read the other day. It was all about an
ambitious barrister, who, like you, was a member of Parliament. Like you
he was up to his ears in debt, and to carry the similitude further, he
also represented a Puritan constituency. He got into the hands of a
clever capitalist, who was fighting an action over some mines. If the
capitalist won, it meant millions to him. If he lost, he would be
ruined. And this barrister, who was fighting the case for the other
side, knew where the capitalist's weak spot lay. He had only to ask
certain questions, and the capitalist was--well--done for. If, on the
other hand, he omitted to ask those questions, the capitalist was an
easy winner. It was in appearance, all a matter of judgment. If the
barrister failed to ask these particular questions it would be merely
assumed that he had taken a wrong line of policy. But, and this is the
crucial point, the barrister knew that if he did ask those questions,
the capitalist could ruin him body and soul. The price of silence was
ten thousand pounds."

"And what did he do?" Gilray asked. "Did he sell his brief!"

"What does it matter whether he sold it or not?" Harley said
impatiently. "What does it matter how the story ended? It is the
possibility of such a position between two men that I want to drive
home. Suppose now that I want to prove that on a certain day it was
physically impossible for me to have written a certain letter. Suppose I
put you in the witness-box to prove that physical inability on my part.
I call you as an expert medical witness. You swear that on the day in
question, at the hour in question, I was in your consulting-room...That
is all. There were fifty hundred pound notes in that bundle you looked
at, I think?"

Gilray started. His mind worked quickly, he was beginning to understand.
Here was a service of no great risk, for which the price would be an
uncommonly good one. But why should it not be a bigger price still?

"It is not the money so much that I need," he said solemnly. "Mr.
Harley, you have a daughter."

Harley's eyes blazed, the devil of murder danced in them, his fists
clenched.

"Go on!" he said hoarsely. "Go on, doctor. I have a daughter. Don't be
afraid to speak."




CHAPTER XVII.--A GREAT INVENTION.


It was indeed hard for Geoffrey Herepath to realise the full measure of
his misfortune. But a little time before he had seen his way clear to
the goal of his ambition. He had all the sanguine outlook of the
inventor, but he had never been a mere dreamer of dreams, had never
wasted his time and intelligence on Utopian speculation. His was a
strongly practical nature, and it was always the working value of the
machine that appealed to him.

Machinery! New and ingenious devices for the saving of labour,
contrivances that turned waste material into articles of commerce! In
these things he saw the way to fortune, to the employment of thousands
of hands, to power in the country, to an honoured name amongst men. All
these prizes of life Herepath would, he felt, be able to lay at Enid
Harley's feet!

So, at least it had seemed to him but a little time before. A week or
two longer and he would be able to show the world how to make new rubber
from old. He was going to take the worn-out article and restore all its
uses and elasticity. This he could do with the aid of his wonderful
machine. He wanted but a little time to enable him to convince the
commercial world that his project was good, a little time in which to
remedy one or two minor mechanical defects, which he alone could detect.

He was certain these defects would disappear if a slight change could be
made in the mechanism, and in his mind's eye he had seen exactly what to
do. It meant a few hours of close unceasing application to the drawing
board, and then his machine would be perfect.

But now a cloud had arisen that dimmed all his hopes. It was impossible
for him to do the needful work in the present condition of his eyes,
almost beyond his power to make out the letters of a newspaper. He had
never needed his sight as he needed it at this moment. There was not a
soul in the world able to perform his task for him, no one to whom he
could explain the factors that would bring success. To attempt to do so
might be to give his secret away. Suppose Gilray's final verdict was the
one that in his heart he feared it would be. Suppose he was told that he
was never to touch a drawing board again! That he was going blind!

Then indeed all his hopes would be dashed for ever. His cherished
invention would never be perfected by himself; he would have to get what
he could for the idea. There were a few small things, his patent
time-lock, for instance, which might bring him in enough to live on, but
the big thing would have to go, and with it all that he had striven for.

"It is only a rest that you need," his sister said soothingly. "Surely
Dr. Gilray would have told you earlier had the case been so serious.
Don't fret, Geoffrey."

"My dear Blanche, I am doing my best to control myself," Geoffrey said.
"But do you, can you, really understand how much for me depends upon the
next few days?"

Blanche Herepath hoped that she did. She was a dreamer of dreams in her
way, but then her dreams were artistic ones. She was doing fairly well
with some of the magazines as a black-and-white artist, yet she hated
London as bitterly as one of her sweet and gentle nature could hate
anything. She had seen her mother pine and die there for want of means
to get away into the country she so loved and missed. And now there was
Geoffrey to be looked after. Somebody had to oversee domestic affairs in
the little house in West Kensington, and who could better do it than
Geoffrey's sister? He would marry some of these days, of course, and
then she would be free to take that old world cottage at Walton Heath
that she had for many a long day so coveted. She had her own little
romance, too, but she did not intrude it, for it had ever been Blanche's
way to keep herself in the background.

"I am sure everything will come all right," she said. "What does Enid
say? And why has she not been to see me for such a long time?"

"Her father keeps her close at home. And such a home. It is as much for
Enid's sake as anything else that I am so anxious regarding the future.
I want to get her away from that dreadful house. Some strange mystery
hangs about it, and it is no place, I am convinced, for a young innocent
girl like Enid. What is wrong there I have not asked her. Nor do I think
she herself knows. I was called in professionally to do certain work,
which I should probably have declined had I not met Enid there. As it
is, I feel very uneasy in my mind over it. What do they want all those
elaborate electric alarms and devices in that shabby old house? It is
not as if old Daniel Harley were a rich man. He continually complains of
his poverty, yet he has spent great sums on these electric contrivances,
and his strange visitors at times. If I would keep a wife in any
anything like comfort, I should ask Enid to marry me to-morrow. That is,
of course, if there is nothing really very much the matter with my eyes.

"You have probably overstrained them," Blanche suggested. "Why don't you
put your work on one side altogether for a week or two? Why not go into
the country and rest? Even the strongest of us needs a change
sometimes."

Geoffrey shook his head impatiently. Women never understood these
things.

"It is utterly impossible," he said. "I have a most important
appointment this very morning with a capitalist who is coming to the
shop in Long Acre to see my rubbish converter. He is to see some
worn-out rubbish of his own made over again into veritable new rubber. I
shall not tell him that I am unable just now to work continuously,
because I've got it all set in my head, and if I could only see
properly, could surmount all the difficulties in a few days. I do but
need to alter the machinery slightly. And once that is done, I am the
master of millions. Do you understand--millions!"

Blanche sighed quietly. These ambitions of her brother had been the
source of all the mischief. He had been warned against continuing this
night work, from which he would not stay away. And now he was paying the
penalty of his rashness.

"I must be off at once," Herepath exclaimed as he reached for his coat.
"I had no idea that it was so late. Oh, no, you need not come with me. I
can get about the streets all right. I can see well enough for that. It
is only when I come to read or work that everything goes black before
me. Ta-ta! Perhaps by this time to-morrow I shall be more cheerful.
Though I must confess I dread seeing Gilray."

Herepath put his troubles out of his mind as he turned into Long Acre,
and entered the old carriage works where he conducted his experiments.
He had a few trained mechanics on the premises, but no personal
assistant. He did not believe in letting anybody share his secrets. He
had had more than one possible fortune wrested from him by tricky
associates, and did not intend that it should happen again. He was the
keen inventor now with a critical eye for the machine, the child of his
brain, that stood in the centre of the floor.

It was small and compact, and, to the casual eye, might have seemed a
little cheap, with nothing out-of-the-way about it. But inside that
brass case Herepath had worked miracles. He had summoned hitherto
unknown powers of electricity to his aid, and the response had been
marvellous. There was apparently no heat nor smell nor friction about
the mechanism, nothing but a steady whirr of wheels, a feeding of the
brazen monster with waste-heap scraps of old perished india-rubber, and
the belching out at the other end of dark grey cubes identical in every
way with the raw, resilient high-priced rubber of commerce.

Herepath watched the converting process with grim satisfaction. It could
be done successfully upon a small scale, but what he needed, and what
the trade needed, was a means of doing it in large quantities at a price
to successfully compete with the fresh article. Give Herepath the full
use of his eyes and a drawing board, and he was sure he could alter
things to cut the cost of conversion, and make his machine a gigantic
commercial success within a week. As he was fixed he was a like a man
armed with a powerful weapon, and at the same time deprived of the use
of his hands.

He was still watching the smooth working of the process when a stranger
came into the workshop and accosted him. The newcomer, a short and
dapper man, looked at Herepath with a shrewd pair of eyes, whose
keenness was partly hidden by the glasses he was wearing.

"I'm a little late," the newcomer said, "and I cannot give you more than
half an hour. I have been speaking to one or two of my capitalist
friends about the machine, and think that I have succeeded in
interesting them. I have no money of my own for the process--I make it a
rule never to touch any patent."

"I have heard the argument before, Mr. Brigden," Herepath said drily.
"More money lost in patents than in mines; and all the other stock
phrases are old familiar frauds. As a matter of fact, the prosperity of
Britain has been built up on patents. You have only to go to Yorkshire
and Lancashire to see that. Oh, I admit that patents are kittle cattle
to deal with. Mine, however, is quite out of the ordinary, and would be
hard to infringe. Shall we put your stuff through?"

The other nodded. He was no mean judge in matters concerning rubber. At
a sign from Herepath one of the workmen came forward with a great bale
of stuff, which bore in the corner the impression of half a dozen seals
in red wax.

"Better see that the seals are intact before you open the sack,"
Herepath suggested. "Perhaps you would like to feed the stuff into the
hopper yourself, Mr. Brigden."

Brigden signified that he would be quite content to watch one of the
hands do this. At the same time, it might be just as well perhaps to
have a look at the inside of the machine in case anything had been
placed there. Capitalists were shy and suspicious people, and Brigden
would be better pleased if he could convince them that everything had
been shown to him, and that the demonstration was entirely open and
above board.

"I was about to make the same suggestion myself," Herepath said. "See
here."

He raised the brass flaps from the sides of the machine, and disclosed
its strange interior. There were queer rods and fans, and something,
resembling a glass disc, which things Herepath was well aware could
convey nothing of the real secret to the looker-on. With a wave of his
hand Brigden intimated that he was perfectly satisfied.

A moment later and the machinery began to move. Then the contents of the
huge sack disappeared in the hopper, and in a few seconds the grey cubes
commenced to fall from the shoot at the further end of the machine. In a
few minutes the whole operation was complete, and Brigden was standing
in wonder carefully examining the result of the experiment.

"Absolutely marvellous," he said. "This seems to be the real stuff. And
done apparently without chemicals of any kind. I'll take some of the
product with me, and put it through some practical tests. If it comes
out all right, as I feel convinced it will, you shall at once hear from
me again. We ought to have a company with a capital of at least a
million, and mills all over the world. Meanwhile, of course, you will
not mention this business to anybody else."

"You may rely upon that," Herepath said. "I shall be glad of a few days
to myself, for there are one or two little improvements I want to make,
especially in the feed."

Brigden bustled out and went his way. But, though he had overstayed his
time, he no longer seemed to be in any violent hurry. He walked slowly
and thoughtfully along till he came to his office in Cheapside, and
entered his private room. There he threw himself down in his chair, and
seemed utterly lost to the busy city life around him.

"The old ruffian was right," he muttered. "Right, as he always is. Now I
wonder what his little game is this time. Shall I tell him the truth, or
try to work without him?"

His musings were interrupted by the entrance of a clerk. "Mr. Daniel
Harley has rung up, sir," he said. "He wants you to go over to him
without delay. He will be waiting for you."

"Very well," said Brigden quietly, dismissing the man with a nod. But as
he picked up his hat and went out to obey Harley's summons, he clenched
his teeth and swore softly to himself.




CHAPTER XVIII.--"THE SENTENCE OF THE COURT."


We left Daniel Harley and Dr. Gilray engaged in a brisk battle of wits
in a miser's study in that strange old house by the riverside.

After Gilray's pointed allusion to the fact that Harley had a daughter,
and his thinly-veiled hint that she might be part of the price he should
require for any risky business he was asked to undertake, the two men
faced each other for some time in silence.

It was as though each was trying to read the other's thoughts. But both
were wearing their usual inscrutable business masks, and neither found
any advantage accrue from that silent scrutiny.

"Go on," Harley croaked at last. "Go on, young man. You are here with
some project in your mind."

"I came because you sent for me, sir. I must ask you to remember that."

"True, true," Harley muttered. "Still, all the same, you were not sorry
for the opportunity, eh? You are young, also ambitious, and--poor as a
rat. If you could get on your legs again, you might go very far indeed.
Is that the reason you want to marry my child?"

Gilray made no reply for a moment, He was wondering what line to pursue
with the cunning old man. Perhaps it would be best to be absolutely
candid.

"At first it was," he said coolly enough, "I came here quite by accident
to begin with, and I concluded that you were a man of considerable
means."

"You are making it your business to find out," Harley sneered.

"No, I am not making it my business to find out, sir. If I did, I very
much doubt if I should be successful. I am prepared to take the risk of
mistake. After I met your daughter, it seemed to me that my chance had
come. Now that I have seen more of Miss Harley I am prepared to make her
my wife, even if you could convince me that you do not possess a
shilling to your name."

"The young man is in love," Harley cried. "Generously in love. So you
have not so much caution as I imagined. And suppose I have nothing?
Suppose my daughter must marry a man who can keep her? Are you that man?
You who might be a bankrupt at any moment. Still, you seemed to be in
earnest."

"I am," Gilray said grimly. "Give me my opportunity, and I'll ask you
for no money."

All this time the dark, glittering eyes of the old man had been
regarding Gilray searchingly. There was a sinister light in them as the
conversation proceeded. Gilray had a rather uneasy feeling that Harley
was playing with him, that in some way he was at the miser's mercy.

"All roads lead to Rome," the old man quoted. "But there are a goodly
number, and it is possible to travel them in many different ways. I know
that my daughter is beautiful and fascinating. I also know that she is
good and pure. Others are aware of the fact, too. I have tried to keep
my child to myself, but that has proved a task beyond my power. To
revert to metaphor again, does it not occur to you that you are not the
only pebble on the beach?"

The name of Geoffrey Herepath was on Gilray's lips, but he stayed its
utterance just in time.

"In other words; I have a rival," he suggested.

"Precisely. You have a rival, and a dangerous one. At least he thinks
so. And I am rather afraid that my poor little girl is very fond of him.
But he has me to deal with."

Harley broke off, and shook a yellow hand at some imaginary foe. His
eyes were gleaming again, his brows were knitted in a frown.

"I must try to keep my temper," he muttered. "I am too given to these
sudden outbreaks." Then he continued: "When I found out what was going
on I could have killed the man. He was recommended me by a friend. They
told me he was a mechanical genius. To give him his due, so he is. I
paid him well for the work he did, and dismissed him. I wanted nobody
prying about here. He came again and again, and I was fortunate enough
to see--well--never mind that."

"You mean that Mr.--I mean the man did not come to you openly?"

"Just so," the old man snarled. "Oh, I know the lover's formula in such
cases. 'I am poor, darling, and your wealthy father would spurn my
suit.' 'I am young and clever, and I shall be rich some of these early
days.' 'Let us keep our secret till that day comes, and then I can claim
the right to marry you before all the world.' My dear Doctor Gilray, it
is the kind of thing that no young girl can resist. At first I was going
to say what I had noticed. I was going to command my daughter to think
no more of this man. That is, of course, the way fathers do it on the
stage."

The old man paused, and a sinister smile hovered about the corners of
his mouth. Then he went on:

"Now that stage-father method is exactly the one to bring about the very
opposite to the result you require. Nobody can be answerable for the
vagaries of the persecuted heroine. So I just watch and say nothing. I
just go on in ignorance. But I bide my time. Doctor Gilray, I bide my
time. I'll ruin that fellow yet."

"Suppose I could ruin him for you and save you the trouble?" Gilray
suggested with eagerness in his tone.

The cigarette that Harley was smoking dropped from his fingers, and lay
unheeded on the table. The old man seemed to be utterly taken aback. It
was as though it had suddenly occurred to him that he was up against an
intellect as keen as his own, that he was dealing with a fellow mind
utterly selfish and unscrupulous.

"Do you happen to know the name of the man?" he asked.

"I do," Gilray replied. "No matter where the information came from, but
I have it. Should I be far wrong in suggesting that you have some other
motive for injuring Geoffrey Herepath apart from his presumption in
making love to your daughter? One has these little intuitions, you
know."

The old man picked up his cigarette again. He writhed and wriggled in
his chair, shaking from head to foot with a noiseless mirth not pleasant
to see. Gilray would have given a good deal to know what was the
mainspring of it all.

Harley suddenly grew grave.

"You are correct," he said. "You are a remarkable young man, and I am
sorry that we have not met before. You recognise the fact that you have
a powerful rival in Geoffrey Herepath. So much the better. All is fair
in love and war, you know. You have some idea in your head that you can
get rid of your rival?"

"I can sweep him from my path, as I could sweep away a fly," Gilray
exclaimed. "I gather that you would be glad to see me do so. But you
have other motives beyond a mere desire to give a presumptuous young man
a severe lesson. What is the motive?"

"If I am convinced that your boast is correct," Harley said, "I might
confide it to you."

"Then be assured that I can make my boast good. I can do it by
lunch-time to-morrow. But at a price. I have nothing to convince me as
yet that I am not merely a tool in your hands, and that when I have
served your purpose I shall be cast aside like an old glove. You see
your way to benefit materially by the suppression of Herepath. A man
like you would take no real risks for anything but money."

"You are vastly polite to me in my own house," Harley growled.

"Because it is just as well to be candid. The first thing I want is your
daughter. I am taking the risk of her coming to me with empty hands. On
the other hand, I can help you in your scheme against Herepath. In this
matter our interests are identical. But that is no reason why I should
do all the work and you get all the plunder. This invention of
Herepath's----"

Harley started. A cry escaped him. It was a bow drawn at a venture, but
the arrow had gone home. Like a flash Gilray saw the way clear before
him.

"It is a game that two can play at," he said. "Did you flatter yourself
that you were the only man that had heard of Herepath's great
invention?"

It was bluff of the purest kind, but Harley cunningly swallowed it. His
manner assured Gilray that there really was a great invention somewhere,
that it did not exist merely in the inventor's imagination, and that the
old miser knew all about it, and was, moreover, planning at this moment
to get hold to it. Once Herepath was out of the way, the thing was done.
But this was not so easy as it looked. The one man who could do it
successfully--and safely--was he, Gilray, and if he was to take a hand
in this conspiracy, he was going to get his price.

"I can do it," he whispered. "I can render Herepath as good as dead. The
thing can be finished before the hands of the clock go round again. The
one question is: How much?"

Harley appeared to be chewing something rapidly. Here was a problem that
required careful consideration. Before he could reply, the door of the
sitting-room burst open and a little man came hurriedly in.

"It's good!" he cried; "It's perfect! There's a million in it. Herepath
is a genius. He----"

The speaker paused, seeing for the first time that Harley was not alone.
He stammered some apology.

"Glad to see you, Brigden," Harley said. "I have been expecting you all
day. You can speak quite freely before Doctor Gilray, who is by way of
being my partner in this business. So you have seen Herepath's
invention, and are quite satisfied that it is all he claims for it? Now
tell us everything!"

Brigden proceeded to explain. He was wildly enthusiastic. If this
invention were placed in the hands of one or two keen men of business
there would be literally millions in it. And Herepath had pledged his
word to approach nobody else. Brigden was still discoursing eloquently
after he had smoked two cigarettes. If anything was to be done, then it
should be done without the slightest delay. Harley held up a hand for
silence.

"That will do," he said. "I do not require anybody to teach me my
business. Come back here at the same time to-morrow night, Brigden, and
I will give you my instructions. Meanwhile I have something to say to
Doctor Gilray that is for his private ear alone. You understand?"

Brigden accepted the hint and departed meekly enough. No sooner had the
door closed on him than Harley turned to his companion with a fierce
energy all his own.

"You heard all that?" he asked. "Now can you do what you promised? If
you can come back to me with proofs of your success there is a cheque
for you for 10,000 pounds. And far more to follow. Now, don't tell me
your scheme but go and carry it out. And now I'll see you part of the
way home."

       *       *       *       *       *

The morning after his momentous interview with Harley, Gilray was
feeling decidedly easier in his mind. He had slept well for the first
time for many nights, and he was quite ready for Herepath when the
inventor arrived according to his appointment. Gilray was going to earn
his 10,000 pounds and the big money to follow. With that in his
possession he would be able to look the whole world in the face again.
He would soon now be absolutely rid once for all of a dangerous rival,
would have his path clear to the heart of Enid Harley.

And the whole thing, he told himself, was so ridiculously easy--so easy
and so safe. Even if the conspiracy failed and became known, nobody
could possibly connect him with it. Fortune was on his side at last!

Thinking these things, he turned briskly to Herepath. "Let us get on,"
he said. "Will you remove your clothing as before? Oh, yes, I shall be
able to give you a definite opinion to-day. Don't speak any more now."

At the end of half an hour Herepath struggled into his clothes again. He
was desperately anxious to hear the verdict; he could feel his heart
hammering against his ribs. So much depended on that one word.

"Speak out," he said hoarsely, "and let me hear the best--or worst. What
is it?"

Gilray spoke clearly and distinctly. There was a proper suggestion of
regret in his tone.

"You must give up your work for a year," he said. "I will give you a
prescription for some glasses which you must wear always. You must do
nothing and read nothing--not use your eyes at all, in fact! Moreover,
you must have a complete change. You must go for a long voyage at once."

Herepath gasped as he listened. A wild feeling of anger gripped him.

"But this is ruin," he cried, "absolute ruin! I shall have nothing left
by that time. Can't you patch me up in some way for a week or two? I
must finish my work."

"I'm very sorry," Gilray said, "but it is impossible. If you choose to
go on in defiance of my opinion----"

"Well, go on, man. If I choose to go on?"

Gilray shrugged his shoulders. There was a compassionate tone in his
voice.

"You will bitterly regret it," he said. "I tell you, I am bound to tell
you, that unless you follow my directions to the letter, there can be
only one result. You will be stone blind in three months."




CHAPTER XIX.--AFTER THE VERDICT.


Herepath staggered back before the force of the cruel blow. In his heart
of hearts he had never dreamt of anything quite so bad as this. He
thought that perhaps he might have to wear glasses, would have to be
careful, that his reading would be restricted, but nothing more than
that. He had hoped to get those precious drawings finished a bit at a
time. If he carried out the commands of his doctor he would be compelled
to spend every penny he possessed. On his return to England he would
have to begin the world all over again.

Hitherto he had felt so strong and self-reliant. Now he had a curious
feeling of weakness and utter dependency. He would have to rely on
strangers in future, he would have to trust his fortunes to those whom
he could not even see.

Slowly and gradually the blood crept back to his cheeks again, the
roaring in his cars died away.

"I shall have to keep a dog," he said bitterly. "A dog at the end of a
string."

"It won't be quite as bad as that," Gilray replied. "You will be able to
see your way about when you get accustomed to the glasses that I shall
provide for you. But you will have to follow my directions implicitly.
At the end of a year or so you will probably be quite well again, and
may go back to your great work. You will be able after a time to read
and write in moderation, but I should advise you not to do any
mechanical drawing again. Really, Mr. Herepath, it might be a great deal
worse."

"Oh, it might," Geoffrey said in the same bitter strain. "I might have
lost my sight entirely. I might be reduced to begging my living in the
streets. Well, I'll try to bear up against it. It is fortunate perhaps
that I have a little money by me. What about these glasses?"

Gilray proceeded to write some instructions on a sheet of notepaper.

"This is all you need," he explained. "Take this to Gothard's in the
Strand. I am giving you more or less a stock prescription, so that you
will find yourself suited whilst you wait. Now, there is no occasion for
you to come to me again. All I ask you to do is to implicitly follow my
directions."

Herepath stumbled out of the house, trying hard to get a grip on
himself. So far as he could gather, his eyes seemed better. Either he
was suffering from some delirium, or he was making objects out more
sharply than he had done for some time past. A kind of reaction,
probably. Certainly he was not quite the same. He found his way to the
Strand and obtained his spectacles. His rate of progress was much slower
then. But all the same, that irritating smarting of the eyes had gone.

Well, there was only one thing to be done, and that was to make the best
of the catastrophe. If only he had finished that last set of drawings.
Now, if he was to make anything of the invention, he would have to place
himself in the hands of other people and trust them implicitly. He would
have to make the matter plain to Brigden, and somehow he did not like
Brigden. He would have to make clear to some mechanical draughtsman
exactly what he wanted done, and thus give his precious secret away.

He knew quite well the danger of trusting inventive ideas to outsiders.
A year or two before over another matter he had convinced the head of a
great manufacturing trust that he could save him thousands a year by a
certain ingenious contrivance. The great man was a pillar of his church
and party. He could have had a peerage for the asking. But, great man as
he was, he had not hesitated to take the idea to his own engineers, and
to put them to work upon it. So he made his extra thousands a year, and
blandly told Herepath that there was nothing in the conception. It had
been a bitter lesson to Geoffrey. And he was none the less bitter
because he had found other inventors who had suffered in the same way.
Perhaps the best thing he could do would be to destroy his model and
recent commercial figures and hide his drawings until he came back.

He went on to Brigden's office, and told him everything. Brigden was
superficially sympathetic, as usual. It would be a great nuisance, of
course; but it could not be helped. There was just a suggestion in his
manner that he regarded the trouble as an exaggerated one. Herepath
controlled himself with an effort. "It is only a postponement," he said.
"The invention has not been talked about. Only you and that mysterious
client of yours are in the secret. The machine will not suffer by the
delay."

"That's all very well," was Brigden's reply. "But my client is a hard
nut to crack. Don't forget that you have mortgaged a certain proportion
of your prospective profits to him, and that he has advanced you over a
thousand pounds. Suppose that he refuses to believe what you say, and
suppose he insists upon your going on?"

"But, my dear sir, with my eyes in this perilous state, it is
impossible."

"What strange ideas of business you inventors have," Brigden responded.
"You owe my client this money. From what you tell me, it is possible
that you may lose your sight altogether, and what then? My client drops
his money. The only honourable thing to do is to pass over the machine
to him as it stands, and let him put it into expert hands. I have no
doubt he will pay you your share of the profits. Dash it all, man, you
have had his money. And no fellow, however rich, likes to lose a
thousand pounds. Suppose he cuts up rough."

"It is no fault of mine that my eyes have betrayed me."

"No, but it might easily be your misfortune," Brigden said with an
unmistakable sneer. "My man brings an action against you and recovers
his money, or gets a judgment, which comes to the same thing. You have
no effects, and he makes you a bankrupt. If he does that, your machine
no longer belongs to you, but to your creditors. It is the property of
the official receiver. He will sell the machine for scrap iron, patent
rights and all. And everything goes to the man who buys it."

Herepath bit his lips savagely. The trap was plain now. Nobody would
believe that his patent was any good. It was no use telling people that
there were millions in it. And the purchaser, beyond a doubt, would be
the mysterious client who had advanced the thousand pounds.

"I quite understand," he said, speaking as calmly as possible. It was
useless to fly into a rage. By so doing he would play straight into
Brigden's hands. "Yes, I see now there are two sides to the question. I
am afraid I was only looking at it from my own standpoint. I will see
what can be done. This has been a knockdown blow for me, and I am not
myself yet. I'll call on you again in a day or two."

Brigden rubbed his hands cheerfully. His foxy little eyes twinkled
behind his gold rimmed glasses. It seemed to him that he had
successfully put Herepath in his place. And he had not expected him to
take it quite so calmly. It had been one of the easiest victories in his
twisted career.

"I'm glad you understand," he said. "My dear fellow, you are absolutely
safe with us. But business is business, as you know. Drop in and see me
on Friday at 4 o'clock."

He hold out his hand in token of friendship, and Herepath forced himself
to take it. Whatever happened, he must keep his temper now. It would
never do for this little rascal to find out that he had seen the trap
and the bait inside it. Well, he would know how to act--if he did not
benefit by his invention he would see that nobody else did.

There was one thing more to be done before he returned to his flat to
begin his preparations for the voyage. He would have just enough to take
him on that sea trip and bring him back again. It was fortunate, too,
that Blanche was capable of getting her own living. Harold Gay, the
figure in his sister's quiet romance, would look after her in the
meantime. Now that Gay had obtained that stewardship to the eccentric
Lord Southlands and the control of his estates, he would be asking
Blanche to share his home. But she would never consent if she knew how
really bad her brother's eyes were. For her sake he must make light of
his misfortune. He would have to be cheerful, and declare that the sea
voyage would put him all right again. Perhaps his trip would expedite
matters between Gay and Blanche. He would do his best to help them.

But there was one to whom the bitter truth must be told, and that
without delay. In honour bound he must absolve Enid Harley from her
promise to marry him. She must be freed if only for the time being. If
he came back absolutely cured, and she was still without ties, then it
would be a different matter. But she must give him back that little ring
that she wore as yet about her neck. He would go to Poplar this very
night and see her. He would give her the signal. She would let him into
the house, and he would make a full confession of the trouble.

