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Title: On The Night Express
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: May 2011
Date most recently updated: May 2011

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

Title: On The Night Express
Author: Fred M White

*

Published in The Townsville Bulletin, in serial format beginning
Saturday, 2 August, 1930.

*



CHAPTER I.

Constance Wakefield flashed a challenging glance across the library
table at the big man with the hard mouth and the menacing eyes, at the
same time wondering subconsciously why she both feared and mistrusted
Rupert Bascoe in spite of the decided fact that she owed the very bread
she ate to him.

To begin with, she was to all practical purposes, the mistress of that
fine establishment known as Uppertons, which was a very haven of rest
after the stormy years that followed after the cataclysm of 1914 and a
Europe on the verge of collapse with ruin and starvation, especially in
Eastern Europe where Connie had passed her early childhood with the now
dead Countess Inez Matua, her second mother, for she had no recollection
of her real one and, strange to say, no knowledge of her father at all.
But then little girls in their early teens--as Connie was when the
tempest burst and Serbia was swept by the flood--do not trouble much
about such things so long as they are happy, as Connie was in the
Countess's castle with the love of in the gracious lady to protect her.

Then out of the blue the flood of invasion. Death and peril on every
hand and the flight into the unseen. The bursting of shells round the
old castle and the awful death of the only friend Connie knew to the
world and after that, misery unspeakable for the affrighted Serbians and
Connie--then in her 14th year--picked up by the grace of God and
attached to the Red Cross in the role of a bewildered but willing
worker.

And so on to the end by which time she had become a competent nurse and,
for her own protection, an accomplished revolver shot. She still was an
expert by the way, and kept it up, even though in her present peaceful
and refined surroundings, it was no more than a pastime. About the only
one she had in that quiet house. So that she generally carried that
silver mounted weapon in her pocket much as most people carry a watch.
She had it with her now, for she intended to go out into the grounds of
Uppertons presently and indulge in an hour's practice.

Meanwhile she was looking into the menacing eyes of her guardian, Rupert
Bascoe and striving out of loyalty for past favours to shake off that
mistrust of the man which had possessed her ever since the day when he
had sought her out in a London hospital and told her that he was a
distant relative of her mother's and that he had something more than an
ordinary name to offer her. And Connie, with no friends and poor
prospects, had gladly accepted on the understanding that she was to ask
no questions.

"Better not," Bascoe had suggested at the time. "The story is a sad one
and none too creditable to your father, so it is just as well to let
sleeping dogs lie. Uppertons, my property in Kent, is a fine one and
there is a fine income behind it. You can be practically mistress of it,
and when I die it will be yours. There is only one condition and when
you hear what I have to say you will see the necessity of complying with
it."

We shall see all in good time what that condition implied and the
dramatic consequences that it entailed.

Meanwhile Connie stood there in the library that perfect morning with
Bascoe on the other side of the big table, pointing down at some
documents which he has curtly ordered Connie to sign. And that without a
single word of explanation. And, once more, that wave of mistrust and
dislike and fear swept over the girl as she flushed before the almost
brutal demand. She knew already that Bascoe could be sinister and cruel
when crossed--a year or two under the same roof had taught her that.

"I am not quite a child," she said coldly. "Why should I sign those
papers without knowing their contents? I hate these mysteries. There
have been too many of them since I came here. At any rate I demand the
right to read them first."

Bascoe's thin lips hardened under his short, black beard. There was a
cruel gleam in his eyes that set Connie's heart beating faster. She was
glad that the little revolver lay in the pocket of her sports coat. The
man meant mischief.

"Sign," he said hoarsely, "sign and be damned to you."

"Not till I have read them," Connie challenged.

A second later and her wrist was in Bascoe's grip. Connie's right hand
slipped down to her coat pocket. Then the door of the library was flung
open without ceremony and a young man came into the room bringing an air
of mirth and cheerfulness with him.

"Hullo, hullo," he cried. "Why this assumption of the tragic muse? Let
dogs delight to bark and bite, what? Come, Bascoe, old chap, you really
can't spiflicate Desdemona on a lovely morning like this. It isn't
done."

"You'd joke at your mother's funeral, Marrable," Bascoe said with a
growl. "What the devil do you want?"

The young man called Marrable laughed. He belonged to the enviable class
that always finds life a comedy. An artist by instinct and inclination,
Jimmy Marrable, without a penny in the world, was content to take life
as he found it without a murmur until fate chose to smile on him.
Meanwhile he obtained a living of sorts by acting as comedian to any
travelling concert party in need of his services. And it was during a
disastrous tour of one of these that Bascoe had found him stranded in a
Northern watering place trying in vain to raise the price of his
lodgings by selling some of his sketches. And Bascoe, whose one weakness
was to pose as a painter, could see the outstanding merit of these
drawings in water colour and had promptly invited the volatile Jimmy
down to Uppertons.

Jimmy knew exactly what the invitation meant after Bascoe had shown part
of his hand. He was to make a long stay at Uppertons and paint pictures
which Bascoe could pass off as his own. Or, at best, touch up Bascoe's
work until it might pass as something brilliant and original. And Jimmy
agreed, despite the fact that he was an old public school boy with good
connexions. Anyway, he was on the rocks for the moment and his humorous
philosophy saw nothing wrong in the innocent imposture.

"Oh, very well," he said. "If I am de trop I will remove my hated
presence. But if you want that new sketch completed----"

Bascoe hastened to interrupt. That weak vanity of his must not be
exposed to anyone, least of all Connie.

"Very well," he said. "I'll come along to the studio now. I think I told
you last night----"

The sentence trailed off outside the library door and Connie was left
alone. In a haste that she failed to understand, Bascoe had forgotten
those papers lying on the table--the papers he had been trying to force
the girl to sign.

Connie wondered why. The sudden change from Bascoe's almost Berserk
manner to that of a schoolboy detected in some act of meanness puzzled,
and at the same time alarmed her. It was all in keeping with that air of
mystery that had come to Uppertons in the last few months. And then
another thought struck Connie, and she moved across to the table where
Bascoe had placed the papers and bent over them eagerly. If there was
any sort of a secret here she was going to find it, but beyond a name or
two, which was utterly unfamiliar, she could see nothing until there
came the words 'Le Forest,' that seemed to strike a cord of memory
somewhere.

For a moment or two Connie pondered over this until recollection came
like a flood. The old, bad days were back again--the days of deadly
peril and the crashing of shells on the old castle in Serbia, and the
memory of the last few words she had heard from the woman who had acted
as a second mother to her. It all came back now.

The box, the little box that the Countess had placed into her hands, and
which she had never lost during all that dreadful time when she had
drifted backwards with the Serbian army. The tiny gold box she carried
on a thin chain round her neck, until she reached England, and which was
now somewhere upstairs amongst her other treasures.

Strange that she had forgotten it so entirely all this long time. And
now she remembered that the box contained no more than an address of
some bank in Paris, and a tiny steel key with a gold stem, and, on it,
in blue enamel, the words 'Le Forest.' And the Countess had told her she
was never to part with it.

All this was a matter of a few seconds, and then Bascoe was back again
with a threatening cloud on his brow. He pointed to the papers, on the
table and took up a pen.

"Now, then," he said roughly. "Your signature."

"Never," Connie said. "Never, until you explain to me what those papers
mean and what the allusion to Le Forest stands for. Oh, yes, I have
glanced at those papers in your absence. There is something underhanded
here that I don't understand."

"Don't you?" Bascoe sneered. "Do you forget I could turn you out of this
house at a moment's notice? Do you forget that a certain action of mine
made it possible for you to pass as an English subject and saved you
from being deported as an alien? Now, then, are you going to sign?"

Connie shook her head resolutely. With his teeth set and violence in his
eyes, Bascoe dashed round the table, only to find himself facing
Connie's little revolver.

"Go back!" she said. "If you touch me I shall shoot. I swear I will. Go
back, you coward!"

Just for a moment, Bascoe hesitated, then with a contemptuous laugh,
flung himself down into a chair.




CHAPTER II.


With her head high in the air, Connie walked out of the library into the
hall, where she came almost in contact with a tall and graceful girl,
who looked at her with a question in her rather magnetic eyes.

"Well, my dear," the parlourmaid asked, with what might have been termed
flippant familiarity. "Oh, I couldn't help hearing. So you have found
him out at last, have you? Actually threatened you, didn't he?"

Connie laid her finger to her lip and beckoned the pretty parlourmaid to
follow her into the morning room. As a matter of fact, Nita Keene was
not precisely a maid-servant in the ordinary sense of the word. She was
a lady by birth and education who, in her fierce independence, preferred
to get her own living to marrying the man whom her father had endeavored
to foist upon her. She had been at Uppertons for some considerable time,
and had confided her story to Connie, feeling sure that the latter would
understand and sympathise. And so the two had become something more than
mistress and servant, though Bascoe had not the slightest idea of this.

"Now, tell me all about it," Nita said, as she closed the door of the
morning room behind her. "I always told you that Rupert Bascoe was a
real bad lot. Ah, my dear, I have seen more of the world than you have,
though perhaps from a different angle. Oh, I know men--I ought to, after
my experiences when my mother died. And that is why I spotted Bascoe for
what he is directly I came here. And I remained because I took a fancy
to you, feeling that sooner or later you would want a friend. Now, tell
me what it was that the quarrel was all about."

Connie told her story, to which Nita listened with almost flattering
attention.

"Ah," the latter said presently. "I thought it was something of the
sort. There was a time when you regarded Rupert Bascoe as the best
friend you had in the world. It seemed to you really splendid that he
should seek you out in the hospital where you were working and bring
down here as mistress of this grand establishment with a prospect of it
all belonging to you some day, together with a large fortune. And all
that because Bascoe claimed to be a distant relative of your mother's.
Lies, my dear, all lies. That was not the reason at all. He brought you
under his roof because there is a secret behind your identity from which
he hopes to profit, and that is why he asked you to sign those papers
this morning. I feel it in my bones that he wants you to sell your
birthright for a mess of pottage."

"Yes," Connie said thoughtfully. "I am afraid there is something in what
you suggest. Mr. Bascoe has been so different lately. Somehow, I have
always been a bit afraid of him, but I laughed at my fears, until the
last month or two. You needn't be afraid, Nita, I am not going to sign
anything. I am going to try and find out where the allusion to somebody
called Le Forest comes in. I am going to do my best to get in touch with
a man friend, if I can find one, who will look at that address in the
gold box I have just told you about and help me to solve the mystery.
Unless you can suggest some other way."

"I am afraid I can't," Nita said, after a long pause. "There is only one
man close at hand, and that is Jimmy Marrable. He is a dear boy, is
Jimmy, and I am very fond of him."

"So I noticed." Connie said with a little smile. "But then Jimmy is so
dreadfully inconsequent and featherheaded. I don't think that a
lighthearted artist like Jimmy could be at all the sort of man to handle
a situation like mine."

"Oh, I don't know," Nita said thoughtfully. "There are hidden depths in
Jimmy. I know, because we were brought up together, and he was my little
hero in the days when I wore socks and he ran about in grey flannel
shorts. Rather a strange coincidence that we should come together again
down here. However, that is nothing to do with it. You must have a
friend you can rely upon and I will do my best to find you one. Perhaps
Jimmy can put us on to somebody. Oh, I know poor Jimmy hasn't any
influence or money, though before the war his people had more than
enough. But Jimmy was always popular at Eton and he knows heaps of the
right sort of men. Besides, I thought it was extremely plucky of him to
join a concert party as comedian to get his living in that way whilst he
was waiting for his chance as an artist. And Jimmy is a great artist as
the world will know one of these days. I dare say you regard him as an
easy going individual, quite content to remain here as Bascoe's guest
and helping the latter to paint his pictures, but there are ambitions in
Jimmy, as I have reason to know. It I were you, I should not say
anything about the contents of the gold box. In fact, I shouldn't say
anything at all. I think you had better leave it to me. Let me tell him
that Bascoe is trying to force you to take a line you decline to adopt
and that he is acting like a thorough blackguard. I am perfectly sure if
you will allow me to do this, Jimmy will be able to find somebody who
can advise you as to the right course to adopt. Now let me tell you
something you don't know. You would hardly believe it, but during the
war Jimmy was a trusted servant of our Secret Service. You see, he
speaks two or three languages, and as he had been all over Europe with a
travelling company, he had picked up a lot of information which was most
useful. Mind you, he used to do that sort of thing just for his own
amusement long before he ever expected to have to get his living
thereby. But he has known what it is to go in peril of his life in an
enemy country with nothing but that cheerful laugh and vacuous comedian
expression of his to save him from any peril. Mind you, this is
absolutely between ourselves. I have only told you to show that Jimmy is
a man to be trusted implicitly to control his tongue and hide his
feelings when a crisis arises. Now, if you will let me explain the
situation to him, I am quite sure that he will be able to help you in
what I feel is a moment of dire peril."

A minute or two later, Connie strolled out into the grounds. She was
still astonished and bewildered at the change in the attitude of her
benefactor, though for some time past she had noticed that things were
drifting towards what might be at any time a crisis. There was a
sinister atmosphere about Uppertons of late--so sinister that more than
once she had half decided to throw her present position up and return to
hospital work.

But there was a reason against this--a reason that Connie had not
discussed with anyone nor dared she do so, because if that secret became
public property then she might have to leave the country for good. She
was English to her finger tips; every instinct she had told her that she
came from British stock. And yet she knew nothing of her parentage, not
even how she came to find herself, as a child, under the guardian ship
of Countess Inez Matua in that old grim castle in Serbia.

And the trouble was this--it only needed some busybody or some enemy to
ask a question or two, and Connie might be faced with an accusation of
being an alien actually residing in England without a passport or a
permit. Because D.O.R.A. was not yet dead, and Connie had read of more
than one Englishwoman married to a German who had been forced to quit
her native soil simply because she was held to have forfeited her
nationality. True, Bascoe had taken steps to obviate such a catastrophe,
but, at the same time, it gave him a power over the girl that made her
tremble to think of it. And she trembled all the more now in the face of
that scene in the library only a few minutes ago. Never was a girl more
awkwardly placed, and never was one in greater need of a true friend
than Connie just now.

She wandered on through the grounds into the woods beyond turning her
troubles over in her mind. Gradually, as the beauty of the morning began
to impress itself upon her, she grew more calm and tranquil and more
disposed to shake off the fears that oppressed her so strangely. Then
she looked up and saw that a man was coming down the narrow path between
the avenue of high beech, and her heart began to flutter at the sight of
him.

"Strange!" she thought. How like Hugh Gaskell was the figure who came
leisurely swinging along in her direction. The man she had not seen
since that stirring day in 1917 when the Serbians fell back for a final
effort and----

The stranger looked up. A light flashed into his eyes, and he came
forward eagerly with hands outstretched. "Connie!" he cried. "Dear
little Connie! Don't you know me, darling? I have been searching the
wide world for you for the last seven years. What became of you? You
must have known that I should want to see you again."

"Hugh!" Connie gasped. "Hugh! What--where did you come from? Just at the
very moment when--oh, Hugh, it wasn't my fault. You remember how we were
pushed back and all the dreadful things that happened afterwards. I saw
you in the thick of it, and I thought you were killed. Ah, if you only
knew."

She looked at him with her heart in her eyes, and, almost before she
realised it, the man's arms were about her, and his lips were warm and
loving on her. Just for a moment she lay there, then broke away like a
frightened animal.

"Ah, no, I mustn't!" she cried. "I dare not. For the moment I had
forgotten. Oh, Hugh, this is dreadful!--dreadful! You must let me go and
never try to see me again!"

She broke away from him and literally fled down the path, leaving the
man she called Hugh Gaskell staring after her with perplexity and
amazement written on his face.




CHAPTER III.


It was not Connie Wakefield and a confident Nita Keene who alone sensed
the sinister atmosphere that hung like a cloud over Uppertons. Jimmy
Marrable had seen and heard enough to convince him that there was
something utterly wrong about the man in whose house he was at present
living.

He had never been quite comfortable there, and by the use of an
ingenious excuse, had managed to get away from Uppertons and establish
himself in a small old-fashioned house at the far end of the village.
This he had done a day or two after the scene in the library, though he
had no intention of severing his artistic connexion with Bascoe, who was
more or less essential to him at the moment for more reasons than one.

"But why the change, Jimmy?" Nita asked him at the first possible
opportunity. "Why didn't you stay in the house?"

"Oh, well, my dear," Jimmy said in his most casual way. "You see, always
like to be as independent as I can. I prefer not to eat the bread of a
man I mistrust. It is all very well to work for a chap like Bascoe, but
when you don't like him there is no necessity to partake of his salt at
the same time."

"Then you don't trust him?" Nita asked.

"Well, between ourselves, my dear, I don't. I believe he is a thoroughly
bad lot. You told me what happened in the library the other morning,
and, indeed, I did not fail to see signs of trouble myself. Of course,
this is entirely between you and me, and not likely to go any further. I
suppose that poor child was not bullied into signing those papers?"

"No," Nita said. "There is a sort of armed neutrality at present, but my
esteemed employer is not going to let things slide much longer. He is
not that type."

"Ah, so I guessed," Jimmy grinned. "Now, I am going to tell you
something. You know something of Hugh Gaskell."

"Of course I do. An old schoolfellow of yours, wasn't he? Didn't you
work together during the war?"

"That's right. Well, it may come as a surprise to you to hear that Hugh
fell in love with our Connie years ago. In the fog of war he lost sight
of her, and, until a few days ago, had not the remotest idea where she
was. Mind you, I heard all about this one night in the autumn of 1918,
when we were with the Italians during the final push. And when I came
down here and began to see my way about, it struck me that Connie
Wakefield was the very girl that old Hugh was looking for. So I wrote
him a long letter telling him what I was doing and the sort of people I
was with, and he reacted without delay. Funny thing, isn't it, that he
should find the girl of his heart living within ten miles of his own
property. But then, those sort of things will happen in real life,
though we call them coincidences."

"Do you mean that they have met?" Nita asked eagerly. "Connie didn't say
anything about it."

"Perhaps not. But they have met, all the same. Met and parted in a few
minutes in a most dramatic way. Hugh told me all about it. He came down
to my lodgings the night before last, and we had a long and confidential
chat."

Jimmy went on to tell Nita of the meeting between Connie and Hugh
Gaskell in the woods at the back of Uppertons, and the strange way in
which it had ended.

"There is something very wrong here," Jimmy said gravely. "If we are not
careful there will be a tragedy. Why should Connie turn her back upon a
man whom she still cares for? What is it that is preventing her from
throwing herself into the arms of a man who can protect her from Bascoe
and give her a beautiful home with an income to match? It must be very
serious, or she would certainly have confided in you, Nita."

"I don't like it a bit," Nita said simply. "Of course, I can't speak to
Connie on the matter unless she opens the subject herself. But don't you
think it would have been better if you had stayed at Uppertons where you
could watch things from hour to hour instead of taking rooms with that
queer old man, Andrew Wimpole, who lives in the cottage down the lane?"

"I don't know," Jimmy said. "I don't want Bascoe to think that I am
watching him. That is why I persuaded Wimpole to let me share his
cottage. He is a queer old chap and seems to bear a bitter grudge
against somebody or another, but there is no harm in the man. Clever,
too, in his way. He has only got a small garden and greenhouse, and yet
he is doing absolute wonders in the way of fertilization of flowers,
especially daffodils. He came down here about a year ago and will
probably remain till he dies. A bit of a mystery, perhaps, because, in
spite of his old clothes and queer ways, he is a gentleman in every
sense of the word. But I should say a bitter enemy if he was once
aroused. I know the village looks upon him as more or less of a lunatic,
but Andrew Wimpole is a long way from being that."

Jimmy went his way presently and Nita returned to the house. It was only
at odd times that she could get a few minutes' quiet conversation with
her lover, and above all things, she wanted to hide this understanding
from Bascoe. Sooner or later, she knew that Jimmy would establish
himself as an artist of repute and then she would be able to turn her
back upon Uppertons and the domestic service that she loathed from the
bottom of her heart. But much as she despised the uncongenial
occupation, it was far better than returning home to that scoundrel of a
father of hers and allowing herself to be forced into a hated marriage.

Meanwhile, Jimmy strolled thoughtfully in the direction of the cottage
down the lane, where he had established himself in a small sitting-room
and bedroom under the roof of the eccentric and somewhat mysterious
Andrew Wimpole.

The queer, little old man with the strangely magnetic eyes and
straggling grey beard, looked up with a smile of welcome as Jimmy came
whistling into the cottage. Their acquaintance had been a chance one in
connection with an admiration on the artists part of some of Wimpole's
flowers. And this admiration, artistically expressed, had quite won the
old man's heart, so when Jimmy put out feelers with a view to a
pied-a-terre in that picturesque cottage, Wimpole had responded with
alacrity. And none the less so when he heard that Jimmy was working at
Uppertons on some sort of artistic business.

"Well, my boy," the old man piped in his shrill treble, "and how are
things going with you?"

"Oh, so-so," Jimmy said casually. "I have got a few hours off, so I
thought I would come back and watch the experiment you are making with
those new Dutch bulbs. But, say, my potent, grave and reverend senor,
what's wrong?"

"Wrong with me?" Wimpole said. "Wrong. Nothing."

"Well, you don't look up to the mark," Jimmy said. "I should say that
you were in some sort of pain."

"Perhaps you are right," Wimpole admitted. "It is sort of nervous asthma
I get that isn't altogether free from a queer type of dyspepsia.
Something that I picked up years ago when I was hunting new flowers in
the tropics. I only get it now and then. When it comes on I am
practically paralyzed for a day or two. The only thing that relieves me
is to go to bed."

As Wimpole spoke, a spasm of pain gripped him and he bent forward with
his features twisted in agony.

"Look here, old chap," Jimmy said. "You go to bed now and I will look
after you. Never mind about the old woman who is supposed to run the
house in the daytime. She can go when she has had her tea, and, if
necessary, I can sit up with you. It is a jolly good thing that I am
here, what?"

"You are very good," Wimpole said, speaking as if in pain. "Yes, I think
I will take your advice and get into bed. I am always easier when I am
lying down and I shan't want much looking after--I never touch food when
these attacks are on me. All I want every three or four hours is a
tablespoonful of brandy or a stimulant of some sort."

With Jimmy's help, the old man was made comfortable and rather late the
same evening professed himself to be ever so much better. "You might
have been a trained nurse by the way you looked after me," he said. "I
shall be all right now. Put the brandy where I can reach it if there is
any need in the night, then you can retire yourself, knowing that I
shall be about in the morning again. There is really nothing to worry
about."

It was just eleven when Jimmy put out the lights and sought his own room
after satisfying himself that his queer old landlord was fast asleep.
And when Jimmy came downstairs the following morning to let in the
elderly woman who was supposed to look after Wimpole he satisfied
himself the old gentleman was still sleeping as peacefully as a child.

It was shortly after Jimmy had finished his breakfast and was on his way
upstairs to see how the invalid was faring that the little wicket gate
of the garden was flung violently open and Nita Keene came running up
the path, breathless and white of face and showing signs of extreme
agitation.

Jimmy rushed out into the garden to meet her.

"What on earth's the matter?" he demanded.

"Mr. Bascoe," Nita gasped, laying her hand on her heart. "Mr. Bascoe is
lying dead in the library."

"Good lor'," Jimmy cried. "Heart failure."

"Oh, I wish it were," Nita cried. "But it is far worse than that, Jimmy.
Far, far worse. There is not the slightest doubt that Mr. Bascoe has
been murdered."




CHAPTER IV.


Short as was the time before Jimmy reached Uppertons, he found when he
got there that the police were on the spot before him. One of the
servants, more sensible than the rest, had telephoned the local
constable and he had sent at once for a superintendent from the nearest
town. Already the officers had begun to ask questions pending the
arrival of a doctor, who might reach the scene of the crime at any
moment.

It appeared that Bascoe had been working very late in his library the
night before, which was in accordance with his usual custom. The rest of
the household had retired shortly after ten, leaving the master of
Uppertons in the library, where he frequently remained till one or two
o'clock in the morning. It was when a housemaid had entered the library
shortly after eight o'clock that she had discovered the body of her
employer on the floor and noted that all the lights were fully on. She
had rushed out of the room, screaming for assistance, and the butler who
entered the room at once confirmed all that the girl had said. His
master was lying dead by the side of the writing table, and the witness
did not fail to notice that one of the French windows leading to the
garden was wide open. And there was something more than this. A few feet
away from the dead man lay a revolver with one chamber discharged, and
this the butler had picked up and handed to the superintendent who did
not fail to speak sharply on the subject of handling anything in a room
where such a crime as a murder had taken place.

