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Title: The Caravan Crime
Author: Fergus Hume
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100681.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2011
Date most recently updated: November 2011

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

Title: The Caravan Crime
Author: Fergus Hume

*

Published in The Mail (Adelaide, S.A.), in serial form commencing
Saturday 13 December, 1924. The story was later published in book form
as 'The Caravan Mystery' in 1926.

*



CHAPTER I.


Along a twisting country lane, warm and dusty, and richly colored by the
dying radiance of a July sunset, jangled a battered caravan, as brown
and worn as the ancient horse which lugged it reluctantly onward. From
innumerable hooks on back, front, and sides dangled tin cans, iron
kettles, bristling brooms, bundles of brushes, and such-like domestic
necessaries, together with goat-skin rugs, woollen mats, reach-me-down
suits, carpet clippers, and many pairs of stout boots. The whole crazy
vehicle, with its hawkers' stock-in-trade, creaked and groaned and
labored complainingly, as if on the verge of disintegration.

Not so the driver--presumably the owner. He sat rigidly upright, holding
the reins alert for adventure; slim and straight, and spare as a poplar;
filled to the brim with the fiery wine of youth. Handsome, too, a woman
would have declared at the sight of that clean-shaven face, bronzed,
smooth-skinned, oval, with clear-cut features, and closely-clipped dark
hair. The young man's firm mouth, watchful grey eyes, strong jaw, and
square chin revealed him as an inborn master of his fellows. He should
have been commanding men in war, controlling some big business in peace;
somehow governing, somehow dictating.

Yet here he was in a dingy grey riding suit and a shabby cap, with
disreputable gaiters and heavy boots, driving an equally disreputable
caravan for the traffic of gipsy merchandise. His being in such a galley
would certainly have startled M. Jourdain, that innocent gentleman, who
was only surprised when he found virtue in unexpected places. A country
policeman, who was strolling along the lane, knew nothing of Moliere's
hero, but he felt much the same when the dreary old caravan rumbled
round the corner. The enigmatic driver was the very last person he
expected to meet in his back-water of Life's tumultuous river.

On the instant Constable Selwin's right hand went to his helmet, as his
broad, round face expressed excessive and very natural surprise. "Mr.
Lawson!"

"Selwin!" Lawson spoke in an easy, imperious tone, friendly, but with
more than a hint of mastership. "We parted at Capetown five years ago to
meet in this Rip Van Winkle country. What the dickens are you doing
here?"

"Sarley village policeman, sir; married, with a family of two; got into
the force six months after reaching Albert Docks. And you, sir?" Selwin
ran an observing eye over the driver's dress and the driver's caravan.
"Ain't you doing this for a sort o' bet, sir?"

"For a living, Selwin. After another hunting trip--sorry you weren't
with me that time--I took the trail to South America, and had a ton-hole
time in the wilds. Came home last year to find father dead, leaving me
nothing but his blessing."

"The colonel dead, sir?"

"Two years dead. Lost all his money in some speculation, and I had to
earn a living somehow. I saved a gipsy's old mother from drowning, and
when he died nine months ago he left me this caravan and the horse. As I
couldn't stick an office, I took to trading round the country."

"But a gentleman like you, Mr. Lawson----"

"Oh, that's all right, Selwin. I'm having a topping time, although I
don't meet with such adventures as we did when we were on that hunting
trip in Africa. So there you are. I want to camp hereabouts tonight."

"Sarley Wood's the place," volunteered the policeman, promptly pointing
a guiding thumb over his left shoulder. "Quarter of a mile on, Sir;
glade in the heart of it, sir, with water for the horse. And no one will
say anything if I don't--which," added Selwin, viciously, "ain't my
style with a gentleman who saved me from being eaten by a lion like
Daniel."

"Who wasn't eaten," answered Lawson, with a laugh. "Look me up tonight."

"Yes, sir!" Selwin saluted again. "Anything I can do, sir?"

Lawson fished out a shilling from his pocket. "Tobacco!"

"Navy cut, sir." The policeman fielded the coin dexterously. "I know the
sort, sir, none better, after two years of hunting and shooting along o'
you, sir," and he stood looking after the caravan with an admiring
air--for the driver--not for the vehicle--which excited his disgust.

Dick--that was the diminutive of Lawson's baptismal name to his few and
tried friends--easily found the wood, and less easily the glade in the
heart of the wood. Here, near a pond of clear water and under the
whispering foliage of a spreading beech, he halted his disreputable
caravan to prepare camp as in old African days. But there was no
ready-handed Selwin to assist him now, as then, and he regretted the
lost comradeship. However, with the methodical thoroughness of long
experience he unharnessed the ancient steed, haltered him, and selected
a grazing ground. Nigh to this was a narrow tangled path--leading to
nowhere so far as he knew--and he roped the animal to a birch tree at
its entrance. Afterwards he lighted a fire, filled his kettle from the
bubbling spring which fed the pond, and made ready the frying pan for
eggs and bacon.

By the time he had arranged his tin dinner service, with knife, fork,
and spoon, on a coarse white cloth spread over a convenient stump, the
water was boiling and the contents of the pan spluttering. So Dick
brewed hot and strong tea to enjoy a truly excellent supper, which was
very acceptable after his long drive from Tarhaven to this hamlet in the
wilderness. Not that he had seen Sarley Village, or wished to see it for
the moment, but he knew that it was within exploring distance. Meanwhile
he was very well satisfied with his solitude, and reclined lazily by the
fire, smoking thoughtfully and considering a somewhat problematic
future. The outlook was not encouraging, for he seemed to be at the
bottom of the abyss. Regularly the distant Sarley church clock chimed
the hours and the quarters; but so deep in thought was the young fellow
that he was amazed when 10 booms of the bell wakened him to the swift
passing of time.

"Ten o'clock, b' Jove!" he said, speaking aloud after the fashion of the
solitary, and rose to stretch himself with a comfortable yawn. "Time for
bye-bye. Shall I sleep in the open, or under cover?"

A light hand swept along the grass told him that dew was beading every
blade so Lawson sauntered into the caravan with an electric torch for
his night-lamp. On the bed he found an envelope, which must have fallen
unawares from his pocket. As it contained a possible answer to his
cogitations regarding his future he took out the letter to refresh his
memory. The epistle directed him to seek out Lady Hamber of Sarley
Court, with a view to employment as a bailiff on her estate. Attached
was a visiting card inscribed with the name 'Oliver Bollerd,' and a few
pencilled words recommending the bearer. Nodding his head in approval,
and wondering if the introduction would lead to anything, Dick restored
letter and card to the envelope, that to his inner pocket, and yawned
again as he proceeded to take off his Norfolk jacket. Before his arms
were out of the sleeves he paused and listened, on the alert
immediately, like a startled stag. In the stillness there came a cry to
his ear--the cry of a woman in pain, such as he had heard several times
in Africa. The note of suffering, strange in so solitary a neighborhood,
sent him shuffling back into his jacket and headlong down the caravan
steps. As he leapt towards the dying fire he heard a low moan in the
dark distance, and flung on a bundle of brushwood to excite a blaze. But
the sufferer was beyond the bound of the luminous circle, and only when
Lawson heard her moan again did he discover her whereabouts. A few
strides brought him to the entrance to the path near which the horse was
tethered, and he swore inwardly at his neglect to bring the torch, which
would have given him sufficient light for necessary examination of sex
and condition. But it was a woman, sure enough, as he soon became
certain when she explained her outcry. "I stumbled over the horse's
rope, and have sprained my ankle," she murmured in a low and very
musical voice.

"Sorry, Madam," Lawson went down on his knees. "I didn't expect anyone
to come down the path, or I should have tied up my horse elsewhere."

"You are a gentleman!"

"Of sorts, I suppose."

"Oh, but you are. I can tell by your voice. Help me; my foot----" she
moaned.

"With permission, madam." Dick picked her up gently and carried her
toward the fire, now blazing briskly. Yet even as he did so she feebly
resisted his masterful action.

"No! No! No!" She spoke faintly but insistently. "Put me down."

"Nonsense. I can't leave you in the darkness with a sprained ankle!" He
placed her beside the fire and ran back to the caravan. On the way he
marvelled, as did Christabel when she met the Darke Ladye in the magic
wood. This lady was not dark, but the fairest of the fair, as he knew
from the glimpse he had caught of feathery golden hair; but she was just
as lovely and just as richly dressed. What an adventure! Here was a
straying damsel, arrayed in a fashionable dinner gown, and wrapped in a
gold-embroidered cloak, coming from nowhere into his life. Dick,
wondering profoundly at the beneficence of destiny, strode back to his
angel, entertained unexpectedly, if not unawares, with an eiderdown
quilt, a pillow, a bottle of embrocation, and a few hastily-contrived
bandages. The girl, having drawn her glittering cloak closely up to her
neck and over her face, so that only a pair of angry eyes were visible,
greeted her good Samaritan in a few muffled words the reverse of sweet.

"I wish you wouldn't!" she snapped, and her voice was as angry as were
her eyes.

"My dear young lady, you don't know what is good for you," said Lawson,
coolly placing the pillow under her head and the quilt over her body.

"If you are a gentleman you will let me go," she flashed out
indignantly.

"Oh by all means." He rose from his knees and stepped back with a bow.

She made a valiant effort to rise, and failed. "You see I can't!" she
said crossly.

"I have seen that ever since I picked you up over yonder," the young man
assured her dryly, and thinking how excessively feminine she was, and
how charming were her contradictions. "Let me have a look at the ankle."

"No!" She tucked her slender feet in the smartest of evening shoes under
the hem of her gown. "Go away. Oh!" Out came the right foot, for, very
naturally, the change of position enhanced the pain.

"Don't be silly," said her comforter, roughly. "I must rub your foot
with this embrocation and bandage it somehow."

"Are you a doctor?" she asked mistrustfully.

"Would I be rambling round the country in a caravan if I were a
doctor----"

"I don't know--that is----"

"You don't know anything, not even how impossible you are as an
invalid."

"Oh!" she frowned, and winced----"how very rude."

"And how very true. Come now, I won't beat you. Pull off your shoe and
stocking."

Daunted by his imperious manner, and feeling with feminine intuition
that he was to be thoroughly trusted, she obeyed. Tenderly the man
rubbed the delicate ankle with the strong biting mixture, bandaged it
carefully, and stood up to let her put on her shoe; the stocking, of
course, being impossible. Then he discovered that she had fainted with
the pain and that the cloak had fallen away from her face.




CHAPTER II.


"Oh, b' jove!" commented the young man, stirred to the core of his
appreciative soul by the sight of the exquisite face, delicately
perfect, "this is the beauty of the world."

The praise was superlative, but none the less honest and well deserved.
But Dick, very much a gentleman, did not take such pardonable advantage
of the situation. After gazing for one glorious moment he hastened to
fill a cup at the spring, and was shortly restoring consciousness to
this stray Helen. Two splendid blue eyes--Dick guessed from the halo of
golden hair that they would be blue--opened slowly with a bewildered
expression, which changed suddenly to one of mingled fear and defiance.
The girl sat up, drew her rich cloak again around her--but this time not
over her face--and shivered at the thought of the isolation. Lawson
ascribed this attack of nerves to a matter-of-fact cause. "Foot
hurting?" he asked anxiously.

"It's my ankle," she retorted, ungraciously.

"Sorry." He was quite imperturbable. "Ankle hurting?"

It was so smoothly said, yet with such a twinkle in the eyes, that the
prostrate lady permitted herself to relieve a smile. Then she frowned;
the more so as she became convinced of his good will. "You might do
something more useful than stand there laughing at me," was her
unexpected remark.

"So I might," agreed Dick cheerfully: and stooping. "If you will let me
carry you into my caravan and put you on an apology for a bed I think
you would be more comfortable."

"Certainly not. I know nothing about you."

"Ditto, ditto, so far as you are concerned," he retorted lightly.

"I am not going to answer any questions."

"I haven't asked any."

"But you will. And I have a brother."

"Oh. Does he ask questions?"

"No. But I have a----"

"Then I regret to say that I can't see the connection between----"

This time she interrupted, and petulantly. "Men are so stupid."

"Granted--and women are so clever. Come now, that is nicely said, isn't
it?"

The girl smiled again and frowned again. "What is the use of talking
cleverly? You ought to help me."

"Good idea. You have only to ask."

"I want to go to Sarley Grange, two miles from here."

"Sarley Court," said man, the supremely stupid, remembering the letter.

"No; Sarley Grange. Don't you understand?"

"Not-er-exactly," confessed Lawson, sadly.

"How dense you are. I want to go to Sarley Grange, two miles away. I was
walking there when I stumbled over your silly rope."

Dick surveyed her charming evening frock, which the now open cloak
revealed more fully. "Is that you usual costume for walking?"

"Of course not. I came away in a hurry and--and----"

"Yes, yes. That's all right. I am not asking questions."

"They won't be answered if you do ask them!" she cried, crossly; then
with delightful inconsistency proceeded to demand information. "What
about yourself?"

Dick chuckled at this very feminine turning of the tables. "Well," he
asked, "what about myself?"

"Who are you?"

"A hawker of pots, kettles, pans, brushes."

"Nonsense; you are a gentleman----"

"Fallen on evil days, if I may venture to complete your sentence."

"Can't you be serious?"

"Occasionally, when life is at its best."

"And now?" she put the question in quite a sympathetic tone.

"It is at its worst. I have a caravan, a horse, another suit of clothes,
and a trifle of money. Such is my dismal lot." He shrugged his
shoulders.

"Also good looks, youth, strength, hope, brains, and the wide world
before you."

"You assign to me the gifts of the good," said Lawson, imperturbably,
and wondering at her motherly tone of kindly rebuke.

"I think the gods are very good to you," said the girl, seriously.

"They are--in sending you here."

"That is not my opinion," she replied, dryly. "I wish I were elsewhere."

"Sarley Grange, for instance."

"Precisely. But how am I to get there with my sprained ankle?"

"B' Jove, madame----"

"I am not madam," she interrupted with a snap.

"Sorry, mademoiselle. What I was about to say is that you have heaps of
pluck."

"Thank you!" She blushed and looked more attractive than ever. "I need
it."

"B' Jove, you do, sitting there talking so delightfully when you are in
pain."

She blushed again and her eyes shone. Really this was a very charming
young gentleman, who knew how to turn a compliment, and evidently,
acknowledged the undoubted superiority of women. "But,"--she followed up
her thoughts in sober speech, "I don't think that compliments help me
much in my present plight."

"They are as oil to grease the wheels of Life's chariot," said Dick,
sententiously. "But to take a more practical view----"

"Which is what I have been asking you to do for the last thirty
minutes," she interpolated with a grimace, for her ankle hurt
considerably.

"I can drive you to Sarley Grange in my caravan," went on Lawson, as if
she had made no remark.

"Splendid!" The errant damsel clapped her hands. "And you will leave me
at the lodge without requesting explanations?"

"On my honor!"

"Oh, you are--er--nice," sighed his patient. "I don't suppose we shall
ever meet again. Mr.--Mr.--er----"

"Lawson. Richard Maxwell George Henry Lawson."

"Quite a Royal string of names," she commented, but did not offer
information in return. "But as we won't meet again, Mr. Lawson, I thank
you."

"Why won't we--or, why can't we--meet again?"

"Oh, because--because--because----"

"Three reasons. Go on."

"No!" She became angry, and looked as tempting as a peach. "You are
asking me questions."

"You asked me questions," he countered.

"It's a woman's privilege. And my ankle is hurting me while you stand
there making fun of my sufferings."

"Oh, no, no." Dick was shocked, and came towards her. "I shall catch my
horse at once, but you must let me take you into my caravan."

"The horse is only a stone's throw away," said the lady, sharply; "you
can put me in the caravan when you put the horse between the shafts."

"Right ho!" Seeing that there was no arguing with her, Dick walked
towards the path where he had chanced upon her so unexpectedly. Then he
uttered an exclamation of astonishment and dismay. The horse had
vanished, only the rope and the halter remaining.

"What is the matter?" called out the girl.

"The horse has escaped--wandered--disappeared. Choose your word."

"Oh," there was a distinct note of anxiety in her voice, "it must have
slipped its halter."

"Looks like it." Lawson untied the rope from the birch tree and advanced
towards the fire. "What about a horse thief? Anyone with you?" he shot a
keen glance at her which she resented promptly.

"Certainly not," was her wrathful reply. "I don't go about with people
who steal horses. How silly you are! Go away and catch the horse."

"Sound advice, mademoiselle. But it will take time to hunt through this
fairy wood--near Athens, you know. And you----" he lifted her up, quilt
and all, in his strong arms with a promptitude which aroused resentment
but not alarm.

"Why? Why? Why?" she babbled, feeling that she could trust him wholly.

"There may be--er--tramps about," explained Dick, hoping that Selwin
would not stumble too suddenly on his romance.

"Oh, well," she sighed, and allowed him to carry her into the caravan,
wrapped in the quilt and grasping the pillow. "Do hurry," she implored,
when he laid her gently on the bed.

"I'll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes," answered Lawson in
a gay tone. "Take the torch and don't be frightened."

Lawson was puzzled by the escape of the ancient steed. In his remarkably
logical mind he was tolerably assured that the halter had been
deliberately removed so that the animal might stray. But for what
reason, and by whom? Severely as he questioned himself, while groping
here and there in this cimmerian wood, he could find no plausible answer
to these suggestions. And all the time he wandered, further and further
away from the glade, from the caravan, and its precious occupant. The
gloom was not altogether cimmerian, he found, when his eyes grew
accustomed to the dimness, for there was a faint, luminous light
lingering amongst the trees, and he managed to scramble along without
any marked mishap. The distant clock, struck three-quarters. "Nearly
eleven," muttered Dick, treading cautiously through leagues--as it
seemed--of unknown geography. "Damn the horse!"

At that very moment he heard crackling sounds as the beast pushed its
way through the close undergrowth and sprang in the direction of the
movement. As he did so there came to his ear, faint but distinct, the
unmistakable noise indicating the discharge of a revolver. Lawson
half-unconsciously promptly wheeled round to fight his way back to the
glade. All on fire for rescue of the girl from some unknown danger, he
plunged onward blindly like a bull, and brought his head violently into
contact with a tree trunk. For the next fifteen minutes or so he took no
further interest in life as he knew it.

Recovering his senses with a dull aching in his head, he ploughed
through the underwood more cautiously towards the glade--reached it
somehow, some time, and noted vaguely that the fire had died down to a
smouldering glow. Up the caravan steps he went, flung open the caravan
door, and plunged in. There was no answer to his call, and he dropped on
his knees to explore, his hand coming into touch with the torch
immediately. Clicking on the light he saw a woman lying on the bed, as
he expected; but the torch light revealed another face. Dick gasped. The
girl had disappeared. In her place was an elderly woman--a complete
stranger. And she was dead--shot straight through the heart.




CHAPTER III.


HERE was a pretty kettle of fish, truly. Sitting well back on his heels
and flashing the torch every now and then over the expressionless mask
of death, Dick considered hesitatingly the strange events of the
evening.

They offered unanswerable riddles. The girl who had come so unexpectedly
into the glade, and vanished just as unexpectedly, leaving in her place
a woman almost thrice her age. Worse still, and still more
extraordinary, this woman was dead, and not for long, since the body was
yet warm. She also was arrayed in a costly opera cloak. There was blood
on her breast, and it required only a brief examination for Dick to
determine that she had been shot through the heart. But for what reason,
and by whom?

"Confound!" ejaculated Lawson, for the third time that evening, and
wondered how he was to extricate himself from the morass into which the
worst-tempered of the Three Fates had cast him.

That he was in danger of being arrested he knew very plainly.

Then the instinctive desire of man born of woman to make himself as safe
as he well could, asserted itself strongly and stirred him to immediate
action. Selwin might arrive with the tobacco at any moment, and it was
necessary to shift the body before his official eye could behold it in
its present resting place. Wisdom suggested a prompt removal of this
damning evidence to some less suggestive locality. With his liberty and
life in jeopardy the man's brain worked with exceeding swiftness: and
almost in the moment when the details of the scheme were conceived he
found himself carrying the sinister burden down the caravan steps. And,
as he bore it across the glade, past the dying fire, past the pond, he
thought of the best hiding place. But immediately that thought was
displaced by another. He would not hide the body, for if discovered
hidden, as it would most certainly be sooner or later with Sarley
village so near, the fact of concealment would tell against him. It
would be best to lay down his burden somewhere in the wood, so that it
might appear that the woman had fallen naturally under the fire of some
unknown assailant.

But where? The reply came so rapidly that it was evident his good angel
was bestirring on his behalf. The girl had come down the path by the
birch tree, so it was possible, even probable, that the elder woman--say
her mother--had followed on to guard, or watch. Lawson, mindful of the
precious moments flying swiftly, lost no time in nutting his thought
into action, and, carrying his uncanny load for some distance up the
narrow winding path laid it down gently in a curve of the same. Luckily
he had been careful to wrap the opera cloak securely round the body
while conveying it to the path, so there was no blood on his grey
clothes to incriminate him. Having thus arranged matters he felt assured
that, so far as he and the caravan were concerned, no physical evidence
was available to connect him with the crime in any way whatsoever.

Before leaving the sinister spot, Dick waved the torch over the still,
white face. It was a remarkably handsome countenance, strong in outline,
with an aqueline nose, and a determined chin. As the informing life had
escaped from the shell, there was no positive expression to reveal
character; but Lawson judged from the decisive contours of nose and lips
and chin, from the width, and height of the forehead, that the dead
woman had been an imperiously dominant human being. He noted that her
shoes were thin and ill-adapted to wandering in these rough woodland
ways; also that she wore much jewellery on neck and wrists and fingers.
Even under the black lace veil, draping her plentiful white hair,
twinkled a diamond star, so it was evident that she had been a woman of
wealth and good standing. Finally the presence of the gems declared
positively that robbery was not the motive for the execution of what
seemed to be a purposeless crime.

Naturally enough, Lawson would have preferred to make a more thorough
examination in the hope of finding some clue to her name; but there was
no time to search exhaustively. He examined himself all over in the
gleam of the torch, when he turned away, so as to make sure that all
incriminating marks were absent. Also, he made certain that the ground
was sufficiently hard and dry to avert the registration of betraying
footmarks. The fates proved propitious, and all was safe, so he hastened
back to the glade with a sigh of relief that the most gruesome part of
his task was over. Stroking his chin meditatively by the fire, he
considered his next move with much care and deliberation.

This was plainly to go forth and meet Selwin. He slipped on breeches and
boots, and started towards the distant roadway along which he had
driven, if would seem, centuries ago. On the way he made up an ingenious
tale, likely to account for all discoveries, without bringing him too
prominently into the matter. As he made his way out of the glade the
church clock told him it was half-past 11.

"Too early," murmured the schemer, guided through the wood by stray
moonbeams, thin, cold, and silver clear. "I shall have to lengthen that
time of insensibility when I banged against the tree-trunk. Otherwise
Selwin will wonder why I did not give the alarm before."

The village constable was late on his rounds, and Lawson struck the high
road before he met him. The tramp, tramp, tramp of stout boots gave
notice of the man's approach, and at once Dick began to run with such
blindfold speed that he cannoned off Selwin into the near hedge.

The policeman whipped out his torch at once, and uttered an exclamation
of surprise when he saw the face of the panting fugitive.

Recovering himself, the young man staggered towards the officer, at his
last gasp, it would seem. "Selwin!" he grasped an arm, and shot out his
words brokenly, breathlessly----"ran--all--the--way.
Shot--heard--shot--Long--ago. Shot--shot!"

"Poachers?" queried the constable, on the alert immediately, and
steadying him.

The other wiped the perspiration off his face with the back of his hand,
and sat down on the roadside, presumably to recover much-wanted breath,
"Might be," he nodded. "Anyhow--shot. I heard one. Would poachers----"

"Oh, they're all over the place, sir. Give me no end of trouble. When?"

"A quarter to 11." Dick rose, now quite himself, as he was tired of
acting the part of a blown runaway. "I went to bed early"--he hated to
tell lies, but it was necessary to do so in the interests of the girl,
although, for all he knew, she might be inculpated in the crime--"and
found the caravan too hot. So I shoved on my boots and breeches, and
took the bedding to the fire. Went to sleep for a time, and woke to find
that my horse had slipped his halter; his movement roused me, I guess.
In the wood, while looking for him, I heard the shot--quarter to 11, for
I heard the clock strike."

"Where were you at the moment, sir?"

"In the heart of the wood, searching for that infernal horse. When I
heard the shot I turned back to see what was doing. In the darkness I
came against a tree and went west for the time being."

"How long?" Selwin flashed his torch, and nodded when he saw the bruise
on Lawson's forehead, continuing the tale.

"There you have me." Dick held his aching head with both hands. "I
dunno. Anyhow, when I came to myself I scouted to find you."

"Poachers!" chuckled Selwin. "Come along, sir. This is like old times in
the wilds. Glad you are with me, sir," he chuckled again.

Shortly two men were exploring the bush with keen glances everywhere for
a possible poacher. Selwin glanced round the glade, and made mental
notes in the growing light of the rising moon. He saw that the horse was
missing, the caravan door was open, and noted the bedding by the fire.
Everything was in keeping with the story, and he scratched his head in a
puzzled way. "Seems all right, sir. Sure you ain't been dreaming?"

"Rot? I was wide awake. Look round carefully."

The officer obeyed, and nosed about like a hound on the trail, while
Dick at his heels urged promptitude and caution. Wishing Selwin to be
the finder of the body, Lawson gradually urged him toward the path,
believing that he would naturally be on fire to explore it. And this
happened, for the policeman shouted discovery while Dick was
ostentatiously examining the opposite side of the glade. Lawson raced
toward the sound. "Hullo! Where are you?"

"Up this blinking path, sir. Here--here--here!"

"This!" Lawson halted by the birch tree. "Shout again!"

Selwin did so, and Dick sped up the windings quickly, purposely diving
to right and left among the brushwood, as if unaware of the geography of
the place. He arrived breathless, to find the officer's torch flashing
over the dead face, and the officer himself excited beyond measure.

"Murder, sir. Look at the blood. And a woman." He looked closer, bending
down. "Why, it's Lady Hamber!" He straightened himself in dismay.

"Lady Hamber," he repeated solemnly. "Lady Hamber!" Dick echoed the name
with equal dismay. He remembered the letter. "Lady Hamber!"--he spoke as
solemnly as Selwin had done.




CHAPTER IV.


FORTUNATELY the imperfect moon light prevented Selwin from noticing the
startled look of his companion which might have suggested leading
questions. The mention of the dead woman's name, so intimately connected
with what he carried in his pocket, shook Dick considerably. With
cautious cunning he feigned complete ignorance. "And who is Lady
Hamber?"

"Widow of Sir John Hamber," answered the policeman, glibly. "Sarley
Court."

"Sarley Court!" echoed Lawson, wondering if the unknown girl had come
from that house; wondering also if she had anything to do with this
mysterious death. "Lady Hamber of Sarley Court," repeated Selwin, more
to himself than to his companion. "What was she doing in this blinking
wood so late."

"If we could learn that we might find out who murdered her," said Dick
drily.

Selwin nodded. "Did you see her in the glade by any chance, sir?"

"No! So far as I know she never entered the glade. Do you think she was
coming to the glade when she was shot down?"

The policeman criticised the attitude of the body and was perplexed by
the disposition of the same. "Lying sideways, face up'ard," he said,
shaking his head with official gravity. "Seems to me as one can't say
nohow if she was coming or going."

"Certainly not going," remarked Dick, positively; "had she passed
through the glade I should have seen her."

"But you was sleeping in the caravan, sir," objected the constable.

"Yes; but later on, in the open, by the fire, as you see. Besides, as I
told you, I was hunting for my horse when Lady Hamber was shot down. At
a quarter to eleven I heard the crack of a revolver when I was groping
my way through trees and underwood over yonder. It is just as well to be
precise, Selwin, or people will think that I have something to do with
the matter."

The policeman threw back his head and laughed scornfully. "No one 'ud be
such a fool as to think that, sir. Any tramps about the glade tonight,
sir?"

"I didn't see any. I saw no man of any kind."

"And no woman, since you never set eyes on Lady Hamber," chuckled
Selwin.

Dick did not contradict him, since truth-telling was risky. "Lady
Hamber," he mused, looking down on the still, white, handsome face. "Had
she enemies?"

"Well, she wasn't what you'd call popular, sir. Haughty and stuck-up and
thinking a power of herself. But murder----" Selwin shook his head
again. "I don't know as anyone would have gone so far as murder. Evening
dress with jewels, I see; not a robbery, I take it, unless the cove as
did it had no time to lift the swag."

"He had ample time. I heard the shot at a quarter to eleven, and when I
met you on the road it was after half-past eleven. I was insensible
meanwhile from the knock on the head. But as you say, Selwin, evening
dress, alone in a wild wood at so late an hour. What does it mean?"

"Them at Sarley Court may be able to tell us," suggested the policeman,
"Help me to carry the body, sir."

Lawson obeyed, lifting the head while Selwin swung up the feet. "Where
is the place--Sarley Court, I mean?"

"Something like a stone's throw away, sir."

"Up this path?" Dick remembered how the girl had come down this byway.

"Yes, sir. This here wood joins on to the park, and there's a fence
between with a gate of sorts. Lady Hamber must have come this way to get
into the wood, though goodness knows why she was messing about here
after dark." And the perplexed officer shook his head with the air of a
beaten man.

