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Title: The Caves of Shend
Author: David Hennessey
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100491.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2011
Date most recently updated: June 2011

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

Title: The Caves of Shend
Author: David Hennessey


*

Author of:

"The Outlaw," "A Tail of gold," "The Bush Track,"
"Wynnum," "The Dis-Honourable," etc.


*


"The famous name of knighthood foully shend."--Spencer.


*


CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. THE DISCOVERY
CHAPTER II. THE MASTER-STROKE
CHAPTER III. THE FIREPLACE MOVES
CHAPTER IV. A HOUSE OF DREAMS
CHAPTER V. THE HOME-SICKNESS
CHAPTER VI. THE DORSET FAMILY
CHAPTER VII. A WOMAN AND A LAWYER
CHAPTER VIII. THE CAT'S-EYE RING
CHAPTER IX. A TRUTH HALF TOLD
CHAPTER X. BEATRICE ENTERTAINS
CHAPTER XI. THE LAWYER DISAPPEARS
CHAPTER XII. A GIRL IN A THOUSAND
CHAPTER XIII. MORE COMPLICATIONS
CHAPTER XIV. AN UNSHARED SECRET
CHAPTER XV. A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE
CHAPTER XVI. THE DOCTOR CAN'T BE FOUND
CHAPTER XVII. MRS DALBERT AGAIN
CHAPTER XVIII. THE CAVES OF DESPAIR
CHAPTER XIX. SEYMOUR GOES UNDER
CHAPTER XX. OWEN SKINNER'S ARREST
CHAPTER XXI. DETECTIVE SEYMOUR'S STORY
CHAPTER XXII. THE BLOW-HOLE WORKS
CHAPTER XXIII. RAYMOND BALLANTYNE'S GHOST
CHAPTER XXIV. BEATRICE AND THE DOCTOR
CHAPTER XXV. A CONSULTATION
CHAPTER XXVI. A FRESH DISCOVERY
CHAPTER XXVII. THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE DAY OF TRIAL
CHAPTER XXIX. THE CASE FOR THE CROWN
CHAPTER XXX. NOT PROVEN
CHAPTER XXXI. AFTERMATH
CHAPTER XXXII. AN ANONYMOUS MESSAGE
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE PADLOCKED BOOK
CHAPTER XXXIV. BEATRICE IS PERPLEXED
CHAPTER XXXV. WAYSIDE SEED
CHAPTER XXXVI. GRANNY GRIMM'S PREDICTION
CHAPTER XXXVII. LA PEROUSE ISLAND
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE LAWYER'S RETURN
CHAPTER XXXIX. HANDS ACROSS THE SEA
CHAPTER XL. JUSTICE WITHOUT LAW
CHAPTER XLI. THE OPENING OF THE BORE
CHAPTER XLII. THE OLD MADE NEW


*



CHAPTER I.--THE DISCOVERY


I HAD returned on a visit to Australia from England after an absence of
about forty years. As I had come on business, and my visit was likely to
be brief, I was staying at the big hotel in Castlereagh Street, when one
morning I received an urgent invitation from an old friend I had
well-nigh forgotten named Dr Strong, a wealthy bachelor who was living
in the south-eastern suburbs of Sydney. So, having a few days to spare
before the sailing of the mail steamer by which I was returning, I
availed myself of his hospitality and the opportunity to repair an old
Australian friendship.

I should mention that the newspapers of the previous day had given
prominence to a weird discovery which had made something of a sensation
in the suburb referred to. Some navvies working on a new sewerage
scheme, when blasting their way through limestone at a considerable
depth, had broken into a vault or cave under the foundations of an old
ruined mansion, and there had discovered two chained skeletons and
something like five thousand pounds in old gold coinage. The supposition
was that the skeletons were those of convicts and the gold a hoard of
stolen treasure connected with some unsolved criminal mystery of the
early days of the colony.

I found that my friend was living only about a mile distant from the
vicinity of the gruesome discovery.

On my arrival, when lunch was over and we had settled down for a smoke
and yarn in his comfortable library, he startled me by asking: "Did you
know anything of a Mrs Dalbert when you lived in Sydney?"

"Not that I can remember," I replied.

We smoked in silence for a couple of minutes as I tried to recall the
name.

"What do you think of this discovery of skeletons and gold in the caves
under the ruins of 'The House of Shend'?" was the next question the
doctor asked me.

"'The House of Shend,'" I repeated, thoroughly perplexed. "Do you refer
to the recent underground discovery near here? I understood from the
papers that before the old place was burnt down, some forty or fifty
years ago, it was known as 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'"

"Yes," he said, "one of the Ballantynes so named it; but it was also
known as 'The House of Shend,' and some called it 'The Black Mansion.'
If you were living in Sydney at the time of the trial of Owen Skinner
and Meta Dalbert you must have heard about it. And to think," he
continued, after a pause, "that after all these years their skeletons
have been found."

"I do not recall it," I said, "but it may have happened while I was away
in Noumea. I remember reading of the big fire at 'The Towers,' but it is
so long ago that for men who like myself are busy with the present, it's
easy to forget."

"Ah," said the doctor, tapping his finger-nails upon the carving of the
arm of his easy-chair as though playing upon an instrument, "the hand
of change rattles over the keyboard to quicker music here where the warm
fresh winds of the Pacific blow than in the old cold lands of Europe.
'Tis the restless spirit of youth, maybe, which throbs in this virgin
country; but the fact remains that things quickly grow old here and
people soon forget."

"I'm not surprised at that," I answered. "The short time of my re-visit
to Australia has been like a dream. The changes are so remarkable that I
am inclined to say to myself: 'There were giants in those days.' But
what about this house of many names, from under the ruins of which this
tragedy has been unearthed?"

The doctor smoked for fully a minute before he answered me.

"You're an author," he said at last, "and the story will interest you;
but it calls up painful memories to me, and I have no intention myself
of making it public or giving the newspapers a narrative which they
would, no doubt, like to print. It is very strange, but it seems as
though I was the only one left who could name these two skeletons and
suggest how the gold and silver came there and to whom it originally
belonged."

"I see that the Government has taken possession of the money, pending
the discovery of a better owner for it," I remarked.

"There is no one to claim it," said the doctor; "and so far as I am
concerned the tragedy will go into the limbo of other mysterious
colonial crimes."

"Then there was a crime connected with it?"

"Not one, but many crimes, extending over probably half a century or
more. A man that I knew many years ago, one of the Dorsets, found out
that the building of that great house by Hugh Ballantyne, who was an old
emancipist, over a series of natural caves, was largely a blind to
hoodwink the authorities. You see there were a number of convicts and
emancipists in league together, for plunder and robbery, and Ballantyne
was only the head so far as the erection of the house was concerned,
which was built from the plans of an assigned servant of his, a clever
architect who had been transported for forgery. No doubt the criminal
geniuses of those days occasionally did things in a big way, but to
erect a place like 'The Towers' over the biggest resort of convict
thieves in Australia was a master-stroke."

"But how could such a thing be done unknown to the Government?" I
interjected.

"Ah, it's difficult for us to conceive the state of things which
obtained in the early years of last century," replied the doctor. "I
have, of course, no personal knowledge of what I refer to; but I have
heard it from the lips of those who had. The condition of things was
unique. The Government and the whole community were largely dependent
for the management of the business of the Colony upon convicts with good
conduct tickets. Military men are not usually given to accountancy, and
outside the convict element there were comparatively few educated men
available for clerkships. Mind you, many of these convicts became
splendid citizens--some of the wealthiest merchants of those days, men
who drove their carriages, were emancipists; but among these educated
convicts were not a few thoroughly unprincipled men, and it was this
state of affairs which made the existence of the 'Circular Letter'
possible. This was a powerful secret society of convicts which, in
addition to other undertakings, levied blackmail, planned robberies,
received stolen goods, altered prisoners' sentences, and did multitudes
of unlawful things under the very nose of authority."

"Do you mean to say that they kept a record of their ill-deeds?"

"Record! Why, the affair was run with all the astuteness and close
attention to detail of an extensive business concern. You should see the
entries in their private ledger known as 'The Padlocked Book'! At one
time the 'Circular Letter' was possessed of large revenues and was the
dread of every right thinking convict and emancipist in the Colony. It
was smashed up at last, of course, and my personal recollection touches
the period of its final extinction, which culminated in the escape from
Australia of the ringleaders (afterward drowned at sea), leaving behind
them, chained in that cave, two living persons whose skeletons have been
recently exhumed."

"It is a strange story," I said.

"You'll say so when you read it." At which the kindly old doctor looked
at me with evident interest and approval as he, to my surprise,
continued as follows: "I don't aspire to authorship, and feel somewhat
diffident in submitting my lucubrations to a popular scribbler like
yourself; but some time ago I wrote out what I know of the strange story
of these Caves of Shend, and, strange to say, this discovery has
supplied me with the very denouement I had been looking for."

"By the way," he continued, "you'll gather from the story why I never
married, but don't commence to read it until you are homeward bound; it
will wile away a few tedious hours on the steamer, and then, if you
think it worth while, lick it into shape for publication. I've altered
some of the names of people and places, but my name can stand; for
although she's getting old now, she's living somewhere in England and
may see it. Here's the manuscript," he said, taking a bulky parcel out
of a drawer; "and now let's talk of something else."

* * * * * * * * * *

On first reading the story on the mail boat I thought portions of it
improbable and far-fetched, but as I recalled the long-forgotten past,
and afterward reviewed and re-examined certain facts of which I had
personal knowledge, and referred to old files of bygone newspapers, I
was compelled to accept as absolute truth many things which I had before
doubted.

Dr Strong is now dead, but, as may be gathered from the narrative, he
was strong in character as well as name, and worthy of a better fate
than to have lived and died a bachelor.




CHAPTER II.--THE MASTER-STROKE.


I AM a doctor of medicine, John Strong by name, and I write this story,
in the year 18--, less with the thought of publication than for the
comfort of mind which such occupation may chance to bring me. She whom I
have loved more than other women has left Australia for ever. I am
thankful to say under happy circumstances for her, but otherwise for me.

I propose to tell the story, which has enveloped so many of us in its
strange happenings, from the beginning, just as it occurred, not
anticipating what came to my knowledge afterward, but in simple language
I desire to chronicle, so far as I have been able to obtain particulars
from others as well as of my own knowledge, one of the strangest and
saddest stories of early Australian days.

When I first saw the place, 'The Black Mansion' had been erected for
several years. It stood overlooking the sea, upon the brow of a low
hill, in about fifty acres of grounds, the house being surrounded on all
sides, save the east, by stately fir and pine trees.

It was generally known that the mansion had been planned by Isaac Shend,
a convict architect, and was built for Hugh Ballantyne, under convict
superintendence, by convict labour; but the place was romantic and
beautiful enough to have satisfied the eye of a poet, or musician, or
painter.

I have heard that Isaac Shend was a man of rare genius in his
profession, but he was sent out, alas! when a young man for careless
penmanship, which involved someone else's name. I never, by the way, met
with anyone of the same strange surname. As an educated man, I should
think he must have known that his name was derived from a Saxon word
which means to disgrace or put to shame; but goodness knows, use is
second nature and he may not have troubled himself about it, for it's
doubtful whether half the people possessed of curious surnames have any
idea of what they really mean.

That is one disadvantage of English. In other languages such names would
mostly explain themselves, but hundreds of English surnames might be
mentioned which possess the same disadvantage.

However, Isaac Shend planned the house on broad lines and built it
massively of stone, with towers and battlements, and graceful pinnacles,
and curious carvings, and broad terraces, in imitation of the stately
homes of other lands. Yet it was a doomed, blood-tainted mansion from
the time of its first erection; although great men now and again sat at
its hospitable table, and a few notable episodes of early colonial
history were associated with the place.

As I remember it, 'twas much weather-beaten by southerly gales, and
looked more ancient than it was. It stood in park-like grounds upon a
promontory which overlooked the Pacific Ocean a few miles south of
Sydney.

The position of the place was singular, and worthy of note, and
admirably suited for its purpose. To the north, upon a hill-side, was a
small cemetery; in front there stretched a windswept common, and behind
it was the sea. Not a pacific sea, however, although part of the Pacific
Ocean, for owing to a dangerous current which swept round this part of
the coast, 'twas a sea of foam-flecked billows which surged and
thundered against rugged cliffs and seaweed-covered rocks. But in the
northern portion of the grounds was a small deep-water bay or inlet
which afforded safe anchorage for small craft; here a small
schooner-rigged yacht belonging to the house might occasionally have
been seen lying at anchor.

The mansion was no sooner erected when its owner, Hugh Ballantyne,
without entering into possession, suddenly died, leaving the great house
behind him, unnamed; and, singular to relate, the night he died, with
the place finished and furnished complete, the architect locked himself
in a room of the North Tower and committed suicide by hanging, and,
owing to his master's death and funeral, hung there, a gruesome object,
for nearly a week before being discovered. I shall not attempt now to
explain this fearful tragedy, but there was an explanation. I may say,
however, that one consequence of the deaths of the owner and architect
together was that certain secrets of construction in the mansion passed
from common knowledge.

For nearly two years after this the great house stood unoccupied, in
charge of a caretaker, a distant relative of the Ballantynes, named Owen
Skinner; for the next of kin, a brother of Hugh's, was out of Australia.
It stood there, surrounded by dark trees, off the road of ordinary life
as it were, a nameless house of suicide and mystery, fitting quarters
for tragedy, or ghost, or murder. It seemed impossible, even for the
passing stranger who knew nothing of its dark history, not to associate
the place with baleful deeds. It was at this time that the house became
known throughout the district as 'The Black Mansion.'

The next Ballantyne, after a very brief residence, died unmarried and
left considerable property to a third brother named Raymond, also a
bachelor fairly advanced in years, who, on taking tardy possession,
named the big house 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

Sydney expected this Ballantyne to marry, which eventually he did, and
being a wealthy man he made 'The Towers' for a few years an occasional
resort of colonial politicians and other fashionable folk; but his wife
died childless, and leaving Owen Skinner in charge Raymond went off to
India and Europe. He returned, after some years, greatly changed, lived
a secluded life, became addicted, it was said, to drink and drugs,
refused to see callers, and at last committed suicide by drowning
himself off the cliffs.

During these years the ill repute of the place increased. A handsome
widow cousin, reputed wealthy, had returned with Raymond from India, and
colonial society gave him six months in which to marry her, then
shrugged its shoulders and called at 'Storm-Cliff Towers' no more.

The lawyers, who were Raymond Ballantyne's executors, did their best
during the twelve months following his death to rehabilitate 'The
Towers' for an heiress, the daughter of a younger brother, who was to
arrive from England. Some of the timber was thinned out, and the house
and grounds generally renovated; but fresh paint did not restore the
good reputation of the place. It remained, as it had been from the time
of its first erection, the master-stroke of Shend--a beautiful black
mansion; a place which seemed to offer unique opportunities for
wrongdoing; a house which seemed to suggest and incite to crime; a house
which confirmed the popular belief that where there are appropriate
surroundings, in due time crime will come, as surely as does a bird at
nightfall to its nest, or a child to its home, or love to the heart of a
woman. But all this time certain convicts of the 'Circular Letter,' of
which Hugh Ballantyne had been one, and of which Owen Skinner was
another, knew that beneath the beautiful mansion, named 'Storm-Cliff
Towers' by Raymond Ballantyne, were the Caves of Shend.

Truly it was a grim inheritance to come to a young and beautiful English
girl just out of her teens.




CHAPTER III.--THE FIREPLACE MOVES


It was on the evening of June the 5th, 18--, that Miss Beatrice
Ballantyne, in soft silk wrapper and slippers, sat rocking herself in an
old-fashioned brocaded chair, in front of a wood and fir-cone fire, in a
large and brilliantly lighted apartment of the mansion already referred
to.

The china clock upon the mantelpiece was on the stroke of ten.

It was the evening of the day upon which she had, as heiress, entered
upon residence at 'The Towers.' Moreover, it was her birthday. She was
twenty-two.

What a day it had been! Only three mornings before she had landed with
four servants from England, and stepped into a new world in the Southern
hemisphere. How strange everything had seemed at first, yet how
familiar. Sydney seemed to her like Brighton, removed bodily to the
other side of the globe, only beautified with an amazing harbour.

How friendly everyone had been while she rested for two days at the big
hotel, to consult her solicitor, and give her orders to the
tradespeople. How she had been admired and congratulated, and what a
number of people had called to leave cards, even before she had taken
possession of her new residence. And now, in this grand, sombre,
castle-looking place, which was all her own, she was at last at home,
with old and new servants to wait upon her.

"Ah!" she whispered to a pet dog which lay beside her, blinking at the
fire, "see what it is to be rich, Bobby; but I'm a bit frightened of
this great house. I haven't seen half over it yet. I'll explore it
properly to-morrow. I'm tired of everything tonight; even tired of being
rich, and being an heiress."

There was a piece of bark crackling in the fire, and the bright blaze
dulled occasionally, as a shower of tiny sparks was thrown off by a
succession of miniature explosions. Beatrice drew her feet from off the
polished fender, for a stray spark actually dropped upon her instep.
Then she petted the dog, and listened to her maid bustling about in the
adjoining room, preparatory to retiring for the night.

"'Tis strange," she whispered to the dog, "that Lucy and I should be
sleeping in the end rooms of this great mansion by ourselves. That
wretched coachman and his wife, and the cook, and housemaid are all in
the south wing, with half a dozen doors between us; and the bells out of
order too. However, Lucy is not a timid girl, thank goodness! and why
should I fear the old place, or believe the foolish tales told about
it."

The lady rocked herself to and fro, as one unconsciously does when
indulging in retrospect. She looked at the pictures which came and went
amid the glowing embers of the fir cones. Her thoughts were away on the
eastern coast of England. It was springtime there, she thought, or
rather, early summer--"the leafy month of June."

"So this is Australia; but how cold it is," she said, and rising, flung
from a coal-scuttle a pile of the great fir cones on the now smouldering
embers, which, quickly kindling into a blaze, cast added light over the
large apartment.

It was luxuriantly furnished. A polished walnut bedstead, with silk
hangings, stood near a bay-window with richly upholstered Ottoman seats
in the recess. A thick square of velvet pile carpet covered the centre
of the floor, and old-fashioned chairs and sofas were scattered around,
while at the far end of the room was a large wardrobe of walnut wood,
with full-length mirrors in the panellings of the doors. Close by was
the half-opened door leading to the dressing-room, where Miss
Ballantyne's maid was to sleep.

The ceiling was inwrought with plaster castings, and a handsome cornice
of similar work gave a finish to the walls of the apartment. It
suggested at a glance that the house to which it belonged was of
considerable dimensions, and the home of wealth.

After replenishing the fire, its cheery blaze tempted the mistress of
'Storm-Cliff Towers' to sit down again, and lifting Bobby, who was
begging hard for notice, she called her maid, gave her the dog, and
dismissed her for the night. Then, with large, grey eyes gazing
thoughtfully into the fire, she sat very still.

At twenty-two Beatrice was both matured and self-reliant, for she had
early been thrown very much upon her own resources. Her parents had died
when she was young, leaving her to the guardianship of an elderly Welsh
gentleman, who satisfied his conscience by placing her at a high-class
boarding-school, and carefully husbanding the resources of some landed
property which she inherited in Wales.

The Ladies' College (as it was termed in the prospectus) was at Norwich,
and it was here that many of the pleasantest episodes of Beatrice's
early life had transpired. Her guardian died about the time she had
attained her majority, since when she had travelled a good bit in the
south of Europe with an aunt and two girl cousins; but suddenly her
Uncle Raymond had died, or rather committed suicide by throwing himself
off the cliffs behind the sea wall of 'The Towers,' and had left her
sole heiress of his property. She was a rich woman, without kith or kin
in Australia. She was confessedly possessed of great beauty and was well
educated, and among the thoughts which passed through her mind as she
again lay back in the rocking-chair, was what she was going to do with
herself and her beauty and wealth in that great sombre place; for her
uncle's will had expressed a wish that she should marry and reside
there. And then she began to think about her Uncle Raymond and the story
of his reputed suicide--for his body was never found.

That was his picture, done in oils, over the fireplace. He seemed to be
looking at her. She would remove it to-morrow and put an overmantel
there.

Presently her attention was called to the fireplace and grate, which
were of strange and costly workmanship, and the rich, thick rug upon
which her rocking-chair rested. The rug was not long and narrow, as
hearthrugs usually are, but was about six feet square, and under it was
a curiously wrought tessellated flooring of terra-cotta; she noticed,
too, that the centre carpet amply cleared the rug and ornamental
tilework.

Becoming more interested, she rose from her chair and stepped back upon
the carpet to examine the hearth more closely.

A moment after, however, she might have been seen to start and then
stare, open-eyed, at the fireplace and tessellated square and hearthrug
and rocking-chair; for, to her horror, she observed them, slowly and
noiselessly, but very perceptibly, sinking in one solid piece below the
surface of the floor.

Her first impulse was to rush to the door and call for help; but
Beatrice was of sterner stuff than many women of two-and-twenty are made
of, and this extraordinary thing was taking place in her own house. She
was half fascinated too by the strangeness of the thing, and scarcely
retained power over either voice or muscles. The fireplace, with
hearthrug and chair, sank lower and lower, and presently there grasped
the edge of the tessellated tile-work, in full view of the glowing
embers in the grate, the four fingers of a hand, upon one of which there
sparkled a jewelled ring.

They were fingers which, seen under such circumstances, were not likely
to be forgotten.

The ring was an uncommon one, worn upon the second finger of the
hand--the left one. It was a cat's-eye, set in a rim of gold, around
which there sparkled in the firelight a circle of beautiful diamonds.
The fingers were large and fat--white, too, and tapered.

Beatrice was fascinated and horrified; fat fingers were to her
suggestive of violence. She felt herself about to scream--then tried to,
but could not--and a moment afterward sank unconscious upon the floor.




CHAPTER IV.--A HOUSE OF DREAMS


If it had been anyone else's mansion Beatrice would probably have given
a full account of what had transpired to her maid; but after she had
recovered the severe shock to her nerves, and speech was once more easy
to her, she determined, for the present at any rate, to keep her own
counsel.

No harm, she thought, had been intended to herself, for she had an
indistinct recollection of being lifted off the floor and placed upon
one of the sofas, where Lucy afterwards found her. The room was not
disarranged; the fireplace was where it ought to be; the lights were
still burning; and Lucy, on being called by her mistress, came in half
awake and in a state of perplexity, which gave ample proof that she had
not been previously disturbed.

The fire had died out, so Beatrice, making an excuse to Lucy, decided
for that night to share her maid's room, which she did, after having
seen that the door between the two apartments had been securely locked.
For hours afterwards she lay listening for any noise in the adjoining
room, oppressed by a painful feeling of apprehension.

Lucy slept soundly, as people do who have not come into the possession
of a mystery, or anything else which proves more than they can properly
take care of.

The dawn of day, however, found Beatrice asleep, and when she awoke,
bright sunlight was streaming into the room.

She felt at first inclined to treat the occurrence of the previous night
as a strange dream, the outcome of excitement and novelty, and was on
the point of telling it to Lucy, when the girl, who lived in friendly
intercourse with her young mistress, and was much attached to her, broke
an unusually long silence by saying that she had dreamt a very strange
thing about their new residence.

If Lucy had watched Miss Ballantyne closely, she would have noticed her
start and change colour.

"I'm not surprised at that," she answered slowly, "this strange old
place might make the most prosaic person dream; but what was it, Lucy?"

"I don't like to tell you, Miss Beatrice."

"Don't be silly, girl! Whatever it was you dreamt, it was only a dream.
I dreamt a strange thing myself last night, but I attach no importance
to it. However, tell me your dream; but don't be long, for it will soon
be breakfast-time, and I want to go out and explore among those splendid
old trees and shrubberies I can see from the window, and get a sniff of
the ocean. Whatever evil associations there may be about the house, it's
a grand old place in daylight."

"Do you know whether this is the ground floor we are on?" asked Lucy
abruptly.

"Of course it is," replied her mistress, but there was an anxious tremor
in her voice. The question had startled her. "Why?"

"I dreamt last night there was a downstairs to the house," said Lucy;
"and I thought I was upstairs, and someone called to us from the
basement."

"Did you answer?"

"No, miss; but in the next room I saw a staircase, and I went down, for
something seemed to compel me to. I expected to find myself in a kitchen
or cellar, but, instead, I dreamt there was a large carpeted room,
furnished like a library."

Beatrice felt her heart thumping against her side; but she only
remarked, "It was a queer dream. I suppose that was the end of it?"

"No, miss," said Lucy in a hushed voice, as though she feared someone
might be listening. "There was a sort of carpeted platform beneath the
fireplace. Two candles were burning on a table, and a chair was on the
platform."

"Well, what else?" asked Beatrice sharply, as the girl paused, her white
face suggesting that some most unpleasant thing was to follow. "I suppose
you dreamt, then, that you saw my dead uncle down there?"

"Don't be angry, Miss Beatrice," said the simple-hearted girl, who was
evidently so agitated that she felt much inclined to cry. "I saw a big
man lying upon the floor. His face was turned away from me, but one
large, fat hand was resting upon his breast, and it had a queer ring
upon one of the fingers. I could not take my eyes off it."

"What was it like?" asked Beatrice.

"I think it was one of those cat's-eyes we saw at Colombo; and it seemed
to have something sparkling around it like diamonds."

"It was a strange dream," said Beatrice. "But put on your hat and come
with me out into the grounds."

Lucy and her young mistress breathed more freely when they had passed
through the big entrance hall and stood together outside, upon the broad
drive in front of the house, where a man was sweeping.

It was truly a grand old place, such as Beatrice, with her English
notions, had never expected to find in Australia. The main building was
of one story only, built of a kind of grey stone, with a tower and
turrets over the main entrance. At each end, the front of the house was
flanked with a massive tower, the northern one overlooking a broad
terrace that had been constructed upon the side of a hill, below which,
in the miniature valley, a shallow stream hurried on its brief course to
the ocean. The undrawn blinds, and an open door leading on to the great
stone veranda, showed that the servants were already astir, so that
Beatrice, willing to be alone with her thoughts, sent Lucy in to give
some orders about breakfast.

From the broad carriage drive, opposite the main entrance to the
mansion, a short flight of stone steps led to a sloping lawn encircled
by the spreading boughs of great fir trees, while near the ornamental
terrace walls were two or three lofty pines, which reared their topmost
branches until they could overlook the many roofs of 'Storm-Cliff
Towers,' and see how the blue Pacific waters reached away to the far
eastern horizon.

But Beatrice could only guess at what the pine trees saw, for the great
house covered the whole of the rounded slope upon which it had been
erected, and on either side of it was shut in by a thick growth of
trees.

Passing down the slope past a large stone fountain, Beatrice reached an
ornamental white fence which encircled this portion of the grounds. Even
here, however, the trees found place for themselves, only opening out to
make room for an avenue of firs whose embowered roof reached in unbroken
lines right along the broad drive to the entrance gates of the grounds.

Beatrice had seen longer and finer avenues of trees in England, but
there was something about the planting of these firs and pines which
seemed to her suggestive of occult art. She noticed that the front of
the house was completely encircled by them--their higher branches
touching each other, and the fronds at the extremity of the long, naked
boughs looked to her like hands clasped to form a circle, either for
protection or enchantment.

And yet, with the morning sunlight glinting through the sombre branches,
flecking the long-drawn avenue with patches of gold, and lighting up the
massive castellated stonework in front of the mansion, even Beatrice
could not resist the cheery morning freshness which animated the whole
scene. Birds darted to and fro on swift wings, while cooing wood-doves
could be heard calling to each other among the branches.

"Probably," thought Beatrice, relaxing into a sombre mood, "the evil
reputation of the place has been its safeguard. It is, of course,
supposed to be haunted, and people hold it in such awesome repute that
the very birds are safe from molestation."

Turning back to the house, she passed through an arched stone doorway
which led to another broad stone veranda, under the windows of the
apartment in which she had sat the previous night, and the big
drawing-room on the northern side of the residence. Fronting this was
another stone terrace adorned with huge vases at regular intervals, and,
within the enclosure, a grassy lawn. The steep decline to the valley,
already mentioned, was planted so thickly with fir trees that little
could be seen except the gleaming waters of a distant waterfall which,
tumbling over some stones, formed a picturesque bit of landscape.

The whole ocean front of the house, as far as the bay-window of the big
dining-room, was covered in by a conservatory, but beyond, in this
direction as well as others, were similar lines of sombre trees; here,
however, not quite so closely planted, so that glimpses of a little bay
and the broad ocean could here and there be obtained. The southern end
of the house was flanked with stabling and coach-houses, such as might
have belonged to a baronial castle of the olden time.

"Well, this is a queer place!" ejaculated Beatrice at last, and she
sighed as she said it, for she felt that its possession by her was the
turning over of a leaf in her history which could never be turned back.

Alas, that life should be made up so much of what people call
'happenings,' and so little of one's own planning and choosing.
Beatrice, on this particular morning, wished, from her heart, that
another besides herself had been her uncle's heiress. But the die was
cast, and there was no turning back now; so, being a well-to-do young
woman, she decided upon the best thing which she well could do under the
circumstances, which was to examine the inside of the mansion in company
with her maid and the coachman, with special regard to the haunted
chamber, and then to drive into town and tell the whole of what had
happened, or, what she imagined had happened, to her lawyer.




CHAPTER V.--THE HOME-SICKNESS


The further investigations which Beatrice made that morning, in company
with her maid and coachman, were not at all satisfactory. She was upset
and nervous, and everything seemed to be at cross-purposes. The fact
was, that the establishment generally was suffering from a complaint
common to newly arrived English people in Australia. Miss Ballantyne and
her English servants were only four days off the steamer, and every one
of them was home-sick.

The coachman's wife, who was also laundress to the household, had been
crying in her laundry for quite half an hour. She felt 'lonesome and
miserable,' she said, at the thought that she was all them miles from
dear old England. She knew she would never see Bristol any more, nor her
sister Barbara, nor her brother Ben as lived in sight of the Wrekin in
Shropshire. She would not have let her William come out to such an
upside-down, vile country, let alone have come with him, if Mrs
Brotherton, the mistress's aunt, had not bothered her into it. Why could
not Miss Ballantyne have brought her maid, and got other servants in
Australia, without bringing decent English people right away from all
belonging to them?

William was about to reply, with as much asperity as was possible to his
placid nature, when he heard his name called by the cook, and, glad to
get away, he hurried down the passage which led from the comfortable
laundry into the kitchen, which was somewhat inconveniently situated at
the south end of the house.

It was Polly Cornstalk, the cook, a plump, rosy-cheeked Tasmanian woman,
that had called him. She had been engaged the previous day by Miss
Ballantyne at a Sydney registry office, and was as much Australian as
the rest of the household were English. She was a stout, little woman,
although her name was Cornstalk, and she squared around upon the big
coachman when he hove in sight as though about to give him a bit of her
mind, for she was under the impression that his wife's tears had
resulted from her husband's bad treatment of her.

"Billy Hardbake," she said, "that Ayrshire cow has just lifted the rail
and walked into the stable to say good morning to the carriage horses."

"Good heaven!" shouted William, turning to rush out, "she'll gore them
or get kicked."

"No, she won't," said Polly, "I put her out before I told you; but look
here, Billy, don't you think that a big man like you ought to be kicked
for abusing his wife?"

"It's a lie," said William bluntly.

"Oh yes, of course it is," said Polly, with a sneer, "and I didn't hear
her crying just now, the poor thing. You Englishmen are all alike, and I
wouldn't marry one of you if you were hanging in diamonds; but do get
out of the kitchen and let me get the mistress's breakfast. You had
better go back and bully your wife." With this last malicious fling she
slammed the kitchen door in his face.

William felt himself to be a much ill-used and misunderstood man, but
there was no help for it, and he went out sulkily to his work in the
coach-house and stables. What could one man do who had to dance
attendance on four women? He'd give Miss Ballantyne a month's notice and
take Sarah back to England--and he probably would have done so if
Beatrice Ballantyne had been a man; but he did nothing of the sort, for
she was a woman.

After the household had breakfasted, William was summoned by his
mistress to bring a screw-driver and assist Lucy and Kate, the
housemaid, in making a few changes in the arrangement of the furniture.
Several rooms were pretty closely scrutinised and a few slight
alterations made, until at last they reached the chamber where Beatrice
had met with her most alarming adventure of the previous night.

"Measure the mantelpiece across," said the young lady to William. "I
want to buy a walnut overmantel to match the rest of the furniture."

She shuddered when she saw him stand fair upon the hearth, and
involuntarily stepped farther back toward where Lucy and the housemaid
watched the proceedings. Suppose the fireplace should give way under his
weight, and there should be a repetition of the startling scene of the
previous evening?

William, however, was thinking of his own grievances, and it never
occurred to him that his young mistress was a bit strange and flurried
in her remarks and general demeanour.

"Take up the hearthrug, William," she said.

The coachman quietly obeyed, wondering to himself the while what his
wife and the cook might just then be saying about him.

"What a fine piece of tessellated tile-work this is," she said, after
contemplating it for fully a minute. "Don't go away, Lucy! . . . and you
stop, too, Kate," she called out as the girls, thinking they were not
further wanted, were moving into the next room.

"Can I be doing anything, miss?" asked Kate.

"Yes--no----" said Beatrice, a bit confused. "You had better remain, I
may want you."

She was scrutinising the tessellated square, on which William still
stood, with the keenest attention. Only for Lucy's having told her about
her dream, she would have made him stamp upon it to see if it was firm
or sounded hollow. There was a line all around, where a different
coloured tile formed a kind of border; but nothing could be seen which
suggested an opening. She had thought of having the whole thing screwed
up, if, as she had expected, she had found a wooden framework around the
hearthstone; but the tile-work extended right out to the large carpet,
and on a portion of this being lifted it was found that the flooring of
the room was of cement. This, indeed, was a peculiarity of all that
portion of the mansion.

Beatrice took the wondering servants from one room to another, and
lifted carpets or linoleum, only to find that the whole of them were
floored with cement. There was nowhere a nook or cranny to give the
slightest indication of what there might be below.

It was the same outside: great flagstones of hard and close texture
everywhere met the eye.

Beatrice gave up the investigation with feelings of keen disappointment,
and ordered lunch at once and the carriage to be ready immediately
afterward; and dismissing her attendants she sauntered down the steep
decline which led into the miniature valley at the north end of the
house, to which reference has already been made. There were some stone
steps here and there to break the steepness of the descent.

Looking more closely at one of them, she saw that it was cut out of the
formation of the hill itself. The rock was of a greyish blue colour, and
it flashed upon Beatrice that it was limestone.

"'Storm-Cliff Towers' is built upon a great hill of limestone," she said
at last to herself. "And all the floors at this end are either stone or
cement."

For some time she stood near the waterfall, looking up through the trees
at the massive stone terrace and tower above her. She was evidently
thinking something out, and at last turned her head around to where, in
the distance, the Pacific Ocean stretched its waters toward the east. A
great steamer was passing, bound north, but she scarcely heeded it.

"I should not be surprised to find that there are natural caves under
this end of the house; the whole hill is one mass of limestone," she
whispered to herself. But her heart sank within her as she climbed up
the steep ascent.

"Fancy living by oneself in such a dreadful place, with some mysterious
person, who may be your enemy, under the floor, and having access to the
house--to murder one, perhaps."

She shuddered and felt her teeth chattering together notwithstanding the
bright, warm morning sunshine. How she regretted that she had no brother
or male relative to tell her trouble to. She felt more averse than ever
to letting the servants know anything about it.

"Lucy," she said, on re-entering the house, "I don't care for that room.
My uncle, I believe, used to sleep in it; move all my things out and we
will lock it up and I will take the large room on the ocean side of the
house, and you can bring your things into the dressing-room and sleep
there for a few nights until I re-arrange matters."

Lucy made the alteration, nothing loath, for she felt by her mistress's
manner that something had either happened or had come to her knowledge
about the room which was of an unpleasant character. She thought also of
her dream.

Lunch was no sooner over than William brought the carriage round, and
Beatrice started for the city in solitary state. She would have taken
Lucy with her for company, but wanted to be alone to think. She dared
not come back to the place again without a man, if not two, for personal
protection. She would hire a gardener, but she could not very well put
him to sleep in the house.

The carriage rolled along the smooth suburban roads and then over the
streets, and Beatrice had not yet decided what to say to her lawyer.
Suddenly a luminous thought flashed into her mind. Her business was in
the hands of the youngest member of the firm of Bluntly, Blackham &
Dorset, the eminent solicitors of Pitt Street. Mr Dorset was a clever
lawyer, well connected and gentlemanly--and a bachelor. She would tell
him nothing about what she had seen, but on some pretext bring him back
with her in the carriage and keep him all night, and put him to sleep in
the haunted chamber and await developments.

It was a bold scheme, but we must leave it to be seen, later on, how it
fared and whether Beatrice was dealing fairly with the lawyer.




CHAPTER VI.--THE DORSET FAMILY.


It was an axiom of the Dorset family that every member of it was clever,
but that a seventh child born into it must be a genius. Probably this
accounted for the fact that there had always been a seventh child in
every known branch of the Dorset family, and on more than one occasion
the fortunate seventh had proved to be twins. The climax of the family
fortunes was reached when the grandparents of Miss Ballantyne's
solicitor became the progenitors of a fourteenth child, a son, who
proved, as might have been expected, a star of the first magnitude. He
became an eminent lawyer, and achieved distinction for a few months in
the capacity of Prime Minister of Victoria, accumulated a moderate
fortune, and a knighthood, being known to history as Sir George Dorset.
His death took place soon after the birth of his seventh child, who was
named by his fond mother Septimus Dorset.

Septimus had been destined to follow in the footsteps of his noble
father, and enter the profession of the law. By birthright a genius, as
already inferred, he was at the time of our story twenty-six years of
age.

It should be stated that the business of Bluntly, Blackham & Dorset was
largely in the youngest partner's hands, for Sir Joshua Bluntly had
practically retired from active duty. Mr Blackham was in charge of the
Court work, so the management of estates, the drawing of deeds, and the
confidential family portion of the business was the special care of
Septimus, who, for his age, was supposed to know more about the private
affairs of the bigwigs of the Colony than any other man in Sydney. He
was a favoured son, idolised by his mother, flattered and fondled by his
sisters, and looked up to by his brothers. The latter wanted him to go
into politics and become Solicitor-General, but Septimus, for a genius,
was uncommonly far-sighted, and had a soul above politics; the direction
of his horizon being a Woollahra mansion, and a marriage with a wealthy
and attractive girl.

When it first became known in the Dorset family that the heiress of
Raymond Ballantyne, of 'Storm-Cliff Towers,' was a handsome English girl
of a singularly independent turn of mind, and that she was coming out
from England with four servants to personally take over her inheritance,
quite a warm interest was felt in her. A letter from her solicitors
awaiting her at Albany, the first port of call in those days, contained
one enclosed from Lady Dorset, of Dorset Park, cordially inviting
Beatrice to become their guest on her arrival.

Beatrice had at first been much inclined to accept this invitation, but
she was of a cautious temperament in her dealings with strangers; so,
after turning the matter over in her mind, she politely declined the
invitation by wire, and asked Mr Dorset to engage rooms for her at the
best hotel in Sydney.

Septimus had met his new client on board the steamer, and his respectful
attentions appeared to have made a good impression, for Beatrice had
been quite cordial in her thanks, and seemingly had given the firm her
full confidence.

At Dorset Park, as might be expected, they talked of Beatrice Ballantyne
as freely as though they had known her for half a lifetime. The girls
were dying to meet her; Septimus' stately mother (the good lady never
forgot that she was the widow of a one-time Victorian Premier) evidenced
a motherly interest in her, and much anxiety for her welfare; while
Donald Dorset, the only other unmarried son, suddenly displayed unusual
care in his toilet, and threw out dark hints of the possibility of his
superseding his brother in Miss Ballantyne's affections. But the family
generally regarded a marriage between Septimus and Beatrice as a dead
certainty (that was the way Betty, the fast young lady of the family,
put it), although they had not yet seen her; for their usually reserved
and uncommunicative brother had come home in a state of mental
intoxication, which disclosed at once the fact that the heiress had made
a deep impression upon his not over-sensitive heart. In fact, that very
morning on which Beatrice started from 'The Towers' to consult with him,
her name had been the chief topic at the Dorset Park breakfast-table.

"Did I understand you to say that Miss Ballantyne was to take possession
of 'The Towers' yesterday?" said Lady Dorset to Septimus, as he took his
seat at the family breakfast-table.

"Very likely, mater," said Septimus; "she drove out about midday. I had
intended to have gone with her to see that everything was in good order
and the place nicely ready, but, unfortunately, Lord Brackenbury came in
to see me with Sir Joshua about that Carlton land, and there was nothing
for it but to send out Thompson. He reported, on his return, that
everything was found in perfect order and that Miss Ballantyne expressed
herself as quite charmed with the place."

"You have been out there several times, I suppose, since old Ballantyne
suicided?" said Donald, passing up his cup for some more coffee. "Aren't
there some queer yarns about the place being haunted?"

"Credulous people may be found anywhere, ready to believe anything,"
replied Septimus evasively.

"But, Septimus, do you believe it?" broke in his sister Betty, who
occupied the end of the breakfast-table and relieved Lady Dorset of
pouring out the coffee and tea.

"Of course not! Do you think that I would have allowed Miss Ballantyne
to have gone into possession, practically alone, if I had believed that
she was likely to receive any shock to her nerves by so doing?"

"It was not altogether a wise thing," said Lady Dorset reflectively.
"There should have been someone with Miss Ballantyne to remain in the
house with her and her servants for the first night or two, until they
became more used to the place."

"Septimus should have gone himself, mother, should he not?" said Alice,
Lady Dorset's eldest daughter, roguishly. "It would have been a splendid
opportunity to have made a good impression."

It should be explained that Alice was married and was only on a visit to
Dorset Park, and, much as she admired her clever brother and praised him
to her husband, who was a hard-worked squatter in the Bourke district,
she aided and abetted her jocular sister in any endeavour to get some
fun out of the more sedate members of the family.

"Ah!" remarked Betty, "I am fearful, Septimus, that you have missed the
tide which, taken at the flood, leads on to--matrimony."

"I wish, Betty, that you would refrain from making such references,"
said Septimus severely. "It is not becoming for a lady. It might be
excusable in one younger, but you are old enough to know better."

Betty, alas, was sixteen months older than her brother, and she winced a
bit, as Septimus intended she should, at this reference to her age; but
she was not so lightly to be set down.

"You have evidently taken the disease badly," retorted Betty. "I never
dreamt that a lawyer could fall so suddenly in love."

"Do leave your brother alone, Betty," interrupted Lady Dorset, who
always sided with her youngest.

"Now, mother, you don't think that Septimus really minds a bit of banter
about the fair Beatrice," said Donald. "If I could get hold of a good
girl with as many thousands a year as she is understood to have, I'd let
Betty plague me as much as she pleased. I have a good mind to drive you
out to pay Miss Ballantyne a call this afternoon; the flood tide might
set in my direction. What do you say, mother?"

"I should do nothing of the sort," interrupted Septimus with some
warmth. "It would be altogether premature. I will drive mother out
myself to-morrow. Give the girl a chance of getting her boxes unpacked
and her household arrangements made before you call."

"If I were Beatrice Ballantyne," said Betty, "I'd never marry. If a
woman has an income and a home, of what earthly use can a husband be to
her."

"That's just what puzzles me," drawled out Donald; "and yet, somehow, at
the wind up, there's generally a man about somewhere, and if there
isn't, the woman is always looking for him behind the door or in dark
corners."

"Say something new, Donald dear," retorted Betty.

"The newest things are not always true," replied Donald, "but an old
saying is, for it is its truth which perpetuates it."

"Nonsense!" said Alice. "Some of the hoariest old lies the world has
ever listened to, originated long ago with the devil."

"Ah! the poor old chap has a lot to answer for, has he not, Septimus?"
said Donald.

"I never met the gentleman," said Septimus, smiling.

"You mean that you did not recognise him," said Betty. "You must, as a
lawyer, have met with him often enough; they say that he has lately
become a clergyman."

"Very good that, Betty; you must mean the Rev. Christopher Broadford of
the parish of Storm-Cliff. He's a bachelor too. You ought to have met
him, Septimus. I would not mind betting five pounds that he will be one
of the earliest callers upon Miss Beatrice Ballantyne at 'The Towers.'"

"What wicked people you are becoming," said Lady Dorset, shaking her
head at Donald and Betty. "I hear encouraging accounts of the good work
Mr Broadford is doing in the parish. I wish we had a clergyman like him
here."

"You might get him to marry Betty, mother," said Alice. "That is one of
the misfortunes of living in a well-to-do parish: the clergymen are
always married men, so that poor girls have no chance."

"Save your pity," said Betty. "It's bad enough to be married to a man,
but to be married to a clergyman--why, look at the families they have,
and how their wives have to work. There's poor Mrs Canon Doolittle;
think what work she must have with a husband, a parish, and seven
children. Every time she comes here to pay a call I feel inclined to
say, 'Don't trouble yourself, Mrs Doolittle, we will come to church
quite regularly without imposing any further burden upon you! My
goodness! if I were married to a man like Canon Doolittle or Christopher
Broadford, I'd let them know that there were such things as woman's
rights and woman's wrongs. Clergymen have been women's worst enemies
ever since the days of Paul; they have tried to put them down and keep
them down, both in the church and out of the church. She must be silent,
and stay at home, and ask her husband, and reverence and obey him. She
must give up her soul, and body, and liberty, and opinions, and
individuality, and even her name, and what does she get for it?'"

"Love," answered Septimus gravely, interrupting his sister.

It was about the last thing anyone expected to hear from the lips of the
lawyer, and it came as a shock and resulted in a few moments' silence.

Betty looked as though she had a dozen answers ready upon the tip of her
tongue; but Donald was the first to speak.

"You are about to ask, Betty, what the love is which Septimus refers to.
I'll tell you. It's a sweet article, which, when exposed to the outside
air at a certain temperature, turns sour. It retains its original
flavour longest when bottled up. The first draught of it is to most
people nectar; but only to a few does its sweetness continue to the end.
Some women were not made for love and matrimony, and upon my word,
Betty, I don't think such a state was intended by an all-wise Providence
for you."

"What nonsense," exclaimed Alice impatiently. "Betty is just the very
woman that would make a good man a loving and exemplary wife. She'd make
as good a wife as Septimus would a husband."

At this Lady Dorset gave a practical turn to the conversation by
remarking that it would give her the greatest possible pleasure to see
Septimus married to Miss Ballantyne and Betty to Mr Broadford.

"Don't, mother, please don't!" expostulated Betty; but Lady Dorset meant
it, and said so again, and the breakfast-room was directly afterward
emptied of its occupants, amid general laughter.




CHAPTER VII.--A WOMAN AND A LAWYER.


Storm-Cliff at the time of our story was stated in the directory to be
eight and a half miles from Sydney; but as the name of the suburb has
since been changed to a more pretentious one, the reader may be saved
the trouble of looking for it there, or upon the map. At the time we
write of, trams and suburban railway lines were in their infancy; the
boom times were only looming upon the horizon; and, so far, the rural
surroundings of Sydney and its suburbs were quiet and undisturbed. A
coach ran daily past Storm-Cliff to a small township a few miles farther
along the coast, carrying mails and any passengers who could be picked
up; but it was an out-of-the-way district, and most people along the
road kept their own conveyances.

On the advice of her solicitor, Beatrice had hired a carriage and pair
of horses, by the week, at a Pitt Street livery-stable, so on reaching
the town hall she alighted and told William to take the carriage round
to the stables, put the horses up, and wait upon her at Bluntly,
Blackham & Dorset's about noon. The drive had occupied an hour, and the
town-hall clock chimed the half-hour after eleven as she turned down
King Street.

It was a clear, crisp, bracing winter's morning, and Beatrice felt the
comfort of her sealskin jacket and warm clothing. "Whoever would have
expected to find Australia so cold a place as this," she thought.

Most of the men wore overcoats and the women furs, and the solid,
well-to-do air of the brisk crowds which passed along the street,
decidedly impressed her.

Although it was early, a considerable number of smart carriages were
about the streets, and not a few curious glances were cast by their
occupants at the well-dressed girl, who, with graceful mien, passed on
toward Elizabeth Street. They could not see much of her face, for her
veil was down, but her self-possession, easy carriage, and generally
graceful bearing was noticeable, even in the well-dressed, affable, and
self-satisfied city of Sydney.

"That girl can dance well," said a society man to a friend as they
passed Beatrice and involuntarily turned their heads to have another
glimpse of her. "How she carries her head, poses her figure, and lifts
her feet. I'd like to know her."

Beatrice, however, was little concerned just now as to what people
thought of her. To her they were as yet only 'Colonials,' and it seemed
perfectly natural to the young English lady that she should attract
attention, and be treated with deference, and have compliments paid her.
She was newly rich, too, and her wealth had happened to her at an age
and state of mental and social development when it best becomes a woman.
Her education and social training enabled her to very fairly appraise
the real value of money.

"This is one of the streets," she thought, "in which I have freehold
property. I must get Mr Dorset to show me where it is."

Soon afterward she passed a fine pile of buildings, over the entrance of
which there shone in gilt letters the words 'Ballantyne Chambers,' while
numerous highly polished brass plates on each side of the doorway showed
them to be both extensively and very respectably occupied.

