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Title: The Mystery of the Ravenspurs
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100701.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2011
Date most recently updated: November 2011

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

Title: The Mystery of the Ravenspurs
Author: Fred M White


*

Author of "The Ends of Justice," etc.


*

Published in the Fitzroy City Press, Vic., in serial form commencing
Saturday 6 June, 1914.

[Also published under the title 'The Black Valley'.]


*


CHAPTER I.--The Shadow of a Fear.


A grand old castle looks out across the North Sea, and the fishermen
toiling on the deep catch the red flash from Ravenspur Point as their
forefathers have done for many generations.

The Ravenspurs and their great granite fortress have made history
between them. Every quadrangle and watch-tower and turret has its legend
of brave deeds and bloody deeds, of fights for the king and the glory of
the flag. And for five hundred years there has been no Ravenspur who has
not acquitted himself like a man. Theirs is a record to be proud of.

Time has dealt lightly with the home of the Ravenspurs. It is probably
the most perfect mediaeval castle in the country. The moat and the
drawbridge are still intact; the portcullis might be worked by a child.
And landwards the castle looks over a fair domain of broad acres where
the orchards bloom and flourish and the red beeves wax fat in the
pastures.

A quiet family, a handsome family, a family passing rich in the world's
goods, they are strong and brave--a glorious chronicle behind them, and
no carking cares ahead.

Surely, then, the Ravenspurs should be happy and contented beyond most
men. Excepting the beat of the wings of the Angel of Death, that comes
to all sooner or later, surely no sorrow dwelt there that the hand of
time could fail to soothe.

And yet over them hung the shadow of a fear.

No Ravenspur had ever slunk away from any danger, however great, so long
as it was tangible; but there was something here that turned the
stoutest heart to water, and caused strong men to start at their
shadows.

For five years now the curse had lain heavy on the house of Ravenspur.

It had come down upon them without warning; at first in the guise of a
series of accidents and misfortunes, until gradually it became evident
that some cunning and remorseless enemy was bent upon exterminating the
Ravenspurs root and branch.

There had been no warning given, but one by one the Ravenspurs died
mysteriously, horribly, until at last no more than seven of the family
remained. The North country shuddered in speaking of the ill-starred
family. The story had found its way into print.

Scotland Yard had taken the case in hand, but still the hapless
Ravenspurs died, mysteriously murdered, and even some of those who
survived had tales to unfold of marvellous escapes from destruction.

The fear grew on them like a haunting madness. From first to last not
one single clue, however small, had the murderers left behind. Family
archives were ransacked and personal histories explored with a view to
finding some forgotten enemy who had originated this vengeance. But the
Ravenspurs had ever been generous and kind, honorable to men and true to
women, and none could lay a finger on the blot.

In the whole history of crime no such weird story had ever been told
before. Why should this blow fall after the lapse of all these years?
What could the mysterious foe hope to gain by this merciless slaughter?
And to struggle against the unseen enemy was in vain.

As the maddening terror deepened, the most extraordinary precautions
were taken to baffle the assassin. Eighteen months ago the word had gone
out for the gathering of the family at the castle. They had come without
followers or retainers of any kind; every servant had been housed
outside the castle at nightfall, and the grim old fortress had been
placed in a state of siege.

They waited upon themselves, they superintended the cooking of their own
food, no strange feet crossed the drawbridge. When the portcullis was
raised, the most ingenious burglar would have failed to find entrance.
At last the foe was baffled; at last the family was safe. There was no
secret passages, no means of entry; and here salvation lay.

Alas, for fond hopes! Within the last year and a half three of the
family had perished in the same strange and horrible fashion.

There was Richard Ravenspur, a younger son of Rupert, the head of the
house, with his wife and boy. Richard Ravenspur had been found dead in
his bed poisoned by some lemonade; his wife had walked into the moat in
the darkness; the boy had fallen from one of the towers into a stone
quadrangle and been instantly killed.

The thing was dreadful, inexplicable to a degree. The enemy who was
doing this thing was in the midst of them. And yet no stranger passed
those iron gates; none but Ravenspurs dwelt within the walls. Eye looked
into eye and fell again, ashamed that the other should know the
suspicions racking each poor distracted brain.

And there were only seven of them now, who almost longed for the death
they dreaded.

There was Rupert Ravenspur, the head of the family, a fine, handsome,
white-headed man, who had distinguished himself in the Crimea and the
Indian Mutiny. There was his son Gordon who some day might succeed him;
there was Gordon's wife and his daughter Vera. Then there was Geoffrey
Ravenspur, the orphan son of one Jasper Ravenspur, who had fallen under
the scourge two years before.

And also there was Marian Ravenspur, the orphan daughter of Charles
Ravenspur, another son who had died in India five years before of
cholera. Mrs. Charles was there, the child of an Indian prince, and from
her Marion had inherited the dark beauty and soft, glorious eyes that
made her beloved of the whole family.

A strange tale surely, a hideous nightmare, and yet so painfully
realistic. One by one they were being cut off by the malignant
destroyer, and ere long the family would be extinct. It seemed
impossible to fight against the desolation that always struck in the
darkness, and never struck in vain.

Rupert Ravenspur looked out from the leads above the castle to the open
sea, and from thence to the trim lawns and flower-beds away to the park,
where the deer stood knee-deep in the bracken.

It was a fair and perfect picture of a noble English homestead, far
enough removed apparently from crime and violence. And yet!

A deep sigh burst from the old man's breast; his lips quivered. The
shadow of that awful fear was in his eyes. Not that he feared for
himself, for the snows of seventy years lay upon his head, and his
life's work was done.

It was others he was thinking of. The bright bars of the setting sun
shone on a young and graceful couple below coming towards the moat. A
tender light filled old Ravenspur's eyes.

Then he started as a gay laugh reached his ears. The sound caught him
almost like a blow. Where had he heard a laugh like that before? It
seemed strangely out of place. And yet those two were young, and they
loved one another. Under happier auspices, Geoffrey Ravenspur would some
day come into the wide acres and noble revenues, and take his cousin
Vera to wife.

"May God spare them!" Ravenspur cried aloud. "Surely the curse must burn
itself out some time, or the truth must come to light. If I could only
live to know that they were to be happy!"

The words were a fervent prayer. The dying sun that turned the towers
and turrets of the castle to a golden glory fell on his white, quivering
face. It lit up the agony of the strong man with despair upon him. He
turned as a hand lay light as thistledown on his arm.

"Amen with all my heart, dear grandfather," a gentle voice murmured. "I
could not help hearing what you said."

Ravenspur smiled mournfully. He looked down into a pure, young face,
gentle and placid, like that of a madonna, and yet full of strength. The
dark brown eyes were so clear that the white soul seemed to gleam behind
them. There was Hindoo blood in Marion Ravenspur's veins, but she bore
no trace of the fact. And out of the seven surviving members of that
ill-fated race, Marion was the most beloved. All relied upon her, all
trusted her. In the blackest hour her courage never faltered; she never
bowed before the unseen terror.

Ravenspur turned upon her almost fiercely.

"We must save Vera and Geoffrey," he said. "They must be preserved. The
whole future of our race lies with those two young people. Watch over
them, Marion; shield Vera from every harm. I know that she loves you.
Swear that you will protect her from every evil!"

"There is no occasion to swear anything," Marion said in her clear,
sweet voice. "Dear, don't you know that I am devoted heart and soul to
your interests? When my parents died, and I elected to come here in
preference to returning to my mother's people, you received me with open
arms. Do you suppose that I could ever forget the love and affection
that have been poured upon me? If I can save Vera she is already saved.
But why do you speak like this to-day?"

Ravenspur gave a quick glance around him.

"Because my time has come," he whispered hoarsely. "Keep this to
yourself, Marion, for I have told nobody but you. The black assassin is
upon me. I wake at nights with fearful pains at my heart--I cannot
breathe. I have to fight for my life, as my brother Charles fought for
his two years ago. To-morrow morning I may be found dead in my bed--as
Charles was. Then there will be an inquest, and the doctors will be
puzzled, as they were before."

"Grandfather! You are not afraid?"

"Afraid! I am glad--glad, I tell you. I am old and careworn, and the
suspense is gradually sapping my senses. Better death, swift and
terrible, than that. But not a word of this to the rest, as you love
me!"




CHAPTER II. The Wanderer Returns.


The hour was growing late, and the family were dining in the great hall.
Rupert Ravenspur sat at the head of the table, with Gordon's wife
opposite him. The lovers sat smiling and happy side by side. Across the
table Marion beamed gently upon the company. Nothing ever seemed to
eclipse her quiet gaiety; she was the life and soul of the party. There
was something angelic about the girl as she sat there clad in soft,
diaphanous white.

Lamps gleamed on the fair damask, on the feathery daintiness of flowers,
and on the lush purple and gold and russet of grapes and peaches. From
the walls long lines of bygone Ravenspurs looked down--fair women in
hoops and farthingale, men in armor. There was a flash of color from the
painted roof.

Presently the soft-footed servants would quit the castle for the night,
for under the new order of things nobody slept in the castle excepting
the family. Also, it was the solemn duty of each servitor to taste every
dish as it came to the table. A strange precaution, but necessary in the
circumstances.

For the moment the haunting terror was forgotten. Wines red and white
gleamed and sparkled in crystal glasses. Rupert Ravenspur's worn, white
face relaxed. They were a doomed race, and they knew it; yet laughter
was there, a little saddened, but eyes brightened as they looked from
one to another.

By and bye the servants began to withdraw. The cloth was drawn in the
old-fashioned way, a long row of decanters stood before the head of the
house and was reflected in the shining, brown polished mahogany. Big log
fires danced and glowed from the deep ingle-nooks; from outside came the
sense of the silence.

An aged butler stood before Ravenspur with a key on a salver.

"I fancy that is all, sir," he said.

Ravenspur rose and made his way along the corridor to the outer doorway.
Here he counted the whole of the domestic staff carefully past the
drawbridge, and then the portcullis was raised. Ravenspur Castle and its
inhabitants were cut off from the outer world. Nobody could molest them
till morning.

And yet the curl of a bitter smile was on Ravenspur's face as he
returned to the dining-hall. Even in the face of these precautions two
of the garrison had gone down before the unseen hand of the assassin.
There was some comfort in the reflection that the outer world was barred
off, but it was futile, childish, in vain.

The young people, with Mrs. Charles, had risen from the table and had
gathered on the pile of skins and cushions in one of the ingle-nooks.
Gordon Ravenspur was sipping his claret and holding a cigar with a hand
that trembled.

Hardy man as he was, the shadow lay upon him also; indeed, it lay upon
them all. If the black death failed to strike, then madness would come
creeping in its track. Thus it was that evening generally found the
family all together. There was something soothing in the presence of
numbers.

They were talking quietly, almost in whispers. Occasionally a laugh
would break from Vera, only to be suppressed with a smile of apology.
Ravenspur looked fondly into the blue eyes of the dainty little beauty
whom they all loved so dearly.

"I hope I didn't offend you, grandfather," she said.

In that big hall voices sounded strained and loud. Ravenspur smiled.

"Nothing you could do would offend me," he said. "It may be possible
that a kindly Providence will permit me to hear the old roof ringing
with laughter again. It may be, perhaps, that that is reserved for
strangers when we are all gone."

"Only seven left," Gordon murmured.

"Eight, father," Vera suggested. She looked up from the lounge on the
floor with the flicker of the wood fire in her violet eyes. "Do you know
I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt that Uncle Ralph came home
again. He had a great black bundle in his arms, and when the bundle
burst open it filled the hall with a gleaming light, and in the centre
of that light was the clue to the mystery."

Ravenspur's face clouded. Nobody but Vera would have dared to allude to
his son Ralph in his presence.

For over Ralph Ravenspur hung the shadow of disgrace--a disgrace he had
tried to shift on to the shoulders of his dead brother Charles, Marion's
father. Of that dark business none knew the truth but the head of the
family. For twenty years he had never mentioned his erring son's name.

"It is to be hoped that Ralph is dead," he said harshly.

A sombre light gleamed in his eyes. Vera glanced at him half-timidly.
But she knew how deeply her grandfather loved her, and this gave her
courage to proceed. "I don't like to hear you talk like that," she said.
"It is no time to be harsh or hard on anybody. I don't know what he did,
but I have always been sorry for Uncle Ralph. And something tells me he
is coming home again. Grandfather, you would not turn him away?"

"If he were ill, if he were dying, if he suffered from some grave
physical affliction, perhaps not. Otherwise----"

Ravenspur ceased to talk. The brooding look was still in his eyes; his
white head was bent low on his breast.

Marion's white fingers touched his hand caressingly. The deepest bond of
sympathy existed between these two. And at the smile in Marion's eye
Ravenspur's face cleared.

"You would do all that is good and kind," Marion said. "You cannot
deceive me; oh, I know you too well for that. And if Uncle Ralph came
now!"

Marion paused, and the whole group looked one to the other with startled
eyes. With nerves strung tightly like theirs, the slightest deviation
from the established order of things was followed by a feeling of dread
and alarm. And now, on the heavy silence of the night, the great bell
gave clamorous and brazen tongue.

Ravenspur started to his feet.

"Strange that anyone should come at this time of night," he said. "No,
Gordon, I will go. There can be no danger, for this is tangible."

He passed along the halls and passages till he came to the outer oak. He
let down the portcullis.

"Come into the light," he cried, "and let me see who you are."

A halting, shuffling step advanced, and presently the gleam of the hall
lantern shone upon the face of a man whose features were strangely
seamed and scarred. It seemed as if the whole of his visage had been
scored and carved in criss-cross lines until not one inch of
uncontaminated flesh remained.

His eyes were closed; he came forward with fumbling, outstretched hands,
as if searching for some familiar object. The features were
expressionless, but this might have been the result of those cruel
scars. But the whole aspect of the man spoke of dogged, almost pathetic,
determination.

"You look strange and yet familiar to me," said Ravenspur. "Who are you,
and whence do you come?"

"I know you," the stranger replied in a strangled whisper. "I could
recognise your voice anywhere. You are my father."

"And you are Ralph, Ralph, come back again!"

There was horror, indignation, surprise in the cry. The words rang loud
and clear, so loud and clear that they reached the dining-hall and
brought the rest of the party hurrying out into the hall.

Vera came forward with swift, elastic stride. With a glance of
shuddering pity at the scarred face she laid a hand on Ravenspur's arm.

"My dream," she whispered. "It may be the hand of God. Oh, let him
stay!"

"There is no place here for Ralph Ravenspur," the old man cried.

The outcast still fumbled his way forward. A sudden light of
intelligence flashed over Gordon as he looked curiously at his brother.

"I think, sir," he said, "that my brother is suffering from some great
affliction. Ralph what is it? Why do you feel for things in that way?"

"I must," the wanderer replied. "I know every inch of the castle. I
could find my way in the darkest night over every nook and corner.
Father, I have come back to you. I was only to come back to you if I
were in sore need or if I were deeply afflicted. Look at me! Does my
face tell you nothing?"

"Your face is--is dreadful. And as for your eyes, I cannot see them."

"You cannot see them," Ralph said in that dreadful, thrilling, strangled
whisper, "because I have no sight; because I am blind."

Without a word Ravenspur caught his unhappy son by the hand and led him
to the dining-hall, the family following in awed silence.




CHAPTER III.--The Cry in the Night.


The close clutch of the silence lay over the castle like the restless
horror that it was. The caressing drowsiness of healthy slumber was
never for the hapless Ravenspurs now. They clung round the Ingle-nook
till the last moment; they parted with a sigh and a shudder, knowing
that the morrow might find one face missing, one voice silenced for
ever.

Marion alone was really cheerful; her smiling face, her gentle courage
were as the cool breath of the north wind to the others. But for her
they would have gone mad with the haunting horror long since.

She was one of the last to go. She still sat pensive in the ingle, her
hands clasped behind her head, her eyes gazing with fascinated
astonishment at Ralph Ravenspur.

In some strange, half-defined fashion it seemed to her that she had seen
a face scarred and barred like that before. And in the same vague way
the face reminded her of her native India.

It was a strong face, despite the blight that suffering had laid upon
it. The lips were firm and straight, the sightless eyes seemed to be
seeking for something, hunting as a blind wolf might have done. The
long, slim, damp fingers twitched convulsively, feeling upwards and
around as if in search of something.

Marion shuddered as she imagined those hooks of steel pressed about her
throat choking the life out of her.

"Where are you going to sleep?" Ravenspur asked abruptly.

"In my old room," Ralph replied. "Nobody need trouble about me. I can
find my way about the castle as well as if I had my eyes. After all I
have endured, a blanket on the floor will be a couch of down."

"You are not afraid of the family terror?"

Ralph laughed. He laughed hard down in his throat, chuckling horribly.

"I am afraid of nothing," he said; "If you only knew what I know you
would not wish to live. I tell you I would sit and see my right arm
burnt off with slow fire if I could wipe out the things I have seen in
the last five years! I heard of the family fetish at Bombay, and that
was why I came home. I prefer a slumbering hell to a roaring one."

He spoke as if half to himself. His words were enigmas to the interested
listeners; yet, wild as they seemed, they were cool and collected.

"Some day you shall tell us your adventures," Ravenspur said not
unkindly, "how you lost your sight, and whence came those strange
disfigurements."

"That you will never know," Ralph replied. "Ah! there are more things in
heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our narrow and specious
philosophy. There are some things it is impossible to speak of, and my
trouble is one of them. Only to one man could I mention it, and whether
he is alive or dead I do not know."

Marion rose. The strangely-uttered words made her feel slightly
hysterical. She bent over Ravenspur and kissed him fondly. Moved by a
strong impulse of pity, she would have done the same by her uncle Ralph,
but that he seemed to divine her presence and her intention. The long,
slim hands went up.

"You must not kiss me, my child," he said. "I am not fit to be touched
by pure lips like yours. Good-night."

Marion turned away, chilled and disappointed. She wondered why Ralph
spoke like that, why he shuddered at her approach as if she had been an
unclean thing. But in that house of singular happenings one strange
matter more or less was nothing.

"The light of my eyes," Ravenspur murmured. "After Vera, the creature I
love best on earth. What should we do without her?"

"What, indeed?" Ralph said quietly. "I cannot see, but I can feel what
she is to all of you. Good-night, father, and thank you."

Ravenspur strode off with a not unkindly nod. As a matter of fact, he
was more moved by the return of the wanderer and his evident sufferings
and misfortunes than he cared to confess. He brooded over these strange
things till at length he lapsed into troubled and uneasy slumber.

The intense gripping silence deepened. Ralph Ravenspur still sat in the
ingle with his face bent upon the glowing logs as if he could see, and
as if he were seeking for some inspiration in the sparkling crocus
flame.

Then without making the slightest noise, he crept across the hall,
feeling his way along with his fingertips to the landing above.

He had made no idle boast. He knew every inch of the castle. Like a cat
he crept to his room, and there, merely discarding his coat and boots,
he took a blanket from the bed.

Into the corridor he stepped and then, lying down under the hangings of
Cordova leather, wrapped himself up cocoon fashion in his blanket and
dropped into a sound sleep. The mournful silence brooded, the rats
scratched behind the oaken panelled walls.

Then out of the throat of the darkness came a stifled cry. It was the
fighting rattle made by the strong man suddenly deprived of the power to
breathe.

Again it came, and this time more loudly, with a ring of despair in it.
In the dead silence it seemed to fill the whole house, but the walls
were thick, and beyond the corridor there was no cognisance of anything
being in the least wrong.

But the man in the blanket against the arras heard it, and struggled to
his feet. A long period of vivid personal danger had sharpened his
senses. His knowledge of woodcraft enabled him to locate the cry to a
yard.

"My father," he whispered. "I am only just in time."

He felt his way rapidly, yet noiselessly, along the few feet between his
resting-place and Ravenspur's room. Imminent as the peril was, he yet
paused to push his blanket out of sight As he came to the door of
Ravenspur's room the cry rose higher. He stooped, and then his fingers
touched something warm.

"Marion," he said; "I can catch the subtle fragrance of your hair."

The girl swallowed a scream. She was trembling from head to foot with
fear and excitement. It was dark, the cry from within was despairing,
the intense horror of it was dreadful.

"Yes, yes," she whispered hoarsely. '"I was lying awake and I heard it.
And that good old man told me today that his time was coming. I--I was
going to rouse the house. The door is locked."

"Do nothing of the sort. Stand aside."

The voice was low but commanding. Marion obeyed mechanically. With great
strength and determination Ralph flung himself against the door. At the
second assault the rusty iron bolt gave and the door flew open.

Inside, Ravenspur lay on his bed. By his bedside a night light cast a
feeble, pallid ray. There was nobody in the room besides Ravenspur
himself. He lay back absolutely rigid, a yellow hue was over his face
like a painted mask, his eyes were wide open, his lips twisted
convulsively. Evidently he was in some kind of cataleptic fit, and his
senses had not deserted him.

He was powerless to move, and made no attempt to do so. The man was
choking to death; and yet his limbs were rigid. A sickly, sweet odor
filled the room and caused Ralph to double up and gasp for breath. It
was as if the whole atmosphere were drenched with a fine spray of
chloroform. Marion stood in the doorway like a fascinated white statue
of fear and despair.

"What is it?" she whispered. "What is that choking smell?"

Ralph made no reply. He was holding his breath hard. There was a queer,
grinning smile on his face as he turned towards the window.

The fumbling, clutching, long hands rested for a moment on Ravenspurs
forehead, and the next moment there was a sound of smashing glass, as
with his naked fists Ralph beat in the lozenge-shaped windows.

A quick, cool draught of air rushed through the room, and the figure of
on the bed ceased to struggle.

"Come in," said Ralph. "There is no danger now."

Marion entered. She was trembling from head to foot; her face was like
death.

"What is it? What is it?" she cried. "Uncle Ralph, do you know what it
is?"

"That is a mystery," Ralph replied. "There is some fiend at work here. I
only guessed that the sickly odor was the cause of the mischief. You are
better, sir?"

Ravenspur was sitting up in bed. The color had come to his lips; he no
longer struggled to breathe.

"I am all right," he said. His eye beamed affectionately on Marion.
"Ever ready and ever quick, child, you saved my life from that nameless
horror."

"It was Uncle Ralph," said Marion. "I heard your cry, but Uncle Ralph
was here as soon as I was. And it was a happy idea of his to break the
window."

"It was that overpowering drug," said Ravenspur. "What it is and where
it came from must always remain a mystery. This is a new horror to haunt
me--and yet there were others who died in their beds mysteriously. I
awoke to find myself choking; I was stifled by that sweet smelling
stuff; I could feel that my heart was growing weaker. But go, my child;
you will catch your death of cold. Go to bed."

With an unsteady smile Marion disappeared. As she closed the door behind
her, Ravenspur turned and grasped his son's wrist fiercely.

"Do you know anything of this?" he demanded. "You are blind, helpless;
yet you were on the spot instantly. Do you know anything of this I say?"

Ralph shook his head.

"It was good luck," he said. "And how should I know anything? Ah! a
blind man is but a poor detective."

Yet as Ralph passed to his strange quarters, there was a queer look on
his face. The long, lean claws were crooked as if they were fastened
about the neck of some enemy, some foe to the death.

"The hem of the mystery," he muttered. "Patience, and prudence, and the
day shall come when I shall have it by the throat, and such a lovely
throat too!"



CHAPTER IV.--101 Brant Street.


There was nothing about the house to distinguish it from its stolid and
respectable neighbors. It had a dingy face, woodwork painted a dark red,
with the traditional brass knocker and bell-pull. The windows were hung
with curtains of the ordinary type, the venetian blinds were half-down,
which in itself is a sign of middle-class respectability. In the centre
of the red door was a small brass plate bearing the name of Dr. Sergius
Tchigorsky.

Not that Dr. Tchigorsky was a medical practitioner in the ordinary sense
of the word. No neatly-appointed 'pill-box' ever stood before 101; no
patient ever passed the threshold.

Tchigorsky was a savant and a traveller to boot; a man who dealt in
strange and out-of-the-way things; and the interior of his house would
have been a revelation to the top-hatted, frock-coated doctors and
lawyers and city men who elected to make their home in Brant-street W.

The house was crammed with curiosities and souvenirs of travel from
basement to garret. A large sky-lighted billiard-room at the back of the
house had been turned into a library and laboratory combined.

And here, when not travelling, Tchigorsky spent all his time, seeing
strange visitors from time to time, Mongolians, Hindoos, natives of
Tibet--for Tchigorsky was one of the three men who had penetrated to the
holy city of Lassa, and returned to tell the tale.

The doctor came into his study from his breakfast, and stood ruminating,
rubbing his hands before the fire. In ordinary circumstances he would
have been a fine man of over six feet in height.

But a cruel misfortune had curved his spine, while his left leg dragged
almost helplessly behind him, his hands were drawn up as if the muscles
had been cut and then knotted up again.

Tchigorsky had entered Lassa five years ago as a god who walks upright.
When he reached the frontier six months later he was the wreck he still
remained. And of those privations and sufferings Tchigorsky said
nothing. But there were times when his eyes gleamed and his breath came
short, and he pined for the vengeance yet to be his.

As to his face, it was singularly strong and intellectual. Yet it was
disfigured with deep seams checkered like a chessboard. We have seen
something like it before, for the marks were identical with those that
disfigured Ralph Ravenspur and made his face a horror to look upon.

A young man rose from the table where he was making some kind of an
experiment. He was a fresh-colored Englishman, George Abell by name, and
he esteemed it a privilege to call himself Tchigorsky's secretary.

"Always early and always busy," Tchigorsky said. "Is there anything in
the morning papers that is likely to interest me, Abel?"

"I fancy so," Abell replied thoughtfully. "You are interested in the
Ravenspur case?"

A lurid light leapt into the Russian's eyes. He seemed to be strangely
moved. He paced up and down the room, dragging his maimed limb after
him.

"Never more interested in anything in my life," he said. "You know as
much of my past as any man, but there are matters, experiences
unspeakable. My face, my ruined frame! Whence come these cruel
misfortunes? That secret will go down with me to the grave. Of that I
could speak to one man alone, and I know not whether that man is alive
or dead."

Tchigorsky's words trailed off into a rambling, incoherent murmur. He
was far away with his own gloomy and painful thoughts. Then he came back
to earth with a start. He stood with his back to the fireplace,
contemplating Abell.

"I am deeply interested in the Ravenspur case, as you know," he said. "A
malignant fiend is at work yonder--a fiend with knowledge absolutely
supernatural. You smile! I myself have seen the powers of darkness doing
the bidding of mortal man. All the detectives in Europe will never lay
hands upon the destroyer of the Ravenspurs. And yet, in certain
circumstances, I could."

"Then, in that case, sir, why don't you?"

"Do it? I said in certain circumstances. I have part of a devilish
puzzle; the other part is in the hands of a man who may be dead. I hold
half of the banknote; somebody else has the other moiety. Until we can
come together, we are both paupers. If I can find that other man, and he
has the nerve and the pluck he used to possess, the curse of the
Ravenspurs will cease. But, then, I shall never see my friend again."

"But you might solve the problem alone."

"Impossible. That man and myself made a most hazardous expedition in
search of dreadful knowledge. That formula we found. For the purposes of
safety, we divided it. And then we were discovered. Of what followed I
dare not speak; I dare not even think.

"I escaped from my dire peril, but I cannot hope that my comrade was so
fortunate. He must be dead. And without him I am as powerless as if I
knew nothing. I have no proof. Yet I know quite well who is responsible
for those murders at Ravenspur."

Abell stared at his chief in astonishment. He knew Tchigorsky too well
to doubt the evidence of his simple word. The Russian was too strong a
man to boast.

"You cannot understand," he said. "It is impossible to understand
without the inner knowledge that I possess, and even my knowledge is not
perfect. Were I to tell the part I know I should be hailed from one end
of England to the other as a madman. I should be imprisoned for
malignant slander. But if the other man turned up--if only the other man
should turn up!"

Tchigorsky broke into a rambling reverie again. When he emerged to
mundane matters once more he ordered Abell to read the paragraph
relating to the latest phase of the tragedy of the lost Ravenspur.

"It runs," said Abell. "'Another Strange Affair at Ravenspur Castle. The
mystery of this remarkable case still thickens. Late on Wednesday night
Mr. Rupert Ravenspur, the head of the family, was awakened by a choking
sensation and a total loss of breath. On attempting to leave his bed,
the unfortunate gentleman found himself unable to move.

"'He states that the room appeared to be filled with a fine spray of
some sickly, sweet drug or liquid that seemed to act upon him as
chloroform does on a subject with a weak heart. Mr. Ravenspur managed to
cry out, but the vapor held him down, and was slowly stifling him----"

"Ah!" Tchigorsky cried. "Ah! I thought so. Go on!"

His eyes were gleaming; his whole face glistened with excitement.

"'Providentially the cry reached the ears of another of the Ravenspurs.
This gentleman burst open his father's door, and noticing the peculiar,
pungent odor, had the good sense to break a window and admit air into
the room.

"'This prompt action was the means of saving the life of the victim, and
it is all the more remarkable because Ravenspur, a blind gentleman, who,
had just returned from foreign parts.'"

A cry--a scream, broke from Tchigorsky's lips. He danced about the room
like a madman. For the time being it was impossible for the astonished
secretary to determine whether this was joy or anguish.

"You are upset about something, sir," he said.

Tchigorsky recovered himself by a violent effort that left him trembling
like a reed swept by the wind. He gasped for breath.

"It was the madness of an overwhelming joy!" he cried. "I would
cheerfully have given ten years of my life for this information. Abell,
you will have to go to Ravenspur for me to-day."

Abell said nothing. He was used to these swift surprises.

"You are to see this Ralph Ravenspur, Abell," continued Tchigorsky. "You
are not to call at the castle; you are to hang about till you get a
chance of delivering my message unseen. The mere fact that Ralph
Ravenspur is blind will suffice for a clue to his identity. Look up the
timetable!"

Abell did so. He found a train to land him at Biston Junction, some ten
miles from his destination. Half an hour later he was ready to start.
From an iron safe Tchigorsky took a small object and laid it in Abell's
hand.

"Give him that," he said; "You are simply to say, 'Tchigorsky--Danger,'
and come away, unless Ralph Ravenspur desires speech with you. Now go,
and as you value your life do not lose that casket."

It was a small brass box no larger than a cigarette-case, rusty and
tarnished, and covered with strange characters, evidently culled from
some long-forgotten tongue.




CHAPTER V.--A Ray of Light.


A sense of expectation, an uneasy feeling of momentous event about to
happen, hung over the doomed Ravenspurs. For once, Marion appeared to
feel the strain. Her face was pale, and though she strove hard to regain
the old gentle gaiety, her eyes were red and swollen with weeping.

All through breakfast she watched Ralph in strange fascination. He
seemed to have obtained some kind of hold over her. Yet nothing could be
more patient, dull and stolid than the way in which he proceeded with
his meal. He appeared to dwell in an unseen world of his own; the
stirring events of the previous night had left no impression on him
whatever.

For the most part, they were a sad and silent party. The terror that
walked by night and day was stealing closer to them; it was coming in a
new and still more dreadful form. Accident or the intervention of
Providence had averted a dire tragedy. But it would come again.

Ravenspur made light of the matter. He spoke of the danger as something
past. Yet it was impossible wholly to conceal the agitation that filled
him. He saw Marion's pale, sympathetic face; he saw the heavy tears in
Vera's eyes, and a dreadful sense of his absolute impotence came upon
him.

"Let us forget it," he said, almost cheerfully. "Let us think no more of
the matter. No doubt, science can explain the new mystery."

"Never," Ralph said, in a thrilling whisper. "Science is powerless
here."

The speaker's sightless eyes were turned upwards; he seemed to be
thinking aloud rather than addressing the company generally. Marion
turned as if something had stung her.

"Uncle Ralph knows something that he conceals from us," she cried.

Ralph smiled. Yet he had the air of one who is displeased with himself.

"I know many things that are mercifully concealed from pure natures like
yours," he said. "But as to what happened last night, I am as much in
the dark as any of you. Ah! if I were not blind!"

A strained silence followed. One by one the company rose until the room
was deserted, save for Ralph, Ravenspur and his nephew Geoffrey. The
handsome lad's face was pale, his lips quivered.

"I am dreadfully disappointed, uncle," he observed.

"Meaning from your tone that you are disappointed with me, Geoff. Why?"

"Because you spoke at first as if you understood things. And then you
professed to be as ignorant as the rest of us. Oh, it is awful! I--I
would not care so much if I were less fond of Vera than I am. I love
her; I love her with my whole heart and soul. If you could only see the
beauty of her face you would understand.

"And yet when she kisses me goodnight, I am never sure that it is not
for the last time. I feel that I must wake up presently to find that all
is an evil dream. And we can do nothing, nothing, nothing but wait and
tremble, and--die."

Ralph had no reply; indeed there was no reply to this passionate
outburst. The blind man rose from the table and groped his way to the
door with those long hands that seemed to be always feeling for
something like the tentacles of an octopus.

"Come with me to your grandfather's room," he said. "I want you to lend
me your eyes for a time."

Geoffrey followed willingly.

The bedroom was exactly as Ravenspur had quitted it, for as yet the
housemaid had not been there.

"Now look round you carefully," said Ralph. "Look for something out of
the common. It may be a piece of rag, a scrap of paper, a spot of
grease, or a dab of some foreign substance on the carpet. Is there a
fire laid here?"

"No," Geoffrey replied. "The grate is a large, open one. I will see what
I can find."

The young fellow searched minutely. For some time no reward awaited his
pains. Then his eyes fell upon the hearthstone.

"I can only see one little thing," he said.

"In a business like this, there are no such matters as little things,"
Ralph replied. "A clue that might stand on a pin's point often leads to
great results. Tell me what it is that attracts your attention."

"A brown stain on the hearthstone. It is about the size of the palm of
one's hand. It looks very like a piece of glue dabbed down."

"Take a knife and scrape it up," said Ralph. He spoke slowly and
evidently under excitement well repressed. "Wrap it in your handkerchief
and give it to me. Has the stuff any particular smell?"

"Yes," said Geoffrey. "It has a sickly, sweet odor. I am sure that I
never smelt anything like it before."

"Probably not. There, I have no further need of your services, and I
know that Vera is waiting for you. One word before you go--you are not
to say a single word to a soul about this matter; not a single soul,
mind. And now I do not propose to detain you any longer."

Geoffrey retired with a puzzled air. When the echo of his footsteps had
died away, Ralph rose and crept out upon the leads. He was shivering
with excitement; there was a look of eager expectation, almost of
triumph, on his face.

He felt his way along the leads until he came to a group of chimneys,
about the centre one of which he fumbled with his hands for some time.

Then the look of triumph on his face grew more marked and stronger.

"Assurance doubly sure," he whispered. His voice croaked hoarsely with
excitement. "If I had only somebody here whom I could trust! If I told
anybody here whom I suspected they would rise like one person, and hurl
me into the moat. And I can do no more than suspect. Patience, patience,
and yet patience."

From the terrace came the sounds of fresh young voices. They were those
of Vera and Geoffrey talking almost gaily as they turned their steps
towards the granite cliffs. For the nerves of youth are elastic, and
they throw off the strain easily.

They walked along side by side until they came to the cliffs. Here the
rugged ramparts rose high with jagged indentations and rough hollows.
There were deep cups and fissures in the rocks where a regiment of
soldiers might lie securely hidden. For miles the gorse was flushed with
its golden glory.

"Let us sit down and forget our troubles," said Geoffrey. "How restful
the time if we could sail away in a ship, Vera, away to the ends of the
earth, where we could hide ourselves from this cruel vendetta and be at
peace. What use is the Ravenspur property to us when we are doomed to
die?"

Vera shuddered slightly, and the exquisite face grew pale.

"They might spare us," she said, plaintively. "We are young, and we have
done no harm to anybody. And yet I have not lost all faith. I feel
certain that Heaven above us will not permit this hideous slaughter to
continue."

She laid her trembling fingers in Geoffrey's hand, and he drew her close
to him and kissed her.

"It seems hard to look into your face and doubt it, dearest," he said.
"Even the fiend who pursues us would hesitate to destroy you. But I dare
not, I must not, think of it. If you are taken away I do not want to
live."

"Nor I either, Geoff. Oh, my feelings are similar to yours!"

The dark, violet eyes filled with tears, the fresh breeze from the sea
ruffled Vera's fair hair and carried her sailor-hat away up the cliff.
It rested, perched upon a gorse-bush overhanging one of the ravines or
cups in the rock. As Geoffrey ran to fetch the hat he looked over.

A strange sight met his astonished gaze. The hollow might have been a
small stone quarry at some time. Now it was lined with grass and moss,
and in the centre of the cup, which had no fissure or passage of any
kind, two men were seated bending down over a small shell or gourd
placed on a fire of sticks.

In ordinary circumstances there would have been nothing strange in this,
for the sight of peripatetic hawkers and tinkers along the cliffs was
not unusual.

From the shell on the ground a thick vapor was rising. The smell of it
floated on the air to Geoffrey's nostrils. He reeled back almost sick
and faint with the perfume and the discovery he had made. For that
infernal stuff had exactly the same smell as the pungent drug which had
come so near to destroying the life of Rupert Ravenspur only a few hours
before.

Here was something to set the blood tingling in the veins and the pulses
leaping with a mad excitement. From over the top of the gorse Geoffrey
watched with all his eyes. He saw the smoke gradually die away; he saw a
small mass taken from the gourd and carefully stowed away in a metal
box. Then the fire was kicked out, and all traces of it were
obliterated.

Geoffrey crept back to Vera, trembling from head to foot. He had made up
his mind what to do. He would say nothing of this strange discovery to
Vera; he would keep it for Ralph Ravenspur's ears alone. Ralph had been
in foreign parts, and might understand the enigma.

Meanwhile, it became necessary to get out of the Asiatics' way. It was
not prudent for them to know that a Ravenspur was so close. Vera looked
into Geoffrey's face, wondering.

"How pale you are!" she said. "And how long you have been!"

"Come and let us walk," said Geoffrey. "I--I twisted my ankle on a
stone, and it gave me a twinge or two. It's all right now. Shall we see
if we can get as far as Sprawl Point and back before luncheon?"

Vera rose to the challenge. She rather prided herself on her powers as a
walker. The exercise caused her to glow and tingle, and all the way it
never occurred to her how silent and abstracted Geoffrey had become.




CHAPTER VI.--Abell Carries Out His Errand.


When Ralph Ravenspur reached the basement, his whole aspect had changed.
For the next day or two he brooded about the house, mainly with his own
thoughts for company. He was ubiquitous. His silent, catlike tread
carried him noiselessly everywhere. He seemed to be looking for
something with those sightless eyes of his; those long fingers were
crooked as if about the throat of the great mystery.

He came into the library where Rupert Ravenspur and Marion were talking
earnestly. He dropped in upon them as if he had fallen from the clouds.
Marion started and laughed.

"I declare you frighten me," she said. "You are like a shadow--the
shadow of one's conscience."

"There can be no shadow on yours," Ralph replied. "You are too pure and
good for that. Never, never will you have cause to fear me."

"All the same, I wish you were less like a cat," Ravenspur exclaimed
petulantly, as Marion walked smilingly away. "Anybody would imagine that
you were part of the family mystery. Ralph, do you know anything?"

"I am blind," Ralph replied doggedly. "Of what use is a blind man?"

"I don't know. They say when one sense is lost the others are sharpened.
And you came home so mysteriously; you arrived at a critical moment for
me; you were at my door at the time when help was sorely needed. Again,
when you burst my door open you did the only thing that could have saved
me."

"Common-sense, sir. You were stifling, and I gave you air."

Ravenspur shook his head. He was by no means satisfied.

"It was the common-sense that is based upon practical experience. And
you prowl about in dark corners; you wander about the house in the dead
of night. You hint at a strange past; but as to that past you are dumb.
For Heaven's sake, if you know anything, tell me. The suspense is
maddening."

"I know nothing, and I am blind," Ralph repeated. "As to my past, that
is between me and my Maker. I dare not speak of it. Let me go my own
way, and do not interfere with me. And whatever you do or say, tell
nobody--nobody, mind--that you suspect me of knowledge of the family
trouble."

Ralph turned away abruptly and refused to say more. He passed from the
castle across the park slowly, but with the confidence of a man who is
assured of every step. The recollection of his boyhood's days stood him
in good stead. He could not see but he knew where he was, and even the
grim cliffs held no terrors for him.

He came at length to a certain spot where he paused. It was here years
ago that he had scaled the cliffs at the peril of his neck and found the
raven's nest. He caught the perfume of the heather and the crushed
fragrance of the wild thyme, but their scents were as nothing to his
nostrils.

For he had caught another scent that had brought him up all standing
with his head in the air. The odor was almost exhausted; there was
merely a faint suspicion of it, but at the same time it spoke to Ralph
as plainly as words.

He was standing near the hollow where Geoffrey had been two days ago. In
his mind's eye Ralph could see into this hollow. Years before he had
been used to lie there winter evenings when the brent and ducks were
coming in from the sea. He scrambled down sure-footed as a goat.

Then he proceeded to grope upon the grass with those long, restless
fingers. He picked up a charred stick or two, smelt it, and shook his
head. Presently his hand closed upon the burnt fragments of a gourd. As
Ralph raised this to his nostrils his eyes gleamed.

"I was certain of it," he muttered. "Two of the Bonzes have been here,
and they have been making the pie. If I could only see!"

As yet he had not heard of Geoffrey's singular discovery. There had been
no favorable opportunity of disclosing the secret.

Ralph retraced his steps moodily. For the present he was helpless. He
had come across the clue to the enigma, but only he knew of the
tremendous difficulties and dangers to be encountered before the heart
of the mystery could be revealed. He felt cast down and discouraged.
There was bitterness in his heart for those who had deprived him of his
precious sight.

"Oh, if I could only see!" he cried. "A week or month to look from one
eye into another, to strip off the mask and lay the black soul bare. And
yet if the one only guessed what I know, my life would not be worth an
hour's purchase! And if those people at the castle only knew that the
powers of hell--living, raging hell--were arrayed against them! But they
would not believe."

An impotent sigh escaped the speaker. Just for the moment his resolution
had failed him. It was some time before he became conscious of the fact
that some one was dogging his footsteps.

"Do you want to see me?" he demanded.

There was no reply for a moment. Abell came up cautiously. He looked
around him, but so far as he could a see he and Ravenspur were alone. As
a he caught sight of the latter's face he had no ground for further
doubt.

"I did want to see you and see you alone, sir," Abell replied. "I
believe I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Ralph Ravenspur?"

"The same, sir," Ralph said coldly. "You are a stranger to me."

"A stranger who brings a message from a friend. I was to see you alone,
and for two days I have been waiting for this opportunity. My employer
asks me to deliver this box into your hands."

At the same time Abell passed the little brass case into Ralph's hand.
As his fingers closed upon it, a great light swept over his face; a
hoarse shout came from lips that turned from red to blue, and then to
white and red again, just as Tchigorsky had behaved when he discovered
that this man still lived.

"Who gave you this, and what is your message?" Ravenspur panted.

"The message," said Abell, "was merely this: I was to give you the box
and say, 'Tchigorsky--Danger,' and walk away, unless you detained me."

"Then my friend Tchigorsky is alive?"

"Yes, sir; it is my privilege to be his private secretary."

"A wonderful man," Ralph cried; "perhaps the most wonderful man in
Europe. And to think that he is alive! If an angel had come down from
heaven and asked me to crave a boon, I should have asked to have
Tchigorsky in the flesh before me. You have given me new heart of grace;
you are like water in a dry land. This is the happiest day I have known
since----"

The speaker paused and mumbled something incoherent. But the stolid
expression had gone from his scarred face, and a strange, triumphant
happiness reigned in its stead. He seemed years younger, his step had
grown more elastic; there was a fresh, broad ring in his voice.

"Tchigorsky will desire to see me," he said. "Indeed, it is absolutely
essential that we should meet, and that without delay. A time of danger
lies before us--danger that the mere mortal does not dream of. Take this
to Tchigorsky and be careful of it."

He drew from a chain inside his vest a small case, almost identical to
the one that Abell had just handed to him, save that it was silver,
while the other was brass. On it were the same queer signs and symbols.

"That will convince my friend that the puzzle is intact," he continued.
"We hold the key to the enigma--nay, the key to the past and future. But
all this is so much Greek to you. I will come and see my friend on
Friday, but not in the guise of Ralph Ravenspur."

"What am I to understand by that, sir?" Abell asked.

"It matters nothing what you understand," Ralph cried. "Tchigorsky will
know. Tell him 7.15 at Euston on Friday, not in the guise of Ravenspur
or Tchigorsky. He will read between the lines. Go and be seen with me no
more."

Ralph strode off with his head in the air. His blood was singing in his
ears; his pulses were leaping with a new life.

"At last!" he murmured; "after all these years for myself and my kin! At
last!"




CHAPTER VII.--More Light.


There was a curious, eager flush on Ralph Ravenspur's face. He rose from
his seat and paced the room restlessly. Those long fingers were
incessantly clutching at something vague and unseen. And, at the same
time, he was following the story that Geoffrey had to tell with the
deepest attention.

"What does it mean, uncle?" the young man asked at length.

"I cannot tell you," Ralph replied. His tones were hard and cold. "There
are certain things no mortal can understand unless----; but I must not
go into that. It may be that you have touched the fringe of the
mystery----"

"I am certain that we are on the verge of a discovery!" Geoffrey cried
eagerly. "I am sure that stuff those strangers were making was the same
as the drug or whatever it was that came so near to making an end of my
grandfather. If I knew what to do!"

"Nothing--do nothing, as you hope for the future!"

The words came hissing from Ralph's lips. He felt his way across to
Geoffrey and laid a grip on his arm that seemed to cut like a knife.

"Forget it!" he whispered. "Fight down the recollection of the whole
thing; do nothing based upon your discovery. I cannot say more, but I am
going to give you advice worth much gold. Promise me that you will
forget this matter; that you will not mention it to a soul. Promise!"

Geoffrey promised, somewhat puzzled and dazed. Did Ralph know
everything, or was he as ignorant as the rest?

"I will do what you like," said Geoffrey. "But it is very hard. Can't
you tell me a little more? I am brave and strong."

"Courage and strength have nothing to do with it. A nation could do
nothing in this case. I am going to London to-day."

"You are going to London alone?"

"Why not? I came here from the other side of the world alone. I have to
see a doctor about my eyes. No, there is no hope that I can ever recover
my sight again; but it is possible to allay the pain they give me."


Ralph departed. A dogcart deposited him at Biston Junction, and then the
servant saw him safely into the London train. But presently Ralph
alighted, and a porter guided him to a cab. A little later and the blind
man was knocking at the door of a cottage in the poorer portion of the
town.

A short man, with a seafaring air, opened the door.

"Is it you? Elphick?" Ralph asked.

The short man with the resolute face and keen, grey eyes exclaimed with
pleasure:

"So you've got back at last, sir. Come in, sir. I knew you'd want me
before long."

Ralph Ravenspur felt his way to a chair. James Elphick stood watching
him with something more than pleasure in his eyes.

"We have no time to spare," Ralph exclaimed. "We must be in London
to-night, James. I am going up to see Dr. Tchigorsky."

"Dr. Tchigorsky!" Elphick exclaimed. "Didn't I always say as how he'd
get through? The man who'd get the best of him ain't born yet. But it
means danger, sir."

"Danger you do not dream of," Ralph said impressively. "But I cannot
discuss this with you, James. You are coming with me to London. Get the
disguise out, and let me see if your hand still retains its cunning."

Apparently it had, for an hour later there walked from the cottage
towards the station an elderly, stout man, with white hair and beard and
whiskers. His eyes were guarded by tinted glasses; the complexion of the
face was singularly clear and ruddy. All trace of those cruel
criss-cross lines had gone. Wherever Elphick had learned his art, he had
not failed to learn it thoroughly.

"It's perfect; though I say it as shouldn't," he remarked. "It's no use,
sir; you can't get on without me. If I'd gone with you to Lassa, all
that horrible torture business would never have happened."

Ralph Ravenspur smiled cautiously. The stiff dressing on his face made a
smile difficult in any case.

"At all events, I shall want you now," he said.

It was nearly seven when the express train reached Euston. Ralph stood
on the great bustling, echoing platform as if waiting for something. An
exclamation from Elphick attracted his attention.

"There's the doctor as large as life!" he said.

"Tchigorsky!" Ralph cried. "Surely not in his natural guise. Oh, this is
reckless folly! Does he court defeat at the outset of our enterprise?"

Tchigorsky bustled up. For some reason or other he chose to appear in
his natural guise. Not till they were in the cab did Ravenspur venture
to expostulate.

"Much learning has made you mad," he said bitterly.

"Not a bit of it," the Russian responded. "Unfortunately for me the
priests of Lassa have discovered that I am deeply versed in their
secrets. Not that they believe for a moment that Tchigorsky and the
Russian who walked the valley of the Red Death are one and the same.
They deem me to be the recipient of that unhappy man's early
discoveries. But your identity remains a secret. The cleverest eyes in
the world could never penetrate your disguise."

"It comforts me to hear that," Ralph replied. "Everything depends upon
my identity being concealed. Once it is discovered, every Ravenspur is
doomed. But I cannot understand why you escape recognition at the hands
of the foe."

A bitter smile came over Tchigorsky's face.

"Can you not?" he said. "If you had your eyes you would understand. Man,
I have been actually in the company of those who flung me into the
valley of the Red Death and they have not known me. After that I stood
in the presence of my own mother, and she asked who I was.

"The marks on my face? Well, there are plenty of explorers who have been
victims to the wire helmet and have never dreamt of entering Lassa. I am
a broken, bowed, decrepit wreck, I who was once so proud of my inches.
The horrors of that one day have changed me beyond recognition. But you
know."

Ralph shuddered from head to foot. A cold moisture stood on his
forehead.

"Don't," he whispered. "Don't speak of it. When the recollection comes
over me I have to hold on to my senses, as a shipwrecked sailor clings
to a plank. Never mind the past--the future has peril and danger enough.
You know why I am here?"

"To save your house from the curse upon it. To bring the East and West
together, and tell of the vilest conspiracy the world has ever seen. Do
you know who the guilty creature is, whose hand is actually striking the
blow?"

"I think so; in fact I am sure of it. But who would believe my
accusation?"

"Who, indeed? But we shall be in a position to prove our case, now that
the secrets of the prison-house lie before us. We have three to fear."

"Yes, yes," said, Ralph. "The two Bonzes--who have actually been seen
near Ravenspur--and the Princess Zara. Could she recognise me?"

Ralph asked the question in almost passionate entreaty.

"I am certain she could not," Tchigorsky replied. "Come, victory shall
be ours yet. Here we are at my house at last. By the way, you have a
name. You shall be my cousin, Nicholas Tchigorsky, a clever savant, who,
by reason of a deplorable accident, has become both blind and dumb.
Allons."




CHAPTER VIII.--A Master of Fence.


Lady Mallowbloom's reception rooms were more than usually crowded. And
every other man or woman in the glittering salon was a celebrity. There
was a strong sprinkling of the aristocracy to leaven the lump; here and
there the flash of red cloth and gold could be seen.

In his quiet, masterly style Tchigorsky pushed his way up the stairs.
Ralph Ravenspur followed, his hand upon the Russian's arm. He could feel
the swish of satin draperies go by him; he caught the perfume on the
warm air.

"Why do you drag me here?" he grumbled. "I can see nothing; it only
bewilders me. I should have been far happier in your study."

"You mope too much," Tchigorsky said gaily. "To mingle with one's
fellows is good at times. I know so many people who are here to-night."

"And I know nobody; add to which circumstances compel me to be dumb.
Place me in some secluded spot with my back to the wall, and then enjoy
yourself for an hour. I dare say I shall manage to kill the time."

There were many celebrities in the brilliantly-lighted room, and
Tchigorsky indicated a few. A popular lady novelist passed on the arm of
a poet on her way to the buffet.

"A wonderful woman," the fair authoress was saying. "Eastern and full of
mystery, you know. Did you notice the eyes of the Princess?"

"Who could fail to?" was the reply. "They say that she is quite five and
forty, and yet she would easily pass for eighteen, but for her knowledge
of the world. Your Eastern Princess is one of the most fascinating women
I have ever seen."

Others passed, and had the same theme. Ralph stirred to a faint
curiosity.

"Who is the new marvel?" he asked.

