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Title: The House on the Island
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: November 2011
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The House on the Island
Author: Arthur Gask

*

Published in serial format in The Advertiser and Register (Adelaide, S.A.),
commencing Saturday 21 March, 1931.

*


Chapter I.--THE JUNGLE OF CRIME.


The Chief Commissioner of Police was sitting in his pleasant room in
Scotland Yard overlooking the Thames Embankment, but he looked anything
but pleasant himself. Instead, he was scowling angrily as he perused the
newspaper in his hands.

"Listen to this, Carter," he exclaimed scornfully to a tall spare man
about forty years of age, who was gazing meditatively out of the window,
"for downright nonsense it's hard to beat." He read slowly so that his
subordinate could take in every word.

"Now we want a word with Scotland Yard, and it is time for some plain
speaking. We pay our rates and taxes and we are supposed thereby to be
living under the protection of the authorities whose salaries and
expenses we provide. That is what we imagine, but in reality it would
seem that we are living in no security at all. From all that is
happening around us we may any day, any hour, any one of us, be among
the victims of dark crime. The long arm of the law has ceased to
function, and life and property are now apparently the playthings of any
miscreant who comes along. For six months the towns and country-side of
the Eastern Counties have been terrorised by a bandit who robs and kills
upon the slightest provocation. Upon eleven separate occasions since
January last we have had to record his deeds of crime. He has attacked
banks and private dwelling places and his successes have been as
monotonous as have been the failures of the police to apprehend him.
Now,--we have a right to ask and we intend to press home our
question,--who is this man who hovers like a baleful shadow over the
land, what are his resources that he can ride every time through the
cordon that surrounds him, and who are his confederates that they can
baffle all attempts at their uncovering? We repeat, we have a right to
ask, and we add, too, that we have a right to receive a reply. Can it be
possible that no answer will be forthcoming, and it will be openly
admitted that in this fair land of ours there be jungles of crime from
which ferocious beasts of prey may stalk unchallenged, that they may
foul their maws in blood and that----"

The Commissioner tossed the newspaper contemptuously on to his desk.

"Bah!" he sneered, "the idiots! Do they imagine then that we keep a
private zoo or can turn Crime off with a tap when they become
insistent?"

"I think, Sir," sighed his lanky companion. "I think----"

"You've no business to think, Carter," snapped the Commissioner, "it's
not laid down in the police regulations. You've----"

There was a knock on the door and a constable entered and handed a
letter to the Commissioner.

"Bearer waiting, sir," he said.

"All right," said the Commissioner sharply. "I'll attend to it in a
minute," and the constable went out.

"But it is unfortunate, sir," frowned the tall man, "and I don't call to
mind when we've been so beaten before. I've put in a solid five weeks
now on it myself and yet I cannot say that I've struck anything worth
mentioning at all. They just come and go and we just clear up after
them," he smiled humorously, "like the housemaids when there's been a
party overnight."

"But five murders!" ejaculated the Commissioner. "And the three counties
from Norwich to Romford like an armed camp. It's incredible that we
can't find out anything."

There was silence for a minute and then the Commissioner, shrugging his
shoulders, picked up and opened the letter on his desk.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "from the C.I.D. people in Sydney about the man
they've sent over in exchange for our Thomson, for a year." He read down
the letter and then he elevated his eyebrows and looked up with a smile.

"Now, Carter," he said drily, "we've got it at last. They've sent over
the very man we need. Gilbert Larose."

The tall man sniffed audibly and looked out of the window again.

"The bush-man," he remarked without interest, "the chap that trails them
through the desert sand." He screwed up his eyes. "Then I suppose you'll
work him at Margate or Southend, sir?"

The Commissioner laughed. "Don't be jealous, Carter. It's no sin that
the poor man isn't as clever as you. Still----" And his face took on a
serious look. "Still, the fellow's supposed to be quite a genius in his
work. Major Boyne told me, in this very room last year, that there never
had been such a tracker of crime before. Why, it's proverbial in
Australia that Larose can reason back as quickly as he can reason
forward, and they say that when a murder's been committed, no matter how
long after, he can still see the very shadow that the murderer cast upon
the wall." The Commissioner's eyes twinkled. "But, mind you, I don't
vouch for that as a fact. I only just mention it as indicating the hold
that Larose's successes have given him upon the minds of the people in
the Commonwealth." He shook his head. "And, mind you again, Carter,
they're a tough, hard-bitten lot over there, and in the wide and
uncramped spaces among which they live they have more scope for the play
of the instinct than we have over here."

Elias Carter did not seem much impressed.

"Then try him out, sir," he said grimly. "We shall soon see." And he
resumed his contemplative meditation through the window.

"And he's a mighty master of disguise, too," went on the Commissioner.
"We shall learn a lot from him there. They say he can so alter his
appearance by just moving the muscles of his face that his best friends
fail to recognise him, even when within a few feet." He touched the bell
upon his desk.

"Find out," he said, when the constable appeared, "if Mr. Stone is in
the Yard, and, if so, tell him I shall be obliged if he will come here
at once."

The man retired, and then Carter took out his watch.

"Well, sir," he said, "I think I'll be going if you have nothing more
for me."

"Oh! but I have," exclaimed the Commissioner. "I want you, of course, to
meet this Larose. You and Stone, too. You're two of the stars over here,
and it would be ungracious not to introduce you to a brother star. Sit
down, man, until we are all here."

A couple of minutes later, and an alert-looking man entered the room. He
was big and stout, with the real bulldog type of face, and he looked
very sure of himself, as if he were always confident and afraid of
nothing in the world.

The Commissioner explained the situation.

"I've heard of him," boomed the big, stout man, who answered to the name
of Stone. "The best pistol-shot in Australia, they say." He grinned. "He
can have a shot at Carter here, sir, with your permission, and if he's
not too particular."

"But be polite to him," smiled the Commissioner as he put his finger on
the bell, "for I expect he'll be a bit nervous when he knows who you
both are."

A minute later, and a boyish-looking man was ushered in. He was of
medium height and appeared to be in the late twenties. He had a happy,
smiling face, and it seemed just now that he was amused.

With a quick glance he took in the little group before him, and then he
stepped straight forward to the Commissioner and took the proffered hand
which the latter at once held out to him.

"Oh! then you know me," smiled the Commissioner, "and probably, then,
these gentlemen, too?"

"Yes, sir," replied Larose. "They are two of the Big Four--Mr. Stone and
Mr. Carter."

"Goodness, gracious!" exclaimed the surprised Commissioner. "Then I
suppose you've got all the rest of the Rogues' Gallery at your fingers'
ends. But how on earth do you come to have us all so pat?"

"Oh!" replied the young man modestly, "I was hanging about outside the
Yard for a few minutes one day last week, with a friend of mine, and he
pointed out to me all the celebrities," he smiled happily, "and I don't
often forget a face."

There was a thoughtful smile all round, and then Larose, after having
shaken hands with the two detectives, was invited to sit down. The
detectives eyed him with amused and friendly good humor.

"So, so," said the Commissioner; "then, if you were sightseeing last
week, you must have been over here a little time. I was thinking you had
only come by the mail boat that arrived yesterday."

"No, sir," replied Larose; "I've been in England a fortnight now. It was
part of my holiday, and I was told I needn't report until to-day."

"Well," smiled the Commissioner, "and what do you think of England? Had
any adventures yet?"

The detective from Australia laughed. "I had my pocket picked, sir--if
you would call that one."

The Commissioner looked sympathetic. "Now, that's real bad luck," he
said. "I hope you didn't lose much."

Larose shook his head. "No, he didn't get away with anything. I got back
what he had snatched. I saw what he was intending to do, and was ready
for him."

"And you gave him in charge?" said the Commissioner.

"Oh, no," exclaimed Larose as if rather surprised. "I took him to dinner
with me and since then we've been about quite a lot together." He looked
rather sheepish. "You see, sir, it was such an opportunity for me to
learn from the opposite camp how you gentlemen here work, for I was able
to go into places I could not have got into in any other way; indeed, my
light-fingered friend would never have trusted me as he did, if I had
not been able to convince him positively by my passport that I was from
the Commonwealth, and had only just arrived." Larose sighed. "He
believed I was in the same profession as himself, and he introduced me
to a relative of his, whom I understand to be a most reliable fence."

"And I suppose," commented the Commissioner with a grin, "that this
gentleman then was the friend who pointed us all out to you outside the
Yard?"

"Yes," answered Larose, "and he seemed to know everyone. He had
nicknames, too, for most of you."

"Ha! ha!" laughed the burly Stone, highly amused, "and did he call me
'Smike?'"

"Yes," assented Larose, "and Mr. Carter, 'Smudge.'" They all joined in
the general laughter, and then the Commissioner asked---

"And from what you've read," he bowed and smiled, "and from what you've
seen, how do you think crime here compares with crime in Australia? Very
much the same kind of stuff, isn't it?"

Larose nodded. "Yes, much the same, sir, except that the team-work here
is more dangerous, and appears to be much more difficult to uncover. The
high-class gangsters with us are nearly all importations, and we get
news of their coming and so are able to keep an eye on them from the
first moment when they disembark. Besides, they haven't the same
facilities for moving about that they have here. Now take this present
trouble you are having in the eastern counties, for instance. It
seems----"

"Ah!" interrupted the Commissioner, "then you are interested in our
little local affairs, are you? You have heard of the Iron Man?"

"Oh, yes," replied Larose, smiling. "We got plenty of details over in
Australia, and besides----" he hesitated a moment, "I spent my first two
days here going through the newspaper files. The problem is most
interesting."

"Too interesting," sighed the Commissioner sadly. He tapped the
newspaper on his desk. "The public are thirsting for our blood."

"Well, sir, may I ask," said Larose respectfully, "have you any
information that is not known outside?"

The Commissioner regarded him very thoughtfully, as if he were weighing
him up.

"No, Mr. Larose," he said after a moment, "I'll be quite frank with you,
as you are going to be one of us. We have found out nothing at all,
absolutely nothing, and if you have read the newspapers, then----" he
sighed again, "you are quite as well informed as we are, in every
respect. This man is quite unknown to us. He and his associates rob and
kill, and then----" he shrugged his shoulders, "they just vanish away as
if they had never been. But listen," he went on, "and I'll state the
exact position from out point of view, and then perhaps you'll
appreciate the difficulty we are in." He settled himself back in his
chair and spoke impressively. "Now these men, we are sure, constitute a
highly organised band, and are men of courage and resource. They are
apparently led by an individual whom the public shudder delightedly to
call 'The Iron Man.' He is known as that, because upon three occasions
one of the band, and the one undoubtedly directing operations, has been
seen with his face masked in a covering of the color of rusty iron. Now,
these men specialise in holding up lonely country houses. They have
robbed two branch banks certainly, but in all the other instances it has
been houses standing in their own grounds that have received their
attentions. Lonely houses, I say, and in the eastern counties they could
not possibly have chosen a better field for their operations, for in
Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk we have hundreds of old-world villages with
each one giving shelter in its vicinity to one or more park-like estates
in the possession of people of means. Well, these wretches strike like
lightning, hold up a house at any hour of the night, abstract all the
valuables they are after, proceed to instant violence if they meet with
any opposition--they have five murders to their credit--and then
immediately decamp without leaving a trace of their identity behind.
Sometimes, twice, they have burgled a mansion without the occupants
being aware of anything unusual until they have got up the next morning.
But in all cases it has been the same. A lightning stroke and a
lightning disappearance, and not a clue to be picked up anywhere. And
they strike in all directions, too, as you have read. East Dereham, and
North Walsham, in Norfolk, Wickham Market and Debenham, in Suffolk, and
seven times in different places in Essex." The Commissioner thumped his
first upon the desk. "And do our utmost, we can light on nothing that
can help us to uncover their trail. For many weeks now it has not been a
matter of the country constabulary only; it has been raised to the
importance of a general call, and the best talent we have in the Yard
and the most astute brains in the kingdom have been called into
requisition to find out who they are. Yes, who are these men, we ask
ourselves; how do they get away, and where is the lair in which they
hide?"