It was not a difficult matter to see Enid. He followed her along the
dimly-lighted passage to the oak-panelled room, where so many interviews
had taken place. At the sight of his face she grew pale and frightened.

"Geoffrey," she whispered. "Geoffrey, tell me what has happened."

He took her in his arms and kissed her passionately. Then gently but
firmly he put her aside.

"That is for the last time," he said. "My dear girl, you must have
courage and listen to what I say. I have been to see Gilray again. And
he gave me what is practically my sentence of ruin. I am not to use my
eyes for anything but finding my way about. I am not even to read a
poster on a hoarding. And I am to go away for a long voyage. If I do not
follow these directions I shall be stone blind in three months."

"And if you do follow them, dear? Will you get quite well again?"

"I understand so," Herepath said quietly. "But don't you see what it
means, darling? I am practically ruined. By the time I get back to
England I shall have nothing left. I cannot perfect my great invention.
I must hand it over to a man who lent me a thousand pounds. If I don't
do that, I shall be made a bankrupt, and my machine will go to my
creditors. Brigden as good as told me so."

"Brigden," Enid cried. "He is acting for your creditors? I wonder----"

She paused in some slight confusion. Herepath could not see how the
blood flowed into her face.

"Do you know the name of your creditor?" she asked. "But of course you
do."

"Of course, I don't, darling. From the very first he has remained
anonymous. It was his wish that his name should not be mentioned. It
does not matter so far as I am now concerned. I shall know soon enough."

Enid was silent for a time. She looked greatly disturbed and troubled.

"Oh, if you only know how sorry I am for you," she said prettily. "But I
am going to hope for the best, and this trouble shall make no difference
to me. There will never, never be anyone but you, Geoff, dearest, and I
shall not take back my freedom. If I did it would be quite meaningless.
What does Blanche say?"

"Blanche does not know. I am making light of the whole thing to her. If
I did tell her, she would make up her mind to sacrifice her life to me,
and throw Harold Gay over. And Gay has just got the stewardship of the
Southlands estates, that belongs to that eccentric old nobleman that
nobody ever sees."

"What name did you say?" Enid questioned. "Southlands. What an
amazing--but never mind that. Some day perhaps, but go on, dear. It is a
good thing for Blanche. And now that Harold has got that post, you are
anxious for them to marry before they find out how serious your trouble
is. That is very noble of you, dear."

"Is it?" Herepath said dreamily. "It would be very selfish of me to do
anything else. But I did not come to talk of Blanche, but of you."

It was an hour later when Herepath left the house. As the door closed
behind him one of the panels in the wall slid away, and Daniel Harley
crept out. His dry, wrinkled old face was wreathed in smiles, his wicked
dark eyes twinkled with pleasure.

"I can stop that little romance when I like," he chuckled. "Meanwhile
let these two young fools play the game for me. Now, how did Gilray
manage it? What risks did he take? Has he had the nerve to destroy the
eyesight of our brilliant young inventor?"

He chuckled again as he hobbled along to his own room and closed the
door.

"That's it," he said, "Gilray has done it. Done it for the sake of
10,000 pounds. Well, he's earned the money, he's earned his reward all
right. And, by Jove, he shall have it too, the dog, he shall have it."




CHAPTER XX.--SMASH!


Herepath determined that Blanche should not know--at least, not yet--of
his terrible misfortune. There was no need to spoil her life with his
troubles. It would be good at any rate to know that she was provided
for. Harold Gay was a fine fellow, who had had more than his share of
misfortunes, most of which had been made for him by other people.
Doubtless he would be over from Camford in a day or two, and then all
the news could be discussed.

But Gay was over already. Herepath found him there when he got home. He
seemed to fill the little sitting-room in the flat, a long lean, bronzed
man, hard as nails, and clear of eye as a child. Not a handsome man,
perhaps, but good to look upon, and a face that invited confidence at
the first glance.

"Well, here you are, old man," he cried with a handgrip that made
Geoffrey wince. "I was wondering how long you would be. I hear that
Blanche has told you all about my luck. As a matter of fact, I have been
expecting the appointment for some time, but I did not like to mention
it in case of disappointment. As soon as I knew for certain I came over
at once. I'm about the happiest man at this moment in London."

"You certainly look it." Herepath smiled. "But why this violent hurry?"

"Hurry, my dear chap? Haven't Blanche and I been waiting for something
like this for three years? And that dear little girl so good and patient
all this time. I get a thousand a year and a house. The most delightful
old house, black and white timbered, and going back to the time of
Charles II. There is all that old furniture of mine in store ready to go
in it. Everything will just drop into place as if made for it. You never
saw such a lovely old garden; Blanche will love the whole thing."

Blanche sighed gently. Her face was flushed with delight, but there was
still a tinge of regret in her eyes.

"It sounds heavenly," she said. "It is the kind of place one dreams of,
the sort of home I often promised myself when I was building castles in
the air. But I have been telling Harold all about you, Geoff."

"Lord, what a selfish beast I am!" Gay said contritely. "Is it a very
bad job, old chap?"

Herepath lied manfully enough. He knew exactly what Gay wanted. He was
anxious to get his house furnished and marry Blanche without a moment's
delay. And the thing must be done.

"No, it isn't," he said. "As a matter of fact I have been giving myself
a great deal of unnecessary anxiety. I suppose it is only natural when a
man's eyes are concerned. I'm to be careful and do nothing in the way of
reading or writing for some little time to come, and I am to wear these
glasses constantly. Also I am commanded to get a complete change by
taking a little sea trip. I must do it, but till I came in just now I
couldn't see my way. I didn't want to leave Blanche here all by
herself."

"Capital!" Gay cried. "Fortune seems to be smiling on us all round just
now. Now my dear girl you cannot possibly object to our programme any
longer. Listen to me old chap. You can go off on your voyage with the
assurance that Blanche is going to be looked after. She's going to marry
me before you start."

"You are ridiculous, Harold!" said Blanche blushing.

"Not a bit of it. Never more sane and practical than at the present
moment. I am not going to listen to a lot of nonsense about having no
clothes. You can get them afterwards. I'll procure a special license
tomorrow and we'll be married this week. Then we'll go straight back to
Camford, and take rooms at the jolly old hotel there till the house is
ready. I've practically arranged it all now. Geoff, help me to persuade
this hard-hearted girl to consent."

That was no difficult matter. Herepath's declaration had removed
Blanche's chief reason for objecting to an early marriage, and the way
was clear. So she gave Harold permission to get the license without
further ado.

"It's the only thing I was anxious to have settled," Herepath said as he
stooped to kiss his sister. "I dreaded leaving Blanche in case anything
happened to me! A sea voyage is no great undertaking, but one never can
tell."

"Then that's all over," Gay cried. "You must come down with me and see
the house. Can you spare us a few days, Geoff? It would be a nice change
for you."

Herepath responded grimly that he could spare the time all right. He was
likely to have plenty of it on his hands for some months to come. He
would very much like to see the house.

"How did this good fortune come your way?" he asked.

"Oh, I had a friend at Court," Gay explained. "As a matter of fact, the
Law Courts had the appointment. You see the estate is vested in
trustees. It is over twenty years since Lord Southlands disappeared. He
was over fifty then, and, had not long come into the title. The whole
place was mortgaged up to the last penny. It was a toss up whether it
had to be sold or not. It was at this critical time Southlands
vanished."

"Do you mean that he has never been heard of since?"

"In a sense, yes. He disappeared, leaving everything to trustees under
the Court of Chancery. He is still alive, for letters come from him from
time to time, but he refuses to see anybody, and his hiding place is a
secret. Every now and again he sends large sums of money to his trustees
to pay off the mortgages. He has found over half a million one way and
another. There is still a great burden on the property, but I am sure
that if that man lives long enough he will pay it all off. Once he does
so, I have an idea that he will return to the house of his fathers. Bit
of a romance, isn't it?"

"Very much so," Herepath said. "Does nobody whatever see his lordship?"

"Nobody. From the day he disappeared till this present moment no friend
has ever set eyes on him. Even his family solicitors, to whom he remits
the money, have no idea where he is, and what he is like. Not that it
matters one penny to me. Even if the old chap should come back and take
a dislike to me, I need not worry; I am only responsible to the
trustees. But I am not anticipating any such unlikely event."

Gay was not disposed to let the grass grow under his feet. He returned
the following day flourishing the special license in the blushing, happy
face of his pretty sweetheart, and declaring that the ceremony would
take place on the Saturday.

"No fuss, no bother, not anything," he said. "We'll get married at
twelve o'clock, and I'll treat the whole party of three to lunch at the
Ritz afterwards."

"You'll have to harden your heart and pay for one more," said Blanche,
smiling. "I really must ask Enid Harley. You haven't met her, Harold.
She's the daughter of a queer old miser that Geoff works for. I am
practically the only girl she knows, and she comes here more or less
secretly. She is afraid that if her father finds out, he may forbid her
to visit me, because, you see, Geoff is in love with her."

"I hope to marry her one of these days, please God," Herepath said
simply. "You had better write to her and tell her all about it,
Blanche."

"Oh, she's coming here to tea this afternoon," Blanche explained. "I'm
going out with Harold, and, as we may be back rather late, I daresay you
will forgive me, Geoff."

Herepath thought it might be possible. He was glad to hear that Enid was
coming, glad to know that he would have a chance to explain everything
to her before she met Blanche again. For Blanche must not know for some
time to come what a tragedy hung over her brother's life.

"I'll try and make up for your absence," he said. "Go and enjoy
yourselves. I should like to come with you, but the glare of the lights
is not good for my eyes!"

Enid came in timidly, glad to find Herepath awaiting her. He made no
effort to take her in his arms, and sternly refused to notice the
quivering lips held up to his.

"Are you not going to kiss me, dear?" she whispered.

"As if I am not longing to," Herepath cried. "You know I am. And yet it
is better not."

"Then I am going to kiss you, darling," Enid said. "Oh, my dear, my
dear, do you suppose that I could let you leave me like this? I will not
be free, Geoff."

He bent and kissed her, then he held her close in his arms.

"It is so good to have you near me," he said. "And now, before the
others come back, let us be serious. You got Blanche's letter. You know
she is to be married on Saturday?"

"Oh, yes. And I do hope she will be happy."

"She must be happy," Herepath declared. "It shall be our task to make
her so. And so that there shall be no cloud for the present I have
deliberately lied to her."

"You mean that you have told her nothing of Dr. Gilray's verdict?"

"Not one word, dear. It was my intention to partly tell her the truth,
but when I got home Harold was there bursting with his good news. It was
good to see the dear little girl's face. Had I told her even part of the
truth then she would have declined to marry Harold. She would have
insisted on sacrificing herself to me. So I made light of everything. I
pretended that I had greatly exaggerated the trouble, and that a few
weeks would see me well. You must keep up the deception, Enid. I shall
never tell her until I am compelled to do so."

"Ah, it is like you to think of others besides yourself. Geoff. You can
rely on me. Not one word will I say to spoil Blanche's happiness. Where
is she going to live?"

"At a place called Camford. There is an eccentric old nobleman called
Southlands----"

Herepath paused as Enid started. It seemed to him that she had suddenly
turned pale.

"What is the matter?" he asked. "Have you heard the name before?"

"A good many times," Enid said. "I--I know something of the family. But
the secret is not altogether mine, and I am not permitted to speak more
freely. But it is very, very strange, Geoff. So Mr. Gay is going to be
the steward of Camford, and Blanche is electing to live in the house
where I was--a house I know quite well. Some of these days I will tell
you all about it."

Herepath restrained his curiosity. He could see that Enid was uneasy and
disturbed.

"I was going to speak of you and your invention," she went on. "What are
you going to do about it?"

"My dear girl, what can I do?" Herepath asked hopelessly. "Let it go
sooner or later. I am in the power of some mysterious individual, to
whom I owe a thousand pounds. If he does as Brigden suggests, he will
take proceedings and make me a bankrupt. I am in honour bound."

"You are in honour bound to nothing," Enid cried. "You are the victim of
a conspiracy. I dare not tell how I know this, but I do know it as
surely as if I were one of the conspirators. You are justified in
meeting these men in any way you please. What if you defied them, if you
took a hammer and smacked your machine. Could they put it together
again? Could any legal firm compel you to make good the mischief you had
done?'

"Well, no, I suppose not," Herepath admitted. "If I took a certain glass
disc away not all the engineering experts in England could make that
machine earn a penny."

"Then do it," Enid cried vehemently. "Do it and defy the consequences.
Oh, I know what I am talking about. And if it becomes necessary--but,
hush, here come the others, and I must go home."

The warning had come in time. Enid had been seen part of the way home by
Herepath, and now he was returning slowly and thoughtfully back,
pondering on what the girl had said. It was all very mysterious and
disturbing, and the more he dwelt on the matter the less he liked the
look if it.

Suppose he did as Enid suggested. Suppose he quietly took away that
magic crystal disc that looked so trivial and meant so much! Then he
could go on his voyage, and leave Brigden to do as he liked. Why should
he not remove the disc now? He had the key of the workshop in his
pocket, for there had been many nights when he had laboured there alone.

Almost unconsciously he turned his steps in the direction of Long Acre.
The well-oiled lock gave easily, and he stepped quietly inside, fumbling
for the switch of the electric light. Then he drew his fingers quickly
away, as there came to his ears the sound of voices--voices in the
direction of the machine. Somebody was flashing a naked bulb on the end
of a long flex, somebody was explaining.

"That's it," the voice said. "Now look here, this is what I mean. You
take this feed----" The light flashed on the faces of the two men, and
Herepath moved noiselessly into the shadow. He knew who one man was, but
he was not by any means sure of the other. Then he got his chance. He
bit back the cry that was on his lips.

The other man was Daniel Harley!




CHAPTER XXI.--THE GLASS DISC.


Herepath held himself in hand with difficulty. His first impulse was to
fall upon these rascals and kill them. He had the strength and courage
for the fray, and he was a desperate man. It seemed to him that he was
ruined beyond all hope of redemption, that nothing in the world mattered
so far as he was concerned. Well, at any rate, he would prevent these
people prospering out of his misfortunes. He would quickly prove to them
that their greed had bred disaster.

So Daniel Hurley was Brigden's mysterious client. Herepath was not in
the least surprised to make the discovery. Enid had more or less
prepared him for it. He recalled her strange agitation at the mention of
Brigden's name. This was the conspiracy she hinted at, and he could see
her reasons now for not being plainer with him. It was one more turn in
the maze of mystery in which Enid's life was involved, and she had not
been more explicit because she was afraid of her father's part in it.

He could not hear what those men were saying, They were muttering to
themselves in whispers; they seemed to be dissatisfied about something.
Herepath smiled grimly. They should have much greater cause for
dissatisfaction before he had finished with them. He came forward and
addressed them by name.

"This is quite an unexpected pleasure, gentlemen," he said. "Good
evening, Mr. Brigden. Mr. Harley, I am delighted to see you here. But
just one question. How did you get here, and where did the key come
from?"

Brigden shuffled uncomfortably. For once in his life he was at a loss
for a reply. He could only stammer something utterly unintelligible. On
the other hand, Harley seemed quite at his ease. There was a smile on
his sinister face, a queer kind of chuckle in his throat, as he turned
to Brigden.

"Why don't you speak out?" he asked. "You were the pioneer of the
expedition. It was your suggestion that I should come here. You told me
you had the run of the place, that you could get in at any moment. I
understood that you were by way of being a partner with Mr. Herepath.
Don't blame me in the matter."

All this was said with the utmost coolness and effrontery, and it was
quite amusing to see the clever way in which the elder rascal shouldered
the blame on to Brigden. The latter could only writhe and wriggle and
put up with it. Evidently he was entirely under Harley's thumb, another
pawn in the mysterious game.

"Then Mr. Brigden brought you here?" Herepath demanded.

"Of course he did. I am too old and feeble to take up burglary as a
sport. Brigden interested me in your machine. He told me that there was
money in it. I have heard that kind of story before. I always like to
look into these things for myself when the inventor is not present. I
asked for that opportunity, and Brigden said he could give it me at
once. Would I come now? I was in the mood and I came. If you have
anything to complain of, Mr. Herepath, you must blame Brigden."

"Stop a moment," said Herepath. "You are just a little too clever for
me. Let us have a clear understanding. You came here to-night, you say,
on the spur of the moment, at Brigden's request. You have only lately
heard of my invention?"

"Only a few hours ago," Harley said. "If I am to put money into it----"

Herepath interrupted him abruptly. "You are a contemptible old liar," he
said slowly and coldly. "You have known all about this invention of mine
for months. You have put money into it. At the present moment I am your
debtor to the extent of a thousand pounds. You are the mysterious client
with whom Brigden has been threatening me. Stop. If you interrupt me I
shall forget that you are an old man, and do you a mischief. If I can
stay here to prove my invention, then I may get a share of the profits.
If I have to go away leaving things as they are, then you will take
action against me, and everything I possess will fall into your hands.
Well, I congratulate you, Mr. Harley. So far your dirty scheme has been
eminently successful. I am compelled to go away, and I have not the
slightest idea when I shall be back. I have practically lost my sight,
and it may never return. You had better see about getting your money
back."

"You are taking a great deal for granted," Harley said coolly. "You have
no right to assume that I am in this business at all. Brigden did not
tell you so."

Herepath jumped forward angrily. He gripped Harley's arm with a force
and energy that caused the old miser to whimper and cower before the
inventor's righteous rage.

"Don't palter with me, or by heaven I'll kill you," Herepath cried. "Are
you my creditor? Tell me, or I will tear the truth out of you. Speak,
you hoary rascal."

"You are strong, very strong," Harley whimpered angrily. "But you will
find that the law is stronger. If you must have it, then I am your
creditor."

Herepath relaxed his grip on the old man's arm. His rage had fallen from
him as a tempest suddenly lulls. But there was a glitter in his eye, and
a hardness about his mouth, that looked ominous. He was beginning to see
his way.

"I am glad that we have got somewhere near the truth at last," he said.
"I am not what you call a 'business man,' but, thanks to Mr. Brigden, I
am beginning to glimpse the facts. So the law is going to give you
everything, Mr. Harley. It is a good thing to understand the vagaries of
the law. You will be able to shrug your shoulders and say that you have
lost a thousand pounds, and that your only return was so much metal. And
later on, you will call in some clever pirate in the way of an engineer,
who will breathe life into that old metal of yours, and the fortune is
made. But there is just one little thing that you have forgotten. Out of
the way."

He pushed Harley roughly on one side, and laid a hand on the electric
light switch. The long workshop was flooded with the yellow glare; the
rays gleamed on the polished sides of the machine. Herepath threw back
the bonnet, and disclosed the delicate mechanism inside. Then, at a part
where two revolving rods made contact, he removed very carefully a
gleaming glass disc.

"Now here in my hand I hold the heart of my invention," he said. "There
is only one disc in the world fashioned like this one. Also it is
tempered and overlaid in a peculiar way. I made it myself, I ground it
with infinite care, and also I practically lost my sight in the
fashioning of it. Without this tiny fragment of glass, made in this
peculiar form, the machine is useless. You can call a conference of all
the engineers in the world, and not one of them can discover the secret
of my machine if the disc is not there. They can fashion a million
discs, but not one will serve the purpose. Now you may have a claim on
the machine, and you can take it now if you like. You can have all the
drawings, and the office, and the workmen so long as I retain this
little disc. Now what are you prepared to give me for it, Mr. Harley?"

"It is part and parcel of the invention," Harley growled.

"No, it is not. It is a separate installation. But that has nothing to
do with the question. Is this little disc worth ten thousand pounds to
you?"

"No, not ten pence," Harley went on. "What are you driving at?"

With a grim smile on his face Herepath held the disc up to the light.
Then it slipped through his fingers, or seemed to do so, and smashed
into fragments on the concrete floor. Harley looked at Herepath in a
sour, puzzled way.

"What does this theatrical display mean?" he asked. "What you have done
once you can do again, I suppose? I am not to be bluffed, young man. It
will be a bad day for you when you put your wits against mine."

"It might have been an accident. It might have been an intention of
Providence, Daniel Harley. At any rate, I defy you or any man to prove
that it wasn't an accident. I tell you that the heart of my machine lies
there smashed in a thousand pieces on the floor. All the King's horses
and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again. If
this had happened a month or two ago I should simply have smiled and
ground another disc. Now it is impossible for me to do so, for I am
practically blind. If I use my eyes again for any but the most ordinary
purposes of sight, then I shall never see again. You are more than ever
dependent upon me if you wish to make anything of my invention, and I in
turn am utterly dependent on the future. On that point I have had the
best evidence that Harley-street has to offer. I have been to Dr.
Gilray, and he pronounced the sentence of the Court. He gave it me in
cold, plain language that there was no mistaking. If the voyage I am to
undertake serves its purpose, then all will be well. If not, then my
invention is no more than an empty body without a heart, and your
thousand pounds lies there at your feet. Old man, you have made a
mistake this time. You are beaten."

The queer grin faded from Harley's face, his lips quivered with rage. He
danced over the floor like an infuriated ape behind the bars of a cage.
He was utterly beside himself, for Herepath had touched him at last.

"The fool!" he choked, "the idiot! This is the way in which...to think
that a man should so far forget himself as to...What was I saying?
Lord! how I wish I had Gilray here at this moment! I'd grind his face in
that broken glass, I'd force the splinters into his eyes, the thrice
accursed idiot! To gain that money--curse, curse----"

Harley grow utterly incoherent in his rage, gibbering and mouthing like
an epileptic on the verge of a seizure. It was impossible to follow what
he was saying. To Herepath himself the whole thing was meaningless. It
was to him merely an outbreak of senile rage against a perfectly
innocent person. But all this was to recur to him, with illuminating
force, before long.

He watched Harley now gradually growing weaker under the strain. The old
man dropped on to a pile of refuse and gasped for breath. His cunning
eyes turned from one to the other of his companions inquiringly. He was
wondering what he had said, how far he had betrayed himself. But he
could see no signs of suspicion in Herepath's contemptuous eyes. The
fact reassured him.

"I get like that sometimes," he said in a tone that Herepath regarded as
apologetic. "There are so many fools in the world. So Gilray told you
all that, did he? I happen to know Dr. Gilray--he has done work for me.
And I think, I rather think, he is under an obligation or two. I'll ask
him about your case."

"You are quite welcome to do so," Herepath said coldly. "Meanwhile, it
is getting late, and if you gentlemen have quite finished with my
workshop, I should like to lock up. Though it seems apparently to be of
little use."

Without another word Harley stepped towards the door. He vanished, into
the night, followed by Brigden, who muttered some kind of apology.
Herepath snapped off the lights, and the last thing he saw as the
illumination died away was the glitter of a thousand pinpoints of flame
from the powdered fragments of the disc upon the floor.




CHAPTER XXII.--A CHECK.


Daniel Harley with Brigden by his side shuffled along the road muttering
angrily to himself, eager to find anybody upon whom to put the blame for
this unexpected reverse. He had been beaten by an honest man in a
perfectly legitimate way and this fact angered the old rogue more than
the loss of his money. He looked forward to a fortune from the great
invention and had made up his avaricious mind that Geoffrey Herepath
should benefit nothing by it, and here in a moment the whole thing had
slipped through his fingers. Oh, somebody should pay dearly for this
wretched fiasco.

"It's rather awkward," Brigden ventured at last somewhat nervously. "Who
would have guessed that Herepath would show fight like that?"

"You should have guessed it," Harley grunted wrathfully. "Nobody but an
idiot would have put his head into a trap like that. If I hadn't been
deluded into going to Long Acre everything would have gone right."

"But you wanted to go to Long Acre," replied Brigden with some spirit.
"You desired to have a private look at the machine. And when I suggested
that I had a key that fitted the door and that we should be safe if we
went after dark, you jumped at the notion. Didn't I tell you there was a
risk that Herepath might put in an appearance?"

"Yes, but you said it was very remote," Harley growled. "It was a
million to one against his turning up you said. Bah, and when he did
come, why didn't you appear more friendly? Why didn't you try and humbug
him? What on earth do you think I pay you all the money for, you
miserable, worthless muddler?"

"I earn every penny of the money you pay me with tears of blood,"
Brigden retorted hoarsely. "Is there never to be an end to your bullying
and growling? Now, don't you drive me too far. There are other ways of
getting money besides being always at the beck and call of a dirty old
ruffian like you. You were eager enough to come to Long Acre to-night,
quite ready to take all the risks. And because you have been found out
you want to blame me for it. Herepath has got the best of you and it
serves you right. I'm not particular to a shade, but I'm fly enough to
know when the crooked lay is a losing one. If I'd been in your place, I
should have played the straight game with Herepath. You could have made
a million or two by doing so, but you wanted it all. Now, like the
greedy dog crossing the stream with the bone in his mouth, you've
dropped the bit you had to get nothing." Then lowering his tone he
added. "But there, when you are in one of those vile rages there is no
doing anything with you."

Harley made no response. There was, he admitted to himself, a good deal
of common sense in Brigden's plain speaking. By a change of policy it
might yet be possible to get on terms with Herepath. Harley's murderous
passion was now ill directed against Gilray. An hour or two before he
was prepared to regard Gilray in the light of his best friend--now he
cursed him as his bitterest enemy. But a little time back he had
chuckled that the unscrupulous doctor had earned every penny of the
money promised him--now he would take care he should never see the
colour of it. He would teach Gilray a lesson before he went to bed.

"Perhaps you are right," he muttered turning to Brigden. "I must have
time to think. I want to be alone to give this business my undivided
attention. Call me the first taxi that passes. And be where I can get
you on the telephone to-morrow morning."

Brigden was glad enough to let it go at that. He too wanted to think. He
had not forgotten Harley's strange references to Gilray, and he was
anxious to puzzle out where it was the doctor came into the plot, and in
what capacity.

He would have been fully enlightened had he been present an hour or so
later in Harley's study with the old man and Gilray.

Gilray had come down to the dockside house none too willingly. He had
been literally dragged away from a pleasant dinner party in response to
an imperative telephone call from Harley, who had told Gilray's butler
that he must speak to the doctor at any cost. Harley would take no
refusal. He didn't care whether Gilray was enjoying himself or not.
There were far more important matters than dinner parties. He refused
one single word of explanation, contenting himself with a hint to the
effect that if Gilray did not choose to come, then so much the worse for
him.

Gilray thought of the promised 10,000 pounds and decided to obey the
command, for indeed it was little less than that. It was an easy matter
to plead an urgent professional call. All the same, he was feeling not a
little sore and angry when he arrived at the mysterious old house beyond
Shadwell. He tossed his hat and coat on a table in the study and sulkily
demanded to know what all the hurry was about.

Harley showed his teeth in an evil grin. He was feeling murderously
inclined toward the man, whom he held to be the source of his recent
discomfiture, through which he had lost the vast fortune he was counting
on.

"Don't you take that tone with me," he snarled in answer to Gilray's
query. "I could smash you to-morrow if I liked. I could pull you up by
the roots and throw you into the nearest ditch as if you were a weed.
When I want you, you've got to come like a dog and lick my hand. A nice
mess you have made of things. And yet you expect me to find you all that
money."

"On certain terms you promised to find it," Gilray retorted. "There is
no occasion for us to go beating about the bush. I was to get Herepath
out of your way. I was to render him a child in your hands, and I have
done it."

"Yes, but how? I didn't tell you to destroy the poor fellow's sight.
Good heavens, if I liked to speak I could get you twenty years' penal
servitude."

Gilray opened his lips, but no sound came. He struggled hard to keep his
feelings under control. There were certain things that he could not
disclose to this villainous old rascal. The time was not yet.

"So you think I did my work all too effectively," he said quietly. "We
will defer any immediate discussion as to that, if you don't mind. What
I want to know is, what has happened to cause you to bring me down here
in this hasty fashion?"

"I'm going to tell you. One of my men and myself paid a secret visit to
Herepath's workshop to-night. He came and caught us there. It was an
occasion that made it impossible to give a satisfactory explanation for
our visit. Of course, Herepath knew well enough why we were there. He
told us that he was doing no work for the present, that he had been to
you, and that you told him he would go blind if he tried to do any work.
Then he took out a part of a certain machine in which I was deeply
interested and had put money, and destroyed it before our eyes. After
that he sarcastically assured us that the thing could not be replaced,
and that without it his invention was worth nothing. It was pretty
clever, when you come to think of it."

"But there are such things as actions at law. You can proceed against
him."

"If we could prove that the thing was not an accident, yes. But Herepath
was very careful not to defy us that way. As things stand at present,
everything depends upon his eyesight. If he gets no better, I am the
poorer by at least a million. If I wait till he gets well--if ever he
does get well--then I stand a chance of having something out of the
million I expected, and he gets a vast fortune for himself. But he won't
get well, curse it! Your work has been too thorough for that. You have
gone too far."