The thought occurred to Beatrice that this might be part of her
property, and she walked on with, if anything, a still more sprightly
step, for, as she confessed to herself, it was very nice to be rich--and
independent. But somehow the thought of 'Storm-Cliff Towers' and the
strange occurrence of the previous night oppressed her, and when at last
she had done her shopping and replenished her purse at the bank, she
turned into the stylish office of her solicitors determined if possible
to know all that there was to be known about the death of her Uncle
Raymond and the antecedents of 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

"Mr Dorset is engaged," said a pert office-boy in the inquiry-room.
"Would not Mr Wileman do? He is a wonderful lawyer, mam." This he said
confidentially, and added, "He is very nice with lady clients," and the
youngster cocked his head on one side as though to fully note the effect
of his words.

The boy was a wag in his way, and was thought by his fond family to have
the makings of a splendid lawyer in him.

"Take my card straight in to Mr Dorset, and no matter who is with him
say the lady is waiting in the outer office," answered Beatrice.

"But----" commenced the young gentleman.

Beatrice frowned severely at him. It was of no use, however. He mistook
the mistress of 'Storm-Cliff Towers' for someone else, and blurted out,
"Really, miss, it's Mr Wileman you want to see; Mr Dorset never sees
ladies except by special appointment."

Beatrice could scarcely refrain from laughing, notwithstanding her
astonishment and annoyance, for the embryo lawyer was evidently very
much in earnest.

"Go in then, and send Mr Wileman out to me," said Beatrice.

"You had better see him in his office, miss," said the youth.

"Will you please do as I bid you," said Beatrice, now thoroughly
aroused.

At this the youth departed, muttering below his breath something about
the obstinacy of women.

The moment after, however, his eye caught the name upon the card, and he
saw his mistake, and at once hurried in to Mr Wileman.

"Did Miss Ballantyne ask for me, Dunstan?"

"No, sir, for Mr Dorset."

"Why, then, did you not take the card straight in, as you were told?
Stand out of the road, you young fool," he said, bringing a heavy roll
of foolscap with a ringing blow against the side of the youth's head.

Dunstan saw stars, while he promptly made his exit, and directly after
noticed Mr Wileman, closely followed by Mr Dorset, leave the latter's
room, and with many apologies usher the lady into it, after bowing out
the former occupant.

"You seem very busy, Mr Dorset, and very difficult of access this
morning," Beatrice said, smiling.

"Had I known that you were here, Miss Ballantyne, I would have laid any
business aside at once. What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?
You have had an early drive to be in the city so soon. I hope there is
nothing wrong."

"No," replied Beatrice, and then she continued: "I am afraid that you
will think me impatient, but now that I have seen 'The Towers,' I want
to know something more about the supposed death of my uncle, and the
past history of the place. I think that you said, too, that there was a
quantity of family jewellery which had been sent for safe keeping to the
bank. I suppose you have a list of it?"

Septimus Dorset was no doubt very busy that morning, but he did not dare
to say so to Beatrice. The document containing a list of the Ballantyne
jewellery was forthcoming from an iron box marked 'The Ballantyne
Estate,' which was brought from the strongroom.

To gain a little time for inspection and signing of some important
documents, Septimus suggested that he would send across to the bank and
have the jewels brought over for her personal inspection.

Beatrice at once concurred, and proceeded to carefully read the list
which had been handed to her. She had not read more than half down the
first side of foolscap, however, when she came to a description of a
cat's-eye ring set round with diamonds.

She scarcely had patience to continue further. It was that ring, or a
duplicate of it, which she had seen upon the fat but shapely second
finger of that mysterious hand.

On the messenger's return, the package proved to be a bulky one, and Mr
Dorset came out of the adjoining room, where he had retired to affix his
signature to some deeds, to assist her in opening and inspecting it. Her
coolness and seeming carelessness surprised him. She tumbled costly
articles of jewellery on one side as though they were valueless. The
fact was, she was looking for the cat's-eye ring--but it was missing!

She presently laid her finger under the line upon the list, and called
Septimus Dorset's attention to it. "How is it," she asked, "that this
ring is missing?"

Septimus hesitated for a moment, evidently embarrassed by the suddenness
of the question; at which Beatrice looked up and fixed her eyes upon
him--he was evidently somewhat disturbed.

He shook the feeling off, however, with an effort, and said hurriedly,
"I had quite forgotten about that missing ring, Miss Ballantyne; sit
down, please, and I will tell you what I know of it."

Beatrice looked at him suspiciously. She had never heard or read before
of a lawyer being thrown off his guard, and it evidently was so with Mr
Dorset.

Did he know aught of the lift before the large bedroom fireplace, or
that the cat's-eye and diamond ring was in the possession of someone who
had secret access to 'The Towers'; and if so, why had he allowed her to
go to 'The Towers' unwarned and alone? She swept the whole glittering
mass together in a heap upon the table and sat down opposite Septimus to
hear about the ring.

She was certainly a very handsome girl. She had loosened her sealskin
jacket, and leaned back in her chair and looked at him. It was a cold,
hard, determined look, however, such as he had occasionally seen on the
face of a judge who had a difficult case to deal with.

The lawyer somehow felt the tables turned upon him. It was his place to
interrogate and alarm people, but he saw in the face of Beatrice
something which seemed to say: "Let there be no equivocation, sir, I
want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you
God!"




CHAPTER VIII.--THE CAT'S-EYE RING.


"I SHOULD have preferred to have waited, Miss Ballantyne, until you had
become more settled in your new home and surroundings, before telling
you what you ask; but it might unduly excite your imagination, and
possibly your suspicion, if I kept back what it is only right, and in
accordance with the expressed wish of your uncle, that you should know."

How was it, as Septimus Dorset thus commenced, that a feeling of
repulsion arose in the mind of Beatrice?--one of those mysterious
monitions which sometimes come to us in life.

Long practice had made Septimus a smooth-spoken man; but somehow he was
far less calm and confident, as he thus addressed himself to Beatrice,
than usual, and the speech itself was unfortunate, for it suggested a
doubt which otherwise might never have entered Beatrice's mind.

She thought, however, that the occasion demanded that she should be
sympathetic, and she tried to look sympathetically at Septimus, so as
to, if possible, assist him in his self-imposed task.

But it was only partially successful. A whole world of suggestive, if
confused, thought had crowded into her mind, and it was not favourable
to the solicitor.

He was, no doubt, a fine-looking man. His light-coloured hair was thick
and wavy, his forehead intellectual, his nose shapely, but his eyes
(light blue), and mouth, and chin were less satisfactory.

Beatrice had never before looked so closely at him as now. She noticed
that he had a trick of suddenly drawing in his breath when speaking; he
fidgeted with his hands too, and scarcely looked at his visitor as he
gave the following account of the loss of the mysterious ring:

"Before I had any personal knowledge of Mr Raymond Ballantyne," he said,
"I saw the ring referred to, which I understand is valuable, not so much
on account of its intrinsic worth, as of certain mysterious properties
which it possesses. The facts are as follows:

"About three years ago a lady, closely veiled, called to see me about
the transfer of some property which she had inherited in India. She was
the widow, she told me, of a distinguished military officer, recently
dead."

"There was nothing very difficult in the nature of the business which
she wished to have transacted, and after I had taken down the
particulars, the conversation turned upon India; she was evidently an
educated woman and a brilliant conversationalist. I was so interested, I
remember, in the subject of her conversation, that I sat talking beyond
our usual hour of closing, and the resident clerk, after a while, came
to the door to ask if I had called him. (I should say that he is
permitted thus to remind me, or any laggard client I may have with me,
of the lateness of the hour.)

"At this my visitor rose to go, on which it occurred to me to ask her to
attach her signature to a letter I had drawn up.

"She then lifted her veil, and also removed her gloves, for the first
time. The face was that of a very handsome woman of about thirty or
thirty-five, with large brown eyes and a dark olive skin, which just,
but only just, suggested the possibility of Creole blood. She had two or
three handsome rings upon her fingers, and among them was a cat's-eye
set in heavy gold, with a circle of large diamonds. It attracted my
attention immediately, for I thought it too large and too conspicuous
for a lady's hand.

"She had risen to sign the letter, but suddenly sat down again and
abruptly said, 'Mr Dorset, I belong to the membership of the Silent
Ones, will you excuse me if, for a few moments, I sit still and think
before signing this document?'

"I bowed my head, scarcely knowing what reply to make her, when she
closed her right hand--upon the third finger of which was the ring--and
rested it carelessly upon the table in such a manner that the jewel of
the ring was directly opposite me. It must have been imagination, but it
seemed to me as though the eye of the ring became possessed of human
intelligence, and that the hand had been placed in its position for some
purpose; but I treated the thought with contempt and dropped my eyes
upon the letter which still lay on the blotting-pad upon the table in
front of me.

"She sat there in perfect silence for fully five minutes, during which
time I seemed to pass through the whole of the thirty-seven states
described by the Buddhists. For the time I believe that I sat there
wholly in the power of that strange woman who, to use her own words,
'had gone into the silence.'

"Never before had I realised the significance of human silence. I seemed
during those few minutes to experience all those emotions which, when
carried to extremity, are without voice. Terror, rage, astonishment,
joy, peace, perfect sympathy, in turn, possessed me. It was as though
that woman's soul and my own had interpenetrated each other, and when at
last she broke the long pause, it was as though her words were the echo
of some spirit music which I had already heard elsewhere.

"I had scarcely recovered myself when she had signed the document and
was gone.

"I did not think very much of the incident after a few days, for we were
just then engaged in two important law cases; but about a month
afterward your uncle called one afternoon at the office. He had recently
returned from a two years' absence from the Colonies, he said, during
which time he had visited many places in the East, and had been in
several parts of India. The matter he called about was not of any great
importance, and I should probably not have thought so much about his
visit, but that he wore on one hand a ring singularly like that which
had so much impressed me upon the finger of Mrs Dalbert, for that was my
lady visitor's name.

"The following day Mr Ballantyne called at the office in a state of
great excitement; he had lost a cat's-eye ring, he said, which he
greatly valued. He had worn it on the previous day, and thought that he
might have chanced to have dropped it in the office. Would I have the
place searched?

"I did this, of course, to oblige him, but it was, as I expected it
would be, a vain quest.

"The ring, I felt sure, had left our office upon your uncle's finger.
However, as he seemed disinclined to go, I respectfully questioned him
as to his doings after he had left the office, and found out that he had
visited a friend at Leichardt and had afterwards driven to 'The Towers'
in a hired conveyance. This I found out was a hansom cab, and that he
had gone in it direct from Leichardt.

"It suddenly occurred to me that the address given me by Mrs Dalbert was
in Leichardt. I thought it singular, and suggested that I presumed he
had returned home alone.

"He did not answer me at all promptly, and seemed confused, but then
replied, 'Certainly I was alone. Why do you ask such a question?'

"I suggested then that an effort should be made to find the cabman, who
might know something of the ring, but your uncle put the suggestion on
one side. He knew the man very well, he said; he had driven him home
before, he was perfectly honest.

"I was, however, still suspicious, and had an advertisement inserted in
The Telegraph for the cabman. I did this knowing that your uncle read
The Morning Herald, and would be unlikely to see it. The advertisement
was so worded, however, that I felt very hopeful that it would reach the
eye of someone who would tell the cabman. This proved correct, for a day
or two afterward the cabman called in response to the advertisement.

"He was shown into my room. I at once took a bold stand and asked him
what time it was when he returned to Sydney after driving Mr Ballantyne
and a lady to Storm-Cliff.

"He answered, without hesitation, that it was exactly a quarter to ten.

"'Mr Ballantyne lost a valuable ring that night,' I said.

"'It was not left in the cab,' replied the man.

"'I want to get to the bottom of this matter,' I said, 'so I will get
you to at once drive me out to Mrs Dalbert's place at Leichardt.'

"It was a random shot, but proved to be quite correct, and a few minutes
afterward we were bowling along George Street toward Leichardt.

"I found Mrs Dalbert, as I had expected, and made an excuse for calling,
which seemed to satisfy her. I said nothing about Mr Ballantyne, but
noted that there sparkled upon her finger the ring which had previously
made so strange an impression upon me. I did not think it wise to ask
any questions, and left the house under the impression that there must
be two rings of similar materials and workmanship, and that one had been
worn by Raymond Ballantyne, and the other by Mrs Dalbert, in accordance
with some mutual agreement.

"I wondered whether your uncle, when in India, met with Mrs Dalbert, and
joined the 'membership of the Silent Ones.'

"It was about this time, Miss Ballantyne, that your uncle put the whole
of his legal affairs in the hands of my firm, and, for the further
explanation thereof, brought in a sort of bailiff or caretaker, who had
had charge of 'The Towers' during his absence. This man was named
Skinner, and was singularly like your uncle; indeed, except that he was
somewhat stouter, they might, casually, have been taken for the same
person. I believe that he was not really a servant, but a mechanical
engineer reduced in circumstances. He and your uncle were evidently very
friendly and intimate, and I heard it said that during your uncle's
absence Skinner had told some of the neighbours that he was a relation.

"A few weeks afterward some legal business took me out to Storm-Cliff,
and I was shown into the library to see Mr Ballantyne. To my surprise I
found upon his hand the cat's-eye ring.

"I at once congratulated him on having found it, when, to my
embarrassment, he looked long and fixedly at the ring without replying.

"At last he said, 'Mr Dorset, never allow yourself to be fascinated by a
woman or a ring. Either may involve you in difficulty and trouble, but
the two together may bring ruin and death.'

"I was surprised at his words, which seemed almost meaningless to me
then, and was about to make some response when he abruptly called my
attention to the business which had taken me to 'The Towers.'

"I can only explain my after conduct on the supposition that I was under
some occult fascination.

"I went again to Leichardt and saw Mrs Dalbert; but on her finger there
was no ring. I made excuses and called a second and third time, but on
the last occasion the house was closed, and Mrs Dalbert had left no
address and no clue by which she could be traced. For some time after
that I never met your uncle but that I noticed he wore the ring. Shortly
before his death, however, I saw him again, but the ring was not on his
hand, and I thought that he had suddenly aged very much.

"He lifted up his hand and said, 'See, Dorset, I have lost the ring
again.' I knew then that there had only been one ring all the time.

"We heard of your uncle's death almost immediately after. Two persons
swore at the inquiry that they saw him throw himself over the rocks. The
body was never recovered, the supposition being that it was carried, by
an ocean current, out to sea, and there devoured by sharks. I was
startled, however, when taking possession of his personal effects and
papers, on behalf of the executors, to find this memorandum in one of
the drawers of a private escritoire."

Septimus at this handed Beatrice a slip of paper, on which there was
written the following in Raymond Ballantyne's peculiarly cramped
handwriting:

"I, Raymond Ballantyne, hereby direct my solicitors, that should my
death occur unaccountably, suddenly, or by violence, he shall impress it
upon my heir to beware of a man or woman wearing a cat's-eye ring."




CHAPTER IX.--A TRUTH HALF TOLD.


Beatrice handed the paper back to Septimus Dorset with mingled feelings.
She had read it with horror, for it seemed like a warning to her, from
another world, against a danger which already confronted her. Her very
flesh crept at the thought that this menace was positively with her,
beneath her own roof.

For a moment she had nearly told Septimus her secret, but a suspicion
that her lawyer had only told her a part of the truth kept her silent.

How she arrived at this conclusion it would be difficult to explain,
unless it was that there is something about a half-told truth which
lacks the ring of genuineness, and that it was this which had grated
upon Miss Ballantyne's ear and aroused her suspicions as to the full
veracity of the story. Not that she attributed to Septimus any intention
to do her wrong; but there was something in the very hesitation of his
manner and the studied caution with which he had spoken, which suggested
that a good deal had been withheld.

Some of the facts which Septimus had not told her were as follows:

Meta Dalbert was a cousin of Raymond Ballantyne's. Septimus had not, it
is true, met her before the interview of which he had told Beatrice; but
he had heard of her and knew of her questionable and ambitious
character, and at the time of the interview, he knew, or guessed, what
her influence over Raymond Ballantyne was.

The latter and Mrs Dalbert had met in India after the death of her
husband, and her visit to the lawyer was in reference to business which
concerned both herself and her cousin.

What Septimus had said about the effect of the silence upon him, and the
singular fascination or influence of the ring, was practically true, but
he had concealed the fact that, although considerably older than
himself, Meta Dalbert had fascinated him, and aroused in him a fierce
jealousy of Raymond Ballantyne.

Another thing which had been withheld from Beatrice was the fact that
Raymond Ballantyne had, some years before, made a will bequeathing the
whole of his property to Mrs Dalbert; but that circumstances had arisen
on account of which this will had never been signed, and the one by
which Beatrice inherited had been executed.

Nor had the fact of a supposed relationship between Owen Skinner and Mrs
Dalbert been referred to; nor the fact that Raymond Ballantyne was
addicted to the morphia habit, and that his life at 'Storm-Cliff Towers'
was, in many ways, singular and exclusive. He had held aloof from the
neighbours, and would hold no intercourse with any outside the circle of
his own household except absolutely obliged. Whether Meta Dalbert and
Owen Skinner had anything to do with Raymond Ballantyne's mysterious
death, Septimus Dorset had no positive knowledge; but he had his
suspicions, and the passion which Meta Dalbert had inspired in him found
its opposite in his dislike of Owen Skinner. Soon after the death of Mr
Ballantyne, and it had been made known who was the heir, Skinner had
somewhat ostentatiously removed himself and his belongings to a small
residence about half a mile distant from Storm-Cliff, and Septimus knew
that Meta Dalbert was still living in, or near, Sydney. He had ceased
now, however, to concern himself much about either of them, and was only
anxious to ingratiate himself with Beatrice. Here, he thought, was the
opportunity of a suitable and advantageous marriage if he only played
his cards right, and he intended if possible to do so. It had never
occurred to him that the matter of the ring would have come so suddenly
to the front.

"I would like to ask you a question or two, Mr Dorset," said Beatrice,
after a short silence.

"With pleasure, Miss Ballantyne," replied Septimus.

"Who had charge of 'The Towers' during my uncle's absence in India and
elsewhere?"

"I believe that it was a Mr Skinner, and a man and his wife who waited
upon him."

"Was any portion of the house closed up during that period?"

"I really cannot say."

"Have you any suspicion as to how and where my uncle lost his ring?"

"No."

"You believe that the ring you saw upon the hand of Mrs Dalbert, and
that which my uncle wore, was the same?" said Beatrice, slightly
blushing.

"I can come to no other conclusion."

"Do you think that she received it from him as a gift, or stole it?"
asked Beatrice.

"That I cannot say."

"But I asked you whether you thought so?"

"I did think so at the time, but I do not think so now."

"Why?"

"If your uncle had suspected that Mrs Dalbert had the ring there would
have been no need to have warned you, by that memorandum, to beware of
the person wearing the ring."

"Is there anyone here whom you think might benefit by my death?" asked
Beatrice gravely.

"Certainly not, unless you executed a will in their favour," replied the
lawyer; "you inherit the property without conditions. Your next of kin
would be the heir."

"I wish to engage a butler and gardener, and am going to buy a large
mastiff dog," said Miss Ballantyne abruptly. "I have other things to
attend to which will occupy me most of the afternoon. There are several
matters about which I should like to consult with you, Mr Dorset; would
it inconvenience you to come out to 'The Towers' to dinner?"

"I should be very pleased," replied Septimus.

"If you could leave by four o'clock you might come out with me in the
carriage," said Beatrice.

"I wish to talk with you," she continued, after a moment's pause, "for I
am not at all sure that I shall remain in Australia; indeed I am
thinking of selling some of the properties and returning to England."

"I shall have much pleasure in going with you, and will be ready by the
time you start," said Septimus.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the meantime the Rev. Christopher Broadford had arranged with himself
to make an early call upon his new parishioner.

He was a fussy little man, with a smiling face and genial manner. And
while Beatrice was driving out to Storm-Cliff with her lawyer and the
new gardener and a mastiff on the box-seat by the side of William, Mr
Broadford was drinking afternoon tea, prepared for him by Lucy, while
waiting the return of the mistress of 'The Towers.'

Probably Lucy had acceded to the clergyman's suggestion, that he would
await the return of Miss Ballantyne, more cheerfully on account of the
loneliness and unfamiliar nature of the surroundings, and the fact that
she had always been taught to regard a clergyman as a privileged guest.
With William and her mistress away, and only women about the place, he
seemed a kind of protection to them, and both Lucy and the clergyman
awaited, somewhat impatiently, Miss Ballantyne's return.

His waiting moments were, however, beguiled by pleasant visions of the
future. Miss Ballantyne, he had heard, was a good churchwoman and would
be a helper to him in the parish.

If some good angel had warned the Rev. Christopher Broadford to betake
himself as quietly as possible home, it would have saved him much after
anxiety and perplexity, if nothing worse; but when good angels might be
of the greatest service to us, they are, unfortunately, often absent;
and it was so on this occasion, for the clergyman was still waiting when
the carriage with Beatrice and her lawyer drove up to the house.




CHAPTER X.--BEATRICE ENTERTAINS.


Septimus Dorset could make himself an agreeable and interesting
companion when occasion called for it, and during the drive to
Storm-Cliff he exerted himself to remove any unfavourable impression
which he might have made upon his wealthy and beautiful client.

It surprised him to find that Beatrice 'had so much in her.' He found
that she could talk intelligently upon all ordinary subjects, and on
others, too, which Septimus regarded as somewhat out of the ordinary.
Only in one particular did the lawyer's judgment decide adversely in the
matter of his client's conduct. She would 'talk shop.' Again and again
she abruptly brought her companion back from the regions of sentiment
and literature to business.

"What a mercenary creature she is," thought Septimus, when Beatrice
suddenly wound up an interesting discussion upon the beauties of the
Vatican picture-galleries by an inquiry as to the estimated value of the
Storm-Cliff property, including furniture, and whether he thought it
likely that a buyer could readily be obtained.

"Not readily, I fear, Miss Ballantyne," Septimus had answered, and he
determined to oppose and discourage the selling of 'The Towers' as far
as possible. Let Miss Ballantyne once leave Australia for England, and
any small chance he had of marrying her would be gone.

He was not really sorry on arriving at the house to find the Rev.
Christopher Broadford awaiting them. Having met this gentleman before,
he was able to introduce him to Miss Ballantyne. It relieved the
situation of any awkwardness, and besides, some men are far more
effective and brilliant when set against another; especially if the
other possesses sufficient good parts to put the first upon his mettle.
It was so on this occasion with the clergyman, and Beatrice was really
pleased to find him willing to stay for dinner.

Beatrice had been trying that afternoon to meet with a suitable
lady-companion, and also a butler, for she had a wholesome regard for
what Mrs Grundy might say about her living alone at 'The Towers,' and
she suspected that in such matters the place had not the best of names.
However, she had not been able to please herself in this respect so
readily as in the matter of a mastiff dog and gardener, and the butler
and lady-companion were still being sought for. The presence of the
clergyman at dinner would have a wholesome influence upon the household,
and also upon her own reputation as a good churchwoman, and Beatrice
mentally decided that after dinner she would have the whole
establishment in to evening prayers.

She suggested this to Mr Broadford after soup had been served, and
Beatrice at once rose greatly in his estimation.

"Do you conduct service at the village church every Sunday, Mr
Broadford?" asked Beatrice.

"I have that pleasure," said Christopher, blushing with gratification at
the interest which Beatrice was taking in his work.

But to tell the honest truth, the thoughts of Miss Ballantyne, just
then, were not occupied with the church, or its ministers, or
ministrations. She wanted two men to sleep in the house; she had them
there, and she proposed, if possible, to keep them. But the question was
how? She ought to offer Septimus Dorset the carriage to drive him to the
nearest railway station, some three miles distant, and the clergyman
would, of course, want to go home. He was not married, but he had a
sister, and not infrequently sisters were more exacting than wives.

Septimus, however, had made up his mind to stay late if possible. He had
noticed both a harp and piano in the drawing-room, and there was a small
pipe organ in the dining-room, which he had ascertained Beatrice could
play. Music is a wonderful assistance to cordiality and kindly feeling,
and both Septimus Dorset and Christopher Broadford could sing, and the
former of the two really well. Each was anxious for an opportunity to
display his gifts to the best advantage, and after dinner was over,
neither showed any anxiety to make an early evening of it.

Lucy it was who announced in the kitchen that the mistress requested
their presence in the dining-room to prayers.

It made a great commotion. Joe, the new gardener, expressed his regret
that he had engaged with a canting Methodist, and the cook grumbled that
she would have to specially tidy herself; but William and his wife sided
with Lucy, who thought the young mistress very right in taking advantage
of the minister's visit. "If there was more praying in the world," she
said, "it would be better for everyone."

They trooped into the room at the appointed time and sat near the door
upon chairs which the housemaid had arranged for them; the mastiff, who
had become very friendly with Joe, followed them and stretched his huge
limbs by that worthy's chair.

The clergyman, with his prayer book open before him, smiled benignly
from the end of the long table upon the group, and congratulated himself
upon the addition he was likely to gain for the evening service.

And a moment afterwards Beatrice came in from the conservatory
accompanied by the lawyer, who escorted her to the organ, the keyboard
of which had been thrown open for the occasion. The organ was one of the
few hobbies of the late Raymond Ballantyne, and it was found to be in
good order.

The prayers were read, and presently, after the lesson, the clergyman
announced the evening hymn. William knew at once, even while the prelude
was being played over, that his wife was about to cry; his only hope was
that she would keep it to herself until it was all over. The hymn was
played and sung with taste and feeling, and sounded very sweet and
homely, and as the closing prayer was uttered and the benediction
pronounced, even Joe muttered "Amen."

After prayers both Beatrice and her guests felt much more at home. When
they entered the drawing-room together, Mr Broadford suggested that Miss
Ballantyne should favour them with a song. Beatrice had sung but one
verse of a plaintive Welsh melody, when she paused to listen. It was
raining in torrents, and she knew, at once, that both her visitors would
have to stay the night.

It proved to be a furious storm which soughed through the tree-tops, and
wailed around the turrets and pinnacles, and sent the driving rain in
drenching violence upon everything unsheltered. It was impossible for
anyone to leave the protection of a friendly roof on such a night; so it
was settled that the lawyer and the clergyman should occupy the two
rooms which, on the previous night, had been first taken possession of
by Beatrice and her maid.

In view of the events of the night, it may be as well to call attention
to the arrangement of the principal apartments of 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

The entrance hall faced the west, and on entering it the visitor found
himself surrounded by half a dozen doors and a corridor which branched
off from the hall. To right and left were the doorways leading to a
reception-room and the drawing-room, which led respectively from the
principal bedroom and adjoining dressing-room. The rooms into which
Beatrice and her maid had removed were some distance down the corridor
and upon the other side, so that only a loud noise would be noticeable
from one to the other of these rooms.

The evening, with the aid of singing, and music, and conversation,
passed pleasantly; bright coal and wood fires burned cheerfully in the
various rooms, and every part of the mansion seemed to be lit up.
Beatrice almost forgot her fears, and it was late before the gentlemen
were shown to their rooms and the house settled down to the hushed
quietness of night.

Beatrice, however, looked around her own snug and richly furnished room
with some misgivings. It also had a cemented floor, and she wondered to
herself as to the possibilities of what might be underneath. She called
Lucy into her room on two occasions on idle excuses, and finally made
her build up a large coal fire and place a night-light upon a small
table near at hand. She also bade Lucy leave the door between the two
rooms ajar in case she might call to her in the night. Then she lay
still, and watched the dancing firelight, and listened.

The storm had lulled, and the cry of a night-bird near the house made
her start with sudden apprehension. She blamed herself now for having
put the lawyer in that room; but then he was a man and might make a
discovery, and he had the clergyman within call. Then she again listened
. . . and listened . . . and listened . . . !

What a blessed thing is sleep. To sink into unconsciousness and forget
oneself and all one's vexed surroundings; to go back again, as it were,
into the womb of pre-existence, and for a while lie dead to the world,
to awake with restored vigour and new strength.

The fire still glowed dimly through the room, and a coal occasionally
rattled noisily down into the fender, but the soft, regular breathing of
Beatrice might have told an intruder that it was unheard; for sleep,
which the poet says is 'loved from pole to pole,' and which Scripture
declares God gives 'to His beloved,' had wrapped the inmates of 'The
Towers' in slumber--at least the rightful inmates of 'The Towers.'

Beatrice slept--not exactly the sleep of innocence or utter weariness,
but the sleep which comes alike to the criminal in his cell, to the
mariner upon the sea, and the soldier upon the blood-stained
battle-field--the sleep of forgetfulness. But in the present case it was
not an wholly untroubled sleep, for Beatrice was conscious of the fact
that she had exposed the lawyer, unwarned, to an actual danger, and the
thoughts of the day took form and colour in the visions of the night.

Unconsciously she muttered and then spoke words aloud, which awakened
Lucy, who came in, thinking herself called; but Beatrice slept, and the
girl went back to her warm bed again, wondering what ailed her mistress
that she should have called so loudly in her sleep.

But, in the meantime, there was one in the lawyer's chamber who was not
asleep!




CHAPTER XI.--THE LAWYER DISAPPEARS.


Lucy awoke early the following morning. All sign of rain had cleared
off. The sun had not yet risen above the Pacific horizon, but the coming
of the monarch of day was already heralded by stray gleams of colour
which shot upward from the ocean's bed.

Lucy prided herself upon her early rising, and sometimes gave herself
airs of absurd superiority to the rest of the household because she was
able to do with so little sleep. This morning she had planned a lot of
work which she wished to get through with before she would be wanted by
her mistress.

Boxes had still to be unpacked, and the articles they contained arranged
in drawers and wardrobes, and she busied herself with her duties,
laughing quietly as she thought over some of the droll stories which
Joe, the new gardener, had been telling them the previous night.

By his own account he had been born on a Manly excursion boat, and his
after career had been as eccentric as his birth.

Outside, Lucy could hear the distant thunder of the ocean upon the
rocks. Miss Beatrice and her visitors had been late, she thought; they
would breakfast late.

A few minutes afterward Lucy was passing along the corridor when she met
the clergyman.

"Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Lucy. Have you seen Mr Dorset about anywhere?"

"No, sir."

"Oh, all right," and the reverend gentleman returned to his room again.

"They are up early," thought Lucy; "I must hurry the housemaid and tell
cook to have breakfast ready. Mr Dorset may wish to start in good time
for town, and will want the carriage."

Another hour, however, passed, but neither Mr Broadford nor Mr Dorset
had shown themselves, and the breakfast being ready to serve, the
housemaid rang the dressing-bell.

Mr Broadford came out of his room with apprehension plainly marked upon
his countenance.

"Send one of your men-servants to me," he said to the girl.

Shortly after, William knocked at his door.

"Go in there and see if there is anything wrong with Mr Dorset," said
the clergyman.

William pushed back the slightly opened door between the two rooms, and
entered the apartment which Mr Dorset had occupied. It was empty!

Neatly arranged upon a sofa were the lawyer's clothes, and the
bedclothes were thrown back. The bed had evidently been slept in, but
there was no sign of any haste, or disturbance, or struggle. The large
room was in its accustomed order, and both doors and windows were
closed.

"The gentleman must have gone to the beach to bathe in his dressing-gown
and pyjamas," said William.

"Do you think so?" said Mr Broadford, feeling slightly relieved. "Rather
an unusual thing to do in midwinter."

"Oh, that's nothing," said the man, "it's never very cold, I should
think, in this country; bless you, sir, I have known them to go out and
bathe in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, when they had to break the
ice to get in."

The clergyman expressed some doubt as to the accuracy of this statement,
but urged the man to have a good look around to see if he could find any
trace of Mr Dorset, and in the meantime he would report the matter to
Miss Ballantyne.

There was no need, however, for Mr Broadford to report the matter, for
Beatrice had already been told by Lucy that something had happened to Mr
Dorset. The girl was startled at the effect which the intelligence had
upon her mistress. She had just before told her that the two gentlemen
were up. But the housemaid had brought word that not only was Mr Dorset
missing, but that he had left the house without his clothes.

Beatrice had just finished dressing, and listened to Lucy's words
without turning round. She felt like one suddenly petrified.

"It was wrong!" escaped her lips. Then she turned round with a face ashy
pale, and Lucy ran to her; but only just in time. She helped her to lie
down, and then rang loudly for assistance. Miss Ballantyne had fainted.

There was at once a great commotion all through the house. William had
gone out to search the grounds, and rocks, and beach for the missing
lawyer. Joe was sent by Lucy on one of the horses for a doctor, for she
found that the ordinary simple remedies failed to restore her mistress
to consciousness.

On the doctor's arrival, however, Miss Ballantyne had partially
recovered. She apologised to him that her servants should have hurried
him to 'The Towers' with such urgency, but requested him, as he was
present and happened to be a Justice of the Peace, to advise with Mr
Broadford as to what had better be done in regard to the disappearance
of Mr Dorset.

By this time William had returned, and stated that he had carefully
searched the grounds, and beach, and rocks for a mile around the house,
but had found no trace of Mr Dorset. He had inquired, too, of some
fishermen, but they said that no one had been seen bathing, in fact that
it was far too rough and cold and dangerous for anyone to attempt to do
such a thing.

Christopher Broadford at once suggested the placing of the matter in the
hands of the police; but Dr Strong was a man of experience.

"My dear sir," he said, "the matter may be explained without making a
scandal of it, which would naturally annoy Mr Dorset's family, who are
influential people. You see, although the circumstances of the case are
singular, it is possible that some very simple explanation may be at
hand. Do you know whether every part of the interior of the house has
been examined?"

Mr Broadford had not thought of this, so the doctor went to consult Miss
Ballantyne, and obtained her permission to thoroughly examine the house
for the missing man. It seemed to him, during this second interview,
that the unpleasant affair had given a great shock to Miss Ballantyne's
nerves, and he advised her to remain quietly in her room, and instructed
Lucy to give her mistress her very best attention.

He knew Mr Dorset's family, he said, and he would superintend the
thorough searching of the house. He might have gone out somewhere in the
night and have injured himself or fainted; it was unwise of Miss
Ballantyne to unduly agitate herself, probably there was some very
simple explanation to be found which would clear up the whole mystery.

Dr Strong now instituted a careful personal search of the premises, in
company with the clergyman and the coachman. He commenced with the room
which had been occupied by Mr Dorset.

It has already been described as a large and handsome apartment, and the
doctor curiously scrutinised every corner of it.

"We will not disturb anything," he said, "lest an inquiry should be
found necessary."

On examination it was found that in the pockets of the clothes were a
purse, keys, and other knick-knacks. Mr Dorset's gold watch and chain
lay upon the dressing-table, where they had evidently been placed by
their owner. The watch was still going.

"We had better lock all these things up; it is evident that there has
been no robbery committed," said Dr Strong.

A door led from the room into a large conservatory; this was unlocked,
and the party passed out among ferns and foliage plants, but there was
no sign of anyone having been hidden there, and the place was
undisturbed. There were six doors from this: four leading from the
conservatory into various rooms of the mansion, one on to the north
terrace, and one into the grounds facing the ocean; the two latter doors
were locked upon the inside. The doctor also examined some large sliding
glass panels, which were also fastened. There was evidently nothing to
be discovered in this direction, so they turned back into the room and
locked the doors again as they had found them.

The three men stood on the rich carpet and once more surveyed the room
of mystery. Raymond Ballantyne's portrait looked down upon them from
over the fireplace. The whole surrounding of the room bespoke a cultured
taste and the wealth to gratify it.

"It's a strange affair!" ejaculated the doctor, looking for a moment at
the young clergyman. "The man can't possibly have gone away without his
clothes! It is impossible that he can have been abducted--there would
have been a struggle, and you, Mr Broadford, would have heard that
something was transpiring. I believe you said that the door between the
two rooms was ajar?"

The clergyman's face coloured slightly, for this was the first
suggestion that he might possibly be suspected of having been concerned
with the lawyer's disappearance. It had never crossed his mind before,
and for a moment he felt confused under the doctor's scrutiny.

"The door was ajar. Mr Dorset suggested that it should be left so in
order that I might give him a call in the morning. Of course I heard
nothing, or I should have mentioned it," said the clergyman.

The doctor carefully locked all the doors and placed the key of the one
leading into the entrance hall and that leading into the room Mr
Broadford had occupied in his pocket.

There were four other rooms leading into the conservatory, each of which
was carefully examined, and then the rooms on the other side of the
house, and the servants' quarters--over twenty rooms in all. Not the
slightest clue, however, was obtained that might suggest a solution of
the mystery.

A good quarter of an hour was then spent in searching the stables and
outbuildings, and the doctor and clergyman exhibited some signs of
impatience with their fruitless search.

"There is the North Tower yet," said William; "but it is impossible that
the gentleman can have found his way there."

"Nothing is impossible!" exclaimed the doctor testily.

The tower was a squarely built, solid mass of masonry at the north end
of the main building, and was entered from the main external corridor,
which surrounded this part of the house.

The three rooms, one above the other, were furnished but not occupied.
The lower one was fitted up as a kind of writing and smoking-room, that
above it as a bedroom, and the third as a kind of observatory; a number
of scientific instruments, including a powerful telescope, being found
there, and books upon astronomy and other kindred sciences. William had
heard that Mr Skinner had specially occupied these rooms during Mr
Ballantyne's residence, and that he also used the lower room and the
room from which Mr Dorset had disappeared, while Mr Ballantyne had been
away.

The doctor proceeded to examine these rooms with the greatest minuteness
and interest.

"We will commence," he said, "at the top."

From the flat roof of the summit a view of the whole surrounding country
and of the sea was visible; but they were too intent upon their search
to be much interested just then in extensive views of the scenery.

The stairs were narrow and abrupt, but a thick carpet gave an air of
comfort to the whole of the quaint structure. There was much which,
under other circumstances, would have interested both the doctor and the
clergyman in the topmost room. There were windows on each of the four
sides. There was no table in the centre of the floor, which was covered
with linoleum; but two circles were drawn together there, and inner
circles inside of them.

The clergyman started as he looked at them, as though he had read of or
seen something of the sort before.

"Some unhallowed enchantment," he said, pointing to the floor.

"More likely the place where some revolving scientific instruments have
been fixed," said the doctor.

But although he turned it off thus lightly, the doctor had his doubts,
for the whole place had an uncanny look about it.

"Reminds one of Milton's 'Il Penseroso,'" said he to the clergyman, as
they together descended to the next floor.

"'Or let my lamp at midnight's hour 

Be seen in some high, lonely tower,

Where I may oft outwatch the bear 

With thrice great Hermes; or unsphere

The spirit of Plato, to unfold what worlds 

Or what vast regions hold the immortal mind, 

Which hath forsook her mansion in this fleshly nook.'"

But this was on effort on the part of the doctor, for he was intent upon
unravelling the mystery of the lawyer's disappearance.

The room they had by this time entered was an ordinary bedroom, about
eighteen feet by twenty; there was nothing to be learnt here, so they
descended to the lower apartment, where the doctor flung himself into a
large easy-chair and looked thoughtfully around.

There were two windows on one side of the room only--that which
overlooked the front terrace; the growth of fir trees just beyond
shutting out the view of everything except their sombre foliage.

"It is useless to make any further search for Mr Dorset here," said the
doctor; "but I am loath to make any unnecessary alarm. You have nothing
to suggest, William?"

"No, sir," said the coachman.

"You heard no unusual sound at any time during the night?"

"Nothing," replied William emphatically.

"Go and call in all the other servants except Miss Ballantyne's maid,
that I may question them too."

This, however, elicited nothing, so the doctor decided to at once drive
into town and make inquiries at Mr Dorset's office, and acquaint his
family with the alarming intelligence.

"What a secluded study this would make, doctor," said the clergyman.

"I would go mad in it," replied Dr Strong.

"Queer," he continued, after a moment's silence, "that every floor at
this end of the building should be of cement. This one is too," he said,
stamping his foot on the carpet to prove his assertion.

An unmistakable click was heard, as though a bolt or latch had suddenly
shot into its place.

The two men started and looked at each other.

"Did you hear that?" said the doctor.

The clergyman nodded, and both men listened for a minute breathlessly.

"It must have been something loose under the carpet, or the heel of your
boot," said the clergyman.

"Boot be hanged!" ejaculated the doctor. He was about to add something
more, but he restrained himself. Then he said quietly, "It may have been
my boot."




CHAPTER XII.--A GIRL IN A THOUSAND.


Dr Strong's gig was waiting; but before leaving for town he again looked
in upon Beatrice, who, he could see, was in a very distressed state of
mind.

She had not left her room, nor assisted in any way in the search; but
even allowing for the shock to her nerves, he could not understand how
the matter should have so thoroughly prostrated her. He was naturally of
an inquiring turn of mind, and was certainly interested both in 'The
Towers' and its owner. He had not had an opportunity during the lifetime
of Mr Ballantyne of seeing over the place, and the news of Miss
Ballantyne's arrival had been much talked of in the neighbourhood.

"Miss Ballantyne, you are not well enough to be left alone with the
servants. I will send my sister Grace over this afternoon, and call back
on my return from Sydney to see how you are and tell you anything which
may further transpire."

* * * * * * * * * *

There are few who have not something by which they are known; but Grace
Strong was, as her brother often put it, a girl in a thousand. She had
been brought up with her brother by well-to-do and indulgent parents in
the south of England, and had come to Australia with John to help him to
carve his way to fortune in a new land. The doctor and the clergyman
were both unmarried men, having sisters keeping house for them, and,
living as they did, not five minutes' walk from each other in
Storm-Cliff village, it is not very surprising that Grace Strong and the
clergyman's sister, Alice Broadford, had become fast friends. They had
already projected a visit to 'The Towers' together to call upon Miss
Ballantyne when the incidents narrated transpired.

"Grace, I want you to go across to 'Storm-Cliff Towers' and stop with
Miss Ballantyne until I can get back from Sydney," said the doctor.

"What is the matter? Is she seriously ill that you are going for a
nurse, or more advice?" asked his sister.

In a few words he briefly explained what had happened, and how necessary
it was that Beatrice should have cheerful society. "I don't like the
place," he said, "and I think that something beyond Mr Dorset's
disappearance has frightened her. She seems to me an exceedingly nice
girl, unfortunately circumstanced through having no relations, and I
think that you would be doing a really kind and good deed by making
yourself friendly to her."

It was quite enough to suggest to Grace Strong that she would be a
helper, to arouse all her sympathies and effort, and within an hour she
was on her way across the common to 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

Beatrice had at once liked Dr Strong. His decision of character and
frank openness of speech and manner had favourably impressed her, as
indeed it did most people, and she was quite prepared to like the
doctor's sister; so on reaching 'The Towers' Grace was cordially
received.

"I am glad that the doctor has allowed you to come over to me, and it is
very good of you to come," said Beatrice.

"Anyone would be upset," said Grace, "at so strange a thing happening;
but I am very pleased to help my brother, and when I know you better,
Miss Ballantyne, I think that I shall also be pleased to help you."

Beatrice looked at her visitor, for the last part of her remark was not
exactly what most girls would have said.

"You are very fond of your brother, Miss Strong?"

"Certainly I am, and have good cause to be," replied Grace.

Beatrice smiled, but said nothing. "If I had only a brother," she
thought, "how different things would be."

Grace read her thoughts, and said, "I fear that I am too impulsive; but
my brother and myself have been more like chums than brother and sister.
We have worked together, and studied together, and suffered together,
and he has always been good and thoughtful, and I don't think that I
could love anyone better than I do the doctor."

"He has a very kind manner, and you cannot help feeling that he is
skilful. He has taken a great deal of trouble over this unfortunate
affair of Mr Dorset's," said Beatrice.

"I would not trouble about that," said Grace cheerfully, "there may be
an explanation of it which will clear up the whole matter. At any rate
do not let us think of it until my brother returns from Sydney."

"Who are the people living in this neighbourhood?" asked Beatrice,
changing the subject.

"They mostly belong to two classes," said Grace: "those who are
comparatively poor and those who are rich. The larger houses, you see,
are all of them the homes of fairly well-to-do people; but the fishermen
and labouring classes are wretchedly poor."

"I thought that there were no poor people in Australia," said Beatrice,
smiling.

"A very common mistake which we English people often make," said Grace.

"Then you are English?" said Beatrice eagerly.

"I am," said Grace; "but really I don't know that I am any the better
for that. Some of the nicest people I have known are Australians."

"Tell me about your life in England, and how you came out here," said
Beatrice, after Lucy had brought in afternoon tea.

"It is a sad story," said Grace.

"Then I think it may suit me, for I seem to be under a grey sky just now
myself," said Beatrice.

"It is not all grey," replied Grace; "if sad, it is a story made bright
and interesting because there is a good man in it."

"That, of course, is your brother," said Beatrice, smiling.

"Yes," said Grace gravely; "he is very unlike many men and many
brothers. But remember, Miss Ballantyne, you asked me to tell you about
my life at home."

Dr Strong might well think highly of his sister Grace. She was a
contrast in many ways to Beatrice. By the side of the ripe, full-orbed
beauty of the mistress of 'The Towers,' her face looked thin, and her
whole form seemed wanting in the round fullness of early womanhood; but
it was a face to arrest attention.

Her dark, almost black hair was seemingly not over abundant; but her
eyes, and perfect nose, and lips might have been taken as a model by a
painter, who wished to reproduce the features of the Mary that Jesus
loved.

Her eyes suggested unusual fluency of speech, as may be partly gathered
from what follows.

She sat on a low chair and looked into the fire, with now and again a
tear glistening behind the eyelashes, as she told Beatrice the story of
her early life.

"Steynbridge is, without doubt, one of the most old-fashioned towns in
the south of England. It is one of those quiet clusters of English homes
which the hand of the old destroyer, Time, seems here and there to
spare, just to remind us, I suppose, of old-world scenes and customs. I
have heard my father say that from the time he was a boy he could
remember comparatively few changes. The old canal had given way to the
more modern railway, and a new brewery had entered into competition with
the old. But, except for these changes, and a few brick houses of more
pretentious style, which had gone up stealthily in the suburbs, I can
remember little or no perceptible change since I first knew the place.
There had been two thousand people there as long as the oldest
inhabitant could remember.

"If I close my eyes, the old town comes back to me as fresh as ever.
From the sleepy railway-station in Blair Street, past the high brick
wool stores, past the blacksmith's forge, a row of cottages led straight
to the market-place, where, at various points of the compass, the 'Blue
Boar,' and 'White Hart,' and 'Red Lion' hostelries swung their creaking
signs of invitation.

"Old-fashioned, substantial, red-brick houses were most of them, with
great black oaken joists and beams intersecting the outer walls, and a
'house place,' as the kitchen was called, with a chimney corner big
enough to roast an ox, seats on each side of the inglenook, and a
chimney wide and straight, up which might easily be described a goodly
number of stars.

"Various businesses had, in several instances, passed for generations
from father to son. There had been a well-to-do Quaker grocer next door
to the White Hart Inn for generations; and Lukin the tailor at one
corner, and Annersley at the other, were institutions. The Browns,
however, were the most conspicuous portion of the community. The name
was to be seen above almost every fourth shop front, and only that the
name and trade were usually linked together the confusion might have
been extreme. The use of terms such as 'Painter Brown,' 'Butcher Brown,'
and 'Baker Brown,' etc., preserved the identity of the inhabitants.

"My father's house was at the country end of High Street, and had an
old-fashioned garden around it, where the lilac, and laburnum, and
crimson hawthorn scented the air in spring-time, and cabbage roses, and
pinks, and tulips, and scores of other old favourite garden flowers
flourished in the summer. There was a copse of nut trees, and an
orchard, and several acres of pasture-land, which could be flooded from
the brook in the spring-time, and which, I need scarcely say, bore
luxuriant crops of fragrant hay.

"The house, although quite within the suburbs of the town, was known by
the singular name of 'Abbeyhurst.' It was a queer, rambling place. Part
of it was very old, and if the stories told about it were correct, as
indeed I have good reason to believe they were, it had been at one time
a monastery, probably one of the smaller ecclesiastical establishments
which were abolished by Henry VIII. in 1536. You remember how the king,
with the strong and willing aid of Thomas Cromwell, attacked these
monasteries which then studded the land. But bad as the monastic system
was, and ignorant and licentious as were many of the ecclesiastics, it
was a great shock to England when they were overthrown; and, looking at
the stained glass and delicate stonework of a side door in the old part
of 'Abbeyhurst,' I, even as a girl, used to read with regretful interest
of how, during the suppression of the monasteries, 'piles of delicate
stonework, enriched with the thoughts of architect and sculptor, which
ever since the Conquest had been growing up in beauty over all the land,
were levelled, unroofed, or turned into stables and pigsties'; of how
'choice pictures, in whose tinted forms glowed the spirit of Italian
art, shrivelled in the flames, and stained windows became splinters of
coloured glass, and sweet bells, that had laden the air at prime and
sunset with music, were melted down and sold.'

"I fancy 'Abbeyhurst' was repaired, and had been a sort of scholastic
establishment after that, for on the east wall, in one of the attics,
the names of either monks or schoolboys had been found scratched with a
knife or other sharp instrument upon the plaster, which at some later
time had been papered over. The old place must have had a great knocking
about, too, in 1643, when Oliver Cromwell had a skirmish with Prince
Rupert at King's Bromley, and brought the parliamentary cannon to bear
upon the town. There were chippings and scars upon the stone cornices
and brickwork of the eastern wall of the house, which I often looked at,
and which our old gardener stoutly averred were the marks of the stern
soldiers' cannonballs.