The Commissioner spread out his hands. "It is not as if we were not
prepared. It is not as if we were now caught unawares. We act every
night now as if we were expecting another raid, and between dusk and
dawn you could not cross any main arterial road in the three counties
without being challenged and having to give an account of yourself. We
can't think how they manage to get away, for from the widely separated
places where they have operated they must some nights have travelled
long distances to get under cover when their foul work is done." The
Commissioner sighed for the third time. "It is most perplexing."

Larose spoke very quietly. "I notice, Sir," he said hesitatingly, "I
notice that now they seem to be working further south and are avoiding
any places near the big towns."

"Yes," replied the Commissioner grimly, "and you want to see the houses
that have been raided lately to realise how easy it was to isolate them
from immediate help. One snip at the telephone wires and the victims
were prevented from getting in touch with our men for the best part of
an hour." He raised his voice angrily. "And the devilish part is, the
wretches always appear to have everything so well prepared. They know
when there is anything worth taking, they apparently have got the plans
of every house that they enter, and they go straight to their mark with
the least delay possible." He frowned at Larose. "But you shall be taken
to one or two of the places and then you will see the difficulties we
have to meet." He smiled sadly. "It will be an education for you."

There was a moment's silence, and then Larose gave a slight cough.

"But I've seen some of them already, Sir," he said; he hesitated, "in
fact I've visited them all except one. At Thorpe Court the gates were
chained and the lodge-keeper was very rude and refused to let me in."

All eyes were turned instantly upon the speaker and the Commissioner sat
bolt upright in his chair.

"You've been to see them!" he exclaimed. "When? What for?"

The Australian detective got rather red. "Well, sir," he said slowly,
"it was like this. I was most interested in the matter for it was a
problem after my own heart. I had a week to spare, and so I thought I
couldn't do better than make a few investigations and see the English
countryside at the same time."

A moment's frown and then the Commissioner looked with some amusement at
his subordinates.

"Our friend is a live wire, gentlemen," he said smilingly, "and if we
don't look out, he'll beat us on our ground."

The detectives smiled, too, and then the meditative Carter asked drily.

"And did you find out anything then, Mr. Larose, anything worth noting?"

Gilbert Larose looked blandly at his interrogator.

"Oh, yes," he replied innocently, "one or two things struck me, but, of
course I hadn't the time to follow them up. I thought I might do that
later."

The Commissioner looked down his nose as if he were amused.

"And what were they, Mr Larose?" he asked. "That is, of course, if you
don't mind us cross-examining you?" He flashed a quick look at Elias
Carter. "You may have picked up something that has escaped us."

"Well," said Larose slowly. "I saw that three of those country houses
had been painted recently and that the chimney cowls on two of them were
new and of the same pattern."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Commissioner, and then there was a puzzled silence
in the room.

"Yes," went on Larose. "Laytham Hall, near Hadleigh, the Manor House in
Sudbury, and White Notley Towers have all had the decorators in since
Christmas, and when I enquired in the villages, I found in all three
cases that it was the same firm in Colchester that had done the work,
Smith and Rattery, of Wall-street." His voice became almost apologetic
in its tones. "I was thinking, therefore, that perhaps it might be one
of their workmen who had prepared the plans of these houses for the
burglaries. The coincidences struck me as peculiar, particularly so,
because the three houses I have mentioned are situated such a long
distance apart."

"Ah," again from the Commissioner and it seemed as if his colleagues
were now holding in their breaths.

"Then, another thing," said Larose, and he spoke softly and almost as if
he were meditating to himself, "in reading that account of the raid at
Witham Court where the dancers were held up in the ballroom by the Iron
Man, one of the guests told a pressman afterwards that the robber, as he
menaced them with his pistol, stood very firmly on his feet. That means,
of course, that he stood with his legs rather wide apart, and it
suggested to me at once a man who has followed the sea. Seafaring men, I
have always noticed, are given to standing that way, no doubt to
accommodate themselves to the swaying of the ship. So my thoughts were
turned at once to boats and moving waters, and I saw then that all the
last seven raids had occurred at places within reasonable distance of
somewhere where easy access could be got to the sea when the tides were
high. There was always some river or some creek not very far away. Then
I found----" and here Larose smiled with the happiness of a boy. "I
found that they had all happened near the top of a flowing tide. I mean
all the raids had taken place when the tide was coming in up the rivers
and the inlets of the sea and was nearly at its highest point. Never
when the tide was low or had been going down for some time. So I
thought----" he looked smilingly around, "I thought that perhaps our
criminal friends had got their headquarters somewhere near some river
bank or some estuary, and that therefore whenever they had been
operating anywhere, they had afterwards made straight for some boat or
motor launch moored in some lonely spot, and, helped by the state of the
tide, had got down to the sea somewhere and had ultimately reached home
by water without having had to face the risks of traversing any main
patrolled roads." Larose shrugged his shoulders. "At least, those were
the ideas that came to me."

He stopped speaking, and a long silence followed. Elias Carter had lost
interest in what was going on outside the window, and was sitting now
with his eyes fixed intently upon Larose. The burly Stone was frowning
and staring hard at Larose, too, and the Commissioner had got a look
that was almost an angry one, upon his face. He was the first to break
the silence.

"Give me down the special map of Essex, Mr. Carter," he said brusquely,
"and the book of the tides, too. They are both over there on the shelf."

He spread out the map upon his desk, and then turned to Larose.

"Now, sir," he said sharply, "kindly come over here," he nodded to the
other detectives, "and you gentlemen, too. We'll soon see how this idea
works out. It seems to me there may be something in it."

They all bent over the map. It was a large ordnance one, a mile to the
inch and Larose saw it was marked in places with circles and crosses in
red ink. There was also some writing on it, and what looked like notes
and memoranda down the sides.

"Now, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner grimly, "this constitutes as
far as Essex is concerned, the dossier of the Iron Man's crimes. Those
circles mark the places where he has made his raids, and the figures in
them show their sequence, the dates, and, as far as we can determine
with any accuracy, the exact hour when in each case he appeared upon the
scene." He spoke with suppressed excitement. "Now, we'll test your
theory. Witham Court was the first house to be held up, and there, he
killed as well as robbed. He pistolled Colonel Holt, because he didn't
at once hold up his hands. A dastardly action, because the old man was
very deaf, and didn't hear the order given. Well, Witham Court, first."
He pointed with his pencil, and then ran it down the map. "Collier's
Reach on the River Blackwater, nearest water, and about nine miles away
Collier's Beach, two miles from town of Maldon." He pointed again to the
red circle. "Raid took place on Thursday, March 13, at 10.45 p.m. Now
for the state of the tide." He turned quickly over the pages of the book
of 'Tides.' "J. K. O. M.--here we are Maldon. Now for the date,--March
11th. 12th. 13th. March 13th.--High water, 11.50 p.m. Now for the raid
number two. Sir Joseph Webster's place near Bures Green, on April 3.
River Stour probably the take-off here, and Seafield Creek the nearest
spot, about sixteen miles away. The town of Manningtree, three miles
from Seafield Creek. Raid at Sir Joseph's, in the middle of the night at
2.30 a.m." He consulted the Tide Book. "High water at half-past four.
Now for the raid number three. Great Baddon Manor House this time. April
26 the date. Clement's Green creek on River Crouch, nearest water
about--say nine miles away. Raid at 9 p.m. exactly, when the servants
were having supper, and high water at Burnham-on-Crouch at 10.25."

And then, one by one, the Commissioner ticked off his circles with
comments and references to the Tide Book until they were all done, and
then he drew a long breath and sighed heavily. He leant back in his
chair, and, turning round his head, stared thoughtfully out of the
window, as if his only interest in life now were the majestic waters of
the Thames. A hushed stillness followed, to be broken presently,
however, by a gruff chuckle from the detective, Stone.

"A bull's-eye, sir," he exclaimed to the Commissioner; "in fact two of
them, I believe." He smiled humorously at Larose. "This young fellow is
a credit to the little place where he was born."

The Chief Commissioner awoke abruptly from his reverie, and, for the
moment, frowned as if he were annoyed in some way; then, he, too,
smiled, and in a gracious movement inclined his head towards Larose.

"Excellent, Mr. Larose," he said. "You've given us something to think
over, and both your ideas shall be followed up. At any rate, now we
don't seem to be at quite such a dead-end. What do you say, Mr. Carter?
You've been on the business, as you reminded me a few minutes ago,
exclusively for over five weeks, and you ought to know."

The solemn-looking Carter spoke very deliberately. "Mr. Larose is a
thinker, sir," he said, "and he's seen things, too, that we have
overlooked. I shall be glad to have him help if you'll put him with me."

"Certainly I will," replied the Commissioner, "and he shall start at
once."

Elias Carter went on. "I don't want to make any excuses, sir, but in
fairness to myself and those who have worked under me, Mr. Larose has
had an advantage that we never had. He has seen all the outrages as a
complete whole, whereas we saw them one by one, and did not consequently
get the same clear perspective that he did."

"Yes, that is so," said Larose quickly. "The ideas would have never come
to me if I hadn't, so to speak, seen the places all at once." He shook
his head doubtfully. "Besides, I may be quite wrong."

"No, lad, I don't think you are," said Carter grimly. "It strikes me
you're darned right."

"Well," said the Commissioner, briskly, "you know every inch of Essex,
Mr. Carter. Now, whereabouts do you think they ran to?"

"Know every inch of Essex!" growled Carter. "Fifteen hundred and thirty
square miles, with a hundred miles and more of coastline with more
creeks, too, than there are days of the year; creeks of unexplored mud
and slime. You know every inch of Essex!"

"Well," laughed the Commissioner, "you soon ought to. You and Mr. Larose
can quickly cover a lot of ground with the energy you've both got."

"Sir," replied Carter gravely, "if there's anything in what our friend
has suggested, we are faced with a very big problem to trail these men,
for some of the spots you have mentioned as the likely places where they
took to the water are a mighty distance apart. Seafield Bay, on the
River Stow, opposite Manningtree, for instance, is separated from
Benfield Creek below Leigh-on-sea by at least eighty miles of water
frontage, eighty miles of river-bank and coast, and every mile, almost,
indented with little muddy creeks that run up into the land until they
peter out, a day's tramp away, in some dirty little ditch. These men, if
they have their hiding-place in some creek, as Mr. Larose thinks, and as
I now am inclined to think, too, have a comparatively speaking easy job
to run to cover after each raid. They can drift down some river or creek
as the tide ebbs and then make at leisure for their den, hours after
when the tide is flowing in again." He shook his head. "No, the first
clue we must follow is that of the man in the employ of the decorating
firm. We must uncover him if possible, and through him, get to the
others. At least that's what I think."