"I deny it," Gilray said coldly. "Prove your words. How? In a Court of
Law? Are you going to confess that you tried to bribe me to make sure
that Herepath should stay in his present unhappy physical condition so
that you could steal his invention? Your greed blinds your judgment,
sir. You are not your astute self to-night."

Harley gasped in speechless anger. He had pulled the strings of his
puppets only to find that they refused to work. Evidently there was
nothing for the moment to be gained by threatening Gilray.

"Now, listen," he hissed. "That man must be made to see. My whole future
depends upon it. You must find some excuse to see his eyes. You must
give him fresh hope. You must work to restore his eyesight as you have
never before worked to give vision to any patient. Those two pupils of
his represent a million of money to me. Unless it is too late. If it is,
then look out for yourself."

"That will do," Gilray said grimly. "We shall get on better without
threats. May I take it that you no longer assume as certain that I have
deliberately tampered with Herepath's eyes."

"If you like to put it that way. Though, to be sure, 10,000 pounds is a
tempting lot of money."

Gilray did not appear to be listening. For the moment he was occupied
with his own bitter thoughts. A few hours before he had believed that
the money he so needed was in his grasp, that he could silence his
pressing creditors and clear the way for future fortune. He had
flattered himself that he had for ever got rid of a powerful and
dangerous rival, and that it was only a question of time before he made
Enid Harley his wife and gained possession of David Harley's wealth.

And here everything was suddenly dashed to the ground. Herepath's
failure of sight, which had promised to open up comfort and fortune to
Gilray, had suddenly become an overpowering misfortune that threatened
to haul him back into the old slough of poverty and disgrace. If he
failed to make Herepath's eyes once more those of a normal man he would
never touch one farthing of that desperately needed 10,000 pounds. Nor
would his calamities end there. He would make of Harley a deadly and
malignant enemy, who would pursue him day by day and hour by hour, till
finally he was landed in the gutter.

What prudence and foresight could have anticipated a fiasco like this?
To defy Harley meant ruin, to restore the sight of Herepath's eyes meant
that Gilray's hopes of Enid Harley would be shattered. He must have time
to think, time to see in which direction lay the greatest personal
advantage.

"Very well," he said at length. "I'll do all I can. But you are a hard
man to please, Mr. Harley. One day you want one difficult and dangerous
thing done, and the next you want it reversed. Still, don't forget that
modern surgery can work wonders. I'll see Herepath as soon as
possible--but it won't be before Saturday evening, as to-morrow I go to
Yorkshire to operate on Lady Cunningdale and cannot be back until the
end of the week."

Harley nodded sulkily. There was nothing for it now but to wait. And he
had given Gilray his lesson, he had brought him obediently to heel. But
Gilray was not thinking of how best to secure the interests of his
employer as he walked home, nor did he consider Harley as he journeyed
north, or during the time he was away from London. He was still in the
same mind on his return, still undecided as to his course when he
reached Herepath's flat in West Kensington late on Saturday evening.
Even as he stood outside the flat with his finger on the bell, he was
still puzzled and anxious how to proceed.

A neat, pretty-looking woman came to the door and asked Gilray his
business.

"But Mr. Herepath is not here," she said. "Only myself, my husband, and
my maid. My husband is an engineer, who will be in London for a year or
so on business, and Mr. Herepath has let us the flat for that time.
We--we only came to-day."

"You mean that Mr. Herepath has gone into lodgings?" Gilray asked.

"I really don't know," the lady said. "I have never seen him. All the
business was done in the greatest hurry between my husband and Mr.
Herepath."

"But I suppose he left an address in case of letters and all that sort
of thing?"

"No. He is ill and needs rest. He wished, he said, that nobody should
know his whereabouts for some long time to come."




CHAPTER XXIII.--A GLIMPSE OF THE GEMS.


The thing was done, the boats were burnt, the Rubicon was crossed. There
had been a conspiracy to deprive Herepath of the fruits of his toil, and
if he was to get nothing he would see to it that the plotters were in no
better case. He no longer doubted the existence of the conspiracy. It
had been amply proved when he found Daniel Harley in his workshop.

In bitterness of spirit and the heat of the moment he had defied the
father of the girl whom he had hoped to make his wife. Evidently the man
was a criminal; indeed, his mysterious life in the strange riverside
house pointed to that. Some day the police would lay hands on him, and a
great scandal would result. What was to become of Enid then? Herepath
groaned as he thought of it. In ordinary circumstances it would not have
much mattered. His love for Enid was a pure and brilliant flame, and no
family disgrace could have dimmed it. Besides, Enid knew little or
nothing of what was going on under that mysterious roof. No shadow of
crime had touched her. On this score Herepath had never entertained a
single doubt.

And yet there were one or two disquieting little things. He remembered
how, the first time he mentioned Brigden's name to her, she seemed
confused and uneasy, as if half afraid to say anything. Again, there was
a strange agitation when he had mentioned Gay's name in connection with
Camford.

Well, after all, these things did not point to any guilty knowledge. And
what did it matter in any case? Enid was lost to him for ever. He could
not hope to marry her now. He did not believe for a moment that his
normal sight would ever come back to him. He would never be able to
devote himself to his old work. The glass disc was destroyed; there was
nobody else who could make another. For all practical purposes the
greatest invention of modern times was as if it had never existed.

But of theses things that so oppressed his thoughts he said nothing. He
showed no feeling of despondency before Blanche and her happy lover. He
determined that they should guess nothing of his real emotions. But when
he had seen them bright and smiling on the way to their new home he felt
the weight of bitterness that oppressed him lie heavier on his soul than
ever. Enid, who had come to see them off, laid a timid hand on his arm.

"You have been very brave and generous," she whispered.

There were tears in her eyes as she spoke. She could see Blanche's
handkerchief still fluttering from the window as the train drew out of
the great station. And her sorrow was greater than that of the man by
her side.

"Because Blanche has been very brave and generous to me," he said. "It
has been very hard work, Enid. But I could not dim her happiness at this
hour. If she had guessed the truth about my eyes she would never have
married Harold."

"But your recovery is only a matter of time, dear," Enid pleaded. "You
always said that there was a glowing prospect before you--before us."

Ah, if she only knew. If he only dared to tell her. He smiled sadly.

"There is no 'us' at all," he said. "Oh, I am going to give the cure
every chance. But I have very little hopes of it. And I shall require
all the money I can scrape together. I have already let the flat
furnished to an American engineer friend of mine, and I have secured a
bed-sitting room, where my goods have already been taken. I suppose a
week or so from now will see me in the Bay of Biscay."

"But you will come and see me before you go, darling?"

"I will see you before I go, sweetheart, but not at your house. There
are many reasons why I should not come there again. But a letter will
find you, of course. Where are you going now?

"I am going to lunch with Ninon Desterre," Enid explained. "Now that
Blanche has gone she is the only woman friend I have in the world."

"Are you quite sure that she is your friend, Enid?"

The girl looked up startled at the question.

"Oh, surely," she said. "How could I possibly doubt it? She has been so
very kind. I know she is a bit of a mystery, and I cannot understand
what a strange tie it is that binds her to my father. So far as I know,
they never meet, and yet in some way I am certain that they are closely
connected in business. I carry all kinds of parcels backwards and
forwards. And, Geoffrey, I am going to tell you a secret. I must tell
somebody."

"My dear girl, anything you tell me will be perfectly safe."

"Oh, I know that. Well, you remember all that sensation over the
disappearance of those Cosway miniatures of Mrs. Van der Knoot's? They
were stolen from the house in Parklane, and nothing has been heard of
them since. The other night, when you and I met in Park Gardens, Mrs.
Van der Knoot was there, and, as you know, the subject of her loss was
discussed."

"I thought she took it very coolly, indeed," Herepath said.

"Yes, very coolly. I wonder what she would have said had she known that
those miniatures were in my possession all the time. Her stolen
miniatures."

"Enid, you are joking. Do you mean to say that you were actually a
party----"

Enid stopped him with a gesture.

"You make it difficult for me to go on, Geoffrey," she said. "I
discovered the truth quite by accident. I never see the daily papers,
and I did not guess about the miniatures till I heard the story of the
robbery discussed in Ninon Desterre's drawing-room. And there is
somebody else who knows--I am speaking of Dr. Gilray."

"I shall wake up presently," Herepath murmured. "How could he possibly
know?"

"Because he saw the miniatures in our house. He came down very late one
night, and very secretly, to attend a man who was staying with us, who
had had an accident to his eyes. These miniatures were lying on my
father's table in the study when the doctor went in there. He knows, and
because he knows, without so much as one word on either side, he has
forced me into a kind of compact with him. I am sure that he regards me
as being in his power. He has not made love to me, but a girl
understands some things by instinct. I know that he means to ask me to
be his wife. I also know that he regards me as helpless to resist him.
And, oh, Geoffrey, you are going away, and I have nobody in the world to
protect me."

The words were quietly spoken, but they cut Geoffrey Herepath to the
quick. Up to now he had regarded his action as single-minded and
unselfish. Now he could see that there was another side to it. It
disturbed and filled him with hot anger to find that Gilray was acting
like a scoundrel. But he repressed any sign of heat.

"I am very sorry, dear," he said humbly. "You see, I did not suspect
anything of this. Did you put any questions to Madame Desterre? Did she
offer any explanation?"

"Oh, yes. That is the most puzzling part of the whole thing. I demanded
an explanation, for I was exceedingly angry. I said that I was being
made use of as an intermediary in a very queer and possibly criminal
business. And Madame Desterre laughed. She did not deny that I was the
quite innocent possessor for the time being of the Van der Knoot
miniatures. She told me not to worry in regard to the pictures, not to
imagine that there was anything wrong or criminal in my father's
possession of them. Funniest of all, she offered to make Mrs. Van der
Knoot tell me so herself if I wanted to be further satisfied. Geoffrey,
what does it all mean?"

Herepath shook his head hopelessly. He felt altogether out of his depth.
But strange as the story was, there were more pressing things to occupy
his attention. He had been thinking far too much about himself. He had
brooded over his misfortune to the exclusion of the rights of others.
What he had just heard rendered it impossible for him to go away and
leave the girl he loved alone and unprotected. Suppose she found herself
dragged into the black business that evidently occupied her father.
Suppose that sooner or later she was forced into the dock? The idea was
intolerable. After all, it could not very much matter whether he went
for a sea voyage or not. The sparing of his eyesight was the main thing.
Then a sudden suspicion flashed into his mind. Perhaps Gilray had
detected him as a rival, and had taken this course to get him out of the
way. Suppose, therefore, he only pretended to take this voyage, and
really remained secretly in London to protect Enid and watch events?

The idea appealed to him. Yes, he would remain in England. He would save
all the expenses of that trip abroad, and have a little money to spare
to help him unravel this tangle. But of this change of plans he would
say nothing to anybody yet, not even to Enid.

"It is all very strange and mysterious," he told her. "More bewildering
than any detective story. At any rate, I will so arrange that you shall
be safe, whatever happens. I may be deceived, and Madame Desterre may be
nothing more than a smart adventuress, but I like Madame Desterre. Shall
I come with you, Enid?"

"I think you had better not," Enid replied. "Let us walk as far as Park
Gardens; it is a lovely morning, and the walk will do me good. And you
won't go away without letting me know, and you will give me your
address, dear? Something tells me that I shall need you, that events are
going to happen. And there is nobody but you."

Naturally Herepath gave her the desired assurance. No doubt existed in
his mind now as to the course he meant to take. He would not turn his
back on England and leave this beautiful, innocent sweetheart of his to
the tender mercy of two such ruffians as Harley and Gilray. It was not
for him to tell Enid that he had made a lasting and bitter enemy of her
father. The poor child had quite enough on her mind as it was. He
stopped presently, and handed Enid a card and pencil.

"Here, take down my address," he said. "I am afraid I cannot see to
write it. It is there that you will always hear of me in case of need.
If I were you I should say nothing about our two selves to anybody, not
even to Madame Desterre, friendly as she appears to be."

They parted presently near Regent's Park, and Enid went her way much
easier in her mind. She could have told Herepath a good deal more had
she not lacked the courage to do so, and now she chided herself for her
reticence. Still, there were certain secrets that were not altogether
her own, while in many matters concerning the riverside house she was as
utterly in the dark as the merest stranger.

Herepath went on to his new lodgings very quietly and thoughtfully. He
had plenty to occupy his mind. He was more disturbed by Enid's
confession than he cared to admit. Was it possible that this innocent
child was unknowingly acting as a tool to a gang of international
thieves? Were Daniel Harley's associates also at the bottom of the
disappearance of Princess Helena's jewels? Yet Madame Desterre had not
acted towards Enid as if the latter had caught her conniving at a crime.
Also Herepath had a very vivid recollection of Van der Knoot's demeanour
when speaking of her loss. She was not merely diffident, but had even
resented any allusion to it.

Those matters occupied Herepath's mind till long after tea, and he had
got all his possessions unpacked in the snug bed-sitting room. He was
just filling a pipe when his landlady gave a knock and came in with a
telegram in her hand.

"Please read it to me," Herepath said. "As I explained to you, my eyes
are very bad."

"That's all right, sir," the woman answered. "It says: 'Dine me eight
to-night, green room, Royal Empire Hotel, alone, and very urgent. No
need reply'--that's all, sir."

Herepath dismissed the woman with a nod. He would not go. Why should he?
Yet just before 8 he was waiting for Madame Desterre in the vestibule of
the Royal Empire.




CHAPTER XXIV.--VOLUNTEER OR PRESSED MAN?


A stream of men and women in evening dress was pouring into the great
pink and gold dining-room. It was the place to dine at in London just
then, the last word in luxury--until some new capitalist should come
along with something still more sinfully extravagant.

Herepath's lips curled scornfully as he saw the flashing jewels, the
expensive dresses, and the fleet of gleaming cars that came purring
gently up to the pavement. What those people wasted in a year would keep
a hundred families in comfort and happiness. There was not one of them
who would have lent him a sovereign to protect him from starvation, and
yet he had something hidden in the back of his mind that would have
meant a fortune to half of them.

Yet perhaps the show of gaiety was not all as easy and devoid of care as
it appeared. For instance, he did not look like poverty himself with his
Bond-street cut dress clothes, his immaculate linen and polished shoes.
There was just the suggestion of a cynical smile on his lips, and he
would easily pass as part and parcel of that giddy throng, living on the
money of others, and having no thought for anything but pleasure and the
pursuits of the morrow. Who was to know that he was out of touch with
fortune, and at the end of his resources?

A gentle hand was laid upon his arm, a gay voice rang in his ear.

"How good of you to come. I am afraid I am dreadfully late, Mr.
Herepath."

He turned round to find Madame Desterre by his side. Her long white
opera cloak was thrown open, exposing some amazing salmon pink
confection underneath. Her clear, beautiful eyes looked into Herepath's
with frank pleasure and innocence.

Herepath felt just a little ashamed of himself. Surely it was the last
thing in absurdity to connect this woman with a crime! Herepath followed
her docilely, and was permitted to remove her cloak and find the table
she had engaged. Half a dozen waiters were proudly eager to see what
they could do to meet her wishes. The occupants of other tables looked
round and whispered one to another. Evidently Ninon Desterre was a
familiar figure to the people through whose midst she passed as gaily
and serenely as some dainty butterfly, unconscious of the admiration she
was creating. There were well dressed men, men whose names were
household words, who looked enviously at the fellow-creature who was to
have the honour of dining tete-a-tete with Madame Desterre.

Herepath was feeling slightly intoxicated by this atmosphere. He would
have been more than human otherwise. Why should he not enjoy himself
just for this evening, at any rate?

"You must not altogether despise we insects," Ninon said. "We are not
all working bees."

"I don't know that I do despise you," Herepath replied. "Had I been born
to the environment, I dare say that I should be one with you. But the
possession of a fortune must be very enervating. Do you never get tired
of it?"

"Never," Ninon said, showing her teeth in a dazzling smile. "You see, I
am naturally contented. Give me a nice house and pretty clothes and
plenty of money and I'm never bored. Did you ever see anything more
exquisite than these flowers?"

She bent over the table, and snapped off a trailing spray of pink
orchids, heedless of the fact that it would mean another sovereign to
the bill. She arranged the blooms in her corsage, and smiled as she
noted their striking effect.

"I can't resist them," she said. "I left the dinner entirely to that
adorable Jules, the chef here, and I am sure he will do his best for me.
But you shall choose the wines. Like most women, I am no judge of wines.
And I want you to please yourself entirely."

Herepath gave himself over to the spirit of the evening. He chose the
wines and liqueur recklessly, and without the slightest heed of the
cost. It would probably be many a long day before he was in a world like
this again. Probably he would be called upon to earn his dinner
presently, but for the time being he had not to consider that. He ate
with zest and the appetite of one who lives hard and cleanly. By the
time the coffee and the cigarettes had arrived it seemed to him that
this world was a very good place to live in after all. He passed the
cigarettes across the table.

"I am forced to say no," Ninon murmured. "There is nothing I enjoy more
after a good dinner, and it has been a good dinner, has it not? But it
is one of my rules never to smoke in a public dining-room. Mr.
Herepath--Enid came to see me to-day."

The attack was as sudden as it was unexpected. Herepath could only
stammer in reply. Ninon Desterre sat with her chin propped on her hands,
looking her guest fully in the face.

"Do you trust me well enough to confide in me?" she asked.

"Well, really," Herepath stammered, "I hardly understand you. Certainly
we are very good friends."

"And always shall be. Now Enid is an innocent, transparent little soul.
It is not a difficult matter to get anything out of her. And she told me
quite a lot at lunch time. Mr. Herepath, whatever happens, as you value
Enid's happiness and your own, don't go away."

"I have already made up my mind to stay," the bewildered Herepath said.

"Come, that is good hearing at any rate. You have a rival in Dr. Gilray.
Now don't run away with the idea that Enid told me so. And please do not
regard me as an altogether frivolous little butterfly, whose one idea is
to flit from flower to flower sipping honey all day. The honey I get is
collected in quite a different fashion. I see a great deal more than
people give me credit for. And I see where your danger lies. To save you
from that danger I asked you to meet me here and dine tonight. I am
perhaps a fool to interfere in the business of other people, but I am
very fond of Enid, and I have a great regard for you. If you will only
do as I tell you there will be no further danger from Gilray."

"I don't quite understand how much you know," Herepath said guardedly.

"Oh, you are quite right to be cautious. Gilray wants to marry Enid
Harley for two reasons. In the first place, he has fallen madly in love
with her, and in the second he imagines that Daniel Harley is a man of
considerable means. That is quite correct. But where Gilray makes the
mistake is in thinking that Harley is under his thumb. Daniel Harley is
under the thumb of no man--he is too astute for that. He has been too
astute for you."

"I am not quite so sure of that, Madame Desterre."

"Oh, yes he has. He would have robbed you of your patent; he and that
little fox of a Brigden together. You have checkmated them. But what is
going to happen when you get well again? That is a question that you
cannot answer; but it is possible I can. I think I know exactly what
will happen; but I am not going to discuss that point till I am sure of
my ground. Now, what do you make out of that stolen miniature business?"

"Did Enid tell you everything that we had been discussing this morning?"

"Pretty well," Ninon said coolly. "My dear, good man, I extracted the
information. There are more ways than one whereby the butterfly draws
the honey. And I really am your friend. Now let us be quite serious for
a moment. I cannot tell you the secret of those miniatures. But I swear
to you that there is nothing criminal in the business. Oh, you are not
going to live to see the father of the girl you love languishing in a
dungeon over that affair. The same remark applies also to the
disappearance of the jewels of my friend, the Princess Helena. In a way
Daniel Harley is a public benefactor. It will be all made quite plain
one of these days."

"That is certainly very hard to believe," Herepath said. "Yet when I
look into your face I cannot doubt what you tell me."

"That is one of the prettiest compliments I have ever had paid me. But I
must be serious. You have already promised not to go away. Now, what I
want you to do is this--leave London and hide yourself in some quiet
place, so that Gilray will imagine that you have departed on that
suggested voyage. But your hiding-place must be where I can reach you
with a telegram at any moment. Your whole happiness rests on this--your
happiness and the disclosure of a conspiracy that will bring three men
to your feet begging you to make your own terms."

"Will it bring back the use of my eyes?" Herepath asked bitterly.

"Before Heaven, I think it will," Ninon whispered. "The Princess told
me--but, hush!"

She paused. At a near table somebody who had just arrived was speaking
of Princess Helena in loud and excited tones. It was quite easy to hear
what the newcomer said.

"Had it as a fact," he vociferated. "The police have tracked the thief,
and they expect to arrest him at any moment with Princess Helena's
diamonds in his possession. One of those journalist chaps who knew
everything told me. He says that the thief is dining here to-night, and
that we may look for something lively at any moment. What?"

Herepath glanced at his companion. It was very curious to hear all this
at the moment Ninon had spoken of the Princess. She sat there tense and
rigid, her face pale and set, her eyes narrowed to pinpoints of flame,
The only restlessness about her was in her hands, which moved quickly
over each other as if she were making signs. As this restless movement
ceased a man rose from close by, and went quickly towards the door. As
he passed he carelessly pitched an evening paper on to the table next
that occupied by Ninon and Herepath. Near the door somebody accosted the
late diner, and he vanished noisily.

"They tell me it is a certainty," Ninon said aloud. Herepath stared at
her in amazement. He had not the least idea what she was talking about.
"An absolute certainty."

"I am quite at a loss to follow you," Herepath said.

"I'm not in the least interested in horses as a rule," Ninon went on. "I
regard them as stupid creatures that do silly things at inconvenient
moments, such as running away and all that kind of thing. But I am going
to back Polestar for a lot of money, because I had what you call the tip
from a friend of mine who is, as they say, in the know."

"You mean to back Polestar for the Gold Cup?" Herepath asked.

"Precisely. For a lot of money. In the jargon of the ring, I can get a
good price. I should think quite ten to one. Do you know what the horse
stands at now?"

"I haven't the remotest notion," said Herepath; indeed, just at that
moment he had not the remotest notion of anything. "If you are really
interested----"

"Oh, I am. There is a paper that some kind man has left on the next
table. Please get it for me and we will see what the betting is. And
carry that paper just as it is folded."

The last words came in a whisper, and they covered a stern command.
Herepath gripped the fact that there was more meant than met the
ordinary ear. Very carefully he took the paper from the next table, and
brought it over to the one where Ninon was seated. She seemed to
carelessly flick over the first page, but the second one she was more
careful with. As she raised a corner of it she disclosed to Herepath's
astonished eyes the cover of a shabby leather case.

"Don't look at it," she whispered. "Go on talking about racing or
anything else, but talk, talk. And whilst you are chatting try to make
out what I am saying to you. That's what I mean...Yes, I dare say you
are disgusted and not a little weary, and so am I. The situation was
saved just in the nick of time. Otherwise I should have had all my pains
for nothing. Now I dare say you have guessed what is in the case----"

"You don't mean to say that they are Princess Helena's diamonds----"

"Hush, hush. That is precisely what they are. And now I am going to ask
you a favour, a great favour, that you will never regret, believe me.
Slip that case carefully from the folds of the newspaper and put it in
your pocket. And when you have done that go on talking to me just as if
nothing had happened."

With a feeling that he was being hypnotised, Herepath obeyed.




CHAPTER XXV.--THE DANGER ZONE.


Almost before the thing was done Herepath regretted it. He would have
regarded such an act as incredible folly on the part of anybody else. If
he were caught with those stones in his possession there could only be
one end to the adventure. Assuredly he would be arrested as either the
thief or an accomplice.

Had he been lured here for the very purpose of being duped? Had he been
deliberately marked down for a catspaw? These questions raced through
his mind rapidly. After all was said and done, he knew very little of
Ninon Desterre. She was beautiful and fascinating, and apparently rich.
She was a prime favourite in the most exclusive circles, but Herepath
had never heard anything of her family or of her relations.

She seemed to read these troubled reflections as they flashed upon
Herepath. But she was not in the least discomposed. On the contrary, she
looked like somebody sitting in the stalls of a theatre witnessing a
comedy. The dazzling smile was still on her face, her eyes danced with
something very like mischief.

"You are very kind," she said. "And the way you are trusting me is a
pretty and sincere compliment. There is nothing to be afraid of."

"Perhaps not," Herepath retorted; "but I am not feeling very happy all
the same. This is the first time I have ever been the receiver of stolen
goods. You seem to have successfully transformed a fool into a knave,
Madame Desterre."

"And presently I shall be able to prove that you are neither," Ninon
said coolly. "Mr. Herepath, I give you my word, my solemn word, that I
never anticipated anything like this when I asked you to meet me here.
Moreover, I pledge you my honour that nothing is really wrong. A
carefully laid scheme has gone astray; that is the worst that can be
said. In helping me now you are helping yourself and one you love to an
extent you do not dream of. Come with me, please."

Herepath shrugged his shoulders helplessly as he rose. After all, what
did it matter, what did anything matter now? His life was practically
wrecked, he would never have the free use of his eyes again, and what
was left of his great invention would soon be in other hands. And this
woman possessed, at any rate, the reputation of being loyal to her
friends. Let the adventure proceed--he was ready.

In the vestibule a little knot of people had gathered round the man who
had so cunningly passed over the diamonds to his confederate. There was
no fuss or bother--no signs that the management had been consulted. The
thief stood there quite calmly and coolly, a smile on his lips as he
listened to the questions of the police officer fronting him. His face
lighted up as he saw Ninon Desterre approaching.

"Well, here is a lady who will say a good word for me," he exclaimed.
"Madame Desterre."

"Victor Player, Count Victor Player," Ninon cried. '"So you are back
from Amsterdam. I had not expected you to return so soon."

"You know this gentleman, madam?" the officer asked.

"A great deal better than I know you, Inspector Gillispie," Ninon
replied. "You have not yet discovered anything in regard to the
disappearance of the Princess Helena's jewels?"

"I rather fancy that I have, madam," Gillispie said drily. "You were
present, I remember, at the Duke's entertainment the night the diamonds
were stolen. I have been following up a clue ever since, and that clue
brings me here to-night. I am about to arrest this gentleman on a charge
of being concerned in the robbery. He is just back from Amsterdam, where
he has been attempting to dispose of one of the largest of the missing
diamonds. I shrewdly suspect that he has the stone upon him at the
present time."

Herepath listened to this with intense uneasiness. It seemed to him as
if he had suddenly become the leading actor in some hideous nightmare
drama. It was almost impossible to realise that he had the missing gems
in the pocket of his overcoat. And here were the police in reach of his
hand in total ignorance of what had happened.

He made a more or less successful attempt to appear absolutely
indifferent. He stood a little aloof, as if declining to be dragged into
an unsavoury business, as if he were merely waiting to escort his
companion to her car.

"It is perhaps unfortunate that I have a valuable diamond in my
possession," the man called Count Victor Player said quite coolly. "It
was very good of the police to follow me about all Amsterdam so that I
should not be robbed. Probably they tracked me home, so that they could
take me red-handed with the balance of the gems in my possession. But it
is a difficult matter to identify a loose stone, my good Mr. Policeman."

"Very possibly; sir," Gillispie said with some asperity. "And it is only
fair to tell you, sir, that you are making dangerous admissions that
will be used in evidence against you. You admit that you are in
possession of a diamond that you have secretly attempted to dispose of."

The Count carefully selected a cigarette from his case and lighted it.

"By no means," he said. "True, I had and still have--a valuable diamond
to dispose of. I tried to sell it here, but your London brigands would
give me no kind of a price. It is a very little trip to take across the
water to Amsterdam. Now, look you, my dear Mr. Policeman, you are making
a great mistake. I am by no means a man of wealth, and I have to augment
my income by business methods. It is one of my fortunate gifts that I am
a good judge of gems. My friends know that, and frequently they come to
me with valuables to dispose of. I find them good markets, and they pay
me what you call a commission. It is not all gold that glitters, hein?
My lady has had a bad time at bridge, or my lord has a big betting
account to settle on Monday. Well, well, that being the case, some of
the family stones must cease to be of the family, er?"

"If you will give me the name and address of the owner of the stone the
matter can soon be settled, sir," said Gillispie.

'"My dear Mr. Policeman, I could do what you wish with the greatest
possible ease. I could take you to the real owner of the stone at
present in my possession, most excellent policeman, and prove to you
that this is his property. But no; I do not choose to do so. Suspicion
falls upon me because I frequently go over to Holland, and I am known to
transact secret sales of stones. But to tell whose stone this is would
be a breach of confidence. The owner of the property would be rightly
angry. He does not want anybody to know that he is pressed for money."

The Count gesticulated picturesquely with his cigarette as he spoke. He
made little staccato movements which Ninon Desterre appeared to be
following with close attention though she still smiled as if the whole
thing were some joke arranged for her benefit. Yet all the time she
fidgeted at her throat, and Herepath could see that in his turn the
Count was watching Ninon's every movement. Undoubtedly under the very
eyes of the police they were signalling to each other with a sort of
code not unlike army flag signalling.