The inquiry had just reached this stage when Jimmy Marrable came into
the room. The police officer, with the revolver lying on the palm of his
hands, asked if anybody had ever seen it before. The butler hesitated
and stammered.

"Why--why, yes," he said. "It belongs to Miss Constance."

"And who may she be?" the officer demanded sharply.

The butler went on to explain. The superintendent listened grimly, and
intimated that the servants could leave for the moment, but that he
would like to see Miss Wakefield at once.

"You don't mean to say you suspect her," Jimmy broke out.

"And who might you be?" the officer asked. "Any relation to the dead
man? No! Then would you kindly oblige me by going outside and staying
there."

Jimmy retired, fuming. It was best, perhaps in the circumstances that he
should remain in the background. As he went through the hall, he saw
Connie come out of the breakfast room and enter the library. There she
stood, white and silent, waiting for the man in blue to speak.

"You are Miss Constance Wakefield, I think," the superintendent asked.
"You are an inmate of the house, I understand, and, in fact, Mr. Bascoe
is, or was your guardian. Now, I must warn you that everything you say
will be taken down. You know that Mr. Bascoe has been found dead with a
bullet wound in his chest. If you would like to look at him----"

Connie shuddered as she turned half away from the silent form lying
there, under cover of a sheet.

"I will tell you all I can," she said unsteadily.

"Perhaps I had better speak first," the superintendent went on. "Mr.
Bascoe was shot through the chest with a revolver, the weapon you see on
the table there. No doubt we shall be able to establish that beyond all
question when the post mortem takes place. Now have a look at that
weapon and tell me if you ever seen anything like it before."

"There is no occasion," Connie said coldly. "I can see from here it is
my own. Revolver shooting is a favorite pastime of mine--I learnt to use
that weapon during the Great War, I must have lost it, it must have
dropped out of my pocket; indeed I have missed it for the past few
days."

"Indeed," the officer asked drily. "Now you have lived under this roof
for some considerable time, and must know Bascoe more or less
intimately. Have you had any sort or dispute or quarrel with him in the
course of the last few days?"

It was not exactly a trap that the speaker was laying for Connie, but
she could see it in no other light. There had been a quarrel, and a
bitter one. Others were aware of it and prevarication would have been
worse than useless.

"Perhaps I had better say nothing," Connie contrived to whisper. "You
were good enough to warn me just now, and I thank you. All I can say is
that I lost that weapon, and that I have no more to do with the crime
than you have."

"Very well," the Inspector replied. "For the moment, I have no more to
say. Ah, here is the doctor. If you would not mind leaving us Miss
Wakefield, I shall be obliged."

Connie dragged herself slowly out of the room whilst the doctor bent
over the body of Bascoe and proceeded to examine it with the most
meticulous care. Then he looked up suddenly, and his eyes lighted with
excitement.

"God bless my soul!" he cried. "The man isn't dead. He is within a
fraction of it, but life is still there. He has been shot clean through
the chest. Handle him very carefully, and there is just one chance in a
thousand that he may pull round. I saw cases like this during the war.
Ah, here it is. The bullet entered by the chest and came out by the
back. I daresay you will find it somewhere. But this unfortunate
individual must not be moved. Call the servants and have a bed made up
on the floor. I will do what I can for him, and then I will send a nurse
over when I get home."

Half-an-hour later Bascoe was lying on an improvised couch, and the
library had been turned into a sick room. The man was still unconscious
and was likely to remain so for some days. But in the opinion of the
doctor the case was not hopeless. And then, when he had done all he
could, and the household had somewhat settled down, the superintendent
of police went into the morning-room to have a few more words with
Connie.

But she was ready for him this time. She had had an opportunity of
thinking over everything, and had decided on her course of action. She
did not pale even when the policeman produced the bullet with which
Bascoe had been shot, and proved to Connie that it corresponded to the
cartridges in the revolver, one only of which had been discharged.

"If you have any explanation," the inspector hinted.

"None," Connie said dully. "Except to say that I lost the revolver, and
I had nothing to do with the attempted murder. I only hope that Mr.
Bascoe will live. And then----"

She stopped, unable to say any more. How could she explain to this man,
how could she tell him all about those strange documents which she had
refused to sign, and go into the history of her little gold box with its
mysterious key, and speak freely about those dreadful days in Serbia?
What could be gained by doing anything of the kind? She had heard
already that Bascoe was not dead, but with her training as a nurse she
knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could not possibly recover.
She could only stand there, white and shaken, and gently refuse to ask
any further questions or answer them.

"Very well," the inspector said. "For the moment, you will please not
leave the house, and you will remain here until I see you again. And, in
the meantime----"

The speaker left the words unfinished, and, turning on his heel,
abruptly quitted the room. But he had said enough to leave Connie fully
persuaded of the fact that although not a prisoner, she was practically
under arrest.

But she was not going to stay for that. She was alone in the world, with
no friends to help her and no money to provide for legal aid, and, with
the exception of a few pounds she was utterly devoid of funds. Her
jewellery was negligible--nothing beyond a couple of antique diamond and
ruby rings which had come to her from the old countess years ago. These
would sell for probably a considerable amount, and, until the proceeds
were exhausted, she could manage to live somewhere. There were others
who knew about the rings, but she would have to run the risk of that. If
she could get far away she could pawn or sell them in some big town
where it would be impossible to trace them.

It was just after ten o'clock when Connie found an opportunity of
stealing out of the house unseen and, making her way across the fields
in the direction of Upper Shere Junction, where the northern express
stopped for a few moments to make a connexion. She had gone to her room,
under the pretence of a splitting headache and had asked not to be
disturbed.

So far, so good. She reached the junction and took a ticket so far as
she knew, unrecognised. The station master had not seen her and she had
contrived to avoid the porter as she entered the third class compartment
where a woman was seated alone. She was a woman who, apparently, had
little or no luggage with her, and Connie drew a deep breath of
thankfulness when the train steamed out of the junction without the
appearance of any further travellers in the compartment which she had
selected.

What she would do when she reached Manchester, Connie had not the
slightest idea. Probably she would be able to obtain a room somewhere
and there she could hide herself until she could scheme out a method of
escape.

She glanced at the woman opposite her, but the latter seemed to be deep
in a paper she was reading. Then on, mile after mile, until presently a
quick bump, followed by another and, after that it was as if some
overwhelming avalanche had struck the train, for Connie felt herself
thrown violently upwards, only to fall as swiftly into absolute
oblivion.




CHAPTER V.


There was sensation enough, and more than enough in the Uppertons
mystery to keep the newspapers going in flaming headlines for some
considerable time to come. First of all, the murderous outrage upon
Bascoe, and then the disappearance of Connie with the natural result
that everybody immediately jumped to the conclusion that she was guilty
of the crime. The army of reporters that swooped down upon Uppertons
had, apparently, settled the matter to their own satisfaction. They had
managed to worm out the story of the quarrel in the library and the
threat of violence on Connie's part, and these facts, coupled with the
murderous attack upon one who appeared to be a respectable citizen, left
little doubt of Connie's guilt. And if there was a possible chance that
she was the victim of circumstances, then her disappearance had
dissipated it for ever.

As the days went on and the best part of a week elapsed, nothing
happened to change this opinion. And, strange to say, Bascoe was
decidedly better. The shot, apparently, had passed right through his
chest without touching a vital spot and an iron constitution was
responsible for the rest. Within seventy-two hours of the assault upon
him, Bascoe was in a position to give a more or less coherent account of
what had happened. Someone had come into the library through the window,
which he had neglected to fasten and had shot him pointblank. But when
asked to say who that somebody was, Bascoe refused to make a statement.
It was as if he was shielding somebody and those near about him were
giving him credit for a certain nobility of conduct. He hinted that
perhaps a little later on he might be in a position to say more, but for
the moment he did not wish to incriminate anybody.

Pressed as to the time when the shot had been fired, he was more
definite. He had been stricken down according to his own account, just
at the moment when the clock over the stables was striking the hour of
eleven. On that point he was perfectly clear and in this he was
confirmed by his butler, Joseph Tarrant, who suddenly remembered that he
was just getting into bed when the stable clock struck eleven and heard
something in the way of a report, of which he took no notice because, on
several occasions lately, rabbit poachers had been busy in the
neighbourhood. Anyhow, both Tarrant and his employer were firm on the
point as to the time when the shot was fired.

By this time, Scotland Yard had taken matters out of the hands of the
local police and Inspector Richard Clapp had come down with a view to
solving the mystery. He did not appear to be a very formidable
individual, being mild of manner and most of his questions sounded
innocent and ingratiating. He had arranged to stay in the village for
the moment, and, accommodation being limited, Jimmy Marrable had made
the suggestion that Clapp should occupy a spare bed which Wimpole had in
his cottage. And to this the detective Inspector agreed quite eagerly,
so that he and Marrable were on good terms almost from the first.

Jimmy was not entirely disinterested in making this suggestion. He had
something to say that might throw a good deal of light on the darkness,
but on this point he intended to remain silent until the proper time
came. There was one person he took into his confidence, and that was
Hugh Gaskell.

Directly, the latter had heard of the tragic happenings at Uppertons, he
had come over hot foot, to make inquiries for himself. He was shocked
and grieved beyond words. He fretted at his own impotence, but in spite
of all appearances to the contrary he declined to believe that Connie
had had any sort of hand in the murderous attack on Bascoe.

"But the thing is impossible," he told Jimmy. "Oh, I know all about the
revolver and the shot fired from it that nearly brought about a murder.
It is useless to deny that the revolver belonged to Connie, but she
never used it. It must have been stolen from her, or she must have
dropped it, as she told that Inspector of police. Now, my dear chap, can
you see Connie coming in through that open window at eleven o'clock at
night and deliberately murdering the man to whom she owed so much?"

"Did she owe him all that?" Jimmy asked drily.

"Well, I presume she did from what I have been told. I should say that
Bascoe is a bit of a mystery and probably has a past that he would not
care to have published to the world. But he appears to have been a
friend of Connie's father and he sought her out and offered to make her
his heiress when she was having a bit of a struggle to keep herself as a
nurse. There may have been a selfish reason for Bascoe doing that but
until we know more of the circumstances, we must give the man credit for
acting on the square. You agree with that, don't you?"

"More or less," Jimmy said cautiously. "But, mind you, old chap, I have
been in pretty close contact with Bascoe for some considerable time and
there are things about him I don't like at all. I can't put my hand on
anything, but I do know that the fellow was trying to bully poor little
Connie into signing some papers which she was not even allowed to read.
And when she declined he went off the deep end and behaved to the girl
like a veritable blackguard. Nita Keene heard part of what he said. By
the way, you know Nita, don't you?"

"Why, of course I do," Hugh said. "I knew her when you two were children
together. What a funny mix-up it all is. Here are you, under Bascoe's
roof, getting a sort of living by helping him with his painting and Nita
comes along to play the parlourmaid, just as if the whole thing was a
melodrama."

"Yes, but I managed that," Jimmy pointed out. "It was a case of real
wrong 'un of a father trying to marry his daughter to a shady type of
city magnate who was helping the old man to make a fortune out of the
British public. So when Nita wrote to me and asked me to help her, I
found her an opening down here. And I can tell you that Connie was
precious glad to have Nita's company. You see, Bascoe keeps very much to
himself and has never encouraged his neighbours to call. This means that
Connie had no friends till Nita came along. Then I put one or two things
together and it occurred to me that Connie was the girl you were looking
for. I felt pretty sure of it when I learnt all about those days in
Serbia, because we were both out there ourselves on and off, towards the
end of the war and it occurred to me that you might be interested. That
is why I wrote that long letter to you and why you came here, hot foot."

"Yes, only to discover that you were right," Hugh said. "But I have told
you all about that. I told you how I met Connie in the woods at the back
of the house and how wildly glad she was to see me. And I told you how,
suddenly, she broke away and vanished as if I was some power of
darkness. My dear fellow, there is something amazingly wrong about this
place, and I shan't rest until I get to the bottom of it."

"Yes, there is something more wrong than you imagine," Jimmy said in an
unusually sober tone. "I was discussing the matter with that very
friendly bird, Inspector Clapp, an hour or two ago, and he told me the
gist of a conversation he had been having with Bascoe. That individual
is not in a position to say very much yet, but, for some reason best
known to himself, he told the Scotland Yard Jonnie a thumping lie."

"Oh, did he?" Hugh explained. "What was that?"

"I am going to tell you, but you will have to keep it to yourself for
the moment. Bascoe declares that the shot was fired at close quarters
just as the clock over the stable was striking eleven. To that statement
he adheres."

"Well, why not?" Hugh asked. "Didn't somebody tell me that it was
confirmed by the butler, Tarrant?"

"Yes, that is all right," Jimmy went on. "But I am going to prove to you
that Tarrant made a mistake. I am not suggesting for a moment that he is
in the conspiracy, because he is not that type of man and besides, he
was butler to the old family who lived at Uppertons before Bascoe bought
the place. It is just possible that some poacher outside did fire a shot
at about eleven o'clock, but that coincidence has nothing to do with the
attack on Bascoe. Now, just keep your mind fixed upon that point that
Bascoe was attacked at eleven o'clock precisely. He said so deliberately
and I believe that, so far, he is telling the truth. Perhaps, on the
other hand, he had some sinister object in mind in fixing the hour
definitely at eleven, because he may have wanted to implicate Connie. I
mean, implicate her when he came back to his senses. Now. I don't mind
telling you the reason why I am in this part of the world at all."

"You have told me already," Gaskell said. "You are painting pictures
which Bascoe wants to foist on the public as his own. Rather a foolish
vanity in a man of his type, what?"

"Well, there it is. Now, on the night of the attack, I was working in
the library on a picture till rather late in the afternoon. I had run
over from my cottage in the intervals of nursing my old landlord, and
when I left Uppertons to run back again to the cottage, the water colour
drawing I was on was in a certain state. I mean, I had got so far with
it and suggested to Bascoe that he might put in a few strokes himself.
Not long before eleven o'clock that night, I slipped out of the cottage
once more to see how Bascoe was getting on. I was only with him a very
brief time, but he hadn't touched the sketch when I left Uppertons. That
was just before eleven o'clock. And here comes the point. When I came to
look at that sketch again after the outrage, I saw that Bascoe had
worked upon it by artificial light, and what he had done cannot have
occupied him less than half-an-hour."




CHAPTER VI.


"What are you saying?" Hugh almost shouted.

"I thought it would astonish you," Jimmy went on. "I am prepared to
swear that the work Bascoe did on that drawing was done after eleven
o'clock on the night of the crime and that it occupied him at least 25
minutes. You can make the best or worst of that, old chap, but at any
rate, it proves that for some reason or another Bascoe was telling a
deliberate lie. Either he wants to incriminate Connie, or he has some
reason for shielding the identity of the real criminal.

"It certainly looks like it," Hugh said thoughtfully. "I suppose you
have not mentioned this to anybody else?"

"No, and I am not going to," Jimmy said. "Not even to Inspector Clapp.
My idea is to wait till the proper moment, and then confront Bascoe with
this bit of information. Whether it will turn out useful or not, of
course, I cannot say. But there is plenty of time for that. Meanwhile,
where is poor Connie?"

It was a question that Inspector Clapp had been asking himself on and
off for the last day or two. He had set every means in motion, but
apparently the earth had swallowed Connie up. And then, on the third
day, the Inspector had unearthed a shred of evidence that pointed to a
certain conclusion. He had heard from a subordinate modestly lurking in
the background that Connie had been seen on the night following the
attempted murder entering the gates of the railway junction, where the
northern express stopped for the purpose of picking up a connexion.
Connie had been under the impression that she had managed to enter the
train without being observed by anybody who knew her, seeing that she
had contrived to reach her compartment without encountering the station
master. But by the purest chance, the porter had noticed her and, all
the more so, because it was a most unusual thing for anybody to join the
express at the junction. Moreover, the porter knew Connie by sight, and
though he was not absolutely certain as to her identity, the description
he gave was quite sufficient to induce the police to make some further
inquiry into the matter.

About the same time that Jimmy was taking Hugh Gaskell into his
confidence. Inspector Clapp was discussing the disappearance of Connie
with his subordinate.

"Yes," he said thoughtfully. "I think there is little doubt that the
mysterious female who joined the express at the junction was the young
lady we are after. I don't see how, otherwise, she could have got away.
She didn't take one of the cars and she certainly did not walk, because
I have found out that the shoes she was wearing were not adapted for
that purpose. Oh, she went off by the express, right enough. It wouldn't
have taken her half an hour from the time she pretended to go to bed
with a headache until the time she reached the junction, and we know
that she left the house secretly."

"That is right, sir," the sleuth said. "And she joined the express. But
she didn't get to Manchester."

"Of course, she didn't," Clapp retorted. "The express was wrecked. I
suppose she managed to find some sort of shelter with the other
passengers, and, with the little money she had, hide herself somewhere
near the remote spot where the accident took place. She had very little
money and no valuables besides a pair or antique rings, which she must
have taken with her, because they were missing from her jewel box. They
were there the day before the crime, because one of the housemaids saw
them. She would want those to turn into cash."

"Quite right, sir," the subordinate agreed. "I wonder if you have
thought of an idea that occurs to me. I mean that it was a terrible
accident involving a great loss of life, due not only to the collision,
but to the fact that most of the carriages caught fire and blazed like a
furnace. There are three or four bodies, charred beyond recognition, and
I am wondering if Miss Wakefield happens to be one of them."

"Now, that is a bit of an idea, Wood," Clapp said. "At any rate, It
would be worth following up. I read all about those bodies in the papers
and I believe that more than one of them has still to be identified. It
is very possible that they never will be identified, except by ornaments
of some kind, or fragments of charred clothing. I don't want to worry
the people of the house here unduly, but somebody will have to go as far
as the scene of the accident and try and help us to determine whether
Miss Wakefield was one of the victims or not."

It was a slightly horrified Jimmy Marrable who heard what Inspector
Clapp had to say on the subject later on in the afternoon. For once,
even he was subdued.

"Good Heavens, Inspector," he cried. "What a horrible idea."

"Pretty ghastly, I admit," Clapp said. "But somebody has to do it. It is
my duty to trace Miss Wakefield if I can and bring her back here, but,
to put it in cold words, I don't want to waste my time on a wild goose
chase when, possibly, Miss Wakefield is already beyond the reach of the
law. Somebody will have to go over to the place where the train crashed
and see if there is any foundation for my suspicion."

"Oh, well," Jimmy said resignedly. "If the worst come to the worst I can
go. And perhaps I had better take Nita, the parlourmaid, with me. If
Miss Wakefield really is dead and she left any little things behind her,
then Nita will be able to identity them and we shall know where we
stand. But, mind you, I don't like it and I would run miles rather than
go."

"Well, you need not unless you like, you know," Clapp said. "I am told
that those poor bodies were beyond all recognition--nothing left but a
broken watch or a bracelet or something of that sort by which the
relatives--well, you know what I mean."

"Oh, I will go," Jimmy said. "You leave it to me, Inspector."

With that, Jimmy went off in search of Nita. He saw how she paled and
trembled when he told her of the gruesome errand on which he wanted her
to accompany him. But she did not hesitate after the first few moments.

"Very well, Jimmy," she said. "If it is my duty to go, I will. And pray
to Heaven that we don't find anything that leads us to believe that
Connie was killed in that awful catastrophe. Things are bad enough as
they are, without a horror like that. Now when do you want to go?"

"Well, I don't see why we shouldn't go now," Jimmy said. "We can take
one of the cars and ought to reach the scene where those bodies lie
shortly after tea-time."

It was a tedious and silent journey that those two undertook and they
were almost glad when they reached the small town station to which the
unidentified bodies had been removed and where they lay in the mortuary.
A sergeant of police was in charge and came forward as the two entered.

"Oh, yes, sir," he said when Jimmy explained their errand. "It is a very
strange thing, that, although three full days have elapsed, we have
unfortunates here about whom no inquiry has been made whatever. None of
those bodies will ever be identified, except by certain articles removed
from them. These have been numbered and arranged so that if the lady you
are looking for happens to be one of the victims, then we shall be able
to tell you what belongings of hers we have found after the fire. Will
you kindly come this way, please."

Jimmy placed his hand under Nita's arm as if half afraid that she might
fall. But now that she was keyed up for the ordeal, her step was as firm
and elastic as his. Then, in the dim light of the mortuary they passed a
quarter of an hour or more in an atmosphere that neither of the two
would ever forget until the end of their lives. They were glad when the
Inspector told them that only one of those charred trunks belonged to a
woman so that they were spared what might have been a still more trying
experience. The horror of it gripped Nita fast.

"It's no use," she managed to say. "It is impossible for me to identify
what is before me. To think that a few days ago that was a woman full of
health and life, and to think that it might possibly be my own friend!
But, thank God, I can't say whether it is or not. Oh let me get out of
this."

They were in the open air once more and in a little room which the
police had commandeered for their own at the end of the platform. Here
the officer in charge took certain objects from a safe and placed them
on a table before him.

"You will see," he explained, "that these are in numbered envelopes
corresponding to the bodies in the mortuary. Now, the corpse of the
woman we have just examined is number three. So I take up number three
envelope and expose the contents for you to see if you can connect them
in any way with the lady you are looking for. There are only two of
these and I am going to ask you to be very careful before you pronounce
an opinion."

Just for a moment Jimmy thought that his companion was going to faint,
so, too, did the policeman for, in a businesslike way he poured out a
glass of water and handed it to Nita.

"Courage," he said. "It is nearly over."

And then, very carefully, he tilted the envelope up so that the objects
inside might trickle out and lie on the table. There were two of these,
stained and discoloured, but nevertheless, showing something of their
value. One glance sufficed.

"Connie's rings," Nita whispered. "Oh, they are Connie's rings beyond
the shadow of a doubt."




CHAPTER VII.


It was some time before Nita recovered sufficiently from the shock to
say anything as to the horrible discovery that simply overwhelmed her.
The official in charge of the mortuary regarded her with a sympathy that
was none the less genuine because he was a family man himself.

"Don't dwell on it?" he said kindly, "and take your time, miss. We shall
want you presently to give evidence at the inquest, but that will not be
for a week or two yet, because there are so many of these unfortunate
people already identified whose cases must be heard before the coroner
first. If you and this gentleman here will give me your names and
addresses, I will see to it that you are not unduly troubled."

It was a sad homeward journey, and for a long time Nita and Jimmy
exchanged never a word. Then, presently to the latter's relief, he saw
that the tears were beginning to stream down Nita's cheeks.

"That's right," he said. "Don't try and check it. Those tears will do
you all the good in the world."

Then, presently, Nita wiped her eyes and turned a little anxiously to
her companion.

"I hope you won't think me very selfish, Jimmy," she said. "But nothing
can bring Connie back again, and I am bound to consider myself to some
extent. Is there any possible way of avoiding my giving evidence at the
inquest? No, I am not afraid to face the ordeal, but what I do dread is
to have my name blazoned in the papers. If that happens, my father is
certain to find out where I am and what I am doing, and if I am once
more dragged home, heaven knows what will happen. It is not as if you
could protect me."

"I can't," Jimmy said dismally. "I haven't got a bean in the world. But
cheer up, darling, I dare say we can manage it some way or another. It
is merely a question of identifying those rings, and you are not going
to tell me that nobody else at Uppertons can do that as well as you."

"Well, there is one of the housemaids," Nita said. "And, yes, Tarrant,
the butler. I remember now, some little time ago Connie gave him those
two rings to clean. She never wore them, and so I suppose they became
tarnished. At any rate, I know they were handed out to Tarrant."

"Then we need not worry any more about it," Jimmy said. "Tarrant will be
a much better witness than you. I will speak to him directly we get
back."

It had been more than a trying afternoon but the ordeal was not quite
finished yet. There was Gaskell to be informed of the ghastly discovery
and when, later in the evening, Jimmy came to tell his story. Hugh took
it very hard indeed.

"Was there ever such a tragedy," he said. "Here am I who have been
hunting Connie all over the world for years only to find her in
circumstances like these. Only to see her for two or three moments and
hold her in my arms and then, almost before I could realize that we were
going to be happy at last, she disappears and dies a horrible death."

Jimmy could only nod his head sympathetically, because here was an
occasion beyond mere words. Hugh paced up and down the tiny sitting room
which he was sharing, for the moment, with Jimmy at Wimpole's cottage.

"And that is not the worst of it," he said. "Other men have lost those
they hold most dear by death and that I could have faced most bravely.
But consider the circumstances. Connie flying from justice and believed
by everybody to be a potential murderess. A girl who, in cold blood,
tried to take the life of her greatest benefactor. It would be no use
for you to tell people that there was something sinister about Bascoe's
attitude towards Connie, because you could only get a very few people to
believe you and not a newspaper in the country would listen to your
story. No my dear fellow we shall never learn the truth and, least of
all from Bascoe's lips. If he does recover he will still maintain that
Connie tried to murder him and all the facts of the case are in his
favour. If she had only stayed and faced the thing out, then there might
have been hope. But as it is, her memory will never be cleared."