The Commissioner looked thoughtful. "But how do we imagine," he asked,
"they get to the water after each raid? What is your idea, Mr. Larose?"

"Push bikes, perhaps," answered Larose, "or in some very ordinary and
inconspicuous way. A high-powered motor car would be the last thing that
I should think they would use. Probably they separate, too, and go
singly by different ways."

The telephone on the Commissioner's desk tinkled suddenly, and he picked
it up. His face darkened instantly, and he flashed a look round on the
others in the room.

"Another one!" he exclaimed hoarsely, with the receiver still to his
ear. "Raid number twelve and in Essex, again."

"Yes, yes," he said into the mouthpiece. "Great Oakley. The private
asylum belonging to Dr. Shillington. Good God! What a place to choose!"
There was silence for a minute, and he pencilled quickly on his blotting
pad. "Yes, we'll come straight away. Now, listen, this is urgent. Send
out a special call instantly for every private launch or sailing boat
coming from seaward and passing Harwich, Brightlingsea, or up the
Blackwater or the Crouch, to be stopped and gone through, unless their
occupants are known locally. No, no--hold on a minute----" The
Commissioner turned to the detectives and spoke rapidly. "Now, is that
wise? We may be too late this time. The raid was made last night, they
say, and a man was murdered, but the news has only just come through.
Now if we draw blank, we shall spoil all future chances, for it will be
found out in which direction we are working, and it will put the
wretches on their guard. No, I'll alter that." He spoke into the
receiver again. "No, no stopping anyone, but pass the call for any
incoming launches to be secretly marked down and their direction and
probable destinations specially noted. Got that? No launches or sailing
boats to know that they have been watched. All right, then, we'll be
coming at once." He hung up the receiver.

"More trouble, more trouble," he sighed, "and the public will be getting
their knives into us deeper than ever." His face brightened, and he went
on briskly--"But, at any rate, now, we've got another chance, a typical
outrage carried out in their usual way. They raided Dr. Shillington's
private asylum near Great Oakley, it is believed late last night,
murdering the butler and getting away with some very valuable old
silver. The murder and burglary were only discovered this morning at
half-past 8, and it was not until 9.15 that they got the news in
Colchester. Now where exactly is Great Oakley?" and he looked down on
the map.

"There it is," pointed Elias Carter promptly, "about two miles from the
coast and three miles south of the River Stour, and one of the most
Godforsaken places you could ever want. It's right out of the world.
I've been near the village, though, once when I was on a holiday and I
heard all about the asylum."

"And Shillington's our biggest mental specialist?" went on the
Commissioner. "I know him myself."

"And I do, too," said Stone drily. "An unpleasant man. I met him in the
Hawtrey case last year. He's a Harley-street consultant, but the asylum
belongs to him. It's a big place I understand, and he's got 30 or 40
patients down there, and they all pay through the nose. He only touches
rich people."

The Commissioner rose to his feet. "Well, off you go, Mr. Carter, at
once, and I think as you know Dr. Shillington, you'd better go, too, Mr.
Stone, if you will." He turned to Larose. "And you, of course, sir,
you'll go as well. I'll assign you to Mr. Carter, and you'll work with
him." He smiled. "But I expect he'll give you as free a hand as you may
want, for he's a reasonable man, and not half as foolish as you might
imagine from his appearance."




Chapter II--DR. SHILLINGTON'S ASYLUM.


A few minutes later, and tightly wedged in between the two English
detectives, Larose found himself in a big police car bowling along at a
good pace through the London streets. He certainly admired the dexterity
with which the driver threaded his way along the crowded thoroughfares,
but at the same time it was not without some feelings of trepidation
that he viewed the chances the man took in proceeding so rapidly upon
his way.

Presently the burly Stone, turning round, seemed to sense something of
what was passing in the Australian's mind.

"Good driver, this," he remarked carelessly, "he's not had an accident
now for a fortnight." He eyed Larose solemnly. "But as ten days is about
his average, we mustn't feel too aggrieved if he has one now.

"No, of course not," agreed Larose, speaking in the same vein. "Still,
if anything does happen, we can crawl out from underneath and take a
tram. I understand the police ride free over here." He smiled and added,
"nice car, this."

"Nice car!" echoed Stone, as if surprised. "For sure it is, or Carter
and I wouldn't be riding in it. We're the brains of the Yard, my
lad,"--he winked his eye and spoke very loudly--"or rather I am.
Carter's not up to much. Too fond of drink and women to be much good."
He looked sternly at Larose. "But, I say, young fellow, are you carrying
a gun?"

"Yes," replied Larose, "a little Bayard."

"Got a licence?" asked Stone.

"No-o," replied Larose, as if rather taken aback by the question. "I
thought----"

"Never mind what you thought," cried Stone truculently, and he leant
across to his colleague. "Carter, do you hear? This young man's carrying
a gun without a licence. Should we turn back at once and acquaint the
Chief? Now, what are we to do?"

"Give our minds to the business we are on," said the tall detective
sternly, "and stop fooling." He turned apologetically to Larose. "This
stout man, Mr. Larose, is not quite the mountebank he would like you to
believe, and somewhere in his gross body, in his stomach I imagine it
must be, he gives shelter, as you may learn soon, to one of the acutest
brains we have in the Force. In some ways there's not a man in the Yard
that can touch him." He turned and spoke in matter-of-fact tones to his
colleague. "Now, Charlie, be serious and tell us about this Dr.
Shillington of yours."

Stone winked again at Larose and pretended to sigh before replying.

"Well, Elias," he said casually, "this Shillington's rather a big nob in
the mad world, and he's written two of three books on why people go
potty and all that. He's got a very high-class consulting practice, and
attends half the aristocracy, the judges and bishops and the clergy.
He's about fifty years of age and has been associated with mental work
ever since he qualified, for his father specialised in the same way
before him. He's supposed to be very rich, and to only run the asylum as
a hobby. Personally, he's a big, fine man like myself, but he's run more
to fat than I have because, I suppose, he's been better fed."

"He's a collector, then," said Carter, "if they came after his old
silver."

"Well, he's not collected anything off me," replied the incorrigible
Stone, "so I can't answer for that. At any rate I've never had occasion
to pay him any fees."

The big car ate up the miles at a tremendous pace, and with the
exhilaration of the keen air rushing on his face Gilbert Larose began to
enjoy himself thoroughly. He was, however, thinking hard. He was now, he
knew, in the company of two of the greatest detectives of the old
country, and he was about to measure his capacity alongside with theirs.
In his own country he was quite aware he was esteemed a master, but how
would he fare now he wondered, with these men working on their own
ground. At any rate, he consoled himself, human passions were much the
same all the world over, and crime worked for its ends, in kindred
fashions under all skies.

Colchester was reached in not many minutes over the hour, and then at
the direction of Carter, the car turned out of the main road and shot
like a bullet down some narrow winding lanes.

"This is a short cut," he shouted, "and it'll save us a few miles. Take
note of the kind of country we are passing and some idea may perhaps
come to us as to in what way these men cross through. We shall soon have
water all around. You can smell the sea now."

Without any appreciable slackening of pace they roared through sleepy
little villages, across wide stretches of green meadows and over dreary
wastes of flat marshlands. The tang of salt was strong upon the air and
soon they could hear the crash of distant waves.

Carter stood up in the car. "That's Great Oakley," he said, "over there,
and Dr. Shillington's asylum is about a mile further on. Oakley Court,
it's called."

Three minutes later and a high forbidding-looking wall loomed up before
them, and skirting round it for some hundreds of yards, the car was
pulled up suddenly before two big iron gates.

The gates were inhospitably closed, but there was a lodge just inside
and apparently hearing the noise of the car a policeman and another man
immediately appeared in the doorway.

"We're from the Yard," Carter called out and at once the policeman
saluted and motioned to his companion to open the gates.

"The Chief Constable's up at the house, sir," he said, as the car drove
in. "Bear round to the left," and the gates were clanged to behind them.

A drive of about two hundred yards led up to the asylum and it passed at
first through a winding avenue of trees that blocked all view of the
buildings. Then the trees gave way to a long vista of well trimmed lawns
and ornamental flower beds, with a big, rambling looking mansion in the
background.

"That's the asylum," said Carter. "It was a nobleman's residence once,
and it's got over fifty rooms in it, they say. Lord Roddam built it, and
that ivy has been growing for more than a hundred years. And there's the
doctor's private house--well away from the asylum you see, no doubt, so
that he shan't hear the shrieks." He nodded his head approvingly. "As
nice a little place as you could wish, and I bet he's got every comfort
there just as if he were up in town!"

The car drew up before the entrance of the house he had pointed out, and
the three detectives immediately alighted.

The big Stone nudged Larose's arm. "Sniff, you young bloodhound," he
whispered, "sniff," and although there was jocularity in his mode of
speech, there was certainly nothing of humor in the steely eyes with
which he regarded his young companion.

The front door stood open, and upon seeing the detectives, a tall,
soldier-looking man immediately came down the steps.

"The Chief Constable of Essex," Stone whispered to Larose. "Major
Hartley--a V.C."

"You've been quick, gentlemen," said the Major; "I didn't expect you for
half an hour yet," and he shook hands with Carter and Stone. Then his
eyes wandered to Larose.

"Mr. Gilbert Larose," promptly announced Carter; "on exchange from the
Commonwealth of Australia. He's helping me."

The eyes of the Chief Constable narrowed, and he looked curiously at
Larose. Then he smiled kindly, and held out his hand.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Larose," he said. "I've heard of you, of
course," and he turned back at once to Carter. "Bad business again," he
went on quickly, "and as I expect you know, there's been a kill. The
butler's dead. They've got a haul of valuable silver, and, as usual----"
he frowned and shrugged his shoulders, "they got off unmolested."

"When did they come?" asked Carter sharply.

"No one knows," replied the Chief Constable. "Nothing was discovered
until the lodge-keeper saw the butler's body behind some shrubs as he
was coming up the drive with the letters this morning. That was at 7.25,
I am told. Then Dr. Shillington was called, and it was found that the
house had been burgled, too."

"Telephone wires cut I suppose?" said Carter.

The Chief Constable smiled grimly. "Of course. One of the asylum
attendants bicycled down to the village and rang us up." He shrugged his
shoulders. "But I've not been here myself ten minutes yet, and have only
got just the heads of everything from the doctor. I didn't start any
formal investigation, knowing you were on the way. I've sent a couple of
my men, however, to go round the wall to try and find out where they got
over, so as not to waste any time."

"Good!" said Carter, "then we'll go to the doctor at once. He's here of
course."

"Yes," replied the Chief Constable, "he's in his study. I've just come
from there. He's not a very good-tempered man. These mental chaps seldom
are."