"I don't know," Tchigorsky admitted. "The last new lion, I suppose. Some
pretty Begum or the wife of some Oriental whose dark eyes appear to have
fired society. By the crowd of people coming this way I presume the
dusky beauty is among them. If so, she has an excellent knowledge of
English."

A clear, sweet voice arose. At the first sound of it, Ralph jumped to
his feet and clutched at his throat as if something choked him. He shook
with a great agitation; a nameless fear had him in a close grip.

"Do you recognise the voice?" Ralph gasped.

The Russian was not unmoved. But his agitation was quickly suppressed.
He forced Ralph down in his seat again.

"You will have to behave better than that if you are to be a trusty ally
of mine," he said. "Come, that is better! Sit still; she is coming this
way."

"I'm all right now," Ralph replied. "The shock of finding myself in the
presence of Princess Zara was overpowering. Have no fear for me."

A tall woman, magnificently dressed, was making her way towards
Tchigorsky. Her face was the hue of old ivory, and as fine; her great
lustrous eyes gleamed brightly; a mass of hair was piled high on a
daintily-poised head. The woman might have been extremely young so far
as the touch of time was concerned, but the easy self-possession told
another tale.

The red lips tightened for an instant, a strange gleam came into the
dark, magnetic eyes as they fell upon Tchigorsky. Then the Indian
Princess advanced with a smile, and held out her hand to the Russian.

"So you are still here?" she said.

There was the suggestion of a challenge in her tones. Her eyes met those
of Tchigorsky as the eyes of two swordsmen might meet. There was a
tigerish playfulness underlying the words, a call-note of significant
warning.

"I still take the liberty of existing," said Tchigorsky.

"You are a brave man, doctor. Your friend here?"

"Is my cousin, Nicholas Tchigorsky. The poor fellow is blind and dumb,
as the result of a terrible accident. Best not to notice him."

The Princess shrugged her beautiful shoulders as she dropped gracefully
into a seat.

"I heard you were in London," she said, "and something told me that we
should meet sooner or later. You are still interested in occult
matters?"

Again Ralph detected the note of warning in the speech. He could see
nothing of the expression on that perfect face; but he could judge it
fairly well.

"I am more interested in occult matters than ever," Tchigorsky said
gravely, "especially in certain discoveries placed in my hands by a
traveller in Tibet."

"Ah! that was your fellow-countryman. He died, you know!"

"He was murdered in the vilest manner. But before the end, he managed to
convey important information to me."

"Useless information unless you had the key."

"There was one traveller who found the key, you remember?"

"True, doctor. He also, I fancy, met with an accident that,
unfortunately, resulted in his death."

Ralph shuddered slightly. Princess Zara's tones were hard as steel. If
she had spoken openly and callously of this man being murdered, she
could not have expressed the same thing more plainly. A beautiful woman,
a fascinating one; but a woman with no heart and no feeling where her
hatreds were concerned.

"It is just possible I have the key," said Tchigorsky.

The eyes of the Princess blazed for moment. Then she smiled.

"Dare you use it?" she asked. "If you dare, then all the secrets of
heaven and hell are yours. For four thousand years the priests of the
temple at Lassa and the heads of my family have solved the future. You
know what we can do. We are all-powerful for evil. We can strike down
our foes by means unknown to your boasted Western science. They are all
the same to us, proud potentate, ex-meddling doctor."

There was a menace in the last words. Tchigorsky smiled.

"The meddling doctor has already had personal experience," he said. "I
carry the marks of my suffering to the grave. I remember how your
peasants treated me, and this does not tend to relax my efforts."

"And yet you might die at any moment. If you persist in your studies you
will have to die. The eyes of Western men must not look upon the secrets
of the priests of Lassa and live. Be warned, Dr. Tchigorsky; be warned
in time. You are brave and clever, and as such command respect. If you
know anything and proclaim it to the world----"

"Civilization will come as one man, and no stone in Lassa shall stand on
another. Your priests will be butchered like wild beasts; an internal
plague spot will be wiped off the face of the outraged earth!"

The Princess caught her breath swiftly. Just for one moment there was
murder in her eyes. She held her fan as if it were a dagger ready for
the Russian's heart.

"Why should you do this thing?" she asked.

"Because your knowledge is diabolical," Tchigorsky replied. "In the
first place, all who are in the secret can commit murder with impunity.
As the Anglo-Saxon pushes on to the four corners of the earth that
knowledge must become public property. I am going to stop that if I
can."

"And if you die in the meantime? You are bold to rashness. And yet there
are many things that you do not know."

"The longer I live the more glaring my ignorance becomes. I do not know
whence you derive your perfect mastery of the English tongue. But I do
know that I am going to see this business through."

"Man proposes, but the arm of the priest is long."

"Ah! I understand. I may die tonight. I should not mind. Still, let us
argue the matter out. Say that I have already solved the whole weird
business. I write twenty detailed statements; I enclose the key in each.
These statements I address to a score of the leading savants in Europe.

"Then I place them in, say, a safe deposit until my death. I write to
each of those wise men a letter with an enclosure not to be opened till
I die. That enclosure contains a key to my safe, and presently in that
safe all those savants find a packet addressed to themselves. In a week
all Europe would ring with my wonderful discoveries. Think of the
outcry, the wrath, the indignation!"

The Princess smiled. She could appreciate a stratagem like this. With
dull, stolid and averted face, Ralph Ravenspur listened and wondered. He
heard the laugh that came from the lips of the Princess; he detected the
vexation underlying it. Tchigorsky was a foeman worthy of her steel.

"That you propose to do?"

"A question you will pardon me for not answering," said Tchigorsky. "You
have made your move and I have made mine. Whether I am going to do the
thing, or whether I have done so, remains to be seen. Whether you dare
risk my death now is a matter for you to decide. Check to your king."

Again the Princess smiled. She looked searchingly into Tchigorsky's
face, as if she would fain read his very soul. But she saw nothing there
but the dull eyes of a man who keeps his feelings behind a mask. Then,
with a flirt of her fan and a more careless mocking curtsey, she turned
to go.

"You are a fine antagonist," she said; "but I do not admit yet that you
are check to my king. I shall find a way. Good-night!"

She turned and plunged into the glittering crowd, and was seen no more.
A strange fit of trembling came over Ravenspur as Tchigorsky led him
out.

"That woman stifles me," he said. "If she had only guessed who had been
seated so near to her! Tchigorsky, you played your cards well."

Tchigorsky smiled.

"I was glad of that opportunity," he said. "She meant to have me
murdered; but she will hesitate for a time. We have one great
advantage--we know what we have to face, and she does not. The men are
on the board, the cards are on the table. It is you and I against
Princess Zara and the two priests of the temple of Lassa. And we play
for the lives of a good and innocent family."

"We do," Ralph said grimly. "But why--why does this fascinating Asiatic
come all those miles to destroy one by one a race that she can scarcely
have heard of? Why does she do it, Tchigorsky?"

"You have not guessed who the Princess is, then?"

Tchigorsky bent down and whispered three words in Ralph's ear. And not
until Brant-street was reached had Ralph come back from his amazement to
the land of speech.




CHAPTER IX.--April Days.


The terror never lifted now from the old house. There were days and
weeks when nothing happened, but the garrison did not permit itself to
believe that the unseen enemy had abandoned the unequal contest.

The old people were prepared for the end which they believed to be
inevitable. A settled melancholy was upon them, and it was only when
they were together that anything like a sense of security prevailed. For
the moment they were safe--there was always safety in numbers.

But when they parted for the night they parted as comrades on the eve of
a bloody battle. They might meet again, but the chances were strong
against it. For themselves they cared nothing; for the younger people,
everything.

It was fortunate that the fine constitutions and strong nerves of
Geoffrey and Vera and Marion kept them going. A really imaginative man
or woman would have been driven mad by the awful suspense. But Geoffrey
was bright and sunny; he always felt that the truth would come to light
some day. And his buoyant sanguine nature reacted on the others.

Nearly a month had elapsed since the weird attempt on the life of Rupert
Ravenspur; four weeks since Geoffrey's strange experience on the cliffs;
and nothing had happened. The family had lapsed once more into their
ordinary mode of living; blind Ralph was back again, feeling his way
about the castle as usual, silent, moody, in the habit of gliding in
upon people as a snake comes through the grass.

Ralph came in to breakfast, creeping to his chair without touching
anything, dropping into it as if he had fallen from the clouds. Marion,
next to him, shuddered. They were quite good friends, these two, but
Marion was slightly afraid of her uncle. His secret ways repelled her;
he had a way of talking with his sightless eyes upturned; he seemed to
understand the unspoken thoughts of others.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

Marion laughed. None of the others had come down yet.

"What should be the matter?" she replied.

"Well, you shuddered. You should be sorry for me, my dear. Some of these
days I mean to tell you the story of my life. Oh, yes, it will be a
story--what a story! And you will never forget it as long as you live."

There was something uncanny in the words--a veiled threat, the
suggestion of one who had waited for a full revenge, with the knowledge
that the time would come. Yet the scarred face was without expression:
the eyes were vacant.

"Will you not tell me now?" Marion asked softly. "I am so sorry for
you."

The sweet, thrilling sympathy would have moved a stone, but it had no
effect upon Ralph. He merely caressed Marion's slim fingers and smiled.
It was significant of his extraordinary power that he found Marion's
hand without feeling for it. He was given to touch those slim fingers.
And yet he never allowed Marion to kiss him.

"All in good time," he said; "but not yet, not yet."

Before Marion could reply, Mrs. Gordon Ravenspur came into the room.
Marion seemed to divine more than see that something had happened. She
jumped to her feet and crossed the room.

"Dear aunt," she said quickly. "What is it?"

"Vera," Mrs. Gordon replied. "She called me into her room just now
saying she was feeling far from well. I had hardly got into her room
before she fainted. I have never known Vera do such a thing before."

Ralph was sitting and drumming his fingers on the table as if the
subject had not the slightest interest for him. But, with the swiftness
of lightning, a strange, hard, cunning expression flashed across his
face and was gone. When Marion turned to him he had vanished also. It
almost seemed as if he had the gift of fernseed.

"A mere passing weakness," Marion said soothingly.

"I should like to think so," Mrs. Gordon replied. "In normal
circumstances I should think so. But not now; not now, Marion."

Marion sighed deeply. There were times when even she was oppressed.

"I'll go and see Vera," she said. "I am sure there is no cause for
alarm."

Marion slipped rapidly away up the stone stairs and along the echoing
corridor towards Vera's room. She was smiling now, and she kissed her
hand to the dead and gone Ravenspurs frowning upon her from the walls.
Then she burst gaily into Vera's room.

"My dear child," she cried, "you really must not alarm us by----"

She paused suddenly. Vera, fully dressed, was seated in a chair, whilst
Ralph was by her side. He seemed more alive than usual; he had been
saying something to Vera that had brought the color to her face. As
Marion entered he grew grave and self-contained; like a snail retreating
into its shell, Marion thought. He sat down, and tattooed with his
fingers on the dressing-table.

"I had no idea you had company," Marion smiled.

"I intruded," Ralph said gravely. There was a sardonic inflection in his
voice. "Yet I flatter myself that Vera is the better for my attention."

Marion looked swiftly from one to the other. She was puzzled. Almost
flawless as she was, she had her minor weaknesses, or she had been less
charming than she was, and she hated to be puzzled. Vera was no longer
pale and all signs of languor had departed, yet she looked confused, and
there was the trace of a blush on her cheeks.

"Sometimes I fancy that Uncle Ralph is laughing at us all," she said,
with a laugh that was not altogether natural. "But I am all right now,
dear Marion. Save for a racking headache, I am myself again."

Marion, solicitous for others always, flew for her smelling salts. In
three strides Ralph was across the floor, and had closed the door behind
her. His manner had instantly changed, he was fully of energy and
action.

"Take this," he whispered. "Take it and the cure will he complete. Crush
it up between your teeth and drink a glass of water afterwards."

He forced a small, white pellet between Vera's teeth; he heard her teeth
crushing it. With his peculiar gift for finding things, he crossed over
to the washstand and returned with a glass of water.

"You are better?" he asked, as Vera gulped the water down.

"Oh, yes, uncle. Are you a wizard or what? My headache seems to have
lifted from me as one takes off a hat. The stuff you gave me----"

"Say no more about it; think no more about it. But whenever the same
feeling comes over you again let me know at once. And you are not to
mention this to anybody."

"But my mother and Geoffrey, and----"

"Ah! you love Geoffrey? But there is no need to ask you the question.
You want to rid the house of its nameless terror; you want to be free,
to marry Geoffrey and be happy. Dear child, all these things will come
if you listen to me. I swear it. And now, will you promise me that you
will say nothing of this to a soul?"

"Dear uncle, I promise."

Ralph had grown cold and moody again. When Marion returned with her
salts he slipped out of the room as callously as if he were not in the
least interested. And while many anxious eyes followed Vera at breakfast
time, Ralph alone was indifferent, brutally indifferent, Marion thought.

"Are you thinking of the same thing that we are?" she asked.

"No," Ralph said shortly. "I was thinking what poor bacon this is."




CHAPTER X.--A Little Sunshine.


After luncheon, Geoffrey was leaning over the stone balustrade of the
terrace waiting for Vera. Beyond a slight restlessness and extra
brilliancy of the eye she was better. She had proposed a ramble along
the cliffs and Geoffrey had assented eagerly.

His anxiety was fading away like the ashes of his cigarette. At first he
had been inclined to imagine that Vera's indisposition had been a move
on the part of the unseen foe. But he put this idea from him as
illogical. The enemy was not in the habit of using the gloved hand like
this. He struck down fiercely and remorselessly.

"No," Geoffrey murmured aloud; "Vera could not have been spared!"

A gentle hand was laid upon his arm. Marion stood beside him. They were
alone at that angle of the terrace and unseen from the house.

"You are right," said Marion. "Don't worry about that anymore."

Geoffrey nodded approvingly. He slipped his arm round Marion's waist and
kissed her in a brotherly fashion. Marion inclined towards him with
half-closed eyes and a brightened color. Her limbs trembled; the
pressure of her lips was warm and sweet.

"Dear little sister," Geoffrey murmured. "What should we do without
you?"

Marion drew herself away abruptly. She rested her clasped hands over the
stone balcony so that Geoffrey should not see their unsteadiness; her
flushed face was half averted. It was a taking, a perfect picture.

"What would Vera say?" she asked.

"As if Vera would mind! Don't we all love you the same? And how many
times has Vera seen me kiss you? If there were no Vera, little sister,
then you may be sure that I should have kissed you in a different way!"

Marion laughed at the easy impertinence. That Geoffrey had no real love
or passion for anybody but Vera she knew perfectly well. She laughed
again but there was nothing spontaneous in it; indeed, anybody but a
youthful egotist in love could have detected a certain jarring note of
pain.

"Here is Vera," said Geoffrey. "Let us ask her."

They put it to her merrily. They might have been in a world beyond all
sorrow or suffering. The music of their fresh young voices floated in
the air. Then Marion bent over the balustrade and watched the lovers out
of sight. Her face grew hard; a veil of heavy years seemed to have
fallen over it.

"If he only knew!" she said; "If he only knew! Why are clever people
often so foolish? And why do they commit follies with their eyes wide
open? Well, it doesn't matter, for you will never know, dear Geoffrey,
how passionately and devotedly I love you. And you never, never know
when temptation and inclination and opportunity go together. And I don't
believe that anybody could resist temptation if he or she were certain
not to be found out!"

"I am perfectly sure they wouldn't."

Marion turned with a stifled cry on her lips. Ralph Ravenspur was behind
her. The expression on his face was wooden and emotionless.

"I hope you have not been listening to me," she said reproachfully.

"I have been watching you, or rather feeling your presence for some
time," Ralph admitted. "I have been here since those young people went
away. But you said nothing; at least, nothing I heard until that bit of
worldly wisdom dropped from your lips."

"It was an unworthy thought, Uncle Ralph."

"It might be unworthy of you, my dear; but I fancy it is true. Even the
very best of people give way to temptation. Put it away from you; don't
dwell upon your temptation, or it may get you into trouble."

"My temptation! Do you mean to say you know what it is?"

"I do," said Ralph. "You are deeply in love with your cousin Geoffrey.
There is wild blood in your veins, and that blood will out unless you
keep your feelings well under control. Ah! you may stare and look
dismayed, which I am sure you are doing, although I cannot see you. Yes;
there is always the temptation to pray that the family foe might remove
Vera from your path."

A piteous cry came from Marion's lips. Who was this man who knew so much
and could probe her secret soul? Yet he was blind; he could not see. Was
it possible that some such horrible thoughts had crossed Marion's mind?
Atrocious thoughts will come to the best of us unasked for, unsought.

"Oh, you are cruel!" she said.

"Perhaps I am," Ralph admitted. "You see, I live in a dark world of my
own, and I have small belief in the virtues of my fellow creatures. But
you are an angel, and I have amused myself by searing your wings."

"Is that because you think my secret is a shameful one?"

"Not in the least. Who can help the wayward driftings of a woman's
heart? And, anyway, your secret is safe with me."

He felt for Marion's fingers and put them to his lips. Before the girl
could reply he had drifted away, apparently feeling his way into space.
And for a long time Marion stood there gazing out to sea.

*    *    *    *    *    *

Meanwhile, the lovers had forgotten everything but the beauty of the
day, and that the world was for themselves alone. The sun shone for
them, for them the blue sea thundered in white battalions against the
cliffs; for them the lark poured out its song at the gate of heaven, and
the heather bloomed on moor and headland.

They strolled along until they came to a favored spot where the gorse
flowered in yellow fires, and the crushed wild thyme was pungent under
their feet. Here Geoffrey threw himself on the turf, and Vera reclined
by his side.

He could touch her hands, and toy with the little ripples of her hair.
To watch the play of those pretty features and look back the love he saw
in those great starry eyes was a thing without alloy.

"Ah, me! If we could always be like this!" Vera said.

"You and I would be happy in any circumstances," said Geoffrey
thoughtfully. "Only I should like to see something of the world."

"What, go away and leave me all alone, dearest?"

Geoffrey smiled at the innocent coquetry. He touched the smooth, satin
cheek caressingly. Vera only wanted him to disclaim any such intention
and he knew it, too. There was no deception about the matter, but they
were none the less happy for that.

"Of course not," Geoffrey declared. "I should take you with me wherever
I went. If we could only get the bar removed I should like to travel. I
should like to see men and cities, and measure my strength with my
fellows. I should like to go into Parliament. Ah! If we could only get
the bar removed!"

"If we only could," Vera sighed. "But I can't imagine that they will
touch us. We are so young and so innocent of wrong-doing. And yet this
morning----"

Vera paused, half-afraid of betraying Ralph Ravenspur's confidence.

"Only this morning you were a bit afraid. Confess it."

"I was, Geoff. I felt strange when I awoke in the night. I felt cold and
like death when I awoke to-day; and then I fainted."

"But you are all right now, darling," Geoff said anxiously.

"Yes, dear; I never felt better. Still, it was a strange thing
altogether. I was well when I went to bed, but in the night I had a
curious dream. It seemed to me that I was lying half asleep with a
singular pricking sensation of my lips and face. An then an angel came
down and laid some white powder that looked like a mixture of salt and
powdered glass. Almost immediately the pain ceased, and I slept again.
Then I awoke finally and had that fainting fit. Don't you think it was a
queer thing?"

"Yes; but what had the dream and the powder to do with it, little girl?"

"I was coming to that, Geoff. After I got better I remembered my dream
and looked at the pillow. You smile, thinking that only a woman would do
that. Sure enough there was some trace of gritty powder there, and I
collected it in a tissue paper. Directly I got it to the light half of
it melted; it seemed to dissolve in light like water. And here it is."

Vera produced a tiny packet from her pocket and opened it. There were
several grains of some sharp powder there which, as Geoffrey held them
in his hand dissolved to nothingness. His face was very pale.

"Darling, this is a dreadful thing," he murmured. "I fancy----"

He paused, fearful of alarming Vera. He saw the hand of fate in this; he
saw the sword that was hanging over that beloved young life.

A passion of anger and despair filled him, but for Vera's sake he
checked the feeling. And it seemed to him as if he had passed in a
minute down a decade of years; as if in that brief space he had left his
boyhood behind and become a man.

"This must be looked into," he said sternly. "Every precaution----"

"Has been taken," Vera said quietly. "We have a protector among us,
dearest. One who is worth all the precautions put together. Do not fear
for me, and do not ask me any questions, because I must not answer them.
But I am safe."

Geoffrey nodded. The cloud slowly lifted from his forehead. Vera was
speaking of her uncle Ralph, and there was no reason to ask any
questions. Was it possible, Geoffrey wondered, that Ralph Ravenspur had
gone to the heart of the mystery, that it was wrapped up in his life,
and that he had come home to solve it?

But of this he said nothing. He resolved to render every assistance.
This vile thing was the work of earthly hands, and earthly ingenuity
could solve it. Never was there cipher invented that was incapable of
solution.

Geoffrey drew Vera to his side and kissed her passionately. For a little
time she lay in his arms in absolute content. Her smiling eyes were
clear, her features placid. In any case she feared no unseen danger.
There must be some great sheltering power behind her, or she had never
looked so sweet and placid as that.

"I could not do without you, darling," Geoffry said.

"And you are not going to do without me," Vera smiled. "There is much
yet to be done, but it is going to be accomplished, dearest. Something
tells me that the hour of our freedom is at hand. And something also
tells me, Geoff, that you are going to have a great deal to do with it."

They came at length up the slope leading to the castle. And there Ralph
came upon them in his own noiseless mysterious fashion. He clung to them
until Vera had entered the house, and then led Geoffrey to the terrace.

"There is nobody within earshot of us?" he demanded.

Geoffrey assured him there was not. He was impressed with the
earnestness of his uncle's manner. He had never seen him so moved
before.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked.

"Much," was the whispered reply. "If you are bold and resolute."

"I am; I am. I would lay down my life as the martyrs of old did to solve
the mystery."

"Ah!" Ralph said in a dry, croaking whisper. "I felt sure I could trust
you. There is a great danger and it is near. In that danger I want a
pair of eyes. Lend me yours."

"Dear uncle, I will do anything you please."

"Good. I like the ring in your voice. At half-past eleven to-night I
will come to your room. There I will confide in you. Till then, absolute
silence."




CHAPTER XI.--Another Stroke in the Darkness.


Contrary to the usual custom, there was almost a marked cheerfulness at
Ravenspur the same evening. The dread seemed to have lifted slightly,
though nobody could say why, even if they cared to analyse, which they
certainly did not. And all this because it had seemed to the doomed race
that Vera was marked down for destruction, and that the tragedy, the
pitiful, tragedy, had been averted.

It is hardly possible to imagine a state of mind like this. And Vera
half-divined the reason for this gentle gaiety. She might have told them
differently had she chosen to do so, but for many reasons she refrained.

She did not even tell her mother. Why draw the veil aside when even a
few hours' peace stood between them and the terror which sooner or later
must sap the reason of every one there? Besides, Uncle Ralph had pledged
her to the utmost secrecy.

For once Rupert Ravenspur had abandoned his stony air. He sat at the
head of the long table in the dining room, where the lamplight streamed
upon fruit and flowers and crystal, upon priceless china, and silver
from the finest workshops in the world.

Grinling Gibbons and Inigo Jones had tolled in that dining-hall as a
labor of love; a famous master had painted the loves of the angels on
the roof. Between the oak panels were paintings by Van Dyck, Cuyp, and
the rest of them. And over the floor servants in livery moved swiftly.
Rupert Ravenspur might have been a monarch entertaining some of his
favored subjects. It was almost impossible to believe that a great
sorrow could be brooding here. There was everything that the heart of
the most luxurious could demand. Strangers might have looked on and
envied. But the stately old man who called all this his own would gladly
have changed lots with the humblest hind on the estate.

Now and then Rupert came out of his reverie and smiled. But his
tenderest smile and his warmest word were for Vera, whom he had placed
on his right hand. Now and again he stroked her hair or touched her
fingers gently. Marion watched the scene with a tender smile on her
lips.

Only Ralph Ravenspur was silent. He sat with his sightless eyes fixed on
space; he seemed to be listening intently, listening to something far
away that could be heard by his ears alone. Geoffrey touched him.

"A penny for your thoughts, uncle," he said.

"They are worth nothing," Ralph replied. "And if I sold them to you for
a penny you would give all Ravenspur Castle and your coming fortune to
be rid of them."

He croaked this out in a fierce whisper. There was a ring of pain in his
voice, that pain which is the suffering of the soul rather than the
body. Yet he did not relax his rigid listening attitude. He might have
been waiting for the unseen foe.

The conversation proceeded fitfully, sometimes almost lively, anon
lapsing into silence. It was hard for these people to speak. They had no
interests outside the castle; they found it impossible to follow social
or political life. Daily papers arrived, but it was seldom that they
were looked at.

The dinner came to an end at length, and then the family circle drew
round the fire. Ravenspur was one of those big, cold places where fires
are always needed. Mrs. Gordon rose and walked to the door. Her
husband's eyes followed her. These two were grey and old before their
time, but the flame of love still burned bright and clear.

"You will not be long, dear," Gordon Ravenspur said. A somewhat
sentimental remark in the ordinary way, but not in this place, where the
parting might be for all time. Mrs. Gordon smiled back upon her husband.

"I am going to bed," she said. "Never mind me. I feel sleepy."

Gordon Ravenspur nodded sympathetically. He knew what his wife meant as
if she had put her thoughts into words. She had been terribly upset over
Vera, and now that the danger was past, a heavy reaction set in.

"Why should we sit here like this?" Geoffrey exclaimed. "Vera and
Marion, I'll play you two a game at billiards. Come along."

Marion smilingly declined. She touched the back of Ravenspur's wasted
hand.

"I am going to stay here just for a few minutes and take care of
grandfather," she said; "then I will go to bed. Give Vera twenty in a
hundred, and I will bet you a pair of gloves that she beats you easily."

The young people went off together, and in the excitement of the game
other things were forgotten. Vera played well and Geoffrey had all his
work cut out to beat her. Finally she ran out with a succession of
brilliant flukes.

"Well, of all the luck!" Geoffrey cried. "Let's play another game, but
after that exhibition of yours I must have a cigarette. Wait a moment."

The cigarettes were not in their accustomed place. Geoffrey ran up the
stairs to his bedroom. He passed along the dark corridor on his return.
In the gallery all was dark and still, save for something that sounded
like two figures in muffling velvet robes dancing together. It seemed to
Geoffrey that he could actually hear them breathing after their
exertions.

With a quickening of his heart he stopped to listen. Surely somebody
buried under many thick folds of cloth was calling for assistance.

"Who is there?" Geoffrey called. "Where are you?"

"Just under the Lely portrait," came a stifled response. "If you
don't----"

The voice ceased. In that instant Geoffrey had recognised it as Aunt
Gordon's voice.

Heedless of danger to himself, he raced down the corridor, his thin
evening shoes making little or no noise on the polished floor. Nor had
Geoffrey lived here all these years for nothing. He could have found the
spot indicated blindfolded.

He could see nothing, but he could hear the struggle going on; then he
caught the flash of something that looked like a blue diamond. It must
have been attached to a hand, but no hand was to be seen. Geoffrey
caught at nothingness and grasped something warm and palpitating. He had
the mysterious assailant in his grip; perhaps he held the whole mystery
here. He heard footsteps pattering along the corridor as Mrs. Gordon ran
for assistance. He called out to her and she answered him.

She was safe. There was no doubt about that. No longer was there any
need for caution on Geoffrey's part. His fingers closed on a thin,
scraggy throat from which the flesh seemed to hang like strips of dried
leather. At the same time the throat was cold and clammy and slippery,
as if with some horrible slime. It was almost impossible to keep a grip
on it. Moreover, the mysterious visitor, if slight, was possessed of
marvellous agility and vitality.

But Geoffrey fought on with the tenacity of one who plays for a great
end. He closed in again and bore the foe backwards. He had him at last
if he could only hold on till assistance came, the dread secret might be
unfolded.

Then the figure took something from his pocket; the air was filled with
a pungent, sickly, sweet odor, and Geoffrey felt his strength going from
him. He was powerless to move a limb. One of those greasy hands gripped
his throat.

In a vague, intangible way Geoffrey knew that that overpowering,
blinding odor was the same stuff that had come so near to ending the
head of the family. If he breathed it much longer, his own end was come.

He made one other futile struggle and heard approaching footsteps; he
caught the gleaming circle of a knife blade swiftly uplifted, and his
antagonist gave a whimper of pain as a frightened animal might do. The
grip relaxed and Geoffrey staggered to the floor.

"That was a narrow escape," a hoarse voice said.

"Uncle Ralph!" Geoffrey panted. "How did you get here? And where has the
fellow gone?"

"I was close at hand," Ralph said coolly. "A minute or two sooner and I
might have saved Gordon's wife, instead of your doing it. See! is there
blood on this knife?"

He handed a box of matches to Geoffrey. The long, carved Malay blade was
dripping with crimson. But there were no signs of it on the floor.

"Let us follow, him," Geoffrey cried eagerly. "He can't be far away!"

But Ralph did not move. His face was expressionless once more. He did
not appear to be in the least interested or excited.

"It is useless," he said, in his dull, mechanical tones. "For in this
matter you are as blind as I am. There are things beyond your
comprehension. I am going down to see what is happening below."

He began to feel his way to the staircase, Geoffrey following.

"Are we never going to do anything?" the younger man exclaimed
passionately.

"Yes, yes. Patience, lad! The day of reckoning is coming as sure as I
stand before you. But to follow your late antagonist is futile. You
might as well try to beat the wind that carries away your hat on a
stormy day."

Mrs. Gordon sat in the dining-hall, pale, ashen, and trembling from head
to foot. It seemed as if an ague had fallen upon her. Every now and then
a short, hysterical laugh escaped her lips, more horrible and more
impressive than any outbreak of fear or passion.

And yet there was nothing to be done, nothing to be said; they could
only look at her with moist eyes and a yearning sympathy that was beyond
all words.

"It will pass," Mrs. Gordon said faintly. "We all have our trials; and
mine are worse than the rest. Gordon, take me to bed."

She passed up the stairs leaning on the arm of her husband. Time was
when these things demanded vivid explanations. They were too significant
now. Ralph crept fumblingly over the floor till he stood by Marion's
side. He touched her hand; he seemed to know where to find it. The hand
was wet. Ralph touched her cheek.

"You are crying," he said, gently for him.

"Yes," Marion admitted, softly. "Oh, if I could only do anything to
help! If you only knew how my heart goes out to these poor people!"

"And yet it may be your turn next, Marion. But I hope not--I hope not.
We could not lose the only sunshine in the house!"

Marion choked down a sob. When she turned to Ralph again, he was far
off, feeling his way along the room--feeling, feeling always for the
clue to the secret.




CHAPTER XII.--Geoffrey is put to the Test.


The house was quiet at last. When these mysterious things had first
happened, fear and alarm had driven sleep from every eye, and many was
the long night the whole family had spent, huddled round the fire till
grey morn chased their fears away.

But as the inhabitants of a beleaguered city learn to sleep through a
heavy bombardment, so had the Ravenspurs come to meet these horrors with
grim tenacity. They were all upstairs now behind locked doors, with a
hope that they might meet again on the morrow. Only Geoffrey was up
waiting for his uncle Ralph.

He came at length so noiselessly that Geoffrey was startled, and
motioned to him that he should follow him without a word.

They crept like ghosts along the corridor until they reached a room with
double doors at the end of the picture gallery. Generations ago this
room had been built for a Ravenspur who had developed dangerous
homicidal mania, and in this room he had lived virtually a prisoner for
many years.

After they had closed the two doors, a heavy curtain was drawn over the
inner one, and Ralph fumbled his way to the table and lighted a candle.

"Now we can talk," he said quietly, "but not loud. Understand that the
matter is to be a profound secret between us, and that not a soul is to
know of it--not even Vera."

"I have already given my promise," said Geoffrey.

"I know. Still there is no harm in again impressing the fact on your
mind. Geoffrey, you are about to see strange things--things that will
test your pluck and courage to the uttermost."

Geoffrey nodded. With the eagerness of youth he was ready.

"I will do anything you ask me," he replied. "I could face any danger to
get at the bottom of this business."

"You are a good lad. Turn the lamp down very low, and then open the
window. Have you done that?"

"Yes; I can feel the cold air on my face."

Ralph crossed to the window, and putting out his hand, gave the quaint,
mournful call of the owl. There was a minute's pause, and then came the
answering signal. A minute or two later, and a man's head and shoulders
were framed in the open window. Geoffrey would have dashed forward, but
Ralph held him back.

"Not so impatient," he said. "This is a friend."

Geoffrey asked no questions, though he was puzzled to know why the
visitor did not enter the castle by the usual way. At Ralph's request he
closed the window and drew the heavy curtains, and the lamp was turned
up again.

"My nephew," said Ralph. "A fine young fellow, and one that you and I
can trust. Geoffrey, this is my old friend Sergius Tchigorsky."

Geoffrey shook hands with Tchigorsky. To his intense surprise he saw
that the face of the stranger was disfigured in the same way as that of
his uncle. Conscious that his gaze was somewhat rude, he looked down.
Tchigorsky smiled. Very little escaped him, and to him the young man's
mind was as clear as a brook.

"My appearance startles you," he said, "Some day you will learn how your
uncle and myself came to be both disfigured in this terrible way. That
secret will be disclosed when the horror that haunts this house is
lifted!"

"Will it ever be lifted, sir?" Geoffrey asked.

"We can do so at any time," Tchigorsky replied in his deep voice. "You
may be surprised to hear that we can place our hand on the guilty party
at a moment's notice and bring the offender to justice. Your eyes ask me
why we do not do so instantly. We refrain, as the detectives refrain
from arresting one or two of a big gang of swindlers, preferring to
spread their nets till they have them all in their meshes. There are
four people in this business, and we must take the lot of them, or there
will be no peace for the house of Ravenspur. You follow me?"

"Perfectly," Geoffrey replied. "An enemy so marvellously clever must not
be treated lightly. Do you propose to make the capture tonight?"

Ralph Ravenspur laughed. It was not a pleasant laugh, and was mirthless.
His scarred face was full of scornful amusement.

"Not to-night, or to-morrow night, or for many nights," he said "We have
all the serpent wisdom of the Old World against us, the occult knowledge
of the East allied to the slippery cunning that Western education gives.
There will be many dangers before we have finished, and the worst of
these dangers will fall upon you."

Ralph brought his hand down with a sudden clap on his nephew's
shoulders. Tchigorsky regarded him long and earnestly as if he would
read his very soul.

"You will do," he said curtly. "I am satisfied you will do, and I never
make a mistake in my estimate of a man yet. Ravenspur, are you ready?"

"Aye; aye. I have been ready this long time."

The lamp was extinguished, and list slippers were donned, and with no
more provision than a box of wax matches, they left the room. Instructed
by Ralph Ravenspur, they fell behind him, each holding by the coat-tail
of the other. Down the corridor they went, down the stairs, along
stone-flagged passages until they reached the vast series of cellars and
vaults over which the castle was built.

There were many of these with twists and turns and low passages; the
place was large enough to conceal a big force of troops. And yet, though
it was pitchy dark and intricate as a labyrinth, the blind man made no
error; he did not hesitate for a moment.

Well as Geoffrey imagined that he knew the castle, he was fain to
confess his utter ignorance alongside the knowledge displayed by the
blind guide.

Ralph pulled up suddenly and began to speak.

"I brought you here to-night, Geoffrey," he said, "so that you might
have the first lesson in the task that lies before you. Listen? Can you
hear anything?"

"I hear the roar of the sea, the waves grating on the shingle:"

"Yes, because we are on a level with the sea. There are deeper vaults
yet, which you will see presently, and they are below the level of the
sea. Our ancestors used to place their prisoners there, and by removing
a kind of sluice, allowed the tide to come in and drown them. You see,
those walls are damp."

They were indeed. As a wax vesta flared up, the dripping stones and the
long white fungi gave the place a weird appearance. Then Ralph dropped
suddenly, extinguished his match, and drew his companions behind a row
of cupboard-like timbers.

"Somebody is coming," he whispered.

The others could hear nothing. But the blind man's powers of hearing
were abnormal. It seemed a long time before the sound of footsteps could
be heard. Then a figure in white, a fair figure, with long, shining hair
hanging down her back and carrying a taper, crept down the steps.

An exclamation trembled on Geoffrey's lips--an exclamation of alarm, of
admiration, of the utmost astonishment. But Ralph laid a hand on his
mouth. The figure passed into the vault beyond.

"It was Marion!" said Geoffrey, in a thrilling whisper. "And yet it did
not look like Marion. She seemed so dreamy; so far off."

"She was walking in her sleep," Ralph said quietly.

"But the danger of it--the danger!"

"My dear boy; there is no danger at all. Blind as I am, I found out this
peculiarity of Marion's directly I returned. Danger to her! I would not
have a hair of her head injured to save Ravenspur from destruction.
Geoffrey, it is through Marion, and Marion alone, that we are going to
solve the mystery."

"Aye," Tchigorsky muttered, "that is so."

Ralph raised his hand to impose silence. The soft, returning footfalls
were clear to the ears. Then, rigid, unbending, with dilated eyes,
Marion passed, the flash of the lantern behind her.

"Come," said Ralph, "let us return. A good night's work, Tchigorsky!"

"Aye," Tchigorsky murmured; "a good night's work indeed."




CHAPTER XIII.--Reeling off the Thread.


It was fortunate for all parties that Geoffrey was possessed of strong
nerves, or he would have been certain to betray himself and them.

Since he had left school at the time when the unseen terror first began
to oppress Ravenspur, he had known nothing of the world; he had learnt
nothing beyond the power to suffer silently and the power of love.

To confide in him was, perhaps, a daring thing on the part of Ralph
Ravenspur. But, then, Ralph knew his world only too deeply and too well,
and he rarely made a mistake in a man. All the same, he followed as
closely as possible the meeting between Marion and Geoffrey the
following morning.

Marion came down a little pale, a little quieter and more subdued than
usual. Geoffrey rallied her in the spirit of mingled amusement and
affection that he always assumed to Marion. His voice was natural and
unaffected. Ralph was grimly satisfied. He knew now that his ally had
brains as well as courage.

"I believe you have been sitting up writing poetry," Geoffrey laughed.

"Indeed, I had a very long night's rest," Marion responded. "And I can't
imagine why I look so pale and washed out this morning!"

"Bad dreams and an evil conscience," Vera suggested demurely.

Marion laughed. Usually at meal times the young people had the
conversation entirely to themselves. Sometimes the elders joined in;
sometimes they listened and smiled at the empty badinage; usually they
were wrapped in their gloomy thoughts. Ralph's face had the expression
of a stone idol, yet he followed every word that was said with intense
and vivid interest.

"Bad dreams, indeed," Marion admitted. "They were with me all night. It
seemed to me that I was wandering about all night looking for something.
And I had nothing on but my nightdress. In India as a child I used to
walk in my sleep. I hope I am not going to do that again."

Marion laughed and passed on to another subject. Curiously enough, she
seemed to shrink from speaking of her life in India. Of her dead parents
she would discourse freely; of her own early life she said nothing. It
had always seemed to Geoffrey that Marion's childhood had been unhappy.
There was an air of gentle melancholy when her features were in repose,
an air far older than her years.

Meanwhile, Ralph had been following all this keenly. He appeared to be
interested in his breakfast. The streaming sunshine filtered through the
great stained glass windows full upon his scarred face; his head was
bent down upon his plate.

But the man's mind was at work. He had his opportunity to speak to
Geoffrey presently.

"You will do," he said approvingly. "Keep up that easy, cheerful manner
of yours. Whatever happens, try to ignore it; try to keep up that
irresponsible, boyish manner. You will find it invaluable in disarming
suspicion later, when one false move may dash all our delicate plans to
the ground."

"I will do anything you require of me, uncle."

"That is right; that is the spirit in which to approach the problem.
And, remember, that what may appear to you to be the most trivial detail
may prove to be of the utmost importance to our case. For instance, I am
going to ask you to do something now that may produce big results. I
want you to get your grandfather's permission to use the top room over
the tower."

"But what can I want it for? It is useless to me."

"At present, yes; but later it will be useful. You require it for an
observatory. You are going to try to repair the big telescope. You are
enthusiastic on the subject; you are hot-foot to get to work at once.
There is nothing but lumber there."

"Boxes belonging to Marion, uncle. Cases that have remained unpacked
ever since she came over from India."

Ralph smiled in his most inscrutable manner.

"Mere trifles," he croaked. "But, there I am one of the men who deny
there are such things as trifles. You may lose a pin out of your watch,
a trifle hardly visible to the eye a yard off. And yet your costly
watch, with its marvellous mechanism is useless without that 'trifle.'
Now go."

An hour later and Geoffrey was busy in the corridor with the big
telescope, the telescope that nobody had troubled about at Ravenspur for
many years. Geoffrey, in his shirt-sleeves, was polishing up the
brasses. Vera was with her mother somewhere.

There had been no trouble in getting permission from Rupert Ravenspur.
It was doubtful if he even heard Geoffrey's request. Everything the
young people asked they got, as a rule. Why not? when a day might cut
off their lives and their little pleasures for all time! The head of the
family was fast becoming a fatalist. So far as he was concerned, there
was no hope that the terror would ever live. He had escaped once; the
next time the foe would not fail. But there would be rest in the grave.

Marion found Geoffrey in the corridor. The yellow and purple lights from
the leaded windows filled the place with a soft, warm glow. Marion's
dark hair was shot with purple; her white dress, as she lounged in a
window seat, was turned to gold. She formed a wonderfully fair and
attractive picture, if Geoffrey had only heeded it. But, then, Geoffrey
had no eyes for any one but Vera.

"What are you going to do?" Marion asked. "Read your fortune in the
stars? Get inspiration from the heavenly bodies to combat the power of
darkness?"

"I'm going to have a shot at astronomy again," Geoffrey replied, in his
most boyish and most enthusiastic manner. "I was considered a bit of a
swell at it at school. And when I saw this jolly old telescope lying
neglected here, I made up my mind to polish my knowledge. I'm going to
set it up in the tower turret."

"But it it is packed full of boxes--my boxes."

"Well, there is plenty of room for those boxes elsewhere--in fact, we've
got space enough to give every box a room to itself. There is an empty
bedroom just below. Presently I'm going to shunt all your lumber in
there."

Marion nodded approvingly. Of course if Geoffrey said a thing it was
done. He might have turned the castle upside down, and the girls would
have aided and abetted him.

"I should like to be present when those boxes are moved," she said.
"There are hundreds of rare and curious things that belonged to my
mother--things that the British Museum would long to possess. Remember,
my ancestors were rulers in Tibet for thousands of years. Some day I'll
show you my curios. But don't begin to move those boxes till I am ready
to assist."

"I shall not be ready for an hour, Marion."

"Very well, then, I shall be back in an hour, astronomer."

Geoffrey finished his work presently. Then he ran up to the turret-room
and opened the door. The place was dusty and dirty to a degree, and
filled with packing-cases. Apparently they were all of foreign
make--wooden boxes, with queer inscriptions, lacquered boxes, and one
fragile wooden box clamped and decorated in filigree brass.

"A queer thing," Geoffrey murmured. "And old, very old, too."

"Over a thousand years. There is only one more like it in the world, and
no Christian eyes save four have ever looked upon it. When you take that
box from the room, see that it is the last, Geoffrey. You hear?"

It was Ralph who spoke. He had appeared silently and mysteriously as
usual. He spoke calmly, but his twitching lips were eloquent of
suppressed excitement.

"Very well," Geoffrey said carelessly. He was getting used to these
strange, quick appearances and these equally strange requests. "It shall
be as you desire, uncle."

Ralph nodded. He gave a swift turn of his head as if looking for some
one unconsciously, then he crossed the room and stooped down beside the
brass-bound box, which was at the bottom of a pile of packages. His long
fingers felt over the quaint brasses.

"A most remarkable-looking pattern," said Geoffrey.

"It is not a pattern at all," Ralph replied.

"The quaint, filigree work is a language--the written signs of old
Tibet, only you are not supposed to know that; indeed, I only found it
out myself a few days ago. It had been a long search; but as I can only
see with my fingers, you can understand that. But this is part of the
secret."

Geoffrey was profoundly interested.

"Tell me what the language says?" he asked.

"Not now--perhaps not at all. It is a ghastly and terrible thing and
even your nerves are not fireproof. There is only one thing I have to
ask you before I efface myself for the present. When you take up that
box to carry it downstairs it is to slip through your fingers. You are
to drop it."

"I am to drop that box. Is there anything else?"

"Not for the present. You are smiling; I feel that you are smiling. For
Heaven's sake take this seriously; take everything that I say seriously,
boy. Oh, I know what is in your mind--I am going in a clumsy way to get
something, I might so easily get what I require by a little judicious
burglary. That is what your unsophisticated mind tells you. Later you
will know better."

Ralph turned cheerfully round and left the room. He paused in the
doorway. "Don't forget," he said, "that my visit here is a secret. In
fact, everything is a secret until I give you permission to make it
public."

This time he left. Geoffrey had managed to drag one or two of the boxes
away before Marion appeared. She reproached him gently that he had not
waited for her. There might be spooks and bogies in those packages
capable of harm.

"I dare say there are," Geoffrey laughed. "But you were such a long
time. Every girl seems to imagine that an hour is like a piece of
elastic--you can stretch it out as long as you like. At any rate, I have
done no harm. As far as I can judge there's only one good thing here."

"And what is that?" Marion asked.

Geoffrey pointed to the floor.

"That one," he said. "The queer, brass-bound box at the bottom."




CHAPTER XIV.--"It Might Be You."


Marion caught her breath quickly. The marble pallor of her face showed
up more strongly against her dark hair. Geoffrey caught the look and his
eyes grew sympathetic.

"What's the matter, little girl?" he asked. "It isn't like you to
faint."

"Neither am I going to faint, Geoff. But I had forgotten all about that
box. I cannot go into details, for there are some things that we don't
talk about to anybody. But that box is connected with rather an unhappy
time in my youth."

"Hundreds of years ago," Geoffrey said flippantly.

"Oh! but it is no laughing matter, I assure you. When my mother was a
child she was surrounded by all the craft and superstition of her race
and religion. That was long before she got converted and married my
father. I don't know how it was managed, but my mother never quite broke
with her people, and once or twice when she went to stay in Tibet I
accompanied her.

"My mother used to get restless at times, and then nothing would do but
a visit to Tibet. And yet, at other times, nobody could possibly have
told her from a European with foreign blood in her veins. For months and
months she would be as English as you and I. Then the old fit would come
over her.

"There was not a cleverer or more brilliant woman in India than my
mother. When she died she gave me these things, and I was not to part
with them. And much as I should like to disobey, I cannot break that
promise."

It seemed to Geoffrey that Marion spoke more regretfully than feelingly.
He had never heard her say so much regarding her mother before.
Affectionate and tender as Marion was, there was not the least trace of
these characteristics in her tone now.

"Did you really love your mother?" Geoffrey asked suddenly.

"I always obeyed her," Marion stammered. "And I'd rather not discuss the
subject, Geoff. Oh! they were bad people, my mother's ancestors. They
possessed occult knowledge far beyond anything known or dreamt of by the
wisest Western savants. They could remove people mysteriously; they
could strike at a long distance; they could wield unseen terrors. Such
as the terrors that hang over Ravenspur, for instance."

Marion smiled sadly. Her manner changed suddenly, and she was her old
self again.

"Enough of horrors," she said. "I came here to help you. Come along."

The boxes were carried below until only the brass-bound one remained.
Geoffrey stooped to lift it. The wood was light and thin, the brass-work
was the merest tracing.

A sudden guilty feeling came over Geoffrey as he raised it
shoulder-high. He felt half-inclined to defy his uncle Ralph and take
the consequences. It seemed a mean advantage, a paltry gratifying of
what, after all, might be mere curiosity.

But the vivid recollection of those strained, sightless eyes rose before
him. Ralph Ravenspur was not the man to possess the petty vice of
irrepressible curiosity. Had it not been a woman he had to deal with,
and Marion at that, Geoffrey would not have hesitated for a moment. Down
below in the hall he heard the hollow rasp of Ralph's voice.

Geoffrey made up his mind grimly. He seemed to stumble forward, and the
box fell from his shoulder, crashing down on the stone floor. The force
of the shock simply shivered it in pieces, a great nest of grass and
feathers dropped out, and from the inside a large mass of strange
objects appeared.

"I am very sorry," Geoffrey stammered after the box had fallen.

"Never mind," she said; "accidents will happen."

But Geoffrey, was rapt in the contemplation of what he saw before
him--some score or more of ivory discs, each of which contained some
painting; many of them appeared to be portraits.

Geoffrey picked up one of them and examined it curiously. He was
regarding an ivory circle with a dark face upon it, the face of a
beautiful fury.

"Why, this is you," Geoffrey cried. "If you could only give way to a
furious cruel passion, it is you to the life."

"I had forgotten that," Marion gasped. "Of course it is not me. See how
old and stained the ivory is; hundreds of years old, it must be. Don't
ask any more questions, but go and throw the thing in the sea. Never
speak of the subject again."

Geoffrey promised. He strode out of the house and along the terrace. As
he was descending the steps, a hand touched his arm, Ralph stood there.

"Give it me," he said, "at once."

"Give you what, uncle?"

"That ivory thing you have in your pocket. I felt certain it was there.
Give it to me. Assume you have cast it over the cliffs. Marion will be
satisfied."

"But I promised Marion that----"

"Oh, I know. And if you knew everything, you would not hesitate for a
moment to comply with my request."

"Uncle, I cannot do this thing."

A hard expression came over Ralph's face.

"Listen," he said in his rasping voice. "'The lives and happiness of us
all are at stake. The very existence of the woman you love is in your
hands."

"I have schemed for this," he said. "I expected it. And now you are
going to baulk me. It is not as if I did not know what you possess."

"That is because you must have overheard my conversation with Marion."

"I admit it," Ralph said coolly. "I listened, of course. But you found
it, and I heard what I expected. It is for you to say whether the truth
comes out or not."

"The truth! the truth!" Geoffrey cried passionately. "It must out!"

"Then give me that miniature. I'll ask you on my knees if you like."

There was an imploring ring in the speaker's voice.

Geoffrey hesitated.

"If no harm is to come to Marion," he said, "I might break my word."

Ralph gripped him by the arm convulsively.

"I swear it," he whispered. "On my honor be it. Have I not told you
before that not for all Ravenspur would I have a hair of that girl's
head injured! If ever a man in this world meant anything, I mean that.
The miniature--come!"

And Geoffrey, with a sigh, handed the ivory disc to Ralph.




CHAPTER XV.--Ralph Ravenspur's Conceit.


"I should like to know why you wanted the ivory picture?"

It was Geoffrey who asked the question. He and Ralph Ravenspur were
moving along the lanes that led up to the cliffs. They were deep lanes,
with overhanging hedges on either side--lanes where it was not easy for
two conveyances to pass.

"I dare say you would," Ralph replied. "But not at present. In due
course you must know everything. Geoffrey, you are fond of novel
reading?"

"Yes, especially books of the Gaboriau type. And yet, in all my reading,
I never knew a more thrilling mystery than that of the ivory portrait."

"You had a good look at it, then?"

"Of course I did. The likeness to Marion was amazing. It might have been
her own photograph on the ivory. It was the same yet not the
same--Marion transformed to an avenging fury."

"An ancestress of hers, no doubt?"

"Of course. The idea of it being Marion herself is out of the question."

"That you may dismiss at once," Ralph said. "The age of the medallion
proves that, and Marion is an angel."

"She is. Uncle Ralph, I am fearfully puzzled. What can Marion's queer
ancestors and all that kind of thing have to do with our family terror?"

Ralph declined to say, beyond the fact that there was a connection. A
horseman was coming pounding down the lane, and he stepped aside
instinctively.

"Jessop," he murmured; "I can tell by the trot of his horse."

Jessop, one of the farmers on the estate, it was.

Geoffrey regarded his companion admiringly. He seemed to be able to
dispense with eyes altogether. A long course of training in woodcraft
stood him in good stead now.

The apple-cheeked farmer pulled up so as to pass the squire at a walking
pace.

"Morning, Jessop," Geoffrey cried, cheerfully. "Where are you going
dressed in your best. And what are you doing with that feminine-looking
box?"

The big man grinned sheepishly.