"Very well, you can explain to the magistrate," Gillispie said shortly.
"If what you say is true, of course you will be completely exonerated.
But I have to do my duty, and you will have to come with me, sir."

"And then I must of course betray my client," the Count cried. "My dear
Mr. Policeman, you are making matters worse. Instead of helping me to
avoid scandal, and are deliberately forcing me to make it. My client is
a lady. Think of her feelings when all this becomes public property. And
also, Mr. Policeman, think of your feelings when you are, as you will
be, reprimanded for your stupid blunder."

"I take it that you only need proof of what the Count says?" Ninon
suddenly asked.

"That would certainly justify me, Madame, in not making an immediate
arrest," Gillispie admitted, palpably shaken by the Count's allusion to
the reprimand that awaited him if it was shown that he had blundered.
"Otherwise, of course, I must arrest him now."

"Well, I don't fancy there will be any 'otherwise,' Inspector," said
Ninon drily. "I happen to know that the stone in question is, as the
Count says, 'the property of a lady.' Now let me describe it. The stone
is what you call a blue diamond, hexagon in shape, and weighing exactly
75 carats. It is in a little blue box, on which is the monogram N.D. in
silver. If the Count will, as things have gone so far, produce the
stone, you will find that my description is correct." Without any
further waiting the Count took a tiny blue box from a pocket inside his
vest, and handed it over to Gillispie. The latter examined the case and
its contents grimly before he passed it over to one of his subordinates.

"What do you say, Motley?" he asked. "You are a judge of these things."

"It's a blue stone all right, sir," the other man muttered. "And I
should say that the weight is 75 carats as near as no matter. Also the
monogram is on the box."

Gillispie looked uneasy. He was not pleased with the aspect of affairs.

"May I ask, Madame," he queried gruffly, "how you came to know all this?
Am I to take it that you have done some business with this gentleman?"

"On one occasion only," Ninon retorted, smilingly, "namely, the present
one. You see the diamond happens to be mine."

She spoke quite calmly and easily. Gillispie's face fell as he caught a
smothered chuckle from one of his subordinates. He twiddled the little
box in his fingers, plainly at a loss to know what to do next.

"The Count was introduced to me by a lady friend," Ninon explained. "You
see, Inspector, I have a very large income, but unfortunately I have no
notion of the value of money, and I spend my dividends sometimes a wee
bit faster than they come in. And I am the unluckiest woman at bridge
that ever touched a card. When I go into the city to try and get some of
my money back again I lose once more. So I need three thousand pounds.
The Count came to me, and I gave him my stone to sell. He will not part
with it under a certain price, and there is an end of it. You can please
yourself, Mr. Gillespie, as to what you do now in the matter."

There was just the suggestion of a threat behind Ninon's dazzling smile.
The whole thing had been so coolly and beautifully engineered that
Gillespie was staggered. It was impossible to doubt the evidence of
ownership that Ninon had laid before him. To go any further was to court
censure from his chiefs, and possibly something worse.

"I am greatly obliged to you, Madame," he said, "I am afraid there has
been some mistake here. I acted on information supplied by the Dutch
police. Of course, if any question should arise later I know where to
find you, and through you the Count, to whom I apologise."

The Count was graciously pleased to take the matter amiably. He would
have handed the tiny jewel case to Ninon, but at a sign from her he
returned it to his pocket.

"What a thing it is to enjoy the confidence of a lady so beautiful and
distinguished," he said as he bowed and turned away. "It is with deep
regret that I have dragged Madame into this. And she has acted in a
manner that has made me her slave for ever. Good night, Mr. Policeman,
and should you ever want my services Madame Desterre will tell you where
to find me."

He took off his hat with a flourish and vanished smilingly into the
night. Gillespie was all apologies. It seemed as if he could not say
enough.

"There is no occasion for another word," Ninon told him. "Your zeal is
wonderful. Well it is said that the English police force is the most
intelligent in the world. Good night."

She watched the inspector till the swing doors of the vestibule closed
behind him. Then she turned to Herepath with a challenge in her eye.

"Come," she said, "admit that you are puzzled, that you want to know all
about it."




CHAPTER XXVI.--THE FAMILY PICTURES.


"The admittance would be just as well, perhaps," Herepath said a trifle
coldly.

"My dear boy, you have just been watching a little comedy of the most
brilliant type. It is rather unfortunate that you are not in the mood to
appreciate it. Now, by my cleverness, backed up by the natural
astuteness of the Count, I have averted a great scandal--and
incidentally saved that excellent Gillispie from a severe wigging. That
diamond is not mine----"

"I could see that from the first," Herepath replied. "You arranged the
whole thing by signal under the very eyes of the police. It staggered me
that they didn't see it."

"L'audace, l'audace et toujours l'audace," Ninon quote mockingly. "My
word, your eyes are not so hopeless if you could follow all that. But
that is another side of the question which we will discuss in due
season. In the meantime, please do not run away with the idea that
because the blue diamond is not mine therefore it belongs to the
Princess. It does not belong to the Princess. She would be the first to
tell you so."

"And what would she say if she could see into my pocket at the present
moment?"

'"Oh, she has a fine sense of humour," said Ninon laughing. "She might
be a little dismayed, but she would certainly not be angry--except
perhaps with me."

"Still, the sooner I get the things out of my possession----"

"Dear friend, you are not going to get them out of your possession just
yet. You will leave London as soon as possible, and take the gems with
you. Stay away in hiding until your presence is needed here again, and
until then put the stones in some safe place."

"But, my dear Madame Desterre, you are asking me to become an accomplice
in a felony," Herepath protested. "You are asking me to risk everlasting
disgrace, let alone a long term of imprisonment. Everybody in England
knows that these diamonds were stolen from the Princess Helena by an
audacious trick."

"Nonsense! Pray do not argue. The Princess would not attempt to
interfere--unless she did so on your behalf. I am your friend--one of
the best friends, if you only knew it, you have in the world. I want to
make the path smooth for you and Enid Harley, and I am the only person
who can do so. I can even give you back your sight. I can restore your
precious invention. And it is because I am eager to do these things that
I am apparently placing you in so dangerous a position. But no campaign
was ever won without risks and danger, and the particular campaign I am
engaged upon is far from being an exception to the rule. Now, do you
want the things I can give you, or do you not? Are you going to be
cautious, are you going to play the careful coward! Think of it! On the
one side a big struggle to live; poverty, blindness, endless anxiety. On
the other side, restored sight, Enid, fortune, fame, a name that any man
might envy! It is for you to make your choice."

Ninon was smiling no longer, her face was pale and set: she spoke with
passionate energy. There was an earnestness in her appeal that carried
Herepath away.

"Very well," he said; "I cannot but believe you. You are either my best
friend or the most consummate actress in the world. What shall I do?"

The flashing smile was back again, the beautiful eyes were luminous.

"Ah, that is the way to speak!" she cried. "Only do as I tell you. Get
away from London and hide those precious stones as soon as possible. Go
down to Camford, and stay at the same hotel with your sister and her
husband. You see, I know all about it. I have had to arrange the
movements of a score of people on your behalf--and Enid's. Only have
patience and trust me. And, now, see me into my car."

Ninon declined to discuss affairs any further. She was once again the
gay and inconsequent woman of society. Herepath turned away from the car
and made his way home to his lodgings. He was desperately anxious to get
rid of the burden of those stolen gems. He wondered what would happen
were he suddenly to become involved in some street accident and his
pockets were searched. It was a relief to find himself in that humble
bed-sitting-room again.

He felt that he had no option but to let things take their course, to
trust Ninon Desterre. After all, he could not well be worse off than he
was at that moment. He would lie low for a day or two, and then go down
to Camford. He was certain of a welcome there.

In this latter respect he was certainly not disappointed. He was met at
the quaint village hotel, where Blanche and Gay were quartered for the
moment, with open arms. They arranged that he must share their
sitting-room, and take his meals with them. He could make himself useful
in helping to get into the new house.

"A perfect gem of a place," Blanche cried. "So beautifully old and
restful. If you like pictures and works of art Camford can supply all
your needs. It is a veritable museum of treasures."

"I thought it was let on a long lease," Herepath said.

"It was," Gay explained. "But the tenancy expired some weeks ago, and
the family have gone abroad for a time. Now the glorious old house is in
the hands of two ancient servitors as caretakers. Would you like to see
the place?"

Herepath expressed himself anxious to do so. He very much wanted to go
over this house in which Enid was evidently so interested. She had told
him that her association with it was not her secret, but he did not
doubt that she knew all about Camford.

It proved to be a magnificent grey pile of buildings, that dated back to
the time of the Stuarts, and was lined throughout with old carved oak
panelling. The mansion, as Blanche had said, was a veritable museum of
works of art and furniture, but its chief glory was its pictures.

"They are marvellous," Herepath exclaimed when his inspection was
finished. "Still, if the house belonged to me I should be contented with
fewer of them. There are so many that they hide and detract from the
beauty of much of that wonderful carved oak. If Lord Southlands is so
anxious to clear the estate, why doesn't he sell some of the canvasses?"

"He can't," Gay said. "They are heirlooms. They go with the property. So
far as we know, Southlands has no family; indeed, I never heard that he
was married. In any case, I am sure the next-of-kin would object to such
a sale."

Herepath stopped to admire a small gem in the gallery, one of the finest
specimens of a Corot he had ever seen. There were six pictures in a
panel, with no frames beyond the old carved oak into which they had been
embedded.

"Well, I dare say the sale would be a wrench," he said. "Just cast your
eyes over this, Harold. Did you ever see anything more exquisite?
Really, I shall have to come here again and again. It is a positive
pleasure to wander about this fine old place."

"Come whenever you like," Gay said. "I have told the old man and his
wife that you are free of the place. I'm glad you're interested. It
gives you something to think about, and makes you forget your troubles.
We are only waiting to hear that you are not going on that proposed sea
trip of yours, and we shall be happy."

"Upon my word, I had forgotten all about it," Herepath confessed. "For
the present, at any rate, I'm not going. I dare say a month or two here
will do me just as much good, and not cost a quarter of the money. It
may be only my fancy, but it seems to me that my eyes are getting
better."

Gay was unfeignedly glad to hear it. He, of course, knew nothing of the
trouble that was holding Herepath up, nothing of the history of those
stolen jewels, and the hiding place that had been chosen for them. There
was plenty here to occupy Herepath's attention. He had the run of
Camford with its lovely park, and he made himself busy, too, in helping
Gay and Blanche to get into their new home. He could not read or write,
but fortunately the weather was fine, and he gradually fell into a habit
of taking long walks after dinner.

He had commenced them at first out of a natural desire not to intrude
too much upon the evening leisure of Blanche and her husband. Besides,
the exercise was good for his health, and he slept all the better for
it. He seldom met anybody in the park, and as a rule had the wide leafy
solitude all to himself. The calmness of the place suited his mood. It
mattered little what time he returned, but it was generally midnight
before he crossed the long avenue in front of the house on his way to
the little hotel.

After one of his rambles he was coming back that way about the witching
hour when he paused for a moment with his face turned in the direction
of the house. He fancied he could see something like a dim light in one
of the windows. Whilst he was wondering whether or not his bad sight had
played him false, the light vanished, and then he distinctly saw it
reappear in another window.

"That's odd," he said to himself. "Somebody is wandering about the
picture gallery with a candle. It can hardly be the old caretaker or his
wife at this hour. Besides, their quarters are on the far side of the
house----"

Herepath moved towards the building till he stood on the wide flagged
terrace. He could see then that he was not mistaken, that somebody was
really in the picture gallery with a candle. He was half inclined to
knock up the aged caretakers to see if they knew who it was moving about
the old place. On second thoughts, however, he abandoned the idea.
Burglars do not wander about a house with a naked light, however large
and solitary it may be. There was, too, nothing they could carry off at
Camford except furniture and pictures. Pictures were not of much use to
the average burglar, and the furniture was too bulky. He would speak
about the matter in the morning, and no doubt Gay would make inquiries.

"I'm getting too full of fancies," he told himself. "I begin to scent
mysteries everywhere. Probably a cat has got shut up in one of the rooms
and the old man is looking for it. I'd better go to bed and sleep this
fidgetiness off."

Herepath mentioned what he had seen to Gay at breakfast-time next
morning. It was not a matter of any moment, and Gay made light of it.
But he looked a little less easy at lunch time, and drew Herepath on one
side quietly.

"I didn't ask and didn't question the old couple," he explained, "about
that moving light you saw, but I got some information. I'm quite sure
that neither of them was out of their room from ten last night till
daybreak. There's something strange about the matter after all, Geoff,
and I'll look into it."

"Very well, and I'll have a hunt round the picture gallery for myself,"
said Herepath.

For an hour or two in the afternoon Herepath busied himself in the
gallery. He looked grave and puzzled as he came out and made his way to
Gay's office at the back of the house.

"Just come, this way," he said. "I suppose you can spare me ten minutes.
I've made a discovery that calls for your earnest attention. Come as for
as the gallery...Now look here. Just cast your eye over that panel of
pictures I admired so much the other day. You will, of course, remember
that wonderful Corot. What has become of it?"

Gay looked eagerly at the panel in question. His face was a study as he
turned to Herepath.

"Why, they have all gone," he cried. "Those are not the same pictures at
all. Those are the kind of treacle-coloured things that one sees in the
windows of cheap dealers in copied old miniatures. And how neatly and
artistically the edges of the panelling have been fitted to them."

"Yes. The thief, whoever, he is, understands his work, and must know the
house well. Shall we call in the police or bide our time for the
rascal's return. If he thinks no suspicion has been aroused he is sure
to come again."




CHAPTER XXVII.--HARD PRESSED.


We must now return to Dr. Gilray, whom we left outside Herepath's former
lodgings, where he had been to seek the inventor, only to be told that
he had gone away, leaving no address.

Gilray turned away from Herepath's flat with a foreboding of coming
trouble. He would have found it difficult to account for this, but there
it was. And Daniel Harley would not let this matter drop on the mere
assurance that Herepath was not to be found. Harley was a hard man to
deal with. He did not appear to know his own mind for two days together.
Take this very matter of Herepath's, for instance. At first Harley had
appeared to be more than satisfied when he thought Herepath had been
rendered helpless by his failure of sight. He had been free with his
praise, and had not hesitated to say that Gilray, in convincing Herepath
that his case was hopeless, had earned his money twice over.

Then almost before he had made a mental division of this money, which
was he believed, so soon to be at his disposal, the whole ground was cut
from under his feet, and the blackness of despair filled him once more.

Harley had suspected him of a crime, the crime of rendering Herepath
blind, and for that crime he was at first prepared to pay the
unscrupulous surgeon handsomely.

It mattered little to Gilray whether the crime had been actually
committed or not, so long as the money came to him. Now everything was
wrong, he was to get nothing unless he found some way of undoing all his
work, and of giving back to Herepath his normal sight. Even then Harley
might make some excuse for not fulfilling his contract. If he did,
Gilray was in no position to enforce it. And if he took back everything,
and put the inventor once more in a position to work, then he raised up
a powerful rival again. What a nuisance this money was, why couldn't
people do without it? And all the while angry creditors were clamouring
on his doorstep.

By hook or crook he would have to find Herepath, and do Harley's
bidding, but meanwhile it was necessary to get some cash on account. His
solicitor, Barker, was at him again. Unless he fulfilled his promise to
produce 5000 pounds, sure and early bankruptcy stared him in the face.

"My dear fellow, it's no use blaming me," the solicitor said. "You made
me a certain promise for to-day, and you tell me now that you have
failed to raise the money. If I am to save you I must have a cheque by
post time."

Gilray groaned in despair. He was utterly at the end of his resources.
His one and only chance was to get the money from Harley. He determined
that he would go and do so, that he would drag it out of the old man, if
necessary. Why should he be played fast and loose with in this way?

"I'll get it," he said desperately. "I'll get it this very afternoon,
and come back here before your office closes. I'll be back here with
that five thousand pounds."

Barker shrugged his shoulders. He had heard all this before.

"Very good," he said. "I shall be here till six. And please understand
that I have done everything I possibly can for you. Now, once for all,
remember that the bankruptcy petition will be filed to-morrow unless you
keep your promise. If you are not ready with the money you will be
adjudicated a bankrupt, and the Official Receiver will take possession
of everything. You know what this means to you?"

In his mind Gilray took an imaginary Harley by the throat.

"I do," he said hoarsely. "It means absolute, hopeless ruin. But I will
get that money. I will get it, even if I have to commit murder to do
so."

It was nearly 3 o'clock before Gilray dismissed his taxi and made his
way across the open space that led to the mysterious old house beyond
Shadwell. In the garish light of day it looked not a bit less forbidding
than it did at night. Gilray thought of the occasion on which he had
first seen it. He wondered where was the mysterious basement door by
which he had so nervously entered. This time at any rate he would gain
admission by the orthodox way. He rang the bell, but nobody came. He
rang again and again before he heard footsteps in the hall. Then the
door seemed to open by itself in some mysterious way, and Gilray found
himself in darkness. The door closed behind him, and he heard the latch
click. His heart was beating just a little faster. The darkness and the
silence of the place oppressed him. He had placed himself now entirely
in Harley's power. The man might murder him and throw his body in the
river, and nobody would be any the wiser. Nobody knew that he had come
there. There would be no clue if he was never seen again.

Then he comforted himself with the thought that Harley could not do
without him. To his mind it was quite clear that he was absolutely
essential to the wicked old man's plans. Yes, he would put up a bluff,
meet Harley with a bold face, and carry the matter of like a man. He
might as well be dead as bankrupt; indeed, the former condition would be
preferable.

"Anybody in?" he shouted. "Where are you, Mr. Harley?"

A door in the distance opened, and a ray of light streamed out. The gay
voice that answered the call was certainly not Harley's.

"It is the good Dr. Gilray," the voice said. "Pray come this way. I
shall be most delighted to see you and thank you for all your kindness
to me. This way, doctor."

Gilray walked on, feeling not in the least surprised. Nothing in that
amazing house could surprise him. At any rate the voice sounded
friendly. He entered a room into which he had never been before, a long
plain room with discoloured walls and dirty ceiling, yet filled with the
most beautiful and artistic old furniture. A good-looking young man,
with a reckless face and a pair of amused blue eyes, was bent over a
table engaged on some task of carpentry.

"Enter, my good doctor," he cried. "Behold me, Victor Player, at work.
Such a phenomenon has not been witnessed since the days when I was at
school. Now have you any knowledge of the way in which to construct a
picture frame?"

Gilray shook his head impatiently. He had not come here for this
foolery, excellent as it might be. He had, too, a feeling that the
fellow was laughing at him. And there was something oddly familiar about
his face.

"That is a great pity," Player went on gravely. "I want to restore a
broken portion of this lovely old Florentine frame. It got broken in
the--er--hurry of moving. Is it possible, my dear doctor, that you fail
to recognise your grateful Victor Player?"

"I seem to have seen you before," Gilray said stiffly. "But you have the
advantage of me."

"But yet it is not so long ago, doctor. You came here one night to
attend a patient. He had something the matter with his eyes. Goodness
knows what it was, but you came here. I was your patient, my dear
doctor. Behold me!"

"I remember you now," Gilray said. "No thanks are necessary. It was
merely a professional matter, and incidentally I was well paid for it.
But I came here to-day to see Mr. Harley. I have business with him of
the greatest importance. I hope he is at home."

"Oh, he is at home all right," replied Player with a shrug. "But you've
come at a most unfortunate time. The old man is in a devil of a temper.
He has even lost his temper with me, which, when you come to think of
it, is a most amazing thing. Take my advice and come some other time."

"I must ask you to tell Mr. Harley that I am here," Gilray insisted.

Player shrugged his shoulders again, but expostulated no further. With a
genial smile he left the room, and Gilray could hear him softly
whistling to himself as he walked along the passages. There should be no
more of this nonsense, Gilray determined. If Harley did not see him in
the course of a few minutes he would know the reason why.

But a good quarter of an hour elapsed, and there was no sign of Harley.
Gilray wandered restlessly about the room examining its various art
treasures. In an idle kind of way he wondered what his late patient had
been doing. On the table lay an exquisite Florentine frame in four
pieces, and by it a small painting, which Gilray's critical eye at once
appraised as a gem. This was some recent purchase of Harley's, he
decided, something that had come to him in the way of business. But why
should such business be done in this hole-and-corner way in this
mysterious house? Why was not Harley keeping one of those fine art
establishments in Bond-street?

Gilray was pondering this problem, when the door opened and Harley came
in. There was a frown on his face and unmistakable anger in his eyes.

"What do you mean by coming down here like this?" he demanded.

"I came to see you on urgent business," Gilray replied. "And I warn you,
Mr. Harley----"

The old man stepped across the room with an agility remarkable for one
of his years and snapped his long yellow fingers under Gilray's nose.

"Hoity, toity!" he cried. "The young bantam fancies himself, or he would
not be defying the wily old cock in this fashion. You warn me! Oh, oh,
that is good, very good! Why, I could smash you in an hour if I chose. I
could break you up in little bits. Or, on the contrary, I could save you
from disaster. I have only to hold up my hand and that petition in
bankruptcy to-morrow would never be filed."

He skipped and danced in front of the disconcerted Gilray, his features
convulsed with rage, and yet with a sardonic smile in his eyes.
Exhausted at length by his exertions, he dropped panting on a chair.

"Oh, oh!" he coughed "I forgot that I was not so young as I was. But
when you come into my own house and begin to threaten me I am myself
again."

"I beg your pardon," Gilray said hoarsely. The man's knowledge of his
private affairs filled him with wondering trepidation. "I came to see
you, and you--well, you are not polite."

"I never am polite. Politeness is an art I have no use for. Go on."

"Well, I went to see Mr. Herepath, as you suggested. You gave me certain
instructions----"

"No. I gave you no instructions. You are a free agent in the matter."

"You are very cautious," Gilray said bitterly. "But this is no time for
diplomacy. Mr. Harley, I am a desperate man. I stand face to face with
ruin."

"Well, most of us do at times," Harley said coolly. "A good many men are
bankrupts if they only knew it. I was pretty close to it myself once.
You want me to help you?"

"I want you to keep to your bargain. If I did certain things I was to
get 10,000 pounds. I did what I bargained to do, and you pronounced
yourself satisfied."

Harley sat there listening, with his head on one side like some evil old
parrot.

"Here, what's that, what's that?" he shrieked. "I made a bargain with
you! Never!"

"Oh, yes, you did. I am going to speak quite plainly. Geoffrey Herepath
stood in your way. He has invented a wonderful machine that you made up
your mind should be yours. You had already advanced a thousand pounds
through your creature Brigden, and you thought that the money would not
be repaid, and that you could step in and take everything. But Herepath
was just a little too smart for you. He had pushed his invention to the
commercial stage before you were ready. And then his eyes went wrong."

"Where did you get all your knowledge from?" Harley sneered. "And what
has it got to do with me? Suppose that I admit that what you say is
true? What then? It was a mere business transaction, sharp practice, if
you like, but the kind of thing that is done every day in the City. You
can go and proclaim your story from the housetops, if you like. Nobody
would listen to you. We do not make profits out of bankrupt doctors, my
friend. You cannot suggest fraud."

"That is exactly what I do suggest," Gilray said defiantly. "Fraud on
your part and on mine. If I become bankrupt then you go to gaol as sure
as there is a heaven above us."




CHAPTER XXVIII.--ENID SPEAKS OUT.


Harley sent his head parrot-like again. He and Gilray were coming to
grips now.

"Go on!" he croaked. "Don't mince your words. So I am party to fraud, am
I?"

"Yes, and I am another. Herepath has beaten you. He did not turn out to
be the average inventor, who does nothing but dream of untold gold so
long as he has a sovereign in his pocket. He pushed his machine on. He
satisfied Brigden that he had only to go to the trade to get all the
money he needed. In that case you would only have had a share of the
profits for your thousand pounds. That share was a huge fortune in
itself, and would have more than satisfied an average man. But you are
not an average man. You cast about in your avaricious mind for some
scheme whereby you could get everything."

"I am not admitting a word of this, Dr. Gilray. But go on, my eloquent
accuser, go on."

"Pooh! what does it matter whether you admit your villainy or not? Keep
your denials for the dock, where you will find yourself before long. I
say you looked round deliberately for some way to rob Herepath of the
fruits of his brain. And fortune favoured you. Herepath had given his
eyes too much to do, and he came to me to cure him. And by good fortune
I happened to be more or less in your power. Do you follow me?"

"I am listening, my fellow criminal. It will be my turn to speak
presently. Go on."

"Herepath came to me. I told him certain facts. Practically I deprived
him of the full use of his eyes. I stopped him from doing the crowning
work that was to render his machine perfect. And by so doing I threw the
invention practically into your hands. And I did it at your request."

"A pretty confession, truly," Harley sneered. "At my request you say you
deprived Herepath of the full use of his eyes! So that he would be
powerless, and that I could steal his machine! And this you are prepared
to repeat?"

"Anywhere!" Gilray cried. "Everywhere! To anybody! As I said before, I
am a desperate man. If you repudiate your bargain with me and I go down,
by the Maker who made us, you go down, too. And now, are you going to
let me have the money you promised me?"

Harley's mood suddenly appeared to change. He sat with his chin in his
hand thoughtfully.

"Circumstances alter cases," he said. "You have been frank with me, so I
will be equally frank with you. I am obliged to you for your confession
that you deliberately deprived Geoffrey Herepath of the full use of his
eyes for the sake of ten thousand pounds. I will pass for a moment your
statement that you did this at my request. What I want you to understand
is that I never part with money unless I get full value for it."

"That is the truest thing you ever said," Gilray retorted bitterly.

"Well, it's a fact, anyway. Now, suppose that Herepath gets the better
of both of us, after all. Suppose that he has destroyed a certain small
part of his machine, so that its secret should not fall into my hands?
Suppose that he has discovered that Brigden and myself are working
together."

"Oh, a truce to all this fooling!" Gilray cried. "Herepath has found you
out and I know it. He was beside himself with despair. There was just
the chance that he would get better in the course of months, but that
would be too late. By that time everything would be in your hands. So he
deliberately destroyed the essential portion of his machine."

"Since you know it, I'll admit he did all that," Harley said grudgingly.
"He caught Brigden and myself in his workshop at night. And he spoke
pretty plainly. He said that the odds were against him ever seeing
properly again, and, as he did not trust us, he took from his machine a
glass disc and smashed it. There you are. That's just how we stand
to-day."

"Then you have lost everything, including your thousand pounds?"

"Confound it, yes," Harley burst out. "You were too premature; you
destroyed, or practically destroyed, the fellow's eyesight, and now the
whole nicely-arranged scheme has come to nothing."

"I did what I did at your suggestion, remember. And, moreover, you said
that I had earned my money twice over. Now, instead of paying me, you
fly into a passion and declare that I have ruined everything. I'm not
the man to stand that sort of thing, Harley, and the sooner you realise
that the better."

"You will stand everything I ask you to stand," Harley said coolly. "If
you could restore that fellow's sight I could make terms with him. I
could go on the old lines and take half that he makes. It would come to
millions in time. I've over-reached myself this time, and I don't mind
confessing it. You can't do what I suggest?"

"And if I could do it, what then?" Gilray queried.

His voice sank to a whisper, he thrust his head forward till he could
see the yellow specks in Harley's glittering eyes. His whole body
tingled with excitement.

"Do you mean to say that you can?" Harley said eagerly.

"I don't say so. I only asked you a question. You don't have the chance
to play fast and loose with me again. What do I get if I can undo this
mischief, can bring back Herepath to his normal self?"

"Well, you got your ten thousand pounds to begin with."

"Ah, that's better," Gilray cried. "To begin with. You'll have to trust
me--a thing that with you will go sorely against the grain, but you will
have to do it. Meanwhile, I'll take this. It is a beautiful picture, and
I can easily raise a thousand or two on it."

He picked up the little gem of paint and colour from the table, and
proceeded to pack it carefully. With something like a cry of horror
Harley came forward.

"Do you want to ruin me altogether?" he cried. "Do you want to ruin
yourself at the same time? You little dream of the mischief that would
be caused if it got abroad that that picture was in my possession: Put
it down, man, put it down! To offer it for sale would be ruin. No good
could possibly come of a mad action such as that would be. Can you do
what you boast you can?"

"I am not boasting. And I have promised nothing. I said you would have
to trust me. Do so and I will try my best. Give me five thousand pounds
now, and the rest when I can prove to you that success has been
achieved. If I fail, you can easily take your revenge, for five thousand
pounds will not go far towards clearing off my debts. Give me a cheque
for what I ask you now, and the balance later on."

"Um! It sounds so far reasonable. And will you be satisfied with, that
ten thousand?"

"No, I shall not," Gilray said boldly. "Remember what I asked before. I
don't want any more money; at least I shall not require any more until
you have done with it. You have a child for whose sake I would do
anything. With her by my side I could go far. Is this to be part of our
bargain?"