"Oh! one moment," went on Carter as the Chief Constable was turning
away. "How was the butler killed?"

"Battered on the head," was the reply, "but we can confirm that in a few
minutes, for we shall have the police surgeon here. I've managed to get
him on the 'phone from the village."

"Nothing been touched, of course?" asked Carter.

"Yes," said the Chief Constable frowning, "the body's been brought in.
Dr. Shillington had it done before we arrived."

"Damn," swore Carter angrily, "and a doctor ought to have known better.
Where's it been put?"

"On a table in the laundry. I've got one of my men looking after it
now."

They walked into the house, and the Chief Constable bade a
frightened-looking maid inform her master. She tapped timidly on a door
that stood half ajar and immediately, as if he had been awaiting the
summons, a stout and big-framed man appeared.

"From Scotland Yard, Dr. Shillington," said the Chief Constable
indicating his companions. "Chief Inspectors Carter and Stone and
Detective-Inspector Larose."

The doctor eyed the newcomers with a frown. As Stone had told them in
the car, he was a big man, but ponderous would perhaps have been the
better adjective to use. He was well over six feet in height, and was
built on massive lines. He had a large impressive face with a big mouth
and heavy cheeks that sagged over a determined jaw. His eyes, however,
were on the small side, and dark and beady, they peered out from under
bushy brows. Altogether he looked like a man of considerable mental and
moral force even if physically he were now beginning to run to seed.
Gilbert Larose thought he was not unlike a dangerous and ill-tempered
bear.

Without turning round or taking his eyes off the detectives, the doctor
pulled to and closed the door behind him and then he pointed to a room
opening on the other side of the hall.

"We'll go in there," he said gruffly, and he led the way himself. "Sit
down," he went on when they were all inside the room, and then he added.
"But I've nothing much to tell you, except that I've been robbed as well
as having my servant murdered." He frowned angrily. "What good are you
police, I ask?"

"Well, unhappily, we can't be everywhere Doctor," said Carter suavely,
"and this appears to be probably more work of the gang that we are
finding especially hard nuts to crack." He spoke in cold official tones.
"But will you please now tell us, as far as you know what happened."

"And it's precious little I can tell," said the doctor. He leant back in
his chair and went on pompously. "I had just finished making my toilet
this morning and was about to come downstairs when my housemaid informed
me precipitately that my butler Jakes was lying dead behind some shrubs
off the drive. I investigated the matter at once and found it was as she
had said. I then returned to the house and saw that various articles of
my silver were missing----" he pointed with his hand, "from the
sideboard there. My King Charles' salt cellars, my candlesticks of Louis
Quatorze, and two valuable snuffboxes of George the First."

He paused a moment and Carter asked, frowning---

"And was that all that was taken then? They didn't get much of a haul!"

Dr. Shillington sat bolt upright in his chair. "Not much!" he snarled.
He laughed contemptuously. "A mere trifle of about 3,000 and in so
compact a compass, too, that everything could have been carried away in
the pockets of one man. Not much!" He snarled again. "Why, sir--my
salt-cellars alone were worth 250 an ounce."

The detective made no further comment on that score.

"And you had the body moved, Doctor," he said. "You had it brought into
the house." He shook his head reprovingly. "You know you oughtn't to
have done that. You should have waited until the police came."

"Oh!" exclaimed the doctor incredulously, "and I was to leave a corpse
right in front of the windows of my institution was I? For all my
patients to see."

"You might have covered it over," said Carter sternly, "with a rug or a
sheet."

"Well, I didn't," said the doctor brusquely. "I ordered that it should
be carried in." He smiled sarcastically. "The man was just as dead
wasn't he, on the laundry table as behind the shrubs in the drive? He
would continue dead wherever he was, surely?"

The detective ignored the question. "And what was the position of the
body when you found it?" he asked.

"In dorsal decubitus. He was lying on his back."

"And when had you last seen him, Dr. Shillington?"

The doctor appeared to think for a moment. "When he came into the study
at about 10 o'clock last night. He came, as usual, with my cup of cocoa
that he had prepared."

"How long has he been in your employ?" asked Carter.

"Three years," was the reply, "ever since I purchased the institution
and before that, I understand, he had served my predecessor for over
eighteen years." The doctor's lips curled to a sneer. "So if you think
he was in collusion with the lawbreakers, you are probably mistaken."

"And did you hear no unusual sounds during the night. Dr. Shillington?"
asked the detective. "Nothing struck you as happening, out of the
ordinary?"

The doctor sighed as if he were tired of all the questioning. "I was
asleep," he said coldly, "before eleven and nothing disturbed me until
my parlor-maid knocked on my door this morning at half-past seven."

"And how do you suggest," persisted Carter, "that these men got into the
ground and into the house?"

The doctor yawned. "I don't suggest anything," he said, "except that the
authorities show themselves woefully incompetent when such outrages as
these occur." He raised his voice in anger. "Anything it seems may now
happen in this country if we can be murdered in our beds like this."

The deep voice of Stone was heard for the first time. "And did your
butler then, Dr. Shillington," he asked quietly, "usually take his rest
at night behind these shrubs in the drive? Was that his usual bed?"

Dr. Shillington's beady eyes flickered angrily as he turned them on the
speaker.

"Ah!" he exclaimed slowly, "we've met before. I remember you by the
impertinent nature of your interrogations--then, as now."

Carter interposed hurriedly, "But what was your butler doing in the
grounds, Doctor? What had he gone outside at all for?"

Dr. Shillington withdrew his eyes reluctantly from the offending Stone.

"I don't know," he said brusquely, "I tell you it's all a mystery to me.
I heard the man go upstairs to bed a few minutes after he had satisfied
my requirements and the next thing noted was this morning when the
parlor-maid found the front door on the latch, when she came down."

"Oh! then," said Carter, "she found the front door open when she came
down?"

The doctor inclined his head. "So she says," he said, coldly, "and I see
no reason to doubt her word."

There was a knock upon the door and the girl in question entered to
announce that the Chief Constable was wanted in the hall by a Dr. Hume,
from Colechester.

"Good!" exclaimed Carter, rising at once to his feet. "The police
surgeon." He turned to the doctor. "I think we'll view the body all
together now, please, Dr. Shillington."

Dr. Shillington rose at once, too, and with a curt gesture motioned to
everyone to follow him from the room.

"A nice specimen," breathed Stone into Larose's ear as they were filing
out, "I'd like to punch his head."

"He's a liar," whispered back Larose. "He never slept all through the
night. He looks dead tired now, and his trousers are all rumpled and out
of shape as if he'd been lying down without taking them off."

The humor died instantly from the big detective's face, and with his
lips slightly parted, for quite an appreciable number of seconds he
stared hard at Larose, then, frowning heavily, he turned and without a
word followed after the others into the hall.

The laundry was at the back of the house, and Dr. Shillington, with the
importance of a man dealing with his inferiors, led the way in through
the kitchen. The body of the dead man, covered with a sheet, was
stretched upon a table in front of a large window, and a policeman in
uniform, sitting unconcernedly upon a wash tub, was engaged in the
perusal of a newspaper. He sprang up and stood stiffly to attention when
the party came in.

Dr. Shillington strode forward and lifted off the sheet. "A good
servant," he remarked in a judicial tone; "I shall have difficulty in
replacing him."

They all came up and stood round the table for a moment in complete
silence.

The body before them was fully clothed and was that of a medium sized
man between fifty and sixty years of age. It was lying stiffly on its
back with its arms stretched straight down. The head was, however,
turned slightly to one side. The jaw sagged a little, the eyes were half
open and the face was mottled over in places with black blood. The front
of the clothing was bloody, too.

The police surgeon spoke first.

"Hum! Not pretty," he remarked, and he proceeded to take off his coat
and tuck up his shirt sleeves. Then he passed his hands rapidly over the
body.

"Been dead a long time," he said, "probably more than twelve hours.
Found in the grounds, wasn't it?"

"Yes," replied Carter. "Dr. Shillington had it brought in at half-past
eight this morning."

The surgeon turned to Dr. Shillington. "Was the rigor quite pronounced
then, doctor?" he asked.

"Yes," replied the doctor carelessly, "at any rate, in the arms. I just
lifted one. I didn't touch the lower limbs."

The surgeon nodded. "Well, it was probably complete, for the night was
chilly and as I say, he's been dead a long while." He turned back to the
body. "Yes," he went on, "bones of nose broken, but not from direct
blow, for there is no abrasion of the skin. Blow, on the cheek. That
will probably account for some of that blood in the mouth, with inside
of cheek cut against the teeth." He turned the body partly over on to
one side and peered intently at the back of the head. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, "now, here's something. Heavy blow on the back of the neck,
pretty high up, just below the head. See the bruising. Not done with
anything hard, because the skin's not broken. Probably a blow from the
fist." He let the body fall back gently, and then again examined the
nose. "Yes, that's it. He was struck from behind and jerked forwards
with considerable violence on to the ground. The fall broke his nose and
caused all that blood we see, then----" he paused just a moment and
carefully scrutinised the front of the neck, "then he was suffocated
before he had regained consciousness."

The silence that ensued was broken by a deep sigh from the Chief
Constable. A soldier only, he was not so accustomed as the others were
to cold-blooded analysis of sudden death. And this was a killing done
horribly, too, by stealth in the dark hours of the night. He repressed a
shudder.

The police surgeon went on.

"Of course, I am only speaking in the light of a very cursory
examination, but still I am sure the post-mortem will confirm in the
main what I am telling you now. There are all signs present that there
was firm pressure on the nose and mouth with some kind of cloth--see,
for one thing, those unnatural indentations of the teeth upon the lower
lip--and that bluey tinge everywhere points indisputably to the fact
that just previous to the actual supervention of death there was no air
getting into the lungs." He looked very thoughtfully at the body. "But I
don't think there was any struggling. That blow on the nape of the neck
and the fall knocked him completely out, and he just died from
suffocation without fully coming to." He smiled at the detectives.
"Well, gentlemen, that's all from me for the present from my particular
angle of view, and it's up to you now to follow on with the discoveries
that don't come within my province."

"But about what time should you say he was killed, Dr. Hume?" asked
Carter.

The police surgeon hesitated. "Well, that's difficult to say, sir. You
see we have to take into consideration so many things. Still----" he
brightened up, "we can form a pretty good idea, for when Dr. Shillington
lifted the arm this morning at half-past 8 he tells us he found rigor
mortis was there. He didn't touch the legs, so we can't learn from him
whether the rigor was complete over the whole body, but you can
certainly find out that from those who brought the poor chap in. They'll
remember, of course, if he was stiff all over when they lifted him.
Well, provided he was stiff, which I think most probable, we can be
pretty sure that he was killed before midnight. Of course, as I say,
there are several things that we must bear in mind. He was a man,
well-nourished, and apparently in good health; he died from suffocation,
and although he died by violent means, he died without a struggle. I
mean there was no strenuous exertion just before he died. Also, he died
in his clothes. All these things would tend to delay the rigor mortis
setting in, but on the other hand he has been lying out all night in the
open air, and the night was chilly--very." The surgeon picked up a piece
of soap and turned on the water in one of the washing troughs. "Yes," he
concluded, "we can say with fair accuracy, he was killed between 10 and
12 last night."