"Riding into town." he explained. "Fact is, missus and myself have got a
lodger, a great lady, who's taken our drawing-room and two bedrooms.
They do say it's going to be the fashion for the 'quality' to spend
their holidays right in t'country. Its a rare help to us these hard
times."

Ralph Ravenspur turned round suddenly upon his nephew.

"Is it a fact?" he demanded. "Is it as Jessop says?"

"I believe so," Geoffrey replied. "I know that for the last five years
the influx of visitors along this lonely coast has been steadily
growing. It seems to have become quite the thing for good-class people
to take cottages and farm-houses miles away from everywhere, but I have
not heard of any of our tenants having them before."

"I be the first here, sir," Jessop replied. "The lady came over and said
she had been recommended to come to us. Not as I wanted her at first,
but six guineas a week for two months ain't to be despised. But the lady
has a power of parcels to be fetched and carried, surely. That's why I'm
off to town."

Jessop touched his hat and rode on.

For a time Ralph was silent.

"It's some time since I last visited an English watering-place," he
said, "and Scarborough was the spot in question. We had a furnished
house there one season, a good house, well furnished, and, beautifully
situated. We paid eight pounds a week for it, and it was considered to
be a lot of money. Don't you think that Jessop's lodger must be a very
extravagant kind of woman?"

Geoffrey laughed. Like most young men born to the purple, he had a light
estimate of the value of money.

"Now you come to think of it, perhaps so," he said. "Over at Brigg, the
farmers fancy they do well if they get ten shillings a room for the
week."

Again Ralph was thoughtful. He and his companion came up out of the
lane, and then it dawned upon Geoffrey that the other had turned, not
towards the cliff as arranged, but inland in the direction of Jessop's
farm.

There was a long, deep lane to the west side of the stone farmhouse,
into which Ralph turned. From a gap in the hedge a peep into the garden
could be obtained. There was a trim lawn, bordered by old-fashioned
flowers, two bay windows led from the house to the garden. These bay
windows led from the show-rooms of the house, rooms never opened except
on state occasions. The house might have been made fit for anybody with
very little alteration.

Ralph sat down on the grass and slowly filled an aged black pipe.

"I'm going to smoke here while you see Mrs. Jessop. I have a fancy to
find out all about this fashionable lady who buries herself in the
country like this. Call it curiosity if you like, but do as I ask you.
If you can see the lady so much the better."

Geoffrey agreed cheerfully. A moment or two later and he was gossiping
with the buxom farmer's wife in the kitchen, a glass of amber,
home-brewed ale before him. He was a favorite with the tenantry, and
none the less beloved because of the cloud that was hanging over him.

"It does one's eyes good to see you again, Mr. Geoffrey," Mrs. Jessop
cried. "And you so cheerful and bright, and all, dear, dear! I'm main
sorry I can't ask you in the parlor, but we've got a lodger."

"So Jessop told me. Not that I don't feel far more comfortable here. And
what may your distinguished visitor be like, Mrs. Jessop?"

"Dark and handsome. And dressed ever so. Might be a princess, who had
just slipped off her throne. And clever. She had books and books, some
in languages that look like Chinese puzzles."

"Some great society dame, no doubt."

"I shouldn't be surprised, Mr. Geoffrey. But not English, I should
fancy, though she speaks the language as well as you or I. And simple,
too. Just tea and toast for breakfast, with a little meat and rice for
luncheon and dinner with stewed fruit. And she never drinks anything but
water. What she spends a week in food wouldn't keep one of our laborers.
And she has pounds' worth of hot-house flowers sent from York every
day."

Mrs. Jessop paused. There was a rustling of something rich, and a lady
entered the kitchen. Geoffrey rose instantly from the table upon which
he had been seated.

He saw a tall woman who might have been anything between thirty and
fifty years of age, a woman of great beauty. It was the hard, commanding
style of beauty that men call regal. She might have been a queen, but
for the faint suggestion of the adventuress about her. To Geoffrey's bow
she made the slightest possible haughty recognition.

"I'm going out, Mrs. Jessop," she said. "I shall be back to luncheon. If
a telegram should happen to come for me, I shall be along the cliffs
between here and Beauhaven."

She flashed out of the kitchen all rustling and gleaming, and leaving
the faint suggestion of some intoxicating perfume behind her. And yet,
notwithstanding, her proud indifference, it seemed to Geoffrey that she
had regarded him with more than passing interest just for the moment.

"She is very beautiful," he said. "She is a total stranger to me, and
yet she reminds me of somebody else, somebody whose name I can't recall,
but who is totally different. It is a strange sort of feeling that I
cannot explain."

"She's interested, for all her haughtiness," said Mrs. Jessop. "I'm sure
if she has asked me one question about your family, she has asked a
thousand."

Geoffrey strolled away from the house. There was a short cut to the
place where Ralph was seated, and this short cut lay along the lawn.
Geoffrey's feet made no noise. As he passed the window of the
sitting-room he looked in.

The place was full of flowers, white flowers everywhere. There were
azaleas and geraniums and carnations, with delicate foliage of tender
green, thousands of blooms, arranged wherever a specimen glass or a bowl
could go.

Standing with his back to the window, a man was arranging them. And the
man was a Hindoo, or other Eastern, one of the men Geoffrey had seen
going through that queer incantation on the cliffs. Strange, more than
strange, that Mrs. Jessop had said nothing of him.

Geoffrey prudently slipped away before he had been seen. He found his
uncle doggedly smoking under the hedge. He looked like patience
personified.

"Well," he said, "have you anything wonderful to relate?"

"Pretty well," Geoffrey replied. "To begin with, I have actually seen
the lady."

"Ah! But go on. Tell me everything, everything, mind, to the minutest
detail."

Geoffrey proceeded to explain. Whether he was interesting his listener
or not he could not tell, for Ralph had assumed his most wooden
expression; indeed, a casual spectator would have said that he was not
paying the slightest attention. Then he began to ask questions, in a
languid way, but Geoffrey could see that they were all to the point.

"I should not be surprised," he said, "if the man you saw in the house
was one of the men you saw on the cliffs. Mrs. Jessop said nothing about
him, because she knew nothing. So he was arranging the lady's flowers.
What flowers?"

"Azaleas and carnations and geraniums. Nothing else."

"Well, there may be worse taste, if there can be bad taste with flowers.
Any color?"

"Yes; they were all white. I was a little surprised at that, considering
that the lady was so dark and Eastern-looking."

"Of course, you ascertained her name?"

"Indeed, I did nothing of the kind. I forgot all about it. But I had a
good look at her, and the description I gave you is quite correct.
Uncle, I don't want to seem unduly curious, but I fancy you expected to
find this lady here."

Ralph rose to his feet slowly, and knocked out the ashes of his pipe. He
turned his face towards the castle.

"I am not altogether surprised," he said.

Not another word was said for some time. Ralph appeared to be deeply
cogitating, so deeply that Geoffrey asked of what he was thinking.

"I was thinking," Ralph said slowly, yet drily, and with the same dense
manner, "that a pair of dark, gold-rimmed glasses would improve my
personal appearance."




CHAPTER XVI.--The White Flowers.


Surely enough, when Ralph Ravenspur came into the great hall, where tea
was being served, he was wearing a pair of dark glasses, with gold rims.
Slight as the alteration was in itself, it changed him almost beyond
recognition. He had been doing something to his face also, for the
disfiguring scars had practically disappeared. As he came feeling his
way to a chair, the slight thread of conversation snapped altogether.

"Don't mind me," he said quietly. "You will get used to the change, and
you cannot deny it is a change for the better. One of the causes leading
to this vanity was a remark I overheard on the part of one of the
servants. She expressed the opinion that I should look better in
glasses. That opinion I shared. I have no doubt the maid was correct."

All this was uttered in the dry, soft, caustic manner Ralph constantly
affected. Nobody answered, mostly because it was assumed that no reply
was expected. With a cup of tea in his hand Ralph began to speak of
other things.

Leading from the hall was a big conservatory. Here Marion was busy among
her flowers. She was singing gently as she snipped a bud here and there,
and Vera was helping her. Curled up in an easy-chair, Geoffrey was
absorbed in a book. The smoke from his cigarette circled round his head.

Ralph placed his cup down again, and felt his way into the conservatory.
He stood in the doorway listening to the controversy going on beyond.

"I don't fancy I shall like it," said Vera. "It will be too cold, too
funereal."

"My dear child," Marion cried, "then we will abandon the idea. Only
don't forget that it was your own suggestion. You said it could look
chaste."

"Did I really? Then I had forgotten all about it. And we are not going
to abandon the idea. It shall not be said that I change my mind like a
weather cock. The flowers on the dinner-table to-night are all going to
be white."

Marion paused in the act of cutting a lily.

"I don't fancy I would," she urged. "After all, second thoughts are
best. White flowers on a table do suggest a funeral--that is, if they
are all white. And in an unfortunate house like this anything melancholy
is to be discouraged. I think I will throw these blooms away----"

"You will do nothing of the kind," Vera cried. "White it shall be, and
you and I shall arrange them in the best possible style. Why, you have
enough already. Come along and we'll 'fix' up the table at once. Uncle
Ralph, how you startled me."

"Did I?" Ralph said coolly. "I fancy it is my mission in life to startle
people. What have you two been quarrelling about?"

"We were not quarrelling," Vera replied. "Marion insists that white
flowers on a dinner-table are cold and chilly, not to say funereal. I
say, they are chaste and elegant. And, to prove that I am right, the
table tonight will be decorated with white flowers."

"Not with my consent," Marion laughed. "I have set my face dead against
the whole business. But spoilt Vera always gets her own way."

Vera smiled, as she passed on with an armful of the nodding white
flowers. Ralph passed slowly into the conservatory and closed the
stained-glass door behind him.

Then he crossed the tiled floor rapidly, as if his eyes were all that
could be desired, and slipped up a glass panel at the far end of the
conservatory. From this point there was a sheer fall down the cliffs on
to a hard, sandy beach-below.

"Just the same," Ralph muttered. "Nothing altered. And just as easy."

He crossed the tiles again and passed into the great stone flagged hall
in his slow way. Then he proceeded to light his pipe and strolled into
the grounds. Past the terrace he went, until he came to the cliffs where
he was out of sight of the house.

Then with the confidence of the mountain goat, he made his way to the
beach, the hard strip of beach that lay under the shadow of the castle.
Here he fumbled for some time among the damp, slippery rocks, feeling
for something with infinite care and patience.

His perseverance was rewarded at last. His hands lay on a mess of
flowers, damp and sodden, and yet comparatively fresh. He lifted one to
his nostrils and sniffed it.

"As I thought," he said; "as I expected. How cunning it all is; how
beautifully worked out! And nothing, however small, is left to chance.
Well, I came home in the nick of time, and I have found an ally I can
depend upon. Only it was just as well not to let Geoffrey know that I
knew of Jessop's lodger before to-day. I wonder if my lady guesses how
carefully she is being watched?"

Half an hour later Ralph was in the castle again, wandering about in his
restless way and appearing to be interested in nothing as usual.
Presently the great bell began to clang in the turret, and the family
party gathered in the dining-room before dinner. Vera was the last to
arrive.

"How lovely you look," Geoffrey whispered.

Vera laughed and colored. She had a white dress without ornament and
without flowers, save a deep red rose in her hair.

"That red rose is the crowning touch," said Geoffrey.

"I thought it was to be all white to night," said Ralph. He had caught
the whispered words, as he seemed to catch everything. "Was that not so,
Vera?"

"Not for me, sir," Vera replied. "I am in white."

"I wish you could see her," Geoffrey said tenderly; "she looks lovely.
Her eyes are so blue, her skin is like the sunny side of a peach."

"And your tongue is like that of a goose," Vera laughed. "Never mind,
Uncle Ralph. Never mind. If you can't have the inestimable advantage of
gazing on my perfect beauty, you shall have the privilege of sitting by
me at dinner."

Geoffrey pleaded with comic despair, but Vera was obdurate. As the bell
clanged again, she laid a hand light as thistle-down on Ralph's arm. She
was brighter and more gay than usual this evening, and Marion played up
to her, as she always did.

The elders were silent. Perhaps the white flowers on the table checked
them. They were so suggestive of the wreaths on a coffin.

When once the cloth was drawn in the good old-fashioned way, and the
decanters and lamps and glasses stood mirrored in the shining dark
mahogany, the resemblance was more marked than ever. The long strip of
white damask, whereon lamps and flowers and decanters rested, might have
been a winding sheet. Rupert Ravenspur protested moodily.

"It's dreadful in a house like this," he said. "Who did it?"

"I am the culprit, dearest," Vera admitted prettily. "Marion did all in
her power to prevent me, but I would have my own foolish way. If you
will forgive me I will promise that it shall not occur again."

Rupert Ravenspur smiled. It was only when he was looking at Vera that
that tender relaxation came over his stern old face. Then his eyes fixed
on the flowers, and they seemed to draw him forward.

"You are forgiven," he said. "Marion was right, as she always is. What
should we do without her cheerfulness and good advice? Upon my word, I
feel as if those flowers were drawing all the reason out of me."

Nobody replied. It was a strange and curious thing that everybody seemed
to be regarding the waxen blossoms in the same dull, sleepy, fascinating
way. All eyes were turned upon them as eyes are turned upon some
thrilling, repulsive performance. The silence was growing oppressive and
painful.

Geoffrey gave a little gasp, and laid his hand upon his chest.

"What is it?" he said. "There is a pain here like a knife. I am
burning."

Nobody took the slightest notice. Only Ralph seemed to be alive, and yet
there was no kind of expression on his face. Heads were drawing nearer
and nearer to the vases where the graceful flowers were grouped--those
innocent-looking blooms which were the emblems of all that was fair and
fine and beautiful.

What did it mean? What strange mystery was here? Nobody could speak,
nobody wanted to speak; all were sinking, lulled and soothed into a
poppyland sleep; even Geoffrey seemed to be fighting for something he
knew not what.

Then Ralph reached out his hand to the foot of the table. His long, lean
fingers were tangled in the strip of damask down the mahogany table on
which lamp and decanters and glasses and dishes of fruit were placed.

With a vigorous pull he brought the whole thing crashing on the polished
floor, where two pools of paraffin made a blaze of the wreck that Ralph
had caused. Then he slid over the floor and opened one of the windows,
letting in the pure, fresh air from the North Sea.




CHAPTER XVII.--Whence Did They Come?


In the darkness nobody spoke for a moment. Not one of them could have
said anything for a king's ransom. Apart from the feeling of
suffocation, the gradual poppy sleep of death that filled the room as a
great wave suddenly engulfs some rocky cave, the dramatic horror of the
darkness held them fast.

At the same time there was something of a shock, a healthy shock in the
plunge from light to gloom. A fitful, purple gleam still flickered where
the blazing paraffin had licked the hard, polished oak floor; the breath
of the sea breeze was bracing. It was Marion who first came to herself
as one comes out of a horrid nightmare.

"Oh! oh!" she shuddered. "Who opened the window?"

Nobody responded for a moment. Ralph had crept to Geoffrey's side. It
was marvellous how he found his way in the intense darkness.

"Say you did it,"' he whispered. "You must say you did it. Speak."

"I suppose I did," Geoffrey murmured. "I seem to recollect something of
the kind."

"You have saved our lives," said Marion. "Will somebody ring the bell?"

Servants came without much dismay or surprise. They were used to amazing
things at Ravenspur. It would have caused no more than a painful
sensation to come in some night after dinner and find the whole family
murdered.

"Bring more lamps," Ralph Ravenspur said quietly.

Lamps were brought. The disordered litter on the floor was swept up, the
broken globes, the dainty china, the glass and silver. The white flowers
were no longer there. This was a puzzle to everybody but Ralph, who had
gathered them at the first distraction, and thrown them out of the
window.

There was silence for a minute or two after the servants had withdrawn.
Then Rupert Ravenspur dashed his fist on the table in a passion of
despair.

"Great Heaven!" he said. "How long? how long? How much more of this is
it possible to bear and still retain the powers of reason? What was it?"

"Could it have been the flowers?" Vera suggested. "It was my fault."

"No, no," Marion cried. "Why your fault? Those white blossoms were
innocent enough; we packed them ourselves; we arranged them together."

"Still, I believe it was the flowers," Geoffrey observed. "Why should
they have fascinated us in that strange way? It was horrible!"

Horrible indeed, and not the less so because the horrible was how
conspicuous by its absence. That innocent flowers, pure, white blossoms,
could lend themselves to a dark mystery like this was almost maddening.

And yet it must have been so, for no sooner had the flowers been removed
and the air of heaven had entered the room than the grip and bitterness
of death were past.

"I am sure we were near the end," Marion cried. "Geoff, was it you who
snatched the cloth from the table?"

Geoffrey was about to deny the suggestion when his eyes fell upon
Ralph's face. It was eager, almost pleading in its aspect. Like a flash
the changing expression was gone.

"It must have been mechanical," Geoffrey murmured. "One does those
things and calls them impulses. Inspiration would be a better
expression, I fancy."

They crowded round him and gave him their thanks, all save Ralph, who
sat drumming his fingers on the table as if nothing out of the ordinary
had happened. Nothing seemed to draw him out of his environment.

Still, it was another man who came creeping to Geoffrey's room when the
lights were extinguished and the castle was wrapped in slumber. There
was an inner room looking out over the sea, which Geoffrey used
indifferently for a smoking-room and study.

"I can smoke my pipe here without a chance of our being overheard," he
said.

"Well, was the adventure this evening creepy enough for you?"

Geoffrey shuddered slightly. Flagrant, rioting dangers would have no
terrors for him. It was the unseen that played on the nerves of the
imagination.

"Horrible!" he said. "But why this mystery?"

"As far as I am concerned, you mean? My dear Geoffrey; it is imperative
that I should be regarded by everybody as a poor, blind worm who is
incapable for good or evil. I want people to pity me, to make way for
me, to treat me as if I were of no account, a needless cumberer of the
ground. I want to see that you prevent these tragedies by sheer chance.
I will strike when the time comes!"

The hoarse voice had sunk to a whisper, the sightless eyes rolled, the
thin fingers crooked as if dragging down an unseen foe to destruction.
As suddenly Ralph changed his mood and laughed noiselessly.

"Let us not prophesy," he said. "What did you think of the episode?"

"I don't know what to think about it."

"Then you have no theory to offer?"

"No, uncle. I am in the dark. That is where the keen edge of the terror
comes in. I should say it was the flowers. As the atmosphere of the room
grew warmer, as the heat from the lamps drew out the fragrance of the
blooms, the perfume seemed to become overpowering. The perfume riveted
attention, then arrested the senses, and gradually sense and feeling
appeared to go altogether."

"Perfectly right, Geoffrey. Still, there is nothing very wonderful about
it. Lucretia Borgia used the same means to despatch her victims. A
poisoned bouquet was a favorite weapon of hers, you remember."

"But the poison there was conveyed through the palms of the hands. Why
do we never hear of that sort of poison nowadays?"

Ralph smiled as he refilled his pipe.

"I've got some of it myself," he said; "or at least Tchigorsky has. It
is poor, inartistic stuff compared to some of the poisons known to
Tchigorsky and myself. There are Eastern poisons unknown to science;
toxicology little dreams of the drugs that Tchigorsky and your poor
uncle wot of.

"You are right. Those flowers were impregnated with the deadly drug that
comes out with warmth. It comes as quickly as a breath of wind, and does
its work and vanishes almost immediately, leaving no trace behind.
Another minute and the whole family of Ravenspur had been no more. There
would have been a fearful sensation; doctors would have discoursed
learnedly--and vaguely--and there would have been an end of the matter.
Not a soul in England would have had the remotest idea of the source of
the tragedy. Look here."

"That was on the table tonight," he said. "Take it in your hands. Smell
it. Do you recognise anything beyond the legitimate perfume?"

Geoffrey held the perfect bloom to his nostrils. He could detect nothing
further.

"It seems to me to be as innocent as beautiful," he said.

"So it is; so it is--at present. Give it me back again. See, I have here
a little white, dull powder. In it is the one-thousandth part of a grain
of the deadly drug. I dust the powder on the carnation, thus. The
natural moisture in the leaves absorbs it, and the flower presents a
normal aspect. Smell it."

"I smell nothing at all," said Geoffrey.

"Not yet. Hold it to the lamp for ten seconds."

Geoffrey did so. At the end of the brief space he placed it to his
nostrils as Ralph suggested. Immediately a drowsy feeling came over him,
a desire for sleep, a desire to be at rest in body and mind in heart and
pulses. Indeed, it seemed to him as if his heart had stopped already.

Through a yellow-scented mist he seemed to see his uncle and hear the
latter's voice commanding him to drop the carnation. He could not have
done it to save himself from destruction. Then the flower was plucked
away.

"How long have I been asleep?" he asked, suddenly opening his eyes.

"You have been across the Styx and back in exactly fifty seconds," Ralph
said gravely. "Now you see the effect of that stuff. Wonderfully
artistic isn't it?"

Geoffrey gazed at the flower with sickening horror. Ralph seemed to
divine this, for he picked it up, sniffed it coolly and placed it in his
buttonhole.

"The evil effect has gone, believe me," he said. "The dose was very
small, and I did not mix it with water, which makes a difference."

"Still, I don't follow," Geoffrey said. "We know those flowers were cut
and arranged by Vera and Marion. It would have been impossible for any
one to have entered the dining-room and replaced them with other white
flowers. And for anybody to have had the time to impregnate them one by
one--oh! it is impossible!"

"Not at all, Geoffrey. A mystery is like a conjuring trick--seemingly
insoluble, but you know how it is done, and then it becomes bald and
commonplace. Suppose the stuff is mixed with water and the mixture
placed in a small spray worked by an indiarubber ball. Then one goes
into the dining room for say half a minute or so, gives two or three
rapid motions of the hand, and the thing is accomplished."

"Yes, that sounds easy. You speak as if you knew who did it."

"Yes," Ralph said, with one of his spasmodic smiles, "I do."

"You know the author of this dastardly thing. Tell me."

"Not yet. I dare not tell you, because you are young and might betray
yourself. I could not confide my secret to any one, not even the best
detective in England. It is only known to Tchigorsky and myself. You
shall help me in drawing the net round the miscreants, but you must not
ask me that."

"And to-night's doings are to remain a secret?"

"Of course. Nobody is to know anything. They may conjecture as much as
they like. Good heavens! if any one in the house were to know what I
have told you to-night, all my work would be undone. You are my
instrument, by which I ward off danger without attracting attention to
myself. You are the unsuspecting boy, who by sheer good luck foils the
enemy. Keep it up, keep it up; for so long as you appear young and
unsophisticated, there is less of the deadly danger."




CHAPTER XVIII.--Mrs. Mona May.


Geoffrey was slightly puzzled, but like a good soldier, he asked no
questions. More and more he was coming to recognise that it was Ralph's
to command and his to obey. Doubtless Ralph had some good reason when he
treated his nephew like a puppet, but then the puppet was a long way
from a fool, and as the days went on, it came home to him with an
increasing force that he had a master mind to deal with.

He had been told off this afternoon to lurk more or less concealed at
the top of the steep pitch leading to the village, and there wait until
something happened. It came at the end of a few minutes in the shape of
a lady in perfect cycling costume, wheeling a machine up the hill
towards Jessop's farm. As she came nearer to the spot where Geoffrey was
smoking, a ragged nomad sprang from the hedge and demanded alms. The man
was coarse and threatening; he was by no means sober, and his demands
took the by no means modest form of a shilling.

A second later there was a slight scream and Geoffrey darted forward.
The sight of a woman in distress sufficed for him; Ralph was forgotten
in an instant. There was a scuffle and a plunge, a rapid exit of the
nomad, and hat in hand Geoffrey was receiving the thanks of a beautiful
woman, who was pleased to assure him that he was her preserver.

"It is nothing," Geoffrey stammered; "nothing, really."

It was not usual for him to be confused like this. But then he was
standing face to face with the handsome stranger who had taken Mr.
Jessop's rooms, the lady with the love of white flowers, the woman who
employed Oriental servants who were given to strange incantations, the
creature in whom Ralph Ravenspur had taken so vivid an interest.

And Geoffrey's confusion grew none the less as it flashed upon him that
the intoxicated tramp had been the god in the car designed by Ralph to
bring this introduction about.

He steadied himself. There was work before him now.

"You exaggerate my poor services," he said.

"Not at all, I assure you," the lady said. Her eyes held a strange
fascination; her voice was low and sweetly sedative. She was years older
than Geoffrey, but just the kind of siren who drove young men mad, or
lured them to destruction. "Few strangers would have faced so formidable
an opponent for me."

"Most of my countrymen would," Geoffrey said. "I hope you have a better
opinion of Englishmen than that. But Englishmen are not favorites
abroad."

The dark eyes were dancing with amusement.

"You are under the impression that I am not English?" she asked.

"Well, there is a certain grace," Geoffrey stammered, "that spoke
of----"

"Foreign blood. Precisely. But all the same, I am proud to call myself
an Englishwoman. My name is Mrs. May--Mona May. You are Mr. Geoffrey
Ravenspur?"

"At your service. I had the pleasure of seeing you the other morning in
Mrs. Jessop's kitchen. Meanwhile, to prevent any further trouble from
our predatory friend, I am going to walk with you as far as the farm."

Mrs. May raised no objection; on the contrary, she seemed pleased with
the idea. She was dangerous; she was mixed up in some way with the
conspiracy against the peace and happiness of the house of Ravenspur,
and yet Geoffrey found it hard to resist her fascinations.

She spoke almost perfect English, her dress, style and manner were
insular, but there was a flashing grace about her, a suggestion of
something warm and Eastern, that gleamed and flashed in spite of her
severe cycling dress and the wheel she pushed along so skilfully.

She gave a sigh of regret as the farmhouse was reached.

"Well, I suppose we must part," she said. "Really, it seems years since
I spoke to a gentleman and I have only been here for days. I have been
ordered absolute rest and quietness for the benefit of my health, and
upon my word I am getting it. Would you take pity upon my loneliness and
come to tea?"

Many an older man than Geoffrey had been excused from yielding to such a
request. Those eyes were so dark and pleading, and the man was young.
Besides, he had an excuse. Had not his uncle Ralph planned this thing,
and was it not intended to bring about an introduction? Besides, once
inside that room, it might be possible to find something that in the
future would yield great results.

"I shall be only too pleased," Geoffrey murmured.

"Then come along," Mrs. May said gaily. "If you are fond of a good cup
of tea, then I have some of the most perfect in the world."

She led the way into the old-fashioned drawing-room, which she had had
rendered beautiful with flowers. The stiff furniture looked stiff no
longer. The hand of an artistic woman had been here, and the whole
aspect was changed.

"You should have seen it when I came here," Mrs. May smiled as she
followed Geoffrey's glance. "It was like a condemned cell. And yet there
are things of price here. A little alteration and a few flowers--ah!
what a difference flowers make!"

She pointed to her own floral decorations. The room was ablaze with
them. And they were all scarlet.

There was not a single bloom of any other kind to be seen.

"They match my style of beauty," Mrs. May laughed. "I never have any
other here."

"You do not care for white flowers?" Geoffrey asked.

"I abhor them. They suggest beautiful maidens cut off in their prime,
dead children, the tomb, and all kinds of horrors. I would not have one
in the house."

Geoffrey was discreetly silent. Remembering the hundreds of white
flowers he himself had seen in this very room not so long ago, this
speech staggered him. In a dazed kind of way he watched Mrs. May light a
spirit lamp under a silver kettle, after which she excused herself on
the score of fetching the famous tea.

Geoffrey picked up an album and turned the leaves over rapidly. There
were soldiers, one or two native Indian officials, a great number of
society people, professional beauties, and the like, and--and Marion!

Yes; her fair, tender face smiled from the embossed, richly-gilt page.
The picture had been taken some years ago, but there was no mistaking
those pure features. Geoffrey closed the book and walked over to the
window. Surprise upon surprise had come upon him lately, but this was
staggering.

When Mrs. May returned he was himself again. He could answer her
questions gaily and smoothly. It was only when he was on his way home
again that he recollected how much information he had imparted and how
little he had got in return.

"You must come and see me again," Mrs. May said. "Now can't you come up
some evening and dine with me? Say Thursday. Unless I hear from you to
the contrary I shall see you on Thursday at seven. A primitive time, but
then we are in the country."

"You may be certain," Geoffrey said carelessly, "that I shall come if
possible. Good-bye, Mrs. May. In ordinary circumstances my people would
have called upon you. You will know why it is impossible."

Mrs. May pressed Geoffrey's hand with gentle sympathy.

"You have my real regrets," she said. "What a horrible thing it is to
think that you are all powerless to help it. Good-bye."

Geoffrey found Ralph at the entrance to the castle gate. There was a
queer smile on his face, a smile of amused expectation.

"You found her charming?" he asked.

"And clever," said Geoffrey. "I guessed your plot, uncle. She is very
clever."

"The cleverest woman in the world, the most wicked, the most
unscrupulous. Of course she asked you to dinner, and of course your will
go. Nobody is to know of it, mind."

"Uncle, how did you guess that?"

"I'll tell you presently. And I'll tell you many things you will have to
say and leave unsaid to--Mrs. May."

"'Tell me why Marion's photograph is in her album?"

"So she showed you that?"

"No; I found it out by accident. Is Marion connected with her?"

"Very closely, indeed. She is Marion's evil genius. And yet through that
pure and innocent girl we are going to strike at the heart of the
mystery. Ask me no questions now; tonight we will go carefully into the
matter."




CHAPTER XIX.--Vera Is Not Pleased.


Any stranger looking along the terrace at Ravenspur would have been
inclined to envy the lot of those who had their habitation there. It
looked so grand, so dignified, so peaceful. Brilliant sunshine shone
upon the terrace; against the grey stone of the grand old facade, the
emerald green of the lawns rose refreshing to the eyes, those old lawns
like velvet that only come with the passing of centuries.

People from the rush and fret of cities, excursionists, who had their
sordid, hum-drum life in towns, turned longing eyes to Ravenspur.
Anybody who lived in a place like that must be happy.

And some of them looked it. Geoffrey, for instance, as he lounged on the
terrace with a cigarette between his strong, white teeth. He was seated
with a cap over his eyes and appeared to be given over to a pleasant
reverie. A rod and empty fishing basket stood by his side.

Ralph Ravenspur lounged up to him. Perhaps he had been waiting for his
nephew. At any rate, he always knew where to find him. He sat with the
sunshine full upon his sightless eyes, and smoked his pipe placidly.

"There is nobody about?" he asked.

"Nobody," Geoffrey replied. "Do you want to say anything to me?"

Ralph made no reply. Geoffrey watched him curiously.

"Do you know you seem to be a long way off me this afternoon?" he said
presently. "I can't quite explain my meaning. Since you have worn those
glasses you look a different man. There, now you are yourself again."

"Is the difference very marked?" Ralph asked.

"Very marked, indeed. Honestly, I should not have known you."

Ralph gave a sigh, whether of sorrow or satisfaction Geoffrey could not
say.

"Time will prove whether the disguise is of any value or not," he said.
"I came to ask you about this evening. Are you going?"

"Of course I am. Mrs. Mona May fascinates me. On the whole, I have
deemed it advisable to say nothing to the others. We cannot call upon
Mrs. May, and they need not know that I have had any intercourse with
her."

Ralph nodded. Perhaps he alone knew the real need for secrecy in this
matter.

"Quite right," he said. "The less said the better. She wrote to you, of
course?"

"Oh, yes. I had the letter yesterday."

"And destroyed it, of course?"

"Upon my word, I've forgotten. I see you are angry with me. Well, I will
try not to make a similar mistake again."

From the expression of his face Ralph was greatly moved. His features
flamed with anger, he was trembling with passion to his finger-tips.
Then his mood suddenly changed. He laid a kindly hand on Geoffrey's
knee.

"My boy," he said earnestly. "There are reasons, weighty reasons, why I
cannot take you entirely into my confidence. If I did so, you would see
the vital necessity of caution even in the most minute matters. You will
see that Mrs. May's letter is destroyed at once."

"I will, uncle. The rest of the family believe I am going to Alton
tonight."

Ralph nodded. He seemed already to have forgotten the circumstance. He
had fallen into one of the waking reveries that were deep as sleep to
most men. Geoffrey spoke to him more than once, but failed to gain the
slightest attention. Then Ralph rose and moved away like a man in a
dream.

Geoffrey lounged about till he had finished his cigarette. He tossed the
end away and then proceeded towards the house. He would get that letter
and destroy it without further delay. But this was easier said than
done, for the simple reason that the letter was nowhere to be found.
High and low Geoffrey searched for it, but all to no purpose.

Had he left it in the dining-room or the library? Possibly in the latter
place, seeing that he had written a couple of notes there earlier in the
day. It was dim, not to say gloomy in the library, and for a moment
Geoffrey failed to see Vera was seated at the table.

He crossed over and touched her caressingly on the cheek. She looked up
coldly.

"What are you looking for?" she asked.

"A letter, dearest," Geoffrey replied. "But why do you look so strange?"

"Oh, you ask me that? It is a letter you are looking for. Then perhaps I
maybe so fortunate as to assist you. I have just found a letter lying
here addressed to you. As it lay with face open I could not but read it.
See here!"

A square of thick scented notepaper filled with a dashing black
calligraphy shook before Geoffrey's eyes. It was Mrs. May's writing
beyond a doubt. Geoffrey flushed slightly as he took the note.

"Read it," Vera said quietly; "read it aloud."

Geoffrey did so. It struck him now--it had never occurred to him
before--that the writer was slightly caressing in her manner of
phrasing. There was a suggestion of something warmer and more personal
than the stereotyped lines implied.

"So this is a the Alton where you are going to-night?" Vera went on.
"Who is the woman? How long have you known her?"

The quick blood came flaming to Geoffrey's face. He had never seen Vera
hard and cold like this before. It was a woman and not a girl who was
speaking now. Geoffrey resented the questions; they came as a teacher
addresses a child.

"I cannot tell you," he said. "It has to do with the family secret."

"And you expect me to believe this, Geoffrey?"

"Of course I do," Geoffrey cried. "Did you ever know me tell you a lie?
And after all the years we have been together you are going to be
jealous of the first woman who comes along. Have I been mistaken in you,
Vera?"

The girl's beautiful eyes filled with tears. She had been sorely vexed
and hurt, far more hurt than she cared Geoffrey to know. For it seemed
to her that he had wilfully deceived her, that he was going to see this
creature of whom he was secretly ashamed, that he had lied so that he
could seek her company without suspicion in the minds of others.

"If you give me your word of honor," Vera faltered, "that you----"

"No, no," Geoffrey cried. "I merely state the facts, and you may believe
them or not as you please. Who Mrs. May is I decline to say. How I
became acquainted with her I also decline to explain. Suffice it that
she is Mrs. May, and that she has rooms at Jessop's farm."

"And that is all you are going to tell me, Geoffrey?"

"Yes, Vera. If you have lost your faith in me----"

"Oh, no, no. Don't say such cruel things, Geoff. Whom have I beyond my
parents and you in the whole world? And when I found that letter, when I
knew what you said about Alton was--was not true----"

She paused, unable to proceed. Her little hands went out imploringly and
Geoffrey caught them in his own. He drew her to his side, and gazed into
her eyes.

"Darling," he whispered, "you know that I love you."

"Yes, dear; it was foolish of me to doubt it."

"I love you now and always. I can never change. I did not intend to tell
you about this woman because it was all part of the secret. The wise man
among us has said it, and his word is law. I am speaking of Uncle
Ralph."

Vera nodded with a brighter glance. Had not she a secret in common with
Ralph?

"Say no more," she whispered. "I am ashamed of myself."

Geoffrey kissed the quivering lips passionately.

"Spoken like my own Vera," he said. "Now I will give you my word of
honor----"

"No, no. It is not necessary, Geoffrey. I was foolish. I might have
known better. Not another thought will I give to Mrs. Mona May."

Vera spoke in all sincerity. But our thoughts are often our masters, and
they were so in this case. Mona May was a name graven on Vera's mind,
and the time was coming when with fervent gratitude she blessed the hour
when she had found that letter.




CHAPTER XX.--A Fascinating Woman.


Mrs. Jessop's simple parlor had been transformed beyond recognition. The
the Chippendale furniture had been brought forward; the gaudy settees
and sofas had been covered with fine, Eastern silks and tapestries. A
pair of old Dresden candlesticks stood on the table, and under pink
shades the candles cast a glamor of subdued light upon damask and silver
and china.

As Geoffrey was ushered in, Mrs. May came forward. She was dressed
entirely in black, her wonderfully fine arms and shoulders gleamed
dazzling almost as the diamonds that were as frosty stars in the
glorious night of her hair. One great red bloom of some flower unknown
to Geoffrey was in her breast. As to the rest, the flowers were all
scarlet. The effect was slightly dazzling.

Mrs. May came forward with a smile.

"So you have managed to elude the Philistines," she said. "Ah! I guessed
that you would say nothing to your friends about our little dinner."

There was an eager note in the words that conveyed a half question.

Geoffrey smiled.

"May I venture to suggest that the knowledge is not pleasing to you?" he
said.

"Well, I admit it. In the circumstances to explain would have been a
bore. Your people cannot call on me, and being old-fashioned, they might
not care for you to come here alone. Therefore, being a man of the
world, you told them nothing about it."

Geoffrey smiled, as he took the proffered cigarette. Had he not been
warned against this woman by Ralph, her subtle flattery would have put
him off his guard. It is always so sweet and soothing for a youngster to
be taken for a man of the world.

"You have guessed it all," he said. "My grandfather is grand seigneur.
He has no toleration for anything that is not en regle. What an
exquisite cigarette!"

Mrs. May nodded. They were excellent cigarettes, as also was the liqueur
she insisted upon pouring out for Geoffrey with her own hands. He had
never tasted anything like it before.

And the dinner when it came was a perfect little poem in its way. Not a
flash of wine on the table had not a history. Long before the meal was
over Geoffrey found himself forgetting his caution.

Not that Geoffrey had anything to be afraid of. He knew that in some way
this woman was connected with the tragedy of his race; for all that he
knew to the contrary, she might be the spirit directing the tragedies.

She was his enemy, though she smiled upon him with a dazzling
fascination calculated to turn cooler heads than his. But at any rate,
she had not asked him here to poison him at her own table. Mrs. Mona May
was too fine an artist for that.

Presently Geoffrey came out of his dream to find himself talking. Mrs.
May seemed to be putting all the questions, and he was giving all the
answers. And yet, directly, she asked no questions at all. She was
sympathetic and interested in the family, as she explained with kindness
and feeling.

"And there is that poor blind gentleman," she said sweetly.

Her eyes were bent over her dessert plate. She was peeling a peach
daintily. There was just for the fraction of a second a ring in her
voice that acted on Geoffrey as a cold douche does to a man whose senses
are blurred with liquor. Some instinct told him that they were
approaching the crux of the interview.

"My uncle Ralph," he said carelessly. "He is a mystery. He keeps to
himself, and says nothing to anybody. Sometimes I fancy he is a clever
man, who despises us, and at other times I regard him as a man whose
misfortunes have dulled his brain and that he strives to conceal the
fact."

Mrs. May smiled; but she returned to the charge again. But strive as she
would, she could get no more on this head out of Geoffrey. She wanted to
know who the man was, and all about him. And she learnt nothing beyond
the fact that he was a poor nonentity, despised by his relations.
Geoffrey's open sincerity puzzled her. Perhaps there was nothing to
learn after all.

"Strange that he did not stay away," she murmured, "knowing that the
family curse must overtake him."

Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"What can an unfortunate like that have to live for?" he asked. "He is
broken in mind and in body, and has no money of his own. It is just like
the old fox who crawls to the hole to die. And we are getting used to
the curse by this time."

"You have no hope, no expectation, of the truth coming to light?"

It was on the tip of Geoffrey's tongue to speak freely of his hopes for
the future. Instead he bent his head over the table, saying nothing till
he felt he had full control of his voice once more. Then he spoke in the
same hopeless tones.

"I have become a fatalist," he said. "Please change the subject."

Mrs. May did so discreetly and easily. And yet in a few moments the
doings of the Ravenspurs were on her tongue again and, almost
unconsciously, Geoffrey found himself talking about Marion. Mrs. May
listening quietly.

"I have seen the young lady," she said. "She has a nice face."

"Marion is an angel," Geoffrey cried. "Her face is perfect. You have
only to look at her to see what she is. Nobody with a countenance like
that could do wrong, even if she wished it. No matter who and what it
is, everybody comes under Marion's sway. Men, women, children, dogs, all
turn to her with the same implicit confidence."

"Marion seems to be a warm favorite," Mrs. May smiled. "And yet I rather
gather that she does not hold first place in your affections?"

"I am engaged to my cousin Vera," Geoffrey explained. "We were boy and
girl lovers before Marion came to us. Otherwise--well, we need not go
into that. But I never saw any one like Marion till to-night."

Mrs. May looked up swiftly.

"What do you mean by that?" she asked.

"I mean exactly what I say. In certain ways, in certain lights, under
certain conditions your face is marvellously like that of Marion's."

As Geoffrey spoke he saw that the blood had left the cheek of his
companion. Her face was deadly pale, so pale that the crimson flower in
her breast seemed to grow more vivid. There was a motion of the elbow,
and a wine-glass went crashing to the floor. The woman stooped to pick
up the fragments.

"How clumsy of me!" she said. "And why are you regarding me so intently?
My heart is a little wrong, the doctors tell me--nothing serious,
however. There!"

She looked up again. She had recovered, and her face was tinged with the
red flush of health again. But her hands still shook.

But Geoffrey was taking no heed.

He had dropped the match, he was about to apply to his cigarette, and
was staring out of the window. The blind had not been drawn; the panes
were framed with flowers.

And inside that dark circle there came a face, a dark Eastern face, with
awful eyes, filled with agony and rage and pain. Across the dusky
forehead was a cut from which blood streamed freely.

"You are not listening to me," Mrs. May cried. "What is the matter?"

"The face! a face at the window!" Geoffrey gasped. "A horrible-looking
man, not of this country at all; a man with a gash in his forehead. He
seemed to be looking for something. When he caught sight of me he
disappeared."

Mrs. May had risen and crossed to the long French window opening on to
the lawn. Her back was towards Geoffrey, and she seemed determined--or
so he imagined--to keep her face concealed from him.

"Strange," she said, carelessly, though she was obviously disturbed.
"Surely you were mistaken. Some trick of the brain, a freak of
imagination."

Geoffrey laughed. Young men at his time of life, men who follow healthy
pursuits, are not given to tricks of the imagination. His pulse was
beating steadily; his skin was moist and cool.

"I am certain of it," he said. "What is that noise?"

Somebody was calling down the garden. Long before this time the good
people of the farm had gone to bed.

"Shall I go and see what it is?" Geoffrey asked.

"No, no," Mrs. May whispered. "Stay here, I implore you. I would not
have had this happen for anything. What am I saying?"

She passed her hand across her face and laughed unsteadily.

"There are secrets in everybody's life, and there are in mine," she
said. "Stay till I return. There will be no danger for me, I assure
you."

She stepped out into the darkness and was gone. Geoffrey stooped and
bent over a dark blot or two that lay on the stone sill at the bottom of
the window.

"Blood," he muttered; "blood beyond a doubt. It was no delusion of
mine."

From outside came the swish of silken drapery. It was Mrs. May
returning. She seemed herself again by this time.

"The danger is past," she said, "If danger you choose to call it. The
next time we meet we shall laugh together over this comedy. I assure you
it is a comedy. And now I am going to ask you to leave me."

The woman was playing a part, and playing it extremely well. With less
innate knowledge, Geoffrey would have been thoroughly deceived. As it
was, he affected to make light of the matter. He held out his hand with
a smile.

"I am glad of that," he said. "You must let me come again, when,
perhaps, you may be disposed to allow me to assist you. Good-night, and
thank you for one of the pleasantest evenings of my life."

The door closed behind Geoffrey, and he stumbled along in the darkness
until his eyes became accustomed to the gloom. Out in the road some one
crept up to him, and laid a hand on his arm. Like a flash Geoffrey had
him by the throat.

"Speak, or I will kill you," he whispered. "Who are you?"

"Come with me at once," came the hoarse reply; "and release that grip of
my throat. I am Sergius Tchigorsky."




CHAPTER XXI.--The Mystery Deepens.


Geoffrey recognised the deep, rasping tones of Tchigorsky directly. His
hand dropped to his side. No need to tell him that danger was in the
air. It was the thick, still night that goes with adventure.

"Something has happened?" Geoffrey asked.

"Something is going to happen unless we prevent it," Tchigorsky replied.
"The enemy has been foiled three times lately, and is getting uneasy. He
begins to realise that he has to cope with somebody who understands the
game. It is no use to work in this deadly, mysterious fashion as long as
certain people can read the danger signals and act upon them, and
therefore it has been decided to fall back upon more vulgar methods. You
are not afraid of danger?"

"Not in the least. Try me."

"The danger is great. You are dealing with some of the cleverest people
on earth. If you are discovered you will be put away. Your courage will
be tested to the utmost. Are you ready?"

Geoffrey hesitated but for a moment. His senses seemed to be braced and
strengthened. He seemed to hear better all at once; his eyes penetrated
farther into the gloom. There was a feeling of eagerness, of exultation,
upon him. He took Tchigorsky's lean claw and laid it upon his left
wrist.

"Feel that," he said. "Is not my pulse steady? I am longing to go
forward. Only give me a chance to find the truth."

"You will do," he said. "And you will go alone on your expedition. You
are acquainted with all the vaults and passages of the castle by this
time; every inch of the ground is known to you. Give me your coat and
shoes."

Geoffrey handed them over, getting a pair of rubber-soled shoes and a
rough pea-jacket in exchange. In the pocket of the latter he found a
revolver.

"Now what am I to do?" he demanded.

"Stand here," Tchigorsky explained. "Presently you will see a figure or
two, perhaps more. You will not understand what they are saying, but
that makes no difference. You are to follow them; stick to them. If
nothing happens by dawn you can afford to leave them to their own
devices. If circumstances place you in dire peril, be brave, for help
will not be far off."

Geoffrey might have asked another question or two, but Tchigorsky turned
away abruptly and was speedily lost in the darkness. And then followed
for Geoffrey the most trying part of the business, waiting for the first
sign of the foe.

Half an hour passed, and still no sign. Had the affair miscarried and
the miscreants got away in some other direction? Strain his ears as he
would, Geoffrey could catch nothing. Then at length something soft and
rustling seemed to be creeping along on the lawn on the other side of
the hedge.

Geoffrey crept through the gap into the garden. Almost instantly he
dropped on his face, for somebody carrying a lantern was softly creeping
in his direction. It was the figure of a woman who had a black lace
shawl so wrapped about her that in the feeble light it was impossible to
make out her features. She paused and made a hissing sound between her
teeth.

As if they had been evolved out of Geoffrey's inner consciousness, there
appeared two men upon the lawn. One was lying on his back, his head
supported on the arm of his companion. They were Indian natives of some
kind, but of what race precisely Geoffrey could not say. The prostrate
man had an ugly cut across his forehead; it was the same man that
Geoffrey had seen looking through the window.

A crafty, ugly, sinister face it was, full of cunning malignity. The
eyes were dull, but the fires of hate were still in them. The woman
stooped down and produced cool bandages soaked in some pungent liquid,
which she proceeded to bind round the brows of the injured man. Even at
his respectful distance Geoffrey could catch the odor of the bandages.

He watched the weird, midnight scene with breathless interest. There was
something creepy about the whole business. If these people had nothing
to conceal, all this surgical work might have taken place indoors; they
might have called assistance. Geoffrey tried to catch sight of the
woman's features. But that was impossible. Still, there was something
familiar about her. Geoffrey felt quite sure that he had seen that
graceful figure before. She stood up presently, and Geoffrey no longer
had any doubt.

It was Mrs. Mona May.

The injured man rose also. He staggered along on the arm of his
companion, and Geoffrey could with some difficulty see them enter the
sitting-room. He paused in some doubt as to his next move, but before he
was called upon to decide, Mrs. May and the other native came out again.

Evidently they had left the injured man behind. Then they emerged into
the road and started off rapidly towards the cliffs.

"Going some way by the pace they are walking," Geoffrey muttered, "and
at the same time they must be back before daylight, or they would never
have dared to leave that fellow at Jessop's. What a good thing I know
the country."

Geoffrey followed at a respectful distance; his rubber shoes making no
sound. For the time of year the night was intensely dark, which was in
Geoffrey's favor. Also, with his close knowledge of the locality, he had
no fear of making mistakes.

The couple were not more than fifty yards ahead of him. They had not the
slightest idea they were being followed, seeing that they were talking
earnestly and none too quietly in a language that was Greek to Geoffrey.
Now and again he caught the low laugh that came from the woman's lips.

By-and-bye the cliffs were reached, and here the two began to descend a
path that would have been dangerous to unaccustomed feet even in the
broad daylight. But the man seemed to know the way perfectly, and the
woman followed without hesitation. They came presently to the firm sand,
fringed by the ebbing tide.

Then they turned to the right, pausing at length before a solid-looking
expanse of cliff that stood right under Ravenspur Castle. One moment
they loomed darkly against the brown rocks and the next minute they
seemed to be swallowed up by the cliffs. They had entered the mouth of a
cave.

Geoffrey followed still more cautiously. On and on they went, until at
length they paused. Then the light from the lantern grew stronger. From
behind a ledge of seaweed-clad granite Geoffrey watched them furtively.
They were waiting for something--a signal, probably--before going
farther.

The signal seemed to come at last, from where it was impossible for
Geoffrey to judge, and then the advance was resumed. Presently they
emerged into the deep, below-tide level vault under the castle, where
Geoffrey had seen Marion walking in her sleep.

Mrs. May turned to her companion and gave him some sharp command. She
had lost all her levity, and Geoffrey could see that her dark eyes were
glowing. The native salaamed and laid his hand upon the lantern. The
next instant the place was plunged into pitchy darkness. Five, ten
minutes passed, and nothing was heard but the lap of the ebbing tide on
the shore. Then a hand was gently laid on Geoffrey's arm.




CHAPTER XXII.--Deeper Still.


So startled was Geoffrey that he felt the moisture spurt from every pore
like a rash. But fully conscious of his danger, he suppressed the cry
that rose to his lips, nor did he move as he felt a thick cloak over his
head. He slipped his revolver into his hand, and fumbled it against the
cold cheek of his antagonist.

But the antagonist took it coolly. A pair of lips were close to
Geoffrey's ear and the smallest, faintest voice spelt out the letters,
T-c-h-i-g-o-r-s-k-y. Geoffrey put the weapon back in his pocket. At the
same time he felt about till his fingers touched the hand of his
companion. No doubt about it. The other was Tchigorsky beyond question.
Perhaps he had been testing Geoffrey's courage and resolution; perhaps
the danger had deepened unexpectedly.

Presently the light of the lantern popped up again, in response to some
subtle signal, and once more the conspirators moved on to the vault
above. Tchigorsky lifted his head.

"Where are they going?" Geoffrey asked.

Tchigorsky responded with one of his diabolical chuckles.

"They imagine that they are going into the castle," he said. "But they
are not going to accomplish that part of the programme."

"But what do they want there?"

"What should they want? You know something of those now whose business
it is to wipe you out root and branch. More artistic methods having
failed, they may deem it necessary to fall back on more vulgar plans.
There are five people sleeping in the castle--six with your Uncle
Ralph--who stand in the way. It is possible if the fiends are lucky that
the castle may be devoid of life by daybreak."

Geoffrey could not repress a shudder.

"Friends, indeed!" he said. "But why not stop it? Why not let them enter
and take them all red handed?"

"What could we gain by that? We could not connect them with past crimes!
At worst they would get a few months in gaol as suspects. When the time
comes we must smash them all. And the time is coming."

Tchigorsky rose as if to go.

"I follow them," he said; "you remain here, in the darkness. And if any
one attempts to pass you do not let him do so. Don't forget this thing.
At all hazards you are not to let any one pass."

Geoffrey nodded as Tchigorsky passed on his way. For a long time all was
quiet, and then from above there came a startled cry followed by the
sound of strife and a scream of pain and terror. It was all that
Geoffrey could do to restrain himself from yelling in response and
rushing to the spot. Then he became conscious that somebody was coming
rapidly through she cave. He reached out his hand and grabbed at and
caught a sinewy, slippery brown ankle.

It only needed that touch to tell Geoffrey that he was at grips with the
native. Down the fellow came on the slippery rocks, and the next instant
the two were engaged in a life or death struggle.