Once more the ruddy sparks flashed in Harley's eyes, once more his
yellow fingers crooked with a suggestion that they were strangling
somebody, He laughed in a horrible silent way, unpleasant to see.

"My daughter shall please herself," he said. "You are free to ask her to
marry you if you like. But I shall put no pressure on her, understand.
If she refuses you, then there is an end to the matter, and it is not to
be mentioned again."

Gilray expressed himself perfectly willing to fall in with this
arrangement. It would be strange indeed, if, with the hold he thought he
had on her, he did not win this girl. In the meantime he would be able
to save his position, would stave off the exposure and disgrace that
hung over him like a cloud. He would show Barker that he could keep his
word. The money would be paid before 6 o'clock.

But the situation was not without its danger. To earn the whole of his
reward he would be compelled to place his rival on a pedestal again, a
strong man with a gigantic fortune before him. And Enid Harley loved
this rival from the bottom of her heart.

Well, he must chance it. There could be no drawing back now. There was
just one loophole, perhaps, but Gilray would not count too much on that.
The one great thing now was to get hold of that money.

He nodded in the direction of Harley's desk.

"There has been enough and more than enough of talk," he said. "Give me
my pound of flesh and let me go. To-morrow will be too late."

Harley shuffled slowly, almost painfully, across the room. He was going
to part with some of his beloved money, he was going to lose some of the
yellow gold that was his very heart's blood. And he was not getting
anything tangible for it. He was exchanging hard cash for a more
promise. Gilray watched him with a cynical smile. He rejoiced in the
struggle with the demon of avarice, tearing the miser's soul. Harley dug
his pen viciously into the paper of the cheque, dried it, and with a
sigh handed it over to his confederate.

"There," he said, "take it and hide it from my sight. This is a very
painful business for me, very painful indeed. Good-day. Come again as
soon as you have any news."

There was no occasion to wait for anything more, and Gilray let himself
out of the house, feeling that he had not wasted his time. He would walk
as far as the Tower, where he could take a taxi to Barker's office. As
he turned into the first street he heard his name softly called, and
looking round, saw Enid Harley behind him.

"This is quite an unexpected pleasure," he said.

"Is it?" the girl said coldly. "I followed you from the house, Dr.
Gilray. I have just had time to pack some of my things and send them by
a messenger to the station. It may perhaps interest you to hear that I
am leaving home to-day, and that I have not the slightest intention of
returning. I should be glad if you would lose no time in telling my
father this, for you are mainly to blame for my action."

"I to blame?" Gilray cried. "My dear Miss Harley, how can that be
possible?"

"I listened," Enid calmly explained. "I was in the next room doing some
of my painting. There is only a thin partition between the rooms, and I
heard everything that was said. There was not one word of your vile
conspiracy that failed to reach my ears. For a long time I have been
meditating this step, but to-day I knew I must remain under that roof no
longer. I will say nothing now of the wicked, abominable crime my father
and you have committed against Mr. Herepath. And remember this, Dr.
Gilray, even if you fail to restore to him the precious thing you have
taken away, it will alter nothing between us. I love Geoffrey Herepath,
and shall love him till I die. No, I will not listen to a word from you.
Go back to my father, and tell him what I have said. If he wants to know
where I have gone, tell him to Camford. He will understand quite well
what that means."

She turned and disappeared down a side street before Gilray was
sufficiently recovered from his surprise to follow her. All his plans
seemed to have failed, the house of dreams had collapsed. But the girl
must be stopped in her flight, she must be brought home at any cost. He
ran panting back to the house and thundered on the door. He could hear
Harley's shuffling feet as he came along the passage, he heard the angry
voice asking what was wrong now.

"Your daughter," Gilray gasped. "She heard everything. She was in the
next room. I met her in the street just now. She has gone, never to
return. She told me to tell you so. And I was to say particularly that
she had gone to Camford."

Harley grabbed Gilray by the coat collar and dragged him into the house.

"A thousand curses," he foamed. "Let me get a timetable, quick. She must
be stopped at any cost, ay, at the cost of half my fortune, if
necessary."




CHAPTER XXIX.--A GRAVE SUSPICION.


At the end of a week Gay and Herepath were no nearer to a solution of
the mystery of the missing pictures. It was annoying and disturbing, and
none the less so because they had said nothing to the police. True, Gay
had communicated the loss to the solicitors to the estate, and asked for
instructions, but had received no satisfactory reply. The matter, he was
informed, had been reported to the trustees, who were "taking steps."
Meanwhile, would Mr. Gay be so kind as to keep the matter a secret till
he heard from them again.

"Very far from satisfactory," Gay commented. "Still I've done my duty in
the matter. Perhaps those chaps know something, and are keeping it to
themselves."

"Perhaps it has happened before," Herepath suggested. "Perhaps I have
stumbled upon some family scandal. Well, we have done all we can,
Harold. But I've still got the idea that the thief will turn up again.
It will amuse me to look out for him."

For the moment there was no more to be said or done. Besides, they were
all very busy getting Gay's house in order. By the end of the week the
last curtain was in its place, the last rug upon the floor. Blanche
surveyed it all with tears of pride in her eyes.

"I was never so happy in my life," she whispered. "I'm selfishly happy.
If only Geoff were all right I should have nothing to wish for."

Herepath turned away so that Blanche should not see his face. He did not
want to spoil the exquisite pleasure of that moment. He would go out and
see if there was anything he could do in the garden. It needed nobody to
tell him that Gay and Blanche wanted to be alone. A feeling of
depression was upon him. A long walk was what he required to get rid of
it. Those walks always gave him an excuse for retiring early. He could
always plead after dinner that he was tired out.

He struck off across the country in for him a new direction altogether.
He walked on mile after mile till he was tired and thirsty, and in need
of tea. Presently by the roadside he found a quaint old inn that
appealed to him invitingly. He could just make out the sign of 'The
Green Man' swinging on a post in front of the house.

The door stood hospitably open, and he turned in. Here was the passage,
and the bar with the old black tap-room beyond, and beyond that again
the snuggery. Herepath rapped on the counter, but nobody came. But for
its furniture one might have imagined the place deserted. He rapped
again, and shouted at the top of his lungs.

A gay voice in the distance answered him in light and easy tones. It was
not exactly the way for a landlord to address a customer, and Herepath
was conscious of a certain irritation. He called again sharply.

"Why don't you come down?" he demanded. "Is everybody asleep here?"

Out of the brown shadow a slender figure of a man emerged. He was
dressed in a suit of perfectly fitting flannels. Herepath's sense of
smell told him that the cigarette he was smoking was an Egyptian of the
most expensive blend.

"Now this is quite an unexpected pleasure," the man said. "I anticipated
finding some thirsty carman in search of beer. Instead, I behold my
friend, Mr. Herepath."

"Player," Herepath gasped. "Count Victor Player! What--what are you
doing here?"

"Victor Player, at your service," the Count said coolly. "The victim of
a ridiculous mistake on the part of a stupid constabulary. The delicate
plant that might to-day be languishing in gaol but for the intelligence
of the beautiful and talented Ninon Desterre. My dear sir, do you know
that you are in great demand. Do you know that Mr. Daniel Harley would
give much of his money to stand face to face with you as I do?"

Herepath shrugged his shoulders impatiently. He had small reason to
trust this man, whom he had come to regard as little better than a
clever thief. At any rate, there was no getting away from the fact that
the Count had had a hand in the stealing of Princess Helena's diamonds.
That those stones were now in Herepath's possession made very little
difference. He would not part with them lightly.

"Come into the private bar and sit down," Player suggested hospitably.
"I have an aged retainer here who will get us some tea presently."

"You seem to be quite at home here," Herepath suggested.

"Oh, I am," the Count smiled. "You see the house belongs to me. I bought
it some time ago from a young swell, what you call a Johnnie, on
condition that I kept the house open till the license could be
transferred to another inn now being built on the far side of the
village. Otherwise the license would have gone altogether. For the
moment it is my whim to pass as a village landlord; that is when I have
any spare time. The villagers who assemble here at night to absorb beer
regard me as an amiable French lunatic. Between ourselves, they are a
little afraid of me. When I make this place into a private residence and
settle down they will know me better. Meanwhile, there are amusing
comedies to be acted here. Ah, yes. I am not sure that we are a long way
from a comedy now. And, by the way, what happened to those diamonds the
other night?"

Player spoke quite coolly. There was not the least sign of shame or
confession about him.

"You mean the diamonds stolen from the Princess Helena of Pau?" Herepath
asked coldly.

"The same. But your description is not strictly accurate. Don't forget
just now that I spoke of comedies. Well, those jewels form part of a
comedy. You have read all about them, of course. You are aware that they
formed part of the crown jewels of the Principality, and that the rebels
strove to get them back. My friend, that is all nonsense, what you call
flap-doodle. There never has been any rebellion in the State of Pau. It
is a fiction, a nicely got up newspaper sensation. The Prince of Pau
resigned, gave up his job, as you say, because he had no money to carry
it on. The jewels truly belonged to Princess Helena. At one time they
were her mother's, bought with her own money after a successful flutter
upon the Stock Exchange. You see, she had opportunities, as a Princess,
of inside information. Very useful, eh? The whole, what you call yarn,
was the invention of a clever journalist, and it has never been
contradicted, because, well, because, it was not worth anybody's while
to do so. For certain purposes, too, the story has been useful."

"Pardon me for a moment," Herepath interrupted. "All this may be fact,
but we can't get away from the knowledge that the Princess has been
robbed."

The Count's eyes twinkled as he applied a match to a fresh cigarette.

"So it would seem," he said coolly. "You know that they were in my
possession, and therefore you think you have evidence that I am a thief.
But do clear your mind of all that nonsense about political alarums and
excursions. The time will come when you will see more clearly, when you
will positively enjoy the situation. Meanwhile, I shall be grateful if
you will withhold your judgment as to my moral character, and believe
that I am your good friend and well-wisher. I am, indeed, Herepath."

There was something sincere and convincing the way the Count spoke.
Herepath had proved him, as he thought, to be a cool and audacious
thief. Yet in spite of all this, he felt attracted by the man. He looked
him frankly in the face, and there was no suggestion of the furtive-eyed
criminal of fiction about him. He went on without giving Herepath a
chance of reply.

"Madame Desterre is your good friend too. Oh, we know what is going on,
I assure you. They say it is not possible to serve God and Mammon, but
I'm not so sure even of that. You must not condemn the servant because
the master is a blackguard. I presume that you are staying somewhere in
this neighbourhood, Mr. Herepath."

"I am staying with relatives," Count.

"Quite right. Be guarded. Don't tell me too much. After all, knowing
what you do about me, why should you tell me anything? And the less I
know the less other people can get out of me. Keep where you are, and
don't go near old Harley for the moment. If he finds you now, as he
hopes to do, well then----"

The Count shrugged his shoulders with an eloquent gesture.

It was all very puzzling and bewildering but at the same time it was
evident that this volatile Frenchman meant well.

"I am absolutely helpless," Herepath said bitterly. "I am deprived of my
sight and practically of the means of obtaining my living. I am one of
Fate's footballs."

"Ah, my friend, but some day you will be in the possession of a fortune.
Some day you will get to work again and perfect that rubber invention of
yours, yes? Meanwhile you laugh in Harley's face. You tell him that the
game is his if only he can make another of those pretty glass marbles of
yours. That was a strong card, my friend, a very strong card indeed.
Then just at the critical moment you disappear, and Harley does not know
where to find you. And I give you my word he wants to find you very
badly indeed. And so does the clever Gilray."

"Gilray! What do you know about him?"

Player winked solemnly. He was as near gravity now as he ever got.

"A great deal, a very great deal," he said. "Sir, I am not quite so
brainless as you imagine, and that sometimes it suits me to appear. Now
listen, I set myself a task, and that task is nearly finished. Once it
is ended, Daniel Harley and your humble servant part company for all
time. Then I come and settle down here, and become a respectable member
of society. Ah, yes. I am shortly to lead to the altar, as you say, the
most lovely and accomplished of her sex. No, I don't mean Madame
Desterre, who has views of her own on the subject. The lady waits for me
in Paris. Now come up to my rooms, and I'll get some tea for you. The
old woman who helps me here is very old and feeble, and I save her all
the trouble I can."

Herepath followed wonderingly. He was just a little annoyed with himself
at falling so easily under the fascination of this free and easy
stranger. But he could not resist. He found himself presently in a
beautiful old room, in the centre of which was a table on which a cloth
had been spread and laid out. There was golden butter and honey and
homemade bread. A silver teapot of exquisite design stood on a tray, and
this Player took in his hand.

"I shall have to go downstairs and get some hot water," he said. "If I
leave it to my poor old woman we shall wait all the night. Excuse me for
a moment. Are you any judge of old oak? If so, there is plenty of it
here to interest you."

Herepath wandered round the room admiring the blue china, the wonderful
old punch bowls, and the half-dozen carved chests that stood ranged in
front of the mullioned windows. He forgot everything else in the
enthusiasm of the moment.

They were wonderful chests carved by a master-hand, and adorned on the
lids and sides by incidents from the Canterbury Tales. A more perfect
collection it would have been hard to find. Herepath wondered if there
were carvings inside the lids, for more than one of the chests had
bracket arms that suggested a double lid, so that at will the chests
could be converted into window seats. He raised one of the tops almost
reverently.

But there was no double lid here, nothing but an empty chest, save for a
picture or two lying on the bottom. Herepath took one of them in his
hand carelessly, then threw it back with a clatter into the chest again.

He had found the panel pictures recently stolen from Camford!




CHAPTER XXX.--THE FACE BEHIND THE GLASS.


It was fortunate perhaps for Herepath that he was alone just at that
moment. He had quite recovered from his surprise by the time that Player
returned with the tea. Herepath decided that he would say nothing of his
discovery to anybody; at least nobody should know except Harold Gay. At
any rate, he knew who the thief was now, and nothing would be gained by
betraying his suddenly gained knowledge to Player.

He would get away as soon as possible and return home. He had plenty of
food for thought as he walked along. It was nearly 7 o'clock by the time
he reached the quaint and charming old house near the lodge gates of
Camford. Apparently Gay had finished work for the day, for he was in the
garden smoking a peaceful pipe. Blanche was nowhere to be seen, for
which Herepath was grateful.

"Been for a long tramp?" Gay asked. "You might have been miles by your
boots. And what's the matter with you, old chap? You look mysteriously
wise."

"Well, I've discovered who stole those missing pictures," Herepath said.
"What's more, I know where they are, for I have actually had them in my
hand."

"The deuce you have," Gay cried. "Did you bring them back again?"

"No, I didn't. I did not betray myself at all. The man who has the
pictures has not the remotest idea that I have seen them. He does not
even guess that I am aware of their existence. He could not possibly
connect me with Camford. I believe I am correct in believing that he has
no idea of my present hiding-place."

"But my dear fellow, why do you speak of this delightful old house as a
hiding-place?"

"Well, more or less it is, as all in good time I shall prove to you.
Now, since you have been in these parts, have you ever heard of a
public-house called 'The Green Man?'"

"Of course, I have. It's quite a landmark in the country. I heard a
rumour the other day to the effect that the old hostel had been sold to
a Frenchman, and that the licence was being transferred to a new
building. Why?"

"Because I have had tea with the Frenchman--a man called Count Victor
Player. I have met him before, but that is quite another story, and one
that I cannot go into at present. I dropped into the house to have tea
in the ordinary way, and Player told me very much what you have been
saying. He left me in his own sitting-room whilst he went to make tea,
and invited me to admire his old oak chests. Lifting the lid of one of
them I came bang upon the missing pictures."

"My dear chap, are you quite sure you are not mistaken?"

"Mistaken! I'm prepared to stake my reputation on what I say."

"Well, upon my word, Geoff, this is amazing," Gay cried. "Did you by any
chance say anything?"

"No, I didn't," Herepath said curtly. "I held my tongue. It seemed to me
to be far more prudent just now to say nothing. We know where the
pictures are, we know the name and identity of the thief, and we can put
the police on his track at any time. Besides, I am inclined to think the
fellow may have an explanation as to the pictures being where they are."

"Explanation?" Gay queried. "When you know how those pictures went?"

"Well, there may be an explanation. The strange part of the whole thing
is that Player does not give one any impression of his being an ordinary
thief. In the ordinary course of things I should call him rather a nice
chap. I should like to go up to the house after dinner, and have another
look at the panels the pictures were stolen from. I suppose I could get
in without disturbing those ancient caretakers?"

"With the key in my possession, certainly," Gay said. "What's in your
mind?"

"Nothing very particular. Only a theory I wish to test. Besides, it
gives me something to do. Isn't that Blanche calling? She sounds quite
excited I hope she hasn't broken any of those old bowls she is so fond
of. Well, Blanche?"

Blanche came hurriedly down the rose-bordered path, her eyes shining
like stars.

"Oh, the most wonderful thing!" she cried. "I was never more surprised
and delighted in my life. Who do you think is there, Geoff? Who do you
think has just come? She walked over from the station, and her luggage
is followed in a cart. She was going to stay at the old Inn, but when
she found that we were properly settled she came on here and asked if we
would pardon her intrusion and put her up for a time."

"If I had a mother-in-law," Gay said, with a twinkle, "I should at once
jump at the name of the invader."

"Oh, do be serious, dear. Can't you guess? Well, Geoff, perhaps you
can."

Herepath was conscious that his heart was beating a little faster. It
was bewildering and incredible, but Blanche's shining eyes let him into
the secret.

"Blanche!" he cried. "Is it really true? Is Enid here?"

"Oh, yes, yes. And she knows that you are staying with us. I thought
perhaps that she might not care to...you understand. But she seems to
be glad. And she says that she is never going back to that dreadful old
house in London again. She wants to remain with us a little time till
she can look round and get something to do. She seems to think that she
will be able to get a living doing gold brocade embroidery. She looks
dreadfully ill, poor thing. I am quite sure something terrible has
happened, that she has something on her mind."

Herepath went slowly up the path in the direction of the house. He would
find Enid in the drawing-room, Blanche observed. And Gay was suddenly
anxious to get information as to Blanche's views on the subject of a new
flower border.

"Best leave them alone for a little while," he murmured. "Looks as if
there was something wrong, dear. If so, she will confide in Geoff, and
we shall hear all about it in good time. I should like to see those two
people as happy as we are."

Enid rose as Geoffrey entered the long low drawing-room. He could see
the tears in her eyes, could see the supplication on her face, and the
yearning for love and sympathy in the droop of her lips. He had not
meant to take her in his arms and kiss her, and he hardly realised that
he had done so till her head lay on his shoulder like that of a tired
child.

"Oh, I am so glad, so glad!" she murmured. "People may say that I am
here after you, but I shall not mind. I couldn't stay when you had gone,
Geoff. I couldn't really. You don't know what my life was like after you
had gone."

He could feel the sobs shaking her from head to foot. He held her to him
and soothed her as best he could. Then she grew calmer, and a beautiful
smile lit up her warm face.

"Now tell me all about it, darling," he said tenderly.

"Oh, I couldn't, Geoff. At least not yet. It's all too terrible. And
besides I'm not sure. You know how it is when you wake up from a hideous
nightmare. At present everything is clear and vivid but afterwards it
all goes dull again. And I should not like to condemn anybody on the
evidence I heard until I was certain, positive. If what I heard was
true, then how can I tell you my dearest boy? Oh, I couldn't. At least
not just yet. Please do not press me till I feel a little stronger."

It was a puzzling situation, but, as Herepath plainly saw, no time for
questions. There would be plenty of time for them later, and Enid was
safe here. It was good to feel that she was far away from the blighting
influence of that dreadful house in the region of Shadwell.

"Did you have any quarrel with your father?" he asked.

"No, Geoff," Enid replied. "I left him. Just left him. I made up my mind
what to do on the spur of the moment. I am not without money. I am
fairly well supplied with that. My first idea was to come down here at
once, but I found something else to do which kept me in London for some
days. Do you know that for the moment I had quite forgotten Blanche was
here."

"Really! Then you didn't come here with the intention of seeking shelter
from her?"

"No, Geoff. I had really forgotten all about Blanche. It may seem
incredible, but it is true. But then I had so many dreadful things to
worry me. It was not until I was halfway there that the idea of Blanche
and her lovely house occurred to me. I was going to the inn."

"But why come here at all, darling?" Herepath asked. "It seems a strange
coincidence."

"Oh, it was no coincidence. I sent a message to my father, saying that I
was coming here."

Herepath suddenly recollected. It was not so long since Enid had told
him that she knew Camford well, that this very house was familiar to
her. She was looking just a little red and anxious as he gazed into her
eyes.

"This is another of your secrets," he said smilingly. "Do you remember
telling me that you were quite familiar with this house, that you knew
Camford well? Yes, I can see that you do, Enid. You must have had some
powerful reason for coming here. Are you going to tell me what it is?"

She lifted her clear eyes to him and shook her head.

"I cannot at present dear," she whispered. "That is not my secret. Some
day you will know. Before long everybody will know. But now it would be
a gross breach of trust for me to tell even you. You must be content
with the knowledge that I feel quite safe here--it is the one place
where I am safe, and where I can defy everybody."

"But if your father follows you down here, dearest?"

"My father will not follow me down here. Of that you may be certain. So
long as I am in Camford I am as safe as I should be in Buckingham
Palace. More than this you must not ask me to say. And now about
yourself, dear? How are your eyes? Are you feeling better? Oh, if you
only knew how I had longed to be near you?"

Herepath bent down and kissed the trembling red lips tenderly.

"I think I understand," he murmured. "I never felt better in my life.
And, strange as it may seem, my eyes are not troubling me at all. At odd
moments when I forget and take off these glasses I can see wonderfully
well. It's very strange."

Enid's face grew pale, she trembled in Herepath's arms. It was as if she
had had some bad news.

"That is very strange indeed," she whispered. "Oh, if only...but I'll
not think of that. Let us go and find the others--they will think that
we are very selfish. Geoff, Geoff, I begin to see a way out of all our
troubles----"

But more than that Enid would not say. She seemed quite tranquil and
happy during the evening, and it was some time past ten before Herepath
was free to leave the house, and make his way across the path in the
direction of Camford. He had the key of the house in his pocket. He was
going to put his theory to the test without disturbing the caretakers.
He was thinking more of what Enid had said than anything else as he made
his way across the grass. He paused at length by the side door, the key
to which was in his pocket, for it seemed to him that he could hear
sounds of footsteps inside.

"It looks like a light under the door," he murmured. "By Jove, it is a
light. And somebody is creeping along the passage. If I look into this
window----"

He raised his head and stared into the passage through a window devoid
of curtains. The dim light grew stronger as it came nearer to the glass.
Then a man passed dimly and shakily along like some quivering figure on
the film of a cinematograph.

"Harley," Herepath muttered "Harley for a million. The plot thickens
with a vengeance."




CHAPTER XXXI.--ON THE VERGE.


Herepath stood for some minutes outside that window of Camford House
taking in the bent, crafty-looking figure of Daniel Harley, and making
quite sure that he was not mistaken. His identification of the old miser
did not surprise him: indeed, he had had so many surprises lately that
they were losing their power to startle him. All the same, the puzzle of
Harley's interest in Camford remained, and Herepath made up his mind
that he would leave nothing undone to solve it.

He could see Harley looking here and there, as if in search of
something. There was a scowl on the old man's face--his lips moved as if
he were muttering something to himself. He appeared to have no fear of
being discovered, but moved along as if he were on absolutely familiar
ground. Then the light of the candle became more and more faint as the
miser vanished in the distance.

Evidently something radically wrong was going on here, and possibly the
old caretaker and his wife knew something about it. Still these people
bore an excellent reputation, and it was just a little late in the day
for them to take to crooked ways. Besides they slept on the far side of
the house, and they were deaf and lame into the bargain. Any thief who
knew the ropes would be comparatively safe, and there was nothing in the
attitude of Daniel Harley to suggest that he had any fear of
consequences.

Well, whatever he was after, Herepath was not going to lose sight of
him. He had rambled all over the house many times now, and he knew it as
well as, or better than, the people whose duty it was to look after the
ancient mansion. Moreover, he had the key in his pocket, and an electric
torch in case of accidents. He opened the door carefully and stepped
into the corridor, intent on following the mysterious visitor. He could
see a dim spot of light a long way ahead, and this he kept in view.
Harley appeared to have some definite object before him now, for he
continued his way until he came to a staircase leading to the gallery.
It seemed to Herepath that he was getting warm.

Was it possible that Harley was in some way connected with the stealing
of those pictures? At any rate the old man was after something in the
gallery, and it was from the gallery that the pictures had been taken.
It was not a pleasant thought and was certainly not made more attractive
for Herepath by the remembrance that he was following Enid's father. It
seemed rather strange that the old rascal should take these risks at his
time of life when he had so many satellites about him who could do the
work so much better.

Harley paused at length before a large picture in an oak frame, and
placed his candle on a Chippendale pedestal beside it. Some thirty or
forty feet away was a small chest draped with a piece of Gobelin
tapestry, and behind this Herepath secreted himself so that he could see
all that was going on without fear of discovery.

He knew that picture quite well--it was a Raeburn, and represented
Cynthia, fifth Countess of Southlands, a noted beauty and flirt in her
day; it was, moreover, a picture with a history. There was no finer
specimen of a portrait in the gallery, and none more admired by
visitors.

It seemed impossible that Harley had any sinister designs on this work
of art. He was too old and feeble to carry it away, and no man in his
senses would run the risk of cutting it out of the frame. Besides, it
would have no commercial value, nobody would ever dare to become the
purchaser of so well-known an art treasure. Just for a moment it
occurred to Herepath that Harley was bent on doing the painting some
mischief.

But if so, there was a good deal of method in his mischief, for he
dragged forward an oak chair and proceeded to place it in front of the
picture to form a step ladder. He took from his pocket a tape measure,
with which he went carefully over the surface of the picture, making
notes of certain measurements on a sheet of paper. Apparently these
figures were not pleasing, for he paused and muttered to himself. A
minute later he climbed down from the chair and replaced it, putting his
notes in his pocket at the same time. Then very deliberately he pulled
the iron handle of the bell on the wall close by with the air of one who
knows exactly what he is doing.

Herepath could hear the harsh jingle of the bell in the distance. He
knew perfectly well that it communicated with the old caretaker's
bedroom, and the fact seemed equally well known to the intruder. Again
and again the bell clanged harshly, and presently in the distance
Herepath could see the figure of the caretaker limping down the gallery.

"Oh, lor', oh, lor', whatever is a-doin' of now?" he asked sharply. "Is
the place afire, sir? What do 'ee mean a-frightenin' honest folk in
their beds this-a-way?"

He was half angry and half frightened, and his palsied head jerked from
side to side as if a string were pulling it. Then the candle he carried
in his hand fell with a crash on the floor, and he gazed at Harley as if
he had seen a ghost.

"I be mad," he shuddered, "clean gone off my head I be. I'll come to
myself a-soon and find as it's all a dream. How many years is it,
my----"

"Daniel Harley," the other rasped out. "If you dare to forget that name,
I'll--I'll skin you alive, you sallow old image. What's my name, you
rascal?"

"Daniel Harley, it be, Mr. Daniel Harley, of Lunnon," the caretaker said
with the air o' a child repeating a lesson. "An' I humbly axes your
pardon, sir. You see it be so many years sin' I seed 'ee last that I be
apt to forget, I be."

"Well, don't forget in future. You can keep a secret, James."

"Nobody beant better, sir, wi' keepin' a secret than I be," the old man
said with a touch of pride. "Aint kep' one for twenty years an' more an'
nor another body the wiser as the saying is? What is it you might be
pleased to be a-wantin'?"

"Nothing except answers to some of my questions. First of all, why has
the portrait of the Countess been moved? And where has the tanseag frame
gone?"

"It were done two or three years back," the caretaker explained. "The
trustees they sent a gentleman down, from some place in Lunnon,
Chrissie, I think 'twas they called it, and' he had most everythink
altered, he did. Here for a month or more she were, an' the galry were
turned about no end."

"Yes, yes," said Harley impatiently, "but what became of the old frame?"

"That be somewhere down in the cellars, sir, I do believe. The visitors
as comes here to see the picter do say as how that there frame be a
great improvement."

"Um! from their point of view perhaps it is. Between you and me, James,
there was a lot of useless lumber here, and it's just as well that it
was taken away. But that frame doesn't quite suit me, and I'm
disappointed in it, James. Got any petrol in the house?"

"Lor' no, sir," the bewildered caretaker replied. "If so be as you wants
to set it afire an' burn down the place I 'opes as 'ow you'll give me
an' my old 'ooman a chance to get away fust."

"Burn down the place--who the dickens suggested such an idiotic idea?
Did it never enter your thick head that petrol is a good thing to clean
pictures with? I shall have to come again and bring some with me. I dare
say I shall be here pretty often for some time to come. It's rather a
nuisance that my visits must take place at night, but that is not
distasteful to one of my modest and retiring nature. Now listen to me,
James, and pay great attention to what I am saying."