No one seemed desirous of asking any further questions, and after a
moment's silence, he turned to the Chief Constable.

"I'll manage the post-mortem this afternoon, Major," he said, "if you'll
have it brought in."

The Chief Constable nodded. "It shall be in Colchester within a couple
of hours. I'll 'phone up for the ambulance to come at once. Oh! I
forgot," he added, "the wire's been cut here, of course. We'll have to
ring up, then, from the village."

"But I'll lend you a lorry, Major Harvey," said Dr. Shillington,
speaking much more amiably than he had as yet spoken. "We have one here,
and the body can go at once."

The Chief Constable shook his head. "Thank you, Doctor," he replied.
"I'm much obliged to you, but our ambulance will be best. You see, we
have to take special precautions that the body isn't bumped at all in
transit, for it will have to undergo a very minute examination when we
get it in to Colchester."

"And we shall want to go over it again, too," added Stone sternly,
"before it leaves the table here." He flashed a significant look at the
constable on duty. "So it's not to be touched by anyone until we give
orders," and he picked up the sheet and drew it again over the body.

Carter turned to Dr. Shillington. "Well interview the maids now, please,
Doctor," he said, "and then we'll go over the house and see if we can
find how they got in."

The doctor made no reply, and the little party filed back into the hall.
There they found the parlor-maid speaking to a man clad in motor bicycle
overalls. He was holding a bag in his hand.

"To see about the telephone, sir," explained the girl timidly to her
master. "They rang up from the village that ours was out of order."

"All right," said the doctor curtly, "show him where it is."

"One moment, please," said Carter, and he spoke directly to the young
man. "When you've found where the fault it, don't start any repair until
we've seen what's wrong. We're connected with the police," he added,
"and there's been a murder done here."

The girl led the man away, the police surgeon walked with the Chief
Constable into the drive, while the three detectives went back with Dr.
Shillington into the dining-room.

"Now, Doctor, please," said Carter, "we'll just have a few words with
the maids. But you needn't wait, sir, if you're busy. We don't want to
trespass unduly on your time."

"I'll be present," said the doctor curtly; "I'm free for the moment,"
and he touched the bell.

"Now, Smithers," he said, "these----" he hesitated, "these gentlemen
want to question you. When you came down this morning, what did
you----?"

"Oh! if you please, Doctor," interrupted Carter, "we'll ask her what we
want. It will be quicker."

Dr. Shillington subsided with dignity into his armchair. He yawned as if
he were bored, and then his eyes wandered round and fell upon Larose.
The latter was apparently uninterested in what the girl would have to
tell, and instead was engaged in staring fixedly at each and every
different article in the room, one by one. The chairs, the sofa, the
sideboard--he stared very long there--the window curtains, and pieces of
china upon some shelves, the carpet--he seemed to search the carpet all
over as if he were looking for a lost pin--the wainscoting, the table,
the tablecloth, but here he might have sensed that the doctor was
looking at him, for he closed his eyes, and then rubbed them vigorously
as if he were very tired.

Carter's examination of the maid was soon over. She could tell nothing
except that she shared a bedroom with the housemaid, had gone to bed at
half-past nine, had heard nothing unusual during the night, and had come
down just before seven to find the hall door open. She had not thought
the latter fact very startling, for the deceased butler occasionally
went down early to the lodge to pick up the morning papers, which were
generally thrown over the gate about half-past six.

The housemaid followed, and she had nothing at all of any moment to
tell. Then came the cook, and to her also the night had been quite
uneventful, except that under cross-examination it was elicited she had
wakened up once after she had dropped off to sleep and remembered
thinking that she had heard the butler moving about in his room. She
could not say what time in the night it was when she had wakened up, nor
what was the exact nature of the sound that she had heard. She thought
now that it might have been the moving of a chair. She had nibbled a
piece of chocolate--she always kept a piece handy, and had gone straight
off to sleep again.

"Now, sir, what next?" asked Dr. Shillington of Carter when the cook had
gone out, and he spoke in a tired, long-suffering tone.

"The premises, please," said Carter briskly, "we'll just run over the
house. We'll take the ground floor first. We'll go straight round."

But in the hall there was a delay for a couple of minutes. The telephone
man was waiting for them there.

"Found what's wrong, sir," he said, "the wire was cut just under the
box."

The telephone was in a small cloakroom leading out from the far end of
the hall, and it was at once inspected by the detectives, with the chief
constable and the doctor close behind.

"Hacked away," enunciated Carter as he held the torn wires in his hand.
"No chance of any finger prints here." He looked at Stone. "He can mend
it straight away, eh?"

Stone nodded, and they returned into the hall. The doctor's study was
the first room to be inspected, but apparently to the fastenings of the
windows only did the detectives give much attention.

"Always bolt them at night, doctor?" asked Carter.

"Yes," replied Dr. Shillington, "and as you heard from Smithers, they
were bolted when she came in this morning."

Room by room they went over the ground floor. Carter, the doctor, and
the chief constable invariably going first, with Stone and Larose
following behind.

"His lordship's taken a dislike to you for some reason," whispered the
big detective presently to Larose. "I notice he keeps his eyes on you
more than anyone else. How have you come to annoy him?"

"Hush!" Larose whispered back, and then he went on rapidly. "Look here,
if you don't mind. I won't go upstairs with you. I want to get a word
with those girls when he isn't present. Just say you've sent me back to
the car for a camera if they miss me, will you?"

Stone grinned. "That's right, sonny, make yourself at home. You and me
are the brains in this case." He nodded. "All O.K., I'll tell the
necessary lies."

So a few minutes later when the others were going upstairs, Larose
slipped away and darted in the direction of the kitchen. He slowed down
abruptly, however, when he reached the door, and it was a very leisurely
young man with plenty of time on his hands who stepped in.

He smiled in the friendliest manner possible at the three girls, who
regarded him with uneasy eyes.

"May I come through this way?" he asked. "No, I've not come to worry you
any more. You must be sick of us all by now."

The girls recovered their composure at once and smiled back. Here was a
man not a bit like a detective, he had such a kind and pleasant face.

"Yes," went on Larose, "and I thought you all answered our questions
remarkably well, but my word----" and he smiled more than ever, "what
splendid consciences you must all have, to sleep as you did. Fancy none
of you waking up at all, all night."

"But I woke up once," said the cook, archly, "as I told the gentleman."

"Ah! so you did," said Larose. "I had forgotten that." He pretended to
be struck with sudden interest. "Now I wonder what woke you. You must
have heard some noise."

But the cook shook her head. "No, I don't think it was that." She
hesitated a moment and went on thoughtfully, "it might have been, I
think now, because I was imagining I was smelling something. I have a
terribly keen nose for a smell."

"Oh! you smelt something?" asked Larose. "Now, what did you smell?"

"Something burning, I thought at first," replied the cook, "and I sat up
in bed to make sure." She shook her head again, "But I smelt nothing
then."

"Curious," said Larose, looking very puzzled, "and what did the first
smell remind you of, tobacco?"

"No, no," replied the cook, "something unusual, more like burning cloth.
For an instant I think I imagined the house was on fire and I was going
to jump up, but I couldn't smell anything more, so I turned over again
and went to sleep."

Larose was silent for a moment and looked very sad. "Ah, well," he
sighed, "it's a dreadful business. This poor chap was a splendid fellow,
I hear."

"Yes," said the parlor-maid, "he was that, and always a perfect
gentleman, too."

"Was he of a happy disposition?" asked Larose.

"Yes," replied the girl. She hesitated, and then added, "at any rate
until a little while ago." She turned to the cook. "He's seemed worried
lately, hasn't he, Mary?"

"Yes," replied the cook, "ever since he gave the master notice to
leave."

"Oh! He was leaving then?" asked Larose. "Has he got the sack?"

"No; it was him who gave the notice," said the cook, "and the master was
furious. Mr. Jakes was leaving in about a fortnight's time."

"What for?" asked Larose. "Why did he want to go?"

"No one knows." said the parlor-maid. "He wouldn't tell the master,
even, and that made him so wild."

"Did the doctor ever ask any of you if you knew the cause?" said Larose.

The girls all laughed. "Ask us," said the parlor-maid. "Why, he hardly
speaks to any of us, he's much too grand."

"Well, don't you tell him I've talked to you," laughed back Larose.

"No fear," said the cook, "we'd all get the sack."

Larose asked another question. "Did Mr. Jakes write a letter to anyone
last night, do you know?"

The cook looked around at the others. "We didn't see him with any
letter," she said, "but he was writing in his book. He kept a diary and
used to write down everything that happened."

"What on earth for?" asked Larose.

"So that he could always remember what had happened, he told us,"
answered the cook. "At any rate, it was often very useful," she went on,
"and sometimes helped the master, too. He asked Mr. Jakes last month,
when the lodge gates were last painted, and he went to his book and
found out at once."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Larose took out his watch.
"Well, I shall have to go now," he said, "and as you've kept me here
gossiping,----" he smiled, "I can't do what I intended to and shall have
to go back." He pretended to shiver. "But, I say, isn't it awfully cold
and damp down here? I was frozen in the car coming down. Do you have
fires here every night at this time of the year?"

"Good gracious, no," replied the cook, "and I don't suppose it's colder
with us than it is in London. Of course, there's always a fire here in
the kitchen," she added, "but not usually anywhere else." She turned to
the parlor-maid. "The master didn't have a fire last night, did he?"

"But he did," replied the girl, "and burned a bit of coal, too. The box
was nearly empty this morning."

With a bright smile Larose bade them good-bye, but once outside in the
passage again the smile faded instantly from his face.

"Whew!" he whispered, "then it looks as if this old devil Shillington
did it." He wiped the perspiration from his face. "But, cripes, I must
be darned careful in the company I'm now in. If I make a fool of
myself----" but he stopped whispering and, tip-toeing through the hall,
made for the waiting car outside. Then he pounced on a camera that he
had noticed in one of the pockets and when a couple of minutes or so
later the party descended from the upper rooms, it was a very
dull-witted and innocent-looking young man that stood awaiting them in
the hall.

"A country bumpkin," the big Stone told him afterwards, "a regular
sook."




CHAPTER III.--THE AVENGERS.


A quarter of an hour later having minutely examined the place where the
body had been found in the drive, the Chief Constable and the three
detectives were alone together in the laundry with the body of the dead
man.

Dr. Shillington had started to return with them as a matter of course,
but Carter had told him bluntly and decisively that their deliberations
would be private now, and that they must conduct their examination
alone.

"But I'm a medical man," the doctor had protested angrily.

"But not a policeman," Carter had replied firmly, "and we shall be
dealing now with the criminal side."

So they had shut themselves in the laundry and with the police constable
keeping guard outside, they were assured they would not be disturbed.

The sheet was flung back, and for a long minute they stood in silence
over the body. Then Stone made an expression of disgust and turned with
a scowling face to Larose.

"Your baptism into crime over here, my boy," he said. "A harmless and
inoffensive old man scientifically suffocated whilst he was
unconscious." His voice shook in anger. "There's the peace of God now on
that bloody face, but it calls for bloody war from us on the wretch that
placed it there." He turned up his sleeves and subsided instantly to
matter-of-fact and businesslike tones. "We'll go through his pockets,
first."

