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Title: A Royal Wrong
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: A Royal Wrong
Author: Fred M White

*

Author of "The Crimson Blind," "Slave of Silence," "Netta," etc.

*

WARD LOCK & CO., LIMITED
LONDON, MELBOURNE AND TORONTO
1913

*

CONTENTS.
---------

CHAPTER

I..........THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE
II........."LITTLE KATE"
III........A DESPERATE VENTURE
IV.........THE VENTURE IS SUCCESSFUL
V..........A SPORTING CHANCE
VI.........IN THE NAME OF THE LAW
VII........THROUGH THE NIGHT
VIII.......THE MORSE CODE
IX.........A FRIEND AT COURT
X..........THE GHOST OF A CHANCE
XI.........GAINING TIME
XII........REPRIEVED!
XIII.......A RECKLESS RIDE
XIV........SAFE--SO FAR!
XV.........LISTON'S BRIGHT IDEA
XVI........THE CHANCE ACCEPTED
XVII.......BEHIND HIS BACK
XVIII......THE PANIC
XIX........THE DREADFUL UNEXPECTED
XX.........AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
XXI........THE HOUSE IN STANMORE STREET
XXII.......THE FINDING OF THE BELT
XXIII......DOWN ON HIS LUCK
XXIV.......A SILENT WITNESS
XXV........KATE MAYFIELD AT HOME
XXVI.......A HELPING HAND
XXVII......THE MIRROR
XXVIII.....BRANDED!
XXIX......."A WOMAN'S CROWN OF GLORY"
XXX........COWARD CONSCIENCE
XXXI.......CONFESSION
XXXII......FOLLOWED UP
XXXIII.....THE NOBLER PART
XXXIV......ON HIS KNEES
XXXV.......THE RIGHT MAN
XXXVI......THE BEST WAY OUT

*



CHAPTER I.--The Altar of Sacrifice.


As Lady Letty Stanborough stood in the garden listening to the rustle of
silken skirts and the ripple of laughter, she was faintly conscious of
the fragrance of the early May evening. The trees were touched with
their spring greenery and in the air was the scent of violets. The
grounds beyond the house in Dorchester Gardens were filled with guests
gathered in honour of the engagement between Lady Letty and Stephen Du
Cros, the South African millionaire.

It was a marriage of convenience, of course--everybody recognised that.
The Earl, her father, sorely needed money; indeed there were some who
said that but for the weight of Du Cros's influence his lordship might
have found himself face to face with a judge and jury. It was
impossible, too, that Lady Letty should care for her wealthy
admirer--that cold, proud beauty seemed to indicate a nature incapable
of caring for anything or anybody. And yet----

The girl had a moment to herself presently, when the chattering mob of
friends had lisped their insipid congratulations and she was alone in a
corner of the garden. She had an uneasy feeling that the jealous eye of
Du Cros was upon her, for in his way the millionaire was jealous.
Perhaps he understood the hollowness of the compact between them.

But at any rate he could not be jealous of the man who came up just
then. He would hardly condescend to be suspicious of a mere novelist
dependent upon his pen for a living. He did not know that these two had
been brought up together, nor that Hugh Childers had chosen to quarrel
with a rich father over the young man's devotion to his art. The
bitterness had lasted five years, and Childers was still struggling.
Now, for the first time, he was regretting his folly. But for his pride
in his work, he would stand to-day as the heir to the vast Childers
estates, with their iron and steel foundries and prosperous coal mines.
He looked down into Lady Letty's face, an eloquent sadness in his eyes.
What a fool he had been! Even if he went to his father and obtained a
tardy pardon he could not save Lady Letty now.

"I haven't had an opportunity of congratulating you before," he said.
"Permit me----"

"Don't," Lady Letty whispered. The mask had fallen from her face and the
beautiful eyes were tired and weary. "Not from you, Hugh. Oh, don't you
understand!"

Childers nodded gloomily. He understood only too well, and might have
prevented it all. He knew that this woman had a warm and passionate
heart under her seemingly haughty demeanour, and that it beat only for
him. He guessed at the tragic sacrifice she was making to save the
family honour.

"I had to say something," he murmured. "They tell us that language is
given to disguise our thoughts. It seemed the right tone to adopt in an
atmosphere like this."

"I know, I know," Lady Letty returned. "I am thankful to think that one
man understands me, Hugh. I daresay I shall get accustomed to it in
time. But for the rest of my natural life--my natural life----"

The girl's voice broke and a shudder passed over her. She felt that Hugh
Childers was looking into her very soul. She knew she was reading him
correctly. Though nothing was said by either, the love of the other
stood confessed.

"Du Cros is a thrice fortunate man," Hugh said bitterly. "He has money,
position, good health, and you, my dear. If I had not been a blind
fool----"

It was Childers' turn to pause. He saw Du Cros in the distance talking
to a business friend. The man of money looked prosperous, and the smile
of the conqueror was on his lips. As one watched him, one wondered what
stroke of fortune he was contemplating. The man by his side was well
groomed, save that he was a trifle too glossy, too theatrical, and
obviously out of place.

"Better drop it," the stranger said. "Get this danger out of the way
first, at any rate. There will be time for your revenge afterwards.
Lancaster has bolted, the police are after him, and every racing man in
Liverpool is talking about it. Besides, Lord Amsted will be your
brother-in-law one of these days."

Du Cros's dark eyes flashed and his thin lips grew hard and cruel.

"Amsted humiliated me in public," he answered. "He struck me because I
dared to aspire to marry his sister, Lady Letty. I swore to ruin him,
and I will. It will be my business that Amsted does not see where the
blow comes from. I shall marry Lady Letty and track him down at the same
time. Within a few hours Amsted will be in gaol--the heir of my
distinguished father-in-law will get five years."

"You are a fool," the other man retorted crisply. "You forget your own
danger. Lancaster, the big bookmaker has bolted. You betrayed him to the
police. If he is arrested and finds that out, we shall be done. You
ought to be in Liverpool to-morrow. At the very latest you must be there
early on the following day. But you must get there in such a way that
your enemies haven't the slightest notion of what you are doing. If you
could manage to do it under the guise of a pleasure trip----"

Du Cros smiled meaningly.

"Did I ever fail, Blossom?" he asked. "It is touch-and-go with my
fortunes just when I appear to be most prosperous. What would all these
empty-headed fools say if they guessed the truth? There are more reasons
than one why I should be in Liverpool the day after to-morrow, but I
must guard my movements so as to blind the group of speculators who are
conspiring against me. Make your mind easy--you can rely upon meeting me
outside Lime-street station at four o'clock in the morning the day after
to-morrow. There is the woman who is unconsciously playing the game for
me."

"Madame Regnier!" Blossom exclaimed. "The great prima donna! The finest
singer and the most popular artist in Europe! Whom are you getting at?"

"Listen," Du Cros said curtly. "They are all my puppets when I pull the
strings. I need to be in Liverpool at an early hour in such
circumstances as my movements shall not be suspected. Madame Regnier is
going to help me. Listen."

The great singer approached them, her good-natured face wreathed in
smiles. She had no love for Du Cros, especially as she had a warm
admiration and affection for Lady Letty. Surrounded by friends she
listened to what Du Cros was saying.

"Really, that is very charming of you," she observed. "What it is to
have the purse of Fortunatus to draw upon! But I am afraid there is not
time for your brilliant suggestion. Let us hear what Lady Letty has to
say. Call her, somebody."

Lady Letty came up, cold and collected as usual. It would have been
difficult for any of them to tell what was passing in her mind, to read
the misery that filled her heart.

"The scheme flashed into my mind quite suddenly," Du Cros explained.
"Madame Regnier will go to Liverpool to-morrow, on her way to America
for a tour in the States. I need not say how sorry we are to lose her.
She will give a good-bye concert on the following afternoon. It will be
her last appearance in England for more than a year. It is not right to
let her slip away in this undemonstrative fashion. It will be hard to do
without her in any case."

"You are a born flatterer," said Madame Regnier. "Please proceed with
your suggestion."

"Well, our divinest singer was going to Liverpool in the ordinary way.
She cannot be permitted to leave us like an ordinary person. I propose
to charter a special train, take a party to give her a send-off, and
come back the same way."

A murmur of approval followed the suggestion. Du Cros wished to disarm
criticism. Had anybody any objection to the idea? Could anybody improve
on it?

"The time is short," Lady Letty said. "We all have many engagements. If
dear Madame Regnier were only going a week later it would be different."

Du Cros appeared to regard this as fatal. His air was one of
disappointment.

"I have it," he cried presently. "Stupid of me not to have seen that
point before. You are quite right, Letty; every hour is precious. Let us
meet the general convenience as far as we can. So my programme
is--midnight to-morrow, a corridor train, and supper on board. Those who
want to sleep can. If we start at midnight or a little later, we can all
keep our dinner and theatre engagements, or show up at a dance. I
flatter myself that is a way out of the difficulty. Let everybody come
who want to. What do you say, Childers?"

Childers hesitated; then he caught Lady Letty's eye.

"I shall be delighted," he said gravely. "It will be a novel and
enjoyable party, and assuredly it will be talked about. Would that I
also were a millionaire!"

Du Cros glanced unobtrusively at the eagerly-listening Blossom. The
latter winked as he turned on his heel and left the garden. Du Cros was
a wonderful man! But he was playing a desperate game, and Blossom had
himself to think of. As he passed into the roadway he found a little way
off a taxicab with a woman inside.

"Well," she asked, "is Du Cros there? What is he going to do?"

Blossom briefly sketched the programme he had so recently heard. The
woman listened intently. Then she took from her pocket a packet of
notes, which she pressed into Blossom's hand.

"So far, so good," she said. "You have earned your money. If you are
discreet and tell no stories and ask no questions, there will be more
for you where these came from. Pay the driver and dismiss him. Never
mind my business now; that is no concern of yours. You can go."

Blossom raised his glossy hat with a flourish and vanished. There was a
bitter smile on the face of the woman as she watched him depart.

"Dog rob dog," she muttered. "Still, it plays my game for me."

She passed along till she came to the house in Dorchester Gardens where
the engagement fete was taking place. At her demand for an instant
interview with Lady Letty, the footman gave a supercilious stare. She
touched his hand with gold.

"I must see her at once," she said. "It is most urgent, understand. Take
this sovereign. Bring Lady Letty to me here and there is another for
you. Take me into some room where I can wait without being seen."




CHAPTER II.--"Little Kate."


The hard expression left Lady Letty's face at the sight of her visitor.

"Little Kate Mayfield!" she exclaimed. "It seems hardly possible. But
what is wrong? You are younger than I am. It isn't that you really look
old, but there is a----"

"Oh, I know," Kate interrupted. "It is what I have been through--what I
am going through now. I shall get young again when I have time to enjoy
peace. But that will not be till I have exposed Stephen Du Cros and
driven him out of every honest man's house."

Lady Letty stared haughtily at the speaker. Had the girl taken leave of
her senses?

"I make every allowance for you," she said. "I cannot forget that your
father used to be one of our tenants at Stanford. We were children
together----"

"Ah! you were more than kind to me before my father had to give up
everything and go to the Cape. As if I could ever forget! I would do
anything for a Stanborough. That is why I am here to-night, that is why
I have forced myself upon you. That is why I speak of Stephen Du Cros as
an adventurer and a scoundrel."

The words came in a suppressed whisper from Kate Mayfield's lips. She
was under the stress of some great emotion. That she was seeking nothing
for herself was evident. She was too well dressed and had too real a
stamp of prosperity for that.

"I am engaged to Mr. Du Cros," Lady Letty said significantly. "I ought
not to listen to----"

"But you must, you shall," Kate retorted vehemently. "I am trying to
save you from a fate that would be worse than death. I know the words
must sound cheap and tawdry in your ears, but they are true. Believe me,
I have come entirely on your account, Lady Letty. You must hear me. If
you refuse to do so I will force myself among your guests and confront
Du Cros before them all. But if you decline to consider yourself, you
must think of your brother. Don't let the man you are bent on marrying
ruin Lord Amsted body and soul."

"The man I am bent on marrying!" Lady Letty exclaimed. "If you only
knew----"

She paused abruptly. It was impossible to speak freely before this girl.
Kate thought she knew exactly what was passing through Lady Letty's
mind.

"Ah!" she cried, "this is as I expected. You despise and dislike that
man as much as I do. You are parting with your happiness to save the
family honour. What are you getting in return? Not even riches, for Du
Cros is poorer than your father. And he will soon be shown up. I know
that man inside and out. For a year or more I saw him daily in South
Africa. Fool that I was, I thought I cared for him. I looked upon him as
a good and honest man. Instead of that, he was the friend and associate
of swindlers, the arch-swindler himself. When the crash came, he left me
to face the police. I was arrested and took my trial for diamond
stealing. Whether I was innocent or not matters nothing. But I was the
tool of that man and he abandoned me to my fate. That same fate was kind
to me in the end, and I came back to England rich and prosperous. But I
wanted my revenge--oh, yes, I needed that. I have waited for it. I have
watched Du Cros climb out of the gutter until he is accepted as a
millionaire and flattered by the great. I meant to have him arrested as
he started to meet you on your wedding-day. Not one single incident of
his career is concealed from me. My detectives have watched him, and one
of his confederates is in my pay. Oh, I had planned a fine revenge, I
promise you! But I cannot go on with it, because Lord Amsted is in
danger. You know how he and Mr. Middlemass were nearly ruined over a
race some time ago. Well, the whole thing was a conspiracy on the part
of Du Cros and his associates to bring Lord Amsted to his knees. I don't
want to recall the reason why Du Cros hates Lord Amsted so bitterly."

"They had a misunderstanding in a club," Lady Letty said with flaming
cheeks.

"Lord Amsted thrashed him," Kate corrected. "Now, Du Cros never forgives
an injury. His idea is to marry you; but that will not affect his scheme
for ruining your brother. To a certain extent the plan has already
answered. Lord Amsted was driven out of the country; he could not return
for fear of arrest. Mind, you, he is more sinned against than sinning.
He came back, greatly daring, to ride a certain horse that nobody else
could steer to victory, and he won. Mr. Middlemass got all his money
back, and Du Cros had to pay. But Lord Amsted was injured while riding
and motored off directly the race was over, and also to avoid arrest. He
is now lying concealed at Stanford. Du Cros knows he is there. To-morrow
night or early on the following morning he will be arrested. It may be a
serious matter for Lord Amsted, but if we can keep him safe the affair
will be settled. I am prepared to find the money if nobody else will.
But you must see Lord Amsted and arrange the details. I will tell you
what to do."

"I will go and see him to-morrow."

"Ah! I thought I should move you," Kate said. "But, unfortunately, the
matter cannot be arranged so easily as all that. If you leave here
openly, Du Cros will suspect you and have you watched. He does not trust
you, because he knows you have no liking for him. He also knows how
strong is your affection for Lord Amsted. Do you know--but, of course,
you don't--that your very maid is in Du Cros's pay? That is what my
agents tell me. If you slip off to Stanford openly you will be followed.
You must go and return secretly. That is where my suggestion is weak.
Nobody can go but you; nobody but you can guide Lord Amsted to a place
of safety. If you leave it to Mr. Childers he will be followed, too,
although he would do anything for you."

Lady Letty's face flamed.

"You are a wonderful woman, Kate."

"I have learnt my lesson in a hard school," Kate replied. "Mr. Childers
is the man you need. As a novelist he is good at plotting. Get him to
work out a plan for you. Can't you take advantage of this midnight
journey to Liverpool?"

"You know all about that?" Lady Letty cried. "It was only arranged on
the spur of the moment a little time ago. It was quite spontaneous."

"A carefully prepared impromptu!" Kate said scornfully. "Du Cros worked
that out this morning. I paid twenty pounds for the news. Du Cros's real
object is to go to Liverpool on secret business, the pleasure part is
only a blind. He will insist upon your going; in fact, he will take no
refusal. So long as you accompany this expedition, he will have you
under his eye. He will take extraordinary pains to see that you do not
hold any communication with Lord Amsted."

"In that case I shall be utterly powerless."

"On the face of it, yes," Kate said. "This thing must be done at once or
the consequences will be serious. We cannot appeal to Lady Amsted,
seeing that nobody knows that they are married. Lady Amsted's people
will be furious when they know--but we need not go into that. We do not
know the extent of Lord Amsted's injuries. They may be slight, they may
be serious. That he should be left alone is out of the question. There
is nobody but you to help him, and time is short. What I had in my mind
was how you could leave the express and go to Stanford by motor. You
might join the train at a later stage without anybody being any the
wiser. A fast motor could manage it if you had an accomplice on the
train--say Mr. Childers. You would have the best part of an hour at
Stanford, where Lord Amsted could remain and laugh at his pursuers. You
used to boast that nobody knew of so many hiding-places as yourself. Do
you remember how Lord Amsted and you once put me in the Monk's Parlour,
and how frightened I was when I could not get out? You discovered the
secret of the room after it had been forgotten for ages. If you could
explain this on paper and give it me----"

"I am afraid that would be impossible."

"Yes, I was certain you would say that. But if you are bold and
resolute, you can turn our childish pastimes to good effect so far as
Lord Amsted is concerned. I will give you my address in town where you
can come and see me to-morrow if I can be of any service to you. If you
don't call before night, I shall understand that Mr. Childers and you
have found a way. Remember, you are not to say a word of this to anybody
but Mr. Childers, who worships the ground you tread on and would go
through fire and water for you. Also, not a whisper to Stephen Du Cros.
If he hears my name so much as mentioned everything will be lost. I
shall know how to deal with him when the time comes. To think of the
audacity of that man--that he should dare to lift his eyes to you."

Lady Letty smiled unsteadily. She felt no anger and resentment against
the girl who had spoken of her future husband in this way. She was not
surprised to hear that the envied millionaire was only an adventurer.

"It is good of you to come and see me," she said.

"Is it?" Kate answered with a strange look. "I am afraid that I am not
quite so disinterested as you imagine. I would do anything to save one
of your family, but the spirit of revenge is at the back of it all.
Still, we need not go into that. Now, go and discuss this matter with
Mr. Childers and see if he can find a way. If you will shake hands with
me----"

Lady Letty stooped and kissed Kate Mayfield on the lips.




CHAPTER III.--A Desperate Venture.


Lady Letty passed through the house into the garden again. She stopped
for a moment to glance at herself in a long gilt mirror. She was
wondering if the racking agony of her mind found expression in her face.
But the features were cold and set; no hint of pain lay in the clear
eyes. She had been brought up in too hard a school for that. She could
still smile when her heart was breaking. Yet there were those who envied
her and regarded her as one of the most fortunate of mortals! If they
only knew; if they could only realise how things were!

Then why did she do it? Why did she lend herself to this scheme? She was
keenly alive to the fact that her father was not worth the sacrifice.
The name of Stanborough was tainted beyond recall. She might break away
from her moorings and start life on her own account. She had enough for
a cottage in the country, and had only to say the word and Hugh Childers
would come to her side. It had needed no words of Kate Mayfield's to
tell her that much. His earnings were not great, but they would have
sufficed. But Hugh, with all his cleverness, clung to the same futile
traditions, growing old before his time in the insane attempt to swim
with the tide. What sickening folly it was! How happy they might have
been together!

Lady Letty had half a mind to throw down the glove of open revolt. She
wanted to tell Stephen Du Cros how she hated and despised him; she
wanted to inform her father that she could not go on with this hideous
sacrifice. Hugh would come to her eagerly. They might be married quietly
and the others could look to themselves. But even as these thoughts came
uppermost in Lady Letty's mind, she knew that they could not be. She
would have to go on to the bitter end; the chains of fashion were too
strong for her. In any case, she had a duty to perform. Kate Mayfield's
startling and dramatic story could not be ignored. There was truth
stamped all over it; there was absolutely no chance of outside
assistance, and Lady Letty would have to act for herself. Come what may,
she must go as far as Stanford, and nobody must be any the wiser. The
trouble and risk must be entirely hers. Least of all dared she mention
the matter to Stephen Du Cros. If she told him that she could not go to
Liverpool, his suspicions would be aroused at once. If she feigned
illness he would have her watched. She had just been told that he had
bribed the servants. To get away from London for a whole day and back
again without anybody at Dorchester Gardens being any the wiser seemed
out of the question. Yet it had to be done. Lady Letty had to achieve
the impossible. The only man who could help her was Hugh Childers.

Fortunately, Du Cros had no jealousy of him. It was absurd he should
have anything to fear from a penniless scribbler. In this way he ignored
the one individual in the world who had touched Lady Letty's heart. She
must find Hugh at once. He came to her by a kind of instinct. He knew
she had had bad news.

"You are in trouble," he said. "Tell me and see if I can help you."

Lady Letty looked up with a startled expression on her face.

"Do I show it so plainly?" she asked.

"No; I don't suppose anybody else would notice. They would probably say
that you looked just as usual. But, you see, I know you so well, dear."

"Utterly cold, utterly heartless," Lady Letty laughed bitterly. "That is
my reputation. I suppose that I have tried to live up to it. It just
shows how wrong it is to judge by appearances. I am in terrible trouble,
Hugh. It came to me unexpectedly, as worry of this kind always does. Let
me tell you the details of a strange interview I have just had with Kate
Mayfield. You remember her at Stanford?"

"Really! Where does little Kate come in? But tell me, and if I can
help----"

Lady Letty went rapidly over the points of the story.

"Now you know exactly how I am situated," she said. "Hugh, I must go. It
is imperative to save Amsted. Stanford is empty except for an aged
caretaker who is devoted to us all. I mean Beaton. There is hardly any
furniture. My father's creditors took everything. You know what a
desolate, dreary old place it is!"

"A capital spot to hide in," Childers reminded her. "I knew the house
quite well as a boy. Do you recollect the day when I nearly got drowned
in the moat? And so poor old Amsted is hiding there, or going to be
hidden there when you reach Stanford."

Lady Letty glanced round her before she replied. Nobody was apparently
within earshot; the giddy throng of well-dressed men and women passed
across the lawns and filled the refreshment tents or sat idly listening
to the Red Geneva band. How hollow the whole thing was, Lady Letty
thought. And how dishonest! It was all so unnecessary in their position;
it was never in the least likely to be paid for. They were not far
removed from fraudulent bankrupts.

"Amsted's danger is great," she whispered. "You already know how he got
mixed up in a turf scandal. It was a disgraceful business, and I believe
it is in the hands of the police. Stephen Du Cros knows all about it.
Kate Mayfield has told me that he laid a trap for my headstrong brother.
Amsted is a perfect fool where sport is concerned. There is no folly he
will not commit where a horse is in question."

Childers nodded. He knew all this. Lord Amsted, Lord Stanborough's
eldest son, was one of the most famous cross-country riders of the day.
He had been brought up in the atmosphere of the stable, and his friends
were all of the racecourse. Even in the days of his neglected youth at
Eton he was implicated in some racing trouble.

"But he is not really bad," Lady Letty went on, as if reading her
companion's thoughts. "He is good-natured and generous, and will take
any risk to help a friend. But he is so easily led. Now there is
something that cannot be hushed up. I don't know what it is, but Stephen
Du Cros does. I had to go down to his office some days ago for my father
on business, and he was talking to a man about Amsted. I did not like
the look of the fellow at all, but many of Stephen's friends repel me. I
tremble sometimes when I think of the future. Oh, was ever a girl so
tried as I am?"

Hugh murmured his sympathy. It was very hard to listen and retain his
self-possession.

"I am ready to do anything for you," he said.

"Oh, I know, I know. You are the one man I can trust. Well, Amsted is at
Stanford in hiding; he has met with an accident. I must go and see him."

"There is no reason why you should not," Childers said. "It is not very
difficult for you to----"

"My dear boy, it is the most difficult thing in the world. I must be
there to-morrow and return the same day. I have promised to accompany
those people to Liverpool to Madame Regnier's concert. I can't get out
of it. We start at midnight. At one point the train passes within ten
miles of Stanford. If I could only leave the train for an hour and
rejoin it before it reaches Liverpool! But what nonsense I am talking."

"Can't you plead illness and remain in London? If you could trust your
maid!"

"My maid is in the pay of Stephen Du Cros. The situation is perfectly
hopeless. All I have thought of is that mad notion of leaving the
special for an hour and rejoining it later. Then I should be absolutely
safe. Please don't laugh at me, Hugh. Kate Mayfield suggested that I
should ask you. She said a novelist should have a certain sympathy with
the situation. I have read of unlikely schemes in books."

"Not more wonderful than that," Childers said. "We leave at twelve
o'clock and shall take four hours getting to Liverpool. It is a very
rambling route, and it would be possible to set you down in a certain
spot in such circumstances that you could spend some time at Stanford
and cut across the country to join the train again at Stoneleigh Cross.
A motor at sixty miles an hour would do the trick. If we can hit upon an
excuse for stopping the train twice, the thing will be easy."

"Oh, it would be easy enough if Stephen Du Cros were not of the
company," Lady Letty said. "He would suspect at once what I was going to
do, for he is aware my brother is at Stanford. I was not dreaming of any
conventional or commonplace plan. It wants some wild, ingenious,
out-of-the-way scheme, whereby I may get away and all shall suppose that
I am still in the train. If you can think that out for me!"

Childers sat pondering deeply. The suggestion appealed to him for more
reasons than one. In the course of his stories he liked to handle
complicated situations. Here was one calculated to tax his power of
invention to the uttermost.

"Well?" Lady Letty asked after a long pause. "Are you laughing at me?"

"Nothing was farther from my thoughts," Childers said gravely. "On the
contrary, the suggestion fascinates me. But it is impossible to think it
out in the midst of this noise and frivolity. But I have the germ of an
idea. Have you some friend you can trust? I mean some woman friend of
good position. All she has to do is to express a desire at the last
moment to join the party at Stoneleigh Cross. She might send a telegram
late to-morrow evening. But she must be a person of consequence. She can
be coached for her part by telephone. If she lives or is staying in the
North so much the better."

Lady Letty ruminated quietly for a little time.

"Yes," she said by and bye, "Violet Ringwood could help me, I fancy.
Lord Ringwood is away. She does not live far from Stoneleigh Cross. What
am I to do?"

"Nothing to-night," Childers said as he rose. "I'll call to see you
after breakfast. It maybe a desperate chance, but I believe you can
cheat them yet."




CHAPTER IV.--The Venture is Successful.


Lady Letty was not sorry to be alone. She had a number of intricate
problems to consider, and their solution threatened almost to be beyond
her. She had no ready cash, nor could she command the assistance of
friends with money. Otherwise, the thing had been easy. But now it was
possible to do nothing but hide Amsted. And there was nobody but she who
could do the hiding successfully. The situation was desperate, brimful
of anxiety, one long vista of fear and danger. And the man she had most
to dread was the man she had agreed to marry!

She could see him flitting about amongst the trees from one group to
another, welcomed everywhere with flattering smiles. What a farce it all
was! How promptly and contemptuously they would turn their backs on him
should fortune frown on him to-morrow. But apparently no doubts of this
kind assailed Stephen Du Cros. Presently some visitor engaged him in
earnest conversation. The man's appearance was oddly familiar to Lady
Letty. It occurred to her that he was the person she had seen in Du
Cros's office, the man who had discussed her brother. Involuntarily, she
drew nearer to them. The stranger was talking excitedly. She could catch
Amsted's name.

"No," Du Cros said curtly. "Nothing of the kind. Please understand that
this thing must be done in my way. I leave for Liverpool to-morrow night
and shall not be back till the day after. You are not to go near
Stanford in the meantime."

Lady Letty dropped into the shadows. She had learnt something. Amsted
was free for the next four-and-twenty hours at any rate. If she could
only accomplish her project so far as the special train was concerned!
But that was out of the question. Hugh Childers might be sanguine, but
this task was beyond his power. An irresistible impulse to know the best
or worst came upon Lady Letty as she stood there. It was still with her
after the guests had gone and she was alone in her room.

It was not far to Childers's flat; he could not have retired yet. There
was no reason why Lucy Childers should not share the secret. The scheme
would cost money, and she must be prepared for emergencies. Lady Letty
had a few jewels she could dispose of, and these she hastily slipped
into the pocket of her wrap. She went quietly down the stairs and out
into the stillness of the night. Her step faltered a little and her
cheeks flamed as she knocked.

Lucy Childers looked at Lady Letty in surprise.

"What has happened?" she asked. "Is there anything wrong at home?"

"Nothing worse than usual," Lady Letty said. "I waited till everybody
had gone to bed and then came round to see Hugh. I had to see him before
I slept. Perhaps he has told you."

Lucy Childers smiled. There were no secrets between her brother and
herself. She knew many things that Lady Letty merely suspected. Hugh was
in the drawing-room.

"I was just going to bed," Lucy explained. "Now, I will wait till you
are ready to retire. No, I won't stay with you people. I shall be told
everything afterwards."

Lucy softly withdrew. A somewhat awkward silence followed.

"I had to come," Lady Letty explained. "I was right in what I said about
Stephen Du Cros and my brother. The man I told you of was at our house
to-night. I overheard a few words they said. Stanford was mentioned, but
they will do nothing till the day after to-morrow, which gives me some
little breathing-time. Oh, Hugh, can you manage it--is there any way by
which I can get to Stanford to-morrow night?"

Hugh was pacing up and down the room. He had put aside his own troubles
and worries, and for the last hour had revolved Letty's perplexities in
his mind. A plan was becoming more and more clear to him, until at last
it was only a matter of detail.

"I believe I can do it," he said. "I have been studying the railway map.
There is a point called Cranley, which is only eight miles from
Stanford. Stoneleigh Cross will be reached by the special seventy
minutes later than Cranley. But it is no great distance from Cranley to
Stoneleigh Cross as the crow flies, and a speedy motor will give you
half an hour at Stanford and allow time to get to Stoneleigh Cross,
where the train will pull up for Lady Ringwood. To arrange for a motor
to await you at the spot where you secretly leave the train is easy. We
shall be there as soon as she is, and I'll smuggle you back again on
board the train at Stoneleigh Cross. In fact, a rapid car and a
chauffeur that knows the land will do all we need--if there is no delay
or accident."

"That sounds promising," Lady Letty said. "There is a certain amount of
danger, but with a clever head like yours it should be managed. But how
about getting off the train? Do you propose to invent some excuse for my
leaving openly?"

"I can't see my way to that," Childers said after a pause. "It is too
risky. The great thing is to avoid arousing Du Cros's suspicion. Letty,
your nerve is good? You are ready to take a risk? Your courage will not
fail you at the last moment?"

Childers had dropped his voice to an impressive whisper. Lady Letty
caught his excitement, and a little colour crept into her pale face.

"I fancy you may trust me," she said. "I am not afraid to ride any horse
that looks through a bridle. I had to swim for my life once. When we
went bird's-nesting together, I climbed the highest tree as well as you
did, Hugh."

"That is perfectly true," Childers agreed. "I don't fancy there is much
real danger, but it will be very horrible to contemplate in cold blood.
But you won't be alone, because I mean to accompany you. On the whole I
prefer to keep that part of the scheme a secret. How we shall leave the
train without stopping it is a matter I would rather not discuss. I
don't want you to dwell upon it; I don't wish you to realise the thing
till the last moment. As to the motor, I will see to that. You can rely
upon its being in readiness. You must trust me, Letty."

"Of course I trust you," Lady Letty exclaimed. "I am willing to place my
life in your hands, Hugh. But there are a good many details to be
settled yet."

"I have thought of most of them. We can't run the risk of telephoning to
Lady Ringwood. Lucy will take an early train to see her and explain
matters so far as it is possible to explain. Lady Ringwood, who is a
friend of Adala Regnier, will telegraph to Stephen Du Cros, saying she
has heard of the express party and asking to have the train stopped at
Stoneleigh Cross so that she may join it there. As she is the wife of a
peer, it is certain Du Cros will not refuse; on the contrary, he will be
only too happy to oblige her. After that you will have to do what I tell
you, and obey my instructions implicitly."

"It will require money," Lady Letty said.

"That is so," Childers admitted. "I have none. I suppose we shall have
to pay some five or six pounds for the motor which will meet you near
Cranley. That Lucy will arrange for. You had better give her the money
so that she can pay in advance."

Lady Letty produced the jewels from the pocket of her wrap.

"This is all I have," she said. "Take these and pawn them. What would
some of the friends that envy me say if they could see and hear me now!"

The clock on the mantelpiece struck the hour of three. Lady Letty looked
up with a start.

"I must fly," she said. "Fancy being from home at this time in the
morning! I cannot thank you, Hugh; I must do that on some more fitting
occasion. I am leaving everything to you. I am putting myself entirely
in your hands. Good-night."

Half an hour from midnight the next evening the fashionable party began
to gather at Euston Station. Four carriages and two sleeping-cars gay in
crimson and gold and flashing with electric lights had pulled up at one
of the platforms. The whole equipment just as it stood had been
borrowed, so the story ran, from an ostentatious American millionaire
who had brought his special train with him from the States. It was an
extravagant piece of snobbishness, but it had served its purpose. The
'smart set' was obviously impressed; the owner of the resplendent cars
had been talked about. Everything in its way was perfect. There were
lounges and enclosed balconies outside the carriages where it was
possible in the daytime to sit or walk and admire the scenery. It was
all typically American.

Stephen Du Cros bustled up, full of importance.

"I fancy everybody is here," he said. "We shall have supper at one
o'clock. I have left the arrangements as to flowers and the music to the
Carlton Hotel people. Those who want to sleep have a car for themselves.
We shall stop for a few minutes at Stoneleigh Cross to take up Lady
Ringwood. She had heard of the party and wired me to keep a place for
her."

Childers listened to the statement with grim satisfaction. He could see
his way clear, if he might depend upon Lady Letty's courage and
determination. With noise and clatter and laughter, the frivolous group
pushed their way into the train. It was a new sensation, and they
proposed to enjoy themselves exceedingly. They were loud in their
praises of the beauty and luxury of their surroundings. With a shrill
whistle the engine started, and London was left behind. At the end of an
hour the novelty of the situation was beginning to wear off, and supper
was announced. Already one or two of the more careful of the company had
gone to the sleeping-car. It was an elaborate supper of the most dainty
kind; the flowers in themselves had cost a small fortune. When the
supper was disposed of, the majority of Du Cros's guests began to wonder
what form of amusement he had arranged for them.

"I am very sorry," he said, "there is nothing but bridge. Our
accommodation is too limited for anything else. Will you take a hand,
Letty?"

Lady Letty glanced at Childers. He shook his head, indicating the
sleeping-car.

"I think not," she said. "I am so very tired. I shall turn in for an
hour or two."

Du Cros raised no objection. He was less suspicious than usual, and
still puffed up with pride at the success of the venture. A little later
Lady Letty, at a sign from Childers, followed him beyond the glass door
on to the platform outside. The train was gliding slowly along at a
speed of fifteen miles or so an hour. It was cold and chilly where they
were, and they seemed to have the whole world to themselves. Letty was
shaking from head to foot with excitement.

"You are not timid?" Childers asked. "You are not afraid?"

"Only restless," Lady Letty said. "Don't worry about me; I shall be
ready. The sooner it is time to act, the better I shall be pleased."

Childers drew a deep long breath. He grasped Lady Letty's arm.

"The time has come," he said. "Five minutes more and the thing will be
done! I see you have no fear. See how slowly we are moving! There is a
nasty curve here, and since that accident two years ago all trains slow
down at this point. Are you ready? Get into this waterproof suit
quickly. I borrowed it from a lady performer at the Hippodrome. Come,
Letty."

It seemed like a dream and as short. Strong arms lifted Lady Letty clear
of the handrail; she could see the gleam of water beneath her, and out
there in the velvet darkness another gleam, steady as a star. It was the
motor, the flashing headlights of which showed the way clear. Then a
drop, light as a thistledown, a touch of cold, firm ground again, and a
feeling as if she had all the world to herself.

She was absolutely and entirely dry! But what to do with the suit! Oh,
yes! Hugh had told her to hide that.