The two carried the dead woman slowly along the path, stopping every now
and then. The way was so narrow, so twisted, so tangled with briar and
brushwood, that it was some considerable time before they reached the
gate. A bright half-moon revealed the fence, which turned out to be a
low brick wall into which were mortised stout posts, supporting
wire-netting.

Passing through a gate at the park boundary they struggled along a
little used path, as crooked and tangled as that in the wood, and
suddenly emerged into a vast space of smooth, green lawns, girdled by
ancient oaks and elms, beech, birch, and chestnut trees. On a slight
rising, approached by three terraces, rose the big house of mingled
flint and stone and brick, with steeply sloping roofs and many windows
glittering coldly in the moonlight.

The mansion fronting them was as dark as the wood, and as silent; no
lights, no sound, no indication of life anywhere. "Gone to bed."
commented Selwin, ponderously. "Why wasn't she there, too, and what was
she doin' in Sarley Wood?"

Dick naturally could not reply to these questions, and said nothing, but
he uttered an exclamation of relief when they turned the corner of the
house after climbing the three flights of terrace steps. Here four
French windows were ablaze with vivid light, and one of them stood wide
open, as though an inmate of the mansion had stepped out for a mouthful
of fresh air. Undoubtedly, if circumstantial evidence went for anything,
Lady Hamber had made use of this exit, but--"Why did she walk as far as
that bloomin' wood?" queried the constable, voicing Dick's mental
question. "Queer go, ain't it, sir? We'd best carry her in and call up
the servants."

On a convenient couch of rose-colored brocade they laid down their
uncomfortable burden, and Selwin went to shout for assistance while
Lawson kept watch. When alone he glanced curiously round the room, a
luxurious apartment with a richly painted ceiling. In his half-undressed
state--without gaiters and coat, clothed mainly in pyjamas, with the
addition of breeches and stout boots--Dick felt very much out of the
picture. But the servants, who now began to push into the room, were not
much better as regards clothing, being all more or less untidy and in
hastily assumed costumes. Selwin drew them into line, quite in a
military way, and began to question a very dignified butler, who
remained dignified throughout in spite of his dishabille and natural
alarm.

"Lady Hamber," said the constable, pointing to the body on the couch,
"dead--found in the wood by this gentleman and myself, shot through the
heart. What do you know about it? Be careful, for anything you say will
be used in evidence against you."

"I--I don't know--anything," quavered the butler, while a wail of alarm
rose from the female servants, horror-struck in the presence of death.
"We all went to bed at 10, leaving her ladyship here with Mr. Randolph."

"Who is Mr. Randolph?" Selwin made a note of the name.

"A friend of her ladyship's, who came over here this evening from Mr.
Pollard's place to stay for a few days."

"Where is he?"

"In bed, I suppose," said the bewildered man, staring at the body of his
late mistress as if the eyes would start out of his head.

"And Sir Gerald?"

"He's in bed, too; went there at 9 o'clock. You know, Mr. Selwin, as he
had an accident with his motor car and has been ill for a long time."

"I know." The policeman glanced round at the frightened faces. "Well,
and have any of you anything to say?"

"No!" came in a chorus, and one after another endorsed the butler's
statement that they had all retired to bed at 10 o'clock, leaving her
ladyship and Mr. Randolph in the drawing room. "But Miss Audrey is
sitting with her brother," volunteered the housekeeper, a stout old
dame, wearing a nightcap and a bed robe of flaming red.

"I must see her; see everyone," said Selwin, positively. "Now, Mr.
Randolph----"

"My name!" A tall young man with a toothbrush moustache as black as his
closely-trimmed hair lounged into the room. He was clothed from head to
foot in a sage-green silk dressing gown, and smoked a cigarette. "Heard
a row," he explained in a drawling way. "Thought this might be useful;
burglars. What?"

The officer took the revolver, which Randolph held and examined the
chambers carefully. "Hasn't been fired," he muttered, laying it on the
table.

"Why should it have been fired?" asked the young man, greatly amazed,
and shot an enquiring glance at Lawson, whom he recognised as one of his
own class, notwithstanding the shabby undress.

"Lady Hamber has been shot in the wood, sir," stammered the butler, and
moved aside to reveal the body on the couch.

"Good Lord!" Randolph dropped his easy tone, also his cigarette, and
stepped forward swiftly, with a look of horrified amazement. "Who shot
her?"

"That is what I am trying to find out, sir," said Selwin, significantly.
"Mrs Trotte"--he turned to the stout housekeeper--"go up and ask Sir
Gerald and his sister to come down at once."

"But I say, you know," cried Randolph, as the woman left the room, "I
was with Lady Hamber here up to 9 o'clock."

"Ten, according to the servants," interposed Dick, sharply.

"I went to bed at nine," insisted Randolph, wheeling to face the
speaker; "but I did come down just before ten to get a book I had left
here. The butler was in the room when I came down."

"You were, sir," struck in the butler, "and I left you here with her
ladyship."

"Quite so; but I went upstairs again a minute or so after ten."

"And Lady Hamber?" asked Selwin, pointedly.

"She said that she was going to the library to write some business
letters; but I left her in this room."

"Was that window open?"

"Yes; but she said nothing about going out," said the young man,
perplexed. "And after reading my book for a time I went to bed, and was
awakened by the infernal row you have all been making."

The man spoke convincingly, and Dick believed that he was truly
explaining the events of the evening. Selwin nodded once more, and was
about to ask another question, when Mrs. Trotte rolled into the room,
much flustered.

"Miss Audrey begs that you will excuse her, Mr. Selwin, as she is
sitting up with Sir Gerald, and don't want him waked out of a lovely
sleep, she holding his hand to keep them eyes of his shut."

Lawson objected to the policeman accepting this excuse as he seemed
inclined to do, being more than anxious to satisfy himself on a certain
and very important point. His whispered suggestion altered the man's
mind.

"Take me to Sir Gerald's room," commanded Selwin, sharply. "Mr. Lawson,
come with me."

Mrs. Trotte objected vehemently, but was nevertheless compelled to
become an unwilling guide. Leaving the excited, hysterical servants at
one end of the room and Randolph staring at the dead body of his
unfortunate hostess at the other, the two men followed the stout
housekeeper. Protesting loudly all the way that they would rob Sir
Gerald of a much-needed sleep, she panted up the wide staircase, along
the spacious corridor, and knocked gently at a door near the far end. In
answer to a soft invitation, Selwin, with the other man at his heels,
stepped promptly into the room. They found themselves in the rosy
twilight of shaded electric bulbs to behold a handsome lad sleeping on
the bed close to an open window. Beside him, holding his hand, sat an
agitated young lady, swathed in a crane-embroidered kimono of white
silk. Lawson stared with all his eyes. Yet he was by no means surprised.
She--as he expected--was the very girl who had appeared and disappeared
so mysteriously in the wood of adventure.




CHAPTER V.


Lawson instinctively knew that Miss Hamber not only recognised him
immediately, but had guessed at his presence in the house from the
moment Mrs. Trotte had taken up Selwin's summons. Consequently, so far
as he was concerned, she had her feelings completely under control, and
after an indifferent glance in his direction addressed herself pointedly
to the constable. With him, indeed, she was anything but indifferent,
displaying considerable distress and alarm. But for the fear of waking
her brother, she would undoubtedly have been even more vehement in
showing her anxiety. As it was, she spoke in an eagerly enquiring
whisper. "Is it true?" she asked, trying to control herself.

"Yes, miss," Selwin spoke as softly as she did, knowing, from village
gossip, that the baronet's nerves were dangerously shattered by his
motor car accident, and that possibly to waken him suddenly might wreck
his reason. "She is dead. Her body is lying in the drawing room."

"Lady Hamber! Dead!" Audrey shivered, and turned even paler than she
was.

"Shot through the heart," whispered Dick over Selwin's shoulder, and
with his eyes fixed intently on her anxious face.

"Murdered?" She put the question with a quick indrawing of her breath.

"Undoubtedly."

"By--by--whom?"

"So far we don't know, miss," struck in Selwin, staring alternately at
the girl and the sleeping man. "Have you any idea who----"

"No!" she interrupted, quietly positive, her bosom rising and falling
with overpowering emotion held in check determinedly. "I have been here
for the greater part of the evening holding my brother's hand. He will
wake if I take it away."

"Can't you come downstairs, miss, and explain?"

"There is nothing to explain," replied the girl, fiercely, but keeping
her voice to undertones. "I can't leave my brother; I won't leave him.
This is the first sound sleep he has had for nights and nights. If he
wakes he may lose his sanity. You know, Selwin."

"Yes, miss. That accident broke him up a lot, miss. Shan't stay longer
than I can help; but you understand, I must hunt while the trail is
hot."

"Yes! Yes! It's terrible--horrible!" She wiped her pale lips with a
cobweb handkerchief. "Anything I can say or do to help----"

"Of course, miss. Perhaps you can explain why Lady Hamber went into the
wood?"

The surprise exhibited by the girl was so perfect that had not Dick been
aware of recent events, he would have been deceived. "Was she in the
wood?"

Selwin nodded respectfully. "We found her body on the path leading to
the park."

"On the path leading to the park," repeated Audrey, and again her
manifestation of surprise was a masterpiece of acting. "But how did
it--I mean, how did she get there?"

"That is what I am trying to learn, miss," said Selwin, drily. "If
you----"

"But I know nothing," she interrupted again, and again in a fierce
whisper. "About half-past 9 I came up here to sit with my brother, who
retired to bed at 8 o'clock."

"Leaving Lady Hamber and Mr. Randolph, in the drawing room, miss?"

"Oh, no, I left her there, but Mr. Randolph had already gone to bed. He
has been staying with my Uncle Oliver at Sarley Grange, and told me that
he had been walking over the grounds during the day for miles. So he
went to bed early, and, as my brother needed me, I left Lady Hamber in
the drawing room. She said she was going to the library to write
business letters."

"And you have been in this room ever since half-past 9, miss?"

"Yes," said Audrey, boldly, and stared directly at Dick, who stared back
in an equally searching manner. The situation adjusted itself between
them without words, and she drew a deep breath of relief. "Sitting
beside my brother."

"And you know nothing, miss?" Selwin looked disappointed.

"No!" she said, resolutely, but this time did not look at Lawson, aware
by her previous glance that what he knew he would keep secret.

The constable stood irresolute, overcome by the situation. A more
independent and zealous officer would have insisted upon her coming into
the presence of the dead, so as to shake her into possible confession,
presuming that she had any knowledge. But Selwin was a native of Sarley
Village, and his hereditary respect for his local superiors prevented
him from pushing things to extremes. Also the danger of the sickness
complicated matters. With a remembrance of his former master's
resourceful mind in African wilds, he turned to him for counsel.

"What do you think, sir?"

"I think that Miss Hamber has said all she can say for the moment,"
advised Dick, promptly. "Tomorrow morning, when released from her vigil,
she can tell more--that is, if she knows more, which I doubt."

Audrey shot him a grateful glance. "I don't--don't know--more," she
gasped, "and I--I can't--bear any--any trouble at present. This horrible
death is enough."

"Naturally!"

Lawson, taking Selwin's arm, guided him gently to the door, where Mrs.
Trotte hovered anxiously.

"Don't worry, Miss Hamber," he added, looking back with his eyes on her
feet, "all will come right in the end."

Audrey drew her feet under her kimono, guessing from his significant
glance exactly what he meant she should guess. The excuse of holding her
brother's hand did away with the risk of rising and revealing a sprained
ankle. If Selwin saw that she limped he would probably have declined
belief in her staying-at-home tale. Dick knew, and she knew that he
knew, that several lies had been told during the last 15 minutes; but
these were white lies to save someone--possibly the young man on the
bed, who had slept throughout the conversation. On the way down the
stairs, at the heels of the voluble housekeeper and Constable Selwin,
Lawson considered the matter. If the sick brother with shattered nerves
had retired to bed at 8 o'clock, he, naturally, could not have been
hidden in the wood to fire the shot. There was someone else concerned in
the matter, he felt sure, if only to carry back the girl to Sarley
Court, since she could not have walked hither with a sprained ankle. Out
of gratitude, she might be, and probably was, shielding this person, for
in no other way could he account for her obstinate deception. Of course,
in thus acting a difficult part, she was lying cleverly and cautiously.
Dick disapproved of falsehood, but was forced to be lenient in his
judgment, remembering how he had lied himself earlier in the evening.
More, he admired the pluck of the girl in facing a desperate situation
so resolutely. She was to him a heroine, as well as a beauty. It must be
confessed that her attractive looks biassed the young man in his
conclusions, for, if it was possible to fall in love at sight, he was
fathoms deep in an ocean of nectarous sweetness. "But it is a devil of a
mess," ruminated Lawson, on returning to the drawing room. The ordinary
duties of a country policeman had not educated Selwin into dealing with
mysterious crimes, and he was baffled at the outset. The servants, Mr.
Randolph, Miss Hamber, all had told their various stories, honestly
enough, it would seem. These threw no light on the darkness, indicated
no trail, pointed to no safe conclusion. In a quandary, Selwin appealed
again to Lawson for advice. And as Dick was as much an inborn ruler as
the policeman was an inborn servant, he promptly interpreted the
appealing glance, giving Selwin the credit of being in authority. "As
you suggested to me, constable," he said, when all were looking to the
officer for guidance, "it will be best to leave things as they are until
the morning."

"Of course, sir." Selwin was grateful for sound advice, masked under an
open recognition of his official position.

"You should arrest me, Selwin. It would show real zeal an your part,"
said Dick when they passed out into the park.

"Show me up as a bally idiot, sir," exclaimed Selwin. "Ain't I known you
for four or five years, inside out?"

Dick nodded, touched by the man's loyalty. "Still, the body was found in
the wood, and I was camping in the wood. I might have a revolver----"

"I take your word for it, sir, that you haven't," struck in Selwin,
swiftly.

"All right between you and I, Selwin, but we must satisfy the coroner as
to that. Just shift my goods in the caravan to make sure of my honesty."

Openly grumbling at this cautious advice, but recognising its wisdom,
Selwin pushed on, through the park and the wood, finally arriving at the
glade. Here he went through the contents of the caravan methodically,
turning over everything both inside and outside. Also he searched the
glade and the path, but without any result in any direction. "Clever
chap that chap as did it sir," commented the baffled constable, with a
shrug of despair, "ain't left never a trace behind him. Now I'm going to
the post office to knock up the gal with the wire and get a telegram
sent off to my inspector at Tarhaven. And you, sir?"

"I shall stay here and get some kind of a sleep. Unless you want me, of
course."

"No! No! That's all right, sir. See you at sunrise, sir."

When Selwin went off with a hasty salute Dick filled his pipe, rekindled
the fire, and boiled a kettle of water to brew himself same strong tea,
which refreshment he very greatly required. Then, instead of seeking his
bed, he sat by the fire, thinking deeply. The girl--her brother. Was she
guilty; was he guilty? When the dawn came with golden lights and winging
birds, dew on the grass and wind in the trees, he was as far off as ever
from finding answers to these leading questions.




CHAPTER VI.


Sarley Village--the inhabitants insisted upon the majesty of the full
name--was made up of many cottages, round about and climbing up a
tolerably high hill, topped by the church with its wooden spire. The
narrow streets ran crookedly anyhow and anywhere, leading into one
another, leading into the surrounding country lanes confusedly. There
were no sidewalks, and the cobblestone pavements sloped inward to
central open drains, down which poured the spring and autumn rains in
torrents. These last washed away all refuse, and kept the place in a
sanitary condition, so this continual cleansing, together with the
stimulating winds from the North Sea, made the locality singularly
healthy. The cottages had whitewashed walls, thatched roofs, quaint,
diamond-paned casements, and narrow, low doors. It was quite a primeval
village, such as Arthur's knights might have stumbled across, and the
villagers prided themselves on its simplicity. That such a place should
keep its prehistoric appearance when only four miles from the main
railway to London was a source of pride to all who dwelt therein.

The Monk's Inn--two cottages thrown into one--was the largest house in
the hamlet, and here the inhabitants collected after the day's work was
done to discuss the small events to their small world. Mostly, the
gossips were agricultural laborers, for Sarley Village was set in the
midst of spacious cornlands, dotted with farms, more or less prosperous.
From the churchyard could be seen the marshes, the broad silver line of
the Thames, and the distant loom of the Kentish hills. But inland, from
the cluster of cottages, stretched a rich land of alluvial soil, with
wheat fields, blossoming hedges, and here and there limited woodlands,
the remains of a once overspreading forest. Sarley Court, divided from
the hamlet by Sarley Wood, lay to the left of the hill, and Sarley
Grange to the right, two and a trifle more miles away.

The mysterious and startling crime committed in Sarley Wood amazed and
shocked the villagers, especially as the victim was the chief lady of
the countyside. But it cannot be said that they expressed any great
sorrow, for she had never been popular, and, indeed, was frankly
disliked for her tyranny. Still, the tragedy of her sudden death
galvanised everyone into something resembling energy, and the Monk's Inn
was filled from morning to night with stolid Saxon folk debating the
whys and wherefors of the matter. Some said this, others said that; but
no one had any idea as to how Lady Hamber had come by her unexpected
death. The whole place was in an uproar when Inspector Helder and his
myrmidons came post-haste from Tarhaven in response to Selwin's summons.
With them, men, women, and children streamed eagerly towards Sarley
Wood, which now took on a sinister aspect, likely to grow largely when
winter tales were told by the fireside. Helder's police drove away the
morbid sightseers, formed a cordon, and prevented all exploration, with
the result that the gossipers were reduced to chattering in street and
cottage and public-house. The general view expressed was that Sir Gerald
and Miss Audrey would be thankful that Lady Hamber had passed away,
tragic though her going was.

That such an uncomplimentary opinion should be held was due to the dead
woman herself. She had never attempted to conciliate local prejudices,
and, indeed, had gone out of her way to accentuate them, with that true
aristocratic intolerance which leads to revolutions. She had always been
looked upon as a haughty despot, whose insolent manner was only equalled
by her superlative bad temper. No person of either sex had a good word
to say for her, and some even hinted that she thoroughly deserved her
fate. It was suggested that some poacher, or discharged servant, or
evicted tenant, had shot her out of revenge; but no one could indicate,
with any precision, as to who had done the deed. The circumstances of
the death--the reason for the death--the name of the assassin who had
inflicted death--these were unfathomable mysteries. And mysteries they
remained when the inquest took place in the largest room of the Monk's
Inn two days later.

Certainly, as more became known of the presence of the caravan in Sarley
Wood, various suspicious persons wondered, openly, if its owner had
committed the crime. But Selwin, loyal to his former master, soon nipped
these rumors in the bud by pointing out that Mr. Lawson was a stranger
in the land, that he had never set eyes on Lady Hamber, that he
possessed no revolver, and finally, that he had been the first to give
the alarm. This, said Selwin, he would scarcely have done, if guilty,
without risking the feel of a rope round his neck. Also, the constable
eulogised Lawson as the saviour of his life in Africa, talked of his
hunting exploits, and spoke feelingly of his generous hand, his kind
heart, his qualities of perfect comradeship with high and low. In this
way the grateful man repaid his debt to Dick, and stopped much wicked
gossip before it grew to dangerous proportions. So when he ventured into
Sarley Village, Lawson found himself greeted with all due respect, and
understood that public opinion exonerated him from all complicity. Even
when he appeared before coroner and jury in the commercial room of the
Inn, no one credited him with committing the crime, or of having
knowledge of the perpetrator of the crime. Dick felt, and said later on,
when the storm blew over, that he owed a deep debt of gratitude to
Selwin for his championship.

But for that loyal friend he might have been placed in an awkward
position.

Inspector Helder, Selwin, and Lawson did their best to obtain all
possible evidence to place before the coroner. But their efforts
resulted in nothing, or next to nothing, for when the inquest took place
little more was known than had been known immediately the shot was
fired. Lady Hamber, without the knowledge of anyone in the house, had
gone into the wood, and there had been shot by some unknown person, who
had vanished into thin air. Why she had gone, or who had murdered her,
it was impossible to discover. Helder, clever enough in ordinary police
duties, professed himself confounded when confronted by this abnormal
event.

The number of witnesses called was naturally large, since all the Sarley
Court servants had to be in attendance. The story of one and all was the
same. Sir Gerald Hamber, a delicate-looking young man, declared that he
had retired to bed at 8 o'clock, leaving his stepmother--for such Lady
Hamber was to him and Audrey--his sister, and Randolph in the
drawing-room. Randolph stated that being weary after wandering for hours
over the Gollard estate, he had retired also, leaving Miss Hamber and
the elder lady together. Just before 10 o'clock he had come down again
to fetch a book, and found Lady Hamber, but not her stepdaughter, who
had gone to sit with her brother. Audrey herself deposed to the
departure of her brother and the visitor at the times stated, and that
she herself went upstairs at half-past nine to soothe Sir Gerald to
sleep. The servants, headed by the dignified butler and the stout
housekeeper, swore that they had retired to bed at 10 o'clock, so it
would seem that after that hour no one had seen the deceased. Backhouse
was the last to see her, just before ten, and had also seen Mr. Randolph
when he came down to fetch the book. Selwin stated that the drawing-room
was lighted up, and that one of the French windows was open when he and
Mr. Lawson brought the body to the big house. Lady Hamber, throwing a
veil over her head, had evidently stepped out for a breath of fresh air
after writing her business letters in the library.

"But why should the deceased have gone so far as the wood?" asked the
coroner.

"I can't say, sir," replied the constable, stolidly.

Lawson's evidence was listened to with breathless interest, and he was
careful to repeat the story he had already told to Selwin. While doing
this he saw that Miss Hamber was watching him steadily all the time, as
if wondering why he withheld mention of her visit to his camp. But of
this he said nothing. Yes, he had camped in Sarley Wood, and had heard
the shot while looking for his horse. "At a quarter to eleven," said the
witness. "The church clock chimed that hour just before I heard the
crack of the revolver. I ran at once towards the glade, but, hitting by
head against a tree, became insensible."

"For how long?"

"I can't say," confessed Lawson, frankly; "but it was after half-past 11
when I came across the constable."

Selwin (recalled) stated that he agreed with the last witness as to the
time, as it was shortly after midnight when he and Mr. Lawson carried
the body into the Sarley Court drawing room. He described the finding of
the body.

"From the position of the body, would you say the deceased was coming
into the glade or going away from it?"

"I can't tell that, sir. The body was lying sideways on the path."

Lawson was again questioned as to whether he expected any visitor, and
if he knew the dead woman. To both questions he replied in the negative.
He saw no tramps about the glade. "I am a light sleeper," said the
witness, "and, being in the open, would have heard the slightest
footfall."

"Well, well," said the coroner, when the scanty evidence was complete,
"it does not seem to me that we have learnt much."

"We have learnt nothing," grumbled Inspector Helder, disconsolately. "An
open verdict is all that can be given."

And an open verdict was given, for the jury could only say that the
crime had been committed by some person or persons unknown. There were
some uncomplimentary remarks made regarding the absence of the revolver,
with which the poor lady had been shot; but, on the fact of it, this was
not the fault of the police, as the wood had been searched from end to
end. Also there was a sense of dissatisfaction with the verdict. "For my
own sake," said Lawson to Inspector Helder, "I wish the mystery of the
death had been solved."

"So do I," rejoined the officer, "but so far as you are concerned, sir,
the law has nothing on you."

"Thank you for your good opinion, inspector. All the same, I intend to
look into the matter and get at the truth myself."

"You'll be clever if you do, sir," said Helder cynically.

Naturally, as Lady Hamber was a great personage, the funeral was
sumptuous and stately. People came from all over the country and from
London, so that the little hill-top churchyard was crowded. Audrey and
her brother were present, but avoided Lawson; indeed, took not the
slightest notice of him. He was annoyed by this, particularly on the
part of the girl, seeing how his silence had prevented trouble from
coming to her. "When Lady Hamber's body was laid to rest in the family
vault, he tried to meet the couple face to face, while the throngs of
mourners was breaking up. In this attempt he failed, and their attitude
of dodging a meeting inclined him to believe that the girl had something
to do with the murder, and that the brother knew that she had. Or the
brother was guilty and the sister was shielding him. Dick returned to
his camp firmly resolved to bring the pair to book next day. But----"

"You can't see either Sir Gerald or Miss Audrey, sir," said Backhouse,
the dignified butler, when the young man presented himself next day at
Sarley Court front door, with the idea of extorting a confession from
one or the other.

"I must see them, and at once," insisted Lawson, his face growing dark.

Backhouse shook his head gravely. "Sir Gerald and Miss Hamber left for
the Continent last night, sir, immediately after the funeral."

"Guilty," thought Dick, immediately. "He, she, or both of them."




CHAPTER VII.


As the day was exceedingly warm, with a pitiless sun blazing in a sky of
tropical blue, Dick Lawson had sought shelter from intolerable glare and
heat under the spreading beech-tree which shadowed his disreputable
caravan. Being more or less of a professional hawker, he should have
been travelling along the dusty roads toward the next village. But
somehow he could not tear himself away from the neighborhood in which he
had met with so extraordinary an adventure. He wished to conclude it, to
get to the bottom of things, to bring the culprit to justice, and
thought that some clue to the truth might be discovered in the vicinity.
Four-and-twenty hours had elapsed since he had stood at the door of
Sarley Court, and during that time Dick had been thinking hard, so far
without any result. There was no beginning and no end to his thoughts;
they ran in circles, the last constantly repeating the first.

Stretched at full length under the beech, Dick smoked meditatively, and
thought out a theory--a story, a possibility, concerning the happenings
on that fatal night. Young Hamber had retired to bed at 8 o'clock,
leaving his sister, his step-mother, and the guest in the drawing room;
At 9 Randolph had gone upstairs, while the two women remained. Audrey
had declared that she went to her brothers' bedroom 30 minutes later.
This Dick did not believe. It was more probable that she had quarrelled
with the elder woman, and had fled from the house hurriedly--as was
indicated by her unsuitable attire for a night journey--to seek refuge
with her uncle, Olive Bollard, at Sarley Grange, two miles distant.
Randolph, coming down for the book, and Backhouse, the butler coming for
final orders, had both seen Lady Hamber in the drawing room before 10
o'clock. Lawson, therefore, surmised that immediately they departed she
had followed Audrey through the park into the wood. Probably it was Lady
Hamber, overhearing the conversation about the sprained ankle, who had
slipped the halter from the horse, so that Audrey might be prevented
from travelling in the caravan to Sarley Grange. And then--here Dick's
imagination gave out. Audrey was in the caravan while he was trailing
the horse. Lady Hamber probably lurking up the path. But how the girl
had left the caravan with her useless ankle, and how Lady Hamber had
replaced her on the bed, it was impossible to say. There certainly
was--as Dick conjectured--a third person involved, who had shot the
elder woman, transferred her body to the caravan, and carried Audrey to
her home. But who was that person? Not Sir Gerald, who was a mere wreck,
and incapable of active participation. Then who else? So far Lawson's
thoughts ran easily: now they came to full stop.

Audrey, who could have thrown light on the darkness, had fled to France
with her brother, to whom she had doubtless confessed everything. The
wonderful thing was that she trusted so wholly to Lawson to preserve an
honorable silence, and had not even thought it worth while to demand a
promise of secrecy in a personal interview. It was this neglect that
justified her mainly in Dick's eyes. Had she been really guilty she
assuredly would have striven to extort some such promise. As it was,
being innocent--so Lawson believed--she left him unfettered in any way.
But he had seen the relief in her eyes, both in the bedroom and in the
room where the inquest was held. Therefore she trusted him, and Dick,
ridiculously in love with a girl about whom he knew next to nothing,
swore inwardly that he would still continue to hold his peace.
Nevertheless, he wished to meet her and ask questions. But it was
difficult to bring about such a meeting. In the hope of evolving some
plan to do so, he continued to think, and closed his eyes, the better to
concentrate his jostling thoughts.

"Oh, you are here. Good! I am glad to find you. Hi, Lawson! Wake up!"

Dick opened his eyes, sat up and stared at the bulky figure of a stout
old gentleman who was moving with a surprisingly light step across the
glade. He put a name to him at once. "Mr. Bollard." and rose, wondering
why his visitor had come.

"Himself!" assented Bollard, straddling his huge legs, taking off his
straw hat, and wiping his round ruddy face with a yellow and red bandana
handkerchief, "and glad to find you so immediately young Lawson."

"Why?" asked Dick, very directly.

The intruder produced a gold snuff box, tapped it lightly, and refreshed
himself with a goodly pinch of the mixture. He was over 6 ft. in height,
immensely stout, and his large, clean-shaven face was like a setting
winter sun in its fullness and redness. With shrewd grey eyes, a hard
mouth, and an eagle-beaked nose, Mr. Oliver Bollard looked quite a
formidable person. But when his eyes twinkled and his mouth smiled--as
they did while he looked at his slim young friend--he became less
threatening in bulk and looks. In fact, he suggested a good-natured
elephant, with a giant's strength put to good uses. Dick knew him of
old, and realised that he was much less of an ogre than he looked. And
after the passing of his first surprise, the young fellow accepted the
newcomer's presence as natural. "I saw you at the funeral yesterday," he
remarked, to break the silence.

"Why did you not come and speak to me, then?"