"However, the place had been almost entirely rebuilt since then, the
architect having in some measure preserved the old-fashioned character
of the house, and incorporated in the new building all that was worth
preserving of the old. This included the whole eastern side of the
house, containing about six rooms in the three stories, and the passage
leading to the doorway with the stained-glass window above, which I have
previously referred to. If my memory is not at fault there was worked
into the design of that coloured window the date 'Anno Domini 1423.'"

Beatrice listened to all this with interest, for it was evident that her
visitor was gifted with uncommon skill in story-telling, and she was
interested, too, in the narrative on account of the doctor; then, too,
she had a girl friend who had lived at Steynbridge.

"Am I tiring you?" asked Grace.

"Not in the least," replied Beatrice. "Go on, please, I am deeply
interested. I have heard about Steynbridge before, but never had such a
graphic description of it."

"Dr Strong is my only brother," continued Grace, resuming her narrative,
"but I have two sisters older than myself. My father was a tall,
thoughtful man, a doctor immersed in his profession; but a private
income saved him from being altogether dependent upon it. I scarcely
know how to describe my mother. The grave closed above her several years
ago; but I often imagine her gentle, loving eyes still fixed upon me.
She was the household angel of 'Abbeyhurst.'

"I have read somewhere that the memory of childhood is eclectic, and
that in after years the heart turns fondly to the scenes and memories of
earlier days; it must be so in my case. But if there be such a golden
haze as this about my recollection of my mother, I would not have it
altered. To my brother and myself, at any rate, our mother was:

"'A perfect woman, nobly planned, 

To warn, to comfort, and command; 

And yet a spirit still and bright, 

With something of an angel light.'

"While our mother lived our home life was almost as perfectly happy as
it could be; but she died suddenly, and about twelve months afterward my
father married again. Things, after a while, became very different at
home: my two older sisters married, and John and myself decided to come
out to Australia. I told you, I think, that we had always been chums."




CHAPTER XIII.--MORE COMPLICATIONS.


The latter portion of Grace Strong's story was full of pathetic interest
to Beatrice, for the steamer in which they left England was burnt during
a stormy night in the English Channel.

The brother and sister would not, however, return to their friends, but
as soon as possible had proceeded again upon their journey, and after a
series of somewhat unusual adventures, in which, as narrated by his
sister, Dr Strong appeared to excellent advantage, they reached Sydney.
Here, however, their troubles were to commence rather than finish.

"Sydney is no place for poor people," said Grace, and although she
touched lightly upon their struggles and privations, it was evident that
they had passed patiently through a good many. The doctor's difficulties
with fellow practitioners and professional etiquette were hinted at, and
it was clear to Beatrice that the brother and sister had fought a good
fight with many difficulties before they found themselves in the
comparatively prosperous circumstances in which they then were.

The time passed quickly, and Beatrice felt herself much drawn to Grace,
and probably had she known her longer would have confided to her some of
her own troubles; for she was now greatly alarmed as to the consequences
of her own conduct in regard to the disappearance of Septimus Dorset.
But while prepared to make a friend of Grace, she determined that it was
too late to take her into her confidence. She would let things take
their course, and see whether the detectives, who, she felt sure, must
be brought into the affair, would make any discovery.

"I am so pleased to have heard your story, Miss Strong," she said. "I
feel now as though I had known you and your brother for years. I had a
school friend, a Miss Dasby, who lived at Steynbridge."

Grace remembered Miss Dasby well, and told Beatrice much about her home
and friends that interested her.

They were talking together when two vehicles drew up at the entrance
hall. Looking out they saw the doctor's gig, and in another vehicle was
Mr Dorset's brother and two detectives.

An hour after their arrival Beatrice was on her way with Grace and her
maid to spend the night at "Steynbridge Cottage," as the doctor's
residence was named.

It was evident that she could be of no assistance to them, and Dr Strong
thought it advisable for Miss Ballantyne's health, and nerves, and
general well-being, that she should not remain for that night at 'The
Towers.'

Beatrice at first objected to the arrangement, but the doctor was firm
and decided.

"You must allow me to settle this matter for you, Miss Ballantyne. After
what happened here last night, it is evident to me that a change away
from this big sombre place will do you good. Grace will take care of you
and make you very comfortable, and I will remain here to-night with Mr
Dorset and Detective Bruce and his fellow-officer. Besides, we have
arranged for Mr Broadford to come over and consult with us, and we hope
by the morning to give you some solution of the mystery of Mr Septimus
Dorset's disappearance."

Later on the doctor and Donald Dorset, with the two detectives, were at
dinner in the large dining-room of 'The Towers.' The two latter had not
been idle, but so far they had obtained no clue.

Dr Strong had assumed the place of host, and, with the easy familiarity
and self-confidence natural to the medical profession, was doing the
honours of the house.

The men adjourned to the conservatory after dinner to smoke and further
discuss the situation, and here Mr Broadford joined them.

"What do you think of it, Mr Bruce?" asked Dr Strong, addressing the
senior police officer.

"Not much so far," said Bruce laconically.

"Do you think he left the house by himself?" asked the doctor.

"No, I don't," replied the officer.

"Mr Dorset," he said, turning round suddenly to the missing man's
brother, "do you know whether your brother has any special friends or
particular enemies in this neighbourhood?"

"No," said the gentleman addressed; "to my knowledge he knew no one out
here except the late Mr Ballantyne, who was a client of his firm. But it
is impossible that he can have left the house of his own free will
without his clothes."

"Then you have nothing to suggest to us?" said the second detective.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," said Mr Dorset despondently.

"Do you think he was in the habit of walking in his sleep?" asked the
clergyman.

"No, certainly not; at least, I never knew him to do such a thing,"
answered his brother.

"Why do you ask that question, sir?" asked Detective Bruce, leaning
forward and looking at the clergyman.

"Because during one part of the night I thought that I heard a slight
noise in the room."

"What was it like?" asked the detective, displaying interest.

"As though he was up and moving about," said the minister.

"Well, that may have been so, and he might afterwards have gone to bed
again," said the doctor.

"You did not go in nor look in?" said the detective.

"No, certainly not," replied Mr Broadford.

There was a long pause after this, which was at last broken by the
doctor. "We want to find out something before we can do much," he said.

"You mean a motive," said the senior detective.

"Yes, that's it," replied the doctor. "You see, if a crime has been
committed, there must, under the circumstances, have been a motive for
it. If a burglar broke in and absconded with the person and property of
the missing man it would have been robbery."

"If he had been a suitor for Miss Ballantyne's hand the motive might
have been jealousy," said Detective Bruce.

At this the junior detective looked curiously across at Mr Broadford and
asked him if any other person had been with Miss Ballantyne and himself
the previous night, except Mr Dorset.

They all saw the awkwardness of the clergyman's position, for no matter
how innocent the occasion, or how simple the explanation of their having
been detained there by a storm, the facts remained that the two
gentlemen were being entertained by Miss Ballantyne, and that both were
bachelors who might have been suitors for the hand of a wealthy young
lady; that both slept in the house that night in adjoining rooms; and
that in the morning one was missing.

"Are there any wells about the place?" asked Donald Dorset.

No one knew 'The Towers' well enough to inform him, so William was
called in and questioned, but he knew of none; the house, he said, was
well supplied with underground tanks.

Mr Broadford excused himself early, and Mr Donald Dorset also left for
town, and that night the two detectives occupied the room from which
Septimus Dorset had disappeared. The doctor was to occupy the adjoining
dressing-room, but before any of them thought of sleep, they long and
anxiously discussed the situation.

The younger officer, whose name was Seymour, had become possessed with
the idea that Mr Broadford knew more of the matter than he cared to say.
In fact, he practically let it out that had he been the senior, he would
have cautioned him not to incriminate himself, and probably by that time
would have had him under arrest.

"And a great fool you would have made of yourself," said the doctor
bluntly; at which Detective Bruce indulged in a hearty and sympathetic
laugh.

"I confess that I am altogether beaten so far," said Detective Bruce;
"but you are very green in love-affairs, Seymour. Do you think that a
clergyman, at so short a notice, would have murdered a rival in that
fashion?"

"Do not be too certain," replied Seymour. "It is very evident that Mr
Broadford thinks very well of Miss Ballantyne; clergymen, too, think
that they have a first claim upon the affections of rich and handsome
women. Suppose that he fell in love at first sight, and that he had some
dispute about Miss Ballantyne with Mr Dorset, and that in sudden heat he
struck him?"

"It won't do, Seymour," said the doctor, laughing. "I know Christopher
Broadford pretty well, and I am confident that he knows no more about
this affair than we do ourselves."

However, Detective Seymour was by no means persuaded. "Who else is
there, then, that could have spirited him away?" he asked.

"Did you ever hear of one Owen Skinner, and of a lady named Mrs
Dalbert?" asked the doctor.

A fire of coal and wood was burning brightly in the grate, and all three
men looked at it in silence for half a minute after this speech of Dr
Strong's.

"Go on," said Detective Bruce.

"Now what I am going to tell you, you must take for exactly what it is
worth. It was told me by an old woman on her deathbed, who had lived in
this house as a laundress during the time of the late Mr Ballantyne, and
while he was away."

"Why do you say that we must take it for what it is worth?" asked
Seymour.

"Because the woman was in great pain at the time of telling it, and may
not have been properly accountable for what she was saying. She thought
herself under an obligation to me, and told it as a great secret; but
there may be nothing at all in it."

"Don't tax our curiosity unnecessarily," said Bruce.

"Well, this is it," replied the doctor. "To make a long story short, she
told me that there was a goldmine under 'Storm-Cliff Towers,' and that
there was a way into it from Mr Ballantyne's bedroom--which, by the by,
is the very room we are now sitting in."

Detective Seymour started up as though he were about to commence a
search at once; but Bruce sat still and watched the doctor closely.

"Why did you not tell us this before, doctor?"

"Simply because, in a case of this sort, I only give information to an
officer of the police force as a last resort; and, further, I have
searched every room in the house myself and have met with no
confirmation of old Sarah's statement. Once only I thought that I had
hit upon something; but I fear that it was nothing worth following up.
But I have only told you a part of the story."

"By all means tell us the rest of it, doctor," said the detective.

"Sarah had been a sort of confidential servant at 'The Towers'; but she
took bad with a complication of disorders, amongst which was dropsy,
shortly before Mr Ballantyne's death. I was then on the visiting staff
of the Sydney Hospital, and this old creature happened to be in my ward.
Knowing that she was from Storm-Cliff I probably paid some special
attention to her, for she told me her secret with the idea that she was
conferring upon me a lasting benefit. The old woman was, of course, very
ignorant, and had an idea that, being a doctor, I was free to go
anywhere, and that, if I should be called upon to attend Mr Ballantyne
at any time, I might get a few handfuls of nuggets for myself from his
hidden store.

"She had a great dislike to Skinner; not that it was always so, but he
had done something to offend her. She assured me that Skinner made no
secret about the mine, for she had known him to carry hundreds of bags
of earth up from it, especially during the years Mr Ballantyne was
absent on his travels, and that he had taken out the earth while he was
searching for the gold.

"She further told me that there must be a way down to it, also, from the
lower tower room, as she had once or twice seen him come from there with
bags of stuff--that's the North Tower, you know--but it seems he was
angry with her if she watched him, and said that he was getting ready to
cement the floors on account of rats. It never occurred to me until now,
but if a large quantity of earth were removed in the way she said it
was, there should be some inequality somewhere about the grounds where
it was deposited; but so far as we can see there is none."




CHAPTER XIV.--AN UNSHARED SECRET.


The night passed without incident, and the morning brought no new
discovery. The carpet was taken up from the lower tower room, but no
fresh light was thrown upon the affair, nor was the old woman's story
corroborated by the finding of any mounds of earth which might have
accumulated as the result of the suggested excavations. The detectives,
however, remained and examined the country around 'The Towers' in all
directions, but found no clue.

The mystery of the lawyer's disappearance soon got into the papers; a
considerable reward was offered for any information which might lead to
his discovery, and some of the society journals hinted at a scandal, and
that he might readily have been found, not twenty miles from Sydney, if
certain people wished it. It was indeed suggested by a journal
circulating in Sydney, although not published there, that there were
high officials in the Government departments who knew of Septimus
Dorset's whereabouts, but who found it convenient to be silent. Of
course vague innuendoes of this sort can never be answered, nor can the
originators of them be brought to punishment, as they richly deserve to
be.

There was no disputing the fact, however, among those who really knew.
The police were baffled; the friends of the missing man were in great
distress at his disappearance; and to complicate matters, the mistress
of 'Storm-Cliff Towers' lay ill in 'Steynbridge Cottage.'

Nothing preys more upon the heart than the possession of a secret which
is associated with a crime. The person possessing the knowledge may be
perfectly innocent, or may have been guilty of indiscretion only, or may
have obtained the knowledge by accident or mistake; but it makes little
difference. The secret of a crime undisclosed has, in countless
instances, warped the whole vision of life, and placed its possessors
under disastrous disabilities. The difficulty of such a position is
increased with every new circumstance and each passing day. It is an
incubus upon the mind, which feeds upon its own fears, and grows until
it fills the whole horizon of vision and absolutely monopolises the
life. The burden of a secret shared with a faithful friend may be
harmless to the individual, but unshared, it may be a canker corroding
the life. It was this which had brought about Beatrice's illness, which,
at the present juncture, baffled the medical skill of Dr Strong.

The position as it presented itself to Beatrice was this:

She had experimented with a man's life for the sake of obtaining further
knowledge of the mysterious room in 'The Towers.' What she had seen in
that room could not have been a dream; it was real. Her uncle's
memorandum in regard to the wearer of the cat's-eye ring dispelled any
thought of its having been an imagination of her mind. She had seen the
hand of the wearer of the ring before she had known of the existence of
such a person or such a ring from other sources.

She longed to give the doctor some hint that might assist them in the
search, but when an opportunity to tell him came, she shrank from doing
so.

Her position was embarrassed, too, by the disappearance of her lawyer,
for he possessed a knowledge of her affairs which would have been
specially serviceable. Her distress and worry, and nursing of her
unshared secret, and fear that by some means she might unwittingly
disclose it, had worked together upon her mind and culminated in its
natural consequences, and for several weeks, during which the search was
continued, Miss Ballantyne could render no assistance.

In the meantime the position of things at 'The Towers' was peculiar. The
illness of Miss Ballantyne and the disappearance of the lawyer left the
practical direction of affairs in the hands of Dr Strong, who was
interested in the matter out of all proportion to its professional value
to him.

He felt sure that Beatrice had something on her mind. Grace had told him
of expressions of fear about 'The Towers,' which had escaped Miss
Ballantyne's lips in the delirium of fever; and although it was natural
that the shock of Mr Dorset's disappearance should have caused such an
illness, the doctor's suspicions that there was something underhand
about the mansion and its cemented floors grew upon him, and he visited
the place as much as his professional duties made possible.

After a month Miss Ballantyne was convalescent and still resident at
'Steynbridge Cottage,' when one evening Dr Strong found himself
traversing the now familiar path from the cottage to the 'The Towers.'
He had determined to remain there for the night alone in the haunted
chamber, and see if it was not possible to learn something of the
mystery which threatened to make 'The Towers' no longer habitable to
ordinary residents. Beatrice had emphatically stated that she would not
again live in the place, and the servants reported noises in the night
at the north end of the mansion, and could only be induced to remain in
the place at all on account of their attachment to their mistress.

Dr Strong was both courageous and of iron nerve, and he had set himself
to spend one night alone in the chamber and see if anything would
result. He had not told either his sister or Beatrice of his intentions,
nor did the servants at 'The Towers' know of his coming. He had
intimated to the former that he had a case to attend and might be
detained late.

Evening was closing in as he entered the grounds and met William, with
Leo the mastiff, having a look around before closing up the place for
the night.

William's first inquiry was after the health of Miss Ballantyne, and on
being assured that she was progressing favourably and would soon be
about again, he commenced to talk about 'The Towers.'

"The people in Australia are worse than folks in the old country,
doctor," he said.

"How's that, William?"

"Oh! I mean in trespassing upon property. Would you believe it, just
now, sir, I turned a party of young chaps off the lower lawn this
afternoon, who had just fixed up their wickets to play cricket here.
They coolly told me that they had played there before without being
interfered with, and they were not going to move for me. Wanted me to
drink a drop of whisky with them, and take long stop, as they were short
of a man."

"What did you do?" asked the doctor, laughing.

"I went up and brought down the gardener and the mastiff, and we cleared
them out."

"You see, there is so much open ground and so many broken and shaky
fences around this neighbourhood, that people have a very faint notion
as to the right of occupation or trespass," replied the doctor.

"That's all very well; but our fences are all right, and they not only
trespass upon the grounds, but they damage the place, and steal the
fruit and timber, unless you are always upon the watch. They come, too,
in the night-time. I think, doctor, the young mistress ought to have a
keeper about the place at night. I shall be real glad when we are all
safely back in the old land again."

Dinner was served to the doctor alone, and he informed the housemaid
that he would stop for the night and sleep in the big bedroom in the
north wing.

"By the way, Mary, as I am to occupy that end of the house by myself, I
think that I might as well have Leo with me; tell the gardener to bring
him along."

The clock had struck ten when Dr Strong settled himself down in the
chamber from which Septimus Dorset had disappeared. A fire burnt
brightly in the room. He sat back from the hearthrug, however, for the
fire had been placed there more for company and general comfort than for
warmth. By his side the mastiff lay at rest, and on the table, within
easy reach of his hand, was a revolver.

He was not sleepy, but sat calmly thinking out a score of tangled
circumstances, which he felt wanted an hour or two of reflection to set
straight.

First in his thoughts came Beatrice; he had seen a good deal of her
during her illness, had seen her when a woman appears to least
advantage, in hours of bodily weakness and pain, and depression of
spirits. How calm and resolute she had been in suffering; how well she
had held herself in check.

"Just the woman I have wished for, and dreamt about as a wife," he said
to himself. "She will soon be well again, but this place worries her; if
I could get her confidence and relieve her, and for the sake of love,
even though it were not returned, or in any way rewarded, I would help
her if I could."

Then he recalled his own early life in company with his brave-hearted
sister; he reminded himself of his first settlement at Storm-Cliff, of
his first thoughts of Raymond Ballantyne and Owen Skinner, and what he
had heard of Mrs Dalbert. There had been queer stories of Raymond
Ballantyne: of his domestic habits, of his tendency to fall asleep at
untimely seasons; how he had been known to play for hours upon the organ
in a state of semi-consciousness. Could it be possible that he was
asleep, then?

Then the thought arose in his mind as to how Raymond Ballantyne came to
commit suicide. Was there any want of truthfulness on the part of the
witness who bore testimony to having seen him jump from, or slip off the
rocks. Darker thoughts came into the picture. Had Owen Skinner or Mrs
Dalbert any interest in his death? Were they benefited by it? Had
Skinner aught to do with the disappearance of Septimus Dorset? If so,
what benefit could it be to him?

His thoughts were at this point when he was startled. The mastiff was
growling, as it were, below his breath. The doctor had heard no sound,
saw no movement; but the dog, who lay with his nose upon the floor,
growled again.




CHAPTER XV.--A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE.


Dr Strong sat back in his chair and peered cautiously about the room.

What was the dog growling at?

He had a theory that animals see more than is visible to human eyes, and
this seemed now to be corroborated, for suddenly the dog drew back,
cringing as though threatened by a ghostly hand, and crouched nearer to
the doctor. The huge animal visibly shivered and then whined. There was
no mistaking it; whether it was afraid of something at present
invisible, but something which he scented, or whether the dog saw more
than the doctor, the animal was evidently afraid, for it turned its eyes
up to those of Dr Strong in pleading entreaty, and then stood up
trembling all over.

It was the mute appeal of a dumb animal suggestive of fear and readiness
for flight.

The doctor felt a chill go through him, but placed his hand reassuringly
on the dog's head, at which he sat down upon his haunches and gazed
again in the direction of the fireplace, where a few coals still gave
out a feeble glow.

It was nearly half-past eleven o'clock. Several minutes passed without a
sound; the apprehension of the dog had, to some extent, seized hold of
the doctor, and he held the revolver nervously in his hand while he
gazed around the room.

Suddenly a whimper from the dog again arrested his attention, and
looking over toward the fire, he saw the great square hearth and
fireplace slowly sinking below the level of the bedroom floor.

Motioning to the dog, he stepped noiselessly back across the thick
carpet to a large, old-fashioned bay-window where heavy curtains
provided a convenient hiding-place. The dog seemed instinctively to know
that it was advisable to get behind cover, and in less time than it
takes to write it, the two were sheltered at the back of the damask
curtains.

The revolver was in the doctor's right hand.

"Some devilry, this!" was all that he softly ejaculated, as he saw the
fireplace and square still slowly descending, until at last it was out
of sight, leaving only visible, from where the doctor stood, a large
cavity.

Several things had thus far impressed themselves upon the solitary
beholder of this strange scene. There had been no noise. Whatever
mechanism it was that worked this extraordinary lift, it must be finely
finished and perfected.

"Here is a clue to the disappearance of Septimus Dorset, and a
corroboration of Sarah's story," thought the doctor. "Whether there is a
gold-mine or not, there is certainly something under the place, and this
secret lift has been constructed by a clever man, probably a scoundrel,
for a purpose."

His thoughts were arrested by the appearance, from out of the cavity, of
the back of a man's head, and Dr Strong grasped the revolver with a
nervous grip as he peered between the curtains.

It was a stoutish man, sitting in a rocking-chair, with his face turned
toward the dead embers of the fireplace.

The figure sat perfectly motionless, and in the dim light of the room
(for the lamp had been lowered by the doctor), it was impossible to make
out more than that the hands were clasped in front of him, and that one
leg was lifted so as to rest across the knee of the other.

Half an hour must have passed--half an hour of exquisite torture for Dr
Strong--during which time the figure showed no sign of life or motion.
Who was it that thus courted destruction, for the doctor's finger was on
the trigger a score of times, ready to send a bullet through the man's
head. Again and again he was on the point of coming out of his
hiding-place and grappling with the man in the chair; but with an iron
will he restrained himself.

It struck him that the size of the figure very much resembled that of
the late Raymond Ballantyne.

Then the thought came to him of Mr Ballantyne having been known to some
as 'Raymond the Sleeper.' The man in the chair looked very much as
though he were asleep. It was strange, he thought, that the dog should
be so quiet. Was it because the thing in front of him was dead?

Then the idea flashed upon him that this was the body of the dead
Raymond Ballantyne, preserved by some process known to Skinner or some
confederate, and that he was projected into this chamber in this
extraordinary fashion, in order that anyone seeing it might be
terrified, and proclaim 'The Towers' haunted by the ghost of its late
proprietor.

But the ghostly thing still made no sign, and at last Dr Strong, unable
to restrain himself longer, stepped into the middle of the room, the dog
following him with evident reluctance.

He caught a glimpse for a moment of an ashy-white, dead face, and then
noticed the great square slowly settling down again below the surface of
the room. What should he do? Fire and arouse the household, or jump upon
the descending lift and see for himself what there was below. He had
only a moment to decide, and at once chose the latter alternative.

He sprang lightly down, revolver in hand, at the back of the descending
figure, which quickly reached the ground floor below.

In a moment, however, he regretted his rashness, for an unseen hand
suddenly wrenched the revolver from his grasp, and a savage blow felled
him half senseless to the ground.

It seemed but a moment, when the faint light above was suddenly blotted
out in darkness. The lift had evidently returned to its accustomed
position.

Not a gleam of light was visible; the darkness was so intense that one
might almost feel it like a solid substance. The doctor placed his hand
upon the floor; it felt like earth or gravel to the touch. But there was
no sound to be heard, although he listened with strained attention for
the slightest noise.

Nothing was to be heard, however, around or in the room above. The smell
of the place seemed to him faint and unwholesome.

"What a fool I was to take a leap like this in the dark," he thought.
But he made no movement and spoke no word, for he felt that the
slightest indication of his whereabouts to an adversary might be
followed by a pistol-shot or death-dealing blow. Then, suddenly, he felt
himself being bound with strong cords, while another held him. Then a
long silence . . . after that unconsciousness.




CHAPTER XVI.--THE DOCTOR CAN'T BE FOUND.


There was great commotion when it was discovered on the following
morning that Dr Strong was missing. At first it amounted almost to a
panic, and the whole of the servants were on the point of leaving.

They had been awakened early in the morning by the barking of the
mastiff, but beyond sniffing around the room, and especially around the
fireplace, the movements of the dog gave no clue whatever to what had
happened during the night.

As soon as the news got out about Storm-Cliff, the whole neighbourhood
was thrown into a state of unparalleled excitement; the question of
these disappearances, and especially that of Dr Strong, were discussed
by men who had not spoken to each other for years.

Grace was well-nigh frantic as to what had happened to her brother, and
commenced a systematic search for some trace of his whereabouts, and yet
managed to keep the terrible tidings a secret from Beatrice.

There was a great stir in the city on the matter being made public in
the papers, for both Septimus Dorset and Dr Strong were fairly
well-known men, and as the result of the newspaper paragraphs, crowds
flocked out during the week to see 'The Towers.'

The account given by one leading Sydney journal was as follows:

"Mysterious Disappearance.

"During the past few days there have been two very singular and
unaccountable disappearances of well-known citizens from the residence
of the late Mr Raymond Ballantyne at Storm-Cliff. The place, which is a
fine and spacious stone mansion, is well-known as 'The Towers,' and has
recently come into the possession of a niece of the late owner.

"It will be remembered by some of our readers that quite recently Mr
Septimus Dorset, of a well-known firm of city solicitors, was staying
for the night at 'Storm-Cliff Towers,' having been called out there on
business connected with his profession. He slept in a large room at the
northern end of the mansion, but in the morning, although his clothes
and money and jewellery were found where he had placed them before
retiring to rest, the gentleman was missing. No one was sleeping in the
same room with him, and every effort has since been made, both by the
detective department and his own friends, to discover some trace of him,
without success.

"This has naturally caused his friends much distress and anxiety, and it
seems that Dr Strong, who had attended Miss Ballantyne, the present
owner, through a dangerous illness--the result of a shock caused by this
misadventure--had specially set himself to elucidate the mystery.

"On the evening of the 1st instant it transpired that the doctor decided
to spend the night alone in the very chamber from which his friend had
disappeared, hoping thereby to obtain some clue.

"Unfortunately he did not acquaint any member of his family of his
intention, or they might have dissuaded him; but pleading a professional
engagement which was likely to detain him during the greater portion of
the night, he reached 'The Towers' about sundown, and acquainted the
servants of his intention.

"It should be said that since Miss Ballantyne's illness and the
disappearance of her solicitor, Mr Septimus Dorset, the oversight of the
servants at 'The Towers' had been practically in Dr Strong's hands.

"The coachman and gardener both offered to keep the doctor company, but
he insisted upon the house being closed up as usual for the night, and
with a powerful mastiff dog and a revolver, Dr Strong entered the room,
and was there seen for the last time.

"A fire had been lit to air the apartment and a lamp was lighted by one
of the servants, but of what transpired during the night, none save the
dog have any knowledge, and unfortunately the animal has not been able
to indicate any source from which an explanation might be obtained.

"Early in the morning he was heard barking, and the household being
aroused, the room, and house, and grounds were carefully searched, but
no clue to the doctor's singular disappearance could be discovered. The
dog seemed nervous and could only be induced to enter the room again
with difficulty. A careful examination of the apartment made yesterday
by an expert detective who had for some weeks been engaged upon the
strange case of Mr Septimus Dorset, suggested a clue which the officers
hope may lead to something. Hairs of the dog were found behind the
curtains of a large bay-window, and also footprints supposed to have
been made by the feet of Dr Strong. If so, it is surmised that the
doctor may have been watching the room for some time from behind the
curtains, in which case the probability is that he was watching someone
who had entered surreptitiously. It is known that the doctor was armed,
but no shot could have been fired, and there is no sign whatever of any
struggle.

"The friends of the doctor have been thrown into the greatest distress
by his mysterious disappearance. That there has been foul play seems
certain, for he went to 'The Towers' avowedly to spend the night in the
haunted chamber, and asked for the dog to be brought for company and
protection. It is impossible that he can have left the place willingly
or by ordinary means, for the doors of the room were found locked on the
inside, and a door had to be forced before an entrance could be
effected.

"The whole affair is enshrouded in the deepest mystery, and some
extraordinary theories are current among strong believers in the
supernatural, for it is asked how was it that no shot was fired by the
doctor in self-defence; and also, how it was that the dog seems to have
lent him no assistance? Had there been a struggle the dog would
certainly have assisted, and the room must have shown some sign of it;
but the place was found in perfect order: the bed had not been slept in,
and not a single article of the doctor's was found in the room.

"There must, of course, be a solution, but the difficulty is to know in
what quarter to look for it. We have made but very little comment in the
matter of Mr Dorset's disappearance because we have been anxious not to
hamper the detectives who have the matter in hand; but there should now
be the utmost effort made to probe the mystery and find out whether
these men have been murdered, or by what means they have been removed.
Any explanation suggested in regard to Mr Dorset's disappearance will
scarcely apply to Dr Strong, for until the last few weeks he has been a
perfect stranger to all those who are interested in 'The Towers'
property. The safety of the individual in the Australian colonies has
been one of our proudest boasts, and we cannot see our public men
spirited away in this fashion without urging the police authorities to
use every endeavour to at once clear up the mystery, and remove any
feeling of apprehension and insecurity from the public mind."




CHAPTER XVII.--MRS DALBERT AGAIN.


A WOMAN of any age from thirty to forty-five who considers that her life
has been a failure, and who is on the look-out for some chance, even at
that late hour, to make it a success, is a dangerous person to be
brought in contact with.

As drowning men clutch at straws, or other possible or impossible
saviours, so does such a woman clutch at circumstances. She may wreck a
hundred lives, but she will take the risk with perfect indifference.
What does it matter to her if a hundred or a thousand fail or go under
if she only comes out on top.

She exaggerates her misfortunes, holds her successes and advantages
lightly; she has a grudge against the world, and all creation, if
necessary or possible, must pay the penalty.

Nor does marriage satisfy many women of this ambitious stamp, especially
when the marriage relations have been regarded by the outside world as
having fallen short of expectations. There are some women whose chief
aim in life is to enter the haven of connubial bliss with a suitable
partner. If he turns out unsuitable or unsatisfactory they still feel
that they have reached the goal. If left widows they have at any rate
succeeded where many others have failed.

But the woman referred to takes little account of having been married.
If the marriage has not come up to her ideal, she frets herself at
having failed to reach the summit aspired to, and the consequence is a
restless, dissatisfied, and over-weaning selfish life.

We must not, however, be too severe in our estimate of such a woman as
was Mrs Dalbert. She had been brought up in comparative luxury, had
spent her early life in a round of alternative pleasure and
disappointment, had married a man totally unsuited to her temperament,
had lived a short, loveless, and childless married life, and had been
early left a widow, with brilliant but comparatively uncultivated
talents, and a meagre fortune. Her meeting in India with her cousin,
Raymond Ballantyne, had opened up a new prospect for her; but it was
distance lent enchantment to the view, and on the morning following the
disappearance of Dr Strong, she sat reading a letter in a room of a
handsome house in a Sydney suburb with an expression of countenance the
reverse of tranquil.

The letter was from Owen Skinner, and read as follows:

"Dear Meta,--The fates are unfortunately still against us. It seemed to
me that after legal matters had been adjusted, a few months should have
put everything right, but now a medical question has unfortunately
intruded itself, with results which at present I find it difficult to
see the end of. However, you know that I am careful of speech and
sometimes talk in parables, so you will do well to keep yourself fully
conversant with modern literature.--Yours, etc.,

"Owen Skinner.

"P.S. Shall await your advice."

"The fool!" ejaculated Mrs Dalbert, when she had perused and re-perused
the letter. "He is very cautious and fearful of committing himself. I
suppose that reference to literature means that I am to look through the
newspaper carefully; there is evidently something happening at 'The
Towers.'"

"Mabel," she called to her attendant and companion, "run downstairs and
bring up the paper."

She took it eagerly from the girl, saying, "I shall not want anything
for a while," and walked over with much deliberation to the window and
drew up an easy-chair.

What a consummate actress she was! She knew full well that the letter
was a warning; that something serious must have occurred for Owen
Skinner to have written to her. She guessed that she was wanted, and
every nerve in her body was tingling with excitement, and yet she
carried herself, before her companion, with all the composure and
outward calm conceivable.

Her eyes soon caught the paragraph about the disappearance of Dr Strong,
and she read it with the closest attention. Occasionally she stopped her
reading and gazed across the street in front of her, but she saw
nothing. Her thoughts were with the tragedy which imagination conjured
up before her at Storm-Cliff. Not that she valued life particularly, but
there were reasons why she dreaded the consequences of Owen Skinner's
act. If Dr Strong was still alive, she would do her best to save him
from the fate of Raymond Ballantyne and possibly Septimus Dorset. The
doctor had blundered into a snare; what gain to them for him to pay the
penalty? Then, however, the thought flashed across her mind, 'Dead men
tell no tales.' But what if he were discovered dead?

Her hesitation was momentary, however. She determined to save the
doctor's life if not too late.

"Mabel, I am going out, and possibly may not return until to-morrow."

The girl was a country-bred lass, who had been engaged as a companion
and attendant; she had learnt the advisability of asking no questions of
her mistress on occasions such as the present.

She assisted Mrs Dalbert to dress, which, although she guessed that a
man's life was at stake, Mrs Dalbert did with the greatest care and
deliberation.

There was a finish about Mrs Dalbert when she was ready to go out, which
both pleased and interested her companion. She was the most perfectly
dressed woman that Mabel had ever known. It was not a surface elegance
or exterior finish either, for every garment she wore was, in style and
finish, perfect of its kind. Not that the material was specially costly,
but it was the make and style. Mabel thought it was the outcome of good
family and high breeding. No woman that she had ever seen could give her
skirts the dainty swing of Mrs Dalbert.

But it was not culture or high breeding to which Mrs Dalbert owed this
elegance of style; she was an artist in the matter of dress, and her
whole gait, and deportment, and bearing, bore witness to it.

Nor was the dress of Mrs Dalbert without significance in its general
bearing upon her character. The guiding principle of her life was 'good
taste.' It was not the moral value of an action so much as how it would
appear to outsiders. Her standard of right and wrong was lost sight of
when the question of appearances came in. If a thing could be made to
appear right, it was right, and she had so trained her mind and schooled
herself by habit, that good taste had become her rule of life.

It certainly simplified life and conduct to her. She could talk to a
clergyman and impress him with her orthodoxy and goodness without any
suspicion, on her own part, that she was playing the hypocrite. It was
simple and genuine as far as she was concerned, for it fulfilled her
canon of good taste. Crime, by this, if only it was saved from
vulgarity, was quite as correct as religion. Personal gratification was
with her as with thousands of other women, the most powerful motive, and
so long as her artistic taste was not offended, all avenues, whether
good or bad, were available to her for its acquisition.

This will explain her connection with Owen Skinner. Her cousin, Raymond
Ballantyne, had disappointed her. She thought that he would have married
her, but he did not offer to do so. His age and mode of life had
enfeebled his ardour, so that the physical beauty which had at once
captivated and conquered Skinner, and Septimus Dorset, and many other
men she had met with, failed to induce Raymond Ballantyne to marry her.
She might have gained her end in this but for the counter influence of
Skinner, who wanted her for himself. But Skinner was a mere blunderer
compared with Meta Dalbert, whose dominant passion was love of honour
and position, and whose one pursuit was gain; but who determined to have
and enjoy it, if possible, without compromising herself or doing
violence to her good taste.

There was, of course, unpleasant work to be done--there always is under
such circumstances--but others would do that for her, and in such a
manner that she was not offended nor involved.

Mrs Dalbert stepped upon the street as fair and finished a specimen of a
society woman as could well be met with anywhere. From her gloves to her
boots she was faultlessly attired. How little would a stranger have
dreamt of the errand upon which she was bound.

She travelled into the southern suburbs by omnibus, and there called a
cab, and instructed the man to drive her out to Storm-Cliff.

"To 'The Towers,' ma'am?" queried the man.

"No," she replied shortly, "to 'Fernville.'"

"The man must have recognised me," she thought. It did not trouble her,
however; it only suggested to her just then, that the man must have been
impressed with her personality to so remember her.

It must not be expected that Mrs Dalbert was harassed with anxious
thoughts about the fate of Dr Strong as the cab rolled smoothly along
toward Storm-Cliff. Most women would have been in a fever of anxiety;
but her mind was too much occupied with her own thoughts and plans. She
wanted wealth; she wished to be mistress of 'Storm-Cliff Towers,' but,
if possible, without the addition of Owen Skinner.

She might be content to make use of a man, to flatter and encourage him
as far as it suited her purpose, but it was another thing to make a life
companion of him.

She had beauty, talent, and style. She was utterly unscrupulous as to
the rest, and with money she believed that she could choose her
companions and her position at will.

Nor was she the first woman who has so thought or been similarly
disappointed.




CHAPTER XVIII.--THE CAVES OF DESPAIR.


In the meantime things were going badly with Grace and Beatrice at
'Steynbridge.'

It will be remembered that we are now referring to the second morning
following the disappearance of Dr Strong.

Stimulated by the promise of reward held out by Grace, a thorough
systematic search was being made of the whole neighbourhood by police
constables and detectives. The trouble was that they had no clue to
start them upon the right track.

With splendid loyalty to her brother, who had given implicit orders that
nothing was to be told Beatrice which was likely to distress her mind,
the brave girl had carried her trouble with a composed exterior, and
kept the mistress of 'The Towers' in ignorance of the cause of her
brother's continued absence. But it was evident this morning that
matters could not continue so any longer. The lines of care were
deepening upon the sister's face, and do what she would she could not
remove all trace of overnight weeping.

"Miss Strong, I am sure that there is something the matter; your brother
is ill or something has happened to him? Grace!" she said, dropping all
formality as she saw the shadow of a great fear pass over the girl's
face, "Grace! . . . tell me what has happened to him!"

There were tears in Grace's eyes but she still controlled herself. "I
promised him to tell you of nothing which might distress you."

"Then he has been up at 'The Towers' and has disappeared?" said Beatrice
with forced calmness. "Grace," she continued, bursting into tears, "it
is my wicked silence that has killed him."

"Whatever can you mean?" exclaimed Grace in astonishment.

But the only answer Beatrice gave was a passionate flood of tears, and
it was not until some time afterwards that she told Grace of her strange
experience on the night of her first sleeping at 'The Towers.'

The face of Grace Strong wore a very serious aspect as Beatrice told her
the whole of the story.

"I think that you have done wrong, Beatrice," she said simply, "in
withholding such important information; but it may relieve you to know
that my brother had warning that beneath 'The Towers' there was an
excavation."

She then hurriedly told Beatrice of the story of the gold-mine, which
had been told to her brother. After a long and anxious consultation they
then decided to at once inform the detectives who were then engaged upon
the case, and who, for convenience and to reassure the servants, were
stopping at 'The Towers.' It would not be necessary, said Grace, to tell
them more than what had been told the doctor, except that they should
investigate the bedroom from which the lawyer and doctor had both
disappeared.

"I must go with you," said Beatrice; "I feel quite strong!"

Grace did her best to dissuade her, but without success. It seemed as if
a load was lifted off the mind of Beatrice; and that she had at last
shared her dreadful secret with a friend, seemed to have infused new
vigour into her whole frame.

Grace's anxiety, however, was now for her brother. "However did I
overlook what he said about the excavations? Let us not lose a minute.
Are you sure that you can walk the distance?"

And so they hurried off together toward where the great belt of fir
trees, with the white pinnacles of 'The Towers,' stood up against the
eastern horizon, and beyond which there stretched only the ocean.

It was after midday when they entered the long avenue of trees which led
up to the mansion. Beatrice thought the place had never looked more
forbidding. It was a cloudy day, and the wind soughed and moaned among
the trees, but they hurried on, intent upon their errand.

As they drew nearer the house they were met by William, who shyly
expressed his pleasure at seeing his young mistress out again.

"Where are the detectives, William?" asked Beatrice.

"I am not sure, miss, but I believe they have gone into the city."

This proved to be the case, and there was no alternative but to sit down
and have some lunch which Lucy laid for them, and await their return.

Two hours dragged slowly by, and at last Grace suggested that they
should go round the grounds, for Beatrice seemed much better, no doubt
partly owing to the excitement of the occasion.

They walked around the mansion, and Beatrice pointed out the limestone
formation of the hill upon which 'Storm-Cliff Towers' was built, and how
possible it might be that some kind of underground vaults or cellars
were below the house. They made no discovery, however; if there was any
secret entrance from the grounds to the mansion, they could find no
trace of it.

"Let us go in and carefully examine the house ourselves," said Grace
impatiently. "It seems a dreadful thing to think that possibly my
brother may be dying within actual reach of us, while we stand about
here unable to assist or rescue him."

"If he is so near as that I fear he is dead," answered Beatrice sadly.

"You must not say that!" said Grace passionately.

"You believe that he is still alive, dear?"

"I am certain of it," said Grace. "If he had been dead I should have
known something about it. No, he cannot be dead!"

The two ladies entered the house again. "Let us go and sit down together
in the room," said Grace. "It it broad daylight," she continued, "and my
own opinion is that there is nothing ghostly about it. If we examine the
place together carefully, who can tell, we may make a discovery."

There was no need to further explain what room was referred to. The
whole picture of it had become engraved upon the mind of Beatrice. It
was the room of mystery and tragedy where, for aught she knew, three men
had found their deaths, and alas! for two of them she felt herself, to
some extent, accountable.

They were, however, both of them too eager to think of actual personal
danger as they entered the large apartment from the big entrance-hall
doorway. They would run any risk just then to obtain a clue to the
whereabouts of the doctor.

They sat down, leaving the door into the hall open; the subdued light of
the cloudy afternoon streamed in from the large bay-window. Everything
was in perfect order, for although there was not a servant in the house
who would enter the room alone after nightfall, they went in and out
during the day. It was after dusk that sounds were occasionally heard
there, and the report that Raymond Ballantyne had been seen at night,
sitting in the room, was generally believed by the servants.

Grace Strong, however, was of a very incredulous school. Superstition
had no place in her constitution, and she very soon got up from her
chair and commenced a quiet but close examination of the fireplace,
which was made to fit into an open chimney. The whole work was unique.
The grate was unusually large, and was of burnished steel, set off with
brass mountings. It was the glazed tiling and terra-cotta work which
specially engaged her attention. The whole of it was uncommon, and the
designs were exclusively of foreign execution.

"Is there anything else similar to this in the house?" she asked.

"No," whispered Beatrice, for somehow they both talked as though they
feared someone might overhear them.

"I should like to have a strong man and a crowbar about this fireplace
for half an hour," she said excitedly to Beatrice. "Would you mind the
whole of this beautiful work being broken up? Remember my brother's life
may be at stake," she said, as Beatrice seemed to pause for a moment.

"It is not that. I don't mind one bit if the whole place is destroyed,
so long as the doctor's life can be saved by it," replied Beatrice
hurriedly.

She was on the point of calling for Lucy to bring the coachman and
gardener with tools to break down the fireplace, when Grace stopped her.

"Let us sit down and think, just for a moment, before we destroy this
beautiful work. If the whole of this square is a lift, there should be
some means of working it from here, as well as from below."

They had removed the rug, and the whole of the large tessellated square
was exposed to view. There was a fancy border in coloured tile-work, and
a close examination showed a distinct line, which suggested that
Beatrice was correct in all she had surmised as to this being a way of
secret access to the room. During the examination they made very little
noise, and had carried on their conversation in subdued tones; the
feeling was in the mind of each of them that at any moment they might
make a discovery.

"There must be a knob or panel, or something to press, or push, or pull
back," said Grace, who was examining the mantelpiece and its
surroundings. But although she pushed and pulled, it was all without
avail.

The mantelpiece was of polished black marble with much carving and
embossed work upon it, and Grace pushed and pulled at each projecting
part, and she was about to leave it in despair of discovering the
secret.

Suddenly, however, the hearth and fireplace visibly commenced to move,
and she sprang back to where Beatrice sat upon the sofa watching her.

"Do you not see it?" she exclaimed.

The fireplace was slowly moving downward, just as Beatrice had before
seen it.

"You must have touched the spring that works it," she said.

"I did not feel anything move at my touch," replied Grace, trembling
with excitement as she watched the slowly descending hearth and
fireplace with an anxious and frightened face.

Just then they heard a masculine voice from below: "You take a
tremendous risk, Meta, to do this in broad daylight."

"If you are afraid, I'll go up with him alone; he will be dead in
another hour or two unless he has assistance."

Grace caught Beatrice by the hand and looked straight in her face. She
said nothing audibly, but if ever a face spoke, hers did then.

"For heaven's sake be firm and silent," was what her face said. She
pulled Beatrice back to where the bed curtains would partially conceal
them, and there they stood with their hearts beating, almost audibly, as
they awaited developments.

They could not hear very distinctly, but the sounds from below indicated
that something heavy was being moved. The woman's voice seemed to be
speaking in subdued entreaty.

"It's too heavy," said the man's voice. "It won't lift you both."

"Try," replied the woman's voice. "We cannot send him up there alone to
die, probably, in a room which has so ill a name that it is no doubt but
seldom entered," she continued.

"You forget the detectives," replied the man's voice.

"No, I don't. They have gone to Sydney, and no one is likely to enter
the room during their absence."

There was a silence for some minutes, which seemed an eternity in length
to the two women; then there was a slight sound heard, and the feathers
of a fashionable hat appeared in the centre of the opening.

A moment after, there confronted them Meta Dalbert, her eyes flashing
with excitement and defiance, and huddled together at her feet was the
unconscious form of Dr Strong.

His head was upon a cushion, and his body so arranged as to make room
for Mrs Dalbert upon the square. It came flush up to the level of the
floor, and she was about to bend over the doctor, to move his head, when
she caught sight of the two girls, and for fully half a minute the three
women stood and looked at each other in silence.

Mrs Dalbert even now did not lose her presence of mind. She drew herself
up to her full height, for she guessed who the two ladies were that
confronted her. Her pose was simply superb. Her right foot was extended
slightly, sufficient to throw the weight of the body upon her left foot;
she placed one hand over the other, in which she held her gloves. A
number of rings flashed upon the exposed hand, and one of them was the
cat's-eye which has already figured in this story.

The fascination lasted only for the time stated, however, when Grace,
seeing she had only a woman to deal with, was springing forward to the
assistance of her brother.

"One moment, Miss Strong," commenced Meta in a commanding voice. "Before
you touch your brother, hear a word in explanation."

Grace was about to interpose.

"Keep quiet, if you value your brother's life. You will have to hear me
before you can help him. I have only to stamp on this floor and I shall
have assistance."

"Let her speak," said Beatrice to Grace.

"What I have to say is this," said Mrs Dalbert, pulling on one of her
gloves. "Your brother will not die, and I have saved his life. Had he
been left in the hands of others you would never have seen him again. I
read in this morning's paper that Dr Strong had suddenly disappeared
under strange and unaccountable circumstances from this house. I
surmised what had probably happened, and came out from Sydney determined
to save his life if possible. In doing so I have, no doubt, to some
extent compromised myself; and had I expected to have met Miss
Ballantyne and Miss Strong I should probably have left the doctor to his
own resources--and his fate. When examining this room the night before
last, he, no doubt, found the secret of this spring lift, and,
descending by it, was caught in a trap by his own folly in meddling with
matters he did not understand."

Grace here attempted to speak, but Mrs Dalbert's eyes and hand warned
her to be silent.

"I have just finished!" she cried out angrily. "Don't attempt to call
the servants or detain me, or ask for any further explanation, or there
will be trouble. Be satisfied that I have saved the doctor's life, and
if you are wise you will say nothing to the detectives either."

Without another word she picked up a dainty parasol which lay upon the
floor, and with an evident knowledge of the house, stepped out into the
hall and through the entrance door, and was gone.

* * * * * * * * * *

The whole thing happened in a few minutes, and Beatrice and Grace had
watched and listened to the woman spell-bound. They both guessed who she
was. The pause was only for a moment, and then they both sprang forward
to where Dr Strong lay, an inanimate heap upon the floor. In their
excitement they forgot that they stood upon the fatal square, and bent
down and chafed his cold hands.

"He will die, Beatrice! He will die!" exclaimed Grace in an agony of
feeling. "Oh! my poor brother! To think that he has come to this!"

"I will bring in the servants to help us," said Beatrice as she ran into
the corridor, calling for Lucy in a tone of voice which quickly aroused
the household.




CHAPTER XIX.--SEYMOUR GOES UNDER.


"Not in this room!" exclaimed Grace as the coachman and gardener were
about to lift him upon the bed.

"No, it would never do for him to awake to consciousness here; besides,
the room will need to be examined on the return of the detectives," said
Beatrice hurriedly.

They carried him into an apartment on the other side of the house, and
by the time a doctor was in attendance, had undressed and placed him
upon the bed; Grace supervised everything.

A stimulant was administered by her direction, and his limbs sponged
with hot water; cold water was applied to his head, and everything done
to restore animation. He had fainted, she thought, through want of food,
foul air, and exhaustion.

Dr Shirley, who came in response to her summons, expressed himself as
extremely pleased with her management of the case, and although he said
Dr Strong's condition was a very serious one, he had every hope of
pulling him through. He himself would remain and nurse him through the
crisis.

After a time the patient's breathing became more regular and natural,
and in response to the effect of the stimulant, some colour returned to
the pallid face.