"Oh, I don't know," Jimmy said with some rough show of sympathy. "You
never can tell. It will be a sort of a miracle, but I think, especially
after hearing what the doctor said this evening, that Bascoe will pull
through. They tell me he is conscious again and probably, in a day or
two, will be able to give some account of the events of that fatal
night."

"But how is that going to help us?"

"Ah, that, my dear chap, remains to be seen. I am no admirer of Bascoe,
in fact, I am quite sure he is a rascal as well as the humbug I know him
to be. If he dies, there is an end to everything, but if he recovers,
then it will be up to us two to inquire into his past and ascertain why
he sought out Connie and brought her here and pretended to make her his
heiress. I have a sort of feeling that he never meant anything of the
sort. He brought Connie to Uppertons for some deep purpose of his own,
and if we could only get hold of those papers which she refused to sign,
we should probably have a clue to the mystery."

"Ah, there I am inclined to agree with you," Hugh said. "And, mind you,
somebody else knows all about the conspiracy, or else that attempted
murder would never have taken place. Nothing will convince me, nothing
ever will convince me that the shot which laid Bascoe low was fired by
Connie herself."

"Of course, it wasn't," Jimmy said indignantly. "But my dear boy, you
can't get away from the fact that it was Connie's revolver which was
used for the attempt. How she managed to lose it, and how it came into
the hands of the would-be murderer is something that we shall have to
find out."

"And I am going to find it out," Hugh said between his teeth. "I shall
never rest until I do so."

Hugh might have said a good deal more, only at that moment the door of
the little sitting-room opened, and the small, shaky figure of Wimpole
appeared. He stood there rather nervously for a moment fingering his
straggly beard shakily.

"I hope I don't intrude," he said. "But if you gentlemen are talking
business----"

"You needn't go away," Hugh said. "We have quite finished for the time
being, and if there is anything we can do for you----"

"No, no," the old man piped. "A sad business at Uppertons--very sad
indeed. I have just come back from the village where I have been
purchasing some provisions, and a man in the grocer's shop was telling
me that the young lady----"

The speaker broke off with a cough. Hugh regarded him with a frown
between his eyes. So then, the story had not been so long getting round.
Well, the facts would have to be faced and fought if there was to be the
slightest chance of ever vindicating the memory of the dead girl.

The old man seemed to sense something of what was passing in Hugh's
mind, for he looked up with an ingratiating smile.

"Eh, a bad business, young gentleman--a very bad business," he muttered.
"And more in this than meets the eye. I am a very old man, and most
people regard me as not being too strong in the head. Perhaps I am not.
But I am not so stupid as to believe that a beautiful girl like Miss
Constance Wakefield deliberately shot the man to whom she owed
everything. At least people thought that she owed him everything."

Jimmy Marrable looked up swiftly.

"Then you don't think so yourself?" he asked.

"I am quite sure of it," Wimpole said. "Eh, if everybody knew everything
what a clever world it would be! And there are some folks who might be a
good deal of use if they were only approached in the proper way. Why,
even a man like myself----"

He paused abruptly and chuckled. There was something almost sinister in
the grin that creased his lips. Then, with a nod to the other two, he
vanished and closed the door softly behind him. Hugh touched his
forehead significantly.

"Not quite right in his head, I presume," he said. "Anyone might think
that he knew something."

"Well, perhaps he does," Jimmy said. "I don't know. He is a queer old
chap, and there are depths in him that few people realize. And, mind
you, he is no poor inventor living from hand-to-mouth and dreaming that
some day he will make a fortune out of a new bulb. I happen to know that
he is quite well off. Paupers don't have fat bankers' pass books on the
Bank of England with their name in gilt letters on the front of it
unless they are pretty solid. I only discovered that quite by accident a
few days ago when I saw the old man opening his letters. And out of a
big envelope I saw him take the volume in question, and could not help
seeing his name on the outside. He shuffled it under his newspaper at
once in the secretive way of a miser. But not before I had seen enough
to convince me that the old man has resources behind him of which the
people in this village little dream."

"Well, it doesn't matter, anyway," Hugh said. "I don't suppose that your
landlord can be of any use to us."

Jimmy agreed outwardly, but, at the same time, made a mental note
concerning which he said nothing.




CHAPTER VIII.


More than a week elapsed and still things remained more or less as they
were at Uppertons. There was nothing to gain, for a moment, by staying
in the neighbourhood so far as Hugh Gaskell was concerned, and he,
therefore, returned to his own home which was not so many miles away. If
anything transpired in the meantime, Jimmy had only to call him up on
the telephone, and he would be back at once.

"I think you are right," Jimmy said. "There is nothing you can do here,
indeed, nothing that anybody can do until after the inquest on those
unfortunate people has concluded."

"And that won't be for another fortnight at least," Hugh remarked. "By
the way, have you done anything about Nita and the necessity for her
giving evidence?"

"Yes, I have put that all right," Jimmy said. "I took the runabout car
yesterday and went over to the scene of the accident with Tarrant as my
passenger. We saw the man in charge of the mortuary and, after he had
heard what Tarrant had to say, he decided that the butler would be a
much better witness than Nita. So that is all right."

Hugh went back to his fine old house, there to possess his soul in
patience and make some faint attempt to forget the tragedy of the past
week or so. Meanwhile, Jimmy divided his time between Wimpole's cottage
and Upperton's. It was three days later before he met the doctor who
told him that Bascoe was making a marvellous recovery and that he was
now sitting up in bed, taking an interest in his surroundings.

"That man is a positive marvel," the doctor declared. "I am not saying
he didn't have a wonderful escape, but he must have the constitution of
an elephant. Of course, I saw similar cases during the war, but never
one in which a man recovered so quickly. At the rate he is going on now,
Mr. Bascoe will be downstairs within a week."

"And I suppose one could see him?" Jimmy asked.

"Oh, yes, I told the nurse that if he wanted to talk to any of his
friends, there was no reason why he shouldn't do so. You will find him
absolutely clear in his mind."

Jimmy went cheerfully on his way to Uppertons feeling that at last,
things were moving. His request to see Bascoe was immediately complied
with and a few moments later, he found himself in the library--still
used as a bedroom--where Bascoe was sitting up awaiting him.

Jimmy was astonished to notice that Bascoe appeared to be little worse
for his adventures. He had lost most of his florid colour, and his dead,
white face was in strange contrast to those dark, menacing eyes of his
and his pointed black beard. He seemed, however, to be cheerful, and
quite ready to hear everything that Jimmy had to say.

"Sit down and make yourself at home," he said. "You will find some
cigarettes on the table near the window. I am not allowed to smoke yet,
though I feel up to it and rather miss my tobacco. Now, tell me all the
news. I can't get a word out of the nurse and the doctor is just an bad.
I have had to pick up what information I can from chance remarks dropped
by the housemaid who is responsible for my meals. Am I to understand
that Connie Wakefield is dead?"

"Yes, that is true enough," Jimmy said soberly. "She ran away from here
on the evening following your attack and managed to catch the night
express at the junction. It was a terrible misfortune for her, because
she was involved in that dreadful accident and lost her life."

"I suppose there is no doubt about that?" Bascoe asked.

"No doubt whatever," Jimmy went on. "It was a most appalling affair and
several of the passengers were so burnt in the fire that followed that
they could not possibly be identified. At least, most of them were
identified by card cases and pocket books and various scraps of metal."

Bascoe lay back for a moment and closed his eyes.

"I see," he said. "But how did you manage to identify Connie Wakefield?
Did she take anything of that sort with her?"

Jimmy went on to speak of the two antique rings which had been
recognized beyond dispute by the butler, Tarrant. It seemed to him that,
in some vague, intangible way, this information was not distressing to
the listener.

"Poor girl," Bascoe murmured. "Poor misguided girl."

It was an epitaph and an accusation at one and the same time. Just as if
the speaker was forgiving someone who had attempted to do him some deep
and lasting wrong.

"Yes, it was a great pity," Jimmy said guardedly. "Far better if Connie
had stayed and faced the whole thing out. Of course, now that she is
dead, the best thing is to forget what has taken place in the past and
leave it to time to heal all unpleasantness. It is nobody's business but
yours, and the sooner we can stifle talk in the village the better. But
I suppose you won't mind telling me what happened on that dramatic
night?"

"I don't know that I do," Bascoe said, "though at the same time I don't
see any object in going over the ground again. What possible good can it
do? All I have to say is that robbery was the motive inspiring the
crime."

"Perhaps you are right," Jimmy agreed diplomatically. "All the same, you
arouse my curiosity. Do you mean to say that Connie Wakefield had any
reason----"

"Did I even mention her name?" Bascoe asked angrily. "Did I mention any
name at all? No, I didn't and I am not going to. I said that robbery was
the mainspring of the attack on me."

"Now that is interesting," Jimmy said, with his most fatuous smile. "As
you were treacherously shot down by a person you didn't even see, and
whom, I suppose, you didn't want to see, that person achieved his, or
her, object?"

"That is right," Bascoe agreed quite amiably. "It was a pocket book in
green jade covers with a monogram in the centre and some fine filigree
work in the corners. I had taken it out of my safe to verify some
figures and I have not seen it since. There is no trace of it to be
found."

Jimmy appeared to ponder over this revelation, then he returned to the
attack from another angle.

"I suppose you don't remember the time, do you?"

"Yes, I do. It was just eleven o'clock. I heard the hour strike from the
stable. I was just bending down over the table when I suddenly looked
up--no, I didn't--I half lifted my head and after that I don't recollect
any more."

"Well, that seems to settle one point definitely enough," Jimmy agreed.
"I don't see that it matters much either way. Just as the clock was
striking eleven, you say?"

Bascoe nodded carelessly, and Jimmy began to talk about something else.
But he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Bascoe was lying to him,
and it was going to be his business to find out why. it was impossible
that the attack could have taken place at eleven o'clock, because there,
in the library itself on an easel standing between two windows was
evidence to the effect that Bascoe had been working on the water colour
drawing for something like twenty-five minutes after the hour of eleven
had struck. Jimmy knew this, but he was not going to say a word till the
proper time came, when it might be possible to force from Bascoe's lips
a confession which, at any rate, might go a long way to clear Connie
Wakefield's name and prove her innocence of a crime which she never
could have committed.

So Jimmy went back to his cottage presently in a thoughtful mood. It was
something gained to know that Bascoe accused nobody of the shooting
incident. Least of all did he accuse Connie herself. He had cunningly
avoided giving a direct answer to Jimmy's question, no doubt hoping to
leave him in two minds as to what had happened in the library on that
fateful night.

Jimmy reached the cottage at length and, after he had partaken of his
simple evening meal, went out into the greenhouse where he found
Wimpole, as usual, at work. The latter was bending over a tray of tiny
seedlings which he was examining with the aid of a microscope. These
seemed to give him considerable satisfaction, for he was chuckling to
himself and looking up with a smile on his face as Jimmy came into the
greenhouse.

"Look at these," he said. "Not that they would convey anything to you,
but if I am not altogether wrong out of those tiny fragments will come
something like a blue daffodil. Yes, the work of years and many, many
disappointments. But there is yet a lot to be done. A little fertiliser,
a little stimulant, much as a man stimulates himself when he is very
tired. I pour a few spots from out of my bottle--but where is my bottle?
Oh yes, I did not bring it. In that little safe of mine, behind the
sitting-room door. It is on the bottom shelf. A tiny blue bottle marked
poison. I dare not put these down now, lest I should shake them, so will
you go into the house and bring out that little bottle, and so help in
the miracle?"

Jimmy turned obediently on his heel and made his way back to the
cottage. By the light of the lamp on the table he could see that the
door of the small safe was open and the purple bottle standing on the
shelf by itself.

And he saw something else. A green jade pocket book, with fancy filigree
gold work and a gold monogram in the centre.




CHAPTER IX.


Jimmy Marrable was generally regarded by his host of friends and
Bohemian acquaintances as the type of sunny, inconsequent individual who
went through life with a smile on his lips and an easy heart so long as
he had a shilling in his pocket and the prospect of enough to sustain
him on the morrow. But, all the same, there was another side to Jimmy's
character of which the public knew nothing. In the year or two preceding
the war at a time when he was the only son of a prosperous father, it
was his mood to drift about Europe with a wandering concert party and
study men and things. But when the conflict began, Jimmy's knowledge of
continental cities and his peculiar aptitude for picking up languages
was properly appreciated by the English Secret Service, and only a few
in the know were aware of what good work he had done for his country in
connexion with Hugh Gaskell and one or two other adventurous spirits,
who took their lives in their hands at the call of duty.

It was this side of Jimmy's character that came uppermost when he found
himself in the seclusion of his bedroom on the evening after he had seen
that green jade pocket book in the safe of that eccentric old gentleman
under whose roof he lodged. It was a most remarkable discovery he had
made and one that puzzled him exceedingly. He did not doubt for a moment
that Wimpole was a perfectly harmless old gentleman, devoted only to his
beloved bulbs and, therefore, the discovery that the missing pocket book
was found amongst Wimpole's effects was something that caused Jimmy to
sit up far into the night smoking countless cigarettes and trying to fit
the pieces of the puzzle together. He went to bed presently, having
abandoned the attempt for the moment and trusting to fortune to find a
clue in some other direction.

But he had made up his mind to one thing--he was not going to say
anything about his discovery to anybody--not even to to Hugh Gaskell. He
might confide in Inspector Clapp later on, but that confession would
have to wait.

Meanwhile, things were moving in other directions. The inquest of the
victims of that terrible railway accident finished at length when all
bodies had been identified and the jury had brought in the usual
verdict. This meant of course, that between themselves, Jimmy and the
butler Tarrant had conveyed the remains of Constance Wakefield to her
home and had seen them decently interred in the church yard. No doubt
lingered in the minds of every body that Connie had perished in that
terrible disaster, indeed, the evidence of the two antique rings placed
it outside the range of all controversy.

Bascoe himself had not been sufficiently recovered to attend the
funeral, but he professed himself to be extremely aggrieved and shocked.
Indeed so much so that it was impressed upon Jimmy that he was overdoing
the part. And Jimmy was closely studying every movement of Bascoe's just
then.

It was one day shortly after the funeral, that Jimmy reverted once more
to Connie and her unhappy end. He was seated with his patron in the
library at Uppertons with the water colour sketch he was touching up in
front of him. Bascoe was prowling restlessly about the room and making a
suggestion from time to time, but to the keener side of Jimmy's brain it
was plain enough that Bascoe was a long way from being easy in his mind.

"Yes," Jimmy was saying. "It is a terrible business altogether, at once
so melancholy and so mysterious. But I am not going to believe that the
murderous attack upon you that night was the work of poor Connie."

"What makes you say that?" Bascoe asked.

"Oh, well, if you put it like that, I can't tell you, except that she
was absolutely incapable of anything of the sort. Of course, I knew,
everybody knew, that she was an expert shot with a revolver but,
considering the life she led during the war and afterwards, there is
nothing very wonderful about that. I suppose you have not the least idea
who the poor girl really was?"

"I could not prove who she really was," Bascoe said cautiously. "But I
have a very shrewd idea. You see, I was out in the East on business
before the war and throughout the whole of the long campaigns. Private
business which I need not go into. But I think I was of some use to my
country all the same. And I happened to be in Serbia when hostilities
commenced. That is how I came to make the acquaintance of Countess Inez
Matua whose adopted daughter Connie was. I don't want to say a lot more
on that point, because the history of Connie's parents does not bear
investigation. And it does not matter why I was interested and why I
decided to look after the girl, provided that I could find her after the
Armistice. I did find her, as you are aware and I brought her here
because I have no one to leave my money to and I was going to make her
my heiress. On the whole, we got on very well together and should have
done better still, but for the fact that Connie had a wild, passionate
side to her nature which caused me a good deal of anxiety from time to
time."

"Oh, indeed," Jimmy said innocently. "I should never have suspected
that."

"No, I suppose you wouldn't. But the fact remains. It was so difficult,
in certain moments, to make her understand that I was acting for the
best as far as her interests were concerned. But she was always worrying
me to know all about her parents. For her sake I put her off and she
always seemed to hold that as a grudge against me. But we never had a
really serious quarrel till the day when I asked her to sign certain
papers."

"Oh, that was the time when I came into this room to speak to you about
that watercolour drawing," Jimmy observed. "Yes, I noticed how strained
relations were and that is why I discreetly disappeared in case I should
hear too much."

Bascoe threw himself into a chair and lighted a cigarette.

"Yes, that was the time," he said. "It was a most bitter quarrel, and
ended in a threat on Connie's part to shoot me. She went so far as to
take her revolver from her pocket and point the weapon in my direction.
And now, Marrable, I am going to tell you something. It does not concern
anybody but ourselves and I should not have mentioned it now only you
were present when the quarrel began, and I am quite sure you have
certain suspicions. But it was Connie herself who shot me."

"Good Heavens, you don't mean that?" Jimmy cried.

"Indeed, I do," Bascoe replied. "It was she who came into the room when
I was going over my papers and fired the shot which nearly ended by
life. I don't know why, because we appeared to be on quite good terms
after dinner, but then, who can account for the workings of an angry
woman's mind?"

"Who, indeed?" Jimmy said thoughtfully. "My dear fellow, you have
shocked me most profoundly. You mean to say it was Connie who came into
this room that night when the clock struck eleven, and deliberately made
an attempt on your life?"

"Well, as to that, I heard the clock over the stables finish striking
eleven, and after that I remember no more. But I did in a flash, see
Connie as she stood there with her revolver in her hand. I saw her raise
the weapon, and I am practically certain I heard the report, though I
would not swear to that. You can imagine what a shock the whole thing
has been to me. If Connie had remained here, then my lips would have
been sealed. I should have forgiven her, and, no doubt, in the course of
time we should have been as good friends as ever. But the poor girl is
dead now, and she has paid the full penalty of her act. Mind you,
Marrable, this is a secret that must never be mentioned."

"Oh, of course, of course," Jimmy said. "No reason to tell me that. All
the same, there are one or two features about the case that I don't
quite understand. To begin with, anybody who could commit a murder in
that cold-blooded way would hardly have left the weapon behind. Mind
you, a weapon that would be certain to be identified. How do you account
for that?"

"I don't," Bascoe said, with a shrug of his shoulders. "No sensible man
ever attempts to explain the vagaries of the feminine mind. I have
simply told you what happened."

Jimmy turned an innocent gaze upon the speaker, but if Bascoe could have
seen into the back of Marrable's mind he might have been a little less
easy himself. For Jimmy, sitting there, listened to all that Bascoe had
to say, and was not in the least impressed by this dramatic story.

And Jimmy was still less impressed as he turned the whole thing over in
his mind on his way back to Wimpole's cottage. It was all very well, now
that Connie was dead and buried, for Bascoe to invent that amazing piece
of fiction, which could never be questioned with Connie no longer
available to deny or confirm it. But Jimmy did not believe a single word
of it. It was a lie on the face of it, and he had had considerable
difficulty in refraining from telling Bascoe so point blank.

But what was the meaning of it? What did Bascoe expect to gain by a
preposterous lie like that? The whole thing appeared to be utterly
meaningless. Still if there was anything behind it, then Jimmy was not
going to rest until he got to the root of the problem. For some reason
or other, Bascoe was throwing up a sort of smoke barrage to hide certain
actions or his behind cover of the fog. Then Jimmy had an inspiration.
Had it anything to do with the papers that Connie refused to sign?




CHAPTER X.


It was not only Bascoe who was giving Jimmy a good deal of food for
thought at that particular moment. He was puzzled and just a little
irritated by the strange behaviour of Nita Keene. He had contrived to
see a good deal of her during the last few days, and in the course of
four and twenty hours she seemed to have changed in the most remarkable
manner. One moment she was her bright amusing self and the next almost
on the verge or tears--a sort of semi-hysteria that was quite foreign to
her nature. There was nothing of the neurotic about a girl who had
deliberately run away from home and assumed the role of a parlourmaid in
order to get away from her father, whose ambition it was to marry her to
one of his shady business friends. As a rule, Nita had herself perfectly
well in hand, but now she seemed to be almost on the verge of a
break-down.

"What on earth is the mater with you?" Jimmy asked.

Nita had strolled away from the house in the course of the afternoon
when things were slack, and had met Jimmy in a favourite nook of theirs
behind the house, and he had just sold one of his pictures to a
well-known patron of the arts for fifty pounds, with an offer of further
work if he came to London, and a most encouraging letter from one who
was powerfully placed and in a position to place many more commissions
in his hands. And if this meant anything, it meant that in the course of
the next six months, Jimmy would be in a position to offer Nita a
comfortable home.

To this wonderful and glowing piece of news Nita had not paid the least
mention. It was only when Jimmy spoke almost sharply that she pulled
herself together and did her best to pretend that she had followed every
word he said.

"Nonsense!" Jimmy laughed. "Oh, I have been watching you, my dear, and I
don't believe you can tell me a single thing I have been saying. Come
now, honest injun."

"I am so sorry, Jimmy," Nita said penitently. "I don't know what has
come to me lately. I feel all on edge and almost ready to break down. My
nerves are shattered."

"Why, of course, they are," Jimmy cried. "You must think me a nice sort
of brute, but I was so carried away with the prospect before us that I
had almost forgotten the ordeal you have been through lately. It is all
that business or poor Connie. Look here, old thing, I mustn't say too
much, but there are events connected with that girl's death that have to
be investigated. And that is why I am staying on. If I thought of myself
alone, I should chuck Bascoe to-morrow. Say good-bye to him and make a
start up in town to get that home together I was speaking of just now.
Then we could take a risk and get married."

"Oh, not just yet," Nita cried. "It isn't that I am not game, Jimmy, but
there is a reason--a reason I can't speak of even to you that keeps me
tied here. Don't ask a lot of questions because I am not really in a fit
state to answer them."

Jimmy maintained a diplomatic silence for a moment. Mysteries and yet
more mysteries, he thought. Was there another side to the tangle of
which Nita held the threads?

"Very well," he said presently. "I won't bother you. But I wish you
would take a few days holiday."

Nita looked up, smiling for the first time.

"That is just what I am going to do," she said; "two or three days, at
any rate. I have already arranged that with Mr. Bascoe. I shall be back
on Saturday."

"And may I ask where you are going?"

"Of course, you may," Nita agreed. "I dare say you have heard me speak
of a friend of mine called Dora Stevenage."

"Stevenage, Stevenage?" Jimmy said with a nuzzled frown. "A widow, isn't
she? Lives on the other side of the country. Isn't she in some way
connected with the man your father wanted you to marry? A sister, or
something of that sort, what?"

"Half-sister," Nita corrected. "And very much younger than Stephen
Cottingham. An old schoolfellow of mine. She has no children and,
fortunately for her, the large income her husband left her is hers only
for life, or Cottingham would have had it out of her long ago. She hates
and despises him as much as I do, and it was more or less on her
suggestion that I thought of going out into domestic service--the last
situation in which my father would be likely to imagine me. I had a
letter from Dora yesterday asking me to go and stay and I sent a
telegram to-day to say that I would be with her to-morrow and stay till
Saturday."

"That's right," Jimmy agreed cordially. "Even a few days' change from
the sinister atmosphere of Uppertons will do something towards setting
you right again. But isn't it a bit of a coincidence that you should be
going to pass a day or two under the roof of the half-sister of the man
your father wanted to foist on you? I mean, if Cottingham happened to
turn up when you were under Dora Stevenage's roof----"

"There is not the slightest chance of his doing that," Nita smiled.
"Dora is not in the least blind to Cottingham's faults and I don't think
they have spoken for years. And now, Jimmy, tell me all over again what
you were saying just now, about selling a picture and that man in London
who is going to make our fortune. You are quite right; I didn't hear
half you said."

So Jimmy told his story once more and when he parted from Nita half an
hour later he was much easier in his mind.

But not entirely so. Making all due allowance for the trying time Nita
had been through, there yet remained a good deal to be explained. Why
had she, after the lapse of three weeks from the afternoon when she had
visited the mortuary, suddenly developed signs of nervous collapse.
Perhaps the reaction had been longer coming than was usual, but even
making that allowance it seemed to Jimmy that Nita was concealing
something from him. Indeed, she had as good as said so. So here he was
on the one side, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that Bascoe was
weaving a web of apparently useless deceit, and Nita, on the other, with
some concealed information which might prove to be of vital importance
if only Jimmy could induce her to speak.