"There was--there is--nothing to speak about," retorted Dick, shrugging.

"I think there is, or I would not be here," said the stockbroker--that
was his occupation--in a roaring voice.

"Oh, really." Dick pointed to the rug whence he had risen. "Won't you
sit down and explain? And, if you like, something, to eat."

"Something to drink," thundered Bollard, dropping lightly to the ground.
He was wonderfully light and dexterous, considering his bulk.

"Tea!"

"Bah! Yours is a Pussyfoot camp, is it? Well, well, the better for you,
if not for your visitors. I believe in young people being temperate."

"And old people?" asked Dick, with an amused look.

"Oh, they can do as they like. I am fond of my glass myself. But
you--no, no!"

"You preach what you don't practice, Mr. Bollard."

"I am a signpost; go where I point. Ha ha!" he roared at his mild joke.
"And now, young Lawson, I knew you as a brat in petticoats, and your
father since he was a Sandhurst cadet. For that reason I gave you a
letter to Lady Hamber to get employment. It has not been delivered, I
presume."

"Quite so. Lady Hamber was murdered before I could call at Sarley
Court."

"Who murdered her?"

Dick shrugged again. "Ask me another. If you are acquainted with the
proceedings which took place at the Monks' Inn you must know----"

"I know all that there is to be known," said Bollard with a snort, "and
that amounts to nothing. I saw Inspector Helder and your village
constable."

"Selwin, I suppose?"

"Exactly. He does not believe that you have anything to do with the
matter."

Lawson nodded. "We are old friends. And I venture to say that you do not
suggest any complicity on my part in this crime."

"Of course. Seeing that it was to your advantage to deliver that letter
and get employment, Lady Hamber was more useful to you alive than dead."

"There I agree with you." Dick bent his head in grave assent.

"But, knowing that you had this letter, which, by the way, I notice you
did not mention in your evidence, you should have searched me out
yesterday when I was at the funeral. In place of that I have to come
hunting after you." The last words came in an indignant roar.

"I see no reason why I should see you or you see me, Mr. Bollard, The
letter has nothing to do with the mystery of this crime."

"Mystery. Ha! Exactly. Mystery! What do you know about it?"

"I told everything I knew."

"No! No." Mr. Bollard's eyes lost their twinkle, and became as hard as
those of a cat on a mouse hunt "You kept silent about something. Come,
now."

"What did I keep silent about?" asked Lawson, wondering at this probing.

"I wish you to inform me," countered the other smartly.

"I have nothing to say."

The eyes of Bollard bored into Dick, as if to search out his most
intimate thoughts. "I love my niece," he said finally, and with apparent
irrelevance. "Yes, and I loved her mother, my sister, quite as much, if
not more."

"Well?" Dick looked an enquiry, for the conversation puzzled him.

"You don't, don't think that my--my niece, has anything to do with----"

"Oh, no," interrupted the other man positively, and a trifle
untruthfully.

"Ah!" Bollard took another pinch of snuff, and sighed with relief. Yet
when he spoke again it was again with apparent irrelevance. "A man of
your birth and brains cannot go touring the country side as a hawker.
Come to London, young Lawson, and I shall get you a post in a West-End
establishment as a riding master."

"Why a riding master?" demanded Lawson, grateful for the offer, but
still wondering at Mr. Bollard's aggressive friendliness.

"You are fond of horses"--Bollard heaved himself up from the
ground--"and you enjoy an open-air life. Come now; what do you say?"

"Thank you!"

"You accept?" roared the Good Samaritan ogre.

"Yes. I want to be in London--for reasons."

Again Bollard's eyes hardened; again he looked a searching enquiry. But
he did not ask for any explanations. "Good. When will you be in town?"

"In five or six days."

"Good. Call at my office. You know where it is. Then we can talk
further."

"Why do you do all this for me?" asked Dick as Bollard turned away.

"I knew your father; I know you," called back the big man over his
shoulder, and sped lightly out of the glade, like an escaping fairy--say
a giant Puck.




CHAPTER VIII.


Within two weeks of rearranging his future, Dick had established himself
in shabby rooms in a shabby Bloomsbury boarding-house. These were not
such as he would have chosen had he been possessed of any plausible
banking account; for a lavish up-bringing had inculcated luxurious
tastes. However, a lengthy experience of lean days in African wilds had
accustomed this stepson of Nature--so he regarded himself--to
discomfort, and he was content with bed, board, fire, and limited
pocket-money. Of course, he hoped sooner or later, to revert to the
civilised delights of his nonage, when his father was alive and cash
plentiful; but he could not see, at the moment, how he could recover
these fair-weather days. The prospect of earning money as a riding
master did not allure him; but it was all that offered, and an
improvement on the alternative of walking the streets. So Lawson,
thankful for the grudging gifts of the gods, went to interview Mr.
Oliver Bollard, 37 Wren street, E.C. From him he hoped to learn details
regarding the situation.

Being a born pedestrian, Dick preferred to walk, rather than to ride in
an overcrowded bus, and sauntered leisurely along Holborn on his way to
the City. Ignoring the traffic and the passers-by he mused over his
present position. After seven hours of wrangling with a closefisted
gipsy, he had sold the jingling caravan and its contents, together with
the ancient steed, at a tolerable profit. The price would keep his head
above water for the time being, so he was satisfied on that score. But
he was by no means satisfied with the termination--or rather the
non-termination of his adventure in Sarley Wood.

Further searching, further questioning, further theorising, had been but
the weaving of ropes of sand; and he left the glade as wise as when he
had first camped therein. Nevertheless, still hoping for the happening
of the unexpected, he had left his present address with Selwin with
instructions to write him should any clue be discovered. Of Audrey and
her brother he had heard nothing since their hurried departure to Paris;
and, indeed, he scarcely expected to hear anything, seeing what social
barriers divided them. At the same time he was watching his chance to
break down those barriers, so that he might obtain an interview with the
girl. She owed him an explanation since he had stood by her in the hour
of need. That explanation he was determined to have, not only that a
very natural curiosity might be gratified, but that his belief in her
innocence might be justified. Of course, being head-over-heels in love,
he made sure that she would be able to exonerate herself in some
unforeseen way.

Although Mr. Bollard was a wealthy man and extremely well known on the
Stock Exchange, his offices gave no evidence either of position or
riches. The building was mean and small; the business rooms, when Dick
gained them up a narrow flight of stairs, scarcely less so. But the
clerks were smartly dressed and alert, while the outer office had an air
of stealthy prosperity felt rather than seen.

Although up in the air, so to speak, Lawson had the feeling of being in
the treasure vaults of Midas, gloomy, rough, chilly, but undeniably
filled with gold. Dick was smiling to himself over this flight of fancy
on his part, when he was ushered into the sanctum of the great man. Mr.
Bollard, huge and imposing, even more so in his city clothes than he had
been in his country kit, rose to welcome his visitor, and pounced
immediately on that smile with the roar of a lion. "You appear to be
pleased with yourself, young Lawson," he said, shaking hands vigorously.

"I was thinking of the contrast between the glitter of gold and the
gloom of your dingy office."

"Come, now"--Bollard spoke good-humoredly but loudly, as was his
custom--"don't disparage my office, young Lawson. This is the magnet
which attracts the gold."

"Exactly." Dick took a seat near the writing table, "That is why I
remarked on the contrast. Why do you compel me to dot my 'i's' and cross
my 't's'?"

"We don't understand epigrams in the city. But we understand--none
better--the value of time, so let us get to business at once.
Here"--Bollard passed along an envelope--"that is a letter of
introduction to Simon Tarr, who has a riding school in Belgravia. Go to
that address today at 3 o'clock and see him. He wants a smart young
riding master, as his pupils are mostly young ladies' who approve of
good looks. Put your goods in the shop window; be well groomed, well
dressed, entertaining, and a good instructor. Then you may marry one of
Tarr's pupils--there are rich girls among them."

"Don't tempt me." said Lawson, slipping the envelope into his pocket
with a nod of thanks.

"I tempt you? No, no! Eve will do that--a dozen of Eves. Good heavens!
What wouldn't I give to be young and handsome as you are."

"And poor?" queried Lawson with a shrug.

"Pooh! With your looks and chatter you can buy a rich wife."

"Can I really? And suppose I don't want to buy?"

"Oh!" Mr. Bollard shot a look at him. "You are in love."

"Fathoms deep!"

"Candid! Candid!" the stockbroker grunted. "Pretty girl?"

"An angel!"

"They all are until they are married. Rich?"

"I believe so, I don't know. What is more. I don't care."

"May I ask her name?"

"I am not at liberty to give heir name!" retorted Dick, wondering what
this prosperous elephant would say if he mentioned Miss Audrey Hamber.

"Oh!" Bollard looked abashed for a moment but soon recovered himself,
and apologised with a good-humored bellow. "You must excuse my being
inquisitive, young Lawson, but your father was a very old friend of mine
and I am anxious to do what I can for his son."

"I am more than grateful Mr. Bollard. Your first effort was a failure,
so I hope that this second one will prove a success."

"Hope so. Hope so." Bollard tumbled his papers about. "For your own sake
it will be advisable to say nothing about this Sarley Wood crime. People
don't like to mix up with those who have been connected with such dark
doings."

Lawson raised his eyebrows. "I can assure you, sir, that there were no
dark doings on my part."

"Oh I didn't mean that. But it is just as well for you to keep a silent
tongue in that handsome head of yours young Lawson."

"So far I have done so," said Dick drily.

"Eh, what, what, what? Do you know anything?" Bollard looked anxious.

"I told all I knew at the inquest."

"Oh!" Bollard grunted and looked disappointed. "Nothing more has come to
light?"

"Nothing."

"And never will." Bollard threw himself back in his chair looking vast
and almost threatening. "The Sarley Wood murder will have to be
relegated to the list of undiscovered crimes."

"It would appear so," confessed Lawson, composedly. "But you knew Lady
Hamber intimately, since she married your brother-in-law. What is your
opinion?"

"I haven't got one, save that one of her many enemies must have done her
in."

Dick nodded. "So the Sarley villagers suggest. She had enemies?"

"To put it in another way, young Lawson, she had no friends. Lady Hamber
was a most detestable woman--Heaven forgive me for speaking ill of the
dead."

"Is that so? And her past?"

"Oh, she had no past of the kind understood. Chaste, well-born,
accomplished, above reproach in every way. She was all that, and yet a
more meddling, evil-minded, gossiping woman never lived. Her very
virtues were vices."

"How did she get on with her stepchildren?"

Bollard looked uneasy, but answered, honestly enough, in a subdued roar,
"She bullied them and made their lives a misery. They disliked her, and
she disliked them. Her death came in the nature of a relief."

"So the villagers seem to think, Mr. Bollard."

"Eh? What?" The big man's face grew purple with wrath. "You don't mean
to say that any of these villagers suspect----"

"Oh, no," Dick hastened to interrupt, "they don't suspect; but they know
that Sir Gerald and his sister are happier without their stepmother."

Bollard nodded heavily. "They would not be human else. You are sure that
there is no talk about either being inculpated in the matter?"

"Quite sure." Lawson felt that the old man referred particularly to
Audrey. "You see, I made every enquiry before I left Sarley Village.
Also I have given Selwin my address, and should he learn anything he
will write to me."

"Why to you?"

Dick rose and shrugged his square shoulders. "I had so much to do with
the matter that I wish to see it through."

"See it through?" Bollard also rose, and his face looked anxious. "Why?"

"Can you ask? I don't like incomplete adventures."

"You mean to learn more?"

"I mean to learn everything."

Bollard looked at Dick, and Dick at Bollard. "I shouldn't, if I were
you," said the stockbroker, gloomily. "It will do you no good."

"It will bring the assassin of Lady Hamber to the scaffold."

"If you can do that"--Bollard brought his great hand down with
tremendous force on Lawson's shoulder. "I am with you. Let me know what
you discover. Let us work together."

"But I thought you did not want me to----"

"I did not! I don't," interrupted the older man, sharply; "but since you
are bent upon completing your adventure, as you call it, I have some
desire to take a belated part in it. Also I must confess that for the
sake of my--my"--he gulped--"that is, of my niece, I want the matter
cleared up."

"Oh, Miss Hamber has nothing to do with it!" said Dick, quickly.

"Of course not!" Bollard, was quite fierce. "Nevertheless, people may
say much they ought not to say. Now good-bye, good-bye. I'm busy."

Thus abruptly dismissed, Lawson left the office, and walked back to his
Bloomsbury lodgings. He was more certain than ever that Bollard knew
from Audrey herself of the visit to the glade and the sprained ankle,
and was terrified lest anything should come out to inculpate her. The
odd thing was that he was not more open about the matter, seeing he must
know that Dick knew. But all meditation on this puzzle was ended when
Lawson returned to his sitting room to pick up a bulky letter. He opened
it to find a paper on which was typewritten, "With thanks for your
silence;" also a bundle of 50 ten-pound notes. "By Jove!" ejaculated
Dick, "Lady Hamber's murderer!"




CHAPTER IX.


This unexpected five hundred pounds had apparently fallen from the
skies, and Dick stared at the bundle of notes--at the single line of
typewriting--with a surprise too great to be expressed in mere words.
This was a bolt from the blue with a vengeance, but how it had struck
the intended person--himself--the young man could not imagine. With his
mind full of the late interview with Mr. Bollard, he had failed to
examine the envelope, but now did so, in order, if possible, to trace
the sender of the money. How was it that this anonymous correspondent
had learnt his new address? This part of the mystery proved easier to
solve than he expected, for the notes had been addressed to Richard
Lawson care of Constable Selwin, Sarley Village, with the instruction
"Please forward."

There was nothing unreasonable about this. The criminal knew that Lawson
and Selwin were deeply involved in the tragedy, and it was natural to
suppose that they had kept in touch with one another. The packet had
been posted from London to Sarley Village, thence back again to London.
As there was no handwriting, no name, no registration, it would be
difficult to trace the sender. Lawson flicked through the notes. They
were all brand new, and genuine enough, as he saw. Dick rose to walk up
and down his small room, very much puzzled, as he did not know what to
make of the matter.

It was at this moment that the name of Mrs. Josephine Tremby flashed
into Lawson's perturbed mind. She was an old friend of his with whom he
had been intimate up to the age of 21, when she was 19. Then he had gone
to seek his fortune in Africa, and although they had corresponded in a
perfunctory manner they had not come together for the last ten years.
But Mrs. Tremby had informed Dick of her marriage; later on the death of
her husband, leaving her penniless. Her last letter--dated a year
ago--had explained that she now earned bread and butter as a detective.

Lawson looked for the letter, hoping fervently that he had not destroyed
it. Fortunately he came across it among the bundles of papers in his
trunk. "Mrs. Josephine Tremby, 24 Parson's street, Soho," read Lawson
and ruminated. "I wonder if she is still there. Anyhow, it's worth
looking her up at that address on the chance. If anyone can help me it
will be Jossy."

No sooner had he made up his mind than he acted at once, and sent off a
wire asking if he could see her that evening. While waiting for a reply
he filled in the time by calling on Mr. Simon Tarr at his riding
establishing in Belgravia, and speedily arranged details for his
engagement. Mr. Tarr was all that was amiable, and seemed to be visibly
impressed by Dick's superior manner. They parted on the understanding
that Lawson was to take up his duties within three days and as the
salary was satisfactory everything seemed all right.

Mr. Tarr was an easy-going personage, and so long as his new employee
conducted riding parties early in the morning and late in the afternoon
stated that Dick could do as he pleased. Lawson returned to his shabby
lodgings, much relived by this unexpected settlement of ways and means
to live. And to add to his gratitude to the gods--he no longer called
them grudging--he found an answer to his wire. Mrs. Tremby was still at
her year old address, and would expect him at 8 o'clock that evening.

Dick made himself smart for the visit, as he wished to do his best to
impress his decidedly critical friend. Dress clothes were out of the
question, as he had not affected such luxuries for years, but he put on
a lately purchased suit of blue serge which his old Bond street tailor
had supplied on credit. Dick was an aristocratic-looking man, who knew
how to wear clothes, and was quite satisfied with his appearance when he
knocked at Mrs. Temby's office door. To reach it he had to climb a
narrow flight of dingy stairs in a dingy house, in a dingy neighborhood.
Wondering why so fastidious a woman, as she always was, should elect to
carry on business amidst such grim and shady surroundings, Lawson
entered in response to an invitation. Passing through a chilly,
uninviting outer office, he stepped into a well-furnished room, the
appearance of which was positively luxurious in the rose-hued shading of
many electric lights.

Mrs. Tremby rose from her desk to advance towards him with outstretched
hands. "My dear old Dick, I am glad to see you."

"Ditto! Ditto! Jossy, old girl." Dick did not refuse the cheek she
proffered, and kissed her warmly. "It's ages since we met."

"Ten years," calculated Mrs. Tremby, indicating a chair with a nod. "And
whose fault is that, my dear?"

"The fault of Fate," retorted the visitor, coolly seating himself. "One
of the three sisters sent me abroad to make my fortune and kept you at
home to make yours, Jossy. And----" He looked round significantly.

Mrs. Tremby shrugged. "Oh, my dear boy, all this is camouflage. I manage
to keep my head above water, and that is all."

"But why in this shady locality?"

"Ah, hum! I have much to do with foreign scamps in my professional
capacity, and like to be on the spot."

"You are not in Scotland Yard--in the C.I.D.?"

"No such luck. But occasionally I have been engaged by the authorities
in connection with cases. I rather like the detective business, you
know, Dicky; it's sensational and interesting, particularly when it has
to do with Continental sharpers. But I can't say that I have made my
fortune."

"You look all right," Dick surveyed her critically.

Mrs. Tremby really looked more than all right, for her evening dress was
costly, attractive, and admirably chosen. She was a tall, rather massive
woman, with a well-moulded face, strikingly handsome. Her mouth was
firm, her large dark eyes somewhat imperious, and on the whole suggested
a masculine strain of determination and thoroughness. She smiled in a
motherly way at her visitor's compliment, for she was fond of Dick after
a sisterly fashion.

"Camouflage again," she said, with a broad smile, showing brilliantly
white teeth. "All my goods are in the shop window, and I have to make a
show to keep my end up."

"Whatever made you take up the detective business, Jossy?"

"Needs must when a certain gentleman drives," replied Mrs. Tremby,
lighting a cigarette and passing along her case to Dick. "Billy chucked
away all our coin in silly speculations, and then died of a broken
heart, poor chap! I had the choice of going on the stage, of being a
companion, of entering a stuffy city office, and several other chances.
Nothing doing, Dicky." She leaned back and crossed her legs in quite a
gentlemanly way. "All too dull and much too uncertain. Then I met a
Secret Service man, who suggested the detective business, and gave me
several tips. I jumped at the opportunity and have done fairly well for
the last few years. But----" Mrs. Tremby sighed--"nothing likely to make
me famous has come my way. I want to make a splash, and get my name in
the mouth of the public. But all this is egotism," she finished. "Tell
me about yourself, your adventures, your success."

Dick blew rings of smoke, and laughed. "My failure, you should say. You
know the pater died."

Mrs. Tremby nodded sadly. "Speculated like Billy did; broke his heart
also."

"Yes. Well, he left me without a cent, and I made no money in Africa. So
home I came, and with a caravan left me by a gipsy whose life I
saved--that is, I saved his mother from being drowned, to be precise--I
have been travelling the country in a caravan."

"In a caravan," Mrs. Tremby sat up and threw away her half-smoked
cigarette, somewhat excited. "Now I remember. Deuce take me, how could I
have forgotten! You are the Richard Lawson of the Caravan Crime."

"Oh the London papers call it that, do they?"

"Yes. Dicky, you don't mean to say that you have come here to ask me to
take a hand in clearing up the business?"

"Yes, I do. Now is your chance to make a splash."

"I should think so." The lady was tremendously excited, and shuffled the
papers on the table before her into some sort of order. "My dear boy,
tell me all about the business."

"But you have read everything in the newspapers," protested Dick,
feeling as if she had taken him by the throat with her strenuous
interest.

"I read what the newspapers chose to say," replied Mrs. Tremby. "It is
very interesting to note how much they don't say."

"What do you mean?"

"Come, now, Dicky, there's a heap left unsaid. I want you to say it."

"But I gave my evidence at the inquest."

"Quite so," answered Mrs. Tremby sarcastically, "and very guarded
evidence it was, my dear boy. You were alone in that wood, and I'll bet
you saw much more than you let out to the coroner and jury."

Dick was startled by her feminine intuition. "But I say----" He
hesitated.

"Come now," observed the lady abruptly. "I'll give you a lead. I know
Audrey Hamber. Yes. We were at school together. I am eight-and-twenty;
she is twenty-five, two years older than that delicate brother of hers."

"And you--you like her?" Dick bent forward eagerly.

"Hullo!" Jossy bent forward also and grinned, if a knowing smile from a
beautiful woman can merit such a word being used. "You are in----"

"Yes, I am," finished Dick, promptly. "Head over ears!"

"H'm! And you only saw her at the inquest," mused Mrs. Tremby, artfully.

"Well, I--that is--you see----"

"No, I don't see; but I guess a lot. Seeing Audrey at the inquest would
not make you fall in love with her. You have met her; you have spoken to
her. Oh, I know what a fascinating little wretch Audrey is."

"She isn't a wretch; she's a darling."

Mrs. Tremby lifted her handsome eyebrows. "As bad as that. Well, tell me
what she said to you in the wood, and how she came to be there."

"I never said she was in the wood. That's guesswork on your part."

"Pure guesswork," assented Mrs. Tremby, agreeably; "but you may as well
tell me what she said."

Dick still hesitated. Her uncanny hitting of the bull's-eye amazed him
beyond description. And once she got into her head what she had got, he
knew enough of the tenacity of the feminine nature to be sure that she
would follow up her guess--if guess it was--by making certain that she
was right.

"You have seen Audrey," declared Dick, nervously.

"She is in Paris. The 'Morning Post' said that she went there with her
brother immediately after the funeral."

"And without seeing me," muttered Lawson, more to himself than to the
other.

"Why should she see you, unless you were friends?--and that you could
not be if you only saw her at the inquest. It won't do, Dicky, old son.
If you want your mother to pull you through you must own up."

"Hang it, Jossy," fumed the young man, "you talk as though I had shot
that poor woman. I didn't. I was in another part of the----"

"Yes, yes, yes!" She waved her hand to silence him. "I read all that in
the newspapers. You silly fellow, I know you are as innocent as Audrey,
or her delightful brother. All the same, you do know of something which
implicates her and Gerald. Go on! I am her friend, remember."

"Jossy!"--he stared at her admiringly--"you are as clever as the devil."

"Scarcely so successful," sighed Mrs. Tremby, selecting a fresh
cigarette.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

"I--I----" He hesitated. "I do know much which I kept dark at the
inquest."

"I win," said the lady, in quite an American way. "H'm. You feared to
inculpate Audrey."

"Yes, confound you!"

"Pooh! You and your 'confounding.'" Jossy was quite good humored.
"Well?"

"I speak in confidence, I suppose?"

"Honest Injun. I am not going to publish your information, whatever it
may be worth, and give the tip to the scamp we are after. Can't you see,
Dicky, that if I run this show properly I shall make a record as a
detective? Well-born people--rich people--murder--mystery--a pretty
girl--all the elements of a detective story are there."

"I hope you will be able to end the story with my marriage to Audrey."

"Well, there's no knowing," replied Mrs. Tremby, tolerantly. "I am a
born matchmaker, and it is time you were married. Now then?"

Dick took the plunge. After all, he knew he could trust Jossy.




CHAPTER X.


For the next fourteen days Lawson was engaged in instructing young
ladies how to ride. He had explained everything to Mrs. Tremby, from the
time he arrived at Sarley Village up to the receipt of the bundle of
notes and the anonymous line of gratitude. Naturally, when he did so, he
expected to hear Josey's comments on his extraordinary story. But she
declines to express any opinion, save that there were wheels within
wheels, and she could not see at the moment how these worked. Bidding
Dick to keep silent and possess his soul in patience, she sent him away
from the dingy house in Soho with the assurance that she would deal with
the matter in her own way. "And my way, my innocent child," ended Mrs.
Tremby, "doesn't admit of your queering my pitch by shoving your oar
in."

So while Jossy did magic in her own dark ways, hunting a trail invisible
to Dick, that young gentleman devoted himself to earning honest money as
Mr. Tarr's riding master. He proved to be a great success, his looks and
charm of manner fluttering the hearts of the pupils so greatly that
their number increased. Also, from African experiences, Dick knew his
business, and was able to convey to the most dense the idea of managing
a horse and using the animal to the best advantage. Mr. Tarr, seeing
that this skill and popularity added largely to the number of his
clients, even at this early stage, blessed his stars and Mr. Bollard for
having sent him so capable an assistant. Lawson found the life pleasant,
easy, and profitable, but all the time thought of Audrey and the mystery
of Sarley Wood. But for that fly in the ointment he would have been
completely happy.

It was at the end of the fourteen days that he again came into contact
with Arthur Randolph. Since the inquest he had not set eyes on that
languid young gentleman, and cared very little if he never saw him
again. But early one morning Randolph, riding in the park, saw Dick with
his bevy of girls--a company of charming Amazons on horseback. Randolph
followed, and when Lawson led his charges back to Mr. Tarr's mews, and
the throng dispersed, found means to renew his acquaintance with the
young riding master. Dick emerged from the mews to come face to face
with Randolph in a irreproachable riding kit and mounted on a remarkably
fine blood horse. "How do you do, Lawson?" said Randolph, bringing his
animal up to the kerbstone.

"Oh!" Dick lifted his eye carelessly. "How are you?" and, wondering why
the man should greet him, he said no more, wishing to gain information.

"We have not met since that time in Lady Hamber's drawing room."

"Since the inquest on Lady Hamber's body," corrected Lawson, coolly.

"Oh, we didn't meet then?" smiled Randolph. "We were only in the same
room."

"What matter?" said Dick, with a shrug, and still watchful.

"Oh, no matter at all," replied the man on the horse, carelessly. "Only
it is odd we should meet again so soon."

"I don't think so, seeing that you followed me here," observed Dick
coldly, for Randolph was a kind of man about town he did not admire.

"I did so to ask if you had found out anything about Lady Hamber's
death."

"Why should I find out anything? I gave my evidence at the inquest, as
you did, and there the matter ended."

"For me, Mr. Lawson, not for you."

"Meaning?" Dick looked an enquiry.

"I saw your friend Mrs. Tremby," said Randolph meaningly. "She called on
me to hear what I had to say, and I gathered--indirectly, of
course--that you had engaged her to deal with the matter."

"I have. It is necessary that Lady Hamber's assassin should be captured
and punished."

"You won't find that easy," said Randolph, and his smile disappeared.

"I don't expect to find it easy; nor does Mrs. Tremby, who understands
things of this kind. All the same, I mean to get at the truth."

"You never will," the other assured him, and spoke emphatically.

"Why do you say that so positively?" Dick put this leading question
bluntly.

"My dear fellow, look at the difficulties. Lady Hamber goes into a wood
at a late hour; no one knows why. She is shot in that wood; no one knows
who by. The revolver with which she was shot cannot be found. The man
who used it has disappeared, and----"

"How do you know that the shot was fired by a man?" interrupted the
other.

Randolph's eyes glittered eagerly. "Have you any reason to believe that
a woman used the revolver?"

"Not at present. But----" Lawson purposely left his sentence unfinished
so as to learn if Randolph dreaded hearing Audrey's name. Certainly he
could not have known that Audrey had visited the wood; but the eager
look in his eyes seemed to hint that he guessed she might have done so.

"But what?" enquired Randolph, and now indolently, more on his guard.

Dick shrugged his shoulders again. "Nothing! I don't know if it was a
man or a woman who shot Lady Hamber. I know nothing."

"Yet you were in the wood all the time;" the remark was made
significantly.

"I satisfied the coroner and jury with regard to my innocence, Mr.
Randolph."

"Oh, my dear chap"--the tone of the other was quite cordial as he
gathered up his reins. "I didn't mean for one moment that you had
anything to do with the matter. I only wondered if, being in the wood,
you might not have some kind of--er--suspicion, let us say."

"I have not," declared Lawson bluntly.

"Oh, well; it's a pity. If I can do anything to help--for Lady Hamber
was a dear friend of mine--let me know what I can do," and with a nod
Randolph touched up his horse and rode away, more languid than ever.

"H'm!" commented Dick, looking after, him. "What does this mean?"

All the way to Bloomsbury he asked himself this question, for it seemed
queer and even suspicious that Randolph should thrust himself into the
matter at this--so to speak--eleventh hour. Did he know anything? Was he
uneasy about anything? These were puzzling and very pertinent questions,
so much so that Dick found no answer to them when he arrived at his
lodgings. Also all idea of trying to do so vanished when he found Mrs.
Tremby waiting.

"You are late," she said, greeting him gaily in the shabby sitting room.
"Why, I have been here quite half an hour, and time means money in my
business, my very unpunctual old dear."

"I was detained by----" Lawson stopped, not wishing to mention
Randolph's name, lest it should lead to discussion and postpone the
explanation of his visitor's errand. "Never mind. Why have you come,
Jossy?"

"I have found out who sent you that money," announced Mrs. Tremby
triumphantly.

"No! B' Jove, you're a marvel, Jossy! And who----"

"Wait a bit. I want to explain how I traced the notes."