The chauffeur stepped down from his seat alertly--the very model of a
driver, discreet, alert, not in the least surprised.

"Stanford, miss," he said, "and on to Stoneleigh Cross within an hour?
Quite easy, miss; and give you a clear half-hour at Stanford as well."




CHAPTER V.--A Sporting Chance.


Stanford was a house where Lady Letty had spent some of her happiest
days. It had mattered nothing to her that it was a wild, desolate,
tumbledown old place, by no means healthy, but picturesque to a degree.
It had been the cradle of her race, for here, five hundred years ago,
the Stanboroughs had started on a career that covered the wild and
adventurous all over the world. It still preserved its castle-like
aspect; the stone walls had resisted the assaults of time, and part of
the old moat remained. Up to some five years ago the draw-bridge had
been intact. The present head of the family had disposed of everything
of value, and the Jews who had a claim on the estate had taken away
pictures and china and rare pieces of tapestry.

The place was not wholly stripped of furniture, but there were no
servants to look after the house, save an old gamekeeper and his wife,
who acted as caretakers. They were almost as grim and silent as the
house itself; they had been born and bred on the estate, and still
regarded the Stanboroughs as the foremost family in the kingdom. They
were alone, received no wages, and John Beaton shot game and caught fish
for the pot as his ancestors had done.

Beaton was pottering round the house locking up. He need not have
troubled; no burglars would ever have given Stanford a second thought.

He passed along the old stone-flagged corridors with a flaring candle in
his hand. He thought he heard a noise outside. Somebody was knocking
mysteriously on the hall door. With a thick stick in his knotted old
hand, Beaton opened the portal. A man stood there muffled to the eyes in
a great-coat, and a slouch hat was pulled over his brows.

"What do you want at this time of night?" Beaton, demanded surlily.

The intruder pushed forward and closed the door behind him. With the
utmost ease he wrenched the stick from Beaton's hand and pinned him
against the wall. Then a gay, careless laugh rang out and the hat fell
from the stranger's head.

"Don't you know me, John?" he said. "Anybody here but you and Becky?
That's all right. I've had a bit of a job to come, but I'm safe now."

Beaton's grim features relaxed, and something like a smile of affection
dawned in his eyes.

"So it's you, Mr. Julian, my lord I mean! I--I never expected to see you
again."

Lord Amsted smiled carelessly. There was a reckless look on his handsome
face, which did not in the least suggest trouble. Nobody in these parts
quite gathered what the scandal was. They were merely agreed that it had
to do with a horse. The whole countryside was given up to sport, and so
Amsted had everybody's sympathy. The young lord, as they called him, had
got mixed up in some shady turf business and dared not show his face in
England.

And yet here he was, reckless and daring as usual. He smote Beaton
heavily on the back.

"Get a fire in one of the sitting-rooms," he said. "Give me a shakedown.
I may stay for a day or two. Only nobody is to be told."

Beaton's face lightened. It was a clever man who wormed a secret out of
him.

"You've no cause to be afraid about that, my lord," he said. "Becky and
me'd do anything for you. But it's dangerous for you to be here. I don't
know the facts of the case----"

"No, and you never will, John," Amsted said in his most casual fashion.
"I've been a fool. Of course, I did wrong, but I never intended harm to
anybody. I was more or less dragged into it. Now it has gone beyond the
reach of the Jockey Club. If I could get at one man I might be able to
put matters right. Meanwhile, I'm not safe anywhere in England."

"Then why have you come back, my lord?" Beaton asked bluntly.

"My good fellow, I had to come. If I hadn't, Mr. Middlemass would have
lost a pile of money. He had got into the hands of the same gang. If his
horse does not win at Calsham to-morrow he will be ruined. It's only a
cross-country affair, but there is a heap of money on it. I've come over
to ride the mare."

Beaton groaned. In his way he was fond of Amsted.

"What madness!" he said. "Half the county will be there! You'll be
recognised, Mr. Julian. And the very people who are looking for you
to--to----"

"Clap me into gaol, you were going to say. It's the very lot who hope to
ruin Mr. Middlemass. Instead of which he is going to rook them. After
he's done that he'll keep them at arm's length for the future. Nobody
can ride the mare but me. She has a vile temper, but with me she's like
a lamb. Nobody will know anything until I am in the saddle. I will take
them all by surprise. It will be part of my revenge. A car will pick me
up when the race is over, and before those rascals can move I shall be
far away. I've thought it all out."

"It's the maddest thing I ever heard of."

"But the excitement of it, John!" Amsted's eyes dilated. "Think of the
glorious fun. Think of their losing all their money when they expected
to make a fortune! I should like to see the face of the blackguard who
does me the honour of wishing to be my brother-in-law. I suppose you
have heard that Lady Letty is going to be married?"

Beaton nodded. That information had reached Stanford.

"Some rich gentleman in the City of London, isn't it, my lord?"

Amsted's face grew black. The sunny, sanguine smile died from his eyes,
and he wore the look of a hard and resolute man.

"A scoundrel!" he cried. "I cannot understand it at all. It is a great
grief to me, John. I ought not to discuss family matters with a servant,
but this business gnaws me to the heart. I could never stand the fellow.
I always kept him at a distance. He belonged to one of my clubs. I heard
him say that he was engaged to Lady Letty. When I gave him the lie, he
was insolent, and I thrashed him there and then. But, by heavens! it was
true all the time. I had actually to learn it from that fellow's lips! I
was deeply sorry afterwards, for Lady Letty's sake. But it is ever the
way of a Stanborough to strike first and ask questions afterwards. Lady
Letty says nothing; she refuses to explain. She has given her word and
there is an end to it. But the very man who is marrying into our family
is going out of his way to ruin me. He laid the trap and I walked into
it. But I mean to take it fighting, old boy, and that is why I am here
to-night."

Beaton shook his head doubtfully. But there was a certain admiration in
his eyes. For pluck and courage there was nobody like a Stanborough.

"What does her young ladyship say about it all?" he asked.

"She doesn't know," Amsted replied. "And nobody is aware of my marriage,
either, except Lady Letty and yourself. You are a discreet witness,
John, and Lady Amsted is with her own people at Amsted Park for the
moment."

"And she does not know that you are here, my lord?"

"I haven't seen her," Amsted repeated. "I did not tell her what I was
going to do. Although she is only twenty miles away, she is entirely
ignorant that I am in England again. I hope she won't go to the meeting
to-morrow. Yet I must see her, John, and you must help me. We were only
such a short time together and parted in this way! I am going to settle
down--I promised her I would settle down after that last affair and I
meant it, on my honour. I was planning to take a place farther south and
start a training establishment, and then, and then----"

Amsted turned his head away, and Beaton saw that his shoulders were
heaving. Presently the mood passed and the young man was himself again.

"Get me something to eat," he said. "I don't care what it is. I daresay
you can find a bottle of wine, unless those confounded Jews took
everything. I don't care where I sleep so long as the bed is
comfortable."

John went off shaking his head. He was still anxious and doubtful the
following morning, as he saw his young master step into a motor at the
gates and drive off to Calsham. For the time, however, the motor coat
and goggles made a fine disguise.

Tom Middlemass was sitting moodily over his breakfast when Amsted
arrived. He was deriving very little consolation from his betting book.
Those scoundrels had certainly got the better of him. Now the jockey
upon whom he had staked everything had failed him. The boy pleaded that
he had hurt his head, but Middlemass knew pretty well that the lad had
been bribed not to ride. He was debating the point in his mind when
Amsted arrived.

"Great Scott!" he gasped. "What is the meaning of this, Amsted? I am
glad to see you, my dear old fellow, but in the circumstances----"

"A fig for the circumstances," Amsted cried gaily. "The danger adds
spice to the adventure. Ronald wrote to me and told me everything. He
warned you that young Hodgkiss would throw you over at the last moment.
He told you so, but you would not believe him. Of course if Hodgkiss is
still going to ride----"

"But he isn't," the other cried. "Ronald was quite right. But in any
case you can't----"

"Can't I," Amsted said grimly. "My dear chap, that is why I am here! You
will win a fortune instead of losing one, and I shall share the plunder.
It will be a thunderbolt for them. They will know nothing about it till
I steer the mare past the post. Before they recover from their surprise
I shall be miles away in Ronald's car. Now don't say another word; I
will do the thing whether you like it or not."

Middlemass protested feebly. He was only human after all, and his future
depended upon the coming race. The temptation to win could not be
resisted.

"Very well," he said weakly. "You shall ride; but, if any evil comes to
you, I shall never look Lady Amsted in the face."

Amsted reached out his hand gently for the coffee-pot.

"That's settled," he said. "Now give me some breakfast. I shall live to
see Stephen Du Cros in the dock yet. Here's confusion to him and all the
rest of them!"




CHAPTER VI.--In the Name of the Law.


Amsted reeled in the saddle, and for a moment the reins relaxed on the
mare's neck. The yelling multitude, all of whom to a man had backed the
horse of the popular Tom Middlemass, ceased to clamour. Victory was
within sight; already Amsted had been recognised and the excitement was
running high. It was only for a moment, however; the rider shook his
mount together again and slipped past the post a bare head in front.

A knot of men in the stand exchanged glances. One of them snapped his
glasses in the case.

"Done!" he said, between his teeth. "What will Du Cros say when he
hears? Fancy the cool audacity of Amsted coming here to ride! No wonder
they piled the money on; no wonder they could afford to smile when we
got at young Hodgkiss. All right, is it? Goodness knows where we shall
get the money to settle on Monday. Du Cros will have to find it."

A little way down the course Amsted was seated in a car. It looked as if
the crowd were bent on making a rush in his direction. He was a
Stanborough, was popular in that part of the country, and had won money
for everybody. But his lips were tightly set and his face was white and
wet.

"Hurry back to Stanford," he whispered to Tom Middlemass. "You saw what
happened? Lucas bored me; done intentionally. I believe my left knee is
smashed. I nearly fainted with the pain. Get me back to Stanford as soon
as possible and send for a doctor. Crichton will do--he will keep his
mouth shut. My wife is here; I saw her on the stand. Tell her something
comforting; only don't let her know that I am much hurt. She must not
come to Stanford."

The motor wheeled away and was lost in the distance. Two hours later
Amsted was lying in bed, his leg in splints, and he had been ordered by
the doctor to keep perfectly still. He might be able to get up in the
course of a week, but it was quite uncertain. Late in the same evening
Lady Amsted drove over in her father's car.

There were traces of tears in her pretty eyes and her face was anxious.
She threw herself on the bed and kissed Amsted fondly.

"Oh, my dear boy!" she murmured. "My dear boy, why did you do it? You
are safe for the present, but they are certain to find out before long
where you are lodging. They think that the car took you as far as
Liverpool. But why did you do it?"

Amsted smiled up at the pretty loving face.

"My darling," he said. "Oh, it is good to see you again. Why do you
worry yourself over such a blackguard as myself? I had to come. I saved
Middlemass and gave those chaps a jar they will not recover from easily.
And I hit Du Cros at the same time. How did you travel here?"

"Took the car. I guessed you would come here. The others are away for a
day or so. I can come to-morrow for an hour or two in the evening, but I
must be home by ten o'clock. I dare not stay longer. If we could only
get Letty she could hide you in one of those secret places----"

"She won't," Amsted said grimly. "Du Cros won't let her. If he knew she
was coming he would have her followed instantly."

"But she won't tell him--she would never be so foolish as that. I wish I
could help you, dear, but I am powerless, and my father is very bitter
against you at present. In fact, they all are. I cannot make them
understand that you are not to blame, but it would be madness to make
our marriage public at this moment. Letty is different. She will be able
to raise money somehow."

"Pawn some of Du Cros's presents," Amsted laughed. "That would be
poetical justice. Of course I must leave in a day or two. Crichton says
it might be managed if we could charter a proper ambulance. Those
fellows will be keener on revenge than ever. They are bound to find out
where I am. When they do so they are certain to set the police on me.
Oh! what a fool I've been!"

Amsted lapsed into moodiness for a moment. It was hard to look into the
tearful face of his wife and feel easy in his mind.

"I dare say Letty might find some way out of the difficulty," he said
presently. "I never anticipated this. I knew I should be recognised--I
rather wanted those fellows to see that I had got the best of them. But
I never expected to be knocked out. When we come to square up matters
there will be plenty of money for you, darling. But that will take a day
or two. Meanwhile we must hope for the best."

The weary evening passed and a long and anxious day followed. Lady
Amsted had come over in the car again; she desired to stay if possible
to see Lady Letty. The latter had telegraphed that she had heard
everything and was coming, but it would be past one o'clock in the
morning before she arrived. Still Lady Amsted lingered.

"I must see Letty," she said. "I must keep the car till she arrives.
Simpson will do anything for me; I can trust him implicitly. I had to
tell him everything, and he won a lot of money on your race yesterday.
It won't be difficult to concoct some story about a breakdown on the
way. I must wait for Letty."

Amsted nodded drowsily. He was feeling comparatively free from pain now,
and the previous night had been restless. He was sleeping heavily when
Beaton crept into the bedroom and whispered in Lady Amsted's ear.

"Lady Letty has come?" she asked. "I will be with her at once."

Lady Letty stood before the fire in the dingy morning-room.

"Oh, I am glad," Lady Amsted cried. "It was good and kind of you to
come, dear."

"It has been a difficult matter," Lady Letty said. "If I told you how
dangerous, you would refuse to believe me. Stephen Du Cros must know
nothing, especially after what I heard about that race. Nobody but
Julian would have done such a thing as that. But I have come truly at my
peril. Hugh Childers planned it all for me. He managed to deceive Mr. Du
Cros. I am supposed to be lying down in the sleeping-car of a train for
Liverpool. I must rejoin the train in less than an hour at Stoneleigh
Cross, where Lady Ringwood joins it. But how this amazing thing happened
I will tell you another time."

"A motor waits for you, then?" Lady Amsted asked.

"Yes, I came in one. It was waiting for me at Cranley by arrangement. I
bless the day they were invented. I should never have got here at all
had it not been for Hugh. He did everything for me. I have brought you
some money. I suppose you need it more than anything else. It will
enable you to get Julian away. I shall be able to see him before I go?"

"He was asleep just now. If he wakes, I am sure he will be delighted to
see you. You don't know what a relief it is to have you here. But I must
go. I only hope our servants have not begun to worry the police about my
absence."

Lady Letty was alone in the great rambling house. For twenty minutes or
so she was safe. In her mind she could see the express tearing across
the country through the heart of the night. If she was late there would
be no waiting for her. She would be left behind and the whole adventure
would be discovered. The mere thought of it turned her cold. She was
still trembling from the stress and danger she had so lately undergone.

She crept up to her brother's room, but he was still fast asleep. She
would have to wake him. He must be conveyed to the hiding-place before
she left. How strangely quiet the old house was after the roar and
rattle of the train! The silence was almost painful. Then a door banged
and there was a rush of cold air and the noise of angry voices. Lady
Letty thought she heard the sound of blows and the fall of a heavy body.
Someone cried out as if in pain, and then there was silence once more.

Vaguely alarmed, Letty crept down into the hall. By the feeble light of
a pair of oil lamps, she made out a prostrate figure with a red gash on
the side of his head. Fascinated by vague terror, Letty drew near. She
feared it might be old Beaton, but it was a younger man. As she bent
down somebody emerged from the gloom and laid a hand on her shoulder.

"This is a bad business, young woman," a harsh voice said. "Who may you
be?"

"I am--I am," Lady Letty stammered. She stopped. She must not tell the
stranger who she was. He would probably refuse to believe her. "But who
are you?"

"Well, I'm connected with a search party. A young lady is missing, and I
have come out to find her. The man lying there is my mate. I sent him on
while I stopped to ask a few questions of a chauffeur down the road."

"I am very sorry," Lady Letty said. "But I can tell you nothing. Please
let me pass."

The man barred the way.

"I think not," he said. "Seeing as how foul play is afoot, I take the
liberty of detaining you. Until the affair is put right you are my
prisoner."

Lady Letty started, her face ashy pale. She must be at Stoneleigh Cross
in a few minutes. And if she failed!




CHAPTER VII.--Through the Night.


Hugh Childers stood on the open gangway of the railway car with the wind
streaming upon him. It was not too warm for the time of year; the motion
of the train set up a rushing breeze, but his face was damp with sweat
and his limbs were moist as he peered into the darkness, anxiety shaking
him from head to foot.

Had he been successful? Had the carefully-planned scheme ended in
triumph? Or, on the other hand, was it possible that disaster had
overtaken it? But this thought was too painful to dwell upon. He put it
from him as a thing to be relegated to forgetfulness. He did not see how
he could fail. If he had, then he would know no happiness again. If his
plan had miscarried, he would have blood on his hands. And whose blood?
Childers reeled as he thought of it. He stood glaring into the darkness
as if looking for something in the rear of the train, where were pools
and marshes reflecting the stars in the clear depths. Leaning over the
side of the car, Childers saw the smooth water between the sleepers. The
train seemed to have travelled miles in the last few seconds.

Away on the sky line, or so it appeared to the eager watcher, a little
blue point of flame suddenly stabbed the darkness. It was as if a star
had slipped low down on the horizon and had hung there. Its dazzling
brilliancy radiated in every direction; for an instant it was still,
then it moved three times quickly in a zig-zag of flame. The darkness
closed over it, and it was seen no more.

Childers sobbed with relief. He had no desire to live through those last
few minutes again. It was this kind of thing that destroyed the nerve,
that turned a man's hair grey in a night. He wiped from his face
something that was not all the free play of his skin. He staggered along
with his hand on the brass rail, his fingers touching the sliding door.
His hand was so unsteady that he could not draw it back for a moment. As
he turned to shut it again he saw he had not been alone on the platform.
Madame Regnier was behind him.

"Have you been outside, too?" he stammered.

"I have," the singer replied. "I went out by the door on the other side
of the train. You see I am used to cars of this kind--I have travelled
in America so much. I like to sit out in the darkness as we rush along,
to see the stars, to look on the great houses with the lights in the
windows. It is noisier inside the carriage, and my head aches."

Childers murmured some reply. He was wondering how long Madame Regnier
had been there and how much she had seen. Her next question startled
him.

"Where is Lady Letty Stanborough?" she asked.

"I can't tell you," Childers said. "With the others, probably."

The singer did not reply for the instant. Inside when the electric lamps
shone on her face, Hugh could see how deadly pale she was.

"You mean to say that Lady Letty has not been outside with you?" she
asked.

Childers shook his head. He preferred not to speak at that moment. He
had not expected a collapse of his programme such as this seemed to
threaten.

"You need have no anxiety," he said. "Lady Letty is perfectly safe."

Madame Regnier gave him one long searching look before her eyes fell.
Within the car it was a startling contrast to the starry night and the
rushing wind on the platform. The atmosphere was heavy and oppressive.
The carriages seemed to reek of heavy perfume. In the far coach half a
dozen tables were given over to the inevitable bridge. The first
compartment was empty. Madame Regnier dropped into a chair and signified
to her companion to do likewise. Childers could see that she was deadly
pale--he wondered if his own agitation was reflected on his face.

"How did society amuse itself indoors before bridge was invented?"
Madame Regnier said. "How did the fools manage to kill time? How much
longer will the craze last? You are right, my dear Hugh, quite right to
deny that Lady Letty was with you just now."

The attack was so swift and unexpected that Childers started.

"I didn't deny it," he said. "You made an assertion that I did not
contradict. I assured you that Lady Letty was perfectly safe, and I am
prepared to stake my life upon it."

"She is safe so far as Stephen Du Cros is concerned, you mean?"

"Or anybody else for that matter. If you are really a friend of Lady
Letty's----"

"A friend! My dear boy, I am more than that. She is the one woman I
admire above all others. I would do anything for her. People say she is
cold and hard. Never was a greater mistake. She does not talk gush or
drivel; she does not weep over her friends one minute and forget them
the next. She did me a great service once that I shall never forget. I
flatter myself I can speak to her as no other woman can. She is ready to
listen to me because she knows what I think of her. It was a sad and
bitter hour for me when I knew she had promised to marry Du Cros. It was
none the less bitter because I saw from the first the thing was
inevitable. If that old rascal Stanborough was to be saved, it was the
only way. It is an old story that will be told again and again, but it
is none the less repulsive. This family pride is a queer thing. A girl
sacrifices herself to save the honour of her father when everybody knows
that he has no honour left. She sells her body and her soul--the thing
is horrible. Yet she would not borrow from me. I am rich; I have more
money than I shall ever spend; I value my jewels less than my little
dog. I offered all to her and she refused them. I pointed out to her
that she loved another man----"

"My dear Madame Regnier!" Hugh protested.

"Well is it not a fact?" the cantatrice retorted in her impulsive way.
"Would you not be the last to deny it? Don't you know she is in love
with another man?"

"She has never told me as much," Childers prevaricated.

"What is the use of speaking in this childish way! Haven't you been in
love with her for years? Hasn't she cared for you as long? Perhaps
neither of you realised it fully until fate threw Lady Letty into the
hands of Du Cros. Then you found it out. I watched you two last night at
Dorchester Gardens. You see, I have the artistic temperament, and things
like that are plain to me. It would have been better had you complied
with your father's wishes, Hugh. Had you done so, you could afford to
laugh at Du Cros now."

"I could not go back to my father in these circumstances," Hugh said.

"Here is family pride again! In the name of heaven, why not? You are
playing with your life's happiness. You two are devoted to each other,
and yet I dare swear that no word of love has ever passed between you!
Nevertheless, the understanding is complete. You have made up your mind
that at any cost Lady Letty shall be saved from that man. You are an
artist, too; you feel that the end justifies the means. You would be a
modern Virginius and save the child from a worse fate. I am not saying
you are wrong. But why didn't you kill the child instead?"

The woman's voice had sunk to a hoarse whisper. What on earth was she
driving at? Childers asked himself. Then it burst upon him suddenly. A
smile forced itself to his lips.

"Let us understand one another," he said. "You mean that I should be
prepared to kill Lady Letty to save her from the calamity of being
Stephen Du Cros's wife."

"I do," Madame Regnier said stubbornly. "That's exactly what I mean. If
I had seen you do it, if I knew you had done it to-night, I should
remain silent. Nothing would induce me to come forward and give evidence
against you. I may be wrong, of course----"

"Of course you are," Hugh interrupted. "Too much romantic opera has
given you a sentimental, sensational view of life. Good heavens! to
think I should so far forget myself--no, no, my dear Madame Regnier, the
thing is impossible! For the loyalty of your friendship I thank you from
the bottom of my heart. I feel how genuine it is. Nor will I deny that
Lady Letty is the only woman in the world for me. But I tell you she is
safe. She is as safe at this moment as if she were in her own bed. It is
imperative that she should do certain things to-night and that nobody
but myself should know of them. Even to you I cannot betray confidence.
The express stops presently at Stoneleigh Cross to pick up Lady Violet
Ringwood. When this has happened you shall see Lady Letty, and perhaps
she will confide in you."

"Then the age of miracles is not yet past?" Madame Regnier asked.

"I hope not. But there are many apparent miracles quite capable of an
explanation if you can only get to the bottom of them. And this is one
of them. In any case you are pledged to silence. I have given you my
word of honour that Lady Letty is quite safe. You would not stand in the
way of her getting the better of Stephen Du Cros?"

The prima donna smiled. There was a strange gleam in her eyes.

"What a question!" she exclaimed. "Why, if the worst came to the worst,
I could remove Du Cros out of the way myself. Oh! it would not be very
difficult. This has been a queer talk, but I am glad to have been a
party to it. I won't ask any impertinent questions. But when a lady of
position disappears from a train going at sixty miles an hour and a
disappointed lover is in a position to solve the mystery, why----"

Childers put up his hand for silence. Two or three women were coming
from the carriage where the bridge was in progress. They were chattering
eagerly, and seemed to be annoyed about something.

"It is almost uncanny," one of them said shrilly. "The way that woman
has been winning lately is perfectly wicked. Eight successive rubbers!
It doesn't matter who her partner is, she nets the money all the same.
She knows by instinct where the cards lie and plays up to them
accordingly. Look at that amazing heart declaration of hers just now!"

"A petty jealous, envious lot," Childers whispered. "Whom are they
talking about?"

"Lady Torringdor," Madame Regnier said. "She has been winning everything
lately."




CHAPTER VIII.--The Morse Code.


As the chattering mob passed on, the great singer turned with a smile to
Childers.

"I suppose you know a good deal of cheating goes on at bridge in
Society," she said. "But you carry your head so high, I presume you do
not stoop to such trifles."

"Oh, yes," Childers said. "After all, I am by way of being a Society
novelist. I have heard about the bridge cheat, of course. But Lady
Torringdor isn't one."

"I didn't say she was. That sort of thing requires brains, and nobody
ever accused Vera Torringdor of possessing that commodity. She is a
good-natured little thing, but very silly. Still it's possible she may
have a retentive memory, and if she follows the play more closely than
the others give her credit for, she could afford to risk the bold game
that comes off sometimes. She has no money, and yet she is beautifully
dressed. Sir Horace has no money, but the flat in Hill-street Gardens is
perfectly appointed."

"So you suggest there is some signalling----"

"No, I don't--I'm not suggesting anything elaborate. I have an idea that
the thing is absurdly simple--so simple yet so efficient that nobody
would notice it. Do you remember telling me once how you spent a year or
so in your father's works? You hated it and all that kind of thing, but
in a mechanical way you learnt a good deal. You learnt the telegraphic
code, for instance."

"I recollect telling you that," Childers said. "You see, the telegraphic
business appealed to me. I detected some good ideas for fiction in it.
But what is behind your question?"

"I am coming to that presently. Now I know something about telegraphy.
But that you are already aware of. My mother was a Portuguese and I was
born in Delagoa Bay, where my father was engaged on the railway. He was
supposed to be station-master, but he had all kinds of work to do, and
it was part of his duty to look after the telegraph office. Till I was
sixteen and my good fortune began to dawn, I had the run of the place.
The time came when I was useful to my father; I could translate a
telegram in the Morse code and send a message on. But I have forgotten
nearly all of it. Do you remember that night at dinner when we amused
ourselves by ticking messages to one another on our dessert plates? And
the mistakes I made?"

"I recollect it quite well," Childers answered. "Good fun, wasn't it?"

"It would have been better fun if I had not forgotten so much," Madame
Regnier said. "Still, I could manage to work out what you said fairly
well."

"Just so. The moral to be drawn from this conversation?"

"You will be able to see for yourself presently. We began to talk,
remember, about cheating at bridge and how it might be managed. Come
into the carriage where the game is in progress. You can smoke a
cigarette and chat with me at the same time. If you keep your ears open,
you may hear something that will be useful--I don't say you will, but
you may. I hate being mixed up with scandal myself, but there is a
method in my madness, as you will discover."

They strolled into the carriage where the play was going on. There were
four tables, and at one of them sat Lady Torringdor, a pretty little
figure with a vivacious, somewhat weak face and a pair of lovely grey
eyes. A pile of money and notes stood by her side, fortune evidently
flowing steadily towards her. Her partner was young and simple-looking,
one of the tribe who are prepared to spend money for the sheer pleasure
of being 'in Society.' There was no suggestion of the keen player about
him. One or two women lingered curiously in the vicinity of the table.
Behind it, deep in conversation with a well-known financier, sat Stephen
Du Cros. To all appearance, he had forgotten the card players. The hum
of conversation was drowned more or less by the roar of the train. Lady
Torringdor sat tapping her white regular teeth with the edge of a card
as if in doubt as to her play, she was carefully weighing up the chances
against her.

"Double hearts," she said at last.

"Content," cried the dealer.

The spectators gathered round to watch the hand played out. Really,
there was no standing up against the little woman, who carried all
before her by sheer audacity. Her hand did not in the least justify the
doubling of hearts, but the coup came off in a manner little short of
miraculous. Lady Torringdor smiled as if it were the most natural thing
in the world.

"Rubber to us, partner," she said. "Yes, I was exceedingly fortunate.
But you saw how the fall of cards favoured me. Does anybody else want to
cut in?"

Nobody was eager. Lady Torringdor's luck was too good for that. The
cards were cut again and the partnership fell out as before. The hands
were dealt, and from behind his cigarette Childers watched steadily. The
memory of his conversation with Madame Regnier was still ringing in his
ears mingled with the roar of the train and a quick, impatient tapping
that had an oddly familiar sound about it. But for the recollection of
that talk, however, he would have failed to note anything singular. It
was repeated again, this time more sharply, as if it took the form of a
command. The word 'diamonds,' was distinct.

Childers glanced instantly at Madame Regnier and she smiled.

"You heard it, then?" she murmured. "I thought it might be my
imagination; did my ears deceive me, I wondered, or did I make out the
word 'diamonds'?"

"I heard it, too," Childers replied. "Don't interrupt for a moment,
please. If I listen carefully, I am sure I shall hear something more."

"You have no suspicion where it comes from?"

"Not at present. There are so many people here and the train is making
so much noise. But that somebody is looking over the cards and
signalling to Lady Torringdor where the strength against her lies, I am
as certain as I am of my own existence. Really, I am amassing a great
deal of experience for my new book! This has been one of the most
eventful evenings I have ever spent. Now, let us be silent. I shall want
all my ears for the next few minutes."

The rattle of the train and the murmur of talk continued. Out of the hum
Childers began to pick out the steady, impatient ticking that proceeded
from somewhere near him, though he could not see whence. To the ordinary
mind it was bound to pass unheeded. But he had had a sort of training in
code signalling and the message to him was quite plain.

"Ace, knave, spades; king clubs; sequence to ten on left," was part of
the message.

Childers rose and strolled over to the table. Sure enough, in the hand
of the player on Lady Torringdor's left were the cards spoken of in the
message. The thing was wonderfully simple, yet at the same wonderfully
efficient. Possessed of knowledge like that, any player was bound to
win; no skill could stand against it. The hand was played out, and with
an engaging air of triumph, Lady Torringdor reached for the score sheet.

"Positively this is the last rubber I shall play," she said. "I am
ashamed to win so much money. Let me see, whose deal is it? Oh, mine for
the asking. Pass the cards, please."

The rubber finished in the inevitable way. Lady Torringdor's partner
pleaded for one more game. Childers stepped to the table and made some
trivial remark, drumming with his finger nails on the edge meanwhile.
Lady Torringdor started to her feet with a pallid face. The next moment
she had recovered herself.

"No," she said unsteadily. "I'll play no more. I want to have a chat
with Hugh Childers. I am going to write a book, and I wish him to give
me a few hints."

She swaggered gaily to the far carriage, Hugh following her gravely. All
her gaiety vanished directly they were alone. Her pretty face was as
pale as death and her hands trembled.

"You have found me out," she whispered. "How did you learn the secret? I
read the message you ticked out on the edge of the table. That's why I
did not play again."

"How long has this kind of thing been going on?" Hugh asked sternly.

"For some months. Goodness knows how much I have won. I must have made
thousands. But I had to divide with--with my partner. It was he who
taught me. The thing is so simple. It can be worked anywhere, and if
there is any chatter going on, so much the better. I suppose you learnt
all that during the time you were in business? Now, what are you going
to do?"

Childers hesitated. Her confession was so complete; the speaker was such
a girl. She was looking at him with white face and pleading, despairing
eyes.

"I don't know," he said. "You must see that my duty is plain. If I don't
expose you, I am morally as bad as yourself. But I don't blame you as
much as the scoundrel who induced you to do this abominable thing. It
isn't your husband?"

"My dear Hugh! Horace is too great a fool to be a knave. It was another
man. We were so dreadfully poor and so horribly in debt that we did not
know which way to turn. The time came when it looked as if we must be
turned out of house and home. I wanted a hundred pounds badly, and
I--well, I forged a name to a cheque. I thought the man whose name I
forged would not mind, but I never made a greater mistake in my life.
When he discovered everything he was horrid."

"He naturally would be," Childers said drily. "He was a business man, I
suppose?"

Despite her fear and terror, Lady Torringdor looked steadily at her
questioner.

"He lived for nothing else," she said. "He was not even a friend of
mine. But I thought he was good-natured and generous, and, besides, I
expected to repay the money. But he frightened me; then he showed me how
easily he could win as much money as I needed. Had it not been for you,
I should never have been found out, never! What will you do?"

"That all depends upon circumstances. Tell me the name of the man. In
any case I must know that. I'll make things as easy for you as possible,
but that blackguard has got to go. I am waiting for his name."

Lady Torringdor looked up with tears in her eyes. There was sheer terror
on her face. At the same moment the train began to slow up. The fact
brought to Childers a sense of his other and more pressing
responsibility. Lady Letty should be waiting on the platform of
Stoneleigh Cross at this very instant. She might be in need of
assistance.

Madame Regnier came forward.

"So far as I can see," she said calmly, "nobody has come. There is not a
soul on the platform."

Childers stood listening, cold with fear. If Lady Letty was not there,
why----




CHAPTER IX.--A Friend at Court.


Whilst the special train was speeding on towards Stoneleigh Cross, Lady
Letty's precious moments were being wasted by the cruel misfortune which
had overtaken her. The trouble was no fault of her own; she could not
possibly have foreseen or guarded against an accident like this. It was
as if Hugh Childers had worked out a story for her, but had omitted to
tell her of an extra chapter he had added. He might even have imagined
such a disaster as this; something of the kind might have come into his
fertile mind, but if it had, he would have dismissed it with a smile.
Such extraordinary complications are all very well in books, but they do
not happen in real life.

But they do happen in real life, and very frequently, as the careful
student of the newpapers knows. Here was a forcible example, and Lady
Letty had to cope with it. The time was priceless; in a few minutes she
should be on her way to meet the train. It was possible, of course, to
delay a little by taking the risks of the dark road and the increased
pace of the motor, but a horrible accident might occur and the police
have to be reckoned with.

In spite of her fear and her peril, Lady Letty's mind was perfectly
clear. Even had there been no hurry, she would have seen how awkwardly
she was fixed. It never struck her to doubt the truth of what the man
with the heavy, sullen face was saying. She did not connect him with any
danger that might be hanging over the head of her brother. She must make
excuses; she must try to get round this man. Once outside, she could
laugh at him. If she could only reach the motor all would be well. The
suggestion of physical force even occurred to her.

"I am very sorry," she said, "but I am afraid I cannot help you. I have
to leave at once."

The big man sneered openly.

"Oh, have you!" he said. "Really, now; you're not a bad-looking girl,
and I should say honest. Lady's maid, or something of that kind, I
expect."

Lady Letty allowed the insinuation to pass. It suited her to let the
intruder think so.

"I came here on business," he went on. "We are looking for somebody, if
you want to know anything."

Lady Letty began to understand. They were looking for Amsted. Here was a
new and unexpected trouble, rather worse than the original one. The
searchers were hot upon her brother's track, and not many yards away he
lay helpless and at their mercy. It was odd that these people should
come here of all places; clearly somebody had played the traitor. The
first ruffian had tried to force his way in and old Beaton had
half-killed him. But where was Beaton? Perhaps he had gone to warn his
young master of his danger.

She must maintain her presence of mind at all hazards, and the idea of
an immediate escape in the motor must be abandoned. She could not leave
Amsted at the mercy of these people. Probably Beaton had gone to him,
but she had to be sure of that. She set her lips in a broad smile--this
man should suspect nothing of her trouble.

"Really, this has nothing to do with me," she said. "You don't suppose I
attacked your mate. I am physically incapable of it."

The stranger conceded the point grudgingly.

"I admit that," he said. "All the same, I'm sure you know something
about it. I expected to meet nobody here except an old caretaker and his
wife. And what do I find but an up-to-date lady's maid and a big car at
the end of the avenue? What are you doing here?"

Lady Letty had been dreading this question. She knew it was inevitable,
and had been racking her brain for some way of parrying it.

"Why do you take it for granted that I am a lady's maid?" she asked
feebly.