But he was not going to put undue pressure on her. He would wait, at any
rate, until she returned from her visit to Mrs. Dora Stevenage. Perhaps,
after that, Nita might be lured into taking him into her confidence.

Without seeing Jimmy again, Nita departed on her errand and early the
following afternoon, found herself under the roof of her old friend and
schoolfellow, where she was welcomed warmly. It was a pleasant house of
more than moderate size, with a cheerful outlook towards the south and a
sunny aspect that went far to lift the depression that lay like a cloud
on Nita's spirits. She was in such congenial company, too, for the
pretty little blonde who was her hostess was, in herself, the embodiment
of good nature and gaiety and Nita reacted accordingly.

"Well, here you are, my dear," Dora said. "And for the next day or two I
hope you will make the best of it. It will be a nice change for you to
sit down and eat a well-served meal with servants to attend to you,
instead of handing round dishes to other people. How you manage to get
through with it, I can't understand. Fancy you, brought up as you have
been, sitting down in a kitchen with a fat cook and scullery maid, to
say nothing of having to address the butler respectfully as 'mister.'
Then my dear, you always had plenty of pluck. Now, would you like to go
upstairs and put out your evening frock?"

"My dear," Nita laughed. "I haven't got such a thing. It would never
have done to have taken evening clothes down to Uppertons. I thought you
might fit me out."

"Oh, of course," Dora agreed. "I can do that easily enough. And it will
be all the easier because I happen to be without a maid at the present
moment. But I told you that, didn't I?"

"Certainly you did," Nita said. "You mentioned that in your letter. It
was a sort of S.O.S. from an unfortunate rich woman who is pining away
and losing all interest in life, because she couldn't find a suitable
maid for love or money. And when I read that letter, I determined to
come and see you, because I have got the very girl you require. That is,
if you don't mind one who wears spectacles and has long hair."

"Oh, my dear girl," Dora cried, "I don't care what she looks like as
long as she does her work satisfactory. And if you can produce what the
Americans call 'the goods,' then I shall be eternally grateful to you.
Who is this prodigy? What part of the world does she come from?"

"Does it matter?" Nita asked. "I can assure you that you will find her
everything to be desired. You will forget all about the hair and the
spectacles. But wait a moment I will run upstairs and get her
photograph."

"I am quite thrilled," Dora said. "Oh, by the way. I forgot to say
anything about that poor dear, Connie Wakefield. I always intended to go
and call on her. You remember I saw her once in London just before you
left home. I took a fancy to her. What a sad business it is."

Nita came down with the photograph in her hand and passed it silently
across the table to her friend. Dora Stevenage gave one glance at it and
a cry of astonishment followed.

"In Heaven's name, what does this mean, Nita?" she asked. "What are you
asking me to do?"




CHAPTER XI.


The photograph slipped from Dora's fingers and lay neglected on the
floor. She turned towards Nita with a face that was grave and not
altogether free from a certain cold suspicion. She was no longer the
smiling little blonde, like a piece of delicate Dresden china, but a
woman who was conscious of something in the atmosphere that was
sinister.

"Nita," she said. "If I didn't know you as well as I do. I should
suspect that you were trying to take advantage of me. I don't understand
this at all."

"I am not," Nita cried passionately. "I swear I am not. What I want to
do and what I must do is to right a terrible wrong and you are about the
only one I know who can help me to do so. You have known me all my
life----"

"Yes, that is true," Dora said. "But this is so strange, so impossible
that I don't know what to think."

"Well, perhaps you will give me the opportunity of explaining and I may
convince you that you can play a prominent part in the mystery in which
I am involved."

"Well," Dora said just a little coldly. "Go on with your story--I am all
attention."

"I shall have to go back a bit," Nita said. "You knew me ages ago when I
was a child and you were a child, and the world was a pleasant place to
live in. We did not realise in those days that we were being brought up
in an atmosphere that was full of cold calculated dishonesty. Then I
regarded my father as everything a parent should be and you looked up to
your half brother much in the same way. We didn't know, then, that we
were intended to be just pawns in a sort of game which was meant to put
money in the pockets of two dishonest men. But you were luckier than me
Dora, because you found a husband of whom you were fond and who left
you, all too soon, with this house and couldn't touch."

"Yes that was so," Dora agreed. "If I could have touched it, then my
half brother would have had everything--a nice fortune, which luckily,
you found out long before now. But what has this to do with the
mystery?"

"I am coming to that," Nita went on. "You know already why I had to
leave home, you know that your half brother and my father are in
business together and what sort of a reputation they have in the City of
London. Oh, they are not criminals in the strict sense of the world and
I don't suppose they will ever land themselves in trouble with the
police. But I have no more delusions on the subject of my father's
integrity than you have with regard to that precious half brother of
yours. Those two men are working hand in glove and for some reason that
I never could understand--probably never shall understand--it was
impressed upon me that I should have to marry a man whom I hated and
distrusted the moment I first saw him. And that is why I ran away from
home. That is why I took service with Mr. Bascoe at Uppertons in which I
was helped by Jimmy Marrable."

"But where is Jimmy now?" Dora asked.

"Oh, didn't I tell you in my letter? No, I suppose I forgot. You see, I
had so many other things to think about. Jimmy is doing very little at
present, though I think we can see daylight at last, and if this
terrible business had not taken place, I should probably have become
Mrs. James Marrable in the course of the next few months. Between
ourselves, I shall never feel quite safe until I am. And then this
dreadful thing happened and everything else had to be put on one side.
Perhaps I am sentimental, but I shall never rest until poor Connie's
memory is cleared. I know everything is against her. That revolver
business and her flight and--ah well, everything. But she never did it
Dora, never."

"I am inclined to agree with you," Dora said. "But, my dear friend, how
are you going to prove it?"

Nita shook her head sadly.

"Ah, there you have asked me a question," she said. "Somehow or another
it has got to be done, and with the help of providence and Jimmy I shall
succeed. You see, Jimmy is just as certain as I am that Connie is
innocent, and I believe that Jimmy knows something. His manner the last
day or two has puzzled me. And I feel that he is hiding some secret
which for some reason or another, he doesn't want me to share. But you
will help us in this dreadful business, won't you, Dora?"

"I don't see how I can do anything else," Dora said. "But don't you
think it would be just as well if we took Jimmy into our confidence. Two
heads are better than one, and I suppose, by the same reasoning, three
are better than two. I am not particularly wise, but it seems to me
rather a mistake for us two to be working on one line when Jimmy is
working on another. Can't you get him to come over here, if only for an
hour or two?"

"Well, I might do that," Nita agreed. "But then I can't tell him
everything I know--at least, I can't do so, because, you see, I am sworn
to secrecy. In a day or two, perhaps, I can tell Jimmy a story which
will help him, but meanwhile, my hands are tied and my lips are sealed.
Still, if you like, I will send Jimmy a telegram and get him to come
over here."

It was well into the following afternoon before Jimmy Marrable came to
Dora's house in response to the guarded telegram which Nita had sent to
him addressed to Wimpole's cottage. He came into the drawing room where
the two girls were seated in his usual cheery way and greeted them with
his sunny smile.

"Ah, here we are," he said. "Met together after the lapse of countless
years. A meeting that would make a good caption for one of those
sensational films. What is the meaning of it all? There was a time when
Nita honored me with her confidence, but of late, all that has changed.
A cloud has drifted between two otherwise happy lives, and if the
misunderstanding is not cleared we shall drift on to the last chapter,
just like they do in novels. Oh, I know that Nita came here because she
wanted to get away from the atmosphere of Uppertons, but there is a
great deal more in it than that."

"I don't think you have got any cause to reproach me," Nita said. "If I
am acting the mysterious woman in the story, then there is a very good
reason for it. And, after all is said and done, Jimmy, you have just
been as reticent lately as I have."

"Perhaps so," Jimmy agreed. "You see, Dora, Nita has yet to find out
that there are two sides to my character. One--the happy, careless Jimmy
you know, with no thought for the morrow, and the dark conspirator who
played a part on behalf of his country during the Great War."

"And that is the side I like best," Nita smiled. "Can't we put all our
cards on the table and come to some sort of an understanding?"

"Well, you begin," Jimmy grinned.

"But I can't do it like that," Nita said. "At least, not for a day or
two. Jimmy, you will have to trust me and I suppose if it comes to that
I shall have to trust you. What I am so anxious to do at the moment is
to prove to the world that Connie had nothing to do with that murderous
attack upon Bascoe. We know, we all know that she is innocent."

"Personally, I never doubted it," Jimmy said. "The idea of Connie
attempting to murder anybody, let alone Bascoe, in cold blood is
absolutely ridiculous. Besides, I can prove----"

A little cry of pleasure broke from Nita's lips.

"Ah," she said. "You can prove it, can you? Does that mean that you have
absolutely definite evidence in your possession that Connie had nothing
to do with the outrage?"

Jimmy looked foolish for the moment.

"Well, I didn't want to say quite all that," he admitted. "But we are
all friends of Connie's here, and all most anxious to see her
vindicated. Anything I say will not go outside these four walls I am
sure. And, mind you I have not said a word about this, except to poor
old Hugh Gaskell. I don't mind telling you two girls that I have in my
possession enough evidence to clear Connie on the charge against her."

"You have," Nita cried. "Then why on earth are you holding it back? Why
are you wasting a single moment?"

"Ah, my dear girl, the impetuosity of your sex," Jimmy said with a sad
smile. "Always rushing headlong, without waiting to consider the
consequences. If I were to open my mouth at the present moment it would
be to deliver my most formidable weapon into Bascoe's hands. That is
rather a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean. That rascal knows as
well as I do that Connie had no hand in the attempt on his life. And yet
he had the sheer audacity to tell me a little time ago that it was she
who shot him. She came into the library just as the clock struck eleven
on that fateful night and coolly plugged him as he sat at his table. Oh,
he has got it all down chapter and verse, with everything fitting in
nicely. But it is a pack of lies, all the same. Mind you, it no use my
telling him at present it is lies, because that will only put him on his
guard. But when the proper time comes, I shall be able to face him and
convict him of wilful perjury from his own lips. No, I am not going to
say anything more, and you will have to be satisfied for the present and
possess your souls in patience. But Connie is going to be vindicated all
right. It is, perhaps, a poor sort of satisfaction but, for the moment,
it is as far as we can go."




CHAPTER XII.


Nita sighed with deep content.

"I am not quite so sure of that," she said. "It is just possible that we
can do more then show the great British public that Connie was innocent
of that dastardly crime. But don't you think, Jimmy, that we ought to
consult Scotland Yard in the matter? After all is said and done,
somebody committed that crime and somebody ought to be punished. I
should say that Bascoe is a man who has more enemies than one, and I
believe, if he liked to tell the truth, he has a shrewd suspicion as to
the person who tried to take his life. If the detectives took the matter
up, as they might after you told them the discoveries you were last
speaking about, they could force Bascoe to speak."

"Perhaps they could," Jimmy agreed. "And, on the other hand, Bascoe is a
pretty cool scoundrel and it evidently suits him to let the world
believe he was the victim of an outrage perpetrated by one of his own
household. If the worst comes to the worst, I will run up to Town and
see Scotland Yard, but, for the moment I rather prefer to carry out my
own plans."

There was not much more to be said for the moment, and a little later on
Jimmy retraced his steps in his most thoughtful frame of mind. It had
not occurred to him to consider an alternative to the generally-accepted
belief that Connie Wakefield was a potential murderer. It was rather
strange that Nita should have turned his thoughts in an entirely
different direction. It was just possible, as she had said that Bascoe
had bitter enemies, one at least of whom had not hesitated to make an
attempt upon his life.

But where had the would-be assassin procured the revolver with which the
shot was fired? There was no gainsaying the fact that the weapon in
question belonged to Connie; indeed she had made no attempt to deny it.
But, then, she had said that the revolver had fallen from her
pocket--probably lost that day in the woods when Hugh Gaskell had
unexpectedly come upon her and she had fled from him with a distracted
cry that he must never see her again. Was it not possible that Bascoe's
assailant had been lurking about the premises that particular afternoon,
and had actually seen the meeting between Connie and her lover? It was
well within the bounds of possibility that he had noticed the revolver
as it had jerked itself out of Connie's sports coat pocket as she fled
headlong in the direction of the house, and picked it up. If such was
the case, then any cunning criminal desirous of hiding his tracks would
certainly have made use of the weapon which had almost providentially
fallen into his hands. To go further, when he had accomplished his
design, he had deliberately left the weapon behind him on the library
floor and gone away feeling certain in his mind that he had not only
accomplished his purpose, but also thrown an overwhelming onus on
somebody else.

The more Jimmy thought this over the more sure he was that he was on the
right track. But assurance was one thing and proof another. He would
have a long way to go before he could connect this phantom assassin with
the crime. Possibly the authorities at Scotland Yard might take it up
again; they had done so previously, though after Connie's flight and
that ghastly business of the railway accident, they had abandoned the
inquiry and regarded the incident as permanently closed.

But it was by no means permanently closed; Scotland Yard might not think
so when Jimmy came to tell them the curious incidents of that
water-coloured drawing, and how Bascoe had pinned himself down to a
declaration that the shooting had taken place at a moment when such a
thing was impossible. At any rate, he would talk the whole matter over
with Hugh Gaskell and see what the latter had to say. He knew that Hugh
was as breathlessly anxious as himself to release Connie from that
dreadful stain upon her memory. It was with these thoughts whirling in
his mind that Jimmy went back to his work at Uppertons.

Meanwhile, matters were not exactly standing still so far as Nita and
her friend Dora Stevenage, were concerned. It was comforting to reflect
upon what Jimmy had said and the knowledge that sooner or later he might
have something to say with regard to the Uppertons outrage and the real
perpetrator thereof.

"I hope Jimmy is not unduly sanguine," Dora said.

"I don't think so," Nita replied. "Jimmy is always very sanguine and
always assured that everything is going to turn out well, but I never
saw him quite so earnest as he was just now. But never mind about Jimmy
for the moment. What we have to do is much more important."

"Yes, I suppose it is," Dora said thoughtfully. "But do you think it is
absolutely safe? I mean, isn't it possible that somebody will find out?"

"My dear girl, there is nothing to find out. I have shown you something
but there is a good deal more to come yet. And I haven't said a definite
word. I refrained from doing so because I thought probably you might be
disinclined to take a hand in anything so decidedly risky."

"Well then, go on," Dora said impatiently. "That photograph you showed
me was more than sufficient to arouse my curiosity, because it
resembled----"

"Hush, hush," Nita said, with her fingers to her lips. "Don't forget
that the windows are open, and your servants will be about. And don't
ask me to say too much till I have shown you exactly where this new maid
of yours comes in. I presume that you are going to take her into your
employ?"

"Oh, yes," Dora said. "I have made up my mind to that. When you think
she can get here?"

"Ah, that depends upon you entirely," Nita smiled. "I think the best
thing you can do is to see her first. You don't want to interview
anybody here and have the unpleasantness of telling her that she is not
likely to suit."

"Where is the girl?" Dora asked.

"She is in rooms at a place called Northey. It is one of those
manufacturing towns not very far from Manchester. I believe it is a
dismal sort of place where they make cotton goods, but I have never been
there and I don't particularly want to go. Now, suppose we take that
runabout car of yours and adventure as far as Northey. I mean, you and
me to go alone. We don't want your chauffeur and we don't want to tell
anybody where we are going. Just tell the household that we are off on a
trip for the day to visit friends and will not be back until very late
in the evening. We ought to manage it this time of the year easily
enough if we start early in the morning."

"And who is going to drive us?" Dora asked.

"My dear girl," Nita exclaimed, "do you mean to say you can't drive your
own car? And you call yourself a modern woman? Well, it doesn't matter,
because I can drive as well as anybody. Get hold of a road map from the
chauffeur and the whole thing is as easy as anything can possibly be."

Nita's plan agreed to, they set out the following morning after an early
breakfast to cover the hundred and fifty odd miles between the starting
point and the little town not very far from Manchester. It was a
pleasant enough trip most of the way, but gloomy and depressing when the
centre of industry was reached. Mile after mile of landscape dotted here
and there by towns and then again a fleeting vision of trees and green
fields. It was nearly four 'o'clock when, at length, the little runabout
car entered the town of Northey and an obliging policeman directed them
to Southport Road, which was the address that Nita was seeking.

"Some little way through the town," the policeman said. "If you go
straight on, you will come to the Unicorn Hotel. It is the second street
on the right after that."

Nita set the car in motion again and turned presently down a street with
small houses, all exactly cut to the same pattern on either side. The
car pulled up at number fifteen and, in response to Nita's knock at the
door, a motherly woman responded to the effect that Miss Edith Evors was
at present having tea in her own little sitting-room, and if the ladies
wanted to see her they were welcome to come in.

The two found themselves in a small apartment at the back of the house
where a young woman was partaking of a frugal tea. She looked up over a
pair of steel-rimmed spectacles and her hand went up unsteadily to
smooth her glossy hair as Nita began to explain her errand.

"This is my friend, Mrs. Stevenage," she said. "She is here with regard
to your advertisement. Mrs. Stevenage is in need of a personal maid and,
if your references are as satisfactory as they appear to be, then she
will be willing to engage you. Look, Dora, what's that queer object
outside the window?"

But Dora could see nothing out of the common, and said so. Then as she
turned to confront her future maid, she saw the change that a few
seconds had brought about. Gone were the steel-rimmed glasses, and gone
was the glossy mass of hair plied upon the woman's head.

"Connie Wakefield," Dora almost screamed. "Connie Wakefield come back
from the dead."




CHAPTER XIII.


Connie looked pathetically from one to the other of her companions with
a thin smile and the suspicion of tears very near the surface. It was
plain enough that she had suffered terribly during the last few days,
for despite her make-up, her cheeks were pallid and under her eyes were
blue rings that told of anxiety and sleepless nights. Dora Stevenage
found it hard to restrain her own emotions.

"Oh, you poor dear thing," she murmured. "I can't tell you how
dreadfully sorry I am. But please do regard me as a friend, though we
are comparative strangers. And do tell me what all this means."

"Let us try and be practical," Nita said. "Perhaps I ought to have told
you, Dora, beforehand what to expect. But Connie objected and I had to
do as she wished. Of course, you have guessed that Connie is your new
lady's maid."

"Yes, I suppose that is pretty plain," Dora said. "But the whole thing
is madness."

"I don't see why it should be," Nita said coolly. "Now confess it. Could
you possibly have recognised Connie if she hadn't removed her disguise?
No, of course, you wouldn't. She will be perfectly safe under your roof
and no one will ever dream of coming into your neighbourhood to ask
awkward questions. It is the most natural thing in the world that you
should want a new maid and I have no doubt that we shall be able to make
up a biography of Connie that will pass muster amongst the rest of your
servants. You won't stand in the way, Dora, will you?"

"Oh, my dear," Dora cried. "Of course, I will do everything I can. But I
am still very much in the dark. Let us sit down quietly and talk it
over. I think all three of us will be better if we can have a cup of
tea."

"Of course," Connie smiled. "How stupid of me to forget it. Ring the
bell, Nita, and my dear old landlady will be only too pleased to oblige.
Just a moment until I can resume my wig and spectacles--I had almost
forgotten them."

The landlady came in response to the bell and presently, the tea was
brought in.

"That's better," Dora said. "Nothing like a cup of tea when you are
upset. But what a dreadful place you have found to live in, Connie."

"Yes, it is a bit depressing," Connie admitted. "But it is quiet and it
is safe, and my landlady is as good as a mother to me. She never asks
any awkward questions and takes me absolutely for granted. You see, when
I got here after dark, I asked a policeman if he could tell me where I
could procure a couple of rooms for a few days and he directed me here.
I am supposed to be a lady's maid waiting to go into a new situation. I
have no friends in the north of England and I could not afford the
expense of going so far south. Also I am believed to have an old
schoolfellow somewhere in the neighbourhood whom I am trying to find.
So, you see, I am accepted for what I pretend to be, and I have no dread
of my identity being revealed."

"Of course, you haven't," Nita observed. "My dear girl, you are dead and
buried. Everybody believes that and the police have ceased to be active.
They are firmly under the impression that the late Constance Wakefield
attempted to murder her benefactor, and that she fled the night after
the assault, and perished in that dreadful railway accident. So long as
you remain with Dora and take reasonable precautions, nobody is likely
to be a bit the wiser. And, in the meantime, we can turn round and try
and get to the bottom of the mystery. But to do that we shall have to
take other people into our confidence."

"Must we do that?" Connie asked wistfully.

"Of course, my dear. How can two helpless women like us prove your
innocence? Jimmy Marrable will have to know and I suppose Hugh Gaskill
as well. But I am not going to mention the matter to either until you
give me permission to do so."

"Do let me know exactly how things stand," Dora Stevenage interposed. "I
am still entirely in the dark. Don't forget that, until a few moments
ago, I had not the remotest idea that Connie was still alive. I have had
nothing to guide me, except what I have read in the newspapers, and when
Nita came to stay with me and suggested that she could find me a lady's
maid, of course I didn't dream that it was going to be you. How did you
know that she was still alive, Nita?"

"Perhaps I had better explain that," Connie said. "Directly I had
settled down here, I wrote to Nita. It was a dangerous thing to do, but
I had to let her know that I was still alive. I went as far as
Manchester to post the letter where, indeed, I wrote it and addressed
the envelope in a disguised handwriting. I wanted Nita to know what had
happened."

"And it came off all right," Nita smiled. "It was lucky that I got that
letter by the afternoon post when no one was about and I was alone when
I opened it, or probably I might have betrayed myself. And even now I
don't know any details. It was only a few lines that Connie wrote,
telling me where she was to be found, and after committing the address
to memory. I destroyed the letter and the envelope."

"Now, let me tell you," Connie said. "It is no use asking me why I ran
away, because I couldn't tell you. I made up my mind on the spur of the
moment, and arranged my plans accordingly. I was very fortunate in being
able to leave the house without being observed, and made my way through
the woods at the back of Uppertons with the intention of catching the
north express at the junction. I had nothing with me but a few pounds
and two valuable rings of which you may have heard."

"Of course, I have," Nita interrupted. "It was those rings that
convinced everybody that you had perished in that train disaster. And
don't forget that I had seen them more than once and that they were
identified by Tarrant, the butler."

"Yes, that is right," Connie went on. "I got safely to the junction and
managed to evade the station master, who, of course, knew me by sight.
And I was fully under the impression that the solitary porter on duty
had not seen me get into the train. But there I was mistaken, because he
did see and recognise me----"

"But how did you know that?" Dora asked.

"Oh, because I had read all about it in the newspapers. I got papers
every day because I wanted to see exactly what was taking place at
Uppertons. It was rather a shock to me at first to find that I had been
traced as far as the express train, but in the end it was a real
blessing in disguise. You shall hear presently how that was."

"The rings," Nita cried. "The rings."

"Precisely," Connie went on. "I took those rings with me so that I could
turn them into money, because I knew that I should want funds before
long, and my ready cash was represented by a few pound notes. Of course,
I had to pay my landlady here a week in advance to avert any suspicions.
When the train started I was alone in my compartment save for one woman
who sat opposite me. So, for an hour or two, I sat in my corner,
brooding over my troubles and taking no notice of my fellow passenger,
who was absorbed in a magazine. And then the accident happened."

Connie broke off and shuddered slightly.

"Even now," she resumed, "the remembrance of that awful time haunts me
and I wake up in the middle of the night trembling and wet from head to
foot. Still, I must speak about it, because it is necessary. There was a
crash and a smash and the whole train seemed to lift as if some
machinery was raising it from the rails. It came down with a roar again,
and, for some time after that I have no recollection of anything.

"When I came to myself, I could hear shouts and calls and the tramping
of feet, mingled with the cries of wounded people. I was lying flat on
my back between the two seats of the carriage and I suppose that is what
saved me. At first I thought I was seriously hurt and then I realised
that, beyond the shock, I was as well as I am at this moment. The coach
in which I was travelling was tilted at an acute angle and the car side
of the carriage was a mass or roaring flames. It was so hot that I could
hardly breathe. I managed to smash one of the windows which, by some
miracle, remained unbroken, and then I saw something that made me catch
my lip between my teeth and fight to retain my senses.

"The woman opposite me was already almost unrecognisable. I could see
that all her clothing had been burnt off--oh, I can't tell you any more,
it is too dreadful. A little time before she had been a woman, but when
I saw her again she was little more than the trunk of a tree that is
partially destroyed in a forest fire. Her hands were shrivelled as those
of a mummy. I think she must have been killed outright before the fire
broke out. You can imagine what I felt.