As Harley spoke he crossed over to the old man's side, and whispered
something in his ear. He was speaking vehemently. He was terribly in
earnest, for his hand shook as he gripped James by the arm. It was quite
impossible to hear a word that passed, to get any idea of Harley's
commands, but that they were unpleasant and unusual the caretaker's
blank face, and open mouth plainly indicated.

"But I couldn't do it, sir," he said "I really couldn't. It beant
nat'ral. If so be as anythin' was to happen to you, sir, whatever would
become o' me an' the old 'oman. I be an old man, I be, an' arter all
these years o' sarvice to the family, I should take it mortal 'ard to
see the end on't in prison."

"Then you mean to say that you refuse?"

The old man wrung his hands in an agony of distress.

"Now don't 'ee, don't 'ee force me to say them words," he implored.
"Don't 'ee, sir. Us might be destroyed in our beds, us might. Lor', I do
wish as 'ow I'd never been born, I do, an' that's Gospel."

"Was there ever such a doddering old image," Harley cried, forgetting
his caution in the wild anger of the moment. "I tell you there's no
danger whatever. I'll see to that. The whole thing will be over in ten
minutes at the outside. And it will save a lot of talk afterwards. A few
people will be sorry, there will he a paragraph or two in the papers,
and then the incident will be forgotten. And you'll get fifty pounds."

"An' a fat lot o' good that 'ud be to me, sir," James retorted sturdily.
"Me and the old 'oman ain't a-got a many years to live now between us,
and we've done very tidy, so to speak, one way an' another. Since us
'ave held on 'ere, in the way o' puttin' a bit by, an us couldn't spend
it all, leastways not by fair means, afore our time comes now, I tell
'ee, sir, as 'taint no money as'll tempt us."

"You are a wonderful man, James," Harley growled; "You're about the
first man I have ever met who is not appealed to by money. As a matter
of fact, money is not what I am thinking about. I am a comparatively
poor man, James----"

"Ay, thanks to the father afore 'ee, you be, sir," James muttered.

"Well, never mind that. The fact remains. If I were alone in the world I
would not mind, but you see I have a child to provide for. Can't forget
that, James."

The old man smiled, and Herepath could see how his face softened.

"To be sure, sir, to be sure," he said. "I had bin near forgettin' Miss
Enid. God bless her. I suppose us shall see her again some day, sir?"

It seemed to Herepath that there was cunning method in Harley's way of
dealing with his rustic servitor. He had touched the right spot now, had
touched the spring of affection that all his money could not move.

"Very soon, very soon now, James," he said. "In fact, Miss Enid is in
this neighbourhood now. She came down here to stay with some friends,
and that is also another reason for my coming here. We had a little
difference of opinion, James, and I'm afraid she is rather annoyed with
me. I should not be in the least surprised if she called to see you some
of these days, James. Now, you will do this little thing for her sake,
James?"

The old caretaker no longer protested. The look of yearning and
affection was still on his face. It was all very bewildering and
puzzling to the listener, who so far had gained nothing by his
adventure. He would have given a great deal to know what those two had
been talking about, and what it was that Harley was so keen on
attaining.

"Very well, sir, if 'tis to help Miss Enid, I'll do it," said James
grudgingly. "'Tis a mad thing and a wicked thing, I be sure, but for
Miss Enid's sake it shall be done. But you'll have to be a-comin' 'ere a
time or two to put me up to the way on't, sir, for I be certain sure I
couldn't do it right off like so to speak. An' now, sir, if so be as it
pleases you, I'll be going back to bed, sir----"

"Oh, go back as soon as you like," Harley grunted. "And mind you speak
no word of this to anybody, not even to that old wife of yours. The less
said the better. Good-night, James."

The old caretaker hobbled off without another word, and then in his turn
Harley made his way along the gallery and down the stairs. He blew out
his candle and vanished into the darkness, leaving Herepath doing his
best to put together the pieces of this maddening puzzle.




CHAPTER XXXII.--AN EYE FOR AN EYE.


The sudden defection of his child had been a bitter blow to Harley.
There were reasons for his rage and his seeming impotence in the matter
far deeper than any that Gilray dreamt of. The miser had been taken by
surprise.

Enid's rebellion was the last thing he would have expected. Hitherto the
girl had been docile enough. Certainly she had protested and argued, and
that was all, and Harley did not mind that. She had found the task of
go-between, which had been thrust on her, a hateful one, and had
speedily become suspicious that there was something very wrong about the
business carried on so secretly, but so far she had never before dared
to set that stern old father of hers at defiance.

When Gilray brought him the news of Enid's flight so dramatically Harley
raged and turned for some time like a lunatic, and the doctor deemed it
prudent not to interfere. But by and by the old man calmed down, and
seemed prepared to face the situation.

"Your daughter will probably come back, sir," Gilray said.

"I tell you she won't," Harley snarled. "She's like her mother--very
sweet and amiable up to a certain point and after that as obstinate as a
mule. Up to now she has done everything I told her for the simple reason
that she couldn't put as much as a little finger on anything actually
wrong. But it's different now. She's got to know of the bargain between
us, and she is in love with that fellow Herepath, curse him. She's got a
certain amount of money of her own, so she is more or less independent
of me, Gilray. It's up to you to put matters straight."

"And how can I put matters straight?" Gilray asked.

"Well, if you can't nobody can. I tell you that girl must be brought
back. I can't have her hanging about Camford. It would upset the whole
of my plans. Give me another three months, and the work of my life will
be ended. I shall be able to turn my back on this filthy hole, and
everybody can know everything that has occurred here, for all I care.
But this is an infernally critical time, and I can't have everything
disarranged because of a girlish whim. You can get that child back if
you like, and after that--well, we'll see."

"You want me to set Herepath on his legs again?"

"Of course I do. Restore his sight to him, fetch him back to London.
Once that is done, the great invention will become once more a practical
proposition. If you do that Enid will come home if only to be near the
man she loves."

Gilray caught his lips between his teeth savagely.

"You are very illogical," he said. "I am going to speak plainly, Mr.
Harley; indeed as things are between us, the more plainly I speak the
better. There was at one time, and not so very long ago either, an
implied bargain, linking us together. You were to find me a large sum of
money, and in return I was to deprive Herepath of the use of his eyes."

"But, confound it, I didn't say that you were to blind the fellow."

"You didn't say anything one way or the other. To be brutally frank, you
did not care a row of pins whether Herepath was permanently deprived of
his eyes or not. If you had had any choice in the matter at that time,
you would have preferred the extreme course. I did what was necessary,
and you were, or pretended to be, quite grateful. You told me that I had
found a way out of all my money troubles, and I--well, I had at the same
time disposed of a dangerous rival. When I came for my reward what
happened?"

"I refused to give it you for the simple reason that circumstances had
changed," Harley said with the greatest coolness. "Herepath had been too
many for us. He was firmly convinced that his sight was going; he could
see his chances slipping away. And when he caught Brigden and myself in
his workshop that cursed night the whole plot was plain to him. If he
could gain nothing then neither should I. That is why he destroyed the
glass disc, and at the same moment deprived me of a prospective million.
That million is utterly lost unless his sight is restored."

"Which is the task I have before me, eh?"

"Precisely. Give it him back again--if you can. You'll get nothing
unless you do. I mean you'll get nothing beyond what you have already
had, which is only enough to stave off your trouble for a month or two.
Go down to Camford and see Enid. Tell her what you can do. Ask her where
Herepath is to be found, because it's any odds she knows. Get him back
to London, and keep him fiddlin' around for a week or two, and I am
positive Enid will follow. But you'll have to eat humble pie. You will
be told with unpleasant frankness that you are a criminal, probably
you'll have to confess what you've done. Very, very nasty, of course,
but, my dear sir, big money is not obtained so easily as you seem to
imagine."

Gilray ground his teeth in impotent rage. There was no need for Harley
to enter upon such an elaborate analysis of the situation. He could see
all it meant quite plainly. He was to confess himself a coward and a
blackguard and a criminal, he was to lower himself still further in
Enid's eyes, and perhaps run the risk of a prosecution. If this last
happened, he would take good care that Harley stood in the dock, too.

"You are a precious cool hand," he sneered. "I like the way in which you
are piling everything on my shoulders. I am to confess my crime and
leave Herepath to take his revenge. I am to let him know that he has
been the victim of a vile conspiracy to deprive him at one fell stroke
alike of his sight and the fruits of his genius. But it takes more than
one to form a conspiracy, Mr. Harley. Remember that you were to be the
principal beneficiary."

"Admitted," Harley said coolly. "If you go and proclaim the story on the
housetops I dare say you could get me five years--we might even compare
notes in gaol. But, you see, I am paying the piper, and it is for you to
dance the tune. You are at your wits' end for money, and you come to me
to make it for you. Now, Herepath could not very well prosecute you
without prosecuting me, and he won't do that, for the simple reason that
I am Enid's father. My dear sir, I have reasoned it all out."

"You are the most cold-hearted and calculating old scoundrel I have ever
met," Gilray cried in a passion of rage. "I curse the day I ever met
you."

Harley listened quite coolly. He seemed to accept the denunciation as a
compliment.

"Not you," he said. "You've got 5000 pounds already and more to come. My
good fellow, we are very well matched and very well met. And now, be
off, and do as I tell you, without any further argument or waste of
words. I'm getting tired of your company."

Gilray went back to Harley-street mad with rage and the sense of his
importance. He could not see his way a yard before him, he could see no
path to safety. If he defied that old rascal he was ruined. If he
confessed to Enid he was disgraced for ever in her eyes, and could never
hope to call her his wife. Perhaps that hope was already lost to him,
for she had overheard the greater part of the conspiracy. He would have
to go deliberately out of his way to put Herepath on his feet again. He
would have to restore to the lovers the happiness they had lost. He
might even be publicly disgraced and degraded.

And what was he going to get in return? He had had 5000 pounds of Daniel
Harley's money, and there was as much again to come. This would help him
out of some of his troubles, but a long and bitter struggle would still
face him. It would be years before he was round the corner. Harley could
order him about like a dog.

Moreover, he had yet to earn the remainder of his money. Part of the
compact was that he should find some means of luring Enid back again to
London. He was to go down to Camford and see her. He had not the least
idea where she was to be found, but that made no difference. It was
necessary that he should remain in London for the next few days to look
after his work, but he generally had a free day on Saturday, and he
determined to get away for the weekend.

He turned up Camford in the A.B.C., and found that accommodation could
be obtained at the little hotel there. So he motored down, to look about
him and make inquiries. It was not possible for Enid to be staying in
the neighbourhood without somebody knowing it. The landlord of the hotel
would doubtless be able to give all the information.

"Oh, yes, sir," he said. "There's a Miss Harley staying at Grange--that
old house by the lodge gates at Camford House. She was going to stay
here only she found out quite by accident that Mrs. Gay was a friend of
hers."

"And who is Mrs. Gay?" Gilray asked.

"Oh, she's the wife of the new steward at Camford," the landlord went
on. "They have only been married a few days, sir; only just settled in
their house. Very nice lady, Mrs. Gay. They were here for a short time.
Mrs. Gay was a Miss Herepath, sister to a wonderful inventor."

"Oh, really," Gilray exclaimed. "I--I happen to know him. Is he staying
here, too?"

"Staying with his sister, yes, sir," the landlord explained. "Very nice
gentleman but nearly blind. Sad case, sir, and him so young and clever
and all."

Gilray turned aside without asking further questions. He had all the
information he needed, and a good deal more. So Herepath and Enid were
actually under the same roof. He thrilled with rage at the thought of
it. It was as though the Fates everywhere conspired to make his task
more difficult. He would have to explain to Enid, of course; but it was
hardly possible to do so in the presence of Geoffrey Herepath. At last
he decided to drop in casually and announce himself as Dr. Gilray,
making the knowledge that one of his patients was in the neighbourhood
the excuse for his visit.

But with all his coolness and audacity he felt miserably shaky and
nervous as he walked up the drive leading to Gay's house. The beauty of
the day and the brilliance of the sunshine did not appeal to him just
then, he started and changed colour as he saw Enid seated on the lawn
with a book in her hand.

"I--I came in the hope of seeing you," he stammered. "It is a liberty,
of course, but in the circumstances I am sure Mr. Gay will not mind."

"Mr. Gay is away for the day, and Mr. Herepath has gone with him," Enid
said coolly. "Mrs. Gay is shopping in the village. Did you know that Mr.
Herepath was here! Are you over for the day, Dr. Gilray? Or are you
staying at the hotel?"

Gilray felt just a little easier in his mind. Things were not falling
out so badly, after all. At any rate, he would have Enid to himself for
a time.

"I am staying the week-end," he said. "I came down at your father's
suggestion. He is very distressed that you should have left home. There
are many reasons why he wants you to be near him. I do so hope I can
persuade you to return to him."

"Will you please stop," Enid said quite coldly. "I quite fail to see,
Dr. Gilray, how our family affairs should concern a stranger like
yourself. I left home of my own free will, and I am not in the least
likely to return. Nobody can know better than yourself how impossible it
is for me to do so."

Gilray shuffled uneasily from one foot to the other.

"May I sit down for a few minutes?" he asked.

"There is no reason why you should not do so, if you choose. But really,
Dr. Gilray, you are wasting your time here. That is unless----"

The girl hesitated with a wild wave of colour flooding her cheeks. She
was looking firmly and squarely into Gilray's eyes, and they dropped and
blinked before her gaze.

"I'm all attention," he said "Pray command me in any way you choose."

"Then I will take you at your word," Enid replied in a hard tone. "Dr.
Gilray, you are wasting your time here unless you are prepared to give
back to Geoffrey Herepath that which you helped to take away from him."




CHAPTER XXXIII.--PLAIN WORDS.


Gilray's face flushed a dull red. It was no easy task he saw before him
and he braced himself for the ordeal in the ordinary way; he would not
have cared, but then this slip of a girl knew too much. He had had it
from her own lips that she had heard most of the conspiracy whereby
Geoffrey Herepath had been deprived of the most precious possession a
man can have.

How far was she prepared to go, what sacrifice would she make to save
her father. If only Gilray could find this out the path would be easier
for him. He had expected tears, and would have known how to deal with
them. He had hoped Enid would make an appeal to him, in which case he
could have dictated terms. But he saw no suggestion of tears in her
eyes, no desire to throw herself on his mercy.

"I am afraid I don't quite understand you," he said.

"Yet I tried to make my meaning plain," Enid replied. "Why did you
become a party to this wicked crime?"

"Again I must ask you to be a little more explicit, Miss Harley."

Wild, angry words rose to Enid's lips, but she restrained herself. Not
that way would it be possible to get the better of Gilray. He had risen
to his feet, and with a gesture of contempt she bade him be seated
again.

"I am not sorry you came," she said. "Dr. Gilray, if I told Mr. Herepath
all I know, what do you think would happen to you?"

"I have not the remotest idea, Miss Harley. Would you be so good as to
explain."

"He would kill you," Enid went on quietly. "And he would be justified in
doing so. Let me go back some little way so that I can explain more
clearly. Ever since I can remember I have been living in that dreary old
house amid the deserted wharves. My mother died when I was quite young,
and from the day of her death my father became a changed man. I have
always understood that he was passionately attached to my mother, and
that she was the only friend he had in the world. She caught scarlet
fever from me, and died just as I was getting about again. My father has
never blamed me for her death, but I have always felt that in his heart
he considers that my life was saved at the expense of hers. I have done
my best to be a good and dutiful child to him, but he has always kept me
at arm's length. He may be fond of me but assuredly he has never shown
it. Any love that was left in him has been lavished only on one
object--money. Has he ever told you why he is everlastingly in search of
money?"

"I have met your father but a few times, Miss Harley. I should say that
he is not the sort of man to confide in anybody."

"That is true. But it occurred to me that you might be somewhat in his
confidence. So you cannot tell me what project he has in view: why it is
that day and night he thinks of nothing but the getting of money?"

"Honestly I cannot. He struck me as the average type of miser--a man in
whom the greed of gold has become an overwhelming passion."

"To a certain extent I agree with you," said Enid thoughtfully. "But I
am also sure that his avarice is not due to greed alone, but is dictated
by some purpose he has in view, and that every coin he can scrape
together goes to the furtherance of that purpose: What it is I do not
know, but to aid in its achievement he sticks at nothing short of crime;
indeed, I have reason to fear that even that mark has been overstepped,
that you, Dr. Gilray, know it has. Oh, I begin to see things all too
clearly now! I begin to understand what the coming and going meant of
the many strange characters with whom I came in contact in that dreary
old house of ours. I am well aware that I have been used as a go-between
when money was to be made. But I was told nothing. I was kept in the
blackest ignorance, save that I knew that my father had a purpose for
which money, much money, was needed. Oh, it was a strange life for an
innocent girl to lead."

"That is why I have always felt sorry for you," Gilray murmured.

"Dr. Gilray, I have no need for your sympathy. I am accustomed to
loneliness and lack of friends. I never knew what it was to exchange a
smile with a single person till I made the acquaintance of Madame
Desterre. And about the same time Geoffrey Herepath came. Am I beginning
to interest you?"

Gilray muttered something under his breath. He had never admired Enid
quite so much as he did at that moment. There was a calm, tranquil
strength about her that added to her beauty. A woman had taken the place
of the child.

"I repeat that Mr. Herepath came," Enid continued in a level voice. "I
need not go into our story, the story that is so old and yet so new. And
when I found that he loved me it seemed to me that I could at last see
my way to happiness."

Gilray listened moodily. The fires of jealousy were burning hotly in his
breast. Herepath's place, he thought in his conceit, might so easily
have been taken by himself. A few months earlier, and he might have been
saved all this trouble and crime which now involved him. It was gall and
wormwood to catch the rapt expression in Enid's voice, when she spoke of
Herepath, and to see the love light in her eyes. His heart grew bitter
and venomous with hatred of this man she loved so.

"I said nothing to my father," Enid went on, "for it seemed to me that
my happiness was entirely my own concern. Had I mentioned the subject I
should not have been allowed to see Geoffrey again. We were to wait till
he had made his fortune and then we could go our own way. And at that
time the fortune did not seem very far off. You understand?"

"I'm afraid I don't," Gilray muttered.

"Dr. Gilray, it will be far better for you to be candid with me. When I
think of what has happened, I feel very hard and bitter against you. If
it becomes necessary I shall not hesitate to disclose all that I know.
So be warned. If you like, we will close this conversation now and I
will go back to my book."

Clearly here was no child to deal with, but a determined woman ready to
do battle on behalf of the man she loved. Gilray hastily changed his
ground.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I--I was thinking of something else. You
were alluding just now, weren't you, to that invention of Mr.
Herepath's?"

"You were not thinking of something else, and I was alluding to that
invention. Unfortunately, Geoffrey Herepath mentioned the matter to my
father as well as to me. It was a mistake on his part, and I dreaded the
consequences. Mr. Herepath needed a thousand pounds; he was anxious to
find somebody who would advance it. When he told me some little time
later that he had been successful in getting the money I had an
intuition as to its source, and feared the consequences. When he told me
who had advanced the money I knew my fear was justified. The ostensible
lender was a man called Brigden, a little shifty rat of a man who has
been my father's tool and cover for years. I felt certain then that
desperate steps would be taken to deprive Mr. Herepath of the fruits of
his work and genius.

"I warned him as fully as I dared. I found that he had been robbed
before, and that he had learnt caution from his past experiences.
Possibly he might have won through but for the misfortune that happened
to his eyes. Here was the golden opportunity for the thieves, and you
came on the scene to help them."

"I beg to assure you," Gilray protested, "that I did nothing to injure
Mr. Herepath, that I knew nothing of any plot----"

"Don't lie!" Enid cut in with a tone that stung like a lash. "You had
better hear me out. You came to our house in the dead of the night to
operate on a young man who had met with an accident. I let you in. We
had to observe the greatest secrecy, for your patient had done something
rash, and a visit from the police was feared. This, however, is
conjecture on my part, because I was allowed to know as little as
possible. But it struck me as a strange thing that a doctor in your
position should consent to come to such a quarter of London at the
instigation of Dr. Vorley, and with every chance of compromising your
reputation."

"I came because Vorley was an old friend of mine," Gilray said.

"That is another lie, Dr. Gilray. You came because the fee was an
enormous one and you were in dire need of money. That much I gathered
from what my father said. I was sorry for you at the time but--not
afterwards. By the irony of fate, Mr. Herepath came to consult you about
his eyes. You had seen my father, and at his bidding practically
sentenced your unsuspecting patient to a living death."

"Indeed I didn't," Gilray protested. "I told him to be very careful. I
told him----"

"To do nothing for months. It practically came to the same thing. You
killed his hopes, and sent him away a beaten and a ruined man. A great
deal happened between his first and second visits to you, Dr. Gilray."

"It pleases you to be mysterious," Gilray muttered.

"Not at all--I will speak as plainly as you like. In the interval you
established a kind of understanding with me. You discovered me in what
you deemed to be a compromising situation at Madame Desterre's house,
and on that discovery you traded. I never thought it possible that I
could ever hate and despise a man as I have hated and despised you since
that night."

The words stung Gilray to madness. The colour flushed his cheeks like
flame.

"I did my best to shield you," he almost shouted. "If it had not been
for me----"

"If it were not for you I should be a happy girl to-day," Enid cried
scornfully. "You wanted money, you thought that a rich wife would rid
you of all your troubles. You did me the doubtful honour to fall in love
with me, and say that you would marry me without a penny. No, you did
not tell me that--you told my father, and he confided so far in me. You
were useful to him, and I was to fool you to the top of your bent--he
would know how to get rid of you when the time came. Oh, my cheeks
tingle with shame when I think of it."

"Then why unnecessarily give yourself pain?" Gilray asked, feeling that
he must temporise.

"Because it is my plain duty to do so," Enid cried. "Because I know now
in what way you have been useful to my father. Remember, I listened,
remember I heard all that passed between you the last time you visited
the purlieus of Shadwell. It was a good thing for my father to know that
Geoffrey Herepath was out of his way, that he was practically blind, and
that he could not go on with his great work. You were the judge, and
from your lips came the verdict of the court. But you were a corrupt
Judge, Dr. Gilray."

No reply came from Gilray, he was feeling dreadfully helpless before
this contemptuous, scornful girl.

"Geoffrey Herepath was too clever for you," Enid went on. "It was very
nice for you conspirators to know that he could not use his eyes, but
the position totally changed when he destroyed that little disc and with
it the whole value of his invention. The situation is equally hopeless
for you now, because it is imperative for you, if you would avoid utter
ruin, to give back that which you have taken away. In other words, you
have been ordered to restore his sight to Mr. Herepath. Can you do it?"

Gilray muttered oaths under his breath. He was aflame with rage and
despair, but he knew he was helplessly enmeshed, that, if he would avoid
utter ruin and public-degradation, he must obey Harley's behest. No, he
was beaten. Enid was hopelessly lost to him, but he must placate her if
he could.

"I--I should like to see Mr. Herepath again," he stammered.

"Then you think that perhaps you were mistaken in your view of his
case?" Enid asked mockingly. Then she added with threatening sternness:
"Dr. Gilray, I would not stand in your place for all the money in the
world if Mr. Herepath should prove to be really blind."




CHAPTER XXXIV.--THE FIRE.


Enid had risen to her feet. She confronted Gilray with flashing eyes.

"Now I can speak plainly," she said. "Dr. Gilray, you are guilty of one
or two things--either you are a cheat and a liar, or you have
deliberately deprived a fellow-creature of his sight. If your first
verdict is true, I accuse you of tampering with Mr. Herepath's eyes so
that you could get a rival out of the way. If you have lied to Mr.
Herepath, your crime is only a little less repulsive. In any case, you
gave judgment against your patient for money, and now to get that money
you have to reverse that judgment. What shall you say to Mr. Herepath
the next time he comes to see you--if he comes at all?"

"You--you think that he would not be safe in my hands?" stammered Gilray
miserably.

"Would anybody be safe in your hands in your present desperate position?
I begin to respect that there is nothing very wrong with Mr. Herepath's
sight, that you have wilfully deceived him so as to put money in your
pocket. Knowing what I know now, I shall advise Geoffrey Herepath to
consult another oculist. And if my suspicions are confirmed, you will
hear of this again. This wicked conspiracy shall be exposed, even if my
father goes down under the ruins. Oh, to think that a man who calls
himself a gentleman should stoop so low--should be so base and vile!"

"Now what are you two quarrelling about?" a gay voice floated across the
lawn. "Fancy a difference of opinion in this peaceful old spot. Shame
upon you both."

Ninon Desterre flitted across the grass, a lovely little butterfly in
some foamy, frothy white garment, a black picture hat on her head. She
dropped lazily into a chair, and surveyed the other two with charming
impertinence from under her nodding plumes. To Enid the intrusion came
as a positive relief. She was the first to recover herself.

"We have been having an argument," she said, "on what I call the verdict
of the Court. Dr. Gilray represents the judge, and I am counsel
appealing against his judgment. I have been trying to convince Dr.
Gilray that the sentence will be revoked on appeal."

"Not if it comes before the same judge," Ninon said maliciously.

Gilray made some inconsequent reply, but it sounded false and hollow in
his own ears. He could not stay any longer; he had remained too long
already. He wanted to be alone with his bitter thoughts. Ninon watched
him with twinkling eyes as he walked towards the gate.

"He is very good-looking and successful," she said; "but he does not
strike me as being quite on such good terms with himself as usual. To
use one of your vigorous metaphors, he has gone off with his tail
between his legs."

"I have been speaking pretty plainly to him," Enid said. "No. I am not
going to tell you the subject of our conversation."

"No need," Ninon said coolly. "You were discussing Geoffrey Herepath and
his eyes. Oh, there is going to be plenty of fun presently. And I shall
have a word to say when the time comes. And so you have actually run
away from home! Why did you do it?"

"Oh, I can't explain," Enid said uneasily. "There are many reasons why I
could not remain there. You know it is the last straw that breaks the
camel's back. If you only knew the life I had been leading in that
gloomy old house!"

"Well, you will not be worried much longer," Ninon said. "I happen to
know that. And your troubles will be over in a few weeks. And you will
marry the prince, my dear."

"I don't see any sign of it at present," sighed Enid. "But what are you
doing down here? Have you come to see me as a kind of ambassador from my
father?"

"Nothing of the kind. I found out what had become of you from that young
man of yours, and I decided that a long week-end in the country would be
the very thing for my nerves. So I borrowed a cottage in the
neighbourhood from a friend, and here I am. And I am quite sure that you
are very glad to see me!"

Enid smiled. She was very fond of this kind-hearted, volatile little
Frenchwoman, despite the fact that she was a mystery, and that she was
in some way connected with the shady dealings of Daniel Harley. But that
there was anything really wrong with her Enid did not believe for a
moment. Probably she would explain everything when she was ready to do
so.

"Now I wonder if the owner of this very charming house would give me
some lunch," Ninon went on. "I'm very fond of Blanche Herepath--I mean
Mrs. Gay--and it has always been a regret of mine that I have not seen
more of her. And the prince is staying here, too, eh? What a delightful
family party! And how your father would enjoy being one of us. Does he
know you are here, or are you still supposed to be in hiding?"

"My father knows that I am staying near Camford," Enid said demurely.
"It is the one place in the world where he dare not come--as yet."

"More mysteries," Ninon laughed gaily. "Am I to be allowed to share the
secret?"

"It is not mine to share," Enid said. "But if what you said just now is
true, why then all the world will know the story before long."

"Well, it is a good thing that I am not curious," Ninon said. "Perhaps I
am the less curious because I have a tolerably shrewd idea of what is at
the back of your mind. Now take me inside, and show me something of this
charming old house. I have a perfect mania for old houses. When I retire
from business and take pity on my faithful Hector Marsail and marry him,
this is just the lovely place I should like to live in."

Blanche was pleased enough to see Ninon Desterre, and delighted at the
opportunity of playing hostess to her. And Ninon was frankly enraptured
with all she saw. She flitted like a bee from flower to flower, she was
everywhere at once, her tongue tripped on heedlessly. She seemed to have
left every care and trouble behind her.

But her face was grave and her eyes eager when at length she found
herself alone in the garden with Herepath. She was the woman of business
once more.

"I have come here to-day on purpose for this," she said. "Did you think
I had forgotten you?"

"I was beginning to wonder," Herepath replied. "I have some property in
my possession that I am anxious to get rid of. It presumably belongs to
you?"

"Well, as a matter of fact it belongs to Mr. Harley," Ninon said drily.
"I dare say that remark puzzles you, but many things will be made plain
before long. I'll take those jewels away with me, if you don't mind."

"I shall be exceedingly glad to get rid of them," Geoffrey replied.

"I thought so. Don't worry any more about them, and don't run away with
the impression that you are liable to a long term of imprisonment for
receiving stolen goods. But I want to talk to you seriously about
yourself. I understand that you owe Daniel Harley a thousand pounds."

"It might be a million for any chance I have of repaying it," Herepath
said bitterly.