"Now, that has been the very problem that has been exercising my mind
for some little time," came a voice from the doorway. "I am rather quick
at conundrums of this kind, but here is one that is causing me
considerable mental disturbance. I shall be greatly obliged to you for
the information. Whence this brilliant deduction as to the lady's maid?
It would never have occurred to me."

The speaker spoke with much deliberation. He seemed to be perfectly at
home, and moved about as if the house were his own. He was handsome,
calm, self-possessed, for all the world like the hero of some
fashionable romance. His evening dress fitted him admirably, and with an
elegant air he removed a cigarette from his mouth and placed it on the
mantelpiece.

"Kindly tell me who your companion is, Hilda," he remarked with easy
grace, laying significant stress on the Christian name he had casually
chosen for her.

Here was a friend in need. Who he was and what he was doing here, Lady
Letty had not the faintest idea. But beyond question he was on her side,
and a gentleman. Whether or not he was aware of her identity, Letty did
not know. She would take it for granted that he was aware whom he was
talking to. She caught a glance, the suggestion of a wink that at any
other time would have been rude. It was a warning to be careful, to take
her time, and play the game that this elegant stranger offered.

"I have been listening to your conversation," he said. "In the
circumstances, you will understand why I make no apology for doing so,
Hilda. I am only human and have my share of curiosity like the rest of
the world. Why are you taken for a lady's maid?"

Lady Letty was conscious of a faint suggestion of amusement. She would
have enjoyed the situation immensely at another and more fortunate
occasion.

"Really, I cannot tell you," she said. "It was our friend's idea,
Harold,"--the stranger shot a keen glance of approval at her. "There has
been violence done here, and I am told that I cannot go until I can
explain what has happened to the man lying there."

The well-dressed stranger shrugged his shoulders. He held up a bunch of
telegram forms in his hand.

"We will come to that presently," he said. "Meanwhile, these are of
great importance, my dear Hilda. I--I scribbled them off just now,
whilst listening to your talk. Will you look over them and see if they
are right?"

Once more the warning look was in the speaker's eye. Lady Letty took up
the form with a proper show of indifference. She glanced over the paper.
There was no address on it but, within the spaces was a message to her
and something in the way of an explanation:

"Play into my hands. You are in danger. Fortunately I overheard what was
said. I am Harold Liston, and will look after you. Warn your brother of
his peril when I make an opening for you. Get him away. This man not
connected with police."

Lady Letty read the message over very carefully twice. She could not
fail to admire the resource displayed by this Harold Liston. She had
never met him before, though she knew him well by reputation. He was a
brilliant friend of Hugh's, a man who had devoted a fortune to the
pursuit of science. He had been born and bred in South Africa, where his
father had made a large sum of money, and he was a cricketer of repute
and a fine specimen of the athletic Colonial. What he was doing here and
why he had come, Lady Letty could not surmise. She was only grateful for
his presence and his assistance. She was no longer afraid of the
beetle-browed attendant, but all the same she was anxious to get away.

"There is one point you have forgotten," she said. "Please lend me your
pencil."

In a firm hand over the lines of the telegram form, she wrote her
questions:

"Can I go at once? Can I leave my brother with you?"

Liston shook his head as he bent over Lady Letty's shoulder and read
what she had written.

"All right," he said. "Take the message and give this to Parker. But you
must see Jones."

Lady Letty understood. By Jones she guessed that her brother was meant.
With a careless gesture, she took up the papers and moved towards the
door. The heavy-faced man barred her way. Something gleamed in Liston's
hand, and there was the sound of a click.

"If you interfere," Liston said in his quiet way, "you will qualify
yourself rapidly--and permanently--for a coroner's inquest."

The man dropped back with a growl and Lady Letty went out. Liston
lounged there playing with the little silver-plated revolver. The other
man stood snarling at him.

"You know what you are doing?" he asked. "You know that I am an officer
of the law?"

"No, you are nothing more than a first class liar," Listen said
pleasantly. "As a matter of fact, you have as little connection with the
police as I have. The same remark applies to your companion on the
floor. I didn't mean to kill him and I sincerely hope I have not done
so. But he insisted on forcing his way in here at a most unwelcome
moment, and I am afraid I lost my temper."

"All right," the other growled. "Have it your own way. But you will pay
pretty dearly for this night's work. Seeing that I am not welcome----"

He moved towards the door. Then he pulled himself up short as he
discovered he was looking down the barrel of the silver-plated revolver.

"You will remain as long as I choose," Liston said. "You came here
unasked, and will stay till I dismiss you."

The man dropped sulkily into a chair. He asked no questions, but seemed
to be waiting for aid from outside. It came presently in the form of two
other men who stepped into the room from the darkness of the hall. For
an instant, Liston was taken aback at these unexpected visitors. It was
a fatal hesitation.

"On him, lads," the big man yelled, "on him before he can fire."

With a sweep of his arm one of the newcomers overturned the lamp. It
went crashing to the stone floor; a purple blaze leapt up for a moment
and then there was pitch darkness. A pair of hands were clasped about
Liston's throat and he was pulled to the ground. He set his teeth
together and fought for his life. The room was silent save for the noise
of struggling bodies and the deep breathing of the combatants as they
wrestled in the gloom.




CHAPTER X.--The Ghost of a Chance.


Lady Letty flew along the corridor to the room where she had left her
brother. The great thing was to warn him of his danger and get him away.
She was at a loss to see how this was to be managed, but perhaps Beaton
could suggest some plan. Meanwhile where was Beaton? Where was he hiding
himself all this time? There was that one particular hiding-place known
only to herself and Stanford where it would be possibly to defy the
police for weeks. Lady Letty had a keen recollection of this place, but
she had not been inside it for years; in fact, Stanford had ceased to be
really habitable. But Beaton would know where the big bunch of rusty
keys were kept. He would be able to assist her, and when Lady Letty was
assured of this, she would be able to depart from that dreary old
mansion with a comparatively easy mind.

In any case, she would have to leave it in the course of a few minutes.
By a miracle, she might catch the train at Stoneleigh Cross. If she
failed to do that, all her labour would be lost. However fast the motor
travelled, she could not make Liverpool before the express, and the fact
that she had left the train would be discovered. It would have been
better had she made some excuse and remained in London. If she failed to
regain the train what would Du Cros say? He had seen her start with the
express, and would naturally suppose that some fatal accident had
happened to her. When she turned up again, what plausible excuse was she
to make? All Du Cros's suspicions would be aroused, and he would ask
countless searching questions and the scheme and its authors would be
exposed.

These distracting thoughts flashed like lightning through Lady Letty's
mind as she made her way to her brother's room. She found him awake with
Beaton in close attendance.

"You have not an instant to spare," she cried. "I cannot tell you what
has happened, but they are after you. One man is downstairs at the
present moment, and another is on the floor dead for all I know. If Mr.
Liston had not come to my assistance----"

"And who is Mr. Liston?" Amsted asked in blank astonishment.

"I had forgotten you didn't know him. He is a friend of Hugh's, though
we never met till this evening. It has been such an extraordinary time
that I hardly know what I am thinking or doing. But Mr. Liston is
downstairs; he says he is here to help me, I thought he was staying
here. He is in evening dress."

"I seem to be missing a good deal of fun," Amsted said regretfully.

"Why can't you be serious for once?" Lady Letty exclaimed. "Why do you
refuse to recognise your responsibilities? Perhaps these men may be set
upon you by some enemy."

"I could name the enemy at one guess," Amsted said gravely. "I wish I
had him by the throat at this moment."

"Never mind about that, Julian. You must go at once. It is horrible you
should be put to so much pain, but it must be done. Beaton must hide you
in the Monk's Room. That is the one place here where you would be safe!"

"No doubt of that," Beaton growled. "I told his lordship so, but he said
it didn't matter. I could carry him to the Monk's Room, where the police
would be baffled. I'd give them a month to search the place and then
they wouldn't find it, my lady. But your ladyship is the only one who
can show me the way and the proper key."

Amsted dragged himself up in bed with many a sigh and groan. Whatever
else he lacked, his courage was undeniable. He stood up at last pale
with suffering.

"I'm almost sorry I came now," he said. "Still, it was a fine bit of
sport, and we got old Tom Middlemass's money out of the clutches of
those rascals. If I lean on the two of you, I fancy I can manage it.
Where can you take me, John?"

"As far as the Monk's Room, my dear boy," Lady Letty said impatiently.
"We can go along the east passage by way of your dressing-room. The
place is sure to be damp, but Beaton will get a fire going, and
presently, when the coast is clear, he'll bring your bed there."

The thing was accomplished at length and as many necessaries conveyed to
the Monk's Room as Amsted was likely to require for some time. Lady
Letty flew back to the bedroom. Hardly had she locked the door when
somebody hammered on it and demanded admission. It was easy to recognise
the speaker. The man with the heavy voice was fuming outside. He would
see at a glance that the room had been occupied. At any cost and at any
delay this must be avoided. A score of heavy blows rained on the door
while Lady Letty flew about the room putting things to rights. She
hastily made the bed, and removed Amsted's clothes and personal
belongings to the corridor. Beaton could fetch them presently.

Doubtless the nerve-racking adventure would come to an end sometime.
Meanwhile, a dreadful thought haunted her mind. What had become of
Liston? She had left him master of the situation. She had heard the
click of his revolver and the words he had addressed to the heavy-faced
man as she ascended the stairs towards Amsted's room. Perhaps there had
been a struggle and Liston had got the worst of it. Confederates may
have come to the assistance of the heavy-faced man.

Meanwhile, the impatient knocking on the door continued. Lady Letty gave
a hasty glance round the room. Then she flung back the door and
confronted the truculent visitor.

"Really, this is past endurance," she said with a fine show of
indignation. "Why do you intrude upon me in this insulting fashion?"

The man appeared as if about to answer when his jaw dropped and he
glanced round the room. He had evidently been prepared to find somebody.
No doubt he was in search of Amsted. The room did not appear to have
been occupied for a long time past.

"I--I beg your pardon," the man stammered. "I--I expected to find----"

He paused in confusion. He was so taken aback that Lady Letty found it
difficult to restrain a smile. At the same time she was not slow to take
advantage of the situation. She literally swept the man from the room
and watched him make his way downstairs. She knew that Amsted was safe,
and there was no need to wait longer.

But what of Liston? What had come to him? It seemed inhuman to leave him
to these people. Yet the vital minutes were speeding away irrevocably,
and there was only a desperate chance that the special train could be
picked up at Stoneleigh Cross. Lady Letty felt she could not leave
without learning what had happened to Liston.

She crept cautiously down the stairs to the hall. She had to feel her
way, for the place was in utter darkness. The house was curiously
unfamiliar. A false step might spell disaster in more ways than one. The
uncertainty of it was disconcerting.

She stood timid, hesitating, hardly knowing which way to proceed.
Suddenly there came the scraping of a match and a flare of flame as
somebody in the room beyond lighted a cigarette. It was only for a
moment, but in that space of time Lady Letty could make out three
figures, including that of the heavy-faced man. A hand was laid upon her
arm, and she fairly started.

"I saw you," a voice whispered in her ear. "I made out your outline by
the light of the match. There is no occasion for you to be afraid."

"I hope you have not come to any harm," Lady Letty whispered.

"Well, it might have been worse," Liston said with a suggestion of pain
in his voice. "I have had a lucky escape. I gather that Amsted is safe
and that these ruffians are baffled. Now, don't stay here another
moment. Your car is waiting and you have no time to spare. Whatever
happens, you must not miss your train."

Lady Letty would have asked for an explanation, but Liston hurried her
towards the door.

"There will be plenty of time for explanation," he said, as if reading
the girl's thoughts. "I will tell you one of these days why I am here
to-night. But there is no time now. Get away in your car immediately.
These ruffians have a car, too, and it will surprise you to learn that
they are going as far as Stoneleigh Cross to meet the special. I have
heard a good deal in the last few minutes that I shall turn to advantage
later. Now drive off at once."

Lady Letty needed no further bidding. Amsted was safe, no great harm had
come to Liston, and the way was clear. Doubtless it was too late to
reach Stoneleigh Cross in time to board the special, but there was just
a forlorn hope. The train might have been delayed by a trivial accident,
or some unforeseen circumstance might be in her favour. Isn't it the
unexpected that happens?

She reached the car at length, and the brakes were pulled off. There was
a leap forward and the air began to stream steadily on Lady Letty's
face. It was almost a race for life, and the excitement of it stimulated
and strengthened her. The miles were reeled off without accident and the
lights at the junction came in sight. In the distance two lights were
moving rapidly and the wild whistling of an engine went down the wind.
Lady Letty ran up the steps to the platform. A porter came along with a
look of uneasiness.

"A special is due to stop here," Lady Letty said. "I hope I am in time."

"Just gone, miss," the porter yawned. "You can see the lights in the
distance."

Lady Letty uttered not a word. The disappointment was too deep for
speech. She stood at the foot of the steps as a second car came up. By a
kind of instinct she fell back into the darkness. She recognised the
heavy-faced man. He ran up the steps and almost instantly he was down
again, muttering curses under his breath.

"Too late," he said. "Missed it by seconds, curse it! And I wanted to
say just half a dozen words to him! What's to be done now!"

"Get across to Stoneleigh Cutting," one of the other men growled. "We
can save four miles and get there before the express. Then take one of
the lights of the car and stand on the track and signal to stop. We'll
be able to invent come excuse going along."

Lady Letty wanted to hear no more. The inspiration she sorely needed had
come to her. She raced back to her car and tumbled into it panting and
breathless.

"You know these parts well," she said. "Make for Stoneleigh Cutting at
top speed. Pull the car up there and hide it in a ditch. Put the lamps
out. There is another car behind, but they must not know of our
presence."




CHAPTER XI.--Gaining Time.


With a terrible pain at his heart, Childers glanced up and down the
platform. The lights were turned low, and one or two figures crept about
in the gloom. Childers could see the placards over the bookstall, one
illustrating a serial story particularly caught his eye. It represented
a girl falling backwards from a train. It was an ominous suggestion, but
Hugh put it from him. There was a chance that Lady Letty might have been
detained till the very last moment. Some accident might have happened
the car. He dared not let his fears carry him beyond this possibility.
At any rate, they would gain a few precious moments, for Lady Violet
Ringwood had not yet turned up. Du Cros might fuss and fume, but he was
scarcely likely to order the train to proceed without giving his
expected guest plenty of grace. The Ringwoods were not the sort of
people whom a millionaire of the modern type would care to offend on
slight provocation.

In contrast to the quietness and gloom of the down platform, the up one
was glaring and bustling enough. An excursion train full of noisy,
happy, factory hands with their wives and sweethearts, was drawn up. It
was parallel with the special, which the holiday folk seemed to imagine
had stopped for their particular benefit. They stared into the
luxuriously-appointed carriages and made remarks of a personal nature.
The air was full of the din of their voices. They were waiting for a
local express to be cleared before they could proceed. At any other
time, Childers would have appreciated the humours of the scene. Now,
they filled him with a sense of misery and irritation.

"Lady Violet is not here yet," he said to Madame Regnier.

"So I see," she said. "On the whole you appear to be rather glad of it.
Why?"

Hugh hesitated; perhaps he might look to her for assistance. He did not
want to betray Lady Letty's confidence, but circumstances appeared to be
conspiring to force his hand. Moreover, he was in desperate need of an
ally, and Madame Regnier had more than a suspicion of the truth.

"I may tell you presently," he said. "Meanwhile, I should be grateful
for your help. It is imperative to delay the train for a time."

"You are doing this for Lady Letty's sake, I presume?"

"Entirely; I am ready to do as much as that. She--she is not on the
train. Urgent matters called her elsewhere. But she ought to have been
here by now; in fact, the delay is extraordinary. I cannot understand
it."

"She has gone off on a secret mission? If anything has happened to
her----"

"Nothing has happened to her; nothing could have happened to her. At
least, I had no hand in it. But at such times one is apt to fear the
unexpected. You will help me?"

"Of course I will," Madame Regnier protested. "Really, there is no
occasion to ask. Neither am I going to pry into your secrets. I know
that you would do anything for Lady Letty----"

"I would lay down my life for her," Hugh whispered. "I would stop at
nothing to promote her happiness. In a sense I am the cause of all the
trouble. If I had stuck to work this thing would never have happened,
but I cannot go back to my father and make terms. The terms must come
from him. But why do I talk like this? Can you think of some way whereby
we can secure a little longer delay?"

Madame Regnier smiled. She was willing to do anything. Besides it
flattered her pride to be consulted by this handsome, clever man,
usually so fertile in resource.

"I shall be able to manage it," she said. "A popular singer is a
privileged person. I might manage to gain a quarter of an hour for you.
But not yet--we must let Lady Violet play her part in the piece.
Unconsciously she is helping us now. After she----"

A tall slender figure came briskly down the platform at this moment. She
was dressed in a plain tailor-made costume and carried her own
dress-basket. She was alone. She came up as Du Cros thrust himself
impatiently forward.

"Awfully sorry to be so late," she said. "But the car refused to behave
itself. At one time I began to fear I should not get here at all. No, I
am alone."

"You did not bring your maid with you?" Du Cros asked.

"No, I didn't. When Lady Letty asked me to come she specially desired
that I should not--but what am I talking about? I must have been
thinking of something else. You see, on these short excursions I like to
travel without my maid; they are often more bother than they are worth."

Lady Violet spoke lightly, but there was a suggestion of trouble in the
way she glanced up and down the platform. Her eyes sought those of Hugh
Childers, as if asking a mute question. He shrugged his shoulders to
imply that the matter was out of his hands.

"Then there is nothing to wait for?" Du Cros asked. "Tell the guard that
we are all here."

Hugh gave a last despairing glance along the platform. It was absolutely
empty. Unless Madame Regnier could frame some excuse for delay the train
must start without Lady Letty.

Madame Regnier laughed.

"A few minutes either way makes no difference," she said. "I've just
recollected that I must send off a most important telegram. It was
wicked of me to have forgotten it."

"Oh, give it to the guard," Du Cros exclaimed. "My dear lady, you seem
to forget that a delay like this is dangerous. Even specials have to
conform to ordinary rules. If we stay here much longer, we may have to
remain for the night."

"How stupid of them!" the great singer said cheerfully. "But a minute or
two makes no difference. It is a habit of mine to see to my own
telegrams. Where is the office?"

She slipped off in the darkness of the platform, leaving Du Cros fuming.
He would have liked to leave her behind; he would have done so had he
dared. With a resolute air, he stepped off the train and followed his
frivolous guest. He would take care at any rate that she did not waste
more time than was absolutely necessary. Lady Violet turned to Hugh.

"Now, what is the meaning of this?" she asked in an undertone. "I got a
mysterious and vague letter from Lady Letty, asking me to join this
expedition. I should have joined it in any case for the sake of the
novelty. But I was implored to do so. I was to come without a maid and I
should see for myself what was going to happen. Nothing happens, which
is distinctly annoying. If your name had not been dragged into the
letter I should not have mentioned the matter to you. Obviously you know
all about it. The woe-begone expression of your face tells me that. My
dear Hugh, what is the meaning of this mystery?"

"I shall have to explain by and bye," Hugh said. "Let us defer it till a
more favourable opportunity. I am in hopes that Lady Letty may be able
to tell you herself. But please come inside. Sit down and chat with the
others as if nothing had happened. I'll come to you presently."

With a shrug of her shoulders, Lady Violet passed on.

The minutes were slipping along, but there was no sign of Lady Letty.
Presently Du Cros and Madame Regnier came back. Apparently, all the
ingenious schemes for delay were exhausted, and Du Cros gave the sign to
proceed as he stepped on the train. Then he made his way to the carriage
where the bridge-players were still intent on their game.

"I have done all I can," Madame Regnier said regretfully. "With that man
at my elbow I had to merely write out my telegram and hand it in. I fear
something terrible has happened."

Childers had no word by way of reply. He was feeling far too wretched.
He could no longer disguise from himself that there was catastrophe in
the air. But whether this were so or not, the great scheme had gone
awry. Lady Letty had left the train, and there was no possible way for
her to rejoin it. On their arrival at Liverpool her absence would be
noticed; indeed, it might be discovered by Du Cros at any moment. No
doubt he was already wondering why she remained so long in her
sleeping-berth. He would probably send somebody for her presently to
inquire when she proposed to join the party. If he should discover that
she was no longer there!

Hugh trembled to think of the consequences. Here was the one fatal flaw
in his scheme. Better, far better, had Lady Letty pleaded some excuse
for remaining in town. If she was not on the train, and Du Cros grasped
the fact, he would conclude that an accident had happened. He might even
go farther than that.

It was at this moment that the issue he dreaded seemed imminent. In the
corner of the carriage Lady Torringdor was seated absorbed in a book;
but her white face and the uneasy glances she turned upon Childers from
time to time showed how small interest she was taking in the volume. Du
Cros bustled back at this juncture. He appeared to be in one of his most
vicious moods. He spoke to Lady Torringdor as if she had been an
incompetent clerk.

"Why aren't you playing cards?" he demanded. "Won enough for to-night?
Oh, nonsense! Always keep on playing when your luck is in. Go and see
where Lady Letty is. Tell her I want her. Her headache can't be so very
bad. I thought she was to play hostess for me, instead of which she is
acting like a silly girl. Dig her out."

Du Cros uttered this demand curtly, turned on his heel, and departed. As
Lady Torringdor rose, Childers laid a detaining hand on her arm. He
could see a way to save trouble. It was an omen in his favour that Du
Cros had chosen Lady Torringdor as his messenger.

"You can do me a service," he said. "Do this for me and you will not
find me ungrateful. I will try to make the path smooth for you. Go to
Lady Letty. You will not find her in her berth--in fact, you will not
find her at all. But you need not say so. All you have to do is to
return with a message that Lady Letty will show up presently."

"You mean that I am to tell a deliberate lie?" Lady Torringdor asked.

"Put it that way if you like," Hugh said; "it is a case of the means
justifying the end. I will make a compact with you, indeed, I have
already done so. I fancy you would rather help me than Stephen Du Cros."

Lady Torringdor's eyes flashed. Her mouth grew hard.

"I hate him from the bottom of my soul," she whispered; "I would do
anything to defeat him. We need not make any compact so far as that is
concerned. If he were lying dead at my feet I should be glad, glad,
glad! Now I'll go."

The outburst was surprising, so unexpected, from the frivolous little
butterfly. Hugh smiled. He believed he had solved another problem.




CHAPTER XII.--Reprieved!


Lady Torringdor returned smilingly with a message for Du Cros: Lady
Letty would join them shortly. She was turning away when Du Cros laid a
hand on her arm.

"Come and play," he said; "they are waiting for you. They are anxious to
get their money back."

The ring of command was in his voice, a fact by no means lost on
Childers. He saw the woman shake and tremble; he noted the imploring
look in her eyes. But in spite of her fears she was firm; she could not
play again to-night. Du Cros left her with a scowl. There was that in
his aspect which threatened trouble for Lady Torringdor before long. She
went back to her corner and her book, and then Childers joined her.

"I am greatly obliged to you," he said. "You have made me your debtor
for life. It was a fortunate chance that gave you the opportunity."

"You mean you will spare me? You won't betray me now?"

"I am not sure that I ever meant to do so. I like your husband. He is
extravagant, but he is a good fellow and very fond of you, and I have
known you for years, Vera. You would never have done this mad thing
unless you had been forced to it. You were silly to come back into this
sort of Society at all. You and Horace were happy at Litchworth with
your dogs and your roses."

Tears glistened in the foolish little woman's eyes.

"That is true," she said, "and we could be happy there again. Life in
Society is not such a good thing, after all. Still, I don't think you
ought to preach at me, especially after getting me to tell that lie
about Lady Letty."

"It was absolutely necessary," Hugh said, "for Lady Letty's happiness.
If you only knew what a service you have rendered her this evening, I am
sure you would not repent it. You have helped her, and dealt Du Cros a
deadly blow at the same time."

"Well, I am glad to hear that," Lady Torringdor said vindictively.

"Why? Why do you hate the man so? Has he done you any harm?"

"Harm! If you only knew! Anybody would suppose that I was one of the
persecuted heroines of melodrama! I hate him because he is a bully and a
cad and----"

"And a ruffian who forces a poor girl to play cards and win money for
him?"

Childers dropped his voice to a whisper. He was drawing a bow more or
less at a venture, but he felt sure of his mark. He saw the arrow had
gone home to the feathers.

"How did you guess that?" she asked hoarsely.

"You forget that novelists are not as other men," Hugh said. "We have an
instinct for these things, we see below the surface. To us, trifles are
as trees that show the landscape. Say I guessed it if you like. But I
noted the way Du Cros spoke to you. He insisted just now on your playing
cards. It was a cruel position for you to be placed in. If you obeyed
him, you knew I should be watching you; and if you disregarded his
signals, he would have punished you for your disobedience sooner or
later. But I am glad you refused."

"And I am glad I had the strength of mind to defy him," Lady Torringdor
sobbed.

Childers agreed. Up to now he had hesitated to call Du Cros an
adventurer. He had had his suspicions, of course, but he was disposed to
regard this as jealousy on his own part. A financier has so many ways of
making money. Besides, outwardly at any rate, Du Cros gave every
impression of being a man of means. His luxurious way of living pointed
to that. Yet here he was proved to be little else than a common
swindler, dependent to some degree upon the ill-gotten gains of a poor
little woman whom he was practically blackmailing. And this was the man
who aspired to marry Lady Letty Stanborough! The idea was revolting.

"What are you going to do about me?" Lady Torringdor broke in on his
thoughts.

"Well, that depends," Hugh said. "At any rate, you are safe for the
present. I shall know how to deal with Du Cros when the time comes."

"You are very good," Lady Torringdor said gratefully; "far better than I
deserve, Hugh."

But Childers was hardly listening. He had another matter of moment to
occupy his attention. His spirits rose and fell like a barometer on a
stormy day: one moment he was filled with exultation in the knowledge of
the hold he had so unexpectedly gained upon Du Cros, the next he was
trembling with apprehension as to what mishap had befallen Lady Letty.
The vivid imagination of the novelist was at work. He was racking his
brain to find some way of explaining the situation when Liverpool was
reached, but for the life of him he could think of nothing capable of
deceiving an ordinary person, let alone Du Cros. There would be a
terrible outcry, of course, and something in the nature of a scandal,
but it could not be helped.

"We'll leave it as it is for the present," he said to his companion.
"Keep your spirits up and trust in me. And now I have something to say
to Madame Regnier. I'll come back presently."

He crossed over to the place where the singer was seated. Almost before
he could speak, before he could barely explain what he had discovered,
the train slowed down, and fragments of conversation began to sound
startlingly clear. The special dragged and the grind of the brakes could
be heard. In some alarm Hugh rose to his feet.

"What has happened?" he asked. "Why is the train stopping? What can be
wrong?"

"The miracle," Madame Regnier whispered excitedly; "the miracle we are
praying for. Come outside on the platform and see."

Hugh needed no second invitation. The train had come to a standstill.
The glare of electric lights shone blue and steady on the side of the
line. Out of the gloom there came the white, strained outline of a
woman's face. Madame Regnier grasped Hugh by the arm.

"Look!" she whispered. "Surely that it Lady Letty!"




CHAPTER XIII.--A Reckless Ride.


Lady Letty settled herself down in the car for the run, grimly
determined to see the thing to the bitter end. Had she but known it, she
had in her a deal of the reckless and daring spirit of her ancestors.
Outwardly she was cold and collected; the force of circumstances had
made her hard and cautious, but to a great extent this was conventional.
At bottom she was a true Stanborough, with all the inherent instincts of
the race. Throughout this night of trouble and danger and anxiety her
courage had not flagged for a moment, and in spite of the odds against
her she had come out with a balance in her favour. Her spirits were in
the ascendant now.

The rapid motion of the car and the wind streaming on her face acted
like a tonic. She put prudence behind her altogether. She wondered with
a smile what her friends would say if they saw her. Would they still
declare that she was an icy statue without feeling or emotion? She was
glowing with excitement from head to toe. She was almost ashamed to
admit an element of personal enjoyment in the escapade.

She bent forward and tapped the driver on the shoulder.

"Couldn't you contrive to get more pace out of the car?" she asked.

"Well, I'll try, Miss," the chauffeur said, his pride evidently piqued.
"She's a good car, and I never had a better. Maybe you don't know that
we are going over fifty now?"

Lady Letty did not know, and sooth to say, she did not care. The risk of
catastrophe was not touching her at all. The car seemed to fly over the
ground; the hedges streamed by; a cart passed on the way looked little
more than a streak of wheels and lights. Anything in the nature of an
accident now could have had only one result; but the reflection troubled
Lady Letty not in the least. What did it matter whether she lived or
died? she asked herself. She was doing her best to save the honour of
her family, the honour that Stanborough had gambled away so foolhardily.
On the other hand, there was Amsted to think of, and Lady Letty had
always been fond of her reckless brother. He had none of the repulsive
vices of his father.

The car was pulled up presently with a sharp jolt.

"This is the place, miss," the driver said. "What do you want me to do
now? Shall I take you as far as the bridge, or wait for you here?"

For the first time since she had started, Lady Letty was undecided. This
man was very nice and well-behaved, and he showed no sign of his belief
that he was driving somebody not far removed from an escaped criminal,
or at least a lunatic. Naturally he had asked himself a good many
questions; he had driven suspicious characters in his time, but he had
never had an adventure like this. But there was something about his face
that appealed to her.

"How can I best get on to the line?" Lady Letty asked.

The chauffeur started and hesitated. He was a married man, and he had
the fear of the law before his eyes. He was averse from appearing as the
central figure of a sensational story in the coroner's court. By the
light of the lamps Lady Letty saw something of what was passing in his
mind.

"You need not be in the least afraid so far as I am concerned," she said
scornfully. "It is only fair to tell you that I am in great trouble----"

"That's just it, miss," the driver interrupted eagerly. "You see, as a
man with a wife and family, I have to be careful. If anything happens to
you----"

Lady Letty dismissed the insinuation with a wave of her hand.

"I am in distress about a relative of mine," she said; "for myself I
care nothing. I never for a moment anticipated that I should give you
all this bother. I hoped to have discharged my task and left you at
Stoneleigh Cross some time ago. As you know, I missed the train I
intended to catch. I understand that it is to be pulled up here by
signal. If so, I need not detain you. You can go back with the assurance
that you have done your duty."

The chauffeur was flattered. It was by no means lost on him that he was
talking to an exceedingly handsome woman, and that she was treating him
as a human being. It would be an adventure to speak about in the days to
come. At the same time he did not fail to recognise that here was a
woman in some bitter trial through no fault of her own. Despite the
stately hauteur of her beauty, there was a look of anxiety and worry in
her eyes.

"Look here, my lady," he said--Lady Letty started at the familiar
words--"you may say that you are is trouble, but I dare swear that you
are taking all this risk for the sake of somebody. Anyone can see that
you are a lady not brought up to this kind of thing. It's dark here, and
steep and dangerous, and I don't like letting you go alone. Besides, I
know every step; I've lived in this neighbourhood all my life. Many a
sandmartin's nest have I taken in the cutting."

Lady Letty hesitated; that the man meant well by her was plain.

"It is really very good of you," she said. "But there is your car to
attend to."

"Oh, I can back the car into a hedge and put the lights out. Nobody will
see it. I tell you plainly, miss, I don't like to let you go alone."

Lady Letty hesitated no longer. The deep cutting, which ended in a
tunnel, looked dark and forbidding. Over the brow of the hill in the
distance a pair of powerful flashing lights appeared. That settled it.

"The other car!" Lady Letty whispered. "It will be upon us immediately.
I must not be seen here; they must know nothing about me."

The chauffeur reversed the car and backed her skilfully into a broad,
dry ditch; a moment later he had extinguished the lights. For the time
being the darkness was thick and black as the throat of a wolf. Lady
Letty could only see the stars overhead. Then she found herself grasped
by the arm and hurried along the road.

"I could find the way blindfold," the chauffeur said. "My car is safe;
no one could find it again until I brought the lamps. Are these men
after you, miss?"

"Well, I can't exactly say,"--Lady Letty smiled in spite of herself.
"They were a little time ago, but I fancy they have others matters in
hand now. For purposes of their own they intend to stop the special.
What those purposes are I neither know nor care. My business is to get
on the train without being observed."

The chauffeur nodded; he would see to that. He was interested in the
adventure; his heart and soul were in it.

"Not quite straight, those chaps?" he asked.

"Very much the contrary, I imagine," Lady Letty smiled. "They look like
racecourse swindlers, the sort of men who get their money by dishonest
means."

The chauffeur appeared to be decidedly curious.

"I wonder if I know them," he said. "Before my father and me sold the
livery stable business and took up cars, we had a lot to do with horses;
been connected with horses for generations, we have. My grandfather and
his father used to ride for the Stanboroughs--many a great race have
they pulled off. They were good days at Stanford then, as I've heard
tell. Well, those fine times have gone for ever, more's the pity, for
the Stanboroughs were a capital lot. They never had a blackguard amongst
them till the present holder of the title."

Lady Letty was painfully conscious of the colour on her face.

"I understand they have a pretty good record," she said. "They are
connections of mine. What is your name?"

"Garton, miss--Frank Garton," the driver replied, "at your service,
miss. And proud to be of assistance to anybody connected with the great
house yonder. If those chaps you are speaking of live within fifty miles
of here I'm pretty certain to know them. This way, miss."

Garton pulled up at an awkward-looking gate, over which he helped his
companion. It was an exceedingly deep cutting, with woods on each side,
and the only way down to the track was a path made by rabbits. It would
not have been difficult for anybody not accustomed to the place to miss
his footing and roll down to the metals, if the trees did not stop him.
Lady Letty congratulated herself on having a guide. Without him she
might have met with a nasty accident.

"So you see, miss, it's a good thing I came with you," Garton said
cheerfully. "No place for young ladies all by themselves, is it? I shall
have to take you by both hands here."

There was a certain amount of hazard about their undertaking, but it was
accomplished at length. Lady Letty shuddered as she gazed with eyes
grown accustomed to the gloom, and saw what she had accomplished. It
seemed as if she had come down the side of a precipice.

She stood panting for breath. As far as she could tell she was in time
for the train. It might be here at any moment. Nevertheless, it was
essential to the success of the scheme that the others should arrive
too. Lady Letty dreaded their appearance, but it was obvious she could
do nothing without them.

They came presently, scrambling down the steep bank with the aid of a
lamp from their car. Garton drew Lady Letty behind the shelter of a
friendly hawthorn bush. The leader of the gang caught his foot in some
tangle of briars halfway down and fell headlong to the ground. The
violence of his language brought the blood to Lady Letty's face.

"Any damage?" one of the others asked.

"I believe I've twisted my neck," the man on the line groaned. "I've got
a lump on the back of my head as big as your fist. Hold the light here."

The man with the light scrambled down cautiously and turned the full
rays of the lamp on to the bruised and battered face of his companion.

Garton gave a start.

"Do you happen to know who he is?" Lady Letty whispered.

"I know him right enough," came the reply. "Ned Bloomer. Regular bad
lot. Turned out of half a dozen racing stables. Warned off the turf. Had
a good chance once and lost it because he could not go straight. He's
the man that engineered the swindle some time ago whereby Mr. Tom
Middlemass lost such a lot of money. They say he does all the dirty work
for Du Cros, the South African millionaire, when he dabbles on the
turf."

Once more the blood flamed into Lady Letty's face. What a miserable
business it was altogether! How she longed to be out of it!

Then there came the distant whistle and the roar of a train, and two
lights were visible at the end of the cutting. That was the special, and
a few minutes lay between success or failure.




CHAPTER XIV.--Safe--So Far!


The heavy-faced man whom Garton had called Ned Bloomer scrambled to his
feet and snatched the lamp from the hand of his companion. He stood in
the centre of the track and waved the light vigorously. At the
expiration of a few seconds the special gave a shrill whistle and the
brakes began to grind. As the train came to a standstill Lady Letty
looked out from her hiding-place. It was a foolish thing to do, but she
acted entirely on the impulse of the moment. She was dazed and confused
by the brilliant glare from the electric lamp in Bloomer's hand. There
was a wistful, almost despairing look in her eyes, but she was not
conscious of that. She could see Hugh Childers and Madame Regnier gazing
out, but she had no idea how plainly she would be seen herself.