"And then, you will hardly believe it, but a weird thought flashed into
my mind. I seemed to have a feeling that I should escape, even from that
fiery furnace. I had an idea that I might get away in the confusion and
vanish. Vanish in such a way that I should be regarded as dead. So,
acting on the impulse that possessed me, I took those two rings out of
my bag and forced them on to the fingers of my dead companion."




CHAPTER XIV.


Connie was speaking in a whisper now, but every word she said was being
followed by her friends with rapt attention. It was some little time
before she could resume.

"After that," she said. "I suppose I fainted again. When once more I
opened my eyes I saw the fire had eaten a hole right in the side of my
compartment, quite large enough for me to climb out of it on to the
line. There everything was in the most terrible confusion. It was in the
early morning, remember and dark as pitch. All the same there were men
with lanterns and nurses and doctors and all that sort of thing, and,
here and there other men working on the blazing carriages in the hope of
finding some poor creatures who were not yet dead. One man saw me emerge
from the compartment and asked if he could do anything for me. I
responded, as best I could, that I was all right and that there was
pressing work for him to do elsewhere. So, you see, I was left alone to
look after myself, and I managed to crawl along the line to the next
station, which, providentially, was not far away. Later on, a relief
train arrived and most of the survivors were carried to Manchester.
Later I doubled back as far as this place, when I picked out haphazard
and managed to find quarters under the roof of a comfortable old dame
who believed my story. The spectacles and wig I bought in Manchester at
a theatrical costumiers. And now you know all about it."

It was certainly a most extraordinary story and one that made a profound
impression upon the hearers.

"Well, it sounds like a chapter from some dramatic story," Nita said.
"Anyway, it makes Connie safe. But, of course, she can't stay here."

"I couldn't if I wanted to," Connie said. "For one thing, my money is
nearly given out and if I don't find something to do, then there is only
the workhouse."

"I don't think you need worry about that," Dora said. "You are coming to
join me to-morrow. You can tell your landlady you have had a letter from
your new mistress, asking for your presence at once. I will see that you
are met at the station."

"So that's that," Nita laughed. "But I am still rather in the dark. What
I want to know is what was the cause of that quarrel between you and
Bascoe? Oh, I know he wanted you to sign certain papers which you
refused to do, but why was it that you declined to meet his wishes?"

"Ah, that was a mere accident," Connie explained. "I was going to do so
when I happened to catch sight of a name in one of the documents that
revived an old memory. You know what I mean. You smell a certain scent
or see a flower that suddenly brings back to you a whole flood of
forgotten recollections. It was the same with the name I am speaking of.
And then some instinct prompted me to refuse to sign that paper. Just at
that moment, Jimmy Marrable came into the room, and, for some reason or
another, Mr. Bascoe forgot all about me. He left the room for a little
time, and I read the document I was asked to sign. It didn't convey much
to me, but the impression I got was that I was signing away something
that belonged to me, and was in a way, connected with my parentage. So I
was going to sign nothing."

"But surely you are not going to let things stay where they are?" Dora
asked. "From what you tell me and from what Nita said, Bascoe is no more
than a common scoundrel who poses as your benefactor for some deep
purpose of his own. It looks as if he were trying to rob you of some
heritage. That being so, you must not disappear altogether and leave him
to get away with perhaps valuable property. Why, he wouldn't hesitate to
forge your signature and tell everybody that you signed the paper before
you disappeared. I don't say that you should come back to life suddenly
and confront him, because that would be playing his game. No, you must
let him think you are dead until what the novelist call the
psychological moment arrives, and then confront him. But nothing can be
done unless we have the help of men like Jimmy Marrable and Hugh
Gaskell. Now, why not let Nita tell these two exactly what has
happened?"

"Oh, not yet--not yet," Connie implored. "I must have time to think and
recover my lost nerve. Perhaps after I have spent a few weeks under your
roof, Dora, I shall be able to summon up enough courage to face any
crisis. And, anyhow, Bascoe can do very little unless he has my gold box
and the key of the safe in that bank in Paris."

"More mysteries," Nita said. "That is the first I have heard about a
gold box and a key of a bank safe. Are you going to leave us in darkness
on that matter, Connie?"

Connie went on to explain. It was rather a long story, but it was easy
enough to understand it as Connie outlined a leaf from her past as
simply as possible.

"Oh-o!" Nita laughed. "The plot thickens. And the more I hear, the more
it seems to me necessary that Hugh Gaskell, at any rate, ought to be
consulted. And Jimmy, too, for the matter of that. Don't you labour
under the impression, Connie, that Jimmy is no more than an artist who
lives for the moment. There are hidden depths in Jimmy, as you will see
presently. Now, why not let us have a look at that little gold box and
see if we can make anything out of the name that you say is enamelled on
the key of the safe in the Paris bank."

"But I haven't got it," Connie confessed. "I was afraid that Bascoe
might get hold of it on the same night that I refused to sign those
papers, and I hid the box with a few more of my treasures in a place
where nobody could find it but myself."

"Now, isn't that absurd?" Nita said. "Nobody can find it but yourself
indeed. It must be somewhere at Uppertons, and if anybody can find it
without arousing suspicions, who is a more suitable person than myself?"

"Yes, in the ordinary way, I agree," Connie said. "But, you see, the box
is not in the house at all. It is hidden in a tree in the small wood at
the back of the house. There is a hole just in the fork of a tree about
as high as you can reach, where, at one time, a woodpecker built her
nest. I found that out long ago, and when I realised that I might lose
that precious box and how important its contents were, I stole out of
the house and hid it in the old woodpecker's nest. Nobody could find it
but myself, because the wood is full of trees of about the same age, and
you might search for a month and never find the right one. If the box is
to be recovered and handed over to somebody who is likely to make use of
it on my behalf, then I shall have to go back to Uppertons and recover
it myself."

"Absolutely impossible," Nita cried.

"No, I don't think so," Connie went on calmly. "Dora was absolutely
taken in just now by my disguise. Why shouldn't I leave here to-morrow,
or the day after, and make some excuse for calling at Uppertons. Ask a
question about a late servant or something of that kind. Then I can make
my way back to the road through the wood where the box is hidden and
recover it. In fact, there is no other way possible."

It was some time before the two fell in with Connie's suggestion. But,
at length, she prevailed and two days later in the afternoon, she found
herself at the back door of Uppertons asking the housekeeper a question
relating to a late servant whom she mentioned by name. And then, when
she had apologised for the trouble she had given she retraced her steps
and branched off into the wood at the back of the house as if she were
taking a short cut to the high road which was used occasionally by
tradesmen coming up to Uppertons.

She had almost reached the point where the box was hidden when she came
face to face with Bascoe. Just for a moment she felt as if her knees
would collapse from under her, then, quite steadily, she wished him a
respectful good afternoon and went slowly on her way, whilst Bascoe
vanished in the direction of the house. She did not fail to see the
gloomy frown on his brow and the cloud of trouble in his eyes.

With a deep feeling of thankfulness, she neared the tree in which the
box was concealed. She had half reached her arm up to the hole in the
tree when she drew back suddenly as another person hove in sight. She
recognised the individual as the eccentric Wimpole, whom she had only
seen on about two occasions and knew he was a queer person who was
devoting his whole life and energy to the discovery of a blue daffodil.
His head was bent and he was chuckling to himself and muttering
strangely under his breath as he followed more or less in Bascoe's
track. But, despite his innocent appearance, there was a menace in his
eyes that Connie would have noticed had she not been too preoccupied.

She waited, panting breathlessly, almost afraid to move lest there
should be some other interruption just at the moment when she was
snatching the precious box from its hiding place. She stood, hardly
daring to breathe until satisfied that she was quite alone and, a moment
later, she had thrust the gold box deep down in the pocket of her coat.

It was all right now, so she turned and moved swiftly, in the direction
of the road. As she did so, a twig snapped like a pistol shot a little
distance away and Connie lost her head and fled as if for her life. For
a few yards she sped, then her foot caught in a hidden root and she came
to earth with a crash, shaking the spectacles from her eyes and the wig
from her head. When she looked up, Hugh Gaskell was standing over her.




CHAPTER XV.


Hugh Gaskell had been face to face with death too often with his life
hanging on a mere thread to betray himself in that hectic moment. All
the same, he had to clench his teeth hard to hold back the cry which
almost tore itself from his lips. With a swift glance under his brows to
make sure that nobody was in sight or hearing, he raised Connie to her
feet and looked into her eyes with a perfectly blank expression.

"I hope you haven't hurt yourself," he said politely.

Connie contrived to play up to him at once.

"No, I don't think so, sir," she stammered. "I caught my foot in a root
and came down rather heavily."

Very quietly she picked up her hat and wig and glasses and resumed them
in a way that filled Hugh with admiration. Anybody looking on from a few
yards away would have believed that there was nothing more in it than a
trifling accident, with Hugh acting the part of the good Samaritan. But
he was speaking under his breath and in a whisper so low that even
Connie had to strain her ears to follow what he was saying.

"What does it all mean," Hugh asked. "Oh, course, we can't talk here,
but you must realise that I can't part from you again without a thorough
explanation."

"I suppose not," Connie said. "You were the last person I ever expected
to meet, Hugh, and, in a way, the last I wanted to see. Where can we
go?"

Hugh shook his head, quite at a loss.

"I don't know," he said. "But we can't stand here looking like a pair of
fools. I must know how you got here and why. Why are you taking such a
frightful risk in your present disguise? And where are you going next?"

"Back where I came from," Connie whispered.

"And where on earth may that happen to be?"

"Oh, you are asking me to go into a long explanation and I dare not do
it with the risk of being seen by anybody. It might be a servant from
the house or anybody out of the village. What would they say if they saw
you holding a sort of secret meeting with a domestic servant in this
secluded spot. Now listen, I am lady's maid to Dora Stevenage who is a
great friend of Nita Keene. I came here to-day at great risk to gain
possession of something I had left behind and I have succeeded. I am on
my way back, now, to catch a local train at the junction which will land
me, presently, at Greenfield where a car will meet me. Don't you think
it would be safer if you followed me at a discreet distance and took a
chance----"

"Now that is a good idea," Hugh said approvingly. "I will follow you
into the junction station and watch till you take your seat. There will
be very few people travelling by the local train so that you can easily
get a carriage to yourself and I will take a ticket and join you."

Everything fell out happily and half an hour later Hugh was listening to
Connie's story in a third class carriage which they had to themselves.
She told him all about the gold box and the key to the safe in the bank
in Paris, and how she had come to quarrel with Bascoe over her refusal
to sign the papers that he had placed before her.

"And now you know all about it," she said.

"No, I don't," Hugh said. "I want to know how it is that one who is
supposed to be dead and buried has come to life again in this amazing
fashion."

"Oh, of course," Connie said. "Fancy my forgetting that, I can't go into
the story in detail, Hugh, really I can't. It is too horrible."

In a few words she rapidly sketched the outline of the accident and what
had happened to the rings. After that, there was a silence between them
until Hugh crossed over to the opposite seat and sat himself down by
Connie's side.

"No, no," she cried, warding him off with one hand. "You must not touch
me, indeed you must not. There are reasons, and most powerful reasons,
why you must never think about me again the way that--oh, you know what
I mean. You love me, and I am happy in the knowledge, and I confess it
freely enough--that love is returned. But it is useless, Hugh. There is
a barrier between us that can never be dissolved. Don't ask me what it
is, for I can't tell you. And don't push me beyond my strength, because
I have been tried lately so much that I fear that I shall break down
altogether. Some day, perhaps, if providence is good to us----"

She broke off abruptly, and Hugh could see that she was trembling from
head to foot. It was hard to restrain himself, hard to feel that he was
losing Connie at the moment when he had found her again, but he managed
to conceal his feelings.

"Very well, my dear," he said. "It shall be as you wish. I have waited
patiently so long that I can hold on a little longer. But you are in
trouble. There is something between you and that man, Bascoe, that I
mean to hear sooner or later. At any rate, you might let me help."

"Oh, so gratefully," Connie said. "Perhaps I had better tell you how it
was that I declined to sign those papers which led up to such a quarrel
between Bascoe and myself not many hours before that attempt was made on
his life."

With that, Connie went on to speak freely about the little gold box and
the key with the enamel name on it.

"Now I begin to see something like daylight," Hugh said. "Where is that
box?"

"I have it in my coat pocket at the present moment," Connie explained.
"That is what I came to Uppertons to get. It was a great risk, but it
had to be done."

"I am glad to hear that," Hugh said, "but you can do nothing with that
box yourself. You can do nothing at all until we can prove that Bascoe
is a foul liar. For some reason or another which we shall have to
discover, he wants the world to believe that the late unfortunate
Constance Wakefield made an attempt on his life. And whilst the real
culprit is at large, there is nothing for it but for you to go on
masquerading as you are. But that doesn't prevent me setting the wheels
turning. Now, what I suggest is that you let me have the little gold box
with its contents and leave me to deal with that side of the puzzle. If
I can only ascertain the history of your parents it will be something
gained. And I have an idea that the business is something even more
important than that. It is fairly obvious that your signature to certain
documents meant handing over a considerable amount of money to Bascoe. I
feel convinced that if he liked to speak he could tell you all about
your parentage and a good deal more besides. So if you will let me have
that box and the key and an authority signed by you, so that I shall
have something to show the bank people in Paris, I shall probably be
able to solve more problems than one. Besides, the box will be much
safer in my keeping than yours."

"Oh, if only you would," Connie sighed thankfully. "I felt bound to get
the box back, though I haven't the slightest idea what to do with it. So
if you will take it I shall be full of gratitude and, yes, perhaps
hope."

She took the box from her pocket and handed it over to Hugh, who stowed
it safely away.

"I don't think you are going to regret this," he said. "I will examine
the contents of the box--by the way, is there anything inside there,
except the key?"

"One or two papers," Connie said. "But they convey nothing to me. I dare
say you will think it strange, but I have hardly looked at them."

"Ah so like a woman," Hugh smiled. "Now, Connie, can't you tell me
anything of this barrier you are speaking about. Is it something real
and tangible, or a sort of ghost you have conjured up to frighten
yourself with."

"Oh, no," Connie cried. "I wish to heaven it were. It is as real as life
itself. It is a bond that I forged of my own free will, and at the time
it seemed so simple and so reasonable that I hardly gave it a second
thought. It was inevitable in a way, too. When Mr. Bascoe suggested it
to me, I thought he was quite disinterested."

"Oh, then Bascoe is at the bottom of it, is he?" Hugh said between his
teeth. "Yes, I might have guessed that that rascal had something to do
with it. But surely you can give me some sort of a hint as to what it
is?"

"Oh, no," Connie cried. "I cannot, I dare not, I must not. Only
this--that if I had been aware that you were still in the world and
looking for me, I should have declined at any cost. But I thought you
were dead. Mr. Bascoe said that you were dead. No, not in answer to a
question of mine--it came out in casual conversation. Oh, don't let us
pursue the conversation any further. I can't bear it, Hugh, I can't."

"Very well, my dear," Hugh said resignedly. "It shall be as you wish at
any rate for the present. Thank God you are alive and well and in good
hands. So far as I can make out, only three people know you are alive
and so long as your secret is kept, it seems to me that you are safe.
But I am going to ask you to give me permission to mention these facts
to one more person. I want you to let me take Jimmy Marrable into our
confidence. You won't mind will you?"




CHAPTER XVI.


It seemed to Connie that the request was reasonable, especially
considering the relationship between Marrable and Nita, so that she was
pleased to agree. Then a little later on the two parted and on the
following morning Hugh got into his car and went as far as Uppertons
with the intention of having a confidential talk with Jimmy Marrable. He
found the latter in the eccentric Wimpole's cottage and took him outside
when they could be free from listeners.

And here Hugh told his friend all that had happened the previous day.
Jimmy Marrable listened with something more than astonishment until the
story was finished and then turned to Gaskell with a question in his
eyes.

"That is the most extraordinary thing that ever happened," he exclaimed.
"I never read anything so strange in a novel or, still more remarkable,
in a newspaper. Fancy Nita keeping that from me. Well, I shall never
maintain that a woman can't hold a secret again."

"You must not blame her for it," Hugh smiled.

"Blame her, old chap, nothing of the sort. I am filled with admiration
of her reticence. But what are we going to do? We can't confront Bascoe
in his den and shake the truth out of him. My firm impression is that he
knows who it was that made that murderous assault upon him. We can't
prove at present that Bascoe is a thorough bad lot, but we can look up
his record and see if, in the past--oh, well, you know what I mean. A
chap like that is bound to make enemies. And one of them certainly
tried, on that fateful night, to get even with him. And now I am agoing
to tell you something. I am in a position to prove beyond a
demonstration that Connie had nothing whatever to do with that revolver
shot. Of course, the weapon was her own and only one cartridge of it was
discharged. The police found the bullet and, from their point of view,
the case was complete. But you are not to get me to believe that a
woman, however hysterical, would be insane enough, after she thought she
had killed a man, to leave the weapon behind her. However, that is only
a detail.

"But, here we have Bascoe swearing positively to the time that the
assault took place, which was a dashed silly thing of him to do, because
there was nothing to gain on his part by specifying the precise moment
at which he was shot. But anyway, he elected through thick and thin to
stick to the time, and confirmation of what he said was afforded by
Tarrant, the butler. But my idea is that Tarrant was correct when he
attributed that eleven o'clock shot to some rabbit poachers in the
grounds. In other words, there were two shots fired, one at eleven
o'clock and one twenty-five minutes or so later. It was the twenty-five
minutes later report that did the mischief. Must have done, because, as
I have told you before, I left Uppertons just before eleven and after
that, Bascoe was at work on the water colour drawing for at least
twenty-five minutes, which proves conclusively that at twenty-five
minutes past eleven he was perfectly fit and well. Now, I have that
water-colour drawing in my lodgings and I can produce it whenever it is
required. I can procure expert evidence if necessary who will point out
the difference between my work and Bascoe's, and nail down the fact that
something like half an hour must have been spent upon it after I had
finished."

"Most important," Hugh said gravely. "Later on, we may be able to use
that information with fatal results as far as Bascoe is concerned. But,
meanwhile, we have a long row to hoe. Bascoe still stands on pretty firm
ground."

"Yes, I quite appreciate that," Jimmy said. "But what about the gold
box? Don't you think we can make something out of that? I am hoping that
after your visit to Paris, we shall be able to get a strangle-hold on
Bascoe.'"

"Yes, that is my hope too. I don't want to be over-sanguine, but I
should not be surprised to find, after I have examined the contents of
the safe in the Paris bank, that Connie's past history and her parentage
will be made clear. I feel perfectly certain Bascoe knows all about
Connie, and where she came from. He could tell us who her father and
mother were, and how she came to find herself as a small child in the
care of Countess Inez Matua. It may be an ugly secret; and, on the other
hand, it may go a long way to clear the air. Anyhow, Bascoe is the rogue
in the play, and there must have been some very powerful motive on his
part for trying to force Connie into signing those papers."

"You mean money, I suppose?" Jimmy asked.

"Well, of course. Money or jewels or securities or something of that
sort. But you know Bascoe much better than I do, and it is fairly easy
to see what opinion you have formed of him. You don't regard him as a
rich philanthropist who sought Connie out and made her the mistress of
his household, to say nothing of the reversion of his fortune, out of
pure kindness of heart."

"Not exactly," Jimmy grinned. "If ever Bascoe lays out a sixpence, he
expects to see half-a-crown in return. He poses as a patron of mine and
deludes himself with the idea that I am grateful to him for lifting me
out of the mud and paying me handsomely for certain work which scores of
people could do just as well, whilst I am looking about me and trying to
establish my name as an artist on a firm foundation. Of course, I ought
not to have come to Uppertons at all; I ought to have been ashamed of
myself. But I was absolutely on my uppers at the time, and what is a
poor devil to do when he hasn't a bean in the world and stares the
workhouse in the face? At first I looked upon the whole thing as rather
a joke----"

"Yes, and I should think the joke became a little more enjoyable when
you managed to wangle Nita Keene into Uppertons. My dear old chap, it is
time you dropped these little vaudeville stunts of yours and thought
seriously of your future."

"Spoken like a man who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth and ten
thousand a year of his own," Jimmy laughed. "But you are quite right old
chap! This business has been a lesson to me, and I am not going to
forget it. Besides, I have got my chance now, and I mean to grasp it
with both hands. If I hadn't Nita to think of I should have chucked
Uppertons some time ago and gone to London. But, dash it all, old bean,
you wouldn't have me desert Mr. Micawber--what?"

"I suppose you never will be quite serious," Hugh said. "However, I know
I can trust you when the pinch comes. My present intention is to go to
Paris without delay, leaving you here to keep your eye upon the firm.
And if you can give Bascoe a real good jolt meanwhile, it won't do any
harm."

"Oh, I can do that," Jimmy said. "I am going up there presently, and if
you will let me have your address in Paris, I will keep you au fait with
all that transpires."

There was no more to be said for the moment, so Hugh got into his car
and drove homewards, whilst Jimmy, in a more than usually serious frame
of mind, went as far as Uppertons. There he found Bascoe in the library,
passing the time with a sheet of drawing paper and a box of water
colours. Jimmy smiled as he saw this, because it gave him the opening he
required. He bent over the table where Bascoe was at work and pointed
out a glaring error.

"There you are," he said. "Despite all I have told you. You will never
make an artist if you will insist in disregarding all the canons of the
art. It was just the same with that picture you were working on, on the
night you came to grief."

Bascoe looked up a little suspiciously.

"Why do you allude to that?" he asked.

"Well, because it is a case in point. If you had done what I told you,
you wouldn't have spoilt one of my best bits of work I ever did. It took
me the best part of a day and a half to draw that bit of landscape, and
when I left you about five minutes to eleven on that memorable night, I
hoped that you would do no more than just add a touch or two. Instead of
which, you must have spent at least twenty-five minutes, making an
infernal hash of a delicate piece of colouring."

Again Bascoe looked up with a scowl on his face. "I didn't," he said. "I
never touched it."

"Oh, yes, you did. I will bring it back presently, and show you what a
hash you made of it. It was five minutes to eleven that night when I
left here and you must have been working on it for nearly half an hour
after that. And yes, by Jove, now I come to think of it, you swore till
all's blue that it was just eleven o'clock when Connie shot you."

There was a direct challenge in Jimmy's voice now, and Bascoe rose to it
without a moment's delay.

"You had best be careful," he said hoarsely, "You are treading on
delicate ground and the sooner you realize it the better. Let sleeping
dogs lie. Oh, yes, I know what you are driving at. You are thinking
about those papers that Miss Wakefield declined to sign. But I know how
to close my mouth. What if I tell you that her legal name was not
Wakefield, but Constance Bascoe? Oh, you are surprised, are you? I can
show the certificate of marriage."





CHAPTER XVII.


As Bascoe calmly announced the fact that Connie was his wife, there was
an easy assurance about him and a smile so different to his usual
truculent air that Jimmy was conscious of a feeling of deep uneasiness.
If the man had blustered or bullied or tried any bluff of that sort,
then Jimmy would have felt more sure of his ground. But as it was, he
was at a disadvantage and, moreover, Bascoe was aware of the fact.

"Yes," the latter went on in the same smooth, easy way. "What I am
telling you, is nothing but the truth, though there is no reason why I
should take you into my confidence at all. I did not like your manner
just now, Marrable, and I tell you so frankly. But you and I have been
pretty good friends and there are reasons why we should not quarrel."

"I don't think anybody said a word about a quarrel," Jimmy grinned. "I
don't want to have any unpleasantness with you, and all the more because
circumstances have compelled me to play a part of which I am not
particularly proud. We are a couple of humbugs, Bascoe, and you know
it."

"Ah, well perhaps you are right," Bascoe said airily. "Of course you are
speaking from an artistic point of view. But, my dear fellow, there is
no reason why anybody should know the history of those water-colour
drawings."

"I was not thinking about them," Jimmy said. "I was more occupied with
the story of the attack on you in this very room on that eventful night.
And now you tell me that your own wife tried to murder you. Do you
really want me to believe that?"

"Does it matter to me two straws whether you believe it or not?" Bascoe
asked with a return of his usual truculent manner. "There are matters
connected with this business of which I can say nothing. Family secrets,
and all that sort of thing."

"Very likely," Jimmy retorted. "But why do you stick to that yarn about
eleven o'clock when you know perfectly well, and I know perfectly well,
that the trouble must have occurred not far short of half an hour later?
That is what makes me doubt your story and forces me to the conclusion
that you are shielding somebody else at the expense of poor Connie."

"Well, and if I am, what then?"

"Oh, well, in that case, there is no more to be said. But I tell you to
your face that I don't believe a word of it. Of course, somebody shot
you and I have a shrewd suspicion that you know something of the
criminal. But to go on accusing Connie of having tried to murder you
after she is dead is a pretty cowardly thing to do. And that is why I
shan't feel happy until our business has come to an end."