Young, strong, and vigorous as he was, his muscles knitted like iron
with healthy exercise, Geoffrey knew that he had met his match. The
native had a slight advantage of him in point of years; he was greased
from head to foot, rendering a grip difficult, and his flying robe came
asunder like cobwebs at the first strain. He fought with the abandon of
a man who is reckless of life.

Over and over on the slippery rocks they rolled, each striving to get
the other by the throat. By this time they were both breathing thick and
fast, and Geoffrey's mind began to wander towards his revolver. But to
release his grip to get that might be fatal. He could hear his
antagonist gasping as he rolled off a ledge of rock, and then Geoffrey
lifted his opponent's head and brought it down with a bang on the
granite.

In the very instant of his triumph something whistled behind him, and a
jagged piece of stone came smashing on to his temple.

He had a confused view of a native on his feet again, fast hurrying
away, heard the rustle of garments, and a further rustle of more
garments, and then his arm was closed upon a female figure whom he
pulled to the ground by his side.

He felt the woman open her lips to scream, but he clapped his hand over
her mouth.

"No, you don't," he said grimly. "One of you has escaped, and my friend
the nigger has had a narrow escape, but I've got you, my lady. I've got
you safe, and I don't mean to let you go."

He felt the slight figure in his arms tremble and palpitate; he heard
voices above. Once more the slim figure shivered. His hand was torn from
her mouth and the woman spoke.

"They are calling you," she said. "For God's sake let me go, Geoffrey!"

For an instant Geoffrey was too dazed and stunned to speak.

"Marion!" he gasped presently. "Marion!"

Marion cowered down, sobbing bitterly.

"You are surprised," she said. "No wonder. You wonder what I am doing
here, and I will tell you presently. But not now. I will place my secret
in your hands. I will disguise nothing from you. For the present leave
me."

"Leave you here! Impossible."

"But I am safe, quite safe, Geoffrey. Oh! if you have any feeling for
one of the most miserable creatures in the world, leave me. Tell them
above that those abandoned wretches have gone--that no sign of them
remains. Consider what I have suffered and am suffering for your family,
and try to help me."

Conscious of his own weakness, Geoffrey pondered. He might be doing a
serious injury to the delicate plans formed by Ralph Ravenspur, but he
had given the promise, and there was an end of the matter.

Marion was in some way bound up with these people, but Marion was pure
as the angels, and Marion would do no wrong. Why, then, should her good
name be dragged in the mire?

"You are so good--so good to me." Marion murmured. "Go before they
become alarmed at your silence and leave me here. Say that you saw
nothing. And when the house is quiet I shall make my way back again."

Geoffrey retired upwards without further words. In the basement of the
castle he found Tchigorsky and Ralph Ravenspur.

"They managed to elude you?" asked the former.

Geoffrey pointed to the ugly bruise on the side of his head.

"Yes," he said; "they both got away. But for this bit of an accident
fighting in the dark I might have captured the dusky conspirator."

"Rather you had not, on the whole," Ralph said. "Something gave them the
alarm as they reached the passages. Of course their idea was to murder
some or all of us in our beds, and our idea was to take them in the act.
But they got the alarm and vanished. One of the fellows attacked me in
the shrubbery just before dark, but I fancy he will not do it again."

"I saw him," said Geoffrey. "He came to Mrs. May's for assistance. She
pretended that I was mistaken, but she had to give in at last when
circumstances became too strong for her. How did you manage to deal him
that blow on the head, uncle?"

Ralph smiled grimly.

"I have my own means of protections," he said. "What became of the
fellow?"

Geoffrey explained all that had happened during and after the dinner at
Jessop's farm. His two listeners followed his statement with flattering
interest. Yet all the time Geoffrey was listening intently for signs of
Marion. Was she still in the vaults, or had she managed to slip away to
her bedroom? The thought of the delicate girl down there in the darkness
and cold was by no means pleasant.

"We have managed to make a mess of it to-night," said Ralph. "How those
people contrived to discover that there was danger afoot I can't
understand. But one thing is certain--they will not be content to leave
things as they are. They may try the same thing again, or their efforts
may take a new and more ingenious direction."

"Which direction we shall discover," said Tchigorsky. "Can you let me
out here, or shall I go by the same means that I entered?"

To Geoffrey's relief Ralph volunteered to open the hall door for his
friend.

"Come this way," he said. "All the bolts and bars have been oiled, and
will make no noise."

Geoffrey listened intently. He fancied that he could hear footsteps
creeping up the stairs, and in the corridor a door softly closed. Then
Ralph Ravenspur came back again.

"Tchigorsky has gone," he said. "After this it will be necessary for us
to vary our plan of campaign a little. You have learnt something
to-night. You know now that our antagonists are two Indians and a woman
who is dangerous as she is lovely and fascinating. Ah! what a woman she
is!"

"'Who is she?" Geoffrey asked.

"Ah! that I cannot tell you. You must be content to wait. I do not want
you to know too much, and then there is no chance of your being taken
off your guard. When the surprise comes it will be a dramatic one. The
more you see of that woman and the more you cultivate her the more you
will find to wonder at."

"But can I cultivate her after tonight?"

"Why, not? She does not know the extent of your knowledge; she has not
the remotest idea that you have been helping to foil her schemes. Next
time she will meet you as if nothing had happened."

Geoffrey thought of Marion and was silent. That one so pure and sweet
should be mixed up with a creature like that was horrible. Ralph
Ravenspur rose with a yawn. He seemed to have lapsed into his wooden
state. He felt his way down the big flagged hall towards the staircase.

"We can do nothing more," he said. "I am going to bed. Good-night."

The door closed, and then Geoffrey was free to act. He could go down in
to the vault and bring Marion up. But first he would try to ascertain if
she were in her room. He passed up the stairs and along the corridor.
Outside Marion's door he coughed gently.

The door opened, and Marion stood there clad in a fair white wrapper
with her glorious hair hanging free over her shoulders. Her eyes were
full of tears.

"Geoff," she whispered. "Geoff, dear Geoff!"

She fell into his arms, and pressed her lips long and clingingly to his.
Her whole frame was quivering with mingled love and emotion. Then she
snatched herself away from his embrace, and, with the single whispered
word, "To-morrow," closed the door behind her.




CHAPTER XXIII.--Marion Explains.


A brilliant sunshine poured into the terrace room where the Ravenspurs
usually breakfasted. An innovation in the way of French windows led on
to a tessellated pavement bordered with flowers on either side, and
ending in the terrace overlooking the sea.

A fresh sea breeze came from the ocean; the thunder of the surf was
subdued to a drone. In the flowers a number of bees were busy, bees
whose hives were placed against the side of the house. They were Vera's
bees, and there were two hives of them. Vera attended to them herself;
they knew her, and she was wont to declare that in no circumstances
could they do her any harm. That was why, as Geoffrey drily put it, she
never got stung more than once a week.

"I believe one has been arguing with you now," Geoffrey laughed.

"No, indeed," she said. "And, anyway, it was my own fault."

"Irish," Geoffrey cried. "That makes the second since Monday. Let me
see."

"I cant see the spot," he said. "Does it hurt much?"

"A mere pin prick, dear. I suppose you can get inoculated against that
sort of thing. I mean that you can be stung and stung until it has no
effect at all."

"Even by bees that know you and never do you any harm," Geoffrey
laughed. "Bit I daresay you are right. Five years ago when we had that
plague of wasps, Stenmore, the keeper, and myself destroyed over a
hundred wasps' nests in one season. I must have been stung nearly a
thousand times. After the first score I never noticed it; it was not so
bad as the touch of a nettle."

"What! Has Vera been arguing with the bees again?"

The question came fresh and clear from behind the hives. Marion stood
there; making a fair picture indeed in her white cotton dress. There was
no shade of trouble in her eyes. She met Geoffrey's glance squarely. Her
hand rested on his shoulder with a palpably tender squeeze.

It was the only kind of allusion she made to last night's doings. She
might not have had a single care or sorrow in the world. She seemed to
take almost a childlike interest in the bees, the simple interest of one
who has yet to be awakened to the knowledge of a conscience. Geoffrey
had never admired Marion more than he did at this moment.

"Marion is afraid of my bees," Vera said.

Marion draw away shudderingly from one of the velvety brown insects.

"I admit it," she said. "They get on one's clothes and sting for pure
mischief. And I am a sight after a bee has been operating upon me. If I
had my own way, there would be a fire here some day, and, then there
would be no more bees."

They trooped into breakfast, disputing the point cheerfully. It was
impossible to be downcast on so perfect a morning. Even the elders had
discarded their gloom. Ralph Ravenspur mildly astonished everybody by
relating an Eastern experience apropos of bees.

"But they were not like these," he concluded. "They were big black bees
and their honey is poisonous. It is gathered from noxious swamp flowers
and, of course, it is only intended for their own food. Even those
bees----"

The speaker paused, as if conscious that he was talking too much. He
proceeded with his breakfast slowly.

"Go on," said Marion. "I am interested."

"I was going to say," Ralph remarked in his croaking voice, "that even
those bees know how to protect themselves."

It was a lame conclusion, and Marion said so. Geoffrey glanced at his
uncle. As plainly, as possible he read on the latter's face a desire to
change the conversation.

It was sufficiently easy to turn the talk into another channel, and
during the rest of the meal not another word came from Ralph Ravenspur.
Once more he was watching, watching for something with his sightless
eyes.

And Geoffrey was watching Marion most of the time. She was gentle and
gay and sweet as ever, as if strong emotions and herself had always been
strangers. It seemed hard to recall the stirring events of the night
before and believe that this was the same girl. How wonderfully she bore
up for the sake of others; how bravely she crushed her almost
overwhelming sorrow.

She stood chatting on the pavement after breakfast. She was prattling
gaily to Geoffrey, as the others gradually vanished on some mission or
another. Then her face suddenly changed; her grasp on Geoffrey's arm was
almost convulsive.

"Now then," she whispered, "let us get it over."

Geoffrey strolled by her side along the terrace. They came at length to
a spot where they could not be seen from the house. Marion turned almost
defiantly.

"Now I am going to speak," she whispered.

"Not if it gives you any pain," said Geoffrey.

"My dear Geoffrey; you don't want to hear my explanation!"

"Not if it causes you the least pain or annoyance. I couldn't do it."

Marion laughed. But there was little of the music of mirth in her voice.

"Never be it said again that man is a curious creature," she said. "You
find me down in the vaults of the castle at midnight mixed up with
murderers and worse; you compel me to disclose my identity and take me
prisoner; you force me to plead for mercy and silence. And now you
calmly say you don't want to know anything about it! Geoffrey, are you
indifferent to myself and my future that you speak like this?"

Geoffrey laid his hand on the speaker's arm tenderly.

"Marion," he said, "it is because I think so highly of you and trust you
so implicitly that I am going to ask no questions. Can you be any the
worse because you are bound by some tie to that woman yonder? Certainly
not. Rest assured that your secret is safe in my hands."

"But I must tell you certain things, Geoff. There is some one who comes
to the castle, a friend of Uncle Ralph's, who is an enemy of this--of
Mrs. May's. I don't know whether you know the man--his name is
Tchigorsky?"

No muscle of Geoffrey's face moved.

"I fancy I have heard the name," he said. "When does he come here?"

"'I--I don't know. Secretly at night, I expect. Oh! if I could only tell
you everything. But I cannot--I dare not. If this Mr. Tchigorsky would
only go away! I fear that his presence here will eventually endanger
Uncle Ralph's life. You may perhaps, give him a hint to that effect.
Between Mrs. May and Tchigorsky there is a blood feud. It has been
imported from Tibet. I can't say any more."

"And you interfered to save the lives of others?"

"Yes, yes. Some day you may know everything; but not yet. I am
endangering my own safety, but I cannot sit down and see crime committed
under my very eyes. It is all a question of an ancient secret society
and a secret religion as old as the world. Tchigorsky has certain
knowledge he has no right to posses. Don't press me, Geoff."

"My dear girl, I am not pressing you at all."

"No, no. You are very good, dear old boy. Only get Tchigorsky out of the
way. It will be better for us all if you do."

Geoffrey murmured something to the effect that he would do his best. At
the same time, he was profoundly mystified. All he could grasp was that
Marion was bound up with Mrs. May in ties of blood, the blood of ancient
Tibet.

"I'll do my best," he said, "though I fear that my best will be bad.
Tell me, do you ever see this Mrs. May by any chance?"

"Oh, no, no. I couldn't do that. No; I can't see her."

Geoffrey began to talk about something else. When at length he and
Marion parted she was sweet and smiling again, as if she hadn't a single
trouble in the world.

For a long time Geoffrey lounged over the balcony with a cigarette,
trying to get at the bottom of the business. The more he thought over
it, the more it puzzled him. And how could he broach the matter of
Tchigorsky without betraying Marion?

Ralph Ravenspur was in his room smoking and gazing into space. As
Geoffrey entered he motioned him into a chair. He seemed to be expected.

"Well?" Ralph said. "You have something to say to me. You look
surprised; but know more than you imagine. So Tchigorsky is in danger,
eh? Well, he has been in danger ever since he and I took this black
business on. We are all in danger for that matter. Marion does not know
what to do."

"Uncle, you know there is some tie between Marion and Mrs. May?"

"Certainly I do. It is the crux of the situation. And Marion is to be
our dea ex machina, the innocent goddess in the car to solve the
mystery. But I am not going to tell you what that relationship is."

"Marion hates and loathes the woman, and fears her."

"Fears her! That is a mild way of putting it. Never mind how, I know
what Marion was talking to you about on the terrace. Suffice it that I
do know. So last night's danger was not ours, but Tchigorsky's."

"So Marion said, uncle."

"Well, she was right. Tell her that Tchigorsky is profoundly impressed
and that he is going away. Tchigorsky is never going to be seen at
Ravenspur Castle any more. Are you, Tchigorsky?"

At the question the inner door opened and a figure stepped out. It was
one of the natives that Geoffrey had seen in the hollow of the cliffs
that eventful day. He could have sworn to the man anywhere--his stealthy
glance, his shifty eye, his base humility.

"Tchigorsky has disappeared?" Ralph demanded.

The man bowed low, then he raised his head and to Geoffrey's vast
surprise, gravely and solemnly winked at him.

"Never mind," he said. "How's this for a disguise, Master Geoffrey?"

It was Tchigorsky himself.




CHAPTER XXIV.--Marion's Double.


Geoffrey was lying perdu among the gorse on the cliff uplands. He had a
field-glass and a rook rifle by his side, for he was waiting for a
rabbit. Also he had stolen out here to think over the many matters that
puzzled him.

He was slightly disturbed, and, on the whole, not altogether well
pleased. Why had his uncle and the mysterious Tchigorsky taken him so
far into their confidence and then failed him at the critical moment? He
was prepared to take his share of the danger; indeed he had already done
so, and had proved his steel.

And was not Marion equally mysterious? True, he might have got more out
of her, but had refrained from motives of delicacy. Perhaps, after all,
his elders knew best. A word slipped, a suspicious glance, might spoil
everything.

Then Geoffrey looked up suddenly. Some two hundred yards away he saw a
rabbit lopping along in his direction. At the same instant two figures
came along the cliff. They were ladies, and the sight of them astonished
Geoffrey, for it was not usual to see anything more modern than a
shepherd or a dog at this wild spot.

The figures paused. They were picked out clear against the sky-line as
Geoffrey lay there. He recognised one of them. Surely the tall lady,
with the easy, swinging carriage and supple grace, could be none other
than Mrs. May?

Geoffrey arranged his glasses. They were powerful binoculars and through
them he could see Mrs. May's features quite plainly. He looked through
them again, long and earnestly. And her companion was Marion!

Just for an instant Geoffrey doubted the evidence of his senses. He
wiped the glasses with his handkerchief and looked through them long and
earnestly. No doubt could any longer be entertained.

It was Marion--Marion who had declared that she had never spoken to the
woman--Marion, who had hated the sight of her. And here she was, walking
along with Mrs. May as if they were something more than friends.

Yes; it was Marion beyond a doubt. She had discarded her white dress for
one of blue; her sailor hat was replaced by a red tam-o'-shanter. All
the same, it was not possible to mistake the graceful figure. Even
without the glasses Geoffrey would have been prepared to swear to her.

He lay low under the bushes. The two were coming in his direction.
Geoffrey did not want to listen, but something forced him there--some
power he could not resist. Nearer and nearer they came, until Geoffrey
could hear Mrs. May's voice.

"That is impossible, my dear Zazel," she said. "But you are safe."

"I am not so sure of that," was the reply. "And I'm only a pawn in the
game."

It was Marion's voice; the same, yet not the same, it was a hoarse,
strained voice, like the voice of a man who smokes to excess. Certainly
Geoffrey was not prepared to swear to those as the tones of Marion.

"Absurd, Zazel. Of course you know that we are all in it together. And
look at the glorious reward when our task is over. We must succeed
ultimately, there is no doubt about that, in spite of Tchigorsky. It is
only a question of time. Am I to believe that you are not going to be
true to your oath?"

"I shall not forget my oath. Can the leopard change its spots? But I am
getting so tired of it all. I should like to end it at one swoop. If you
can do that----"

"I have just shown you how it is possible."

"There is sense in that suggestion. And it is so artistic. It would be
quoted in the scientific papers, and various ingenious theories would be
put forth. But some might escape."

"One or two perhaps at the outside. Let them. Nobody would suspect us
over that. And I have the bees safely in my possession."

Geoffrey heard no more. The figures passed by him and then re-passed in
the direction whence they came.

No sooner were they out of sight than Geoffrey rose to his feet. He felt
that he must ascertain at once whether that girl was Marion or not. The
face was hers, the figure hers, but that voice--never!

Then he paused. He came over the knoll of the irregular cliff and there
strolling towards him in her white dress and straw hat was Marion. She
was gathering gorse, and did not see him until he was close upon her.
The pause gave Geoffrey time to recover from his absolute amazement.

So that creature had not been Marion after all. A deep sigh of
thankfulness rose to his lips. The sense of relief was almost painful.

By the time that Marion became conscious of his presence he had
recovered his presence of mind. Marion plainly could know nothing about
her double, and he was not going to tell her.

"I heard you were here, Geoff," she said. "Jessop told me so just now.
Are you going home?"

Geoffrey nodded. He had no words for the present. "It is so lovely,"
Marion went on, "I am quite proud of my courage in coming alone. Do you
see anything else here?"

"Nothing but rabbits," Geoffrey replied, "and few of them to-day. You
are the only human being I have seen since I started."

Then they walked home chattering gaily together. Geoffrey felt his
suspicions falling away from him one by one; indeed, he was feeling
somewhat ashamed of himself. To doubt Marion on any ground was
ridiculous; to doubt the evidence of his own senses was more absurd
still. Thank God he had met Marion.

All the same, there were things to tell Ralph Ravenspur. He, at any
rate, must know all that had been heard that morning. Ralph was seated
in his room with his everlasting pipe in his mouth, much as if he had
not moved since breakfast.

"I have news for you, uncle," Geoffrey said, as he entered the room.

"Of course you have, my boy. I knew that directly I heard your step on
the stair. I hope you have stumbled on something of importance."

"Well, that is for you to say. I saw Mrs. May. She came quite close to
me on the cliffs. She had a companion. When I looked through my glasses
I saw it was Marion."

"Not our Marion," he said. "Not our dear little girl."

"Of course not. Singular that you should have our love of and faith in
Marion when you have never seen her. I had my glasses and I could have
sworn it was Marion. Then they came close enough for me to hear them
speak, and I knew that I was mistaken. It was not Marion's voice.
Besides, I met the real Marion a few minutes later dressed in her white
dress and hat."

"So that is settled. What did the other girl wear?"

"A loose, blue dress--a serge, I should say."

"And her hat?"

"A Scottish thing--what they call a tam-o'-shanter."

"So that acquits our Marion. She couldn't be in two places at once; she
couldn't even wear two dresses at the same time. And our Marion's voice
is the music of the sphere--the sweetest in the whole world. But the
face was the same."

"The likeness was paralysing. What do you make of it, uncle?"

Ralph smiled drily.

"I make a good deal of it," he replied. "Let us not jump to conclusions,
however. Did you hear anything they were saying?"

"Of course I did. Mrs. May was urging her companion to do something. She
was pointing out how rich the reward would be. It was something, I
fancy, that had a deal to do with us."

"I shouldn't be surprised," Ralph said grimly. "Go on."

"Something artistic that would be commented on in the scientific papers,
a thing that would not lead to suspicion."

"Yes, yes. Did you manage to get a clue to what it was?"

"I'm afraid not. Mrs. May made one remark that was an enigma to me. She
said that she had the bees safely in her possession."

A queer sound came from Ralph's lips; his face glared with a strange
light.

"You have done well," he said. "Oh, you have done well indeed."

And for the time not another word would he utter.




CHAPTER XXV.--Geoffrey is Puzzled.


It was a long time before Ralph Ravenspur spoke again. He remained so
quiet that Geoffrey began to imagine that his existence had been
forgotten. He ventured to lay a hand on his uncle's knee.

The latter started like one who sleeps uneasily under the weight of a
haunting fear.

"Oh, of course," he said. "I had forgotten you; I had forgotten
everything. And yet you brought me news of the greatest importance."

"Indeed, uncle. What was it?"

"That you shall know speedily. The danger had not occurred to me for the
moment. And yet all the time it has been under my nose."

"Still, you might easily be forgiven for not seeing----"

"Seeing has nothing to do with it. And there is nothing the matter with
my hearing. The danger has been humming in my ears for days, and I never
heard it. Now it is roaring like Niagara. But please God, we shall avert
the danger."

"You might take me into your confidence in this matter, uncle."

"That I shall before a day has passed, but not for the moment. We are
face to face now with the most dangerous crisis that has yet occurred.
The enemy can strike us down one by one, and nobody shall dream that
there is anything beyond a series of painfully sudden deaths. Failure of
the heart's action the doctors would call it. That is all."

At that moment Tchigorsky returned to the room. No longer was he in the
disguise of an Indian. Perhaps he had donned it to surprise Geoffrey;
perhaps he was just discarding the disguise after putting it to some
practical use. To him Ralph repeated all that Geoffrey had said.

He followed with the most rapt and most careful attention.

"Danger, indeed." he said gravely; "the danger that moves unseen on the
air, and strikes from out of nothingness. I prophesied something like
this, Ralph."

"Aye, my friend," Ralph replied, "you did. But not quite the same way."

"Because I did not know that fortune had placed the medium so close at
hand. Where are the bees?"

Geoffrey was listening intently. Up to now he had failed to understand
why his story had moved Ralph so profoundly. And what could the bees
have to do with it? Yet Mrs. May had mentioned bees.

"They are in two hives outside the morning-room window," said Ralph.
"The bees are Vera's pets, and they thrive for the most part along the
flower borders of the terrace. They are ordinary bees."

"In the ordinary bar-frame hives, of course?"

"Oh, yes; they are quite up to date. You can see the insects working,
and all that kind of thing. The hives can be moved."

"I suppose they are a nuisance occasionally?" Tchigorsky asked.

"Yes," Geoffrey smiled. "We have all been stung now and again."

Tchigorsky appeared to be satisfied at that head. He smoked a whole
cigarette while he revolved a plan in his mind.

"It is necessary to get the whole family out of the way for a time," he
said slowly. "It will be necessary to do so without delay. Unless I am
greatly mistaken, the mischief has already been done. Ralph, can you
induce your father and the whole family to go away for a time--say till
after dark?"

"Perhaps," Ralph replied. "But not without explaining, and it is
impossible to do that. But Geoffrey might manage it. Unless he does so,
one or more of us will pay the penalty before daybreak."

"I will do anything you desire," Geoffrey cried eagerly.

"Then go to your grandfather and get him to arrange a picnic over to
Alton Keep. It is a perfect day, and it will be possible to remain out
till dark, returning to a late supper. I know the suggestion sounds
absurd--childish in the circumstances--but it will have to be done. Say
that there is a great danger in the castle which has to be removed. Say
that nobody is to know anything about it. Go!"

Geoffrey went at once. He found the head of the family in the library
trying to interest himself in a book. He looked up as Geoffrey entered,
and a slight smile came over his worn face. There were two people in the
house who could do anything with him--Geoffrey and Vera.

"You look as if you wanted something." he said.

"I do," Geoffrey replied. "I want you to do me a great favor."

"It is granted--granted on the principle that we make the last hours of
the condemned criminal as comfortable as possible."

"Then I want you to get up a picnic to-day."

Rupert Ravenspur dropped his glasses on the table. He wondered if this
were some new kind of danger, a mysterious form of insanity, brought
about by the common enemy.

"I am perfectly serious," Geoffrey said, with a smile. "Not that it is
any laughing matter. Dear grandfather, there is a great danger in the
house. I don't know what it is, but Uncle Ralph knows, and he has never
been wrong yet. It was he who found out all about those dreadful
flowers. And he wants the house cleared till dark. Unless we do so, the
morning will assuredly see the end of one or more of us."

"Is it a painless death?" the old man asked grimly. "If it is, I prefer
to remain here."

"But there is always hope," Geoffrey pleaded. "And you always think of
us. Won't you do this thing? Won't you say that it is a sudden whim of
yours? Mind, everybody is to go; everybody but Uncle Ralph. I shall
ride, and when I have ridden some distance I shall pretend to have
forgotten something. Perhaps you deem me unduly foolish. But I implore
you to do this thing."

Rupert Ravenspur hesitated no longer. He always found it hard to resist
that young, smiling, handsome face. Not that he was blind to the folly
of the proceedings. On his own initiative he would as soon have danced a
hornpipe in the hall.

"I will go and see about it at once," he said.

He had put off his sombre air, and assumed a kind of ill-fitting gaiety.
Gordon Ravenspur and his wife received the suggestion with becoming
resignation. To them it was the first signs of a mind breaking down
under an intolerable strain. Vera and Marion professed themselves to be
delighted.

"It sounds odd," said the latter. "Fancy the doomed and fated Ravenspurs
going on a picnic! And fancy the suggestion, too, coming from
grandfather!"

Vera looked anxious.

"You don't imagine," she said, "that his mind----"

"Oh, his mind is all right. You can see that from his face. But I expect
that the strain is telling on him, and that he wants to get out of
himself for a time. Personally, I regard the idea as charming."

The preparations were made, no great matter in so large and
well-regulated an establishment as Ravenspur Castle. If the servants
were astonished, they said nothing. The stolid coachman sat solemnly on
the box of the waggonette; the demure footman touched his hat as he put
up the step with the air of a man who is accustomed to do this sort of
thing every day.

Geoffrey stood under the big portico and waved his hand.

"You should drive with us," Marion cried.

"And you will not be long?" Vera asked.

"Oh, I am duly impressed with the importance of the occasion," Geoffrey
laughed. "My horse will get there almost as soon as you arrive. Call the
spaniel."

Tut, the pet spaniel, was called, but no response was made, and finally
the party drove off without him. Geoffrey watched the waggonette with a
strange sense of unreality upon him. He felt that he could have scoffed
at a situation like this in the pages of a novel. And yet it is the
truth that is always so improbable.

Our most solemn and most trivial thoughts always run along the grooves
of the mind together, and as Geoffrey passed round the house he caught
himself wondering where the dog was. He whistled again and again. It was
a most unusual thing for Tut to be far from the family. Outside the
morning-room window the dog lay as if fast asleep.

"Get up, you lazy beast," Geoffrey cried; "after them, sir."

But the dog did not move; he made no sign as Geoffrey cuffed him with
the side of his foot. The dog was dead. He lay still and placid; there
was no sign of pain. There was nothing about the carcase to suggest
poison. Close by the bees were busy among the flowers. In the hives
there seemed to be more noise than usual. Geoffrey opened the windows of
the morning room, leaving the casement flung back behind him. A long
claw was put forth to shut it.

"The window must he kept shut," Ralph Ravenspur said quietly. "In fact,
I have given orders that every window in the house is to be closed. Why,
you will see presently. Did you notice anything as you came along?"

"I was too excited," Geoffrey replied. "I have just found poor Tut
outside. The dog has died suddenly. Half an hour ago he was perfectly
well, young, full of life and vigor. And now he is dead."

"Lies just outside the window, doesn't he?" Ralph asked.

He seemed to speak callously. A man who had passed through his
experiences and emotions was not likely to feel for the loss of a dog.
And yet there was intense curiosity in his tone.

"Just outside; close to the hives."

"Ah, yes. He was poisoned, you think?"

"I expect so. And yet where could he get the poison? Nobody comes here.
Perhaps it was not poison after all."

A thin smile flickered on Ralph's face.

"Yes, it was," he said; "the dog was poisoned by a bee sting."




CHAPTER XXVI.--Geoffrey Begins to Understand.


Geoffrey had no words for a time. Slowly the hideousness of the plot was
beginning to beat in upon him. Mrs. May had mentioned bees to her
mysterious companion, who had so remarkable a likeness to Marion, and by
a strange chance Ralph Ravenspur had the same morning at breakfast
mentioned a certain Asiatic bee, whose poison and whose honey were fatal
to human life.

"Ah," said Geoffrey slowly, "the bees Mrs. May mentioned."

"Precisely, my boy. And the bees that I mentioned also. Tchigorsky found
the dog but a minute or two ago. He slipped downstairs with me the
minute we heard the waggonette drive away. He was very anxious to see
the hives. Directly he caught sight of Tut lying there he knew what had
happened. He has gone to my room for something. When he comes back he
will have something to show you."

Tchigorsky entered the room a moment later. He had in his hand a small
cardboard box with a glass lid. Inside something was buzzing angrily. It
was an insect, the wings of which moved so rapidly that they seemed to
scream, as a house-fly does when the falces of a spider close upon it.

"Have a good look at it," Tchigorsky said curtly.

"Is it dangerous?" Geoffrey asked.

"One of the most deadly of winged insects," the Russian said. "It is a
black bee from the forests near Lassa. There is a larger variety, whose
sting produces the most horrible sufferings and death. This sort injects
a poison which stops the action of the heart like prussic acid, but
without the rigidity caused by that poison. The Lassa black bee invades
other bees' nests and preys on their honey. They frighten the other
bees, which make no attempt to drive them out, but go on working as
usual. Then gradually the whole hive gets impregnated with that poison,
and an ordinary brown bee becomes as dangerous as a black one. This is
the bee that killed your dog."

"Then the hives are already impregnated," Geoffrey cried.

"Precisely. Half-a-dozen of these black bees have been introduced into
the hives. Now, do you begin to understand the malignity or the plot?
Your dog was not dead when, with my net, I caught this fellow--I
expected to catch him."

"And ran great risk in doing so."

"Of course. It was a recreation compared with some of the risks I have
run."

"You are right there," Ralph said in his deep croaking tones. "Look at
the thing, Geoffrey."

With a shudder Geoffrey took the box in his hand. There was nothing
formidable about the insect under the glass lid. It had more anger and
fury, more 'devil' than the ordinary bee, but it was very little larger,
of a deep, lustrous black, with orange eyes and purple, gauzy wings.
There was nothing weird about it.

"Was it imported for the purpose?" Geoffrey asked.

"Undoubtedly," Ralph replied. "Imported by the woman who calls herself
Mrs. May. Before she came over to England she must have had this house
described to her with the greatest minuteness. Otherwise, she could not
have so many instruments ready to her hand; she would never have thought
of these bees for instance.

"If this scheme had not been discovered everybody in the house would
have been stung before long, and every one assuredly would have died.
Those black bees are exceedingly fierce, and do not hesitate to attack
everybody and everything. Their sting is so sharp and so minute that it
leaves no mark and no pain. Half an hour passes, and then the victim
falls down and dies."

Geoffrey regarded the specimen with new interest. He eyed it up and down
as if examining a cobra through the glass sides of its prison house.
Tchigorsky took the box and flattened the lid down until the insect
within was no more than a red smash on the glass. A little later and the
thing was pitched over the cliffs into the sea.

"It is a dreadful business," Geoffrey said. "And, indeed, it seems
almost hopeless to try to combat foes so ruthless, so resourceful, and
so daring as ours. No sooner are we out of one horror than we are into
another."

"While life lasts there is always hope," said Tchigorsky.

"That's true," said Geoffrey, more cheerfully. "At any rate we can avert
the danger now. But how are we going to get rid of those things?"

"We are going to catch them," said Tchigorsky grimly. "We shall have to
destroy all the other bees, I am afraid, and we shall be compelled to
let Miss Vera draw her own conclusions as to the cause of the mischief."

"And the honey, Mr. Tchigorsky?"

"Oh, the honey will be all right. That hasn't been stung, you know. I
have tasted honey from a nest which the black bees have invaded, and
have been none the worse for it. We had better surmise that for some
inscrutable reason the bees have deserted their quarters. And we shall
propose to know nothing at all about the matter. I flatter myself we
shall puzzle the enemy as completely as our friends."

The matter was discussed in all its bearings until the light began to
fail and the glow faded gradually from out of the shy.

Then after locking the inner door of the morning-room, Ralph produced
two large gauze frames, some matches, and powdered sulphur. This, with a
small bellows, completed the stock in trade.

Tchigorsky immediately set about his task in a workmanlike manner. The
bees were all in the two hives by this time. Over the hole in front of
each a square of muslin was fastened; a pile of sulphur in front was
lighted, and the fumes were gently wafted in to the hole with the aid of
the pair of miniature bellows.

There was an angry murmur from within, the murmur of droning insects,
then the quick scream of churning wings. The little strip of muslin was
strained by alarmed and infuriated bees striving to escape. But not for
long. Gradually the noise died down, and Tchigorsky signed to Geoffrey
to help him carry the hive into the house.

There it was deposited on a table and the top lifted off. Instantly the
gauze frame was placed over it, and with a brush, Tchigorsky swept out
the stagnant insects into a glass-topped box provided for the purpose.
On the whole, there was not much danger, but it was just as well to be
on the safe side "Not one left," said Tchigorsky, after he had made a
careful investigation. "But it's quite as well to be certain. I've put
those insects into the box, but I don't fancy any of them will revive.
Now for the other one."

The other hive was treated in similar fashion. There was no hitch, and
finally the frame was replaced as it nothing had happened, with the
exception that the tiny occupants were no more. In the glass boxes,
among the piles of dead bodies, Geoffrey could see here and there the
form of a black insect. From his coat pocket Tchigorsky produced some
long, thin strips of lead, which he proceeded to wind round the boxes
containing the bees.

"There," he exclaimed, "that job is done at last, and a nasty one it has
been. To prevent any further mischief I'll just step across the terrace
and throw these over into the sea." He moved off into the darkness, and
as he did so there came the sound of a fresh, young voice that startled
Geoffrey and Ralph as if they had been criminals caught red-handed in
some crime.

"Geoffrey, Geoffrey, where are you?" the voice cried.

Ralph stepped across and closed the window as Vera entered. It was quite
dark outside, and Ralph hoped that Tchigorsky would see without being
seen. Vera flashed a look of gentle reproach at her lover.

"How can you look me in the face after the way in which you have treated
me?" she asked. "This is the first day's pleasure we have had for years,
and you----"

"Did not care to leave Uncle Ralph," Geoffrey said. "He seemed so lonely
that I felt I could not let him remain like this."

"Geoffrey is a good fellow," Ralph muttered.

Vera bent and kissed Geoffrey fondly. She smiled without any show of
anger.

"I forgive him," she said. "Still, I did miss him. Where are you going,
dear?"

"Across the terrace," Geoffrey replied. "I'll be in to supper directly.
It's all ready, and there is Marion calling you. I'm coming."

Tchigorsky had crept to the window. He caught Geoffrey's eye and waved
to him vigorously. It was a sign that he wanted assistance at once.




CHAPTER XXVII.--An Unexpected Guest.


Geoffrey gave one glance at Ralph before he went. The latter nodded
slightly and sharply, much as if he saw the look and perfectly
comprehended it. Vera had disappeared at Marion's call. In the
dining-room beyond the servants were getting supper. From the distance
came the pop of a cork.

Outside it was dark by this time. Geoffrey closed the window. He did not
speak, but waited for Tchigorsky to give the sign. His feet touched
something that gave out a faint metallic twang.

Geoffrey wondered. Did this mean burglars? He was certainly near to a
wire which was stretched across the terrace, close to the ground. It was
precisely the precaution taken by modern burglars to baffle capture in
case of being disturbed during their predatory proceedings.

But burglars would not come to Ravenspur. A minute's reflection
convinced Geoffrey of that. The name and horror of the house were known
all over England. Everybody knew of the watch and ward kept there, and
no burglar in his senses would risk what amounted to almost certain
capture.

No; something far different was going on. And that something had been
sprung hastily, for half an hour before these wires had not been there.
Geoffrey waited with the comfortable assurance that Tchigorsky was not
far off.

A stealthy footstep crept towards him; a shadow crossed the gloom.

"Is that you, Tchigorsky?" Geoffrey whispered.

"Yes," came the reply. "There are hawks about. Listen."

A little way down the terrace something was moving. Geoffrey could hear
what sounded to him like labored breathing, followed by a stifled cry of
pain.

"The one hawk is wounded, and the other has sheered off," said
Tchigorsky.

"It sounds like a woman," said Geoffrey.

"It is a woman, my dear boy. And such a woman! Beautiful as the angels,
fair as a summer's night. Clever! No words can paint her talents. And
she is in the toils. She cries, but nobody heeds."

Again came the cry of pain. There was a flash and a spurt of flame as
Tchigorsky struck a match and proceeded to light a lantern. He picked
his way over the entanglement of wires; Geoffrey followed him.

"Who laid this labyrinth?" Geoffrey asked.

"Oh, a good and true assistant of ours, an old servant of your uncle's.
We have more than one assistant, and Elphick is invaluable. We laid the
trap for the bird, and she has broken her wing in it. Pity she had not
broken her neck."

Geoffrey did not echo the last ferocious sentiment. He was aflame with
curiosity. A little farther off in the dim path shown by the lantern's
flare something dark lay huddled on the ground. There was a flash of
white here and there, the shimmer and rustle of silken garments.

It might have been Geoffrey's fancy, but he seemed to hear a hurried
whisper of voices, and saw something rise from the ground and hurry
away. But the black and white heap remained. Tchigorsky flashed his
lantern upon it. Geoffrey could just see that there was a strange,
malignant grin upon his face.

"A lady!" he cried in affected astonishment. "Ravenspur, here is a lady!
Madam, permit me to tender you our assistance. You are in pain."

A white, defiant face looked up--a beautiful face disfigured for the
moment by evil passions. There was murder in the eyes. The woman seemed
to have no consciousness of any one but Tchigorsky.

"It is you!" she hissed. "Toujours Tchigorsky."

"Yes, it is I. But I have unfortunately forgotten your name. Strange
that one should do so in the case of one so lovely and distinguished.
You are----"

"Mrs. May. Mrs. Mona May."

She had caught sight of Geoffrey now and a smile came, forced to her
lips.

"Mrs. Mona May," said Tchigorsky. He spoke in the same slightly mocking
strain. "Mrs. Mona May. How stupid of me to forget. And yet in my
muddled brain the name was so different."

Geoffrey bent over the woman anxiously.

"You are in pain," he said. "May I assist you?"

"Indeed, it is very kind of you, Mr. Ravenspur," Mrs. May replied. "I
tripped over something. I have hurt my ankle."

"Barbed wire," said Tchigorsky. "Laid down to trap--er--burglars."

"But on no other occasion----"

Mrs. May paused and bit her lips.

Tchigorsky smiled. He understood what she was going to say. On no other
occasion when she had been here had she encountered a similar obstacle.

Geoffrey was frankly puzzled.

"How did you get here?" he asked. "When the gates are closed----"

"But they were not closed an hour ago, when I slipped into the yard."
was the reply. "I am ashamed to say that I allowed sheer vulgar
curiosity to get the better of me, and now I am properly punished for my
error of taste."

"Nothing but curiosity," Tchigorsky murmured. "My dear Ravenspur, you
may dismiss any unworthy suspicions from your mind. The glamor of your
name and the fatal romance that clings to your race have proved too much
for the most charming and most tender-hearted of her sex."

"I have no suspicions at all," said Geoffrey.

"Of course not," Tchigorsky said in the same mocking way. The light yet
keen sarcasm was lost on Geoffrey, but the other listener understood.
"Mrs. May would not injure a living creature--not a fly or a bee."

The white face flashed again. By this time the woman was on her feet.
One foot she found it almost impossible to put to the ground.

"Get a conveyance and take me home," she moaned.

"Perish the thought," Tchigorsky cried. "Would the Ravenspurs outrage
the sacred name of hospitality like that? Circumstances compel the life
of the cloister and the recluse, but there are limits. Suspicious as the
family must be, I am sure they would not fear an unfortunate lady with a
sprained ankle."

"Of course not," Geoffrey observed. "I will go and prepare them."

He had read that suggestion in Tchigorsky's eyes. Heedless of Mrs. May's
protests, he had vanished towards the house. Tchigorsky had stooped and
taken the woman in his arms as if she had been a child.

"What a precious burden!" he said. "Scarred and battered old Tchigorsky
is a fortunate man, madam. There, you need not struggle; your little,
fluttering heart has no occasion to beat like that. I am not going to
throw you over the cliffs."

The last few words were uttered in tones of smothered ferocity.

"You are a devil," the woman muttered.

"Aye, you are right there. Never was the devil stronger in my heart than
he is at this moment. Never was I more tempted to pitch you over the
terrace into the sea. But there is worse than that waiting for you."

"What are you going to do with me?"

"I am going to carry you into the house; I am going to introduce you
formally to the family to Ravenspur. I am doing you a kindness. Think
how useful the information afforded you will be later!"

"You are certainly the boldest man in England."

"As you are the most utterly abandoned and unscrupulous woman. I can
only die once. But I am not going to die before I see you and your
hellspawn all hanged."

"Why don't you denounce me now?"

"Madam, I never did care for unripe fruit. The pear is ripening on the
tree, and I will pluck it when the time comes."

Tchigorsky pushed the window of the morning-room open and laid his
burden down on a couch.

Almost immediately Rupert Ravenspur, followed by Mrs. Gordon and
Geoffrey, came into the room. Ralph was already there. Geoffrey
proceeded to explain and make the necessary introduction.

"And who is this gentleman?" Rupert Ravenspur demanded, his eye on
Tchigorsky.

"A friend of mine," Ralph put in--"Dr Tchigorsky."

Ravenspur bowed, not that he looked overpleased.

"Permit me to place my hospitality at your disposal," he said. "It is
many years since we entertained at Ravenspur, nor do we, in ordinary
circumstances, desire them. At present I cannot do less than make you
welcome. Madam, I regret that your curiosity should have ended so
disastrously."

"I am properly punished," Mrs. May groaned. "My poor foot!"

In the presence of pain and suffering even Ravenspur's displeasure
disappeared. Mrs. Gordon proceeded to cut away the high French boot and
bathe the small foot in warm water. Almost immediately Mrs. May declared
the pain to have passed away. There were tears in her eyes--tears that
moved some of the onlookers.

"I am sure I don't deserve this," she said. "I have behaved so
abominably that I really don't know what to say."

"Say nothing," Mrs. Gordon replied simply and gently, "but come in to
supper. I understand that you are staying at Jessop's farm. A message
shall be sent them that you will not return till morning. Meanwhile, if
you will lean on me we will manage to reach the dining-room."

The procession started. In the doorway stood Vera. She came forward with
a speech of condolence. Tchigorsky was watching the pair. There was a
hard gleam in his eyes; the clenching of his hand as over the hilt of a
dagger. Beyond, with a face white as her dress, stood Marion.

She staggered against the table as she saw Mrs. May. Her face was full
of terror. Geoffrey wondered what it all meant. And was this the wildest
comedy or the direst tragedy that was working out before his eyes?




CHAPTER XXVIII.--More of the Bees.


Of the real, palpitating horror of the situation only three people round
the table knew the true inwardness. They were Tchigorsky and Ralph and
Mrs. May. Geoffrey guessed much, and probably Marion could have said a
deal had she cared to. Her face was smiling again, but the uneasy,
haunted look never left her eyes. And all through the elaborate,
daintily-served meal Mrs. May never glanced at the girl once.

And yet, here under the Ravenspur roof, partaking of the family
hospitality, was the evil itself. Ralph smiled to himself grimly as he
wondered what his father would say if he knew the truth.

Once or twice as he spoke, Mrs. May glanced at him curiously. She was
herself now; she might have been an honored guest at that table for
years.

"Your face is oddly familiar to me," she said.

"I regret I cannot say the same," Ralph replied. "I am blind."

"But you have not always been blind."

"No. But my misfortune dates back for a number of years. It is a matter
that I do not care to discuss with anybody."

But Mrs. May was not to be baffled. She had an odd feeling that this man
and herself had met before. The face was the same, and yet not the same.

"Were you ever in Tibet?" she asked.

"I had a brother who once went there," Ralph replied. "I am accounted
like him. It is possible you may have met my brother, madam."

The speech was sullen, delivered with a stupid air that impressed Mrs.
May that she had nothing to fear from him. And yet the words had a
curious effect on her. Her face changed color and for the first time she
glanced at Marion. The girl was trembling; and was ashy grey to her
lips. Tchigorsky, observing, smiled.

"Tibet is a wonderful country," he said, "and Lassa a marvellous city. I
had some of my strangest experiences there. I and another man, since
dead, penetrated all the secrets of the Holy City. It was only by a
miracle that I escaped with my life. But these I will carry to my
grave."

"Tell me something of your adventures there," she said.

"Some day, perhaps," Tchigorsky replied. "For the most part they were
too horrible. I could tell you all about the beasts and birds and
insects. I see you have some bees outside, Miss Vera. Did you ever see
Tibet bees?"

"Are they different to ours?" Vera asked.

Tchigorsky glanced up. Mrs. May was regarding him with more than a
flattering interest. A slight smile, almost a smile of defiance, parted
her lips. Marion was looking down at her plate, crumbling a piece of
bread absently.

"Some of them," said Tchigorsky. "Some are black, for instance. I have a
place in Kent where I dabble in that kind of thing. I have a few of the
bees with me."

Tchigorsky took a small box from his pocket and laid it on the table.
Vera inspected the black bees for a moment, and then handed them back to
Tchigorsky.

By accident or design he let the box fall, the lid flew open, and
immediately half-a-dozen sable objects were buzzing in the air.

A yell of terror broke from Mrs. May--a yell that rang to the roof. She
jumped to her feet only to sink again with the pain of the injured limb.
She seemed to have lost all control of herself; she turned and addressed
Tchigorsky in some liquid tongue that conveyed nothing to any one except
that she was denouncing the Russian in a fury of passionate anger.

Geoffrey had risen too, greatly alarmed. From the head of the table,
Ralph Ravenspur coolly demanded to know what it was all about.

"The man is mad," Mrs. May screamed. "He is a dangerous lunatic. Those
are the black bees of Tibet. They are the most fearsome of insects. Ah!"

One of the droning objects dropped on her hand, and she yelled again.
She was a picture of abject and pitiable terror.

"I am doomed, doomed," she moaned. "Killed by a careless madman."

"Is there any danger?" Geoffrey demanded.

Only the life led among so many perils caused the family to wait calmly
for the next and more dramatic development. Perhaps the only way in
which Tchigorsky was behaving gave them confidence. If he were a madman,
as Mrs. May asserted, then the madman was wonderfully calm and placid.

"You are alarming yourself unnecessarily," he said. "See here."

He reached over and took the bee from Mrs. May's arm. The insect had
become entangled in her sleeve and was buzzing angrily.

"The little creature is furious," he said. "As a matter of fact, they
are always more or less furious. If there is any danger there is danger
now."

He held the bee lightly in his hand. Then he released it.

"The stings have been removed," he said. "I bred these myself, and I
know how to treat them. I am sorry to have caused a disturbance."

He spoke with serious, earnest politeness, but there was a mocking light
in his eyes as he turned upon Mrs. May. Nobody had a thought or a glance
for anybody else, and the spectacle of Marion lying back half-fainting
in her chair passed unnoticed.

"Then they are usually dangerous?" Vera asked.

"My dear young lady, they are dreadful," Tchigorsky explained. "They
invade other nests and eat the honey as they might have invaded your
hives. By way of experiment I tried one of these on your hives to-night,
and your bees seemed to recognise an enemy at once. They all deserted
their hives and not one of them has returned. As some amends for what I
have done, I am going to send you two of the finest swarms in England."

Vera shuddered.

"I shall never want to see a bee again," she said.

Once more the eyes of Tchigorsky and Mrs. May met. She knew well that
Tchigorsky was talking at her through the rest, and that in his own
characteristic way he was informing her that the last plot had failed.
With a queer smile on her face she proceeded to peel a peach.

"You are so horribly clever," she said, "that I feel half-afraid of you.
But I don't suppose we shall meet again."

"Not unless you come to Russia," said Tchigorsky, "whither I start
tomorrow. But I am leaving my affairs in competent hands."

Again was the suggestion of a threat; again Mrs. May smiled. The smile
was on her face long after the three most interested in the tragedy had
left the dining-hall and gone to the billiard-room for a smoke.

"Are you really leaving us?" Geoffrey asked.

"I want Mrs. May to imagine so," said Tchigorsky. "In a day or two her
spies will bring her information that I have left England. As a matter
of fact, I have succeeded in tapping a vein of information that has
baffled me for a long time. Still, I am not going away, and my disguise
will be the one you saw me in. If luck goes well I shall be attached to
Mrs. May in the character of a native servant before long. So if you see
any suspicious-looking Asiatic prowling about, don't put a bullet into
him, for you may kill me by mistake."

Geoffrey smiled and promised.

"That was a rare fright you gave Mrs. May over the bees," he said. "How
did you manage it?"

Tchigorsky smiled as he lighted a cigarette.

"I stole them from the woman's spare supply," he said. "I have been all
over her possessions to-day. I almost suffocated the horrible little
things and removed their stings. Of course, they will not live many
hours. I did it in a spirit of mischief, intending to release them in my
lady's own sitting-room. I couldn't resist the temptation to try her
nerves to-night."

"You are getting near the truth?" Geoffrey asked.

"Very near it. We want certain evidence to bring the whole gang into the
net, and then we shall strike--if they don't murder us first. But----"

The speaker paused as Vera entered the room.

"Where is Mrs. May?" Geoffrey asked.

"She has gone to her room," Vera explained. "'Her foot is so painful
that she has decided to accept an invitation to spend the night here."

"Good," Tchigorsky muttered, "it could not have been better."




CHAPTER XXIX.--Mrs. May at Ravenspur.


The woman known as Mrs. Mona May had lost no time in adapting herself to
circumstances. That she had found her way on to the terrace for no good
purpose was known to three people, although in all probability she
imagined that Tchigorsky alone was acquainted with her designs.

He had laid a trap for her, and to a certain extent he had forced her
hand. But she was too brilliant and unscrupulous a woman not to be able
to turn misfortune to her own advantage. And was she not here--here a
guest among those who for some reason she hated from her soul.

Why, it matters not for the present. From Mrs. May's point of view,
Tchigorsky alone knew, and Tchigorsky was going away ere long. But
whether Tchigorsky remained or not, Mrs. Mona May could defy him to
prove that she was in any way connected with the misfortunes of the
Ravenspurs.

Once the man she had most reason to dread had withdrawn to the billiard
room, the adventuress lost no time in ingratiating herself with her
involuntary hosts.

This was the woman with whom Geoffrey had dined. Vera regarded her
curiously. She was very beautiful and fascinating. She had a manner that
attracted. Her conversation was bright and interesting.

"You must not mind me," she said to Vera. "And you must not grudge me a
little of your lover's company."

Vera blushed divinely.

"How did you guess that?" she asked.

"Oh, there are signs, my dear. I have had my own romance and I know. But
women of my age can never really rival young girls like yourself. We
lack the one great charm."

"I should not have thought so," said Vera.

Mrs. May patted the girl playfully on the cheek.

"That is a very pretty compliment," she replied. "But it does not alter
facts. A woman of forty may be fascinating. She has the brilliant parts.
But, alas! it is only once that she can possess youth."

The speaker turned away with a gentle sigh and began to discuss the art
treasures in the drawing-room with Mrs. Gordon. All the time Marion had
held coldly aloof from the stranger.

"You are not like yourself tonight," Vera murmured.

Marion's dark eyes were lifted. There were purple rings under those eyes
and a hunted expression on the white face. It was the face of one who
has seen a terror that it is impossible to forget.

"Am I not?" she said indifferently. "Perhaps so."

"Don't you like that woman?" Vera asked.