William Shirley, M.D., had been on intimate terms with both Dr Strong
and his sister, and his curiosity to know where his friend had been
found was great; but he saw that Grace was wholly absorbed with anxiety
for her brother's recovery, and that while his life hung in the balance
it would be useless to interrogate her. The only reply to his question
as to where and how they had found him had but further mystified him.
Said Grace: "We found him in the room from which he was lost; but,
doctor, don't ask me anything about it now."

Dr Shirley sat and watched his patient, and occasionally felt his pulse,
the beating of which was hardly perceptible.

"He looks as though he had been poisoned by a noxious gas, as well as
starved," he said to Grace.

"Very likely," she replied, as she quietly, but deftly, moved about the
room in attendance upon her brother's wants.

The detectives, Bruce and Seymour, returned toward evening, and on
hearing of the startling turn in affairs, at once sought an interview
with Beatrice.

It might have been expected that they would have evidenced much
gratification at the discovery of Dr Strong; but they both regarded it
as somewhat unfortunate, because they had not made the discovery
themselves. On hearing the particulars, however, from Miss Ballantyne,
they thought better of the case, for their only competitors were two
women. It would be a queer thing if they could not manage to so report
as to secure the credit of the discovery for themselves. Of course their
report would have to tally with any sworn evidence which might come out
in the inevitable trial following the capture of the criminals; but it
would be easy enough to fix that up.

The first course was plain. Mrs Dalbert must, if possible, be
immediately arrested, and, in the meantime, the chamber must be watched.
They were loath to ask for further assistance at a time which seemed to
offer the successful elucidation of a mysterious crime that had set all
Sydney by the ears.

One of them would have to go into the city, procure a warrant, and
arrest Mrs Dalbert, that is, if he could find her, while the other must
watch at 'The Towers.'

Matters were certainly getting warm and lively for the officers; and as
for 'The Towers,' the household was simmering with excitement. They none
of them knew exactly where the missing doctor had come from, and none of
them had seen Mrs Dalbert; but they all knew that the two ladies were
the chief actors in the affair, and that something very extraordinary
had happened to them in the haunted chamber. However, there was no
possibility of the doctor being removed that night to his own residence,
so with Dr Shirley and the two ladies staying in the house, there was
more life about the place. At least that was the view the cook and
housemaid took of the matter.

It was noteworthy that none of them had become friendly with the
detectives. Had they been ordinary police-officers it is probable that
the female servants would have taken them into favour at once; but to a
cook or housemaid there is a great gulf fixed between a detective
officer and a policeman. The former wears no alluring uniform and is
less particular about his food. Then, too, the officers in question had
shown themselves extremely suspicious and inquisitive. One after another
they had, in an informal way, examined and cross-examined the servants.

"It's like their impertinence," said the cook, "to pry into our private
affairs in the way they do, and that Seymour is the worst. He actually
asked me the other day whether my hair had always been the colour it is
now. The cheek of the fellow! I believe he knows every particular about
the birth and history of every one of us."

The gardener was the most embittered against them, for they had made a
very searching inquiry into his past career, which was not altogether to
his credit; and Seymour at one time threatened that he might find
himself in trouble if he did not take care.

It was certainly not a wise course, and Detective Bruce had several
times had occasion to check the ardour and impatience of his
less-experienced fellow-officer.

They had a long and serious consultation before Bruce decided to start
for the city to interview, and possibly arrest Mrs Dalbert.

"You will have to use the utmost vigilance, Seymour," said Bruce. "'Pon
my word, I hardly care to leave you here alone, and there is just a
chance that this Mrs Dalbert may not be an actual accomplice, and in
going after her we may lose more valuable game."

"You ought to get there and back in three or four hours, and have the
woman safely in custody."

"Ah! but it's evening now, and goodness knows where the Chamber
Magistrate will be. You see, there is no one to give her in charge, and
I can't very well arrest her without a warrant. There's no knowing what
may happen to delay me," replied Bruce.

"You may rest sure that I won't leave the room with the fireplace until
you return," said Seymour. "I feel much inclined to get the coachman and
gardener in and break down into the place below, as Miss Ballantyne
suggested we might," said Seymour.

"Never do! There must be some means of exit from below, and half an hour
before you could break your way down there the birds would be flown.
From what Miss Ballantyne says, my opinion is that someone will work the
lift to-night from below to see whether the doctor has been discovered;
and if the thing is managed properly they might be taken in the act.
Good heavens! don't make a mess of it, Seymour. I don't know whether it
would not be better to send you to Sydney after all; unless they are
caught to-night there will be no chance, when they have discovered that
the doctor has been moved. They are sure, I think, to come back, but
probably it will be in the early hours of the morning, and I will be
back by then. There's the coachman with my horse, so I will get off at
once, and be back as quickly as possible. See that you have one of the
men with you until I return."

Seymour, however, decided, as his superior officer rode rapidly away,
that he would not enlighten the servants any further about the matter,
but would watch the chamber alone until the return of Bruce. He was
eager for distinction and promotion, and if he could only do something
bold and original in the present case, he might achieve both.

He decided to tell no one at all of his intended movements, for he was
not deficient in personal courage, and just now he would have faced any
danger, with his revolver handy, for he had great faith in his own skill
and dexterity in dealing with criminals, and his curiosity was aroused
to the highest pitch. He hid himself from observation, after having
entered the room with the greatest quietness, and there waited.

He was in the dark, but had a bull's-eye lantern with him, which he
occasionally used to look at the time. He was too much excited to feel
sleepy, and sat behind the curtains of the bed thinking over all that
the two ladies had told him: of the moving of the fireplace and square,
and of the strange events which followed. They had specially emphasised
the fact that the lift worked noiselessly, and the thought occurred to
Seymour, "Suppose that I should not hear the lift, and that it should
bring up someone from below who might spring on me unexpectedly."

It is a most trying thing to wait in suspense with strained nerves hour
after hour alone, as Seymour was now doing. True, he had many a time
watched under far more uncomfortable circumstances physically, but there
was an uncanniness about the present adventure which specially impressed
itself upon his mind.

He looked at his watch and found it close upon midnight. He might almost
at any time expect the return of Bruce, who might probably bring some
more assistance with him.

At this he threw the light of the bull's-eye lantern upon the fireplace
and square, and then carefully around the room.

He allowed to himself that it was a risky thing to do, but it reassured
him. As he brought the light back, however, it fell upon the cushion on
which Dr Strong's head had rested when, according to Miss Ballantyne's
precise and careful statement, he had come up from below.

At this a rush of thought ran through the detective's mind. The cushion
was different to others in the room. Then it occurred to him that
someone might wish to recover it. Then too, as it was evidently a most
ingeniously contrived piece of mechanism, those below might have some
means of knowing whether the doctor's body was still lying upon the lift
where they had placed it. He was in this affair fighting with no
ordinary criminal; he would have to take every precaution, or they would
escape him.

At last, as he thus thought the matter over, his imagination commenced
to play him tricks--or it was rats, or other animals--he certainly
thought he heard sounds, and once or twice allowed a glimmer of light to
escape his bull's-eye so as to assure himself that the lift had not been
moved. Finally, to prevent any possible mistake being made, he decided
to lie down himself upon the square, and with the cushion under his head
pose as the doctor. If the lift was moved he would at any rate go down
with it, when of course there would be a flutter, and he might have to
use his revolver, but he would have some show of achieving distinction.

"Good heaven! if it would only happen before Bruce returned, and I could
do the whole thing single-handed!"

Without another thought the plucky fellow made for the cushion and lay
down upon the square with his head upon it. He had to draw up his legs a
bit for he was a tall man and the position was somewhat cramped; but it
was nothing to lying for six mortal hours in an iron drain-pipe, which
he had done on one occasion to catch a criminal who had secreted plunder
in some long grass.

He made himself quite comfortable at last with his head on the pillow,
and thus waited.

"There's a queer smell about this pillow," he presently said to himself.
He then began to feel a bit drowsy, for another couple of hours had
passed, and the position was not nearly so suited to keeping awake as an
upright one.

"Confound it!" he thought; "it will be a fine thing if I let myself go
to sleep here. I shall have to get up and move about a bit." Just then
he thought he heard a noise, and listened in momentary expectation of
feeling the lift move under him.

Another half-hour passed and Seymour could not account for his
drowsiness, but he had now been watching for over six hours, and unknown
to him, there was that about the cushion calculated to induce slumber.

He shook himself, put his head down again and listened, and then closed
his eves, for it was little use keeping them open in the dark. He swore
under his breath that he would not lie there any longer, then resting
his head more heavily upon the pillow . . . he fell asleep!

And it was not much to be wondered at under the circumstances!

When, however, Detective Bruce returned to 'Storm-Cliff Towers' the
following morning in a bad humour and thoroughly tired out--for he had
failed in his search for Mrs Dalbert--he found Detective Seymour
unaccountably missing.

"He must have gone out somewhere," suggested William who had met him.

But the quick eye of the detective saw that the cushion which had come
up from below under the doctor's head was absent. He had thought a good
deal about that cushion while away in the city, and blamed himself for
not having examined it and put it somewhere under lock and key; but
there was no cushion there now and no Detective Seymour, and Bruce went
outside to see if he might be smoking a quiet pipe somewhere after his
night of lonely watching.

But he did not find him!




CHAPTER XX.--OWEN SKINNER'S ARREST.

It must not be thought that during all this time Detective Bruce had
overlooked Owen Skinner's possible connection with the mystery.

'Fernville Cottage' had been carefully watched by two local constables
in plain clothes; but until the strange story of Mrs Dalbert's singular
appearance in the haunted chamber had reached the ears of the
detectives, there had been no positive grounds for making any special
move in that quarter. A portion of Bruce's business in Sydney had been
to find out how far he was authorised to go in regard to Skinner, and
now in the unexplained absence of Seymour he bent his steps toward
'Fernville.'

The house in which Skinner had taken up his abode since Miss Ballantyne
had inherited 'Storm-Cliff Towers' was situated near the cemetery, and
overlooked both 'The Towers' and the Pacific. It stood completely
isolated, and had originally been built for a summer residence by a city
merchant.

Mr Bruce found Skinner quietly at work in his garden, and on being asked
into the house he went to the point at once.

"I am Detective Bruce, of Sydney."

Mr Skinner bowed, as though the information gave him unexpected
pleasure.

"You know Mrs Dalbert of Leichardt, I believe--a cousin of the late
Raymond Ballantyne, of 'Storm-Cliff Towers'?"

"Yes," said Mr Skinner.

"She is proved to be connected with the mysterious disappearance at 'The
Towers,'" said Bruce, firing a shot right into the enemy's camp, as he
thought.

"You surprise me," said Skinner, showing great interest in the
detective's conversation.

"Do you know anything of her recent movements?" said Bruce.

"She called for half an hour yesterday," replied Skinner; "but I have
not seen her since."

"May I ask the nature of her business with you?" said the detective.

"Certainly; she called to tell me about what she had read of the
disappearance of Dr Strong, and to talk over the affair. I am, of
course, deeply interested in the matter, having been so long resident at
'The Towers,' and being a relative of the late owner."

"Are you aware that there is a subterranean vault or chamber below the
northern portion of the mansion, and that a remarkable lift works from
the fireplace?" asked Bruce.

"No," replied Skinner.

"There is, however," answered the detective, "and Mrs Dalbert knows of
it; and my opinion is that you know about it too. You are my prisoner,
Mr Skinner."

The detective covered him with a revolver.

"You can put up the shooting iron," said the man quietly. "I shall not
attempt to evade you or escape. I don't think, however, it's worth your
while to arrest me at present."

"Why not?" asked Bruce.

"Because I am in a position to bargain with you for the life of your
fellow-officer. If you arrest me, Seymour may be dead before you can
render him assistance. If you take me to 'The Towers,' and promise me
three hours' immunity from arrest or pursuit, I will assist you to save
Seymour's life."

The detective looked at his prisoner as he anxiously turned the matter
over in his mind.

"Where is Mrs Dalbert?" he asked.

"In Sydney, I believe."

"You had better come with me to 'The Towers.'"

"Are you going to act upon my suggestion?" asked Skinner anxiously.

"I am not," said the detective decidedly.

The two men looked at each other for a moment, and then Bruce stepped
close up to Skinner with a pair of handcuffs between his fingers, one
hand still holding the revolver. Before the man well knew what was
transpiring, Bruce had handcuffed him.

"Now," said the detective, "sit down for a moment while I talk to you.
First of all, this is the warrant authorising me to arrest you;" at this
he showed him the document upon which he had so suddenly acted.

"I must now warn you," he continued, "that anything you may say can be
used against you at your trial. At the same time, if you give me any
information that will save further sacrifice of life, as in the case of
Detective Seymour, which you have referred to, it will be to your
advantage."

"I know nothing whatever about Seymour," said Skinner.

"Come now, don't make a fool of yourself, sir," said the detective; "you
have just given yourself away completely by offering to show me how to
save the life of Detective Seymour, if in danger. You know all about
this matter, and will probably have to stand your trial for murder, so
you need not now come any of that tomfoolery."

Skinner was about to reply, when there came a peremptory rap upon the
outer door, which was at once opened by the servant.

"Mr Skinner in?"

"Yes, sir; will you please wait a moment," said the woman, in an
agitated tone of voice.

"Has he anyone with him?" asked the voice, as its owner pushed his way
into the house.

Owen Skinner looked at Detective Bruce, and the police-officer looked at
him.

"You see I was only just in time," Bruce said; "that's Seymour."

"Curse him!" said Skinner.

A moment after Seymour stood with them in the room.

"I see that I am too late to make the arrest," he said, smiling at his
fellow-officer, "but I have the evidence."

"What is it?" asked Bruce.

"Murder," replied Seymour.

"Had we not better go on to 'The Towers'?" said Bruce, who, although
greatly pleased at the turn in events, and also at the safety of his
colleague, felt that he was not exactly taking first place in the
affair.

"No, I think that we had better get our prisoner into a safe place
first, and secure Mrs Dalbert; besides, it will be better to give Dr
Strong and Miss Ballantyne another day of quiet before we have any
further investigations at 'The Towers.'"

As they were completing their arrangements to convey Skinner to the
city, Seymour wrote a note to Miss Strong, telling her that the
principals in 'The Towers'' mystery had been arrested, and that they
need be under no alarm during the detective's absence; they might rest
assured there would be no further annoyance to them on account of the
subterranean apartment.

He showed this letter to Bruce before sending it, but the latter
demurred.

"How do you know?" he asked. "There may be other accomplices."

"If there are," said Seymour, "they cannot get access to the caves, for
I have bolted and barred the only entrance outside the house."

"The caves!" exclaimed Bruce.

"Yes, I nearly lost my life down there, and had as queer an adventure as
one seldom meets with," said Seymour, somewhat excitedly.

"It's a fairly long story," continued Seymour, "and there are one or two
things I should like to have further explained by Skinner, so I think
the best plan will be to leave it until we are started to drive into
Sydney."

"All right," said Bruce; but he felt a bit sore that his junior should
have so far got the better of him. "I can also tell you a few things
which I have discovered about Mrs Dalbert," he said.




CHAPTER XXI.--DETECTIVE SEYMOUR'S STORY.


It was not until Sydney was reached, however, and Skinner safely lodged
in jail, that the detective's Story was told. The prisoner had exhibited
an entirely different demeanour after the appearance of Seymour. He
evidently regretted the admission he had made to Bruce, and in reply to
any questions put to him by the detectives, expressed himself as
personally ignorant of anything connected with the events which had
transpired.

"We shall have to secure Mrs Dalbert," said Seymour.

"Yes," replied Bruce; "her evidence seems absolutely necessary to secure
a conviction against Skinner. He is a clever scoundrel; I never knew the
trail of a crime to be more artfully covered over. Let us hear, however,
of your adventure down below."

"It was my bull's-eye lantern that saved me down there," said Seymour.

"How came Dr Strong to escape?" asked Bruce.

"I don't know, unless by a miracle or the timely interposition of a
friendly hand. But it will be best for me to begin at the beginning and
then we can form our plans for future action.

"I must have been asleep when I descended into the underground room,"
continued Seymour. "I had been watching for something like six hours and
was afraid that I might dose off, or that the lift might be so quietly
worked that in the dark I might be unaware of it; so I lay down upon the
lift with my head on the cushion, just in the position in which they
found the doctor.

"I am inclined to think that the cushion was tampered with, either
drugged or made of hops, or something put upon it to induce sleep, for I
can account for it in no other way."

"Oh, you were clean done up, and when you put your head on the pillow
what was more natural than that you should go to sleep," said Bruce.

"Well, we won't discuss that," replied Seymour, "although I am not sure
myself that I ever slept, for that lift has been constructed by a
mechanical genius, and works perfectly smoothly and without noise. I may
have been lying there for an hour or two when I started to
consciousness. I felt that there was a change in the atmosphere, and
felt a light draught which I had not noticed in the room before. My
lantern was covered but was still alight, so I turned it up and
uncovered it. You may guess that I got a start.

"I was still lying in front of the fireplace, but instead of being in
the bedroom I could see a kind of shaft or well above me, and around
there was a large underground cave or chamber. I sat up at once and drew
my revolver, for within a few yards of me sat a man in a chair,
seemingly asleep. I looked at him again. The face was partly turned away
from me; but my blood almost ran cold. It was the corpse of Raymond
Ballantyne. I recognised him at once, for I had often seen him in the
city.

"I jumped up and stepped cautiously on to the floor, and with my
bull's-eye took a good look at the apparition to be quite sure that my
senses were not deceiving me, then I threw the light cautiously into
other parts of the place; but a moment afterward I got another shock,
for turning round I found that the lift, relieved of my weight, was
steadily ascending to its former position. In fact it was too high up
for me then to catch hold of it, and a minute afterward had passed up
the well to its place in the bedroom.

"For a few minutes I felt myself regularly trapped, and I was most
apprehensive as to who might be with me in the cave in addition to the
corpse of old Ballantyne.

"I could hear nothing except a queer rumbling and sucking sort of sound,
such as might have come down a long passage leading to the ocean. You
may imagine that I was in a queer state of mind, not to mention how I
felt in my body. I turned the lantern upon the floor at my feet--it was
fairly smooth and a bit gravelly; then I threw it behind me and saw a
table and chair, and then a couch and a lamp upon some shelving let into
the wall. I saw now for the first time that the place was a cave which
had been artificially enlarged. The lift had evidently been constructed
at the farthest end of it, in the direction of the land. Having
discovered this much, I felt a faintness coming over me, and walked over
toward the chair and table to sit down, when my eye fell upon a bottle
of whisky, and a large jug, and a tin with biscuits. I had had nothing
since the afternoon of the previous day and I can tell you the
refreshment was most acceptable.

"I shall never forget how I sat there and thought over the situation. I
had matches about me, so I blew out the lantern, partly to save the
light and partly to prevent myself from becoming a target for an enemy's
pistol. I munched the biscuits in the dark and watched for the
appearance of someone.

"I concluded that someone had lowered the lilt down, and that he must
have seen me. Why had I been allowed to escape? For about half an hour I
sat there in painful suspense, peering into the darkness, with my finger
on the trigger of the revolver. There was no sound, however, so I
presently lit my lantern again to more carefully examine my surroundings
and see if I could find out anything about Mr Dorset. I had no fear for
myself as I was a match for any violence I might meet with there, for I
felt sure that you would be back shortly, and that if I could not get
out by any other means I could make you hear me by shouting. And there
was the chance that I might find out how to work the lift from below, or
might discover some means of exit into the grounds, or on to the rocks.
Looking at my watch I found that it was just four o'clock, so I took out
my notebook and made a memo of what had happened in case I should meet
with an accident before getting out again.

"This corner of the place I found on closer examination to be arranged
with considerable care, as though someone had sat there either writing
or engaged in some other occupation. There was a rug on the ground and
writing materials on the shelf. I examined the latter but could find no
trace of manuscript; on the lower shelf, however, was the lamp, which
was trimmed and full of kerosene. This relieved my fear about a light,
and I at once lit it and proceeded to investigate in other directions."

"You certainly had a lively time, old man. I wish that I had been with
you," said Bruce.

This was a great thing for Bruce to say, for he rarely expressed
approval of anything which his colleague did; but he was evidently
favourably impressed and interested.

Seymour chuckled to himself. "Nothing succeeds like success," he
thought, as he looked across at his senior.

"I went over and had a good look at the corpse of the late proprietor of
'The Towers,' and when you see it you will think with me that it is a
ghastly spectacle. The body has evidently been preserved in some way,
for it has a mummy-like appearance, but why it has been done is a
mystery with no explanation."

"Did you examine the body closely?" asked Bruce.

"No," replied Seymour, "something happened shortly after which suggested
the advisability of another course of action; but as far as I could see
by a casual examination there was no sign of violence about the face or
skull. The hands were resting upon the knees and the whole attitude is
singularly natural, just as though death might have overtaken him when
he was asleep. It was tied to the chair and has a queer smell."

"A smell of drugs or preservatives or disinfectants?" suggested Bruce.

"There are really three large caves, probably limestone," continued
Seymour, "and a long passage or a series of smaller caves with an
opening right out on the cliff, but which can only be used at low tide.
It must have been high-water at about five or six o'clock this morning.
You will learn why I say this later on. As soon as I had taken in the
surroundings of the first cave I commenced to examine that to the left,
which is several feet lower. There were plenty of footmarks here, but
except a case or two, which may have contained spirits at one time,
there was nothing of importance to be seen. While in there, however, I
was suddenly startled by hearing one of the most weird and awful sounds
imaginable, and then there came a great rush of wind which nearly
extinguished the lamp I was carrying. I waited and listened for several
minutes, and then it was repeated. It was simply awful, and with that
dead man in the next place, and the consciousness that Mr Dorset's body
was likely enough somewhere about, I can tell you it was by no means a
cheerful situation. I must have been a full hour in that place
protecting the lamp, so that it should not be blown out, and that
infernal racket going on all the time.

"I thought of every possible natural explanation, but it was of no use,
and that hour in the inner cave was about the worst I ever remember
spending in my life."

"Well, man, what was it?" said Bruce at last, somewhat impatiently.

"I'll tell you in a minute," said Seymour, evidently enjoying his
senior's excited state of mind.

"After a while I went cautiously out and passed by the big cave into a
third and smaller one which I judged led in the direction of the sea. I
had to climb down in some places as the descent was quite steep, almost
like stairs. It was more like a passage, and I went along shading the
light very cautiously, when, after turning an abrupt corner, all at once
I heard the same shrieking sound in front of me, and a gust of salt air
rushing past extinguished the lamp; but before it did so I saw a white,
ghostly object right in front of me. You'll think me foolish perhaps,
but just as the light went out I fired my revolver straight at it.

"The darkness for a few minutes was intense, and then a sort of
phosphorescent light confronted me, and the same wild whistling scream
began. I tell you it made me sweat, but I laughed now, for I had guessed
what it was--it was high-tide, and there was a blow-hole connected with
the sea in the passage in front of me. It evidently only acted during
rough weather and at high tide. I had, therefore, no alternative but to
go back and wait for an hour or so for the tide to go down a bit before
following up my investigations in that direction."

"But," said Bruce, "did you find any trace of Dorset?"

"No, but I have a good idea where his remains will be found," said
Seymour.

"Where?" asked Bruce.

"At the bottom of the blow-hole," said Seymour.

"Nonsense; if he had fallen down there his body would have been sucked
into the ocean as the tide receded," replied Bruce.

"I don't know so much about that," said Seymour.

"All right, but for heaven's sake don't commence to argue the case or
there will be no end to it. You ought to have been a lawyer."

When Bruce said a thing of this sort, the implied compliment always
carried a sour taste with it.

"How did you get out of the trap?" he continued.

"I went back, as I told you, and carefully set about examining the
mechanism of the lift arrangement," said Seymour, not taking any notice
of his senior's gibe. "I found this to be a most curious piece of work,
constructed with singular skill, and worked by hydraulic pressure
through a seeming storage of force obtained by the pressure of the water
in the blow-hole passage. It was some time before I could discover the
means of putting the lift in motion, but I did so at last--at least I
found out how to work it from below; the upstairs portion is another
matter, which I have not yet got the clue to.

"I was relieved, however, on finding out that I could move the lift at
will from below. It was now about six o'clock, and, being anxious to
find out what access there was to the place from the passage, I turned
down in the direction of the blow-hole to make a further investigation.
The tide had, by this time, evidently receded, for over an hour had
elapsed since there had been any unusual sound in that direction. It
seems to me that there must be a certain pressure on the blow-hole
before the thing will work at all, for its stoppage seemed quite sudden
as far as the extraordinary noise which it made went.

"I made my way through the caves with extra care this time, keeping the
light of the lamp upon the path in front of me. I soon came to the
shaft. It is a jagged, irregular opening in the floor of the cave, over
three feet in diameter. The sides were slippery and wet with the spray
from the last working, and encrusted with salt from the action of the
sea-water.

"I had no means of gauging its depth or circumference below, except by
throwing a few pieces of loose rock down. The depth is certainly not
less than twenty or thirty feet, however, and may be a good deal more.

"Anyone going along there without a light would certainly fall into it;
and as I found no sign of Septimus Dorset's remains, it seems to me that
he was either murdered and thrown in there, or was left below in the
dark, and, groping around to get out, fell in, and so met with his
death."

"You found no weapon about there with which a murder might have been
committed?" suggested Bruce.

"No, positively nothing. Except for the body of Raymond Ballantyne,
there's nothing to indicate murder there at all."

"Oh! there's been murder all right," said Bruce. "Mrs Dalbert and
Skinner both knew of the place, and made use of the secret entrance to
'The Towers.' Then why should the body of Mr Ballantyne be secreted
there except there has been a murder?"

"No doubt about the crime, but how are we going to sheet it home to the
criminal? That's the question," said Seymour. "However, I have no doubt
there is plenty more to find out down there, and we shall have to
thoroughly overhaul the whole place. I may say that it is about a couple
of hundred yards along a fairly straight series of caves and passages to
the rocks which overlook the Pacific coast. It is closed in with a small
door of solid rock, which is as curious a piece of masonry as I ever
saw. Access to the place can only be obtained with safety at low-water,
and the doorway from the coast fastens upon the inside. I made
everything secure and then came back and got into 'The Towers' by the
lift, and at once made my way up to 'Fernville' to see if I could secure
Skinner. By the way, however, what is it you have found out about Mrs
Dalbert?"

"Enough, I think, to secure a conviction both in her case and in that of
Skinner," replied Bruce. "She evidently got a bit afraid of the look of
things, and left Leichardt quite suddenly and unexpectedly, and without
leaving any address; but, by some accident, she has left a handbag
behind her with a number of letters in it which I think may incriminate
both herself and Skinner."

"What do you intend to do to-morrow at the Police Court?" asked Seymour.

"Why, get a remand, of course, and then go out to Storm-Cliff and
recover the body of Raymond Ballantyne," said Bruce.

"By George!" exclaimed Seymour, every pulse in his body tingling with
gratified pride, "won't there be a sensation when the particulars are
published."




CHAPTER XXII.--THE BLOW-HOLE WORKS.


It should be explained that Seymour's note to Miss Strong had set the
minds of 'The Towers'' household somewhat at rest.

Dr Strong was recovering fast, and on the morning upon which Owen
Skinner was brought up at the Police Court, was well enough to get up
for an hour or so and converse quietly with his sister and Beatrice.

He could, however, give them no information about the place below, for
the blow had stunned him, and when consciousness returned he found
himself bound fast and in perfect darkness. It seemed to him like a
long, hideous nightmare, and during part of the time most horrible
noises had been heard. He had struggled for hours with his hands; but
had no recollection of anything connected with his liberation.

He said nothing at this time as to what he had seen himself, fearing to
give a shock to the nerves of Beatrice and his sister; but he listened
to their story with wonder and thankfulness.

"I no doubt owe my life to Mrs Dalbert," he said.

Grace, however, was by no means friendly inclined to this self-possessed
lady. "Likely enough it was only remorse and fear which made her
interpose," she said.

"You think, then, that she had knowledge of Mr Dorset's disappearance?"
he said to Grace.

"I feel certain that she had," replied his sister. "Mrs Dalbert and Owen
Skinner have been confederates in crime, and the one is as bad as the
other."

"Ah, well; we'll hope not," said the doctor.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the meantime the detectives had obtained a remand, and, having set
two other men to trace out the retreat of Mrs Dalbert, were hurrying
back as fast as possible to 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

Both Seymour and Bruce were anxious to hear about the condition of Dr
Strong, for they felt sure that he would be a very valuable witness in
the case. He was too weak, however, to see them on their return; in
fact, had gone off to sleep, and Grace determined that he should on no
account be disturbed.

She listened, however, with intense interest to the brief account which
they gave of Seymour's discovery and Skinner's arrest, and in turn gave
them the benefit of any information she had received from the doctor.
Their wish, however, to see either Miss Ballantyne or Dr Strong was
firmly denied them; they must wait until the morrow.

A good dinner, which awaited Bruce and Seymour in the housekeeper's
room, was some recompense, however, and the two men discussed the
savoury viands and talked over the case which they had in hand.

Bruce was for sleeping over it, but Seymour was anxious to prosecute the
search at once.

"You see," he urged, "we both of us have had a good night's rest, and
are fresh and ready; then the tide will be down. Yes!" he exclaimed as
he looked at his watch and then examined the newspaper, "it is dead
low-water at eight o'clock to-night, so we shall just be able to do it
before the blow-hole commences to work."

"You say you came up into the house from these subterranean passages by
the lift?" queried Bruce.

"Yes," said Seymour, and the tone of his voice indicated that he had
just remembered that he had overlooked an awkward fact.

"Ah! and you have carefully bolted and barred the door leading on to the
rocks?" said Bruce.

"I have," and Seymour laughed grimly at his superior officer; "but I
have no knowledge of how to work the lift from the bedroom."

"You have made a bit of a mess of it, I think," said Bruce.

Seymour was no doubt annoyed with himself, for a long and careful search
had already been made in the chamber to discover any secret spring by
which the lift could be worked from above.

He had intended to take some precaution against its closing upon him,
but the catch--whatever it was--had fastened before he could prevent it.
The position was doubly mortifying, for it was of the utmost importance
that the place below should be explored at once. However, dinner being
over, the two men went outside to have a smoke before they made any
further attempt to discover the secret of the movement of the lift from
the bedchamber.

The view from the seaward side of 'The Towers' was, on that night, one
which even a very much absorbed man could scarcely let pass unobserved.
The moon had not risen more than half an hour, and a glittering pathway
stretched itself across the great heaving mass of waters, which broke in
thunder and spray upon the serried rocks that lined the shore.

"Do you think that you could make out the entrance to the passage from
the rocks by moonlight?" said Bruce.

"I scarcely think so," replied Seymour; "but we might stroll over and
look down from the rocks and see."

The fir trees which so thickly encompassed 'The Towers' had been thinned
out somewhat in this direction, and the men passed through them downhill
toward the sea. It was not rough weather, for there were few white
horses to be seen riding upon the crests of the billows, but the long,
rolling swell, which burst with such force against the brown rocks, told
of storm and tumult a hundred, or perhaps a thousand miles away.

"Do you think there is pressure enough to work that underground
blow-hole to-night?" asked Bruce.

"I cannot tell," replied his companion, "but it certainly will not be
safe for us to go over the cliffs to-night in search of a secret passage
to the caves."

The two detectives returned together to the house, and at once proceeded
to examine the room, in order, if possible, to discover the secret
spring, or connections, which moved the lift from above.

For fully an hour they searched unsuccessfully. The idea of using force
was out of the question, for it would have aroused the whole household,
and, even then, it was doubtful whether anything short of gunpowder
would be successful.

The two men looked at each other in baffled annoyance, when Bruce said,
"It is my opinion that there is no means of working it at all in this
room."

At that very moment Seymour's finger had pressed an ornamental flower in
a peculiar way. How, he could not exactly tell, but it had moved, and
with it the two men, who were standing upon the fireplace, felt
themselves commencing to descend with the lift.

"At last!" ejaculated Bruce.

The suddenness of the movement caught them, however, somewhat
unprepared, and Bruce was for returning for their revolvers, coats, and
lanterns, which, in their eager search for the secret of the lift, they
had laid aside upon a table.

"There are matches and a lamp down there," said Seymour.

A few minutes afterward the two, with the aid of the light, examined the
fearful form of the one-time proprietor of 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

"It's the most ghastly idea that I ever heard of," said Bruce.

"The body must have been preserved for some very special purpose,"
remarked Seymour, who had thought a great deal upon the subject during
and after his last visit.

"What do you mean?" queried Bruce.

"See the face," said Seymour; "it's like that of a man asleep. The skin
is wrinkled and tanned as though some powerful preservative had been
used, but see how composed looking the features are. That man died in a
trance, or at any rate while asleep, and his body has been thus
preserved and kept close at hand for some reason of importance to the
perpetrator of the crime--if crime it is."

"The sooner we get it up out of this the better," said Bruce, who was
struck by the remark of his colleague.

"Very good," said Seymour; "we had better lift it, chair and all as it
is, upon the platform, and one of us go up with it, and then return and
search the caves further."

"All right; you go up with it, and I will remain here until you return,"
said Bruce.

They stooped on each side of the chair, and exerted themselves somewhat,
in expectation of a heavy burden, but both were taken by surprise at
finding how light the chair and its occupant together was.

"The body cannot be here at all," said Seymour in astonishment.

"No doubt; it's a queer affair altogether," said Bruce, as they placed
it upon the platform. "Bring down my revolver and lantern," he said to
Seymour as the lift gradually ascended.

Bruce followed it with his eye as it cleared the roof of the cave, and
passed out of sight up the well. Then he examined the framework in which
the lift worked. It was of steel and lightly constructed, but the
workmanship was exact and finished.

"Skinner never made this concern by himself," he said.

The detective sat in the chair which Seymour had discovered the previous
night, and turned the lamp round so that its light might fall upon the
apparatus. There was a carefully made foundation with rubber ridges for
the lift to rest upon on its descent; and to work the lift there was a
hydraulic piston-rod, well oiled and free from rust, similar to those
now so commonly used for the same purpose in large buildings.

Bruce evidently found abundant material for thought, for he sat there in
deep meditation for fully a quarter of an hour before it occurred to him
that Seymour was rather long in returning.

Then he aroused himself, and, placing his head under the well, called
out to his fellow-officer to make haste. The solid mass of stone above
him, however, only seemed to throw his voice back again, and with a
muttered oath at Seymour's unnecessary delay (for Bruce was greatly
excited, and the long absence of Seymour irritated him), sat down in the
chair again.

"What the can have happened to him!" he exclaimed at last. "He must have
been gone half an hour."

The fact was, that after dragging the chair off the lift, and getting
the various articles together he wanted, Seymour had found out that, do
what he would, he could not work the lift again, and while Bruce was
below fuming and swearing over the delay, Seymour was sweating over the
ornamental flower which moved under the pressure of his finger, but,
unfortunately, without starting the lift.

The fact was there had to be a certain weight upon the centre of the
lift to work it from above; this was ordinarily supplied by the chair,
but in the case of their previous descent had been supplied by the
substantial form of Detective Bruce. The latter might have worked it
from below if he had carefully examined the mechanism of the thing, but
as he grew tired of waiting for Seymour's return he started upon a tour
of discovery on his own account among the caves and passages which,
partly natural and partly artificial, lay below the north end of
'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

When the first shrill, melancholy sound from the blow-hole caught his
ear, Bruce started; but remembering what Seymour had told him, felt no
such alarm as had his colleague.

"It's an uncanny spot this," he thought; "but I would like to see how
that blow-hole works before the tide gets high enough to make the
approach to it difficult or dangerous."

He had found out the cave from which the series of caves or passages led
on to the rocks, and, after carefully trimming the lamp and seeing that
he had matches handy in case it should be blown out, he groped his way
in the direction of the blow-hole.

It was a longer distance than he had expected, and the path was steep in
places and rugged; and fearful of the character of the path, he
proceeded with great caution. The occasional rush of compressed air, and
the awful gurgling scream of the singular phenomenon, told him that it
was working with vigour and might be somewhat dangerous to approach.

He groped his way through several small caves which connected with each
other, and was turning into a larger one in front, when the blow-hole
sent its contents up with exceptional force. The tide was now nearly at
the full, and the heavy swell had increased during the past hour.

No lamp could have withstood the blast of compressed salt air and spray
which now struck the detective with full force, and in a moment he was
in darkness.

Bruce was by no means deficient in physical pluck and personal courage,
and he stood his ground, bracing himself firmly to withstand the rush of
air, and holding the extinguished lamp in front of him. The darkness
seemed like that of Egypt--one that could be felt--and for several
minutes he stood perfectly still, in expectation of another motion from
the blow-hole.

For a few minutes everything was quiet, so he stood the lamp upon the
floor of the cave in readiness to strike a match and re-light it, and
bending upon one knee felt in his pocket for the matches.

He stopped, however, for with his head thus bent he saw in front of him
what seemed to be a subdued light glimmering in the distance.
Immediately he was on the alert. Was it possible that there was anyone
else down there?

For fully five minutes he remained thus watching, with every nerve
strung to its utmost tension. Then he commenced to creep nearer, and it
occurred to him that it might be phosphorescent light from the seawater
ejected from the blow-hole, and he moved nearer with more curiosity than
alarm.

Suddenly, however, he leaped to his feet. He had approached nearer to
the mouth of the blow-hole than he had expected; the passage had
abruptly expanded into a somewhat lofty cave, and with a gurgling roar
the thing was about to work.

The volume of water this time rushed up with a weird, awful, deafening
noise, such as Bruce could never afterwards find words to adequately
explain, and the whole place was lit with a soft phosphorescent light.
For a moment, as the blast of air first struck his face, Bruce closed
his eyes and shrank back, but he was still a good distance from the
hole, and as the first long wail and scream was followed by another and
a still louder one, he opened his eyes to look, and to his horror and
astonishment caught a glimpse of as fearful and ghastly a sight as
probably ever appeared to mortal eyes.

The blow-hole, with the strength of the Pacific Ocean operating it, was
in the act of ejecting a great volume of foaming phosphorescent water,
and in the centre of it, suspended for a brief period by its terrific
force--the ghastly white face and head and body distinctly visible--was
a corpse, suspended erect in the midst of the glistering column.

"God save us!" exclaimed the horrified detective. ". . . It's the
lawyer! . . . It's Septimus Dorset!"

The corpse was clad only in some torn shreds of clothing, which might
have been the remains of the sleeping garments in which the lawyer on
that fateful night had disappeared from 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

For a moment or two, which to Bruce seemed hours, the awful thing hung
over the abyss, and was then thrown headlong, with a wave of foaming
water, into the passage.

The whole incident was so fearful, and sickening, and ghastly, and the
cave and blow-hole so unnatural, that for a moment the detective
staggered and felt impelled to flee from the awful spot. A moment
afterward the light was gone, and Bruce turned to grope his way back in
the darkness with a feeling of blind horror in his mind such as he had
never experienced before.

Two hours afterward Seymour found him on the floor of one of the caves
insensible. He had stumbled over a ledge, and a hurt he then received on
his head, and the previous excitement, were together too much even for
his iron nerves.




CHAPTER XXIII.--RAYMOND BALLANTYNE'S GHOST.


It has been stated that both the detectives and other officers of the
police force had been searching for Meta Dalbert for several days
without success; and yet the very night on which Bruce and Seymour
secured the body of Raymond Ballantyne, that lady was in the vicinity of
'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

She had not heard of the arrest of Skinner that morning, and not knowing
that the police were on her track she had come out to Storm-Cliff in the
hope of meeting with Skinner, there being important reasons why she
wished to see him at once.

It was quite nine o'clock when, walking home across the common, Mr
Broadford saw a woman in front of him whom he recognised as Mrs Dalbert.
He followed her for some distance until she entered Owen Skinner's
residence. He knew that a warrant was out for her arrest, and that the
detectives were back at 'The Towers,' so he hurried over to give them
the information.

He walked up the avenue and across the lawn to the terrace facing the
front of the mansion. Here, to his surprise, he found the large hall
door wide open. There were lights shining in numerous windows of the
house, and the thought occurred to him to walk straight into the
'haunted chamber,' where he had heard the two detectives were quartered,
and give them the information direct, without arousing the inmates of
the mansion.

"No doubt they have left the entrance door open for the sake of the
fresh air this warm night," he said.

There was no one about so he stepped into the hall and coughed and
waited a moment, but there was no response.

The door leading into the haunted room was right in front of him. He
hesitated a minute, and then walked across and opened it. A light burned
dimly; near the window he saw a figure sitting in a chair.

"Is that you, Mr Bruce?" he asked in a hesitant and apologetical tone of
voice.

There was no response.

"He must be asleep," he whispered to himself. "And no wonder," he
continued, "seeing the time that they have been up, and the knocking
about they have had. It looks more like Bruce than Seymour. I will touch
him and awaken him."

Anyone who has placed his hand upon the body of a corpse will know how
different the feeling is when compared with warm, palpitating flesh. On
feeling the shoulder, Mr Broadford was startled and at once turned
around to look at the face.

"My God!" he whispered, "it's Raymond Ballantyne."

He stood for a moment in the dim light gazing at the fearful thing in
front of him, and then turned and fled. Once outside the big white gates
and clear of the grounds he breathed more freely, but his lips were
compressed, and he quickened his pace homeward.

"That awful place!" he ejaculated. "The Septimus Dorset episode was bad
enough, and now the detectives are gone, and in their room there is the
ghost or corpse of Raymond Ballantyne. Mystery and horror upon horror!"

"Whatever is the matter with you?" exclaimed Alice when her brother
staggered rather than walked into the parlour where she sat waiting for
him.

"Bring me some brandy, Alice," he said.

Without a word she hurried into the dining-room for the spirit.

"I am faint and exhausted," he said; "don't ask any questions until the
morning."

When the morning came, however, he was just as reticent. "I was feeling
tired and ill," was all that his sister could get out of him. The fact
was, his previous experience of the mystery of 'Storm-Cliff Towers' had
been sufficient to determine him to keep his own counsel; he had seen no
one, and as far as he knew had not been seen, so whether what he had
seen, or felt, was ghost or corpse, he would not be drawn further into
the ghastly affair.

"Good heaven!" he exclaimed to himself, "to think of the crimes that
must have been committed in that house. What an inheritance for a
woman!"

Mr Broadford was not wrong in regard to 'Storm-Cliff Towers' being a
strange inheritance for a woman, although he knew but a very small part
of what there was to know. Yet it is women who more often than not
become the possessors of the results of crimes which men have committed,
and under such burdens there are few men who will carry themselves with
the composure and patient fortitude which most women will. They who
under the little ills of life show impatience and petulance so quickly,
will often, when confronted by a series of overwhelming disasters and
misfortunes, display quiet, patient heroism, which commands attention
and respect.

When Beatrice was made aware of the full details of the story which the
detectives had to tell, and knew that the corpses of her uncle and late
legal adviser lay in the north-end chamber of the house, she was
horrified, and felt that the burden was greater than she could bear.
Fortunately Dr Strong was much better, and he and Grace were able to
advise her, and the painful incidents associated with the inquest were
made as little distressing to her as possible. She bore up wonderfully
under the shock.

The inquest, which was held in a room of the only hotel that the village
boasted, lasted for two days, the jurors spending an afternoon in the
inspection of the fateful bedchamber and its surroundings, from which
two men at least had descended to their death. The proceedings were
greatly protracted through the difficulty of the jurors arriving at a
verdict; the detectives being simply staggered at the position, for
there was absolutely no evidence forthcoming which could be successfully
used in support of a charge of alleged murder against Skinner. Mrs
Dalbert was still at large. By the advice of his solicitor, Skinner gave
no evidence in the case, he being under arrest, on a charge of murder.
But the question suggested to the jury was, how could it be proved to
have been murder? Neither the dry, mummified form of Raymond Ballantyne,
nor the battered corpse of Septimus Dorset, showed proof of murder or
act of premeditated violence.

Raymond Ballantyne might have died a natural death, and Septimus Dorset
might have met his death by accidentally falling into the shaft of the
blow-hole. They were twelve men of ordinary intelligence, and they spent
hours in carefully considering the case, but after all their
deliberations they could not find it on their consciences to return
other than an open verdict. But the police had already had Skinner
before the Police Court, and somehow managed to keep him under arrest.

A clever lawyer would no doubt have elicited more from Miss Ballantyne,
but she was in a weak state of health and much distressed over the
painful affair, and was asked but few questions.

The detectives did not press matters, for they were anxiously hunting
for Mrs Dalbert, and they intended to reserve their strength for the
trial; they had obtained two remands in the case of Skinner, and bail
was refused. In their experience of crime and criminals they had never
met with a more baffling case; everything pointed to a carefully planned
and cleverly executed series of crimes, and yet there was thus far no
actual proof that any crime had been committed, and it was possible that
even the arrest of Mrs Dalbert might not yield any fresh evidence of
importance.

Probably there had never been a case more exasperating to the public
mind in the criminal records of the colonies. It was a mystery of the
first order, and most people wanted to prove that it was a criminal
mystery, but unfortunately the evidence fell short.

However, the deaths of two men were to be accounted for, and the police
hoped that they could rake up sufficient evidence to convict Skinner; so
by dint of unusual effort they secured his committal for trial at the
ensuing quarter-sessions, and not only the legal world, but the general
public, awaited anxiously the outcome of the trial. Dr Strong, Miss
Ballantyne, Grace Strong, the Rev. Christopher Broadford, Donald Dorset,
and a number of other witnesses were served with subpoenas to appear and
give evidence.

The one thing which especially irritated the curious was that the
subterranean caves, etc., below 'Storm-Cliff Towers,' were not
accessible to outsiders. Adventurous individuals risked their lives in
attempting to discover the means of access from the rocks, and on calm
days, at low tide, all sorts and conditions of men might have been seen
groping about on the lookout for the entrance to the underground
passage, but, strange to say, either their pluck or sagacity failed
them, for no one seemed able to discover it.

The fact was, the rugged front which the rocks presented to the ocean
was so seamed and scarred and indented with caves and fissures, that it
was a matter of no ordinary hazard to attempt to find the place at all.
Yet foolhardy individuals persisted in the search upon the slippery
surfaces, with the great rollers of a treacherous sea breaking behind
them, until the police were compelled to put up notices warning the
public off the dangerous quest.

Beatrice, on Dr Strong's advice, stoutly refused any access to the
subterranean rooms from 'The Towers.' The police were the only persons
who were allowed entrance to the apartments associated with the mystery,
and William was occupied for days together in defending the place
against crowds of reporters, and photographers, and curious individuals
who came prepared with all the necessary appliances to take photographs
of the bedroom, the lift, and caves, and even the subterranean
blow-hole; and great was their astonishment and indignation at being met
with a refusal. As it was, photographs of Miss Ballantyne's inheritance
appeared in every illustrated journal in the colonies, and any fresh
news concerning 'The Mystery of 'Storm-Cliff Towers'' proved the best
means for weeks of working off a late edition of the evening paper.

Dr Strong and 'The Towers'' household were all of opinion that both
Raymond Ballantyne and Septimus Dorset had met their deaths by unfair
means. But the proof was wanting, and indeed also the motive to a crime
on the part of Skinner; so in his own way Dr Strong set himself to
discover more about the matter.




CHAPTER XXIV.--BEATRICE AND THE DOCTOR.


It was no doubt a tangled skein that Dr Strong had taken in hand to
unravel, but he had several powerful incentives to perseverance. He had
only narrowly escaped with his own life, for the hand that bound him
when unconscious would undoubtedly, but for Mrs Dalbert, have left him
there to die.

Then, too, his growing love for Beatrice urged him to seriously attempt
the solution of the mystery; and once set upon it, he found to his
intense satisfaction that the mistress of 'The Towers' was as eager to
obtain the solution of the mystery as himself, and that the pursuit
brought him into very close and confidential intercourse with her.

Happy is the lover who can find a common subject of study or pursuit
with the mistress of his heart, especially if its character is such as
to lead her to defer to his judgment and experience, and cause her to
look to him for continual advice and guidance. This was the present
state of affairs at 'The Towers,' for both Beatrice, Grace, and the
doctor had committed themselves to the investigation of the mystery.

It was a very good thing for Beatrice that events had so turned out, for
in the doctor she had one to relieve her mind in regard to the part she
had played in the case of Septimus Dorset.

"Did it never occur to you that Mr Dorset may have had far more
knowledge of affairs down here than he told you of?" asked the doctor
one afternoon of Beatrice.

Beatrice had been telling him what she could remember of her interviews
with Septimus Dorset, and she recalled the feeling which she had, at the
time, of something having been kept back by him.

"My own opinion," said Dr Strong, "is that there has been a deeply laid
plot, extending back over a number of years, and that the death of
Septimus Dorset was almost as essential to its success as that of your
Uncle Raymond. I would very much like to see this Owen Skinner; if he is
the chief actor in this tragic series of crimes, he must be a remarkably
clever and accomplished criminal."

Beatrice felt that the doctor was avoiding any reference to her own
share in the tragic end of the lawyer, and hankered, with feminine
pertinacity, for some expression of opinion from him.

"What do you think I should have done, doctor, when I discovered that
there was a secret lift in the north bedroom?" she asked.

"Under the circumstances it was most difficult to have known what to
have done. You had no friend to ask advice of except your lawyer, and he
did not prove himself exactly a friend, nor as open and candid in regard
to your late uncle's affairs as he might have been. It would no doubt
have been better had you warned him, or in some way have put him upon
his guard; but, as a lawyer, he ought to have been upon his guard,
especially knowing what he did about the place and its surroundings, and
your uncle's relations with Mrs Dalbert."