"Go on!"

Dick passed her a cigarette and took one himself. When they lighted up
he looked enquiringly at Jossy, who was quite willing to afford him
details.

"I took the notes to the bank," she said, leaning her elbows on the
table and speaking with much deliberation. "Threadneedle street, you
know. I believed that they would keep the numbers and might know who had
cashed the cheque for the five hundred. In one way and another--no need
to go into details, Dicky, as I see you are on tenterhooks--I learnt
that those fifty-pound notes--the whole ten of them--were paid across
the counter to----" She stopped with an exasperating smile.

"Go on! Go on!" commanded Lawson impatiently. "Why stop?"

"I want you to guess."

"Silly cuckoo you are, Jossy!" snapped Dick, still impatient. "Not
Audrey?"

"Of course not. The queen can do no wrong."

"Gerald Hamber--her brother?"

"Not much. He is in Paris."

Dick, remembering his late meeting, started. "Randolph?" he asked
quickly.

"No, my son. Mr. Oliver Bollard."




CHAPTER XI.


Half an hour later Lawson was on his way to the city to a taxi. The name
revealed by Mrs. Tremby as that of the man who had sent the money
startled him not a little, as it was the very last one he expected to
hear. Jossy had her views about the matter, and Dick had his; yet,
strange to say, the two did not exchange views. The lady gave her reason
for such reticence on her part in her own bluff, masculine way. "Before
I tell you my opinion, Dicky; go and see Mr. Bollard, and ask
questions."

"He may refuse to answer them."

"Hardly, seeing what a dubious position he stands in by this secretive
action, my dear boy. What do you think?"

"I shall follow your example, Jossy, and let you know that after I have
seen Bollard." He paused and nodded reflectively. "But he sent these
notes for a very good reason."

"He sent them as a bribe," declared Mrs. Tremby, preparing to go, "and
if the reason is a good one there was no need for secrecy."

"I am not so sure of that," retorted Lawson, dryly. "Anyhow, there you
are, and there I am. I can't say more at present."

"You certainly can't say less. Good bye, you close old oyster." At the
door she halted and laughed. "I have another string to my bow."

Dick stared and became incautious. "Randolph?"

"Ah, hum!" said Mrs. Tremby, and, with a most unladylike wink,
disappeared.

Thinking how exasperating she was with her saying just enough to make
him wish to hear more, Lawson rapidly changed his clothes. Having got
rid of his professional riding kit, he put on his serge suit and went
out to hail the first taxi he saw. While the vehicle dodged the crowded
traffic and buzzed towards Ludgate, Dick reflected over Jossy's
discovery.

In spite of the doubt he had expressed to Mrs. Tremby, he felt tolerably
confident that Bollard would own up. Also he was certain that the reason
Bollard would give was one which had suggested itself to him the moment
he had heard the name. However, it was useless to consider what the
stockbroker would or would not say, when all would be explained within
the next quarter of an hour. So Lawson thought more of his meeting with
Randolph than of the coming interview, and wondered why the man had so
pointedly sought him out. Only when he alighted before Bollard's dingy
office did he remember his errand. The bulky parcel of notes in his
breast pocket, which Jossy had restored to him, brought the immediate
business of the moment into his mind.

"You again, young Lawson!" roared the stockbroker, who had ordered his
visitor to be shown in immediately to the inner office. "What now?"

"I have come to tell you that I am getting on all right with Tarr, and
that the situation is tophole," said Dick, avoiding an immediate
explanation.

Bollard shrugged his massive shoulders. "You seem to be in a great hurry
about it. Quite unnecessary, I assure you, young Lawson. Tarr came a few
days ago to thank me for having picked up a parcel for him. Have a
cigar!"

"I prefer a cigarette. Thanks!" Dick selected one from the box pushed
towards him and struck a match. "And----"

"Yes; I thought there was an 'and,'" said Mr. Bollard, coolly. "It is
usually a 'but.' Well, what have you really and truly come to see me
about?"

"I wish to restore these." Lawson fished out the parcel of notes and
placed them, uncovered, on the writing table.

"Money!" Bollard raised his thick eyebrows, but otherwise was wholly
unconcerned. "Yes?"

"You meant well in sending them, but I don't require such a bribe."

"Bribe?" Bollard's face grew dark, and his manner became stiff. "What do
you mean, Mr. Lawson?"

"Oh, I think you can guess!" Dick's tone was dry, but not unfriendly.
"But I see no reason why the five hundred pounds should have been sent
anonymously."

Bollard fenced. "You might make yourself clearer."

"I prefer the explanation to come from you," said Lawson politely.

"I have none to give," was the stiff reply.

"Oh, I think you have. A bit of an insult to me--what?"

"I can't see the insult."

"Ah!" Dick seized on the half admission. "Then you do know something
about the matter?"

Bollard fenced again. "Why do you think that I sent you five hundred
pounds?"

"I don't think. I know." And Dick related Jossy's visit to the Bank of
England and the tracing of the notes by their numbers.

"Very clever of your lady friend," said the stockbroker, unmoved. "She
ought to succeed in her profession. Well?"

"I am waiting to hear what you have to say."

"You told me so before." Bollard threw himself back in his chair and put
his thumbs in the armholes of his white waistcoat. "Let us make the
position as plain as as possible. You say--on the evidence of Mrs.
Tremby--that I sent you these notes. Why should I?"

"That is where the insult I spoke of comes in. I require no bribe to
keep silent, Mr. Bollard."

"Silent about what?" enquired the other, doggedly obstinate in keeping
his cards hidden.

"About Audrey Hamber's visit to the glade on the night when her
stepmother was murdered. Come now, Mr. Bollard, I guessed long ago from
your attitude towards me that you knew--that she told you."

"I got you the situation with Tarr out of respect to the memory of your
late father, who was my dear friend." observed Bollard irrelevantly, or
apparently so.

"So you say!" Dick wondered why the man fenced so persistently.

"Yes. And I say that I tried to get you a situation with Lady Hamber, as
her bailiff, before she was murdered."

"So you did. I take back my hint of bribery, although it was needless
for you to send me this money."

Bollard abandoned his defiant attitude and leaned forward, looking
somewhat old and worn. "I wanted to help you, young Lawson."

"You have done so, and I thank you."

"I don't want thanks. What you have done for Audrey is worth much more
than the situation with Tarr and that money." He glanced at the
banknotes.

"Oh!" Dick heaved a sigh of relief that they had come to grips at last,
"so you do know of that visit to the glade?"

"Yes. You were clever to guess that I possessed such knowledge."

"Oh, it was natural that I should guess. I knew that Miss Hamber would
turn to you for assistance in her new trouble."

"Her new trouble?" Bollard looked up anxiously.

"Yes. On the night she came to the glade she was going to you at Sarley
Grange for your help. What her trouble was then I don't know. But the
death of her stepmother in the wood is the new trouble."

Bollard nodded. "Both troubles are one," he said heavily.

"Then you know why Lady Hamber was murdered?" Dick looked aghast.

"No; I don't," said the stockbroker doggedly.

"Then how can the two troubles be one?"

"In this way. Audrey quarrelled with her stepmother, who was a most
impossible and tyrannical woman, and so left Sarley Court on the spur of
the moment to come to me. Lady Hamber, afraid of what would come of my
supporting my niece against her, followed to stop her. So out of the old
trouble rose the new one. You see?"

"I see!" Dick nodded. "What was the quarrel about?"

Bollard hesitated. "Well, you know so much that I may as well tell you
more, especially as you have befriended my niece. Lady Hamber was
anxious that the girl should marry Arthur Randolph."

"Oh!" Dick winced. He hated the idea of Audrey becoming the wife of such
a wastrel as he was tolerably sure the man would turn out to be.

The stockbroker guessed his thoughts.

"You needn't be afraid, young Lawson," he said quietly. "Audrey dislikes
the man, and it was because she refused to marry him that the quarrel
took place. It reached such proportions that my niece--always
impetuous--determined to rush over to me immediately, and ask for my
interference. So now you know why she was wandering about in so
unsuitable a dress for a country walk."

"Lady Hamber did follow her, then?"

"She must have done so, seeing that her body was found in your caravan
by you; but," added Bollard, enquiringly, "how did Selwin find it lying
on the path?"

"I placed it there, so as to avert suspicion from myself," explained the
other, bluntly. "You can guess that I was in a quandary."

"Yes. Very wise of you to act as you did," said Bollard, approvingly.
"But you can imagine why Lady Hamber followed, it was to prevent Audrey
from bringing me into the matter. Lady Hamber," finished the man,
grimly, "had a wholesome fear of me, since she knew I disapproved of her
doings."

"Precisely. I understand. And she let my horse loose, no doubt."

"So Audrey thinks; so I believe. She must have followed on immediately
after Randolph and the butler left the drawing room, and undoubtedly
overheard the conversation about the sprained ankle. Knowing that my
niece could not walk to Sarley Grange, she--Lady Hamber--must have
slipped the halter from the horse to prevent you from taking Audrey over
in your caravan."

"Plain as day," said Dick, absently. Then added, alertly; "what took
place while I was hunting after the horse?"

Bollard hesitated for the second time. "I shall leave my niece to
explain all that," he remarked after a pause. "You see, young Lawson,
she swore me to silence, and only your discovery that I had sent you the
money has forced me to break my silence. You can guess that I wish to
say as little as possible."

"In a way I do, Mr. Bollard. But why there should be anything withheld
from me, seeing that I am so deep in the confidence of your niece, I do
not understand. Nor do I understand why Miss Hamber refused to meet me
and explain matters before she left for the Continent with her brother."

"She was unstrung and upset," explained the other, earnestly, "and could
not bring herself at the moment, to repeat to you what she told me."

"Does what she told you throw any light on the darkness?"

"It does not reveal the name of the person who murdered Lady Hamber, or
why Lady Hamber was shot," said Bollard, bluntly. "So far as that goes,
my niece is as much in the dark as you are, or I am."

"Then why should she refuse to meet me?" persisted Lawson, dubiously.

"I have told you, so far as I am able to tell. Who can account for the
whims of a woman? Anyhow, her very leaving without an explanation shows
that she trusts you not to give her away."

"I thought she was shielding someone."

"Whom did you think she was shielding?"

"Her brother."

"Pooh!" Bollard laughed in his big, jovial manner. "Gerald was in bed
all the time, more or less of a wreck with his nerves. He has lost much
of his memory, poor chap, because of a motor accident. Audrey is
shielding no one. But I shall leave her to explain things. Meanwhile, as
you won't allow me to be your banker, can't I help you in other ways?"

"You have got me this situation, which suits me."

"But I want to give you something to show my gratitude," urged Bollard.

Lawson halted at the door and half-turned. "When the time comes and this
mystery is solved, you can give me something."

"With all my heart." was the eager answer. "And that is?"

"The hand of your niece in marriage," said Dick briskly, and
disappeared.




CHAPTER XII.


After Lawson left the city he drove to Soho to report the result of his
interview with Bollard to Mrs. Tremby. To his surprise the door of her
office was locked, and a paper pinned thereto informed him and all
callers that she would not return for five or six days. The young man
was annoyed, since it seemed to him that it was unbusinesslike of Jossy
to leave him in the lurch at the moment. However, there was nothing to
be done at the moment by word of mouth, so he went back to his lodgings
and wrote an explanatory letter. This he posted to the Soho address.
thinking that he was something of an ass to do so, seeing that she was
not there and would not be there for at least a week.

To his surprise once more--the first one having been when he discovered
her absence--he received an answer by next day's evening post. Mrs.
Tremby had read his statement concerning his visit to Bollard, and
thanked him for having sent it so promptly. She added that, for reasons
connected with the case in hand, which would take too long to explain by
letter, she was obliged to go out of town. Dick wondered if she meant to
make enquiries about the matter in Sarley Village, and had half a mind
to follow her there, if, indeed, that was the goal of her journey. But
all conjecture and decision to pursue was swept aside when he read the
postscript to her original epistle. Women's postscripts are always
significant, since a woman's last word usually means much more than
dozens of the preceding ones. But this particular one puzzled the young
man greatly, since it appeared to have nothing to do with anything in
the letter. "Have you a dress suit?" wrote Jossy, in her large masculine
caligraphy. "If not, get one--the smartest your means will allow."

"Now, what the dickens is she talking about clothes for?" questioned
Lawson, raising his eyebrows and wondering what was the secret of this
Sphinx. "I fail to see what she has to do with my wardrobe. Dashed
nonsense--fiddling while Rome is burning. Hang all women--excepting one,
of course!" And in a fit of petish anger he tore the silly letter into
small bits.

But during the next day or so he went about his business with that silly
letter tormenting his mind. After all, Jossy was as clever as a monkey,
and--in his experience--had never suggested this or that without some
good reason, not always apparent at the moment. What this one might be
for--chattering about dress clothes Dick could not guess, and fought for
many exasperating hours against adopting the suggestion.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

The mirror into which Dick was looking to settle his white tie, gave no
answer, only showing the gazer his handsome, cross face. The sight made
the wise young gentleman smooth his wrinkles, and rid himself of his
frown, for it would never do to let Jossy suspect that she had ruffled
his temper. It was a very smiling, agreeable person who greeted Mrs.
Tremby when she swept into the shabby siting room on the stroke of nine.
Jossy was in her warpaint also, gorgeous in a sumptuous gown of amber
satin, which suited her dark beauty. She looked as stately as the Queen
of Sheba, and her dress sparkled with jewels, as did her eyes with good
humor. She was undoubtedly pleased that Dick had obeyed her, and admired
his handsome, well-bred looks. "You are now a civilised being, old
chap," said Jossy, nodding her satisfaction. "Didn't you kick a bit when
you read my P.S.?"

"Oh, dear no," said Dick untruthfully, and determined not to give the
lady any opportunity of triumphing. "You are in charge of the case, so I
obeyed orders."

"I don't think," answered Mrs. Tremby, sarcastically. "You always like
to be top-dog, Dicky, and I bet you swore yourself silly over my being
silly."

"Well, I did think you were silly," confessed Lawson, with a shrug, "but
thinking that there might be method in your silliness, I--well, here you
are."

"Yes. Here I am," said Jossy, taking his words in another sense, "and
don't you think I am wearing well. Where are your compliments?"

"Jossy, darling, you look like Solomon-in-all-his-glory, and if I
weren't in love with Audrey I should certainly ask you to marry me."

"And you certainly shouldn't be accepted. You always did have the mere
of a German super-man, Dicky. Now we'll go."

"Go where?" Lawson got between her and the door.

"Where I am taking you to."

"And the place?"

"You'll know all about it when you get there."

Lawson frowned, and still prevented her from leaving the room, although
Mrs. Tremby, reminded him that the register of a waiting taxi was
ticking up an increasingly large fare every minute. "Hang the taxi," he
said, sharply. "Why do you indulge in all this mystery?"

"It is my way of doing things."

"It is an infernally unpleasant way."

"Now, look here Richard Maxwell George Henty Lawson, you've got to let
me run this show in my own way. Only by allowing me to do so can I bring
things to a successful issue. And don't swear in the presence of a lady,
you civilised ruffian of the back blocks."

"I didn't swear."

"Yen said 'hang,' likewise 'infernally."

"Call that swearing? Why, I could----"

"I am sure you could," interrupted Mrs. Tremby hastily. "Dicky, don't be
several kinds of ass. I know what I am doing."

"You do, and that is what I want to know also."

"Tiresome person!" Jossy resumed her seat. "I have been attending to the
case for the last seven days."

"Why didn't you write me?"

"There was no use my wasting stamps when I had nothing to report."

"Have you anything to report now?"

"You'll see when I take you to the place I am taking you to," said Mrs.
Tremby, mysteriously. "But I can tell you this much, Dicky--I have been
following that Randolph person."

"What?" Lawson became quite eager. "Do you think he knows anything?"

"I am quite sure he does. Didn't Bollard talk about him?"

"Only so much as I reported in my letter."

Mrs. Tremby reflected. "That the quarrel between Audrey and her
stepmother was on account of a possible marriage with Randolph."

"You can leave out possible," said Dick coolly. "Audrey belongs to me."

"There's many a slip," quoted Jossy, and rose impatiently, gathering her
cloak of claret colored velvet round her ample figure. "Come! I can
explain myself better in the taxi." And without further words she left
the room.

Dick followed, wondering why she behaved so mysteriously. It was plain
that she had a plan. But what was that plan? When he joined her in the
taxi she had already directed the chauffeur where to go; so he was still
ignorant of his destination. As to her promised explanations, these were
mere scraps and vague hints.

"If you meet Randolph, don't let him think that you are suspicious,"
warned Mrs. Tremby as they drove through the well-lighted streets.

"I won't. Am I likely to meet him?"

"It's not impossible," rejoined Jossey, dryly, and relapsed into
silence. Not another word would she say, and Dick felt inclined to shake
her into speech.

In due time the taxi turned into Park lane and stopped before a red
pathway leading under a striped awning up to an hospitable open door.
Dick paid the chauffeur, and followed his guide, greatly bewildered. She
led him up a wide staircase smothered in flowers, and presented him as
her dear friend to a smiling hostess, who welcomed him affably.
Afterwards, with Jossy on his arm, Dick moved into a vast and sumptuous
drawing room, which opened out into an equally sumptuous ballroom.

"I have brought you here," said Mrs. Tremby, impressively whispering,
"to see someone who knows the truth."

"Where is the someone?" Lawson stared at the rainbow colored crowd of
dancers swaying to lively music like a bed of tulips in a summer breeze.

"Yonder." Mrs. Tremby waved her fan towards the left. "Don't faint, old
son."

Dick wholly unprepared, very nearly did. Amidst the merry dancers,
standing beside Randolph and talking gaily, he beheld--Audrey Hamber!

"She knows everything," whispered Mrs. Tremby significantly. "It is your
business to learn everything."




CHAPTER XIII.


Only for a moment did Dick gain a glimpse of the girl he loved, talking
brightly with the man he hated. The next moment Jossy drew him back into
the multitude of guests. He tried to break away from her, to struggle
towards Miss Hamber, but his arm was firmly held and shaken gently.

"Don't be silly, you hot-head!" breathed Mrs. Tremby, half amused, half
angry. "We are not here for enjoyment, but on business. Randolph must
not see you."

"Why not, hang him?" demanded Lawson, chafing under restraint.

"Because he will make it his business to prevent you from having a quiet
talk with Audrey," she said, sharply. "You'll be sorry if you don't
allow me to arrange matters in my own way."

"You are so confoundedly mysterious," muttered the young man, irritably.

"I have to handle this thing with the gloves on, Dicky. Come and sit
down. I can answer your questions now."

"How did you know that Audrey was to be here?"

"You thought she was in Paris, I suppose?"

"Yes. Well?"

"She was in Paris, and returned two days ago. I brought her back."

"Then you have seen her; you have spoken to her," said Dick,
breathlessly.

"Not much," replied Jossy, deliberately. "I don't want to let her know
that I am professionally engaged in this Sarley Wood case. But Lady
Heston, who gives this ball is an old friend of mine. She knows Audrey
also--we were all three at school together--so I asked her to send an
invitation to Paris and insist that Audrey should come over. You see she
has come, but is quite unaware that I schemed for her to come."

"Oh! And she doesn't know that I am here?"

"Of course not. I want you to take her by surprise and startle her into
a confession. I induced Lady Heston to ask Randolph also."

"Why did you, when you know that I detest the man?"

"Dear boy, you must put your likes and dislikes aside for the moment. So
far as Randolph is concerned, I like him as little as you do. He was
always a wrong 'un, and Bill, my late lamented, had more to do with him
than I approved of. But I wished him to meet Audrey, so that I might see
them together and learn what terms they are on with one another.

"Very agreeable terms, if one can judge," growled Lawson, bitterly.

"Ah! but one can't always judge," retorted Jossy, wisely. "I am
perfectly sure that Audrey fears the man."

"Why should she fear him?" Dick bristled and scowled.

"That is what I wish to find out--what you must learn. I told you I have
been following Randolph for the last six or seven days. I learn that he
is desperately hard up; that he was very thick with Lady Hamber; that he
wished Audrey to marry him."

"Bollard said as much."

"I learnt what I tell you from Bollard and the information suggested to
me the idea of bringing Audrey and Randolph together." Mrs. Jossy
paused, and added, musingly, "I don't know if Gerald is on Randolph's
side."

Dick sat up alertly. "Why should he be?"

"Well, they are friends--great friends. Both were in Africa two years
ago on a hunting trip, and got to know one another intimately. This
being so, it is the just possible that Gerald may favor his friend as
Audrey's husband. Rotten if he does, as Randolph is only after her
money."

"Has she money?"

"Three thousand a year under her father's will. Gerald has the estate
and five thousand per annum. And as Lady Hamber only had a life interest
in the property I expect that boy is now richer than ever. He is a nice
boy," Jossy sighed. "I saw a lot of him when Audrey and I were school
friends"--she shook herself to banish sentiment. "Well?"

"You are wonderful, Jossy. If you can introduce me to Miss Hamber I
daresay I can learn much. But," Dick hesitated, "you suggest that she
knows everything. I don't believe that."

"But think, Dicky. While you were hunting that horse the shot was fired.
Audrey was in the caravan, yet when you returned she had disappeared and
the body of Lady Hamber was in the bed she had occupied. It is
impossible than all that could have happened without her knowing the
truth."

"She may know a lot," said Lawson, doggedly defending the girl, "but I
am sure she is ignorant of the man's name who shot her step-mother. If
she knew it she would have told at the inquest."

Mrs. Tremby shook her head. "Audrey had no love for her step-mother.
Everyone knew that."

"Still, I don't think she would keep the name of the man who murdered
her step-mother quiet."

"She might want to shield the man."

Dick winced. The idea had occurred to him more than once. "Unless it was
her brother, there is no one I can think of whom she would shield."

"Oh, Gerald wasn't in the business. You remember you saw him yourself in
bed."

"Yes. I don't think he had anything to do with the matter," Dick
reflected. Then he winced again. "You don't suppose that she is
shielding Randolph?"

"I don't know. She might be--not from love. But Randolph has some hold
over her. I gathered here and there--society gossip and scandal, you
know--that she tolerated him dangling after her and paying her
lover-like attentions. And then he was staying at Sarley Court when the
crime was committed."

"As the guest of Lady Hamber, I take it, since she was mistress there?"

Mrs. Tremby nodded and stood up. "Yes. Lady Hamber was keen on the
marriage, and--as we learnt from Bollard--that caused the row which sent
Audrey into the wood on her way to Sarley Grange."

"But you don't think----"

"My dear Dick, I don't know what to think. It's all a muddle, but I am
now giving you an opportunity of learning something likely to dispose of
the difficulties. Audrey would tell me nothing, since see thinks I know
nothing. But you are partly in her confidence because of the adventure
in the wood, so you can force her to tell everything. Then"--Jossy spoke
significantly and moved out of the alcove. "Stay here, Dicky, and I
shall send Audrey to you."

Lawson followed her out with an alarmed look. "She won't come if she
knows that I am here."

"She won't know. I shall merely tell her that an old friend wants to see
her. No, Dicky, don't contradict. I am in charge of this business. How
often have I to tell you that? Get back and sit tight, old bean."

Mrs. Tremby pushed him back through the screen of flowers into the
alcove and swept majestically down the brilliantly lighted corridor.
Lawson sat down on the sofa, nervously anticipating the coming of the
girl. He fervently hoped that no other person would stumble upon the
cosy corner, as it was necessary for himself and Audrey to be alone for
their very important conversation. But either from sheer luck or Jossy's
managements--he did not know what influence she had in this house--no
one came to the alcove, although several couples passed along at
intervals. Then he heard the sound of two murmuring voices in the
distance, which, when they came nearer, proved to be those of Mrs.
Tremby and Miss Hamber. It was the former who was speaking when the pair
halted before the alcove. "It is an old friend who wishes to see you,
dear," said Jossy amiably. "Go in and you will have the surprise of your
life."

"An old friend," repeated Audrey wonderingly. "I have no old friends,"
she said with a sigh; "many acquaintances but no real friend."

"I think you will find one in there," said Mrs. Tremby, and guided the
girl towards the screen of flowers. "I shall return in half an hour."

"But, Jossy----" Audrey broke off, as her companion was now moving some
distance away down the corridor. For a moment she hesitated, not
approving of the mystery in which she seemed to be involved. Then
curiosity got the better of prudence, and she stepped into the alcove,
to find herself face to face with a tall man who had arisen when she
entered. In the dim light she could not recognise him, and laughed.
nervously. "Mrs. Tremby said that I would find an old friend here," she
remarked after an awkward pause.

"I hope you will think so, Miss Hamber."

"Ah!" With a little cry she stepped back, recognising his voice, yet not
quite trusting her hearing, "It surely, can't be--you?"

"It is me--if you mean Richard Lawson," said the young man gravely.

He had stepped forward as she stepped back, and a ray of light from the
corridor revealed his face plainly. Audrey looked searchingly at him; he
just as searchingly at her. Both were extremely pale. The girl gasped,
and strove to carry off the situation lightly. "You had more names than
that when we last met," she stammered, shaking with nervous agitation.

"Richard Maxwell George Henry Lawson," said Dick, striving to speak
lightly in his turn. "I hope your ankle is better."

"Thank you, yes!" she answered in low tones. Then she looked down,
afterwards looked up, and spoke desperately. "What is the use of our
fencing? Why did Mrs. Tremby bring me here?"

"To meet me."

"Then she knows that we have met before?"

"She does. Mrs. Tremby is helping me to unravel the skein which the
Fates twisted for us in Sarley Wood."

"I know she became a detective," stammered the girl, very pale and
nervous.

"It is as a detective that she is assisting me, Miss Hamber."

"Oh, what a shame! I never thought that Jossy--I mean Mrs. Tremby--would
trick me like this!" Audrey spoke vehemently and angrily.

"What else could she do, since you refused to meet me?"

"I did not refuse," she denied with a stamp.

"Not in words; but you avoided me."

Tears came into her eyes; but they were tears of anger. "I didn't want
to meet you. There is no reason why you should persecute me."

"Come, now, that is unjust both to me and to yourself." said Dick,
sternly, for he saw that she required to be dominated. "You know well
that I have not persecuted you. I accepted your extraordinary conduct in
silence."

"Yes." Audrey felt shamed and small at the gentle rebuke. "I owe you
much for your silence. I take back what I said about persecution; but I
don't see what good can come of our meeting."

"I do. You must tell me all that took place when I left you in my
caravan."

Audrey looked sullen, and sat down on the sofa, doggedly determined to
hold her tongue.

"I shall tell you nothing."

"I see. You are shielding some one."

"How dare you say that?"

"Then how am I to interpret your silence? Don't answer; I know that you
are shielding your brother."

Audrey sprang to her feet with a cry of alarm. Then, "It is true," she
said, in choking tones. "I didn't mean to tell you, but it is true."




CHAPTER XIV


Immediately after making her confession Audrey sat down again on the
sofa and began to cry quietly. The tragedy in the wood, the many days of
suspense, and now this meeting with the man she had striven to avoid
broke her nerve. She was in a corner; she was up against it; and knew
not what to do, what to say.

"Gerald is as innocent as you are."

"Oh, the deuce," murmured Lawson. Then, passing from the lover to the
lawyer, he proceeded to examine her, and spoke sternly. "Then why are
you shielding your brother?"

"If you talk to me in that tone I shan't say a word," she cried, still
looking like a small fury. "And I thought you were my friend," she
added, again about to break down.

Dick sat beside her and took her hand. "I want to be your friend."

Audrey snatched her hand away. "You don't; you don't. You have come to
get me into trouble."

Lawson laughed at this feminine way of putting things. "So far I have
tried to avoid doing so," he said in a wounded voice--purposely wounded.

The little lady was evidently an April damsel of rain and sunshine,
tears and laughter. She changed again in a moment, and stretched out a
timid hand.

"You are very kind and honorable and good," she said in a meek voice,
"but you can guess that I don't mean half I say. I'm--I'm--all broken
up?"

Dick recaptured the timid hand and patted it consolingly. "Poor little
girl; I want to help you."

"Do you really and truly mean that?" She looked at him hopefully.

"Of course I do. Had you come to me before you ran away to the Continent
I should have stood by you."

"I had to run away for Gerald's sake. You know his nerves are all
shattered by his car being overturned, and this dreadful thing has made
them worse than ever. He remembers what took place day and night."

"I thought his memory was gone?"

"Oh, no. It is faulty. He remembers some things and not others. But what
took place in the wood"--she shivered and winced--"he remembers only too
dearly."

"What did take place?"

"If I tell you, you will keep it to yourself?"

"Yes--if I see it is necessary to do so."

"That won't do," insisted the girl, tremulously, "I daren't risk Gerald
getting into trouble while he is so ill."

"If he is innocent he won't get into trouble."

Audrey shook her head and clasped her hands between her knees, looking
down at her feet. "You don't know. Things look black against him."

"Tell me all about it," coaxed Dick, gently. "You can trust me, surely,
seeing that I have proved myself worthy of your trust."

"I know I can." She still hesitated. "But----"

"My dear,"--he took her hand again--"there must be no 'but.' I must
learn all you know if I am to be of any use in clearing up this
business. Yes, and Mrs. Tremby must know."

"Jossy. No, no."