The guard dropped off the back of the train and ran along the line.

"What's the meaning of this?" he demanded of the man who held the light.
"Anything wrong?"

"Well, we're not sure," was the reply. "We're--we're keepers and these
woods belong to our employer. There has been a good deal of poaching
lately and we were on the watch. We surprised two of them just now and
they bolted through the tunnel. We followed as far as we dared, but
there are too many trains on the line for safety. One of my mates swears
there is an obstruction on the line a hundred yards down the tunnel. I
daresay he is mistaken, but it is as well to be on the safe side. That's
why we waved our lamp."

The guard looked perplexed. Obviously, he suspected some sort of design
upon the train. Such things have happened. Still, it was clearly his
duty to examine the track. If he ignored it and anything took place his
position would be serious. He muttered something ungracious that hardly
sounded like thanks.

"Come with me and point out where the obstruction is," he said.

Bloomer was taken aback. He had not expected this. If persisted in, it
would upset all his schemes. By now the windows of the special were
filled with curious faces. Everybody was eager to know what was amiss.
Du Cos pressed forward just as the man with the lamp was turning to his
mates.

"It's no business of mine," he said. "We thought we were doing right. Go
on, if you like. Only don't blame us afterwards. Here, Tom, show the
guard what you saw."

The suggestion was practical, and the guard fell in with it. At the same
moment Du Cros saw who the speaker was. Concealed by the undergrowth,
Lady Letty observed the expression of his face. She remarked suspicion
and anger and alarm written there.

"Really, we are making a fuss about nothing," he said, "besides
frightening the ladies. Go back to the bridge tables. These good fellows
here have, I understand, magnified a couple of poachers into a pair of
desperate characters. I'll see what they have to say."

A stifled exclamation broke from Garton. He suppressed it instantly.

"Tell me, miss," he asked hoarsely, "who that gentleman is?"

"That is Mr. Du Cros," Lady Letty explained. "Have you seen him before?"

A peculiar sound came from Garton; it was something between a chuckle,
and a sigh. There was something about it, too, that conveyed profound
astonishment.

"Are you sure, miss?" he asked incredulously.

"Quite," Lady Letty said. "I am--I mean I have been in his house. I
have--I was to have come with the party to-night. All those ladies and
gentlemen are guests of Mr. Du Cros, and he is taking them to Liverpool
in this special."

"Well, I--well, I beg your pardon, miss," Garton gasped. "So that is Mr.
Du Cros, the famous South African millionaire, who is going in largely
for the turf. I wonder what he would say if he knew he was standing a
few feet from Frank Garton! I wonder how he would feel and whether he
would be proud of those dress clothes of his! To think of him being
mixed up with all these nobs! Being accustomed to racecourses, I
recognise a good number of them. Now if I was to push myself on board,
they would soon kick me out. But I've a better claim to be there than
the man who calls himself Stephen du Cros."

Once more tingling shame scorched Lady Letty.

"You seem to have met Mr. Du Cros before," she said. "Do you know him?"

"Do I know him! Have known him for years. But you are a friend of his,
and I don't say any more. They tell me that he is engaged to Lady Letty
Stanborough, sister of Lord Amsted. When I heard it I was glad, because
the old family can do with the cash. I thought he was some big chap in
the money world whose name really was Du Cros. He may have tons of gold
now for all I know. There are strange ways of making a fortune, and the
coin has a knack of finding itself in queer hands. But if that chap made
a fortune he murdered somebody to get it. I don't suppose the old lord
cares two straws either way so long as his pocket's full, but Lord
Amsted is different. In spite of all his wildness, he is a gentleman,
and he would never see his sister married to a scamp like that. He knows
me and he will listen to what I say. I'll find out where he is, and see
him, if I have to go as far as Australia to do it."

Lady Letty tingled, but strangely enough she felt no overwhelming sense
of shame. Her uppermost feeling was one of deep relief. If what this
man, with whom fate had brought her so curiously in contact, said was
true, then she would be free of her shackles. The compact into which she
had entered was humiliating and disgraceful, but, with the fresh sense
of freedom came the strong hope of a new life. Lady Letty would have
liked to ask further questions, but her pride restrained her. She could
not discuss the man she had promised to marry with a chauffeur. She was
rejoiced to think that the wild adventure of the evening had taken this
strange course. Now it mattered little what happened. But she must not
fail Hugh Childers; at any risk she must regain the train.

Everybody had resumed their cards or their talk, with the exception of
Hugh Childers and Madame Regnier. They were lurking behind the curtain
of the train waiting events. Hugh shook with excitement. He knew where
Lady Letty was, and was waiting his chance to get her on to the train.
Meanwhile, secure in the fact that nobody was listening, Du Cros had
speech of Ned Bloomer.

His dark face blazed with anger and annoyance.

"What the devil did you do this for?" he demanded. "Why did you stop the
train? There is no kind of obstacle in the tunnel. Yet you frighten my
guests out of their wits and spoil the success of the trip. What do you
mean by it?"

The heavy-faced man scowled angrily.

"That's like you," he said. "Never satisfied with anything that one
does. I thought as you'd like to know as we failed to-night. Muddled it
up altogether."

"Was there ever such a set of crass idiots!" Du Cros cried.

"Idiots! Ah! well, you're good at names, but better at shirking danger
and putting the blame on other people. We thought if you was to know at
once, you could fix up some plan for us to go on with. That's why we cut
across and stopped the train. We did it to help you, and this is all the
thanks we get for our pains. It isn't as if we are being well paid
either. In fact, we could do with some money----"

"Oh, curse you and your money," Du Cros burst out angrily. "You know the
money is all right and that you will get it presently. How about
Amsted?"

"That's what I wanted to tell you about. When we got your 'phone call we
acted precisely as you told us. After Amsted left the course he went to
Stanford, and we followed as soon as we could get on his track, passing
as officers of police. We were detained for a time and Chesterton went
on. When I got to the house I found Chesterton half dead and quite past
giving any account of himself. The place is like a barn! I got hold of
what I thought was a smart lady's maid, who seemed anxious to leave, but
I detained her. I should have got out of her where Amsted was, when a
regular toff of a chap came in and spoke to her as if she was his wife,
which perhaps she was, for all I could tell. I tried a little bluff, but
it didn't work. The toff happened to have a revolver in his pocket and
made fine play with it. Meanwhile the girl bolted before the others came
up, and no doubt warned Amsted. Anyway, by the time we'd laid the toff
out the bird had flown. Amsted's bedroom was empty, and although we
ransacked the place from top to bottom not a trace of him was to be
found."

"What became of the young woman?" Du Cros asked.

Bloomer shrugged his shoulders as if annoyed by the inconsequence of the
question.

"How should I know?" he asked. "Anyway, what does it matter? The point
is that Amsted is nowhere to be found, and I deemed it my duty to tell
you as soon as possible. He can't have got very far away, especially as
he was hurt. If you've got anything to suggest, out with it, for I see
the others are coming back from the tunnel."

Du Cros knitted his brow into a puzzled frown. Plainly he was at fault.
The other men were approaching, talking in excited tones. The guard was
angry, and still suspicious that some trick had been played on him.

"Detain them for a minute or two," Du Cros whispered. "Your news has
upset all my plans, and I want a few minutes to think. I must be alone.
By the time you get back I shall have hammered something out of my
brain."

Bloomer bustled off down the track. Du Cros stood looking at the train
in an attitude of deep thought.

Lady Letty clutched the arm of her companion.

"Now is the time to help me," she whispered breathlessly. "There is not
a single moment to lose. I must get on that train unknown to and unseen
by Mr. Du Cros. Can you manage this for me, Garton?"

Garton nodded briskly.

"Bless you, yes, miss," he said. "It's as easy as falling off the roof
of a house."

He crept from the bushes on his hands and knees, stood for an instant
behind Du Cros, and then struck him a clean and vigorous blow full on
the side of the head.

Du Cros went down without a sound and lay on the metals like a log.

"Now's your time, miss," said Garton. "Don't lose a moment."




CHAPTER XV.--Liston's Bright Idea.


Left to himself, Amsted lay in bed in the Monk's Room with the pleasant
consciousness that he was not so badly hurt as he had imagined.
Certainly he had managed the removal without much inconvenience. On a
calm review of his position he could not deny that he had behaved in an
exceedingly foolish manner. He had not been able to resist the
temptation of coming back to England at a time when his presence
involved his liberty. He knew he was not so black as he had been
painted, and there were persons who declared that when matters came to
be investigated it would be found that Amsted was not very seriously to
blame.

But he could not miss the opportunity to get even with the rascals who
had robbed his friend Tom Middlemass of his money. Like the Irishman, he
could resist most things but temptation. He had not, of course,
anticipated the accident and its consequences.

Yet it had been the cause of his present trouble. To save him and his
wife, Lady Letty had run risks leading her into danger and anxiety. She
had satisfied herself that her brother was safe before she had turned
her back on Stanford in the race to catch the special. It seemed to her
that Amsted could lie up in the Monk's Room until he was well and able
to leave the country.

"I shall be all right in a day or two," Amsted told Beaton. "Those
doctor fellows always make such a confounded fuss about things."

"I daresay they do, my lord," Beaton muttered. "That's where you're in a
fix. You may not like the doctor, but for the present you can't do
without him. He's got to come here. If he does, how are we to keep his
mouth shut? You can hardly expect him to visit you in secret, my lord."

Amsted conceded the point promptly.

"I see what you mean, John," he said. "No self-respecting medical man
would do it. He would be compounding my wrong if he did. I must stay
here and manage as best I can. If I were in Liverpool I should be safe.
I've got two or three good friends there, and besides, in a big town it
is different. The worst part of it is everybody knows me here, and
everybody had heard about that race. But we taught them a lesson, John,
and they won't interfere with Tom Middlemass again."

"Do you know who they are, my lord?"

"I have an idea," Amsted replied. "But anyway, it doesn't matter. If I
could prove it, Mr. Du Cros would have a bad time of it."

"He could tell you everything, asking your pardon, my lord," Beaton
replied. "I'm only a servant, and it is not for me to say much. But I've
spent all my life in the family, and there's none can say I am not
faithful to it. So I'll speak frankly, my lord."

"You're a good fellow, John," Amsted said warmly.

"Well, my lord, it's about this marriage of Lady Letty's. We get to know
about these things even so far away as Stanford. It seemed to be all
right at first--man in a good position, with plenty of money and all
that. Goodness knows the family can do with it."

"Amen to that sentiment," Amsted laughed.

"Well, I was glad; so was my old missis, for the matter of that. Then we
began to hear rumours. This is a sporting part, my lord, and the very
children know everything about a horse. They say as Du Cros is little
better than an adventurer. I can't find out where the rumour came from,
but there it is. They say he was mixed up in that business over which
Mr. Middlemass lost ten thousand pounds; I've been told so over and over
again."

"Well, he's got it back, anyway."

"He has, my lord, thanks to you; but you are laid up and in danger in
consequence of it. But I'm sort of wandering from my point. I was
speaking of this here Du Cros. I tried to get some details, but there
wasn't a soul who'd really say anything. But to-night it all came out."

Amsted turned over eagerly. It was clear he was interested.

"Really!" he said. "Mind you, I am not surprised. It seems a quaint idea
to be discussing my future brother-in-law with you, John."

"If he was going to be your brother-in-law perhaps it would, my lord,"
Beaton answered composedly. "Perhaps you won't say so when I have
finished; because when I've done there won't be no more talk of Mr. Du
Cros coming into this family. It was him as got you into a bother to
begin with. Is it true you laid hands on him, my lord?"

Amsted did not appear to relish the question. He had a pretty shrewd
idea that Beaton was not asking these questions out of idle curiosity.

"I did," he said; "but I don't know that I did any good by it."

"Don't be too sure of that. Anyhow, the chaps who came here to-night
were sent by Du Cros. They wanted to get hold of you for some reason or
another, and had no more to do with the police than I have. They carried
on as if the whole place belonged to them. They tried to detain Lady
Letty, and they'd have done it but for Mr. Liston. I didn't dare to show
up because I thought I might be useful in an emergency. My idea was to
lie low until I was wanted. So I heard a deal that they had to say. Du
Cros is at the bottom of this business. He would have stopped you riding
if he could, but you were too clever for him. Their idea was to drag you
away by force and hand you over to the police."

"Vastly obliged to them, I am sure," Amsted smiled. "You shall tell me
everything, Beaton, and I'll let Lady Letty know. But who is Mr.
Liston?"

"Haven't any more idea than the dead, my lord," Beaton said. "He came
here out of nowhere as cool as you please. He was all the gentleman in
his dress clothes, smoking his cigarette as if the whole place belonged
to him, my lord. The clever way he told Lady Letty all about it with one
of them blackguards within hearing was a treat. As I told your lordship,
I was listening to what was going on. You'd like Mr. Liston."

"I'm certain of it," Amsted said drily. "Is he here still? If so, I
should be glad to see him. You might go and look."

Beaton returned presently, followed by Liston. Then John bowed and
withdrew.

"Very glad to meet you," Amsted said. "I owe you a great service. Would
you mind telling me how you came to be fixed up in this business,
Liston?"

"It needs some explanation, doesn't it?" Liston answered. "In the first
place, I may say that I am a great friend of Hugh Childers. I have known
him for a long time. I came at his special request to secure the safety
of Lady Letty Stanborough."

"But how on earth," Amsted began, "did Childers know----"

"Because Lady Letty asked him. She had to consult somebody when she got
Lady Amsted's message on the 'phone. It was her positive duty to come
here and see you. It was also imperative that Du Cros should know
nothing whatever about it. I don't understand how it was managed, but
Lady Letty left the special at a certain point, and it was her intention
to rejoin it at a given spot in such a manner as to convey the
impression that she had never left the train at all. The scheme was
evolved out of the ingenious brain of Hugh Childers--nobody but a
novelist could have invented such a plot. Childers was fearful lest some
harm might come to Lady Letty, and asked me to be present. It looked
like an adventure after my own heart, and I consented. I came over in my
car after dinner, and I'm bound to confess that I had plenty of fun for
my money. I was very near losing my life at the hands of those ruffians.
I escaped with a nasty wound in the shoulder that Beaton bound up for
me. There are other details which I will tell you in due course."

"Beaton says I am not safe here."

"Well, in a sense that is perfectly true. It was I who impressed the
fact upon Beaton. I pointed out to him that the difficulty was the
question of the doctor. Your leg may be worse than you imagine, though
there are no bones broken; anyway it requires skilled attention. You
can't expect any respectable local man to attend you in secret. If the
story came out, it would be the ruin of his practice."

"I should be safer in Liverpool, if I could get there," Amsted said.

"That is what I would suggest. The journey will cause you some pain and
inconvenience, but my car is a smooth one and my man is careful. You had
better start at once."

It was a proposition after Amsted's own heart.

"Done with you and many thanks," he said. "Oblige me by calling Beaton."

Ten minutes later the car was in motion. It ran swiftly and silently
along the road parallel with the railway, until it came to the hill on
the side of which was the cutting where the special had stopped. The
train still stood there, with the electric lights flashing on the line.
A knot of people gathered on the metals, apparently looking at a man in
their midst. The car was pulled up with a jerk.

"Anything wrong?" Liston asked.

"Looks like a breakdown, sir," the chauffeur said. "One of the axles
bent. Take me a matter of two hours to put it right."

"I'll go and see what's the matter. Unless I am mistaken, we've run up
against Du Cros's special--the one that Lady Letty travelled by. There
seems to have been an accident."

Liston scrambled down the bank and pushed his way into the circle. In
the flare of light from the carriage he saw Du Cros lying prostrate,
apparently beyond the surgeon's aid.




CHAPTER XVI.--The Chance Accepted.


Lurking in the carriage, and keeping a keen lookout for his chance of
aiding Lady Letty, Childers had seen what had happened. Madame Regnier
was watching just as intently. She could see Lady Letty rise from her
hiding-place in the bushes and start forward.

"Now is your chance," she whispered. "The man is stunned. I don't know
who has rendered us this service, but I should like to do something for
him. But don't stop an instant. Bring Lady Letty into the train before
anybody grasps what is going on."

Childers needed no second bidding. As Lady Letty emerged from the
bushes, he made a flying leap from the train and caught her in his arms.
Nobody was near enough to take heed, except Garton, who stood with a
self-satisfied smile on his face.

"I know all about it, sir," he said. "There was no other way. I don't
suppose that Mr. Du Cros, as he calls himself, is badly hurt."

Without waiting for further explanation, Garton discreetly disappeared.
Childers lifted Lady Letty into the train and handed her over to Madame
Regnier. The whole episode had transacted itself silently, and nobody in
the train knew aught of it.

Du Cros lay motionless until the guard and the heavy-faced man came up
to him. Behind the group, that was soon augmented by some of the guests
in the special, a whispered conversation was going in in the bushes
between Liston and Garton.

"I don't think there is much the matter, sir," Garton said. "I hit him
all right. The lady was anxious to return to the train. She was very
particular that she should get back without anybody knowing, especially
Du Cros. We missed the special at Stoneleight Cross, and I don't know
what we'd have done if she hadn't overheard Du Cros's pals arranging to
pull up the special here. It was a chance for us and we took it. What's
more, it has turned out trumps."

"Thanks to you, it most certainly did," Liston answered. "You acted with
a promptitude that has my warmest approval, Garton. You knocked Du Cros
down, I suppose, to make a clear way for the lady to regain the train?"

"That's the idea, sir," Garton said modestly. "The lady was expected,
for a gentleman dashed down and fetched her like lightning."

"Well, that's all right," Liston replied. "You have rendered more than
one person a magnificent service, Garton. I will see that you are
properly rewarded. Meanwhile, you had better go back to your car and
discreetly vanish. You have done your work well."

Garton smiled and vanished. Liston returned to the group round Du Cros.
He stood there for a moment, then he, too, smiled and vanished. Fate was
playing the right cards now.

Meanwhile Lady Letty had dropped into a seat, faint and exhausted--not
that she was very tired or particularly worn out, but the reaction
turned her sick and giddy for the moment. She only realised now how
greatly her nerves had been taxed. The tears rose to her eyes, and it
was with difficulty that she warded off an attack of hysteria. It was
the kind of weakness she would have scorned in another woman. Madame
Regnier considerately fetched her a glass of champagne.

"Make her take this," she whispered. "I'll leave her to you; she will
recover quicker with you than with anybody else. Turn some of the lights
down and draw the curtains. I'll see you are not disturbed."

Half the lamps were lowered, and Lady Letty sipped her champagne.
Gradually the colour returned to her cheeks, and an unsteady smile
hovered round her lips.

"Oh, Hugh!" she whispered, "it has been a most dreadful time."

She held out her hands to him like a child that needs comforting. Hugh
drew her towards him; instantly his arm went about her; her head dropped
to his shoulder. He bent and kissed her long and passionately. It seemed
the right thing, the only thing to do. She lay on his breast happily
content, a wonderful light gleaming in her eyes.

"My darling," Hugh said. "Sweetheart, I quite understand. But you need
not tell me anything yet--there will be plenty of time by and bye."

"It seems like a dream," Lady Letty replied. "A few minutes since all
was darkness and despair; now I appear to have stepped into Paradise.
Why didn't you save me this distress, Hugh? Why didn't you tell me that
you loved me like this?"

"But surely you have always known," Hugh protested.

"I think so; at any rate, it seems to me now that I did, and ever since
I was a little girl I have never cared for anybody but you. If you had
spoken----"

"Oh, yes, I understand now, Letty, what a fool I have been. I suppose
the poorer one is the prouder one becomes! I thought I dared not speak.
I had nothing to offer you. But I should have told you long ago, and
gone to my father and made terms. It is never too late to mend."

"It would have made all the difference in the world," Lady Letty
reminded him. "I would not have sacrificed my happiness even to save my
father. I am quite content to share your poverty, Hugh. Du Cros will
have to go. The very idea of it is repugnant. I know now that I could
never have married that man. At the last moment my courage would have
failed me. I have been hearing the most dreadful things about him, too.
They say he is only an adventurer. The chauffeur who drove me here has
been talking about him. He little knew how closely my future was bound
up with his!"

"How did you manage it?" Hugh asked.

Lady Letty proceeded to explain. It was a breathless and exciting
narrative, and Childers followed every word with rapt attention. He was
holding the girl fast in his arms, he could feel her heart beating
against his, her lips were very nigh to his. They had forgotten the rest
of the world; they were lost to what was going on outside.

"Well, so far we have nothing to complain of," Hugh said, when at length
Lady Letty had come to the end of her story. "It is a good omen. You are
safely back again, and, with the exception of Madame Regnier, nobody
knows anything of your adventure. I had to tell her. She was under the
impression that, maddened by jealousy, I pushed you off the train."

"Well, you know you did," Lady Letty smiled.

"It was a dreadful moment," Hugh said with a shudder. "I would not go
through it again for anything. When a man takes all that he has to love
in the world in his arms and runs the risk----"

"But there was no real risk, dear. Your plan was splendid! I had no
fear. There was something quite fascinating in the adventure; I should
do it again if necessary. Listen; they are bringing Du Cros into the
train. I hope he isn't really hurt. It was rather a savage blow that
Garton gave him."

One of the party was trying to explain to the others what had happened,
but the explanation was far from the truth.

"A pure accident," the voice said. "Nothing but a big stone dislodged
from the top of the cutting. They frequently work loose in that fashion.
The stone bounded down the bank and struck Mr. Du Cros on the back of
the head--a simple concussion that will yield to an application of ice;
fortunately there is a supply on the train. Nothing on the line, was
there, guard? No danger, I suppose?"

The guard was polite, but just a little short in his manner.

"I saw nothing, sir," he said. "I don't understand it at all. We must
get on, sir. You can't wait on a main line like this without some risk."

The guard turned away, and the train began to gather speed again.

"Did you hear that?" Letty whispered. "Still, if they are satisfied!
Surely I saw Mr. Liston just after I was hustled on board the train. I
had a glimpse of his face in the light from the carriage. Or shall I
wake up presently and find that I have been dreaming all this, Hugh? At
any rate, your friend Liston is a most wonderful man!"

"It probably was Liston," Childers said. "I wonder what game he is up
to? I am certain that he thoroughly enjoyed his adventure to-night, and
that it was a pleasure to him to help you. He is a splendid fellow, and
I often tell him that he should be a novelist as well as well as a man
of science. There was a touch of genius in the way be used those sham
telegraph messages to-night."

The noise and bustle died away outside, and presently Madame Regnier
entered the carriage where Lady Letty and Childers were seated. She came
forward smiling her congratulations.

"I know part of the story," she said. "You shall tell me the rest of it
another time. Meanwhile, you will be glad to know that no serious
mischief has been done to Du Cros, though your friend didn't spare his
strength. Du Cros is lying down with ice to his head. He is not fully
conscious, of course, but is getting better, or so they seem to
imagine."

"Really, I am glad to find it is no worse," Lady Letty smiled. "I feel
dreadfully guilty. Nothing of this kind would have happened had it not
been for me. Had I not better go and see how he is, Hugh?"

But Childers had vanished. He was more uneasy than he would have cared
to own to Lady Letty. He came back presently with the air of a man who
has got some burden off his mind.

"Everything is going well," he said. "It was a nasty smack, but Du Cros
evidently has a thick skull. Nobody seems to worry much over it. I fancy
that yonder frivolous lot are convinced that the whole thing was an
accident. My dearest girl, how tired you look!"

Lady Letty smiled faintly. All the world appeared to open before her
eyes.

"Dreadfully tired," she whispered. "I seem to have lived ages in the
last few hours. I must get a little sleep before we reach Liverpool."

Her eyes closed and she slept. But a happy smile was still on her lips.




CHAPTER XVII.--Behind His Back.


Hugh sat on his seat feeling that he had no reason to be dissatisfied
with the progress of matters. He had had an exceedingly trying and
anxious time. It seemed days since the special train had left for
Liverpool, but it was only a question of hours. At any rate his plan had
not been a failure. Lady Letty was safe on the train again, and her time
had by no means been wasted. She had also succeeded in preserving Amsted
from his enemies, and had baffled Du Cros in that direction; and the
best of it was the pseudo-millionaire had not the slightest notion from
whence this check to his programme had come. True, fortune had been kind
to Letty in the manner in which Bloomer and his lot had played into her
hands, but it is proverbial that fortune always does favour the brave.

Moreover, Du Cros was incapable of further mischief--at all events for a
time. Now was the chance for Lady Torringdor to rid herself for ever of
her ally-ties to that choice rascal. Beyond question Du Cros carried the
proofs of Lady Torringdor's folly about with him. He was just the type
of scoundrel to do that sort of thing. In case of rebellion he could
dangle it before her eyes and spur her on to further endeavours.
Probably the paper was in his pocket then and there. In the
circumstances surely it was permissible to search for it. Whether or not
Lady Torringdor had the necessary pluck was another matter.

Still, she should have the opportunity if Hugh could bring it about. So
far as he could see, nothing was needed but a little audacity. Letty was
still peacefully sleeping and probably would continue to do so until
Liverpool was reached. The rest of the party had gone back to their
amusements as if nothing had happened. Whether Du Cros was seriously
injured or not, nobody seemed to care.

Hugh watched them with a certain amused contempt on his face. He was
looking about for Lady Torringdor and relieved to find that she was no
longer playing. It was possible the same idea had occurred to her. She
was wandering restlessly from one part of the train to the other, but
most of the time she seemed to be near to the special compartment in
which Du Cros was lying. She started in a half-guilty way as she caught
sight of Hugh Childers. He watched her narrowly.

"You are keeping to your good resolution?" he asked.

A spasm flitted across Lady Torringdor's face.

"You may rely upon that," she said. "I have given my word and I mean to
keep it. I will never, as long as I live, play for money again. He may
even disgrace and humiliate me, but my mind is made up. Is Mr. Du Cros
very badly hurt?"

"I don't think it is quite so bad as that," Hugh said.

"But they told me that he was insensible," Lady Torringdor went on. "If
I really believed that such was the case, I believe that I should----"

She paused as if fearful she had said too much. Something like a
confidence was trembling on her lips. Hugh could divine what was passing
in her mind. He determined to give her a lead.

"You seem to be very anxious about Du Cros."

Lady Torringdor laughed dreamily, and there was a strange uneasy glitter
in her eye.

"Not in the way you imagine," she whispered. "To be frank, I do not
ardently long for his recovery. I was thinking the world would go very
well if he--he died. Horrible, isn't it? But what is the good of him? Is
anybody the happier for his existence? How many people would benefit by
his death? Had that stone killed him, I should have been glad. I say
glad! But I suppose there is no chance of that?"

"Not this time, at any rate," Hugh said. "He will probably be all right
in the forenoon. He is dazed and stupid now and hardly knows what is
going on around him. The singular thing is that nobody seems to care."

"You mean that none of the women have volunteered to look after him?"

"Exactly. The man is an utter blackguard, but still----Do you notice
that not one of his guests gives him a single thought? They went back to
the card tables again as if nothing had happened. Had he been an
ordinarily decent man, that sort of thing would have been given up
voluntarily. Yet these are the people he cultivates and spends money
over and risks the gaol for! Of all the queer crazes that possess
humanity the most absurd is the fancy for getting into Society! Conceive
a man going out of his way to push himself where he wasn't wanted! My
word! half the people one meets are not fit for any society at all! What
fools we are!"

"Oh, that is true," Lady Torringdor said with a quick indrawing of her
breath. "There is no bigger fool in London to-day than myself. If I
could only recover that strip of pink paper, I should play cards no
more."

Childers glanced significantly at her.

"It may be on the train at the present moment," he said. "Blackmailers
generally carry their evidence about with them. When I was helping to
undress Du Cros just now I wondered what was in the belt he wears round
his waist. There may be secrets in it."

Lady Torringdor stared at her companion. She was asking herself if there
was any veiled suggestion in his remark. But Hugh appeared to be
engrossed in a cigarette that he had some difficulty in lighting. When
he spoke again he was less ambiguous.

"Still, villain as he is, Du Cros is a fellow creature," he said, "and
it's one's duty to give him a hand. But in a case of nursing a woman is
so much better than a man. Perhaps some of these women are afraid they
would be deemed officious. If you like to return good for evil--I'll see
that you are not disturbed."

Once more Lady Torringdor glanced at Hugh. He was gravely examining the
end of his cigarette, but there was the suggestion of a smile on his
face. Lady Torringdor made up her mind on the spur of the moment. If
possible, the thing should be done.

"I'll go and see Stephen du Cros," she said. "If I can do anything for
him ... It is just as well perhaps, that the others should not know."

"I'll take precious good care they don't," Childers assured her curtly.

Lady Torringdor nodded. Her heart was beating fast, her face was pale,
but her courage was all her own. Frivolous and light-minded as she was,
she had had a lesson, and in her heart she was fond of the man whose
name she bore. He had made many sacrifices for her and she had basely
repaid them. Now it was possible her opportunity for freedom had come.
It might be that the cheque was in the belt that Childers had spoken of.
Du Cros was at her mercy, and such a chance as this would never come
again. She went into the compartment where Du Cros was lying. There was
only one light in it and somebody had shaded it. Du Cros lay back on one
of the seats with a coat thrown over him. He appeared to be asleep and
was breathing heavily. As Lady Torringdor touched him, he opened his
eyes but it was plain he saw nothing. His eyes were lustreless. With a
light hand that shook strangely Lady Torringdor felt for the belt.

She could make out the outline of the big steel buckle, and the strap
crackled as she touched it. She stood almost breathless in an agony of
expectation. Given a quarter of an hour free from interruption and she
might be saved. Still, it was very slow and delicate work. She contrived
at length to get the buckle unfastened, but Du Cros lay on his back
heavily and the belt required force to remove.

He never stirred. He lay breathing stertorously, lost to all
consciousness. Inch by inch the thick leather strap came away, till at
last Lady Torringdor had it in her trembling hands. She thought she
could hear somebody coming and paused in her task for a moment. But it
was merely the train passing over a set of points that jarred the
carriage. Outside lights flashed by in quick succession and the motion
of the train grew palpably fainter. It must be now or never, for they
must be nearing their destination.

Lady Torringdor carried the belt to the light. It was stuffed with
papers; there were three or four pockets of them neatly folded. She
emptied the whole on to the table, turning them over with uneasy haste.
They made a litter, but for the most part they lacked interest for the
eager seeker. She was looking for a strip of pink paper, a strip of----

Ah! there it was, the very thing! A mist came before her eyes, but it
cleared presently, and the writing stood out bold and distinct.




CHAPTER XVIII.--The Panic.


Salvation was hers! Lady Torringdor examined the cheque again and again
to make sure there could be no possible doubt. Then she stuffed the
paper in the bosom of her dress and began to cram the documents into the
belt. She had no curiosity to look at one of them; she was content with
that one precious pink slip. Her only regret was that the opportunity
had not come sooner. In that case her secret would have been safe even
from Hugh Childers. Still, she had the consolation of knowing that he
would be kind and merciful. Moreover, but for Hugh, her chance of
freedom had never come at all.

The last paper was returned to his pocket and still Du Cros slept on.
More lights, of greater brilliancy, flashed by the train at frequent
intervals; there was a noise of sound and laughter outside and the door
of the carriage opened. Lady Torringdor hurriedly looked out for a
hiding-place for the belt. She had to decide on the instant. It would
never do to be caught with the belt in her possession. She bent over to
the open window and dropped it out into the velvety darkness of the
night.

"What is the matter?" she asked in a steady voice. "Are we there at
last?"

"Practically," an intruder explained. "But what are you doing here,
Vera? Looking after the sick man? How delightfully unselfish of you! Is
he any better?"

Vera Torringdor held up a hand as if to impose silence. She was finding
it difficult to speak at the moment and preferred not to trust her voice
again. The danger was past, and she knew it. Nobody could suspect what
she had been doing; and they might poke as much fun at her as they
pleased. In future she would be free to laugh and jest with the best of
them. The train was gliding into the great terminus, and a row of
porters had gathered on the platform. The guests were going to the same
hotel, for Du Cros had made all arrangements.

As Childers had anticipated, Du Cros was practically himself in the
forenoon. It was something after eleven o'clock when he awoke to a
proper sense of things and a fair recollection of what had taken place
during the night. He preferred to take a slight meal in his own room so
as to be fit for the farewell concert in the afternoon.

He was smoking a cigarette and glancing over the paper when the fact of
his loss flashed upon him. It seemed strange that he had not missed the
belt before. With a distinct feeling of alarm he rang the bell and made
inquiries. Nobody in the hotel knew anything of the missing property. It
must have been taken off after his accident. A prompt resort to the
telephone elicited the fact that nothing in the shape of a leather belt
had been found on the train. Besides, was it not superfluous to remove a
belt to give relief to a man who had had a blow on the head? No doubt
the belt had been stolen by a passenger on the special train.

Du Cros's brow became black and troubled as he thought of it. Nobody
knew that he was wearing the belt. Nobody had an interest in its
contents--nobody----

Du Cros pulled up short as the solution of the mystery flashed across
his mind. He rang the bell.

"Will you be so good as to ask Lady Torringdor to come this way?" he
said to the waiter. "Tell her that I am sorry to trouble her and will
not detain her more than a few minutes."

Lady Torringdor was dressing for luncheon and would be with Mr. Du Cros
directly. She came in presently charmingly dressed and smiling. His
desire to see her had not taken her by surprise. If she could have
managed to restore the belt all might have been well. But directly Du
Cros missed it, he would have his suspicions. He was, however, taken
aback by her easy manner and the ready confidence with which she came.

"I want to have a chat with you," he said. "Hadn't you better sit down?"

"Hardly worth while," came the frank reply. "I can only give you two or
three minutes."

"You'll give me just as long as I require," Du Cros burst out. "It is
time we had a proper understanding, my lady. You are taking advantage of
my generosity, and I'm not going to put up with it. I should like to
know why you declined to play cards last night?"

"Really!" Lady Torringdor drawled. "The mere fact of being your guest
does not give you the right of commanding folk to play. There are little
things you would do well to take note of. Anybody would think there was
some understanding between us."

The scowl on Du Cros's face deepened.

"And isn't there!" he demanded. "Are we not partners? Haven't I shown
you how to make as much money as you need with practically no risk? As
to that little forgery we know of----"

"My dear Stephen, you are still suffering from the effects of your
accident! It is a more distressing case than I had imagined. Try to
recollect yourself. There is no understanding between us. We have no
kind of partnership. Really, you must be careful. If any stranger
overheard you, the consequences might be serious. He would assume at
once that we had a contract for cheating at cards. What forgery are you
speaking of?"

"As if you didn't know. The cheque of mine you forged!"

"Oh, this is terribly sad!" Lady Torringdor said sorrowfully. "But I
have not the slightest doubt that a few days' rest will put you right.
Where is the cheque you speak of? Kindly produce it. I shall have to
tell my husband about this."

Du Cros trembled with passion. His hands clenched and the woman opposite
to him thought he was about to strike her. He was all the more furious
that this imagined tool of his was getting so easily the best of him.
There was a ready coolness and audacity about Lady Torringdor that he
had not anticipated. He had only to show his teeth and she would be at
his feet pleading for mercy.

"So that is the tone you are going to take?"

"My dear Mr. Du Cros, what other tone do you expect?" Lady Torringdor
said. "You surely don't expect me to admit that we are a couple of
bridge cheats working by signals? That is not the way in which a
millionaire makes his money. You are not going about Park Lane saying
these things, are you? You are not publishing that absurd story that I
forged a cheque of yours and that you forced me to earn money for you in
consequence? If people believed you, then we should both find ourselves
in gaol. If people didn't believe you, then you would speedily find
yourself in a lunatic asylum. Still, if that cheque exists----"

Lady Torringdor turned away with a shrug of the shoulders. She had
summed up the situation in a few words. For the moment Du Cros was
beaten and baffled. He was astute enough to see that the bullying line
was useless. He would have to find the cheque, which doubtless had
passed into Lady Torringdor's possession.