"You do not blame me, then, for bringing him out here that night?" said
Beatrice softly.

"No, I don't," said the doctor stoutly; "at least, not under the
circumstances. He knew that he had a difficult case in hand, and should
have been upon his guard. Do you think that when a doctor is called in
to attend some hard case that he is met with a caution to be upon his
guard, and protect himself against contagion? Not a bit of it; he has
the case in hand professionally, and takes the risk."

Beatrice felt that there was a bit of sophistry in this special pleading
of the doctor's, but it pleased her. She felt, too, that he, at any
rate, was on her side, and something told her that he would think little
of risking his life for her. In fact he was to be trusted out and out.

The days passed quickly, and although Dr Strong was quite recovered, he
and his sister continued guests of Miss Ballantyne at 'The Towers.'

Neither Beatrice nor Grace were disposed to sudden likings, as some
girls are; but in this case there was so much in their characters and
dispositions which suited each other that what, at another time and
under other circumstances, might have taken many months to develop, was
accomplished in a few weeks. There was very little said and very little
demonstration, but each felt that they were to the other as sisters, and
that it was a friendship which would continue throughout their lives.

The doctor noted this with keen satisfaction, but said nothing to Grace.
In fact, like most of the lasting attachments of life, it was a thing of
intuition and feeling all around, rather than of words. Dr Strong knew
that his love was given to Beatrice, and he hoped that it was to some
extent returned; but neither by look nor word, in any way, was the
emotion of the heart revealed.

In such a case, a man like the Rev. Christopher Broadford would have
stumbled into a declaration in a week, and have spoiled everything; but
not so the doctor. He would have the sacred dawn-light of love protracted
as long as possible.

In lands where the sun lingers longest upon the threshold of the morn
and eve, the day is longest. In these hot Australian lands the sun leaps
into the heavens, and day commences its passionate life and movement
with scarcely any prelude or introduction; but in more northern regions
the daybreak is a thing of deliberation and gradual development. And
those sacred hours of sunrise, who would forgo? Love at first sight by
no means demands a declaration at the first opportunity. The strongest
souls are those that can wait, feeling the joy of loving and being
loved, when, as the Psalmist puts it, "there is no speech nor language,
and their voice is not heard." The divinest moments in Nature's life are
those which precede the actual rising of the sun. And so with the
noblest emotions of the heart and mind. It is the joy of days when two
hearts beat in union and in silence which is longest and most dearly
remembered. Alas for the impatience of life! How much it loses to the
young and thoughtless and inexperienced. Not without suffering and
self-denial and discipline is the highest good enjoyed.

Enough, however, has been said to indicate the state of affairs which
seemed to be developing between Beatrice Ballantyne and John Strong. Yet
how often in these matters have onlookers been mistaken!

It must not be imagined that the doctor entered into the ghastly details
of 'The Towers' mystery as a matter of ordinary conversation. It was
only at set and opportune times that the subject was discussed, although
it was probably seldom out of their thoughts.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Mrs Dalbert has been arrested at last," said the doctor gravely to his
sister and Beatrice one afternoon, about a week after the inquest.

"I am almost sorry," said Beatrice.

"Because you think that she was the means of saving my life?" said John
quietly.

"Yes," said Beatrice.

"I am sorry, too, on that account," said he; "but I think that without
her there would have been a missing link."

"Where was she arrested?" asked Grace.

"In Sydney, and almost within a stone's-throw of a police station," said
the doctor, smiling. "She will be brought up at the Police Court
to-morrow, and we shall all have to appear as witnesses," he continued.

The result of the preliminary proceedings at the court the next morning
was that Meta Dalbert was committed to take her trial with Owen Skinner
for the wilful murder of Raymond Ballantyne.




CHAPTER XXV.--A CONSULTATION.


The quarter-sessions at which Skinner and Meta Dalbert were to be tried
was to commence in three weeks' time, but it was expected to be fully
four weeks before the trial would come off, as the case was preceded by
several others on the calendar.

Two days, however, after Mrs Dalbert's arrest, to the surprise of most
people, she was liberated on bail, which was found by a leading firm of
solicitors in the large sum of two thousand pounds.

"What does this mean?" asked the doctor of Bruce and Seymour, who had
come to 'The Towers' to consult with him in regard to the case.

"It means," said Bruce, "that there is more at the back of the affair in
the shape of money than we had thought."

"Do you think, then, that this large sum has been found in actual cash
and lodged with a bank for the protection of the solicitors who have
given bail?" asked the doctor.

"I do," said the detective.

"It's Messrs Smooth & Stout who have given the bail; are they getting up
the defence?" asked Dr Strong.

"They are," replied Bruce laconically.

"Then there will be one of the biggest fights the Sydney courts have
seen for years past," said the doctor. "How are the Crown Law officers
getting on in preparation for the prosecution?"

"They have done nothing except to notify Savage that he will be retained
to assist the Crown Prosecutor with the case."

"Then they are trusting entirely to you to get the case up?"

"Exactly."

The large amount of bail forthcoming for Mrs Dalbert, and the fact that
Smooth & Stout of Pitt Street were taking charge of the case, somewhat
staggered the three men, and for some time they sat and smoked together
in silence.

Said the doctor at last: "You two have no doubt thought out a theory of
your own, and possibly have gathered a considerable amount of evidence;
I would like, however, in a few words, to put the result of my own
thoughts upon the case, and you can then make suggestions or ask
questions. It is evident to me that the murder of Raymond Ballantyne was
deliberately planned some years ago."

The doctor paused for a few moments as though struck by some sudden
thought, and then continued: "The work in and under the north chamber
would take a long time to accomplish, in the slow way in which it must
of necessity have been executed. It was carried on and completed, no
doubt, during the absence of Mr Ballantyne in India; but it seems to me
impossible that it can have been done by one pair of hands. If Skinner
was the principal in the matter, he must have had assistance other than
that which could have been afforded by Mrs Dalbert.

"You think, then, that there are others implicated, of whom we at
present have no knowledge?" said Seymour.

"I do," replied the doctor; "and you detectives have to find them out,
whether it be one or more."

"No one man alone devised and constructed the mechanism of that lift;
the weight alone would have been too much for him," said Bruce.

"What do you propose to do, then?" asked Dr Strong.

"Fix the most likely dates, and then advertise. It may be that the whole
of the work was done as an ordinary piece of business by a local firm.
This place is so isolated that it might have been done without any
special effort at concealment, and yet no one in the neighbourhood have
known anything about it."

"I don't think that was the way it was done," replied the doctor. "The
risk would have been too great. But," he continued, "setting aside the
way by which this costly piece of work was accomplished, if Raymond
Ballantyne was murdered, why was he murdered, and why was the body
preserved and kept in readiness for production at any minute?"

"What was the personality sworn under?" asked Seymour abruptly.

"Fifty-six thousand," replied Bruce.

"Was that, at the time, thought smaller than was expected?" asked the
doctor.

"I cannot say," replied the detective.

"Some people around here thought it much smaller than it might have
been," said the doctor quietly.

"Do you suggest that he may have had money hidden away?" asked Seymour.

"I do," said the doctor; "and I would very much like to know where that
two thousand pounds sterling has come from."

"Do you think that old Ballantyne had money hidden away, and that
possibly he knew of the apartment beneath 'The Towers,' and used it as a
treasury or hiding-place?" asked Seymour eagerly.

"He was a very eccentric man, and it would have been quite in keeping
with his general character and disposition," replied the doctor
cautiously.

"We have searched the place below with the greatest care," said Bruce,
"and have found nothing."

"I think that you will have to search there still further," said the
doctor. "I cannot conceive of that place having been developed as it is,
with so much care and thought and purpose, unless it was intended for a
hiding-place for something more than dead bodies. Why, man! you can hide
a dead body in a common grave; but that place was meant to conceal
something far more valuable and important, or I am very much mistaken."

"I gather then that in your opinion there may be money down there?"
said Seymour.

"I do not say that there is now; but I am inclined to think that there
has been," replied the doctor.

"Why do you suppose that?" asked Bruce.

"Well, I think it's plain enough," said Dr Strong, "Skinner could not
get bail accepted for himself. It was necessary that one of them should
go free for some matter of importance, so he has provided this large sum
to secure Mrs Dalbert's liberty, so that she may carry something through
which is likely to have important issues in connection with the trial.
Mrs Dalbert, you will find, is only partially in Skinner's confidence,
and she probably had no knowledge of the amount of actual cash secured
by the death of Raymond Ballantyne."

"How do you think he was killed?" asked Seymour.

"Chloroformed while asleep," replied the doctor.

"How about the witness who swore at the first inquiry that he saw him
jump over the rocks?" said Seymour.

"Probably it was Skinner he saw, dressed so as to personify the murdered
man; they were about the same size, and Skinner, no doubt, knows every
rock on the coast, and could easily have jumped over in the dusk, and
made his way to the entrance of the secret passage from the rocks.

"It was seemingly a part of the plan to show that death had resulted
from suicide, in a form by which the body was unlikely to be recovered.
My opinion is that Miss Ballantyne came out and took possession of 'The
Towers' before they were ready, and that Septimus Dorset knew so much of
Mr Ballantyne's affairs that for the success of their plans it became
advisable to get him out of the way. His unexpected visit to 'The
Towers' furnished Skinner with the opportunity of getting rid of him,
and probably he was drugged while asleep, taken below, and thrown down
the shaft of the blow-hole. Now, what has to be done first of all is to
discover by some means how these people have been, or are likely to be
advantaged by the death of these two men."

"I believe that under the will Miss Ballantyne was sole heiress?" said
Bruce.

"Yes, that is so," replied the doctor.

Some further talk made it clear to the doctor that, so far, the
detectives had little evidence to go to a jury upon. They would, of
course, prove the connection of both prisoners with the underground
chamber where the two bodies were found; but, apart from Skinner's
admission to the officer, which after all did not amount to much, and
Mrs Dalbert's rescue of the doctor, there was very little to identify
them with the crimes. Then, too, it was impossible to say what might be
the nature of the defence set up. It was all in their favour that
neither of the two bodies had shown signs of violence apart from what
might have been received, in the case of Septimus Dorset, by a fall into
the chasm of the blow-hole and the action of the sea-water upon the
corpse.

"Don't you feel very anxious?" asked the doctor.

"Anxious, certainly; but by no means disheartened, or even discouraged,"
said Bruce. "I have secured many a conviction on evidence which turned
up at the last minute, not infrequently in the court itself, during the
course of a trial. It is my opinion that if we can get either of them to
go into the witness-box they will convict themselves under
cross-examination. I do not despair, however, to get hold of some
important evidence yet. All the papers connected with the estate are
being gone carefully over, and a search for evidence is being made in
the neighbourhood among the people who occasionally worked at 'The
Towers.'"

"I should have Mrs Dalbert's movements carefully watched," suggested the
doctor.

"She will be shadowed night and day," said Seymour.

"One word more," said Dr Strong. "I see that Skinner and Mrs Dalbert are
to be tried for the murder of Raymond Ballantyne only; how about the
death of the lawyer?"

"We could not well try them for two murders on the one indictment," said
Bruce cautiously.

"Ah! that is so; but was not the corpse of poor Dorset terribly knocked
about in the blow-hole, and so decomposed that there was difficulty over
its identification."

"He was identified by his brother. Certainly the features were very much
knocked about, but the question of identification was practically taken
for granted. Dorset had disappeared, and his corpse was discovered in
the underground caves below his bedroom. What more could you want? There
was no one else missing."

"All right," said the doctor; "only you gentlemen sometimes take too
much for granted when you are hot on the scent of a criminal. 'Better to
be sure than sorry,' you know."




CHAPTER XXVI.--A FRESH DISCOVERY.


Neither Beatrice nor Grace had visited the subterranean apartment and
caves below 'The Towers,' although they had both of them more than once
expressed a wish to do so. The doctor, however, had shown no desire to
gratify their curiosity, and the day of the trial drew near.

One morning Bruce and Seymour arrived unexpectedly at 'The Towers' at a
somewhat early hour. They wished to follow up a clue which they imagined
they had got hold of, and asked for permission to make further
investigations below. The doctor happened to be at home, so the ladies
urged that they should form a party, and in company with the detectives,
explore the much-talked-of caves and passages.

The tide was falling, so the blow-hole would not be working, which both
the doctor and the detectives regarded as opportune for the search.

Only after some trouble was Dr Strong finally persuaded, however, to
obtain the consent of Messrs Bruce and Seymour, which, although given
with seeming alacrity, was really the cause of considerable annoyance to
them. They stipulated, however, that before the ladies went down they
should have a quarter of an hour to investigate below and see that
everything was all right, and without any special danger to the ladies.

"Of course, no one can get access to the place now?" said Grace to her
brother.

The doctor had thrown back the heavy curtains and drawn up the blinds on
the large bay-window to let some sunlight into the room before the
ladies entered. Soon after the three of them stood in the room together,
awaiting the return of the detectives, who were still below.

"Is it not singular," said Grace, "that no one seems to have heard
anything of the noise made by the working of the underground blow-hole
in this room."

"Perhaps they have," said Beatrice, "and in that way it is possible the
first idea of a subterranean apartment below 'The Towers' was
suggested."

"I do not think that very much could ever be heard here," remarked the
doctor; "at high tide the roar of the ocean is so audible in anything
like rough weather, that a similar sound below ground could scarcely be
distinguished; then you must remember there is about fourteen feet of
solid stone in which the lift works, and further, that the blow-hole is
several hundred yards distant along a series of caves and winding rock
passages. I don't think that much would ever be heard in this chamber.
What does puzzle me, however, is that there is not a great draught
around the edges of the lift when the blow-hole is working."

As the doctor said this, a motion of the fireplace and hearth made
itself visible, and the platform of the lift commenced to descend.

Beatrice started involuntarily; it recalled to her mind the night on
which she had first been startled by its strange motion. How much had
happened since then!

A few minutes afterward it re-ascended with Bruce upon it, and the two
ladies and the doctor went down together.

It was still two hours to noon and the rays of bright warm sunshine
illuminated the apartment from which they had descended, but below the
darkness stretched away from the lamp and candle lights, and the whole
surroundings were suggestive of those who love darkness rather than
light, because their deeds are evil.

"What an uncanny sort of place!" exclaimed Grace.

The doctor was very quiet; he was thinking of the hours of darkness he
had spent there, which had so nearly cost him his life.

"You should know the place best," said the doctor to Seymour, "you had
better act as guide."

They had already made a survey of the apartment directly below the
bedchamber, and the detective pointed out the spot where the first
corpse was found.

"Let us see the caves now, and the shaft of the blow-hole," said
Beatrice, taking Grace's arm, and shuddering slightly.

Detective Bruce led the way, and Seymour accompanied the ladies, while
the doctor brought up the rear. Each of the party carried a light, and
after they had passed into the right-hand cave the doctor lagged behind,
carefully examining some marks he had noticed upon the wall.

Suddenly they heard an exclamation from him as though he was calling to
them for assistance.

In a minute the whole party had gathered around the doctor, with their
lights thrown upon the surface of the wall of the cave in front of them.

It should be explained that the walls generally, in the large cave or
apartment, were singularly smooth, as though portions of the limestone
had been taken off in large flakes and then at some remote period
polished by the action of the sea.

"There is a door here," said the doctor; "an iron door, too."

The listeners stood breathless as the doctor gave it a smart tap with a
walking-stick which he held in his hand. It was certainly a door. There
was no handle, or fastening, or keyhole visible, however, and the thin
line which showed where the door reached to was fully six feet from the
floor. It shut square upon an angle, so that no upright crack showed on
the front of the wall; and the whole thing was so skilfully contrived
that a very careful search of the place might have been made without its
being discovered. A close examination of the floor showed signs of
traffic, however, and the men eagerly searched around for some means of
opening it.

"What do you think of it?" said Grace to her brother as he stood there
buried in thought.

"I think the mystery thickens," he replied.

An exclamation from Bruce at this moment called their attention to him.
He had been examining the other side, where the door abutted on to the
passage leading to the second cave. Here, about eight inches from the
corner, was a small slit or hole chiselled out of the limestone,
evidently a keyhole, about three feet above which were five dates, one
under the other, lightly scratched upon the surface of the wall. The two
last dates were recent and within a fortnight of each other; the one on
the line above them twelve months earlier; and the other two almost
following each other, but three years before.

Lights were held by the detectives against these scratches upon the
wall, as the party read them with absorbed attention. The figure '5' was
twice repeated; it was made just as Raymond Ballantyne had been used to
making his fives. The same thought was in the three men's minds, that a
portion of the writing might be Raymond Ballantyne's, or an imitation of
it.

"He had been dead for twelve months then," said the doctor, answering
the unspoken question of his companions.

"And look at this date," he said, pointing to the last one; "it is
either a remarkable coincidence, or--no!" he suddenly exclaimed,
pointing to one above it, "that was when poor Dorset came down here, and
this was the date of my descent; the one before it was no doubt when
Raymond Ballantyne met with his death."

"I think that we had better return again," said Beatrice, whose face
looked somewhat pallid, as also did that of Grace. "This place feels
close, and you might prefer to be alone if you intend to break the door
open."

"The door can wait, Miss Ballantyne, if you would like to further
explore the caves and passages," said Bruce; but it was evident that all
were eager to have this important discovery followed up at once, and the
ladies were taken upstairs again. The doctor went with them, for they
were both greatly excited by what had transpired.

"What an awful house this is," said Beatrice, shuddering.

"And yet you wish, if possible, to get to the very bottom of this
mystery?" replied Grace.

"Certainly! At whatever cost. But I could never settle to live here
after this."

"And yet nothing is proved, so far," said the doctor. "But I think we
shall know something more within a few hours. After lunch we propose to
take William and the gardener down with us, and if we cannot pick the
lock of that door, we will burst it open with a crowbar."

After a hasty lunch, the party of men, now five in number, descended
below. The writing was first copied lest any hammering upon the door
might injure it.

"Now bring the keys," said Bruce to William.

It would have been amusing, under other circumstances, to have watched
the eager, expectant faces of the men as the detective manipulated those
keys. Among them were keys of almost all sizes and patterns, and also a
skeleton-key with which Bruce had more than once made himself master of
a difficult lock. But in this case every attempt failed, until, after
nearly an hour of effort and perspiration, and impatience on the part of
the onlookers, Bruce said, "Bring the crowbar, William."

This proved to be an irresistible argument in the hands of the expert
detective, and within a few minutes he had wrenched the heavy door open.

It swung noiselessly back upon well-oiled hinges, revealing only a dark
passage cut out of the solid rock.

"I think that you two had better remain here while the officers and
myself go in and examine this place," said Dr Strong; "if we should want
your assistance we will call."

For a full half-hour after the doctor and detectives had disappeared
down the narrow entrance passage, William and Joe waited.

What it was that occupied the attention of the three, and kept them away
so long, will have to be reserved for another chapter. Sufficient at
present to say, that their faces betokened gratification as well as
perplexity on their return. The detectives had obtained a clue at last,
but not that which they had hoped for.

That night, to the surprise of the servants, a bed was placed in the
ground-floor library of the North Tower. The room had not been slept in
since the arrival of Miss Ballantyne from England, and the women-folk
among the servants were full of curiosity to know why a detective should
sleep there.

The whole household guessed, however, that this step was the result of
something which had been discovered that day. Possibly there was a
secret access to this room from the freshly found passage. But they said
nothing, having been cautioned by the detectives to hold their tongues.




CHAPTER XXVII.--THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER.


"We are impatient to know what was found behind the newly discovered
door," said Beatrice, when she met the doctor afterwards in the
dining-room.

"Only, if very unpleasant, please don't tell us until we have dined,"
interposed Grace.

The doctor smiled, but did not at once speak. It had taken him some time
to rid his hands and person of the dust and grime acquired during the
afternoon's exciting search, and he had only now met the ladies, for the
first time, after the adventures referred to in the previous chapter.

"There is no doubt about our having made a discovery," he answered; "but
you know my rule about the character of conversation suited to the
dinner-table. I think that we had better adjourn it, as an unpleasant
and too exciting topic, until we have satisfied the cravings of hunger.
Dear me! how hot it is; may I open the window. Miss Ballantyne?"

The conversation at this turned very naturally to the weather, for the
day had been one of those hot, dry, stifling days which are rarely
experienced in Sydney.

"There must have been a hot wind blowing," said Grace; "the whole place
is as dry as tinder."

"It's a great bonfire night in England," said Beatrice.

"Ah!" exclaimed the doctor, "I had forgotten the date; it's the fifth
of November."

The idea seemed to jar unpleasantly upon his mind, and although he
attempted to join in the conversation, which now turned upon a
comparison between the month of November in England and in Australia, he
was evidently ill at ease, and preoccupied with his thoughts.

He excused himself somewhat abruptly after dinner, and took a turn with
Seymour, who was to sleep in the tower room; they were evidently
discussing something with much earnestness.

He joined the ladies in the drawing-room, and with very little
introduction plunged into an account of what they had found behind the
secret door.

"It's singular," he said, "that this should be the fifth of November,
for this afternoon we discovered a veritable gunpowder plot below 'The
Towers.'"

"A gunpowder plot?" exclaimed the two ladies in the same breath.

"Yes; found several barrels of blasting powder down there, and some
packages which look suspiciously like explosives. There is an iron chest
there, too, which we tried hard to open, but we had to give it up until
Detective Bruce brings a man and locksmiths' tools with him to-morrow
from Sydney. We expect, then, to find valuable information and
evidence."

"But," said Beatrice, in evident alarm, "suppose the house should be
blown up to-night? Do you think it is safe to remain here?"

"I have thought the whole matter over carefully," replied the doctor,
"and discussed it with Seymour, and it seems to us that there is
absolutely no cause for alarm. The passage we discovered connects with
the ground-floor room in the North Tower, where we found a door
cunningly contrived at the side of the fireplace, and so situated as
almost to defy discovery, unless someone had taken the trouble to
measure the thickness of the wall. However, Detective Seymour will sleep
to-night in that room, so that it will be impossible for anyone to get
access below, as I shall watch the front room myself. I did think of
suggesting that you should not stay here to-night; but, really, we run
no more risk, indeed less, to-night than we have for months past. It
must be borne in mind, too, that anyone getting access below, with the
intention of destroying the place, would themselves be destroyed."

"Let us have some music, John," said Grace abruptly, "and try to forget
unpleasant subjects for a while; it is evident that we cannot leave 'The
Towers' to-night. I have no doubt it will be all right, only the thought
of what may be below is certainly not pleasant. We may be thankful that,
like the original Gunpowder Plot, this one has also been discovered."

The ladies played and sang, but soon gave it up, and the conversation
recurred again to the topic which was uppermost in their minds.

The doctor was uncommonly restless; he would occasionally make a tour of
the north end of the mansion, which was brilliantly lit with lamps and
candelabra. The repose of the whole place reassured him, however, and he
would look out to see that Detective Seymour's light was burning in the
North Tower room. So, satisfied, he would return again to his sister and
Beatrice in the drawing-room, and make some excuse for having left them.
They all felt it to be a very good thing that the matter had been kept
secret from the servants.

It was past ten o'clock, but there was no thought of retiring to rest.
The trial was to commence during the ensuing week, and they were
discussing the probable effect of the new discovery upon the evidence,
and the fate of the prisoners, when Grace interjected:

"They must have intended to blow the whole place up and destroy any
evidence below." The words had scarcely escaped her lips when a voice
was heard in the entrance hall calling loudly for the doctor.

"What is it?" he cried, hurrying out, closely followed by the ladies.

"Doctor," said Seymour, for he it was, "some devil has fired the gully;
the trees are already alight, and the wind is blowing dead on to the
house."

"Grace, call up the servants, and send the men down to us at once,"
exclaimed Dr Strong. He hurried out into the conservatory, where
fire-buckets, filled with water, always stood in readiness, and, seizing
one in each hand, hurried on to the terrace overlooking the valley,
closely followed by the detective with other buckets, and Beatrice, who
in her excitement followed them.

The thickly timbered hill-side below them was already a mass of flames.

The rapidity with which the fire had travelled seemed almost incredible
to the beholders, and for a moment the men stood spell-bound by the
suddenness and magnitude of the threatened disaster.

"If this is a move of the other side," said Seymour grimly, "they take
big risks. I have been wondering who can have done it. I'll slip up to
the summit of the tower and see if I can make out anyone in the clear
space beyond the timber."

In the meantime, the doctor, who was now joined by the menservants,
hurried down among the trees to see what might be done to fight the
flames. They had pulled up some green bushes with which, if possible, to
beat them out; but it was soon evident to them that any attempt to
combat the fire by these means was hopeless. The whole surface of the
ground was carpeted with a thick layer of pine and fir needles, which,
under the hot wind, burnt with the heat of a furnace, while the flames
leaped among the boughs of the resinous trees in sheets of fire. It was
impossible for a human being to withstand the fierceness of the heat in
any close proximity, and the doctor and servants hurriedly retraced
their steps to the terrace.

They were protected here for the moment by the thick masses of trees
which covered the ground below them, although everyone knew that in a
few minutes that very barrier would be turned into a seething mass of
lurid flames.

As Seymour descended from the tower and joined the congregated
household, now gathered on the terrace, the scene was such as might
never be forgotten. Hundreds of terrified birds, which had found a
nightly lodgment in the branches of the trees, flew blindly about,
uttering cries of distress. The sharp explosions among the blazing
timber, peculiar to a burning pine forest, sounded like the rattle of
miniature artillery, above which, however, was heard the perpetual roar
of the ocean against the rocks.

"Let Lucy and the other women help you to secure your valuables," said
the doctor to Beatrice and Grace; "and be prepared for the worst. They
are about falling some of the trees nearest the house, but I am afraid
that when it gets higher up the hill, the force of the wind will
increase its violence, and cause it to spread far more quickly. The only
hope for 'The Towers' is for the wind to change to the south--but that
is not very likely."

Only a few minutes had as yet transpired since the discovery of the
fire, but its progress had been such that its origin was seen to have
been no accident, for the trees were on fire all along the creek, which
could not have been the case had the fire originated in one place alone.

The axes were not so sharp as they might have been, and it was soon
evident that very little could be done to stop the progress of the
conflagration by falling the timber, so an effort was made to protect
the northern end of the mansion by dashing water about and placing wet
blankets over some of the exposed woodwork; but by this time there were
literally hundreds of trees blazing, and the fire having reached to
higher ground, the strong wind fanned it to an almost white heat.

In what seemed to the beholders less than a minute, it seized hold of a
branching avenue of pines which led up to the main avenue and to the
whole surrounding hill-side. Probably such a thing was never seen
before. Those who looked at it stood aghast; for, like some exhibition
of a set piece of fireworks, the flames travelled almost instantaneously
from avenue to avenue until fully half a dozen acres of great fir and
pine trees, by which 'The Towers' were surrounded, shot out in one
encircling mass of flame.

From the adjoining village of Storm-Cliff, fire-bells were now ringing,
and little knots of people hurried down to see the work of destruction,
or render what assistance they might. But both the doctor and the
detective knew that all hope of saving 'The Towers' must be abandoned.

"There is no chance," said the latter to the doctor, as a tongue of
flame shot up from the stables. "The place will burn like a box of
matches surrounded by this awful heat."

"But how far down will it go?" asked Grace, who stood near them.

The men started as they turned round and faced the speaker; in their
excitement they had forgotten the explosives buried beneath the place.

"Heaven only knows!" exclaimed the doctor. "I never knew such a thing;
the whole place is simply belted with a huge bonfire. The sooner we are
all out of the house the better, and the one only possible way of escape
now is in the direction of the sea."

"William," he called out to the coachman, "don't stop to try and save
anything more; tell everyone to get clear of the place at once if they
love their lives."

It was only with difficulty that the last of the occupants made their
way through the burning timber towards the seacoast. In that direction
many of the trees had been thinned away so as to afford glimpses of the
ocean; but as they hurried along, their steps were hastened by the crash
of falling timber, and the sparks from the burning branches overhead.

At a very short distance on the seaward side, the timber ceased to grow,
and there in safety they turned to view the roaring conflagration on the
hill above them.

It was very little that Beatrice had saved, as she stood leaning upon
the doctor's arm. "Do you think the place will blow up?" she asked,
trembling.

"I fear so," replied the doctor; "but let us cross the flat and go round
by the beach, and get to Storm-Cliff by the high road south of the
cemetery; we shall then be able to look down upon the place at a
distance, and mark the extent of the damage. We might get a conveyance
up there to take you to 'Steynbridge Cottage.'"

"I can walk," replied Beatrice; "perhaps Grace and myself had better go
on and leave you to direct the people."

"There is no need," said Dr Strong; "Seymour is with the men, and there
are plenty of them to look after the few things which have been saved.
Take my other arm, Grace, and let us get over as quickly as possible. If
the place is to blow up, I should like to see it from the higher
ground."

They passed on, meeting occasionally with groups of spectators who
watched the conflagration from a distance, knowing that any attempt at
assistance could be of no avail.

"One of the most remarkable scenes I ever witnessed," they heard one man
say to another as they passed a little group.

They were still pushing on to higher ground, when a rumbling sound above
the roaring of the fire was heard, and then a crash; and turning round
they saw, by the lurid light of the burning timber, the whole of the
stonework of the northern portion of the building, which was now a mass
of flame, tottering, as the result of a great explosion.

"It has worked out as they wanted it to," said the doctor bitterly; "but
if I mistake not, even the destruction of 'The Towers' will scarcely
obliterate the evidences of their crime."




CHAPTER XXVIII.--THE DAY OF TRIAL.


Time, which waits for no man, at last brought around the day of trial,
and seldom had the Sydney law courts witnessed a more crowded or excited
scene. Tickets for admission had been issued in view of the throngs of
people who were determined, if possible, to be present.

As is usual on such occasions when the community has been carried away
by a sensation or a craze, the published facts of the case had been very
much exaggerated. Mrs Dalbert's picture had got into the papers, and her
beauty and irresistible charm had been wonderfully expatiated upon. Of
Owen Skinner very little had been gleaned by the most ubiquitous
reporter. Except to his legal advisers he was doggedly silent.

But it was the burning of 'Storm-Cliff Towers' that had specially
aroused the interest of the general public. The story of the secret mine
of explosives, and the final catastrophe when the fire reached the
gunpowder, had been graphically told in the Press. Hundreds had
travelled out to see the ruins, and, in truth, a more complete and
terrible overthrow of a fine old family mansion it would be hard to
imagine. The fierce conflagration had licked up all before it.

Of the grand old trees, the great gates, the fences, summerhouses, and
other adornments of the grounds, little remained but a few charred and
blackened stumps. A large fountain of stonework, more apart from the
trees, had escaped; but the paint and plaster on the upper portion of it
was scarred and blistered by the heat. The mansion itself was a heap of
blackened ruins, for after the fire, the explosion completed the work of
destruction.

Immediately the fire was over and the ruins sufficiently cool for men to
work among them, an effort had been made to excavate below the north end
to obtain, if possible, some further evidence for the prosecution. But
the explosion had done its work effectively. The whole of the cave and
chamber below the haunted bedroom had been completely shattered, and
they had searched for the great chest, so far, in vain.

Not that the quest had been given up, for at the very time the crowds
were besieging the court-house to gain admission, a party of men on
double wages, and with the prospect of a large reward if successful,
were searching for any evidence which might strengthen the case for the
Crown.

"Order in court," called out an official as the clock hand approached
the hour of ten, and the clerk entered to call over the names of those
who had been summoned to attend as jurors.

Immediately afterward the Judge and his associate entered and occupied
the dais of justice, above which was the canopy and royal coat-of-arms.

To those accustomed to such scenes it was noticeable that there was far
less of the solemnity which usually attaches to a trial upon a capital
charge than is usual. The mystery of 'Storm-Cliff Towers' had assumed
such a complicated aspect that the fact of two lives being at stake
seemed to be lost sight of. The question with the public was "What is
the solution of the mystery?"

That there would be some very sensational evidence was taken for
granted, for it had leaked out that the prosecution was confident of
gaining a verdict, so strong was their case.

However, Barrister Horatio Jones, Q.C., and Barrister Broughton, who had
been retained by Smooth & Stout for the defence, entered the court and
took their places at the table with a very confident air, and nodded
across to the learned Crown Prosecutor and Barrister Savage with much
cordiality. The senior of the firm of solicitors was also in attendance,
and immediately after the entrance of the Judge he held a whispered
consultation with the accused, who were already in the dock.

Mrs Dalbert was richly but tastefully dressed, and after the first shock
had passed, looked around the court with a curious, half-defiant air.
Her face was both graver and whiter than usual, and evidenced anxiety,
if not for herself, for her companion. She was looking around the court
for Beatrice and Grace, but neither were there, as both had been
summoned as witnesses, and waited in an ante-room until their names were
called.

Skinner was well dressed, and his not unpleasing face was commented upon
favourably rather than otherwise. No one expected that the female
prisoner would be convicted, whatever the evidence might be; she could
not, it was thought, have taken any part in the actual murders--in fact,
the lady had already received two proposals of marriage from ardent but
unknown admirers, who were prepared to take her to their hearts and
change her name on the first available moment after her release.

Preliminary matters being over, the names of the jurors were called. The
first that responded was a stout, red-faced man who might have been
either a publican or a cattle-dealer. He looked severely at the
prisoners as he passed the dock, hoping to frighten them into
challenging him. He was dressed in homely tweeds, and carried in his
hand a soft felt hat; he took his place and the oath unchallenged.

The next man was related to a resident of Storm-Cliff village, and was
promptly challenged by the Crown on a sign from Detective Bruce, who,
with Seymour, was carefully watching the proceedings.

The next juror that responded to his name wore a silk hat and frock
coat, and evidently belonged to the upper strata of society.

"Challenged!"

The objection this time was from the defence.

"Good!" exclaimed a city man to another juror (both of whom were anxious
to get off), "I have never known it to fail."

"What's that?" asked his friend.

"A silk hat and a frock coat in a criminal trial; you'll see now, every
extra well-dressed man will be challenged by the prisoners."

Such actually proved to be the case; not a single man who could by any
means be denominated 'a swell' was allowed to take his place
unchallenged. They evidently preferred to be tried by a jury who would
have no special predilection in favour of position or wealth.

After the jury had been duly empanelled, the leading counsel for the
defence requested that the female prisoner, against whom he said the
evidence was very slight indeed, might be accommodated with a chair
outside the dock. It would be more convenient, he said, for
consultation, and he had every expectation that before the case had
proceeded far she would be discharged. The Judge consulted for a moment
or two with his associate, and then, in a quiet voice, firmly refused
the request.

The barrister at this looked with an injured air across to the jury, as
much as to say, "See, gentlemen, how we are treated, and at what a
disadvantage the case for the defence is being conducted."

It was really to secure this effect, if possible, that he had made the
request, and he sat down, hoping that the jury had been duly biased in
his client's favour thereby.

Mrs Dalbert was evidently quite equal to the occasion, for on the
Judge's refusal, she placed her handkerchief before her eyes for a
moment as though to hide her sense of humiliation and disappointment at
the denial of her counsel's request.

It certainly did her no harm with the jury, for they were only human
after all, as both judges and advocates well know, and a beautiful woman
(who may be an innocent woman) sitting inside the grim, ugly spikes of a
dock usually arouses a certain amount of sympathy in a jury; especially
if they can believe that she feels her position so keenly that she
weeps, while, indignant at the wrong done to her, she seeks to hide her
tears.

However, after some slight additional delay, the Crown Prosecutor stood
up to open the case, at which the crowded court-house settled down to
listen, for it was a case of difficulty and importance he had in hand.

The learned counsel was a tall, thin man with a long face, high
forehead, and sharp features. His eyes, which seemed somewhat too large
for his face, were kept partially closed, as though he was reading
something internally; but when aroused they fairly blazed upon a hostile
witness or stupid jury.

He opened the case with a brief account of the supposed death of Raymond
Ballantyne by suicide. At the time it had been thought strange that no
trace of the body could be discovered, but failing any proof of murder,
it was supposed that death had resulted as affirmed, and that the body
had been devoured by sharks or had drifted out to sea. The male prisoner
had been one of the witnesses at the inquest, and had there sworn to
having followed Raymond Ballantyne from 'The Towers,' and seen him throw
himself from the rocks. But it was evident now that this had not been
the case, and that he had perjured himself at the inquest; for the body
of the deceased had been actually found many months after this
disappearance, in a state of wonderful preservation, in a cave or room
under the northern end of 'Storm-Cliff Towers.' He would prove that
although Miss Beatrice Ballantyne was the heiress of her uncle, both the
male and female prisoners were largely benefited by Raymond Ballantyne's
death; that in fact a large treasure in money and other valuables had
been concealed beneath 'The Towers' during the lifetime of its former
owner, and that both Owen Skinner and Meta Dalbert, who were distant
relatives of the deceased, were fully aware of both the existence of the
treasure and the presence of the body.

There had, no doubt, been a remarkably skilful plot, which aimed not
only at the death of the late owner of 'The Towers,' which had been
accomplished, but which also aimed at wresting the whole property from
the rightful heiress by a forged will. The latter part of the scheme
had, however, been frustrated by the prompt manner in which Miss
Ballantyne had taken possession of the property, and other events which
had transpired in consequence. He would also show that a second murder
had been committed in order to cover up, if possible, the evidence of
the first, and that a third one had been attempted with the most callous
disregard of the sacredness of human life.

He must ask them to go back in thought for a number of years. The
murdered man was a younger brother of one of the early pioneers of the
Colony, who had acquired land in the city of Sydney in the early days,
and as a successful merchant had made a considerable fortune. Family
troubles and the death of his wife made Raymond Ballantyne a reserved
and somewhat retiring man. He had inherited 'Storm-Cliff Towers''
property prior to the death of his wife, and rebuilt a portion of it,
and was no doubt acquainted with the fact that there was a cave below
the north end of the house, and a means of access to it from the tower
room on the ground floor, which had been used by him as a library. He
lived a secluded life at 'The Towers' after the death of Mrs Ballantyne,
his relatives, Owen Skinner and Meta Dalbert, being practically his only
companions, except the servants of the household. He would prove that he
was a secretive man, fond of hoarding money about his rooms and person,
and these idiosyncrasies were well known to the prisoners.

He seemed, about this time, to have acquired the morphia habit, and
would pass his time for hours together seated asleep in an easy-chair.
With the avowed intention of shaking himself free of this habit, he had,
about four years ago, made a lengthy trip to Europe and the East. It was
known when he left Australia that it was unlikely that he would return
for years. He had wealth and leisure, and, accompanied by a confidential
manservant, proposed to visit the scenes of his childhood in England and
Scotland, and make an extensive tour through India, where his cousin,
the female prisoner, Meta Dalbert, then resided, having recently become
a widow.

It should be noted that during this time the affairs of the deceased
were left in the hands of the male prisoner and his solicitors, Messrs
Bluntly, Blackham & Dorset. It was evidently now that the scheme for the
murder of the deceased, on his return to Australia, was thought out and
perfected.

"I shall prove," said the learned counsel, as he warmed to the subject,
"that it was known to both the deceased and the prisoner that in the
limestone formation were caves and passages, but I shall also prove that
at this time the only access to them was by a narrow secret staircase
from the library. The trap-door or lift from the bedroom was constructed
during the absence of Raymond Ballantyne in Europe, and without his
knowledge. It seems to have come about in this way: when in Venice the
deceased had his attention called to some very fine specimens of carved
marble and terra-cotta mantelpieces, one of which he purchased and
forwarded to the male prisoner with instructions to have it fitted up in
his own favourite sleeping apartment. The large square of inlaid
tile-work was a part of the design, and it seems to have been this which
suggested to the prisoner the construction of a secret lift, such as
have been known to exist in great houses and palaces in Russia and other
countries.

"A desire to possess Raymond Ballantyne's hoarded wealth and become
master of 'The Towers'' property had evidently fully taken possession of
the prisoner's mind; but he shrank from a violent murder by mere brute
force, and formulated an elaborate plan by which he would have the
machinery at his command for carrying out any number of murders without
personal violence.

"I shall prove to you that the prisoner is himself a skilled mechanic,
and that with the assistance of two Italian workmen, who were brought
out to erect the fireplace, the whole of this accursed murder trap was
completed. I may say here in passing, that there is no evidence
discoverable that these two foreign workmen ever left the Colony, or
indeed 'Storm-Cliff Towers'--indeed two mysterious dates were found
scratched upon the wall of the underground chamber, which, being
followed by the dates of other murders, suggest that these unfortunate
foreigners, having completed their work, met with an untimely end."

At this the learned senior counsel for the defence called the attention
of his Honour to the fact that the prisoners were being tried for the
murder of Raymond Ballantyne only.

Scarcely heeding the interruption, the Crown Prosecutor continued:

"It may be asked how this trap or lift could form part of a plan to
murder; let me explain that among intimates the deceased was often
referred to as 'Raymond the Sleeper' on account of a singular propensity
he had of falling asleep at unexpected and unseasonable times. In winter
weather it was a common thing for him to sit in a favourite chair before
a fire for hours when asleep. Unfortunately, gentlemen of the jury, the
ingenious and expensive and cleverly constructed mechanism to which I
refer has been cunningly destroyed, so that it is impossible for you to
inspect it as I intended that you should have done. In fact, the
diabolical cunning shown in this fearful crime reveals the possession of
exceptional ability on the part of those who have planned and carried it
out. The purpose of the lift was to remove the deceased, while asleep in
a chair before the fire, to the subterranean apartment, and there
suffocate him. The whole scene of the murder will readily present itself
to your minds.

"The deceased had returned but a comparatively short time to Sydney, and
taken up, in company with his cousin, Mrs Dalbert, his abode at
'Storm-Cliff Towers,' when he suddenly disappears from society, and is
reported by the male prisoner to have committed suicide.

"The actual fact has, however, at last come to light, for instead of a
suicide, it is now proved to have been a ghastly murder. On that fatal
night the murdered man, supposing himself to have been surrounded only
by a trusty and friendly household, sat in front of the fire dozing in
his chair, when the treacherous lift descended, and chloroform, or some
other powerful drug, was administered; and in the darkness of that
fearful dungeon he was left to die. The very date of the crime was
inscribed upon the wall by the callous-hearted murderer.

"At the inquiry which followed, the evidence of the male prisoner was
given with much circumstantial sequence, and the wonder is how any man
could have thus calmly perjured himself, knowing that corpse, at the
very time, to be beneath 'The Towers.' But that which followed seemed on
the face of it more remarkable. With ample means available to get rid of
the evidence of a crime, the corpse was embalmed and left there to
testify to the falsity of the evidence of Owen Skinner at the inquiry.

"It is natural for us to ask: 'Why was the body thus preserved?' It
seemed the act of a madman to perpetuate evidence which might at any
moment rise up in judgment against him and consign him to the scaffold.
The connection of the female prisoner with the crime, however, solves
the mystery. I shall prove that while Owen Skinner wished to marry Meta
Dalbert, she was violently averse to the union, so the corpse of the
murdered man was actually kept by the male prisoner, ready for
production at a moment's notice, to in some way prove the participation
of the female prisoner in the murder. It was seemingly the one threat by
which he was able to maintain the mastery, and mould the female prisoner
to his will.

"The examination of the papers of the deceased has furnished further
important evidence. A will has been discovered in the handwriting of the
deceased, by which the whole of his real and personal estate was
bequeathed to the female prisoner; the date is subsequent to that of the
will under which the present proprietor holds possession, but the
document is unsigned.

"I shall not at this stage attempt to open up the argument suggested by
the existence of this document. It is impossible to believe the
prisoners ignorant of its existence. They who would commit a greater
crime would not hesitate to perpetrate a lesser one. Forgery is a light
thing by the side of murder, and the numerous visits which were paid by
both the prisoners to the late Septimus Dorset's office showed that the
unsigned will was sought for, that the name which would have made it
valid might have been added in some way by the prisoners.

"It seems that the late Raymond Ballantyne had a liking for legal
documents of his own drawing up, and on different occasions several draft
wills were drawn by him to submit to his lawyers. It is probable that,
but for the existence of this unsigned will, the late legal adviser of
Miss Ballantyne and her uncle might never have met with his death in the
darkness beneath 'Storm-Cliff Towers.' He was in the way of the
successful carrying out of a deep-laid plot by which the male prisoner
intended to make himself master of the inheritance."

At this point Barrister Horatio Jones sprang to his feet.

"I object, your Honour," he exclaimed, addressing the Judge with some
warmth. "My learned friend is asserting far too much when he asserts that
Septimus Dorset is dead, and that it was that gentleman's body which was
produced at the inquest. I absolutely deny that this has been proved.
They have not dared to introduce the name of the lawyer into the
indictment, because in the decomposed state in which the corpse was
found it was impossible to absolutely identify it as that of Septimus
Dorset. Far too much, sometimes, is taken for granted by coroners.
Without doubt Septimus Dorset disappeared from an apartment in
'Storm-Cliff Towers' under suspicious circumstances, but it was never
proved to my satisfaction that it was that gentleman's body which was
discovered in the caves below the north end of 'The Towers.' Let me
remind my learned friend that it is very unsafe, especially in law, to
judge by appearances. I assert that it is absolutely untrue that
Septimus Dorset is dead, and it is quite within the range of possibility
that we may produce him in court as a witness for the defence before
this trial is concluded."

The sensation caused by this speech was tremendous; even the Crown
Prosecutor was somewhat staggered thereby. The Judge looked over in his
direction, as though waiting for a rejoinder; but the learned counsel
evidently found it safer to ignore the interruption, and hitching up his
silk gown, rose to his feet and continued as follows:

"We now come upon a new and most mysterious element in connection with
the tragedy. The female prisoner had lived for many years in India, and
seemingly had become to some extent versed in the mysterious beliefs of
the East. Cropping up here and there in the history of this crime, is a
cat's-eye ring, which, it is clear, all the parties referred to believed
to possess some remarkable occult influence. The deceased, in a
memorandum found among his papers, warned the heiress to beware of any
person she met with about 'Storm-Cliff Towers' who wore this cat's-eye
ring.

"I shall prove, in the witness-box, that this ring has been seen upon
the hand of the deceased, and also on the fingers of both the male and
female prisoners. It has been discovered in the possession of the female
prisoner, and will at the proper time be produced in court.

"However, notwithstanding all the skill and cunning of the prisoners,
their clever plans miscarried; the will, which they no doubt intended
should be discovered after the death of the deceased at 'The Towers,'
had been somehow removed with other papers, and, unsigned, had been
lodged for safe keeping with his solicitors. The real will placed Miss
Ballantyne in possession earlier than the conspirators had expected, so
it seems a plan was devised by them to terrify the inmates of 'The
Towers' by the occasional appearance of the dead man's corpse in the
chamber supposed to be haunted. It was a desperate and very hazardous
device, and has really proved to be the means of the unearthing of this
crime. Through the personal bravery of a medical man, who I shall call
as a witness, it was found that the supposed supernatural appearance in
the north chamber was a hoax. In solving the mystery the doctor nearly
lost his life; but the result has been the present trial.

"It is another illustration of how the most clever and deeply laid
attempts of villainy are again and again frustrated by an overruling
power; although the present case is the more remarkable, inasmuch as
almost superhuman efforts were made to cover up the track and blind the
criminal's trail. So far it is feared that the very spot where the
murder was committed has been destroyed by explosives beyond all
recognition. The masterly cunning and the singular precautions taken to
obliterate the evidence will not, however, cause justice in this case to
miscarry. The prisoners are surrounded by a network of evidence that
links them both with this crime, which we shall proceed to prove by a
number of unimpeachable witnesses. I will now call the first witness,
George Beecham."




CHAPTER XXIX.--THE CASE FOR THE CROWN.


On being sworn, George Beecham gave evidence substantiating the general
result of the inquiry on the supposed suicide of the deceased. He
identified the male prisoner, who had made himself very prominent in the
matter of the supposed suicide of the deceased, and at the time was
reputed to be interested personally in the late Raymond Ballantyne's
will.

The defence allowed this witness to pass out of the box without
cross-examination.

At this stage a number of documents were put in as exhibits, among which
was the unsigned will, said to be in the handwriting of the deceased.

"May I ask your Honour," said Barrister Jones, Q.C., "what this document
has to do with my clients? Before it can be admitted as evidence it must
certainly be in some way proved to have some connection with one, or
both of them, personally. For any proof to the contrary, my clients may
be totally ignorant of the very existence of these documents, and in
justice to them I object to their being admitted."

Considerable argument followed between counsel, and the Judge finally
ordered them to be placed on one side, giving the prosecution the
privilege of tendering them again at a later stage of the trial.

Detective Bruce was the next witness called. He entered the box and took
the oath with the respectful, business-like demeanour common to
police-officers. He deposed to having conducted an unsuccessful search
for the body of the deceased after his supposed suicide, and having
afterward been called into the case on the disappearance of Septimus
Dorset. He handed in a carefully prepared plan of 'The Towers,' showing
the underground caves and passages which the police had discovered, the
position of the subterranean blow-hole, etc.

There was some dispute as to whether this should be admitted as
evidence, as it was shown that some portions were marked in red to give
the position of places and events not within his own personal knowledge;
and, pending the substantiating evidence of Detective Seymour and Dr
Strong, it was withheld from the jury.

The evidence of this witness was mostly technical, and it was remarked
among professional men present, that, with the exception of the evidence
given concerning the behaviour and remarks of Skinner when arrested, he
had not so far been positively connected by evidence with the crime.