But the pockets yielded nothing of much account. Some silver and a few
coppers, a short stump of pencil, a half-emptied packet of cheap
cigarettes, a box of matches, a penknife, an old silver watch, and that
was all.

"Watch stopped at half-past three," checked the big detective curtly. He
twisted the winder. "Not been wound up," he went on, "therefore deceased
had not got ready to go to bed." He bent over the body. "Now for his
clothes. Coat was all buttoned up, every button, before we undid
them--therefore deceased was killed when performing his normal duties.
If he had been killed when at his leisure, some of the buttons at least
would have been undone for the coat is tight-fitting, and it would have
soon got out of shape if kept buttoned when he was sitting down. But it
isn't out of shape, and yet it isn't new. Man particular about his
clothes. See, trousers well worn but not baggy at the knees--remember
trouser presser in his bedroom and note collar and cuffs of shirt. No
fraying anywhere, and as clean as you would expect after a day's wear.
Look at his shoes. Thin, indoor ones. No dust on them--therefore he
didn't walk far in the grounds----" the big detective paused
thoughtfully, and then added, "if indeed he walked there at all." He
turned abruptly to Carter. "Now, Elias, what say you?"

"Look at his hands," said Carter. "See how clean they are. He must have
washed them almost the minute before he died, and when he was struck
down he must have been struck so suddenly that he never put them out
even to protect himself and break his fall. They really appear to have
never been brought into contact with anything since he died." The lanky
detective bent down and scrutinised the dead man's right hand. "He'd
been writing recently, however, I see, and there's a little brown stain
on his middle finger, here."

"Cocoa, I think," broke in Larose gently, and then he got rather red. "I
understand he always made the doctor a cup of cocoa after the others had
gone to bed. Also, the maids tell me that he was writing last night when
they went to their rooms." The Australian spoke now with more assurance.
"You see, I noticed those marks on the fingers when we were in here a
little while ago and I asked indirectly about them when I was talking in
the kitchen when you were upstairs just now."

The burly Stone looked frowningly at him. "Oh! you're here, are you?" he
said, "I had quite forgotten about you, my friend."

Carter took a small magnifying glass out of his pocket and examined the
fingers.

"Yes, you're right, I think," he said after a moment, nodding to Larose.
"It looks like cocoa powder certainly." He turned back to Stone. "Well
that shows that he practically handled nothing after he had made Dr.
Shillington's cocoa for him."

"Unless he'd made some afterwards for himself," growled Stone, "later on
in the evening."

"But he never drank cocoa," said Larose. "I thought of that and asked
the maids. He was of a bilious nature and never touched it."

The frowning face of Stone relaxed. "You are going to be irrepressible I
can see, young man." He smiled grimly. "Now what are your ideas. No,
no," he went on with a flash of his old levity as Larose appeared to be
hesitating, "don't be afraid of Carter here. I'll hold you safe. You can
speak out."

But Larose did not smile back.

"Well," he said slowly, "we should learn something from those blood
smears and the way they're smudged upon his neck." He pointed to a black
blotch below one of the dead man's ears. "See--the cloth that suffocated
him was used afterwards for another purpose when he was dead. It was
wrapped round the whole head then and where it smeared some of the blood
clots over the face, it left a pattern on them when they stuck in
another place. And it's a pretty coarse pattern too, so the cloth must
have been thick." He pointed again. "There's blood too on the hair
almost to the back of the head on that side, and as it's only on the
surface, and where there's no wound, then it must have been smeared
there too when the head was wrapped up."

"But what the devil should his head have been wrapped up for?" asked
Carter, frowning.

"To protect whoever carried him out into the drive to that bush,"
replied Larose, "from bloodying his own clothes. We are all agreed," he
added, "that the killing was not done there."

"Ah!" ejaculated Carter--and Stone just glared as if his eyes would drop
out of his head.

"Yes," went on Larose pensively, "and last night on the two tables in
Dr. Shillington's study there were two small tablecloths." He sighed as
if he were very puzzled. "And this morning there is only one."

"How do you know that?" rapped out Stone.

"I saw there was only one there when we went in the study just now,"
replied Larose, looking innocently at the big detective, "and,
mentioning it to the housemaid, she said the second cloth was gone when
she did the study before breakfast. She noticed its absence, and
couldn't understand it then, but she thought afterwards, when it was
known that the silver had been taken, that the thieves must have taken
the cloth, too, to wrap the silver in."

"And why the devil didn't she tell that to us?" growled Carter savagely,
"when we were questioning her? She said then she knew nothing at all."

"She didn't think of it then, she told me," said Larose. He sighed
again. "And the cook didn't mention, either, to you that she thought she
smelt burning cloth when she woke up in the night." He went on
meditatively, "And the housemaid says Dr. Shillington burnt a lot of
coal in the study last night, and yet she hadn't put a match to the fire
until after dinner. He used up all the coal there was in the coal
scuttle, and so, if he was in bed and asleep before eleven, as he told
us, then he must have stoked up pretty well before he went to his room."

There was a long silence, and then the chief constable broke in,
speaking for the first time.

"But it's incredible that Dr. Shillington had anything to do with the
murder," he gasped. "What should he kill his butler for?"

Larose shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows?" he replied softly. "At any
rate, they were not on good terms. The butler had given notice and was
leaving in a fortnight."

"What for?" snapped Carter with a frown.

Larose shook his head. "No one knows," he said. "The man would not even
tell his master why, and the maids say the doctor was furious in
consequence."

"Now, why did Shillington keep that back?" scowled Stone. He squared his
jaw threateningly. "We'll have to talk to him again."

"But the butler kept a diary," said Larose, "and the girls say he was
writing in it last night, so if only we could get hold of that we might
learn something without letting the doctor suspect that the maids have
been talking behind his back."

"A diary!" ejaculated Carter incredulously. "The butler kept a diary,
they said?"

"Yes," replied Larose, "and as they told me, he'd been worried and had
seemed very upset lately, so if he put his thoughts down, we should find
out why he was leaving."

"But look here!" said Carter, addressing himself frowningly to Larose.
"If Shillington did the murder in his study, as you seem to want to make
out----" he pointed to the body on the table--"then there must be blood
about, for the man bled profusely from that broken nose."

"I noticed a large bottle of peroxide as we were passing through the
bathroom just now," said Larose gently, and then he added
contemplatively, "And hydrogen peroxide's a wonderful thing to get
bloodmarks out with, particularly if they're fresh. The bottle was
nearly empty, too, and yet from the look of the label on it, it doesn't
seem to me as if it had been opened long."

Carter smiled grimly. "You've a wonderful imagination, young man," he
said, "and you travel pretty fast."

"But I believe he's right," broke in Stone vehemently. "Yes, by Jove, I
do. This Shillington was only playing with us just now, and when you
think a moment, he can't possibly be the pompous ass he was trying to
make out he was. He's well known as a shrewd and clever man,
Shillington. Why, in his own line he's got one of the biggest
reputations in the medical world, and he's loaded up with all sorts of
university degrees. The Lunacy Commission even call him into
consultation sometimes." The stout detective shook his head vigorously.
"No, no, he was play-acting with us to hide his real feelings, which are
probably those of fear. That's what I believe, at all events."

"But if he killed him, what's the motive, Stone?" asked Carter coldly.

"We've got to find out," replied Stone with some heat, "and maybe it'll
turn out to be a pretty sinister motive when we do." He turned to the
Australian. "What do you say, Larose?"

"I'm puzzled," said Larose slowly. "Very puzzled." He spoke with more
confidence. "But one thing stands out clearly, very clearly. Whoever did
the murder, did it deliberately, knowing quite well what he was about.
He might certainly have struck down the man in a fit of passion, but the
suffocating was done in cold blood, and done undoubtedly to prevent the
butler telling something that he knew." The voice of Larose hardened
sternly. "Yes, he took two secrets with him, that butler, when he died.
One, the secret of who killed him, and the other, the secret of why he
was killed."

Carter frowned and smiled at the same time. "Excellent," he commented,
thoughtfully. "As I remarked before, you've a great imagination, Mr.
Larose." The smile died from his face. "But I'm not certain that some
imagination is not exactly what we are wanting here."

"The murderer was no ordinary thief," went on Larose persuasively, "or
he wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of carrying out the body to
behind the bush. No, he carried it there because if it had been found on
the exact spot where the murder had been done, suspicion would have
pointed definitely to one person. A murderer from outside would surely
have left the body just where he had murdered the man. With him----"
Larose shrugged his shoulders again, "it would have been, just 'kill and
run.'"

"And he was killed somewhere indoors," added Stone emphatically, "or
there'd have been more dirt in his wounds and about his head."

Carter sighed as if he were very troubled.

"But to come down to bedrock now," he said rather irritably, "what scrap
of direct evidence have you, Mr. Larose, against Dr. Shillington that he
committed this murder?"

"Not one scrap whatever," replied Larose instantly, "but all the
same--he's suspect." The Australian spoke rapidly. "He's hiding
something, he's got a secret, and for some reason he's trying to throw
dust in our eyes. He never told us, for instance, that the butler was
leaving in a fortnight, and he implied at this very table that the
murderer had robbed him of a good servant. He's lying to us, too. He
told us he was in bed, and asleep, before 11 last night, but as the
housemaid says he used a large scuttleful of coal in his study,
therefore he must have been up very late. The man looks dead tired, too,
and I don't believe he took his clothes off or slept a wink." Larose
shook his head. "No, no, his actions are peculiar, and as I say--he's
suspect."

"Well, we'll go up to the butler's room again," said Carter, "and get
that diary at once. We may learn something from it."

"But we'll not find it, I'm very much afraid," commented Larose sadly.
"Dr. Shillington knew about it, and if there was damning evidence in it,
he'll have taken it away."

Filing out of the laundry, the burly Stone sidled up to Larose.

"Any of your people come from Leeds by any chance, young man?" he asked
in a hoarse whisper.

"Not that I know of," replied Larose very puzzled. "Why?"

The stout man looked disappointed. "Because I thought perhaps we might
be related." He nodded his head emphatically. "You've got a brain like
mine."

Passing out through the kitchen into the hall, there was no sign
anywhere of Dr. Shillington, and for a moment they stood listening.

"Knock on his door," said Larose sharply. "Perhaps he's not here, and,
suiting the action to the word, he darted up and tapped twice.

"He's out!" he ejaculated, and in an instant he had opened the door and
was in the room. The others followed; Carter frowning, the Chief
Constable looking uncomfortable, and Stone breathing heavily.

Larose flung himself down upon his knees.

"It'll be here between his desk and the door," he whispered. "The butler
would have been turning to walk out when he was knocked over," and he
began to pass his hands over the surface of the carpet.

"Here, here it is!" he exclaimed almost instantly, "feel, it's quite
damp," and he whipped an envelope out of the breast pocket of his coat
and rubbed it vigorously over the carpet. "See, the moist smear," he
went on. "No, unfortunately, it's not blood. The stains would have been
washed out too thoroughly for that, but still----" he nodded swiftly to
Carter, "it supports what I said."