"Very well," he said; "we'll let the matter drop for the present. I am
sorry to have troubled you. I dare say I shall get over these illusions
in time."

Lady Torringdor smilingly departed, leaving Du Cros to his own sombre
thoughts. But she passed along the corridor very carefully, thankful for
the support of the bannister rail. She had gone through her ordeal
bravely; she could not see that she had made the semblance of a mistake.
Some reaction had set in and she was trembling from head to foot now.
She was under no illusion as to the outcome of the interview. Du Cros
knew perfectly well that she had stolen the cheque, that she had taken
her courage in both hands to defy him as she had done. For the moment he
was defeated; he dared not speak, but he was not the man to throw up the
sponge.

Whatever Du Cros's feelings were he managed to disguise them. He came
down about half-past twelve to the room where the special luncheon for
his party was laid out. He could not partake of the viands himself, but
it was only courteous to join the company. The tables were gay with
orchids, the food and the wines were of the very best. It was nothing to
Du Cros that he lacked the means to pay for it. He understood the art of
getting things on credit. He would call for the bill presently in the
most lordly fashion and pencil in an item of a few pounds for the hotel
staff. Then he would casually say that he had no cheque-book with him
and that the account was to be forwarded to his secretary. The hotel
manager would bow politely and intimate his desire to give no trouble to
Mr. Du Cros.

The party moved on presently to the hall where the concert was to be
held. Madame Regnier had gone on in advance with Lady Letty, while the
others followed on foot, as the distance was not great. They were mixed
up presently in a stream of people bound for the same destination.

Hugh Childers managed to detach himself from the rest with Lady
Torringdor. He was regarding her smiling face with a certain
satisfaction, though his own features were grave.

"You were successful last night?" he asked.

Lady Torringdor nodded gaily. The world was very fair to her that
afternoon.

"I have no cause to be unhappy," she said. "At least you know what I
mean! But I can see from your face that you want me to do something for
you. What is it?"

Childers bent down so that nobody else should hear.

"I want you to try to remember where you dropped the belt out of the
window."




CHAPTER XIX.--The Dreadful Unexpected.


Lady Torringdor glanced up at her companion uneasily. She would rather
this nasty business were forgotten entirely. In her sunny, frivolous
way, she had regarded the thing at an end. Du Cros had seemed disposed
to make no fight, why therefore should Hugh rake up unpleasantness? Why
was he looking so grave?

"I don't know what you are talking about," she said.

It was not difficult for Hugh to read what was passing in her mind. He
had not expected much assistance, but he was going to get it; he had
made up his mind to that.

"Now, listen to me," he said. "This is a very serious matter. You saw Du
Cros this morning?"

"I had an interview with him, yes. I flatter myself that before I had
finished----"

"Quite so," Hugh interrupted dryly. "You had all the cards and you
played them cleverly. Du Cros was so taken aback that he said
practically nothing. I can imagine every word of the dialogue. He made
nasty allusions to a certain cheque bearing a certain signature. You
affected ignorance of the whole affair. You doubted if the cheque
existed. As a matter of fact, it no longer does exist. I fancy you have
to thank me for that."

Lady Torringdor changed her tone. She saw that Hugh was in earnest. Nor
had she forgotten that he was in possession of her guilty secret.
Clearly, it would be folly to play with him as she had done with Du
Cros. Besides, she owed him a debt of gratitude, a fact, to do her
justice, that she had no desire to forget.

"Oh, dear," she sighed. "How one's sins find one out! I wanted to have
this forgotten, to start afresh on a new tack. Now you rake it all up
again. I did find the cheque, Hugh."

"Did you happen to find anything else?"

"I found a good many things. There were compartments in the belt all of
them stuffed with papers. But what they were about I know no more than a
baby."

"Really! You are a woman! Well, one lives and learns."

"Don't be nasty, Hugh," Lady Torringdor whispered. "I had only myself to
consider, remember. It was a desperate business, involving a terrible
risk. If I had been found out I should have been worse off than ever. My
one thought was to get the cheque. I had no eyes for anything else. Of
course, I could not find it for a long time. Just as I had re-packed the
belt, one or two of those chatterboxes came in. They chose the most
inconvenient moment for inquiring into Du Cros's condition. They took me
by surprise. I had not the remotest idea what to do with the belt. The
window was open and I dropped it out."

"So I guessed," Hugh said. "I felt pretty sure of that when Du Cros
failed to find it. I have been out on a little business all morning and,
as the result of one or two discussions, I have come to the conclusion
that that belt would be useful to me. In fact, I must have it. Nobody
knows what you did with it, which is in my favour. On the other hand, it
looks very like a search for a needle in the proverbial rick of hay.
Therefore, we must try to locate it as closely as possible. We were
getting pretty near to Liverpool at the time, passing wayside stations
and junctions frequently. Did you happen to notice any particular
landmark?"

Lady Torringdor shook her head decidedly. She was far too busily engaged
with her own affairs. She was sure it was impossible she had observed
anything specially.

"Oh, I know it would appear to be so on the face of it," Hugh said. "But
the human brain acts subconsciously. You can regard a scene without
seeing it at all when the mind is fixed upon something else, but the
recollection of it comes back suddenly at the most unexpected moments. I
don't say that you will succeed, but try to think. You will have time
during the concert. If anything comes to you, let me know at once. I am
greatly troubled."

"Not altogether about this belt?"

"Well, no--though that would be of the greatest assistance to me. I
fancy it would enable me to get rid of Du Cros altogether. The trouble
is with Lord Amsted. You know him: everybody knows how foolish he has
been. Well he has met with a bad accident and, having to lie low just
now, has been brought to Liverpool on the quiet. Somebody must have been
spying on his movements, for he has vanished again. A note was brought
to his lodgings by a messenger boy, and after reading it Amsted called
for a cab and went out, ill as he was. He has not returned, and I don't
believe that he will. Some of Du Cros's gang have got hold of him. They
will probably detain him until they get the police to move. Now, just as
we are on the eve of exposing the whole swindle, it would be a thousand
pities for Amsted to be made the central figure of a racing scandal. For
his own sake and the sake of his wife, I want to prevent that if I can.
According to what I can learn, there it great turf fraud on foot and Du
Cros is engineering it. Amsted is mixed up in it in some way, but I feel
sure that he has no criminal intent. It's a complicated affair
altogether. You may begin to see now why I want that belt."

"Have you no clue at all to Amsted's present whereabouts?" Lady
Torringdor asked.

"We have to a certain extent," Hugh explained. "Part of the note
received by Amsted is in the hands of my friend Liston. He is following
the thing up at the present moment. But please don't trouble any more
about that--concentrate your mind on the belt and the circumstances in
which you threw it out of the window."

Lady Torringdor nodded thoughtfully; indeed, she was in an unusually
thoughtful mood. She took her place with the rest of the party in the
front row of the stalls. The great hall was packed to its utmost
capacity, the blinds were drawn and the huge auditorium was one blaze of
electric light. The stage had been closed in for the occasion--an
amateur theatrical performance had taken place the night before, and
part of the scenery representing the exterior of a rural cottage still
remained. There were far more women present than men, who were
conspicuous by their absence, as is usually the case at afternoon
performances.

The concert proceeded smoothly enough till the interval. It was at this
point that a man came in and handed a note to Du Cros. He read it with a
flickering smile on his face. It was the first sign of cheerfulness he
had displayed all day. Immediately he rose from his seat and went out.
Lady Torringdor found herself wondering what had happened.

Really, the proceedings were rather slow. The singers were a little
flat, and even the diva herself was not in her usual magnificent voice.
The air was heavy and hot, and Lady Torringdor nodded. She had almost
forgotten that she had been up all night. She had been too excited to
sleep. She began to dream now with the vision of the train before her.
She could see that leather belt quite clearly; there was a dark stain
upon it by the buckle and a flick of rust on the clasp. She was sure of
these things, though she had not noticed them at the time. Her brain was
beginning to act now in the way that Childers had suggested. Strange
that she had not noticed these details in that moment of vivid
excitement and that she should see them so clearly now.

She was going through it all again in her waking dreams. She had a fine
recollection of one of the papers in the belt. There were certain words
on it that she could recollect though they had only caught her eyes
casually. There was a stamp on it that suggested Scotland Yard. She
wondered if it was what they called a 'ticket of leave.' Clearly, it
must have been from a description that she had once had of that permit
from the authorities. She wished she had kept it; the thing might have
proved useful. She could see herself with the cheque in her hand. The
cheque was payable to 'bearer.' An hour ago, she would have been vague
on the point, but she was clear now. The belt was in her hand; she stood
by the open window as the others came in. She could see the belt drop on
the footboard and bound away into the darkness. Then there were lights
flashing by on the instant. Then there was a poster of a girl in armour
on horseback and some words beneath it. Something to do with a pageant.
Strange that all this should be making itself clear! What pageant was
it? Why, Leobury, of course. The Leobury pageant had taken place only
last week; Lady Violet Ringwood had been talking about it in the train;
and the flashing lights were those of the signal-box of Leobury
Junction. It was all as clear as daylight now. The belt had been dropped
out of the left-hand window just as the train was nearing the
signal-box.

Lady Torringdor came to earth again with a start and a feeling that she
had done well. She was conscious of an uneasy stir in the audience, and
a smell of burning in the air; then a curl of flame ran along the edge
of the flimsy scenery and an instant later the stage burst into flames.
A woman in the background screamed loudly, and a piercing yell of
"Fire!" was repeated three times.

How did it happen? How do these things generally happen? There was not
the slightest danger. The illumination on the stage was beaten out with
a hose almost before it had started; a man or two rose from their seats
and implored the excited women to keep cool, but it was all in vain. In
the twinkling of an eye, the panic was at its height. Well-dressed women
fought like so many tigers for the exits. A door jammed and refused to
open; the air was full of frightened cries. There was hardly a soul
there who recognised the fact that the stage was clear of smoke and that
a quartette of artists had begun to sing as if nothing had happened. The
fierce struggle for the exits still continued, and but for the presence
of mind displayed by a handful of resolute men, the tally of injuries
would have been far greater.

The heat had suddenly grown suffocating.

Lady Torringdor came to herself as a pair of strong arms dragged her
back from the panting, screaming mob of half-maddened women. The efforts
of the men were beginning to prevail, and the sobs and screams and yells
for help were dying away. Lady Torringdor looked up to find herself in
the arms of Hugh Childers. Her hair was streaming over her shoulders,
her heart was beating painfully. She was in ignorance that her dress was
hanging in rags about her. She was convinced that her last moment had
come. She would do this man a service that he could remember her by. He
would always think well of her afterwards.

"Break the news to Horace," she whispered. "But let me tell you about
the belt. It was dropped out of the left-hand window close to Leobury
Junction signal-box. If----"

Hugh pressed his hand over the speaker's mouth.

"Never mind that now," he said. "You are not going to die; you are
perfectly safe. Not another word."

There was reason for silence, for Du Cros stood close by, possibly
seeking Lady Letty. Had he heard? Poor as he was, Hugh would have given
a year's income to know.




CHAPTER XX.--An Old Acquaintance.


The send-off concert had turned out an infinite bore to Du Cros. He had
expected great things from the select party idea. It was going to give
him a better standing in Society, and the swell papers would take it up
and make much of the matter. Possibly, they would do so now, but Du Cros
thought the game was hardly worth the candle. He had an uneasy feeling
that somebody was getting the best of him. He even suspected that there
was a conspiracy to rob him of his precious belt. But that his own
confederate, Bloomer, had pulled the train up in the cutting he would
have been certain of it. Perhaps Bloomer had been paid to betray him. It
was all very well to tell him that he had received a blow from a falling
stone, but he was not disposed to believe it. It was more probable that
somebody had deliberately given him a murderous blow on the back of the
head. Lady Torringdor had taken advantage of the mishap, or she might
have instigated it.

This latter theory was unlikely, but one never knew. Du Cros had a poor
opinion of her mental capacity, and he scarcely paid her the compliment
of holding her guilty. Nevertheless, he was disposed to believe she had
stolen his belt, of the existence of which he did not think she was
aware. At any rate, if she was not the thief, she knew who was the
culprit and had benefited by the knowledge.

If, on the other hand, Bloomer was the villain of the piece--but was he?
He appeared to be faithful and had moved quickly. At the interval before
the catastrophe in the concert hall he sent in a note to the effect that
he wished to see Du Cros at once. He was on very good terms with
himself, and for once had lost his sullen appearance.

"You have news, I see," said Du Cros.

"Oh, I haven't been idle," Bloomer explained. "I've found a few things
out this morning. But, what is more to the point, I've got hold of
Amsted."

"Amsted is hiding at Stanford, you idiot, too ill to move."

"Not so much of your idiot!" Bloomer retorted. "Amsted is in Liverpool.
It's a smart lot we have to deal with! Goodness knows how they managed
it, but the thing came off all right. Amsted came up to town last night
on a friend's car. They managed to smuggle him from Stanford about the
same time that we pulled up the train. How they managed it I don't
know--a pure bit of luck, I reckon, and a touch of cheek at the finish.
You never met with any accident; that blow on your head you got from
behind. I began to put two and two together to-day, when I saw that cool
swell Liston near your hotel. I guessed after my acquaintance with him
last night that he was up to no good, and I shadowed him. I hung about
and asked questions, and found that Amsted was hiding here. I got a pal
to forge a letter, which was delivered to Amsted, and he tumbled into
the trap at once. He thought he was going to help a friend of his,
instead of which he was driven to Lancaster's, where he is a prisoner."

"Why on earth did you take him to Lancaster's?"

"Because he will be arrested there," Bloomer chuckled hoarsely. "It's
all up with friend Lancaster. He got dabbling in that coupon business
with big prizes, and one of his clerks has let on. Anyway, that's the
story, but my impression is that you gave Lancaster away. There was a
warrant out for his arrest, but he got the office just in time and
bolted. But you know all that well enough. An anonymous message to the
police that Amsted is hiding at Lancaster's house will do the trick."

"It sounds a good idea," Du Cros admitted. "All the same, I'm sorry to
hear about the Lancaster business. If one or two more become frightened
we may be dragged into the mess ourselves. Still, if Amsted can be
picked up there it will look all the blacker for him. On the whole, you
have done well, Bloomer, and I won't forget it. Come into the corridor,
where we can talk more freely. There's a good deal that I have to say to
you."

Bloomer followed in his dogged way. He was pretty well sure that
Lancaster had been betrayed by his employer, all the same. The corridor
was full of the fashionable audience, who had come out for a stroll
during the interval. Bloomer moved amongst them awkwardly. He drew back
presently to allow two ladies to pass, at one of whom he stared with a
wild-eyed amazement that was not devoid of admiration.

"There she is," he said; "that's Mrs. Liston. The one in the blue, I
mean."

"That is Lady Letty Stanborough," Du Cros corrected. "The other is Lady
Violet Ringwood."

Bloomer shook his head.

"Have it your own way," he said. "I don't know what you've got to gain
by deceiving me over a matter that don't interest me. But the lady in
blue is Mrs. Liston. I was alone with her at Stanford last night, and
I'll swear to her anywhere. Wonderfully handsome woman she is, too, for
all her 'aughtiness, and a real good plucked 'un."

"You are mistaken," Du Cros insisted. "That is Lady Letty Stanborough,
the woman I am going to marry. I can't understand how you persist in
such an extraordinary story, Bloomer. Lady Letty came up from London
with us, and was in the train when that accident happened to me."

"In that case you would say she couldn't have been at Stanford," Bloomer
replied. "But, strike me queer, she was there all the same! She as good
as said she was Mrs. Liston, and Liston behaved as if it was a fact.
Looks to me as if there was a mistake all round. You swear Lady Letty
started from London with you. Well, it's evident she could not leave a
train moving at sixty miles an hour and reach Stanford alive. But I will
take my oath in any court in England that I saw her at Stanford, and you
are prepared to swear that you saw her on the train after you left
London."

"An hour after, Bloomer. I was talking to her for some time."

Bloomer shook his head despondingly, but was not in the least moved by
what he had just heard. Lady Letty passed close by again, and he
favoured her with a prolonged stare.

"It's the same girl," he said. "As if anybody could forget a creature
like that!"

Du Cros made no reply. He was puzzled and bewildered. The thing was
incredible. Yet Bloomer was so absolutely and doggedly certain. Was this
a double, passing herself off as the genuine Lady Letty? But, if so, she
would call herself Lady Letty and not Mrs. Liston.

"I'll try to get to the bottom of this to-night," he said. "Meanwhile go
back to Lancaster's and see that Amsted is safe; if I want your services
again to-day I'll come there and see you. I don't like the way in which
things are shaping."

Bloomer walked off in a thoughtful frame of mind, while Du Cros returned
to the concert hall. He was having a good deal to occupy his attention,
so that the music was lost on him. He came out of his reverie presently
to find himself in the midst of the panic that threatened to resolve
itself into an appalling disaster. Trained to be resourceful and prompt,
he aided a few level-headed men in bringing the mad rush to an end.

During a pause after his exertions, a few words caught his ear. Lady
Torringdor was speaking. In that moment of fear of death she was telling
Hugh Childers where the missing belt could be found, and by pure luck Du
Cros had acquired a piece of priceless information.

He suppressed the exultation that thrilled him, and his face was
stolidly indifferent. He acted as if he had not heard a word.

"I don't fancy that anybody is badly hurt, Childers," he said. "But it
would be as well to summon two or three doctors. I'll 'phone for them."

He walked out of the building and stopped at the first post-office and
asked for a directory. Then he took a cab to Toxteth, intending to go
straight to the house of Lancaster, the absconding bookmaker, and see
Bloomer. The latter would have to be despatched to Leobury Junction to
find the belt. Childers, for reasons of his own, was evidently in search
of the same article--Childers, the man whom he had regarded as a
harmless scribbler!

Luck appeared to be on Du Cros's side, for some distance from
Lancaster's house he saw Bloomer in the street, and promptly dismissed
the cabman.

"I want you at once," he said. "I'll give you your instructions now,"
and he proceeded to tell Bloomer where the belt had been lost. "When you
have found it, return here without delay. I presume Amsted is safe?"

"Amsted is locked up in a back room with no window in it--a box room,"
Bloomer explained. "I propose to give him a bedroom to-night and drug
him before he sleeps. Then I'll 'phone to the police, and there you are!
Here's a key of the back door. You know the house, so we needn't waste
more time."

Du Cros had many anxious problems to occupy his attention. It was a
startling revelation to find that so many enemies were closing in about
him--enemies belonging to the very class he most despised. He wondered
if Lady Letty was in the conspiracy too. Bloomer's story seemed
incredible, and yet the man's sincerity was beyond question. Du Cros was
still worrying over this as he let himself into Lancaster's house.

He proceeded along the passage towards the dining-room, whence fresh
tobacco smoke was coming. Had Lancaster returned? he wondered. A man was
standing in the dining-room smoking a cigarette. He smiled as Du Cros
entered.

"Very glad to meet you, Mr. Du Cros, alias Stephens, alias goodness
knows what besides. Let's sit down and have a chat."

Du Cros clapped his hand to his head, and the expression of his face
changed.

"Good heavens!" he cried, "it's Frank Garton."




CHAPTER XXI.--The House in Stanmore Street.


Amsted had learnt nothing from experience. The fact that he was in great
peril, that he was like a wounded bird in a trap, troubled him not at
all. Liston had landed him in a place of safety apparently beyond the
reach of danger, and had left him to himself for a time. An hour or so
later Liston was alarmed to discover that Amsted had gone out. He had
scribbled a note that a friend had found his address and needed him. His
friend, it appeared, was in trouble, and that was a call to which Amsted
did not fail to respond.

Liston muttered something that was the reverse of complimentary to his
volatile acquaintance. It was just the idiotic kind of thing that Amsted
would do at a crisis. At that rate, he would lay himself up permanently,
where his board and lodging would cost him nothing.

But Liston's manner grew graver as he pondered the matter. How could
this friend find Amsted's address so speedily? No letters had passed,
and Amsted was lying close. Liston read the note again. It was written
on a half-sheet of paper; doubtless the other half of the letter that
had decoyed Amsted away. It was more than probable that this was some
move on the part of the foe. Had Liston's movements been watched since
they left Stanford on the previous evening? The heavy-faced man might be
at the bottom of it. That, at any rate, was Liston's first impression.
The more he thought it over the more sure he felt he was right. He would
have given a good deal for the note that had been the cause of this
fresh bother. Some torn bits of paper lay in the grate, but they were
blackened and charred. Amsted had tossed a lighted vesta into the
fireplace and set fire to the papers. All that Liston could decipher was
one word of the stamped heading on the notepaper, or at least part of a
word. It stood out with that glossy blackness one sees on stamped paper
after it has been burned. The word was "RUMB----"

Liston was busy trying to make something of it when he had a visitor. It
turned out to be Frank Garton.

"You asked me to call and see you here, sir," he said. "I came without
saying anything to anybody. Something to do with Lord Amsted, I
gathered."

"Well, it had," Liston responded. "But Lord Amsted has vanished. He left
me a message that he had gone to see a man who was in trouble."

"Rubbish! don't you believe it, sir," Garton said bluntly. "He's been
lured away."

"That is what I was going to say when you interrupted me," Liston went
on. "The letter Lord Amsted got was probably a forgery. The remains of
it are lying burned in the grate, and if I disturb them, the whole will
crumble to pieces. Do you know any street, or house, or square in
Liverpool beginning with 'Rumb'?"

As Liston spoke he pointed to the mystic word. Garton studied it with
his head on one side. Obviously he was as much at sea as Liston.

"It's beyond me, sir," he said, "I dare say we could find out from the
directory. Take some time, of course, but the name must be an uncommon
one."

"Oh, it's uncommon enough," Liston admitted. "But we might be very
little better off if we did find out. Suppose it was the name of a
street or a terrace, we shouldn't be very much the wiser, and we must
find out soon. The longer the delay the worse the subsequent trouble
will be. What is it?"

Garton started to his feet, and crossed to the grate.

"It is as plain as a pikestaff, sir!" he exclaimed. "Don't you see that
those letters are a bit sideways as if they had been printed at an angle
to the paper? I mean the way that they print telegraphic addresses and
'phone numbers. Now that 'Rumb' is part of a telegraphic address.
Private people don't have fancy names like that, and I don't suppose
that his lordship's friend is in business."

"Probably some bookmaker," Liston suggested contemptuously.

"You've got it first time, sir," Garton said triumphantly. "It's the
registered telegraphic address of some bookie, to a dead certainty.
'Rumb' is short for--what? There are one or two letters missing. I've
got it again, sir. The whole word is 'Rumbo,' which is a word constantly
heard on the turf. It's a favourite slang word with bookmakers, and
means that everything is fair and above board. It's just the word for
the advertising bookie's telegraphic code."

"If that is so, then we are getting on," Liston allowed.

"I haven't done yet," Garton went on in similar triumphant tones.
"Having been at the game all my life, I've some of those trade marks by
heart. 'Rumbo' is familiar enough. Let me think. Of course! it belongs
to a man called Lancaster, who used to do a big business from Holland.
He had a house here, the address of which I can easily find out. He got
mixed up with some swindle, and has bolted. A friend was telling me all
about it yesterday. When the matter comes to be investigated, you'll
find that fellow Du Cros in it. But we needn't go into that now.
Lancaster has cleared and left his house to the gang who lured Lord
Amsted away. That letter in the grate proves it. His lordship's at
Lancaster's."

"Gad! you are a smart chap," Liston said, admiringly. "I'll make it my
business to see that you don't waste your talent's here. Meanwhile, the
sooner we move the better. Let us go out and consult a directory."

Garton's theory was correct. Here was the name of Lancaster, and his
address was No. 15, Stanmore Street.

"Not at all a bad neighbourhood," Garton said. "Good houses, and
respectable. A customer of ours lived there some years ago, and I know
the locality. Nice places with large gardens standing a little way back
from the road. Shall I come, sir?"

"I wish you would," Liston said. "I have a fair share of pluck, but in a
case like this two men are better than one. I expect these fellows are
dangerous. I have a couple of revolvers here, and it would be well if we
took them with us."

Garton scoffed at the suggestion.

"Not an ounce of pluck amongst the whole squad," he said, "unless they
are three to one. I've known the gang for years--Ned Bloomer and all the
rest of them. Leave it to me, sir."

However, Liston did not neglect the obvious precaution. Having had some
experience of Bloomer and his mates, he slipped a revolver into his
pocket.

"This will be a good day's work for you," he said to Garton. "You have
been very clever and discreet. Lady Letty Stanborough is exceedingly
pleased with you."

"What may her ladyship have to do with it, sir?"

"Why, she was your passenger from the place where you picked her up
until you saw her on the train. Do you mean to say you didn't know that,
Garton?"

Garton's face was a fine study of mixed emotions. He stood a picture of
dismay.

"I might have guessed it," he said. "Anybody but a thickhead like me
would have guessed it. I knew it was no ordinary woman. When I come to
think of it, she was a Stanborough all over. And the things I said to
her! I told her that Lord Stanbrook was an old scamp----"

"Lady Letty knows that far better than you do," Liston said drily.

"That may be so, sir, but it did not prevent me from making a fool of
myself. The things I told her about the chap who calls himself Du Cros!
I called him a blackguard and a thief, and her engaged to him all the
time! Finally, I half-killed him before her eyes."

"She did not blame you for it," Liston observed. "Well, it's a queer
world, Garton, and queer things are done in it. Perhaps, without knowing
it, you have done Lady Letty a great service. But we will talk about
this later. Come along!"

When they reached the beginning of Stanmore street, they moved more
cautiously, for it was not the time to take any risks. Presently Garton
drew his companion quickly into a shop door and pointed to a figure on
the other side of the road walking towards the city.

"There's Ned Bloomer," he said; "but you've seen him before. He's Du
Cros's right-hand man. Now I'll bet my last dollar he's coming from
Lancaster's house after seeing that his lordship is safe. This makes the
game all the more safe for us."

Excepting those of the dining-room, the blinds at No. 15 were drawn. The
house was empty, for the servants had gone after Lancaster's flight, and
the keys had been taken away by the police, who, having no further
concern with it, at least at present, the house was not watched. The
front door was fastened, and Garton suggested a move to the back.

"Sure to find some way in there," he said. "Scullery window, or
something of that kind."

It was not difficult, and in a few minutes they were in the house.
Everything appeared to be in order from first to last, not a thing out
of place. The only hint of very recent habitation was the smell of
tobacco.

"Stay here whilst I search upstairs," Garton suggested. "If we don't
find his lordship somewhere I shall be greatly disappointed."

Garton was away for the better part of ten minutes. When he came back to
the dining-room he wore the look of a winner.

"I felt sure of it," he said. "His lordship is up above, in a little
back room. He seems a bit dazed like, as if they had hocussed him.
He----look there!"

Garton pointed through the window into the garden. Du Cros was coming up
the path.

"This is awkward," he said. "Go up to his lordship and try to get some
sense into him. But keep quiet, sir. I'll put this Du Cros all right. I
have one or two little things to say to that famous millionaire."




CHAPTER XXII.--The Finding of the Belt.


Fortunately, the panic in the concert hall had resulted in no serious
accident. There were a few minor injuries, but nothing to be alarmed
about. The members of the party had sufficiently recovered from the
shock to go to the docks and see Madame Regnier started on her voyage.
This achieved, they flocked back to the hotel to see what arrangements
their host had made for their amusement. Du Cros had gone out on
business but had left a message by the manager. He had been distressed
at his inability to accompany them to the docks, but pressing business
at the last moment had detained him. After the very unpleasant
experience of the afternoon, he did not think it prudent to travel to
London as soon as he had intended. He proposed, therefore, an early
dinner at the hotel and to start by the special about eleven o'clock
that night.

Accordingly, the guests dispersed till dinner-time. Lady Letty,
thoroughly worn out, retired to her room. She slept for the rest of the
afternoon and woke shortly before dinner. Then she dressed and went down
into the lounge.

It was fairly early, and nobody had arrived but Hugh Childers. He came
forward eagerly.

"I have been looking for you everywhere," he said. "This is an
unexpected piece of good fortune. We can talk freely for a time, as Du
Cros has not yet returned."

"I have had a nice sleep," Lady Letty said. "I never remember being so
tired before. I daresay it was selfish of me, but positively I could not
keep my eyes open. Has anything happened, Hugh? Have there been any
fresh developments?"

"One or two," Hugh explained. "These people are an audacious set.
Somehow they found out where Amsted was stowed away, kidnapped him and
confined him in a house where the police are bound to find him at the
proper time. Du Cros is at the bottom of the whole thing. Strange that a
man should show all this venom against a fellow creature whose sister he
is expecting to marry. The plot would have succeeded had it not been for
the smartness of Garton, your chauffeur. Liston told me the whole
affair. Really, Amsted is more like a child than a grown man, and far
more troublesome."

Lady Letty smiled faintly. She was very fond of her headstrong brother.
Next to Hugh he was the one being for whom she had a real affection. The
fact that she had gone through all this danger for his sake did not
lessen her feelings.

"I am afraid he will always be like that," she said, "until he has
something to do. If he could be set to work he might become steady. He
is very fond of his wife. But what is the use of talking about it, Hugh?
We are both so miserably poor."

"It will not be always so," Hugh protested. "I will put my pride in my
pocket, darling. I heard incidentally that my father was near here on
business for a day or two, and I have paid him a hurried visit. He looks
ill and worn out and saw that I was touched by his appearance. Anyhow,
the interview was much warmer and more cordial than I had expected. I
don't think I made quite enough allowance for my father. He takes pride
in his work just as I do in mine. To be brief, I told him everything and
offered to go back. Well, it was worth some sacrifice to see how pleased
he was. He has missed Lucy and me terribly. I was quite candid. I told
him why I wanted to come back."

The colour crept into Lady Letty's face.

"Do you mean that you mentioned my name?"

"Of course I did. I was absolutely frank, I assure you. I concealed
nothing. He knows all about Du Cros and the rest of it. He may be
devoted to business, but he never forgets that he is a Childers, and he
is especially down upon the speculation. He thought it horrible you
should be sacrificed. He also told me that in the time before our
quarrel it was his hope that I should marry a girl like you. More than
once he actually had you in his mind. It is coming all right,
sweetheart."

"Oh, Hugh, I am so glad," Lady Letty cried. "You will go back to your
father?"

"Well, I believe that is the idea," said Hugh with a laugh. "We were
both so anxious to oblige each other that we came to no decision at all.
I fancy I am to be an ornamental partner. The odd thing is that father
takes some pride in my books. He insists that I must give up two or
three days a week to literature. Moreover, he stipulates upon making me
an allowance. He wants Lucy and me to go home on Saturday, and would
like you to come, too. He is ready to give Stanborough a helping hand."

Lady Letty drew a deep breath of pure delight. It seemed as if the gates
of Paradise had suddenly opened before her after journeying in a hot and
barren land. It was some time before she grasped the full import of
Hugh's communication.

"So this is really, really true," she murmured. "How did it come about?"

"I have just been telling you, darling. It was so ridiculously easy. If
I had not fallen in love with you, the whole thing would have been
impossible. All we have to do now is to get rid of Du Cros--if he does
not get rid of himself. But something has happened in that quarter which
will give us the whip hand of that rascal. Before we start to-night I
hope it will be settled. Then you will come to us next Saturday."

Unaccustomed tears rose to Lady Letty's eyes. The prospect touched her
to the heart. The host of cares and troubles and anxieties were fading
and a long avenue of rest and love and happiness lay before her. Hugh
caught her hands in his.

"Are you so very happy?" he whispered tenderly. "Are you so very glad,
sweetheart?"

As Lady Letty turned, Du Cros came in. There was a black scowl on his
face and a look of anger in his eyes, but there was also a suggestion
that he was being hunted by some unseen foe. He stopped for a moment as
if he were going to speak, then passed on.

"He must have seen," Hugh said. "He must have wondered at the audacity
of the poor scribbler who had dared to raise his eyes to Lady Letty
Stanborough. Well, it does not matter. He will know everything in a few
hours. I have to thank him for a great deal. But for this business I
doubt if we should have come together. I fear, however, that you will
have a bad half-hour, Letty."

Lady Letty pressed Hugh's hand. She smiled fondly.

"I shall be ready for him," she said. "I am not afraid of
anything--now."

The half-hour came presently, as Hugh had prophesied. He might have
interfered and even prevented it, but his love for Lady Letty and his
pride kept him aloof. Lady Letty would be able to cope with the sullen
man who sat through dinner almost speechless and scowling at his plate.
The meal was over at length, and the guests were making ready for
departure when Du Cros came up to Lady Letty.

"Before we go I have something to say to you," he remarked harshly. "I
have been learning things."

"We are both fortunate in that respect," Lady Letty said coolly.

"I am told that you left the train," Du Cros proceeded, "on the way to
Liverpool, when it was travelling at sixty miles an hour. Impossible as
it sounds, I believe that the story is true. You were seen at Stanford.
How did you manage it?"

"You have no right to ask," Lady Letty said. "I did leave the train to
go to my brother's assistance and arranged to join it again at
Stoneleigh Cross. But for an accident, I should have done so. But I deny
your right to inquire into the details."

"No right to ask such questions of my affianced wife!"

"I am no longer your affianced wife," Lady Letty said gently. "This ring
belongs to you, I think. You will gain nothing by throwing it on the
floor. Oh, I know what you are going to say. But you are powerless to do
my brother further harm. You can't hurt my father either, for his
liabilities will be met. You see it is difficult for a woman to be
engaged to two men at the same time, and I have given my word to Mr.
Childers. Please do not raise your voice or you will attract the
attention of the waiters. My engagement to you was a mistake from the
first. Ever since I have been capable of affection at all my heart has
been given to Hugh Childers."

"A mere pauper," Du Cros sneered. "Birds of a feather flock together."

"It is only natural that they should," Lady Letty said in her calmest
tones. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Childers is not a pauper, but if he
were, it would be better to marry a pauper than a scoundrel and a thief.
Do you want me to speak more plainly? Is there any necessity for me to
go into details? Shall I tell your guests what I know and see them turn
their backs on you as if you were a reptile? I will do so if you like."

Du Cros hesitated. The hot, burning words at the tip of his tongue
remained unspoken. He had no heart, no feeling, and no conscience, but
he wilted before the scorching words and the bitter scorn in Lady
Letty's eyes. For the first time in his life he was learning what fear
was. He was eager to learn how much Lady Letty knew, but was afraid to
ask.

"There is some mistake," he said huskily. "An enemy has been at work. We
will defer further explanation till we get back to London. There is just
one thing that I have to say and that is for your private ear alone.
Oblige me by walking as far as the door. Now----"

He paused, looking out into the darkness as a figure dashed into the
hall. It was that of a man wild and unkempt. There was a deep cut over
his left eye and blood was oozing from the wound. Lady Letty regarded
the man coldly. She had seen him before. It was the heavy-faced man she
had met at Stanford. She walked away contemptuously.

"What are you doing here, Bloomer?" Du Cros said warningly. "You must
not----"

"Oh! blast your 'must nots.' I've been mauled within an inch of my life
to serve you. Well, you may like it or not, and I'll cut my story short
to let you join your precious party. The belt's been found, but I
haven't got it."

"The belt in the hands of strangers! Go at once to----" but he addressed
the empty air, for Bloomer had vanished as rapidly as he came.




CHAPTER XXIII.--Down on His Luck.


Du Cros's first impulse was to grasp Garton by the throat and choke the
life out of him. His eyes glowed with the pent-up fury of his murderous
thoughts, and Garton instinctively raised his hand, as it were to avert
a blow.