"She must," said Lawson firmly. "She is your friend as I am, and, like
myself, is working in your interest. Come now. Your uncle told me he
would leave you to explain. Yes," in answer to her look of surprise. "He
sent me five hundreds pounds anonymously, as a reward for my silence.
Mrs. Tremby traced the bank notes to him, and I learn that he knows
about your adventure to the wood. He told me something, but not all. Now
you----"

"Ah, well," Audrey interrupted him swiftly, having apparently made up
her mind on the instant. "I shall trust you."

"You will have no reason to regret doing so," said Dick, and waited for
the recital, rather downcast as she removed her hand from his when she
began.

"When you left me in the caravan," Audrey started abruptly, and plunged
straight into the middle of things, "I lay for a time feeling very sick
with the pain in my ankle. Then I heard a shot, close at hand. Wondering
what was wrong and thinking it might be poachers----"

"You didn't guess that Lady Hamber had followed you?" he interrupted.

"No. You see, we had a quarrel about, about----" she hesitated. "Well,
we had a quarrel. I had gone up to Gerald's room at half-past eight, and
came down again later when Mr. Randolph went to bed, as I didn't want to
see him."

"I can understand that," murmured Dick, recollecting the cause of the
quarrel.

"What did you say?" she asked; then without waiting for a reply
continued quickly. "Lady Hamber--she was only my step-mother, you know,
and we never got on well together--insulted me so grossly that I
determined to go over to Uncle Oliver at once. I came to the wood,
and----"

"And I left you in the caravan where you heard the shot," supplemented
Dick with a nod. "I know all the rest. But after you heard the shot?"

"I thought it was poachers, and lay for some time--I don't know for how
long--hoping that you would come back, as I feared lest they should
enter the caravan and find me. Then I grew so nervous that I wished to
face the worst to end the suspense. I crawled to the door and opened it.
Some distance away, near your fire, and not far from the path, I saw a
woman lying. Near her stood my brother, holding a revolver. I was
terrified and called out to Gerald."

"He hadn't shot her? You are sure he hadn't shot her?" asked Dick
sharply.

"No," said Audrey, positively. "He came running up to me, and said that,
finding I was not beside him when he woke up, he put on his clothes, and
came down to look for me. He found the drawing-room empty, the window
open, and saw Lady Hamber walking down the terrace steps. Wondering
where I was and what she was doing, he followed. She was some distance
ahead of him, and just as he got through the park gate into the wood he
heard the shot. Very much alarmed, he ran down the path into the glade,
and found Lady Hamber lying near the fire, as I told you. She was dead,
and a revolver lay beside her. Gerald had just picked it up when I
called out to him."

"Sir Gerald heard nothing other than the shot? He saw no one?"

"No. He just heard the shot, and ran down the path to find the dead body
and the revolver. I was afraid, if you came back, that you would think
Gerald was guilty, so I made him carry Lady Hamber's body into the
caravan and lay it on the bed."

"You might have trusted me," said Dick, reproachfully.

"How could I?" she retorted, rather snappishly, "when I knew so little
about you." She sighed with relief when she completed her narrative.

Dick nodded. "I know. Selwin and I found you seated by your brother's
bed holding his hand. Was he alone?"

"No. But I told him to pretend to be asleep, so that I might hold his
hand and excuse myself from rising and coming downstairs."

"You feared to show that your ankle was sprained?"

"Yes. That might have led to awkward explanations, and I had to consider
my poor brother. I was afraid when you entered that you would speak; but
after a single look at you I knew that you wouldn't."

"How did you know?" asked Lawson, feeling secretly pleased.

"Oh, how does a woman know such things in a man? Instinct, I suppose.
And for Gerald's sake I avoided meeting you, as I knew you would ask
questions. But my very avoidance of you showed that I trusted in your
honor."

"So your uncle said," murmured the young man. "But I was puzzled."

"Silly! Men are so stupid!" said Audrey, more April like than ever.
"That is all, and you see Gerald is innocent."

"Is he?" questioned Lawson, unexpectedly. "After all, his memory is
faulty, and he might have unknowingly shot Lady Hamber."

"Absurd," said Audrey more calmly than he expected. "Gerald had no
revolver."

"H'm!" Dick reflected, "there is something in that. Where is the
revolver which he picked up!"

"Gerald has it. He carried it home, when he carried me."

"Does be know to whom it belongs?"

"No. I don't either. But if you will come and see us in Winter square
Gerald will show it to you."

"Good. It will be a useful clue. Have you any idea who shot Lady
Hamber?"

"Not the least," said Audrey, frankly. "I never liked her, as she was
always unkind and sometimes actively cruel. I daresay I should not be at
this ball, seeing that she was killed only lately; but I can't pretend
to be sorry for her, and lament like a hypocrite. Besides, Lady Heston
made a point of my coming here tonight--I don't know why?"

"I do," said Dick, coolly. "Mrs. Tremby arranged the whole thing, so
that we might meet."

"Jossy might have told me," cried Audrey, in angry tones.

"Would you have come, if she had told you?"

"I might; I might not. Anyhow----" the girl took Dick's hand and shook
it--"I am glad I did come, and forgive Jossy. You are my friend?"

"Yes," Lawson's voice was a little unsteady. "Can you doubt it?"

"Not after the way you have behaved. And you will discover the truth?"

"I shall try to, with the assistance of Mrs. Tremby."

Audrey nodded in a satisfied way and with evident relief. "I want the
truth to be discovered to set Gerald's mind at rest. He lives in terror
lest he should be suspected. I only wish his memory would give way on
that point as it has given way on others."

"No one suspects him," said Dick, in comforting tones. "I shall call and
see him, and put his mind at rest."

"If you only can," sighed Audrey, "Oh, dear! how I hate trouble. I have
had nothing else since dad died, what with Lady Hamber's disagreeable
behaviour, and now her death. You are a tower of strength, Mr. Lawson."

"I hope to prove one. But"--Dick spoke timidly for him--"can't you call
me by my--my first name?"

Audrey colored and looked embarrassed. "Why should I?" She rose
abruptly.

"Because--because--oh, it is no use my beating about the bush--I love
you."

"Mr. Lawson!" She darted towards the screen of flowers, and stood there
as if poised for flight. "You--you mustn't."

"Why not?"

"Because I am engaged to marry Mr. Randolph!" sighed the girl, and the
next instant she was gone, leaving Dick aghast and speechless.




CHAPTER XV.


After Audrey's flight Lawson remained where he was, overwhelmed by the
information so abruptly given. He knew from Mrs. Trembly that Randolph
had been paying attentions to the girl for some time, less for herself
than for her money; knew also that Lady Hamber had favored the match.
But the quarrel which had made Audrey leave the house on the night of
the crime arose from her objection to such a marriage; so it was strange
that she should change her mind so immediately and positively. Also Dick
remembered that, according to Jossy, the girl feared the man. He was
puzzled as well as amazed, wondering how the situation had come about.

Mrs. Tremby might explain, since she was Audrey's old school friend, and
there was a chance that the two might be confidential. But be this as it
may, it was necessary to hunt out Jossy, and enlighten her about the new
and disagreeable complication. Dick pulled himself together, and left
the alcove with the intention of enlisting his friend's sympathy to
bring about the breaking of this monstrous engagement.

Having been launched so suddenly and unexpectedly by Mrs. Tremby into
society, Lawson knew none of the fashionable people present. There were
many pretty girls, smart young men, old dowagers, and antique gentlemen,
long past their dancing days. After silent months in Africa and
hand-to-mouth living in the under-world Lawson was quite bewildered with
the light and color and perfume, with the wines and food, the incessant
chattering, and the intoxicating rhythm of the music. It was years since
he had mingled with the social throng, and he felt singularly isolated,
knowing no face, meeting on all sides indifferent glances, devoid of
warmth or recognition. Jossy, in the distance, was dancing with a golden
youth to the strains of the latest waltz--a very sentimental melody; so
there was no chance of speaking to her at the moment. Audrey could not
be seen, although Dick looked for her everywhere. He was on the point of
going back to his drab-colored lodgings when he heard Randolph's voice
at his elbow--that languid, irritating, drawling voice, which had so
annoyed him in the tragic drawing room of Sarley Court. Even now the
young man frowned when it struck his ear.

His enemy--Dick quite looked upon the man as such--stood just behind
him, arm-in-arm with a would-be-young woman all diamonds and bones. That
is, she was remarkably tall, remarkably lean, sparsely clothed, and
twinkled like a sunlit sea with many jewels. This ancient damsel was
arrayed in a frock of pale-green chiffon, which began late and ended
early, displaying thin legs and arms, rather pretty feet, a bust that
left much to be desired, and the scrawny neck of a plucked fowl. It was
a painful sight to see this mutton dressed-as-lamb female smiling and
smirking with a man young enough to be her grandson. Randolph, as Dick
observed, was paying great attention to this ruin of what was once a
woman, and listened with flattering attention to her screaming peacock
voice. She talked incessantly on everything and anything, her pale,
shallow eyes wandering all over the place while she chattered. As it
happened, they alighted on Dick, close at hand and a look of genuine
surprise crept into them. "Richard!" screeched the lady with a gasp.

Dick recognised her at once; for, indeed, she was not one to be
forgotten, with her Madge Wildfire looks and ways. "How are you, Cousin
Esther?"

"Richard!" screamed Esther, with a coquettish wave of her fan, "you
wicked boy, to have dropped just before me like this. I thought you were
in Africa shooting kangaroos--dear, pretty creatures, such a shame to
kill them."

"I wiped Africa clean of kangaroos," said Lawson, not caring to
enlighten her ignorance, "and here I am."

"So obvious," giggled the lady, "but you always were obvious, you know.
Let me introduce you to Mr. Randolph. Arthur, my cousin, Mr. Lawson--we
were boy and girl together."

Without showing any merriment at this ridiculous observation Randolph
nodded stiffly to Dick. "I have met Mr. Lawson before."

"Really--how odd!"

"Why odd, Miss Spine?" said her companion staring at Dick while Dick
stared at him, with mutual dislike.

"Well, it is so strange meeting Richard here, and you knowing him. The
world is small, isn't it? Only the mountains don't meet. And you do look
well."

"So do you," said Dick, mendaciously, "not a day older."

Miss Spine gave a little scream. "Oh my dear boy, and I haven't seen you
for centuries. How can you pay such bare-faced compliments?"

"Not compliments, Miss Spine," put in Randolph, gallantly; "the truth!"

"Ah well, I suppose I must believe you. Do come and get me some supper,
Richard. No, don't go Arthur. I want you and my cousin to be friends."

The two man glared at one another over Miss Spine's skinny shoulders as
they escorted her to the supper-room. Here they found a secluded table
and attended to the wants of the flirtatious grandmother. Miss Spine ate
and drank largely, chattering all the time, first to one, then to the
other, asking questions without waiting for replies, and replying to
questions which were not asked. Towards the end of the supper she hit
upon a subject which both her companions wished to avoid. "And where did
you meet Richard, Arthur?"

"Down the country," replied Randolph, evasively, and Dick approved of
the evasion. He wished to speak of the crime to Randolph, but not here,
or in the disconcerting presence of Miss Spine.

"Down the country," said the lady, and shivered agreeably. "I should
think you had enough of the country, Arthur. Last time you were there it
was awful, so you told me--Sarley Court--the murder, you know. Poor Lady
Hamber, although I never admired her, with those trying-to-be-young
ways. And that girl--the stepdaughter. I'm sure I don't call her pretty,
do you, Arthur?"

"She is--agreeable," said Arthur, cautiously, much to Dick's indignation
and wonderment, since he expected Randolph to praise the girl he was
engaged to.

"I can't see it myself," Miss Spine fanned herself violently. "She's so
very pale and washed out. Perhaps she knows something."

"She knows nothing," put in Lawson, fiercely.

"Dear me, Richard, don't glare at me. You are just like your poor, dear
father, you know. One couldn't say a thing without his jumping down
one's throat. And I don't see what you know about her."

"I was one of the witnesses at the inquest," growled the young man,
angrily.

Miss Spine screamed again, and sat bolt upright. "I remember, Lawson!
Oh, yes, of course! You were travelling with a horrid caravan--so silly
for a man of your birth and position. And you saw nothing, did you?"

"No," denied Dick, stolidly, but with his eyes on Randolph, "nothing!"

"You heard something, didn't you?" asked Randolph, languidly, and
avoiding the glance with which Lawson strove to fix him.

"The shot. I told all I had to tell at the inquest."

"So interesting," babbled Miss Spine, archly, although there was really
no occasion for archness. "Quite a romance. And romances ought to end in
marriage. Why, Richard, since you and that horrid constable found the
body of poor, dear, Lady Hamber--disagreeable woman--you should marry
the girl."

"She may be already engaged," said Dick, still looking at Randolph.

"Really? Who to? Oh, Arthur, do you know?"

"Haven't heard of anyone," replied Randolph, and this denial puzzled
Dick more than ever. Why was the man lying?

"No, of course not. Who would marry her when one doesn't know the real
truth of the matter? She may be keeping something back."

"She isn't!" denied Dick savagely. "You are talking nonsense, Cousin
Esther."

"I never talk nonsense!" retorted the lady, indignant. "Do I, Arthur?"

"Never." He switched off the conversation to a less dangerous line. "Do
you know Hamber Mr. Lawson?"

"No. I have never met him. You were hunting with him in Africa. I
believe."

"A year or so ago," drawled the other. "Who told you?"

"Mr. Bollard."

"Oh, really! I didn't know that my doings interested him to such an
extent."

Miss Spine, finding herself left out of the conversation, hastened to
bring herself into it.

"Dear fellow, Gerald Hamber; so delicate, and no memory; that horrid
motor car upset with him. He is a great friend of yours, Arthur?"

"Oh, yes. He saved my life in Africa."

Miss Spine gave her usual peacock scream. "How thrilling! Yes?"

"We were in the wilds, and one of the niggers got drunk and went round
with an axe to all the white men. He tackled me when I was unarmed; but
Gerald, who was a little distance off, threw me his revolver, and I
managed to pick it up and shoot the brute just as Gerald let fly at him
with a Winchester."

"You killed him? How thrilling!" cried Miss Spine, clasping her bony
hands.

"Why didn't Hamber use the revolver himself? asked Dick, abruptly.

"Well, he might have missed, and I was unarmed," explained Randolph; "so
in the excitement of the moment he did what he thought best. I made
Gerald give me the revolver as a keepsake. Hullo! Going?" he added, as
Dick rose.

"Yes. I want to get home early and put myself to bed. I rise early, you
know."

"Why do you rise early?" enquired Miss Spine, catching his arm.

"My business. I am a riding master."

"Dick! You a riding master?" She was shocked, and looked offended.

"With Mr. Simon Tarr," said her cousin, gravely. "I must earn money
somehow, and it's better than trading round the country with a caravan."

"I should think so. And yet, it isn't a position for you--the riding
master, I mean. Of course, your poor darling father lost his money,
but----" Miss Spine broke off and looked rather ashamed. "Why didn't you
come and see me?"

"I didn't know you wanted to see me--the black sheep--the wastrel."

"Don't be silly, Richard, you were never the one or the other," said his
cousin severely. "We people of good birth must hang together. Come and
see me, I am at my house in Shrewsbury square, Kensington. You know?"

"Yes, I know. Thank you. I shall call some day." Dick nodded to Randolph
and shook hands with his cousin. "Goodbye, Esther."

"Au revoir, you mean," said Miss Spine, lightly, although she felt
inwardly greatly ashamed that she had so neglected her handsome cousin.
"Remember the address."

Promising that he would, Lawson left the supper room, glad to get away
from Randolph, whom he disliked more than ever. The tale told by the
rascal hinted that he and Gerald were on the best of terms, which would
mean that the boy would probably support Randolph in his desire to marry
Audrey. But why did not the scamp admit the engagement? Why was he so
attentive to Esther Spine, who was the last person on earth to attract
such a sybarite? The young man made sure that Randolph was playing some
deep game, but what it was he could not quite understand. However, there
were more important things to attend to, and he put Miss Spine and the
supper conversation out of his mind. It was necessary to see Jossy and
report to her the interview with Audrey. Just at the door of the
ballroom, Dick found her and touched her shoulder. She turned
immediately from the man she was talking to. "Yes?"

"Come aside for a moment," murmured Dick, and drew her into a corner.
"Audrey is engaged to Randolph," he announced, abruptly.

"Never," cried Mrs. Tremby, in dismay.

"She told me herself."

"Oh!" Jossy reflected for a moment. "I'll see her, Dick, and let you
know the result tomorrow." Then she went back to her partner, and Lawson
went home.




CHAPTER XVI.


While engaged in teaching his pupils next morning, Dick thought a great
deal about his meeting with Miss Spine. She was a distant cousin of his
father, possessed of a good income, and a thirst for admiration. Had he
not met her thus by accident, as it were, Dick would never have thought
of looking her up, and, indeed, was not sure that he would trouble to
accept her invitation. But on second thoughts he decided that he would,
since it had been given warmly and in good faith. Miss Spine greatly
valued her connection with the Lawsons, slight as it was, and apparently
disliked the idea of having a relative occupying the lowly position of a
riding master. This was probably the case, as Dick decided when he
returned to his lodgings to find a letter from the lady.

Miss Spine wrote very amiably, and--as Lawson confessed--kindly. She
scolded her cousin for not having come to see her when he returned from
Africa, instead of touring the country in a caravan. She insisted that
he should get more respectable employment than that as the underling of
Mr. Tarr, and enclosed a cheque for one hundred pounds.

Lawson laughed when he thought how Dame Fortune was pursuing him with
offers of money. First the five hundred pounds from Bollard, now the one
hundred from Miss Spine. But he felt as little inclined to accept the
last as he had been to accept the first. At the same time, he admitted
to himself that it was wonderful so mean a woman should behave so
generously. Of course it was only Miss Spine's foolish pride which made
her open her purse; yet at the back of this Dick detected a possible
sympathy with him in his troubles. He folded up the cheque and thrust it
into his pocket, with the idea of consulting Jossy as to acceptance or
non-acceptance.

But where was Jossy? Dick had called at her office in Soho on his way
home after his morning duties had been attended to. She was not in, and
a card on the door notified that she would not return until late in the
day. Dick hoped that she would visit him at his lodgings, and remained
at home for some hours in the hope of seeing her. Still, she did not put
in an appearance, and the young man was sorely perplexed, sorely
displeased. Considering how anxious he was to hear what Audrey had said
relative to the engagement, he thought that Mrs. Tremby might have come
immediately. Also he wished to tell her of his meeting with his cousin;
of the conversation at the supper table, and ask what she thought about
Randolph keeping the engagement with Audrey secret. While waiting, he
passed an uncomfortable morning and afternoon, fretting over Jossy and
her dilatory ways.

Then his patience--if it could be called so--was rewarded. At 4 o'clock
a messenger boy brought a note from Mrs. Tremby, asking him to be at her
office at 5. Lawson drew a long breath of relief, and lost no time in
obeying the summons. Long before the appointed hour he was climbing the
dingy stairs, only to find the office door still closed. However, as he
was to blame and not Jossy, the young man sat on the top stair and
smoked a meditative pipe until the dilatory lady arrived.

"Oh, here you are," he said, when Jossy skipped up the stairs. "I have
been on the look-out for you all day. Where have you been?"

"On your business, young man," said Jossy, slipping her key into the
lock. "I have been all over the shop. Bollard--Audrey--Randolph."

"What does Audrey say?" enquired Dick, eagerly, as he followed her into
the luxurious office--the pearl of comfort in the bleak misery of the
dingy house. "Oh, Jossy, do tell me----"

"I'll tell you nothing if you don't let me choose my own way of
telling," she snapped, sinking into her desk chair. "Do give me a
cigarette, old chap. I am dying of thirst and for want of a smoke."

Dick passed along a cigarette, and lighted it for her. "I'll make you
some tea, if you have the appliances."

"In the cupboard," Jossy nodded over her shoulder. "But can you make
tea?"

"A jolly sight better than you," retorted her friend, bringing out a
kettle, a Primus, and various other things. "Fancy asking a pioneer if
he can make tea! Where is the water?"

"There's a tap in the outer room."

"Right oh! Now sit tight and smoke while I get things ready."

Jossy laughed and blew rings of smoke, watching his deft preparations
with amusement and approval. Dick filled the kettle, lighted the Primus,
cut thin slices of bread and butter, and laid the cloth on a small
bamboo table, which he placed at Mrs. Tremby's elbow. When all was ready
he poured out the tea, and fed Jossy lavishly with cake and the rest of
the viands. "You are in good training for a husband Dicky," said Mrs.
Tremby, when her appetite was more or less satisfied.

"Audrey's husband," said Dick, with a nod, as he devoured bread and
butter and drank his tea.

"You are gone on her, old boy!"

"Gone on her. How slangy you are, Jossy. I worship her, I adore her.
Why, she is the most glorious----"

"Yes, I know she is," Mrs. Tremby cut short his rhapsody, ruthlessly. "I
have heard all that sort of stuff from Billy. But she is engaged to
Randolph."

"So she says, confound him. Why did you look him up?"

"To ask if it was true. Oh, I know Audrey told you, but she might have
said it to choke you off."

"What tosh," burst out Dick, drawing in his long legs and looking
furious. "I believe she loves me. So there."

Jossy puffed out a cloud of blue smoke from a freshly lighted cigarette.
"I always did believe men to be conceited. How do you know she loves
you?"

"I saw it in her eyes. And--and--oh, Jossy, don't be a beast. You know
we are made for one another."

"I have some idea that you are. But Randolph. He is engaged; he said
so."

"Then why is he playing the fool with that silly cousin of mine? Why
does he keep the engagement secret from her?"

"Eh, what? Your cousin. The Spine woman?"

"Yes. I met her last night at the ball. She was talking to Randolph and
spotted me. Randolph was feeding her vanity kite high, and denied that
he had heard anything about Audrey being engaged."

"Never!"

"I tell you, he said so--he shirked an explanation."

"And you?" Jossy looked anxious.

"I said nothing. I lay low, waiting to find out what his game is."

"And what is his game?"

"Ask me another! Unless it is to marry Esther."

"But if he is engaged to Audrey----"

"That is what I can't understand," Dick paused, then asked: "And your
opinion?"

Jossy waved aside the smoke curling from her cigarette, "Tell you what,
my son. Randolph has two strings to his bow. One is Audrey, the other
that Spine cousin of yours. Both are rich. Failing Audrey, he will marry
Esther. Seems to me," mused Mr. Tremby, "as if he wasn't very sure of
Audrey."

"Yet she admitted the engagement herself," argued the disconsolate
Lawson.

"Daresay! They're engaged right enough. But she doesn't like him. I saw
that when she owned up to me last night."

"You saw her again?"

"After you went away from Lady Heston's house I did. She said that she
had seen you, that you had proposed, and that she had choked you off by
telling of her engagement. I asked her if she loved Randolph."

"Or me?" queried Dick, eagerly.

"No, I didn't go so far as that. I asked about Randolph only. She would
not say that she loved him, and, indeed, gave me to understand--being a
woman dealing with a woman, I read between the lines--that she feared
him. Dicky"--Mrs. Tremby leaned forward impressively--"she's been
frightened into this engagement. I don't know in what way, but she
doesn't love the man. He can in some way force her into marrying him."

"Then why is he paying attention to Esther?"

"We must find that out. Perhaps--as I suggested--he is not sure of
Audrey, and should she fail him, will marry your cousin. He's jolly hard
up, my boy, and, in some way, wants to get hold of cash."

Dick scowled, and clenched his fist, with an intense desire to drive it
in his rival's face. "What's to be done?" he growled, wrathfully.

"Nothing more than what I have done."

"And that is?"

"I went to Bollard's city office this morning and told him of my
interview with Audrey and Randolph. Bollard was furious. He detests
Randolph, and----" added Mrs. Tremby, with emphasis, "favors you."

"Favors me!" Dick gasped with excitement.

Jossy nodded. "I guess you're the white boy with him. I believe he wants
you to marry Audrey. Yes! He talked about her being unprotected, and
Gerald as not being able to look after her. And then he said----"

"Yes! Yes! Yes?"

"That he would break the engagement with Randolph."

"Good heavens!" Lawson sat back with a gasp. "Can he?"

"Don't know. But after I left him he was going to look up Randolph, and
promised to wire me the result of the interview, I am expecting the
telegram every minute."

Scarcely were the words out of her mouth than a sharp knock came to the
outer door. Guessing in a flash what the knock meant Lawson sprang to
his feet and was opening the door before Jossy could speak. He returned,
with a buff-colored envelope. "Read! Read!" he commanded, on fire with
impatience. Mrs. Tremby read: "Engagement broken. Audrey free. Tell
Lawson. Bollard."




CHAPTER XVII.


The news conveyed by the telegram caused Dick to ascend immediately to
the seventh heaven. How Bollard had contrived to break the engagement
between his niece and Randolph it was impossible to say; but there was
no doubt that the wire settled the matter decisively. Audrey was free to
be wooed and won.

"And by me--by me--by me!" cried the young man, jumping up to pace the
room exultingly. "My luck has changed, Jossy. I am passing out of the
storm clouds into the brightest of sunshine."

"Don't shout until you are out of the wood," advised Mrs. Tremby,
gravely.

"Oh, don't croak!" Dick felt a qualm, so seriously did she speak.

"I don't croak without reason, old chap. Randolph is a revengeful beast.
and won't take his whipping lying down."

"What can he do?"

"Don't know." Mrs. Tremby leaned back in her chair, and placed her hands
behind her head. "But he managed to force Audrey to engage herself to
him, so, to me, it looks as though he knew something to her
disadvantage."

"If so, he would not consent to the breaking of the engagement."

"H'm! H'm! There is something in that, Dicky, boy. I wonder what means
Bollard used to smash up things and upset Randolph's applecart?"

"I'll ask him when I see him," said Lawson determinedly.

"I shouldn't if I were you, old son. Better leave well alone. Go to
Winter square and make love to Audrey."

"I should like to, no end." Dick hesitated, and his face became somewhat
outcast. "But will she listen to me?"

"I think so. When I saw her last night she was full of your praises. In
her eyes you are honorable, kind, clever, and all the rest of it. Audrey
said that she never could, and never would, forget what she owed you."

"That's only gratitude," said Dick, ungratefully. "I want love."

"Well," said the lady, philosophically, "they say that pity is akin to
love, so why not gratitude also? Anyhow, Dicky, you have good ground to
work upon."

"Will Audrey listen to me?"

"I think so. No; more than that. I am sure she will listen. And I could
not wish her a better husband. She needs one--and a protector," ended
Jossy, in a significant tone.

Lawson stopped his perambulations and stared at her. "Why do you say
that?"

"Because Randolph is spiteful and cunningly clever. I know much more
about him than you do, Dicky, for my late lamented had much to do with
him. If Bollard had not managed to break the engagement I was going to
bring forward my record of Randolph's shady past into which I enquired.
As it is, there is no need to do that."

"Unless he worries Audrey," finished Dick, thoughtfully, "but I don't
see what he can do."

"Nor can I. However, he will do his best to make himself disagreeable."

"I doubt that. Probably he will console himself with Esther."

"Not if I know it, Dicky," Mrs. Tremby sat up, with a wrathful look in
her eyes. "There isn't much friendship between me and your cousin, who
is an extreme silly old spinster. All the same, she is too good to marry
that scamp, who would waste her money and end up by deserting her.
Bollard has stopped the marriage with Audrey; I shall stop the marriage
with Miss Spine. Never you mind how. But I have a rod in pickle for Mr.
Arthur Randolph, although I don't wish to use it until I am forced to do
so."

Lawson nodded, rather absent-mindedly. "This is all very well, Jossy,
but it is a side issue, after all--the breaking of Audrey's engagement,
I mean. We are as far off as ever from discovering the truth about the
murder."

"One thing at a time, Dicky. We have cleared the ground so far! now we
can get on. What conversation did you have with Randolph last night,
when your cousin was present? Tell me word for word. There might be
something in it."

"Unless you can make mountains out of molehills, I don't think so,"
replied Lawson, recalling the supper table.

"Anyhow, I'll report everything."

Having a remarkably retentive memory, the young man related the whole
conversation, including Randolph's African story, and the saving of
Randolph's life by young Hamber. Jossy listened attentively, and seemed
deeply interested, so much so that Lawson expressed surprise.

"There is nothing in what I have told you, so far as I can see," he
protested.

"You can't see further than your nose," snapped Mrs. Tremby, rather
vulgarly. "There may be more in this than you imagine."

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind. You have given me an idea. No, don't ask me what it is,
because I won't explain. I'll think over things, and act accordingly.
Now, Dicky, you go home and dream of Audrey."

"I'd rather see her than dream about her," said Lawson, ruefully. "If
you come across her, do put in a good word for me, Jossy."

"Oh, I'll do that. And I am going to visit her in a couple of
days--three o'clock on Thursday afternoon."

"I'll be there also," said Dick brightening. "You don't mind?"

"No, I shall be glad." Jossy rose with a yawn. "Oh, Dicky, get out."

Thus peremptorily dismissed Lawson took his departure, and returned on
winged feet to his rooms. There he passed the rest of the evening
smoking and thinking of Audrey's perfections. What a beauty she was.
What an angel--and something of a spitfire. Anyhow, the bravest and most
loyal little soul in the world. The way in which she stood up for that
wreck of a brother of hers; the self-control she had exercised
throughout the whole trying time. "Oh, there is no one worth thinking
about but Audrey," said Dick to himself when he went to bed.