Barrister Jones arose with dignity, and having adjusted his gown with
great deliberation, proceeded to cross-examine the officer. It may be
said that a barrister rarely oversteps the most rigid professional
etiquette when examining a police-officer in the witness-box. The
credibility of other witnesses may be called in question, but not that
of an officer, without very serious cause. Thus it was that each felt it
was a question of parry and thrust as to the actual evidence.

"You say that you found the male prisoner at work in his garden when you
called to arrest him. Did he offer any resistance, or make any attempt
at escape?"

"No."

"Did he not at once deny any knowledge of a subterranean vault or
chamber under the northern portion of the mansion?"

"Yes, but he revealed the fact of his personal knowledge of the vault
and caves by offering to show me a way to save Detective Seymour's life
if I would bargain to give him three hours' immunity from arrest or
pursuit."

"Was there any witness to this alleged statement of the male
prisoner's?"

"No."

"Had you before this cautioned him that anything he said might be used
against him in case he was put upon his trial?"

"No."

"Did you regard his proposal as an admission of guilt?"

"Certainly."

"In what way, pray?"

"He offered to show me how to save Seymour's life, therefore he must
have known all about the subterranean vault and passages."

"Supposing that we grant that he knew of the subterranean chamber, how
does it prove any guilty knowledge of this alleged murder?" asked the
barrister.

"How could he otherwise have known anything about the disappearance of
Detective Seymour?" retorted the detective.

"But Seymour did not see him down there, and cannot in any way identify
him personally with the underground chamber.

"I submit, your Honour," he said, turning to the Judge. "The prosecution
cannot bring this in as evidence. The alleged statement is allowed by
the witness to have been made before he cautioned the prisoner, and,
further, it is stated to have been made when the life of the prisoner
was threatened by a revolver. It is impossible that such a statement can
be admitted as evidence against the prisoner, and I must ask your Honour
to direct the jury accordingly."

This was done, the Judge strengthening the position of the defence by
eliciting the fact that when charged before Detective Seymour with
having made this admission, the prisoner stoutly denied having said
anything of the sort.

The learned counsel for the defence sat down with evident satisfaction.
He had managed so far to keep out of the case a very awkward piece of
evidence, and, moreover, he had done it without in any way showing his
hand to the other side.

Dr Strong was called as a witness, much to his sister's relief, before
Beatrice. Grace wanted the doctor to be present in the court while her
friend gave evidence, for she feared that the strain might be too much
for her.

On being sworn, Dr Strong made a statement, at the request of the Crown
Prosecutor, which covered the whole history of his knowledge of matters
from the time of the return of the deceased from his European tour.
Barrister Jones, Q.C., watched him with close interest, for he regarded
the doctor as the most difficult witness he had to deal with, and he was
preparing himself for a very severe cross-examination. Mr Smooth, of the
firm of solicitors acting for the defence, also sat at the table, and
Barrister Broughton took voluminous notes of the doctor's evidence.
Aided by the occasional questions of the Crown Prosecutor, the doctor
gave a very clear, full, but terse account of the whole affair, so far
as it had come within the range of his observation and personal
knowledge. It came out that he had once attended Skinner in his
professional capacity, and had kept a pretty close eye upon him for
years.

"We don't want your opinions, Dr Strong," interjected Barrister Jones,
"but your facts."

He had just before objected to the recital by the doctor of old Sarah's
story about her having seen Skinner come up from below 'The Towers'
carrying bags of earth, which had resulted in the exclusion of that part
of the evidence as mere hearsay. His account of the visit of the Rev.
Christopher Broadford to 'The Towers' was listened to with great
attention by the crowded court, but when he vividly described his own
midnight adventure in the haunted chamber the excitement was intense.

"You say that the revolver was wrenched from your hand?" queried the
Crown Prosecutor. "Was the action accompanied by violence?"

"Yes; I was immediately struck a heavy blow."

"With the revolver?"

"No, it was more like a fist."

"Then," said the counsel, "it was not a woman, the female prisoner for
instance, that struck you?"

"I did not see my assailant; but it could not, I think, have been a
woman."

Other evidence followed, and at last the Crown Prosecutor sat down and
made way for the opposing Q.C. to cross-examine the witness.

"Will you swear that it was not a woman that struck you and snatched the
revolver from you during the encounter on that lift below 'The Towers''
chamber?"

The doctor hesitated a moment, and then said, "No, I will not swear that
it was not a woman."

"My client, Mrs Dalbert, is proved, you say, to have knowledge of this
secret means of access to 'The Towers.' Will you swear that it was Mrs
Dalbert who assaulted you?"

"I will not," replied the doctor, who now saw the drift of the
barrister's cross-examination.

"Your sister and Miss Ballantyne are friends?" said the counsel,
breaking new ground.

"Yes," replied the witness quietly.

"You claim friendship yourself with Miss Ballantyne?"

"Yes."

"Is Miss Ballantyne's possession of this property likely to advantage
you or your sister in any way?"

"Not that I am aware of," said the doctor with dignity.

"You have lived in the house?"

"I was Miss Ballantyne's medical adviser, and met with a serious
accident in the house, and was nursed by my sister at 'The Towers' until
recovery."

"Don't lose your temper, Dr Strong. You are here to answer any proper
questions that are put to you. I asked you whether you had lived in the
house, and wish you to answer 'Yes' or 'No.'"

"Yes," replied the doctor, restraining himself with an effort; for it
was evident that the other side was treating him as a hostile witness.

"Have you ever had any unpleasantness in any way with Mr Skinner during
your residence at Storm-Cliff?"

"No, certainly not; I attended him on one occasion during a slight
illness."

"He paid your fee all right?"

"Certainly he did."

"Prior to this affair, did you not regard him as a straight-going,
honest man?"

"Yes."

"Do you think that sufficient evidence will be forthcoming to convict
him of this crime?"

"No; but----"

"That is quite sufficient, doctor," said the counsel, interrupting him;
"you have given your evidence with excellent judgment and
straightforwardness." At this Barrister Jones, Q.C., sat down.

"Wait a moment or two," said the Crown Prosecutor, as Dr Strong was
about to leave the witness-box.

The learned counsel conferred for a moment with his junior before
addressing the doctor. He was seeking for information upon a particular
point of evidence.

"Can you give the exact date of the night referred to?"

"It was Tuesday evening, the first of August," replied the doctor.

"Thank you, that is quite sufficient," he said, looking across with a
smile at his opponent barristers. "Call Mabel Scott."

After the usual preliminary questions, the Crown Prosecutor asked the
girl, who had commenced to cry on seeing her mistress in the felon's
dock, whether she remembered Tuesday, the first day of August, on which
she replied in the affirmative.

"Where were you on that evening?"

"At the Theatre Royal with my mistress, Mrs Dalbert," replied the girl.

"You will see then, gentlemen," said the barrister, turning to the jury,
"it is impossible that the female prisoner could have been in two places
at one time on that night."

After a few more questions had been put to this witness, she was allowed
to leave the box, the learned Barrister Jones judiciously deciding to
leave her alone.

"Beatrice Ballantyne," was next called.

The doctor had suggested to Beatrice that she should only reply to
questions, and not proffer any information unasked, which advice she,
very wisely for her own comfort, strictly adhered to.

The prosecution attached great importance to the evidence of the
mistress of 'The Towers,' and the Crown Prosecutor showed some slight
impatience at her evident unwillingness to say more than was absolutely
necessary. He, however, skilfully led her up to the incident in the
haunted chamber, when, in company with Grace Strong, she saw the lift
descend and immediately return with Mrs Dalbert and the inanimate body
of Dr Strong.

"You swear that you heard a man's voice speaking to the female prisoner.
What were the first words you heard said?"

"'You take a tremendous risk, Meta, to do this in broad daylight.'"

"What was the reply of the female prisoner?"

"'If you are afraid, I'll go up with him alone. He will be dead in
another hour or two unless he has proper assistance.'"

"Did you hear any further conversation between the two voices?"

"Yes," replied Beatrice, who then repeated all that was said, as already
recorded.

"Was anyone with you to corroborate your evidence?"

"Miss Strong."

"After this what happened?"

Beatrice described the appearance of Mrs Dalbert, and repeated as nearly
as possible what she had said to them.

"Do you recognise that person in the court?"

Beatrice bowed.

"Do you swear that the female prisoner is the person you then saw, and
who then spoke as you have described?"

"Yes," replied Beatrice.

"Would you recognise the voice of the man which you heard that afternoon
if you again heard the words spoken by him?"

"I do not think that I could swear to the voice."

Skinner was now asked to read the words attributed to him, as written by
the counsel on a piece of paper. He did so without hesitation, in a
full, clear voice, heard distinctly through the court.

"I cannot swear that that was the voice," said Beatrice.

There was one thing, however, which she might perhaps have sworn to, but
the clever counsel had not the information which would have led him to
put the question. Beatrice looked across to the dock after Skinner had
done reading. The four fingers of the prisoner's left hand rested upon
the ledge of the dock.

She started as she saw them, for they seemed to her exactly the same as
those she had seen in the firelight when the lift had first descended on
the eventful evening of that day on which she had taken possession of
'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

The counsel for the defence noticed the involuntary gesture, and it was
on the tip of his tongue to ask her what it was that had caused her to
start, but a second thought restrained him. He was experienced enough,
as a barrister, to know that while speech may be silvern in some
cases--and not a few--silence is golden; but he did not know what a
narrow escape he had had of bringing to light evidence which would have
been both damaging to his client and extremely unpleasant for the
witness.

Grace Strong was called, but her evidence threw no further light upon
the matter, and her place in the witness-box was taken by the Rev.
Christopher Broadford.

There was nothing of special interest about the clergyman's evidence
until he arrived at the incident where he had gone up to 'The Towers'
with the intention of informing the detectives that he had just met Mrs
Dalbert going to 'Fernville.' His description of how he then saw the
mummified corpse of the late proprietor of 'The Towers' was told with
much circumstantial detail. It was really of very little importance as
evidence, for the existence of the corpse had been amply proved. The
reverend gentleman was dismissed, and the counsel called for documentary
evidence, by which he hoped to prove how the prisoners had expected to
be benefited by the death of the deceased man.

Up to this point, however, although everything pointed to collusion and
guilt on the part of the prisoners, there was no evidence which could
absolutely prove that any murder had been committed. It was clearly the
aim of the prosecution to prolong the case as much as possible, for
gangs of men were working night and day among the ruins of 'Storm-Cliff
Towers' in the hope that something of importance might be discovered, as
against the prisoners.

The defence knew this, and as far as possible hastened the proceedings
to bring the trial to a close before anything further might be brought
to light. At the close of the evidence for the prosecution, however,
after all the exhibits had been got in, including the famous cat's-eye
ring, the court adjourned until the following day, although Counsel
Jones declared that if his Honour would send it straight to the jury he
would be willing to close his case without calling any rebutting
evidence, and allow the jury to decide the matter upon the evidence
already before them.




CHAPTER XXX.--NOT PROVEN.


Some time before the hour for commencing on the following morning, there
was a stir of excitement among the crowds of people waiting for
admittance into the court-house.

Dame Rumour said that an important discovery had been made among the
ruins of 'Storm-Cliff Towers'; that, in fact, some sensational evidence
had been unearthed.

On the reopening of the court the place was packed, and the keenest
interest was displayed by the excited crowd in the proceedings.

The defence, however, were not greatly concerned at the turn affairs had
taken, for Barrister Jones felt confident of his case, and, as he said
to his junior, "if the chest has been discovered with its contents
uninjured, it is extremely unlikely that a man like Skinner would have
left any incriminating evidence there." He was known to have been a most
cautious man in regard to letters he wrote, and it was little likely
that iron chest would contain much in the shape of evidence. Thus argued
Barrister Jones; but when the Crown Prosecutor bustled in with his brief
bag, looking especially important, the lawyers for the defence watched
him keenly.

The next witness was the detective in charge of the excavation work
going on at 'The Towers.' He deposed that on the previous day at 2.30 in
the afternoon, they had cleared away the debris, and reached that
portion of the underground room where the chest or safe was situated. It
was very much battered by the force of the explosion, but the contents,
which, consisted mostly of papers, were found to be intact.

Among them were a number of important papers belonging to the deceased,
some letters from Mrs Dalbert, and the plans and specifications of the
fireplace and lift constructed in the northern chamber of 'Storm-Cliff
Towers.'

"Do you wish to put these papers in?" asked the Judge.

"No, your Honour, unless you grant us an adjournment to further examine
them," said the Crown Prosecutor.

This his Honour refused to accede to.

"That, then, is our case, your Honour," said the Crown Prosecutor.

Barrister Jones arose at once with dignity, and asked that his clients
might be acquitted by the jury without any more waste of time, or their
leaving the box. But the foreman of the jury intimated that they were by
no means satisfied that the case against the male prisoner had not been
proven, and they would prefer to hear his rebutting evidence in regard
to the male voice which was heard addressing the female prisoner, as
sworn to, both by Miss Ballantyne and Miss Strong. The prisoners, he
suggested, might one or both of them wish to make a statement, or even
submit to cross-examination in the witness-box. It would very much
strengthen the case for the defence if such a course were possible, and
the cross-examination proved satisfactory for the defendants.

This, however, was not at all in accordance with the views of Barrister
Jones; it was for the other side to prove their case, which they had not
done. If either of his clients wished to make a statement he should be
pleased for them to do so, but it was not necessary, as they had both of
them imparted to him all that they knew about the matter, which, if it
were necessary for him to address the jury in defence, he could make use
of.

At this the Judge asked the foreman of the jury whether they wished to
hear counsel for the defence. This gentleman replied, "Certainly, if
there is anything to be said."

At this Barrister Jones at once arose to commence his defence of the
prisoners.

"Your Honour and gentlemen of the jury, I shall call no witnesses, for
there is no evidence to controvert. On the face of things, until you
have heard my explanation of the matter, I confess that the remarkable
incidents of this trial might throw suspicion upon my clients. They were
friends and relatives of the deceased, they lived with him as inmates of
his house for a considerable time in the closest intimacy, and the
circumstances of his death, and the remarkable events which followed,
were preserved by them as a secret which they believed it to be the will
and wish of their friend and relative that they should not disclose. Our
reply to the charges of the prosecution is that Raymond Ballantyne was
suffering from a species of madness, that his death was either by
accident or suicide, and that the whole arrangement of the secret lift
and underground portion of 'The Towers' was as well known to him as it
was to his relatives. Meta Dalbert and Owen Skinner are not proved in
any way to have had either connection with, or knowledge of, the
preservation of the corpse of the deceased."

The argument for the defence was closely continued to its logical
sequence, and it soon became evident to all in court that while guilt on
the part of the prisoners was strongly suggested, it would, with the
evidence to hand, be impossible to secure a conviction. After the Judge
had summed up with great impartiality, the jury were for some hours in
anxious deliberation, but the majority held that although suspicion
gathered thickly enough around the case, murder was not proven. The
final result was that both prisoners were discharged. It was, however,
known to them that the detective department had by no means given up the
search for further evidence, and that there was every possibility of
their being again brought up on a charge of having been the murderers of
Septimus Dorset.

The public were annoyed, as the public usually are when a case of
serious crime fails to reach a satisfactory issue in the law-courts. It
was, no doubt, a most mysterious affair all through, but, said the
intelligent public, it reflected very little credit upon the detective
department and the Crown Law Officers that it was not more thoroughly
sifted to the bottom.

In the meantime many things were unexplained, and seemingly
unexplainable, except by the accused, who judiciously held their peace.




CHAPTER XXXI.--AFTERMATH.


Much which would have interested us concerning prominent persons of this
history, has of necessity been crushed out by the rapid movement of the
events already chronicled.

A great trial, like a great flood, carries all before it. The whole
landscape of one's ordinary life is for the time being submerged.
Business may be urgent, pleasure enthralling, or the individual
personality great, but the majesty of modern law rides roughshod over
everything; business must stand aside, pleasure beckons in vain, and the
eminent person gives his evidence by the side of the common man in a
place where personal distinction, or anything else, counts little to
barristers who are straining every nerve, not to see justice done, but
to win a verdict for their own side.

It is an ideal belief that the goddess of justice is blindfolded.
Certainly she very often does not see what she well might, but at other
times there are rifts in the handkerchief which disclose too much. Let
it be said, however, that so far as Australian judges are concerned,
they are above suspicion, and administer the law with sound learning,
much patience, and undoubted impartiality. It is to be regretted that
there is not equal acumen and probity upon the floor of the court and
more truthfulness in the witness-box.

During the process of affairs at 'The Towers' and the trial, the whole
of the interested parties had, metaphorically, been carried off their
feet, and no one more so than Beatrice, the mistress of the house of
tragedies, who, as the reader knows, had a good deal to conceal in
connection with the disappearance of Septimus Dorset.

Alas! for the witness with a secret to be kept back from long-nosed
lawyers, who scent mischief from afar. Night visions and day-dreams will
not yield much peace of mind until the ordeal is over. Beatrice,
however, had passed through the dreaded cross-examination without her
secret being even suspected, and her relief was great.

How she hated the very memory of the great house which first took shape
in the creative criminal mind of Isaac Shend! How thankful she was that
the place had become a mass of blackened ruins! She would never rebuild
it; had it not proved a death-trap to her lawyer, and nearly destroyed
the brother of her friend! The money loss never occurred to her.

An agent of the insurance company had suggested that she might wish to
build another mansion on the old site; but she laughed the suggestion to
scorn. "I imagine myself building a house over the secret horrors under
'Storm-Cliff Towers,'" she said.

Yet she brooded over things. Invitations poured in, but she excused
herself, and Lucy feared that the spell of the Ballantynes was on her
mistress, for Beatrice spent days pouring over musty papers that had
been found in the strong-room beneath 'The Towers.'

Her mind was obsessed by things which had come to her knowledge about
the ways and doings of Isaac Shend. It was not possible that he could
have been ignorant of those caves when he planned and erected 'The Black
Mansion,' and cemented its floors, and built the North Tower exactly
over the subterranean passage which led to the secret door in the
fireplace wall.

"He must have known about it," thought Beatrice, "for it would be before
the erection of the house that the shore entrance was closed to the
caves."

"But why," exclaimed Beatrice, as she wrestled with the thing that had
grown to be the problem of her life, "why was that great house
originally built over caves, and why did Isaac Shend on its completion
commit suicide? Was there some criminal connection between these things?
Was there some awful curse which attached itself to a Ballantyne
inhabiting 'The House of Shend'?" Beatrice told something of this to the
doctor and Grace, but they laughed at her fears.

She was now living in a mansion in Sydney, for she would not discharge
servants who had been faithful to her, nor would she keep them in
idleness, nor send them back to England until some of the vexed riddles
of her short life in Australia were solved, when she would possibly
return with them herself.

Beatrice had kept the gardener as a sort of keeper on 'The Towers'
grounds, and one afternoon after the trial, ordered the carriage and
drove to "Steynbridge Cottage," and asked the doctor and his sister to
go with her to see the ruins. Grace could not go, as she expected a
friend, so the doctor accompanied Beatrice in the carriage alone.

Not many weeks had passed since the fire, but heavy rains had fallen;
the picket walls had been repaired, and within the white fences the
kindly grass had beautified much of that which had before been blackened
earth, trodden by the passing of multitudes of feet. Even the trees had,
here and there, somehow escaped with life, and indications of green buds
were showing among the blackened trunks and branches. It was as though
the fire had not only destroyed the romance and mystery, and weird,
strange beauty of the grounds, but had cleansed it of its criminal
suggestiveness and sombreness. It seemed to relieve Beatrice's mind, and
remove a portion of her load.

She had taken the doctor's arm to climb the hill, from which there was
the best view of the sea and the blackened ruins. Beatrice was very
quiet. They knew each other well enough by this time to remain silent
without embarrassment, and yet the doctor's heart beat fast as the fair
woman's hand rested lightly upon his arm. He felt somehow so sure that
he had but to ask, and that his answer would not be a denial.

"I know well what you are thinking of, Beatrice," he said at last.

"I do not think so," she said, half smiling, as she still looked over
toward the ruins.

"You were," he said, "thinking how much happier you would be if you
could get away from this sad, mysterious episode of your life, and in
another land, across that blue sea yonder, forget these painful
recollections and associations. Give me the right, dearest, to take you
away, and love and cherish and protect you. Beatrice, be my wife!"

"You have not quite interpreted my thoughts, John," she said, turning
around, blushing at his avowal of love, but looking him frankly in the
face with something very like tears in her eyes. "I was thinking
whatever should I have done if you had lost your life in that awful
place."

"But, Beatrice, that is not an answer to my question," said the doctor
anxiously.

"John, I am thinking of those trying days of suspense and anxiety and
peril, when I learnt your worth. I am sure," she whispered, as though
struggling with her feelings, "I think sometimes that, but for you, I
must have died. But love! . . . have patience with me, my very dear
friend . . . . I esteem you greatly, it may be that I love you; but give
me time. I cannot say 'yes,' and I will not and dare not say 'no'
to-day. Give me time, John," she repeated, smiling, "and I shall know my
heart better. I feel sure that you love me, and I am proud to have it
so. 'Tis said 'that love begets love . . .'"

Tears stood in the girl's eyes, for it was hard to refuse one who had
been so true a friend to her; but Beatrice had an ideal conception of
love and marriage, and there was something upon her mind. She feared to
say 'yes' to John Strong, much as she loved him as a brother. The man
she married must be more than a brother to her, and she must go to him
with a white soul. And then she thought again of Septimus Dorset.

"Beatrice, I will wait, and try to be patient. Grace wants me to take
her for a month to New Zealand for rest and change. Yesterday I secured
a locum-tenens; will you come with us? A month of forgetfulness will
make a new woman of you."

"I will talk about it to Grace," said Beatrice.

But Beatrice did not go to New Zealand, for she was better in health,
and the scenes by which she was surrounded were fresher and more novel
to her than to Grace and the doctor. She was away, too, from
Storm-Cliff; and her household and business and many other things kept
her in Sydney.

She had decided, moreover, to employ men to make further excavations
below the ruins, and she proposed to do this while the doctor was away,
for he had not encouraged her in further prosecuting the search. He did
not realise the fascination which the secrets of Isaac Shend possessed
for Beatrice. She intended, however, to do all that she proposed to
while the doctor and his sister were in New Zealand.

It should be added that there was a secret hope, somewhere in the
subconsciousness of her being, that she would yet find out something
that would give back to her her former peace of mind.




CHAPTER XXXII.--AN ANONYMOUS LETTER.


There was one thing which, for some time, had greatly perplexed
Beatrice. Shortly after the funeral of the lawyer and before the trial,
the whole of the Dorset family had gone into half-mourning, and on
several occasions on which she had met Donald and Betty Dorset, their
conversation and conduct had indirectly suggested a doubt as to whether
Septimus was really dead.

It seemed impossible to Beatrice that he could be alive, for the corpse
was actually taken up from the caves below 'The Towers,' and no one else
had been known to disappear either from 'The Towers' or the
neighbourhood. But still, the mere suggestion of such a possibility
threw a faint light, like that of an Arctic winter, over the whole dark
landscape of Beatrice's past experiences. She would have given half her
fortune to have known for certain that the lawyer was still alive.

"They must . . . they must . . . know something," she said.

So when an invitation came to Beatrice, after some formal calls, asking
her to spend a day at 'Dorset Park,' she gladly accepted. Thus it came
about that on a certain morning Beatrice, with Betty and Donald Dorset,
found themselves in conference at 'Dorset Park.'

"We naturally felt the loss of Septimus very keenly, but----" Betty
stopped there as though embarrassed, and Beatrice felt still more
certain that there was something in the atmosphere which breathed, if
ever so faintly, of hope.

Betty having, later on, got Beatrice and Donald into the library by
themselves, walked over to the door and locked it.

"That'll keep out sundowners and other intruders," she said, laughing.
"Now, Miss Ballantyne," she continued, putting on her most bewitching
smile, "I wish you'd call me Betty, because Donald and I want you to
feel quite at home and have a real private, confidential talk about
things. Donald thinks we've found something out about poor Septimus, and
we want to consult you; but it's a great secret--we wouldn't have mother
know on any account, for we don't know exactly what to believe or what
to do."

It was enough for Beatrice to know that something she had earnestly
desired to hear about was likely to be disclosed. She would, at any
rate, know all that they knew, whatever it was that caused them to lay
aside their deep mourning for their brother.

"I will be pleased to call you Betty, Miss Dorset, and your brother
Donald," said Beatrice with smiling eagerness, "while the conference
lasts, you know, if it will help matters; and I think you had better
call me Beatrice, then there will be no formality at all."

"That's first-class," said Betty; "and as I'm the elder of the ladies,
and we're in a majority, I'll take the chair and open the proceedings."

At this she drew a large library chair up to the table, and Donald
placed seats for Beatrice and himself on either side. It was easy to see
that both sister and brother were anxious and excited, and that Betty
was trying to hide her feelings by playful extravagances.

"This boy, Beatrice," she commenced, waving her hand to her astonished
and smiling brother, "is a civil engineer, and in the way of his
profession has been brought in contact with a man who seems to know a
good bit about the movements of Owen Skinner. Donald and I," she said,
lowering her voice almost to a whisper, "have talked, and talked, and
talked about poor Sep.'s death down in those caves; and it seems certain
to us that Skinner must have had confederates besides Mrs Dalbert, and
indeed that he has now, and one of them, we think, is the grave-digger
at the Storm-Cliff cemetery, whose name is Cordova. He told Donald one
day after the funeral that, as likely as not, the body we buried wasn't
our brother's at all, and you remember at the trial Barrister Jones,
prompted, no doubt, either by Skinner or Mrs Dalbert, said it was quite
possible that Septimus might be produced as a witness for the defence
before the trial was over. Of course nothing more was said about him,
but there may have been reasons; he may be ill somewhere."

"I remember it all, Betty," said Beatrice, with tears in her voice; "go
on, please."

"Well, the last thing we heard is that although Owen Skinner has gone
back to cultivate flowers at Storm-Cliff, Mrs Dalbert has mysteriously
disappeared, and neither the detectives, nor her servants nor late
companion, nor anyone else, have any knowledge as to her whereabouts.
But three days ago we received a strange, anonymous letter in a
handwriting which is an imitation of Sep.'s. It is no doubt a forgery,
for Septimus, even if alive, would never have written it; but, on the
other hand, who could have thought of sending such a letter, unless
someone, as Donald says, personally interested in these strange affairs.
It must be someone who knows something about our brother."

Donald handed an envelope across to Beatrice containing a sheet of
notepaper. It had the appearance of a dainty billet-doux, and bore the
Sydney postmark. It was undated, and read as follows:

"Be prepared to receive your brother Septimus, who will return shortly,
accompanied by his wife."

The three looked at each other in silence.

"I do . . . hope . . . that it's true," stammered Beatrice.

"The whole thing, Miss Ballantyne, is a cruel hoax," said Donald hotly;
"and accompanied by his wife, too! It's too absurd!"

"I must call you to order, Donald," said the prosaic Betty; "we have
agreed in this private conference to call each other by our Christian
names."

"I beg pardon," said Donald brusquely.

"What an extraordinary letter," exclaimed Beatrice, paying no heed to
Betty. "It reads like a burlesque. Why should he--coming back to life
again--bring with him a wife? See! it's written on lady's ivory
notepaper, and perfumed. Surely it's not possible that he can have left
my house as he did for the purpose of an elopement with anyone?"

"No," said Donald, who was always loyal to his family--and Septimus. "He
was abducted from Storm-Cliff in his sleep, that's certain. He never
left your house. Miss Ballantyne--I beg your pardon, Beatrice--of his
own volition. But somehow--I can't explain--I'm quite hopeful that he
isn't dead! That Cordova knows something, and I'll have it out of him or
wring his neck."

"Donald, you certainly should make this man tell you more, as he has
told you so much; why not show him the letter?" said Betty.

"Yes, I might do that; but may I ask," he said, looking across at
Beatrice, "have your men made any further discoveries at 'The Towers'?"

"Nothing," said Beatrice.

"Beatrice!" exclaimed Betty, rising from the chair in her eagerness,
"Donald has a fortnight's holiday; why not let him go to 'The Towers'
and overlook your work-people, and keep an eye on the doings of Skinner
and Cordova and others. He might find out something."

"With all my heart," replied Beatrice, looking at Donald. "I should not
have dared to have asked you on account of your brother; but will you
go?"

"My brother's disappearance is one reason why I say 'yes' at once. Miss
Beatrice," said Donald; "but how many men have you there?"

"Four and the gardener."

"Write me a letter of authority, and I'll be there to-morrow, and if
there is anything to find out, for all our sakes I'll try and find it."

There were several seconds of silence after this, and then Beatrice
said, addressing Betty:

"Do you think it possible for a secret to be hid for nearly half a
century, with people, as it were, passing over the top of it every day?"

"I think that anything is possible that's stupid and ignorant, so far as
most people are concerned," replied Betty.

"Those detectives are not much good!" exclaimed Donald. "They seem to
have relegated the whole affair to a top shelf with other criminal back
numbers."

"The criminals ought to be found out and punished," said Beatrice. "I
don't want to make a detective of you, Donald, but I would give anything
almost to know the fate of your brother; and "--she paused for a
moment--"and to have the solution of another secret which lies below
those ruins--the secret of my ancestors, and the secret of Isaac Shend."

There was another silence, when Beatrice with tears in her eyes
exclaimed, "How I wish I were a man!"

It was the last straw for Betty, who had been wrought to a high state of
feeling by the conversation.

"Oh, Donald, my brother!" she cried, suddenly putting her arms around
his neck, "can't you find out for us? I feel sometimes as though my
heart would break with this awful uncertainty. You remember what he said
. . . once, about the curse of 'The Black Mansion,' and you remember how
that affair was hushed up with Meta Dalbert . . . yes, I will speak of
it! . . . Beatrice is one of us . . . Sep. told me afterward the woman
was a witch or she-devil with the face of an angel. But whatever she
was, you remember how she absolutely fascinated him, and made him at the
time madly in love with her.

"Supposing that she has spirited him away somewhere, and means to come
back his wife. Think of it, after that trial and all the rest. 'Twould
kill the mater . . . the disgrace! . . . 'Twould almost be better for
him to be dead!"

"The thing's impossible, Betty!" ejaculated Donald; "put it right out of
your mind. Septimus would never disgrace the family."

"But if he's alive where can he be?" wailed Betty, thoroughly broken
down.

"He's not alive! Cordova's a liar!" said Donald excitedly. "But if he
is, be sure of this, Miss Ballantyne, he'd never come back to Sydney
with Meta Dalbert for his wife. He could never do it after all that has
transpired."

"But suppose that he comes back and does not know!" said Beatrice.

"In that case," said Donald, "I fancy when he found out he'd shoot
himself."

"Not he," moaned Betty, drying her eyes and unconsciously dropping from
the sublime to the ridiculous; "a lawyer was never yet known to commit
suicide."

Betty opened her heart to Beatrice after Donald had gone, and somehow
Beatrice was drawn to Betty, and she told her a good deal of what she
had found out and surmised about the affairs of Isaac Shend.




CHAPTER XXXIII.--THE PADLOCKED BOOK.


The following morning there emerged from the iron gates of 'Dorset Park'
a fashionably attired horseman, riding a thoroughbred in the pink of
condition. It was Donald upon his famous racer, 'Tomboy.' He was on his
way to Woollahra to call for Beatrice to ride with him to Storm-Cliff.

"We'd better show ourselves openly," he said; "they'll be less
suspicious." So after a smart canter, on nearing Storm-Cliff, they rode
their horses slowly, walking them through the village and around by
Skinner's cottage, and on from there to the party of labourers
excavating at the ruins.

The men were informed by Miss Ballantyne that Mr Dorset would, for the
next few days, occasionally overlook the work, and that unless some
important discovery was made, operations would not be continued longer
than another week. No secret was made about this, and both Beatrice and
Donald knew that what was said would be all over Storm-Cliff before
night.

Donald rode back with Beatrice to her Woollahra Mansion, and was asked
to stay for lunch. Beatrice was going to a ball that night at Government
House, and Lady Stirling, who had arrived during their absence, was her
chaperon.

Donald had met Lady Stirling before. She was sorry for him, for she had
heard a good deal about the 'Storm-Cliff Towers' tragedy.

"No further news, I suppose, Mr Dorset?"

"Nothing, Lady Stirling."

"I think it's just as well. Miss Ballantyne is worrying herself more
than enough over the miserable old place. If it were mine, I should not
want to know anything more about it. The sooner we forget the unpleasant
episodes of our lives, the better it is for us."

"But don't you think it is our duty to expose and, if possible, punish
wrongdoers?" said Donald.

"Not when the wrongdoing is as ancient as this is. Of course I am
referring to Miss Ballantyne's interest in the matter; if I were in your
place I've no doubt I should try hard to find out who killed my brother,
and, if possible, have him brought to justice--although, after all, it
would only harrow up your feelings again, and the punishment of the
wrong-doer would not bring much compensation to you. I hate law and
lawyers. See how Miss Ballantyne is worrying herself; and, as I tell
her, she's getting horridly uncommunicative. I believe she's discovered
something fresh, for she certainly has had more upon her mind lately.
Try and get her to tell you."

Just then Beatrice herself entered in a princess robe which wonderfully
became her.

"You look just lovely after your ride," said Lady Stirling. "How did
'Crusoe' behave himself?"

"Splendidly; he's a lovely hack. But I'm sure that Mr Dorset is as
hungry as a hunter, and so am I."

During luncheon Lady Stirling watched Donald very narrowly. She liked
the young man, and her verdict was not unfavourable; but she had other
plans for Beatrice, and was hoping to take her back with them to
England.

"A girl like Beatrice ought not to marry a colonial," she thought,
"although the young fellows are mostly good-looking, well-educated, and
gentlemanly; but they haven't the modest reserve of an English
University man."

Donald was rattling away to both ladies about yachting, cricket, and a
famous Australian contralto; but Beatrice read him better than Lady
Stirling, and knew that his deeper thoughts were with more serious
things.

"Connie, I want to show Mr Dorset a book that I have in the library,"
said Beatrice after lunch.

"Well, dear, I'm going. I must give a little of my time to Godfrey
before dinner, and I have to persuade him to come with us to the ball."

After Lady Stirling's departure, Beatrice invited Donald into the
library.

"I want your opinion, Mr Dorset, about an old account-book that was
found some time ago among the ruins. It has padlock clasps, and I have
only recently had a key made to unlock it."

She took from a drawer an old leather-bound volume, fastened with
curious padlocked clasps.

The first portion of it was ruled with money and date columns, like an
ordinary ledger; but between these, where entries are usually made, were
pasted newspaper cuttings, the records of robberies and other crimes
committed many years before by convicts and others, and opposite each
were placed amounts which seemed to be the cash results of the crimes
referred to. In the ledger folio column were numbers ranging from three
to twenty.

There were scores of pages of these entries, extending back for many
years.

In another part of the book were rough plans (evidently made by skilled
hands) of the premises of banks and other financial institutions of the
city; also of the old Government House, and some of the larger private
mansions of wealthy citizens. Many of them were, however, obsolete.

On a page near the end of the book was a ground plan of 'Storm-Cliff
Towers' as first erected, and opposite a sketch which represented the
caves and passages beneath the mansion; but, as Beatrice pointed out,
they appeared to be more extensive toward the west than anything they
had discovered.

"I wanted you to see that," said Beatrice; "both plans are signed I. S.,
and do you notice there is a passage marked on the plan from these caves
into the gully."

"The whole of them are connected by passages, and these lines across
must represent doors," said Donald, who was greatly interested and
excited.

"There's a map of the coast on the other side," said Beatrice.

Donald turned over, and found on the other side a large scale map, in
several sections, of the south-eastern coast-line as far as the southern
extremity of Botany Bay; there were figures attached which seemed to
indicate furlongs and miles, and a cross on La Perouse Island.

"I cannot make head nor tail of it," whispered Beatrice, "but it has to
do, no doubt, with 'The Towers.' What do you make of it?"

But Donald hardly knew as yet what to make of it.

"It's very extraordinary," he said, "very extraordinary! You see there
are here the records of crimes reaching back for years, even before the
date when 'The Towers' was built, and the proceeds in the money columns
represent very large sums. See," he said, turning back the leaves,
"quite a number are entered in writing as though they were the records
of unpublished transactions. Look at this one, for instance. It is a
business-like account of what was evidently a most audacious fraud, and
one probably which was never discovered."

Donald read as follows:

"To Scrivener's a/c. Altering the sentences of 150 prisoners to lesser
terms of imprisonment @ 10 each . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1500

Do. Do. 50 prisoners @ 12 each . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 600 

_______________________________________________________
.....................................................................................2100

"The clerks in this case were evidently convicts, or emancipists, who
had access to the records of the names and periods of the transportation
of prisoners, and fraudulently altered them, for a consideration, to
shorter terms."

"But would prisoners have all that money?" said Beatrice.

"They were no doubt mostly what were called assigned servants," replied
Donald, "and they got hold of a good bit of money, honestly or
otherwise."

Donald ran his finger down several items of smaller amounts, and stopped
at one of 5000.

"That was a big haul," he said.

"To cash abstracted from the Government Treasury, Hobart Town. Net
proceeds......5000.0.0

"But look here," he said excitedly. "Here is a newspaper cutting of an
extraordinary robbery at the Bank of Australia in George Street, Sydney.
From a house across the street they actually tunnelled into the bank
vaults, and here you have a business-like statement of the proceeds.

"To cash proceeds from robbery of bank--British silver. . .  . 750.o.o

Spanish and other dollars . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2030.o.o

Bank Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14500.o.o
________________________________________________________
................................................................................17280.o.o

There was a pause after this, and then Beatrice said:

"I noticed near the end of the book a plan of the bank and street and
vaults, with the tunnel and house opposite, all set out to scale in feet
and inches."

"There must have been a gang of about twenty of them. Those figures in
the folio column seem to indicate the number participating in the
division of the spoils."

"But tell me, Mr Dorset, what do you make of it?"

Donald shook his head and continued to turn over pages of records of
robberies, blackmailing contributions of wealthy emancipists and others,
and Beatrice watched him with breathless interest.

"Well?"

He had closed the book and stood looking at her. He had seen something
which he did not want her to know. It was an account of some moneys paid
away in connection with the erection of 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'

"I hardly know, Miss Ballantyne," he stammered out, "what to say to you.
I don't wish to alarm you, but I would close the book and lock it away
somewhere. It seems to me as though you have unearthed the records of
some secret society, formed many years ago among the convicts and
dishonest emancipists for the purpose of systematic robbery and
blackmailing of prisoners and officials, and its headquarters have in
some mysterious way been in the caves under 'Storm-Cliff Towers.'
According to that plan, there are at least two large caves or
underground apartments still undiscovered, and it is my belief that
Skinner and his fellow conspirators have access to them from the gully
outside 'The Towers' grounds. If that is so it explains a good deal of
what has happened."

"Hadn't we better give information to the police?" said Beatrice.

"I think not, at any rate for the present. I have promised Betty, you
know, to try and find out something about our brother myself. The police
had the matter in hand for months unsuccessfully. Besides, we do not yet
know the strength of this secret gang, which I feel sure still exists;
nor do we know what might result to you or to me if we came further into
collision with them. We must proceed now with the greatest caution."

"It's plain enough now where they got the money from to defend the
case," said Beatrice.

"I shall want a week to carry out a plan I have formed," said Donald,
"and I will start on it tonight. It's rather a pity the doctor is away;
he is about the only one in Storm-Cliff I should dare to trust."

"Perhaps it is better as it is," said Beatrice; "you are clever, and I
think that it is better to keep what we know entirely to ourselves, that
is, to you and I and Betty. Dr Strong wants me to sell the land at
Storm-Cliff and leave Australia; but something is impelling me to go on
and find out the secret of this awful place, and of your brother's
disappearance, and my father's brother's connection with these things. I
feel that it's my duty to myself and others."

She looked Donald squarely in the face as she said this, and he
respected her for her courage.

She already guessed what Donald thought he knew.

"Why does Dr Strong want you to leave Australia?" asked Donald, wishing
to turn the conversation away from what he felt to be dangerous ground.

"He wants me to go with him and Grace for a trip to Europe."

"Not as Miss Ballantyne, but as Mrs Strong?" queried Donald, with a
half-smile which did not, however, deceive Beatrice.

She blushed and laughed.

"He's a great friend of mine, Mr Dorset, and you know I'm awfully
indebted to him; but I've not agreed yet to go to England with anyone."

"But he's asked you?" persisted Donald.

"Of course he has; but I have not said 'yes' to him."

"But, pardon me, Miss Ballantyne. Have you said 'no'?"

"Not exactly; you see I'm too busy over these things to give any serious
attention to such matters."

"That's nonsense, Miss Ballantyne," said Donald, shaking his head; "such
things have a curious way of settling themselves, sometimes before we
know it, no matter how important the affairs may be that we have in
hand. There are others who love you besides Dr Strong."

"Don't say another word, Donald. I know that you are my very good
friend," said Beatrice, reaching out her hand to say good-bye, and
allowing it to remain longer than usual in his warm, firm clasp; "but
I'm too worried and perplexed to fall in love with anyone. I want my
friends to be content to be my friends. . . . You see, Donald," she
continued with tears in her eyes, "I love you all, and Betty and Grace
too, for you've been very good to me; but I don't want to talk about
such a sacred thing as love while these affairs remain unsettled."

"Good-bye, Miss Ballantyne," said Donald, smiling; "when you are at the
ball to-night, remember I shall be upon the warpath."

"I won't forget," replied Beatrice gravely; "and may God take care of
you and help you to find Septimus."

"Amen," said Donald reverently, as he lifted his hat and jumped into the
saddle.

"He's a good fellow, is Donald," said Beatrice to herself, "and I like
him the better that he doesn't make love to me, like other men."

Beatrice felt very thankful, after Donald's departure, that Woollahra
was some miles away from Storm-Cliff. To think of that great house being
built over the headquarters of a den of convict thieves.

Of course they would have access to the house, and intended to get her
out of it from the first. But there was one thought that came back again
and again to her. She thought of her uncle, and asked herself whether he
had anything to do with this gang of criminals. "He must have known,"
she thought, "and have been in league with them too; if so, what a
disgrace to me."

That night Beatrice went with Sir Godfrey and Lady Stirling to the
Government House Ball. It was a somewhat exclusive function; but the men
thronged Lady Stirling for introductions to Beatrice.

"You look splendid, dear," whispered Lady Stirling to her as Sir George
Cameron led her back after a delightful waltz. "Who is it to be, among
your scores of admirers?"

Beatrice smiled and shook her head. "I don't know any of them well
enough yet, dear; I must have lots of time."

She was enjoying herself splendidly, and replied to the witty
compliments of her partners with zest and polished repartee.
Occasionally she sat out a dance with some adoring swain in the cool
conservatories. She was taken in to supper by a lord, who might one day
be an earl. But amid all the gaiety of that brilliant night the thought
of Donald Dorset was never wholly absent.

She knew that he was doing what few of those society dandies would have
dared to do for her. Disguised as a swagman, he was risking his life
down at Storm-Cliff to discover, if possible, the fate of his brother,
and to solve for Beatrice the dread secret of the Caves of Shend.




CHAPTER XXXIV.--BEATRICE IS PERPLEXED.


Lady Constance Stirling discovered later in the night that, with ail her
gaiety, Beatrice had something upon her mind.

"Send Sir Godfrey home and come out and stay with me to-night, Connie,"
pleaded Beatrice. "I'm dead tired; but until I have a real good talk by
the fire I'm sure I shan't be able to go to sleep."

Lady Stirling looked at her with a smile. She wanted badly to see her
happily married to the right man; but, as she told her husband, Beatrice
Ballantyne would be a hard girl for a man to please.

"If I come, do you think you'll be able to tell me something I'd like to
know?"

They were alone in a corner of the ladies' cloakroom, so Beatrice kissed
her and said: "Do come, Connie; I'm horribly worried and perplexed, but
I can't promise to tell you."

"Oh, I'll come then, and you'll have to tell me; but I must see Sir
Godfrey and tell him, for he's been fidgeting to get away the last
half-hour. I'll tell him you are ill and that I must go home with you. I
can explain to-morrow that you had a pain in your heart."

An hour afterward the two ladies, in slippers and dressing-gowns, were
ensconced in comfortable chairs in front of a cosy fire in Beatrice's
luxurious boudoir.

Steaming black coffee in dainty cups stood upon a small table within
easy reach, and Lucy, nothing loath, had been sent to bed.

Lady Stirling had met Beatrice in southern Italy, and afterward
travelled with her upon the steamer, where they became intimate, to
Sydney. She and Sir Godfrey had been doing New Zealand and some of the
more famous Pacific Islands, and were now resident for a while in
Sydney. They knew everybody and went everywhere, for Sir Godfrey
Stirling was a famous diplomat as well as a man of wealth, and Connie,
as he called his wife, and Beatrice had become like sisters. 'The
Towers' was burnt down, and the trial over, and half forgotten by most
people, when the Stirlings returned to Australia.

"It's just lovely to sit here and talk," commenced Lady Stirling; "I
don't feel a bit tired now. What a guy that Lord Tatenham is; whatever
did he talk about when he took you in to supper?"

"He wanted to know if I wouldn't like to be back in England again."

"What did you say to him?"

"Yes, if I could go by rail."

"And what did he reply to that?"

"He said: 'Bai Jove! I think then, Miss Ballantyne, you'll have to
continue to illuminate this Southern Hemisphere with your wit and
beauty.'"

"It's a wonder that he did not offer to take you to the Northern
Hemisphere as his wife. The Tatenhams are as poor as Job, and he is only
kept on the governor's staff in the hope of his picking up a rich
Australian wife. I would be sorry for her, however. They say that Mrs
O'Dyke quite lately paid his tailor's bill for several hundreds; but
with all his smart clothes he's a poor representative of the British
aristocracy. Some of these old families, like mint, have a tendency to
run to seed."

"Well, you need not discuss him, Connie, although he's a beautiful
dancer, and is quite entertaining when he talks about something he
understands; but you know he's not my fancy."

"You like something more solid, and useful, and reliable, and a bit
elderly, don't you, Beatrice?" said Lady Stirling. "Something after the
style of my old man. They're all right enough, but I'll warn you, my
dear girl, you might not fall in love with them if you first saw them
with their nightcaps on! When is Dr Strong to be back from New Zealand?"

"What utter nonsense you talk, Connie. If my husband wished to wear a
nightcap, I'd see that it was a pretty one. Besides, there is nothing at
all between me and Dr Strong, and he isn't elderly."

"My dear, I don't want to ruff your feathers up, but are you quite sure
there's nothing between you? Haven't you flirted with him a tiny bit
now? See how good he has been to you, and how much you have been
together, and what a friend you are of his sister's. You know, Beatrice,
lots of girls drift into marriages with unsuitable partners, without
realising that they are drifting, until they find themselves hopelessly
stranded on a rocky shore and the knot tied. Dr Strong is, no doubt, a
very worthy and lovable man, but he's too old for a girl like you."

"You're taking a great deal too much for granted, Connie," said
Beatrice, looking steadfastly into the fire.

"I don't know that I am, little girl; you've got something on your mind
that you haven't told me, or anyone else either. Come now, answer me yes
or no. Did you ever call him John?"

"How horrid you are! Supposing that I did, what of that? See how much
we've been thrown together."

"Ah, Beatrice! the ship's been drifting, I can see, drifting toward the
shore of unsuitable matrimony. Didn't he want you to go with Grace to
New Zealand?"

"Yes, certainly he did! He thought a complete change would benefit my
health."

"Of course! Now tell me, love, he's asked you, hasn't he? Ah, no answer!
It's evidently time that someone manned the lifeboat, or goodness knows!
Ordered out a tug to haul you back into deep water. I say! where was
Donald Dorset to-night?"

The question was so unexpected that it dropped like a bombshell into
Beatrice's beleaguered mind. She suddenly thought: "Where indeed was
Donald, and what might be happening to him even then?"

"Connie, if you'll be good, and not tell Sir Godfrey, I'll tell you
everything; because you'll advise me," said Beatrice in a shaky voice.

Lady Stirling reached over and took Beatrice's hand and kissed it. "Go
on," she said, "I've kissed the book."

Beatrice looked into the fire for some time without speaking; but her
friend waited patiently. "Dr Strong has been wonderfully good in a
hundred ways," she said at last, "and I love him very much, but I think
only as a brother; he wants me, of course, like a dozen other men, and I
feel that I owe more to him than perhaps anyone else. He might have been
killed down there. And then, Connie, you can't think what a dear girl
Grace is!"

"But you don't want to marry her," interrupted Lady Stirling.

"Of course not; but it's very nice to have a sister-in-law one loves."

"And you think, Goosie, that you ought to marry him because you love his
sister? What rubbish! I don't care how good she is she'll be jealous
when once you've got him, and probably get married herself, and you'll
be left tied up to a staid, elderly man you respect and love as a
brother only. Getting married on the strength of mutual esteem, and all
that sort of thing, is like making tea before the kettle boils--it's
wishy-washy stuff no matter how much sugar you put into it. It's bad
enough for girls who must marry money, but if I were you, with your
fortune, I'd see that the kettle was boiling over before I made the tea.
How about Donald Dorset?"

"I feel different to him, Connie; but I don't think I respect him as
much as I do Dr Strong."

"Probably not; but you may love him a great deal for all that. No woman
respects her husband as she does her father. 'Tisn't natural!"