Bascoe regarded the speaker with a placid smile on his face. He seemed
amused about something and certainly had the air of one who feels that
he holds all the cards.

"Just as you like, my dear chap," he said. "Just as you like. I have
served your purpose and, no doubt you have made other arrangements. I
rather wondered why a clever artist like you stayed here so long,
playing the ghost and allowing me to take the credit for that admirable
work of yours."

Jimmy winced slightly under the sarcasm, but it was not his game to show
any resentment and he said nothing. Then Bascoe crossed the room and
threw open the door of his safe, from which he took a long narrow slip
of paper.

"Here you are," he said. "Have a look at it for yourself. The sight of
this document may be the means of saving you from making a fool of
yourself in some other direction."

With that, Bascoe tossed the slip across to his companion and Jimmy read
the writing thereon carefully. There was no doubt whatever of the
authenticity of the document. It was a certificate of marriage between
Rupert Bascoe and Constance Wakefield, the ceremony having taken place
in a registry office in London some eighteen months before. It was
impossible for Jimmy to regard this as a forgery and, in any case,
Bascoe would never have dared to try a bluff like that, seeing that it
was possible for Jimmy to memorize the date and the registry office and
find out for himself if the marriage really had taken place. It had been
a bit of a shock for him when Bascoe had bluntly spoken of his marriage,
and that shock was none the less when Bascoe produced chapter and verse
for it.

"Well, are you satisfied now?" Bascoe asked with a suspicion of a sneer.
"Ah, yes, I see you are. And now perhaps you will allow the subject to
drop once and for all. I am not going to deny that you have made a very
good point over the question of the time, and I am not going to deny
that I have a very good reason for trying to deceive you and everybody
else. That it my business, and I want you not to forget it."

"I won't," Jimmy retorted. "But you are never going to get me to believe
that poor Connie ever had any hand in the attempt on your life. For two
reasons. First of all, if she had, you would never have told anybody.
And secondly, because you have told us such a lot of lies about the
time. I think the best thing I can do is to clear out without delay."

"Oh, not quite so fast," Bascoe said. "I shall at least expect you to
complete your contract. There are three or four of those sketches yet to
be finished, and I am not disposed to let you go until they are done. If
you put your back into it, we ought to finish within a week."

Jimmy hastened to agree. He had very nearly succeeded is having the
front door of Uppertons shut in his face, which would have been
something of a calamity in view of the fact that he was still anxious to
have the run of the house. The mystery was deepening instead of growing
lighter and, until the end was in sight, the right of coming and going
to Uppertons was a privilege that would have been madness to throw away.

"Very well," he said. "I have told you what was in my mind and feel all
the better for it. I am not going to break my contract, though perhaps
within the course of the next few days I shall be free to leave."

Jimmy went off presently, and from the hotel in the village managed to
get hold or Hugh Gaskell on the telephone. It was not much he had to
say, but the few pregnant words caused Hugh to jump in his car and hurry
to Wimpole's cottage without delay. There he found Jimmy awaiting him,
and the two turned into the road where they could talk without the risk
of being overheard by anybody who happened to be near.

"Now tell me all about it," said Hugh.

"Well, to begin with," Jimmy responded. "You must be prepared for a
great shock. I have discovered why it is that Connie was so anxious to
keep us at a distance. I mean the dramatic touch, old chap. The heroine
snatching herself from the hero's sheltering arms and telling him it
cannot be, and all that sort of thing. Just as Connie treated you."

"Yes, that is right," Hugh said moodily. "Some sort of barrier which she
could not, or would not explain. And yet I am absolutely sure that she
is as fond of me as I am of her. If it is anything to do with her birth,
it would not make the slightest difference, and she ought to know it. If
she were the daughter of the greatest scoundrel in Europe, and the worst
woman, I should want to marry her just the same."

"Yes, but you can't," Jimmy said.

"What on earth do you mean by that?"

"Well, you see, old chap, she is married already."

"Connie married?" Hugh cried. "Married? Do you mean to tell me that the
poor girl has a husband alive?"

"Very much so," Jimmy said mournfully. "But that is not the worst of it.
She is married to Bascoe."

It was a blow between the eyes for Hugh, but he bore it manfully enough.
He was dazed and half stunned, but he managed to keep a grip on himself
as he turned to Jimmy for further information. And though Jimmy was full
of sympathy, he knew that it was better to speak out plainly and get it
over.

"Yes, it's Bascoe all right," he said. "There is not doubt about it,
because I have seen the marriage certificate by trying to put a bluff
over Bascoe in connection with that water-colour drawing and the alleged
time of the attempted murder. But Bascoe was too many for me. He
practically admitted that he had deceived everybody over the time and
pretended that there was some reason for it which did not concern
anybody but himself. So what an earth could I do?"

"We seem to have made a nice mess of it between us," Hugh said dismally.
"But surely Bascoe didn't stick to the statement that Connie had tried
to shoot him?"

"Indeed he did, and I couldn't shake him either. He certainly half
suggested that he might be sheltering somebody else, but he would not
exonerate Connie. And then, when I thought I had got him, he showed me
that he and Connie were married and gave me the marriage certificate to
read. Oh, it's right enough. I memorized the date and the registry
office in London and I saw Bascoe smile as he noticed me doing so. There
was no bluff about that bit of paper."

"But why, in the name of heaven, why?'" Hugh cried. "What form of
madness can have induced that poor girl to ally herself with a man
double her age when she knew that there was somebody else to whom her
heart was given?"

"Meaning yourself, of course," Jimmy smiled.





CHAPTER XVIII.


"Need we discuss that particular point?" Hugh asked. "It is years since
I first met Connie in the most deplorable circumstances when we were
thrown together for some considerable time. I didn't tell her what my
feelings were, but she guessed them right enough and I guessed hers. Out
in the east of Europe where everything was a fair imitation of Hades, it
was no time to talk about love. But it was understood that were were to
meet again, and we should have done if she hadn't disappeared in the
most mysterious manner, and I don't suppose I should ever have seen her
again if it hadn't been for you. My dear fellow, that scoundrel must
have held some threat of dire terror over the poor girl's head to have
induced her to take such a step. But I am not going to leave things as
they are--I am going to have it out with that rascal. Now that the
police are satisfied, and have ceased to take any interest in what they
call the Uppertons Mystery, it remains for us two to try and clear it
up."

"Very well," Jimmy said. "You can see Bascoe if you like, but you won't
get anything out of him. That chap is too sure of his ground to fear you
in the slightest."

"Perhaps," Hugh said grimly. "But then again, perhaps not. But in
solving this diabolical business, we have one great factor on our side
of which Bascoe knows nothing."

"And what does that happen to be?" Jimmy asked.

"The fact that Bascoe is ignorant of Connie being still in the land of
the living," Hugh smiled grimly. "We have that on our side, and when we
are ready, we can swing it on that rascal. Meanwhile, I want a little
talk with him. And I am going to have that talk without further delay."

Seeing that Hugh was determined to pursue the course he had laid out for
himself, Jimmy raised no further objection, and together they crossed
the fields in the direction of Uppertons. They found Bascoe at home and
quite ready to receive them. He elevated his eyebrows and looked
slightly uneasy for a moment as he turned and faced Hugh Gaskell.

"Ah, this is an unexpected pleasure," he said scoffingly. "And none the
less so, Mr. Gaskell, because I thought you were numbered with those who
have passed over. In fact, I told Miss Wakefield so more than once."

"But why keep up the fiction of Miss Wakefield?" Jimmy smiled. "I told
my friend, Gaskell here that a marriage had taken place between you and
Miss Wakefield less than two years ago. That is why Mr. Gaskell is
here."

"I presume you sent for him?" Bascoe challenged.

"Well, you can put it that way if you like," Jimmy said. "At any rate,
my friend is here to discuss the matter."

"Really," Bascoe protested. "Really?"

"There is no occasion to adopt that tone," Hugh said. "I came here this
afternoon in response to a telephone call from my friend, Marrable. I
knew Constance Wakefield years ago and we were something more than
friends. An accident of war parted us, and, ever since, I have been
searching for her it was a mere chance that Marrable was in this house
and put me on the right track. And when I came, it was too late. I dare
say you wonder why I know that, but I saw Miss Wakefield on one occasion
and she let me know by inference that any friendship between us might be
regarded as finished. But she didn't tell me that she was married and
that you were her husband. I dare say you regard it as a liberty, but
would you mind telling me why it was that you married her?"

"Well, of all the impudence," Bascoe said, with quite a pleasant smile.
"You come into my house, practically a stranger, and demand, to know why
I married my wife. Of course, I can guess something of your feelings,
and, indeed, a few years ago Connie gave me a pretty broad hint as to
how things had once stood between you two. And now, if you must know, I
will tell you how it was that Connie Wakefield became Mrs. Bascoe."

"You are vastly obliging," Hugh said, bitterly.

"Not at all, my dear fellow, not at all. I married my wife because it
was absolutely necessary for her safety that she would ally herself with
an Englishman without delay. You see, she had not nationality, she
hadn't the remotest idea who her parents were, or how she came to find
herself a sort of lone orphan, living with Countess Inez Matua. So when
the war was over, and Connie came to England to get her living as a
nurse, one or two inquisitive people began to ask questions. Then the
dear old lady called D.O.R.A. took a hand in the game. She wanted to
know who Connie was and how she had managed to reach England without a
passport. If things had remained as they were, the poor girl would have
been inevitably deported. And where could she have gone?"

Bascoe flung the questions at the heads of the two men, and waited for a
reply that failed to come.

"Very well," he went on. "You see the difficulty. Connie would have been
turned out of this country with nowhere to go and something like
starvation to face. So I came to the rescue because I liked her and
because I am a rich man with no relatives I cared a straw about. I don't
mind admitting that it was a long time before I could persuade that poor
child to see reason, but she did at last and that's all there is to it."

"Very noble of you," Hugh said. "But, my dear sir, during the war I saw
a good deal of the worst side of human nature in very high places and I
have got in the habit of looking for a motive. Now, you won't be too
much annoyed if I say that I don't believe you married Constance
Wakefield to save her from the fate that you outlined just now. I
believe, if you liked you could tell us all about her parents on both
sides. And I have every reason to believe that Miss Wakefield was not
the poor girl you make out, but that she was entitled to a considerable
property in her own right. If that were not so, why were you so anxious
to induce her to sign certain papers. Why did you threaten her with
violence if she would not do so? Of course, you can refuse to answer
these questions, but perhaps a court of law will force you to do so.
Mind, I am not talking without book. I have in my possession--but that
is another matter."

For the first time, Bascoe showed signs of uneasiness. "I can assure you
that you are wrong," he said eagerly. "I can show you evidence
concerning Connie's parentage which will astonish and shock you. Never
mind how I came across it--it was one of the queer things that the war
threw up. I remember many years ago, during the time I was in Serbia
doing my best to bring about an understanding between that country and
Bulgaria, blundering on to some documents which I was examining together
with a man named Hargest--what on earth am I talking about? His name was
Gregory. I can't think what put the word Hargest into my mind. Well, as
I was saying, I stumbled on documents I would much rather not have seen.
If you are wise, you won't ask me any further questions."

"You would decline to answer them?" Jimmy asked.

"Most emphatically," Bascoe rejoined. "And now, gentlemen, if you have
no more to say----"

Jimmy hastened to take the hint, and almost dragged Hugh from the room
with him. It was only when they were well clear of the house that he
turned to Hugh with blazing eyes.

"Great Scott, what a bit of luck!" he cried. "Do you mean to say that
the name of Hargest didn't suggest anything to you, Hugh, old chap.
Charles Hargest, the head of the Secret service in the near East? The
man who knew every spy on both sides of the campaign from those at the
top to the little germs that swarmed every city in Bulgaria and Turkey.
It was a slip of the tongue and I could see that Bascoe could have
bitten his out when that name escaped from his lips. Now, Charlie
Hargest must be somewhere in England. Suppose we go back to the village
pub and see if we can't get him at his club or something of that sort.
You can bet your life he knows all about Bascoe, and if he doesn't turn
out to be a real wrong 'un, then I shall be greatly mistaken. Come on
and let us try our luck."

It took some time by the use of the trunk line to establish the fact
that the man called Charles Hargest was in London. Further calls to his
flat elicited the fact that he was lunching at the Wanderers' Club,
where he would be likely to be found till fairly late in the afternoon.
Then another call and, after a long pause Hugh heard, at the other end
of the wire, a voice that had been familiar enough to him in the days of
stress and danger.

"Hello, hello," he said. "Who is that? Oh, Hugh Gaskell, is it? Fancy
that now! Good Lord! I haven't seen or heard of you for years. Where are
you calling from? Oh, yes, you have a place near there, haven't you? I
will run down one of these early days and have a chat over old times."

"I shall be glad if you will come today," Hugh said. "Here is the
address. You had better come down by the evening train after dark.
What's that? Oh yes, the same old game. Man called Rupert Bascoe. Do you
know him?"

"Know him," the voice came back over the wires. "That infernal
scoundrel. I should think I did know him. But he didn't call himself
Bascoe then. If I can do anything to place him where he ought to have
been long ago, then I should consider no money or time wasted. Yes,
expect me by the last train, whatever time it is."

"Things are beginning to move," Jimmy smiled, as Hugh replaced the
receiver. "If Bascoe only knew!"




CHAPTER XIX.


Hugh Gaskell turned his back upon the telephone and faced Jimmy with a
pertinent question.

"What are we going to do next?" he asked.

"Well," Jimmy responded, "what can we do until Charlie Hargest turns up?
And if Hargest fails us, then we are no worse off than we were
before--that is, unless I can do a bit of burglary work at Uppertons. I
mean, get a sight of the inside of Bascoe's fireproof safe."

"There might be something in that," Hugh agreed thoughtfully, "but
dangerous, Jimmy. Now, look here--you have got to put aside for a moment
the inconsequent easy-going Jimmy Marrable and revert to the Marrable
who was so useful to his country during the war. You know what I mean.
Sink the artist in the alert Secret Service man."

"Oh, as to that," Jimmy grinned, "that Bohemian vagabond, Jimmy
Marrable, has practically ceased to exist. When this tangle is all
unravelled, James Marrable the eminent artist, is coming into his own. I
have got my chance, and I mean to grasp it with both hands. Then, as
soon as possible, I shall make Nita my wife and tell my highly-respected
father-in-law to go and hang himself. It is very strange how my affairs
and yours and Connie's are all mixed up in the same jig-saw puzzle. Just
consider a moment. Connie is hiding under the roof of a woman who is
half-sister to the man Nita's father wants her to marry."

"Oh, yes, I know all about that," Hugh said impatiently. "I have a few
hours to spare before Hargest gets here, and I propose to go over to
Mrs. Stevenage's house to see Connie. I am going to tell her of the
disclosure we more or less forced out of Bascoe just now, and tell her
that her secret is no longer her own. I don't know Mrs. Stevenage, so
perhaps it would be as well if you gave me one of your cards."

"Right-o!" Jimmy agreed. "You will find Dora Stevenage everything that
her half-brother is not. A most delightful woman, and entirely on our
side. In the meantime, I am going to try and work out a little scheme of
my own. If there is anything in it, I can let you know by the time you
get back home."

"Which will be about half-past seven," Hugh said. "Just in time to meet
Hargest and take him back to dinner. If you can contrive to run over
later in the evening it won't be a bad move. But don't do it if you
think that your absence would arouse Bascoe's suspicions."

"Oh, that's all right," Jimmy said. "My time is more or less my own, and
in no case was I going to Uppertons to-night. There is a chap in the
village who runs a car for hire, and I will arrange for him to bring me
over to your place and stay there until we have finished our conference
with Hargest."

Hugh, having no more to say for the moment, got into his car and made
his way without further delay, to the residence of Dora Stevenage where
he sent in Jimmy's card and asked for the favour of an interview with
the mistress of the house. A moment or two later, Dora entered the
drawing-room and made Hugh welcome in her own pleasant and friendly way.

"Of course, I know all about you, Mr. Gaskell," she said. "And I can
guess why you are here. Do you want to have a private talk with Connie
or can I----"

"Well, yes, if you please," Hugh interrupted. "I know that you are in
Connie's confidence, and she has probably told you of the dramatic way
in which I discovered that she had not met her death in that terrible
railway accident."

"Yes, she told me that," Dora said. "And very distressed about it she
was. She didn't want anybody to know for the present that she was still
in the land of the living, but as I pointed out to her, such a state of
things could not go on indefinitely. And if I may touch on a delicate
subject, I know what your feelings are so far as Connie is concerned and
the light in which she regards you. Still, she has not been entirely
candid, even with me, because when I asked her what possible obstacle
there is between you both, she is reduced to a state of distress and
says that she must never see you again. So what can I do? If you know
what that obstacle is----"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Hugh interrupted. "But I only found it out
a short time ago. Of course, I can't tell you what it is without
Connie's consent and I hope, when I have seen her, that she will allow
you to know everything. Would you mind telling her that I am here and
waiting to see her."

Dora smiled as she left the room and returned a moment or two later with
Connie close behind her. The girl drew back when she saw Hugh standing
there, but it was too late to retreat now and the look of reproach she
turned on Dora was wasted.

"All right, my dear," the latter said cheerfully. "I am not going to
apologise for not telling you who your visitor was, I am going to leave
him to explain."

With that, Dora vanished leaving Hugh and Connie face to face. The door
of the drawing-room was closed and Hugh noticed that the outlook
permitted no one to see into the apartment from the garden outside. He
turned to Connie with an expression on his face that was stern and a
little grave.

"Now, my dear," he said, "we must have an explanation. If I am to save
you and to restore you to the world with your name absolutely cleared,
you must be perfectly candid with me. First of all, take off those ugly
spectacles and that wig, and let me see the dear little girl that I have
loved and hankered for all these years."

"Oh, please don't speak like that," Connie said pleadingly. "You don't
know how mean and miserable you make me feel."

"But why, Connie--why?" Hugh asked. "What have you done wrong? Nobody
who knows you would believe that you had anything to do with that attack
upon Bascoe. Then why should you suffer all this worry and anxiety for
nothing?"

Very slowly Connie removed her disguise and stood with her eyes fixed
almost imploringly on Hugh.

"I don't know," she said pathetically. "Oh, Hugh, if I had only met you
after the war was over, and before Mr. Bascoe sought me out."

"Yes," Hugh retorted. "And if only you had had the strength of mind to
refuse Bascoe's suggestion that you should shelter yourself under his
name and become his wife."

Connie stared in absolute amazement.

"How did you discover that?" she asked.

"I didn't," Hugh smiled grimly. "Bascoe told me himself. But Jimmy
Marrable, in the first place, practically forced that confession out of
him. Moreover, he told us why such a step was necessary. He married you
because you hadn't what the poet called a local habitation or a name,
and he painted in the darkest colours what would have happened to you if
you had been deported from England as an alien. And he also claimed
slight relationship to your mother. Isn't that correct?"

"Oh, yes--yes," Connie cried. "Hugh, I can't say that man was anything
but kind to me up to the time we had our quarrel; but, at the same time,
I never really liked or trusted him. I can't tell you why, but I didn't.
And when he pointed out the grave state in which I stood, and said it
was necessary to give me the protection of his name, I yielded, because
I thought you were dead. He managed to tell me in conversation that you
were dead. And, mind you, Hugh, that marriage was practically to end
when we came out of the registry office where it took place. We didn't
even go away together, and directly the formalities were concluded, I
went back to Uppertons and Mr. Bascoe departed to the Continent where he
had business. When he came home we lived just as we had done before, he
having his own apartments and I having mine. Because, you see I was
still Connie Wakefield to the servants and everybody round about, and
nobody knows anything to the contrary, except, I suppose, Jimmy and
yourself."

"That is perfectly right," Hugh admitted. "We are the only persons who
have discovered your secret, and, for the present, no one else need
know. But if I were you, I should tell your hostess and I should
certainly tell Nita. My dear child, you can't go on in this way. As soon
as we have cleared your name, that ridiculous marriage must be
dissolved. Of course, it is absurd to suppose that you are anything but
English. And it is any odds that Bascoe is perfectly aware of the fact.
He knows who you are, and all about you, and I shall be greatly
surprised if it doesn't turn out eventually that you are the owner of
considerable property. Otherwise why was Bascoe so mad keen for you to
sign those papers? I am absolutely sure that I am right."

"But my dear Hugh," Connie asked. "How are you going to prove it? What
evidence have you got?"

"Have you forgotten already?" Hugh smiled. "Have you forgotten that
little gold box and the key with the name enamelled on it? That key in
the clue to the whole situation. I am going to Paris in a day or two,
and when I come back I shall have quite a lot to tell you. Things are in
train now, and you have only got to be patient and hide yourself here
until we can lay our hands upon the enemy who struck the fatal blow--or
rather, fired the fatal shot that nearly ended Bascoe's life. Courage,
my darling--courage, and all will be well."

"Ah, if I could only think so," Connie smiled faintly.




CHAPTER XX.


Meanwhile, Jimmy Marrable was pursuing a little course of his own. He
had said nothing about it to Gaskell, but for some little time past he
had been keeping a careful watch up on his eccentric old landlord,
Wimpole. Not because he had anything more definite to go on than the
discovery he had made in connection with the jade-covered pocket-book
which Bascoe had missed, and which Jimmy had seen in Wimpole's apology
for a safe.

When Jimmy reached his lodgings, he walked into the greenhouse at the
end of the garden, where he found Wimpole in a state of suppressed
excitement almost bordering on frenzy. In front of the old man was a
longish green spike in a flower pot, on the top of which spike something
faintly resembling a bloom had appeared.

"Ah, here you are," Jimmy said breezily. "Anything particularly
interesting in that shoot you are examining?"

"The triumph of a lifetime," Wimpole piped. "Ah, yes, my friend, it is a
discovery that will set every culturist in the world shaking with envy.
For there is the blue daffodil."

"You are quite sure of that?" Jimmy asked.

"Ah, my young friend, you never can be quite sure of anything in this
world, but I am prepared to pledge my reputation that when the little
insignificant bud opens it will be a blue flower. Yes, and a fine one,
too. An Emperor daffodil. I tell you, I can't be mistaken. All my life
has been devoted to flowers. I have collected them in every quarter of
the globe. I have suffered hunger and thirst and stared death in the
face times out of number for the sake of a single bloom. Yes, all my
life. There is only one other object I have and I shall attain that
before I die. But that has nothing to do with flowers, no, no."

As the old man spoke, his face changed from one of wild enthusiasm to a
concentrated hate and malignity that caused Jimmy to whistle softly
between his teeth.

"And what might that be?" he ventured to ask.

"Ah, no, no," Wimpole cried. "That is my secret. A secret that concerns
only myself and a dear one who has been lost sight of for years. But I
shall succeed there, as I am going to succeed with the blue daffodil.
And when they have both materialised, then I care nothing whether I live
or die."

The old man went babbling on in the same strain, ignorant of the fact
that he was once more alone, for Jimmy had returned to the cottage with
an idea of looking at the inside of the pocket-book. It seemed to him
that Wimpole was too deeply engrossed in that green spike to think of
anything else at the moment, and, therefore, there would be no danger in
an attempt to see inside the safe in the cottage sitting-room. And by
good luck the key was in the lock and a few seconds later the
jade-covered pocket-book was in Jimmy's hands.

For some ten minutes or so, he turned over the contents, which consisted
of a lot of loose papers and letters, and ran his eye over them with a
view to getting some sort of a grip on what they meant. And then,
towards the end of his search, he came upon a letter in a woman's
handwriting, a letter addressed to Bascoe and speaking of him as "my
dear Rupert," and ending with the words. "Yours always, Edna." Twice
Jimmy read the letter through and then replaced it in the safe, feeling
sure that he had not been overlooked, for he could still hear Wimpole
muttering and talking to himself in the green-house.

There was a look of mingled gravity and gratification on Jimmy's face as
he left the cottage some time later and hired the village car with a
view to reaching Hugh's house in time to dine with his friend and the
man called Hargest. It was just after seven when the comparatively short
journey was accomplished and Jimmy found himself in Hugh's den, shaking
hands with a man he had come especially to see.

"Well, Charles," he said, "dashed glad to see you once more, and that's
a fact. Like old times, what? When we took our lives in our hands
amongst those brigands in Bulgaria and Turkey and struck a blow for
democracy, by jove! That was a life worth living, wasn't it? And now you
have turned up again with that ugly old mug of yours to put it across
friend Bascoe."

Hargest smiled. He was a long, lean, greyhound of a man with a prominent
thrusting nose and a mouth that could smile pleasantly or be as hard as
steel.