"Oh, never talk in that despondent fashion," Ninon smiled. "You never
can tell where your friends are and when they are coming to your
assistance. You went into the city to get that money, and you fell
headlong into a trap that Harley had laid for you. Now, why didn't you
come to me? If you had told me what you needed, you could have had the
money with pleasure. I should have loved to be your partner."

"It's no use crying over spilt milk," Herepath groaned.

"But, my dear man, I don't believe the milk is spilt," Ninon cried. "If
I found you the money, could you get rid of Harley by paying him off?
Would you let me be your partner----"

"With all the pleasure in life," Herepath exclaimed. "And give you half
the proceeds. If I offered the money to Harley he would be bound to take
it, especially as he has already threatened me through his solicitor.
But you forget the state my eyes are in. In all probability I shall
never be in a position to use them again, and in that case your money
would be thrown away. My dear lady, why should I rob you?"

"I am going take all that risk," Ninon said gravely. "If you had the use
of your eyes again, could you make another disc? You see, I know all
about it. There is very little I fail to discover when I set out to find
anything. If we could get Dr. Gilray to admit that his diagnosis was
wrong, could you make another disc?"

Herepath smiled at the apparent simplicity of the question.

"I could do it in a week," he said. "I am not quite sure that I could
not do it without my eyes at all. But what is the use in building on a
foundation of sand? Nothing good can come of it, Ninon."

"We shall see," Ninon cried gaily. "Then it is a compact! I find you the
money, and you get that elderly cormorant out of the way. Meanwhile, we
shall have a word or two with Dr. Gilray, or, perhaps, happy idea!
consult another eye specialist. Give me the chance to tell Gilray you
are going to do so--what?"

"It is only throwing good money bad, Madame Desterre."

"Oh, but it shall be my money, if necessary. It is all part of the
compact. You must run over to Germany, and see the great man on eyes
there. If I give you my card he will be only too pleased to work what
you call con amore. Now do."

Herepath said he would consider the matter. It sounded very much like a
waste of time, but there was something in Ninon's cheeky optimism that
gave him hope. Eminent men had made mistakes before, and why not Gilray?
All the afternoon Herepath brooded over the point. He had been a coward
to give way so easily. At last he went over to Madame Desterre again,
and told her that if she would give him the address of the oculist
friend she had mentioned he would certainly pay him a visit.

"Now, that is the way I like to hear you talk." said Ninon, as she rose
to leave. "My word it is nearly dark, and I have a mile or two to go.
Will you send to the village for some conveyance for me? I have never
enjoyed a day more, and I am sure, Blanche, that I never sat down to a
dinner that was better served than yours. Enid, are you not delighted to
hear that this young man of yours is going to another specialist?"

"I am indeed pleased," said Enid quietly. "The idea had occurred to me
this afternoon, and I shall be most bitterly disappointed if I do not
hear good news from the visit."

For some time after Ninon had gone Herepath remained in the garden, a
prey to new hopes and fears. Was it not just possible that the sentence
of the court would after all be reversed on an appeal? Was it not
strange, too, that it was so light this evening that there was so red a
glow in the sky? Down the road a man was galloping as fast as his horse
could carry him. He seemed to be shouting something as he dashed along
towards the village. The words came clear and low.

"Fire, fire!" he cried. "Up at the Hall--Camford is ablaze."

Herepath turned and ran swiftly towards the house.




CHAPTER XXXV.--IN THE GALLERY.


Herepath reached towards the house with a strange feeling upon him that
he had been through all this before. He wondered why he had half
expected it to happen. It was very absurd, of course; but there was no
putting the sensation aside.

But there was no time to waste on self-analysis. The old house was on
fire, and willing hands were needed to cope with the disaster. At
Herepath's call Gay came running into the garden.

"What on earth is wrong?" he demanded.

"Camford is on fire," Herepath explained. "A man on a horse yelled the
news as he passed. Probably he is on his way to Castleton for the
engines. But hadn't we better run across and see what we can do?"

The suggestion was so obvious that Gay made no reply except to dash
across the garden in the direction of the road. The glow in the sky told
its own tale; indeed it looked as if Camford was well alight.

"I can't understand it," Gay gasped, as he raced along. "The last tenant
was very nervous on the subject of fires, and they spent any amount of
money on the very latest appliances for its prevention. All the chimneys
and grates were overhauled periodically, and the roof tanks kept
supplied with water. Besides, no fires have been lighted there for
months."

Herepath made no comment. A theory was shaping itself in his mind. It
would have been difficult to have put this theory into words or to give
it any practical shape, but all the same Geoffrey could not get rid of
it. He would be able, perhaps, to definitely formulate it later on. They
were drawing nearer and nearer to the burning house. They could see a
score or more of men hurrying to and from the lake with buckets of
water, which was all that could be done to check the flames, pending the
arrival of the engines.

From one of the windows in the picture gallery there came a dense volume
of flame. By the side of the window was a ladder, and from the top of
this one man after another dashed his bucket of water, and dropped back
hot and exhausted. Gay shook his head as he took all this in. It was
very praiseworthy and energetic, but quite useless. If the fire was to
be coped with properly it would have to be done from the inside. And how
could that fire possibly have broken out in the gallery?

"Here, this won't do," Gay cried. "We shall have to tackle this in
another way. Why hasn't old James opened the doors? Where is James?"

A score of voices called for the old caretaker. He had been seen only a
few minutes before. Some youth with his eyes sharper than the rest
presently found him sitting dejectedly on a heap of curtains dragged
down from the gallery window.

The old man seemed to be dazed with fear and fright. He cried aloud as
Gay grabbed him by the arm and dragged him forward.

"I didn't do it," he moaned. "It bean't me; I didn't do it, sir."

"Who on earth said you did?" Gay asked impatiently. "What I want to know
is, how did it happen? There's nothing to burn in the gallery. Who found
it out?"

"'Twas me, sir," James almost blubbered. "I'd just gone to bed--a little
late for me 'twas, which 'twere a good thing, sir. An' it seemed to me
like as 'ow I could smell burnin'. And my old 'ooman, she snifted the
same thing. So I goes as far as the gallery--fust I do----"

"One moment," Herepath asked. "Why did you go to the gallery first?"

The question was a simple one, but it seemed to stagger the old man like
a blow. If Herepath had flung at him an accusation of murder he could
not have looked more ghastly. Gay shook him by the shoulders none too
gently.

"Why the dickens don't you answer?" he asked. "It's a simple question.
Oh, what's the use of our wasting time on him, Geoff? The poor old fool
is in his dotage. What we've got to do is to open all the doors and work
from the hall. There are water tanks on the roof, and a proper system
for flooding every room if necessary, but I've never been over the roof,
so I don't know anything about it. Here, you fellows--fill your buckets
and carry them up the stairs. This way----"

So far, the fire had not done any great damage. It had broken out,
apparently, on one side of the gallery, where it had attacked the
panelling, which, being hard oak, as firm in grain almost as steel, was
resisting bravely. One or two of the pictures were in flames, and Gay
gave orders for the others to be removed.

"Not much damage so far," he said.

"That is just where you are mistaken," Herepath said grimly. "It so
happens that I know a great deal more about the pictures than you do. On
the wall yonder was perhaps the most treasured canvas in the house--I
mean Raeburn's Countess Cynthia. At a fair estimate I should say it was
worth 10,000 pounds. And apparently it has been destroyed."

"You don't say so," Gay said blankly. "The whole thing is a mystery to
me. How the dickens did the fire begin? There is no grate here and no
hot water in the heating pipes at this time of year. Why, what are you
doing?"

At the risk of burning his hands, Herepath was tearing down all that was
left of the famous picture. It was now a tattered mass of charred
canvas, with dabs of blistered paint here and there. The action seemed a
useless waste of time to Gay, who looked on with something like contempt
as Herepath rolled up the painting, or what was left of it, and conveyed
it to a place of safety.

"You would be using your time to far better advantage if you came with
me and helped to find these tanks," Gay said. "I wonder if old James has
sufficiently recovered his wits to be of assistance. You see that
trapdoor overhead? Well, beyond that is a tank, and connected with it is
a pipe with a canvas hose and a stop-cock. The tank contains some ten
thousand gallons of water. If I can only find the way to it we shall
have the whole thing settled long before the engines arrive."

But James was far too muddled to give any assistance. He could only
cough and gasp in the smoke-laden atmosphere, and gaze with terror on
the glowing walls as the fire gradually and surely ate its red way into
them. He had heard all about the tanks, of course, a day or two ago, and
he could have shown them what to do; but now he could not fix his mind
on anything. And every moment the peril of the flames increased.

"Go and get me a ladder," Gay cried. "Two ladders. You see there is
another trap at the far end of the gallery, Geoff. You take one tank and
I'll take the other. Now, then, you fellows, hurry up with those
ladders."

The ladders were brought, and the trapdoors were lifted. Inside was
nothing but black darkness, and more precious moments were lost in
obtaining candles. So far as Herepath could see, there was a long space
where the rafters crossed at intervals, and where he had to walk
carefully lest he should put his foot through the plaster that formed
the ceiling. He stumbled more than once, and nearly lost his light. As
he scrambled to his knees his spectacles slipped from his eyes and
disappeared altogether down a crack so deep and black that any hope of
recovering the glasses was entirely out of the question.

He cursed himself under his breath. What was he going to do now? How was
he going to find his way out of that trap without his eyes? And how
utterly helpless he would be until he could go to London and get another
pair. And just at the moment, too, that he felt convinced he was on the
verge of a great discovery.

He must make the best of it; he would have to use what sight was left to
him, despite all Gilray's warnings. He opened his eyes to the widest
extent and stared defiantly around him.

Then he started and trembled violently from head to foot. For everything
was as clear as crystal before him. He had not been able to see so well
for years. He could make out the dust upon the walls; he could see tiny
spiders scuttling away fearful of the candlelight. He stared into the
flame, which only slightly dazzled him.

What did this mean: what miracle had come to him? Just for the moment he
forgot his errand, he forgot the flaming house, and the suspicions which
were gradually and surely shaping into certainty. His sight had come
back to him, and with it all his ambitions. He would be able to cope
with Harley again, he would wrestle with that old rascal and bring him
to his knees. He could avail himself of Ninon Desterre's offer now.

He came to himself as he heard shouts from below, and dropped from the
clouds to earth again. It was easy to work now that he could see
properly. Here was the great tank which he had come to find, a huge iron
arrangement with a stop-cock at the base, with a long length of cotton
hose-pipe attached. He wrenched the stop-tap over; he saw the hose begin
to fill and wriggle like a brown snake.

He dragged the pipe across the rafters with infinite care, and stood
presently over the trapdoor at the top of the ladder. He had only to
direct the nozzle now in the direction of the blazing panelling and turn
the tap.

Gay welcomed his appearance with a cheer. "Good man!" he cried. "You've
hit on the right spot. My tank was too far away, and, anyway, I couldn't
get the tap to move. Let's have it."

The solid jet of water as thick as a man's arm struck the flames till
they fairly hissed again. Long before the tank was empty the panelling
that had been burning was reduced to cold, wet charcoal. The smoke began
to clear away, and the atmosphere grew cool.

"Now, then!" Gay cried. "All the mops and brooms you can get together,
and sweep up the water so that it does not get down below. Not so much
damage done, after all. Beyond that one picture nothing much seems to
have suffered, Geoff."

"That was pretty bad," Herepath said gravely. "All the same, I daresay
it was insured. If so, it makes matters all the worse."

Gay stared at Herepath in frank astonishment.

"All the better, you mean," he said. "What's the matter with you? And
how grave you look. Oh, it's the absence of those glasses. What have you
done with them?"

"I slipped down, and they fell off my nose," Herepath explained. "You
need not worry. I am by no means sure that their loss is not a blessing
in disguise. But all that I will discuss with you later on. I think I
shall be able to astonish you presently."

But Gay had already turned away to give directions to his army of
willing helpers and despatch somebody on horseback to stop the engines.
The danger was all over now, the damage done by the water had been
minimised as far as possible. Herepath turned in search of something,
and at length he found it in old James crouching in one corner with his
head in his hands. The guilty, startled look was on his face as Herepath
spoke to him.

"Come this way," he said grimly; "I want a word with you."




CHAPTER XXXVI.--THE SHAM AND THE REAL.


The old man put up his hands as if to ward off a blow. Herepath took him
by the arm and led him into the open.

"Now listen to me," he said. "I am not going to injure you, and you are
not going to suffer. That is, if you tell the truth. How did the fire
break out?"

"Oh, lor', sir, I don't know, sir," the old man stammered. "I just
snifted smoke, and my old 'ooman she snifted smoke. And I ups an' get
along fust to the gallery----"

"Yes, I know you came first to the gallery. You said that before. But
what I want to know, and what you have got to tell me, is why you came
first to the gallery. There are no fireplaces there--there is not hot
water in the heating apparatus at this time of year. And yet the fire
starts in the gallery, and this is the spot you make for at once. Why?"

The old man made no reply. He half raised his hand again with the
suggestion of a fear of personal violence. His lips quivered strangely.

"Very well, don't reply if you are afraid to," Herepath said. "I don't
want to force you to talk against your will. But don't you think it
would be far better to tell me the truth than to have it dragged out of
you by the police?"

The old man bent his head and burst into senile tears.

"It bean't no fault o' mine," he blubbered. "I've allus bin taught to do
as I be told."

"You mean that you are afraid of Daniel Harley, eh? What did he say to
you?"

But apparently Herepath had gone a step too far. The old man suddenly
ceased his whimpering, and his face grew resolute again. Evidently the
name of Harley was not one to conjure with so far as he was concerned.

"Now you jest take my advice and drop it, mister," he said, quite
truculently. "You be young, and no doubt you thinks as 'ow you knows a
great deal. Maybe you do. But you don't know Daniel Harley, and what
'tis to get up agen the likes of he. If you've a-got a grudge agen him,
you put it a one side. If you're a-trying to get the best of him, you
leave the job be. Because you'll be mortal sorry for it if you don't,
mortal sorry for it, as long as you lives. If ever there wur a cunnin'
old fox 'tis Mester Daniel Harley."

James stopped suddenly, frankly conscious that he was going too far.
This rapid change in his manner was puzzling. And it behoved Herepath to
be careful.

"Very well," he said. "I'll come and have another chat with you
to-morrow. Meanwhile, as all the danger is over, and most of our helpers
have cleared out, you had better go to bed and think it over. If you
only knew it, I am your friend."

James shuffled away, only too glad of the opportunity to go. The hall
was dark and silent now, and the park was deserted. The clock on the
village church was striking two as Herepath and Gay turned into their
own house.

"I want one whisky and soda before we go to bed," Gay suggested. "I'm as
dry as a limekiln, and I am sure we have earned it. What do you make of
this job?"

Herepath poured himself out a drink slowly and thoughtfully.

"Are you satisfied with it yourself?" he asked. "Do you call it an
accident?"

"Well, to be quite candid, I don't," Gay said. "From a common-sense view
such a fire as that is impossible. And yet the impossible happens. If I
could see any object in it I should say that the thing had been done
deliberately."

"The thing was done deliberately," Herepath exclaimed. "The panelling
was sprayed with petrol and a match applied. And old James did it."

Gay jumped excitedly to his feet, and took his whisky and soda at one
gulp.

"Here, steady on!" he cried. "Be careful what you are saying, old man.
James has been a trusted servant of the family for over fifty years."

"Precisely. And it is because James is a trusted servant of the family
that he has behaved in this way. My dear fellow, I have found something
out. I have made a discovery so startling that I smile when I think of
it. And yet I am absolutely certain that I am correct. Still, I dare not
tell you what it is as yet. I've got to see old James again to-morrow
first, and when I have done with him I shall get the whole truth. Once
that is in my possession I will let you hear all the details. But I can
assure you that old James is responsible for the fire."

"But, my dear chap, what could he gain by it? He doesn't want money; he
could retire on his savings at any moment. And he's devoted to the
family."

"That's just it. He is too devoted to the family."

"Oh, well, if you are going on with these enigmas, I'll be off to bed.
Tell me what you like and when you like. There will be plenty of awkward
questions asked a little later on, when I come to face the insurance
company."

"Yes, if you ever do come to face them, which I very much doubt. I'm
open to bet you a level five pounds that the trustees of the estate make
no claim. If they don't, of course the insurance company will do
nothing. There will be no claim made for the picture--the excuse will be
that it is capable of restoration."

"Why, my dear chap, the picture, as you know, is a mass of charred
rags!"

"Precisely. A mass of rags that I have taken the liberty of hiding. Oh,
there are lively times at hand, I promise you! Only it is not wise at
this moment to talk too plainly. Let's go to bed. I have lost my
glasses, and I may be further injuring my sight."

But Herepath was conscious of no added defect of vision when he awoke in
the morning. On the contrary, he could see better than ever. All those
aches and pains had gone, there was no longer any irritation, no spots
danced before him. He looked in the glass, and his heart rejoiced to see
how clear the pupils were, how transparent the whites. As he dressed he
was busy with a new set of thoughts altogether, he had forgotten old
James for the moment. He began to suspect a conspiracy of quite another
kind.

He finished dressing and strolled out into the garden. Enid was already
there getting a basketful of roses for the dining table. A little cry of
alarm broke from her as she saw Herepath.

"How imprudent," she said. "Where are your glasses?"

"Lost them," Herepath said, cheerfully. "Dropped them during the fire
last night. I'm sure that it was a very happy accident for me, darling.
Enid, look at me. Do you see anything wrong? Don't you begin to ask
yourself a few questions?"

"You mean that there has been a mistake?" the girl asked.

"Perhaps," Herepath said, drily. "And again, perhaps not. My eyes are
better than they have been for years. At the present moment there is
nothing whatever the matter with them. And I don't believe there ever
has been anything radically wrong. I am prepared to let it go at the
fact that Gilray was in error. On the other hand, I may be the victim of
a conspiracy. And, if I am, then your father...I hate to say it,
Enid."

The tears gathered in Enid's eyes as she laid her hand on Herepath's
arm.

"I am afraid so," she said. "Oh, it is a dreadful thing, Geoff. At one
time I was almost forced to believe that Dr. Gilray had--had blinded
you. I was doing my best to get the matter put right in such a way that
you would never know. It is not much that I owe to my father, but I have
always tried to remember that he is my father. I hoped and prayed that I
should never have to make this confession, Geoff."

"Better tell me, dear," Herepath said gently. "You will be glad of it
afterwards."

She told him almost in whispers all that she knew. Once the confession
was begun it did not seem so difficult. Herepath's face was stern and
hard as she finished, but the arm he had about her waist was tender and
loving enough.

"So that was the plot," he said. "I suppose Gilray did not dare to go
too far. He contented himself by saying that my eyes were in a perilous
state, and gave me those glasses that I could hardly see through. That
little operation and rest was all that I needed. Well, I shall know how
to deal with Gilray when the time comes."

"There must be no scandal," Enid pleaded. "Once you make the matter
public----"

"Oh, I am not going to make the matter public," Herepath assured her.
"That would create a scandal reflecting on a noble house. But of all the
vile tricks ever played on a man this is the vilest. Still, I am not
going to be vindictive. And, after all, those people have placed all the
weapons in my hands. I shall make all the money, and I shall compel your
father to come to your wedding. But Dr. Gilray is not to practise any
more--I shall make that a stipulation. He will have to give up
Harley-street and go abroad. But not a word of this to our good friends
here for the present. I have certain important things to do to-day, and
then I propose to see your father. When I have done with him I have a
shrewd idea that our troubles will be over."

For an hour or more after breakfast Herepath busied himself in the
village shops buying a few odd things and asking a great many questions.
Apparently the answers were quite satisfactory, for just before 12
o'clock he made his way across the path in the direction of Camford, and
demanded to see old James.

The latter crept out into the garden rubbing his hands uneasily.

"Good morning to you, sir," he quavered. "Hope as 'ow you're none the
wus' for last night? 'Twere a mercy we weren't all burned in our beds."

"You're a sorry old humbug!" Herepath said, half pitifully. "And Daniel
Harley was a fool to trust you with so dangerous a job. Now answer me a
question. What was the price of petrol yesterday?"

"One and two a gallon," the old man blurted out. "Leastways, so they do
tell me. But what do a poor old man like me want wi' petrol? I don't
hold wi' they new-fangled things."

"That's the very question they asked me at Tomsett's in the village,"
Herepath said drily. "What did old James want with a gallon of petrol?
You were a fool to get it in the village, James; but then, you've been a
fool all through. What did you want it for?"

"Come in handy it do to clean clothes wi', sir," James stammered.

"What, a whole gallon? You could clean all the clothes in the village
with that. Still you may be right. If you are, show me your can. I want
to see that the can is full or I shall have some very nasty questions to
ask you, James. Now trot along and fetch the can, or if you like I will
come with you and see it. I want to feel quite sure that your petrol was
not used to make that little blaze last night. By which you will
perceive that I have a nasty suspicious nature, James."

The old man bent his head lower and lower. Herepath could see that he
was trembling from head to foot.

"Perhaps you have had an accident and split the petrol, James."

"That be zackly what it wur, sir, 'twas that zackly," cried the old man,
eagerly clutching at the suggestion. "My old 'ooman, she be got turrible
clumsy and short-sighted, sir. An' she goes an' hits herself agen the
can, she do."

"And knocked the petrol over. Dear me what a sad thing! Now, I thought
you might have wanted that petrol to clean a picture with--I mean the
picture that was put up in the gallery after the Raeburn was spirited
away by Mr. Daniel Harley. Take your time, James, take your time! There
is no hurry."




CHAPTER XXXVII.--A HALF-CONFESSION.


In spite of the sternness of his purpose, Herepath was feeling just a
little sorry for the poor old man who was wriggling like a worm on a
hook. Here was not the chief conspirator by any means, nor had old James
benefited by the plot which Herepath helped to lay bare. But he had gone
too far now to draw back, even if he were disposed to do so.

The old man stood there trembling and shaking pitifully. It was useless
for him to lie any longer. He glanced at Herepath's stern face as if
hoping to find some trace of mercy there. The silence was growing
intolerable.

"I am waiting for you to go on, James," Herepath said.

"I know you be, sir," James mumbled. "And turrible hard it be on an old
man. 'Taint as if I'd got anythin' to gain, sir."

"There I am absolutely in agreement with you," Herepath said, drily. "I
am quite sure that you never expected a penny for that senseless folly.
What I want to know is why you set fire to the house."

"Happens as I was druv to it," James said. "Happens as 'ow I was telled
as no harm 'ud come to me if so be I did as I was axed to do. When
you've lived man and boy for 69 years under one roof you as to do as
you're telled, an' there 'tis."

"But, my good fellow, nothing could protect you from such an act as
this! If the police knew as much as I do you would be arrested within
the hour. No excuse would be listened to, even if Lord Southlands
suddenly appeared after all these years and gave evidence that you
started the fire by his orders. He would be told that he was not really
the owner of the property, but what the law calls a tenant for life.
Moreover, that if he was the owner the law did not allow him to commit
arson. Certainly, nothing could save you from gaol."

James looked with blank terror at the speaker.

"Do'ee mean to say, sir, as what you're a telling me is true?" he asked
fearfully.

"Indeed I do. Houses like Camford belong to the family and not to the
individual who is head of the house for the time being. Besides, no man
is allowed to set fire to a house, even if he owns it. Now if I were to
go to the police with Mr. Gay and lay information against you----"

"But you wouldn't do it, sir? You wouldn't have the heart. Me an old man
as I be with one foot in the grave, so to speak, and gettin' nothin' for
the job neither. He comes to me an' he says----"

James broke off again. He appeared to be struggling between justice to
himself and loyalty to some person whose name he was fearful of
uttering.

"You are speaking of Mr. Daniel Harley," Herepath said. "Go on."

"An' sposin' I do go on, sir, will'ee promise to see that 'tis all
right."

"I will do my best for you, certainly. I dare say Mr. Gay and myself can
manage it between us. After all, there is very little damage done, and
the trustees may be disposed to make the best of it. Mind you, I am only
assuming that. I want to know how the mischief was done. Also what Mr.
Daniel Harley expected to gain by burning the Raeburn portrait."

The old man looked quite cunning for a moment. Herepath read exactly
what was going on in his confused mind. He was wondering just how much
Herepath really knew, and if it was possible to fool him.

"I bean't up in these 'ere things, sir," James went on. "I'd never be
one to make a fuss over a lot of painted calico, I wouldn't. How folks
can give thousands of pounds for them 'ere picters fairly 'mazes me. Ay,
and sometimes they gets what's called forgeries. There do be tricks in
every trade 'sides horse-copin', it seems, sir."

"I dare say, James. So the Raeburn was a forgery?"

"I be thinkin' as 'ow it might a been summat o' the sort. But Mr. Daniel
Harley could tell'ee for sure. He does a deal of work among picters for
Lord Southlands."

"You mean that he acts as a kind of agent for his eccentric lordship? In
that case he comes here pretty often, I suppose?"

"Lor' bless 'ee, yes, sir. Once a month, he do surely. Comes very
quiet-like, he do. And allus allowed to do as he likes. 'Twere a matter
of a few weeks ago as he comes an' says to me as that there Raeburn was
a forgery, and that 'twere time the real picter was put back in its
place. Lord Southlands he took and pawned the proper portrait, he did,
just afore he cut off out o' the way hisself. And now he's made a bit of
money, and the picter's 'out' again. I be a-telling you zackly what was
telled me, sir. We're a-gettin' at it a bit now."

"Very pleased to hear it, I'm sure," Herepath said drily. "So that was
the ingenious way in which the picture was to be got rid of. Most
complicated. You are a silly, foolish old man, James, and I'm very sorry
for you. What you are telling me now makes it easier for me to keep you
out of trouble. Now tell me everything."

"Well, sir, Mr. Harley he gev me all them facks. He wanted that there
forgery destroyed, and the real picter to turn up again like as if it
had been in some other part of the house all the time. Very nice and
affable about it he were, too--for him."

"Um! Then Harley is not particularly genial and good-tempered as a
rule?"

"That he bean't, to be sure, sir. He was all right then, though. And he
telled me just zackly what I were to do. I was to buy a gallon o' petrol
in the village----"

"You are sure that he said you were to get it in the village, James?"

"Lor', sir, but you do seem to know everythin'," James said admiringly.
"To tell'ee the truth, sir, 'twant in the village as I wur to get it; I
wur to go over to the town for it. But I bean't so young as I were, and
jogging along in that there market cart do stir up my rheumatism summat
chronic. So I took the liberty I did of gettin' the stuff in the village
at Tomsett's."

"Now we really are getting on," Herepath smiled. "I thought we should
come to something of this kind presently. Mr. Daniel Harley is far too
sharp to suggest getting petrol in the village. Never you tell him you
got it in the village, James. The fact might get you into serious
trouble. But the secret is safe with me. Go on."

"Well sir, as I was a-saying, I was to get this 'ere petrol and fling
some over that there forgery. 'Twas to be done just afore me and the old
'ooman went to bed. And I done it, I did, done it most alarmin' well as
it 'ave turned out. I was to let the stuff dry afore I touched a match
agen the picter, but I didn't get neer a chance, I didn't. Directly I
get's that there candle within a yard of it, blest if the thing didn't
fizz up like a firework, an' all the mischief was done. You should have
seen that there blaze for the first 'arf minute. If that old oak warn't
as hard 'as iron itself the house would have gone surely. Then I s'pose
I got addled an' lost my head; for I rushed round to the stables just as
I was an' 'ammered to wake John up."

"Oh, yes, I know all the rest. And where was Mr. Harley all the time?"

"He warn't down here, sir; leastways, not as I knows of. I understood as
'ow he was a-going back to Lunnon."

"Just so. The night before the fire. Did he take anything with him,
James?"

"No, sir. Went as he came, he did. When he has a night down here, as he
sometimes do, he never brings nothin' but a brush and comb and a
toothbrush in a paper parcel. I be certain he had nothin' with him when
he left for Lunnon, for I druv' him to the station in the market cart, I
did, and cruel hard work it were."

Herepath asked no further questions. He was perfectly satisfied James
had told him a great deal more than that rustic person imagined he had.

"I'll not keep you any longer now, James," he said. "I believe you have
told me the truth, and it's a very good thing for you. And you need not
worry. James, no harm is going to come to you. Oh, by the way, when do
you expect to see Mr. Harley again?"

"I understand as 'ow he's coming down this very evening, sir," James
said innocently. "Only for an hour or two it'll be, and then he's off
back to Lunnon by the midnight train from the junction. I dare say he'll
pop down in that there little car of his."

Herepath smiled as he turned away. This was exactly what he had hoped
for. He began to see his way very clear now, everything was
straightening out before him. He had his battery all ready and he would
know how to use it at the right time. It seemed to him that he had never
enjoyed a cigarette more than the one he smoked on the way back to Gay's
house. He wanted to be alone for an hour or so now to think matters out
and get everything in trim for the evening.

Therefore he was not altogether pleased to meet by the lodge gates
Madame Desterre, accompanied by no less a personage than Princess Helena
of Pau. Ninon made a dart at him in her own characteristic fashion.