"Frankly, I don't," Marion admitted. "But there are reasons. Strange
that you don't recognise the likeness between us. Geoffrey did at once."

Vera started. Strange, indeed, that she had not noticed it before. And
now that Marion had spoken, the likeness was surprising. Making
allowance for the disparity of years, the two faces were the same.

"Is there another mystery?" Vera asked.

Marion smiled her old self.

"Indeed there is," she confessed. "But it is a poor, vulgar little thing
beside your family mystery. Mrs. May is a connection of mine. As a
matter of fact, she is closely related to my mother's family. She is not
a good woman, and I hope you will see as little of her as possible."

"But I suppose she came to see you?"

"Oh, dear no. She would never have done that. She knows perfectly well
that I should strongly oppose her coming here. Beyond question, her
taking up her residence for the benefit of her health in this village
was simply a coincidence."

Vera looked closely at the visitor.

"Mrs. May doesn't look like a invalid," she said.

"She doesn't. It is her heart. Any sudden excitement might be fatal to
her. Is it not strange that I have the seeds of the same complaint?"

"You, Marion. I never heard that before. And you are here!"

"Oh, yes. I am here. A bad place for heart troubles, you would say. But
I am young and strong. I merely made the remark--perhaps it would have
been better had I not said anything about it."

Mrs. May was talking. She protested gently against the trouble she was
causing. Indeed, there was no reason why she should not have gone back
to her farm. Still, her kind friends were so very pressing she would
stay the night. But she must be up and away early in the morning. She
had pressing business, tiresome law business, to see to in York.

"And now I am not going to keep you up any longer," she said with a
brilliant smile. "Who will help me upstairs? Will you, dear?"

She had risen to her feet and approached Marion. The girl seemed to
shrink back; it looked as if she were being dragged into some painful
undertaking. Then the natural sweetness of her disposition conquered her
dislike.

"If you think I can manage it," she said.

Mrs. May hobbled upstairs, leaning on Marion's shoulder, chatting gaily.
The latter helped her into the room set apart for the involuntary guest,
and at a sign closed the door. All her smiles and pretty feminine
blandishments vanished; her eyes were dark and hard; her manner was cold
and stinging.

"You fool," hissed Mrs. May. "This is a nice thing you have done!"

"What have I done?" she asked.

"Fallen in love with Geoffrey Ravenspur."

The words came like a blow. Marion staggered under them.

"I deny it," she said weakly. "It is false."

"It is true, you idiot. You are blushing like a rose. And to-night, when
that fiend Tchigorsky played that fool's trick upon us you had no eyes
for anyone but Geoffrey. Frightened as I was, I could see that. Your
looks betrayed you. What are you going to do about it?"

Marion shook her head sadly. Never had any one at Ravenspur ever seen
her look so forlorn and dejected as she did at this moment.

"I don't know," she said hopelessly. "I know what I ought to do. I ought
to kill you and throw myself into the sea afterwards. Why should I go on
leading my present life? Why should I shield you? What are you? What are
you to me?"

"You dare ask me that question?"

"Oh, I dare anything in my present mood. Still, I am in your power. You
have only to say the word, and it is done."

"Then why do you take every means of thwarting me?"

Marion rose and crossed over to the door. Her eyes were shining. There
was a certain restless motion of her hands.

"Take care," she whispered. "Don't drive me too far. Oh, if I could only
live the last four years of my life over again!"




CHAPTER XXX.--A Leaf from the Past.


Ralph Ravenspur, with Tchigorsky and Geoffrey, sat smoking in the
billiard-room until Vera came in to say good-night and drive them of to
bed. As they were about to separate at the head of the stairs Ralph gave
them a sign to follow him.

"Come to my room for half an hour," he said.

The others complied. Tchigorsky slipped away for a while, and on his
return he laid the end of a long silk thread on the white table-cover.

"Part of a little scheme," he said. "This is one end of a long silk
thread. Where the other end is matters nothing for the present. Ralph,
everybody has retired?"

"Everybody," Ralph replied, as he filled his pipe.

"I fancy you said that no servants sleep in the house."

"They have not done so for a long time," Geoffrey explained. "Not that
we entertain the least suspicion of any of them. We merely made the
change for safety's sake."

Tchigorsky nodded his approval. He arranged the silk thread neatly on
the table, coiling the end round a daisy pattern worked into the damask
cloth.

"For Mrs. May's benefit?" Geoffrey asked.

"Precisely," Tchigorsky said gravely. "I take a great interest in her."

"By the way," he exclaimed, "who and what is Mrs. May?"

"The devil fairly disguised," Ralph croaked. "A beautiful
Mephistopheles, a fascinating Beelzebub, a dark-eyed fiend, a--a----"

He pulled up choking with all-consuming rage. His arm was sawing the air
as if feeling for the white throat of his lovely foe.

"Steady there," Tchigorsky muttered. "Steady, Ralph, my friend. Shall we
enlighten Master Geoffrey a little as to the kind of woman she is?"

"If you like," he said. "Only the tale shall be yours. When I come to
think of it, I go out of my mind, as I did that night in the Black
Valley. Tell him, Tchigorsky; tell him by all means--but not all."

"Aye, aye; I shall know where to leave off. I'll sit here where I can
watch that table. I am interested in that silk thread. So long as it
remains simply coiled up there I can go on talking. When it moves----"

"You are wasting time," Geoffrey suggested.

"True. But to make amends I am going to interest you from the outset.
Doubtless you are curious to know the meaning of those scars on my face
and on the face of your uncle. Lately he has managed artistically to
disguise his for reasons that will appear later. There was nothing to
gain by hiding mine, and pretty ugly they are.

"These scars were branded on us both at the same time by the priests of
the great temple in the hills beyond Lassa. Three of us had penetrated
there, but the other one knew nothing of the mysteries of Buddha, for
the simple reason that he was the servant of your uncle--one Elphick by
name. Elphick is doing good work for us elsewhere, but you shall see him
in time.

"Now these two men, who had disguised themselves as Buddhist priests and
had penetrated all the mysteries of that most mysterious creed, had made
a boast two years before at Lahore of what they meant to do. And the
words of their vaporings were carried to the ears of a woman who was a
Brahmin, though it appeared as if she had abandoned her religion and had
married an Englishman.

"This Englishman had been to Lassa himself and, when a girl, his wife
had fallen in love with him and he married her. There was a good deal of
scandal about it at the time, but there are so many scandals in India
that this one was quickly hurled under a layer of other slanders. Some
said that that officer had managed to pick up some of the holiest
mysteries of Buddha, and that the lovely native had married him to close
his lips. Certainly he would never speak of Lassa, and when the place
was mentioned he always showed signs of agitation.

"Well, we went. We were not afraid. Both of us knew the East; we spoke
many languages; we could assume any disguise. And in a short time, as
honored pilgrims from a far land, we were free of the holy temple in the
hills beyond Lassa. Soon we were picking up all the mysteries."

"Are there any mysteries?" Geoffrey asked.

Ralph gave a quick, barking laugh like the snap of a pistol-shot. All
this time his grave, wooden smile never relaxed.

"Aye," Tchigorsky went on, "mysteries! The things we saw and the things
we learnt would have driven many a strong man mad. Occult sciences! What
do we know of them? I tell you the greatest man who walks the earth, a
whole regiment of the finest scientists in Europe, would be a set of
chattering monkeys alongside a Buddhist priest. We have seen the dead
rise from their graves and heard them speak. We came near to learn the
secret of eternal life. And yet everlasting life and the unveiling of
the future would not tempt me there again."

Tchigorsky's voice had fallen to a harsh whisper. As Geoffrey glanced at
Ralph he saw that the latter's face was bathed in a profound
perspiration.

"We were thus situated for some months," Tchigorsky resumed. "Gradually
every mystery connected with life and death was opening up before us,
and the secret of universal knowledge was within our grasp. Then one day
there was a commotion in the city, and we found that there was to be a
great feast in honor of a princess of the royal blood who had come back
to Lassa after a long pilgrimage. We were bidden to that feast and had
places of honor near to the seat of the princess.

"She came in presently, gorgeously attired in flowing robes and strings
of diamonds and emeralds in her hair. She was a magnificent creature. I
have seen many a native queen on her throne, but none to compare with
that woman who sat flashing her lovely eyes round the table.

"As I looked at her again and again I had an odd feeling that I had seen
her before. I turned to speak to Ralph and beheld with distended eyes
and dropped jaw that he was regarding the princess.

"What is it?" I asked. "Do you know her, too?"

"Ralph whispered a few words in my ear--a few pungent words that turned
me cold. And what he saw was this. In the princess we had the woman from
Lahore--the woman who had forsaken her tribe to marry an English
officer. We had heard before that she was in the habit of going away for
long periods, and we knew that her husband must have possessed himself
of Buddhist secrets, perhaps sacred Buddhist script, or that woman would
never have been allowed to come and go like this.

"Had she married an Englishman in the ordinary way and subsequently
returned to Lassa, she would have been torn to pieces. She had been
granted absolution on purpose to wrest those secrets from the Englishman
who had stolen them. And we two had boasted in the hearing of this woman
that we were going to learn those secrets for ourselves.

"Would she recognise us? That was the question. Remember that we were
most carefully disguised, we spoke the language without a flaw, we had
the same tale to tell--a tale that we had rehearsed over and over again.
There was no reason why we should not pass muster.

"Hope began to revive. Then I looked up and caught that woman's eye, and
she smiled. I dream of that smile sometimes at night, and wake up cold
and wet and shivering from head to foot. Not that I have more fear than
most men, but then I had seen men put to death in Tibet. The tortures of
the wheel would be a pleasant recreation alongside of death like that.

"We were recognised. No need to tell us that. Doubtless that woman had
followed us step by step, giving us all the latitude we required, and
now she had come to teach us the pains and penalties attaching to our
office. She favored us with no further glance until the feast had
concluded and what passes for music had begun, when she honored both of
us with a summons to her side.

"Of course, we went. In the circumstances there was nothing else to do.
She made room for us; she smiled dazzlingly upon us. And then, slowly
and deliberately, as a cat with a mouse, she began to play with us.

"'I speak to you thus,' she said, because there are others who seek for
the secrets of the faith. There were two Christian dogs who came up from
Lahore. One was called Tchigorsky the other was called Mayton'--(Mayton
was your uncle Ralph's pseudonym, Geoffrey)--and they boasted what they
were going to do. They knew the language, they said. And, behold, the
one called Tchigorsky was very like you, holy man.'

"It was coming. I bowed gravely as if the comparison was not pleasing to
me. A wild yell of hysterical laughter came to my lips, but I managed to
suppress that. There were no knives on the table, and I had not dared to
use my revolver. Had there been a knife on the table I should have
stabbed that woman to the heart and taken the consequences."

"But your revolver, Tchigorsky," Geoffrey suggested.

"My dear boy, holy fathers and shining lights of the Buddhist faith do
not carry Regulation Army revolvers," Tchigorsky said grimly. "All I
could do was to wait."

"'Did you know, those English at Lahore?' the princess asked.

"I disclaimed the knowledge, saying that at that time I was in Cawnpore.
Then being closely questioned, I proceeded to give a detailed history of
the movements of myself and my companion for the last year or so. I was
lying glibly, and easily, but I had no comfort from the knowledge. It
was easy to see that not one word was believed, and that I was walking
into the trap.

"'At Dargi you were,' said the princess. 'What are the five points of
the temple there?'

"For the life of me I could not tell her. As a matter of fact, I had
never been near Dargi in my life. And the question was one that any
Buddhist who had been there would have answered offhand.

"'I have forgotten,' I answered as calmly as possible. 'I have a bad
memory. I forget all kinds of things.'

"Those dark eyes seemed to look me all through.

"'You will forget your own name next,' the princess said.

"'I'll remember that,' I replied. 'I am Rane el Den, at your service.'

"Then came the reply in excellent English. 'Your name is Sergius
Tchigorsky, and your companion is Ralph James Mayton. I have found you
out. I have only to raise my hand and your fate is sealed.'

"It was all over. I said nothing. I asked no pity. Pity! You might as
well strive to soften the heart of the wounded tiger that has you down
with a handful of nuts. Then I----"

Tchigorsky paused. His eyes were on the table. He pointed to the silken
thread that was slowly moving in the direction of the door.

"Hush!" he said softly. "Blow out the light!"




CHAPTER XXXI.--The Silk Thread.


Intensely interested as he was in the story that Tchigorsky had to tell,
Geoffrey, nevertheless, watched the slowly moving thread on the table.
Gradually and very slowly the silken tag began to draw away from the
pattern on the table-cloth, Tchigorsky following it with grim eyes.

"You find it strange?" he asked Geoffrey.

"Strange and thrilling," Geoffrey replied. "It appeals to the
imagination. Some tragedy may be at the other end of that
innocent-looking thread."

"There may be; there would be if I were not here. We are dealing with a
foe whose cunning and audacity know no bounds. You see I have been among
the foe and know something of their dealings."

A passionate anger rose up in Geoffrey as he watched the gliding thread.

"Then why not drop upon them?" he cried. "Why not produce your proofs
and hand the miscreants over to the police?"

"What good would that do?" Tchigorsky replied. "Could we prove that the
foe had had a direct hand in the tragedies of the past? Could we
demonstrate to the satisfaction of a jury that Mrs. May and her
confederates were responsible for those poisoned flowers or the bees?
And if we get them out of the way there are others behind them. No, no;
they must be taught a lesson; they must know that we are all-powerful.
And they must feel the weight of our hands. Then the painful family
scandal----"

"You are going too far," Ralph interrupted warningly.

Tchigorsky checked himself after a glance at Geoffrey.

"I am not to be told everything," he said. "Why?"

"Because we dare not," Ralph murmured. "It is not that we cannot trust
you, but because we dare not."

With this Geoffrey was fain to be content. By this time the thread had
left the table, and was lying on the floor.

"The other end is tied to Mrs. May's door," Tchigorsky explained. "When
that door was cautiously opened, of course the thread moved. Geoffrey
you stay here. Ralph, will you go up by the back staircase and get up to
the corridor. Wait there."

"Is there any danger!" Geoffrey whispered.

"Not now," said Tchigorsky; "but this audacity passes all bounds. That
woman had planned to strike a blow at the very moment when she was
enjoying the hospitality of this roof. The boldness of it would have
averted all suspicion from her. One of the family mysteriously
disappears and is never heard of again. In the morning not one lock or
bolt or bar is disturbed. And yet the member of the family is gone.
England would have been startled by the news to-morrow."

"You heard all this?" Geoffrey cried.

"Yes," Tchigorsky said quietly. "That disguise I showed you was useful
to me. It is going to be more useful still."

"But the danger! It must be averted," Geoffrey whispered.

Already Tchigorsky was leaving the room. The lamp had been extinguished,
after taking care to place a a box of matches close beside it. In the
darkness Geoffrey waited, tingling to his finger-tips with suppressed
excitement.

Meanwhile, Tchigorsky felt his way along in the darkness. He was
counting his steps carefully. He reached a certain spot and then
stopped. Ralph strolled down the back staircase, and thence down a
flagged passage into the hall, where he climbed the stairs.

Light and darkness, it was all the same to him. There was nobody in the
house who could find their way about as well as he.

Then he waited for the best part of half an hour. He could hear queer
sounds coming from one of the bed rooms, a half-cry in light, feminine
tones, a smothered protest, and then the suggestion of a struggle. Yet
Ralph never moved towards it; undercover of the darkness he smiled.

Then he heard a door creak and open; he heard footsteps coming along in
his direction. The footsteps were stealthy, yet halting; there was the
suggestion of the swish of silken drapery. On and on that mysterious
figure came until it walked plump into Ralph's arms.

There was a faint cry--a cry strangled in its birth.

"Mrs. May," Ralph said quietly, "I am afraid I startled you."

The woman was gasping for breath, iron-nerved as she was. She stammered
out some halting, stumbling explanation. She was suffering from nervous
headache; she was subject to that kind of thing, and there was a remedy
she always carried in her jacket pocket. And the jacket was in the hall.

"Go back to your room," said Ralph. "I will fetch it for you."

"There is no occasion," the woman replied. "The shock of meeting you has
cured me. But what are you doing?"

"Sleeping on the stairs," Ralph said in his dullest, most mechanical
way.

"Sleep--sleeping on the stairs! Why?"

"I frequently do it. I suffer from insomnia. The accident that deprived
me of my sight injured my reason. This is one of my lucid intervals. For
years I slept in the open air; the atmosphere of a bedroom stifles me.
So I am here."

"And here you are going to remain all night?"

"Yes. I presume you have no objection."

Mrs. May was silent. Did this man know the terrible position he had
placed her in? Was he telling the truth, or was he spying on her? Was he
dangerous enough to be removed, or was he the poor creature he
represented himself to be?

"You should get your clever friend Tchigorsky to cure you," she said.

"Tchigorsky has gone away. I don't know when I shall see him again."

That was good news at any rate. Mrs. May stooped to artifice. There were
reasons why this man should be got out of the way at present. He had
brought danger by his stupid eccentricity, but the bold woman was not
going to change her plans for that.

"Be guided by me," she said. "Go to your room."

"I am here till the morning," Ralph said doggedly. "Go to yours. We are
a lost, doomed race; What does it matter what I do?"

It was useless to combat sullen obstinacy like this. Mrs. May uttered a
few clear words in a language that not one in a million would
understand--certainly not three people in England. It never occurred to
her for a moment that Ralph Ravenspur might be one of the three; but he
was.

He listened grimly. No doubt the mysterious words had nothing to do with
the matter, but a door in the corridor opened, and Marion emerged,
carrying a light in her hand. She came swiftly down the corridor, her
long hair streaming behind her. As she saw Ralph she gave a sigh of
relief.

"Come quickly to Vera's room," she said. "I want your help."

In her intense excitement she seemed not to notice Mrs. May. The latter
stood aside while the other two passed along. She slipped into her own
room and closed the door.

"Foiled," she hissed, "and by that poor meaningless idiot. Is it
possible that he suspected anything? But no; he is only a fool. If I had
only dared, I might have 'removed' him at the same time. On the whole,
it was a good thing that Marion did not see me."

Without the least trace of excitement and without hurry, Ralph followed
Marion. A light was burning in the room and Vera, still dressed, was
lying on the bed. She was fast asleep, but her face was deadly cold and
her breathing was faint to nothingness. Ralph's fingers rested on her
pulse for a minute.

"How long has she been like this?" Ralph asked.

"I don't know," Marion replied. "I was just dropping asleep when I
fancied I heard Vera call out. In this house the mere suggestion
sufficed. I crept quietly along and came in here. The room was empty
save for Vera, and there was no sign of a struggle. I should have
imagined it to be all fancy but for the queer look in Vera's face. When
I touched her I found her to be deadly cold. Is--is it dangerous?"

Ralph shook his head.

"Mysterious as ever," he said. "The miscreant is by us, almost in our
hands, and yet we cannot touch him. Vera has been rendered insensible by
a drug. The effect of it will pass away in time. She will sleep till
morning, and you had better remain with her."

"Of course; I should not dream of leaving the poor child alone."

Ralph just touched Marion's cheek.

"You are a good girl--an angel," he murmured. "What we should do without
you I cannot say. Stay here and have no fear. I shall not be far away. I
am going to sleep for the rest of the night on the floor outside."

"On the floor, my dear uncle?"

"Bah! it is no hardship." said Ralph. "I have had far less comfortable
quarters many a time. I am used to it, and like it. And I sleep like a
hare. The slightest noise or motion and I am awake instantly."

Marion raised no further protests. This singular individual was in the
habit of doing as he pleased, and nothing could turn him from his humor.

He bade Marion good-night and softly closed the door. But he did not lie
down at the head of the stairs. On the contrary, he crept quietly down
to his room again.

There Tchigorsky and Geoffrey waited him. The lamp was once more
lighted. Tchigorsky had a grin on his face.

"Foiled her?" he asked. "I heard you."

"For the present, at any rate," Ralph replied. "That charming woman does
me the honor to regard me as a benighted idiot."

Tchigorsky dropped into a chair and rocked to and fro, shaking with
noiseless mirth.




CHAPTER XXXII.--More From The Past.


Geoffrey looked from one to the other for explanation.

"Will you not tell me what has happened?" he asked.

"As a matter of fact, nothing has happened," Ralph replied. "A little
time ago Tchigorsky outlined a bold stroke on the part of the foe. He
suggested that it was possible, without removing a single bolt or bar,
to spirit away one of the family, who would never be heard of again.
Tchigorsky was making no prophecy; he was speaking from knowledge. Well,
the attempt has been made, and it has failed."

"Who was the victim, uncle?"

"Your cousin, Vera. Sit down, my boy; if you go plunging about like that
you will ruin everything. Did I not tell you that the attempt had been
made and had failed? Vera is safe for a long time to come."

Geoffrey dropped into his seat again.

"How did you manage it, uncle?" he asked.

Ralph gave the details. He told the story drily.

"So I not only prevented the dastardly attempt to carry Vera away," he
concluded, "but I baffled the foe altogether. There was not the
slightest suspicion that I was on the stairs by the merest accident."

"But you say that Marion was with Vera?"

"She was. That nimble wit of hers led her to suspect danger. But Marion
could not have averted the tragedy. A slender girl like her could have
done nothing against a strong and determined foe. If necessary, she
would have been carried off, and they would have killed two birds with
one stone."

Geoffrey shuddered. He was sick of the whole business. For a moment he
was a prey to utter despair. It seemed hopeless to fight against a foe
like this, a foe striking in the dark and almost moving invisibly.

"Some one ought to watch that room," he said.

"It is unnecessary. I am supposed to be sleeping close by. Already the
foe has learnt that I slumber with one eye open. Don't be cast down,
Geoffrey. Two more of the enemy are on their way to Yorkshire, and when
they are here the mouth of the net is going to close. I pledge you my
word that no further harm shall come to anybody. And Tchigorsky will say
the same."

"On my head be it," Tchigorsky muttered. He twisted a cigarette
dexterously with his long fingers.

"There is nothing to fear," he said; "nothing with ordinary vigilance.
The danger will come when the time for defence has passed and it is our
turn to attack. Then there will be danger for the three of us here.
Shall we go to bed?"

"I could not sleep for a king's ransom," said Geoffrey.

"Then we will chat and smoke awhile," said Tchigorsky. "If you like, I
will go on with the history of our adventures in Lassa."

Geoffrey assented eagerly. Tchigorsky proceeded in a whirl of cigarette
smoke.

"We knew we were doomed. We could see our fate in those smiling,
merciless eyes. That woman had lived among civilised people; she knew
Western life: she had passed in society almost for an Englishwoman.

"But she was native at heart; all her feelings were with her people. All
the past could not save us. She meant us to die, and die with the most
horrible torture under her very own eyes. Her life in India was a
masquerade--this was her real existence.

"'You fancy you are the first.' she said. 'Did you ever know a Russian
traveller, Voski by name? He was very like you.'

"I recollected the man. I had met him years before, and had discussed
this very Lassa trip."

"'Yes,' I said, for it was useless to hold up our disguises any longer.
'What of him?'

"'He came here,' the princess said. 'He learnt some of our secrets. Then
it was found out and he had to walk the Black Valley. He died.'

"All this was news to me. So astonished was I that I blurted out the
truth. Only a year before, long after Voski was supposed to be dead, I
had met him in London. When I mentioned Lassa he changed the subject and
refused to continue the conversation. I fancied that he suspected me of
chaffing him. Now I know that he had been through the horrors of the
Black Valley and--escaped.

"The eyes of the princess blazed when she heard this. She was a wild,
devastating fury. It seemed almost impossible to believe that I had seen
her in a tea-gown at Simla, chattering society platitudes in a white
sahib's bungalow. And I bitterly regretted betraying myself, because I
knew that, wherever he was, Voski would be hunted down and killed, as
they were seeking to kill me, as they would slay Ralph Ravenspur, only
they have not recognised him."

"Hence the changed face and the glasses?" Geoffrey asked.

"You have guessed it," said Ralph. "I did not want to be known. I am
only a poor, demented idiot, a fool who cumbers the ground."

"I had betrayed Voski without doing any good to myself," Tchigorsky
resumed. "If any harm has come to him, I am his murderer. Presently the
princess calmed down, and the old cruel, mocking light came back to her
eyes. We were speaking English by this time--a language utterly unknown
to the awestruck, open mouthed priests standing near us."

"'Let us pretend that this is my drawing-room in India, and that I am
entertaining you at tea,' she said. 'Later you shall know something of
me in my real character. I suppose you recognised the risks that you
ran?'

"'Perfectly,' I replied. 'We are going to be done to death in barbarous
fashion, because we have come here and learnt your secrets as your
husband did.'

"I could afford this shot, I could afford to say anything. We were going
to perish by a death the horror of which is beyond all words; had I
strangled her as she sat there, the punishment could have been made no
worse.

"'Take care,' she said, 'you are in my power. What do you mean?'

"'I mean that your husband penetrated the secrets of Buddha, and that
you married him so as to regain those secrets. They were papers and the
like, or he would merely have been assassinated in the ordinary vulgar
manner, and there would have been an end of the business. Your husband
has got an inkling of this, and that is why he has hidden the documents
and refuses to give them up; he would be murdered if he did.'

"'You are a bold man,' the princess said.

"'Not at all,' I replied. 'A man can only die once. Would you say that
the condemned murderer was rash for attempting to pick the pocket of the
gaoler, even for attempting to murder him? What I say and what I do
matters nothing. And you know that I am telling the truth.'

"The princess smiled. My friend Ralph here will remember that smile."

"I could see then," Ralph muttered, "and I do remember it."

"'Very well,' the princess replied, 'you are candid and I will be the
same. What you have said about my husband is perfectly true. I did marry
him to recover those papers. And when I accidentally let out the truth
that I was not outcast of my tribe he saw his danger. He is safe till
those papers are mine. And then I shall kill him. And yet I love that
man--I shall be desolate without him. But my religion and my people come
first. For them I lose my caste, for them I degrade myself by becoming
the wife of a white sahib, for them I shall eventually die. And yet I
love my husband. Aye, you cannot command the human heart.'

"At this I laughed. The princess joined me.

"'You think I have no heart,' she said, 'but you are mistaken. You shall
see. For the present I have my duty to perform. I do it thus.'

"She rose to her feet and clapped her hands and spoke in terse, vigorous
sentences. A minute later we were bound and our disguises slipped from
us. And there for the present you must be content to leave us. To-morrow
I shall tell the rest."

Tchigorsky rose and yawned, but Geoffrey would fain have had more.

"The princess," he said; "at least tell me if I know her."

"Of course you do. Princess Zara is the woman who calls herself Mrs.
Mona May."




CHAPTER XXXIII.--Vera Sees Something.


It was nearly dawn when Vera came to herself out of an uneasy slumber.
The darkest hour that precedes the faint flush in the eastern sky was
moving away. There was a light in the room.

Vera rubbed her eyes wondering. It was one of her fancies to have no
light in her room. Better to lie with horrors she could not see than
have the glimmer from a nightlight filling every corner with threatening
shadows.

Vera sat up in bed, forgetting for the moment that she had a raking
headache. Something had happened while she slept. Something was always
happening in that house of fears, so that Vera was conscious of no new
alarm. In a big easy chair at the foot of the bed Marion reclined, fast
asleep.

Vera checked an impulse to wake her. In that miserable household sleep
was the most blessed of all luxuries. Why, then, should Marion be
disturbed? Doubtless she had come there to protect, and doubtless the
girl would know all about it in the morning.

"I will not wake her," Vera murmured.

But she could not sleep herself. The splitting, blinding headache was
very much in evidence just now. Vera felt that she would give anything
for a glass of cold spring water. She poured out that in her own bottle,
but it was flat and tepid.

She would go down into the stone-flagged outer kitchen, where the pump
was, and get some fresh. In any case, she had not the least idea of
going to bed again. Vera partly dressed herself doing up her hair in a
big shining knot, and then, in slippered feet, crept down to the
kitchen. She had no need of a light--there was already enough to show
the way.

How cool and refreshing the water was! She drank a glass and then laved
her face in the crystal fluid. All headache was gone by this time,
though Vera had a curious trembling of her lower limbs that she could
not account for.

She opened a side door leading into a green quadrangle, and from there
made her way to the terrace. For a few minutes she stood in a dark angle
facing the house, just picked out, as it was, from the gloom. Along the
dim corridor some one was advancing with a light.

What could it mean? What was going on? Vera crouched close into the dark
corner. She had an idea that she was going to witness something.

The light in the corridor stopped and grew brighter. From the black
shadow of the house a human figure crept out and slid along the terrace
to a spot where it was just possible for a man of strong courage and
cool head to make his way down to the beach at low tide. At high water
the sea swept the foot of the cliff.

Vera strained her eyes to make out the figure. It passed so close to her
that she might have touched the hem of the white diaphanous garment
about it; a faint, sour kind of perfume was in the air. These swiftly
flying feet made not the slightest noise. Vera guessed at once that this
was one of the Orientals whom she and Geoffrey had seen along the cliffs
on a memorable occasion.

She was not far wrong. If not the same, they belonged to the same
noisome band. Almost before Vera could recover from her surprise another
figure followed.

Vera watched with intense eagerness. Slight and frail though she was,
she was not in the least afraid. She came from the wrong race for that.
She had made up her mind to know what was going on even if she ran some
danger in obtaining the knowledge. And what did that light mean?

She was soon to know. Presently another figure came along, a tall figure
which in the gloom bore a strong resemblance to Tchigorsky. The figure
wore boots and a European dress, and did not seek concealment. By his
side was yet another figure, also clad in European dress.

"You say this is the place?" the latter man whispered in indifferent
English.

"Yes, yes," was the reply, in still more indifferent English. "It is to
this place that my master, Dr. Tchigorsky, bade me bring you. And there
is the signal."

The light in the corridor waved again.

"I am not satisfied," the stranger muttered. "I am in great danger."

"But not here," the other said eagerly. "Nobody knows you are here. The
princess has not the least idea of your presence. And Dr. Tchigorsky, my
master, bade me hunt for you until I found you. And I have done it."

"Oh, yes; you have done it right enough. And Dr. Tchigorsky would not
have sent for me unless there had been danger. But why not meet him in
daylight in a proper and natural manner?"

The other spat gravely on the pavement.

"The doctor is a great man," he said. "He knows. Would you have your
enemies to guess that you have seen my master? That is why I bring you
here at night. That is why there is the great secret."

The tall man muttered something that sounded like an acknowledgment of
the force and cogency of this reasoning.

"I daresay it is all right," he said. "Fetch your master."

The servant salaamed and departed in the direction of the house. He
returned presently with the information that Tchigorsky had gone along
the terrace. There was a summer-house a little way off, where Tchigorsky
waited.

Vera felt her heart beating faster. There was no summer-house along the
terrace--nothing but a broken balustrade that Rupert Ravenspur was
always going to have mended. Over this there was a sheer drop to the sea
below.

As the pair moved on, Vera followed. Then what followed seemed to happen
in the twinkling of an eye. A white-robed figure emerged and flung
himself upon the stranger. At the same time the other miscreant, who had
acted as Tchigorsky's servant, attacked him from behind.

"You rascals," the stranger cried, speaking this time in French. "So I
have been deceived. You are going to throw me over the cliff. There is
no escape for me. Well, I don't mind much. The agony of suspense has
taken all the sweetness out of life for me. I knew that sooner or later
this was bound to come. But I am going to take a toll."

The stranger's breath was coming rapidly between his teeth. Vera tried
to scream, but no sound emerged from her lips. She stood rooted to the
spot, watching what seemed to her a long one-sided struggle. As a matter
of fact, it had not lasted more than ten seconds. Gradually the stranger
was forced back.

Back and back they forced him to the very edge of the cliff. There was
no escape for him now. He reached out two long and swinging hands; he
grasped two arms, one for each of his would-be assassins, and then he
jumped backwards. Two fearful, wailing yells rent the air; there was a
mocking laugh, and silence.

Had she really seen this thing or had she dreamt it? Vera was not sure.
Just for a brief moment her senses left her. When she came to herself
again she crept along to the house and thence to her bedroom. She locked
the door and flung herself upon the bed, pressing her hands to her eyes.

"How long will it last?" she murmured. "How long can one endure this and
live? Oh, Heaven! is there no mercy for us?"

Then the blessed mantle of oblivion fell again.




CHAPTER XXXIV.--Exit Tchigorsky.


It seemed to have been tacitly agreed by Geoffrey and Marion that
nothing could be gained by telling Vera of the danger that she had
escaped. Nothing could be gained by a recital of the dastardly attempt
on the previous evening, and only another terror would be added to the
girl's life. And, Heaven knows, they all had terrors enough.

On the other hand, Vera had made up her mind to say nothing to the
family generally as to her startling adventures. Of course, Geoffrey and
Ralph Ravenspur would have to know, but the rest were to be kept in the
dark.

Vera's white face and serious air were accounted for by the headache
from which she was palpably suffering. Some of the others understood,
and they were full of silent sympathy.

"It is nothing," said Vera. "A walk along the cliffs will soon set me
right." As she spoke she looked at Geoffrey significantly. He knew
immediately that the girl had something important to say to him. He
slipped outside and Vera followed him. Not till they were out of sight
of the house did she speak.

"Dr. Tchigorsky is still about?" she asked.

"Yes, dear," Geoffrey replied. "As a matter of fact, he is hiding in
Uncle Ralph's room. He has his own reasons for so doing, but the reasons
are to remain a profound secret. I ought not to have told you. You are
not to tell any one."

Vera gave a sigh of relief.

"I promise that," she said. "And I am exceedingly glad to hear that Dr.
Tchigorsky is safe. I was not sure whether I had not seen his murder."

Geoffrey regarded Vera in amazement.

"Why, you were in your room all night," he cried. "You were----"

He was going to say 'drugged,' but he pulled himself up just in time.

Vera told her story without further preamble. It was a thrilling one,
and none the less so because simply told.

"I don't profess to understand it," Vera concluded. "I tell it you just
as it happened. On the whole, I thought it as well to keep the
information to myself. I dare say that Dr. Tchigorsky can solve the
problem."

"He shall have a chance," said Geoffrey; "I'll tell him after luncheon.
But I should not tell a soul else this, Vera."

"I had no intention, Geoffrey. And now, hadn't we better go back and say
good-bye to Mrs. May? She is leaving the house directly."

Mrs. May did leave the house in the course of the morning, all smiles
and blandishments. She had a particularly tender word and squeeze of the
hand for Geoffrey, whom she pressed in a whisper to come and see her
before long.

"I will," Geoffrey replied. "You may rely upon that."

It was with a feeling of intense relief that he was rid of her. It
seemed hard to believe that the smiling polished woman of the world, the
derniere cri of Western civilisation, should be one and the same with
the fanatic princess of the fanatical East.

There was something wild and bizarre about the very suggestion. There
was one last smile for every one but Marion who had not appeared, and
Mrs. May was gone.

Geoffrey made his way up to his uncle's room. There he found the two
friends smoking. Tchigorsky looked at him from behind a cloud of thin
smoke.

"You have news, my young friend," said Tchigorsky. "I see it in your
eyes."

"I have the most important news," said Geoffrey, "only it does not
convey any impression to me. It is a discovery of Vera's. She had a fine
adventure last night. She was not sure whether or not she had seen you
murdered, Tchigorsky."

"Say on," Tchigorsky said calmly. "Say on, my boy."

Geoffrey said on accordingly. He fully expected to surprise his hearers
and he was not disappointed. Every word he said was followed with rapt
attention.

"And now can you explain it?" Geoffrey asked eagerly.

"To me the explanation is perfectly clear," Tchigorsky replied. "Last
night I told you that there were two other parties to the vendetta now
in England, and that it was necessary to get them into the net before we
close it. That is no longer necessary, for the simple reason that these
two men are dead--drowned."

"Do you mean that they perished with that stranger last night?"

"Certainly I do. A fine, determined fellow, whose death I cannot
sufficiently deplore. And he had his vengeance upon his foes. If he
perished, they perished also."

"But who was he, Tchigorsky?"

"The other man--my fellow-countryman, Voski. Don't you remember my
telling you how the princess spoke of him? He has been hunted down at
last. They lured him here and destroyed him under the pretence that I
wanted to see him. My presumed servant had only to mention my name, and
the thing was done."

"But why bring him here?"

"Because the place is so quiet. Because they wanted to give their
mistress a pleasant surprise. I don't suppose she knew they were
coming."

"But the light in the corridor?"

"That was a curious and useless coincidence. The light in the corridor
was mine. I was looking for something. Neither of those miscreants was
ever in the house at all. At the same time they had naturally been
informed where I was. To-day they would have gone to their mistress with
the pleasing news that they had despatched Voski. I am certain they were
saving the news for her."

"What shall you do about it?" asked Geoffrey.

"I shall do nothing at present," Tchigorsky replied. "I have a little
idea that may work out to our advantage later. Meanwhile, nobody knows
of the tragedy, and nobody is to know. This afternoon you are going out
fishing in a boat, but in reality you are going to look for their
bodies. If you can find them all----"

"We are certain to find them all," Ralph interrupted. "They will be
carried round Gull Reef on the spit of sand under the caves and
deposited on the beach, whence the tide ebbs at four o'clock to-day. I
have not lived here all my life for nothing. We shall find those bodies
within a yard of where I say."

"And bring them up the cliff," Geoffrey shuddered. "Ugh!"

"You will do nothing of the kind," Tchigorsky said coolly. "Bring Voski,
of course; but you are to bury the two ruffians in the sand. It will be
easy to do so, and pile some rocks over them afterwards."

Geoffrey ventured to suggest that such a course might end disastrously,
the officers of the law not to know of it. Tchigorsky waved the
suggestion aside contemptuously. It was no time for nice points like
these.

"Those foul creatures are dead, and there is an end of it," he said.
"What can it matter whether there is an inquest held on them or not? If
it is, then there will be an end of my scheme. I say you must do this.
The future happiness of the family depends upon it. It is also of the
utmost importance that Princess Zara does not know of the death of her
miscreants."

Geoffrey nodded. He began to see daylight. And, after all, the
concealment of these bodies was no crime.

"What do you say, Uncle Ralph?" he asked.

"Say that Tchigorsky is right," Ralph croaked; "Tchigorsky is always
right. When we get Voski's body, what shall we do with it?"

"Lay it out in the corridor, where I can get a look at it," said
Tchigorsky. "For the present I do not exist--at least, so far as this
house is concerned. All you have to do is to follow my directions."

The strange pair set out on their excursion in the afternoon. It was a
long pull from the village to the cliffs, but it was accomplished at
length. The boat was run aground at the least dangerous spot and Ralph
and Geoffrey set out along the sands. The former's step was as free and
assured as that of his younger companion.

"Ah!" Geoffrey cried, "you are right. There they are."

"I knew it," Ralph replied. "See if they are injured."

Geoffrey steeled himself to his gruesome task. The three men lay side by
side as if they had been placed so by human hands.

As far as Geoffrey could judge, there were no signs of violence on the
bodies of either of the natives. They lay by each other, their faces
transfixed with rage and horror.

Beyond doubt, these men had been drowned, sucked down by the strong
current and cast up again by the sea as if in cruel sport.

"No hurts on either," Geoffrey muttered.

"It is possible. Look at the other one."

Geoffrey did so. He saw a face fixed with a grim smile, the smile of the
man who can meet death and knows how to punish those who injure him. The
face was seared and criss-crossed just like Tchigorsky's and Ralph
Ravenspur's; indeed, with its strange disfigurement the dead Russian
would have passed for Tchigorsky.

The face was black and swollen from an ugly bruise on the forehead. Had
he not known the truth, and had any one told Geoffrey that Tchigorsky
lay there, he would have believed it.

A spade had been placed in the bottom of the boat, and with it two deep
graves were dug in the sand. Into them the bodies of the Orientals were
cast; the sand was made smooth again, and a layer of heavy rocks laid on
the top. The body of the Russian was conveyed to the boat, and thence to
the house.

There was nobody to see the mournful entry. All the family were on the
terrace. A startled servant or two came forward and gave the necessary
assistance to convey the body to the dimly-lighted corridor.

"Go to the village and fetch the constable," said Geoffrey. "We have
found a dead body on the beach."

The servant went off; the gallery was deserted. In a few minutes the
family would be in the house again, and the story would have to be told.
Tchigorsky looked cautiously from his hiding-place.

"Is the coast clear?" he asked.

"Perfectly clear," said Geoffrey.

Tchigorsky came forward. For a long time he examined the body. The
regret on his face was tempered by a gleam of grim satisfaction.

"It is very like you," said Geoffrey.

"It is me," Tchigorsky whispered. "You are to recognise it as me. The
idea is that I fell over the cliffs in the darkness and was drowned. I
will explain later. Somebody comes."

Tchigorsky darted off as Marion appeared. She looked white and agitated.

"Another horror," she said. "Sims just told me. Who is it?"

"I regret to say it is Dr. Tchigorsky," said Ralph. "He must have walked
over the cliff in the darkness. See here."

Marion bent over the body with a shudder.

"Poor fellow," she said tenderly. "Tchigorsky beyond a doubt."

Ralph turned away, as if in grief. But the grin on his face was the grin
of Mephistopheles.




CHAPTER XXXV.--Mrs. May is Pleased.


Geoffrey was fain to confess that he couldn't quite follow. He turned to
Ralph, who once more had recovered his old expression--an expression
tinged with profound regret. From the hall below came the tones of
Rupert Ravenspur demanding to know what it was all about.

"Go and tell your grandfather," Ralph said quietly. "Everybody who comes
near us is fated, it seems. Poor Tchigorsky is no more. He was a
mysterious man, and wonderfully reticent as to his past life, but he was
the most interesting man I ever met. But I shall never hear anything
more about Tibet."

"He was a very old friend of yours?" Marion asked.

"Not so very old," Ralph replied. "And I should hardly call him a
friend. We were mutually interested in certain scientific matters. But
as to the marvellous side of things he told me nothing."

Speaking by the letter this was perfectly true. Tchigorsky had told
Ralph nothing, for the simple reason that they had learnt and suffered
together.

"Then why did he come here?" Marion demanded.

"To try to solve the mystery. He declared that Orientalism was at the
bottom of it. But we shall never know now. Tchigorsky is no more, and
such knowledge as he may have possessed has gone down to the sea with
him."

Marion turned away with a sigh. Slight as their acquaintance had been,
she had been drawn to Tchigorsky, she said. Strange that whoever tried
to help the house of Ravenspur should come under the ban.

"But Tchigorsky was drowned," said Ralph.

"No, indeed," Marion replied. "Oh! I know there are no signs of violence
on the body. I know how dangerous the broken balustrade is; but I have
my opinions all the same."

"You are wrong in this case," Ralph said, as he walked away.

Presently other people began to arrive. For the first time for many
years Ravenspur was invaded by strangers--a policeman or two, a fussy,
polite inspector, a journalist with a colleague, pushing everywhere.
They would have interviewed Rupert Ravenspur, but the cold glitter of
his eye awed even them.

The police let Ralph alone, but Geoffrey was subjected to severe
questioning. On the whole he came out of the ordeal better than Ralph
had anticipated.

"You managed that very well," he said.

"I feel horribly mean and guilty. All these prevarications----"

"Call them lies, if you like," Ralph put in coolly. "It doesn't matter.
Think of the good cause. If ever the end may justify the means, it is
here. You are deceiving only our enemies; you are injuring nobody. And
you are giving Tchigorsky a heaven-sent opportunity."

"I doubt it, uncle. Clever as Tchigorsky is, well as he may disguise
himself, he will fail. Did not the Princess Zara pick you both out at
Lassa?"

"That was not quite the same thing. Remember, she knew beforehand that
we were going to make the attempt to reach the holy city. She allowed us
to go so far because she is naturally a cruel woman. Moreover, all the
time her spies had been dogging our footsteps. Before nightfall she will
firmly believe Tchigorsky to be dead, which is a great point in his
favor. She does not know that her other two miscreants have met with a
deserved fate. Tchigorsky will go to her, passing as one of them, and
will tell her a wonderful tale as to how he and his ally compassed
Voski's death. He will tell how that death entailed the death of his
companion."

"It is a tearfully dangerous position."

"Oh! it is. But Tchigorsky will not mind that. He loves danger for its
own sake. And he will be able to act the character to the life. He
speaks the language perfectly; he is up to all the rites and ceremonies.
Tchigorsky will not fall."

The inquest was appointed for the afternoon. It was not likely to last
long, and the verdict in the minds of most people was a foregone
conclusion. Tchigorsky had walked out into the darkness, he had stumbled
over the cliffs, and there was an end of the matter.

Meanwhile the police seemed to have taken possession of the house. And
all the time Tchigorsky was seated in a comfortable lounge in Ralph's
room smoking cigarettes and making plans for the future.

Geoffrey had gone out after luncheon. He would not be wanted for a full
hour and resented the vulgar curiosity of these strangers. Already some
of the jury had arrived, and were critically examining the broken
balustrades with an owl-like wisdom which in other circumstances would
have been amusing.

Geoffrey walked along up the slope towards Jessop's farm. He met a small
governess-cart drawn by a donkey coming down the hill. In it was Mrs.
May driving slowly along. She pulled up as she saw Geoffrey and held out
her hand. Her face was very clear and bright to-day.

"You see, I have already adapted myself to circumstances," she said,
when Geoffrey had asked politely and feelingly after the injured foot.
"The donkey and I are old friends, and Jessop got the cart for me. So I
am all right. By the way, what is it I hear about your finding a body
down on the sands?"

"It is quite true," Geoffrey said gravely. "The body of Dr. Tchigorsky."

"Tchigorsky! Dr. Tchigorsky! Do you really mean that?"

The smooth, velvety voice had risen to a hoarse scream. Disappointment,
joy, relief danced across the woman's gleaming eyes. For the moment she
seemed to forget that she had a companion.

"What a dreadful thing!" she said, catching her natural voice again.
"How did it happen?"

Geoffrey gave her the details without flinching.

"It was a bit of a shock for us," he said, "but we are accustomed to
them. Of course it will be brought in that the poor fellow met with an
accident, but there is not the slightest doubt that he was murdered."

"Murdered! Why should you say that?"

"I don't know. Of course I have no evidence. But Tchigorsky chose to
interest himself in our affairs, and he has paid the penalty. That was
exactly what Marion said when she saw the body."

"So that poor child actually saw the corpse! How terrible!"

"Marion did not seem to mind. She is small and slender, but she has
courage and resolution."

Mrs. May nodded. She had received information that was a long way from
being distasteful to her. She plied Geoffrey with questions as to what
Tchigorsky had said and done, but Geoffrey evaded them all. Tchigorsky
had said nothing; he had hinted vaguely at what he was going to do.

"I knew him years ago," said Mrs. May.

"Oh indeed," Geoffrey replied. "He never mentioned that."

Mrs. May drew a long breath. Evidently she had nothing to fear. Her
arch-enemy had gone to his account, leaving no mischief behind. Sooner
or later the man would have had to be removed; now he had gone away,
saving all the trouble. Really, it was very considerate of Tchigorsky.

"You might come to the inquest and say he was a friend of yours," said
Geoffrey.

Mrs. May looked at him sharply. Had she said too much, or did he
suspect? But Geoffrey's eyes were clear and innocent of meaning. Mrs.
May shuddered. These kind of horrors made her ill, she said.

"Pray do not mention that fact," she implored. "It can do no good, and
it may cause a great deal of harm."

Geoffrey disclaimed every intention of making mischief. Besides, as Mrs.
May pointed out, there was his uncle Ralph. Geoffrey shrugged his
shoulders.

"It is a hard thing to say," he murmured, "but my poor uncle's testimony
would not carry much weight. That accident he had some years ago injured
his brain. But he is harmless."

Mrs. May exchanged a few more or less banal remarks with her companion
and drove on. She had got nothing out of Geoffrey, but he had baffled
her, and what was more, had succeeded in lulling a set of lively
suspicions to sleep.

The inquest turned out as he had anticipated. The suggestion of foul
play was never raised. A surgeon testified to the fact that the deceased
met his death by drowning, and that the injury to the face was doubtless
caused by a fall on the rocks. Beyond that the condition of the body was
normal.

Geoffrey's evidence was plain and to the point. He had little to say. He
repudiated the suggestion that the family enemy had had anything to do
with the thing. Dr. Tchigorsky was merely a passing visitor; he had met
with an accident, and there was an end of the matter. It was impossible
to say more than that.

Then to the manifest disappointment of those who had come prepared to be
thrilled with sensational details, the inquest was over almost before it
had begun. Directed by the coroner, the jury brought in a verdict of
"Found Drowned, but how the deceased came by his death there was no
evidence to show."

Rupert Ravenspur rose from his seat and ordered the servants to clear
the house.

"See that they are all out at once," he said. "Half an hour ago I found
two women--ladies, I suppose they call themselves--in the picture
gallery with guide-books in their hands. Really there is no sense of
decency nowadays."

The curious crowd were forced back, and once more Ravenspur resumed its
normal aspect.

"I will see to the burial," Ravenspur said. "The poor man seems to have
no friends. And I feel to a certain extent guilty. Geoffrey, you will
see that all proper arrangements are made for the funeral?"

Geoffrey bowed his head gravely.

"Yes, sir," he said. "I will see to that."




CHAPTER XXXVI.--Mrs. May Learns Something.


Mrs. May sat among her flowers after dinner. She had dined well, and was
on the very best terms with herself. It had been a source of
satisfaction to see the body of her worst enemy laid to rest in the
village churchyard that afternoon.

For years she had planned for the death of that man, and for years he
had eluded her. To strike him down foully had been too dangerous, for
had he not told her that he was prepared for that kind of death? Had he
not arranged it so that a score of savants in Europe should learn the
truth within a month of his decease?

"And kindly fate has removed him for me," she said. "There is no longer
danger. What have I to fear now from those wise men of the East?
Nothing. They will see that Tchigorsky has died a natural death and will
destroy those packets. I can act freely now."

A strange look came over the lovely face, a look that boded ill for
somebody. Then the whole expression changed as Geoffrey entered. She had
seen him that afternoon; she had asked him to come and he had
half-promised to do so. That Mrs. May hated the young man and all his
race with a fanatical hatred was no reason why, for the present, she
should not enjoy his society.

She was a strange woman, this Eastern, with a full knowledge of Western
ways and civilization. She could be two distinct beings in as many
minutes.

A moment ago, she was a priestess thirsting for the blood of those who
had defiled her creed, for the blood of those to the third or fourth
generation, and almost instantly she was the charming hostess she would
have been in a country mansion or a West End drawing room. She waved
Geoffrey to a seat.

"I hardly dared hope you would come," she said. "But now you are here,
make yourself at home. There are some of the cigarettes you liked so
well and the claret purchased for me by a connoisseur. I never touch
wine myself; but I know you men appreciate it after dinner."

Geoffrey took a cigarette, and poured himself out a glass of the superb
claret. The bouquet of it seemed to mingle with the flowers and scent
the room. Geoffrey mentally likened himself to an Italian gallant upon
whom Lucretia Borgia smiled before doing him to death.

Not that he had any fear of the wine. Mrs. May was a criminal, but she
was not a clumsy one. She would never permit herself to take risks like
that.

Nevertheless, it was very pleasant, for when Mrs. May chose to exercise
her fascinations there was no more delightful woman. And there was
always the chance of picking up useful information.

Mrs. May touched lightly on Tchigorsky, to which Geoffrey responded with
proper gravity. Had Mrs. May known that Tchigorsky himself was not more
than a mile away she would have been less easy in her mind.

"No more visions lately?" she asked.

"No more," Geoffrey replied. "But they will come again. We are
hopelessly and utterly doomed; nothing can save us. It is to be my turn
next."

Mrs. May started. There was an expression on her face that was not all
sympathy.

"What do you mean by that?" she demanded.

Geoffrey slowly extracted from his pocket a sheet of paper. He had
discovered it on his plate that morning at breakfast-time. Long and
earnestly it had been discussed by himself, Ralph and Tchigorsky, and it
had been the suggestion of the last-named that Geoffrey should find some
pretext for mentioning it to Mrs. May.

"This was on my plate this morning," he said. "I don't mind showing it
to you, because you are a good friend of mine. It is a warning."

It was a plain half-sheet of notepaper, the sort sold in general shops,
at so many sheets a penny. The envelope was to match. Just a few lines
had been laboriously printed on the paper; which were as follows:--

"Take care. You are marked down for the next victim; and they are not
likely to fail. You are not to go on the sea till you hear from me once
more; you are not to venture along the cliffs. If you show this to
anybody I shall not be able to warn you again, and your doom will be
sealed.--ONE WHO LOVES YOU."