"Yes, I hope so," he said. "But let us defer all that till we have had
something to eat. I never could work on an empty stomach, as you know
perfectly well."

They adjourned presently to the dining-room and, once they were back in
the snug little room again and cigars were lighted, Hargest at a sign
from Hugh, began to talk.

"Look here, Marrable," he said. "Hugh has told me generally the story of
recent happenings at a place called Uppertons. He has his own idea as to
the trouble there, but he wants to know of Bascoe's past history. Well,
it so happens that I am the man to tell him. It was a rotten slip on
Bascoe's part this morning when he happened to mention my name and then
tried to pass it off by saying he was thinking of somebody else."

"That's right," Jimmy grinned. "Directly the name Hargest dropped from
Bascoe's lips, I thought of you at once. That is why Hugh telephoned to
your club and got you down here. However, it is for you to do the
talking, not me. Fire ahead."

"All right," Hargest said. "You must know that Bascoe was once a sort of
extra attache to some fifth-rate embassy in the Balkans. By some means
or another, he attracted the attention of his superiors and was
entrusted with at least one delicate mission. Mind you, Bascoe was a man
of considerable brain power, and his intellect is to be respected. More
than that, he has courage and imagination. When the war broke out, he
was given a sort of roving commission, because he was more or less a
master of languages, and because he was self-indulgent and greedy over
money, he could not resist the temptation of taking pay from both sides.
More than one serious disaster to our troops in Salonika was entirely
due to that scoundrel, and if I could have come up with him one
particular occasion, I should have shot the traitor out of hand without
the trouble of bringing him before a court martial. You see, we were
both supposed to be more or less on the same errand, and it was only by
the merest fluke that I discovered what a double game Bascoe was
playing. So I tracked him all across Europe, right into Italy. Then I
lost sight of him for the time being, and when I got on his track again,
I found out that he had had a hand in bringing about the big Italian
disaster on the Piave. After that, I couldn't find the least sign of the
man. However, it didn't matter, because not long after that the
Austrians were flung back when the Central Powers collapsed. That is
years ago as you fellows know. But I have not forgotten and I have been
keeping an eye open for Bascoe ever since. Mind you, I have chapter and
verse for everything I say, and when we do meet, there is going to be
trouble. I don't think there is a single incident in Bascoe's life that
I haven't got down in black and white."

"Yes, all very interesting," Hugh said. "But it doesn't seem to help us
much in our present task. I mean, it isn't of much use to connect with
the attack upon Bascoe's life and his subsequent statement with regard
to the girl, whom most of us know as Connie Wakefield. Bascoe still
maintains that he married her for her own protection and with a view to
leaving her ultimately the bulk of his large fortune."

"Fortune be hanged," Hargest cried. "When I last touched Bascoe's trail,
he had no more money than I have, and that is only a few hundred a year.
If he is keeping up a large place, as you tell me Uppertons is, then it
is either with somebody else's money or the prospect of it."

"That is just what I think," Jimmy said. "And I don't mind making a
small bet that the fortune in question belongs to the young lady whom we
know us Connie Wakefield."

"Well, we may come to that presently. Meanwhile, we have other things to
think of," Hugh said. "Now, would it be as well to confront Bascoe with
our friend, Hargest here?"

"Not for a day or two," Hargest suggested. "I am going to put a
proposition to you to-morrow after I have thought it all out. I don't
want to discuss it for a moment, because there are one or two threads
hanging loose. You see, so long as Bascoe can claim Miss Wakefield as
his wife----"

Jimmy laughed aloud.

"I haven't had an altogether idle afternoon," he said. "I spent most of
it in the cottage of my eccentric old landlord examining certain things
I had accidentally found there some little time ago. It was quite easy,
because the eminent horticulturist was in his greenhouse in raptures
over a potential blue daffodil, so I had a chance of looking into his
safe.

"I found the jade-coloured pocket-book, missing from Bascoe's library on
the night of the attack. I told you about Bascoe missing that, Hugh,
didn't I? Well, although I had previously made that discovery, I had
kept the matter to myself. I had time to read letters and documents in
that book that threw quite a strong light on our puzzling problem. And
one letter in particular intrigued me very much. I have it in my pocket.
If I am not greatly mistaken Bascoe has a wife who is still in the land
of the living."




CHAPTER XXI.


"Well," Hargest said, when the three friends had talked over the matter
at length. "I don't see how you can get any further for the moment.
There is one little matter, however, that rather intrigues me that is
the question of the jade-covered pocket-book found by our friend, Jimmy,
in his landlords safe, which article obviously was at one time the
property, or at any rate, in the possession of the scoundrel we are
going to unmask."

"I don't doubt it for a moment," Jimmy said. "But for the life of me I
can't see any connexion between my eccentric host and Bascoe. Those two
men must have met during the eighteen months or so that Wimpole has been
in the neighbourhood, and, if there is anything between them, I was
bound to find it out. I have never heard Bascoe allude once to the
eminent horticulturalist, and, certainly, I have never heard the old
gentleman mention Bascoe by name, though I have probably alluded to him
more than once in conversation with my landlord."

"Yes, that may be all right, but there must be some sort of affinity,"
Hargest went on. "Now, supposing you sound Wimpole on the subject and
see if you can elicit a fact or two likely to help us in our
investigations. There is no great hurry and I don't think we can get
much further until Gaskell has been over to Paris and probed into the
mystery of the safe there. I will go back to London with him and
directly you telegraph to me, I will come back here again and carry on.
Just a wire to say he arrived, so as not to arouse any curiosity in the
village post office and I will be on the spot as fast as a motorcar and
bring me. What do you say, Hugh?"

"Oh, I am entirely in accord," Gaskell said. "You devote your attention
the next two or three days to your landlord, Jimmy, whilst I am in
Paris. And if anything really substantial turns up there, then I will
send you an innocent-looking telegram if I am successful, as I hope to
be. For the present, at any rate, this palaver is finished."

Early the following morning, Hargest and Gaskell departed for London,
leaving Jimmy to pursue his investigations at his leisure. He had
certain work to do at Uppertons and this he did not neglect, lest he
should arouse any sort of suspicion in the breast of his employer. All
the same he had plenty of time on his hands, and spent most of it
pottering about the cottage and in and out of the greenhouse where the
old gentleman was still engaged in watching the development of that
daffodil of his as if life depended upon it.

"Yes," Jimmy said, sympathetically. "I can quite understand how a man
gets wrapped up in a pursuit so fascinating as yours. It reminds me of
Alexandra Dumas's story of 'The Black Tulip.' Did you happen to read
that romance?"

"I have it in my bedroom," Wimpole said. "I must have read it a score of
times. In fact it was that wonderful story that first gave me the idea
of attempting to propagate a blue daffodil. Ever since I was a boy I
have been more or less mad on flowers, and, as I have told you more than
once, I have hunted them all over the world."

"More or less for a living, I suppose?"

"Nothing of the sort," the old man chuckled. "My dear young friend, I am
a comparatively rich man. That is, I am rich to-day, because my
commercial-minded father happened to die without a will and I came into
all his property. He didn't intend me to have a penny of it, but death
stepped in before he could leave everything to some charity or other,
and I inherited the lot."

"Indeed," Jimmy said politely. "If it isn't a rude question, why should
a floriculturist like you, with all that money, come here and establish
yourself in a cottage?"

A look of intense cunning crossed the old man's wrinkled face for a
moment and then was gone.

"That is a shrewd question, my young friend," he said. "A very shrewd
question. But when you keep up an establishment of importance, a
thousand little things transpire to divert your mind from some central
object. And my central object is the blue daffodil. Hence the fact that
I came down here where I could live quietly and think of nothing else."

It sounded logical enough, but Jimmy was not altogether satisfied. Why
that look of cunning, he asked himself, and why should Wimpole still
speak with a strange gleam in his eye?

"Yes, I see your point," Jimmy said casually. "I suppose your friends
come and see you occasionally."

"I have no friends," he said. "When my father disowned me, my friends,
so called, fell away, and I had to accept the offer of a firm who dealt
in rare plants from all parts of the world or I should have starved."

"Then you are absolutely friendless," Jimmy said, sympathetically. "You
don't boast even one?"

"Not one," the old said sadly. "I can't think of a single person I
should care to write to and proclaim the fact that Andrew Wimpole is
still alive. There was one once, but, I fear she is dead."

Jimmy pricked up his ears. He dared not ask a further question for fear
of arousing the old man's suspicions. This was the very first occasion
on which he had received anything like a confidence from his landlord,
and instinct told him that if he betrayed symptoms of curiosity, Wimpole
would probably close like an oyster and say no more. Therefore, all
Jimmy could do was to shake his head sadly, and keep silent.

Then, to his relief, the old man went on to talk in an absent kind of
way, as if he were alone.

"Yes, there was one," he said. "My sister. We were very good friends.
Edna and myself, but I never really valued that friendship until it was
too late."

"You mean that she is dead?" Jimmy asked softly.

"I don't know," the old man said, bringing his fist violently down on
the table by his side. "I would give every penny of my fortune to be
sure. She was a delicate creature, kind and beautiful and a general
favourite with everyone who knew her. It would, perhaps, have been
better for her if she had been allowed to see more of the world and
learn the difference between the false and the true in humanity. But my
father was a stern, cold man, who ruled his Puritan household with a rod
of iron, so that no young people came into our barrack of a place in
north London, and all that Edna learnt she had to read in the few books
that I brought her from time to time. And then there came a day when by
chance she encountered a man."

Wimpole was speaking now almost under his breath, and with a savage look
in his eyes that suggested one who, for the moment, at least, was on the
verge of insanity.

"Ah, well," he went on presently, "I don't want to go into that. I never
quite knew how those two met, because I had left my father's house then,
and had already started on my first voyage. But I know there were secret
meetings, followed by an elopement."

"You mean your sister was married?" Jimmy asked.

"Oh, yes, she was married right enough. The scoundrel who took her away
saw to that. It was part of the vile game he was playing. His idea was
that, sooner or later, my father would forgive and forget and take him
into the family. But he didn't know the cold-blooded individual that he
had to deal with. My father was not that type of being. There was no
forgiveness and no money. Of course, all this happened when I was away
and when I came back after the absence of three years all traces of my
sister had vanished, and, try as I would, I could not find her. Then my
father died suddenly, as I have already told you, and I found myself the
master of a fortune. For a long time, I wandered about seeking Edna but
all in vain. All I could ascertain was that the scoundrel who married
her had treated her disgracefully and had finally abandoned her
somewhere in Australia. So I went to Australia with the same barren
result. Do you know, I didn't even know the man's name."

Jimmy spoke on the spur of inspiration.

"Do you happen to know it now?" he asked.

Once more, the look of malignant cunning crept over the old man's face.
The madness of murder was in his eyes.

"Yes, I know it now," he almost whispered. "The information has only
come to me recently, but I know it, and some of these days there is
going to be a reckoning. Ah, my dear young friend, you don't know what
it is to be alone in the world, as I am, and to be deprived of the one
individual you really care for. Before long you will hear, perhaps,
that----"

Wimpole broke off suddenly and refused to say any more. He had noticed
the eager expression on Jimmy's face and this had been enough to drive
him back on himself.

"I am talking nonsense," he said with an entire change of manner. "I am
not a writer of sensational fiction, but an innocent old man whose life
is devoted to the propagation of flowers. And my task is nearly
finished. When that commonplace looking green spike develops a little
further and from it protrudes the flower which will make my name famous
all over the world, I shall be ready to lay down my task and meet any
fate that awaits me. For the rest matters absolutely nothing."




CHAPTER XXII.


Jimmy had a day or two in which to ponder over the strange conversation
he had had with his queer old landlord and to draw his deduction
therefrom. By the time that Gaskell was on his way home again, Jimmy had
begun to see his way. If this theory was correct, then he was on the
verge of a startling discovery. But as to whether or not it would turn
out as favorable as he hoped was on the lap of the gods.

He had been rather surprised to have heard nothing from Gaskell in the
shape of the promised telegram, and on the fourth day Hugh's chauffeur
turned up with the car and the information that Gaskell wanted to see
Jimmy without delay and would he make it convenient to run over as soon
as possible. Five minutes later, Jimmy was racing along the road.

He found Gaskell, and, with him, Hargest. Both of them appeared to be
grimly satisfied, and, indeed, at the end of an hour's conversation,
Jimmy realised that important events were in the air. Then, when he had
heard all that the other two had to say, he told his own story, at which
Hugh and Hargest exchanged glances and smiled as if they had received
some unexpectedly good news. Almost before Jimmy could ask a further
question, the door of Gaskell's sitting room opened and Connie entered.

She was still in her disguise, but there was about her a determination
of purpose and a firm self control that filled at least one of the trio
with satisfaction.

"What does all this mean?" Jimmy asked.

"It means," Gaskell said, "That things are working to a climax. No, you
needn't settle down, Jimmy, because we are not going to stay here. We
are going over to Uppertons in a body to have a heart to heart talk with
Bascoe. I have got the big limousine at the door all ready to start."

More than that, for the moment, Gaskell declined to say. A minute or two
later, they were packed in the luxurious car and on their way to
Uppertons. It was, on the whole, a quiet journey and very little was
said until their destination was reached. There the three men set out,
leaving Connie in the car with the chauffeur in his seat and with an
intimation to the girl that Gaskell would call her immediately she was
required.

Bascoe rose with a grim smile on his face as he saw the three visitors
file, one after another, into his library.

"Now, to what am I indebted for this honour?" he asked. "I should have
thought, Mr. Gaskell----"

The rest of the sentence died on his lips and he turned white to red and
red to white again as his eye encountered that of Charles Hargest. It
was only for a moment or two and then he was more or less himself again.

"Ah, a stranger, I see," he said. "Would you kindly introduce me to this
gentleman?"

"I don't think you will gain anything by playing the fool like that,"
Hargest said. "Now, what is the use of pretending that we haven't met
before? Of course, if you like to challenge me to produce witnesses, I
will bring a dozen from different parts of Europe, to say nothing of a
few more from Italy, who will say enough to drive you out of this
country, a broken and discredited man. Let me begin by saying that you
are one of the most contemptible rascals that ever breathed. A spy and a
double traitor who wronged his own country and the country who trusted
him. The man who nearly brought about the greatest disaster that the
Allies had all through the war. Oh, I have it all down, chapter and
verse, and the archives are in the War Office. But of course, you
weren't called Bascoe then. You have another name and another disguise.
Now, under your own patronymic, you are posing as a rich and respectable
man and a philanthropist. But it won't do, Rupert Bascoe, it won't do.
If you are wise, you will sit down again in your chair and listen to
what I and my friends have to say. Now, how are you going to take it?"

With a poor apology for a contemptuous smile, Bascoe threw himself back
in his seat and prepared to listen.

"Go on," he said. "I am quite ready for you."

"I think it is my turn," Hugh put in. "I may tell you, Mr. Bascoe, that
I am just back from Paris where I spent two quite interesting days with
the manager of the Universal Bank. I don't know whether that interests
you or not."

It certainly did, for Bascoe changed colour once again and the hand that
held his cigarette trembled.

"Yes, I see that information is not uninteresting," Hugh went on. "The
reason why I went is because Miss Wakefield or Mrs. Bascoe as you might
prefer to call her, gave me, some time ago, a little gold box which she
had received from the Countess Inez Matua not long before the latter
died. In that box were certain papers, and the key of an iron safe on
the barrel of which was enamelled the name of Le Forest."

Despite all his iron will, sometimes like a cry broke from Bascoe's
lips. He stifled it as best he could, but the sound was by no means lost
on his companions.

"I think," Hugh resumed. "That the name Le Forest occurred in one of
those documents which Miss Wakefield declined to sign on the day before
the murderous attack upon you. In fact, I know it was. In the safe I
discovered a large amount of negotiable securities which total more than
two hundred thousand pounds left by John Le Forest to his only daughter.
Now, that only daughter is Constance Wakefield's mother. It is an old
story of a headstrong girl marrying a man in spite of all the
protestations of her family. He wasn't altogether a bad man and I
believe he was genuinely fond of his wife. But he was reckless and
extravagant and a born gambler. Also, he was a soldier of some
distinction, but there came a time when there was a terrible scandal
about money, and Major Wakefield vanished. As a matter of fact, he
joined the French Foreign Legion and died very gallantly during the war,
without ever seeing his wife or daughter again. John Le Forest, whose
daughter, also, had vanished, realised all his property before he died
and placed it in that Paris bank, sending the little gold box with the
key to Countess Inez Matua, who had been an old schoolfellow of his
daughter's. And then, by chance, the Countess, who had no family of her
own, came in contact with the girl called Constance, and took her to
that old castle in Serbia. She became so fond of the child, whom she
came to regard as her own, that she never said a word to Constance,
about the fortune in Paris or the gold-box, and very probably she would
never have done so if war had not broken out. But when that event
happened and the elderly lady realised that she was ruined, she began to
reconsider her position. That is, at least, how I make it out, and
subsequent events proved that I was not far wrong. Whilst the Countess
was deciding on a course of action, the tide of war swept over her
property, and she was fatally wounded by a stray bullet. It was then
that she called the child Constance to her side and placed the precious
gold box in her possession, telling her that, whatever she did, she was
not to part with it. She did not part with it, neither did she mention
the possession of it to a soul until, by chance, she met me, and gave it
into my possession."

"Just one moment," Bascoe interrupted. "Will you kindly tell me where
all this is leading to? I may or may not be the scoundrel Mr. Hargest
represents to you, but I fail to see what my crime was in giving the
protection of my name to a girl whom I regarded as a penniless orphan."

"You will pardon me, I am sure," Hugh said, coldly. "If I say I don't
believe a word you are saying. You probably knew nothing about the gold
box and the enamel key, but you were perfectly aware of the fact of the
young lady's identity. You knew that she was the heiress of John Le
Forest and had a pretty shrewd idea as to where the old gentleman's
money was lying hidden. Otherwise, you would have seen her in the
workhouse before you married her."

"All that of course," Bascoe said, "is merely a matter of opinion. But
there is no getting away from the fact that the young woman known here
as Constance Wakefield was really Constance Bascoe. Mr. Marrable is
quite aware of the reasons why that marriage had to take place, and I
have no doubt he will tell you if he has not already done so. But the
poor unfortunate woman who tried to take my life, was my wife, and,
therefore any property that belonged to her is now mine. Would you
gentlemen kindly inform me what you have to say to that?"

"Yes, you speak just as I expected," Gaskell said. "I happen to know
that you are in desperate need of money, and now you are hugging
yourself with the delusion that within a short time you will be master
of two hundred thousand pounds."

"No delusion!" Bascoe jeered. "It is a cold legal fact. And let me tell
you this. On the morning after my quarrel with Constance she voluntarily
signed those documents. If you like to see them--well here they are."

As Bascoe produced some papers from his safe, Hargest went to the window
and made a sign to the chauffeur.

"Here you are," Bascoe said.

As he spoke, Connie entered the room. She stepped across and looked at
the papers in Bascoe's hand.

"A forgery!" she cried. "A deliberate forgery! I never signed those
papers."




CHAPTER XXIII.


If the three men confronting Bascoe were under the impression that he
would break down and collapse at the sight of Connie, they were doomed
to disappointment. Staggered and astounded he was, and made no attempt
to disguise it, but it was only for a minute or two, and then he faced
his accusers with a smile on his face and an equanimity they could only
admire.

"Ah," he said. "Here is melodrama in its high form. A situation of which
only the films could do justice. The wronged wife, back from the grave
and the scoundrelly husband at bay. But there is something to say for
the husband, after all.'"

He was carrying it off very well, as Hargest would have been one of the
first to admit. But then, the latter had expected something of the sort
from one who had not only risked his life as a spy for four years, but
had taken a double risk inasmuch as he was playing off one combatant
against another.

"Well," Bascoe went on in a challenging tone, "what have you good people
got to say? That you are all against me is evident. And that you think
you have me in a corner would be plain to the meanest understanding. So,
if you don't mind, I should like to hear what all this is leading up
to."

"Let us begin with forgery," Gaskell hinted. "I mean the forgery of
those documents you hold in your hand."

"Quite so," Bascoe agreed. "But stop a moment. Suppose I refuse to admit
that they are forged. Suppose I am prepared to swear that those
documents are signed by my wife here on the morning of the day when I
met with my accident? I am calling it an accident out of sheer
politeness."

"I never signed them, never, never!" Connie cried.

"So you say," Bascoe laughed. "On the contrary, I maintain that those
signatures are yours. I am not going to deny the fact that we had words
in connexion with them and that you refused during the evening to accede
to my request. But you thought better of it next morning and came into
this very room after breakfast ready to sign like the typical, obedient
wife. Now, I am prepared to swear to this in a court of law. I don't
think, my dear Connie, in the circumstances, you will be particularly
anxious to stand in the witness box, facing a judge and jury."

So that was his game, Hargest thought. Well, up to a certain point the
campaign was not going exactly in accord with plan and it might be
necessary to lay another card or two upon the table. Meanwhile, Hargest
was prepared to play the part of listener.

"I never signed the papers," Connie repeated. "And if you like to drag
me into the light of day, I shall be ready to face the ordeal. You have
tried to force me to put my signature to certain documents and I should
probably have done so if Mr. Marrable had not come into the library just
when he did and diverted your attention for a minute. You left the room
for a moment and I had the chance of running my eye over those
documents. It was only a glance, but a name there struck on my memory
and I began to see that you were not so disinterested as you pretended.
That is why I would not sign, though I knew that you would not hesitate
to use your brute force, but you didn't. Then I was compelled to pull my
revolver on you and, for a moment, the matter ended. You can't deny the
revolver or the quarrel, because others heard it besides ourselves so,
for the time being, you abandoned your intentions and, during the next
day, we only met in the presence of others. I am ready to state this
anywhere."

"Very well," Bascoe said. "We will leave it at that. Mind you, I am
going to stick to my story and I am going to fight it out, even if you
and your friends like to take the case up to the House of Lords. And I
will tell you why. Because you are my wife, and, as such, you cannot
give evidence against me. Now, you gentlemen, what have you to say to
that?"

The three friends looked at one another for a moment or two as if in
some doubt before Hargest spoke.

"I believe the next move is to my friend, Hugh Gaskell," he said.

"Now, Mr. Bascoe, will you kindly give me your undivided attention for a
few moments. As I told you just now, I have been to Paris and have had
the opportunity of going into matters with a certain bank manager there
in connection with the affairs of the late John Le Forest. You already
know all about the little gold box and the key with the name enamelled
on it, and I have informed you what that led up to when I went to Paris
with the box in my possession."

"Most interesting," Bascoe sneered. "And none the less because it is
such a pleasure to discover that my wife here is an heiress in her own
right. Allow me to offer you my most sincere congratulations, my dear."

"We will come to the congratulating part later on," Hugh said, holding
himself in with an effort. "If you want me to believe that all this is
news to you, Mr. Bascoe, then I tell you plainly that you are a brazen
and impudent liar."

"Go on," Bascoe smiled. "Go on."

"Yes, I suppose anything I might say in that direction will make no
impression upon you," Hugh resumed. "But I am going to prove that you
knew before you married the lady I prefer to call Constance Wakefield,
that she was an heiress to considerable wealth."

"I presume that would be rather difficult," Bascoe jeered.

"Not in the least," Hugh went on. "In that gold box were certain letters
which were supplemented by documents and correspondence I found in the
bank safe in Paris. Le Forest was a man of somewhat obscure nationality
who lived in Paris for some years before the war. It was rather
unfortunate for him that he never took out papers of naturalisation and,
all the more so, because he had considerable dealings with business men
in Berlin, and he always knew that, sooner or later, hostilities would
break out between that country and France. It was a topic of
conversation of which he never tired. And because he preferred not to
take out those papers, and because of a fear that if war broke out he
might be deprived of his property, he concealed quite a fortune in that
safe in Paris and also deposited therein a will leaving all he possessed
to his next-of-kin. He was under the impression then that his daughter
was dead and he never knew that he had a grandchild. So, you see,
without really intending it, his money, though diverted from his own
daughter, went in direct succession to her child. Perhaps I am not
making myself quite as plain as I should. What I mean is that the money,
or rather securities, were meant for his daughter, if alive, and the
gold box was placed in the custody of the Countess Inez Matua because
she was practically the only friend Miss Wakefield's mother had in the
world. But then, you see, Miss Wakefield's mother was dead and that is
why the Countess never mentioned the box to Constance until the story
was forced upon her, and that when the horrors of war swept over her
country and carried her off. At any rate, Mr. Bascoe, you are not going
to deny, after what I have said, that Miss Wakefield is practically the
owner of two hundred thousand pounds."