The two ladies were very quiet for a minute after this, and then
Beatrice said: "I don't know what I shall say to him when he returns
from New Zealand. He has been such a good brother to Grace, and he has
been a brother, and father, and lover, and everything else to me; but
there's something that I shall have to tell him that may change him
altogether. Donald Dorset knows it, I'm sure, and it does not seem to
have made any difference to him; but Dr Strong prides himself upon the
unsullied reputation of his ancestors."

Beatrice paused and gazed into the fire.

"Well, go on, dear," said Lady Stirling, picking up Beatrice's hand and
holding it in both of hers, "it won't make a bit of difference to me
whatever it is. I suppose you think you've found out something more
about one of your uncles?"

"You must not whisper it to anyone, Connie, but I believe I've found out
through an old book that my Uncle Hugh, who built 'The Towers,' was once
an emancipist, so he must at one time have been a convict; and that is
not the worst of it: he seems to have been in league with a band of
criminals who were engaged in wholesale robberies at the very time he
built 'The Towers.'"

"What an extraordinary story!" said Lady Stirling. "I don't believe it
for a moment, and I am sure that you will find out that it is not true.
However, if it was, what does that matter to you? Don't you know that
the forbears of the oldest families of England were buccaneers, and
brigands, and that sort of thing? Look how they used to steal from each
other, and pillage the Lowlands in the days of the Scottish Chiefs. I
think folks in Australia are a bit too sensitive about the characters of
their ancestors. So long as one's uncle or grandfather wasn't hung for
murder I don't see that it matters much."

But Beatrice shook her head.




CHAPTER XXXV.--WAYSIDE SEED.


When Donald, disguised as a swagman, with bluey on shoulder and billy in
hand, on the night of the ball, made his way to Storm-Cliff, he was a
man with a purpose, and a determined man too; for he had undertaken to
solve a problem at the risk of his life.

His objective was a wild, rocky declivity on the shore-line, north of
Storm-Cliff, overgrown with scrub and stunted trees, with here and there
a tall fir or pine. Running through it to the small cove, which looked
as if it had been blasted out of the rocky coast-line, was a stream of
clear, fresh water. Thus on three sides of the gully there was a sharp
rise, and on the fourth a tiny bay with pebbly beach. It was not an
uncommon thing for a sundowner or other humble traveller to Sydney from
the south, humping swag and billy, to camp in this sheltered nook for
the night.

Donald chose a level bit of ground north of the rivulet for a camp, and
throwing down his swag at the foot of a sheltering tree, started to
gather wood to make a fire. Following the course of the rivulet, he soon
collected a small armful of sticks. Night was closing in, and gathering
clouds and the moan of the sea told of impending rain or storm; but he
followed on up-stream until he reached a clump of dense bushes, a few
yards above a mimic waterfall.

The bushes interlaced from both sides of the stream, and above was a
sand-dune, heaped high by the force of the wind during heavy gales.

Here he discovered what appeared to be the source or outlet of the
stream. No one was in sight, and as the gloom deepened, Donald stepped
upon some out-jutting rocks to get clear of the bushes and behind them.
Here he found an ancient subway, constructed of heavy timber, evidently
built at some time to protect a water channel and preserve egress for
storm waters during heavy rain.

Bending slightly down, he stepped into the subway, and lighting a dark
lantern, flashed its rays into the tunnel. The water was flowing, three
or four inches deep, over a level floor of limestone, and to penetrate
the tunnel he found it would be necessary to walk through the water. He
noticed, too, by the gleam of his lantern, that a short distance from
the entrance the subway, which was six feet in height, was cut in the
solid limestone, and he guessed that somewhere along there would be
found a doorway and passage leading into the limestone caves below 'The
Towers.' He thought it unwise, however, just then to follow up his
discovery, so closing the dark shade of his lantern, he made his way out
again, and, picking up the bundle of firewood, hastened back to the
place he had chosen for a camp. Here he soon had a fire burning, and his
billy hanging over it supported by forked sticks.

"'Spose, Mr Swaggie, yo's going ter camp here?" said a thin voice from
the shadow of the tree.

Donald turned around with a start, for the roar of the sea had drowned
any slight noise which the naked feet of the new-comer might have made
as he approached.

A queer creature, unkempt and ragged, squatted down by the fire, and
said, "Yer won't miss a bit of tucker, Boss. I'll camp with yer till
morning."

"Who are you?" asked Donald, eyeing him with much disfavour. "I'll give
you something to eat, but prefer to camp alone."

"But yer won't mind poor Tonk Daley stopping with yer, Boss? I'm only a
kid, and if Owen Skinner catches me in the gully he's going to do for
me, and chuck me over the cliffs."

Donald looked at this strange specimen of humanity that, curled up like
a dog, looked into the glowing embers of the fire and whined out again:
"Chuck Tonk over the cliffs."

Donald's interest was aroused at the mention of Skinner's name, so he
said: "Skinner's at 'Ferndale'; that's a long way from here."

"No fear, Boss. He'll be here to-night, and 'Dova and Blackie, and maybe
more; but if we put the fire out they won't see us. I don't want to be
chucked over the cliff, Boss."

A whole crowd of conjectures thronged Donald's mind. The man was
evidently a half-witted creature, whose short, frayed trousers and
ragged jacket and cap spoke of friendless beggary, and he knew something
of Skinner and Cordova and others, and connected them with the gully.

"Here, have something to eat, and presently I'll give you a drink of tea
out of the lid of the billy," said Donald.

The man ate the buttered bread sandwiches ravenously, as might a
starving dog, and reached out his hand for more.

"I say, mister," he said, "you're a toff. But I won't come it on you.
Gi's a bit more. Tonk's had nothing to eat all day."

Donald was taken aback by the simple way in which this half-witted
creature had penetrated his disguise. The savoury sandwiches, square and
with crusts cut off, had been prepared by Betty, and, as Tonk very well
knew, were not the customary food of a tramp.

"Shut up!" replied Donald, attempting to suit his conversation to his
attire; "got 'em given me by a friend."

"Sister, maybe," said Tonk, munching away with his mouth full.

However, his penetration robbed him of certain sweets, for Donald, not
to excite his imagination further, ate the jam sandwiches himself.

Having drank some tea, Donald lit his pipe, and pulling a blanket over
him, for the fire was going out, listened to the various sounds which,
above the roar of the sea, could be heard in the gully.

Tonk broke the silence with a rather startling question.

"Why didn't yer sleep at home. Boss?"

"Tonk Daley," said Donald, carrying out an idea that had come to him,
"I'm a detective, sent down here to watch. Now tell me all you know
about Owen Skinner and the others. If you tell me lies I'll put you in
jail; but tell me right and I'll give you five shillings."

"Ah!" said Tonk, "you're a blooming copper are yer? I thought yer was
some make up. Give us a chew of yer 'bacca."

Donald handed him the tobacco, which he took and chewed in silence, and
then remarked: "Yer a blooming copper, are yer? Then I shan't tell yer a
thing. I reckon 'Dova ed put me down the blow-hole, or some other
blooming thing, if I did."

"You know, then, about the blow-hole?" said Donald.

"'Course I do," said Tonk; "any dashed fool does. Didn't yer read about
it in the papers?"

Donald began to realise that the half-witted are often more sly and
crafty than would be expected, so he tried a less direct method.

"Where do you live, Tonk?"

"Mostly in Granny Grimm's shed," replied Tonk indifferently.

"What do you do for a living?"

"Nothing, 'cept fishing and catching crabs, and carrying bits o' things
for Granny to La Perouse."

"Don't you get tired walking so far without boots?"

"No," said Tonk; "takes two hours, and they thrash me if I goes to
sleep."

"What makes you go to sleep?"

"When it's warm I lies down in the sun."

Just then the cry of a curlew was heard higher up the gully. Tonk
suddenly drew nearer to Donald, and in a frightened whisper said:
"That's them, Boss; lie close. I don't want to be chucked over the
cliffs."

They waited in silence for a quarter of an hour, and then a light was
seen moving near the subway. It moved like a lantern held in someone's
hand.

Donald immediately hurried noiselessly after it, closely followed by
Tonk Daley. There seemed to be three or four of them, and they were
making in the direction of the entrance to the subway.

Suddenly the men stopped, and stood still as though listening.

Donald and Tonk immediately sheltered behind a bush. When Donald looked
up again the light was out and the men had disappeared.

"Where have they gone to?" whispered Donald.

But there was no answer, and looking and feeling close around, Donald
saw that Tonk Daley had disappeared. He regretted now that he had told
him he was a detective; yet he felt somehow that Tonk Daley was not in
the secret which he had set himself to unravel.

By this time the rain, which had before threatened, had set in with
light showers, and Donald followed the fall of the stream back to his
camp, and got together his swag and blankets, and put them under the
shelter of some thick bushes. He concluded that the men he had seen
enter the subway would be some time before they returned, and he had
determined to explore the subway and, if he found a door, go farther up
the water channel and wait in the darkness to see who came out--for they
would be sure to carry a light--or act as circumstances might dictate.

It was with a nervous sense of apprehension that he pushed aside the
bushes and entered the opening of the subway. He hesitated for a moment,
as, holding his revolver with one hand, he withdrew the screen from the
bull's-eye lantern which he carried fastened to his belt. He could
shield it with his coat in a moment; but standing there in the channel
with the water running over his thick boots, he did not know but what
the uncovering of the light would be the signal for his death.

He stood for a full minute with the light glancing up the subway,
waiting for something to happen, and shivering at his own reckless
daring; but save for the noise of the running water, nothing was to be
heard.

Setting his teeth together he now turned his light upon the southern
wall of the subway and walked swiftly through the water. If there was a
door leading to 'The Towers' caves, it must be in the south wall. He
counted his steps and calculated that he had gone about one hundred and
fifty yards when the subway suddenly increased in size and another
smaller water channel appeared on the right. It was down this that the
water was flowing, while that to the left was higher and perfectly dry.
Donald now felt the need of a few minutes for thought; he realised that
he would be perfectly safe in the subway to the right, for there could
be no entrance from that side to 'The Towers'' caves, and no likelihood
of any member of the gang going into it.

So he turned into the smaller subway, and, standing in the middle of the
stream, found that he could just stand erect. He wore thick waterproof
boots, and stood there listening, feeling safer and more at his ease
than he had done since entering the tunnel.

The atmosphere was quite fresh, and for a quarter of an hour he stood
there with his lamp covered, in complete darkness, when suddenly he felt
himself touched by a hand.

Only by the greatest effort did he smother an exclamation, as, swinging
round, he threw back his coat, uncovering the light of the lantern, and
levelled his revolver at a small figure which cringed in front of him.

"Don't shoot, Mr Policeman," whispered a thin voice which he immediately
detected.

It was Tonk Daley, as white as a ghost, and trembling with fright.

"When did you come here?" asked Donald in a low tone of voice; but he
immediately corrected himself for he knew when he must have come, and
said, "What are you after here. Don't you know you may be killed. I
believe you're one of the gang," and he put the revolver in the man's
face as though to shoot him.

Without a word the terrified man clutched his arm and pointed down the
subway. There was a light approaching from the entrance, but some
distance off.

Donald now felt that his only safety lay in immediate action. Tonk was
no doubt in league with his enemies and would expose him to them when
they drew nearer unless he somehow silenced him. He was a desperate man
now, defending his life, and fear makes most men cruel. Tonk stood close
beside him in the water; at any moment he might cry out and discover
him, but with his strong hands he could throttle him without a sound
before the intruders got much nearer.

He would ask Tonk one question before choking him into silence, and he
turned around, when, in a plaintive, whining undertone the man said:

"Don't make a noise, Boss; let's get farther back. They never come up
here. If Owen Skinner finds me he'll chuck me over the rocks."

Donald decided immediately to take the risk and trust Tonk Daley.

"Go farther in, and don't make a sound. I'll see that no one hurts you."

He heard Tonk splashing through the water higher up; but turning the
shade of his lamp to cover every gleam of light, he crept nearer to the
junction of the channels, and watched the approaching lights, for he now
saw that there were two lanterns.

He crouched close to the south wall of the subway as the two drew
nearer, splashing through the water.

Nearer and nearer they came--one was a woman--and at the junction of the
subways they stopped.

It was Meta Dalbert and Owen Skinner!

Donald was not more than twenty feet away from them when Skinner
stopped, and turning around, faced Mrs Dalbert and said, "Before we go
in to them, let's thoroughly understand each other."

"Well, I thought we understood each other already."

Donald detected that in the woman's voice which told of fear, and yet
obstinate determination.

Skinner looked at his watch and said: "It's ten minutes still, before
time. Stand out of the water and let me put things plain, Meta; it's
evident that you don't understand or realise that we may neither of us
come out of this place alive. The gang know everything now."

"My dear man, you're the captain, and as much implicated as I am. Don't
go and make a fool of yourself now!"

"I don't want to make a fool of myself, and I don't intend to let you
make a fool of me, Meta."

"Look here, Owen; I'm not going away in that schooner, and I'd sooner
die than marry you. All I've come here for to-night is to get my share
of that 5000, and if you play false to me at the meeting I'll expose
you to the gang, and, if necessary, shoot you as you sit in the chair."

"You would, would you?"

"Yes, you wretch, you're nothing but a coward. Do you know I'm already
legally married to Septimus Dorset, and I'm going back with him to
'Dorset Park,' and I'll compel them to treat me properly; and I'll go
into society yet as his wife, but not in Australia. I'm going to have
that 2500!"

"Where did you marry him?" asked Skinner, half choking with anger.

"Over at La Perouse, sir. He's there now in the cottage waiting for me.
Oh, it was all right: clergyman, marriage certificate, witnesses;
everything legal and in proper form."

Donald forgot Tonk Daley, and almost everything else, as he choked back
an exclamation of astonishment and anger. "The she-devil!" he muttered
below his breath.

"Well, the time's up," said Skinner with an oath. "You're a daring
adventuress; but I warn you to be more careful with your tongue inside
than you are with me, or you'll never come out alive."

"P--h, you coward! Who is there to be afraid of: Morgan and Milligan,
Cordova and Blackie, and Grimes and Williams; why, they'd every one of
them go on their knees to me, and if they didn't I'd shoot or poison the
whole crowd of them."

"Ah, they don't know yet that you're a traitor."

"Go on," said the woman sternly, "and let us get it over. You've tried
to frighten me in these caves before."

For a quarter of an hour Donald and Tonk Daley stood in the pitchy
darkness, listening with tense attention, but no sound reached them save
that of the flowing stream, and then Dorset caught Tonk by the hand and
whispered, "Let's get out of this."

Through the night they made their way down to the camp again. There
Donald gave Tonk some silver, and cautioning him not to tell a soul on
peril of his life, he sent him off through the darkness.

Hour after hour, revolver in hand, Donald watched from a hiding-place,
where he could distinctly observe the entrance to the subway. It was the
longest night he ever knew. Drizzling rain fell, but there was no
movement of man or beast in the dark gully.

About four in the morning, to his astonishment, he heard the sound of
voices in the cove, and a boat grated on the pebbly strand. Everything
was very still, and he heard the oars rattle in the boat, as the tread
of heavy feet crunched upon the beach.

Two curlews called, and then there was a long silence, a very long
silence . . . .

* * * * * * * * *

The grey dawn was just breaking in the east when Donald saw a man step
from behind the bushes at the subway and look around. It was not light
enough to see the boat, but a curlew call rang softly down the gully. It
was at once answered from the boat. The man disappeared, but a quarter
of an hour afterwards six haggard, white-faced men, each carrying a
heavy swag, strode hurriedly down to the beach. Donald could see their
faces as they passed. Several of them were ashy pale, as though haunted
by some fearful deed of blood.

Donald watched closely. There would be eight at the meeting: Morgan,
Milligan, Cordova, Blackie, Grimes, and Williams, with Skinner and Mrs
Dalbert.

Neither Mrs Dalbert nor Skinner had returned! Donald still watched the
entrance; but as he did so the rising sun cast a flood of light on sea
and shore, and standing out to sea, with snowy sails, was a small
schooner, and he knew that the gang had left Australia, intending never
to return. Still he waited and waited, and at last once more entered the
subway and reached the junction of the channels, and went on upon the
dry pathway, where Meta Dalbert and Owen Skinner, a few hours before,
had stood and talked.

He continued his search until the passage abruptly ended. Flashing his
lantern on the wall, he examined every nook and cranny, re-examined it
again and again, put his ear against the wall and listened; but there
was neither voice nor sound, nor any sign that living men had so lately
passed along that water path and entered through that wall into chambers
of mystery and crime.

"Dead!" exclaimed Donald; "or if not dead, dying in anguish and
darkness, suffering by bloodstained criminal hands the retribution of an
avenging Deity; and out upon that great and wide sea are their
murderers. But they, too, and the sea which upbears them, are in the
hollow of the hand of God."




CHAPTER XXXVI.--GRANNY GRIMM'S PREDICTION.


It was still early when Donald, rid of his disguise, arrived at 'Dorset
Park.' Betty had been up for hours, and a fire was burning in the
breakfast-room.

"I've scarcely slept all night thinking of you," she said, as she met
him. "It was such a risk to have taken. I did not seem to realise it
until you had gone. You had better drink a cup of tea, and eat
something, and go to bed for a while."

"Oh, hang bed! I couldn't sleep if I tried," said Donald; "but I'll have
a bath after the tea. Don't you want to know something?"

"Of course I do. I'm dying to know; but drink your tea, you're as pale
as a ghost, and your eyes are wild and bloodshot. What a night of
excitement you must have had."

"I have indeed. I've found out almost everything," said Donald, after he
had drank of the refreshing beverage: "seen the gang; found the entrance
to the caves from the gully; heard about Septimus; and, I fear,
witnessed part of an awful tragedy."

"But about Septimus; is he really alive?" exclaimed Betty.

"I heard that he was . . . but . . ."

"But what? Surely this disgraceful report about a marriage is not true?"

"I heard her myself last night tell Owen Skinner that she was married to
him by a clergyman, and had the certificate in her possession."

"Then I don't believe it. It's too outrageous . . . absurd . . .
impossible . . . . It's nothing but a wicked falsehood!"

She looked at her brother, waiting to see in his face some confirmation
of her passionate denial; but there was no response.

"Do you believe it?" she demanded, tears in her eyes.

"I don't know what to believe," replied Donald slowly and sadly. "I feel
dazed over the whole affair; but I feel sure that there has been a
tragedy in those caves, and by this time she's probably dead."

"Thank God, then, for that!" exclaimed Betty, pacing the room in her
excitement; "but," she continued, with a shudder, "didn't you say you
overheard that woman talking last night?"

"I both saw her and heard her," said Donald; "she did not speak to me,
but to Owen Skinner. I ought to ride in at once and let the police know
all I saw and heard. Those two may be dying, and a search should be made
immediately."

"Who for?" asked Betty, with a set face.

"For Owen Skinner and Meta Dalbert."

Betty shook her head.

"Let me tell you the whole story," said Donald; "but do sit down and
keep still."

Then he told her what he had seen and heard in the gully and tunnel, and
of the departure of the schooner.

Betty listened, as well she might, with strained attention, and when he
had finished sat for some time in silence.

Then she exclaimed, "What a night! and how brave you were. It's a wonder
that you escaped from them alive."

They both drew closer to the fire, and a long conference followed.
Donald was in a dilemma: he wanted to engage in a search for Septimus at
once, but felt that it was his first duty to inform the police about his
discovery of the entrance to the caves, the departure of the schooner,
and probable peril of Skinner and Meta Dalbert. Betty, however, had no
scruples about leaving the criminals to their fate. Their first duty,
she affirmed, was to Septimus; he was a prisoner somewhere, and might be
ill or dying. The others might have left the caves after the sailing of
the schooner. They knew the way in, and would know the way out. If they
were dead, she argued, what was the use of raising a hue and cry about
them? It would only result in bringing them all into unpleasant
publicity again.

It was noticeable how the idea of her brother being alive, and not only
alive but married to Meta Dalbert, had changed Betty in regard to him.
Womanlike, she fretted her heart out over the brother she thought to be
dead; but, as in other cases where sons, or husbands, or brothers were
concerned, she thought it best for the other woman to be dead. If she
was dead there was an end of it; but if not, she was Mrs Septimus
Dorset.

"You see the police----" commenced Donald.

"No, no!" exclaimed Betty. "We'll go and talk everything over with
Beatrice Ballantyne. Next to ourselves, she's the most interested party,
and, as you say, has sources of information which may at this juncture
be invaluable. That padlocked book, for instance, may contain
information about La Perouse that would just now greatly help you."

"But, Betty," persisted Donald, "it's a serious offence to withhold
information such as we possess; that schooner ought to be followed, and
the gang should be arrested. It's like compounding a felony to let them
escape. Then there are those two imprisoned, and probably dying, in the
caves."

"Don't lose your head, Donald," said Betty, as she viciously stirred the
fire with the poker to relieve her feelings; "you men are always a bit
soft when there's a woman in the case. She's a criminal; let her pay the
penalty. Listen to me! We three have worked together in this matter for
months. Last night you had wonderful good luck, and marvellous success.
You did splendidly, and the affair is now entirely in our hands. As you
say, the next step is to find out about Septimus: whether he is a
prisoner at La Perouse or elsewhere; and you have to find out what this
Granny Grimm and Tonk Daley really know about him. But if we call in the
police, it will be taken out of our hands and made public, and, as
likely as not, messed up. If it gets into the papers everyone connected
with it will be put upon their guard. The criminal element will shut its
mouth as close as an oyster, and if Owen Skinner and Meta Dalbert are
really dead, it's quite possible that Septimus may be spirited away or
murdered to prevent his telling tales."

"But don't you think that Bruce would keep it secret, and be of great
assistance?" urged Donald.

"The police can't keep things secret," said Betty. "Bruce would have to
report to his superior officer, and he to someone above him. Secrecy is
our only policy just now. Haven't we suffered enough already without a
further scandalous sensation, and the whole of us being dragged through
the mire again, and forced to give evidence at another trial in company
with Owen Skinner and Meta Dalbert? I'd sooner die, Donald!"

Donald was about to reply when a knock was heard at the door. The
servants had been warned by Betty not to disturb them, and when the
knock came, her passionate speech, which had brought tears to her eyes,
left her fairly breathless.

"For goodness' sake," she whispered, "go and see who it is."

It was one of the housemaids. "Please, sir, Miss Ballantyne and Dr
Strong are in the blue drawing-room."

Donald nodded to the girl. "Thank you," he said, and, shutting the door,
faced his sister.

He knew exactly the trend of her thoughts, although for fully a quarter
of a minute they looked at each other without speaking.

"What are you going to do?" asked Betty at last.

"I won't tell them anything until you come," said Donald,

"All right! I'll follow you in a couple of minutes; but don't mention
this supposed marriage. It may be a lie, and if it isn't, she may be
dead."

Donald hurried into the drawing-room with mixed feelings, for Beatrice
was there, and Dr Strong, and he had a startling story to tell them.

Greetings, and explanations as to the doctor's unexpected return, were
soon over, and after Betty had joined them, Donald re-told the story of
his previous night's adventure. He also explained, for Dr Strong's
benefit, some of the astounding revelations that had been discovered,
during his absence, in the padlocked book.

"Well," said Dr Strong, "it's the strangest recital I ever listened to.
And to think that all this villainy was going on under our feet, as it
were, and we in utter ignorance of it all."

"Mr Dorset, you are quite a hero," said Beatrice, with tears in her eyes
and wonder in her voice.

Donald's heart beat fast at her evident worship of him. Admiration is a
royal road to love!

"Yes! Yes! Of course," said Dr Strong, as though he had just remembered
something; "it was a very plucky thing to do."

There was a pause for a few moments after this, and then Dr Strong said:
"By the way, I know Tonk Daley and Granny Grimm; neither of them bear
very good characters. I've often wondered how the old woman managed to
make a living off a couple of dozen hens and a goat. The place she lives
in was built by a son of hers, a fisherman who was drowned years ago.
She's a likely character to be a tool in the hands of criminals. You
say, Mr Dorset, that the boy told you he was often sent on messages to
La Perouse?"

"He did," said Donald.

"Then," continued the doctor, "the position, according to the evidence
we have before us, seems to be this: the active members of a gang of
convict criminals, who had their quarters in the Caves of Shend, have
left for some foreign part in a schooner, probably taking the proceeds
of their robberies with them. Owen Skinner and Meta Dalbert are, for
some reason unknown to us, left behind, possibly entombed, in a cave
which we have been unable to discover. Your missing brother is a
prisoner in some place at, or near, La Perouse, where, so far as I have
ever heard, there is only dense bush and a few fishermen's huts. The
first business certainly seems to be to make a searching inquiry into
the truth of what you have heard about your missing brother."

"We have to rescue Septimus from these people," broke in Donald, who was
getting weary of the doctor's sententious mannerism. "We need, too, to
set about it at once," he added.

"Yes!" exclaimed both ladies in a breath.

"Then you may count upon me to assist you to the full extent of my
ability," said the doctor warmly; "especially," he added, "as I am back
several days before time, and my locum-tenens can go on with the work."

"Have you thought out any plan?" asked Beatrice of Donald, who, through
his success on the previous night, had gone up greatly in her
estimation.

"Not fully; but I have an idea of getting hold of Tank Daley, and taking
him out to La Perouse and frightening or bribing him to show us what he
knows about the place, or the accomplices of the gang that may live
there."

"Would it not be better first to interview Granny Grimm," said the
doctor. "She will know that the gang have cleared, and that the game is
up, and will be the more ready to tell us what she may know about your
brother. Let us go at once," he continued; "my man has the gig outside.
Miss Ballantyne might wait, with your sister, our return."

The suggestion was hailed with approval by the whole party, and a few
minutes afterward Donald and the doctor were on their way to
Storm-Cliff.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the meantime, Tonk Daley had watched the departure of the schooner
from a hiding-place he had among the rocks. He cowered there fearfully,
for the belief that a detective was prowling around the gully on the
watch was a source of alarm, if not terror, to him. He had had one or
two unfortunate brushes with police-officers before.

"I'd best kip out o' the way of that blooming copper," he said to
himself, as he lay low on some dry seaweed. So, having had his hunger
satisfied at the 'blooming copper's' expense, he determined to let his
foster-mother 'rip,' and watch for any further happenings.

Thus it came about that Granny Grimm looked and called for Tonk in vain
that morning. She, too, had seen the schooner depart, and cursed it
vigorously with many lurid adjectives, as in the early dawn she had
watched it sliding eastward toward the rising sun. Two ten-pound notes
had been mysteriously left by someone, with a scrawl signed with a
circle, the signature of the "Circular Letter," which bade her clean up
at L.P., poison the rats, burn the shanty, and throw the stuff into the
bay.

"D----them!" she muttered bitterly; "that's all they've left me. Let
them cover their tracks themselves, and when the grub's done the rats
can starve. Curse them! Where's that imp? Tonk! Tonk!"

It was near midday, and the woman paused to think. "Can't 've taken 'im
with 'em," she ejaculated.

She was strong and wiry for her age, and brandishing a stick, she
peered, with evil eyes, into a shed abutting on the cottage. It was
where Tonk Daley slept on straw covered with an old blanket and bags.
The woman's fowls and goat were better cared for than this half-witted
waif, whom some strange freak of fortune had flung in childhood at her
door.

But he was not there.

Returning to the house, she was startled by the noise of a loud knocking
at the door, and then, without ceremony, the latch was lifted, and into
the disordered front room walked Dr Strong, closely followed by Donald.

"Excuse us, Granny," said the doctor. "We're in a hurry, and want to
have a few minutes' talk with you."

"What do yer want?" asked the old woman, without any attempt at
civility.

"We want to know who looks after Mr Dorset at La Perouse," said the
doctor, watching the old woman to note the effect of his broadside, but
she was too wrinkled and dirty for any mental surprise or emotion to
show itself upon her face.

"Do yer mean the gentleman wot's dead?" she answered.

"I mean the gentleman who is supposed to be dead," replied the doctor.

"S'elp me, that's news. Who told yer?"

"Your adopted son, Tonk Daley," said the doctor, firing another shot at
random. "At least he told someone I know about his journeys out to La
Perouse."

"There's fishermen there," said the old woman.

"Now, don't waste our time," said the doctor sternly. "You know the
schooner's gone and the game's up; we don't wish you any harm, and don't
intend to tell anyone outside of ourselves. Where's Tonk?"

"Haven't seen him this two days," said the woman stubbornly.

"Will you tell us what you know about Mr Dorset?" asked the doctor.
"This gentleman is his brother, and we have heard things which prove to
us that he is alive and a prisoner."

"How can I tell you what I don't know?"

"Very well then, we'll have to inform the police," said the doctor.
"They'll get to the bottom of it."

"We'll get them to arrest Tonk," interposed Donald; "he's somewhere
about in the bush."

"And how do you know that, mister?" asked the old woman, turning sharply
upon Donald.

"Because he camped with me last night in the gully, and told me that you
often send him on errands to La Perouse, and thrash him if he lies down
to sleep by the way," said Donald.

The woman glared at him for a full half-minute before she answered: "How
do I know that I can trust you?"

"Because you have our word for it," replied the doctor simply.

A cunning look came into the woman's face. "If the young gent will cross
my hand with silver," she said, "I'll tell his fortune, and 't'as to do
with another as well as 'imself."

"That's Septimus," ejaculated Donald, taking half a crown from his
pocket, and offering it to her on the palm of his hand.

With her skinny fingers she caught his hand and made the sign of a
triangle, with the silver, on his palm. Then she scanned his hand
intently.

"There are ships upon the sea," she crooned, "and men waiting on the
shore. I see two men, one dark and one fair; they love a beautiful
woman, but the man she will love is on the water. I see a ship in
distress on a stormy sea; the sea has swept her deck and many are
drowned. I see a man and woman dying; but it's too dark to see plainly
who they are. There is another, a fair man, but I cannot tell whether he
will live or die. But another fair man will die, and the dark man also,
and the beautiful dark woman will marry one who is rich and powerful,
and worthy of her love. What's this I see? A capital letter! Ah! It's
plainer now. It reads like this, but I don't understand it; you may.
'Where the rocks are soft like velvet, and the waters gleam like glass.
Over the sea or under the sea, look and hold it fast!'"

She dropped Donald's hand. "If you see Tonk," she said, "you can tell
him that I told you he can take you to La Perouse."

At this she dropped the half-crown--as though to hear it ring as
sterling silver--picked it up, and turned and left the room.

For a moment Donald and the doctor looked at each other as though each
was busy with a troublesome thought, then Donald said, "She's mad; but
there's no time to waste, let us look for Tonk and drive at once to La
Perouse."

But they sought Tonk Daley for fully half an hour in vain. Part of the
time he had been high up in the branches of a tall pine tree watching
them.




CHAPTER XXXVII.--LA PEROUSE ISLAND.


An hour, or thereabout, after their interview with Granny Grimm, Dr
Strong and Donald found themselves upon the shore of the small bay named
after the famous but ill-fated French navigator, La Perouse.

It is near the entrance to the large expanse of water named by Captain
Cook Botany Bay, which, as everyone knows, was deserted by the early
colonists, under Governor Phillip, for Port Jackson. At the time of our
story its shores presented a sandy, scrub-grown, undulating wilderness,
uninhabited save for a few rough hovels occasionally occupied by
fishermen.

The horse and gig had been left, concealed from observation, in charge
of the doctor's groom, in a thick growth of bushes, as Donald and the
doctor made their way around a rocky, sand-strewn point to where the
long swell of the Pacific rolled half a mile wide between the heads.

It was low tide, and the scene which confronted them was sombre and
dreary in the extreme. Overhead were long stretches of streaky grey-blue
clouds, whose stiff, straight lines told of wind in the upper
atmosphere, while at their feet heaved a great waste of leaden waters.
Large numbers of gulls and shags and other sea-birds were resting upon
jutting rocks and the rotting stumps of broken ti-tree, while the
shelving shore, where rocks outcropped from dull grey sand, presented a
striking contrast to the white and yellow of the beaches in other parts
of Botany Bay.

The tide was rising, and the shrill cries of sea-birds pierced the air,
as the invading waters buffeted them off their rocky perches. Westerly,
the wind-beaten clouds shone dully with a feeble reflection of the sun,
which occasionally partly broke through its misty envelope and cast
uncertain gleams, in splashes of light, upon the water; not golden, but
a sickly silver gleam like glass. The birds flew low, occasionally
touching the water, half a dozen at a time, flying south-west toward
where a range of misty hills appeared across the bay, over which clouds
were piled in fantastic heaps, like far-off mountains, their slopes
burnished with dull gold, and their summits scintillating with quivering
spears of light. Not a sail was to be seen upon the water, nor a living
person on the long reaches of the shore.

"What a weird, murky, sombre scene!" exclaimed Donald as they stood
together on a bit of rising ground which gave them a widespread view of
bay and shore. "Even the occasional glimmer of sunlight adds to the
melancholy aspect of the scene, and, as the old hag said, makes the
waters gleam like glass."

This was the first reference either of them had made to the old woman's
strange prediction; but the doctor did not take it up.

"Queer place, this Australia," he grunted. "Europeans would scarcely
credit us with being able to produce a Stygian picture such as this; but
we'd better keep along the shore, any buildings or sheds should be
visible from there."

It was not possible, however, to see far inland from the shore-line, so
they made their way to higher ground which commanded a view both inland
and shoreward; but for a mile they came upon no sign of any habitation.
Rounding a point, however, another small bay opened up, a portion of
which was heaped high with what, at a distance, appeared to be dark,
iron-stained rocks; but closer inspection proved it to be a great
accumulation of seaweed, piled from six to ten feet high, with singular
fissures, the result of the buffeting of waves breaking in stormy
weather upon the shore. Neither of them referred to it, but both
recalled the old woman's words: "Where the rocks are soft like velvet."

"Without close examination," said the doctor, "an investigator would
pronounce this shore-line covered with wave-worn rocks."

"Yes, it's singularly like a mass of rock, seen at a distance," replied
Donald; "but what do you make of that island yonder?"

About half a mile away was a small island, seemingly overgrown with
bottle-brush and ti-tree, with a few trees of larger growth in the
centre, known as Moreton Bay figs. They stood and looked across at it
for several minutes, but there could be seen nothing about it suggestive
of human habitation.

"It looks as desolate and forbidding as the rest of the place," said the
doctor. "I'm afraid, Mr Dorset, you've been altogether misled about what
you might find here."

But Donald's eyes were fixed upon the island with strained attention.
"What do you make of that?" he asked, pointing to a misty cloud of thin
vapour which seemed to be hanging above the larger trees. "Is that mist
or smoke?"

"It may be either," said the doctor, after a minute's pause; "but I
think it looks more like vapour than smoke."

"We may be watched!" exclaimed Donald suddenly. "Would it not be better
to get under cover in the scrub."

"Probably it would," replied the doctor absently, as though his mind was
preoccupied with other thoughts.

A quarter of an hour's close observation satisfied both of them that
there was something happening upon the island; they heard sounds as of
cattle, and once, for a very few minutes, the smoke was more
perceptible, and for those minutes it partook of an unmistakable bluish
tinge.

"Had it been a bright, warm day," said the doctor, "that smoke would
have been absorbed more quickly by the atmosphere, and for all practical
purposes would have been invisible; but it looks more like spray or
vapour than the smoke of an ordinary fire. It's worth inquiring into;
but the question is how are we to reach the island. What do you
suggest?"

"Search about for a boat," replied Donald.

It was another half-hour, however, before their search was rewarded. In
a declivity, to protect them from south-easterly winds, Donald
discovered three rough sheds, which were evidently occasionally used by
fishermen as temporary dwellings. There were no nets to be seen, nor
signs of very recent occupancy; but in a large boat-shed adjoining was a
dingy with sculls. There was room for a couple of fishing-boats to be
housed as well, and signs were not wanting that larger boats were
occasionally placed there. There was no appearance, however, of anyone
having lately been about the place.

"I should think," said the doctor, after a careful scrutiny, "that this
is a rendezvous for fishing-boats from other parts of the coast;
possibly they come to fish in this bay, or only use it as a shelter when
caught outside in bad weather."

"But why have they left this dingy here, if not to row over in it to the
island?" said Donald. "Anyhow I suggest that we take French leave of it
and row across. But how about your man? We may be gone a couple of hours
or more."

"He will be all right," said the doctor. "I told him to take the mare
out of the gig if we were away long, and tie her up with her feed, and
if he heard a shot fired to join us as quickly as possible."

The dingy proved fairly heavy, and as they, with some difficulty, hauled
it down to the water, Donald said: "I don't see how Tonk could get this
boat down alone."

"You will find that he has some other means of getting across to the
island," said the doctor, adding cautiously, "if there is any truth in
the story you have heard."

Donald, who was now visibly excited by the prospect of rescuing his
brother, took the sculls and rowed the boat quickly through the water.

"You had better go round the island and see if there is any
landing-place on the other side," said the doctor.

"All right," said Donald; "you keep a look out for any likely
landing-place."

The island was about a mile in circumference, and after rowing around
it, they decided to land on a bit of sandy beach. Here they were about
to pull the boat well ashore, but Donald suddenly stopped.

"I don't think it will be wise for both to leave the boat," he said, "we
do not know who may be upon this island; we may return to find the boat
gone or stove in. I think you had better take the sculls and keep out a
short distance from shore. If I am attacked I can come back to you, and
if you hear two shots you might beach the boat and come to my
assistance."

"I would sooner come with you," said the doctor; "but I think your
advice is good."

On leaving the beach Donald found himself in a thick scrub of ti-tree
and honeysuckle, interlaced in places with creepers, but he pressed
through them in the direction of the larger trees, where they had seen
the smoke.

He proceeded with the greatest quietness and caution, for he was
possibly in close vicinity to dangerous criminals. Revolver in hand, he
pushed his way slowly through the scrub, keenly on the alert for any
sign of life or human habitation.

Only those who have passed through a similar experience, or have acted
as a scout in the country of an enemy, can in any way realise the strain
upon both mind and body, as with finger on trigger a man presses into
the unknown, his life possibly dependent upon the quickness of his eye
and hand. But the thought of Septimus engrossed the mind of Donald, and
he pushed resolutely on until, reaching the butt of the first Moreton
Bay fig, he saw before him a grassy glade with a couple of cows grazing
in the open.

The sight was so homely and peaceful that he threw caution to the winds,
and, stepping out from the trees, walked over towards them. They seemed
to take little notice of his approach.

"They must be used to seeing people," was Donald's mental comment.

The glade was not more than a dozen acres in extent, and to the
south-west the ground rose in a kind of rocky terrace. After walking
twice around the open, where he discovered no sign of living things
except the cows, Donald climbed up upon the ridge. He was much inclined
to go back for the doctor and consult with him, but for half an hour he
examined the ridge, and walked to and fro, eagerly searching for some
sign of human life. "There must be fresh water here," he thought, "for
the cows could not exist without it."

He sat upon an outcropping rock and looked down upon the cows calmly
feeding in the glade. Could it be possible, he thought, that the animals
had strayed from their owner somewhere, and swam across to this island
from the mainland. The thing was manifestly absurd. Then his thoughts
swung back to the other extreme: it seemed to his excited mind to be an
island of enchantment he had happened upon. The grasses of the glade
were so green and luscious, so unlike the bush grass of the mainland.
Donald did not know much about agriculture, but he decided that the
sward in front of him had at some time been sown with artificial
grasses. "There must," he thought, "be a house of some sort somewhere
upon the island." Then it occurred to him that it might be built
somewhere in the scrub.

He was about to continue his search there when there stepped out from
among the trees a man in a grey tweed suit. He had a couple of white
pebbles in his hands, and tossed them with considerable skill from one
hand to the other. He walked slowly over in Donald's direction,
engrossed in throwing the pebbles from one hand to the other without
dropping them.

There was no mistaking who it was! He was well dressed, and had the
appearance of being in good health. It was Septimus Dorset!

Donald hurried down and meeting him with outstretched hand, ejaculated,
"Sep., thank God I've found you!"

Without noticing the outstretched hand, his brother gravely lifted his
hat, and, bowing, said:

"You have the advantage of me, sir. I have not had the pleasure of
meeting you before. My name is Meta Dalbert, and by George it's very
funny, but that's my wife's name too."

If Donald had been struck a stunning blow in the face he could scarcely
have reeled under the physical blow more than he did under this shock to
his mind and heart.

It was Septimus; but not Septimus. It was his own brother, but bereft of
reason.

"Do you not know me? I am your brother Donald," he exclaimed.

"Ah! it's evidently a case of mistaken identity," came the reply. "I
have no brother of that name. Are you good at catching pebbles? I find
it a quiet but very interesting game. My wife is wonderfully expert at
it; but I am practising, for it is important that a husband should be
his wife's superior in all useful projects. See now," he said, "I can
toss these two pebbles for several minutes without once dropping them;
but I may tell you as a secret, that I shall have to practise very
closely, for my wife can toss three."

"Have you seen Tonk Daley lately, Mr Dalbert?" asked Donald, seeking to
discover if he might prove sane on other subjects.

"I never heard of the person," replied Septimus. "Tonk! Tonk! Strange
name that; is it a boy or girl?"

"Where might you live, sir?" asked Donald, puzzled in his mind as to
what to say or do next.

"Ah! that's a very important matter," said Septimus. "I'm keeping house
alone just now, but my wife will be back to-morrow; and I may tell you
that I can't ask you to lunch, for there's nothing left to eat in the
house. In fact I'd be very pleased if you'd ask me to lunch with you
instead. Later on I shall be happy to return your hospitality."

Donald, although wishful to see the place in which his brother had been
in captivity, was fearful to risk a change of humour in his evidently
demented brother, so he at once responded, "I shall be greatly pleased
if you will do me the honour."

Septimus bowed low, and together they made their way to the boat. They
found the doctor with the dingy close to shore.

"Look yonder," he said to Donald, "is not that the 'Circular Letter'
schooner?"

Standing in, under fore-spanker jibs and topsails, the schooner was seen
sailing through the heads.

"We're only just in time!" ejaculated Donald. "My brother's not
himself," he whispered to the doctor; "remember he's a stranger, but
I've invited him to dinner," and with that Donald leaned back upon his
sculls and pulled for the shore.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.--THE LAWYER'S RETURN.


Dr Strong drove back with the groom beside him, Donald and Septimus
occupying the back seat. The latter expressed himself as too tired and
hungry to talk much, and hoped they had not far to go; he wanted to be
back again before his wife returned.

"Very well," said Donald.

He did not want Septimus to talk; his own thoughts were very busy, and
his heart full of foreboding as to how he should present his brother to
Betty and Beatrice under these terribly altered conditions . . .
besides, the doctor's groom could hear all that was said . . . and what
might not Septimus say if he was once started talking!

This last thought suggested a world of apprehension to Donald regarding
his demented brother. He was evidently as self-assertive in his madness
as when he knew himself to be Septimus Dorset. He would, thought Donald,
tell any stranger he met with that his name was Meta Dalbert, and inform
them of his marriage, and of his residence on an island, and that his
wife's name was the same as his, and that while he could only toss two
pebbles, she could toss three.

Then as they drove swiftly along the sandy road, Donald recalled Betty's
sorrow at her brother's loss; and when the first gleam of hope had come
to them, how she prayed for his return, and yet loathed the thought of a
marriage with Mrs Dalbert. And this was the answer to her prayers!

"Poor Betty!"

There came also to his mind the thought of his mother, and then he
thought of Beatrice; the latter would always blame herself for the
unbalancing of his mind. Fortunately, Lady Dorset was away on a visit to
Alice at Bourke; but what could they say that would prepare her for
seeing her son like this? Supposing, too, that before her return he went
about the mansion at 'Dorset Park' telling the servants, and any people
he might meet with, that he was Meta Dalbert? Any other name would not
have mattered--but that name! Unless he should recover 'twas impossible
to have him at large!

In the meantime the subject of Donald's anxiety and embarrassment was
gazing with absurd interest at the houses and other objects he saw upon
the road; he made some eccentric and offensive gestures at two men they
passed, and one of them stooped to pick up a stone to throw at him.

Looking at him as he sat there, Donald was more disheartened by his
appearance and conduct than on account of anything he had done or said
previously. Every tie of relationship seemed to be severed. The man
alongside him was an irresponsible idiot!

Better, thought Donald, and his heart ached with the thought, to place
him in an asylum at once, and let their mother still think him dead,
than have her see him thus.

He noticed now, to his surprise, that they had left the Sydney Road and
were driving to Storm-Cliff, and as he did so the doctor turned round to
him and said: "My sister is expecting me to dinner, Mr Dorset, so I
think it will be best for us all to dine together; Storm-Cliff is nearer
than 'Dorset Park.'"

A mutual glance passed between them, and with his eyes Donald thanked
the doctor for his thoughtfulness. By this arrangement neither Betty nor
Beatrice would see Septimus until he and the doctor had had time for
thought and consultation.

Shortly afterward the long-lost brother was safely housed in the
doctor's study, where Donald and he were introduced to Dr Saphin, Dr
Strong's locum-tenens.

"Have a glass of sherry and a biscuit after your drive," said the doctor
to them; "dinner will be in directly." And then aside to Donald: "You
leave him here with us; we'll look after him. You go on home . . . they
will be anxious . . . the gig is waiting outside."

Donald knew that Septimus would not miss him so long as his animal
craving for food was satisfied, so he took the doctor at his word, and,
leaving, grasped his hand with sincere respect and friendship. "I will
return in two or three hours," he said, "and send your trap back at
once. You're a splendid fellow, doctor, and I shall never forget your
kindness."

"He's a good fellow himself," thought the doctor, when he was gone; "but
it's not an easy thing to do justice to a rival. I wonder what there is
at the back of that old witch's prediction?"

* * * * * * * * * *

Betty and Beatrice were waiting dinner when Donald arrived, and a
disappointed look overspread Betty's features on seeing that her brother
was alone.

"It's all right," said Donald; "we have found him, and fairly well; but
the doctor wishes to keep him for to-night as he is somewhat upset in
his mind, and needs quietness and medical attention. But I'm as hungry
as can be; let's have dinner and I will tell you all about it over the
coffee after we have dined."

Alas! Donald was at his wits' end to know how to tell the painful story
of the day's adventure; but he was really hungry, and dinner was allowed
to pass over without any further reference to Septimus or his state of
health.

"I have a fire in the blue drawing-room," said Betty; "we'll drink our
coffee there, and you shall then tell us all about it."

"Not exactly all," thought Donald, "but I'll tell the story which I have
to tell just as it occurred. It will be the easiest way to break the
news of Sep.'s condition to them."

So he told them of the visit to Granny Grimm's (without, however,
mentioning the fortune-telling episode); of how they could not find Tonk
Daley, so went on to La Perouse alone; of how they saw smoke on the
island, and found the boat; and how he had persuaded the doctor to let
him land alone. Possibly, at one time, he would have given the doctor
scant credit for his share in the adventure; but not now.

"Dr Strong is a fine man," was his comment; and Beatrice liked him all
the better for his frank praise of one he knew to be his rival.

Both girls listened eagerly to the description of how he forced his way
through the scrub, and then saw before him the glade and cows, and at
last met with Septimus. He described his approach to him, tossing the
two white pebbles, as he entered the glade, and how, on meeting him,
Septimus did not recognise him or even know himself by his proper name.

"Surely," exclaimed Beatrice, "it was only a temporary lapse of memory
of which he may soon be cured?"

"I hope so," replied Donald; "that's one reason why I have left him at
the doctor's. I am going to drive over directly to see how he is, and,
if you will allow me, I will take you home first and then go on to
Storm-Cliff."

"I will go with you, Donald; I must see him," interposed Betty.

Donald saw by Betty's face that he would have to take her, and although
reluctant to do so, thought that, after all, it was perhaps best for her
to know the worst at once.

They reached the doctor's, after leaving Beatrice at Woollahra, to find
that Septimus had been tired after dinner, and had been persuaded,
without very much trouble, to go to bed.

Dr Saphin had gone out to see a patient, so they sat by the fire to
talk.

"What do you think of him, doctor?" asked Donald anxiously.

"It's a bad case of lost memory," said Dr Strong, after a long pause;
"but recollection of the past might return to him at any time. He seems
fairly sane in regard to ordinary things, but from a certain point his
recollection of the past is a perfect blank. It's a very singular case;
I would like to keep him here under observation for a few days."

"But I must have him home and nurse him, doctor!" said Betty
impetuously.

"Have you told your sister," said the doctor, turning round to Donald,
"that her brother is under an hallucination, and thinks that his name is
Meta Dalbert?"

"No," replied Donald.

"You see, Miss Betty," said the doctor kindly, "you do not fully realise
your brother's condition. Apart from some necessary consideration for
your family, it would be impossible for you to do as you suggest. You
may come and see him asleep, and you will understand better what I mean.
Unless he recovers his memory and sanity in a few days, I see no
alternative but for your brother to at once place him in an asylum. I
doubt very much whether you ought to let his mother see him, and
certainly Miss Ballantyne must not be allowed to. His association with
Mrs Dalbert, who seems likely never to see him again, has been
disastrous for him. It would be a satisfaction to us for him to have a
lucid interval, if only to know what he has really gone through; but I
had better tell you at once that there is unfortunately little prospect
of a lucid interval. Dr Saphin and myself have examined him thoroughly,
and find that he has the mark of a healed wound on the head, which, in
our opinion, precludes all hope of recovery. He seems docile enough now,
but it is impossible to say how he might be affected in the future. His
talk to-night at the dinner-table was that of an imbecile; he harps
distressingly upon the one subject--that he is Meta Dalbert--and he eats
like an animal. You will have to leave him with me until we can decide
what had better be done with him."