That was all there was; nothing at the top or the bottom. Mrs. May
turned this over with a puzzled face and a hand that shook slightly.
Under her smile was another expression, the look of one who has been
betrayed and is in a position to lay her hand upon the guilty person.

"You are fortunate to have friends with the enemy," she said. "But do
you think you were wise to show this to me?"

She was playing with him as a cat plays with a mouse. It was a
temptation she could not resist, feeling sure that Geoffrey would not
understand. But he did, though he did not show it on his face.

"Why not?" he asked innocently. "Are you not my friend? Personally, I
believe it is a hoax to frighten me. You can keep that paper if you
please."

"Then you are not going to take any notice of the warning?" asked Mrs.
May.

There was a note of curiosity, sharp, eager curiosity, in the question.
Geoffrey did not fail to notice it, though he shook his head carelessly.

"I am going to ignore it, as one should ignore all anonymous letters,"
he said. "If the writer of that letter thinks to frighten me, then he or
she is sadly mistaken. I shall go on with my life as if I had never
received it."

Mrs. May's lips framed the sentence, "The more fool you;" but she did
not utter it. It filled her with satisfaction to find that the warning
had been ignored, as it had filled her with anger to know that a warning
had been received. And Mrs. May knew full well who was the author of
that letter.

"I don't think that I should ignore it," she said. "It may be a cruel
piece of mischief; and on the other hand, it may be dictated by a
generous desire to help you. So the moral is that you are to keep clear
of the cliffs and the sea."

Geoffrey flicked the ash off his cigarette and laughed. He poured
himself out a second glass of the amazing claret.

"It is an unusual thing for me to do," he said; "but your claret is
wonderful. You speak of the moral; I speak of the things as they are
going to be. To-morrow I shall go out fishing alone as if nothing had
happened."

"Ah! but you have not spoken of this?"

Mrs. May indicated the letter lying on the table. Geoffrey looked at her
reproachfully.

"Have we not trouble and misery enough in our house without making
more?" he asked. "Now, I put it to you as a lady of brains and courage,
if you had been in my position, would you have shown that to your
family?"

Geoffrey lay back in his chair with the air of a man who has put a
poser. At the same time he had ingeniously parried Mrs. May's question.

As a matter of fact, nobody but Ralph and Tchigorsky had seen the paper.
And the latter point-blank refused to give his reasons why the letter
was to be disclosed to Mrs. May.

She looked at Geoffrey with real admiration.

"I shouldn't," she said. "Of course, you are right and I am wrong. And I
dare say you will be able to take care of yourself."

He was going to disregard the warning; he was going out alone; and
nobody knew what was hanging over his head! Here was a fool of fools, a
pretty fellow to assist. Much good that warning had done.

Geoffrey rose to his feet

"And now I must go," he said. "Still, I hope to come again."

The door closed, and she was alone. Hardly had he departed before a dark
figure in a white robe crept out of the gloom of the garden into the
room. Mrs. May looked at the ragged-looking stranger fixedly.

"Who are you, and whence do you come?" she asked in her native tongue.

The man salaamed almost to the ground.

"I am Ben Heer, your slave," he said; "and I bring you great news."

"Oh!" Mrs. May said slowly; "and so you have come at last!"




CHAPTER XXXVII.--Diplomacy.


Mrs. May crossed rapidly and noiselessly to the door and closed it. Not
that there was any need for caution, seeing that the primitive household
had been abed long ago. But precautions is never wasted.

There was coffee in the grate, kept hot by means of a spirit lamp. Mrs.
May poured out a cup and handed it to her guest.

She lay back in her chair watching him with a keen glance and the easy,
natural insolence, the cruel, cutting superiority of the great over the
small. The man stood, his hands thrust into the folds of his loose
sleeves, a picture of patient resignation.

"How did you get here?" the princess asked.

"At the great house in London I asked, O mistress." Ben Heer replied. "I
came over, as thou knowest, to do certain work. There was yet another
one with me. And when my work was done I came on to tell what thy slave
had accomplished."

"You have proofs of what you say?"

"Else I had not been here. For two years we have followed up the track
of the victim. It was as if we had a searched for one single perch in
the whole of a great lake of water. But we never tired, and never slept
both at the same time. Then at last we got near, and it came to the
knowledge of the prey that we were upon him. That was long before the
last cold weather that nearly starved us."

The man paused and shivered. The princess nodded with careless sympathy.
She had never tried a winter in England, but she could imagine what it
was.

"He knew us at last," Ben Heer resumed. "He met us face to face in the
public street, and he knew that his hour had come. A night later he was
in Paris. At the same time we were in Paris also. He tried Rome, Vienna,
Berlin. So did we. Then he came back to London again. When he did so we
knew that he had bowed his face before the All-seeing, and prayed that
the end might come speedily."

The princess followed all this with impatience. But the man was speaking
after the manner of his kind, and could not be hurried.

He would go on to the end without omitting a single detail, and the
princess was forced to listen. Despite the Western garb and the
evidences of Western life and custom about her, she was no longer Mrs.
May, but Princess Zara.

She had only to close her eyes and the droning intonation and
passionless voice of the speaker took her back to Lassa again. And the
day was near--ah! the day was near when the goal would be reached!

"Once we had him, and once he escaped," Ben Heer went on. "He was a
brave man was Voski, and nothing could break down those nerves of iron.
He knew that the end was near. It was in a big house--a house near to
London--that we found him.

"There were servants, and they were glad to have their fortunes told. It
was their evening meal on the table when we got there, and the man Voski
Sahib was out. Then, behold, after that evening meal the servants slept
till dawn, and at midnight the master returned. He came into his study
and the bright flash of the lightning came at the touch of his fingers."

"Electric light," the princess said impatiently. "Go on."

"Then he saw us. We knew that he had no weapon. The door we barred. Then
Voski, he sit down and light a cigar, smiling, smiling all the time.
When we look at him we see that he moves not so much as a little finger.
There was no sign of fear, except that he look at a little box on the
table now and then."

"Ah!" the princess cried. "You got it, eh?"

Ben Heer made no direct reply. He was not to be hurried. He meant to
describe a sordid murder in his own cold-blooded way. Probably he did
not regard the thing as a crime at all; he had been acting under the
blessing of the priests.

"'You have come for it?' he asked.

"We bowed low with respect, saying that we had come for it. He lay back
in his chair, making a sign for me to approach. Previously we had told
him that it was useless for him to call out to the servants."

"You did not tell those servants their fortunes in your present garb?"

"No, no, my mistress. We no such pigs as that. . . . Sahib Voski bid me
approach. My friend had the 'pi' ready on the cloth. . . . It was held
to the head of the other. And so he died peacefully in his chair."

"Ah! so you say. Where are your proofs?"

Ben Heer slowly withdrew a white packet from the folds of his dress.

"What better proof could the slave of my illustrious mistress have?" he
asked. "It is here--the precious stone with the secrets of the gods
written on it. Behold!"

With a slightly dramatic gesture a glittering fragment of something that
looked like green jade was held on high. The princess grasped it eagerly
and devoured it with her eyes. Words were pouring in a liquid stream
from her lips; she was transformed almost beyond recognition.

"At last," she murmured; "at last! But the other one--your companion.
How did he die? You say he is dead. How?"

Ben Heer shook his head sadly.

"I cannot say," he replied. "It might have been some scheme on the part
of Sahib Voski. When we got back to our room in London we were both
dreadfully ill. For days I lie, and when I get better they tell me my
poor friend is dead and buried. Then I understood why Voski Sahib smile
and smile in that strange way. It was witchcraft, perhaps, or some devil
we do not know in the East--but there is the stone."

The princess was regarding the shining stone with a besotted enthusiasm
that seemed grotesquely out of place with her dress and surroundings.
Perhaps this suddenly flashed upon her, for she carefully locked up the
stone.

"You have done well, Ben Heer," she said, "and shall not go unrewarded.
The worst part of our task is over; the rest is easy."

"Then the princess goes not back to Lassa?" Ben Heer asked.

"Oh, not yet, not yet. Not till they are destroyed root and branch to
the smallest twig on the tree. I have not spared myself, and I am not
going to spare others. Yet there remain those of the accursed race
yonder, the Ravenspurs. They know too much; they have that which I
require. I will kill them off--they shall die----"

"As my mistress slew her husband when his life was of no more value to
her?"

"Ah! so you know that? You would not reproach me, Ben Heer?"

"Does the slave reproach the master who keeps his carcase from the
kennel?" Ben Heer asked, as he bowed low. "My mistress was right; her
hands were washed whiter than the snow in the blood of the Christian. It
was well; it was just."

"Then you shall help me, for there is much to be done. Take this ring.
Place it on your finger and go to the others. They are outside waiting.
Give them the call, thus."

The princess made a faint noise like the drowsy call of a bird, and Ben
Heer caught it up at once. He had heard it many times before. Then he
slipped out like a cat in the darkness, and presently the call came from
the gloom. A moment later it was answered, and then all was still again.

Mrs. May, who had discarded the princess for a moment, closed her
window. It was a glad night for her.

"So those two are out of the way," she murmured. "The road is clear at
last--clear to the vengeance that must be mine. And with the vengeance
comes the wealth that should make me a feared and dreaded power in the
East. Give me but the wealth and Lassa shall be my footstool."




CHAPTER XXXVIII.--Geoffrey Gets a Shock.


Ralph Ravenspur had wandered along the cliffs and Geoffrey had followed
him. The latter came up to the blind man at the loneliest part of the
rugged granite, and there for a time they sat. Ralph was graver and more
taciturn than usual, till presently his head was raised and he seemed to
be listening to something intently.

"What is the matter?" Geoffrey asked.

"Somebody is close to us," Ralph explained. "Somebody is creeping up to
us in the gorse. Nay, you need not move. We are safe here on this bare
ledge. There is one thing there is no cause to fear in dealing with
these miscreants, and that is firearms. Weapons of that description make
a noise, and your Oriental hates noise when he is out on the kill. Ah!
what did I tell you? Somebody is close by."

A figure rose out of the gorse, a slender figure with a ragged beard and
brown face. The stranger crept along and dropped by Geoffrey's side.

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "It is only I--Tchigorsky."

Geoffrey was astonished, though he had no occasion to be.

Ralph took the matter coolly. "I expected something like this," he said.
"I knew you would desire to see me, and that is why we came along the
rocks."

Tchigorsky lay on his back puffing a cigarette.

"Keep your eyes open," he said to Geoffrey. "One can't be too
particular. Not that there is any danger, for I've sent those two
wretches off on a wild goose chase for an hour or two, and the she-devil
is down with one of her blinding headaches. You wouldn't think she was a
woman whose heart is in a weak state, eh?"

"I shouldn't have supposed she had one," said Geoffrey. "Have you seen
her?"

"I was in her company for a long time last night," Tchigorsky explained.
"I posed as one of the murderers of Voski; I gave her proofs of my
success."

"The forged Garuda stone," Ralph chuckled.

"The same," Tchigorsky said gravely. "It was a magnificent forgery, and
calculated to deceive those pious murderous old rascals at Lassa. At any
rate, I am now deep in the confidence of the princess, and attached to
her insubordinates, who are pledged to assist in wiping out the
Ravenspur family."

Geoffrey sighed involuntarily. He would have liked to know why this
vendetta aimed at his family, but he knew that the question would be
useless. Still, he felt that a great deal had been gained during the
last few hours.

"Have you learnt what the latest villainy is?" Ralph asked.

"Not yet. There is much uneasiness and alarm over the recent failures,
and my dusky allies are getting a little frightened. For the next day or
two I expect we shall lie low and plan some big coup.

"What I want to secure now are the princess's private papers. I know she
has them and is in regular communication with the priests at Lassa. Give
me these and I can expose the whole plot. Let me wipe these three people
out, and then Lassa shall get a hint that will save further trouble from
that quarter.

"A hint from the India Office that any more rascality will mean an
expedition to Lassa and the destruction of their temples will suffice.
But first I must have my proofs. Without proofs I am helpless."

"Find them," Ralph croaked; "find them. Never mind the scandal, never
heed what people may say. Bring the matter home, hang those wretches,
and we shall never more be troubled by this plague from the East. If I
had my way I would shoot the whole lot."

"And be hanged for your pains," Tchigorsky replied. "Ah! my friend,
there are serious flaws in the criminal law of this fine country of
yours. Patience, patience. I shall find out everything in time."

"There is one thing I am curious to know," said Geoffrey. "I want to
know who was the girl on the cliff with Mrs. May that afternoon--the
girl who has such an amazing likeness to Marion? Have you discovered
that, Tchigorsky?"

"That is what I am trying to get at myself," Tchigorsky replied with
great gravity. "It is one of the mysteries of the campaign."

Geoffrey said no more on the point, chiefly because he had no more to
say. Yet it was haunting him now, as it had done for some time past. It
filled his mind as he made his way down the cliffs after luncheon. And
then, to his surprise, as he gained the sands he saw a figure rise from
the rocks and flit along the beach until it flashed round a distant
point.

It was the girl who bore that surprising resemblance to Marion. She was
dressed, as before, in a blue skirt and red tam-o'-shanter.

With a sudden impulse Geoffrey followed. His feet flew over the heavy
sands, making no noise. As he turned the rocky point he saw no signs of
the girl, but there on the beach with her sketch book on her knee was
Marion herself, so deeply interested in manipulating her water-colors
that she did not see Geoffrey till he hailed her.

"Did you see her?" Geoffrey gasped.

Marion smiled at his excited face.

"See whom?" she asked. "Oh, yes, some girl did pass me; but I was so
busily engaged that I did not look up. How do you think my sketch is
progressing? I have been at it all the morning. Vera made me a small bet
that I should not finish it to-day, so I am going to win my bet or
perish in the attempt."

Geoffrey was hardly listening. He recollected that there had been some
little chaff at luncheon over some sketch, but he had paid little heed
to the subject.

"It was the same girl," he said. "The girl so like you. Oh, Marion, how
unfortunate you did not look up!"

"It was indeed," Marion replied. She appeared to be deeply interested.
"I would have given anything to see her. But it is not too late. Put my
materials in your boat, Geoff, and I will follow up the cliffs. I can't
be very much use, I'm afraid; but at any rate I may solve this much of
the mystery."

Geoffrey returned to his boat. It seemed very strange to him that Marion
should not have seen the girl, and also that on each occasion these two
should have been so close together without meeting.

Geoffrey pushed his boat out, got his sails up, and then stood out for
the bay. It was very quiet, and no other boats were to be seen. One or
two of the upper windows of the castle were visible from there, but no
other signs of habitation.

The breeze freshened as Geoffrey reached the open sea. Some distance
from him a pile of wreckage covered with a mass of seaweed floated on
the water.

"I'll anchor here and get my lines out," said Geoffrey.

He luffed, and as he did so a puff of wind filled the sail. The mast
gave an ominous crack, and the whole thing snapped and went by the
board. Geoffrey stared with widely-open eyes. The wind was as nothing,
barely enough to belly the sail. Then he looked down and saw that the
mast had been almost sawn away. Somebody had cut it nearly through, so
that the first puff would suffice.

Geoffrey felt vaguely alarmed and uneasy. He was a good four miles from
shore, and was an indifferent swimmer. The sea was too dangerous and
rough for bathing. There might be further treachery. He sat down and
pulled hard at the oars with the idea of returning to the beach again.

As he bent his back to the work, he toppled over the seat with two short
stumps in his hands. The oars, too, had been sawn through and Geoffrey
was helpless, four miles from land in an open boat, with no means of
progress and nobody in sight.

The position was alarming. There would be nothing for it but to wait
until some passing craft came along and picked him up. But the time went
by without any sign of a boat, and starvation might be the result. Nor
was the position improved when it began to dawn upon Geoffrey that the
boat was filling fast.

He saw that a large hole had been bored in the bottom and filled with
some kind of substance that slowly dissolved in the water. With a tin
dipper Geoffrey worked away with all his might, but he could only keep
the water from rising higher, and knew that the exertion would soon tell
upon him.

"Help!" he cried. "Help! help! help!"

He ceased to call as suddenly as he had begun. What was the use of
calling so long as nobody could hear him? And why waste the breath that
would be so precious to him later? He could not see that the mass of
wreckage and seaweed had drifted close to the boat. He saw nothing till
a line thrown into the boat struck him smartly on the face. He looked
up.

"Can you manage to keep her afloat?" a hoarse voice came from the
wreckage.

"For an hour perhaps," Geoffrey replied. "Why?"

"That will do," said the other. "I've got a paddle here. Hitch the rope
on to the nose of the boat and bail out for all you are worth. This is
another of the princess's little tricks. I expected it; only it hasn't
turned out quite in the way that I anticipated. Now, bail away."

"Tchigorsky!" Geoffrey gasped. "Tchigorsky!"

"Very much at your service. I rigged up this contrivance this morning
and pushed off with it, not long before you came down. But never mind
me. Stick to your dipper, and I'll tell you all about it when we are
ashore."

It was hard and weary work for both of them, but it was accomplished at
last. Geoffrey was utterly exhausted when the boat was safely beached,
and Tchigorsky, too, felt the effects of his exertions. He lifted
himself cautiously off his raft and made a dart for one of the caves.

Inside he had dry clothing, long flowing robes, wig, and hair for his
face, pigments that changed the hue of one hemisphere to that of
another. Geoffrey, limp and exhausted, watched the artistic
transformation with admiration.

"It's wonderful," he said, "but then you are a wonderful man,
Tchigorsky. How did it all happen? Who did it?"

Tchigorsky smiled as he touched up his face.

"It was inspired by a woman and carried out by a woman," he said. "I
dared not warn you before you started, and indeed I expected further
developments. But a woman doctored your boat for you."

"Was she young and good-looking?" he asked. "Dressed in----"

"Dressed," Tchigorsky smiled, "in a blue serge dress and a red
tam-o'-shanter. I need not ask if you have met the lady before."




CHAPTER XXXIX.--Princess Zara's Terms.


Geoffrey had no reason to fear anything from his adventure in the way of
catching cold, seeing that beyond his feet he was not in the least wet.
But the exertion had brought the great beads to his forehead, and he lay
at the entrance to the cave exhausted.

Meanwhile Tchigorsky had appeared again clad in the long Oriental robes
that suited him so well. Even in the strong light that filtered through
a crack on to his face Geoffrey found it impossible to recognise him.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

"All right," Geoffrey gasped. "I'm a little bit pumped, of course."

Tchigorsky pointed to the boat pulled over the ledge of rock.

"Then oblige me by shoving her off and letting her sink in shallow
water," he said. "It is not pleasant and may cause your friends a great
deal of anxiety, but for a little while it will be necessary for the
world to regard you as one who has met with a watery grave."

"But surely this does not apply to my family?" Geoffrey asked anxiously.

"To your family most of all," said Tchigorsky coolly. "It is all part of
the scheme. I am the last man in the world to cause unnecessary
suffering--goodness knows I have had enough of my own--but one must be
cruel to be kind sometimes. I have worked out the scheme; I have seen
the enemy's cards, and I am playing mine accordingly. I tell you the
step is imperative."

"But Vera," groaned Geoffrey. "It will kill Vera. In normal
circumstances the shock would be great; with a girl who had been so
awfully tried the news may mean loss of reason."

"I have thought of that," Tchigorsky said. "At least your uncle Ralph
and I have worked it out between us. Miss Vera is not to know anything
of our scheme, but she is to know that you are safe and well. Come; I
fancy you can trust Ralph Ravenspur."

Geoffrey nodded. He felt easier in his mind. Not that he was satisfied;
but it would be flying in the face of Providence to interfere with the
delicate and deeply laid scheme of a man like Tchigorsky.

"All right," he said. "I'll do as you desire."

"Then push the boat off without farther delay. You will understand why I
don't want to be seen in the matter. Go, before any one comes along."

Geoffrey went obediently. He had not much fear of anybody passing.
Nevertheless he did not neglect proper precautions. As he reached the
cave again he found Tchigorsky lying on a heap of dry seaweed smoking a
cigarette.

"I suppose I have to think Mrs. May for this?" Geoffrey asked.

"For this and other things," Tchigorsky nodded. "I knew it was coming;
in fact, very little can happen now that I am not in a position to
discount. My ruse succeeded capitally. Behold in me Ben Heer, one of the
two miscreants who succeeded in destroying Voski. My colleague perished
in the attempt."

"The princess is convinced of that?"

"Absolutely. She is certain that I, Sergius Tchigorsky, have gone over
to the great majority. Besides, I have placed proofs of my alleged crime
in her hand--the Garuda stone all the fuss was about. It is a clever
imitation, but that is beside the question."

"So you have been taken into her confidence?"

"Well, not exactly that. But every new scheme is relegated, so far as
details are concerned, to some of us, and therefore I am in a position
to discount the future. In ordinary circumstances I should simply have
warned you against going fishing to-day, and thus check-mated the foe
again; but that would have been inartistic.

"Besides, I wanted the princess to regard you as another victim--hence
the whole of this rather cheap dramatic business. You will come to life
again in a few hours--when we shall have to be guided by events."

"Who was it who tampered with the boat?"

"You will learn in good time. Let us, meanwhile, assume that it was the
work of one of my dusky companions. For the present you and I remain
where we are--till dark probably--when it will be possible to smuggle
you up to your uncle's room. I have not been regardless of your creature
comforts. Here are cold meat and a bottle of champagne. We dine
together."

Geoffrey accepted his portion with resignation. And Tchigorsky was an
entertaining companion. There was no dullness in his presence.

"Very well," Geoffrey said as he lighted a cigarette. "We are safe here.
Now's the time for a further recital of your thrilling adventures in
Lassa."

"Agreed," Tchigorsky cried. "Where did I leave off?"

"You had been gagged and bound at the instigation of the princess."

"True. It is also true that but for the intervention of the same
princess we should have been torn to pieces on the spot; and
incidentally, I may mention that that would have resulted in the
absolute extinction of the house of Ravenspur. The men who a moment
before had been grave, reserved priests were transformed instantly into
raging fiends.

"Had they been possessed by devils they could not have flamed out more
suddenly. They were mad to know that the secrets of all ages had passed
into the hands of Christian dogs who had defiled their altars. And yet
much the same kind of barbarous fanaticism has been displayed in
civilised dominions. They were not any worse than the bigots who burned
your English martyrs.

"We should have been torn to pieces on the spot, as I told you, but for
the authority of the princess. So common-place a death did not suit her
ideas of the eternal fitness of things. Many and many a time afterwards,
when racked by agony, I deeply deplored that supposed act of clemency.
It would have been a far more merciful death.

"Well, we were spared for the moment and cast into a loathsome dungeon,
where we were overrun with vermin, great rats which we had constantly to
drive off, and spiders whose bites were very painful.

"How long we lay without food I don't know; anyway, it seemed days.
Perhaps it was only so many hours. Try lying in the pitch dark, fighting
with nameless, unseen terrors, and see how many bitter years can be
crammed into a minute. And yet we knew there was far worse to come. But
for the fact that we were together and could cheer the black hours with
the sound of each other's voices, we should have gone mad. One moment we
were cast down in the depths of gloom, the next we prayed for death;
anon we laughed and sang sketches of gay songs. We were not insane, but
were treading perilously near to the borderland.

"Then, after many years--or so it seemed to us--they fetched us again.
We were not led into the banqueting hall, but to a long, low, vault-like
place on the floor of which were two shallow tanks or baths covered over
with a frame of iron, and from the frame of iron ran long, sliding rods
for all the world like a bird-cage, only the sliding wires of the cage
ran far into the room.

"Around these cages were glowing charcoal fires, the greater part of the
sliding bars or wires growing red and crocus blue from the heat. What
did it mean?

"I wondered. Ah! I was very soon to know."

Tchigorsky drew a deep breath, and a shudder passed over his powerful
frame. The moisture on his forehead was not due to the heat alone.

"On a throne of stone the princess was seated. A few of the higher-grade
priests were grouped around her. Evidently they had been discussing us,
and had made up their minds. We were not going to be tried even.

"'Stand there!' the princess commanded. 'Dogs, do you want to live?'

"Ralph Ravenspur said nothing. He was ever a man of few words.

"'We have no desire to die,' I replied. 'Nothing that breathes ever has.
Even if I were an old man with one foot in the grave the desire for life
would be as strong upon me as it is now!'

"The princess smiled. I will not try to describe that smile. If you had
seen it you would have given ten years of your life to forget it again.

"'It is in your hands to live,' the woman said; 'It is for you to say
whether or not you return to your people. But you shall not carry our
cherished secrets to the West. You shall live, you shall go free, but
you shall take no memory of the past with you!'

"I guessed at once what she meant. There were attendants upon the
priests--poor fools who fetched and carried, who would undertake errands
one at a time, but who had no reasoning powers, no wits of their own.

"They were not born idiots; they had been made so. They are put under
drugs, a portion of the scalp is removed, and then some small fragment
of the brain is destroyed. We could have our liberty if we chose, but at
what price! We could go free, but for the rest of our lives we should
never know the blessed light of reason again.

"I tell you it came to me like a cold shock, and turned me faint and
giddy. As I glanced at my companion I saw that he was ghastly as myself.
What use was life to us under such conditions! And the fiends were equal
to the cruelty of getting us to consent to this operation and then
detaining us afterwards. We should be a mockery among them and a warning
to others.

"There was no reason to discuss this refined cruelty, this vile offer.
We glanced at each other and shook our heads. Far better death than
this. We knew how to die; we could have drawn our revolvers and shot
each other then and there. But we did not. While there was life there
was hope."




CHAPTER XL.--The Iron Cage.


Tchigorsky made a long pause before he resumed his story. His nerves
appeared to require composing. It was impossible to shake off the horror
of the past. At length he went on again.

"I saw the cruel light flame into the eyes of the princess; I saw that
she was pleased and yet sorry to learn our decision. She gave a sign and
we were brought nearer to her.

"'You understand what your refusal means!' she said. 'You have been here
long enough to know how carefully our secrets are guarded, and also how
we punish those who try to read them. Where are those scripts?'

"We had no scripts, and I said so. As a matter of fact, such formulae
and papers as we had managed to become possessed of had been smuggled
beyond Lassa to Ralph Ravenspur's servant, Elphick, who had conveyed
them to a place of safety. But my statement was without effect.

"She turned sharply to her attendants.

"'Strip them,' she said, 'and put them in the baths.'

"We were going to learn then what those cages were for.

"'There is no need to remove our clothing,' I cried. 'We will do it
ourselves!'

"I was afraid our revolvers should be discovered, or the cartridges be
rendered useless by immersion. Ralph seemed to understand, for, like
myself, he quickly discarded his robes and slippers and professed
himself to be ready.

"Then the grating was raised, and we were placed on our backs in a
shallow bath formed in the shape of a coffin, and not more than ten
inches deep. At first the baths were empty, but gradually they were
filled with water until we had to raise our faces and press them against
the bars to breathe. I thought that we were to be suffocated in this
shallow water--a dreadful idea that filled me with stifling anxiety--but
there was worse to come."

Again Tchigorsky paused and wiped his brow.

"The suspense was torture; the terrible uncertainty or what was going to
happen was agony. Imagine being drowned with a bare half-inch of water
over your lips and nostrils! I turned my head a fraction of an inch on
one side, and then I saw that the water could not rise quite high enough
to drown me without overflowing the edge of the bath. Evidently this was
but the first chapter in the book of lessons. We could breathe by
placing our faces against the bars. What next.

"There was no occasion to ask the question. Though my heart was drumming
like the wings of an imprisoned fly, and though there was the roar of a
furnace in my ears, I could make out the crack and rattle of machinery,
and the bars over the cage began to move. My face, to escape the water,
was so closely pressed to the bars that the friction was painful.

"The bars slid along, and as they did so I remembered the long
projecting ends which were glowing yellow and blue in the braziers. My
heart ceased drumming, and then seemed to stand still for the moment. I
had guessed the riddle. A second later and the horizontal bars over my
face were white hot.

"Here was the situation, then--I had either to press my face against
those cruel bars or drown in a few inches of water. Could the mind of
man imagine a more diabolical torture? I cried aloud; I believe my
friend did also, but I cannot say. My face flinched involuntarily from
the scar of the blistering iron; I held my breath till the green and red
stars danced before my eyes.

"Flesh and blood could stand it no longer, and I was literally bound to
raise my head. Into the flesh, as you have seen for yourself, those hot
barriers pressed, while I filled my lungs with a deep draught of
delicious air. But the agony was so great that I had to go down again.
The water cooled the burns for the moment. But you call imagine how it
intensified the agony afterwards.

"When I raised myself again the bars were cool. But only for an instant,
for they came hot once more, this time in a horizontal direction. The
same ghastly business was enacted; again there was the sense of
semi-suffocation, again the long draught of pure air and the pain from
the bars. And then while wondering, half-delirious, how long it could
last, something gave way and I fainted.

"That I deemed to be death; but it was nothing of the kind. When I came
to I was lying on the floor writhing in agony from my wounds.
Fortunately I had not lost my sight, nor had Ralph at that time. He was
to discover later that the injuries received were fatal to his eyes.

"He was lying by my side and groaning with pain like myself. A more
hideous and repulsive sight than my companion's face I never wish to
look upon. And doubtless he had the same thoughts of me. But I did not
think of that at the moment.

"We were alone. I staggered to my feet and across to the door. It was
fastened, of course. For a time we were too maddened by pain to take
heed of anything, but gradually reason came back to us. My first idea
was of revenge. Ralph had grasped for his robes and his revolver was in
his hand.

"'Heaven help the first man who comes in!' he yelled.

"Like a drunken lunatic, I applauded the sentiment. For a minute we were
both mad as the drugged Malay who runs amok. Fortunately nobody did come
in for some time, and gradually wiser counsels prevailed. We slipped
into our garments and hid our revolvers. Then from raging madmen we
passed to tears. We were so spent and exhausted that we cried like
little children.

"But men like ourselves are not easily daunted. The pain was still
great, but this only stimulated our desire to live and gain the better
of those who had so cruelly used us. Later a priest conducted us into
another room, where the princess awaited us.

"She smiled as she looked into our faces. That smile was nearly the end
of her. Many a time since have I regretted that I didn't finish her
career then and there. Had she betrayed the least sign of fear I should
have done so. And by so doing your people would have been saved many a
bitter sorrow."

"At the expense of your life," Geoffrey said.

Tchigorsky shrugged his shoulders.

"What matter?" he said. "The few suffer for the many. Well, as I was
saying----"

The speaker paused suddenly as his eye caught something moving along the
beach. It was the figure of a woman creeping along as if in search of
some missing object. She proceeded very slowly until she approached the
spot where the boat lay filled and sunk, and then she paused abruptly.

For a minute she stood fascinated by the sight, then she flung her hands
high in the air, and a bitter wailing cry escaped her. If she had been a
fisherman's wife suddenly brought face to face with the dead body of her
husband or lover, her wail of anguish had not been more poignant.

"Who can she be?" Geoffrey asked.

Tchigorsky said nothing. The woman stood with her hands raised. As she
turned and ran towards the cliffs, moaning as she went, Geoffrey
started.

"Marion," he said. "Marion."

He would have dashed forward, but Tchigorsky restrained him.

"That is not your Marion," he said. "Your Marion does not dress like
that."

Geoffrey looked again. It was Marion, and yet not Marion. It was the
girl in the blue serge dress and red tam-o'-shanter who resembled her so
strikingly. What did this girl know about him, and why did she stand
wailing over the boat? He felt he must solve this mystery.

"Sit down," Tchigorsky said slowly. "Sit down."

"But," Geoffrey cried, "I insist upon knowing----"

"And spoiling everything. Sit down, I say, or I shall have to detain
you. I don't fancy you would care to measure your strength with mine."

Geoffrey dropped into his seat.

"Perhaps not," he said. "I don't believe you want me to know who that
girl is."

"I have heard worse guesses," Tchigorsky said drily.




CHAPTER XLI.--Waiting.


They were growing uneasy at the castle. There was a forced cheerfulness
about the small party that testified to the nervous tension that held
them. For some years now there had been a tacit understanding on the
subject of punctuality. Such a thing was necessary when any moment might
precipitate the next catastrophe. The mere fact of anybody being late
for five minutes put the rest in a fever. And Geoffrey had not come into
tea at all.

The thing was almost in itself a tragedy. Geoffrey was always so
considerate of others. Nothing in the world would have induced him to
stay away without first saying he was going to do so or sending a
message. And tea had been a thing of the past for a good hour. What
could have become of him?

Nobody asked the question; but it was uppermost in the minds of all.
Vera was chattering with feverish gaiety, but there was a blazing red
spot on her ghastly white face, and her eyes were wild and restless.

Marion had slipped away. The only one who betrayed no anxiety was Ralph.
He sat sipping his cold tea as if he had the world to himself and there
was nobody else in it.

Presently, with one excuse or another, all slipped away until Vera was
alone with Ralph. He was so quiet that she had almost forgotten his
presence. When she thought herself alone she rose to her feet and paced
the room rapidly.

She pressed her hands to her throbbing temples.

"God spare him!" she whispered; "spare him to me! Oh! it is wicked to
feel like this and so utterly selfish. But if Geoffrey dies I have
nothing to live for."

The tears rose to her eyes, tears of agony and reproach and self-pity.
Ralph crossed the room silently. He was upon the girl ere she had heard
the soft fall of his footsteps. He laid a hand on Vera's arm.

"Geoffrey is not going to die," he said.

Vera suppressed a scream. She might have cried out, but something in the
expression of Ralph's face restrained her.

"Are you sure of that?" she asked.

"As sure as one can be certain of anything, child. We are alone?"

"There is nobody else here, uncle."

"One cannot be too careful," Ralph muttered. "Then Geoffrey is safe."

"Thank Heaven. You have sent him somewhere, uncle?"

"No; I have not sent him anywhere. And you are not going to ask any
questions. I have told you so much to spare you the agony and suspense
that will overtake the others. I tell you because, had you not known,
the mental strain might have broken you down," continued Ralph.

"Before long it will be proved almost beyond a demonstration that
Geoffrey had become a victim to the family foe. There will be evidence
to convince a jury, but all the time Geoffrey will be safe."

Vera said nothing. She could only gasp. Ralph's hand lay on her shoulder
with a grip that was not devoid of pain.

"You are not to show your feelings to any one," he croaked. "You are not
to betray your knowledge by a single sign. Ah! if I could tell you how
much depends upon your courage, reticence, and your silence!"

"I think you can trust me, Uncle Ralph."

"I think I can, dear. I like the ring of your voice. You are to be quiet
and subdued as if you were unable to comprehend the full force of the
disaster. Much, if not everything, depends upon the next few hours. Now
go, please."

Ralph slipped away into the grounds. A little later he was making his
way along the cliffs towards the village. For a brief time Vera stood
still. She was trying to realise what Ralph had said.

"What did it mean?" she asked herself again and again. But she could
find no answer to the puzzle. Still Geoffrey was safe. Whatever
sensation the next few hours might produce Geoffrey had come to no harm.
It would be hard to see the others surfer, hard to witness their grief,
and not lighten it by so much as a sign.

But Ralph had been emphatic on this point. Had he not said that
everything hinged upon her reticence and silence? Vera went slowly to
her room, her feet making no sound on the thick pile carpet. A flood of
light streamed through the stained-glass windows into the corridor. In
the big recess at the end a white figure lay face downwards on the
cushions.

Vera approached softly. She saw the shoulders rise and fall as if the
girl lying there were sobbing in bitter agony. It was Marion--Marion the
ever-cheerful! Surely her grief must be beyond the common?

"Marion," Vera whispered. "Dear Marion."

She bent over the prostrate figure with heartfelt tenderness.

Marion raised her face at length. It was wet with tears, and her eyes
were swollen. At first she seemed not to recognise Vera.

"Go away," she said hoarsely. "Why do you intrude upon me like this? Am
I never to have a minute to myself? Am I always to carry the family
troubles on my shoulders?"

She spoke fiercely, with a gleam in her eyes that Vera had never seen
before. She drew back, frightened and alarmed. It seemed incredible that
gentle Marion could repulse her like this. But she did not go.

Marion was beside herself with grief; she did not know what she was
saying. It was impossible to leave her in this condition.

"You are grieving for Geoffrey," she said. "He will come back to us."

"Geoffrey is dead," Marion wailed. "He will never come back. And I----"

She paused; she had not lost control of herself entirely. But the look
in her eyes, the expression of her face, the significant pause, told
Vera a story. It burst upon her with the full force of a sudden
illumination.

"Marion," she whispered, "you love him as well as I do----"

So her secret was known at last! And Marion was only a woman after all.
The selfishness of her grief drove away away all other emotion.

"As you do?" she cried. "What do you with your gentle nature know of
love? You want the wild, hot blood in your veins to feel the real fire
of a lasting, devouring affection. I tell you I love him ten thousand
times more than you do. Look at me; I am utterly lost and abased with my
grief and humiliation. Am I not an object of pity? Geoffrey is dead, I
tell you; I know it; I feel it. Love him as you do! And you stand there
without so much as a single tear for his dear memory."

Vera flushed. The words stung her keenly. How cold and callous Marion
must think her! And yet Marion would have been equally cold and
self-contained had she known. And it was impossible to give her a single
hint.

"My heart and soul are wrapped up in Geoffrey," she said. "If anything
happens to him I shall have nothing to live for. But I am not going to
give way yet. There is still hope. And I shall hope to the end."

Marion sat up suddenly and dried her tears.

"You are a reproach to me," she said with a watery smile. "Not one word
of reproof has passed your lips, and yet you are a reproof to me. And to
think that you should have learnt my secret! I could die of shame."

Vera kissed the other tenderly.

"Why?" she asked. "Surely there is no shame in a pure and disinterested
affection?"

"From your point of view, no," said Marion. "But if you could place
yourself in my position you would not regard it in the same light. I
have cared for Geoffrey ever since I came here; all along I have loved
him. I knew that he was pledged to you, and knew that he could never be
anything to me and still I loved him. Who shall comprehend the
waywardness of a woman's heart? And now he is dead."

Once more the tears rose to Marion's eyes; she rocked herself to and fro
as if suffering from bitter anguish.

"I do not believe that Geoffrey is dead," said Vera. "Something tells me
that he will be spared. But why go on like this? Anybody would imagine
that you had something to do with it from the expression of your face."

Marion looked up suddenly.

"Something to do with it?" she echoed dully, mechanically.

"I wasn't speaking literally, of course," Vera went on. "But your
curious expression----"

"What is curious about my expression?"

"It is so strange. It is not like grief, so much as remorse."

Marion broke into a queer laugh, a laugh she strangled. As she passed
her handkerchief across her face she seemed to wipe out that strange
expression.

"I hope remorse and I will remain strangers for many a long day," she
said more composedly. "It is so difficult to judge from faces. And I
must try to be brave like yourself. I have never given way before."

"I believe you are the bravest of us all, Marion."

"And I that I am the greatest coward. I have even been so weak as to
allow the secret of my life to escape me. Vera, I want you to make me a
most sacred promise."

"A dozen if you like, dear."

"Then I want you to promise that Geoffrey shall never know of your
discovery. At no time are you to tell him. Promise."

Marion looked up eagerly and met Vera's eyes. They were clear and true
and honest; they were filled with frankness and pity.

"I promise from my heart," she said. "Not now nor at any time shall
Geoffrey know what I have learnt to-day."

Marion blessed the speaker tenderly.

"I am satisfied," she said. "He will never know."




CHAPTER XLII.--The Search.


Mrs. May sat out on the lawn before the rose-garlanded windows of her
sitting-room. A Japanese umbrella was over her dainty head, a scented
cigarette between her lips. For some time she had been long and
earnestly sweeping the sea with a pair of binoculars.

She rose at length and made her way down the garden. There was a rugged
path at the bottom, terminating in a thicket that overhung the cliffs.

Here it would be possible for a dozen men to hide without the slightest
chance of being discovered. Nobody ever went there by any chance. Shaded
from the house, Mrs. May paused.

A softened whistle came from her lips, and then there sprang up from the
ground the dusky form of the man who called himself Ben Heer. He
salaamed profoundly.

"Well?" the woman demanded impatiently. "Well?"

"Well, indeed, my mistress," the sham Ben Heer replied calmly. "It fell
out as you arranged. Behold a puff of wind carried away the masts, and
behold the oars came into fragments. Then the boat began to fill, and it
now lies bottom upwards at the foot of the cliff."

"But he might have been a powerful swimmer."

"He was no swimmer at all. I saw everything."

"It was not possible for him to be picked up?"

"Not possible, my mistress. There was no boat, no sail to be seen. The
boat foundered and there was an end of it. I waited for some time, and I
saw no more."

Mrs. May nodded carelessly. She might have been receiving the
intelligence of the drowning of a refractory puppy. She betrayed neither
regret nor satisfaction.

"Of course, they will guess," she said. "When they come to examine the
boat and the oars they will see at once that there has been foul play.
Once more they will know that the enemy has struck a blow."

"My mistress is all-powerful," Ben Heer murmured.

"They will try to trace us once more, Ben Heer."

The sham Asiatic shrugged his shoulders carelessly.

"And they will fail," he said. "They know not the powers arrayed against
them; the dogs know not my gracious mistress. Meanwhile, thy slave can
see through the bushes that somebody awaits your presence."

Mrs. May glanced in the direction indicated by Ben Heer. On the lawn
Rupert Ravenspur was standing. The woman smiled. There was the head of
the hated house actually seeking out the foe.

"Your eyes are sharper than mine," she said. "Well, you have need of
them. Meanwhile, you had better discreetly disappear for the time
being."

Mrs. May advanced to greet her guest, who bowed with his old-fashioned
grace.

"This is an unexpected honor," the woman said.

"I can claim nothing on the score of politeness or gallantry," Rupert
Ravenspur replied. He was quiet and polished as usual; but there was a
look of deep distress on his face. "I came here not to see you, but in
the faint hope of finding my nephew Geoffrey. I have ascertained that he
came to see you sometimes."

"He has been so good," Mrs. May murmured. "I assure you I appreciate the
company of a gentleman in this deserted spot."

"Then he has not been here today?"

"I have not had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Geoffrey to-day."

Ravenspur groaned. He turned his face away, ashamed that a woman should
see him in a moment of weakness. Out of the corner of her eye she
regarded him. There was not an atom of pity in her heart for him.

"I hope you don't anticipate anything wrong," she said. "Mr. Geoffrey is
not a boy that he cannot----"

"Oh, you do not understand! It is not that at all. In ordinary
circumstances I could trust Geoffrey to the end of the world. He is a
good fellow, and capable of taking care of himself and upholding the
family honor. But others as strong and more cunning have fallen before
the dreaded foe, until all confidence has left us. I fear that harm has
come to Geoffrey."

"But surely in the broad daylight----"

"Daylight or darkness, it is the same. You know nothing of the boy?"

"Nothing, save that he was going fishing to-day."

Ravenspur started.

"Oh!" he cried. "Then I shall soon know the worst. I am sorry to have
troubled you; I will go down to the beach. The others are searching in
all directions. Nobody will return to the house until we know the lad's
fate."

Ravenspur bowed and was gone. Mrs. May smiled after him. So the castle
was going to be left for the time being.

"This is a chance not to be lost," she murmured. "The full run of the
castle! Fate is playing into my hands with a vengeance."

Full of the wildest apprehensions, Ravenspur made his way to the beach.
It was no easy task for a man of his years, but he made light of it, as
he used to half a century ago. Two fishermen coming up touched their
hats.

"Have you been out to the west of Gull Point to-day?" Ravenspur asked.

"No, sir," was the reply. "Not one of us. The mackerel came in from the
east, and there were so many we had every bottom afloat. I did hear as
Mr. Geoffrey had gone out in the West Bay, but I can't say for sure."

Again Ravenspur groaned; no longer had he the least doubt about what had
happened. There had been more foul play, and Geoffrey had gone down
under the dark waters. The old man's heart was full to bursting, but his
grief was for Vera more than for himself.

"I am afraid there has been another of those tragedies that are so
mournfully identified with our name," he said. "Wass and Watkins, will
you come with me?"

The fishermen dropped the brown tangled nests upon their shoulders and
followed. They were all tenants, vassals almost, of the Ravenspurs and
ready to do their bidding. The foe would have had a hard time did he
fall into the clutches of these veterans.

"I am going down to search the beach," Ravenspur explained. "I know that
my nephew went out fishing this afternoon. I shall know his fate soon."

It was some time before anything was found. Wass came stumbling over the
rocks, and there in a clear pool he saw the boat bottom upwards. At the
cry of dismay that came from him, Watkins hurried up.

"Give a hand with the painter, Bill," Wass said hoarsely. "There's the
boat right enough, with a good round hole under the gunwale."

Ravenspur watched in silence. He saw the boat beached; he saw the hole
in her side. Wass pointed to the mast where it had been sawn off.

"Poor young gentleman," he exclaimed, with a heavy outburst of grief.
"And to think that we shall never see him again. Look at this, sir."

"The mast seems to have been sawn off," said Ravenspur.

"Almost off, sir," said Watkins. "Enough to give if a puff of wind came.
And that hole has been plugged with soft glue or something of the kind.
If I could only lay a hand on 'em."

He shook his fist in the air in impotent rage; tears filled his eyes.
Ravenspur stood motionless. He was trying to bring the force of the
tragedy home to himself, trying to shape words to tell Vera without
cutting her to the heart. He was long past the more violent emotions.

He turned to Wass like a man in a dream.

"Go up to the castle," he said. "See my son Gordon and bid him come
here. They must all come down, all aid in the search. Not a word more;
please go."




CHAPTER XLIII.--Nearer.


To Geoffrey the position was a strange one. There was something unreal
about the whole thing. Nor was it pleasant to remember that by this time
the family had missed him, and were doubtless bewailing him for dead.

"I am afraid there is no help for it," said Tchigorsky. "I could not see
my way to certain conclusions and ends without inconvenience."

"Something more than inconvenience," Geoffrey murmured.

"Anxiety, troubles, what you like," Tchigorsky replied coolly. "It is
necessary. I want to have the castle cleared for a time, and I could
think of no better and less suspicious way of doing it. The anxiety and
suspense will not last long, and by daylight your people shall see you
again. And the one who is most likely to suffer has already been
relieved."

So Geoffrey was fain to wait in the cave listening to Tchigorsky's
piquant conversation, and waiting for the time to come for action.

"There will be plenty to do presently," the Russian said. "Meanwhile, I
am going to leave you to yourself for a space. The woman who regards me
as her servant may need me. And, remember, you are not to leave the cave
in any circumstances, else all my delicately laid plans will be blown to
the winds."

So saying, Tchigorsky disappeared. It seemed hours before anything
happened. It was safe in the cave. Nobody was likely to come there, and
if they did there was not the slightest chance of discovery, for the
cave went far under the cliff, and was dark as the throat of a wolf.

By-and-bye there came the sound of voices on the beach, and Rupert
Ravenspur, followed by the two fishermen, appeared. Geoffrey's heart
smote him as he saw his grandfather. Then they found the boat, and
directly afterwards the two fishermen rushed away, leaving Ravenspur
behind.

It was only the strongest self-control that prevented Geoffrey from
making his presence known to the figure gazing so sadly at the boat. But
he remembered Tchigorsky's warning.

After all, he reflected, it would only be for a little time. And the
head of the family knew nothing of the great conspiracies working
themselves out around him. His open, honorable nature would have shrunk
from the subtle diplomacy and cunning that appealed so powerfully to
Tchigorsky.

Rupert Ravenspur would not have tolerated the position for a moment. He
would have insisted upon going to Mrs. May and having the matter out at
once, or he would have called in the police. And that course would be
fatal.

So Geoffrey was constrained to stay and watch. Presently he saw the
fishermen return, followed by the family. There was a gathering about
the foundered boat, and then Geoffrey turned his eyes away, ashamed to
witness the emotion caused by what they regarded as his untimely death.

He had seen them all, and beheld their grief. He could see Marion bent
down with a handkerchief to her streaming eyes and the head of the
family comforting her. He saw Vera apart from the rest gazing out to
sea.

Beyond, a fleet of boats were coming round the point. They were small
fishing smacks in search of the drowned Ravenspur.

Geoffrey pinched himself to make sure he was awake. It is not often that
a live man sits watching people search for his dead body.

But there was comfort in the knowledge that Vera was aware of
everything. Geoffrey could see that she had been told. That was why she
kept apart from the rest. She walked along the sands past the mouth of
the cave, her head bent down.

Flesh and blood could stand it no longer; in the mouth of the cave
Geoffrey stood and called Vera softly by name.

The girl started and half turned.

"Don't be alarmed," Geoffrey whispered. "I am in the cave. It is safe
here. Watch your opportunity and come in, for I must have a few words
with you. Only do it naturally, and don't let anybody suspect."

Vera had turned her back to the cave, and appeared to be sadly gazing
over the sea. Gradually she slipped back, watching the others, who
apparently had forgotten her, until she was lost in the gloom of the
cavern.

A moment later and Geoffrey had her in his arms. It was good to feel her
heart beating against his, to feel her kisses warm on his lips.

"Did Tchigorsky tell you?" he asked.

"No, Uncle Ralph. Oh! I am so glad to see you again, Geoffrey. I knew
you were not lost, that you would be safe after what uncle said, and yet
all the time there was a strange void in my heart."

"But my darling, I am safe."

Vera laid her head restfully on his shoulder.

"I know, I know!" she said. "But I have had a foretaste of what might
have been. When Wass and Watkins came and told me that your overturned
boat had been found, I began to realise what it might be to live without
you. Dear Geoff, will it be long before all this anxiety is disposed
of?"

Geoffrey kissed her trembling lips.

"Not long, so Tchigorsky says, and I have implicit faith in him. The
present situation is all part of the plot for our salvation. And the
others?"

"Are heartbroken. My poor grandfather looks ten years older. You know
how entirely he has been wrapped up in us. I feel sure that if he could
have saved us by sacrificing the rest, himself included, he would have
done so."

"I know," Geoffrey said hoarsely. "I know, dear. And Marion?"

"Marion is sorely disturbed. I hardly know what to make of her. For the
first time she positively appears to be frightened. And Marion is not
the girl who cries. I was alarmed about her a little time ago," replied
Vera.

"Ah! well, it won't be very long," Geoffrey said consolingly. "To-morrow
morning Tchigorsky has promised that I shall be safe and sound in the
bosom of the family again. What are they going to do now?"

"They are going to search until they find you. All the boats from the
village are out, even the servants are assisting. You can understand how
I should feel if I did not know everything. I could not stay in the
house; I could do no more than wander along the shore feeling that I was
helping. It would be impossible to remain in the house, and that is what
they all feel. There is a full moon to-night, and they will be here till
they are exhausted."

Geoffrey nodded. He was wondering how he was going to account for his
absence and for the manner in which he was finally to turn up safe and
sound again. He would have to concoct some story of being picked up by a
passing boat and landed some way down the coast.

"They guess I am a victim to the vendetta?" he asked.

"Of course. They say the mast and oars were partly sawn away. It will be
the talk of the country in a few hours. Geoffrey, I must go. Don't you
see that they have missed me?"

Vera had been missed. Already Marion was calling her. There was just the
chance that she might be yet another victim. Vera slipped out of the
cave, walking backwards as if she were looking for something.

"You won't betray yourself?" said Geoffrey.

"I'll try not to, dear. I understand how necessary it is that the truth
should be concealed. And yet it is hard not to be able to ease their
minds."

Vera was clear of the cave by this time, and her voice ceased. A few
yards farther on, and Marion came up to her. She was looking pale and
ghastly; there were rings under her eyes; her nerves had had a terrible
shock.

"I couldn't imagine where you had got to," she said. "I looked round,
and you had disappeared. I feared you had been spirited away."

"By the cruel foe, Marion? One by one we go. It may be your turn next."

"Would to Heaven that it was!" Marion whispered vehemently. "A little
time ago I fancied that I was strong enough to bear up against anything.
Now I know what a feeble creature I am. Before this happened I would a
thousand times have been the victim myself. And I--I----"

She paused, and beat the air impotently. Vera wondered. Could this
really be the strong, self-reliant Marion, who had uplifted them in so
many troubles?--this the girl who always had a smile on her face and
words of comfort on her lips? This was a weak, frightened creature, with
eyes that were haunted.

"Be brave," said Vera, "and be your self. What should we do without you?
Why, you are so full of remorse you might have been responsible for
Geoffrey's death yourself."

Marion looked up quickly; and then her eyes fell.