He jumped to his feet. "See, there's the other tablecloth--a thick serge
one, and note the second table's bare. Now, for the fireplace, but I'm
afraid----Quick, quick!" he called out, and he pointed to the window;
"there's Shillington coming across from the Asylum, we mustn't be found
here," and he almost pushed the bewildered Chief Constable, who happened
to be nearest to him, out of the room.

"Upstairs!" said Stone curtly, when they were all back in the hall. "And
old Shillington will think we're still in the laundry, and we'll be left
alone."

Hurriedly running up the stairs, they tip-toed into the dead man's room,
and Carter swiftly pushed to the door.

"Now," he said sharply, "this is going to be quite a different look-over
from the one we made a little while ago. Then, we were only trying to
find out if entrance into the house could have been effected this way,
but this time,"--he smiled grimly--"we are going to elaborate some of
the theories of our young friend here." He turned to Larose. "Now, sir,
take a good look round on your own before we begin."

And Larose certainly was taking a good look round. He stood with
half-closed eyes and stared from one thing to another, over everything
in the room. The room was sparsely but neatly furnished. A narrow bed in
one corner, a hanging wardrobe in another, a table in front of the
window with some papers and half-a-dozen or so of neatly-arranged small
boxes on it, a small chest of drawers, a comfortable-looking armchair,
an old-fashioned washstand, a mirror and two pictures on the wall, two
shelves of books, a biggish leather trunk, and the inventory was
complete.

Larose strode to the table and began opening the boxes.

"Shells!" he exclaimed. "He collected shells--and he pressed flowers,
too; wild flowers they look to me. Then he was a botanist, and
look--he's got a little microscope. Quite a good one, too. It must have
cost him something." He ran through the boxes. "Painstaking, methodical,
everything neat and precise. One moment," and he smiled at Carter, "let
us look at his books." He addressed the company generally. "I'm always
very great on a man's books; they point so well to his tastes and the
inclinations of his mind." He tip-toed softly to the book-shelf. "The
Wildflowers of England," I thought so. "Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress,'
Ingersoll's 'Mistakes of Moses.' 'Sermons' by Charles Haddon Spurgeon,
Winwood Reade's 'Martyrdom of Man.' Dear me! Dear me! A real seeker
after truth. 'Crossword Puzzles,' 'Two Thousand Riddles,' 'The Riddle of
the Sands.' Ah! He slipped there. 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination,' by
Edgar Allan Poe. 'Famous Trials of the Nineteenth Century,' 'Crime and
the Criminal.' Come, come; surely he was getting out of his depth.
'Pepys Diary,' and 'Memoirs of a Physician.'"

Larose rubbed his hands together delightedly. "Really, now, we have the
whole epitome of the man's life here, and his whole character and
temperament stand out before us. A lover of wild flowers, a man of
principle, and--probably of piety. An analytical mind, in its cramped
and simple way. He liked mystery and puzzles, and doubtless, then, he
would look for them about him and devote his energies to their solution
when they came along. For he was imitative--note 'Pepys Diary.' Probably
that gave him the idea of writing a diary of his own. His memoirs, the
memoirs of his life down here, his thoughts----" The Australian frowned
suddenly. "Ah! That reminds me. Well, where is that diary, now?"

Stone winked at Carter. "A dreamer, Elias," he whispered, "and he works
in a different way to you and me."

Carter returned a slow grim smile, and then, bending down, dragged the
big leather trunk into the centre of the room.

"It's locked," he said, after a moment, "and where'll we find the key?"

"Shillington's got it," growled Stone, "if it was he whom the girls
heard prowling about up here during the night." He strode over to the
hanging wardrobe. "But well go through his other clothes."

"Try the chest of drawers first," suggested Carter quickly.
"Shillington's not subtle enough to have thought of putting it in
another pocket. He's too hasty, and besides"--the lanky detective smiled
drily--"I imagine he wouldn't fancy touching any of his butler's
garments."

Stone instantly changed his direction, and, pulling open the top drawer
of the piece of furniture indicated, thrust his hand down inside and
immediately produced a bunch of keys.

"Very simple," he sneered sarcastically, "and just the very place where
anyone would hide his keys if he didn't want them to be found. Right on
the very top of everything, too, and where no one would ever think of
looking, of course." He checked off the keys. "His own trunk, front door
key, and,"--he hesitated & moment--"probably the key of the gate in the
drive. It's bigger, and has an outdoor look."

In a few seconds the lid of the trunk had been thrown back and they were
gazing on the dead butler's effects.

The contents were in some confusion, but four books of a uniform size
immediately caught their eyes.

"The diaries!" ejaculated Carter, and instantly he bent down and lifted
them out. They were just ordinary diaries with black cloth covers, and
ones that could be bought anywhere at any good-class stationers' shop.
They were interleaved with blotting paper, and there was a page for each
day.

"But there's one missing," exclaimed Carter. "This year's is not here."

He rummaged among the other things in the trunk, and then straightened
himself up and looked at Larose.

"You're right, sir," he said, frowning, "unless--" he looked round the
room--"unless he left it downstairs."

"Oh, no," said Larose, shaking his head, "the girls say he was most
secretive about his writing lately, and they have never, any of them,
had a chance of reading what he wrote. He was very careful, and indeed
never wrote in the kitchen at all, except when it was too cold for him
to write up here."

"Well, what's he got here?" said Stone, and he picked up a small sheaf
of newspaper cuttings, held together with a large pin. "Hullo! all about
the Iron Man." He turned them over rapidly. "Yes, all of them about him.
He's been filing the accounts of the raids, one by one. Here, Elias,
have a look."

Carter made a quick scrutiny.

"There are not half of them there," he said, frowning. "He's got nothing
about any of the first six. This earliest one is about Benfield
Towers--raid number seven, on June 28th." He sighed heavily. "It'll be a
deuced long time before I'm able to forget any of those dates." He
passed the cuttings over to Larose. "Your turn, young man."

Larose, too, regarded them with a frown. "There's a reason always for
everything," he said thoughtfully, "and it might interest us quite a lot
perhaps if we knew why he only began to collect them when he did."

They went through the other things in the trunk and then Carter took out
a hard object wrapped round in what was apparently, from its thickness,
the entire issue of a newspaper.

"Binoculars," he said, when he had unrolled the paper, "and they look
quite new," and he undid the strap of the little leather case and held
up a pair of small aluminium glasses. After a moment's inspection, he
was returning them to the trunk when Larose stretched out his hand.

"Let's have a look," he said, and he took the newspaper as well. "Yes,
they are almost new," he went on, "but not quite, for from the markings
there, made by the brass stud in the strap, the case had been fastened
and unfastened a good many times." He looked at the newspaper. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, "now this tells us surely when he bought the binoculars.
'Colchester Evening News,' Tuesday, July 2nd." He turned over the
newspaper and examined it carefully. "Yes, they've been wrapped and
unwrapped in it so often that the paper's got quite a natural bend in it
and the lettering is worn off at the bends." He frowned. "Now, why did
he wrap up these binoculars so carefully every time in newspaper when
they would have been quite all right in their leather case, and why did
he keep them locked up at all and tuck them right at the bottom of the
trunk?" Larose waved his hand round the room. "Look, he's the kind of
man who was proud of all his little belongings and liked to have them
about him before his eyes. Look at those nickel backed brushes, look at
that chess board and box of men, look at his microscope, look at his
little camera--all lying out for anyone to see, and then----" he frowned
again, "look at these binoculars, wrapped up in newspaper every time and
locked away at the bottom of his trunk." The Australian shook his head.
"I tell you, I don't understand it. I'm puzzled in some way."

"But Mr. Larose," said the Chief Constable politely, "surely it's a
matter of no importance at all where the man kept his glasses. It can
have no significance for us in any way."

"Sir," replied Larose quickly, "there is nothing in this room that may
not be without its significance if we can but pick it out." His tone was
very solemn. "This is no ordinary house now, we must remember. It is a
house of blood, for murder has been done and we are groping for the
murderer. We are trying to get him by uncovering the motive for the
crime, and any moment, then, the apparently most trivial observation may
lead us to some clue we want. That poor wretch in the laundry will
certainly speak no more, but any one of these inanimate things in his
room here may suddenly shout out their secret to us if only we can so
attune our senses that we may understand." He smiled as if he would
apologise for his earnestness. "But please pardon me, if I seem to be
too insistent. I am new to your ways over here. I am----"

"Not at all, not at all," broke in the Chief Constable protestingly.
"Everything you have brought up, directly you have explained it, has
seemed most reasonable to me, and it has been most educational, I assure
you, to follow your deductions." He smiled in the most friendly way. "So
go on, please, Mr. Larose, and don't think I am criticising you because
I am asking questions."

"Well," said Larose, "what I meant to lead up to was this. Here, all
around us, this countryside is being smitten as with a pestilence, with
a series of dreadful crimes. They have been occurring now during a
period of time longer than six months, and the solving of their mystery,
at the moment, seems as far away as ever. Now, with the stage set in
exactly the same surroundings, comes this murder here, and we are
suspicious--" the Australian detective dropped his voice to an intense
whisper, "that it was not mere burglary that has occasioned it. We are
becoming convinced with every step that what happened last night was
only the culminating act of the drama, and that the murder was not an
isolated happening on its own, due to the chance encounter of the butler
with the robbers, but was a happening that followed as a natural
corollary upon certain definite events that had preceded it." Larose
raised his voice again. "Here we have a servant who has been in the same
situation for over twenty years and who has been undoubtedly, up to a
certain time, content with his life in his own simple way. He was happy
in his hobbies, in his books, in his botanising and his collection of
shells, and he was of an age, too, when routine begins to count for
everything, and when one is strongly disinclined to summarily alter all
one's habits and surroundings. But what happened? Suddenly the man's
whole disposition seemed to alter. From being open and free and happy,
he became all at once secretive and morose and ill at ease. He was
worried and disturbed, his fellow-servants say. He kept his affairs to
himself until strung up by something to some point, he at last made
known his intention of breaking with the associations of more than a
third of the duration of his life. But he refused to say why, and he
refused even to the extent of making his employer angry." Larose frowned
as if he were very puzzled. "Now when a man has been murdered in
surroundings of mystery we are always bound to be intensely curious
about him and to want to learn as much as possible about everything that
went before. There is nothing that would not be interesting to us and
nothing as I say, that would be so trivial and insignificant that it
might not help us in some way. So now, amongst other things--" and his
face relaxed to a sad smile, "we want to know why this poor man started
to collect cuttings about these raids on Saturday, June the 29th last,
why he bought a pair of binoculars upon the following Tuesday, and why
every time apparently after he had used them, he wrapped them up in
newspaper and hid them at the bottom of his trunk."

"But if he kept them locked away in his trunk," said the Chief Constable
frowning, "wrapping them in a newspaper wouldn't keep them any safer
from prying eyes. The wrapping was quite unnecessary, wasn't it?"

"Quite," agreed Larose instantly, "and that's what makes the action the
more significant. No, the man was obsessed evidently that he must take
all precautions that no one should know he possessed glasses, and he
probably argued to himself that if anyone did get at his keys and open
his trunk, then the binoculars might still escape observation wrapped up
in newspaper as they were--unless, of course, anybody was actually
looking for them." The Australian walked to the window. "Well, so much
for that. Now I wonder if he bought them to use up here."