"We have been looking for you everywhere," she cried. "Positively we
began to fear that you had run away. That would have been a terrible
business. Had you departed with the jewels of the Princess I should have
been disturbed."

Herepath smiled helplessly. What did this inconsequent woman mean? It
seemed incredible that she should speak thus before the unfortunate lady
who had been robbed of all those precious stones. And here was Ninon
actually confessing that she had been a party to the robbery. Herepath
flushed uncomfortably.

"You have been making a confession to the Princess?" he asked.

"I have told her that you are in possession of the 'swag,' yes," Ninon
said coolly. "Her Highness knows all about the little escapade at the
restaurant, when our good Count Player came so near to serious trouble.
The Princess also knows how the stones came to you. And now, will you be
so good as to restore them----"

"To you?" Herepath asked. "I have them close at hand. I shall be
delighted to hand them over to their proper owner at once."

"Ah, well, you can't do it, Mr. Herepath," the Princess laughed
"Unhappily the proper owner is a long way off. If I could get the stones
back I would do so, but so long as I remain in England so long my
elderly husband is obdurate. It I return home he gives me all I need--if
I stay here I go my own way, and live more or less on what you call my
wits. And I am getting terribly hard up. Positively before long I must
go back to the land of my fathers if only to replenish my purse.
Unhappily I have no more diamonds to dispose of."

"Do I understand that you have disposed of these, Princess?" Herepath
asked.

"Alas, alas! I am desolated to make the confession. It would not do to
say that I had sold my gems; that would have produced a too wonderful
sensation. So my brilliant friend, Ninon, arranged the whole scenario,
and--my stones were stolen."

"You mean that the public have been deceived, that the story of the
robbery was made up to disguise the real facts."

"Precisely," Ninon laughed aloud. "Poor dear public! A cruel deception,
mon enfant. The diamonds were sold for twenty thousand pounds to our
charming old friend, Daniel Harley!"




CHAPTER XXXVIII.--THE REAL MAN.


Herepath was seeing daylight now with a vengeance. In the next minute or
two a hundred things grew plain before him. All this had been in the
light of a revelation, and on his side also he would have a revelation
or two to make before many hours had elapsed.

"Won't you enlighten me a little further?" he asked.

"Not for the present," Ninon said. "You would not have learnt this much
had not I wanted to make you feel quite easy in your mind as to these
jewels. I invented the whole pretty little play of the robbery, and it
went from first to last without a hitch. The way we got hold of Zana and
kidnapped him was a stroke of genius. And Victor Player took his place.
Oh, I dare say I should be ashamed of myself; perhaps I am, a little.
But I like adventure and excitement. I cannot get on without them. It
was I who brought the Princess in contact with Daniel Harley, and
arranged for the sale of the stones. They had to change hands without
anybody knowing that they had been sold, and I am rather proud of the
way in which I managed it, hey, what think you?"

"I congratulate you," Herepath said gravely. "It was indeed a brilliant
performance. And I presume that Harley made a very good thing of it. But
that night in the restaurant we came very near to exposure and scandal."

"Rather!" Ninon exclaimed, her eyes sparkling at the recollection.
"Count Player had just come back from Amsterdam, where he had been
trying to sell the gems. We have a customer for them now in America, so
there is no longer any occasion to try elsewhere."

"I am beginning to understand," Herepath said smiling. "The case of
those Cosway miniatures, for instance. And other problems that have
baffled the police. I begin to see quite plainly."

"Which reminds me," Ninon said with a sudden gravity of manner. "I hope
you can see in every sense of the word, Mr. Herepath."

"I am becoming positively sure of it, Madame Desterre," Herepath said as
gravely. "Has Enid been saying anything to you about it?"

"She has told me practically everything. A dear, sweet, transparent
child, is Enid. Well, it is not for me to judge other people. Still,
what I have done has harmed nobody, and ladies of fashion must have
money, pardieu. But that Gilray is a cold-blooded scoundrel. We have him
tightly now, and if you take my advice he will not escape. He has asked
the Princess and myself to take tea with him this afternoon. The
Princess does not propose to go--she prefers a walk with Enid. But I am
going to this tea, Mr. Herepath, and I suggest that you come with me.
For I know, and you know, that we will bring that scoundrel to his knees
between us. What do you say?"

Herepath hesitated for a moment. He was anxious to have the matter out
with Gilray, but he had other important things to occupy his attention.
Still, he might spare an hour or two for Gilray's discomfiture. He must
be made to understand once and for all that he must put Enid out of his
thoughts. He must be made to comprehend that he was powerless for
further mischief.

"Very well," he said. "It shall be as you suggest, and many thanks for
the opportunity. I will call for you at your cottage at 4 o'clock if
that will suit."

Gilray was sitting on the balcony of his pleasant sitting-room
overlooking the garden. He rose as he heard his visitors coming, but his
face fell when he saw that the princess was not one of the party, and
that apparently Herepath had taken her place.

"It is very good of you to come, Madame Desterre," he said. "The
Princess has another engagement? I am sorry. Won't you sit down,
Herepath?"

"I prefer to stand," Herepath said grimly. "I shall not detain you
long."

"Order in the tea," Ninon suggested. "Without my afternoon tea I am
useless...Ah, that is delicious; I could not refuse tea even when
offered by my bitterest foe. Mr. Herepath tells me he never touches it."

"I should not touch it here in any case," Herepath said pointedly.

Ninon lay back in her chair with the cup in her hand. She smiled with
the pleased air of one who is going to be much amused.

Gilray flushed angrily.

"If that is intended for a joke," he said, "it is not in very good
taste. If you have anything to say, Herepath, please say it. This is
more or less private. But remember that a lady is present."

"Oh, please don't mind me!" Ninon cried. "Besides I am partly
responsible for things. Mr. Herepath, I think the stage is yours."

Herepath crossed over to where Gilray was sitting, and dragged him to
his feet. There was bitter contempt on his face as he spoke.

"Now regard me fairly and squarely," he commanded. "Look into my eyes.
You are a judge of such matters and speak with authority. What is the
matter with my sight?"

"Really, this is most extraordinary," Gilray blustered. "You came to me
professionally, and I gave you advice. Surely you have not forgotten
what passed when you called on me."

"I am not likely to forget it, nor will you by the time I have finished.
I came to you when my eyes were really queer and you advised me, pending
a more careful examination, to do no work. At that time you spoke the
truth. I came to you again, and you gave me what was practically to me a
sentence of death. It was the second occasion that you acted like the
despicable scoundrel that you are."

Gilray advanced as if to strike Herepath. Then he changed his mind and
sat down.

"It is very unfortunate for you," he hissed, "that there is a lady
present."

"Oh, please don't mind me," Ninon said coolly. "I should probably enjoy
it. And I am afraid that I agree with everything that Mr. Herepath
says."

"I am fortunate in my audience," Gilray said bitterly.

"You are indeed," Herepath retorted. "We might so easily be the police.
Now, what I accuse you of is this. When I came to see you my eyes were
very queer. I had forgotten till a day or two ago that I had been
experimenting weeks back with some iron filings, which probably was the
cause of all the mischief. You operated on my eyes on the second visit
and removed the source of the trouble. But you did not tell me so--you
gave me some glasses that made me practically blind, and told me never
to be without them. And all the time my eyes were as good as yours, you
cold-blooded scoundrel."

"But what object could I have?" Gilray stammered. "What could I possibly
gain by such an action?"

"Oh, don't patter with me!" Herepath cried. "You thought to get rid of a
rival. You thought to grind me down in the dust and ruin me. You tricked
me into believing that I should never be able to do any work again. I
was even to lose the fortune my invention promised me. And you deemed
your path to be clear.

"But you reckoned without me and Daniel Harley. I beat him all right. I
convinced him that without my eyes the invention was useless. He paid
you to give me what was my death sentence, or he promised to pay you.
And when I destroyed the little glass disc, it became necessary for you
to eat your words. If you did not do so, you got no money, and that
meant ruin and disgrace.

"You were held fast in the cleft stick, Dr. Gilray. Either you were
ruined, or you had to put the broken man on his feet again. You and
Harley were both too clever, a little bit too quick. So you came down
here to see me--to make a show of bringing about a wonderful recovery of
my sight. The recovery is made already."

"If you go on this assumption," Gilray said sulkily, "you will find
that----"

"I shall find nothing. I lost your precious glasses, an accident
deprived me of them. And I can see as well as you can. There never was
anything the matter with my sight. You can spare your diplomacy, and go
back to London. The next time this matter is discussed, it will be in a
court of law."

The dull, sullen red on Gilray's face gave way to a ghastly pallor.

"No--we all make mistakes," he said. "And as to Harley and myself you
are wrong."

"I am not going to listen to any attempted excuses," Herepath went on.
"I have evidence of the vile conspiracy you entered into from the lips
of two people. It can be proved up to the hilt. As Daniel Harley had no
mercy on me, so I shall have no mercy on him. I could force a confession
from you--I could have you on your knees crying for mercy if I pleased.
But that would not save you--nothing can save you from disgrace and
exposure. Did I say nothing? Well, there is one saving course you can
take, and that is to give up your practice and go abroad. If you do
this, I shall not follow you; but if you defy me and remain in London,
then you must take the consequences. For my own part, I do not care a
jot which course you pursue."

"You--you will give me a day or two to decide?" Gilray asked.

"I don't want to be too hard on you," Herepath said. "You can have your
day or two, all the more willingly, because I desire to have you and
Harley together before me. That meeting may take place here this very
night, but as regards that I cannot speak definitely. Madame Desterre,
are you ready? Dr. Gilray, would like to be alone."

Gilray sat there dejectedly. He forgot to rise as his guests departed.
His head was bent forward, his moody glare was fixed on the ground. He
did not hear Ninon Desterre's light laugh as she passed into the road.

"So far so good," she said. "You did that well, my friend. But I should
like to be present when Mr. Harley is there. It would be splendid."

"You shall be," Herepath said grimly. "And it may be sooner than you
expect. The drama may be played out at any moment at Gay's house. If so,
I will send to your cottage for you. Really, I look upon you as quite
one of the necessary characters."

"That is very flattering," said Ninon archly. "Won't you tell me a
little more?"

But Herepath refused to go further. He was silent and thoughtful during
dinner, and it was still light when he made an excuse to get away from
the house. For some time he lingered in the park, where he could obtain
a view of the house. The light was fading fast as he rose at length from
the grass and made his way across to the spot where a man was shuffling
along with a parcel under his arm.

"Good evening, Mr. Harley," he said. "Good evening. It will interest you
very much to hear that my sight has been entirely restored. It will also
interest you to know that I have heard the story of the conspiracy
between yourself and your fellow-scoundrel, Gilray. And, further, it
will interest you to know that I am aware of the fact that you have
under your arm a Raeburn stolen from Camford."

Harley started and smiled. He looked like a bulldog driven into a
corner.

"What do you think you are going to do about it?" he sneered.

"Take the picture from you, by force, if necessary. Write to Lord
Southlands and----"

Harley showed his teeth in a bitter snarl. He fairly quivered with
passion.

"Out of my way, you fool!" he yelled. "What mischief can you do? Dolt
and idiot, step on one side! Curse you, I am Lord Southlands!"




CHAPTER XXXIX.--LORD SHYLOCK.


Herepath expressed no astonishment at Harley's amazing statement. He
merely stood in the other's way grimly blocking his path. He knew that
he had all the cards in his hands now, and he was in no hurry to play
them. As Harley tried to pass along he gripped him firmly by the arm.

"What are you up to?" the latter asked angrily. "What are you doing
here? Don't you know that this is private property? I tell you I'm the
owner. I tell you that I am Lord Southlands. Get out of my way."

"Won't do," Herepath said crisply. "Won't do at all. Surely you're not
going to pretend that you are not Daniel Harley, of the riverside slum
in Shadwell?"

"Call me that if you like, Mr. Herepath. If I like to disappear and have
a fancy for using another name, is that any business of yours or of
anybody but myself? I've got to catch a train."

"You'll catch no train to-night," Herepath said grimly. "You are coming
with me, my dear sir. It's my turn now. Now I am quite strong and able
enough to compel you to what I want by force. We are all alone here, and
any resistance on your part would be futile. Do you suppose that I would
lose a chance like this? If you like it better, we can go to the village
police station, where I can charge you with stealing a picture, the
property of the Earl of Southlands. Now you can make your own choice.
Which is it to be, my lord?"

Harley was rapidly losing his truculent manner. He began to realise that
Herepath had him at a disadvantage. And there was that picture under his
arm. He was wondering precisely what Herepath knew. This meeting had
been a staggering surprise for Harley, and the cool confidence of
Herepath's manner shook him sorely. If he only knew what was at the back
of the other's mind.

A day or two ago he had dismissed Herepath from his mind as a ruined
man, whose invention with its millions of profit was as good as his.
Herepath had rather turned the tables on him over the matter of the
glass disc, and it had become necessary to reverse the policy so far as
Gilray was concerned.

Still, the patents were practically at his command.

And here was Herepath springing out of nowhere and acting as if he were
entirely master of the situation. Harley crushed down the anger that
shook him. He would have liked to have flown at Herepath like a cat. But
not just yet, wait till he was a little more sure of his ground, and
then----

"You are taking a good deal for granted," he said. "Does a man with your
deficient eyesight generally wander alone in the dark like this?"

Herepath smiled at the diplomatic suggestion underlying the question.

"That was very clever of you," he said. "You are very wily and very
cunning, Mr. Harley; but I assure you that cunning will not help you
now. The lure was spread too broadly before me to give you any hope of
scoring by its means. You want to know if I have had an interview with
Dr. Gilray on the subject of my eyes. I have."

"Hope they are better--then," Harley said, more or less ungraciously.

"Thank you for your good wishes. Very awkward breaking of that glass
disc, wasn't it? Upset your little scheme altogether what? Quite a
fortunate thing for you afterwards if Gilray could be proved to be wrong
in his diagnosis. In that case I could use my eyes again and proceed
with my invention. And you could rob me of it afterwards. Well, I have
seen Dr. Gilray, and I have given him a piece of my mind. He did not
examine my eyes again, for the simple reason that there was no necessity
to do so. That little fire you arranged with poor old James was a
perfect godsend to me, Mr. Harley."

"Don't know what you are talking about," Harley muttered wildly.

"Oh, yes you do. And you are going to admit it, or, by Heavens, I'll
have the whole thing out in court, with you standing in the dock. Now,
none of your nonsense. I know everything, or next door to it. You
bullied old James into setting fire to the gallery so that you could
steal the Raeburn, having previously put a forgery in its place as a
substitute. With the forgery destroyed you would be all safe. As a
matter of fact, the forgery was not quite destroyed, and I have the
remains of it in my possession at this moment. The whole story would
make pretty reading for a newspaper. And what a witness I should be,
especially as I intend to take the real picture from under your arm, and
hand it over to the police."

Harley was growing more quiet and watchful. This was no moment for
passion. He was realising the danger in which he stood.

"You were talking about your eyes," he suggested tentatively.

"Oh, yes, I was going back to that. It was a cunning scheme of your
miserable tool and accomplice to induce me to wear glasses utterly
unsuitable to my sight, and thus confirm me in the belief that something
was very wrong with my vision. But, you see, I lost those glasses when I
was helping to put out the fire in the gallery. I am staying here with
my brother-in-law, Mr. Harold Gay, who is steward of the estate. I
merely mention this incidentally. Anyway, I lost those glasses, and I
found that I could see as well as ever. And, by the way, that is another
charge that will be made against you when you are in the dock."

"You're mad," Harley cried hoarsely. "What have I to do with Gilray?"

"Everything. You paid him a large sum to give his verdict that my eyes
would be useless to me for months to come. At least, you promised to pay
him 5000 pounds to do so. Then, when I checkmated you by destroying the
glass disc, you had to alter your plans altogether. I was to be made
whole again, and it was left to Gilray to bring this apparent miracle
about. But he was too late. The conspiracy was overheard by your
daughter and reported to me. I have only to raise my hand and you get a
long term of penal servitude, Mr. Harley."

The hard old man was beaten at last. The vindictive gleam was still in
his eyes, but he shook and trembled, and his lips quivered. Herepath
could hear how fast he was breathing.

"So far so good," Herepath went on. "You see that the man you despised
and looked down upon is now your master. I am not going to tell you how
I found out all about the picture and your visits here at night. But the
old man, James, has made a confession to me, and I shall use it if there
is occasion to do so. It is very lucky for you that you have a
daughter."

Harley broke out in a torrent of impotent rage.

"Confound her," he cried. "I wish she had never been born. A pretty
daughter. A nice loyal child to her father. A white-faced sneak."

"Stop," Herepath commanded. "Stop, or old man as you are, I'll close
your mouth for you. How you came to be the father of such a girl passes
my understanding. Pah, you never have been a father to her in the proper
sense of the word. You have never shown her one sign of affection since
she was born. You have used her as a go-between, you cared nothing
whether you got her into serious trouble or not. And I am not going to
stand quietly by and hear my future wife abused like that."

Harley rubbed his hands slowly one over the other.

"Oh, so you are going to marry her, eh?" he croaked.

"Yes, I am. She will be part of the price of my silence. It is for me
now to dictate terms, and for you to listen to them in humble gratitude.
I shall marry your daughter, and you will give us your blessing. I might
stipulate for half your money into the bargain, and you would not dare
refuse. But it is tainted gold, and I do not need it. Still, you will
give me a receipt for the 1000 pounds I owe you, and with that I shall
be content. I shall have my invention; I shall be able to restore that
broken part, and in time I shall be rich."

"And this is the programme that I am to give my consent to?"

"My dear sir, I don't care two straws whether you give your consent or
not," Herepath went on coolly, "in any case it is a mere matter of form.
You will quite see why I shall not be particularly proud of my
father-in-law. A man who is at home with conspiracy and arson and
robbery is not exactly the relative that one produces before one's
friends, even if he is Lord Southlands."

The old man twisted and wriggled, consumed by impotent fury. With all
his agility and cleverness he could see no way out of the trap that he
had laid for Herepath, and in which he himself had been caught.

"You rogues are all alike," Herepath continued. "You never give honest
men credit for any brains. You regard us all as fools. Then you go on
and on, thinking that nobody can see your juggling till you find
yourselves in trouble. Why do you do these things Lord Southlands?"

"Oh!" the other sneered. "Then you do believe that statement of mine.
You are prepared to credit the fact that all this property belongs to
me."

"Quite," Herepath replied. "It came to me more or less as an
inspiration. You see, I have spent a good deal of time in Camford Hall
lately, for I am fond of pictures. And I made a discovery. I found that
certain pictures had been removed quite lately and rubbish substituted
in their stead. I was lucky enough to find those pictures in an old
public-house called 'The Green Man.' They were in the custody of one
Count Victor Player. What is the matter? Have I said anything to disturb
you?"

"Go on," Southlands said harshly. "Put all your cards on the table."

"I am doing so, my lord. I had certain suspicions from one or two
innocent remarks dropped by your daughter. They came back to me when I
found she knew Camford well, to say nothing of the old house where my
sister lives. A half-uttered sentence came back to my mind. Was Enid
born in that old house?"

"Yes, she was. Has that anything to do with our discussion?"

"No, except that it confirms my theory. The theory seemed sufficiently
shadowy at that time, but it grew more substantial when I was hidden in
the gallery the night you were there with old James--persuading him to
set the house on fire. I knew by his manner to you, and your manner to
him, that you were the eccentric Lord Southlands who had so dramatically
disappeared. I began to understand your point of view. I suppose these
eccentricities grew upon you till they became a habit. Your idea was to
free the estate from debt; it was a mania with you. And you stooped to
crime."

"No," Southlands said swiftly. "Not till I came in contact with you. And
this picture under my arm is my own, after all."




CHAPTER XL.--THE REASON WHY.


"But surely all the pictures are heirlooms?" Herepath suggested.

"Not this one. Nor were the others that Player had to sell for me. They
belonged to my mother, and came to me in her will. My mother was my
father's cousin, and she originally brought the Raeburn from her side of
the house. But I see there are certain things that require an
explanation. Where can we go to discuss them?"

"What better place can you have than my brother-in-law's house?"
Herepath suggested. "It is close by, and Enid is there. Madame Desterre
is not a mile away, and the same remark applies to Gilray. It should be
quite a pleasant party."

Southlands curtly indicated his approval. They walked on side by side in
silence till the old house was reached. Out on the balcony in the warm
and peaceful night were seated Gay and his wife with Enid. The girl rose
with a little cry, and her face grew pale as she saw who Herepath's
companion was.

"Don't be afraid, darling," he whispered. "Everything is coming right.
Our troubles are all over. Within an hour they will be things of the
past. Blanche, Harold, let me introduce you to Lord Southlands. All this
is very irregular, perhaps, but his lordship is not wedded to
conventional ideas. And, Harold, would you mind going as far as the
hotel and asking Gilray to come along at once? Also, perhaps, you will
act as escort to Madame Desterre. Lord Southlands wants to catch the
midnight train at the junction."

Gay asked no questions. He seemed to have an intelligent grasp of what
was happening. It was some half-hour before he returned, accompanied by
Madame Desterre and Gilray. The latter looked white and anxious, while
Ninon Desterre was smiling and debonnaire as usual.

"Sit down," Southlands said sharply. "My time is limited, and I have a
lot to say. Mr. Herepath has found me out. He has caught me stealing my
own pictures. He talks about imprisonment for arson and many other
unpleasant things. Still, we have come to an understanding. He says
nothing, and he takes my daughter as the price of his silence. And I
make no claim on the insurance people. I daresay everybody is wondering
why I am reduced to stealing my own pictures. Well, I don't want the
world to know it, but I have sold them. And they represent the last
20,000 pounds or so of mortgages on the estate. Once they are disposed
of the estate is free. I had intended about a month hence to return home
and open Camford in state again."

"On the proceeds of stolen property," Herepath said coldly.

Southlands made no reply. He turned to Ninon Desterre with a gesture,
intimating that she should take up the story where he had dropped it.

"That is not quite correct," she said. "So far as I know, Lord
Southlands has never had any traffic in stolen property, Geoffrey
Herepath is thinking of the Princess's jewels and the Cosway miniatures.
They were not stolen."

"I beg your pardon," Herepath said politely. "Then what was it that
happened to them? In both cases the matter was handed over to the
police."

"And yet they were not stolen," Ninon responded, laughing merrily. "My
dear Geoffrey, you have a good proverb in this country to the effect
that one half the world does not know how the other half lives. That
proverb was at the bottom of Lord Southlands' policy. He was anxious to
clear his estate, so he disappeared and went into business to do so.
Gradually he became a sort of pawnbroker to the aristocracy, and a
lender of money. I had little or nothing of my own, and I became a kind
of commercial agent. I made a lot that way, and Lord Southlands enabled
me to live in the style I do. You see, I am popular--I know so many
people. I can introduce clients of stability and worth.

"Now it happened sometimes that my friends went too far. Then came the
moment when they could not redeem their valuables, and they had to sell
outright. Nobody must know this, not even their husbands. It was I who
hit upon the idea of those, what you call bogus, robberies. They were
not robberies at all--merely little comedies to save the faces of the
ladies who were compelled to part with their valuables. When the police
were looking vaguely for the thief the gems were in the strong-room of
the old house at Shadwell. The victims had everybody's sympathy, and
nobody was any the wiser. Witness the affairs of the Princess's diamonds
and Mrs. Van der Knoot's miniatures. Oh, I am not defending the
business, I am no champion of the morality of it. I only say that it was
very good fun. Nobody was robbed and our profits were good."

"Were there only two of you?" Herepath asked.

"Four," Ninon went on. "Lord Southlands and myself, together with Mr.
Vorley and Count Victor Player; ah, yes, my dear old Hector Marsail.
Sometimes we worked in disguise, so that we did not know one another;
but there was a green and orange scarf or sash or tie we wore on these
occasions. It was the green and orange tie that puzzled Dr. Gilray."

"It was," Gilray muttered. "I am obliged by the explanation."

"We took Victor Player in a year or two ago," Ninon resumed. "To begin
with he was a victim of one of the robberies. We found him very useful
afterwards. But he has come into money now, and has become entirely
respectable. He is turning that lovely old inn into a private house, and
is about to be married. Dr. Gilray will remember the inn. We led him a
fine dance there the night the Princess lost her diamonds."

Again Gilray muttered his thanks for the information.

"Oh, well, there is little more to tell," Ninon said with a sigh. "Now
that Camford is cleared there will be no more of these delightful
adventures. Besides, I have promised my dear Hector Marsail that I will
go out to Brazil with him in the autumn. I am going to marry the dear
boy. And now that I have sown my wild oats, I shall settle down as an
exemplary character. Am I forgiven, Enid?"

"As if anybody could be angry with you for long," Enid said between
smiles and tears. "It is all very shocking, but some people seemed to be
permitted to do anything. Father, are you really going back to Camford?"

Southlands smiled sardonically at the question.

"With Mr. Herepath's permission," he said. "Provided, of course, that he
has not set his heart on seeing Gilray and myself in gaol."

"I give you my word of honour," Gilray said unsteadily, "that I never
intended to harm Herepath's eyes."

Herepath turned upon him with a sudden spurt of anger and contempt.

"You will be well advised not to say a word," he exclaimed. "A viler
plot than that devised by you and Lord Southlands, to rob a man of his
sight and property was never conceived. I can hardly control myself when
I think of it. But the scheme failed, and in time, I daresay I shall not
feel so hard about it. As for you, Dr. Gilray, you may go. My idea was
to drive you out of an honourable profession, but I have changed my
mind. You will have trouble and difficulty enough before you as it is.
If I am any judge of Lord Southlands, and his methods, you can expect
nothing from him. Go."

Without another word Gilray rose and departed. An awkward silence
followed, until at length his footsteps died away in the distance. It
was Southlands who spoke first.

"You are mistaken, Herepath," he said. "I shall have to help that
fellow. He did a good deal of dirty work for me, and it was no fault of
his that he failed. No, I am not going to express any regret for my past
doings, for I should do the same things again to-morrow. There is only
one thing in the world worth living for and that is money. I have known
what it is to be without it. And I have got all this back by my own
exertions. Herepath, will you walk with me as far as the spot where my
little car is hidden? I have a few words say to you. Good-night, Enid;
good-night, Mr. and Mrs. Gay. We shall see a good deal of one another in
the future, no doubt."

The cold, hard old man moved away with his hands behind him till he and
Herepath were out of earshot of the others. He was quite at his ease
now.

"You have a great deal more brain than I gave you credit for," he said.
"As you have the whip hand of me I cannot prevent you marrying my
daughter. It would never do for me to come back here feeling that people
about me knew the story of the last twenty years. But, mind, you will
get no money from me. I have cleared the estate, and for a few years
perhaps I shall enjoy my good fortune. After I am gone everything passes
to my cousin's boy, Albert Barrington."

"I would much rather not have your money, my lord," Herepath said
coldly. "I have my invention, and I shall hold your receipt for 1000
pounds before long. Within a week everything will be exactly as I
dropped it a short time ago. Within a month I shall have people eager
and willing to find me capital. I prefer to make my own fortune."

"Yes; and you will," Southlands said quite pleasantly. "You are born to
get on. Some men are that kind, and I am a good judge of the genius. Oh,
yes, I'll post you the receipt to-morrow. And you won't make any
scandal, will you? I mean you'll wait a reasonable time for Enid, and
marry her from Camford as soon as I can get settled. We can appear to be
friends, at any rate."

"I should like nothing better," Herepath said. "Everything must be made
as smooth as possible for Enid's sake. Is this your car? Let me light
the lamps for you. Goodnight, my lord. No, there is no necessity to
shake hands."

Enid was quite alone on the balcony when Geoffrey returned. Gay had gone
off to see Ninon Desterre to her cottage, and Blanche had found
something inside the house that called for her pressing attention. The
girl rose as Geoffrey came forward. There were tears in her eyes, her
face was pale; but there was a suggestion of happiness there.

"What a wonderful evening it has been, Geoff," she whispered. "And how
happy I could be if I could only forgot one or two things."

Geoffrey took her in his arms and kissed her tenderly.

"Ah, but there are so many lovely things to remember, sweetheart," he
said. "Besides, we are not responsible for the acts of other people. And
whatever happens, you are always my sweet and innocent and lovely Enid
to me. We have won, too, we have won all along the line. Your father's
only suggestion was that I should wait a reasonable time for you, and
that we should be married from Camford. I was glad to hear him say that,
as there is no necessity to set idle-tongues wagging. And I daresay we
shall be able to forgive him everything in time."

Enid lay back in her lover's arms smiling gloriously. She pressed her
lips to his, and he gave a little sigh of infinite content.

"I am too happy to bear malice against anybody," she whispered. "And
only a day or two ago the world looked so dark and dreary for me. Shall
I wake up presently and find it is no more than a pleasant dream?"

"No dream," Herepath said as he kissed her again. "Thank heaven, it's no
dream."



THE END.



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