"It is because I love him," she said.

"And I love him, too. But I try to be brave."

Marion was silent under the reproof. Vera was calm and collected. What a
reaction there would be later, Marion thought.

"You have not given up all hope?" she asked.

"No, I cannot. It would be too cruel. I cannot imagine that anything
really serious has happened to Geoffrey. I cannot feel anything for the
present, save for you. And my heart is full for you, Marion."

"Aye," Marion said, drearily. "It need be."

Vera turned and walked swiftly across the sands. She wanted to be alone
now that no danger threatened.

Then presently the moon rose and shone upon the people gathered on the
fringe of the sea. To the impatient Geoffrey came Ralph Ravenspur with a
cloak and slouch hat over his arm.




CHAPTER XLIV.--Still Nearer.


He entered as coolly and easily as if he had been doing this kind of
thing all his life, as if he had the full use of his eyesight.

"I can't see you, but of course you are there," he said. "Tchigorsky
sent me because he cannot come himself. The jade he calls his mistress
has need of him. Muffle yourself and follow me. Not too closely."

Geoffrey was only too glad of the opportunity. He passed under the
shadow of the rocks until he gained the path to the head of the cliffs,
and here Ralph paused.

"We are safe now," he said. "You can remove your disguise and cross the
terrace. There is not a living soul at the castle at present."

"All the servants are on the beach, then?"

"Every one of them, both male and female, which is a flattering
testimony to your popularity, Geoffrey. I opine that they will be
pleased to see you in the morning. By the way, have you concocted a
plausible story to account for your escape?"

"I haven't," Geoffrey admitted, with a smile. "I preferred to leave it
to the greater talents of Tchigorsky and yourself. I have no genius for
fiction."

Ralph muttered that the matter might be safely left in their hands, and
then they entered the deserted castle and made their way to Ralph's
room. Here the two doors were closed and Ralph sat down silently over
his pipe.

"Is anything going to happen?" Geoffrey asked.

"A great deal during the next hour or two," Ralph replied. "But it is
impossible to forecast, and you will see it all for yourself in good
time. I can't do anything until I have heard further from our friend
Tchigorsky."

Half an hour passed in dead silence, and then there was a rapping on the
window. When the casement was thrown open, the head of Tchigorsky
appeared. He was clad in Oriental robes, and had made his way upwards by
climbing the thick ivy that grew on that side of the house. He nodded to
Geoffrey.

"I told you we should meet again." he said. "I have just ten minutes to
spare. A cigarette, please."

Geoffrey handed over the cigarette.

"Have you discovered all?" Ralph asked.

"I have discovered nothing," Tchigorsky said calmly from behind the
cloud of smoke. "At present I have not the remotest idea which way she
will strike."

"Ah! she is in one of her suspicious moods?"

"When she trusts nobody. Quite right. All I can tell you is that she is
coming here presently. She is well aware that there is not a soul in the
house. She knows that this state of things is likely to last for some
time. She will come by-and-bye, and with her she will bring some great
danger to the house of Ravenspur. What form that danger is to take I
cannot say. But I shall find out."

The last words came from Tchigorsky's lips with a snap.

"But she will want confederates," said Geoffrey.

"She may or she may not. She is a woman of infinite resource. Nobody
knows what mischief she is capable of. If she brings me along I may be
exceedingly useful; if she leaves me behind I shall be more usefully
employed in going over her papers and documents. You see, I know the
language. But be that as it may, this is going to be an eventful night."

Tchigorsky finished his cigarette and rose to go. He had few
instructions to leave behind him, and these few were of an exceedingly
simple nature. All that Geoffrey and Ralph Ravenspur had to do was to
watch. They were to keep their eyes open and be largely guided by
events. And there were to be no lights.

Half an hour passed before Ralph rose and softly opened his door. For a
little time he threw the casement open wide. As Geoffrey drew a match
from his box Ralph laid a restraining hand on his arm.

"No more smoking," he said. "I purposely opened the casement to sweeten
the air of the room. My dear boy, you do not want to betray us with the
smell of fresh tobacco. The enemy would take alarm at once."

"I had forgotten," Geoffrey murmured. "How stupid of me!"

Again silence and painful tension on the nerves. Presently below came
the soft fall of a foot, and then a noise as if a human body had come in
contact with some object in the dark. There was the scratch of a match,
and a ball of flame flickered in ghastly fashion in the hall.

"The foe is here," Ralph whispered. "Go and look over. Your rubber-soled
boots are in the corner. Put them on."

Geoffrey did as desired. He crept along the corridor until he could look
down into the hall. There he saw a woman--a woman who wore short skirts
and a closely-fitting jacket. She had a small lantern in her hand, the
light of which seemed to lower or heighten by pressing a stud.

Behind her came the two Orientals, who carried a small, but heavy brass
bound box between them. This, at a sign from the woman, they deposited
on the floor.

As far as Geoffrey could judge neither of these men was Tchigorsky. He
could catch the sound of whispered conversation, but the words conveyed
no meaning to his ears. The two discoursed in a language he did not
understand.

A hand was laid on Geoffrey's arm. He turned to see Ralph by his side.
The latter bent over the balustrade, listening with all his ears. Down
below the brass box was being opened and the contents were placed upon
the floor.

The contents looked like machinery, but it was machinery of a kind that
Geoffrey had never seen before. There was a small disc of hammered
copper, and to this was attached a number of what seemed to be
indiarubber snakes. At a sign from the woman the two Asiatics picked up
the box and its contents and started away towards the kitchen.

Noiseless as they were, Ralph heard them. He clutched his companion's
arm.

"They have gone," he whispered. "In which direction?"

"They have moved off towards the kitchen," said Geoffrey.

"Good! This thing is turning out exactly as I expected. They had
something with them?"

"Yes; a thing like a copper octopus with indiarubber tentacles. They
have taken it with them. A most extraordinary affair."

"It will be more extraordinary still before it is finished," Ralph said
grimly. "Follow them and report what you see. Take good care not to be
seen. Unless I am mistaken they are going down to the vaults and are
planning a coup to do for us all to-night."

Geoffrey crept silently, down the stairs. Then he made his way swiftly
along the passages until he came to the cellars. Then the steady blowing
of a current of fresh air told him that Ralph's suggestion was right.
Down he went until he came to the channel leading to the vaults.

But he was cautious. He peeped down. Below him were three figures, and
once more they had spread out their queer apparatus. By the side of it
were two large, glass-stoppered bottles, such as one sees in a
laboratory, receptacles for acids and the like. They were tightly tied
over the stoppers.

The woman picked up one of them and removed the parchment. Before she
drew the stopper she donned thick glasses and a mask for her face, the
two Orientals doing the same. They were evidently dealing with some very
dangerous poison.

The stopper was removed and a few spots of the acid dropped on the
copper disc. A white smoke arose, which, small is it was, filled the air
with a pungent odor. Almost immediately the acid was wiped off and the
odor ceased. Only just a whiff of it reached Geoffrey's nose, but it
turned him faint--giddy for an instant.

What was going to happen next.




CHAPTER XLV.--Baffled.


Geoffrey had not long to wait. From where he was standing he could see
down into the vault perfectly well. He would have been better satisfied
had he understood what those people were talking about, but their words
conveyed nothing to him.

On the floor of the vault the queer-looking machinery was spread out,
and to the ends of the indiarubber tubes wires were attached. No sooner
had this been accomplished than the woman, after giving some rapid
instructions to her allies, left the vault. She was so quick that
Geoffrey barely had time to conceal himself behind a pillar before she
passed him.

The woman was masked and disguised beyond recognition, but Geoffrey had
no need to be told who she was. He knew that he was in the presence of
Mrs. May. And, despite his knowledge of her cleverness and resource, he
found himself marvelling to see her display so fine a knowledge of the
house.

The woman passed along, dragging a number of fine, light wires after
her. The other ends of the wires were attached to the queer-looking
apparatus in the vault.

Mrs. May went along the passages, along the corridor, and up the stairs
as if she had been accustomed to the house all her life. Surely she must
have been here many times before, or she would not have exhibited such
fearless confidence. The idea of the black, gliding figure creeping
about the house in the dead of night, filled Geoffrey with loathing.

All the same he did not neglect his opportunities. He followed swiftly
and silently until he came to the main corridor on the first landing.
Here, to his surprise the woman turned into one of the bedrooms, the
room used by the head of the house. She closed the door behind her.

What to do next? But Geoffrey was not long in doubt. Ralph was standing
by his side, a dark lantern in his hand.

"Where did she go?" he whispered.

"You heard her, then?" asked Geoffrey.

"Of course; I heard everything. I see with my ears. Naturally, you
guessed who she was? But what room did she go into?"

"My grandfather's."

"So I expected. But she means to visit all the rooms in turn. You need
not be afraid; she will be there for some minutes. What do you see
outside?"

Geoffrey made a close examination with the lantern. "I see a tangle of
small wires on the floor," he said. "They come up from the vaults."

"Where they are attached to a queer-looking instrument?"

"Yes, yes? I see you know all about it. One of the wires runs under the
door into the room where Mrs. May is engaged."

"And where she will be engaged for some time," said Ralph. "Move that
book-ladder and look over the fanlight."

There were books on high shelves in the corridor, and a light
librarian's ladder close at hand. Geoffrey propped this against the door
and looked in through the open fanlight. All the bedroom doors had
fanlights at Ravenspur.

The lantern inside was on the dressing-table, and standing on a chair by
a fireplace, was Mrs. May. She had pinned the thin wire to the wall
cunningly, and had turned the end of it into a plate that stood on the
mantelpiece. From a flask she poured a little white powder into the
plate.

When this was done she seemed to be satisfied. Geoffrey whipped the
ladder away, and the woman emerged from the room. Once more she went
along the corridor with firm, resolute step, and the air of one who
knows what she is doing and has a definite object in view.

From one bedroom to another she went, leaving a wire in each until every
room occupied by one of the Ravenspur family had been visited.
Geoffrey's room was the last. When she had finished here, she took up a
pair of scissors and tapped the wire. Outside the door Geoffrey and
Ralph could hear the noise distinctly.

Ralph's jaws came together with a click.

"The key is outside your room door," he whispered. "Turn it."

Geoffrey wondered, but he hastened to comply. The key turned with an
ease and silence that testified to the fact of its having been carefully
oiled.

"What does it all mean?" Geoffrey whispered.

"She is going to test her machinery," said Ralph with a chuckle. "And
she is going one step farther to her own destruction. Listen."

Again came the faint tap, and then down from far below the purring jar
of electrical apparatus in motion. There was silence inside the room for
a moment, and then Geoffrey saw the handle turn. It was turned softly at
first, then more quickly, and finally it was tugged as an angry child
snatches at a toy.

Ralph chuckled. The diabolical mirth seemed to come deep from his
throat.

"She is trying to get out," Geoffrey whispered.

"Of course she is," Ralph replied. "But not quite yet,"

The lock was rattling loudly by this time; there was a half-angry, half
frightened muttering from within. And then there came a long, piercing,
wailing scream, as if of a woman in the last agony before death.

Geoffrey would have started back but Ralph restrained him.

"No, no," he whispered violently. "It is all right; everything is
turning out splendidly."

"But she is a woman and in deadly peril, uncle."

"I know it, lad. Five minutes more and that fiend will be beyond further
mischief. She has been trying the effect of her infernal contrivance and
will be hoist with her own petard. She is scared to death. She imagines
she has fastened herself in and can't get out."

"But this is murder," Geoffrey cried.

"I daresay some people would call it so," Ralph replied coolly. "As a
matter of fact, there never could be homicide more justifiable than to
let that woman perish there. Still, we are not going to do anything of
the kind. When those cries cease, and you hear yonder wretch fall to the
ground, then open the door and drag her out."

The cries were coming wildly from behind the door; there was a hammering
on the panels. The cries rang through the house; they reached the
Asiatics in the vaults, and the latter fled in terror into the night.

In spite of his strong nerves, Geoffrey shuddered. It was horrible to be
alone in that grim house of tears, waiting in the darkness, opposed by
grim horrors and, above all, to have that note of agony ringing in his
ears.

Would it never stop? Would the time to act never come? Geoffrey would
have interfered in spite of everything but for the fact that Ralph was
gripping his shoulder in a grip that at any other time would have been
painful.

Suddenly the noise ceased. There was a moan and the soft, crushing fall
of a body. Ralph's face blazed up instantly.

"Now," he cried, "there is no time to be lost."

Geoffrey darted forward. He had the door opened in an instant. Mrs. May
lay still and white on the floor. The atmosphere of the room seemed to
have vanished. It was intolerable to breathe there; air there was none.

As the door fell back the room filled as with a sudden strong draught.
Geoffrey dragged the unconscious figure into the corridor.

"Will she die?" he gasped.

"No; she will not die," Ralph said coolly. "Had I intended her to die I
should not have allowed you to open the door. Pick her up and throw her
on one of the beds in a spare room. She will require no attention but
she will not attain consciousness for some hours. And after that, she
will be useless for a day or two. You need not worry; our scheme is
working out splendidly. Pick her up."

Ralph indicated her still figure with brutal indifference. He would have
shown more consideration to a sick dog. Geoffrey complied, and presently
made the woman as comfortable as circumstances allowed.

Geoffrey had hardly done so before there was a light footfall in the
corridor, and Tchigorsky appeared, still in disguise.

"I gather that things are well," he said. "Just now I met that
she-devil's accomplices fleeing as if the Father of Lies were behind
them. She was trapped, eh?"

Ralph nodded and chuckled.

"In Geoffrey's room," he explained. "When she was testing her apparatus
I had the key turned on her. And she could not get out. I let her remain
there as long as I considered it safe to do so, and her yells must have
alarmed her confederates. Probably they have fled, leaving things
intact."

"Probably," said Tchigorsky. "I will go and see."

He was back again presently, a pleased expression on his face.

"Nothing has been touched," he said. "I have removed the wires, in case
of danger. We have the lady more or less under our thumb."

"What was she doing?" Geoffrey asked.

"It is an appliance for exhausting air," Tchigorsky explained. "You take
a powder and place it on a hot plate. Directly it begins to burn it
draws up all the air. The thing has been known in the East for thousands
of years. Mrs. May applied electricity to give her greater scope. A
plate of the powder was to be heated in the room of everybody in the
castle when asleep.

"A few minutes and the thing is done. Then the wires are withdrawn and
gradually the different rooms fill with air again. The burnt powder
leaves no trace. Then you are all found dead in your beds and nobody
knows how it is done. The wires are easily drawn back to the battery,
and the whole thing is destroyed."

Geoffrey shuddered.

"What a fiend!"




CHAPTER XLVI.--Nearing the End.


It was some time before any one spoke. Geoffrey was turning the matter
over in his mind. He was still puzzled.

"I don't understand it," he said. "Of course, I follow all you say, and
I see the nature of the plot intended to end us all at one fell swoop.
But why do you want to have that woman under the roof?"

"Because as long as she is under the roof she is comparatively
harmless," Tchigorsky explained. "The princess is hot and vengeful and
passionate, but she has her vein of caution and will take no unnecessary
risks. She will be bewildered, and will not know whether she had been
suspected or not. The more cordial you are to her, the more suspicious
she will be. Of course, she will make up some plausible tale to account
for her intrusion, and, of course, you must pretend to believe it. It
will be impossible to move her for a day or two, and here I come in."

"In what way?" Geoffrey asked.

"In the way of having a free hand," Tchigorsky said, with a smile. "The
princess will be cut off from her allies, and I shall be able to ransack
her private papers for one thing."

Geoffrey nodded. He began to see the force of Tchigorsky's clever
scheme. And then the cold solitude of the house struck him. For a moment
he had forgotten all about the family still on the beach, and the agony
they were suffering on his account.

"I suppose you can do no more tonight?" he asked.

"I am not so sure of that," Tchigorsky said drily. "Meanwhile, I can
safely rest for an hour or so. I am going to lie hidden in Ralph's
bedroom for the present and smoke his tobacco. Do you want anything?"

"I should like to relieve the minds of my friends," said Geoffrey.

"Of course," Tchigorsky responded. "Go at once. You were picked up by a
passing boat--or yacht--that landed you at Manby. You walked back and
when you got home to change your clothes you found the place deserted.
Don't say anything as to Mrs. May. Your Uncle Ralph will have that story
to tell when you return. You are not to know anything about Mrs. May."

"All right," Geoffrey said, cheerfully. "Now I'll be off?"

He made his way down the cliffs unseen. There were lanterns flitting
about the shore; he could see the flash of Marion's white dress and Vera
by her side. He came gently alongside them.

"Vera," he said. "What is all this about?"

Vera turned and gave a cry. She was acting her part as well as possible,
and the cry seemed genuine. But the tears in her eyes were tears of
thankfulness that the sufferings of those dear to her were ended. She
clung to her lover; her lips pressed his.

Marion stood there white and still as a statue. The girl seemed to be
frozen. Geoffrey's touch thawed her into life again.

"Geoffrey!" she screamed. "Geoffrey! Thank God! Thank God! Never again
will I----"

With another scream that rang high and clear, the girl fell unconscious
at his feet. He raised her up tenderly as the others came rushing
forward. There was a babel of confused cries, hoarse cheers, and yells
of delight. The villagers were running wild along the sands. Scores of
men pressed eagerly round to shake Geoffrey's hand.

"I was picked up by a yacht," he said. "Of course I know there was foul
play. I know all about the broken mast and the sawn oars. You may rest
assured I will take more care another time. And I was----"

Geoffrey was going to say that he had been warned, but he checked
himself in time. His progress towards home was more or less a royal one.
It touched him to see how glad people were. He had not imagined a
popularity like this.

Vera clung fondly to his arm; Rupert Ravenspur walked proudly on the
other side. Not once had the old man showed the slightest sign of
breaking down, but he came perilously near to it at the present time.
Marion held to him trembling. She felt it almost impossible to drag
herself along.

"You are quaking from head to foot," said Ravenspur.

"I am," Marion admitted. "And at the risk of increasing your displeasure
I should say you are very little better, dear grandfather. I fear the
shock of seeing Geoffrey after all this fearful suspense has been too
much for you."

Ravenspur admitted the fact. He was glad to find himself at home again,
glad to be rid of the rocking, cheering crowd outside, and glad to see
Geoffrey opposite him. Marion, pale as death, had dropped into a chair.

"I am going to give you all some wine," said Geoffrey. "You need it.
Please do not let us discuss my adventure any more. Let us drop the
subject."

Ralph glided in feeling his way into the room. He congratulated Geoffrey
as coolly as he would have done in the most trite circumstances. He was
acting his part in his own wooden, stupid way.

"I also have had my adventures," he croaked.

"I hope the castle is all right," Ravenspur observed.

"The same idea occurred to me," Ralph went on. "One so afflicted as
myself could not be of much service on the beach, so I came back to the
castle. It occurred to me as possible that our enemy would take
advantage of the place being deserted. So I passed the time wandering
about the corridors.

"A little time ago I heard a violent commotion and screaming outside
Geoffrey's room. I got to the spot as soon as possible, but when I
arrived the noise had ceased. Then I stumbled over the body of a woman."

"Woman?" Ravenspur cried. "Impossible!"

"Not in the least," Ralph said coolly. "I picked her up; she was
unconscious. My medical knowledge, picked up in all parts of the world,
told me that the woman was suffering from some physical shock. That she
was not in any danger her steady pulse showed. I placed her on the bed
in the blue room."

"And there she is now?" Marion exclaimed.

"So far as I know," Ralph replied. "What she was doing here I haven't
the slightest idea."

"And you don't know who she is?" Mrs. Gordon asked.

"How should I? I am blind. I should say that the woman was up to no good
here; but I dare say it is possible that she has some decent excuse. On
the other hand, she might be one of our deadly foes. Anyway, there she
is, and there she is likely to be for some time to come."

Marion rose to her feet.

"Uncle Ralph," she said, "I feel that I could shake you. Have you no
feeling."

"We can't all have your tender heart," Ralph said meekly.

Marion ignored the compliment. She took up the decanter and poured out a
glass of wine.

"I am going upstairs at once," she said. "Enemy or no enemy, the poor
creature cannot be neglected. You need not come, Vera."

Vera, too, had risen to her feet. She was not going to be put aside.

"But I am coming," she said. "I will not allow you to go up those stairs
alone. And Geoffrey shall accompany us."

Marion said no more. She seemed strangely anxious and restless.

Geoffrey followed with a lamp in his hand. Mrs. May lay quietly there,
breathing regularly and apparently in a deep sleep.

Marion bent over the bed. As she did so she gasped and the color left
her face. She fell away with a cry like fear.

"Oh!" she shuddered. "Oh! it is Mrs. May!"

Vera bent over the bed. She unfastened the dress at the throat.

"What does it matter?" she said. "I know you don't like the woman, but
she is suffering. Marion, where are your tender feelings?"

Marion said nothing. But she came directly to Vera's side. And Geoffrey,
glancing at Marion's rigid white face, wondered what it all meant.




CHAPTER XLVII.--Tchigorsky Further Explains.


"I don't quite follow it yet," said Geoffrey.

"And yet it is simple," Tchigorsky replied. "Here is a form of electric
battery in the vault connected by tiny wires to every sleeping chamber
occupied by a Ravenspur. In each of these bedrooms a powder is deposited
somewhere and the wire leads to it. At a certain time, when you are all
asleep, the current is switched on, the powder destroyed without leaving
the slightest trace, and in the morning you are all as dead as if you
had been placed in a lethal chamber--as a matter of fact, they would
have been lethal chambers.

"Almost directly, by means of the chimneys, etc., the rooms would begin
to draw a fresh supply or air, and by the time you were discovered
everything would be normal again. Then the battery would be removed and
the wires withdrawn without even the trouble of entering the rooms to
fetch them. Then exit the whole family of Ravenspur, leaving behind a
greater mystery than ever. Now do you understand what it all means?"

Geoffrey nodded and shuddered.

"What do you propose to do?" he asked. "Leave the battery where it is,
and----"

"Unless I am mistaken, the battery is removed already," said the
Russian.

He was correct. Investigation proved that the whole thing had been
spirited away.

"As I expected," Tchigorsky muttered. "Done from the vaults under the
sea, doubtless. That woman's servants keep very close to her. It is
wonderful how they manage to slip about without being seen. They have
ascertained that an accident has happened to their mistress, and they
have removed signs of the conspiracy. But for the present they cannot
remove their mistress."

Tchigorsky chuckled as he spoke.

"You seem pleased over that," said Geoffrey.

"Of course I am, my boy. It enables one to do a little burglary without
the chance of being found out. And you are to assist me. But I am not
going to start on my errand before midnight; so till then I shall stay
here and smoke. At that hour you will please join me."

"I am to accompany you, then?"

"Yes; you are going be my confederate in crime."

Geoffrey joined the others downstairs. Delight and thankfulness were
written on every face. Never had Geoffrey found his family so tender and
loving.

Usually, Marion had had her feelings under control, but to-night it
seemed as if she could not make enough of her cousin. She hung over him;
she lingered near him until Vera laughingly proclaimed that jealousy was
rendering her desperate.

"I cannot help it," Marion said, half-tearfully. "I am so glad. And if
you only knew--but that does not matter. I am beside myself with joy."

"I suppose that woman upstairs is all right," Ravenspur said coldly.

He was by no means pleased that Mrs. May should have intruded twice in
that way. And each time there had been some accident. With so much
sorrow weighing him down and with the shadow of further disaster ever
haunting him, Ravenspur was naturally suspicious.

It seemed absurd no doubt, but that woman might be taking a hand against
the family fortunes. The last occasion was bad enough, but this was many
times worse. In the circumstances, as he pointed out, nothing could
exceed the bad taste of this intrusion into a deserted house.

"She may not have known it," Mrs. Gordon said quietly. "Who knows but
that she had discovered some plot against us and had come to warn us?
Perhaps the enemy divined her intentions--hence the accident."

"But was it an accident?" Gordon asked.

"Something mysterious, like everything that occurs to us," his wife
replied. "At any rate, she is breathing regularly and quietly now, and
her skin is moist and cool. Ralph said he had seen something like it in
India before. He is convinced that she will be all right in the morning.
Don't be angry, father."

"I will not forget what is due to my position and my hospitality, my
dear," he said. "After Geoffrey's miraculous escape, after the heavy
cloud of sorrow so unexpectedly raised. I cannot feel it in my heart to
be angry with anybody. How did you manage to get away, Geoffrey?"

Geoffrey told his tale again. It was not nice to be compelled to invent
facts in the face of an admiring family; but then the truth could not
have been told without betraying Tchigorsky, and blowing all his
delicate schemes to the winds. He was not sorry when he had finished.

Marion wiped the tears from her eyes.

"It was Providence," she said. "Nothing more nor less."

"Little doubt of it," Gordon murmured. "Geoff, have you any suspicions?"

"I know who did it, if that is what you mean," Geoffrey said, "and so
does Marion."

The girl started. Her nerves were in such a pitiable condition that any
little thing set them vibrating like the strings of a rudely-handled
harp.

"If I did I should have spoken," she said.

"Then you have not guessed?" Geoffrey smiled. "The masts and the scull
were sawn by a girl in a blue dress and red tam-o'-shanter cap. The girl
who is so like----"

He did not complete the sentence; there was something in Marion's
speaking eyes that asked him not to do so. Why he could not tell; but
there was nothing to be gained by what was less than a breach of
confidence.

"What does it mean, Marion?" Ravenspur asked.

"Geoffrey and I saw such a girl not long before Geoff set out on his
eventful voyage," Marion explained quietly. All the fear had gone out of
her eyes; she met the gaze of the speaker tranquilly. "She passed me as
I was painting; I have been close to her once before. But I don't
understand why Geoff is so certain that the mysterious visitor tried to
drown him."

"I've no proof," Geoffrey replied. "It is merely an instinct."

As a matter of fact he had plenty of proof. Had he not seen the girl
hastening away from his boat? Had he not seen her return after the boat
had been beached and mourn over the wreck like some creature suffering
from deep remorse?

But of this he could say nothing. To speak of it would be to betray the
fact that Tchigorsky was still alive and active in pursuit of the foe.

"That woman can be found," Ravenspur said sternly.

"I doubt it," said Geoffrey. "She has a way of disappearing that is
remarkable. You see her one moment and the next she has vanished. But I
am certain that she is at the bottom of the mischief."

And Geoffrey refused to say more. As a matter of fact, nobody seemed to
care to hear anything further. They were worn out with anxiety and
exertion. They had had little food that day; the weary hours on the
beach had exhausted them.

"For the present we can rest and be thankful," Ravenspur said as he rose
to go. "We can sleep with easy minds to-night."

They moved off after him, all but Geoffrey and Vera. Mrs. Gordon could
still be heard moving about one of the drawing-rooms. Marion had slipped
off unobserved. She hardly felt equal to bidding Geoffrey good-night.
The tender smile was still on her face as she crept upstairs.

Then when she reached her room it faded away. She flung herself across
the bed and burst into a passionate fit of weeping. And then gradually
she sobbed herself into a heavy yet uneasy slumber.

"Well, I suppose I must go, too?" Vera said, tired out, yet reluctant to
leave her lover. "Tell me what it means, Geoff?"

"Have I not already explained to you?"

"Yes; but I didn't believe one word of it," Vera replied. A kiss
sufficed to wash the bitterness of the candor away. "I don't believe you
were picked up by a yacht. I don't believe you were in any danger. I
don't understand it."

"Then we are both in the same state of benighted ignorance," Geoffrey
smiled. "You are right not to believe me, dearest, but I had to tell the
story and I had to play a part. It is all in the desperate game we are
playing against our secret foe. For the present I am a puppet in the
hands of abler men than myself. What I am doing will go far to set us
free later."

Vera sighed gently. She sidled closer to her lover. Mrs. Gordon was
coming out of the drawing-room, a sign that Vera would have to go.

"I feel that I don't want to part with you again," she whispered, her
eyes looking into his and her arm about him. "I feel as if I had nearly
lost you. And if I did lose you, darling, what would become of me?"

Geoffrey kissed the quivering lips tenderly.

"Have no fear, sweetheart," he said; "all is coming right. See how those
people have been frustrated over and over again. They have come with
schemes worthy of Satan himself and yet they have failed. And it has
been so arranged that those failures seem to be the result of vexatious
accident. But they are not. And they will fail again and again until the
net is around them and we shall be free. Darling, you are to sleep in
peace to-night."

With a last fond embrace Vera slipped from her lover's side. She smiled
at him brightly from the doorway and was gone. Geoffrey lighted a
cigarette that presently dropped from his fingers and his head fell
forward.

He started suddenly; the cigarette smelt pungently as it singed the
carpet. Somebody was whispering his name; somebody was calling him from
the stairs. Then he recognised Ralph's croaking voice.

"Tchigorsky," he muttered sleepily. "I had forgotten that Tchigorsky
wanted me."




CHAPTER XLVIII.--More from the Past.


Tchigorsky was waiting. The room was pregnant with the perfume of
Turkish cigarettes and coffee. Ralph handed a cup to his nephew.

"Drink that," he said. "You want something to keep you awake."

Geoffrey accepted the coffee gratefully. It had the desired effect. He
felt the clouds lifting from his brain and the drowsy heaviness of limb
leaving him.

"Are you coming with us?" he asked.

Ralph shook his head. There was a strange gleam on his face.

"I stay here," he said. "You are going to be busy, but I also have much
to do. Don't be concerned for me. Blind as I am, I am capable of taking
care of myself. I shall have a deal to tell you in the morning."

A minute or two later, and the two conspirators slipped away. It struck
Geoffrey as strange that they should not leave the house in the usual
way, but Tchigorsky grimly explained that he much preferred using the
ivy outside Ralph's window.

"Always be on the safe side," Tchigorsky muttered. "Come along."

Geoffrey followed. Where Tchigorsky could go he felt competent to
follow. They reached the ground in safety, and later were in the road.
The moon had gone, and it was intensely dark, but Geoffrey knew the way
perfectly.

"Straight to Jessop's farm?" he asked.

"As far as the lawn," Tchigorsky replied. "It will be a good hour yet
before we can venture to carry out our burglary. I can run no risks
until I know that those two Asiatics are out of the way. What time is
it?"

"About ten minutes to twelve."

Tchigorsky muttered that the time was not quite suitable for him. He
drew a watch from his pocket; there was a stifled whirr of machinery,
and the repeater's rapid pulse beat twelve with the silvery chime of a
quarter after the hour.

"You are wrong," he said. "You see it is between a quarter and half-past
twelve. We will lie on Jessop's lawn till one o'clock and then all will
be safe."

They lay there waiting for the time to pass. The minutes seemed to be
weighted. "Tell me some more of your Lassa adventures," Geoffrey asked.

"Very well," Tchigorsky replied. "Where did I leave off? Ah! we had just
been tortured on that awful grid. And we had been offered our lives on
condition that we consented to be hopeless idiots for the rest of our
days.

"Well we were not going to live in those circumstances, you may be sure.
For the next few days we were left to our own resources in a dark
dungeon with the huge rats and vermin for company. We were half-starved
into the bargain, and when we were brought into the light once more they
naturally expected submission.

"But they didn't get it. They did not realise the stuff we were made of.
And they had no idea we were armed. We had our revolvers, and concealed
in our pockets were some fifty rounds of ammunition. If the worst came
to the worst we should not die without a struggle.

"Well, there was a huge palaver over us before the priests in the big
temple, with Zara on her throne, and a fine impressive scene it was, or,
at least, it would have been had we not been so interested as to our own
immediate future. At any rate, it was a comfort to know that there were
no more tortures for the present, for nothing of the kind was to be
seen. We were going to die; we could read our sentence in the eyes of
the priests long before the elaborate mummery was over.

"I tell you it seemed hard to perish like that just at the time when we
had penetrated nearly all the secrets we had come in search of. And it
was no less hard to know that if the princess had postponed her visit
another week she would have been too late. By that time we should have
left Lassa far behind.

"The trial, or ceremony, or whatever you like to call it, came to an end
at length, and then we were brought up to the throne of the princess.
You know the woman; you have looked upon the beauty and fascination of
her face; but you have no idea how different she was in the homes of her
people. She looked a real queen, a queen from head to foot. We stood
awed before her.

"'You have been offered terms and refused them,' she said. 'It is now
too late.'

"'We could not trust you,' I replied boldly; we had nothing to gain by
politeness. 'Better anything than the living death you offered us. And
we can only die once.'

"The princess smiled in her bloodcurdling way.

"'You do not know what you are talking about,' she said. 'Ah! you will
find out when you come to walk the Black Valley!'

"She gave a sign, and we were led away unbound. A quaint, wailing music
filled the air; the priests were singing our funeral song. I never fully
appreciated the refined cruelty of reading the burial service to a
criminal on his way to the scaffold till then. It makes me shudder to
think of it even now.

"They led us out into the open air, still crooning that dirge. They
brought us at length to the head of a great valley between huge towering
mountains, as if the Alps had been sliced in two and a narrow passage
made between them. At the head of this passage was a door let into the
cliff and down through this door they thrust us. It was dark inside. For
the first part of the way, till we reached the floor of the valley, we
were to be accompanied by four Priests, a delicate attention to prevent
us from breaking our necks before we reached the bottom. But our guides
did not mean us to perish so mercifully.

"'Listen to me,' Zara cried; 'listen for the last time. You are going
into the Black Valley; of its horrors and dangers you know nothing as
yet. But you will soon learn. Take comfort in the fact that there is an
exit at the far end if you can find it. When you are out of the exit you
are free. Thousands have walked this valley, and over their dry bones
you will make your way. Out of these thousands one man escaped. Perhaps
you will be as fortunate. Farewell!'

"The door clanged behind us, and we were alone with the priests. We
could not see; we could only feel our way down those awful cliffs, where
one false step would have smashed us to pieces. But the priests never
hesitated. Down, down we went until we reached the bottom. There we
could just see dimly.

"'You could guide us through?' I asked.

"One of the priests nodded. He could save us if he liked. Not that I was
going to waste my breath by asking him. They were priests of a minor
degree; there were thousands of them about the temple, all alike as peas
in a pod. If these men failed to return they would never be missed. A
desperate resolution came to me. In a few English words I conveyed it to
Ralph Ravenspur.

"We still had a priest on either side of us. At a given signal we
produced our revolvers, and before the priests had the remotest idea
what had happened, two of them were dead on the ground, shot through the
brain. When the thousand and one echoes died away we each had our man by
the throat. What did we care if the plot were discovered or not! We were
both desperate.

"'Listen, dog!' I cried. 'You have seen your companions perish. If you
would escape a similar death, you will bear us to safety. You shall walk
ten paces in front, and if you try to evade us you die, for our weapons
carry farther than you can run in the space of two minutes. Well, are
you going to convey us to a place of safety, or shall we shoot you like
the others?'"

Tchigorsky paused and pulled at his watch. He drew back the catch, and
the rapid little pulse beat one.

Then he rose to his feet.

"To be continued in our next," he said. "The time has come to act.
Follow me and betray no surprise at anything you may see or hear."

"You can rely upon me," Geoffrey whispered. "Lead on."




CHAPTER XLIX.--Ralph Takes Charge.


The troubled house had fallen asleep at last. They were all used to the
swooping horrors; they could recall the black times spread out over the
weary years; they could vividly recollect how one trouble after another
had happened.

And it had been an eventful day. For the last few hours they had lived a
fresh tragedy. True, the tragedy itself had been averted, but for some
time there had been the agony of the real thing. The Ravenspurs,
exhausted by the flood of emotion, had been glad of rest.

They were presumably asleep now, all but Ralph. Long after deep silence
had fallen on the house he sat alone in the darkness. The glow of his
pipe just touched his inscrutable features and a faint halo of light
played about his grizzled head. A mouse nibbling behind the panels
sounded clear as the crack of a pistol shot. The big stable clock boomed
two.

Ralph laid aside his pipe and crept to the door. He opened it silently,
and passed into the corridor. A cat could not have made less noise. Yet
he moved swiftly and confidently, as one who has eyes to see familiar
ground. He came at length to the room where Mrs. May was lying.

She had been made fairly comfortable. Her dress had been loosened at the
throat, but she still wore the clothes in which she had been dressed at
the time of her accident.

There was a light in the room. He could tell that by the saffron glow
which touched lightly on his sightless eyeballs. He knew the disposition
of the room as well as if he could see it. He felt his way across until
he came to the bed on which the woman lay.

His hand touched her throat--a gentle touch--yet his fingers crooked and
a murderous desire blossomed like a rose in his heart. Nobody was about,
and nobody would know. Who would connect the poor blind man with the
deed? Why not end her life now?

"Far better," Ralph muttered. "It would have been no crime to shoot her
like a dog. Yet fancy hanging for such a creature as that!"

The grim humor of the suggestion restored Ralph to himself. His relaxed
fingers just touched the cold throat and face. He could hear the sound
of regular breathing. From a tiny phial he took two or three drops of
some dark cordial and brushed them over the woman's rigid lips. She
stirred faintly.

"Just as well to hasten events," he muttered. "One cannot afford to play
with the thing."

He replaced the bottle in his pocket. He drew himself up listening.
Other ears could not have heard a sound. Ralph, however, could plainly
hear footsteps. But how near they were he could not tell. His brows
contracted with annoyance.

"So soon," he muttered. "I did not expect this."

He dropped down between the bed and the wall. Then he crawled under the
deep valance. He had not long to wait. Somebody had crept into the room,
somebody light of foot and light of body who crossed to the bed. And
this somebody shook the sleeping figure with passionate force.

"Wake up!" a voice said. "Oh! will you never wake up?"

"What is the matter?" she muttered. "Where am I?"

"Here, in the castle. Don't you remember?"

Ralph was listening intently.

"I begin to recollect. There was an accident; the door refused to open;
I fought for my life as long as I could before the fumes overcame me,
and I gave myself up for lost. Oh! it was something to remember,
Marion," muttered Mrs. May.

Marion, for it was she, made no reply. She was crying quietly.

"What is the matter with the girl?" the woman asked irritably.

"Oh! It is good for you to ask me that question, after all the bitter
trouble and humiliation you have put upon me. Get up and follow me."

"I cannot. The thing is impossible. You forget that I have been almost
dead. My limbs are paralysed. I shall not be able to walk for at least
two days. I must remain here like a dog. But there is no hurry. What
happened?"

"I can't tell; I don't know. You were found in the corridor, I am told,
insensible. When they came back to the castle they found you lying here.
They had all been down on the beach searching for Geoffrey."

"I hope they found him," she said.

"Oh, yes, they found him," Marion said quietly.

"Drowned, with a placid smile on his face, after the fashion of the
novel?"

"No, very much alive. You failed. Geoffrey Ravenspur is here safe and
sound. On my knees I have thanked God for it."

The woman muttered something that the listener failed to catch. She
seemed to be suppressing a tendency to a violent outburst.

"I will not fail next time," she said. "And you are a love-sick,
soft-hearted, sentimental fool. All this time I have to remain here.
But, at any rate, I have you to do my bidding. Put your hand in my
breast-pocket and you will find a key."

"Well, what am I to do with it?"

"You are to go to my rooms at Jessop's farm at once. They will be fast
asleep, so that you need not be afraid. Jessop's people have the slumber
that comes of a tired body and an easy conscience. But there are foes
about, and it is not well to trust to anybody.

"If I am to remain here for a day or two I must have certain things. In
my sitting-room, by the side of the fireplace, is a black iron box. Open
it with the key I have given you, and bring the casket to me. You can
get into my sitting-room by gently raising the window, which is not
fastened. They are so honest in these parts that people don't fasten
their windows. Now go."

"You are sure you cannot get up?"

"Certain. I have been drugged, and it will be some time before I am able
to get about. That is why I am anxious to have the box. Young Ravenspur
would never have got away had he had no friends to assist him or a
simple fool to give him warning."

"The fool you speak of does not regret it."

"Perhaps not. How did he escape?"

"In the simplest possible way. He was picked up by a passing yacht."

"Well, accidents will happen," the woman muttered. "Now do my bidding.
The heavy drugged sleep is coming on me again, and I shall not be able
to keep my eyes open much longer. Go at once."

As Marion crept away Ralph could catch her heavy, indrawn breaths, and
the sobs that seemed to burst from her overcharged heart. Then he knew
that the woman was asleep again.

A minute or two later and he was standing in the hall. He waited in the
shadow, silent and patient. The stairs creaked slightly, and a stealthy
footstep came creeping down.




CHAPTER L.--A Kind Uncle.


Ralph crept towards the door. Marion came close to him, her hands
fumbling nervously with the bolts and bars. Some of the bars were heavy,
and Marion was fearful lest they should fall with a clang and betray
her.

Ralph stretched out his hand and drew back a bolt.

"Allow me to assist you," he said. "I am used to this kind of work."

A scream rose to Marion's lips, but she suppressed it. The effort set
her trembling from head to foot. Yet it seemed to her that there was no
cause to be frightened, for she had never heard Ralph's voice so kind
before.

"Uncle!" she stammered, "what are you doing here?"

By way of reply Ralph opened the door. He gave the sign for Marion to
precede him, and then followed her out into the night. The heavy door
closed behind him.

"I might with equal justice ask you the same question," he said. "Nay,
more; because you are merely a young girl and I am a man. And you know I
don't sleep like most virtuous people. I suffer from insomnia and never
sleep for long anywhere. Perhaps I am like the cat who prowls about all
night and slumbers in the daytime. But where are you going?"

"Uncle Ralph, I cannot tell you. It is a secret. If you knew everything
you would pity me."

There was a deepening ring in Marion's voice. Ralph caressed her hand
tenderly.

"Don't trouble," he said. "I know."

"You know where I am going? You--you know?"

"Certainly I do. I know everything, my dear."

"Not everything, uncle. Not of my connection with that woman, for
instance."

"Indeed I do, Marion."

"You are aware of our relationship! You know that?"

"My dear child, I have known it for years. But your secret is safe with
me. I am not going to betray you. Could I have the heart to do so after
all you have done for my family, Angel Marion?"

He repeated the last words over and over again in a low, caressing
voice, pressing the girl's hand softly as he did so. Even then Marion
was not sure whether he was in earnest or whether he was grimly
ironical.

"I never thought of this," Marion murmured.

"Perhaps not," Ralph replied. "Mrs. May is a bad woman, Marion."

"The worst in the world," Marion replied. "You only know her as Mrs.
May?"

"I only know her as she is, dear. And yet I feel that in some vague way
she is mixed up with our family misfortunes. Oh, if I could only see, if
I could only use my eyes. Then I might know that woman still better."

Marion shuddered at the steely, murderous tones. Ralph patted her hand
reassuringly.

"But, you need not be afraid," he said. "You are all right--the
brightest angel in the world. You are torn by conflicting emotions; you
fancy your duty lies in certain directions, and you are troubled over
it. And yet it will come right in the end, Marion. We did not lose
Geoffrey after all."

"Thank God, no. And yet there is plenty of time."

"There is ample time for the right as well as the wrong, Marion. But do
not let us talk of the past any more, my dear. I am not going to pry
into your secrets, and I know how far to trust you. Let me walk part of
the way with you. I can wait by the barn till you return."

Marion raised no objection. It was the dead of night now, and there was
no fear of meeting anybody. Yet Marion started uneasily as Ralph began
to whistle. She ventured to suggest that the noise was not prudent.

"Perhaps you are right,'" Ralph said amicably. "At any rate I will wait
here till your return. You have not far to go, of course?"

"I have a very little way to go, uncle. I am going to Jessop's farms."

Ralph nodded. The farm loomed up not far off. As Marion darted off Ralph
lighted his pipe and whistled again. Something moved in the bushes.

* * * * * * *

Meanwhile Tchigorsky and Geoffrey were nearing the window. Tchigorsky
moved on resolutely and confidently with the air of a man who is sure of
his ground. He put up his hand and fumbled for the catch. It gave at
once, and the pair of burglars slipped quietly into the room.

"We shall be safe," he said, as he proceeded to strike a match. "It is
just as well to take every precaution. What would the estimable Jessop
say if he could see into his parlor?"

Geoffrey smiled.

"He'd be astonished," he said; "a little dismayed, too. But he would say
nothing so long as I am here. Jessop would stand on his head for me."

The strong rays of the lamp lighted up the room. There were flowers
everywhere, dainty china on the table full of blooms, bowls filled with
choicest fruits. Wines sparkled in the crystal goblets on the sideboard,
a silver cigarette box was conspicuous, and on a safe lay an object to
which Tchigorsky called his companion's attention.

"What do you make that out to be?" he asked.

Geoffrey picked up the drapery. On the top of it lay something red, with
a feather in it. It appeared to be a costume of some kind. As Geoffrey
held it aloft, a light gradually broke in upon him.

"Well," Tchigorsky said, "have you solved the problem?"

"I have," Geoffrey replied. "It is the blue dress and tam-o'-shanter hat
which have placed so conspicuous a part lately. But what brings them
here? Has Mrs. May a companion hidden somewhere, a companion who might
be Marion's sister?"

"Seems like it," Tchigorsky said, with a dry smile. "But I am not going
to enlighten you any farther on that question at present. Mrs. May and
the girl in the blue dress are two separate people, anyway."

"You forget that I have seen them together," said Geoffrey.

"I had forgotten that. Well, it will not be long now before the identity
of the lady in the smart dress and coquettish hat is established.
Meanwhile, we came here in search of something far more important than a
woman's costume. Help me to turn out all those drawers, and be careful
to replace everything exactly as you find it. We have a good three hours
before us, and much depends upon the result of our search. Keep a keen
eye open for papers in any language that is unfamiliar to you."

For an hour the search proceeded, and yet nothing came to light. There
were plenty of bills, most of them emanating from West End
establishments--accounts for dresses and flowers, boxes for theatres,
and the like, but nothing more.

Tchigorsky glanced keenly round the room.

"I am afraid we shall be compelled to show our hand," he said. "Mrs. May
is so clever that I half-expected to find private papers in some simple
place, while an examination of her safe would disclose nothing. She has
not anticipated burglary, and what I am looking for is in the safe."

"Dare you open it?" Geoffrey asked.

"And show my hand, you mean? I fancy so. We are so near success now that
it really does not matter. Put the safe on the table," replied
Tchigorsky.

The heavy iron box slipped as Geoffrey raised it and clanged on the
floor. An exclamation of anger and annoyance came from Tchigorsky, and
an apology from the younger man. They both stood upright for a few
minutes, listening intently. But the people upstairs were sleeping the
sleep of the just. There came no answering sound.

"Blessings upon the pure air and the high conscience that hold these
people," Tchigorsky muttered more amicably. "It's all right, my young
friend. Hoist up the box, and let us see if my steel jemmy will have any
effect. I would rather have had the key. It is never well to betray your
plans if you can----"

The speaker paused. From outside a little way off there arose a long,
shrill scream, the cry of a woman in distress. The sound set Geoffrey's
blood leaping; he pushed for the window, but Tchigorsky detained him.

"Where are you going?" he asked, sternly.

"Outside," Geoffrey exclaimed. "A woman is there. She asks for
assistance. Can you stand there calmly and see----"

"See you making an ass of yourself, eh? My dear boy, on my word of honor
there is no woman in danger yonder. In a measure I am glad to hear that
cry, though it proves to me that our allies have not been so artistic
over their work as they might have been. You will not hear that cry
again."

"Perhaps not," Geoffrey said, reassured considerably by Tchigorsky's
placid manner; "but I hear footsteps outside."

Tchigorsky smiled. He had taken some steel bits from his pocket, but he
replaced them again.

"If they are, then they are the footsteps of a friend," he said. "This
being so, there will be no need for me to give you lessons in the way
how not to open a safe. Are you right? It seems as if the window were
opening."

The window was indeed opening. It moved half an inch, and then there was
a "hist," and something clanged on the floor.

Tchigorsky took the matter as coolly as if it had all been arranged
beforehand. He did not move as the window closed again and stealthy
footsteps outside moved away.

"Is it all right?" Geoffrey asked.

Tchigorsky smiled broadly.

"Splendid!" he said. "It could not have been better. My boy, this is the
night's work which is going to crown our endeavors. Yonder we have the
proofs, and here we have the means of getting them."

He picked up the metallic object from the floor. He fitted it to the
lock of the safe, and instantly a mass of queer things was discovered.
Tchigorsky's eyes gleamed as he saw this; they positively flamed as he
turned out a lot of papers.

At the bottom was a book in metal covers. As Tchigorsky fluttered it
open a cry broke from him.

"Found!" he exclaimed. "Found! We have them in the hollow of our hands!"




CHAPTER LI.--"What Does This Mean?"


With less courage than she usually felt, Marion went on her way. Perhaps
there was no more miserable being in England at that moment. It is hard
to play a double part, hard to be thrust one way by cruel circumstances
when the heart and soul are crying out to go the other.

This was Marion's position. And whichever way she went she was destined
to be equally unhappy and miserable. She had to help her relations; she
had to try to shield that infamous woman at the same time.

And now the great secret of her life had come to light. That was the
bitterest trial of all. Vera had discovered that Marion loved Geoffrey.
Ralph Ravenspur had made the same discovery long ago, but it did not
matter so very much about him; Vera was different.

And here she was in the dead of night carrying out the errand of the
deadliest foe the house of Ravenspur had ever known. She was
half-inclined to throw the whole thing to the winds, to disappear and
never return again. Why should she----

She stopped. Something was stirring in the bushes on either side of her.
Perhaps it was a rabbit or a fox. Probably somebody had dogged her
footsteps.

"Who are you?" Marion cried. "Speak, or I call for help."

The threat was futile, considering the time of night. The bushes parted
and two men appeared. Marion gave one loud scream, but before she could
repeat the cry a hand was laid on her lips.

Whoever they were, they were not unduly rough. The hand that stayed
further clamor was hard, but it was not cruel.

"You are not to cry out again," a voice whispered. "I will not injure
you if you promise not to call out."

Marion indicated that she would comply with this suggestion. Immediately
the hand fell from her lips.

"This is an outrage," she said. "Who are you?"

"That is beside the point," was the reply. "It is an outrage, but we are
not going to treat you badly. We are unfortunately compelled to keep you
some four-and-twenty hours from the custody of your friends, but you may
rest assured that you will be treated with every consideration."

"I am your prisoner, then?"

"Since you like to put it in that way--yes."

Marion was properly indignant. She pointed out that the course these men
were pursuing was a criminal one, and that it was likely to lead them
into trouble.

But she might have been speaking to the winds. If she could only see
these people! She had not the remotest idea what they were like. The man
who spoke was evidently a gentleman; his companion seemed like a working
man--a sailor by his walk. And yet it was impossible to see the faces of
either.

"Where are you going to take me?" Marion asked.

"We are going to conduct you to one of the caves," was the reply.
"Unfortunately no house is available for our purpose, or we should not
put you to this inconvenience. But we have made every preparation for
your comfort, and you are not likely to suffer for want of food or
anything of that kind. And I pledge you my word of honor that you shall
not be detained a minute beyond the specified time."

He touched Marion on the arm to indicate a forward movement.

"I suppose it is of no use to ask your name," Marion said coldly.

"I have no objection," said the other. "The time is coming when it will
be necessary to speak very plainly indeed. My name is George Abell, and
I am secretary to Dr. Sergius Tchigorsky. My friend's name is Elphick.
He was at one time a servant in the employ of one of your family."

"Tchigorsky?" Marion cried. "But he is dead."

"That seems to be the popular impression," Abell said gravely.

The words seemed to strike a chill in Marion. She began to comprehend
that all her sacrifices had been made in vain.

"Tchigorsky not dead?" she said hoarsely.

"No," said Abell. "I saw him a little time ago. It will perhaps not
surprise you to hear that I am acting under his orders."

"But he could not know that I----"

"Dr. Tchigorsky seems to divine matters. He seems to know what people
will do almost by instinct. He is a wonderful man, and does wonderful
things. But I cannot tell you any more; I am merely acting under
orders."

He indicated the way, and Marion proceeded without further protest. She
felt like a condemned criminal when the sentence is pronounced. Certain
things were coming to an end. A long period of suspense and anxiety was
nearly finished. How it was going to end Marion neither knew nor cared.
But she did know that the woman who was known as Mrs. May was doomed.

Not another word passed until the foot of the cliffs was reached. It was
no easy matter to get down in the dark, but it was managed at length.

It was near the lonely spot where Geoffrey's stranded boat had been
found. For days together nobody came here, and Marion could not console
herself with the fact that she would be rescued. Not that she much
cared; indeed, it was a matter of indifference to her what happened.