Betty was crying; but although the doctor respected her grief and
sympathised deeply with her, he felt that it was his duty to let her
know the exact condition of her brother.

"Let us go and see him," she said.

Donald, the doctor, and Betty stood by the bedside of the sleeping man;
the doctors had given him a whiff of chloroform when examining him, and
he slept heavily. It was painful for anyone who had known and loved him
before to see him now. Reason had evidently been so long dethroned that
the ruin of the intellect had recast the features of the once clever
lawyer in a different mould. He was no longer the Septimus Dorset that
had been, but a mental derelict that needed to be saved from himself as
well as from doing injury to others.

"My mother and Beatrice," said Betty thickly, her eyes suffused with
tears, "must never see him now."

"You are quite right, Miss Dorset," said the doctor; "it is most painful
and distressing for us all, but especially for you and your brother, and
you have my deepest sympathy. In such cases as this, it is not the
patient but the friends of the patient who suffer most. There is
another, too, that we must not forget--the sooner Miss Ballantyne knows
of this the better. It will be best, I think, for me to see her, and I
will do so in the morning. I will tell her no more than is absolutely
necessary, but sufficient to make her understand that your brother is an
invalid, and that we wish, for her own sake, that she should not see him
again."

* * * * * * * * * *

"I hope you have good news for me about Septimus Dorset?" was the
anxious inquiry of Beatrice, when she met the doctor on the following
morning.

"His bodily health is all right," said Dr Strong, "but the terrible
experiences he has passed through have left him weak in his mind."

"Can I go and see him? I want to tell him how much I blame myself for
having put him to sleep in that room."

"It would do him no good," replied the doctor, "and for your own sake it
is best that you should never meet him again."

"For my own sake! . . . Why should I be spared if by seeing him I can
make any amends for the past? You know, doctor, I would do anything,
make any sacrifice, that Septimus Dorset might be again restored to
health."

"I know that; but I want to protect you from yourself, and from your
self-upbraiding on account of things which you are not answerable for at
all. Meta Dalbert is mainly the cause of the present mental affliction
of the lawyer, and Septimus Dorset knew Meta Dalbert before he knew
you."

"Is there nothing that I can do?" asked Beatrice, looking earnestly at
the doctor.

"Nothing, except to forget," replied the doctor, smiling.

"I'm afraid I shall never do that," said Beatrice.

"Oh yes you will!" he replied, walking over to a side-table where a
lovely collection of flowers was arranged. "What beautiful lilies you
have here."

The doctor had come intending to say something which he now found it
very difficult to give expression to. He knew very well that the present
was not the time to urge Beatrice further on the subject that was
nearest to his heart; but he was scarcely master of himself as he beheld
her beauty, and the fragrance of her presence intoxicated his mind.
There had been no correspondence between them during his absence in New
Zealand, and he dreaded their drifting away from the previous pleasant
relationship which had been both familiar and affectionate. With a
lover's intuition he felt that a change had come over Beatrice, and he
feared that if they parted that morning without some expression of
renewed attachment, his opportunity might be lost.

Yet how to break the ice sorely puzzled him. Beatrice knew very well how
he felt, and was sorry for him, and inclined to help him; but she had
her own lion in the path to cause her apprehension, and a new thought
had taken possession of the lady's mind, which was not favourable to the
doctor's suit.

As he stood examining and admiring the flowers, and wondering how he
should commence, Beatrice watched him, and doing so her thoughts ran
this wise: "You're a handsome man, and I respect and admire you very
much, I might even come to love you; but why should I, by an Australian
marriage, bind myself, as it were, to a page of my life's history which
I positively hate. You have been associated with the whole of this
distressing episode. No doubt you have been wonderfully good to me, and
befriended me to an extent that I probably only partially realise--you
risked your life in that fatal room that you might help me, and, for
aught I know, may, by your skill as a doctor, have saved my life; but
will all this make for our mutual happiness if I consent to marry you?"

The reply of the girl's heart was a decided NO. She felt, at the present
moment at any rate, that to marry Dr Strong would be to perpetuate in
her mind the whole of that which she desired to forget and escape from.
And the same applied to Donald; but not to the same degree. He was----

Probably, had Beatrice been really in love with either the doctor or
Donald, her affection would have swept much of this feeling aside; but
evidently she was not, and so far as Dr Strong was concerned, there was
a portion of her recently acquired knowledge which, unknown to him, she
had brooded over until it had become a positive menace to her peace of
mind. Her Uncle Hugh, as the reader already knows, was once a convict;
and not only that, but was later allied with convict criminals. Donald
knew it, and Dr Strong would have to know it; but why . . . why, she
thought, should her husband know it?

"Doctor," she said, breaking a somewhat long silence, and speaking with
an effort in a voice of studied humility and tenderness, her eyes
fastened the while upon the flowers which adorned the side-table, "I have
discovered something while you have been away which I shall find it very
hard indeed to forget . . . even after I have left Australia. My uncle,
Hugh Ballantyne, I have found out, was an emancipist, therefore at one
time a convict, and, worse still, he seems to have belonged to the
'Circular Letter' gang . . . . I fear, too, that my Uncle Raymond had
something to do with them. When 'Storm-Cliff Towers' was built by Isaac
Shend, my Uncle Hugh's assigned servant, the caves beneath were the
headquarters of the gang, and----But, you know, I'm telling you this in
confidence, so you will keep it a secret . . . even from Grace. Can you
wonder, doctor, that I wish to get away from Australia . . . and . . .
forget? Don't you think it would be better for me to marry . . . if I
ever do marry . . . someone who neither knows nor wants to know about my
Australian experiences or relations?"

Beatrice at this looked full at the doctor, but his discomposure
exceeded anything she had expected. He was altogether taken aback by her
astonishing disclosure. He stood there confused, hesitating as to how he
should answer her; then stammered out: "I can't believe it!" Another
unfortunate pause . . . and still he hesitated!

It was enough; the lips of Beatrice hardened, a blush of shame and
mortification rose to her cheeks; she was about to speak, when suddenly
the drawing-room door opened and a servant announced, "Sir George
Cameron."




CHAPTER XXXIX.--HANDS ACROSS THE SEA.


Following upon the entrance of Sir George Cameron, Lady Stirling was
announced. They were there by agreement, in connection with a projected
party to attend the opening of a newly completed Artesian Water Bore,
which was the talk of the Colony. Sir George Cameron--a notable visitor,
largely interested in English agriculture--had been invited to perform
the ceremony, and he badly wanted Beatrice to be present. Sir Godfrey
and Lady Stirling had already promised, and the latter had engaged to
persuade Miss Ballantyne to make one of the party.

The doctor had looked reproachfully at Beatrice when she introduced him
to Sir George, as though he would say, "I have not had a fair chance;"
but on the arrival of Lady Stirling, and a remark of hers that their
early visit was prearranged, Beatrice looked back at him, and the doctor
understood her to mentally affirm, "You see it was not my fault that you
had no further opportunity to say more."

Lady Stirling, always on the alert to keep Beatrice as far as possible
away from a probable Australian husband, rejoiced greatly at their
having disturbed what she thought might have been an important
interview. To her mind, Beatrice was far too much under Dr Strong's
influence, and she took good care that there should be no more private
conversation with the doctor before he left, which shortly after he did.

Sir George Cameron was too much of a society man to unduly prolong a
morning call; but it was a relief to Beatrice to listen to the bright
chatter of one who was only on a visit to Australia, and who drew upon
his travels and English experiences for topics of conversation.

Beatrice, who was still obsessed with gloomy thoughts, presently said,
"You don't talk much about Australia, Sir George."

"And they've treated you splendidly!" interjected Lady Stirling.

"I'm positively enamoured of the colonies!" exclaimed the baronet.

"Then you should throw in your lot with the colonists, and stop here,
and help forward the great future which they tell us is the destiny of
this sunny land," said Lady Stirling, who knew very well that this was
the last thing Sir George Cameron would have thought of doing.

"Ah, that does not follow," he replied, laughing. "You may be honestly
in love with a country and yet not wish to live in it."

"Or with a woman and not wish to marry her," said the lady slyly.

"No, I do not say that," replied the gentleman emphatically. "The love
of country partakes very much of sentiment and admiration, but one's
love for a woman is a very different thing; and any true man that loves
will naturally wish to have the loved one for his own. But my admiration
for this great land is quite consistent with my love for England.
Australia is a fine country for the native-born, whose friends and
interests are here, and it's a good place for other countries'
have-nots. A man who wants to make a start, and get on, can't do better
than settle in Australia; but people whose aspirations in the matter of
wealth are mostly realised, who possess a home and friends and worthy
ambitions in the land of their birth, don't make good colonists. My
friends want me to go into the House of Commons--they tell me I have
gifts that way--but I'd be like a fish out of water in colonial
politics, or at any rate I should feel that the swimming area was rather
small. You will understand me, Miss Ballantyne, I am sure, being an
Englishwoman. I take no notice of Lady Stirling yonder, because she
often talks on purpose to draw me out; but I shall have to make a
spread-eagle speech from the Australian standpoint at the opening of the
Bore."

"I understand your feeling," replied Beatrice; "but I think you scarcely
do this country justice. These Australian cities, for instance, are
wonderful places for their age, and is it not a fine ambition to be
identified with people who are laying the foundations of probably the
last great nation to be established upon this planet?"

"Very good, Miss Ballantyne, very good indeed!" exclaimed the baronet,
smiling; "but there's one thing which I believe we all three crave for
that Australia cannot give us."

"Whatever is that?" asked Lady Stirling.

Sir George smiled at her ladyship and said, "I will tell you, but please
pardon a digression. I once went for a long voyage on a sailing vessel,"
he continued, addressing his conversation specially to Beatrice. "You
know, Miss Ballantyne, I'm regarded by my friends at home as a
singularly fortunate man. Even when I don't deserve good luck I seem to
get it. Well, my people declared it was rank folly to do what I did; but
we had a wondrously fine trip, although it was winter, and we entered
the English Channel under full sail, with splendid weather, after a
record run. That night at dinner, after we had caught our first glimpse
of the white cliffs of old England in the run up the Channel, the
captain gave us a toast. His name, by the way, was Cosey, and it suited
him admirably; he was a fine seaman, but he always looked comfortable
and pleased. I shall never forget how he stood up with a smile upon his
face that evening and said, 'Fill your glasses, ladies and gentlemen.
Here's to the wives and sweethearts whose loving hands hold the tow-line
that has brought us so quickly home.' We drank the toast and sang 'For
they are jolly good fellows'; but I have often thought since that it's
the hands which reach across the sea that hold us so strongly to the
scenes and associations of our early days."

"You are not going to say that up at the Bore next week," said Lady
Stirling; but she smiled, notwithstanding the implied criticism, for she
was immensely pleased with the digression of the baronet.

"No," replied Sir George; "but that explains why I could not settle in
Australia, with all its magnificent prospects and resources. I have a
nook in the sun elsewhere. That's the difference between the well-to-do
English-born and the well-to-do Australian-born. They are proud out here
to be British, and they glory in the traditions of the Empire; but for
them there are no hands upon a tow-line that pulls them to the little
land in the North Sea. They visit England, but find it different to
Australia; so much so that they return and, more often than not, run the
Old Country down, and really I don't blame them. They are used to
magnificent distances, and in England everyone lives next door. Jack is
as good as his master here, but there's more aloofness in the old land.
Then it's often cold and inclement there, with gloomy skies, and your
native-born Australian can't stand a clouded sky; it makes him serious,
and he cannot bear to be serious for long. He hates melancholy as much
as smallpox. So they pack up and return to this island continent more
Australian than ever. I always wish good luck to them; they're fine
fellows, but a restless race. I must not, however, detain you ladies
longer," he continued. "Lady Stirling is coming with Sir Godfrey, and I
shall be delighted, Miss Ballantyne, to be honoured by your presence as
one of our party."

Sir George Cameron having gone, Lady Stirling turned to Beatrice and
said: "I'm going to stay to lunch, little girl, and take you with me
shopping this afternoon. We're going home next month, and I may tell you
as a bit of additional news, so is Sir George Cameron, and I want you to
arrange your business affairs and come by the same steamer. There's
nothing to keep you here now."

"It's rather sudden, Connie, is it not?" replied Beatrice.

"It may appear so; most things that are worth while seem to come
suddenly. Sir Godfrey has seen and said and done all he wants to at
present, and I wish to get him away before he starts upon some new
investigation or discovery."

Beatrice looked into the fire; it was her turn now to hesitate. She felt
that the Strongs and Dorsets had been too much her friends not to be
consulted beforehand--especially Donald. Beatrice had an English
conscience, and it occurred to her that in her position she ought not to
leave Australia so abruptly. Everything was still in a mess, as it were.
'The Towers'' property was unsold; Septimus had to be thought of; and
she remembered with horror those two criminals who were probably lying
dead together in a cave beneath the ruins. The police might want to do
something about them, and about the schooner; they might want to see the
padlocked book! She had thought of doing something for Tonk Daley, and
there was Grace and Betty to be thought of . . . and Donald.

She got into quite a reverie over Donald, and sat looking into the fire
so long that Lady Stirling at last exclaimed:

"Whatever are you thinking about, Beatrice?"

"I was thinking what a strange thing life is . . . to some people," she
added, after a pause, "and how different to others. There's Sir George
Cameron as light-hearted as a boy, with all his big estate in England,
and multitudinous business affairs which must require his close
attention."

"I admire him immensely for his very lightheartedness," said Lady
Stirling seriously. "He carries heavy responsibilities without effort,
because he is strong. To do things easily is the reward of efficiency,
and Sir George laughs and jokes as he labours, because he is a fine,
strong, capable man--healthy in body and well equipped in mind. An
American is reported to have said: 'Hitch your wagon to a star,' and a
girl of your temperament, my dear, ought--if she has the chance--to
hitch herself to a man of hopeful, cheerful disposition."

"Like Donald Dorset," said Beatrice demurely; for she knew very well
that by hook or by crook Lady Stirling intended to marry her to Sir
George Cameron.

"No, little girl; do you think that I would agree to your marrying into
a family where you may find, to put it as kindly as possible, latent
insanity?"

"I don't think that is so; the condition of Septimus is due to accident.
Why, if he heard you, Donald would break his heart."

"Not he; he will marry an Australian, and be far happier with her than
he would be with you, or you with him. A girl with your temperament and
wealth, and social environment, ought to marry an Englishman and settle
down in the land of your birth."

Beatrice looked into the fire without speaking; she was thinking of the
night of the ball when, for the sake of herself and others, Donald
played a hero's part in the Caves of Shend.

But Lady Stirling, only faintly guessing at her companion's thoughts,
continued her homily.

"There's another thing, too, which should make you hesitate to marry an
Australian. If you have had your eyes open you must have seen that the
love of home and offspring, which for centuries has distinguished the
English character, is largely wanting in the upper-class, native-born
Australians. They are, as Sir George Cameron says, a restless race. The
women hanker after the gaieties of the cities, and the men live largely
on their stations and in their clubs, and are always on the make, as
they say. Few of them are great readers, or particularly intellectual,
or religiously inclined; so the sports-ground and racecourse and
gambling habit have resulted--especially among the class I refer to--in
a vacillating, national character, which is bad enough in public
life--at the polling-booths and in parliament--but worse when it has to
be faced daily in the home. And remember this, little girl: marriage
does not change character, as thousands of infatuated men and women have
discovered when it was too late, to their cost."

"All of which means, Connie, that you hold a brief for Sir George
Cameron."

"Nothing of the sort, my dear; it means that I want you to come back
with us to England, and remain unmarried until your heart is fairly won
by one of your own people."

"You mean well, Connie, and I love you very much; but you are a most
unmerciful critic of Australia and Australians. You know they are just
as British as we are, and they're not all like that--at least Donald--"
She was going to say more, but just then the gong sounded for lunch, and
Beatrice remembered something. Both ladies rose from their chairs, and
as they did so Lady Stirling--a tear in her eye--kissed Beatrice.

"I want to see you happy, little girl," she said.




CHAPTER XL.--JUSTICE WITHOUT LAW.


It seemed to Beatrice after this as though a new element had come into
her life, antagonistic to Australia. Not that she encouraged it; but
Lady Stirling's words had impressed her far more than she willingly
acknowledged, even to herself. Her dreams were increasingly unpleasant,
and she felt that, as indicating her state of mind, this was not a good
sign. She had read somewhere that people's dreams are the wandering
visions of their subconscious thought--that what people are, they dream.
Her dreams were now almost always associated with 'The Towers,' the
caves, or the padlocked book. Isaac Shend, her uncles, Septimus Dorset,
Dr Strong, and Grace posed largely in them; but never in a way that was
pleasing to the mind. She noted with pleasure, however, that she never
dreamed of Donald in these distressful dreams.

She would frequently awaken with a start, and then remember with intense
relief that 'The Towers' were burnt down, and Isaac Shend and a number
of other people long since dead. It is not surprising that her short but
tragic experience of colonial life became more and more distasteful to
her.

One day she told all this to the doctor, who now realised that what had
become to him a passion was to Beatrice only a grateful sense of
appreciation and respect. He had been her very good friend, and, like
other women, she might, on persuasion, have married him out of gratitude
and for the esteem in which she held him, and have joined the grey
sisterhood of married women united to men for whom they never had a
supreme affection; but the doctor, after hearing what Beatrice had to
say, turned a deaf ear to the pleading of his own passionate heart, and
thinking only of the welfare of the woman he loved, advised her to
return with the Stirlings to England.

Probably Beatrice would have taken his advice straightway had the
Stirlings been travelling alone, for largely through Donald's assiduity
the tangled skein of her business affairs was being reduced to order.
Donald had gone into the office after the disappearance of his brother,
and had found the big Ballantyne estate a very complicated matter to
deal with; but much had been arranged, and several properties had, at
the wish of Beatrice, been sold. There was a purchaser for the
Storm-Cliff estate; Septimus had been placed in an asylum recommended by
Dr Strong; Tonk Daley was in the hands of the police, to be put into a
reformatory institution; and other matters were unexpectedly adjusting
themselves.

Beatrice might now leave for England with Lady Stirling as chaperon, but
Sir George Cameron had booked his passage by the same steamer, and she
was far from having decided to give him the opportunity he evidently
very much desired--that of a long sea voyage in her company, with a
friend at hand as favourable to his suit as was Lady Stirling.

"If I go to England with him on that steamer," thought Beatrice, "Connie
will make me marry him."

The result of these cogitations was that Beatrice excused her delay in
coming to a decision, on a plea of important business still unsettled,
and promised Lady Stirling to tell her definitely on the very day after
the opening of the Bore.

"I shall have a good opportunity of studying him a little more," thought
Beatrice, although she guessed that her friend Connie would tell Sir
George, who, on account of the very uncertainty of what Miss Ballantyne
might decide to do, would be on his very best behaviour.

It will be seen that, so far, no matter how much Beatrice liked the
baronet and admired his good qualities, she was not in love with him.
That might come, no doubt, for the best of women take matters of the
heart more cautiously than do the best of men. A man will fall in love
at first sight, but rarely a woman; and Beatrice had become so used to
being admired, and loved, and served, that she was, as the saying is, a
bit spoiled. Sir George Cameron was, no doubt, a man to be desired and
loved. Beatrice was well aware of this, and knew also that scores of
beautiful and well-born English girls would have jumped at the chance of
becoming Lady Cameron; but the present mood of Beatrice was: she might
and she might not, she would and she wouldn't. Sir George hadn't risked
his life for her, as had Donald, who, she knew, was brave and loyal; but
of this she had no information in regard to Sir George. He sent her
beautiful flowers, and Lady Stirling vouched for his being in love with
her, and that he would make her a splendid husband. Certainly he had
wealth, rank, and character; but, thought Beatrice, "a man's love is
mostly selfish, and the baronet loves me because he wants me."

Then her thoughts would rush off at a tangent to Donald. What a pity it
was that he was an Australian, and associated in her mind with
'Storm-Cliff Towers' and those wretched caves. Was she not leaving
Australia on purpose to forget, and to marry someone that did not know?

It will be difficult probably for the reader to in any way realise the
imperious sway which this thought had secured over the mind of Beatrice.
Just now it dominated her will, and demanded the shutting out of both
Donald and the doctor from her life. She intended to leave Australia for
ever, and as far as possible have no correspondence with it. Sir George,
or some other Englishman, would introduce her to a new circle of
friends, and place around her a new social environment, where she would
never hear of an Uncle Ballantyne, but would dream new dreams and live a
new life, and, in time perhaps, forget.

It was a point in Sir George Cameron's favour that he never once
referred to Miss Ballantyne's Australian relations, to 'The Towers,' or
the trial, or any other unpleasant matter. Sometimes she thought that he
associated her only with her residence at Woollahra, but further thought
told her that he must have heard about her uncle and her inheritance of
'The Towers' and its unhappy sequel. He would, of course, know nothing
about her uncle's past, and the 'Circular Letter,' or the caves below
'The Towers'; but then again, he might. He was not the sort of man to
move about in society without getting to know things. Suppose that he
did know, and when they fell out, as most people did at some time after
marriage, taunted her with having had convict relations!

It may surprise the reader that a well-to-do woman like Beatrice should
have taken these things so much to heart. She was not to blame for her
uncle's misdeeds, but the thought that she had been made rich with what
people called 'tainted money' worried her. Then she carried in her bosom
the awful secret of the caves, and the dead criminals hidden there; and
she took blame to herself about Septimus Dorset. It is not surprising
that, rich as she was, and young and beautiful, she more than once wept
over her unhappy life in Australia.

She saw a good deal of Donald about this time, owing to certain business
matters; he was always bright and pleasant, never referred to the
painful past, and his whole bearing towards her was that of a gentleman
and devoted friend--but he was Australian!

It will be remembered that some time before, Beatrice had given Donald
to understand that while present cares engrossed so much of her
attention there was no room in her heart for serious thoughts about the
future. He recalled the very words she had spoken--spoken with tears in
her eyes: "I love you all, and Betty and Grace too; but I don't want to
talk about such a sacred thing as love while these affairs remain
unsettled."

Donald knew that things were getting much more settled now, but he
hesitated to speak again for fear that it might be too soon. He knew
enough of Beatrice to regard her evasion as favourable, but kept himself
in hand, for man is masterful when hope is strong, and impatience has
wrecked many a hopeful project. The baronet had no little advantage,
being an Englishman, and Donald knew that his safest course was, for the
present, to do nothing. One thing cheered him: Beatrice admired and
respected his courage, and seemed fearful of offending him. He thought
this a good sign, for there is an element of fear in the highest form of
love.

As might be expected, the strained situation with the Strong family had
become much less apparent. Beatrice and Grace were more often together,
and the old-time friendly relations with the doctor were, to outward
appearances, re-established. Beatrice was much happier in her mind that
she could talk freely again with Grace and the doctor, but she little
knew the strength of Dr Strong's affection for her, or the depth of his
disappointment, or the largeness of his self-renunciation, to secure her
peace of mind and happiness.

In the meantime important events had transpired, and were pending, in
the Dorset family, Donald and Betty had received a considerable
accession of fortune through the death of a maiden aunt, and Lady Dorset
had returned home from Bourke possessed of a new idea. She had been told
nothing about recent matters concerning Septimus, and believing him to
be dead, had decided to rent 'Dorset Park' and start, almost
immediately, on a long visit to Europe. Alice had advised her to this
for the sake of Betty and Donald, as well as herself.

"Mother," she had said, "you all three of you want a thorough change,
right away from Australia; and what's the good of money if you don't do
something with it?"

Betty fell in with the proposal at once, but Donald hesitated; he feared
that it might appear to Beatrice as a planned thing, and that she might
resent his following her to England. But Betty, with her usual
impetuosity, told him that she and the mater were going, and that he
would have to go and take care of them; so to gain time he compromised
the matter with her by promising to give her a decided answer about the
trip to Europe on the day after the opening of the Bore. He did this in
ignorance of Beatrice's promise to Lady Stirling, or anyone else's
arrangements, and the coincidence is only one other of the strange
happenings which are, after all, not so very uncommon in this mundane
life.

Beatrice had told Donald herself that Sir Godfrey and Lady Stirling
wanted her to return with them to England, and that Sir George Cameron
had booked a passage by the same steamer; but as they had booked some
time in advance, there was no hurry for her to decide until certain
business matters were settled. Those matters had now been settled for
several days, but Donald had not heard that Beatrice had come to any
decision.

The ceremony of the opening of the Bore was, of course, a public affair
requiring no special invitation; but invitations had been issued to
certain of the elite by the municipal authorities, and Lady and Miss
Dorset, and Donald Dorset, J. P., were among those invited to the
grand-stand and the luncheon which was to follow the ceremony. In
addition to which, Lady Stirling had sent them a cordial invitation to
join their party. Coming from Lady Stirling, this had puzzled Donald,
for he knew of her ladyship's plans for Beatrice's future; but he did
not know her real motive, or guess how expert she was at matchmaking.
Had she known, it was a more risky expedient than she had bargained for;
but her intention was to use Donald as a stimulus to Sir George's
attentions to Beatrice, which might, she thought, develop even into a
proposal, for her belief was that even the most ardent of lovers will
show himself to better advantage when there is a possible rival in the
field.

Amid the bustle of preparation, on the evening before the party started
north to be present at the ceremony, the public heard news of the tragic
loss of a schooner off the Queensland coast. Dr Strong, on his way home,
had bought a newspaper, and he greeted Grace with a smile of
satisfaction such as had not often of late been seen upon his face.

"Whatever has happened, John?" exclaimed his sister.

"An act of providential justice." he replied; "justice without law.
Those criminal murderers of the 'Circular Letter' gang have met with a
ghastly retribution; they are every one of them dead, and, with the
schooner, are at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The public," he
continued, "only know a portion of the story, and it's not worth while
for any of us to enlighten them. I will read you the account given by
the newspaper; it is entitled 'The Wreck of the Hamlet's Ghost; A Strange
Story of the Sea.'"

"It will be remembered," commenced the newspaper paragraph, "that a few
months ago the Australian Bank was victimised to a large amount by
certain persons whose names, for good and sufficient reasons, were at
the time suppressed. So cleverly was the matter carried through that
certain information had to obtained from abroad before any arrest could
be attempted. It was strongly suspected at the time that a man named
Cogger Morgan, a resident of Storm-Cliff, was a principal in the affair;
but the necessary proof to secure conviction was wanting. By a singular
coincidence this evidence came to hand by yesterday's European Mail, but
at the very time that a warrant was being prepared for the arrest of the
person referred to the captain of the Coral Gem, one of the Pacific
Island Company's vessels, brought the news of the man's death, with
other suspected criminals, who were said to be passengers by the
'Hamlet's Ghost' to Batavia.

"The captain's remarkable story is as follows: 'On the 25th of March, in
18 deg. 43 min. S. lat., 147 deg. 57 min. E. long., 76 miles in a direct
line from the Port of Townsville, we sighted a small schooner on fire on
our port bow. We were running at the time before a moderate cyclone, not
uncommon in that month in the North Pacific, and saw her, while still on
fire, strike a reef and founder. Sailing back, after the storm, on the
following day, we came upon a man clinging to some wreckage, whom we
rescued. He died the next day, being the last survivor of the ill-fated
schooner. He was very weak, but managed to tell us that the schooner's
name was the 'Hamlet's Ghost', and that she had left Botany Bay about a
fortnight earlier, and was bound for Batavia. In addition to the
captain, she carried a crew of five seamen, and also five passengers
beside himself. His name, he said, was Cogger Morgan, and the others
were Milligen, Cordova, Blackie, Grimes, and Williams. They had had a
drunken quarrel with some of the crew, and a fight had ensued in which
the captain, whose name was Davien, and two of the crew were shot and
thrown overboard. The man Cordova had been knifed by the captain, and,
half drunk, had, in revenge, fired the cuddy, where the spirits were
stored. As the schooner burst into flames, the hurricane struck them,
carrying away the missen-mast and every stitch of canvas. During the
melee they had got out of their course, and ten minutes afterwards she
struck a reef. The rescued man seemed to have no recollection of how he
managed to save himself on the wreckage. He said he had received some
internal injury, and lay for hours unconscious. Shortly before he died
he was heard muttering curses against some man and woman, chained to the
wall of a cave, but nothing coherent could be made out of his raving. He
died shortly afterward, and the following day we buried him at sea.'"

The newspaper account closed with the statement that inquiries had been
made by the police about the men mentioned in the captain's report, some
of whom had been residents of a Sydney suburb, but nothing of importance
was known about them or the schooner, except that she had previously
been in the coastal trade, upon the northern rivers. Further inquiries
were being made in the matter, and it looked as though justice had
overtaken, at least, one criminal, the person of Cogger Morgan, whose
death had put an end to the proceedings about to be instituted by the
bank.

"So that's the end of the scoundrels!" ejaculated the doctor. "Thank
God! the Colony's rid of them for good."

"They have been justly punished for their crimes," said Grace,
shuddering.

"Yes," replied the doctor, "they have indeed been justly punished, and
we may be thankful that it is so; it might have been different had they
been arrested and defended by a clever lawyer at quarter-sessions. It's
a pity that the innocent crew should have suffered with them, but in
this imperfect world the innocent always seem to have to pay tor the
misdeeds of the guilty."

"But, John, you don't know that they were innocent," said Grace.




CHAPTER XLI.--THE OPENING OF THE BORE.


Beneath a statue of a late Earl of Shrewsbury, placed in the midst of
one of the largest and loveliest gardens of England, there is inscribed
the legend 'He made the desert smile.' The Earl brought water by a
conduit for twenty miles to a romantic portion of his estate, and with
that water he turned the desert into a world-famous garden.

Such is the change that is being wrought by irrigation in Australia.
There is no country in the world so extensively supplied with Artesian
and sub-Artesian water, and at the time of our story it was foreseen by
practical men that the exploitation of this wonderful gift of Nature
would very soon open up vast areas in the interior, which had before
been regarded as useless desert.

It was a great day for Appledore when water was struck in the Great
Northern Bore. The work had swallowed up a mint of money, and occupied
years of anxious toil. Boring chisels had been lost, to recover which
had absorbed months of delay, and boring rods broken, until the Town
Councillors were bordering on despair; but one day, at the depth of
nearly two thousand feet, the boring-rods suddenly dropped yards without
opposition, and the result was that a stream of water, at a high
temperature, discharged itself like a huge fountain at the rate of over
one million gallons in twenty-four hours.

The whole Colony was astonished and gratified. Some timorous folk wanted
the Government to cork it up again lest the supply should become
exhausted; but thoughtful men saw in it the inauguration of a new era
for the great interior plains of Australia. One prominent squatter
declared that this great water discovery would result in the production
of a thousand bales of wool in the place of every one then exported.
There would be irrigation farms, and great sheep runs in places where a
bandicoot could scarcely before find sustenance. The newspapers declared
that it had added renewed confidence in Australia's national resources,
and that the immense supply of underground water, available over
thousands of square miles of the arid interior, was a revelation, the
value of which could only be realised by those upon the spot. The
discovery of gold had been an epoch in the history of the country; but
it was of small account compared to the discovery of abundance of good
water.

Thus it will be seen that the occasion now referred to was one of great
importance, and it was no small honour for Sir George Cameron to have
been invited by the Mayor and Municipality of Appledore to perform the
opening ceremony.

The visitors went up to the township in a special train, crowded with
Members of Parliament and other notables, who were sumptuously
entertained at the Government's expense. Sir George Cameron was of
course the man of the hour; it was expected that he would make an
important speech, and representatives had been sent up by the leading
newspapers to furnish verbatim reports of the speeches and proceedings.
The Governor would have been present, but was away south on a visit, and
the Premier was unfortunately absent in New Zealand. However, there were
many distinguished politicians and visitors present, and Lady Stirling
watched with satisfaction the effect which the popular homage rendered
to the Baronet had upon Beatrice.

Sir George was accustomed to pose in the limelight, and rose to the
occasion with becoming dignity, making himself at home with every one in
genuine Australian fashion, and it was easy to see that his debonair
self-possession and gentlemanly courtesy impressed Beatrice not
unfavourably.

Sir George had met Donald and his sister Betty before, and greeted them
with marked cordiality; but his attentions to Beatrice were very marked,
and more familiar than Donald thought at all necessary.

Betty asked her brother whether he was sure that Beatrice was not
engaged to the Baronet, and Donald replied, "You had better ask her,"
which Betty accordingly did.

Beatrice, willing to tease her friend, and probably also her brother,
said, "No, Betty, it has not gone so far as that yet; but he is very
nice, isn't he?"

"I don't think he is half as nice as Donald," was Betty's blunt reply.

There was nothing serious, however, for everyone was good-humoured, and
possessed with the festive spirit of the day, and laughter and repartee
seemed as natural to the gay crowd as is a butterfly in the sunshine.

The Mayor and councillors, in official regalia, met their visitors at
the railway station, and presented Sir George with an address of
welcome. They had a carriage and four horses in waiting, lent by a
wealthy squatter whose run was nearest to the Bore, and with the Mayor
beside him, and two councillors on the opposite seat. Sir George was
driven in state, first to the town hall and then to the Bore, which was
located about two miles from the township.

It had been a question as to how the visitors should get out, for it was
too far to walk, and local buggies were not in favour with the smart
set. Sir Godfrey and Lady Stirling had been provided with seats in the
members' drag; but guessing how they might be situated, a number of the
more stylish visitors had arranged for a riding party to the Bore, and
Beatrice had sent 'Crusoe' up with her groom, and Donald had his man
there with the famous 'Tomboy' and a chestnut hack for Betty.
Riding-habits had been donned while the gentlemen were entertained with
light refreshments at the town hall, and when the cavalcade started for
the Bore, it was graced with quite a number of fashionables on
horseback. They were in high spirits, for the whole affair was a new
experience to most of them, and thoroughly unconventional.

Arriving at the Bore over a level tract of country, the flow of water
was found to be prodigious; but it seemed to many of them a very prosaic
and homely affair. Lady Stirling said it looked as though a street
water-main had burst, with the intention of flooding all creation; but
she was extra critical, for Sir George had somehow scarcely come up to
her expectations. She expected to see the Baronet ridiculously in love
with Beatrice. To quote her own illustration, as she looked at the fair
form of Beatrice, she thought the kettle ought, by this time, to be
boiling over; but Sir George was so taken up with his position that it
scarcely seemed to simmer. Donald was evidently having the time of his
life with Beatrice, notwithstanding Sir George.

Donald was a handsome man on horseback, as indeed on foot, and as he
rode with Betty and Beatrice, the latter was reminded of other rides, on
other days, in the vicinity of Woollahra and Storm-Cliff. Beatrice rode
well and loved it, and Donald's bearing to her was perfect, while Lady
Stirling was not quite sure that her stimulus was not affecting Beatrice
and Donald more than Sir George.

However, the Baronet made a very timely speech when declaring the Bore
open. He had come, he said, from a land that was near and dear to every
heart in Australia--the land which they all still called home. There he
had had large experience in practical agriculture. He believed in the
good old toast, 'Speed the plough'; but in Australia he had found much
that was new, not to say contradictory, to his previously formed
opinions. He had expected to find in the colonies a sort of pocket
edition of the old land; but instead he found a personal initiative and
originality that gave the Anglo-Saxon of Australia a fine and
distinctive character. They were no doubt the heirs of a marvellously
rich and generous land. For its size, Australia was the most
self-contained country on the face of the globe. Within its own sea-girt
coast it could produce all that its population needed for clothing,
food, and shelter. In the north sugar, tea, cotton, silk, coffee, rice,
and all tropical and sub-tropical products could be grown; in the south
they produced wheat, barley, oats, flax, and English fruits and
vegetables; and all through the continent, from Port Darwin to
Melbourne, wool could be grown, live-stock raised, and gold and silver,
coal and iron, and other minerals found in rich profusion, while around
them on all sides was a natural inexpensive fortification, teaming with
food. Moreover, they had no wars, no standing armies to maintain, and no
native difficulties to impede their progress. They had no long, rigorous
winters such as prevailed in Canada to keep the land dormant five months
out of the twelve. Whatever might be their climatic disadvantages by
reason of floods or droughts, there was absolutely nothing which
irrigation, Artesian Bores, pluck, energy, and determined perseverance
might not conquer.

He closed his speech, which was punctuated with applause, by pointing
out what irrigation had accomplished in other lands, and predicted for
Australia a time in the near future when its arid central plains would
be covered with a network of railways, which would connect thriving
towns and villages in the centre of great agricultural settlements, and
when its prosperity would attract to their shores tens of thousands of
the world's enlightened, enterprising, and industrious workers, and lift
their country to a position of influence, wealth, and power in the
Southern Hemisphere which would make them one of the foremost nations of
the globe. The opening of that Bore marked another stage in the progress
of Australia; he had heard of their drawbacks and disappointments in the
past, but the country was working out its own salvation faster than
anyone had dared to hope, and with the advent of bounteous supplies of
water for irrigation, Australia would soon find itself emerging out of
the mists and darkness of depression, into the warm light of brighter
and more prosperous days.

"That chap can talk," said a local farmer; "but I'm wondering what there
is left for him to say after we have eat lunch over at the race-course
grand-stand."

It was true; Sir George's speech had run away with him, and he had used
up much of what he had prepared for his after-dinner speech.

Betty had listened to the flow of eloquence with some astonishment, but
was still of opinion that Donald could do quite as well, if not better,
when the occasion demanded it. So the carriage and four, the members'
drag, and a multitude of other vehicles started for a grand parade of
the township, to be followed by the luncheon in the dining-hall below
the race-course grand-stand.

The grooms were waiting with the horses, and as it would not be
etiquette for the riding party to precede the Mayor's carriage, it was
decided that to avoid the dust they should keep well in the rear. Betty
had picked up a gentleman acquaintance for her escort, so it came about
that, as before, Beatrice and Donald rode side by side.

"Well, what did you think of Sir George Cameron's speech?" asked
Beatrice.

"I thought that it was well calculated to please his audience," replied
Donald.

"But that's not answering my question," retorted Beatrice; "I want you
to speak your own mind."

"I think what he said was mostly true," answered Donald. "It was not
very new to us Australians, but it was well expressed and forcibly
delivered. I hear that he has had a large experience of agriculture in
England; but it's a subject upon which I do not pose as an authority, as
does Sir George."

"Don't you like him?" asked Beatrice.

"I scarcely know him well enough to know," replied Donald. "Do you like
him?"

"Now that's not a fair question, Mr Dorset," said Beatrice, laughing.
"I'm not sure that my case is not similar to yours: I scarcely know him
well enough. You know, to know people you want to meet them somewhere
else than at balls, and parties, and functions. I don't know him half as
well as I know you. You see, I've so often met you at home."

There was something in the tone of voice which caused Donald's heart to
beat more rapidly, but he looked straight in front of his horse, and
said: "It's more than that that has made you know me better. We have
been together in the fellowship of suffering. Do you know what that
means, Miss Ballantyne?"

"No," answered Beatrice impetuously. "I don't know, Mr Dorset, and I
don't want to know. I want to forget, and that's the reason I am leaving
Australia for good. Why should my life be haunted by ghosts not of my
own raising, and by the memory of crimes with which, personally, I have
had nothing to do? Don't you think," she continued bitterly, "that it's
a cruel shame that I should have been involved in all this complication
of Australian criminology? You have made me serious, so you must take
the consequences. I hate Australia, and I was almost going to say that I
hate Australians too. You none of you can know what I have suffered."

"We have all suffered," said Donald gently.

"Yes, I know that, but you're an Australian, and the wickedness of this
thing belongs to your country. I'm an Englishwoman, and have been
brought into this thing by accident, and yet it's become a perfect
nightmare and horror to me, from which I am longing for release."

"Do you believe in God?" asked Donald quietly.

"Certainly I do," replied Beatrice.

"Forgive me for what I am going to say," said Donald, "but I've often
wished to have an opportunity to talk with you alone. I've heard before,
from Betty, how you hate Australia, and Storm-Cliff, and the Caves of
Shend. I hate them too, in a sense, for your sake as well as my own; but
I believe that our lives are portioned out to us by God, and that out of
the storm and stress of life and its evil things, as well as its
sunshine, God wishes us to make something for ourselves, which we call
character. Betty tells me that you say that your future husband shall
never know about your Australian sorrows; but I think that you are
wrong. To marry and have a secret would be like having a skeleton in the
cupboard, upon which the door might any day open. I don't think that
wife and husband should have any important secrets between them. The
truest love is based on intimate knowledge; love only reaches so far as
it knows, and partial knowledge must limit love. The happiest marriages
are those which have no secrets; at any rate, only secrets which are
shared.

"Do you think then that I ought to tell my future husband all about my
connection with 'The Towers' and the Caves of Shend?"

"No," replied Donald. "That would be unpleasant and humiliating for
you--he might not understand you properly, and think your
self-revelation unnecessary; but a fellowship of suffering is one of the
strongest bonds of love. I think you should marry someone who already
knows."

Before another word could be spoken a wild cry was heard from the
narrow, hilly road in front of them, and the riders, who had been
walking, and occasionally trotting their horses ahead, turned with cries
of alarm, and urged their horses to a gallop, back to where in a
cutting, on the side of a hill, they had just ridden past a wool-team
drawn by a dozen oxen. Down the hill came a riderless runaway wagon and
pair of horses, at a mad gallop, making straight for the riding party.

"God help us!" ejaculated Donald.

The whole party of over thirty riders, with their horses, were at once
bunched in a mob, for hearing the terrific noise of the approaching
wagon and horses, the bullocks had swung round, blocking the road behind
them. Some of the party had dismounted and left their horses; others had
pulled close into the side of the road, hoping thus to escape collision,
but the bulk of them were bunched in a struggling mass in the very
centre of the roadway.

There seemed to be no escape for them, and in some cases the terror of
the moment paralysed both riders and horses. They stood there like
statues waiting for death.

Betty, Beatrice, and Donald had been forced by the impact of the
returning riders close against the fence on the side of the road--the
side upon which the maddened team was approaching.

"If they could only be made to fall," muttered Donald in anguish.

He looked around at the girls, who were as white as death and paralysed
with fear.

Another two or three minutes, he thought, and they would be crushed and
mangled, most likely dead.

"Slip off your horses and get over the fence," he said to them; but
neither moved. They seemed spellbound by the awful death which
threatened them.

How he did it he never knew, but Donald, by some means, lifted both
girls from their saddles and put them over the fence on to the grass,
and then gripping hard the reins of 'Crusoe,' he dug his spurs into
'Tomboy,' and, snorting and leaping, they together forced their way out
of the struggling, excited mob of men and horses on to the road.

The fearful group of riders watched them as he galloped the two horses
up the rise. It was evident that by keeping well on the near side of the
road he might himself escape.

Donald knew that; but what of the crowd in front of the bullock and wool
dray? At least half a dozen of them would be killed or injured!

In a moment Donald had made up his mind, at whatever risk to himself, to
stop them. Gripping the reins of both horses, he dug in the spurs again,
and drove them full gallop at the runaways. The impact was tremendous,
and Donald was thrown fully forty feet along the road. Both horses were
killed, and Donald, badly bruised, and with a broken arm, lay
unconscious upon the hard gravel; but the runaways were thrown and
stunned, and a terrible catastrophe avoided.

The crowd, loud in their praises of Donald's heroism, soon gathered
around the unconscious man; but it was Beatrice and Betty that rendered
first aid and wiped the blood and sweat and dust from off his hands and
face.

It was hours before he awoke to consciousness and found himself in a
private hospital, where his nurses were Betty and Beatrice. Donald had
saved their lives, and in doing so Beatrice had learned what he meant
when he had declared to her that a fellowship of suffering was one of
the strongest bonds of love.

The following morning all Australia was ringing with Donald's fame.
There were over thirty people in the riding party, and every one of them
regarded Donald as their saviour; but Beatrice whispered in her heart,
"My Australian, my hero, my Donald, I love you!"

On the day after the opening of the Bore, Lady Stirling knew, without
being told, that she and Sir Godfrey and Sir George Cameron would return
to England without Beatrice.

It had been decided that she would wait until Donald was convalescent,
then Lady Dorset, Betty, Beatrice and Donald would sail for England
together. They were to be married quietly in a dear little English
church, known to Beatrice, in the cleanest, quietest, and most beautiful
little village of Derbyshire, and afterward make a long honeymoon tour
in the lovely lands washed by the Mediterranean.

They were to make their settled home amid the scenes of Beatrice's early
days in England; and, as the memories of youth are eclectic, time might
weave rainbow haloes around some of their Australian memories, reminding
them that in the land of their one-time sad pilgrimages there had been
sunshine as well as rain.




CHAPTER XLII.--THE OLD MADE NEW.


It was one of those exquisite summer days peculiar to the coastline of
the Pacific Ocean.

That vastest and most romantic of great waters spread away from the
weather-beaten rocks at Storm-Cliff like a rich, immeasurable pavement
of tinted glass: grey and silver along the shore-line, pale green and
gold farther out, and a deep amethystine blue where the deep sea
stretched far away to the distant horizon.

Just here, however, the deep blue sea-line approached very near to the
shore, so much so that occasionally homeward-bound steamers, on such
days as this, gave their passengers an opportunity of waving last
farewells to their friends.

Here on the rocks below where once stood 'Storm-Cliff Towers,' Grace and
the doctor waited to waft a good-bye to Beatrice, and looking seaward,
with the fresh salt air in their lungs and sunshine all around, it was
as though they had put the whole sad past behind them, and thought only
of the future prefigured in that radiant summer sea. The doctor,
absorbed in thought, leaned back heavily upon his walking-stick, and his
sister noted how he seemed to have aged.

She would be glad now, for her brother's sake, when Beatrice was gone.

Very soon, around the northern headland, the well-timed steamer swept
proudly into view. Grace exclaimed something, but her brother, too busy
with his thoughts to make reply, stood watching the ocean liner as she
drew rapidly nearer.

Beatrice was on that steamer, and had promised Grace to get someone to
point out Storm-Cliff to her as they passed, and she would wave good-bye
to her and to the doctor if he could manage to come down.

She knew very well that he would come, but somehow had feared to ask
him.

True to her promise, Storm-Cliff had been pointed out to Beatrice, who,
as they drew nearer, with a powerful field-glass swept the shore.
Looking for the last time at the site of her one-time inheritance, she
saw it as she had never seen it before. She was leaving it behind for
ever; an impassable sea was between her and the place of so much anxiety
and sorrow, and from her new point of vision everything seemed
wondrously changed. She was still young, and, steeped in the glory of
the midday sun, with the placid sea around, romance wove a veil over the
evil things she might have seen in that landscape. The two figures upon
the distant rocks were her true friends; she felt this more than she had
ever done, and waved to them a passionate farewell.

Donald said he could see them waving back. But much as Beatrice loved
Donald, she somehow, just then, resented speech, for her heart was very
full, and she whispered, "Don't talk, Donald dear, or I shall break down
altogether."

She waved her handkerchief again, for it was to be good-bye to Australia
for ever. And Dr Strong and Grace, as they waved back, knew that for
Beatrice it was best that it should be so. "Why," thought the doctor,
"should we keep alive our failures, and allow the breath of the dead
wintry past to blight the joys of summer days? Why indeed! Why should
one sad episode run as a sombre thread through the whole fabric of this
fair woman's life? It might not be removed perhaps; but it could be
transfigured and glorified! Simple happiness is, after all, not the
chief end of life; but nobleness and goodness."

But, with the passing of the doctor's thoughts, the great ocean liner
was rounding a distant headland, soon to be out of sight, leaving behind
a wake of burnished silver, the gleam of which suggested to Grace a
brighter path for her friend into the future. All the brighter, she
thought, that she had been tried and purified in the fires of suffering,
made more perfect through all this pain and trouble. As she whispered
this to herself the tears came to her eyes; but to her brother she
simply said: "I am glad the day has been so fine."

The doctor's thoughts, however, were not of the beauty of the day, but
of Beatrice, and the possibilities of her future.

"Come," he said to Grace, "the steamer's rounding the headland."

For one more minute they stood watching her disappearance.

"There!" said the doctor, with a sigh. "Our friend has gone, and, thank
God, she's left the past behind her, buried out of sight, and, if
possible, forgotten. It's best so; the sad winter is followed by
laughing spring, and spring by jovial summer--they don't remember! Let
the dead past bury its dead; ours is to forget the things which are
behind and act in the living present."

But as Grace listened to her brother, her eyes were tear-dimmed, for she
knew how deeply he was moved. They were walking now over the familiar
path to Storm-Cliff village, and above them, on the hill-side, was the
church.

"Do you remember," the doctor continued, evidently talking to himself as
well as Grace, "what the preacher said last Sunday night? It was about
the old Hebrew prophet, who--as he surveyed the spoilt vessel of clay,
broken on the potter's wheel--said, 'He will make it again,' meaning
that he would make out of the marred clay something that should be
unblemished by the mistakes and failures of former efforts.

"I suppose to most people," he went on, speaking more tenderly, as
though he wished to comfort Grace rather than himself, "the early
efforts and experiences of life are mostly marred and broken things;
but, no matter what--there is One Who can gather up the fragments of the
fateful past and make out of them new things of joy and beauty. I
believe it will be so with Beatrice; she is young and good, and that
love which ennobles and glorifies all it touches has entered into her
life, and far away from tainted Storm Cliff and the Caves of Shend . . .
'He will make it again.'"



THE END



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