"I should not try that on, if I were you," he said. "The last time you
attempted it you had two broken ribs and six weeks in bed. You are a
choice scoundrel, I know, but you will get nothing out of me. I have
friends not very far off."

Du Cros restrained himself with an effort. Clearly, this was not the way
to handle Garton. The two had known each other for years; they had a
common bond of sympathy in a passion for the turf. From Du Cros's point
of view, the only way to make money out of racing was by dishonesty. The
theory had paid him sufficiently well. He had lost sight of Garton for a
long time and the latter did not appear to be prosperous. Probably
Garton needed money.

"What do you want?" Du Cros asked in a patronising fashion. "Name your
price. But don't open your mouth too wide, because things are not going
too well with me at present."

"I know they are not," Garton said derisively. "You are not worth a good
sixpence. It looks very fine to have your cars and your special train
and your swell friends staying in swagger hotels, but you are not paying
for it. You are carrying everything off by brag and bluster. Well, I
admire your cheek. It's a valuable commodity, and you have a lot of it.
Bad luck to meet me, isn't it? Sort of thing you call a peculiar
coincidence."

"It might have happened to anybody," Du Cros said sulkily. "But we are
wasting time. How much money do you expect?"

"I don't expect a brass farthing," Garton rejoined. "To think of your
calling yourself Du Cros and posing as a millionaire! The infernal
impudence of it! Why, you are bound to come to grief! If you gave me a
cheque it wouldn't be met. I don't want your dirty money. I've always
run straight, and I'm not going to change now. Still, I shouldn't have
interfered but for one thing. If people like to be gulled by a scamp
like you it's no concern of mine. But when I find you trying it on with
a Stanborough, it's a different matter."

Garton was talking glibly and easily. He wanted to gain time. He had no
pleasure in the interview, but had to keep it up to enable Liston to get
Amsted safely off the premises. When that was accomplished, the rest
would be easy.

"What have the Stanboroughs to do with it?" Du Cros asked.

"Everything, as far as I am concerned. The Gartons have been servants of
the Stanboroughs for generations. We were friends of the family, if I
may say so. Never were people better treated. When trouble came to the
family we had to go our own way, but we didn't forget. I didn't, at any
rate. Now that I have the chance of saving a Stanborough I won't miss
it. Not that I knew she was a Stanborough till just now."

Du Cros pricked up his ears. His wits were quick at most times, but the
sense of danger put a keener edge to them. In the critical state of his
affairs knowledge was power. He might learn something from Garton that
would prove of the utmost value later.

"What do you know about Lady Letty Stanborough?" he asked shrewdly.

"Well, I know that she is engaged to you, Stephens. Or rather, she was
engaged to you. If I did not feel so hot about it I could laugh at the
idea! You who was turned out of two racing stables for roping and
narrowly escaped half a dozen prosecutions--you to lift your eyes to
her! I heard her ladyship was going to marry a millionaire called Du
Cros, but I didn't connect him with you. It makes me mad to think of it.
But that's all over, thank goodness."

A look of malignant hatred flashed into Du Cros's eyes, but he said
nothing. Silence was his policy now.

"I was as innocent of all the trouble as a child," Garton went on. "I
was asked to meet a certain lady at a certain spot with one of our cars
to take her to Stanford. I might have guessed who she was, but I didn't.
I was only too ready to oblige anybody connected with Stanford. The lady
had left a certain special train between London and Liverpool and----"

"How did she leave it?" Du Cros asked eagerly. "Tell me that and I'll
pay you anything----"

"No, you won't pay me anything, for more reasons than one. I suppose the
lady left the train in the ordinary way. I took her to Stanford and
afterwards to Stoneleigh Cross, where she was to pick up the train
again. We missed it by inches at Stoneleigh Cross, and there it was that
I met with Bloomer and the rest. That was a bit of luck for my
passenger, especially as she had a chance of joining the train when it
was stopped in the cutting. Even then I never guessed who my fare was.
When I saw you step out of the train and heard you spoken of as Stephen
Du Cros, the great millionaire, you could have knocked me down with a
feather. I saw the game at a glance, and did my best to spoil it--and
you. I might have killed you, and wouldn't have cared much if I had. Not
that it matters much either way. Lady Letty is quit of you now, and you
can't injure her through her brother."

Du Cros's eyes flashed, and a nasty smile played about his lips.

"Don't be too sure of that."

"I know what you are counting on," Garton continued. "You have got
Lancaster out of the way--in fact, you betrayed him. Now, you are using
his house to keep Lord Amsted a prisoner until you can hand him over to
the police. You think he is on the premises now. He isn't. He departed
by the front door ten minutes ago with Mr. Liston. You kept your back to
the light or you would have seen for yourself. Good-bye, Stephens. I'm
off, too. Any message for his lordship?"

A volley of oaths streamed from Du Cros's lips. This was a stroke he had
not expected. He heard the retreating footsteps of Garton as the latter
hurried from the house. He dashed from the room and up the stairs two
steps at a time. The door of the prison was closed, but the key was in
the lock. One look inside proclaimed that Garton had not been boasting.
The bird had flown!

With rage and fury in his heart, Du Cros turned to the stairs. At the
same moment somebody gripped him from behind and he was dragged to the
floor. He swayed backwards and forwards with his antagonist till he
could see the other's face. It was a white puffy face in a frame of
black hair. With a sensation of fear, Du Cros recognised it.

"Lancaster!" he gasped. "You reckless fool, what are you doing here?"

"I had to come," the other said hoarsely. "The police found out my
hiding-place. The port was so closely watched that I could not go across
the water. I wanted more money. I got a disguise and managed to reach
here in the night. There were a few articles of value that I could pawn.
I met Bliss and he helped me. He told me a thing or two. Oh, you
villain! I should still be prosperous but for you. I got it all out of
Bliss. I threatened to go and call in the police if he didn't confess
everything. You wanted to get me out of the way so that you could do as
you liked with that fool Amsted. When Bloomer and his crew brought him
here I was hiding in the house. I listened and I heard a good deal from
these chaps. Well, I am not going to suffer alone, and so I tell you,
Mr. Du Cros, or whatever you choose to call yourself. If the police nab
me they'll nab you too. I'll go into the box and expose the whole
conspiracy against Amsted. I'll prove that he is simply a young fool who
was the tool of a lot of cunning scoundrels."

"Including yourself, of course," Du Cros sneered.

"Well, why not? The whole thing is blown now. Besides, I shall do better
if I make a clean breast of it. You and the rest will stand in the dock
with me and get as many years as I shall months."

The man was evidently in earnest; it was no mere vapouring on his part.
He would keep the police at bay as long as possible, but when he finally
fell into their hands he would reveal everything. His anger deepened at
the sight of Du Cros's face and his voice rose almost to a scream.

"You dog," he cried, "you black, treacherous dog! You need not have
dragged me down. But for you I should still be rich. I could have
retired from the Holland business with a fortune. The police might have
had their suspicions, but I should have cared little for that. Now, I am
a fugitive from justice, leading a dog's life and worse. But I'll pay
you out and see you in the dock by my side, Du Cros."

He reached out a pair of shaking hands as if seeming to drag Du Cros
down with him. A mist of red floated before the eyes of the adventurer.
This was a danger so imminent and fateful that it must be averted at any
cost. He jumped forward and caught Lancaster by the throat and bore him
back heavily to the ground. There was a horrible clicking noise and
Lancaster lay limp and unconscious. The moisture poured down Du Cros's
face.

"By heavens! He is dead," he whispered. "I have killed him."

Then terror seized him and he rushed from the room. He could not stay
with that ghastly thing, but in his dismay he knew not what to do. Anon
he started violently, for somebody was knocking steadily and
persistently at the front door!




CHAPTER XXIV.--A Silent Witness.


Accompanied by Garton, Liston journeyed down the line as far as Leobury.
The former had left Lancaster's house directly Du Cros had gone to look
for Amsted. The first thing was to despatch or convey Amsted to a place
where he would be absolutely safe. He was feeling better and brighter,
and really at length grasped the seriousness of the situation.

"I've got the car still here, sir," Garton suggested. "If you like I'll
run his lordship as far as Quildon, where my brother-in-law lives. Rare
sell for Du Cros, alias Stephens, ain't it, sir? As for my
brother-in-law, he will do anything for a Stanborough. It is only
fifteen miles and in a secluded spot where we have a few horses."

"The very thing," Liston exclaimed. "Now, listen to me, Amsted. I
suppose you want to be free, to be cleared of the charge hanging over
your head, if only for your wife's sake?"

"Poor girl!" Amsted exclaimed. "I would do anything for her sake. She
has gone through a lot for me, and I wish to repay her if I can. Get me
out of this mess, Liston, and I'll turn over a new leaf. I know I was a
fool----"

"That is the cause of all the mischief," Liston said. "Honestly, I don't
believe it any worse than sheer folly, but you have given us a deal of
anxiety. You are altogether too confiding. Fancy going out as soon as
Garton's back was turned! Anyone else would have spotted the trap at
once. We have information that will clear your character in a day or two
if you keep out of the way. It would be a thousand pities if you fell
into the hands of the police now, for though you would be proved
innocent, the stigma would remain. You will go away with Garton and
place yourself entirely in his hands. Be guided by what he says, and
keep out of sight. If you do this I am sure that within three days you
shall be walking about London as free as any of us."

Amsted gave the desired assurance. Nothing should induce him to be such
a simpleton again. He had had a lesson that he was not likely to forget.
He was sorry to be the cause of so much anxiety and bother, and was
thoroughly ashamed of himself. All he wanted was to have his wife back
and to get something to do. Lady Amsted would be very rich some day, and
he desired to show his relatives that he was capable of taking care of
her property.

"I have the making of a first-class man of business," he said.

"Well, I doubt it," Liston answered drily. "If you manage to keep out of
scrapes that will be sufficient. Now, get along with Garton. I daresay
he can provide you with a cap and goggles. Remember, you are by no means
safe yet, my boy. By the bye, Garton, you must meet me by the hotel at
half-past seven. We'll take your car as far as Leobury Junction, and
with decent luck we shall be back before the special starts for London."

At the appointed hour Garton arrived at the hotel, and there Liston
joined him.

"Any fresh news, sir?"

"Well, no," Liston said. "Du Cros has not returned. Most of his guests
were dressing for dinner when I left, but the host had not put in an
appearance."

"Sounds suspicious," Garton replied. "Perhaps he cut his throat with
vexation to find that Amsted was no longer a prisoner. I had half
intended to tell him how the thing was done, but the joke was too good
to spoil in that fashion. What's the next move, sir?"

"Well, we are going to Leobury to look for the belt that Du Cros wore. I
have reason to believe that it contains some very compromising papers.
It was stolen from him after you laid him out so neatly, and was dropped
out of the carriage window near to the signal-box at Leobury. We believe
Du Cros knows as much, though he has not all the information we possess.
Still, he has a shrewd idea, and I believe that he has sent his man
Bloomer and another to look for the belt. If we find it before them,
well and good. If they get it before us, why----"

Liston paused significantly. Garton's eyes flashed.

"I understand you, sir," he said. "If they do, there is going to be a
fight. I take it from what you say that we have the start of them. We
know the spot to go to, and they don't. That's in our favour. I suppose
you brought a lantern, sir?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," Liston explained. "I didn't want to search
the line in the day time, because those fellows might be hanging about
and spot us. We will wait till dark and then search. After that you must
get me to Liverpool before eleven so that I can join the special for
London. I haven't been invited, but that makes no difference, for I am
going all the same."

The car reached its destination and was put up in the garage of a local
hotel. It was dark when Liston and his comrade began their search. They
made out the signal-box in the distance, and this was a guide to them.
To the left the line curved so sharply that the signal-box was hidden
from sight of anyone standing on the metals. Above the cutting on a
lofty bank was an advertisement hoarding and on this Liston flashed his
light. He discovered a poster with a female figure upon it and some
letterpress in white underneath that announced the Leobury Pageant.

"So far so good," he said. "This tallies with my information. Now, if
the belt has not already been found, we should pick it up on the
left-hand side of the rails somewhere within the next hundred yards or
so."

Garton suddenly grabbed the lantern, pushed the slide in, and gripped
the arm of his companion.

"Stoop down, sir," he whispered. "There's somebody coming along the
line. If he is a railway servant we shall get into trouble and be moved
for a certainty. If it's Bloomer or any of his lot we shall lose nothing
by watching them."

Without a further word, Liston crouched down. Three men approached,
whose manner showed that they were looking for something. They paused
almost in front of Liston.

"Must be hereabouts," said one, whom Garton recognised as Bloomer. "To
the left of the box Du Cros said. But it's all a job, mates, and little
to it afterwards."

"Unless we cut the cash up between us," another of the gang remarked.

Bloomer turned upon him with a gesture of impatience.

"Didn't I say there wasn't any cash?" he asked. "It's nothing but
papers, and the less the likes of us has to do with papers the better.
They get you into trouble, and before you know where you are, you are in
quod for five years for blackmail. It takes a man with a head to get
money out of papers."

"Let's keep up with them," Liston whispered. "We can walk in the long
grass. It wouldn't be a bad dodge to let them search whilst we watch. If
they find nothing, we shall save time, and if they get the belt we can
fight them for it. I've got my goggles in my pocket. If you've brought
yours, that will be a sufficient disguise."

Garton tapped his breast significantly. So they kept step with Bloomer
for a hundred yards, and at the end of an hour another hundred yards of
search was complete. Bloomer stepped back to allow a train to pass, the
flaring lights of which illuminated the track far and wide. A hoarse
chuckle of triumph came from the lips of the leader of the rival
expedition.

"Bless that train!" he said. "Them lights did the trick. There's the
belt, mateys, hanging on the bush yonder. Back to Liverpool as quick as
you like."

He waved the belt high above his head. As he did so Liston stepped
forward. He had his goggles on, and there was not the slightest chance
of being recognised. Not that he would have minded, but it was well to
be cautious.

"Give that up," he commanded. "Hand it to me at once. If you refuse
there will be trouble."

Bloomer's reply was a snarl of defiance. He did not know that he was
covered by a revolver. For an instant Liston was inclined to take the
risk and shoot, but, being anxious to avoid delay he forbore. Instead of
firing he reversed the revolver and struck Bloomer on the head with the
butt. As he dropped with a groan and a cry, Garton snatched at the belt.
He was only just in time, for another of the ruffians was upon him.

"Come along, Mr. Liston," he cried, forgetting himself in the
excitement. "I've got it, sir."

Bloomer was on his feet again and ready to fight. Garton caught one man
fairly on the jaw and felled him on the grass.

"Come along, sir," he shouted. "We've got what we came for and
discretion is better than valour. Let's make a bolt for it."

They sprinted up the cutting and into the wood, the others pushing
doggedly at their heels. They had barely time to scramble into the car
and set the engine going, and were followed by a volley of curses, until
they turned from the road. It was late before they reached Liverpool,
and as Liston mounted the steps of the hotel he observed the people in
the hall listening intently to the shouting outside.

Despite the noise and bustle in the street, the stentorian yells of the
newsboys selling a special extra compelled attention. As they came
nearer, the hoarse calls grew more pronounced:--

"Supposed murder of a bookmaker! Death of Lancaster! Remarkable clue!"




CHAPTER XXV.--Kate Mayfield at Home.


Meanwhile, the hand of fate was reaching for Du Cros from another
quarter. Yet to the eye there was nothing about the exterior of The
Gables to indicate the note of tragedy within. The house stood back from
the road in one of the best parts of Sefton Park. It might have been the
establishment of a prosperous business man. The lawns were in beautiful
order and the conservatory was gay with flowers. In the stables was a
car of the latest model. The mansion was furnished quietly and in good
taste and the rooms were large and lofty. Three maids and a butler made
up the domestic staff. It was here that Kate Mayfield dwelt, plotting
and patiently waiting for the hour of her revenge.

Kate, however, kept up no style, desired no visitors, and pursued the
even tenor of her way, heedless of local curiosity and gossip. Indeed it
mattered little what her neighbours said or thought about her.

She was away from Liverpool a good deal, and then it was understood that
she was travelling on the Continent. But there had been no pleasure
jaunts of late. Stephen Du Cros had to be dealt with first.

On the forenoon of Madame Regnier's concert, Kate sat in her
morning-room deep in correspondence. There were many letters requiring
attention, and long reports from private inquiry agents. Presently there
arrived, quite unostentatiously, a little dark-eyed man with a queer
mis-shapen figure and an eager manner.

"I have been waiting anxiously for you, Mr. Clyde," Kate Mayfield said.
"I have been expecting to hear from you for some days. Have you done
anything?"

Cosmo Clyde smiled with the air of a satisfied man. He tapped his
breast-pocket significantly, as he dropped into a chair.

"I have done pretty well, madam," he said. "At last I am on the track."

Kate Mayfield smiled in her turn. A cruel accident had been the cause of
Clyde's malformed body, and incidentally had led to his enforced
resignation of the post of detective-inspector at Scotland Yard. It was
impossible to retain a man who could so easily be identified. It had
been a cruel blow to Clyde, for it meant the relinquishment of his
dearly-cherished aspirations; but on the whole he had not done so badly.
At any rate he was no longer fettered by red-tape and regulations and
was free to follow his own methods. He found a congenial employer in
Kate Mayfield.

"Du Cros is coming to Liverpool to-day," he said.

"Really!" Kate exclaimed. "I am glad to hear that. I have read your
letters carefully and must compliment you on your progress. Why does Du
Cros come? Is he not satisfied with the mischief he has already done Mr.
Lancaster!"

"Lancaster is finished so far as Du Cros is concerned," Clyde explained.
"Lancaster served his turn and was betrayed without scruple. Du Cros
thinks his quondam associate has fled the country. In that direction the
coast is clear. He comes to town on another matter altogether. He does
not want his enemies to know that he is here on business, and has hit
upon a really clever expedient. He is a wonderful man."

Kate Mayfield made an impatient gesture.

"All that goes without saying," she exclaimed. "Nobody doubts Du Cros's
amazing audacity. The way he has fooled people and got into Society
shows that. But the man is a sham and a fraud, and that is the finest
weapon we have in our hands. The question is, has the time come to
expose him?"

"I fancy so," Clyde said. "But I understand you desire to see him first,
to acquaint him with the author of his downfall."

Kate Mayfield nodded approvingly. She could taste the vengeance on her
lips already.

"Yes, yes," she said. "All in good time. But I am anxious to save
Lancaster first. I have had news of him. He is coming to meet me at his
own house. Now that the search has widened his old home is the last
place the police will watch. It will not be my fault if we fail to put
Lancaster on his feet again. After I have seen him and explained matters
there will be time for Du Cros. Is he staying long?"

"He goes back almost immediately," Clyde explained. "He travels from
London by special train with a fashionable party of friends to attend
Madame Regnier's farewell concert. The thing is a good advertisement for
him, and enables him to do business in Liverpool under the guise of
pleasure. There is another big swindle on foot, but I have not quite got
to the bottom of it. This concert----"

"Yes, I know all about that," Kate interrupted. "Madame Regnier is a
great favourite of mine, and I was going to hear her sing this
afternoon. But what about Lord Amsted and Mr. Middlemass and my friends
the Gartons? Have you done anything with them?"

Clyde shook his head. He explained he had been far too busy with other
affairs. He watched his employer as she strode restlessly about the
room.

"You must forgive me if I seem impatient," she said. "But I have many
irons in the fire. I wonder what Lord Amsted and his wife would say if
they knew how little Kate Mayfield was working on their behalf! I am
looking forward to seeing their faces when I expose the conspiracy that
nearly ruined Lord Amsted and Mr. Middlemass. I shall hope to get all
this from Lancaster in the course of a few hours. What would Frank
Garton say if he only knew that Kate----? But I am talking nonsense."

She turned abruptly aside and began to talk of other things.

"It is strange that you cannot find the Wellgraves," she said.

"It is most annoying," Clyde agreed. "That the three are in Liverpool I
am absolutely certain. They must have changed their names. Perhaps they
have started an entirely new performance. That old thought-reading trick
of theirs was played out. The public soon tires. But I am bound to find
them soon, though I don't see how they are essential to your plan."

"I do," Kate rejoined with a smile. "They are amongst Du Cros's victims.
He served them in South Africa as he served everybody else. They would
stick at nothing to get their own back, if they knew that Du Cros and
Stephens are the same man. Besides, I have invented a little play, and
it is necessary the Wellgraves should take leading parts in it. I am by
nature an actress--I should have gone on the stage. I want you to
realise that I am not like other women."

Clyde's eyes expressed his sentiments rather eloquently. He had the
greatest admiration for his employer. She ceased her restless walk and a
thoughtful expression came on her face.

"I want that man to feel my power," she said. "I want him to know that I
have tracked him inch by inch through the whole of his black career. I
want to frighten him. I want to appeal to his imagination. He must come
and see me in my own house. Then the drama will be played out as I wish
it to be played out with myself in the principal role. You shall know my
plans very shortly. However, I have told you enough to satisfy you that
I want the Wellgraves, and that you must find them without delay. Spend
whatever you think necessary and do not stint it. If you are sure they
are in Liverpool you cannot fail to find them."

Kate Mayfield glanced significantly at the door. The hint was sufficient
for Clyde, and he rose at once. He vanished in his quiet way, leaving
his employer to her reflections. On the whole, they were not displeasing
to her. Hers was essentially a nature of action, and here at length was
a chance to move.

She had waited with exemplary patience, and drew a deep breath as she
realised that the moment for striking was at hand. But she had her
seasons of pleasure, too; she was a woman who had a keen appreciation of
the enjoyments of life, and loved the theatre and the concert hall. But
there was always the hope of a great vengeance before her.

Sooner or later she must be even with Du Cros. She had brooded upon this
till it had become part and parcel of her very being. The time had come
when she could gratify her revenge and help those who had befriended her
in the old days at the same time. As a matter of fact, she had already
gone a long way in the latter direction. She had seen Lady Letty and
given her the necessary warning. Lady Letty had benefited by the
caution. Kate was taking it for granted that Lady Letty had reached
Liverpool in safety and that Lord Amsted had been provided for. Now that
Du Cros was in Liverpool also, she began to see a way to act. It would
be rather a dramatic revenge, with a touch of the theatrical in it, but,
being a woman, the prospect was alluring. Kate Mayfield was nothing if
not original.

To carry out her plan successfully the presence of the Wellgraves was
necessary. If they could not be found, the day of vengeance would have
to be postponed. Kate was aware that Du Cros's stay in Liverpool would
be only of the briefest. It was possible he might call at Lancaster's
house, and in any case, Kate was going to call there herself. She had no
great expectation of seeing the bookmaker, but there was a bare chance
that he might return. She knew not, of course, that circumstances were
fighting the battle for her.

She went out by and by with the house in Stanmore street as her ultimate
goal. It irritated her to think that the Wellgraves were actually in
Liverpool--so near and yet so far. No doubt they had gone down in the
scale; doubtless they were performing in some hall in the poorer parts
of the great city.

Almost unconsciously she turned off the beaten track, making a detour on
the way to Lancaster's house. It proved almost a fatal step, as she
realised presently. Though not very far out of her way, she was in a
very shady locality. Broken-down men and evil-looking women regarded her
rich attire enviously. A small ragged boy ran after her and begged. He
begged in the insistent, impudent way of one who feels sure of his
victim. Kate glanced around her, but there was no policeman in sight.

Lucklessly enough, she took out her purse. Not only the ragged boy but
also a forbidding-looking man lounging against the wall opposite saw the
gleam of gold. He came across the street and touched Kate familiarly on
the shoulder.

"You shouldn't do that here," he said. "It's rather dangerous in a place
like this. I am a gentleman and you may trust me. Give me your arm and
I'll escort you out of this quarter."

Kate flushed indignantly. She waved the fellow aside. The next moment
they were struggling for the purse, and the cur caught Kate by the
throat. With high courage she fought on, but the contest was an unequal
one. The villain's grip relaxed, and then came the thud of a falling
body.

"Courage, Kate," a hoarse voice said. "Hold up, you are safe."




CHAPTER XXVI.--A Helping Hand.


The touch of a friendly hand restored Kate's pluck. She had no lack of
courage and resolution, but fear had swept over her for the moment. When
her self-possession returned, she felt shame and vexation. She rose to
her feet with a laugh. The danger had passed, and already the would-be
thief and the impudent boy had vanished. As a matter of fact Kate had no
inclination to fuss over it. She had a dim, confused idea that the
rescuer had spoken to her by her Christian name. She turned to him
eagerly.

"I am greatly obliged to you," she said. "But for your intervention I
should have been badly hurt. I wonder if by any chance--but that is
absurd."

She was about to ask the stranger if they had met before. Had he not
called her by her Christian name? Or was her hazy recollection of it but
some freak of imagination inspired by the grave peril of the moment?

"You're right," the stranger said. "I wasn't sure till your veil was
torn away in the struggle, but the figure seemed familiar. Things have
prospered with you, Kate."

"Wellgrave!" Kate exclaimed. "I don't know which of the brothers you
are, but you are a Wellgrave. I have been searching for you everywhere."

"I am Ted," the man explained. "George and Harry are not far off. Oh,
yes, we are as much alike as ever. It is difficult at times for me to
remember whether I am myself, or George, or Harry. But the likeness is
more nuisance than it's worth. There should be money in triplets all
exactly alike, but there isn't."

"Yet you did quite well with thought-reading at one time."

"Not so bad," Wellgrave admitted, "but somebody found out there were
three of us, and that gave the show away. It's been a hard struggle
lately to live at all. We changed our names and started another
exhibition, but it didn't go."

"That is why I have had so much trouble to find you," Kate said. "Come
and have tea somewhere."

Wellgrave hesitated. He looked from his own shabby clothing to his
companion's attire, still elegant in spite of the tussle. Kate smiled as
she saw the glance.

"What does it matter?" she asked. "I have no friends in Liverpool, and
it would not signify if I had."

In a few minutes she was sitting in the secluded corner of a tea-room,
where her companion might smoke.

"You seem to have done well," he said. "You look like a woman of means.
I always had an idea that you would marry money."

"That explains why I am still single," Kate commented with a smile. "I
don't say that I am without ambition, but it has to be kept sternly in
the background. But I have money, and you and the others shall benefit.
Where are they?"

"Probably at the diggings waiting for me. We have an engagement at a
hall near by the docks that just provides us with bread and cheese.
Funny way of getting a living for three men born in a country vicarage,
isn't it? I am sure the other boys will be glad to see you again."

"It will be mutual," Kate said. "You were all good to me out yonder when
I sorely needed a friend and I have not forgotten it. Do you remember
Stephens?"

"I do," answered Ted curtly. "We never actually met, but he gave us
something to remember him by. The precious rascal would have saved you a
deal of misery and unhappiness had he only opened his mouth. But he
chose to hide himself behind a poor girl. As if you stole those
diamonds?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I did," Kate said coolly. "I thought I might
as well have them as anybody else. To all intents and purposes they
belonged to nobody. I should not have done it had I been fairly dealt
with. But all that I will explain to you presently. In the meanwhile I
need your and your brothers' assistance and am willing to make it worth
your while. Stephens is in Liverpool."

Wellgrave puckered up his lips in a silent whistle.

"So that is your game?" he asked. "Revenge is sweet. But what's the
good? According to your own showing, you are prosperous, and Stephens
probably hasn't a penny. If you bested him over the diamonds and turned
them into cash, you hit him harder than you could do in any other way."

"Had this been an ordinary case, I might have been contented," Kate
said. "But this is not an ordinary case and I am far from contented. Do
you know how Madame Regnier came here?"

"I read something about it in the papers. Du Cros, the millionaire, and
a whole crowd of Society people came from London to give her a
send-off."

"You will be surprised to learn that the millionaire, Du Cros, is none
other than our late acquaintance Stephens."

"Great Scott!" Wellgrave exclaimed as he leapt from his chair. "Is that
the fact?"

"It's a literal truth. Stephens has blossomed out into Mr. Stephen Du
Cros, millionaire from South Africa. He moves in the very best of
society, and is welcomed everywhere. His parties and dinners are talked
about and advertised. He is going to marry Lady Letty Stanborough and
found a family. There are millions who envy him."

"But how has he made it, Kate?"

"He hasn't made it; he has nothing. He is an out-and-out adventurer. At
this moment he is living on his wits. His career of deception is
extraordinary. Probably I am the one person in England who knows it."

"That is where your vengeance comes in. Does he know----"

"He knows and suspects nothing," Kate said under her breath. "But he
will find out everything before he leaves Liverpool. There is no limit
to his treachery and rascality. He has ruined a man in whom I am
interested, and he shall suffer for it. I mean to expose him, and will
do it in my own dramatic way. I want your help."

"But how on earth can I be of any use to you, Kate?"

"We will come to that in good time. Do you remember that strange
performance you gave on Christmas Eve in Cape Town, when----"

"I had rather forget it," Wellgrave interrupted. "It was a dangerous
game, Kate, and we were wise to drop it, else we should certainly have
got into trouble. I don't think that anything would induce me to take it
up again."

"Not if I were to ofter you one thousand pounds for a private
performance?"

Wellgrave drew a deep breath. Evidently his resolution was shaken by
this suggestion.

"I wish you hadn't said that," he muttered. "It is a lot of money. We
are tired of our present life. We are thirty years of age and don't
possess a copper between us. Each year finds us worse off than the last
and moving slowly towards the bottom. We mingle with people we would
have despised in the old days. We are losing our self-respect. Before
long we shall not be above accepting drinks in public-houses. We begin
to long for the old healthy outdoor life that we were bred to. Our dream
now is to scrape together enough for a farm in Canada. We could do well
at that. But it's nothing but a dream that will never come true."

"That is where you are wrong and foolish," Kate answered. "I am only
asking you to help me once, and that only to injure and humiliate
Stephens. When the performance is over you shall have a thousand pounds
in gold for yourselves. Heaps of people go to Canada, sink money, and
grow weary of their lot. For a thousand pounds you can have your farm
and your house and your stock and begin five years ahead and save all
the drudgery. Now, think of it, Ted; don't miss the chance of a
lifetime. Assist me and before the end of the week you will have a
thousand pieces of gold in your pocket. Within a month you can all be on
the prairie at work on your farm! All I ask in return is a helping hand
in outwitting a scoundrel."

Wellgrave puffed savagely at his cigarette. A keen struggle was going on
in his mind. In imagination he saw a glorious prospect opening up before
him. He turned to his companion abruptly.

"Come and see the others," he said. "We don't live in a nice locality,
but you will make the best of that. You said you had no friends here."

"I am not really sure that I have a single friend in the wide world,
Ted."

"Ah, there you are wrong. We would do anything for you, and you know it.
The fact that I am hesitating over your proposal should prove as much.
Still, if you are prepared to accept the risk----"

Kate Mayfield rose hastily from the table.

"Say no more," she said. "Call a cab and let us hold a council of war."




CHAPTER XXVII.--The Mirror.


Ted Wellgrave and his brothers sat by the fireside of the mean little
sitting-room where they had taken up their quarters. The atmosphere was
thick with tobacco smoke. For some time no word had been spoken between
them. Kate Mayfield had come and gone. She had made her offer, and it
was for the brothers to carry out her orders.

"Sheer good luck," Ted Wellgrave said at length. "Couldn't have imagined
such a thing outside a novel. Fancy little Kate getting hold of all that
money!"

The others nodded. All three were exactly alike. No one could have
pointed out the slightest difference between them. Even their voices
were the same. They were all dressed in shabby blue serge, all clean
shaven, and all had white, regular teeth.

"I suppose this has got to be done," the second brother suggested.

"I don't particularly like it," the third observed. "I admit that Kate
spoke frankly enough. I don't doubt the money will be forthcoming, and
I'd be glad to leave the old country and start afresh on the other side.
I guess we are all pretty sick of this. But I'm not keen in being mixed
up in this revenge plot of Kate's. We don't know where we'll be landed."

"It's too late to talk like that," Ted Wellgrave said. "We've promised.
Kate went away under the distinct impression that we'd act as she
suggested, and, besides, we have taken her money on account."

"Well, I call it nothing but charity," George Wellgrave muttered.

"Perhaps it is," Ted admitted. "Anyway, beggars can't be choosers, and
I'm dead tired of our present life. If Kate likes to give me a lift on
the road to fortune I am disposed to take it. Time to be off, isn't it?"

Meanwhile Kate went her way, satisfied with the turn of events. She was
prepared for an emergency now, and was ready to carry out the programme
which had for its inception the man Lancaster--the one person who had
been kind to her. That it was wild and visionary was a bagatelle; she
was acting on impulse without heed of the consequences. The time she had
been longing for had come at last. So she hurried along to Lancaster's
house. When she reached it she paused for a while. Really, when she came
to think of it, her plans were by no means so perfect as she had
expected.

Who hesitates is lost, and Kate appeared to lose nerve. The house looked
as if it were inhabited, but it was impossible to say. The police might
be in occupation of it, or Lancaster might not have received her letter,
or he might have fallen into the----

Kate suddenly awoke from her brown study and rubbed her eyes. From the
back of the house two persons emerged, both of whom she identified. One
was Lord Amsted, pale and crippled, but jaunty and easy-going as ever.
The sight of the other spurred her recollection, and a faint pink tinged
her check as her eyes fell on him.

"Frank Garton!" she whispered. "The place seems to be filled with my old
friends. Where do they come from and what are they doing in Liverpool?
Did Frank see me? Even if he had he could not have recognised me. I must
be changed out of all knowledge. I wonder what he would say if he knew
that I was so close to him. How foolish I am!"

She thought that Garton had given her a glance in passing, but she must
have imagined that. Amsted entered a car, and Garton paused for a moment
and then retraced his steps hastily. She turned her back on him and
pulled down her veil on a sudden impulse. Garton was sure to pass her.

But Garton did nothing of the kind. He walked beside her and laid his
hand on her arm. She remarked that his fingers were trembling.

"It's no use, Kate," he said in a shaky tone. "You may try to conceal
your features, but I recognise you all the same. I knew you just now,
though I only looked at you casually. But it was quite enough for me, my
dear. What a beautiful woman you have grown! Though perhaps I prefer the
pretty girl of other days. You look as if things had prospered with you.
Maybe I have no right to talk to you like this. You are well and happily
married?"

Kate laughed. She had forgotten her vengeance and her errand, and
enjoyed a tense of pleasure and happiness to which she had been long a
stranger. She was thrilled with emotions that she thought she had parted
with for ever.

"I am not married, Frank," she said. "I had no thought of it. I had
great luck in South Africa, far better than I deserved."

She hesitated before she said this. She was half-inclined to take Garton
into her confidence, but was not certain whether he would like it. On
the whole, it would be better to say nothing. He might not approve; he
might be suspicious. For there was one sufficient reason why she desired
to stand high in the good opinion of Frank Garton.

"Well, I am glad to hear that," he said, with a look of relief in his
face, "and to know that you are still free. If you did well at the Cape,
you deserved it. I was pretty sore with you at one time, but I got over
it, Kate."

"You forgot me," Kate whispered.

"I didn't, and you know I didn't," Garton said. "I offered you a home
such as it was, but you preferred to go with your father. I daresay you
were right, my dear, but it was a blow to me at the time."

"At the time! That means you have got over it, Frank!"

"I haven't, Kate. I'm not one of that sort. I wrote to you many times,
but no reply came. But there has never been anybody else, Kate, and
there never will be. Now you are rich and I mustn't say what I feel."

Kate's eyes softened. Here was good fortune beyond her expectations. But
she had her work to do first, and that work must be done alone. She took
a card from her case.

"That is my address," she said. "Come and see me and let me try to
convince you that I am the same old Kate. I can't stay now. But tell me,
was not that Lord Amsted?"

"Good heavens!" Garton cried. "I quite forgot about him in the pleasure
of meeting you again. I ought not to have left him for a single moment.
I'll look you up to-night; good-bye."