Next morning brought a letter from Mr. Bollard asking Dick to call at
his office about noonday. Lawson wondered why the invitation should have
been sent, so immediately after the telegram to Mrs. Tremby; but was
glad to receive it. Had the letter not arrived he would in any case have
looked up the stockbroker, being immensely curious to learn how he had
contrived to bring Randolph to heel. Probably Bollard intended to tell
him, and while attending to his bevy of damsels the riding master
thought all the tine of the coming interview. He presented himself at
Wren street when the many churches in the city were announcing with
chiming bells the hour of twelve.

Bollard looked somewhat anxious and careworn, when the young man
appeared in his office, and silently indicated a chair. Dick wondered at
this unusual behaviour in the jovial old man, and noticed that he spoke
throughout the interview in a much more subdued tone of voice. There was
no roaring; and no hearty laughter. Bollard somehow did not seem to be
his usual self. "Are you ill, sir?" asked Dick sympathetically.

"Worried, my boy, worried," said the stockbroker, passing his hand
across his forehead. "I had an uncomfortable interview with Randolph
yesterday."

"So I guessed. But it had a comfortable termination."

Bollard nodded, with a grim look. "Oh, I settled him all right. I see
you are very anxious to know how I did so. But I am not going to
explain."

"I don't wish to force your confidence, sir," said Lawson, quickly.

"I know that. Believe me that if I could explain to anyone I would do so
to you, young Lawson. But there are things better left unsaid."

"Randolph has a shady past, I know from Mrs. Tremby," suggested Dick.

"Oh, the way I floored him had nothing to do with his past," said
Bollard, swiftly, "but if he makes trouble after what I have said to
him, I shall bring up his past, which is not one of the cleanest. I
employed a private detective to hunt up details, although in this
instance I did not use them." He paused.

Dick wondered what the old man was thinking about, so twisted was his
large face with pain, although his eyes remained cool and steady. "You
wish to speak to me, sir?" he said, when the silence become unbearable.

Bollard started, as if taken by surprise, and became more of his usual
self, looking the speaker squarely in the eyes. Then he made an
astonishing remark, which seemed to have nothing to do with the matter
in hand. "You love my niece?" he said, quietly.

"You know I do, sir. I told you when we last met that one day I would
ask you to give her to me."

"You shall have her."

"Oh!" Dick gasped, and stared wildly, with his mouth open.

"That is, of course," amended Bollard, "if she loves you."

"I--I--think--she does." Lawson's words came haltingly. "And I know that
I love her," he ended boldly and positively.

"I can see that. And I am inclined to think that Audrey returns your
love, so far as one can read a young girl's mind. Your honorable conduct
and chivalrous silence made a great impression on her. I know of no one
whom I would sooner choose for her husband."

"Oh, thank you--thank you. But----" Dick's face fell--"I have no money."

"Money is not everything," said the stockbroker, quietly; "and Audrey
will have--indeed she has--three thousand a year."

"I couldn't live on my wife, sir," Lawson's face flushed. "Audrey would
not respect me if I did that, nor would I respect himself."

Bollard stretched out his hand and shook that of Lawson. "I quite
expected you to say that, and your saying it shows me more than ever how
right I am in my judgment. If Audrey is willing you shall marry her."

"But I can't give her a home or a position, sir."

"You seem to make a great many objections," said Bollard, dryly.

"Would you rather I did not, Mr. Bollard?"

"Well, no. I think the better of you for your diffidence. But you can
set your mind at rest. I shall get you a place where you will be able to
earn a good salary, and have a brilliant future, if you work."

"I would work myself to death for Audrey," exclaimed the fervent lover.

Bollard laughed in his old hearty manner. "I think Audrey prefers you
alive rather, than dead," he said, jovially. "Young Lawson, your father
was my very good friend, and I have known you from your childhood
upward. You are well bred, a man of good birth, and have brains, which
you have not used. I shall put you in the way of using them. I want you
to marry Audrey, because I know you are honorable and honest. She wants
a protector."

Dick was struck by Bollard's use of the same word which Mrs. Tremby had
applied to this possible marriage. "Is she in any danger, sir?" he
asked.

"She might be--from Randolph!"

"And the danger?" Dick bristled like a terrier.

"It may not come; on the other hand it may. When it does then you shall
be put in possession of facts."

"Do they bear on Lady Hamber's death?" questioned Dick, and wondered
inwardly why he spoke thus, and without apparent reason.

"Well--yes," drawled Bollard, and turned his face away; then he stood up
and faced round, observing abruptly, "keep your eye on Randolph."

"Has he anything to do with the murder?" Dick was startled, sensing
danger.

"I accuse no one, young Lawson. Go and see if my niece will marry you,
and if she accepts keep your eye on Randolph. He means mischief."

"But--but----" Dick was amazingly puzzled. "If you would explain----"

"I can't explain," Bollard was quite fierce, "and what is more I won't
explain unless I am driven to do so. I speak in Audrey's interests. Now
go."

Lawson obeyed and left the room, half-pleased, half-annoyed, wholly
puzzled.




CHAPTER XVIII.


For the next four and twenty hours Dick had ample food for thought. The
more he considered the circumstances of his visit to the city the more
tangled did his thoughts become. So far as he could gather there was
some secret connected with Audrey, which Randolph knew, which Randolph
had made use of to compel the girl to engage herself to him. But as
Bollard, in some known way, had forced the scoundrel to break the
engagement, why should he fear any revenge on the part of the rejected
suitor? If this shady friend of the late Lady Hamber had a hold over the
girl, undoubtedly--so it would appear--the stockbroker had a hold over
him. And one hold, or the other--perhaps both--had to do with the murder
in Sarley Wood. It was impossible that Audrey could be guilty; equally
impossible that Randolph was implicated. What, then, was the meaning of
Bollard's hints? Dick gave up the riddle in despair, not even having
Jossy at hand to help him to solve it.

For Mrs. Tremby had disappeared again, and again the notice of her
absence for two or three days was fixed to her office door. Where she
had gone to, or what she was doing, Dick could not guess, save that her
action had something to do with the case. The crime in which the young
man was so strangely involved had been complicated at the outset, but it
seemed to him that it was even more complicated now. Dick thought and
thought and thought, in the hope of arriving at some conclusion, so that
this nightmare existence--to others as well as to himself--should come
to an end, but only succeeded in worrying himself to fiddle strings.

This game was certainly not worth the candle, as his worrying produced
no result. Therefore, after more than 24 hours of tumultuous thoughts he
threw his worries to the four winds and set out to visit Winter square.

He would see Audrey; he would make love to Audrey. The crime and its
mystery, the extraordinary behaviour of Bollard and Randolph could go
hang. Dick's misery was so great that he laughed, and then sought out
Audrey, to find a better reason for his laughter.

"Oh, I am glad to see you, Mr. Lawson," was the girl's greeting to the
visitor, and she held out both her hands with a smile.

Lawson was so taken aback by this unexpected friendliness, and more than
friendliness, that he could only stare and clasp both those dear little
hands in his own. He looked into Audrey's face, noting that in spite of
her smile it was wan and worn. "I am glad to see--you," he stammered,
for his brain was whirling, and he did not know how to word his thanks
for this delightful reception. "You--you are--kind."

"I have every reason to be--to you," replied Miss Hamber soberly. "Do
sit down, Mr. Lawson. Tea will be in soon, and my brother Gerald is
coming down. He wants to meet you."

"Delighted!" murmured the still bewildered man. "And is Mrs. Tremby
coming?"

"She wrote and said that she was; but so far I have seen nothing of her.
Have you seen her?"

"Not for the last two days--more or less. She has disappeared. Somehow,"
added Dick, looking puzzled, "Jossy has a trick of disappearing."

"She always was a queer girl," sighed Audrey, seating herself opposite
to Dick in a deep armchair; "but she is very clever and a dear. She told
me that she had known you all her life."

"She has," admitted the visitor, "and has bullied me terribly."

Audrey laughed. "I shouldn't think you were a man to be bullied.
Remember how you ordered me about in the wood?"

"That was for your good," said Lawson with a smile.

Audrey laughed again. She had no doubt that she loved Dick. He had
walked into her heart when they met so strangely in Sarley Wood, and the
door had been shut to everyone else.

"Your engagement has been broken," said Lawson suddenly, bringing his
eyes back to her face, and announcing the fact somewhat defiantly.

"Yes! How do you know?" Her color came and went, and she seemed
embarrassed.

"Your Uncle Oliver told me; told Mrs. Tremby. We were both delighted."

"It is superfluous to ask why," said Miss Hamber with a nod of relief.
"Neither of you liked Mr. Randolph."

"We detest him. And you?" He looked at her searchingly.

"I--I--don't--care--for him," she murmured brokenly.

"I should think you didn't, the bounder." Dick bent forward eagerly.
"And I hope you weren't angry at what I said in that alcove?"

"In the alcove?" Audrey looked down and drew patterns on the carpet with
the toe of one small bronze slipper.

"The dear alcove," said Dick sentimentally, "where I----"

What he would have said Audrey guessed easily, and her heart beat while
she waited to hear him say it. But at that moment the door opened to
admit a tall, thin, delicate-looking young man. When he saw Lawson he
came forward with an outstretched hand. All the same, there was an
apprehensive, nervous look on his delicate face. "I have to thank you
for much, Mr. Lawson," he said, in a low and rather hoarse voice. "You
have been a good friend to Audrey and to me.

"Oh, that is all right," said Dick, wishing to pass over the matter
lightly, so as to set the invalid at his ease. "I only did what any
decent chap would have done."

"No, no!" cried Audrey strongly. "Not one man in a thousand would have
behaved with such discretion and so chivalrously."

"I agree." Gerald sank into a near armchair with a sigh of exhaustion.
"As I said to my sister, Mr. Lawson, you are a tower of strength. You
should hear our Uncle Oliver sing your praises."

"Mr. Bollard is my very good friend," laughed Dick, still striving to
lighten the somewhat strained atmosphere, "but he thinks too well of me.
I really have done very little; but I hope to do much."

"In what way?" asked young Hamber listlessly.

"I wish to solve the mystery of your stepmother's death!"

"I wish you could," sighed the boy--he was little else. "All the same, I
don't think you ever will."

"I am not so sure of that. With Mrs. Tremby's assistance I hope to."

"Go on hoping," said Audrey, vehemently. "And you and Jossy are so
clever that I am sure you swill succeed."

"You wish us to succeed?"

"Most emphatically; so does Gerald. We won't know a moment's peace until
you do succeed."

She would have said more, but that two footmen entered at that moment,
bringing in the afternoon tea. When they were all enjoying the meal,
Gerald looked round the big room enquiringly.

"I thought someone else was coming here today," he said, vaguely.

"Jossy, dear," murmured Audrey, who was refilling Dick's cup.

"Oh, yes, of course. But there was someone else. I say, Mr.--Mr.----What
did you say your name was?"

"Lawson," replied Dick, seeing that the boy's memory was at fault.

"Quite so, Lawson. Yes, you helped Audrey in the wood when I--when
I----" His face took on a bewildered expression. "What did I do in the
wood, Audrey?"

"Don't think of the wood, Gerald," she said, anxiously. "Have some more
tea."

"No. I have to think. Someone is coming. He doesn't like Lawson."

Dick looked puzzled. "Who doesn't like me, Hamber?"

"The man who is coming. Ah, yes!" Gerald raised his voice, having got a
clue to what he wished to remember. "It's Randolph. He doesn't like
you."

"And I don't like him!" retorted Dick, promptly.

"Oh, Randolph isn't a bad chap. We were in Africa together."

"And you saved his life?" observed Dick, quietly.

"Did I? I forgot. But when he comes here----"

"Gerald!" Audrey started. "You don't mean to say that you have
asked----"

"Mr. Randolph," announced the dignified Backhouse, throwing open the
door.

The unwelcome visitor walked languidly forward as the door closed, but
halted scowling when he saw Lawson. He was smartly dressed, looking
prosperous and somewhat insolent. The color came to Miss Hamber's face
and her eyes looked angry. "Why have you come here?" she demanded in her
straightforward way.

"Gerald asked me to come," retorted Randolph with insolence--veiled it
is true, but none the less insolent for that--"and I wanted to come."

"Sit down, old chap," said Hamber, patting a chair beside him; "you know
Mr.--Mr.--what did you say your name was?" He appealed to Dick.

"Oh, I know his name and all about him," said Randolph, coolly, "and I
must say I am surprised to see him here, riding-master."

"And my friend," said Audrey, sharply.

"Oh, well," sneered the other, "if you choose to select your friends
from the riffraff of the lower orders, I have----"

"Stop," commanded Dick, rising; "remember, you are in a lady's drawing
room, Mr. Randolph. You shall answer to me for that speech, outside."

"Anywhere you choose," said the man, with cool impertinence, "and you
are not to come here again."

"Who dares to say that?" demanded Audrey, her cheeks red with anger.

"I do!" Randolph, who had sat down rose again. "I hold you there," he
tapped the palm of his hand, "so I am master here."

Hamber rose also, and spoke with dignified displeasure. "What do you
mean?"

"I mean that I saw you carrying Audrey into the house on the night when
your step-mother was murdered."

"Well?" Gerald's color came and went, but spoke firmly. "And that
means?"

"That one or the other of you shot her. Obey me, both of you, or I tell.
And no one can prevent my telling."

"You are wrong," said a clear voice at the door, and the three turned
swiftly to see that someone had entered slightly. "I can prevent you."




CHAPTER XIX.


It was Mrs. Tremby who stood at the door, massive, imposing, and with a
gleam in her dark eyes which boded little good to Randolph. Audrey and
Dick were relieved and uplifted by her arrival, for they saw that she
had come with the full intention of fighting Randolph, and made certain
that he would find her no mean antagonist. The scamp himself evidently
thought otherwise; for he stared at her derisively, and began to laugh
mockingly. "You, Mrs. Tremby?" he said, with a shrug. "And what can you
do, pray? How can you prevent me from telling what I know?"

"We'll come to that later," answered the big lady, advancing leisurely
into the room. "I did not expect to find you here, Mr. Randolph; but it
is just as well that we should meet so opportunely. Otherwise you would
have put me to the trouble of looking you up. Gerald, how are you?" She
placed her hand on the boy's shoulder, and gave it a friendly shake.
"Audrey, dear, do give me a cup of tea and something to eat."

Randolph was quite taken aback by this cool behaviour, and apparently
reconsidered his opinion with regard to her capability of opposing him.
His laughter ceased, and he looked uneasy.

"I know Mrs. Tremby of old," he remarked, in his drawling way. "There is
no chance of anyone talking but herself when she is present. Audrey"--he
turned towards the girl--"I shall call later and explain myself to you
and your brother," and he sauntered languidly toward the door, with an
insolent look at Dick as he passed by him.

"I shouldn't go away if I were you, Mr. Randolph," said Jossy over her
shoulder, and very imperturbably; "you might walk into the hands of the
police."

The man wheeled at the door, and his sallow face blanched, although he
still strove to maintain his nonchalant attitude. "You are talking
nonsense," he called back, with an uneasy frown. "What have I to fear
from the police?"

"You know best, Mr. Randolph. You hinted a few moments ago that I talked
too much, so I won't waste words in explaining what you already know.
Sugar, please, Audrey; you know I always like my tea sweetened."

"Well, I'm going!" Randolph tugged the door open irritably.

"As you please. Don't say I have not warned you."

Randolph hesitated, thought better of his determination to leave, and
closed the door violently. Then he came swiftly back to face Mrs.
Tremby. "What the devil do you mean?" he demanded ferociously.

"Gently, Mr. Randolph; you are in the presence of ladies."

It was Lawson who spoke, and he advanced toward the man with a quiet
smile, which seemed to intimidate Randolph more than open anger would
have done.

"I don't mean to be rude," he muttered, scowling darkly. "But I don't
understand."

"You will when I have finished my tea," said Jossy, sweetly. "Well,
Gerald, and what have you to say about this--gentleman? He's a pal of
yours."

All this time Hamber had been sitting in his chair as quiet as a mouse,
and listening attentively. "From this moment Randolph is no friend of
mine," he said, with a firm dignity new to those present. "He has dared
to come here and declare that either Audrey or I shot Lady Hamber."

"I believe you did," insisted Randolph. He took his seat, leant back,
and crossed his legs, quite recovering his coolness, which the entrance
of Mrs. Tremby had dispelled. "If you did not--one or the other of
you--why were you in the wood on that night?"

"How did you know we were in the wood?" asked Audrey, calmly. Now that
things were becoming dangerous she set her teeth and faced them bravely.

"You must have been. I was reading up to a late hour in my bedroom, the
window of which looked out on to the lawns in front of the house. Before
retiring I went to see what kind of a night it was, and I saw Gerald
carrying you across the lawn up the terrace steps. Oh, you were in the
wood right enough, and you shot Lady Hamber."

"Why should I shoot her?"

"You had a row with her. Oh, yes. When I came came down to the drawing
room for that book she told me that you had quarreled with her and had
rushed out. I wanted to go and search for you, but she made me go back
to my room. Then the butler came in, and after dismissing him, I
suppose, she followed, to be shot."

"But not by Miss Hamber," struck in Dick, quickly, "she was lying in my
caravan when the shot was fired; and moreover, had no revolver."

"You did not say that at the inquest," snarled Randolph.

"There was no need for me to say anything," retorted Lawson.

"Oh, of course you would defend her," sneered the other man.

"I shall do so to the last ditch," was Lawson's answer, and Audrey
looked at him with gratitude shining in her eyes.

"Well, the last ditch is close at hand, and I am going to push Gerald
and his precious sister into it."

Randolph surveyed Dick's inches and noted the choleric gleam in his eye.
"I don't want you to interfere. It's none of your business."

"I make it my business!" said Lawson, resolutely.

"Words! Words! Words!" chanted Jossy, setting down her cup, "let us get
to business. I can explain yours, Mr. Randolph."

"Oh, can you?" the man's lips twisted in quite an ugly way.

"Certainly. You want Audrey's money, and so forced her to become engaged
to you by threatening her with the story you have just told. For the
sake of Gerald, she engaged herself to you. Bollard broke the engagement
and forced you to withdraw. Now, finding that you can't get the money in
that way, you have come here to ask for blackmail."

"I come to ask money for my silence," said Randolph, sullenly.

"I said as much--blackmail!" Mrs. Tremby spoke with great tranquility.
"You always were a low-bred hound, Mr. Randolph, as my late husband had
only too good reason to know. But I did not think that you would fall
quite as low."

"Words! Words! Words!" Randolph mocked her by echoing her former speech.

"So far--yes. Now we come to deeds! deeds! deeds! You will hold your
tongue about this cock-and-bull story, which can be explained away."

"Who will make me hold my tongue?"

"Oh, dear me!" Jossy sighed. "Are we talking in a circle? I thought I
had explained myself fully when I entered."

"Say what you have to say, and get out!" snapped the man, furiously.

"Mrs. Tremby shall stay here as long as she pleases," said Gerald,
rising, and with an angry flush on his fair face. "This is my house."

"I am master in it."

"Indeed you are not!" flashed out Audrey. "Sooner than that, I shall go
with Gerald to Inspector Helder at Tarhaven and explain all that took
place on that night, and how Gerald and I came to be in the wood."

"You won't dare!"

Audrey faced him resolutely, and caught her brother's hand. "I will
dare! Do you think that I am going to be intimidated by a man who sinks
to demanding blackmail? You forced me into a promise of marriage by
threatening to tell how you saw my brother and I returning to Sarley
Court in the moonlight. I was weak enough to agree, to shield my
brother. Now that he knows--you having told him yourself--there is no
need for me to keep the matter secret. I shall let Gerald judge for
himself."

"I have already judged," said the young man, feverishly. "I agree with
you, Audrey. We shall tell the story to Inspector Helder."

"Not yet," broke in Mrs. Tremby. "First we must find who really did
murder Lady Hamber," and she looked at Randolph.

He winced. "You will never find that out. There is no evidence."

"I don't agree with you. I haven't been looking into this case for
nothing, Mr. Randolph. But there is one thing I don't know, so perhaps
you will be good enough to enlighten me. How did Bollard force you to
break the engagement?"

"I shan't tell you. I have still a card to play, and when I play it"--he
looked savagely at the girl--"you will find that I can make things
deuced unpleasant all round--for Bollard as well as others."

"Oh, you mean to blackmail Bollard," observed Jossy, coolly.

"I object to the word."

"Probably you do. But what does that matter? Well, Bollard can look
after himself, which he is quite capable of doing. I shall attend to
you."

"Mind your own business!" Randolph glared at her.

"Whipping hounds such as you are is my business, my dear Judas. And, by
the way, before we go any further, I don't intend to let you marry Miss
Spine."

"I shall marry her if I choose," growled Randolph, doggedly.

"No!" said Lawson, in a voice like thunder, so loud and emphatic was his
tone. "You certainly will not. I am Miss Spine's relative, and I don't
choose that she shall marry a man capable of acting as you have done."

"You'd better take care, Lawson. I know a thing which will put you in
Queen street. So there."

"What do you know?"

"Never mind at present," Randolph rose and caught up his hat and cane.
"As I said, I have a card to play yet--two cards; one which will trump
Bollard, and one which will trump you."

"Well, the sooner you play them the better," said Dick coolly, "for as
soon as you do play them I shall thrash you within an inch of your
miserable life."

Randolph winced, and made for the door, with an ugly laugh. "I am going
to Scotland Yard," he said viciously.

The brother and sister looked at one another with sudden apprehension,
and Dick, noting the interchange of glances, felt a qualm. It might be
that this scoundrel could do some harm to one or the other. Mrs. Tremby
alone was perfectly calm and collected. She rose from her chair and
walked toward Randolph as he fumbled with the door knob. "Do you wish me
to speak here or in the hall?" she enquired. "I am ready to do either."

"What do you mean?"

"My good creature," she said impatiently. "I told you that I was going
to prevent you from speaking of what you know."

"You can't!" he cried triumphantly.

"I can! It does not suit my plans that you should speak now. When I lay
my hand on the man who shot Lady Hamber"--she touched his shoulder
lightly, and he shrunk away, quivering--"you can speak as much as you
like."

"How do you propose to stop me from telling what I know?" asked the man
in a hoarse voice, and manifestly afraid.

"I can tell you here or in the hall."

Randolph looked into her eyes, which were very close to his own. For the
moment he was inclined to defy her and bid her speak out before
everyone. But her calm looks daunted him, and he opened the door. "You
can tell me in the hall," he growled savagely, "but you won't close my
mouth."

"Well, let us see if such a miracle can be accomplished," said Mrs.
Tremby, and pushed the man out of the room, closing the door after her.

Those left behind looked at one another. Audrey, controlling herself
with a visible effort, threw her arm over the shoulder of her brother.
He was shaking from head to foot, evidently the prey of his unruly
nerves. "Do you--you think that Jossy will--stop him--from--speaking?"
he murmured.

"Yes, dear, yes." Audrey smoothed his fair hair tenderly.

"Lawson?" he appealed to Dick anxiously.

"I believe in Jossy," said Dick cheerfully. "She's a wonder."

They had every reason to believe him, for when Mrs. Tremby returned she
was smiling gaily. "It is all right," she announced, "he will be silent.
I've fixed him."




CHAPTER XX.


"Jossy, how did you--?" asked Audrey breathlessly.

"My dear, I shall explain everything when the time comes. As I told
Dick, so I tell you--that you must let me conduct this matter in my own
way. Just now I want fresh tea. I am tackling no light job, and my
nerves are as bad as yours, my dear Gerald."

"No one would believe that," said the young man, touching the bell.
"Why, you stood up to that scoundrel like a Briton."

Mrs. Tremby raised her eyebrows. "Scoundrel? I thought he was your pal?"

"You said that before, and I told you he wasn't. My eyes are opened to
what he really is."

Audrey, who had always disliked and dreaded the friendship between her
weak brother and this strong-minded rascal, clapped her hands softly
with delight when he spoke. "Since when, Gerald?"

"Since he came in with his blackmailing proposition, Audrey." He slipped
his arm round her waist. "You should have told me how he forced you to
promise to marry him."

"Your health wasn't good enough for me to tell you that," she sighed.
"All I wished to do was to get you out of the trouble. That is why I
persuaded you to go with me to Paris immediately after the funeral.
Hush!"

She broke off suddenly when Backhouse made his appearance with fresh tea
and took away the empty teapot. A second ringing of the bell always
meant that another supply of tea was wanted, so no time was lost. When
the butler departed and Jossy was enjoying her second cup, Dick spoke
out resolutely. He had been considering matters.

"Hamber, I think you know that I am a staunch friend to yourself and
your sister?"

"Of course I know that, Lawson. You have proved it."

"Then tell me everything."

"I thought Audrey had already done so."

"So I have." The girl looked at her lover with a perplexed frown. "What
do you want to know further than I have explained?"

"Are you afraid lest Randolph should get you both into trouble?"

"Well, there is no doubt that he can, if he goes to Scotland Yard and
tells how he saw Gerald carrying me back to Sarley Court on that night."

"Yes," Hamber nodded, and turned even paler than he was. "It will be
hard to explain that. And--and I can't explain. I don't quite remember
everything, you know. I missed Audrey, and went in search of her. Then I
heard the shot, and--and I picked up the revolver, didn't I, Audrey?"

She nodded. "Afterwards you placed Lady Hamber's body in the caravan and
carried me home, since I could not walk."

"I don't remember that--exactly. It is all so vague." The boy swept his
thin hand across his forehead. "I only know bits. But I couldn't tell a
connected story to save my life."

"Don't try to," advised Mrs. Tremby from the tea table.

"But I must, if the police ask me things."

"They won't ask you anything--at all events, not now."

"But if Randolph goes to Scotland Yard----"

"My dear boy," broke in Jossy, crossly, "your memory is rotten. Didn't I
tell you that I had shut that beast's mouth? He won't go to Scotland
Yard."

"You are sure?"

"Perfectly sure." Mrs. Tremby rose and crossed to the box to lead him
gently to a deep armchair. "My dear, you always trusted me. I have been
just like a mother to you, so why not trust me now?"

Gerald leaned against her confidently. "You are always kind, Jossy."

"Of course I am kind," murmured Mrs. Tremby; "in the meantime, don't
worry over that wretch. He daren't speak."

"I shouldn't be surprised if he shot Lady Hamber himself," said Audrey
who had been thinking. "Yes. You heard how he admitted that she told him
I had left the house. He might have followed me--followed my
stepmother."

"It is not impossible," said Mrs. Tremby, dryly, "not even improbable."

"B'Jove," cried Lawson, suddenly enlightened, "is that what you said to
him in the hall, Jossy?"

"No. I said something else. Don't bother me, Dicky, I have other things
to attend to, much more important."

"Nothing can be more important than the closing of Randolph's mouth."

"Perhaps not at this moment. However, it is closed, so you needn't
bother any more as to the why and the wherefore."

"Jossy!" burst out Audrey, desperately, "I wish you wouldn't make such a
mystery of things. I am sick of mystery."

"I don't wonder at it. Ever since Lady Hamber married your father you
have had mystery, and her murder only adds to the perplexity of
everything. But we must go step by step, Audrey dear, as we are groping
along a dark path and cannot see very far ahead. When I know what I
intend to know, then I shall speak out, and you will approve of my
present licence. Lady Hamber----"

"Oh, don't talk of her," interrupted Audrey, vehemently. "I shall never
forgive her for what she said to me on that night."

"What did she say?" Jossy looked across the room curiously.

Audrey's face became red, and she cast down her eyes. "I--I don't want
to--to speak of it," she murmured, in choking tones. "She was a wicked
woman."

Mrs. Tremby suddenly left the arm of Gerald's chair on which she was
sitting, and went over to Audrey, and took both her hands. "Tell me,"
she said, firmly.

"No." The girl pulled her hands away.

"Has what she told you anything to do with the case--with the murder?"

"No. I would tell you if it had. It was a--a private matter." Audrey
looked at Dick, grew a deeper crimson, and ended up by bursting into
tears as she sank down into a chair.

"Miss Hamber--Audrey!" Dick was beside her in a moment, greatly
distressed.

"Oh, Dick, Dick!" She caught his hand and pressed it against her wet
cheek. "I know you will help me!"

"In any way--in any way. Dearest, you know that I love you."

"Love Audrey!" cried Gerald, with weak surprise.

"Yes. I want to marry her. Have you any objection?"

"Objection!" Hamber sprang to his feet with amazing strength,
considering his weak health, and crossed the room to shake Dick's hand.
"After what you have done for us, there is nothing I would like better."

Lawson was taken aback by this friendly display from a quarter where he
had expected opposition. "But you scarcely know me," he faltered.

"Audrey knows you--Jossy knows you--Uncle Oliver knows you. What they
say is good enough for me."

"Oh, Audrey!" Dick held out his arms and the girl, rising, would have
cast herself into them, but Mrs. Tremby held her back. "No. This is no
time for love-making, much as I sympathise with you and Dicky. I have
something to learn from Gerald, as I told you at the ball. Where is that
revolver he picked up in the wood?"

Audrey, with a nod, went to a cabinet, opened a drawer, and took out a
revolver. This she brought to Jossy, who examined it carefully, and sat
down to question Gerald. "Come over here, my dear boy. Is this the
revolver you picked up near the body of Lady Hamber?"