Abell was polite and attentive. He indicated a pile of rugs and wraps;
if Miss Ravenspur wanted anything she had only to call out, and it would
be supplied immediately.

"I want nothing but rest," Marion said wearily. "I am tired out. I feel
as if I could sleep for a thousand years. I am so exhausted mentally
that I have no astonishment to find myself in this strange situation."

Abell bowed and retired. The night was warm, and the cave, being above
any, even the high spring tides, was dry. Marion flung herself down upon
the pile of wraps and almost at once fell fast asleep. When she came to
herself again the sun was shining high. Outside Abell was pacing the
sands. Marion called to him.

"I want some breakfast," she said, "and then I should like to have a
talk with you. If only I had a looking-glass."

"You don't need one," Abell said respectfully, if admiringly. "Still,
that has been thought of. There is one in the corner."

Marion smiled despite herself. She found the glass, and propped it up
before her. There was no cause for alarm. She looked as neat and fresh
as if she had just made a due and elaborate toilette. Geoffrey was fond
of saying that after a football match Marion would have remained as neat
and tidy as ever. She ate her breakfast heartily--good tea, with eggs,
and bread and butter and strawberries.

"Do you want anything more?" asked Abell, looking in.

"Nothing, except my liberty," Marion replied. "You may come in and smoke
if you like. How long are you going to detain me here?"

"Four-and-twenty hours."

"But I shall be missed. They will search for me. By this time of course,
they are hunting all over the place for me. They will come here----"

"I think not," Abell said politely. "It is too near home. Nobody would
dream of looking for you in a cave close to the castle. We thought of
all that. They will not look for you for other reasons."

Marion glanced swiftly at the speaker.

"How could you prevent them?" she demanded.

Abell puffed drily at his cigarette. He smiled pleasantly.

"There are many ways," he said. "You do not come down to breakfast. They
begin to be alarmed at your absence. Somebody goes to your room and
finds there a note addressed to your grandfather. That note is
apparently in your handwriting. It contains a few lines to the effect
that you have made a great discovery. You have gone at once to follow it
up. The family are not to be alarmed if you do not return till very
late. When you come back you hope to have a joyful revelation for
everybody."

Marion smiled in reply. Abell seemed to be so sure of his ground.

"What you outline means forgery," she said.

"So I presume," Abell replied coolly. "But forgery is so simple nowadays
with the aid of the camera. After what I have told you, you will be able
to see that our scheme has been thoughtfully worked out."

"And when I come back do I bring a joyful confession with me?"

Abell looked steadily at the speaker. There was something in the
expression of his eyes that caused her to drop hers.

"That depends entirely upon yourself," he murmured. "One thing you may
rely upon--the confession will be made and the clouds rolled away. It is
only a matter of hours now. Surely you do not need to be told why you
are detained?"

For some reason best known to herself Marion did not need to be told. It
was a long time before she spoke again. She ought to have been angry
with this man; she ought to have turned from him with indignation; but
she did nothing of the kind. And if she had, her indignation would have
been wasted. "You are in Dr. Tchigorsky's confidence?" she asked.

Abell shook his head with a smile.

"I know a great deal about him," he said. "I help him in his
experiments. But as to being in his confidence--no. I don't suppose any
man in the world enjoys that, unless it is your Uncle Ralph."

Marion started. In that moment many things became clear to her. Hitherto
she had regarded Ralph Ravenspur as anything but a man to be dreaded or
feared. Now she knew better. Why had she not thought of this before?

"They are great friends?" she asked.

"Oh, yes. They have been all over the world together. And they have been
in places which they do not mention to anybody."




CHAPTER LII.--"As Proof of Holy Writ."


Tchigorsky hung over the papers before him as if inspired. There was not
much, apparently, in the book with the metal clasps, but that little
seemed to be fascinating to a degree. The Russian turned it over till he
came to the end.

"You appear to be satisfied," Geoffrey said.

"Satisfied is a poor word to express my feelings," Tchigorsky replied.
He stretched himself; he drew a deep breath like one who has been under
water.

"I have practically everything here in this diary," he said. "It is
written in a language you would fail to understand; but it is all like
print to me. Everything is traced down from the first of the family
catastrophes to the last attempt by means of the bees. There are letters
from Lassa containing instructions for the preparation of certain drugs
and poisons; in fact, here is everything."

"So that we are rid of our foes at last?"

"Not quite. The princess is cunning. We shall have to extract a
confession from her; we shall have to get her and her slaves together.
It is all a matter of hours, but we shall have to be circumspect. If the
woman finds she is baffled, she may be capable of a bitter revenge to
finish with."

"What are you going to do?" Geoffrey asked.

"We are going back to the castle the same way we came," Tchigorsky
exclaimed. "We are going to show your uncle Ralph our find. For the
present it is not expedient that Sergius Tchigorsky should come to life
again."

The box was locked once more and replaced, and then the two burglars
crept from the house. They had not disturbed anybody, for the upper
windows of the farmhouse were all in darkness.

A brisk walk brought them to the castle. Upstairs a dim light was still
burning in Ralph Ravenspur's window. The light flared up at the signal,
and a few minutes later the two were seated round the lamp, while the
window was darkened again.

Ralph sat stolidly smoking as if he had not moved for hours. He evinced
not the slightest curiosity as to the success of his companions.
Tchigorsky smote him on the back with unwonted hilarity.

"So you have been successful?" he croaked.

"Oh, you have guessed that!" Tchigorsky cried.

"It was a mere matter of time," Ralph replied. "It was bound to come, I
knew that from the first day I got here."

"All very well," Tchigorsky muttered; "but it was only a 'matter of
time' till the Ravenspurs were wiped out root and branch."

"You knew the day you got here?" Geoffrey exclaimed.

Ralph turned his inscrutable face to the speaker.

"I did, lad," he said. "I came home to ascertain how the thing was
worked. Before I slept the first night under the old roof I knew the
truth. And I came in time--guided by the hand of Providence--to save the
first of a fresh series of tragedies.

"You wonder why I did not speak; you have asked me before why I did not
proclaim my knowledge. And I replied that the whole world would have
laughed at me; you would have been the first to deride me, and the
assassin would have been warned. I kept my counsel; I worked on like a
mole in the dark; and when I had something to go on, Tchigorsky came.
Before you are many hours older the miscreants will stand confessed."

Tchigorsky nodded approval. He was deftly rolling a cigarette between
his long fingers.

"Ralph is right," he said. "We have only to fire the mine now. By the
way, Ralph, you were clever to get that key."

"Easy enough," Ralph croaked. "I knew the woman would be uneasy about
her papers, so I gave her a touch of the cordial on her lips and brought
her to her senses. A certain messenger who shall be nameless was sent
off with the key. The messenger was detained, is still detained
according to arrangements, and her pocket was picked. Elphick dropped
back, and gave me the key, which I passed on to you."

Geoffrey followed in some bewilderment The messenger business was all
strange to him.

"Did you know that diary existed?" he asked.

"Of course I did," Ralph growled. "In a measure, I might say that I had
seen it. Many a time at night have I lain in a flower-bed under that
woman's window and heard her reading from the diary or writing in it.
That is why I asked no questions when you came in. I knew you had been
successful. And now, Princess Zara, it is my turn."

Ralph's voice dropped to a whisper, an intense burning whisper of hate
and vengeance. He rose and paced the room like a caged bird.

"What will be her fate?" asked Geoffrey.

"Burn her, slay her, hang her," Ralph cried. "No death is too painful,
too loathsome for a creature like that. I could forgive her fanatical
cruelty; I could forgive the way she fought for her creed. But when it
comes to those allied by ties----"

The speaker paused and sat down.

"Who talks too fast says too much," he remarked, sententiously.

"What is the next move?" Geoffrey asked.

"Bed, I should say," Tchigorsky suggested drily. "As far as one can
judge we are likely to have a busy day before us to-morrow. And don't
you be surprised at anything you see or hear. It will be all in the
day's work, as you English say. I am going to lie up in hiding here, but
I shall turn up when the time comes. Good-night."

It was late when Geoffrey rose the following day, and the family had
long had breakfast when he came downstairs. Most of the family were
still in the breakfast-room or on the terrace in the sunshine.

"How is the visitor?" he asked.

"Mrs. May seems very queer," Mrs. Gordon explained. "She complains of a
sort of paralysis in her lower limbs. At the same time she refuses to
see a doctor, saying that she has had something of the kind before."

"Does she account for her presence here?" said Geoffrey.

"Oh, yes. Of course she had heard you were missing and been informed
that everybody from the castle was on the beach. It was getting dark
when she saw two strange, suspicious-looking men coming this way. She
felt sure that they had designs on the house and followed them. She
tried to get somebody to assist her, but could not see a soul anywhere.
Then she put on that queer dress and came on here.

"The two men entered the castle and she crept after them. They
discovered her, and one of them gave her a blow on the head that stunned
her. When she came to her senses again she was lying in bed. Wasn't it
plucky of her?"

"Very," Geoffrey said drily; "but where is Marion?"

"Marion, like yourself, seems to be lazily inclined to-day. It is so
very unlike her; indeed, I fear the poor child is anything but well.
Those quiet people always feel the most, and poor Marion was greatly
upset yesterday."

Vera came in at the same moment. She had a merry word or two for
Geoffrey as to his late appearance. She had not seen Marion as yet. "Run
up to to her room, there is a dear girl," said Geoffrey. "This sort of
thing is not like Marion; I fear something has happened to her."

"I wish you would," Ravenspur observed.

Vera disappeared, only to come back presently with the information that
Marion's room was empty, and that her bed had not been occupied. She
held a little envelope in her hand.

"I can only find this," she said.

Ravenspur snatched the letter and tore it open.

"Extraordinary!" he exclaimed. "Marion says she has found a clue to the
troubles and is following it up at once. If she does not come back till
late we are not to worry about her. Strange! But I have every confidence
in the girl."

"May she not come to harm!" Vera said fervently.

"Oh, I hope not," Mrs. Gordon cried. "But will this mystery and misery
never end?"




CHAPTER LIII.--A Little Light.


Mrs. May, Princess Zara, the brilliant mystery who yielded so great an
influence over the destiny of the house of Ravenspur, lay on her bed
smiling faintly in the face of Mrs. Gordon Ravenspur, who stood
regarding her with friendly solicitude. Mrs. Gordon had no suspicions
whatever; she would have trusted any one. All the lessons of all the
years had taught her no prudence in that direction. A kind word or an
appeal for assistance always disarmed Mrs. Gordon.

"I hope you are comfortable," she said.

Mrs. May smiled faintly. She appeared a trifle embarrassed. She was
acting her part beautifully as usual. Her audacity and assurance had
carried her through great difficulties, and she had confidence in the
future.

"In my body, perfectly," she said. "But I am so uneasy in my mind."

"And you will not have a doctor?"

"Not for worlds. There is nothing the matter with me. I have suffered
like this before. I have a weak heart, you know, and excitement troubles
me thus. But I don't want a doctor."

"Then why should you worry?" Mrs Gordon asked.

"I am ashamed of myself," the woman confessed with a laugh. "I have been
wondering what you must think about me. This is the second time you have
had to detain me as an involuntary guest under your roof. The first time
I was the victim of an idle curiosity; the second time I did try to do
you a good turn. I hope you will remember that."

"It was kind and courageous of you," Mrs. Gordon said warmly. "How many
people would have done as much for strangers! And please do not talk
about it any more or I shall be distressed."

Mrs. May was by no means sorry to change the conversation. A thousand
questions trembled on her lips, but she restrained them. She was burning
to know certain things, but the mere mention of such matters might have
aroused suspicions in a far simpler mind than that of Mrs. Gordon.

"So long as you are all well it does not matter," she said. "This
afternoon I shall make an effort to get up. Meanwhile, I will not keep
you from your household duties. Could I see one of those charming girls,
Miss Vera or Marion? I have taken such a fancy to them."

"Vera shall come presently; she has gone to the village," Mrs. Gordon
explained. As to Marion she could say nothing.

"Marion has been an enigma to us lately," she explained. "I need not
tell you of the dark shadows hanging over this unhappy house, or how
near we have been to the solution of the mystery on more than one
occasion. And now Marion has had an idea, queer child.

"She went out, presumably last night, leaving a note to say she had
really got on the track at last, and that we were not to worry about her
even if she did not return to-day. So strange of Marion."

Mrs. May had turned her face away. She was fearful lest the other,
prattling on in her innocent way, should see the rage and terror and
despair of her features.

"Queer!" she murmured hoarsely. "Did she write to you?"

"No, to my husband's father. Her note was given to me. Even now I don't
know what to make of it. Would you like to see the letter? You are so
clever that you may understand it better than I do."

"I should like to see the letter."

It was an effort almost beyond the speaker's powers to keep her voice
steady. Even then the words sounded in her ears as if they came from
somebody else. From her pocket Mrs. Gordon produced the letter. Mrs. May
appeared to regard it languidly.

"If I knew the girl better I could tell you," she said. "It sounds
sincere. But my head is beginning to ache again."

Mrs. Gordon was all solicitude. She drew down the blinds, and produced
eau de Cologne, and fanned the brow of the sufferer after drenching it
with the spirit.

Mrs. May smiled languidly, but gratefully. At the same time it was all
she could do to keep her hands from clutching the other by the throat
and screaming out that unless she was left alone murder would be done.

"Now I really can leave you," Mrs. Gordon said.

"It would be the greatest kindness," the invalid murmured gratefully.

The door softly closed; Mrs. May struggled to a sitting position. Her
eyes were gleaming, yet a hard despair was on her face. She ought to be
up and doing, but her lower limbs refused their office.

"A forgery," she said between her teeth. "Marion, never wrote that
letter. If they were not blind they could see that for themselves.
Marion has been decoyed away; and if so, somebody has that key. If I
only knew. Tchigorsky is dead and Ralph Ravenspur is an idiot. Who,
then, is the prime mover in this business?"

The woman did not know, and for the life of her she could not guess.
Tchigorsky was out of the way--dead and buried. Ralph Ravenspur and
Geoffrey were antagonists not worthy of a second thought. But somebody
was moving, and that somebody a skilled and vigorous foe.

For once the arch-conspirator was baffled. The foe had the enormous
knowledge of knowing his quarry, while the quarry had not the least
notion where or how to look for the hunter. And the fish was fast to the
line. Unless it got away at once the landing net would be applied; then
there would be an end of all things.

But she could not move; she could do nothing but lie there gasping in
impotent rage. There was only one person in the world who could help her
now, and that was Marion. And where was she? Only the man on the other
side of the chess-board knew that.

She wished she knew; oh! she wished she knew a score of things. Did the
people of the castle suspect her? Hardly that, or Mrs. Gordon had not
been so friendly.

What had become of the coat and glass mask she was wearing at the time
things went wrong in Geoffrey Ravenspur's room? Had her subordinates
heard her cry? Had they fled, or had they been taken? If they had fled,
had they removed the instruments with them?

Mrs. May would have given five years of her life for enlightenment on
these vital questions. Even she could not read the past and solve the
unseen.

Tears of impotent rage and fury rose to her eyes. While she was lying
there wasting the diamond minutes the foe was at work. At any time that
foe might come down with the most overwhelming proofs and crush her.
Marion had been spirited away. Why? So that the key of the safe might be
stolen and used to advantage.

Once more the woman tried to raise herself from the bed. It was useless.
She slipped the bedclothes into her mouth to stifle the cries that rose
to her lips. She was huddled under them when the door opened and Vera
stepped in.

"Did you call out?" she asked. "I was passing your door and fancied I
heard a cry. Are you still suffering from a headache?"

Mrs. May's first impulse was to order the girl away. Then an idea came
to her.

"The headache is gone," she said sweetly. "It was just a twinge of
neuralgia. I wonder if you would do me a favor?"

"Certainly."

"Then I wish you would get me some paper and envelopes. I have a note to
write. There is a child in the village I am fond of. She comes and sits
in the tangle at the bottom of the Jessops' garden and talks to me. I am
afraid she thinks more of my chocolates than me, but that is a detail."

"You want to write the child a note? How sweet of you!"

"Oh, no," Mrs. May said. She was going to embark on a dangerous effort,
and was not quite certain as yet. But desperate diseases require
desperate remedies. "It is nothing. And I don't want anybody to know."

"I am sure you can trust to me."

"Of course I can, my dear child. And I will. Please get me the
materials."

Vera brought the paper essentials. With a smile on her face Mrs. May
wrote the letter. Inside the envelope she placed something she had taken
from the bosom of her dress.

"A cake of chocolate," she explained, smilingly. "See, I do not address
the envelope, but place on it this funny sign that looks like an
intoxicated problem in Euclid. The child will understand. And now I am
going to ask you to do me a favor. Will you please take the letter
without letting anybody know what you are doing, and put it at the foot
of the big elder in the tangle? I dare say it sounds very stupid of me,
but I don't want the child to be disappointed."

Vera professed herself ready and also to be charmed with the idea. She
would go at once, she said, and Mrs. May raised no obstacle. At the end
of the corridor Vera was confronted with her Uncle Ralph. He held out
his hand.

"I was listening," he said. "I knew beyond all doubt that something of
the kind would be attempted. I want that letter."

"But uncle, I promised----"

"It matters nothing what you promised. It is of vital importance that
the inside of that letter should be seen. Chocolate for a child indeed!
Death to us all, rather. You are going to give me that letter, and I am
going to open it. Afterwards it shall be sealed again, and you shall
convey it to its destination. The letter!"

Dazed and bewildered, Vera handed it to him. It was not a nice thing to
do, but then, nice methods were not for Mrs. May. Ralph grasped the
letter and made off towards his room.

"Wait here," he said. "I shall not be a few minutes. I am merely going
to steam that envelope open and master the contents. Don't go away."

Vera nodded. She was too astonished for words; not that she felt
compunction any longer. Presently Ralph returned.

"There you are, my child," he said. "If I seemed harsh to you, forgive
me. It is no time for courtesies. You can take the letter now and
deliver it. It has been a good and great discovery for us."




CHAPTER LIV.--Exit the Asiatics.


Tchigorsky, Ralph Ravenspur, and Geoffrey sat smoking in the blind man's
room. It was late the same afternoon, and from the window could be heard
the thunder of the incoming tide. Tchigorsky appeared to be in excellent
spirits, puffed his cigarette with gusto, and came out in the new role
of a raconteur.

"We have them all now," he said. "To-day will settle everything. It was
a pretty idea of Ralph's to hang about the corridor under the impression
that the woman would try to send some kind of message to her familiars.
Real genius, I call it."

"Not a bit of it," Ralph said, doggedly. "Pshaw, a child would have done
the same. The woman was bound to try to send a letter. She lies there
helpless, but knows that somebody is moving in her tracks. And, to add
to her suspense, she hasn't an idea who is following her up.

"Don't you see she is in the dark? Don't you understand that she
suspects she has been trapped? She wants to know what we think about
her; she wants to know all about her infernal apparatus. She wants her
information all at one fell swoop. And when she found that Marion was
missing, she felt certain that her time was near.'"

"What is her hold over Marion?" Geoffrey asked.

"And why has Marion gone away?" Tchigorsky said evasively. "We shall
come to a full understanding about that presently. Let us begin to
unravel the skein from the start. I read that letter which Ralph gave to
me, the letter which by this time is in the hands of that woman's
familiars. They have instructions to come to the castle at dusk, and
enter it by way of the vaults. When the family are at dinner the
Orientals will make their way up to their mistress."

"But can they?" Geoffrey asked.

"Of course they can. Many a night have they been here. But we have
already stopped any danger that way by locking the door of the vault,
the one below sea level. Then we shall go down the cliffs presently and
take the chaps like rats in a trap. They will be handed over to the
police because the time has come when we can afford to show our hands.
The end is very near."

"But the evidence against Mrs. May?" Geoffrey suggested.

Tchigorsky tapped his breast-pocket significantly.

"You have forgotten the diary," he said "I have evidence enough here to
hang that vile wretch over and over again. I have evidence enough to
place in the hands of the Government which will convince those gentry in
the temples beyond Lassa that they had better be content to leave us
alone in future unless they desire to have their temples blown about
their ears. This diary clinches the whole business. The house of
Ravenspur is free."

"God grant that it may be so," Geoffrey said fervently. "We have only to
wait till dusk. Tell me the rest of your adventures in the Black
Valley."

Tchigorsky nodded, as he proceeded to make a fresh cigarette.

"There is not much more to tell," he said. "Some day, when I have more
leisure on my hands. I will give the whole business, chapter and verse.
I have only told you enough for you to know the class of foe you have to
deal with.

"Well, as I told you, we shot two of the priests whose business it was
to guide our stumbling feet to the bottom and then leave us there. We
knew that these men would never be missed, so that we hadn't much
anxiety on that score. The others, despite their sacred calling, were
just as anxious to live as anybody else.

"To prevent any chance of escape, we took off our flowing robes, tore
them into strips, and bound our guides to ourselves. It was a good thing
we did so, for before long, we plunged into darkness so thick that its
velvety softness seemed to suffocate us.

"You will hardly believe me, but for two whole days and nights we
stumbled on in that awful darkness without food or rest, except now and
again when we fell exhausted. All that time we could see nothing, but
there were awful noises from unseen animals, roars and yells and cries
of pain.

"Loathsome, greasy reptiles were under our feet, the clammy rocks seemed
to be alive with them. Yet they did us no harm; indeed, their sole
object seemed to be to get out of our way. Sometimes great eyes gleamed
at us, but those eyes were ever filled with a terror greater than our
own.

"After a bit this sense of fear passed away. Had we been alone, had we
possessed no hope of ultimate salvation, the unseen horrors of the place
would have driven us mad. We should have wandered on until we had
dropped hopelessly insane and perished. Even a man utterly devoid of
imagination could not have fought off the mad terror of it all. As for
me, I will never forget it."

Tchigorsky paused and wiped his forehead. Glancing at Ralph, Geoffrey
could see that the latter was trembling like a leaf.

"We came to the end of it at length," Tchigorsky went on. "We came to
light and a long desolate valley whence we proceeded into an arid
desert. Here we found our latitude and dismissed our guides. We ought to
have shot them, but we refrained. It would have saved a deal of trouble.
They were not less dangerous than mad dogs.

"We got into communication with our guides and servants in a day or two,
and there ended the first and most thrilling volume of our adventures.
How the Princess Zara has persecuted us ever since you know. And how we
are going to turn the table on that fiend of a woman you also know."

There was a long silence after Tchigorsky had finished and dusk began to
fall. Geoffrey looked out of the window towards the sea. Suddenly he
started.

"Blobber Rock," he gasped. "Covered! Not a vestige of it to be seen! It
is high spring tide to-day, the highest of the month, and I had
forgotten all about it."

"What difference does it make?" Tchigorsky asked.

"It fills the underground caves," Geoffrey cried. "We have locked the
doors of the lower vault, and in that vault are the two Asiatics waiting
the orders of their mistress. A spring tide fills that vault with water.
If those men got that letter, as they are pretty sure to have done by
this time, then they are dead men. Once they get into the cave the tide
would cut them off, and they would be drowned like rats in a sewer. Of
course, they would have no idea the vault was closed to them, and----"

"Quite right," Tchigorsky interrupted. "I never thought of that. And I
had no knowledge of the state of the tide. And there are other caves
where----"

He was going to say where Marion is, but paused. Ralph seemed to divine
what was in his mind. The reply seemed incontinent, but Tchigorsky
understood.

"All the other caves are practically beyond high-water mark," he said.
"What Geoffrey says is correct, and our forgetfulness has saved the
hangman a job. But wouldn't it be well to make sure?"

Tchigorsky was of that opinion.

"No need to alarm the household," he said. "Geoffrey shall procure a
lantern, and I will come and assist in the search. I don't want to be
seen just yet; but it really does not much matter, as there is no need
for further concealment. If these men are drowned, they are drowned, and
there is an end of the matter. In any case, we have the chief culprit by
the heels."

It was possible, after all, to reach the vaults without being seen.
Geoffrey procured a lantern and the party set out. When they were at the
bottom of the steps they could hear the sea slashing and beating on the
walls and sides of the vault. A great wave slipped up as the door
opened.

Geoffrey bent down with the lantern in his hand. For some time he
searched the boiling spume without success.

"Can you see anything?" asked Tchigorsky.

"Nothing whatever," said Geoffrey. "It is possible that they might
not----, Ah!"

He shuddered as he raised the light. The spume ceased to boil for a
moment, then a stiff, rigid hand crept horribly from the flood. A brown
sodden face followed. There lay one of the Asiatics past the power of
further harm.

"You have seen one," Tchigorsky shouted, "and there is the other."

Another face came up like a repulsive picture on a screen. A minute
later and the two bodies were dripping on the steps of the vault.




CHAPTER LV.--A Shock for the Princess.


It was not a pleasant task, but it had to be done. Fortunately it was
possible to do everything discreetly and in order, for the vaults were
large, and there was not the slightest chance that any of the household
would come near.

The bodies were laid out there, and the key turned upon them. Geoffrey
looked at his companions, and inquired what was to be done next.

"Inform the head of the house and send for the police," Tchigorsky said;
"so far as I can see, it will be impossible to keep the matter a secret.
Nor are we to blame. Those men came here for no good purpose, and we
took steps to prevent them from entering the house.

"Unfortunately we forgot there would be an exceptionally high tide
to-day, and consequently they have paid the penalty of their folly. But
we can't bury these two fellows as we did the others."

"Hadn't we better search them?" Ralph suggested. "They came in response
to the note sent them by their mistress. The note was opened and read.
One of them is sure to have the letter on his person."

"Then let the police find it," Tchigorsky said promptly. "It will be the
link in the evidence that we require. When you and I come to tell our
story, Ralph, and the police find that letter, the net around Princess
Zara will be complete. I have only to produce that diary and the case is
finished."

Ralph nodded approval. Five minutes later and the head of the house,
seated over a book in the library, was exceedingly astonished to see
Ralph and Geoffrey, followed by Tchigorsky, enter the room.

He swept a keen glance over their faces; he saw at once they had news of
grave import for him.

"I do not understand," he said. "Dr. Tchigorsky, I am amazed. I was
under the impression that you were dead and buried."

"Other people shared the same opinion, sir," Tchigorsky said coolly.
"The great misfortune of another man was my golden opportunity. It was
necessary for certain people to regard me as dead--your enemies
particularly. But perhaps I had better explain."

"It would be as well," Ravenspur murmured.

Tchigorsky proceeded to clear the mystery of Voski's death. He had to
tell the whole story, beginning at Lassa and going on to the end.
Ravenspur listened with the air of a man who dreams. To a man used all
his life to the quietude of an English shire, it seemed impossible to
believe that such things could be. And why should these people persecute
him? Why should they come here? What did those men mean by drowning
themselves in the vaults?

"They came here at the instigation of Mrs. May," Tchigorsky said.

"But I don't see how that lady comes to be in it at all."

"You will in a minute," said Tchigorsky grimly. "You will when I tell
you that Mrs. May and Princess Zara are one and the same person."
Ravenspur gasped. The bare idea of having such a woman under his roof
filled him with horror. Even yet he could not understand his danger.

"But why does she come?" he demanded. "For revenge on you two?"

"Oh, no. My being here was a mere coincidence. Of course, the princess
would have removed me sooner or later. Ralph, strange to say, she does
not recognise at all, possibly because he has disguised himself with
such simple cleverness. Princess Zara came here to destroy your family."

"In the name of Heaven, why?"

"Partly for revenge, partly for money. I told you all about her husband,
who was an English officer. I told you why she had married him. When she
discovered the papers she wanted, then she killed him and returned to
her own people, giving out that she and her husband had perished up
country in a fearful cholera epidemic. She wanted money. Why not kill
off her husband's family one by one so that finally the estates should
come to her? Mr. Ravenspur, surely you have guessed who was the English
officer Princess Zara married?"

Ravenspur staggered back as before a heavy blow. The illuminating flash
almost stunned him. He fell gasping into a chair.

"My son Jasper," he said hoarsely. "That fiend is his widow."

"And Marion's mother," Ralph croaked.

Geoffrey was almost as much astonished as his grandfather. He wondered
why he had not seen all this before. Once explained, the problem was
ridiculously simple. Ravenspur covered his face with his hands.

"Marion must not know," he said. "It would kill her."

"She knows already," Tchigorsky said. "That woman has great influence
over her child. And the idea was for the child to get everything. The
others were to be killed off until she was the only one left. With this
large fortune at command, Zara meant to be another Queen of Sheba. And
she would have succeeded, too."

Ravenspur shuddered. He was torn by conflicting emotions. Perhaps
tenderness and sympathy for Marion were uppermost. How much did she
know? How much had she guessed? Was she entirely in the dark as to her
mother's machinations, or had she come resolved to protect the relatives
as much as possible?

Ravenspur poured out these questions one after another. Tchigorsky could
or would say nothing to relieve the other's feelings on these points.

"What you ask has nothing to do with the case," he said. "I have proved
to you, I am prepared to prove in any court of law, how your family has
been destroyed, and who is the author of the mischief.

"She is under your roof, where she is powerless to move. Her two
confederates lie dead in the vaults yonder. I have already explained to
you how it came about that the princess is here and how her infernal
apparatus failed. It now remains to call in the police."

"There will be a fearful scandal," Ravenspur groaned.

Tchigorsky glanced at him impatiently. The cosmopolitan knew a great
many things that were sealed books to Ravenspur--in point of knowledge
it was as a child alongside a great master; but Tchigorsky knew nothing
of the family pride.

"Which will be forgotten in a week," he said emphatically. "And when the
thing is over you will be free again. You cannot realise what that means
as yet."

"No," Ravenspur said. "I cannot."

"Nevertheless, you can see for yourself that what I say is a fact,"
Tchigorsky resumed. "And as a county magistrate and a deputy-lieutenant,
you would hardly venture to suggest that we should bury those bodies and
say nothing to anybody about it?"

Ravenspur nodded approval. A few minutes later a groom was carrying a
note to the police inspector at Alton. Ravenspur turned to Tchigorsky
with a manner more genial than he usually assumed.

"I have forgotten to thank you," he said. "And you, Ralph, have saved
the house. If you can forget the past----"

He said no more, but his hand went out. Ralph seemed to divine it and
pressed it closely. There was no word uttered on either side. But they
both understood, and Ralph smiled. Geoffrey had never seen his uncle
smile before. The expression of his face was genial, almost handsome.
His wooden look had utterly disappeared, and nobody ever saw it again.
The transformation of Ralph Ravenspur was not the least wonderful
incident of the whole mysterious affair.

The door opened, and Vera came lightly into the room.

"What does all this mystery mean?" she asked. "Geoffrey you are--Dr.
Tchigorsky!"

The last words came with a scream that might have been heard all over
the house. Tchigorsky closed the door and proceeded rapidly to explain.
But it was not the full explanation he had given to the others. There
was time enough for that.

Vera was too bewildered to ask questions. At a sign from Geoffrey she
slipped from the room. Then she recollected that she had come down
stairs on an errand of mercy. She had promised to get a cup of tea for
the woman whom she still knew as Mrs. May. She procured the tea from the
drawing-room, and in a dazed kind of state made her way up the stairs
again.

Mrs. May was sitting up in bed. There was a pink spot on either cheek,
and her dark eyes were blazing.

"I hope nothing is wrong," she said. "It might have been my fancy, but
it seemed to me that I heard you call Tchigorsky's name at the top of
your voice."

The suggestion was made with a fervent earnestness that the woman could
not repress. But Vera did not notice it.

"I did," she said. "I walked into the library, hearing voices there, and
in a chair Dr. Tchigorsky was seated. No wonder that I cried out. It was
a fearful shock. And when he began to talk I could not believe the
evidence of my senses."

"Then who was it that was buried?"

The woman asked the question mechanically. She knew perfectly well what
the reply would be; she knew that she had been discovered at last, and
that the murder of Voski had been turned to good purpose by Tchigorsky.
And she knew now who her new ally, Ben Heer, really was.

"Dr. Voski," Vera explained. "I have been hearing all about Lassa and a
certain Princess Zara, who seems to be a dreadful wretch. But I fear
that I am exciting you. And you haven't drunk your tea."

The woman gulped down her tea and then fell back on her bed, closing her
eyes. She wanted to be alone, to have time to think. Danger had
threatened her before, but not living, palpitating peril like this. Vera
crept away, and the woman rose again, but she could not get out of her
bed.

Passionate, angry tears filled her eyes.

"That man has beaten me," she groaned. "It is finished for good and all.
But their revenge will not be of long duration."




CHAPTER LVI.--Marion Comes Back.


The police had more or less taken possession of Ravenspur. They were
everywhere asking questions that Tchigorsky took upon himself to answer.

As he had expected, the note carried by Vera and deposited in the
farmhouse garden had been found on one of the bodies. The inspector of
police was an intelligent man, and he fell in with everything that
Tchigorsky suggested.

"Of course you can't read this book," said the Russian, as he handed
over the fateful diary for safe custody; "But there are one or two
Oriental scholars in London who will bear out my testimony. Have you any
doubt?"

"Personally not in the least," the inspector replied. "You say it is
impossible for that woman to get away?"

"Absolutely impossible. She is safe for days."

"Then in that case there is no need to arrest her. That will have to
come after the inquest on these men, which we shall hold to-morrow. And
what a sensation the case will make! If I had read this thing in a book
I should have laughed at it. And now we must have a thorough search for
those electrical appliances."

It was long past dinner-time before the police investigations were
finished. Aided by Tchigorsky a vast amount of mechanical appliances was
found. Including the apparatus that was to do so much harm to the
Ravenspurs, and which had ended in wrecking the schemes of their
arch-enemy.

"Inquest at ten to-morrow, sir," the inspector remarked to Ravenspur. "I
am very sorry, but we shall not trouble you more than we can help."

Ravenspur shook his head sadly. He was not particularly versed in the
ways of the law, but he could see a long case ahead; and he was
beginning to worry about Marion. It was nearly ten o'clock now, and the
girl had not returned.

It would be a sad home-coming for her, but they would do all they could
for her. Everybody appeared to be duly sympathetic except Ralph, who
said nothing. Tchigorsky seemed to have obliterated himself entirely.

Geoffrey had retired to the billiard-room, where Vera followed him. They
started a game, but their nerves were in no condition to finish it. Cues
were flung down, and the lovers stood before the fireplace.

"What are you thinking about?" Geoffrey asked.

Vera looked up dreamingly. She touched Geoffrey's cheek caressingly. She
looked like one who is happy and yet at the same time ashamed of her own
happiness.

"Of many things; pleasant and otherwise," she said. "I am still utterly
in the dark myself, but those who know tell me that the shadow has
lifted for ever. That in itself is so great a joy that I dare not let my
mind dwell upon it as yet. To think that we may part and meet again, to
think----But I dare not let my mind dwell upon that. But what has Mrs.
May to do with it?"

Vera was not behind the scenes as yet. Still, within a few hours the
thing must come out. What the family regarded as a nurse had been
procured for the invalid, a nurse who really was a female warder in
disguise, and Ravenspur had sternly given orders that nobody was to go
near that room. He vouchsafed no reason why; he gave the order, and it
was obeyed.

Then Geoffrey told Vera everything. He went through the whole story from
the very beginning. Vera listened as one in a dream. Such wickedness was
beyond her comprehension. Awful as the cloud was that had long hung over
the house of Ravenspur, Vera had not imagined it to be lined with such
depravity as this.

"And so that inhuman wretch is Marion's mother?" said Vera. "The child
of a creature who deliberately murdered her husband and tried to destroy
his family so that she could get everything into her hands! No wonder
that Marion has been a changed creature since Mrs. May has been about!
How I pity her anguish and condition of mind! But had Marion a sister?"

"Not that I ever heard of. Why?"

"I was thinking of that other girl, the girl so like Marion that you
were talking about just now. What has become of her?"

Geoffrey shook his head. He had forgotten that most mysterious
personage. It was more than likely, he explained, that Tchigorsky would
know. Not that it much mattered. The two were silent for some little
time, then a peal of laughter from the drawing-room caused them to
smile.

"My mother," said Vera. "I have not heard her laugh like that for years.
Does it not seem funny to realise that before long we shall be laughing
and chatting and moving with the world once more, Geoff? I should like
to leave Ravenspur and have a long, long holiday on the Continent."

Geoffrey stooped and kissed her.

"So you shall, my sweet," he said. "We can be married now. And when we
come back to Ravenspur it will be the dear old home I recollect in my
childhood days. Vera, you and I shall be the happiest couple in the
world."

They went back to the drawing-room again. Here the elders were
conversing quietly yet happily. There was an air of cheerful gaiety upon
them that the house had not known for many a long day.

Gordon Ravenspur was impressing upon his father the necessity of looking
more sharply after the shooting. The head of the family had before him
some plans of new farm buildings.

It was marvellous what a change the last few hours had wrought. And the
author of all the sorrow and anguish was upstairs guarded by eyes that
never tired.

"How bright and cheerful you look," Vera said. "It only wants one thing
to make the picture complete. You can guess, dear grandfather."

"Marion," Ravenspur said. "Marion, of course."

"She will come back," Ralph murmured. "Marion will return. We know now
that no harm could come to the girl. I should not wonder if she were not
on her way home this very moment."

Half an hour passed, an hour elapsed, and yet no Marion. They were all
getting uneasy but Ralph, who sat doggedly in his chair. Then there was
a commotion outside, the door opened, and Marion came in.

She looked pale and uneasy. She glanced from one to the other with
frightened eyes. It was easy to see that she was greatly moved and,
moreover, was not sure as to the warmth of her reception. But she might
have made her mind easy on that score. All rose to welcome her.

"My dear, dear child," Vera cried. "Where have you been?"

Vera fluttered forward, and took off Marion's cloak. All seemed to be
delighted. Marion dropped into a chair with quivering smile. Ralph had
felt his way across to her, and stood by the side of her chair.

"I fancied I made a discovery," she said. "It occurred to me
perhaps----But don't let us talk about myself. Has anything happened
here?"

"Much," Ralph cried. "Great things. The mystery is solved."

"Solved?" Marion gasped. "You have found the culprit?"

"The culprit is in the house. She is Mrs. May. I prefer to call her
Princess Zara; and yet again I might call her Mrs. Ravenspur, wife of
the late Jasper Ravenspur. Marion, we have found your mother."

Marion said nothing. Her head had fallen forward and she sat swaying in
her chair. There was a hard yet pleading look in her eyes. Ralph bent
down and drew her none too tenderly to her feet.

"The she-wolf is here, the cub is here," he cried. "Are you going to
speak, or shall I tell the story? Speak, or let me do so."

Ravenspur sprang forward angrily.

"What are you doing?" he cried "To lay hands on that angel----"

"Aye," said Ralph, "an angel truly, but a fallen one--Lucifer in the
dust!"




CHAPTER LVII.--Hand and Foot.


What did it mean? Why was there all this commotion in the house? And why
did everybody leave her so severely alone? These were the questions that
Princess Zara, otherwise Mrs. May, otherwise Mrs. Jasper Ravenspur,
asked herself. And why had Marion not returned?

Oh! it was bitter to lie there fettered hand and foot the very moment
when activity and cunning and action were most imperatively needed. And
Tchigorsky was not dead. How she had been tricked and fooled!

Fate had played against her. Who could have anticipated that Voski would
have come to Ravenspur and met his death there! By this time the sham
Ben Heer had all necessary proofs in his hands.

The door opened, and a resolute-looking woman came in. Her garb was
something of the hospital type, yet more severe and plainer. She came in
and took her place with the air of one who watches a prisoner.

"I do not require your services," the adventuress said coldly.

"It is immaterial, madam," was the equally cold reply. "I am sent here
to do my duty whether you require my services or not."

"Indeed! Am I to regard myself as a prisoner, then?"

The other bowed. The bolt had fallen. There was nothing for it but to
submit quietly. By this time Tchigorsky's proofs were in possession of
the police. The prisoner smiled grimly as she thought how she could
escape her foes yet.

"What is the confusion in the house?" she asked. "What is your name?"

"My name is Symonds. I was fetched here by the inspector of police. The
bodies of two Asiatics have been found drowned in the vaults, and they
are getting ready for the inquest to-morrow."

Once again the defeated murderess smiled. Fate was all against her.
Those men had come to do her bidding, and had perished. Doubtless the
note sent by Vera Ravenspur would be found on one of them, and this
would be no more than another link in the long chain.

She tried to rise, but she could not. She lay on the bed fully dressed,
her brain was as quick and as clear as ever, but the paralysis in the
lower limbs fettered her. A blind fury shook her for the moment.

If she had only been free to move she would have triumphed even yet.
Tchigorsky might have been a clever man, but she would have shown him
that he was no match for her. And now she had walked into the trap he
had laid for her. Doubtless she had been watched into the castle;
doubtless the enemy had seen her lay those wires, and had arranged to
give her a taste of that deadly stuff she had prepared for others. Then
Marion had been spirited away, and the key of the safe taken from her.
Subsequently Tchigorsky had ransacked the box. Oh! she saw it all.

The family of Ravenspur saw it all by this time, too. She was no longer
a guest in the house of Ravenspur, but a prisoner in charge of a female
warder. In a day or two she would be cast into prison. In due course she
would undergo her trial and finally be hanged by the neck until she were
dead.

It was this last thought that caused her to smile. She was too clever a
woman not to accept the inevitable. A great many people in her position
would have protested and lied and blustered. She saw the folly of it.

"I should like to see Mr. Ravenspur," she said. "Will you tell him so?
You need not fear. I am helpless. I could not move."

Mrs. Symonds stepped into the corridor and gave the message to a passing
servant. After a time a slow step came shuffling along up the stairs. It
was Ralph, who presently came into the room.

"You can leave us for a little time," he said.

Symonds discreetly disappeared. She passed into the corridor. The woman
in the bed opened her mouth to speak, but stopped in astonishment.
Ralph's glasses were gone, and the smooth unguents had disappeared from
his face. Those cruel criss-cross lines stood out with startling
distinctness.

"You wanted to see my father?" he said. "My father declines to see you
under any circumstances. Perhaps I shall do as well."

"You--you are one of the men I saw at Lassa."

The words came from the woman's lips with a gasp. She had never been so
astonished in all her life.

"Yes; I was the other one," Ralph said coolly. "I had to disguise myself
when I found out you were in England. There is no longer any need for
disguise. I hope you are delighted to see me, my dear sister-in-law?"

"Oh! so you know that also?"

"You may take it for granted that I know everything."

There was a long pause before the woman spoke again.

"I need not ask what opinion you have formed of me?"

"You are perhaps the most depraved wretch who ever drew the breath of
life," said Ralph, slowly and without emotion. "To your ambition and
what you call your religion you are prepared to sacrifice everything.
You deliberately murdered the man who loved you."

"Your brother Jasper. I admit it. Perhaps you will find it impossible to
believe that I loved him? But I did with my whole heart and soul. I
loved him, and I killed him. Does it not sound strange? But this is the
fact. I had to do it--for the sake of my people and my religion I had to
do it. When I recovered those papers I slew him as he knew I would. He
was the only thing on earth that I had to care for."

"Oh! Had you not a daughter?"

The woman made a gesture of contempt.

"A poor creature," she said. "But I brought her up in the strong faith I
follow, and so she has not been without her uses. Not that she knows
anything of the Holy Temple and the ceremonial there. I never told her
about the two men who escaped along the Black Valley. If I had, I should
have known you to be a worthy antagonist instead of a half-witted fool,
and then you would never have brought me to this pass. Oh, if I had only
told her that!"

There was a passionate ring in the woman's voice. It was the first time
during the interview that she had displayed any humanity.

"You didn't, and there is an end of it," Ralph said. "Go on."

"Is there any need to go on? I have failed, and there is an end of the
matter. When my husband died, my feelings were turned to rage and hatred
of you all."

"Why should you all live and prosper while he was dead?" said Mrs. May.
"With your money I could do anything among my own people. I could found
a new dynasty. Did I not possess the occult knowledge of the East with a
thorough knowledge of what you are pleased to call Western civilization?
I could do it. A little longer and your wealth would have come to my
child; in other words, it would have come to me. Do you understand what
I mean?"

"Perfectly. I have understood for some time. Before I returned to
England I had an idea of what was at the bottom of the vendetta. But you
would not have succeeded. Tchigorsky and myself made up our minds that
if we could not bring the crimes home to you we would shoot you."

Ralph spoke with a grim coldness that was not without its effect upon
the listener. Hard as she was, the sentiment was after her own heart.

"That would have been murder," she said.

"Perhaps so. In the cold prosaic eyes of the law we might have been
regarded as criminals of the type you mention; but we did not propose to
pay any deference to the law. Nor would our deed have been discovered.
You would simply have disappeared, we should have shot you and thrown
your body into the sea. And I don't fancy that the deed would have
weighed very heavily on the conscience of either of us."

The woman smiled. Nothing seemed to disturb her. She was full of
passionate fury against the decrees of fate; but she did not show it.

"I suppose you planned everything out?" she asked.

"Everything, Tchigorsky and myself between us. It was Tchigorsky who
rescued my nephew after your familiar in the blue dress and red hat had
cut the mast and sculls. We guessed that the search for Geoffrey would
empty the house, and that you would take advantage of the fact.

"Geoffrey and I watched you laying those wires. It was I who saw that
you had a taste of the poison. I wanted to lay you by the heels here
while Tchigorsky overhauled your possessions. Your messenger was waylaid
and robbed of your key. Also I opened the letter you sent by my niece so
that your confederates might be summoned to your assistance."

"Marion has come back again?"

"Within the last hour, yes. You will see her presently."

The woman smiled curiously.

"Not to-night," she said. "Not tonight. I am tired, and fancy I shall
sleep well. I shall be glad of a long, long rest. Shall I see your
father?"

"No," Ralph said sternly. "You certainly shall not."

"Then good-night. Do not be surprised if I beat you yet."

* * * * * * *

It was late and the family were retiring. Marion had already gone. In
the drawing-room a group had gathered round the fire. They were silent
and sad, for they had heard many things that had moved them strangely.
There was a knock at the door, and Symonds looked in.

"My prisoner is dead," she said coldly and unmoved. "I suppose she
managed to secrete some poison and take it. But she is dead."

"It is well," Ravenspur replied. "It might have been worse. It was the
best she could do to lift the shadow of disgrace from this unhappy
house."

* * * * * * *

L'ENVOI.

* * * * * * *


Marion had bowed her head before the coming storm. She asked no mercy
and expected none. Yet she looked the same pure, unaffected saint she
had ever appeared. Ravenspur would have taken her hand, but she drew it
away.

"It is true," she said. "I am a fallen angel. I have never been anything
else. Put it down to my mother's training if you like; but I came here
as her friend, not yours. My religion is hers, my feelings are hers; I
am of her people. With all the wicked knowledge of the East I came here
to cut you off root and branch."

"Why?" Ravenspur said brokenly, "in the name of Heaven, why?"

"Because for years I have been taught to hate you; because I am at heart
an Asiatic. It seemed grand to have all your money, so that I might be a
great person in my own country some day. Then I came and brought the
curse with me. It never seemed to strike any of you that the curse and I
came together. Three deaths followed. In every one of these I played a
part; I was responsible for them all. Shall I tell you how?"

"No, no," said Ravenspur. "Heavens! this is too horrible. To think of
you looking so sweet and so fair and good; to think that you should have
crept in to our hearts only to betray us like this. We want to hear
nothing beyond your confession. Have you a heart at all, or are you a
beautiful fiend?"

"I did not imagine that I had a heart at all until I came here," Marion
replied. She had not abated a jot of her sweetness of expression or
angelic manner. "Then gradually I began to love you all. When I met my
cousin Geoffrey I recognised the fact that I was a woman.

"More than once I have been on the point of betraying myself to him. But
the more passion for him filled my heart the worse I felt. I was going
to kill you all off and keep Geoffrey for myself. If Vera had died he
would have come to care for me in time. I know he would.

"Then my mother came. I was not getting along fast enough for her. Her
keen eyes saw into my breast and discovered my secret at once. For that
reason she marked Geoffrey down for her next victim. I tried to warn
him; wrote him a letter. And I had to do him to death myself. It was I
who cut the mast away; it was I who sawed the sculls. I was the girl in
the blue dress."

"Amazing," Geoffrey murmured. "To think of it! Marion! Marion!"

There were tears in his eyes; he could not be angry with her. There were
tears in the eyes of everybody. Vera was crying softly. And all the
grief was so many daggers in the heart of the unhappy girl.

"Go on," she said. "Cry for me. Every look of pity and every sign of
grief stings me to the quick. Perhaps I am mad; perhaps I am not
responsible for my actions. But I swear that all the time I have been
plotting against your lives I have cared for you. Only my training and
my religion forced me on. Call me insane if you please, as you say of
the fakir who sleeps upon a bed of sharp nails. I could explain all the
mysteries----"

"You need not," Ralph said. "I can do that in good time. From the first
I knew you, from the first I have dogged you from room to room at night
and frustrated your designs. Then came Tchigorsky, who finished the task
for me. Need I say more?"

Marion moved towards the door. The imploring look had gone from her
face; her eyes had grown sad and hopeless. And yet in the face of her
confession, in face of the knowledge of her crimes, not one of them had
the slightest anger for her.

"I am going," she said. "In the event of this happening, I had made my
plans. It may be that I shall have to take my trial; it may be that I
shall be spared. One thing you may be certain of--my mother will never
stand in the dock."

Ralph rose and slipped quietly from the room.

"If she dies, if anything happens to her," Marion went on, "it may be
possible to spare me. Nobody knows anything to my dishonor outside the
family but Dr. Tchigorsky, and you can rely upon his silence. If my
mother is no more, there need be no scandal. Farewell, farewell to you
all! Oh! if Heaven had been good to me, and sent me here as a little
child, then what a happy life might have been mine!"

She passed out of the room, and nobody made any attempt to detain her.

It was a long, long time before anybody spoke, and no voice was raised
above a whisper. The shock was stupendous. In none of their past sorrows
and troubles had their feelings been more outraged.

The cloud lay heavy upon them all; it would be a long while before it
passed away. Ravenspur rose at length, his face white and worn.

"We can do no good here," he said. "Perhaps sleep will bring us merciful
relief."

It was at this moment, that Symonds looked in with her information. It
was no shock, because all were past being shocked. Vera cried on
Geoffrey's shoulder.

"I am glad of it," she whispered; "It's an awful thing to say, but I am
glad. It saves Marion. We shall never see her again; but I am glad she
is saved."

* * * * * * *

A young couple were looking down on the Mediterranean from the terrace
of an old garden filled with the choicest flowers. The man looked
bronzed and well, the girl radiantly happy. For grief has no abiding
place in the eyes of youth.

"Doesn't it seem wonderful Geoffrey?" the girl said. "Positively I
cannot realise that we have been married three weeks. I shall wake up
presently and find myself back at Ravenspur again wondering what
dreadful thing is going to happen next."

Geoffrey touched a letter that lay in Vera's lap.

"Here is the evidence of our freedom," he said. "Read it to me, please."

Vera picked up the letter. There was no heading. Then she read:--

"I am near you and yet far off. I hear little things from the world from
time to time, and I know that you are married to Geoffrey. I felt that I
must write you a few lines.

"I am in a convent here, in a convent from whence I can never emerge
again. Heaven knows how many human tragedies are bound up in these grey
old walls. But of all the miserable wretches here, there is none more
miserable than myself. Still, in my new faith I have found consolation.
I know that there is hope even for sinners as black as myself.

"Will it sound strange to you to hear that I long and yearn for you
always--that I still love those whom I would have destroyed? I meant to
write you a long letter, but my heart is too full. Do not reply, because
we are not allowed to have letters here.

"Heaven bless you both and give you the happiness you deserve!

"MARION."

Geoffrey took up the letter and tore it into minute fragments. The
gentle breeze carried it over the oleanders and lemon-trees like snow.

Down below the blue sea sparkled, and the world seemed full of the pure
delight of life.

"Geoffrey," Vera said, after a pause, "are we too happy?"

"Is it possible to be too happy?" Geoffrey replied.

"Well, too selfishly happy I mean. It seems awful to be so blissful when
Marion is full of misery. I shall never feel anything but affection for
her. It seems a strange thing to say, but I mean it. Poor Marion."

Geoffrey stooped and kissed the quivering lips.

"Poor Marion, indeed!" he said. "Marion was two distinct persons. Of all
the shocks we ever had, her confession hurt me most of all. A creature
so sweet and pure and good--a veritable angel! It is sufficient to
utterly destroy one's faith in human nature. It would if I hadn't got
you."



THE END



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