Garton dashed off down the road and Kate put him out of her mind. There
would be time later to think of her happiness. She glanced at a group of
trees on the far side of the street; under one of them a Wellgrave stood
smoking a cigarette. The other brothers were not to be seen. The man
with the cigarette was signalling to her but she shook her head
resolutely. Next moment she was knocking at the door. She knocked twice
before it was opened, and to her profound astonishment she found herself
face to face with Stephen Du Cros--the man she had once promised to
marry! How could she ever have done such a thing! How could she so far
have forgotten her faithful lover, Frank Garton.

For some time past the Wellgraves, according to instructions, had been
keeping guard. Almost hidden by the branches of a big tree, George
Wellgrave was doing something with a mirror, the face of which was
turned towards the house. The man at the foot of the tree had another
mirror, by means of which he was taking reflections indirectly from the
polished glass which was being manipulated by George Wellgrave in the
tree. To all appearances, they were taking pictures of what was passing
in the house. This was, indeed, part and parcel of their stock
performance, but it had never been employed in this way before. It
formed part of Kate Mayfield's scheme for her protection. Long before
she reached the house, the Wellgraves were testing the value of the
suggestion.

"Can you make anything out down there?" the man in the tree asked.

"Yes; there are people in the house," the Wellgrave on the ground
replied. "I can make out the figures of two men clearly enough."

"Can you see who they are?" his brother asked. "I don't think we were
intended to spy in this way, and I shouldn't do it if I felt that Kate
was safe."

"Figures seem familiar, too," said the man under the tree. "At least,
one does. By Jove! it's Lancaster, the missing bookmaker that they are
making such a fuss about! Don't you remember seeing him that night we
were performing at that club smoking concert? Somebody pointed him out
to me and said that he was the most successful bookie in Liverpool."

"Well, it doesn't matter," the man in the tree said. "I'll take your
word for it. What are they up to?"

"Quarrelling, I should say, from their gestures. Shouldn't wonder if the
stranger isn't trying to get something out of the man. Keep your mirror
quite steady for a moment. The figures have got confused."

There was silence for a while, and then the man under the tree stood
stock still for a minute, when he uttered a sharp exclamation and
dropped his mirror.

"What's the matter?" the man in the tree asked. "What is up?"

"Murder," the other said hoarsely. "Lancaster is lying on the floor and
the other man is leaning over him. I can make out a cigarette-case by
the body. It's murder, black murder."

The man in the tree dropped to the ground breathing heavily, horror and
incredulity stamped on his face.




CHAPTER XXVIII.--Branded!


Meanwhile, Du Cros, in the silent house of the bookmaker, stood
trembling as he listened to the peremptory knocking on the door. There
was something in that commonplace act that shook him to the core. In
ordinary circumstances, he would have crossed over and seen at once who
it was that thundered for admittance. But now he was afraid. He had a
strange feeling that something would happen to him directly he opened
the door. He quivered from head to foot, and there was a sensation like
physical sickness beneath his beating heart. Great beads of sweat
trickled down his face and hung upon his lips.

"What cursed thing is it?" he muttered. "Why am I tortured in this
fashion? Some friend of Lancaster's, perhaps, or----"

He left the word unspoken. The mere suggestion of the police set him
shivering as if he had the ague. All the time the knocking was getting
more and more insistent.

Du Cros steeled himself for an effort. He would not be beaten like this.
He would fight his way to victory yet. What had become of his wonderful
nerve? Perhaps he was still suffering from that blow on the head, for he
had never known such fear before. He had climbed out of the kennel and
the gutter to the drawing-room of Mayfair. A year or two ago he had been
no fit associate for an honest footman--now he was on terms of equality
with the footman's master. And nerve and audacity had done it all.

Things had been going badly with him lately, but until the last few
hours he had had no fear. He had found something exhilarating in the
struggle, but he was no longer sustained by any such feeling. Perhaps it
was the presence of that stark and lonely thing under the table. Had the
interruption come a little later he would have been safely off the
premises. As it was he must show himself.

He took the cover from the table and a rug from the couch and tossed
them on the floor in what looked like a careless heap. He shuddered as
he did so, keeping his face averted. He stooped to cover the sole of the
dead man's foot. There was also a shining silver article and Du Cros hid
that, too. He was so absorbed in thought, he did not notice that it was
his own cigarette-case that had fallen from his pocket in the struggle.

He went to the door and flung it open carelessly. An elegantly dressed
woman met his gaze. She bore on her person every indication of wealth
and prosperity. She stared haughtily at Du Cros and gradually a bitter
smile crossed her face. She entered the house and closed the door behind
her.

"Well, this is an unexpected meeting," she said.

Du Cros drew his hand over his eyes.

"Kate!" he stammered. "Kate! What--what are you doing here?"

"I might ask you the same question. Where is Lancaster?"

"I don't know," Du Cros muttered. "I came here on the off chance of
seeing him. It was a forlorn hope at the best."

"That is a lie. You never expected to meet Lancaster. If you had thought
he was anywhere about you would have kept away. You knew his temper and
his courage far too well for that. He would have killed you like a dog.
He knew you had betrayed him."

The woman pushed past Du Cros into the drawing-room. He would have
detained her had he guessed her purpose. Plainly she was seeking
Lancaster, and was not aware that she was standing near to all that was
mortal of him at that very moment. How long would it be before she
discovered the ghastly secret! Du Cros trembled as he thought of it. As
far as possible, he placed himself between the woman and the litter on
the floor.

At all hazards she must learn nothing. If she discovered the body it
would be his death-blow. She would rush into the street and yell for the
police. It was unfortunate she had called at such a time, and he must
find out what she needed. She was positively the last person on earth Du
Cros wished to meet.

"This is a strange transformation!" he sneered.

Something like his old courage was coming back. In a shadowy way he
began to see a possibility of escape. He would anger the woman so that
she might forget her errand, or might betray herself on the heat of the
moment.

But Kate was not to be drawn. She was young and handsome, and there was
a touch of sadness in her eyes, but her lips were firm and hard as if
she had learnt a lesson in the battle with the world and benefited by
it.

"Is it not?" she laughed harshly. "The simple child has blossomed into
the woman of the world. It is hard to believe that only five years ago I
left Lancashire with my poor old dad to better our fortunes in South
Africa. He would have been successful had he not been so clever and
brilliant and so fond of the drink. But that is a story I do not care to
dwell upon. He died before he saw the inside of a gaol, which is a
consolation to me. But imagine what my position was--a mere child amidst
the most vicious surroundings. My friends were the smartest diamond
thieves in Cape Colony!"

"You seem to have done very well out of it," was Du Cros's coarse taunt.

But the gibe was wasted. The woman did not even change colour.

"Oh, I have," she laughed. "I may say that I am the only one who
benefited. I learnt my lesson, thanks to you and others. You found me a
child and left me a woman of the world. It was a bitter day for me when
I discovered that I was a mere tool in your hands and that your
professed love was a sham. And I cared for you!"

"You did," Du Cros murmured. "You didn't understand, Kate."

"My good Stephen, I understood far too well. That I cared for you is one
of the strangest things in the world! Quaint creatures women are, to be
sure! Fancy any woman loving a scoundrel like you."

"You have judged me unheard," Du Cros muttered.

Really, Kate Mayfield had grown into a monstrously fine woman, Du Cros
thought. She was very different now from the pink and pretty Lancashire
lass that Du Cros had used for his own ends at the Cape when he was
fighting his long duel with the South African police. She had been the
innocent go-between in the biggest scheme of diamond robbery the colony
had ever seen. But the great coup had not come off, and Du Cros barely
escaped with his skin. Even this had only been effected by the sacrifice
of Kate Mayfield, who had been arrested. What had happened to her
afterwards, Du Cros had never heard or cared. At any rate, he had not
troubled to inquire. No doubt, the girl had served her time and the
stolen diamonds had been recovered. To Du Cros the whole thing had long
become a regrettable recollection.

Now, here was Kate Mayfield in the flesh, the veritable image of
prosperity. Du Cros had lived amongst well-dressed people long enough to
have some idea of what a properly-gowned woman was. Perhaps Kate read
what was passing through his mind, for she was far more at ease than her
companion was.

"Very strange, isn't it?" she asked. "It was a cruel trick to throw the
blame on a poor girl and leave her in the lurch, wasn't it? You always
were clever, but your cunning has brought you little good so far, Mr.
Stephens. Time's whirligig works curious revenges. Here you are on your
last legs, while I am rich and prosperous. With my money and your
brains, you would soon be in fact the millionaire you only pretend to
be."

Obviously Kate was not boasting. She spoke quietly and sincerely. Du
Cros began to ponder a few things. This woman had once cared for him.
There was a time when she had looked forward with eager pleasure to
becoming his wife.

"I never wronged you," he said.

"Not in one way, perhaps," Kate Mayfield answered; "and yet you killed
all that goes to make life and youth happy. You will tell me next that
it was not your fault that I fell into the hands of the police."

"Nor was it," Du Cros lied boldly. "I did not know till now."

He advanced with outstretched hands. This woman was wealthy, and had
once cared for him. He might be able to play the old game again.

"Let me try to explain," he said. "Kate, for the sake of old times----"

"Don't," the woman warned him with a dangerous glitter in her eyes. "I
ask you to say nothing about the old times. The mere recollection of
them rouses all my passions. If you touch me with the tip of your finger
you will be sorry for it. Keep that kind of thing for Lady Letty
Stanborough, Mr. Stephens. I know all about it."

Du Cros tried to laugh it off; he would not be thrown off thus.

"How have you managed so well?" he asked. "Where does the money come
from?"

Kate pointed to her head.

"You always admired my hair," she remarked. "You said that no other girl
ever had anything like it. Well, perhaps I am justified in being proud
of it, for it was the foundation of my fortunes. I see you are
mystified. Let me show you what I mean."

She removed her hat and dragged the diamond pins from her hair.




CHAPTER XXIX.--"A Woman's Crown of Glory."


Du Cros stood fascinated. He saw the long hair falling below Kate's
waist like delicate strands of shimmering gold. It seemed almost
incredible that simple little Kitty Mayfield should have grown into such
a beautiful woman. He was wondering what this strange scene was leading
up to.

"You are puzzled," Kate remarked. "So were the police. You betrayed me
and left me to bear the brunt of everything. When I realised that, I
felt like taking my own life. For hours I lay stunned and bewildered;
but gradually the reaction came. I knew where the diamonds were, and
that they could not be removed without the police knowing of it. I was
left as the bait in the trap whilst you others bolted. I took the
diamonds and hid them there!"

As Kate Mayfield spoke she pointed to the back of her head. Du Cros
began to understand how every twist and turn of those glorious locks
could conceal a diamond.

"I see that you have guessed it," Kate went on. "I plaited my hair into
one long rope and in the dense mass I hid the stones. There was no
chance of their being seen. When the police came for me I was in bed.
The female searchers watched me dress, standing by me as I put up my
hair, and examined the place after I had been taken to prison. They were
perfectly satisfied that I at all events had no diamonds. They took me
from one court to another, but could prove nothing, and ultimately my
youth and supposed innocence saved me. When at last they set me free,
they paid my passage home! But, had it not been for Lancaster, I should
have starved. He was the only one who remembered me, and sent me money
from time to time even after he had returned to England. I left South
Africa with the diamonds in my hair. I durst not disturb them until I
reached London. More than once it was on the tip of my tongue to tell
you my scheme for hiding the stones, but I was proud of my cunning and
wanted you to appreciate and applaud it. Afterwards, I was glad I had
not been so foolish."

"Had you done so, things would have been different," Du Cros said.

"Indeed they would," the woman laughed. "By this time you would have had
all the stones and I should be selling matches in the gutter. It is no
use trying it on, Mr. Stephens. I know the ropes quite as well as you
do, and have bought my knowledge at a far higher cost than ever you did.
I sold one of the smaller stones for a good price, and gradually began
to pass for a person of some means. I was always very adaptable, as you
know. One by one the stones were disposed of, until at length I found I
had a fortune. It is a privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity to
tell you this, Mr. Stephens. I could save you if I liked to put you on
your legs again. But I won't do that. I mean to stand by and see you go
under."

"And if I tell this strange story to the police?"

"Do so, by all means. They'll be very glad to see you. I did not expect
to meet you to-day; I came to try to help Lancaster, the man whom you
betrayed as you betray everybody in turn. He is the best of you."

"Perhaps he was," Du Cros said, with a haste which he regretted
immediately.

The woman turned upon him sharply, a glance of suspicion glittering in
her eyes.

"Why do you speak like that?" she demanded. "Why do you say 'was,' as if
he were dead? That you betrayed him to the police for your own ends I am
aware; that you would kill him if you could do so safely I am also
convinced. But your courage is not equal to that."

Du Cros breathed more freely. He by no means relished the ghastly turn
the conversation had taken. It was as much as he could do to keep his
eyes averted from the heap of drapery on the floor. He had an irritating
feeling, too, that he was 'playing second fiddle' in this interview.

"I congratulate you," he said. "I am glad to find you have been so apt a
pupil. Lancaster is fortunate in his friendships. If you had come a day
or two before----"

"I was in Paris. It was only by the merest fluke that I saw the details
in a sporting paper. As long as Lancaster was flourishing there was no
need to hurry, but when he was in trouble I hastened back, and that is
why I am here this afternoon."

Du Cros smiled approval. He altered his game, and decided to play
another card.

"I give you credit for good intentions," he said. "Perhaps you will
credit me with a like generous impulse. Your notion that I betrayed
Lancaster is hysterical nonsense. The fact that I am here now proves
it."

A queer smile trembled on Kate Mayfield's lips.

"Pray continue," she said. "Hitherto I have done most of the talking,
and it is only fair you should have a look in. You came to help
Lancaster? How?"

"How does one man help another when he is in trouble? In nine cases out
of ten assistance means money. I have seen little or nothing of
Lancaster for several years, but I did not forget that we were comrades
once. Directly I heard of his difficulties I left London and hastened to
see him."

"Really! You were going to find him all the money he needed?"

"Such was my intention. Unfortunately I was too late."

"So you have saved your money--the money you don't possess. There is not
a soul in England who has been more interested in your career than
myself. You have done wonders--you are at the top of the tree, and are
going to marry into the peerage. Yet you could not put your hand on a
hundred pounds at this moment. You are up to your eyes in debt. Truly
you are a most marvellous man! I have my own reasons for being glad of
all this, for the higher you climb the greater will be the fall--when I
give the signal."

"When you give the signal! What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I know what I am talking about. Not a single episode in your recent
career is concealed from me. Now, I mean to take ample revenge for all
the sufferings you have caused to me and others. Nor am I fighting
single-handed: possibly you may recollect the Wellgraves?"

Du Cros gasped and changed colour. He stared in a dull stupid way at the
speaker as if dimly trying to grasp what she meant.

"The three brothers Wellgrave are in South Africa."

"They were, but they have come home. I don't mind admitting to you that
I am befriending them. I had need of their services. Would you like to
meet them? Shall I arrange a nice little dinner to fit the auspicious
occasion?"

Du Cros gave no response. The solid ground on which he thought he was
standing seemed to be slipping away from under his feet. The props were
breaking down, and foundations that looked solid had turned to sand.

"I have no reason to fear," he said.

"Of course not," the woman said mockingly. "That is why you have turned
green, why your lips are dry and your eyes full of terror. As the
Wellgraves are not far off, perhaps----"

Du Cros turned abruptly aside. He felt he must get out of this. The
silence of the house oppressed him; that dumb, silent thing lying on the
floor filled him with a nameless dread. What if the woman by his side
discovered it? She had begun to pace impatiently to and fro across the
room, and once her skirt actually brushed the rug that concealed the
evidence of a sordid tragedy. What if he laid violent hands on her, too!
Nobody had seen her enter the house, nor had she acquainted anyone with
the fact of her visit. Moreover, she was the bitterest enemy he had. The
affair of the brothers Wellgrave would keep. He might even be able to
buy them off later. But this wild fury with the glittering eyes and the
fire of vengeance glowing in her heart was a different matter
altogether.

"You want me to do something," he muttered. "You think you have me in
your power----"

"I am not speculating--I know," the woman said coldly. "And if you fancy
you can buy my silence you are mistaken. You can't. But when you suggest
that I want you to do something, you are right. I want you to do an act
of justice, and the only way to accomplish that is to force you to it.
If----"

"Come, let us get out of this," Du Cros burst out impatiently. "Once
you'd hardly open your mouth, but now you have the gift of tongues.
What's the use of waiting for Lancaster when he is--when he has no
intention of coming?"

"Ah, something has happened--something that you are aware of. What
mischief is going on now? Tell me or it will be the worse for you. Why
do you hesitate and change colour like that?"

A sudden spasm of rage gripped Du Cros. At any cost he must silence this
woman. He thought it safe and easy to do that. He took a step or two
forward, his intention blazing in his eyes. The woman read it there and
placed the table between them. But there was no fear in the glance she
turned upon him.

"Stand, you fool," she hissed. "Are you mad to threaten me?"

As Du Cros moved towards her, she placed a little ivory whistle to her
lips. The whole house rang with the shrill note. A second or two later
Du Cros heard hurried footsteps outside.




CHAPTER XXX.--Coward Conscience.


George Wellgrave was too dazed to hear his brother's suggestion. He was
like a man who had seen something in a hideous dream. A few minutes
passed before he so far recovered as to understand what the other was
saying. By that time the door of the house had opened and Kate Mayfield
had gone inside. George Wellgrave started forward.

"This is dreadful," he said. "I didn't bargain for it at all. We must
fetch her out. I should have prevented her from entering. But after such
a spectacle I couldn't move. I am a coward--nothing but a coward."

"Oh, nonsense," the other said. "You're no coward. You were startled for
the moment, that's all. Are you sure you saw a struggle?"

"Did you ever know those reflecting mirrors to fail? They were working
perfectly. I saw into the room as plainly as if I had been looking
through the window. I could swear to the man. In my belief there has
been murder. There was a cigarette-case--but what is the good of wasting
time like this? Kate Mayfield may be in danger. She doesn't suspect that
a murderer is on the premises. We must protect her from violence----"

"I don't think so. We are only supers in the drama. It is our duty to do
as we are told. She particularly impressed that on us. She may have
expected to meet this particular man here or she may not. We were not to
move unless she used the whistle. She is quite able to take care of
herself. Besides, we can use the mirrors and watch what is going on. At
the first sign of anything wrong we can make a dash for the house."

"I'd forgotten that," the other said. "Go up the tree again. I shall
feel easier if I see what is going on yonder."

When the whistle rang out shrill and clear, Du Cros thought all
Liverpool must hear it. In a few minutes the house would be surrounded
with a curious mob and the police would infallibly appear. The thrilling
treble of the whistle took every ounce of pluck out of him.

At that moment the door clicked and George Wellgrave entered. He was
relieved to find that Kate was unhurt.

"This is a friend of mine," she said. "He is not alone. Probably you
know him by name. He is called Wellgrave, and he has two brothers."

Du Cros muttered uncomfortably, gazing around like a hunted animal.

"Is this a plot?" he asked. "If you have arranged----"

"Oh, it is no plot," Kate said scornfully. "Circumstances are playing
into my hands and I am making the best of them; that is all. George
Wellgrave, this is Du Cros, alias Stephens."

Wellgrave took a step forward. There was a gleam in his eyes and Du Cros
retreated a pace or two. Kate put up her hand. She could read what was
passing in Wellgrave's mind.

"Not here," she commanded. "Not just yet, at any rate. There will be
plenty of time later. I have an account to settle with Mr. Stephens
first."

She turned to Wellgrave and whispered in his ear. He nodded curtly and
left the room. He had his instructions to wait in the back garden. Du
Cros's expression changed as he found himself once more alone with Kate
Mayfield.

"What is the meaning of all these manoeuvres?" he asked. "What is the
scheme? I can't stay here for your good pleasure. I must start for
London to-night."

"I won't detain you," Kate said coldly. "I had made other arrangements,
but it is no longer necessary to carry them out. My meeting with you
unexpectedly has changed everything. But I have more to say. Are you
prepared to listen?"

"Not here," Du Cros burst out violently. He was wildly anxious to leave
the house. The atmosphere of the place paralysed his faculties, and at
any moment his crime might come to light. In the street, in a hotel,
even at the tea-table, he would be a different man. But so long as he
remained where he was he must be a poor miserable coward.

"That shall be as you please," Kate said. "The fact that you came on
your own errand suggested to me that you had no objection to the house.
I can see now that you are anxious to go. Is it because you are afraid
of meeting Lancaster?"

Du Cros stammered a denial. If the girl should only look under the mass
of huddled-up cloths on the floor! It was not the fear of encountering
Lancaster that was troubling Stephen Du Cros. Kate smiled at his terror.

"You have something on your conscience, I believe," she exclaimed.

"No, no," Du Cros protested vehemently. "I--I am suffering from the
results of a blow. I should not be out at all; I should be in bed.
Besides, I have had a great deal of trouble and anxiety. These things
coming together have upset me. If I could get a cup of tea----"

"Oh, you shall have your cup of tea. Come to my house. It will be a
great honour to entertain the millionaire Stephen Du Cros under my
humble roof. We can discuss business more at leisure there, for I have
still much to say."

"Then let us go at once," Du Cros said eagerly. "I am very much
overcome----"

Kate raised a finger to impose silence. A latch-key clicked in the front
door, and two men entered. They stood in the hall for a few minutes
talking loudly. Du Cros wiped the beads from his forehead.

"Police!" he gasped. "Police from what they are saying! What are they
doing?"

Kate made no reply. She was watching his white and terror-stricken face
with contemptuous amusement. At the same time she had no wish to be
discovered here. She made a sign in the direction of the window curtains
as if to suggest that they should hide behind them. Du Cros was not slow
to take the hint.

"Not likely to find it here," a harsh voice said. "In the bedroom most
likely."

Du Cros was making a more or less successful attempt to stifle a curious
clicking in his throat. Kate felt him shaking by her side. The officers
of the law were evidently in search of something or somebody. Within a
few feet of them was a vital clue to the fate of Lancaster, doubtless
the object of their visit. And the one man who could have revealed
everything stood all of a tremble, almost afraid to breathe. The
sweat-bedabbled agony of his face moved Kate to a sort of pity. She was
reaping all the vengeance she wanted.

"We shan't find it anywhere," a second voice growled. "Lancaster was not
such a fool as to leave papers like these behind him. I never take heed
of anonymous letters myself."

The first speaker said nothing in reply. He turned away and began to
ascend the stairs, followed presently by his companion. Kate stepped out
of her hiding-place.

"Now we can escape," she whispered. "Really, for a man who has run so
many risks in his life you seem to be singularly afraid of a couple of
thick-witted policemen."

Du Cros was still busily engaged in swallowing that troublesome lump in
his throat. He stepped softly by Kate's side into the garden and
breathed more freely as the road was reached. He did not trouble to
inquire whether Wellgrave was following. As proximity to the dreadful
thing that he had left behind him lessened, some of his courage revived.
There was, he hoped, no real evidence to connect him with the tragedy in
that lonely house. The body might not be found for a day or two. No
medical man could prove Lancaster's death to a few hours. It might even
be conjectured that he had committed suicide. It was just the thing a
desperate man, hunted and penniless, would do. It was long odds against
the police going into that room at all. On the whole, the case did not
look so black as his fears had pictured.

Du Cros was conscious of a distinct rise in his spirits. With luck he
would get the better of his enemies yet. With that weight off his mind
he would show Kate what he was made of. He walked with a bit of a
swagger and ventured a smile.

"You don't object to my smoking?"

"That is very polite of you," Kate said. "Such courtesy is rare. You may
smoke if you please. The smell of tobacco is at least wholesome."

With a bow Du Cros reached for his cigarette-case. It was not in the
breast pocket, where he generally carried it. He searched his other
pockets, but the case was not to be found. The haunting fear returned in
full force. What had become of the case? He had had it an hour or so
before; he was certain it was in his pocket when he reached the
bookmaker's residence. Could it have fallen out of his pocket in the
house, in that room? He had a dim recollection in connection with the
case, but for the life of him he could make nothing tangible of it.

"Worried again?" Kate asked.

"I have lost my cigarette-case," Du Cros muttered. "I had it in my
pocket an hour ago."

"A valuable one, I presume? The kind of thing a millionaire would
carry?"

"No; merely a silver case. But I would not have lost it for ten times
its worth."

"Strange how one gets attached to these trifles," Kate answered. "I dare
say you will recover it if you advertise for it. Is your name on it?"

That was the source of his present vexation. His name was not on the
case, but his initials were. If he had dropped it in Lancaster's house,
why----




CHAPTER XXXI.--Confession.


All this time the clouds were gathering in another quarter. Treachery is
a game that more than one can play at, and Du Cros had to face danger
from it also. It was coming to him indirectly, through no less a person
than frivolous Lady Torringdor, and directly from his poor tool Blossom.
Where he had expected little or no opposition to his projects, the
danger was the greatest. He had looked forward to crushing Amsted as if
he had been an eggshell. Lady Torringdor was a puppet in his hands. But
in some lucky, unimagined way, Amsted had turned the tables on him and
placed his friend Tom Middlemass in a sound position again. Lady
Torringdor had defied him, too. Well, he would know what to do with her
when the time came. He would bring her to her knees by the threat of an
appeal to her husband.

But here, too, fate had decided to take a hand. Du Cros would have been
surprised to know that Sir Horace Torringdor already had an inkling of
the truth.

To use one of his favourite expressions, Sir Horace was not a bad sort.
Rather reckless and extravagant, perhaps, he had a fairly high code of
honour, and he was very fond of his pretty wife. For her sake, he spent
half his time in London whilst his heart was in the country. If she had
helped him, he could have lived within his income; as it was, he was
constantly in debt. Times out of number he had made up his mind to put
his foot down 'on this sort of thing,' but at his wife's winsome
coaxings and pleadings he was weak as water.

However, he was being provoked to activity at last. Something sinister
was on foot that gave him cause for anxiety. He wondered what that
fellow Glenister was driving at. He did not know that the man who styled
himself Glenister, and who passed for an American, was an accomplice of
Du Cros, and that his real name was Blossom. The latter was shrewd
enough to see that he was on board a sinking ship. He meant to throw
over Du Cros without the slightest hesitation and leave the country for
a time. To stay in London much longer might be dangerous. To do this,
however, money was necessary. He might possibly squeeze it out of Sir
Horace, with whom Glenister had scraped acquaintance on the turf. The
knowledge of the compact between Du Cros and Lady Torringdor might prove
useful.

The attack had been made more or less obliquely. Glenister was not
acting for himself. Any insinuation to that effect was out of the
question, and would be resented. A blackmailing scamp of a discharged
footman had obtained an inside knowledge of certain facts, and Glenister
had become aware of the danger. He hinted as much to Torringdor after
dinner one night. The hot blood flamed into Torringdor's face, and for
the moment Glenister stood in imminent peril of drastic punishment.

"Why don't I strangle you?" Torringdor asked hoarsely.

Glenister was hurt. His finer feelings were outraged.

"It is always the way when one attempts to do a kindness," he said. "I
ought not to have mentioned it, of course. I should have shrugged my
shoulders and declared that it was no business of mine. After all, why
should I go out of my way to help a man who is no more to me than any
other casual acquaintance?"

Glenister rose from his seat with the air of a man who is deeply
wounded. Torringdor's simple heart smote him. This man was gaining
nothing by broaching so dangerous a subject. He had taken a considerable
risk out of pure kindness. Torringdor had, moreover, heard the gossip on
the subject of his wife's wonderful luck at cards, especially when Du
Cros was present. He declined to believe there was anything in the
malicious report.

"I--I beg your pardon," he stammered awkwardly. "I ought not to have
spoken to you like that. But 'twas on the spur of the moment, you
understand. Pray, go on."

Glenister did not immediately consent to resume the conversation. Then
gradually he began to warm to his subject. His sole desire was to save
Sir Horace and to get the better of the rascal who had planned this base
thing.

"They always begin in one way, I'm told," Glenister said. "They start
with anonymous letters."

Torringdor winced.

"I have already had one," he said. "I destroyed it at once. If this
fellow thinks----"

"Stop a moment," Glenister interrupted. "Don't be impatient. Don't be
precipitate. There are two ways of settling a matter like this. One is
to tell the fellow to go to the devil and do his worst and, if he
persists, give him a thrashing in public. Force the scandal to the
surface and let the world see that you care nothing. But in that case
you must be sure that the--the other part is innocent."

Glenister lowered his voice to an impressive whisper. Torringdor's blood
began to boil once more. He wanted to hurt somebody. He felt positively
mad to think he should be discussing his wife in this fashion with a
comparative stranger.

"What is the other way?" he asked sullenly.

"To pay," Glenister replied. "To pay and make the best of it. My dear
sir, thousands of innocent people do pay. It is often the best policy. I
daresay I can square the fellow for a hundred pounds. He wants to go to
America. The odds are that he will never come back, that he will never
have the money to do so. So long as he is a few thousand miles away you
need not fear him. If you saw the fellow----"

"I should assuredly hand him over to the police," Torringdor said with
prompt emphasis.

"To be sure you would, my dear fellow. Then the whole story would come
out. It would be discussed in the Society press. Even some of the
dailies, while deploring the ease with which such charges were made,
would publish a verbatim report of the whole evidence. Lady Torringdor
would be cross-examined. If the man were defended by a smart criminal
lawyer and compromising questions were asked, could you----"

Glenister paused eloquently. Torringdor was conscious of horrible
misgivings. The bridge cheat in certain of the smart sets was not a rara
avis, and Lady Torringdor had been winning large sums. It might be
possible that----

Glenister broke into these troubled reflections smoothly.

"Suppose you leave it to me," he suggested. "I'll call on you in the
morning so that you may have the opportunity of sleeping on it. I fancy
if you were to give me a cheque for a hundred or so, I could save
further anxiety."

Glenister slipped away discreetly without waiting for a reply. As
Torringdor sat looking gloomily into space a hearty hand was laid on his
shoulder. He looked up hastily.

"Tom Middlemass!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing so far from home?"

"The turf takes us to strange places. I've got a regular romance to tell
you if you have an hour to spare. Let's go as far as your flat and I'll
tell you how Amsted and I got the better of those rascals. But what
makes you so serious? What were you doing with that scamp Blossom?"

"Who's Blossom?" Torringdor asked vaguely. "Do you mean Glenister? He's
a sporting American with plenty of money and a pretty good notion
of----"

"American be hanged!" Middlemass cried. "The chap's name is Blossom. I
daresay he has got a dozen other aliases, but that is what he was called
originally. He's no more an American than you are. He is a blackmailer
of the most noisome type and a pal of Du Cros. I'll tell you something
about Du Cros presently that will open your eyes."

Torringdor jumped to his feet. He was beginning to see daylight.

"Come to my flat," he said. "You have dropped in upon me like a
dispensation of Providence. Let's discuss the matter over a cigar and a
whisky and soda."

Middlemass listened attentively to all that Torringdor had to say. It
was not an easy story to tell, but it was managed at length.

"I think that is about all," Torringdor said. "I've been doing some
pretty hard thinking for the last half-hour, Tom. I can't believe that
Vera would stoop to that kind of thing, but such affairs have happened,
and the poor girl has won a pot of money lately. But for an enormously
rich man like Du Cros to----"

"My dear Horace, Du Cros isn't rich; he hasn't a penny. On the contrary,
he is up to his eyes in debt and trouble. Blossom is a pal of his.
Blossom can see the red light, and wants to clear out of the country
before the smash comes. That is why he is blackmailing you. The story of
the footman is bosh; that is to save Blossom's face. Mind you, he knows
something. You can assault me if you like for hinting at such a thing,
but there is no smoke without fire, and Du Cros may have obtained a hold
on Vera. She ought to have the chance of defending herself, and you
ought to give her that chance as soon an possible. If necessary, you can
have it out with Du Cros. I should go to Liverpool at once if I were
you."

"I will," Torringdor said between his teeth. "I'll go up in the morning.
They may all be back by then, but some may not. But what about Blossom?"

"Let Blossom come as he arranged. He was to be here about breakfast
time, wasn't he? I'll stroll in casually and you can introduce us--not
that an introduction is necessary. It will be worth money to see
Blossom's face when he meets me."

Almost directly after breakfast next morning Blossom put in an
appearance.

Figuratively speaking, he was shaking hands with himself, and entered
the room as if certain of his welcome.

"Sit down," Torringdor said curtly. "This is my friend, Mr. Middlemass.
He says he has met you before, but couldn't recall your name."

Blossom started, turned colour, and glanced towards the door.

"There is some mistake," he stammered. "I have not met this gentleman
before."




CHAPTER XXXII.--Followed Up.


Middlemass smiled grimly, and his fingers clenched in a way that Blossom
did not like. The latter might be reckoned with if he had a knife or a
gun, but he was physically inferior to Middlemass, who, he could see,
was itching to be at him.

"I expected you to lie," Middlemass observed. "But denial is useless. I
know South Africa well, and, as a sportsman, I have travelled all over
the country. I remember a day or two at Modderspruit, where I came into
contact with you and some others. Had I not done so, you would have been
spared that nasty scar on your left temple. We met the first time five
years ago up North at a cross-country meeting. An infuriated gathering
of backers were engaged in the agreeable pastime of half-drowning you in
a pond. If I had not interfered, there would be no Mr. Blossom, alias
Glenister, to-day."

"This is ridiculous," the other stammered. "Sir Horace, I must call upon
you----"

"Drop it!" Middlemass said sternly. "That tone will do you no good. A
blackmailer is fair game, and if you are not careful I'll half kill you.
I know why you are here and what you expect. Well, your pleasant
anticipations won't be realised. The only thing you may get is a sound
thrashing. And, by Jove, you shall have it, too, unless you climb down
at once and tell me the truth."

"Do you dare to detain me?" Blossom blustered.

"Yes, I do," Middlemass said with an ugly sneer on his face. "You know
me both by name and reputation. For the satisfaction of half killing you
I am prepared to pay a decent price. You can take it whichever way you
please. Torringdor, oblige me by withdrawing for a few minutes. You are
not accustomed to dealing with this particular brand of scamp. I am."

Torringdor, much against his inclination, left the room. At the same
time he recognised the wisdom of Middlemass's policy.

"Now, let us get down to business without delay, Blossom," Middlemass
said. "You will see the absurdity of keeping up the farce of calling
yourself Glenister to me. The rich American disappears and the welsher
stands in his place. You came here to blackmail Sir Horace Torringdor to
the extent of a hundred pounds."

"Sir Horace will tell you a different story," Blossom protested. "I have
nothing to gain by going out of my way."

"Bosh, my good fellow. Now, how far have these confidences gone?"

"Sir Horace has told me everything. There is a suggestion that Lady
Torringdor--but perhaps you would prefer that I used no name."

"Your good taste and discretion are admirable," Middlemass said drily.
"But this is an occasion on which nice methods are superfluous. On the
contrary, I wish you to speak plainly. Lady Torringdor cheats at cards.
She has for her accomplice Mr. Du Cros. Nobody knows this but yourself.
For a hundred pounds you are prepared to keep silence."

"I said nothing of the kind," Blossom retorted. "I said that a
discharged footman----"

"I know you did. That is the way the vile dodge is worked. If you had
broached the subject on your own behalf Sir Horace would have had the
skin off your back. But your sleek diplomacy is wasted on me. There is
no footman; but even if he existed you would not have gone to all the
trouble on his account. The story is altogether too thin."

"If it can be proved that Lady Torringdor has so far forgotten
herself----"

"I am taking it for granted," Middlemass interrupted. "I quite believe
that Lady Torringdor has conspired with Du Cros to cheat at bridge. I
have very little doubt of it. Go on."

Blossom was bewildered. He was utterly taken aback by the concession. He
would have given a great deal to know what Middlemass was going on.

"That is a very serious remark to make," he said.