"I suppose so. I did pick up a revolver, only I can't be sure this one
is----"

"It is," said Audrey, positively. "When I crawled out of the caravan,
Gerald had just picked it up. I took it from him and carried it home
with me."

Jossy nodded in a satisfied way. "That's all right, Gerald, do you
remember saving Randolph's life in Africa?"

"Did I--oh, yes, I think I did." The boy looked puzzled. "I'm sure I
did."

"Of course," struck in Dick, wondering what Mrs. Tremby was trying to
arrive at. "Randolph told me himself. A nigger got drunk and ran amuck.
Randolph was unarmed, when the man made for him with an axe, and----"

"Yes, yes!" Hamber interrupted, excitedly. "I remember now quite
clearly; I threw him my revolver, and he shot the nigger just when I
fired my Winchester. Of course I saved Randolph's life, and he repays me
in the way he has done."

"That kind of man would," said Mrs. Tremby, with disgust. "But Gerald,
dear, is this the revolver you threw to Randolph?"

Dick started, guessing what Jossy wished to learn, and looked eagerly at
the boy, who was now examining the weapon.

"I can't be sure," murmured Hamber, in a far-away voice. "One revolver
is so like another."

"There are two deeply-cut nicks in the butt of this one, see, and some
kind of letter, curving imperfectly."

"Oh, yes," said Hamber, still in his far-away voice, and looking at the
weapon indifferently. "I remember trying to carve my name. That curve is
a 'G.' and the two nicks the 'H'; only I was interrupted before I could
put in the crossbar. It is my revolver right enough."

"Gerald!" cried Audrey, excitedly, "do you know what you are saying?"

"Saying?" He looked vaguely at her, evidently not realising the
importance of his speech. "Yes, I know; of course I know. What are you
making such a fuss about, Audrey? There's nothing in giving a revolver
to a chap. I chucked it to Randolph when that nigger went for him. We
laughed over the business when talking in his bedroom at Uncle
Oliver's."

Dick and Audrey would have both exclaimed, but that Jossy silenced them
with a look.

"What made you recall the story, Gerald?" she asked, softly, and in a
coaxing way.

"Why, I found the revolver in Randolph's bag when he was packing up to
come over to Sarley Court." Gerald spoke easily and with indifference.

"And--and he took it to Sarley Court?" asked Jossy, anxiously.

"I suppose so. But why----"

"Why?" She rose triumphantly. "Because Randolph shot Lady Hamber with
this very revolver. He is the guilty person. I always thought so."




CHAPTER XXI.


Mrs. Tremby and Lawson left Winter square with a triumphant feeling that
the long-standing mystery had been rightly solved, and that Randolph
would now have to pay in full for his evil deeds. Jossy explained at
length to the young man that she had always suspected Randolph, since
her knowledge of the past assured her that he would shrink at nothing to
gain his ends. But it was hard to understand why he had shot Lady
Hamber, although on the evidence of the revolver--he must have done so.
"I don't see what motive he had to get rid of her," argued Lawson; "she
was his friend; she supported his suit to Audrey, and, so far as I can
see, was more use to him alive than dead."

Jossey nodded gravely. "It is strange," she assented. "I am puzzled
myself."

"Do you think that there may be some other explanation of the death?"

"There may. Everything is possible in connection with criminality. But
failing Randolph, who could have killed the woman?" She thought for a
few minutes, then suddenly made a suggestion. "Ask Randolph round to
your lodgings?"

"Why?" Dicks face expressed unbounded astonishment. "We are not on good
terms, and I prefer his room to his company."

"Daresay. But I should like to ask the man questions in your presence.
He is a slippery customer, and should I see him alone would deny the
truth."

"He won't admit the truth before a witness," expostulated Lawson,
doubtfully.

"I don't care if he does, or not," said Mrs. Tremby coolly. "I have
sufficient evidence on which to have him arrested. When Inspector Helder
has him under lock and key he may confess. But I wish to learn what his
motive was for this apparently causeless murder, so I want you to be
present when I ask."

"He won't come to my rooms, Jossy."

"He will," Mrs. Tremby retorted confidently. "Mention in your note that
I have told you how I closed his mouth, and infer you wish to speak to
him about the matter."

"But I don't know how you closed his mouth."

"I shall tell you now. Randolph forged the name of a rich young fellow,
who was the friend of my late husband. Billy was mixed up in the matter,
so that it looked as if he was an accomplice. I saw the young man, and
managed to convince him that Billy was innocent; but I asked him not to
take steps against Randolph, lest my husband's name should suffer. Then
Billy died, and the matter has remained in abeyance. I told Randolph
that, if he spoke out, I would have him arrested for the forgery,
however much it might reflect on my husband's memory."

"Oh, Jossy!" Dick was touched, for he knew how Mrs. Tremby had loved her
weak and foolish husband. "Would you do that for Audrey's sake?"

"Yes, and for Gerald's. You guessed, as I saw, that I love Gerald. I
should like to marry him, as he needs someone such as I am beside him to
be his mother as well as his wife. I mothered Billy, who was just such
another sweet-pea, ready to cling round any stick. However, we can
discuss this later.

"Meanwhile, send a note by hand to Randolph--this is his address--and
ask him to come round to your digs at nine o'clock tonight. I shall turn
up at that hour."

While Dick was placing the card she gave him in his pocket-book, and the
two were yet lingering at the corner of Winter square, a breathless man
hurried up. It was the butler, Backhouse, less dignified than usual,
because of his haste. He addressed himself immediately to Mrs. Tremby.
"I thought I would have missed you, madam," he said, striving to recover
his breath.

"Mr. Lawson and I have been chatting here for the last ten minutes,"
replied Mrs. Tremby, wondering at his appearance. "Anything wrong?"

"No, madam. But Miss Audrey wants you to come back with me. She has
something of importance to tell you."

"Shall I come too, Jossy?" questioned Dick, looking anxious and fearful
lest some new trouble had come to Audrey.

"No! Go to your rooms and write the note to Randolph immediately. There
is no time to lose. I shall go back and see Audrey."

"You don't think there is anything wrong?"

"Everything is wrong until all these mysteries are cleared up," retorted
Mrs. Tremby, brusquely. "I shall call and see you at nine o'clock. Come,
Backhouse."

She moved away with the butler, looking much disturbed by this
unexpected summons to return, and left Dick standing where he was in a
state of nervous excitement. He immediately jumped to the conclusion
that something had gone wrong with Audrey and her brother, but what it
might be he could not think. But for the necessity of obeying Jossy and
securing the presence of Randolph at his rooms, he would have gone back
to the house.

"The whole infernal thing is enough to drive a chap out of his mind,"
muttered Lawson between his teeth.

Ordering the taxi to wait, the young man hurried to his sitting room,
and wrote a hasty note to Randolph, inviting him at 9 o'clock that
evening to discuss what Mrs. Tremby had talked about in the hall of Sir
Gerald Hamber's house. With this he went downstairs and jumped into the
taxi again. Dick felt that he could not sit still while things were in
such an unset condition, and so drove to Randolph's address, to deliver
his own note. He dismissed the taxi in Sophia street, St. James's, where
the man lived, and gave the note to the ex-butler who owned the house,
with instructions that it was to be given to Mr. Randolph at once. Then
he wondered if he dared to call again at Winter square, so as to get his
mind set at rest. After some struggle with his anxiety he decided to
walk home to Bloomsbury, and leave things in the capable hands of Mrs.
Tremby. The walk did him good, and he returned home to await patiently
the coming of the expected visitor.

Yet it was with a long-drawn breath of relief that Lawson heard the
clock strike nine times.

Randolph arrived almost to the minute, looking anxious and nervous. It
was in vain that he strove to be his languid, insolent self. There was
fear in his shifty eyes; lack of self-control in his restless gestures.
With an effort to appear indifferent he lounged into the room at the
heels of Dick's landlady, and when she retired, threw himself into a
chair. "Well?" he asked, striving to steady his voice, "and what do you
wish to see me about?"

"I think my note informed you of that," replied his host quietly. "What
Mrs. Tremby said to you in the hall----"

"That is none of your business," burst out Randolph, fiercely, "and she
promised to say nothing if I held my tongue over the presence of Hamber
and his sister in Sarley Wood on that night."

"Mrs. Tremby thought it advisable to tell me of your crime," said Dick,
shrugging.

"Well, then. I think it advisable to tell the police about that couple,
who have to do with the death of Lady Hamber."

Dick was about to ask him if it was wise to do so, seeing that he,
himself, could be proved guilty, when the door opened and Josey entered
quietly. She had lost her florid color and lively manner, appearing pale
and decidedly subdued, "Oh, you have come as requested," she said, on
seeing Randolph.

"Yes!" he replied, insolently, "and I want to know why you broke your
promise?"

"I exercised a woman's immemorial right to change her mind," retorted
Mrs. Tremby, coolly; "but you need not be afraid. Mr. Lawson will hold
his tongue."

"I won't hold mine," said Randolph, losing his coolness in a fit of
sheer rage. "Tomorrow I shall go down to Tarhaven and explain all I
know."

"Oh, indeed! Will you explain how you shot Lady Hamber?"

Randolph sprang from his chair with such violence as to overturn it.
"It's a lie. You know it is!"

"It is the truth, and you know it is," said Mrs. Tremby, very
distinctly, while Dick listened with all his ears. "Audrey called me
back to the house after I left it with Mr. Lawson, and told me to ask
Backhouse questions. You did not go to bed after leaving Lady Hamber in
the drawing room, but put on your overcoat and followed her out of the
window."

"I did not follow her," said Randolph, livid with anger and fear.

"Backhouse saw you, when he came back for a moment to look in and see if
the lights were out. He said nothing, since he did not think it was
necessary at the time. But he revealed what he knew to Audrey,
and--well, what explanation have you to make?"

"None. I had no revolver with which to shoot Lady Hamber."

"Oh, yes, you had. The revolver Gerald threw to you in Africa, when that
nigger tried to kill you. Gerald was over at Sarley Grange, where you
were staying the day before you came to Sarley Court. He saw the
revolver in your bag, and recognised it."

"Oh!" Randolph's face wore a curious expression. "So I shot Lady Hamber
with that revolver, did I?"

"You did," said Jossy, serenely. "Gerald picked it up near the body
where you flung it down when you escaped from the wood."

Randolph sneered. "So clear; very conclusive. Well, then, I was out of
the house on that night. But I did not follow Lady Hamber; I was not in
the wood. I did not have the revolver; and I did not shoot her, having
no reason to do so."

Mrs. Tremby shrugged her massive shoulders. "As to your reason I can say
nothing. But you have admitted in the presence of a witness," she
pointed to the silent Lawson, who nodded, "you have admitted that you
left the house on that night, on or about the time Lady Hamber went out.
The revolver was in your possession, as Gerald can prove, and----"

"That is enough evidence against me," interrupted Randolph, waving his
hand impatiently, and now quite his own insolent self. "You are sure
that the woman was shot with that revolver?"

"Yes, I am quite sure I have it. It is loaded in five chambers, the
sixth is empty of the cartridge, with which Lady Hamber was shot."

"She was shot with a bullet," sneered Randolph, his eyes glittering, why
Dick could not imagine, "not with a cartridge. But who can expect a
woman to be strictly accurate? Well, you have a very pretty case against
me. I suppose you intend to have me arrested. Are the police in
waiting?"

"No." Mrs. Tremby looked at him, steadily. "I am going to give you a
chance of escape. Go back to your chambers and write out a confession,
so that all those involved in this matter may have their characters
cleared. Bring it me tomorrow and sign it in the presence of Mr. Lawson
and myself. Then I advise you to escape to the States."

"Oh, you advise me to escape to the States," said Randolph, in a curious
tone. "According to your account I am guilty of forgery and murder."

"You are," said Jossy, firmly.

"I admit the first, but not the last. Why this clemency?"

Mrs. Tremby faced him squarely, "I know why Audrey became engaged to
you."

"Oh!" Randolph laughed in an ugly way, "she explained how I forced her?"

"She did!" Jessy's eyes met his very steadily.

The scoundrel looked rather taken aback. "I didn't think she'd have the
pluck to do that," he muttered, then raised his eyes to look at Dick.
"You are very silent, Mr. Lawson, yet you are the champion of this
unfortunate damsel. Why don't you defend her?"

"Mrs. Tremby is defending her on my behalf," said Lawson, politely, and
overcoming a wild desire to knock the man down. "I know how you forced
Miss Hamber to engage herself to you. Yes--you intended to tell the
police that she and her brother were in the wood if she refused to marry
you."

"Oh, that is it, is it?" Randolph laughed, and still in the old ugly
way, while he turned toward Mrs. Tremby. "So he doesn't know the truth?"

"No," she answered, very pale, but with great self-control, "he does
not."

"I wonder what he will say when he does know?" sneered the man, now
quite his old wicked, languid self, and surveyed the amazed face of
Lawson with a mocking smile.

Dick sprang to his feet. "What do you mean--both of you?"

"You will know later," said Jossy, catching his arm as he advanced with
an angry gesture toward Randolph. "Gerald and Audrey are going down
to-morrow to Sarley Grange for a few days," she went on, addressing the
scamp. "They stay there with Mr. Oliver Bollard. Before they leave town
by the 12 o'clock train I want your confession. Only on your promising
to bring it to me tomorrow at 11--bring it here, so that Mr. Lawson and
I can witness it--will I afford you this chance of escape. Meantime you
are being watched."

"Very kind of you," said Randolph, picking up his hat and overcoat,
"both in having me watched and in giving me this chance of getting away.
Well, Mrs. Tremby, I accept your generous offer. Tomorrow at 11 you will
see me here with my confession, and everything will be put right.
Meantime, I bid you good night, Mr. Lawson. Madam!" He bowed ironically
to Jossy, and left the room with a mocking laugh.

"What does this mean?" asked Dick when the door was closed. "What is the
truth he spoke about?"

Jossy sighed; "You will know all when the confession is signed and
witnessed."




CHAPTER XXII.


It was in vain that Dick attempted to make Mrs. Tremby reveal what
Randolph meant by his strange behaviour. All she would say was that
Audrey had told her something of moment which had led her to afford the
scamp a chance of escape, and that as soon as his confession was signed
and witnessed an explanation would be given. Seeing that Mrs. Tremby was
depressed and quite worn out, Lawson did not press the matter. But he
passed a bad night after the lady left, since he felt that there was
something very uncomfortable to be revealed. It concerned Audrey,
perhaps her brother; but what it possibly could be Dick was unable to
guess. Throughout the dark hours he tossed and turned on his bed, wooing
sleep in vain, for the suspense was dreadful. He was quite haggard and
sick with apprehension when he got up next morning.

A cold bath and a tolerably good breakfast, together with the early
riding lesson he had to give his class, somewhat braced him. He returned
to his rooms feeling very much better, and was changing his clothes when
the landlady knocked at his bedroom door with the information that a
lady wished to see him. Thinking it was Jossy, arriving to wait for
Randolph and the promised confession, Dick was uplifted; actually
whistling, when he finished dressing and opened the door of his bedroom
to greet the lady. He stopped short at the sight of the very last person
he expected to see.

"Yes, it's me!" screamed Miss Esther Spine, in her peacock voice, and
with an indignant glare. "You didn't think I'd come, did you, Richard?
Oh, you bad man, with your plots and schemes and wicked doings. And
after I sent you a hundred pounds," she continued, quivering with anger,
and tossing her head indignantly; "after I was prepared to overlook your
wicked past and welcome you to my only too kindly heart. To accuse
Arthur of being a murderer----"

"Oh, you know that, do you?" Lawson strode across the room and stared
hard at her. "And how do you know?"

"How do I know?" shrieked Miss Spine, shrilly. "Why, the poor darling
came to me last night, after he left you, and told me what you and that
wicked woman had said. Mrs. Tremby. Yes! Mrs. Tremby." She repeated the
name because Jossy had just entered silently. "Oh! the pair of you. And
Arthur one of the sweetest and most angelic of men."

"He has a good advocate in you," said Jossy, quietly. "May I ask you why
you have come here to defend that scoundrel?"

"I won't hear you." Miss Spine stuffed her fingers into her ears. "No,
no! I really won't! I can't sit in the same room with you. Richard, turn
that woman out immediately. I am only a girl--or almost a
girl--innocently brought up. She is not fit company for me in any way.
Oh, the shame of it; to sit down with a Jezebel."

Mrs. Tremby flushed with annoyance, and, walking across the room, pulled
the excited damsel's hands from her ears and forced her into a chair.
"What do you mean by coming here and making a fool of yourself?" She
shook Miss Spine until the many jingling ornaments she wore rattled
loudly."'How dare you talk to me and of me in this disgraceful way, you
wretched old creature!"

"Old! Creature!" Miss Spine gasped, with indignation. "I am neither the
one nor the other. In the interests of my dearest Arthur I----"

"What the devil is dearest Arthur to you?" demanded Dick, roughly.

"Swearing! How awful. Richard, I wonder you aren't afraid of being
struck dumb with your wicked speech."

"I wish you were," he retorted. "Now then, Esther, pull yourself
together and explain yourself reasonably."

"And be civil," supplemented Mrs Tremby with a frown. "I am not going to
allow you to be impertinent."

Miss Spine tossed her head and her hands quivered as she tried to get
her nerves into better order. "Oh, it's all very well talking, and you
are both very bold in your ignorance. But if you know what Arthur
knows----"

"We do know," snapped Jossy, impatiently; "he is coming here shortly to
give me a written statement of the crime he committed."

"He isn't," shrieked Miss Spine, triumphantly, "he has gone down to that
horrid man, Mr. Bollard's place."

"I know that," replied Mrs. Tremby, quietly, "but I wished to learn if
you knew it, as you are evidently working hand-in-glove with Randolph."

"Has he really gone down to see Bollard, Jossy?"

"No, Dick. He will see him, but not until the afternoon. Just before I
left my office I received a wire from Tarhaven from the man I employed
to watch Randolph. He--Randolph, I mean--has gone there to see Inspector
Helder."

"For what reason?" Dick looked perturbed.

"He is making a last attempt to throw the blame of his crime on to
someone else. He and Helder will probably go over to Sarley Grange this
afternoon."

"Of course they will." The fair Esther left off powdering her nose, and
nodded with a contemptuous smile. "Arthur told me so. Gerald Hamber is
guilty, and will be arrested by Inspector Helder."

"That's a lie," cried Lawson angrily--but it distressed him to see that
Mrs. Tremby did not support his downright denial.

"It is the truth," insisted Miss Spine. "Oh, I know how you learnt that
my dearest Arthur left the house on that night, and how you accuse him
of following Lady Hamber to shoot her. He told me all, and now"--her
voice leaped an octave, until she screamed like a seagull--"I will tell
you all."

"Go on, then," said Dick, quietly.

"I am engaged to Arthur," cried Miss Spine triumphantly. "Oh, I know he
paid that washed-out Audrey Hamber attentions, but his heart was always
mine. He told me so, bless him, my darling, my angel. We were going to
elope----"

"Why should you elope?" asked Jossy, with a shrug. "No one would mind if
you married the man."

"I wanted the romance of an elopement," said Miss Spine simpering. "My
heart being fresh and young in a way you cannot understand with your
worn nature."

"Never mind my worn nature. Go on with your confession."

"It's not a confession. I need not tell you anything. I only came out of
regard for Richard, so that he might escape from the punishment which
will most surely fall upon him in being associated with you in accusing
an innocent man of murder. My Arthur is no murderer."

"He will have to prove that," said Dick dryly.

"I can prove it!" Miss Spine rose dramatically, waving her arms with a
small mirror in one hand and a powder puff in the other. "On that night
when Lady Hamber was slain in the wood my Arthur was with me!"

"With you!" Jossy and Dick stared at the woman; stared at one another.

"Yes. I wished to elope, and wrote to Arthur, arranging to be on the
road outside Sarley Court waiting for him. I drove down late at night in
my car, my heart leaping to meet him. I heard the shot," said Miss
Spine, with emphasis, "and shortly afterwards Arthur came running up to
say that he could not go with me that night, as something dreadful had
happened. So I went back to town, and later read all about the tragedy."

"Your statement doesn't clear Randolph's character," said Dick bluntly.
"You declare that he came to you after the shot was fired. And he
might----"

"No!" Miss Spine screamed indignantly. "Gerald Hamber fired the shot!
Arthur saw him fire it!"

"Then Randolph did follow Lady Hamber!" struck in Mrs. Tremby sharply.
"You said a little time ago that he did not."

"Arthur asked me to say nothing about that; but when you say that my
Arthur fired the shot I think it is right to defend him. He did follow,
and he did see the shooting. So there!" Miss Spine moved hurriedly
toward the door.

"Hamber is not guilty!" insisted Lawson furiously.

"He is. That plain-looking sister of his has been trying to defend him,
and that is why she took him to Paris. He is half an idiot."

"Nothing of the sort!" cried Mrs. Tremby furiously in her turn. "He is
much more sensible than you are! If anyone is guilty it is Randolph!"

"Well, then, go down to Mr. Bollard's place and hear what Inspector
Helder has to say now that Arthur has told him what he saw. You will
arrive in time to see Gerald Hamber arrested. And Arthur," ended Miss
Spine triumphantly, "will then marry me!" She left the room with a
cackling laugh, jeering and sneering.

Miss Tremby and Dick looked at one another. "Could Hamber be guilty
after all?"




CHAPTER XXIII.


An hour later--on the stroke of one, to be precise--a powerful motor car
was racing out of London, with Dick at the wheel and Mrs. Tremby beside
him. Shortly after Miss Spine's departure Jossy had telephoned to Winter
square, only to learn that Audrey and her brother had already left the
house to catch the midday express from Liverpool street. Bollard was
expecting them at his country house, but Mrs. Tremby would have
prevented their going had it been possible, if only to disarrange
Randolph's vindictive plans. But it was too late, so nothing remained
but to follow and see what would be the result of the scoundrel's
machinations. Having wired to Tarr that he was off duty for the day, he
and Jossy started as soon as possible.

"Do you think we shall be in time?" asked Mrs. Tremby, while the car
whizzed along in the hot sunshine. "We must get there before Helder
arrives."

"I believe we can manage it," said Lawson grimly, as he let out the car
to full speed up a long, straight white road bordered by hedges; "but I
don't expect we shall find things will happen as Esther suggests."

"She seemed very certain of the truth of what she was saying."

"Randolph, has pulled wool over her eyes. She is so infatuated with the
man that she believes anything he says."

"But I know, from the wire I received, that Randolph has gone to seek
out Inspector Helder," said Jossy dismally. "He looks as though he were
innocent, otherwise he would not put his head in the lion's mouth."

"Bluff!" said Lawson curtly.

"I doubt that," contradicted Mrs. Tremby acidly, for her nerves were
troubling her. "Gerald can prove that Randolph had the revolver, Audrey
that it is the revolver with which Lady Hamber was shot, while that
woman, in our presence, declared that Randolph was out of the house on
that night. The evidence is strong against him. His mere statement that
Gerald is guilty will not clear his character."

Dick shook his head anxiously. "It's a difficult case. Jossy. I can't
see what Randolph is driving at. If he really saw the boy shoot that
woman, he would have asked for money to hold his tongue."

"He did ask," Mrs. Tremby reminded him.

"Yes. But he did not seem to be sure if Audrey or Gerald was guilty.
Also he merely tried for blackmail, on the plea that he saw the boy
carrying his sister back to the house. If he really saw Gerald shoot he
would have charged him openly with the crime."

"And so have been forced to admit that he left the house in pursuit of
Lady Hamber," declared Mrs. Tremby doubtfully, "He did not wish that to
be known, remember. Miss Spine said so, and only let it out by chance.
No, Dicky, there is something at the back of this which I cannot grasp."

Lawson agreed, with a nod, then suddenly asked: "You are sure Hamber is
an innocent man, Jossy?"

"Yes!" she replied resolutely. "I would stake my life on his innocence."

"Yet Audrey seems to be afraid on his account."

"Because of his health," said Mrs. Tremby quickly. "The poor boy has
been all broken to pieces since his accident. His memory is almost gone,
and----"

"That's the point," interrupted Lawson sharply. "Do you think that he
might have really shot the woman and then forgotten all about it?"

"No, I don't. Gerald is not the kind of man to shoot a woman."

"He disliked his stepmother, remember."

"He had every reason to," said Mrs. Tremby with a frown. "Particularly
if what Audrey told me is true, which I can hardly believe."

"What did she tell you?"

"I can't explain at present. Audrey made me promise to tell the
truth--and a very unpleasant one it is--to you; when the mystery of her
stepmother's death was solved. Until that happens I am bound in honor to
hold my tongue."

"Has what she told you anything to do with the death?"

"It might have something to do with it, and it might not."

"Randolph knows this secret?"

"Yes. And made use of it to force Audrey to engage herself to him."

"Well, I'm not going to be kept in the dark any longer," said Dick in a
resolute tone. "When I see Audrey I intend to insist upon an
explanation. If in any possible way this secret bears on the death I
have a right to know it in order to save the girl I love."

"You will know it when the time comes. Meanwhile, can't you trust me,
Dicky?"

"I don't like mystery," he grumbled, frowning.

"Neither do I. I have had enough of it to last my lifetime. When things
are straightened out I shall marry Gerald--he asked me once to become
his wife, you know--and leave the detective business. In the meantime,
trust your old pal, Dicky. I won't let you down."

Lawson cast a side glance at the massive figure of the big woman, at her
strong face and firm lips. Jossy was no fool, and although he felt sore
at being excluded from her confidence and that of Audrey, yet he felt
that he could safely leave things in her hands. All the same, "I wish I
could understand you, Jossy," he said with a sigh of vexation.

"You will before you marry Audrey, or I Gerald," she said, comforting
him in her motherly way.

By this time they were more than halfway to their goal. Dick had
travelled the roads only a short time previously in his caravan, so
there was no need for any delay in consulting maps. With no deviation
from the nearest route to Sarley Village he drove the big car steadily
onward, between hedgerows, through villages and towns, over causeways
bridging marshes, up and down hills. In a couple of hours, or a little
more, the machine sung through Sarley Village, passing the big house,
the wood, the tiny hamlet itself, and emerged again into the open
country. Here, immediately beyond the village, the ground began to rise
towards the hill upon which Sarley Grange was built. One side of the
hill was extremely precipitous--a kind of inland cliff, which in
prehistoric times had been washed by the sea--and up the side of this,
in a slanting direction, a narrow road had been cut from the live rock.
In days of yore Sarley Grange had been a robbers' castle, and there was
only one way of approaching it, so that in time of war it could be well
defended by a few resolute men. Along the side of the road and on the
verge of the precipice ran a new wall to prevent accidents--so low that
Jossy became a trifle nervous.

"Do take care, Dicky," she said, clutching the side of the car. "If you
barge into that wall we'll fall about 30 or 40 ft., and there won't be
much left of us."

"Don't squeal," retorted Lawson, who was surging the machine steadily up
the incline. "I know my business. Also, as much as I know, there has
never been an accident here. Selwin, who is a native of these parts told
me all about the place when he came upon me in Africa. Sarley Grange
seems to be a kind of Dove-in-the-Eagle's-Nest or an excellent robber's
castle of the Middle Ages. Bollard is a stockbroker. I expect it suits
him."

Mrs. Tremby, not having read Charlotte Young's delightful story, paid no
attention to this prattle. Still rising, this leafy way--the trees
arched over it, making a kind of emerald twilight in the sunshine--led
to an open space of widely-spreading lawns, bordered by brilliant flower
beds. The house itself was a mixture of the old and the new--Norman,
Tudor, Georgian, and Victorian architecture were all mingled in one
delightful whole, harmonised by wind and sun and Father Time. It was a
charming old house, but Mrs. Tremby cast only one look at it, and then
her eyes fell on a car at the door.

"Oh, Dicky," she said, her voice shaking, "we are too late. There is a
car."

"It may not have come from Tarhaven," said Lawson soothingly, and halted
his own machine behind the other. "Get out, Jossy, and let us go into
the house."

There was no chauffeur in the waiting car so it was impossible to make
enquiries. But a glance told Dick that it was much too luxurious a
vehicle to be hired or owned by Helder. An idea flashed into his mind
that his cousin had anticipated their arrival, but he did not impart
this to Mrs. Tremby, who was sufficiently anxious as it was. The footman
who opened the door explained that Mr. Bollard, with his guests, was in
the library, and just as he did so a French window on the left opened,
and the man himself stepped out.

"Young Lawson! Mrs. Tremby!" He came forward quickly, and nodded to the
footman to close the door. "I am so glad you have come. There is a
lunatic here worrying Audrey, and Gerald, and me."

"I am not a lunatic," screamed a highpitched voice, and when Miss Spine
appeared out of the French window, Dick knew that his guess had been
correct. "How dare you say----oh!"--she broke off in dismay when she
beheld the new arrivals--"you here?"

"I and Mrs. Tremby," said Lawson coolly. "We came along to see this
thing through. You advised us to, you know."

"I didn't expect you would come, Richard," shrieked Miss Spine
viciously, "and that woman, too. Ah, well," she laughed jeeringly, "the
more the merrier. Come in and wait for the arrival of the police."