"Why should I deny it?" Bascoe demanded. "I am only too delighted to
hear that the lady is so well provided for. Really, I don't see what
this is leading up to."

"I don't think you will gain anything by this bandying of words,"
Gaskell responded. "What I am going to do is to prove that all this is
ancient history to you."

"Oh, really," Bascoe grinned, "I think you will have a great deal of
trouble to substantiate that."

"No trouble whatever," Hugh said contemptuously. "In the correspondence
I speak of--I mean the correspondence I found in the Paris safe--you are
actually mentioned by name. You are spoken of as a man who might be
called upon to give certain evidence in case there were difficulties in
proving the next of kin's claim to Le Forest's estate."

"My name was mentioned, mine?" Bascoe cried.

"Certainly, your name, Rupert Bascoe, at one time, a sort of
confidential secretary in the employ of John Le Forest. You are spoken
of as an extremely able and brilliant man, who might have gone very far
indeed if you only could have kept straight. There was a time when you
were in the close confidence of your employer, and there was little
about him you did not know. Eventually, he had to discharge you for
flagrant dishonesty, but he seemed to think that your presence in court
was needed and you would be willing to give certain evidence, if you
were paid well enough for it. Mr. Le Forest thought that you were
employed, after you left him, somewhere in Germany. I suppose that is
true, and I suppose that is how your perfect knowledge of that language
enabled you to play the spy for two nations at the same time and draw
double pay. But my friend, Mr. Hargest, knows a good deal more about
that than I do. He can speak when the time comes."

"He most certainly can," Hargest said grimly.

For the first time, Bascoe showed signs of confusion. He had been
convicted of a deliberate lie, and it was some moments before he
regained his self possession.

"Very well," he said. "We will admit, for the sake of argument that I
knew Connie was an heiress. But you can't get away from the fact that
she is my wife. Now Marrable, tell them what you know. Tell them that
you have seen the certificate of the marriage and convince them of the
truth."




CHAPTER XXIV.


"I certainly have seen the certificate," Jimmy admitted.

"Very well then," Bascoe went on. "Make the worst of it if you like, say
that I am in desperate need of money, and that I induced my wife to sign
those papers so that I might have the handling of a large sum of money,
of which she knew nothing. But dash it all, she is my wife, and if there
is any charge of conspiracy her evidence against me is inadmissible. I
don't know how it is that she comes to be standing here when she is
supposed to be dead and buried, but as I have no intention of doubting
my own eyesight, I am taking her for granted. Now, suppose I send a
message to the police informing them that the girl they knew as
Constance Wakefield is still above ground, what will happen then? They
are bound to arrest her on a charge of trying to take my life, a charge
she will have some difficulty in disproving."

"You are trying to drive a bargain, are you?" Hargest asked. "Well, let
me tell you, here and now that we are going to be no party to it. My
friend, Mr. Gaskell, has told his story, but mine remains to be
disclosed."

"Well, let us have it," Bascoe snarled.

"All in good time," Hargest said imperturbably. "I think the best thing
we can do in to leave you to consider matters and decide what is best
for your own sake. Then, when you are ready to receive us again, we will
pay you another visit."

Bascoe drew a long breath, as if of relief.

"Very well," he said. "That will suit me perfectly. A case of armed
neutrality, what?"

Without further parley, the visitors went back to the car with Connie
once more behind her disguise. They drove as far as Gaskell's place,
from whence it was decided that he should convey Connie once more to her
hiding place.

"I don't think there is much more to say for the moment," Hargest
remarked. "I will get my man to drive you back to your lodgings, Jimmy,
and I want you to keep your eyes open and see what the enemy is doing. I
wonder what Bascoe would say if he knew what I had up my sleeve."

"And what is that?" Jimmy asked eagerly.

"Oh, merely the fact the Bascoe was a married man when he went through
the ceremony with Connie at the registry office."

"That confirms my suspicions," Jimmy put in.

"Absolutely, my dear chap!" Hargest said coolly. "The woman is alive
still, and I know where to put my hand upon her. As a matter of fact,
she is within two or three miles of Uppertons. Oh, I haven't been
wasting my time when you were in Paris, Hugh. I set the old underground
gang at work, and they were not very long in tracing Bascoe from the
time he left Le Forest's employ until the end of the war. I thought I
would ease your mind by telling you this, Miss Wakefield, and I withheld
the information from Bascoe because it is going to be the knock-out
blow."

More than that Hargest declined to say. A little later on, Jimmy was
back in his lodgings, listening to the rather wild conversation of his
eccentric landlord. The latter was still full of his blue daffodil,
which he was quite sure would bloom in the course of the next few hours.

"To-morrow morning," Wimpole muttered. "I am leaving the plant all night
in a heated atmosphere with a lamp by its side. That will force the
bloom, and when I wake up in the morning, I shall be famous--like the
poet Byron. Yes, my triumph is at hand, and, once I have shown it to a
cynical world, then my life's task will be finished. Then I shan't care
whether I live or die. I am not an old man as years ago, though most
people regard me as having one foot in the grave."

Jimmy nodded sympathetically. From his point of view, Wimpole appeared
to be an octogenarian.

"No, no," the speaker went on. "It is the life, the privations and
dangers of the forest, the years passed in swamps where the finest
orchids grow. There was one pure white orchid with yellow wings that I
waited nearly a year for. I have passed whole days wading waist deep in
slimy mire, tortured by mosquitoes and in danger of alligators,
searching for some new bloom. If you ask me how many times I have
suffered from malaria, I could not tell you. But I am not an old man,
Marrable, though my beard is white and my head is bald. And I can love
and hate just as well now as I could twenty years ago. Yet I know that
my time won't be long, and that is why I am looking so eagerly for
to-morrow. And there is one other thing."

Wimpole bent almost double as he chuckled with a sort of fiendish mirth
that caused Jimmy to feel a queer sensation running up and down his
spine. There was something diabolically evil about this repulsive
hilarity, so sinister that Jimmy was almost inclined to take the other
by the shoulders and shake him.

"Don't do that," he said. "Here, what is the matter with you? What
murderous ideas have you got in the back of your mind? It doesn't fit in
with an amiable old gentleman, whose one idea is to propagate a blue
daffodil."

"Perhaps not, my young friend, perhaps not," Wimpole chuckled. "But we
humans are complex people. Many a man who was brought up in the odour of
sanctity is a potential murderer and many a woman--but I don't know much
about women."

"A good thing, perhaps," Jimmy said curtly. "You are not a bad old chap,
but, frankly, I don't like that mood of yours at all. If I happened to
be a casual visitor----"

"Ah, visitor, eh?" Wimpole went on. "A visitor. Funny you should say
that, because I had a visitor not very long ago. A woman visitor, such a
poor, miserable wreck of a woman. Tall and thin and haggard and worn the
skeleton of what she was when we last met I don't know how many years
ago. And she told me a story, Marrable, such a remarkable story; because
I knew a good deal of it before I was none the less impress."

Wimpole broke off, muttering and mumbling, whilst Jimmy regarded him
with increased uneasiness. It seemed to him that something had happened
to throw Wimpole's mind off its balance, something that was not entirely
connected with the blue daffodil. And as there were no signs of a
visitor, Jimmy was forced to the conclusion that it was a pure
hallucination, conjured up by a mind suffering from excitement and
solitude.

However, Jimmy, in his sunny way, had forgotten all about it when an
hour or two later, he returned from a visit to the village and found the
cottage deserted. Nor was there any sign of Wimpole to be seen in the
greenhouse.

In that super-heated space a lamp was burning on a shelf near the floor
and beside it, in a pot, something that appeared to be a mass of green
spikes with a bulbous head on one of them which resembled a flower stalk
about to burst into bloom. Already, Jimmy could see feint signs of blue
where the sheath was parting and exposing the blossom to view.

For the first time, Jimmy was impressed. Up to now he had regarded the
blue daffodil as a chimera of a perverted imagination. Something that
the old man had dwelt upon until he actually believed that it contained
the germ of positive fact. There had been something almost laughable
about the idea of a blue daffodil, as there was about a blue rose--the
one thing that horticulturists have been striving after for generations.
There never would be a blue rose any more than a black tulip, though
Dumas's romance made such a thing feasible.

Still Mendelism had been responsible for some amazing discoveries, and
it was within the balance of reason that Wimpole had, at last, succeeded
where thousands of his fellow horticulturists had failed. At any rate,
the morrow would show and Jimmy went back to the cottage almost as much
filled with excitement and curiosity as his landlord.

He lingered some time over his frugal meal, and, once it was finished,
left the cottage with the intention of going as far as Uppertons, where
he wanted to collect such of his working materials as he had left behind
him there, for he regarded himself, now, as through with Bascoe and, so
far as he was concerned, he never wanted to see that individual again.

He turned into the road that approached the house from the woods at the
back and, as he walked down a grassy ride in the dim light of the
evening, he saw, to his astonishment, down the vista, the figure of
Bascoe, who was talking, evidently emphatically and angrily, with a
strange woman dressed from head to foot in black, a woman who was
obviously asking some favour.

Her hands were held out imploringly and Jimmy could see the working of
her face and certain wisps of grey hair that had escaped from under her
hat. He could make out Bascoe's scowling face and grim lips as he shook
his head and turned away. Then the woman, half on her knees caught him
by the coat tails and he faced round with fists brutally uplifted.

On that instant, a shot suddenly rang out Jimmy saw Bascoe crumple and
fall like an empty sack, he saw the woman turn and fly into the
thickness of the wood before he, himself, rushed forward and bent down
over the prostrate body. There was no sign whatever of the individual
who fired the shot.

There was no mistake about it this time. Bascoe had been shot through
the brain and was dead beyond all recall.




CHAPTER XXV.


Satisfied beyond the shadow of a doubt that Rupert Bascoe was no more,
Jimmy wasted no time in seeking out the woman in black or the individual
who had fired the fatal shot. He rose from a contemplation of the body
and shouted loudly for assistance. A moment or two later, a woodman came
into view and asked what all the trouble was about.

"There has been an accident," Jimmy said. "And Mr. Bascoe is the victim.
Don't stand staring there, my man, but run as fast as your legs can
carry you up to the house and tell Tarrant, the butler that Mr. Marrable
wants him at once."

The man, with one glance at the prostrate body, turned away and ten
minutes later Tarrant came hurrying to the spot. It needed only one look
for the old man to realize what had happened.

"Is master dead, sir?" he whispered.

"As dead as a door nail," Jimmy said grimly. "And what is more, he has
been murdered. I don't know who shot him, but I heard the report and I
saw him fall, and that, for the moment, is all I know about it. Now look
here, Tarrant, pull yourself together, don't stand staring at me like
that. Go back to the house and telephone for the police. And when you
have done that take this card and send another 'phone message to the
number which I have written on it. I am not going to move from here till
the police arrive and you are to see to it that nobody goes tramping
about the woods, looking for clues. Now, off you go."

It was rather a long wait for Jimmy, but the man in blue arrived
presently and listened to all that Marrable had to say.

"No," Jimmy explained. "I have not permitted anyone to go near the body
and there are no footmarks around it, expect my own. At least that is
not quite correct because I practically saw the crime committed. I was
coming quietly down the ride, with my footsteps making no noise on the
soft turf, when I saw Mr. Bascoe in what appeared to be an angry
conversation with a strange woman. Then I heard a shot fired and Mr.
Bascoe fell to the ground, after which the woman disappeared and
probably the murderer disappeared, too, for of him I saw no sign
whatever."

"Sounds like a bad business, sir," the policeman said. "I suppose the
body had better be moved up to the house."

"Well, it can't be left here all night," Jimmy agreed. "Are you going to
see to this thing yourself, or are you going to call in Scotland Yard?
They had the first case in hand, you remember."

"It is still more or less officially their business," the officer
replied. "I expect we shall have Inspector Clapp down here as soon as
the report reaches him. A strange business, sir, isn't it? Mr. Bascoe
seems to have had more enemies than one."

"Personally, I rather doubt it," Jimmy said drily. "But mind you, that
is only my opinion."

There was nothing more to do for the moment and Jimmy made the best of
his way back to his rooms. There to him presently came Gaskell and
Hargest who had been summoned by telephone. In fact it was Gaskell's
telephone number that Jimmy had given to the butler when he despatched
him on his errand.

With the old man, Wimpole out of the way--and nowhere to be found as far
as Jimmy could see--it was possible to discuss the matter in the cottage
without interruption.

"What do you make of it, Hargest?" Jimmy asked, when at length he had
told his story.

"Well, I think I can make a good deal of it," Hargest said. "I told you,
not very long ago, that I had put some of the old gang to inquire into
the antecedents of Mr. Rupert Bascoe. I have in my possession pretty
close accounts of his career during the past twenty years. You remember
my telling you that he was a married man and that he had a wife living.
By that, I meant to say that this woman was alive when he went through
that form of marriage with Miss Wakefield at a registry office.

"At the present moment, she is within a couple of miles of where we
stand. I had her brought into this neighbourhood with the idea of
confronting her with Bascoe and thus bringing about a collapse of all
his schemes. She knows why she is here and she was quite willing to come
forward at any moment when I needed her. She is staying at a farm house
where a friend of mine found lodgings for her."

"The deuce she is," Jimmy cried. "My dear boy, unless I am greatly
mistaken, she is the woman I saw talking to Bascoe this very evening. I
mean the elderly woman in black I was telling you about. She was with
him at the moment he collapsed and died, and I saw her disappear into
the thickness of the wood. It is any money that she came over here this
morning on purpose either to warn Bascoe or to come to some sort of an
understanding with him. You know what women are. Don't forget that she
was his wife and there are some wives who never cease to care for their
husbands however blackguardly they are treated. When you come to see
Mrs. Bascoe, I am perfectly certain that she will not deny that she was
within a yard of him when he was shot. Of course, it doesn't follow that
she knew who the murderer was, but, at the same time, it is rather
strange that she bolted in such a headlong fashion when she saw him
collapse at her feet."

"I am rather inclined to think that you are right, Jimmy," Hargest said.
"At any rate, we can find out. I suggest that you stay here, Jimmy,
whilst I go over to the farmhouse I spoke of with Gaskell and interview
the woman in question."

Jimmy would have liked to accompany the other two, but feeling that
Hargest had some reason for leaving him behind, raised no objection. He
remained where he was whilst the car sped off straight away in the
direction of the farm house.

Once arrived there, Hargest asked to see the lady who was in temporary
residence there. He spoke of her in a name that was not Bascoe and was
told presently by the farmer's wife that her visitor was lying down with
a sick headache and did not feel equal to seeing anyone just then.

But Hargest was persistent and in the end got his own way. It was a
hollow-eyed wreck of a woman who came down presently and confronted her
two visitors. Her face was white and drawn, and she was evidently
suffering from the stress of a great emotion.

"I think you can guess who I am," Hargest said.

"Oh, yes," the woman replied wearily. "You are the gentleman who was
responsible for tracing my husband for me, and who kindly found me my
rooms in this house. I--I----"

"I think it would be more kind to you to speak freely," Hargest said.
"Now, Mrs. Bascoe, your husband cruelly deserted you some years ago and
left you to starve in Australia. You have been looking for him ever
since and you would have looked in vain had I not for my own reasons
been interested in your case. That is why I suggested your coming here
so that we could arrange an interview between your husband and yourself.
But it I am not greatly mistaken you anticipated me."

"I--I don't quite know what you mean," the woman faltered.

"Oh, I think you do. I suppose you were asking questions about people in
this neighbourhood from your landlady, and when you discovered that the
man who had treated you so badly was living close at a place called
Uppertons, you decided to see him before anybody else could interfere. A
natural thing to do, perhaps, but not quite fair to me, was it?"

"I don't quite know what to say," the woman whispered.

"Then let me say it for you. You managed to see your husband this
evening and you were talking to him when he died. Oh, I wouldn't, deny
it if I were you. I am not going to ask you why you decided to act on
your own initiative, but I know that you were having an argument of some
sort with Rupert Bascoe, when someone, standing behind you, fired the
shot that killed him. And I should not be greatly surprised to find that
you could tell us who it was that committed that crime."

"Oh, I couldn't, I couldn't," the woman cried. "You see, he was behind
me. I lost my head because I was afraid that I would be charged with
murder. And I am quite sure that my brother--what am I saying? What am I
saying?"

"Oh, so you also know where your brother is?" Hargest asked. "I suppose
you found out that Andrew Wimpole also happens to reside in the
neighbourhood. Were you in any sort of communication with him, or did
you learn that in the course of local conversation with your landlady?"

No reply came from the white-faced woman who stood there, trembling and
regarding Hargest as if he were some enemy who was deliberately
torturing her.

"I had better tell the truth," she said. "I did discover exactly where
my husband was living and I did try to see him and warn him of the
trouble that I felt was hanging over his head. I knew nothing about that
second marriage of his until I came down here and learnt it from the
lips of my landlady. I have suffered a cruel wrong at the hands of
Rupert Bascoe but in spite of everything, I could not quite forget that
he was my husband. That in why I took matters in my own hands. I was
with him, trying to tell him everything and I saw him die. Oh, please
don't ask me any more--I have had as much as I can bear."

"Not quite," Hargest said gently, "Not quite."




CHAPTER XXVI.


The woman seemed to know what Hargest meant, for, with a low moan, she
collapsed into a chair.

"Your brother," Hargest said. "When you heard he was in this
neighbourhood, did it ever occur to you that he came here for a purpose?
I happen to know that he was devoted to you and that when he discovered
how you had been treated by your husband he became possessed of an
obsession--I mean he made up his mind that if ever he met Bascoe, one of
them would die. Is it this knowledge that is troubling you so terribly?"

No reply came from the woman cowering in the chair. Not that there was
any occasion for an answer, for her whole attitude confirmed every word
that Hargest was saying. Nor was there anything to gain by prolonging
that ordeal.

"We are going to leave you now," Hargest said. "I want you to promise
that you will stay here until I have seen you again and, in return, I
and my friends will make it as easy for you as possible. We are more
sorry for you than I can say."

Later the car returned in the direction of Uppertons and stopped
presently outside the door of Wimpole's cottage, where Jimmy was seen in
conversation with Inspector Clapp of Scotland Yard, who had rushed down
from London as soon as he received a telephone message.

"Good evening, Mr. Gaskell," he said "This is a queer business
altogether, and throws quite a new light upon the first attempt upon Mr.
Bascoe's life. Of course, I know that appearances were terribly against
Miss Wakefield."

"I am perfectly sure you did," Hugh interrupted. "But perhaps you had
better hear what my friend, Mr. Hargest, has to say."

Clapp stood by the side of the car for some 20 minutes whilst Hargest
gave a detailed account of recent happenings, and the events that led up
to them.

"That is pretty remarkable," Clapp said. "It seems to me, Mr. Marrable,
that I might do worse than have a talk with that queer old landlord of
yours."

"Just what I was going to suggest," Jimmy agreed. "He has been out
nearly all evening and has just returned looking like a man who walks in
his sleep. He is in the greenhouse at the present moment babbling about
his blue daffodil, which turns out not to be blue at all, but a kind of
washed out pink. But he seems to be satisfied, like a child with a new
toy."

In the greenhouse, Wimpole was singing and crooning to himself but as
the others entered, he looked up and his face cleared, leaving him as
cool and calm and collected as if he had not a trouble or a care in the
whole world.

"Ah, gentlemen," he said. "Welcome to my conservatory. Mr. Gaskell I
know and, of course. Mr. Marrable and Inspector Clapp. But the other
gentleman is quite a stranger."

"As a matter of fact his name is Hargest," said Clapp, who was taking
the lead in the proceedings. "It was Mr. Hargest who traced the
whereabouts of your sister. I mean the lady who was talking to Bascoe
this evening in the wood when you shot him. Of course, you have heard
all about that Mr. Wimpole."

Wimpole sniggered and laughed in a senile sort of way.

"Of course I know," he said. "I shot him. I tell you this because I am
quite sure you know it already. What is more, I shot him the first time.
I mean on that occasion when he was found on the point of death in his
library. I got him through the open window that night, and when he
looked up, he recognised me, though I had never seen him before, and he
knew what was going to happen. No words were exchanged between us,
because I was not going to give him the ghost of a chance of raising an
alarm, so I shot him in the chest and left him there for dead, never
thinking that he could possibly recover. Yes, and I would have done it a
dozen times over. You need not think I am afraid of what is going to
happen to me, because I am not. The destruction of the man who treated
my dear sister so cruelly and the discovery of the blue daffodil were
the two darling objects of my life. Well, I have attained one and very
nearly the other. I have not quite got the blue daffodil, but those who
come after me will prove the benefit of my knowledge and they will bring
to perfection the flower that I have so far achieved."

Wimpole broke off a moment and gazed almost affectionately at the bloom
that he was holding in his hand. He was speaking quite calmly and
rationally now, with no sign whatever of his usual senility. There was
actually a smile on his face as he turned once more to the inspector of
police.

"You made a fine mistake when you came to the conclusion that Miss
Wakefield had shot her guardian." he chuckled. "It was her revolver that
I found and used. I saw her drop it in the woods when I was hanging
about Uppertons. That was the day you remember, Mr. Gaskell, when you
met the young lady and she ran away from you. It occurred to me that it
would be a good idea to use that revolver to kill Bascoe, but I never
meant that she should suffer for my crime. Not that I call it a crime. I
should have spoken as soon as that daffodil opened. But when the young
lady met her death in such tragic circumstances, it seemed to me that it
didn't matter very much whether I spoke or not. Anyway, I had to procure
another weapon and when, quite by accident, I saw my sister talking to
Bascoe in the woods and heard how she was prepared to sacrifice herself
to save that rascal, I became determined more than ever to end his life.
I was standing a few yards away, hidden in a belt of shrubs and I heard
every word that passed between those two. He was brutal and callous and
not in the least grateful to the woman who, in spite of everything,
still had some sort of affection for him. And then, when he threatened
her with actual violence, I shot him. And I think that is about all I
have to say. And now I am quite ready to come with you, Inspector, and
pay the penalty of my crime. I am not old in years, but I am weary and
worn out and there is nothing left to live for now I know that my sister
will not want for friends in future. I think that Mr. Gaskell will see
to that."

"I most certainly will," Gaskell said firmly.

* * * *

Naturally enough, the story of the first attempt on Bascoe's life and
the second which ended in his death caused a sensation when it found its
way into the Press. It was the sort of narrative that appealed far and
wide because of its amazing setting, not the least dramatic situation
being that Constance Wakefield--generally held as the murderess who had
escaped the gallows through a fortuitous accident--was not only innocent
of the crime, but still in the land of the living. For days there was
practically nothing else in the newspapers and the neighbourhood of
Uppertons was haunted by an army of reporters seeking the latest
details.

But Connie, still hiding under the roof of her friend, Dora Stevenage,
and playing the parlourmaid, was not to be found and consequently,
spared the ordeal of meeting the multitude of questions which the
pressmen were eager to ask her. Connie's disappearance was not the least
dramatic feature of an amazing case. And so she remained where she was
till a month or so had passed and then, when things were settling down
she and Dora, together with Jimmy and Nita--now happily married--quietly
crossed to the Continent and hid themselves in a village on the coast of
Normandy. And there, when he could slip away almost like a criminal
himself, and evade the pressmen that still dogged his footsteps, Hugh
Gaskell joined them.

There was no occasion now for Connie to continue her disguise. She was
happy in new scenes and already beginning to recover her health and
spirits, to say nothing of her beauty, after the long and trying ordeal
to which she had been subjected.

"Well, it has been a rum business altogether," Jimmy said one afternoon
when they were all together, lying on the sands in the sun. "I wonder
what would have happened if I had never gone to Uppertons. How would
things have turned out then? And here am I, the God in the car, so to
speak with more work to do than I can manage, and married to a wife that
I don't deserve."

"But you are going to deserve her Jimmy, aren't you?" Nita laughed. "Oh,
I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that Jimmy is quite a changed
character."

"Never quite the fool he looked," Jimmy interpolated.

He lay back looking at the sun, at peace with all the world. Then,
presently. Connie and Hugh rose and strolled along the golden sands
until they came to a spot where they could sit down with nothing but the
sea in front and the sky overhead.

"Well, darling," Hugh said after a long pause. "When is it going to be?
Now, don't shake your head and say you don't understand what I mean,
because you do. And if you like to live out of England for the next year
or two until the Connie Wakefield incident is forgotten, I am sure I
don't mind."

Connie looked up into his face with a smile on her own and placed her
hand in his. Then he drew her to his side and their lips met in a long
and loving kiss.

"Any time you like," she said frankly. "On, Hugh, how wonderfully well
everything has turned out for us."



THE END



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