"Of course it is. My good fellow, I know what I am doing. I might go
farther and say that I know what has happened. Du Cros's methods are
familiar to me. He nearly ruined me a little time back, but I got out on
the right side, thanks to Lord Amsted's pluck and audacity. That coup
was planned by Du Cros, and you helped him. He wanted money badly to
continue his brilliant career as a millionaire, and I was to have been
one of the victims. But Du Cros is on his last legs now. Lancaster has
gone, and you are ready to quit the sinking ship. For that purpose you
need a hundred pounds. By some accident you learnt of the compact
between Du Cros and Lady Torringdor, and you began to see your way to
get the money. That is why you invented the story of the discharged
footman. Just think of the futility of the whole thing! How could a
footman know such a secret? Now, do you want to earn a tenner?"

Blossom waved the suggestion aside. At that moment he had not as many
shillings. He realised that the game was up and that he would be lucky
to escape with sound skin. Still, the offer might be increased. He
demurred politely.

"Don't trifle with me," Middlemass went on. "Your refusal to listen to
my terms will give me sincere pleasure, for in that case I shall take
the law into my own hands. If you comply you must sign a document that
Du Cros told you of this conspiracy. I'll give you five minutes to
decide--a ten-pound note and a confession, or a real good hiding before
handing you over to the police. We don't mind fighting the case out. In
a day or two Du Cros will be discredited and nobody will believe a word
he says. If I choose to give you into custody you will do 'time' to a
dead certainty."

Middlemass was carrying matters with a high hand. Blossom might be in a
position to prove what he said, but obviously that was not a point to
dwell upon. Blossom sat with a white face and a plentiful moisture on
his brow. Ten pounds was not much, but it meant safety and a passage to
America. Besides, the game was assuredly finished so far as Du Cros was
concerned. The smash could not be long delayed. Moreover, this man with
the cold, hard eye and determined face looked capable of carrying out
his threat.

Blossom suddenly changed his tone and became abject.

"I'll do it, sir," he said. "After all said and done, Du Cros is no
friend of mine. Whatever money I have had out of him I have earned. He
told me exactly how he got Lady Torringdor under his thumb. She owed him
a lot of money. He threatened her with exposure, and there you are. I
don't know how much they made together, but I should guess it ran into
several thousands. I had no intention of using this information at
first, but I wanted money badly. Du Cros is done for--he may be arrested
at any moment. And----"

"And it is possible you may share the same fate," Middlemass suggested
drily.

"Perhaps," Blossom assented civilly. The rascal was easy and cheerful.
"I want to leave the country--London air does not suit me. Give me the
money, and I'll sign what you like."

Middlemass pointed to paper and ink on the writing-table. A quarter of
an hour later Blossom had departed the richer by ten pounds, and
Torringdor was reading the confession.

"I'm awfully sorry, old chap," Middlemass murmured. "These things happen
when women play bridge for high stakes. Still, it might be worse. We
have done with Blossom, and Du Cros will be out of the way in a few
days."

"Oh! I cannot blame Vera altogether," Torringdor groaned. "The fault is
as much mine as hers. I ought to have insisted upon Vera staying with me
in the country. We could manage there, and I am lost in town. Poor soul,
what a life she must have been leading lately!"

"You mustn't be too hard upon her, Horace."

"Hard on her!" Torringdor exclaimed. "You see, I happen to love her, old
chap, and with all her follies she cares for me. It has all come of my
weakness. I'm going to Liverpool at once to see her and bring her home.
If the scandal crops up, it must; but if we manage properly, I don't see
why it should. Possibly Du Cros has documents, cheques, or something of
that kind. If he has, he shall give them up."

"That's the tone to take," Middlemass said approvingly. "If you like,
I'll come with you and take a hand in the game. I have disposed of one
scoundrel, and there is no reason why I should not get the better of
another."

Torringdor expressed his gratitude at this suggestion. Middlemass's
support was a great help and consolation to him in the hour of his
trouble. On looking up the time-table they found they could reach
Liverpool in the afternoon. It was still early when the pair drove up to
the hotel and asked for Lady Torringdor. Hugh Childers came forward. He
was a stranger to Middlemass, but be knew Torringdor.

"Lady Torringdor is in her room," he said. "She has been complaining of
a bad headache. I'll ask Lady Letty to call her if you like."

"No hurry for that," Torringdor said. "I'll see her presently. I should
like a word with Du Cros first. I suppose he is about."

Childers wore an air of mystery.

"Du Cros seems to have vanished," he said. "He hasn't been seen for
hours."

"You don't mean to say he has bolted!" Middlemass exclaimed.

Childers looked from the speaker to Torringdor and back again. Clearly
he was puzzled. At that moment Lady Torringdor entered the lounge.




CHAPTER XXXIII.--The Nobler Part.


The gay smile died on Lady Torringdor's face as she glanced at her
husband. She had never seen that stern look on his good-natured face
before, and conscience pricked her. What could Horace have heard to
cause that harshness of feature? Usually he was easy with her to the
verge of weakness. Now, he was regarding her as if she had been a
detected criminal. She could not know what it cost him to play his part.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "What mischief are you two
plotting?"

"We came to try to prevent it," Torringdor said gravely. "I with to have
a chat with you presently, Vera, but my idea is to see Du Cros first.
Where is he?"

"Nobody can tell," Childers explained. "We have had all kinds of
adventures, and Du Cros has had his fair share of them. Possibly he has
gone off on business. A great many people have been enquiring for him."

"What have you in common with him?" Lady Torringdor asked her husband.

Torringdor merely shrugged his shoulders. He seemed to have some
difficulty in meeting his wife's eye. In a vague way she was becoming
alarmed. Torringdor as the stern husband was a novel character to her.
She was wondering what particular crime she had committed. The
connection between herself and Du Cros did not occur to her at the
moment. Middlemass nodded significantly. He thought there was no time
like the present.

"I should like a few words with Mr. Childers," he said. "Lady Torringdor
will excuse us. Shall we go into the smoking-room, Childers?"

"No, stay where you are," Lady Torringdor exclaimed. "Horace, you had
better come up to my room. But promise to be nice and kind to me. When
you have heard what I have gone through, I am sure you will be sorry for
me."

She spoke gaily, but there was a shade of unsteadiness in her voice. She
was really fond of her good-natured husband, though she was well aware
that at times she grossly neglected him. He was worth all the Society
crowd put together, as she frequently acknowledged to herself. Yet she
had repaid his kindness and consideration by bringing him to the verge
of ruin.

"Now, sit down and smoke and tell me all," she said. "Have you lost
everything and are we paupers? Shall we have to emigrate?"

"That's not it," Torringdor replied. "As a matter of fact, I have had a
slice of luck. The property in North Wales is wanted as part of a scheme
for supplying some of the big Lancashire towns with water. A year ago I
would have taken three thousand for the estate gladly. They have offered
me twenty-eight thousand and another five for the house. We shall be
able to pay our debts and start again."

"Dear old boy, I'm glad for your sake," Lady Torringdor said.

"Well, you might be glad for both our sakes," Torringdor replied.
"Properly managed, we shall have enough. I won't fool it away on bridge
and Monte Carlo. It's got to be one thing or the other, my dear, and the
sooner you face it the better. As for me, I've done with town. I mean to
lead a congenial country life in future. Mind you, I am in earnest. If
you can't stand that kind of thing, why, I'll give you half and we'll
agree to go our own ways. I'll manage somehow, and may count on my
friends for a little shooting. As for you, Vera, I will not tie you
down. Perhaps it was a mistake that we married----"

"How can you say such horrid things?" Lady Torringdor sobbed.

"Eh, what? Don't you think that I am doing the fair thing? You shall
have your half all right. I don't see that I can go further than that,
Vera."

Torringdor paused rather red in the face after his much speaking. He was
very anxious that he should not be misunderstood.

"Do you mean that you have ceased to care for me?" Lady Torringdor
asked.

She was about to lose him, he was drifting out of her life, and in that
moment she fully realised how much she cared for him. What a restless,
shallow, frivolous life hers had been! And in all her silly set there
was not one who would have moved a hand for her.

"No, I don't," Torringdor said stolidly. "I've always loved you. I never
cared for anyone else since you were a jolly little kiddie. A man can't
help his feelings in these matters. He may know he is doing a foolish
thing, but he does it just the same. He wants one woman, and what she is
like doesn't matter a hang. She may be a fool or a knave, but it is all
one to him."

"I have nearly ruined you, Horace," Lady Torringdor said softly.

"You have done your best, but I didn't grumble. I let you go on. That is
where I was wrong. I saw where you were drifting and I let it pass. I
should have been horsewhipped for it. Still, if you won't try to save
yourself, I can't do it for you. You cared for me once----"

Lady Torringdor crossed the room swiftly and laid her hand on her
husband's lips.

"Let me say a few words," she said uneasily. "Horace, for me there is no
other man but you. There never has been. Despite my follies you have
always come first. I have been dragged into my present life just as man
takes to drink. I can't let it alone and yet I hate it. But I have put
it behind me for ever and have done with all my set. I will not touch a
card again as long as I live. Take me back to the old place and let us
start again. There is nothing that I should like better. But I must tell
you something first."

"By and by," Torringdor said. "So you want to come back. You would like
to, really? And we are to return to the old life that we began, dear?
Just you and me together!"

"As if anything else mattered," Lady Torringdor said tearfully. "I
cannot tell you how glad I am that you came here to-day. It gives me
courage to speak. I have a very terrible confession to make to you,
Horace. When you have heard it you will probably withdraw your offer.
Perhaps----"

"You are alluding to yourself and Stephen Du Cros?"

Lady Torringdor gasped. The reply was utterly unexpected.

"What can you know of that?"

Torringdor stooped and kissed her.

"My dear girl, I know everything," he said. "I know that Du Cros is not
a millionaire at all but a miserable adventurer, a scoundrel of the
worst type. Middlemass told me all about him. Du Cros never had any
money, and lived on others by his wits. By sheer audacity he imposed on
people and robbed his tradesmen. But how did he manage to get you into
his power? How did he force you to stoop to--to cheat?"

"Horace, you are too kind to me," Lady Torringdor cried, her head buried
in his breast. "You are not treating me as I deserve. I am a thief and
worse. That I am not the only one in my set makes no difference. I
forged Du Cros's name and he found it out. I was completely and
absolutely in his power. He made me do as he wished. We piled up the
money. I believe we should have gone on doing it had not Hugh Childers
found it out."

"Another one in the secret!" Torringdor groaned. "Still, we can trust
him."

"Hugh was very nice about it. He behaved splendidly. I told him
everything. It was he who showed me how to recover the forged cheque,
and I have it. Of course there was a scene with Du Cros afterwards, but
I kept my nerve and defied him to injure me. I had the best of him, and
he knew it. I am safe as far as he is concerned. But how did you come to
find this out? Is it public property?"

Torringdor proceeded to explain. What he had to say brought the blood
into Lady Torringdor's face. Her cheeks were alternately pink and white.
It was a shameful story to tell, and worse to listen to, and was
completed with averted eyes on both sides.

"I think that is about all," Torringdor concluded. "We have got rid of
Blossom, and Du Cros will disappear socially before many hours are over.
The few who know our secret can be trusted to keep it. But the one thing
I regret more than anything else is that the money you won cannot be
returned to its proper owners. That the whole of your precious set are
sharpers makes little difference. I am afraid we shall have to leave
matters as they are."

Lady Torringdor broke down and cried on her husband's shoulder. She was
deeply contrite and bitterly ashamed of herself, but there was a
happiness in her heart that she had not experienced for many a long day.

"I don't wish you to treat me like this," she sobbed. "Instead of being
petted and made a fuss of, I ought to be in the dock. But I have had a
lesson that I will never forget, Horace. If you will take me back and
forgive me I shall try to prove that I appreciate all your loving
generosity. There was a time when I should have scorned anything but a
country life, when I sneered at people who preferred to live in a stuffy
town. My dearest boy----"

Lady Torringdor started, for somebody was knocking at the door. Lady
Letty entered the room, looking somewhat anxious and uneasy.

"I heard that Horace was here," she said. "Hugh and Mr. Liston want to
see him for a few minutes. My dear child, your eyes are wet. I hope
Horace and you have not been quarrelling!"




CHAPTER XXXIV.--On His Knees.


Kate led the way into her luxuriously-furnished drawing-room. Miserable
and disturbed as he was, Du Cros did not fail to notice the beauty of
its appointment. To him it was incomprehensible that the poor little
waif upon whom he had turned his back so callously in South Africa
should have grown into a polished woman of the world, with everything
around her that made life pleasant and enjoyable.

"Sit down," Kate commanded, "and I will give you tea. I may have
visitors, but you won't mind. Sugar and milk? Yes, I thought I should
have visitors. It's the Wellgraves. I fancy you have done business
together. I believe they have a great deal to say to you."

George Wellgrave and his brother came solemnly into the room. They had
followed at a sign from Kate. It was for her to call the game and for
them to respond. They were being paid for their work, and the sooner
they had earned their money the better.

"What have you to say to me?" Du Cros asked.

The brothers exchanged glances. Both seemed reluctant to speak.
Recollection of the tragedy in the bookmaker's house weighed heavily on
both.

"Perhaps I had better speak first," Kate began. "I had prepared an
elaborate scheme for the humiliation of this man who calls himself Du
Cros, but whom we know by a different name. But a chance, lucky or
unlucky as it turns out, has changed my plans. I had not expected to
meet Mr. Stephens in the dramatic manner I did, or, had I known of it, I
should not have had any need for the services of these friends. Still,
there are other methods----"

"You're wrong!" George Wellgrave burst out. "It's a precious good thing
that we did go as far as Lancaster's with you. If not, you would not be
sitting here at this moment. That infernal scoundrel meant to murder
you."

"Infamous!" Du Cros cried. "The man is mad! Such an accusation----"

"The man is as sane as you are," Wellgrave retorted. "It's true. When
Miss Mayfield blew the whistle she was in danger of her life. We could
see the thing----"

"You could see it," Du Cros shrieked. "Oh, the man is crazy beyond a
doubt!"

"I tell you we could see it," Wellgrave went on doggedly. "We are public
performers, as you may recollect, for you employed us in Cape Colony.
Our mirror trick was part of an elaborate scheme of yours for swindling
some people out there. We have never met before, but we have been
looking out for you. Before Miss Mayfield turned up this afternoon we
were looking into the bookmaker's house by means of our reflecting
mirrors. If you like I will tell you what we saw!"

"Rubbish," Du Cros sneered. "What do you expect to get by this?"

"You know," Wellgrave said quietly. "If you could only see your face at
this moment you would drop all that bluster. We saw you propose to lay
violent hands on Miss Mayfield. And we saw you lay violent hands on
somebody else. Where is Lancaster?"

Du Cros collapsed in his chair. The accusing voice rang out loud and
clear. It was as if Wellgrave had yelled it in the street. Cool and
collected as she was, Kate was conscious of a sudden spasm of pain at
her heart.

"That is a very serious thing to say," she murmured.

"Ay, but it's true," Wellgrave proceeded doggedly. "I tell you we saw
it; and you stood by the murdered man for several minutes. Do you
recollect a rug and table-cloth huddled on the floor? I see you do from
the expression of your face. Well, under that heap lies the body of
Lancaster the bookmaker, and there stands the man who killed him."

Kate pressed her hand to her heart. The horror of it was too much for
her. In a dim way she heard the further denial that came from Du Cros's
lips.

"You repudiate it, of course," Wellgrave went on. "It makes no
difference. Let me ask you one question and then I have done. Where is
your cigarette-case?"

"My cigarette-case!" Du Cros stammered. "What has that to do with it?"

"The cigarette-case that you said you had lost," Kate chimed in. "Don't
you remember?"

Du Cros was about to lie when the futility of it came upon him. He began
to feel the net closing in around him.

"Perhaps you will be so good as to enlighten me," he said with a sneer.

"I'll do that, for your gratification," said Wellgrave. "Your
cigarette-case is lying under the cloth and rug that cover Lancaster. It
fell out of your pocket in the struggle. You were dazed and beside
yourself and did not recognise your own property. You thought the case
was Lancaster's. In the circumstances it was a natural mistake. You
might have discovered the error had not Miss Mayfield come so soon
afterwards. I have nothing further to say. The truth of my charge will
be established when the police find Lancaster's body and the
cigarette-case by his side. If we needed vengeance on you we have it
now."

Du Cros dragged himself almost painfully from his chair. It was useless
to try to fight any longer. Circumstances were too strong for him. He
might have swaggered and protested, but for the knowledge of the
incriminating article he had left behind. It might be possible to
recover that damning case. He did his best to assume an air of dignity
and protest, but it was a pitiful exhibition, so much so, indeed, that
Kate's heart was touched.

"It is useless to stay here longer," he said. "Whatever I say is not
likely to be believed. It would be better to go."

He moved towards the door unsteadily. There was a curious twitching in
his limbs that caused them to tremble under him. As he stepped into the
hall, Kate followed him. Her face was as white as his own and she spoke
in a shrill voice.

"This is a horror I never dreamt of," she whispered. "To think that
while I was talking to you--but I dare not dwell on it. I ought to go
out and fetch the first policeman who passes. But I can't do that,
because I am a woman and once imagined that I cared for you. That it was
only a fancy I have proved during the last few hours. Still, there was a
time--and I should like to help you. Have you any money?"

"I have as much as I shall need," Du Cros said bitterly.

"But you will require more later. If you manage to escape, let me know.
You will find some means to communicate with me safely. Now, go--go, or
I shall change my mind."

Du Cros turned on his heel without another word. Kate watched him till
he was out of sight. Then she returned to the drawing-room and dismissed
her other visitors.

"I want to be alone," she said. "I have gone through much to-day. Call
to-morrow and you shall have the money I promised you. As to what you
have seen, you may say as little or as much as you like."

Kate sat a long time with her face hidden in her hands. She wondered
what had become of Du Cros; what he was doing now. Would he go back to
that lonely house and try to recover his lost property? That was
precisely what was uppermost in Du Cros's mind. If he was to be saved he
would have to brace himself for such an effort. Salvation lay in no
other way.

He was not strung up for the ordeal. It took him an hour or more and the
aid of several glasses of brandy before he felt ready for his task. He
knew he was wasting the precious moments, but could not turn his back on
the cheerful glitter of the bar in which he was seated. He forced
himself to go at length, and with resolute step turned towards
Lancaster's house. When he came to it, a group of idlers loafed around
the front gate. They were discussing something with more or less
elaboration of detail. Du Cros, with a sickening sensation next his
heart, drew near to listen. Fear and curiosity drove him to ask
questions at last.

"What is the matter?" he inquired. "Has there been an accident?"

"No bloomin' accident, guv'nor," a loiterer explained. "It's Lancaster,
the bookie the man wot the police was after. They come here an hour ago
and found him--dead. They say as how the poor beggar committed suicide."

"Suicide be blowed!" a second loafer said scornfully. "That be 'anged
for a tale. The poor chap was murdered. I was close by the 'ouse at the
time and I know all about it. The police cum 'ere to look for something
and they finds Lancaster dead on the floor in one of the rooms. One of
the officers said as how it wor murder. What's more, they've got a clue.
I 'eard someone say somefink about a cigarette-case that belonged to
somebody else. Looks as if Lancaster had been asked there to keep an
appointment and got murdered for his pains."

"How long ago did all this happen?" Du Cros asked.

"A little more than an hour, I should say," the loafer went on. "I was
passin' at the time. There's not one of these chaps 'ere who knows as
much as I do."

Du Cros had no need to ask further questions. He had enough information
and to spare. Clearly, the police had found the body within a few
minutes of his leaving the house with Kate Mayfield. By this time the
cigarette-case must be in the possession of the authorities. It was
possible they might not connect him with this damning evidence, but if
not, what of Kate and the brothers Wellgrave? The rope was as good as
round his neck.

With a curious feeling of calmness and ease of mind he turned away. Now
that hope was dead he was indifferent to everything that might happen.
He would go back to London with the others and have one more spell of
gaiety and recklessness. It was possible that on reaching London he
might find himself in the hands of the police.

He turned into the bar of a public-house and drank three more glasses of
brandy in quick succession. As a rule he was very careful as to what he
drank, but the spirit did not seem to have the slightest effect upon
him, except that it made his mind clearer. Presently he called a cab and
drove to the hotel. The newsboys were shouting the details of the
Lancaster mystery; they were connecting it with a well-known
millionaire. Heavens! how quickly they had got hold of that! Well, it
did not matter; nothing mattered now.

In the vestibule Liston and some of the rest had gathered. They glanced
curiously on Du Cros.

"Here he comes!" Liston muttered. "I wonder if he has seen the evening
paper--if he has heard anything? He doesn't look as if he had."




CHAPTER XXXV.--The Right Man.


How would Du Cros act at the supreme crisis of his life? He had heard
enough and to spare. As he stood with his hand clenched on the back of a
seat, there was a strange gleam in his eyes, and though his features
were hard and expressionless as a mask, there was a curious blend of
fear, defiance, and abject terror. But he had heard--there was no doubt
whatever about that. Bloomer was waiting for him on the steps. Strange
that he should have forgotten Bloomer!

The ominous yells that rent the air were not lost on the scowling
Bloomer. He shot a quick, frightened glance at his employer. He was
utterly reckless and brutal, but, base as he was there were limitations
even to his depravity. His glance at Du Cros concentrated in it a score
of questions, which flashed through his mind in rapid succession.

"Did you hear that?" he whispered. "Lancaster murdered! Found dead in
his own house. They said something about a clue, too. What do you know
about it?"

Still Du Cros answered nothing. He had not seemed to hear a word that
Bloomer said, but presently the questions came to him as if he had
recalled some message in his sleep. He knew what Bloomer was driving at,
and picked accusation out of that brief, hoarse speech.

"How should I know?" he said at length. "Lancaster is nothing to me."

"Perhaps not; but you played it low down upon him all the same. It was
you who betrayed him to the police. You and Simeon Vincent worked it
together. It's no business of mine to take heed of these things. You
want certain work done, and so long as you pay me for it the rest does
not matter. But if you take me for a blind fool who can't see beyond the
end of his nose, you are mistaken. You gave the game away so far as
Lancaster was concerned, and he knew it. He came back for something, and
he found you in the house. You had gone there to see Amsted----"

"Perhaps Amsted could tell us something about it," Du Cros muttered.

"I presume he could," Bloomer sneered; "but he is no longer here. Garton
has seen to that. Never mind how I know. Garton was too many for you.
You were alone in the house with Lancaster. I can imagine the rest of
the sickening business, just as if I had witnessed it. Well, thank God!
I never did a thing of that kind----"

Du Cros did not challenge Bloomer's broad suggestion. He was wondering
how far the evidence pieced together. Bloomer might suspect, for he knew
pretty well everything. But nobody else was in that position. Who would
suppose that Du Cros, the famous millionaire, had passed a part of his
time in the bookmaker's house? The police had been hot upon the track of
the unhappy man; they had visited the house almost before the breath was
out of Lancaster's body, but they had not seen Du Cros. If it had not
been for that cigarette-case--ah! but Kate knew! And the Wellgraves knew
still more! Apart from them, there was no evidence that Lancaster had
been murdered. There were no marks of violence on the body. The man's
neck was broken. He might have sustained the fatal injury as the result
of a fall. It was absurd to suppose that the police could connect the
tragedy with him. But the cigarette-case!

There was another thing! Lancaster might have had certain papers upon
him. In that event there was a chance. Du Cros thrilled at the mere
suggestion. He was not the man to take risks, and had intended to search
the dead man's pockets. But the imperative summons at the door had
prevented him. He had had himself to think of. Still, it did not seem
possible that his name would be coupled with the crime. But all this was
futile. It was useless to try and bolster up his courage with these
false hopes.

"I'll be off," Bloomer said sullenly. "See you later."

It was desertion pure and simple, and Du Cros understood it as such.
Bloomer was dropping him. As sure as if the words had been spoken,
Bloomer was leaving him. He showed it in his sulky manner and lowering
looks. Bloomer did not intend to be mixed up with this murderer any
longer. Du Cros dared not resent it.

"Just a minute, Bloomer," he said. "What were you going to tell me about
the belt?"

"I have told you all I know about the belt," Bloomer answered
impatiently. "That fellow Liston has it. He and some other fellow
followed us; I expect it was Garton. They both wore goggles, but I
recognised Liston's voice. We did our best for you, but luck was dead
against us. I couldn't tell you more if I stayed gossiping all night. So
long!"

Bloomer turned doggedly on his heel and departed. Du Cros called him
back again, but he refused to listen. The darkness of night swallowed
him up, and Du Cros knew he should see him no more. This defection left
a curious feeling of personal loss and depression, not unmingled with
resentment and contempt. For a few minutes Du Cros revolved the
situation in his mind. He was still occupied with his gloomy thoughts
when Liston entered the hall, carrying in his hand an evening paper
containing an account of Lancaster's death.

Du Cros wondered if the belt were in his pocket. He would have given all
he had to know this for certain. It might be possible to recover the
lost treasure. Nothing, however, was to be gained by a direct
accusation. There were better ways. Du Cros forced a smile to his lips.
He would let Liston assume he knew nothing of current developments, and
would treat him as if he valued his friendship.

"I had expected you at dinner to-night," he said.

"That was very good of you," Liston replied. "But unfortunately pressing
business detained me. I have only finished in time to catch the last
train to London to-night."

Du Cros began to see his way. The plan was not matured, but he could
develop it on the journey.

"My dear sir," he said cordially, "you need not worry about that. I
shall be delighted to give you a seat in my special. There's plenty of
room, and the company is congenial."

Liston expressed his thanks. It was as well the invitation had been
offered, for in any case he had made up his mind to travel by the
special. It was comparatively easy to detect what was passing through Du
Cros's mind. He had seen Du Cros and Bloomer talking together in the
hall, had watched the latter depart, dejection writ large on his face,
and guessed the nature of their talk.

"That is considerate," Liston said. "I shall be delighted to accompany
you. Perhaps you will be able to assist me in a little matter I have in
hand. If you will give me half an hour on our way to town I shall be
greatly obliged."

Du Cros expressed his pleasure. Nevertheless, he was puzzled and uneasy.
He did not like the look of this man at all. He appeared to be so
particularly cool and easy. There was something strong and capable about
him. On the other hand, Du Cros was groping in the dark. He could not
for the life of him understand how Liston came into this business, and
was hoping he had no part in it. It was bad enough to have Hugh Childers
to contend with. Still, he would not throw up the sponge yet.

"After we have started," he said, "I will get my guests settled down to
bridge, and then I shall be entirely at your service."

An hour later Du Cros and Liston were face to face in an empty
compartment. Liston lost no time in going straight to the heart of his
subject.

"I won't pay you the doubtful compliment of believing that you are
ignorant of what I am about to say, Mr. Stephens," he began. "You are
far too clever a man for that."

"Will you tell me why you address me as Stephens?" Du Cros asked
quietly.

"There! you are belying my high opinion of your intelligence," Liston
smiled. "I call you Stephens because that is your name. I am in
possession of a piece of property of yours. Nay, man, its hardly worth
while to shoot me with the revolver which I see in your pocket, because
other people share the information. Let me assure you that the belt is
in safe custody. Let us get to business. You know that you are not a
millionaire, and now you must have small hope of ever being one. Your
name is Stephens, and you are wanted in South Africa. So is your friend
Simeon Vincent, alias Blossom. I am a South African myself, and happen
to know a great deal about your career. I have only to give the police a
hint, and you disappear from public view for the term of your natural
life. On the whole, you have not had a bad innings, my friend. But there
is another and much more serious matter than that. For murder is
damnable."

"You imply that there has been murder, and that I am implicated?"

"Precisely: it is a murder--the murder of Lancaster, the bookmaker. Now,
I am in a position to prove that you were alone in the house with him.
Garton is another witness who will testify to the truth of this.
Lancaster, in desperate need of money, came back to his house to get a
few articles that he could sell or pawn. You and Bloomer did not expect
this or you would never have smuggled Lord Amsted there. It is always
the unexpected that upsets our plans. When you met Garton in Lancaster's
house, I was there also. I was busy helping Amsted to escape. This is
pretty strong evidence, I fancy. But there is stronger to come. The
police found letters and papers on Lancaster that prove conclusively the
conspiracy against Lord Amsted. They prove that you had a hand in it.
When those papers come to be read in court after Garton and myself have
given evidence--but I need not enlarge on this to a man of your
astuteness, Mr. Stephens."

Du Cros nodded; he knew it was useless to protest or threaten. He saw
there was only one possible end to the drama. He had played the game
boldly, and had lost. He had blundered fatally in the Lancaster affair,
but he could say with clear conscience that the attack was
unpremeditated and that he had not sought the bookmaker's death. The
cards had been against him throughout. He did not whine; he expressed no
regret or sorrow. There was only one way out, and he was ready to take
it. From the first he had resolved to take it, should fate prove
hostile, and inevitable defeat, discredit, and disgraceful death
confront him.

"There will be a terrible outcry," he said quietly. "I'm sorry for Lady
Letty, but it will do her no harm to have her pride taken down a peg or
two. I admit nothing, deny nothing. This interview need not be prolonged
any further. Leave me to myself, please."

Liston left the compartment. As the train neared London the attendant
came to him with a grave face.

"I fancy you saw Mr. Du Cros last, sir," he said. "I am afraid something
has happened."

"Indeed! You mean to say that Mr. Du Cros is not to be----"

"Mr. Du Cros is missing."




CHAPTER XXXVI.--The Best Way Out.


What had happened? What had become of the founder of the feast? A group
of well-dressed people stood on the platform of the terminus, discussing
the mystery eagerly. Liston could have thrown some light on it, and in a
lesser degree so might have Childers. But fate was playing into their
hands now. Scandal might be averted, and Lady Letty's name be kept out
of the business altogether. Du Cros had met with an accident and fallen
off the train. Still suffering from the effects of his accident, he must
have been seized with an attack of giddiness and the rest could be
imagined. This was the conclusion come to by the quidnuncs and wiseacres
on the platform.

"You can give a pretty good guess at the truth?" Liston asked, as he and
Childers went away together. "The situation must be clear to you. Now
that he is out of the way the police need do little more; it will not be
worth while. The affair will be a nine days' wonder, and furnish food
for gossip, but the world at large will never know who killed Lancaster.
Du Cros is dead, and his creditors must make the best of it."

"Then we have heard the last of Stephen Du Cros?"

"My dear boy, I am certain of it. That type of adventurer has the
courage of his game, and when he fails always quits the scene in one
way. He takes the risk and accepts the inevitable. If things go well, he
becomes rich, prosperous, respected, enters Parliament or becomes a
peer. If things go badly he commits suicide. I knew what Du Cros
contemplated when I left him to-night. He probably smoked a last
cigarette, and then walked quietly into the outer darkness and pitched
himself off the train. We shall hear to-morrow that his body has been
found on the line."

It turned out as Liston had anticipated. The evening papers were full of
it next day. Du Cros had been found in a deep cutting, quite dead.
Opinion was divided as to whether it was accident or design. Du Cros's
speculations had gone utterly astray, and his name monopolised the
papers for the next day or two. In the general excitement the mysterious
death of the bookmaker was forgotten. It only occurred to an astute few
to link the tragedies. The police in Liverpool knew, but it was no
business of theirs to make the facts public. Another glittering swindler
had been exposed, and the butterflies of Society were properly shocked.
But they would be eager to welcome the next adventurer. They were very
sorry for Lady Letty, who accepted her trouble quietly enough. The only
person who really appeared to be concerned was the Earl of Stanborough.

"Just my confounded luck," he said to Lady Letty. "Never liked the
fellow, of course--bounder, and all that sort of thing, but I thought he
was rich. Very awkward; everybody will be down on me. If that money is
not forthcoming in a fortnight----"

"Make your mind easy about that," Lady Letty said contemptuously. "You
are more fortunate than you imagine--or deserve. I would never have
married that man. I told him so on the night he died. Everything was
over between us."

"Ah! that was clever of you," the Earl said admiringly.

"It did not strike me so at the time," Lady Letty replied in her coldest
tones. "I had to tell him, because I could not consent to such a
sacrifice. Besides, I found that I loved Hugh Childers."

"But, my dear girl, Childers is a pauper, a beggar, in fact."

"He never was that. If he had been, that should prove a bond of sympathy
between you. The fact is, Hugh has made up his quarrel with his father,
who has listened very kindly, and, for my sake, has consented to help
you. He will make an appointment to see you in a day or two. In the
meantime, I am going to their place on Saturday, and Amsted and his wife
will be there. I forgot you did not know that Amsted is married. No, she
is not a chorus girl. When I tell you who she is you will applaud his
choice."

Lord Stanborough was graciously pleased to do so. He was astute enough
to see that the new order of things would be more in his favour than the
old. He saw Lady Letty off at Euston and gave her his blessing. It was a
pleasant world, after all.

To Lady Letty it had suddenly become a smiling paradise. All her cares
and troubles had vanished, and the winter of her discontent had been
made glorious summer. She was relieved of her heavy burden of care and
oppression, and her heart expanded like a flower.

Lady Childers received her with a smiling face, and tucked Lady Letty up
in the big car with motherly care. "We are going to be very happy,
Letty."

"I will try to be," Lady Letty said with a merry laugh. "It is a new
experience to me. I have had nothing but trouble and worry and care ever
since I was capable of understanding things. Now I suddenly feel as if I
had grown twenty years younger. The spirit of mischief is upon me."

Lady Childers laughed. Veritably it was a new Lady Letty by her side.
There was colour in her checks and laughter in her eyes. The colour
deepened and the laughter gave way to love as Hugh came forward to the
car.

"Let me welcome you to your future home, my darling," he whispered.
"Amsted and Beatrice are here. Beatrice's people know all about it, and
are not behaving badly in the circumstances. Liston is here, too. He and
Lucy--but I am to say nothing about that yet. Come and see Sir Hugh and
have some tea. Then you shall tell them about your wonderful train
adventure."

It was a happy party that was grouped round the tea table in the hall of
the old mansion. There was much to talk about and to explain, but
conversation flagged at length.

"But what of Lady Letty's story?" Lucy suggested.

"That is more Hugh's story than mine," Lady Letty said. "Tell them how
it was done, dear."

Thus appealed to, Hugh eloquently recited the details of Lady Letty's
adventure--how he had dropped her, clad in a waterproof suit, from the
express into the dyke, and how she had swum to the bank. "We had the
whole thing planned out," he went on. "There was a road by the side of
the dyke, and a little way off we had a car in waiting for the heroine.
She gave me the signal, and I knew that she was safe. But you can
imagine my feelings when she did not join the train again. What would
have happened had I not enlisted Liston's services I can't say. Even the
thought of it makes me feel ill."

"I didn't mind," Lady Letty said. "I had not the least fear. I was too
desperate to think of myself at all. But when I succeeded in getting
back on the train, I was proud. I did not realise what a number of good
friends I had. I don't think I could do it again, but I will always
rejoice in the part I played in the evening's drama."

Sir Hugh was loud in his praise, and the other guests cheered Lady Letty
to the echo. By and by the young people were left to themselves. It was
a glorious evening, far too fine to stay in the house, and it still
wanted two hours of dinner-time. They strolled out into the open, Amsted
hobbling in the rear on his wife's arm.

"I'm going to stick to this, Letty," he said. "Sir Hugh has offered me a
good post on the estate, and I'll show him that I do know something of
cattle and horses. By the time I become head of the family I shall be a
first-rate man of business."

Lady Letty shook her head doubtfully. But despondent thoughts did not
suit so bright and splendid an evening. She was alone with Hugh, and
they had the world to themselves. He took her in his arms and kissed her
yielding lips.

"We will stay here, dear," he said. "Sir Hugh wants me to have the old
place. He says he will be happier near the works. He hankers after
bachelor quarters. Lucy will not be with him for long. What a fool I
have been, Letty!"

"In asking me to marry you, dearest?"

"Ah, you know better than that. I mean in not going back to my father
before. If I had done so, how much unhappiness I could have saved you!"

Lady Letty kissed him tenderly.

"Not a word of that an' you love me. Only think of the glorious future
you have given me, Hugh."



THE END



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