With a frown Bollard ushered in Jossy and Dick, when Miss Spine stepped
back into the library. They entered by the window as the nearest way,
since, in obedience to his master's orders, the footman had already
closed the front door. The library was a sombre apartment with a red
carpet and curtains and black oak bookcases filled with volumes. Audrey
was seated on the arm of a chair in which her brother was huddling, and
looked up with relief when she saw her lover and his companion. "Oh,
Dick!" she cried with a sob, "you are just in time. This woman has been
saying such dreadful things about Gerald," and she passed her arm round
the neck of the shivering boy.

Miss Spine giggled hysterically, and Bollard turned from her with a look
of aversion. "Is she mad?" he asked Mrs. Tremby pointedly.

"No more mad than you are, Mr. Bollard," cried Miss Spine sharply. "And,
if it comes to that, I would rather be mad than wicked. That man"--she
pointed to young Hamber--"is guilty of the death of his stepmother."

"Stuff and nonsense," muttered the stockbroker.

"Wait until Inspector Helder arrives. Then we shall see if it is stuff
and nonsense. Oh, I wish he would come to punish you all."

"You have got your wish, madam," said Bollard heavily. "Here is
Inspector Helder, and with him that blackguard Randolph."




CHAPTER XXIV.


As in the case of the last arrivals, Mr. Bollard went out by the French
window to call Helder and his companion into the library. Helder, lean
and sharp-eyed, followed the big man in through the window, and after
him came Randolph, with a triumphant smile. Lawson felt nervous.
Randolph certainly did not look as though he were afraid, whereas Hamber
was shaking from head to foot and displayed every evidence of guilt.

Audrey also was pale, but kept her nerves well under control and faced
the trying situation with amazing bravery. Mrs. Tremby had sat down
silently with an impassive face, so it was hard to tell what she was
thinking about. But Bollard's expression was one of dismay and grief,
which made him appear years older than he was. Evidently Miss Spine's
story had impressed him more than he had confessed, and he was by no
means sure that she was the lunatic he had called her. She and Randolph,
whose arm she took, were all smiles and sneers; but Helder preserved his
official calm, and took his seat near the writing table with the air of
a judge. For quite three minutes there was a dead silence. Helder broke
it.

"I have heard a very extraordinary story from this gentleman," he said,
indicating Randolph, "one which I can scarcely believe."

"It is true, all the same," said Randolph, smiling sardonically, and the
woman hanging on his arm added. "Perfectly true!" with her usual scream.

"What is the story?" asked Bollard, sitting down heavily. "As you have
come to my house, Mr. Helder, I am entitled to an explanation."

"Certainly, Mr. Bollard. Your nephew Sir Gerald Hamber is accused by
this gentleman of having shot his stepmother, Lady Hamber."

"It is a lie!" said the unfortunate boy from the chair in which he was
curled up, looking the picture of misery.

"Anything you say will he used in evidence against you." Helder warned
him in rasping official tones.

"My brother has a right to defend himself!" cried Audrey, flushing.

"The time and place will be given to him to make his defence," said
Helder judicially. "Meanwhile----"

"Why don't you come to the point?" interrupted Randolph, who seemed to
be annoyed by this slow dignity of the law. "I told you----"

Helder interrupted sharply. "I know what you told me, but I am taking my
own way in dealing with the matter."

"You have already made one mis-statement," muttered the scoundrel
savagely.

"On purpose. I want to get at the rights of the case from all present
before I tell exactly what you told me. You asserted that Sir Gerald
Hamber was in Sarley Wood on or about the time Lady Hamber was shot?"

"Yes; but I also said that----"

"We will come to that later," Helder waved his hand to impose silence.

Mrs. Tremby, who had been listening attentively and watching Randolph's
face, spoke suddenly to the scamp.

"You don't believe that Sir Gerald is guilty?"

"Why do you say that?" demanded Miss Spine, ruffling her feathers, "when
I said that he was when I saw you at my cousin's lodgings?"

"You said so. Mr. Randolph doesn't say so," observed Mrs. Tremby
shrewdly.

"You have heard what Inspector Helder said," shuffled Randolph angrily.

"Oh, yes. But there is something behind what he says." She faced round
to the inspector. "Mr. Helder, give me a straight answer. Do you believe
that Sir Gerald is guilty of this crime?"

"I am here to listen to what evidence can be given on that point,"
evaded the officer, rather disconcerted by her sharpness. "Until Miss
Spine speaks I cannot be sure. Mr. Randolph has told me his story; I
wish to hear that of the witness he has called."

"I shall speak at once!" screamed the peacock in a desperate hurry.

"No," Helder spoke imperiously, "you shall speak when I order you to do
so, Miss Spine. First, I wish to hear from those present what they did
not say but should have said at the inquest," he glanced at Audrey.
"You, I understand, were in the wood on that night?"

"Yes," she said boldly. "I quarrelled with my stepmother and----"

"Gently!" warned Helder, significantly, "what you say will be used in
evidence against you."

"Confound it," said Lawson furiously, "you don't accuse Miss Hamber.
Why, I can tell you that----"

"I have heard from Mr. Rudolph what you can tell," retorted the
inspector, sharply, "and in due course you can repeat what you know.
Just now I wish to hear what Miss Hamber has to say."

"I quarrelled with my stepmother over a matter which has nothing to do
with this case," said Audrey quickly.

"I am not so sure of that," murmured Randolph, looking at her with a
wicked smile, "the quarrel about----"

"Hold your tongue," shouted Helder indignantly. "Am I conducting this
case or are you? Go on, Miss Hamber."

"The matter of the quarrel," went on Audrey steadily, "I repeat, has
nothing to do with the case. Lady Hamber insulted me and I left the
house, dressed as I was, with the intention of coming over here to see
my uncle. On the way through the wood I stumbled over the rope with
which Mr. Lawson's horse was tethered, and sprained my ankle. As I could
not walk Mr. Lawson went to look for the horse, which had got loose, and
proposed to drive me here in his caravan. While I was in the caravan I
heard a shot."

"And then?" enquired Helder, keenly, for Audrey was hesitating.

"I looked out," she said faintly, "and saw my brother near the body of
Lady Hamber with a revolver."

"There, you see!" shrieked Miss Spine, triumphantly.

"Be silent!" ordered the inspector, roughly. "Go on, Miss Hamber."

"We placed the body of Lady Hamber in the caravan, and my brother
carried me home, as I was unable to walk."

"And the revolver?"

"I took that from him. Mrs. Tremby has it."

"Here it is," said Jossy, producing the weapon from her vanity bag. "I
thought it would be necessary to produce it, and brought it along."

"To whom does this belong?" asked Helder, examining it.

"To me," said Gerald in quite a firm voice, and started to his feet.

"Oh!" Helder raised his eyebrows. "You admit that; also to having been
in the wood; having stood by the body with this in your hand?"

"Yes. I missed my sister and followed Lady Hamber. While I was entering
the wood I heard the shot, and arrived in the glade to find my
stepmother's body and the revolver beside her. I picked it up just as my
sister looked out of the caravan. But," he ended with emphasis, "I did
not shoot her."

"Yet you say that the revolver is yours, Sir Gerald?"

"It was; but I gave it to Randolph in Africa, so that he might save his
life when it was in danger from a drunken negro."

"Is that true?" Helder turned towards Randolph.

"Perfectly true," said that gentleman, serenely, much to the
astonishment of Dick, who expected him to deny it.

"Oh!" Helder nodded quietly, "and how did it get into the wood?"

"You must ask Hamber that, inspector."

"I do ask it. Sir Gerald?"

"Randolph brought it into the wood," said the boy positively.

"He never did--he never did," screamed Miss Spine, furiously shaking her
fist.

"Be quiet," ordered the officer again. "How can you prove that Mr.
Randolph brought this," he tapped the weapon, "into the wood?"

"I can't prove it," sighed the boy sadly; "all I can say is that on the
day before Randolph came over to my place I was seeing my uncle,
and----"

"And you went to Randolph's room," interrupted Mr. Bollard
hurriedly--"yes, I remember, Gerald. You saw the revolver in his bag,
and afterwards told me of the incident in Africa."

"I think I did," said Hamber slowly, and passing his hand across his
forehead.

"You are not sure," questioned Helder gently.

"Not quite. But I must have, as the sight of the revolver would bring
back the incident to my mind, bad as my memory is. I know that Randolph
did have the revolver in his room, and that was the last I saw of it
until I picked it up in the wood."

"Did you recognise it then?"

"No. Only when Mrs. Tremby asked me about it did I remember it was the
same revolver. And it is. So, it being in Randolph's possession, how
does he account for it being in the wood?"

"I have explained all that to Inspector Helder," said Randolph,
complacently.

"What is the explanation?" asked Dick, brusquely.

Mrs. Tremby looked the same question, although she did not speak.
Randolph appeared so confident and so much at ease, that she scented
danger to those she loved. As Dick's question was not answered
immediately, she was forced to speak in the end. "Miss Spine said that
Mr. Randolph saw Sir Gerald shoot Lady Hamber. I don't believe that."

"You won't believe many things you will hear shortly," snapped the fair
Esther with a giggle. "If I could speak----"

"You will give your evidence shortly," said Helder, sharply imposing
silence.

"How long is this comedy going on?" drawled Randolph, lazily.

"As long as I choose," retorted the officer. "I have my reasons."

"Why should the word 'comedy' be used?" asked Bollard, heavily. "It
seems to me that this is much too serious a subject to be spoken of so
lightly."

"It is," assented Helder, with official phlegm, and looked at him oddly.

"Well, then"--Bollard's heavy gaze wandered towards the faces of
Randolph and Miss Spine, who were regarding him intently, perhaps to see
how he accepted the fact that his nephew was in danger of being
hanged--"neither one of you can prove that Gerald is guilty!" he said,
with a violent roar of defiance.

"Then let him prove himself to be innocent," replied Randolph,
insolently. "He was in the wood; he was seen by his sister standing over
the body of the woman he hated with the revolver. How does he explain
these things?"

"I can't explain further than I have done," said Hamber, doggedly. "I am
guiltless."

"What do you think, Mr. Lawson?" The inspector turned to address Dick.

"I believe Sir Gerald Hamber to be wholly innocent," was the prompt
reply.

"And you, Mrs. Tremby?"

"I agree with Mr. Lawson," she replied, emphatically.

"Mr. Bollard?"

"My nephew is most certainly guiltless," said the big man, loudly and
fiercely.

"No! No!" Randolph and his companion spoke in chorus. "He murdered her!"

"I agree with you. Three against three, and the casting vote is mine."
Helder jumped up lightly and advanced towards the shrinking boy. "I
arrest----"

"Stop!" Bollard rose, big and imposing. "Arrest the right man!"

Helder wheeled. "And who is the right man!"

"I am!" was the amazing answer. "I shot Lady Hamber!"




CHAPTER XXV.


Followed a dead silence on the astounding declaration of Bollard that he
had shot the woman. Three of those present looked at the man as though
he had said what they expected him to say, and the remaining three
stared in tongue-tied amazement, scarcely able to believe their ears.

Inspector Helder clapped a heavy hand on the stockbroker's shoulder. "I
arrest you, Oliver Bollard, in the King's name for the murder of Selina
Hamber. Anything you say will be used in evidence against you." He
produced handcuffs.

"You need not bring those out," said the big man quietly. "I am quite
willing to go without making trouble."

"No, no! It is a mistake--it can't be true." Audrey sprang across the
room and seized her uncle by the arm. "Say it is not true."

"Yes, my dear child, it is true!"

"No, no!" It was Gerald this time who echoed his sister's denial. "You
are doing this to shield me, Uncle Oliver."

"I am doing it to save you," answered the stockbroker with emphasis.
"That man and woman"--he indicated Randolph and Miss Spine with
contempt--"believe that they had you in a net. To release you from that
net I have spoken, and truly. I alone am guilty of this--if you call it
so--crime."

"What else do you call it?" asked Miss Spine, with a scream of surprise.

"Justice! Punishment! Lady Hamber deserved to die. I knew what I was
doing, and deliberately removed her from this world to prevent her from
making innocent people suffer wrongfully."

"Mr. Bollard," came Helder's warning, "better say no more."

The big man turned his head towards him, and roared quite in his old
style of overbearing superiority. "I shall say all I wish to say, and I
expect you to follow my example."

"In what way?" Randolph asked the question with a yawn, rather overdoing
his pretended indifference, since he was really greatly excited.

"Explain this comedy you have been carrying on for the last half-hour.
Mrs. Tremby, you were right in thinking that there was something behind
all the talk. Inspector Helder and these two melodramatic schemers knew
all the time that I was the wanted man."

"Quite right," said Randolph coolly. "And you have to thank Mrs. Tremby,
for bringing about this--as you suggest--melodrama."

"I?" Jossy started to her feet indignantly. "I have nothing to do with
this."

"You have everything to do. Be quiet, Mr. Helder, I shall speak. It was
your telling me that Lady Hamber was shot with that revolver which gave
me the clue. Up to the time you spoke I never suspected Mr. Bollard, nor
had I any suspicion that Gerald's revolver had been used."

Mrs. Tremby sat down, feeling faint. She liked the big, jovial
stockbroker, and hated to think that he had been trapped by the
information she had given, unconscious, as she had been, that such would
accomplish Randolph's ends. "I don't see how you make that out," she
said defiantly, but in a trembling voice.

"I shall explain." With his hands in his pockets Randolph leant against
the wall by the still open French window. "I did have the revolver in my
bag when Gerald was with me in my bed room. We talked of the African
incident before I went over to Sarley Court, and in doing so I took the
revolver up to examine it. Indeed, I think I offered it to Gerald, since
it was of no use to me and really belonged to him."

Gerald shivered and nodded. "I wish I had taken it; then this awful
thing would not have happened."

"Oh, I don't know. You might have seen about shooting Lady Hamber
yourself, old chap. You never liked her, you know. But to continue, I
threw the revolver into a corner, and went away without it. Afterwards I
remembered that I had left it, just when I was going, and asked Bollard
to send it over to me. He promised to do so--promised to bring it
himself."

"And so I did," said the stockbroker, who was listening intently. "An
hour or so after you left this place I went up to your room and found
the revolver--which, by the way, was loaded."

"I always had it loaded in case I might wish to use it," said Randolph
in a careless tone. "Well, go on. You took possession of it."

"Yes--to return it to you. Late at night I walked over to Sarley Court
to return it to you. Seeing one of the windows of the drawing room
open----"

"At what time?" asked Helder, who was busy with his notebook.

"Before 10 o'clock--I can't be quite sure to the minute, but it was
somewhere between half-past 9 and 10 o'clock. I was about to enter, when
I heard Lady Hamber and Audrey quarrelling. For a reason I decline to
impart, I remained outside listening. Lady Hamber insulted Audrey
grossly----"

"She did--she did!"' murmured the girl, clinging to her uncle.

"So I was on the point of intervening," went on Bollard, ignoring the
interruption, "when Audrey ran out in a rage, saying that she would walk
over to see me. I was on the point of following her, when Randolph
entered the room to ask for some book he had left. Then Backhouse came
in for final instructions. Lady Hamber got rid of both of them--she
seemed anxious to do so, and I wondered why. So I waited and saw her
come out. I followed her across the lawns, through the park, and into
the wood when she passed through the gate. She went down the path, and I
followed. I was near her crouching in the bushes, and overheard, as she
did, the conversation between young Lawson and my niece."

"About the sprained ankle?" asked Dick, suddenly.

"Yes, about the sprained ankle. When Lady Hamber heard you say, young
Lawson, that you would take Audrey to my place in the caravan, she
slipped the halter from the horse, and it strayed. I saw that she
intended to prevent Audrey from leaving the wood, so that the poor girl
might be compromised. And this evil intention, in conjunction with what
she had said to my niece in the drawing room, caused me to make up mind
to kill her then and there as a dangerous and wicked woman. I had the
revolver in my pocket, and it was loaded. Had I not possessed it at the
moment, had it not been loaded, this tragedy might not have taken
place."

"Then you did not really kill intentionally," said Mrs. Tremby
anxiously.

"Oh, yes, I did," replied the big man with amazing calmness. "Don't try
to find loopholes in the hope of my escaping, Mrs. Tremby; thank you all
the same. I intended to shoot the woman. When young Lawson placed my
niece in the caravan and went to search for the horse Lady Hamber moved
forward into the glade. I believed that she intended to lock the caravan
door, so as to still further compromise Audrey. When she reached the
fire I aimed at her in the light of the fire and shot her through the
heart. Then I examined her to see if she was dead, and in doing so threw
down the revolver. Before I could pick it up I heard someone coming down
the path."

"That was me," struck in Hamber quickly. "I followed Lady Hamber, but
did not see you, Uncle Oliver."

"Nor I you," rejoined the other, looking puzzled. "Odd we should have
missed one another, Gerald, when we were on the same trail. However, as
soon as I heard the noise of someone coming I ran out of the wood and
walked home."

"I saw you!" cried Miss Spine, unexpectedly and triumphantly.

All present looked at her.

"You saw me?" questioned the stockbroker.

"Yes." She nodded victoriously. "I came down in my car to elope with my
dear Arthur." She squeezed Randolph's arm, and he winced at the
endearing gesture and word. "While I waited I heard the shot, and then
saw you run across the road. Your face was easily seen in the moonlight,
which had grown strong. I never thought anything more about the matter
until Arthur came and told me that Mrs. Tremby and Mr. Lawson suspected
him of committing the crime."

"You should have come forward at the inquest," said Inspector Helder,
looking up from his notebook and speaking severely. "We then wanted to
learn if anyone had been seen in or about the wood. Had you spoken then,
Miss Spine, we should have solved this mystery long ago."

"I tell you the sight of Mr. Bollard never suggested to me that he had
anything to do with the matter. I daresay I am a silly little thing,"
went on the damsel, coquettishly, "and should have more sense. But only
when my dear Arthur came to tell me that he was suspected did I reveal
what I had seen. And I am sure, along with Arthur, I have done my best
to tell you everything."

"Rather late in the day," commented the inspector dryly; "you should
have come to Tarhaven with Mr. Randolph. He told me about the revolver;
but, until I had your evidence, I could not be wholly certain that Mr.
Bollard was guilty."

"You can be certain now," shrieked Miss Spine, very much offended, "and
I am not going to stay here to be insulted by a low policeman." She
rushed through the window, calling out to her chauffeur, who had
returned, to get the car ready to start. When those within heard the hum
and buzz of the motor, Miss Spine looked back: "Arthur, come with me at
once."

"Right oh!" Randolph caught up his hat and moved towards the window.
Before he could reach it Bollard lunged forward, and placed himself in
the way. "Not so fast," he roared, grimly, "you and I have to talk a
little."

"I decline to talk to you," said the smaller man, and turned white.
Certainly he had reason to be afraid, being a coward at heart and
finding the gigantic towering appearance of Bollard very nerve wrecking.

The big man towered over his opponent, tremendously threatening, with
his great hands outstretched to grip him. "Stay where you are," he
bellowed, and looked like a fairly tale giant in his grim strength.

"Mr. Bollard!" Helder rose and laid a warning hand on his prisoners arm.

"It is all right, inspector; I am not going to harm the rat, although he
deserves to have his neck wrung. Yes, you," he raged, bringing his large
red face close to Randolph's pallid cheek. "You are a blackmailer, a
forger; yes, and a white-livered hound who lives on women! I'll wring
your neck!"

With two huge hands hovering near his throat Randolph's blood turned to
water, and he almost fainted. But the very extremity of his fear gave
him the courage to save himself. Before those mighty hands could clutch
him, before those long arms could hug him with a bear-like grip, he
darted under them, and was out of the window in a moment, knocking down
Miss Spine, who barred the way of escape. With a roar of fury the
stockbroker, sweeping aside Inspector Helder like a straw hurled himself
in pursuit.

Miss Spine's chauffeur had started the motor and was standing by the
door of the car, waiting for his mistress to seat herself in it.
Randolph, all his senses on the alert to evade sure death, sprang into
the machine, slipped behind the wheel, and set the machine going. It
began to move, and but for Bollard's extraordinary swiftness the
fugitive would have got safely away. But the big man plunged in pursuit
immediately, moving with the speed of an enraged elephant. As the car
gathered speed so did he, and within a short distance caught it up, to
leap into it and on to the wretched man. Randolph's cry of terror was
echoed by Miss Spine, who was picking herself up, much dishevelled.

Helder and the rest of those in the library came tumbling in disorder
through the French window as quickly as possible. All began to run down
the avenue, with a vague idea of preventing trouble. Needless to say,
this was impossible. The car was racing down the incline at tremendous
speed, with the two men fighting furiously over the wheel. Dick, being
light-footed and in excellent condition, sped ahead of the others and
arrived breathless at the archway, to see the machine lunge through on
to the road. It did not take the curve, for no hand was on the steering
gear, but smashed straight into the protecting wall. There was a cry of
terror from Randolph, a shout of joy from Bollard, and the car, crashing
through the heavy stone, toppled over the precipice. Lawson staggered
under the archway and across the road to look over the abyss. Thirty and
more feet below he saw the ruins of the machine. Bollard and his victim
lay dead beneath.

"Nemesis!" said Dick, sighing.




CHAPTER XXVI


When examination was made, and the bodies recovered from under the ruins
of the car, Randolph proved to be as dead as the proverbial door-nail.
But, strange to say, Bollard still breathed. How so heavy a man could
fall from so great a height and yet remain alive, it was impossible to
explain. Nevertheless, although unconscious, he had not passed away, and
Helder had him carried back into the house. Miss Spine, in an agony of
grief at the loss of her lover and the shattering of her hopes, took
charge of his broken remains. She had his body taken to London, and it
was buried at Kensal Green, where her family possessed a vault. For all
her frivolity and faults, the woman really and truly loved the man, and
mourned him sincerely all her days. But after she left Sarley Grange
with the body of her beloved, none of those concerned in the case ever
saw her again. She held aloof from them, and shut herself up to indulge
in her grief, which was heartfelt and genuine.

Helder, still holding to his duty as the representative of the law,
returned to Sarley Grange to keep watch and ward over his prisoner. It
was his hope that Bollard would live to be tried and condemned for his
double crime of killing Randolph as well as Lady Hamber. But, along with
Mrs. Tremby, the man's niece prayed that he might die, without
recovering consciousness. And likewise prayed her brother and her lover.
Bollard had done evil that good might come of it; and wrongly as he had
acted, it could not be denied but what his mad actions had been dictated
by love. It was to save his dead sister's children from shame and
disgrace that he had sinned so deeply.

"Will he live?" asked Helder, after the doctor summoned immediately from
Tarhaven had made his examination.

"No hope," replied the medical man, positively, "not the slightest. The
wonder is that he has lived so long."

All that day and all that night the stockbroker remained unconscious.
His niece and nephew, along with Dick and Jossy, remained in the house.
Helder also, intent upon getting some kind of confession. He knew that
Bollard was guilty, but desired to learn why he had shot the woman.
Towards the morning, just before dawn, the Tarhaven doctor sent a
message, saying that his patient had recovered his senses, and wished to
see the inspector. Helder went up at once, and found Bollard feeble, but
able to speak. "Come here!" he whispered; for his roaring voice had sunk
to the merest thread of sound. "I want to be sure before I die that my
two dear children are safe."

"They are safe enough," said Helder, sympathetically, although from
habit he produced his note-book; "you are guilty."

"I am, and I do not apologise for my guilt. In my desk in the library
you will find a written confession signed by me in which I have set down
what I told you. I, and I alone, killed that woman, Gerald and Audrey
knew nothing about the matter; they have never known."

"Why did you murder Lady Hamber?" asked Helder, anxiously bending over
him.

Bollard looked at him cunningly. "She tricked me. I loved her and found
she was carrying on with Randolph. Now go and send up young Lawson; my
time is short."

With a friendly nod the inspector left the sick room, and delivered the
message at once. While Dick went upstairs to obey the summons, Helder
sought the library, and there, by candle-light, for the sun had not yet
risen, made a close search of the confession. He speedily found it in a
drawer of the desk, as Bollard had stated, and read it carefully. What
it said was all in keeping with what he already knew. The dying man had
loved Lady Hamber, but his jealousy had been aroused by her flirtation
with Randolph. He had shot her in the glade, not for Audrey's sake, but
out of revenge. And Helder, putting away the confession in his pocket,
felt tolerably certain that the death of Randolph was another act of
revenge. So here was the truth. A good reason for the two crimes had
been given, so there was no need to make further enquiries. But at the
back of his mind; recollecting Bollard's explanations in the library,
the officer believed that there was another and more plausible reason.
However, satisfied to some extent, he kept his promise made to the dying
man, and never questioned Audrey or anyone else about the matter.

Meanwhile, Lawson was sitting by Bollard's death-bed, listening to a
strange story. The amazing vitality of the big man astonished him. After
a glass of brandy, unwillingly administered by the doctor before he left
the room, he was able to speak clearly and strongly and at length. But
Dick knew that this was merely the sudden flare-up of an expiring
candle, so did not waste his time or the man's strength in asking more
questions than were necessary. He listened with all his ears.

"I told Helder that I shot Lady Hamber because I loved her, and she
awoke my jealousy by flirting with Randolph. And for that reason Helder
believes that I killed the man also. Let him continue to believe so. He
will ask no questions being thus satisfied as to the motive for my two
acts--crimes he calls them. We'll leave it at that."

"Isn't what you told him true?"

"No. Young Lawson, you love Audrey?"

"With all my heart and soul," said Dick, fervently.

"Good! You shall marry her, and do so as soon as you can. Mrs. Tremby
will marry Gerald, which is a good thing for her and for him; for him,
as he needs someone to look after him and guide him, when Audrey is your
wife; for, as she is poor, and wants a home and a proper position in
society."

"I am poor also," Dick reminded him.

Bollard chuckled feebly. "You won't be when I am dead. When my will is
read, you will find that I have left you Sarley Grange and six thousand
a year. No, don't thank me! I loved your father, and I love you. Also I
love my niece, whom you love. All is for the best. And now--listen."

"Yes," Dick bent his ear close to the man's mouth, for his voice was now
very much weaker. "I am listening."

"Sir John Hamber, my brother-in-law, was a mean hound. We were at
college together. He met my sister and Audrey was born out of wedlock."

"That doesn't matter to me," said Lawson, when he had digested this
astounding information. "I love Audrey for herself."

"I thought you would say that." Bollard feebly patted Dick's hand. "I
found out the truth, and compelled Hamber to marry my sister. Then
Gerald, was born in wedlock. He is legitimate: Audrey illegitimate.
Afterwards my sister, whom I very dearly loved, died. Years afterwards
Hamber married the woman I shot. She was always a tyrant, and treated
both the children shamefully. When Hamber died, like the mean dog he
always was, he told her about Audrey. On the night she was shot, Lady
Hamber taunted Audrey about the matter, and told her she had no right to
her name. That information made Audrey rush out to find me, and so all
the trouble came about. Knowing that Lady Hamber would disgrace my poor
darling child, I shot the woman deliberately, and I am glad that I did
shoot her. But she left her venom behind her, for afterwards, when
Audrey became engaged to Randolph, I learnt that he knew the truth from
Lady Hamber."

"The scoundrel," cried Lawson; "and used it to force on the engagement?"

"Yes. I broke the engagement by telling Randolph that if he married
Audrey he would get no money, as being illegitimate, she could not
inherit her large income, owing to the wording of the will. I killed
Randolph deliberately, as he knew the truth, and I did not trust him.
You understand?"

"Yes. Does anyone else know the truth?"

"Mrs. Tremby. Audrey told her. No one else. And now--now----" Bollard's
voice sank to a whisper, "now--I--am--dying. Rather--unexpected." He
made an effort to sit up, but fell back. "Gerald--Audrey--my--darl----"
His voice ceased. He was dead, but had lived long enough to explain
everything.

Dick drew the sheet over the massive, strong face, stern in death, and
went out to notify the doctor and the nurse. Then he took his way to the
library, which Helder had vacated. A lamp was lighted, although the dawn
was now beginning to redden the eastern sky. A figure sitting in the
armchair started up when the young man entered. It was Audrey. She ran
to him and looked in his face! "Is he--is he----"

"Yes! He died a few minutes ago."

"Thank God, he is safe from arrest, Dick," she caught his arm, "did he
tell you anything?" Her lips quivered.

"Everything. You are poor; losing the money because of the
illegitimacy." Lawson patted her hand. "We need not speak of that ever
again, darling heart. We shall marry and live here."

"Here? At Sarley Grange?" Audrey looked bewildered.

"Yes. Your uncle left it and a large income to me on condition that I
married you. And so"--he drew her into his arms--"after a long journey
under a clouded sky we come at last into the sunshine."

"Oh, Dick! Dick!" She nestled to him. "And Gerald. He will be all right,
for my dear Jossy and he are going to be married. But, darling about
this illegi----"

Lawson drew her across the room, out of the French window and on to the
lawn. Beyond the circle of trees the sky was rosy, on the horizon it was
spangled with golden clouds. While they watched the lights grew more and
more radiant, until the sun leapt over the edge of the world to bathe
the dewy verdure with luminous splendor. With his arms round the girl he
loved Dick pointed to the glorious promise of day.

"Before us is the light," he said solemnly, "behind us the darkness.
Never speak of the past, Audrey; let it bury its dead. You are--you.
That is all I care about."

And in the growing light, with myriad birds singing a welcome to their
unclouded future, he kissed her thrice on her sweet lips.


THE END



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