He raised the glasses to his eyes and swept them slowly round. The
window was well above the height of the asylum walls and faced seawards.
The country on every side was flat and almost treeless, and about a mile
or so away two arms of the sea curled in and made a small island. The
island was separated from the mainland by only about 50 yards of mud and
water, and there was one solitary house upon it. The land everywhere
looked green and marshy. A narrow winding road led down to the island.

"A deary-looking prospect," remarked Stone, "and if he saw much there to
interest him, then he must have been easily pleased."

"But we'll go downstairs now," said Carter suddenly, "and have a talk
outside. We've seen all we can here."

Passing again through the hall the sound of a voice, slightly raised,
came to them from Dr. Shillington's study.

"Hark!" whispered Larose. "He's in there, and he's telephoning," and
they all stood still to listen.

"Yes, yes--of course," came the doctor's voice clearly, and he spoke in
sharp and businesslike tones. "I tell you I'm prepared to wait for him
if his lordship won't spare him before.... But I can't go three weeks
without anyone ... No, quite impossible. Well, can you do it?... But,
mind, I don't want anyone who's no good sent down, and I'm very
particular about my clothes ... Yes, he must be able to valet me as
well. Sure he's all right?... Well, by the mid-day train to-morrow.
Leaves Liverpool-street at a quarter past 12.... He shall be met at
Colchester then by my car.... Tell him to wait by the bookstall.... Yes,
my chauffeur's in livery, of course ... What name did you say?... Mason,
Frederick Mason. All right, good morning," and the talking ceased, and
they heard the doctor hang up the receiver.

"Quick, quick," said Larose, "outside before he learns we have been
listening. He's been engaging a temporary butler,"--his eyes
gleamed--"and I'll take on the job."

They walked out into the drive to almost run into the parlor-maid, who
was bringing in some freshly cut flowers. She singled out Larose
directly she saw them and smiled slightly.

"Oh, by the by," said the Australian, smiling back, "do you happen to
know where we can borrow a pair of field-glasses, now? We shall have to
examine all the top of the wall to try and see where they got over, and
it will save a lot of climbing if we can get some glasses somewhere."

The girl shook her head. "No," she said thoughtfully, "I'm sorry; I
don't know anyone who's got any. I've never seen any here."

"Thank you," said Larose, and he made no further comment.

The girl was passing on, when Stone said, laughingly. "But, look here,
young lady, this young man's not going to get all the smiles. What about
us old fogies, now? We're much better looking too." His voice became
more serious. "But I want to ask you something myself."

"Yes, sir," said the girl, and in spite of the big detective's friendly
manner she looked disturbed.

"Now," said Stone, "about this poor Mr. Jakes. Was he of a happy and
contented disposition, should you say?"

"Oh, yes, sir," replied the girl, "he was always bright and joking--"
she hesitated, "until recently, when he's not been well."

"What's been the matter with him?" asked Stone, smiling.

"We don't know. He would never tell us," said the girl.

"Well, what were his symptoms?" went on the detective. "Had he any pain
anywhere, or did he get faint or anything like that?"

"Oh! no," replied the girl at once. "He wasn't ill like that. But we
could see he was worried about something. He had become so quiet and he
didn't talk, and he spent such a lot of his time alone in his room."

"Didn't he go out at all then," went on Stone, "when he had his time
off?" He smiled. "I suppose he had time off?"

"Yes," the girl replied. "Every day he was free from just after lunch
until five. He used to go for walks sometimes, but not so much lately.
Instead, as I've told you, he's stopped up in his room."

"Was he ever away the whole day?"

"Yes, he had every other Tuesday off, and then sometimes he'd go by the
bus into Colchester."

The detective was silent for a moment, and then he asked. "And about
this famous diary of his; did he ever show you girls any of it?"

The girl nodded. "He used to, quite a lot once," she replied, "but he
hasn't lately, since he's not been well. We've hardly seen it the last
few weeks."

"But what did he write in it?" asked the detective, frowning, "only
about all your lives here?"

For the first time the girl laughed. "Oh! no, he used to put in bits
about things that were happening everywhere," she replied. "About
cricket and football and Parliament and when people died," she made a
little grimace, "and about murders and robberies, too."

"Oh!" exclaimed Stone, smiling again, "and was he interested in the Iron
Man, for instance?"

The girl seemed to shudder. "Yes, he talked a lot about him at one
time," she replied, "but he's said nothing lately." Her voice shook a
little. "We thought he was getting afraid."

"Why?" snapped Stone.

She hesitated. "Because at night when he went to bed he'd taken to
locking his door. He never used to do that at one time."

Stone looked very thoughtful. "Did he do his own room?" he asked. "Make
the bed and tidy it and all that, I mean?"

"Yes; he did everything except scrub the floor, and one of us girls did
that once a week."

"One more question," said Stone, "and then I've done. Did you ever see
his keys lying about?"

The girl shook her head. "No, never; he always had them in his pocket."

"Sure?" asked Stone.

"Certain," she replied. "He was very particular about them always."

"Well, that's all," said Stone. He looked at her confidingly. "And you
be a good girl and oblige us by not mentioning to a soul the things that
I've been asking you. Not even to the other girls. You promise?"

"Yes, sir," replied the girl, and with a flash of her eyes towards
Larose she went into the house.

"Damn you, young man," frowned Stone, as they got back into their car,
"you've been trying to mash that girl, Gilbert Larose."

But Larose only smiled sadly.




Chapter IV.--PICKING UP THE TRAIL.


The car was driven swiftly out of the grounds, but directly it was round
the corner and out of sight of the lodge gates, at a sign from Carter,
it was turned a little way up a side lane and pulled up to one side of
the road.

"We'll get out," he said, "and have a talk. You wait here," he went on
to the driver, "and keep your eyes skinned as to what cars pass coming
from the asylum way. I don't expect you'll see anyone, but, at any rate,
look out for that fat doctor chap, and if he passes give us a whistle.
Understand?"

They moved off for about a hundred yards, and then sat down on a bank
under a tree.

"Now, then," said Carter, "what are we going to do? For if there's any
truth in what we suspect now, it's no good trying to pick up any clues
here outside."

"Waste of time," grunted Stone. "Shillington's in it up to the neck." He
eyed Larose good-humoredly. "You're smart, young chap. You tumbled to
it, first."

"Yes, you're an acquisition, Mr. Larose," agreed Carter cordially.
"You're a bit quicker in your strike than we are, but mind you," and he
frowned slightly, "if you hit out always as quickly as you did this
morning, I'm not certain your blows will always be as true. Slow and
sure is our motto over here. Now isn't it, Charlie?"

"Slow be damned," growled Stone, "if you see a dial before you, punch
it, is what I say." He frowned heavily. "Now what's going to be our next
move? We must decide quickly."

"Well," said Larose gently, "subject to your approval, I'd like to be
that temporary butler he's engaging."

"But how?" asked Carter sharply.

"We'll find out from the village here," replied Larose, "as to where he
made his call--it was to a registry office, of course--and then you'll
go there and get me taken on or else we'll bribe that butler to-morrow,
or kidnap him if he's not bribeable, and then I'll take his place."

The two older men looked fixedly at one another, and then a slow grin
spread across their faces.

"But, good gracious man," said Carter, after a moment, "the police don't
do things like that over here. We can't kidnap respectable citizens, and
we don't bribe people either."

"We haven't the money for one thing," supplemented Stone sadly, "we're
too badly paid. Besides, we police are fairly decent as a force--" he
lowered his voice to a stage whisper--"except for Carter, here."

Larose hastened to put himself right.

"Oh! of course," he said getting rather red, "you'll know best what to
do, but still I thought this business was so serious that any means
would justify the end." He spoke with great earnestness. "You see,
although I hardly dare to say it, I believe we're treading now very near
the kingdom of the Iron Man."

"So do I," added Stone impulsively, with all traces of his levity gone.
"That wretched butler stumbled on some discovery and he died so that
this discovery might not become known." He shook his head frowningly.
"I've been in the police for over five and twenty years now, and I tell
you," his eyes swept over the bleak and marshy countryside, "this damned
place fairly reeks of crime."

"Well, how could you arrange for me to take that butler's place?" urged
Larose persuasively. "You could go to the registry office people,
couldn't you?"

"Yes, we could do that, certainly," admitted Carter slowly. He looked at
the Australian doubtfully. "But you're not a butler or a valet, are
you?"

"Both," replied Larose promptly, and he added with a smile, "I was two
months once in the employ of an American millionaire when he was
visiting Sydney, and he never dreamed I was in the C.I.D." He laughed
reminiscently. "He wanted to take me away with him when he left
Australia, too."

Carter took out his watch and then rose instantly to his feet.

"Well, we'll go into Colchester at once, now," he said, "and try and
follow up that clue about the house decorator's men. I don't know the
firm you mentioned, but we'll soon find them. We'll call at the post
office here though first."

Pulling up at the village post office, it was Stone, being nearest to
the door, who went in.

"Police," he said to the girl in charge and he showed her his card. "No,
don't be frightened, I'm always nice to anyone with a pretty face." He
smiled in a fatherly manner. "Now all I want to ask you is, how many
trunk calls did you put through yesterday?"

"Five," replied the girl after a moment's thought.

"Got the numbers?" asked the detective. "Well, give them to me." He
glanced at the paper the girl found for him. "Not much good," he said.
"Nothing here. Good morning," and he turned to go out, but then stopped
suddenly. "Oh, I forgot, any trunk calls to-day?"

"Yes," was the reply, "one for London. Marylebone 3075. Just now, from
the asylum."

The detective sighed. "No good either." He glanced sharply at the girl.
"Been on duty all the time today?"

"Yes, sir, I take all the calls."

"Good girl," said the detective smiling, and he waved his hand. "Good
luck! Good-bye."

He jumped back in the car. "Marylebone 3075, young man," he said, "and
don't you forget it. Jot it down."

Half an hour later and having left the big police car in the station
yard at Colchester, the three detectives made their way on foot to the
building and decorating firm of Smith & Rattery.

Passing a small jeweller's and optician's shop in the main street,
Larose caught sight of some aluminium field glasses in the window.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, pointing out the glasses to his companions,
"they're the very spit of the ones the butler had. Let's go and see if
he bought his here."

They went into the shop and at Larose's request a pair of the glasses
was taken from the window.

"No," said the detective, after a moment's inspection. "I'm afraid
they're not powerful enough for what I want."

"But, of course, sir," replied the proprietor of the shop, "you realise
that they are quite inexpensive. You can hardly expect much for thirty
shillings. They are only a job line, but they're good value for the
money."

"Oh, yes," smiled Larose affably, "they're cheap, right enough," and
then he added. "I think you sold one to a man I know at Great Oakley. A
Mr. Jakes, if you remember him."

The shop man nodded his head. "Quite well," he replied. "Dr.
Shillington's butler, you mean. I've known him for many years. We attend
to the clocks at the asylum." He seemed apologetic. "Of course, as I say
again, these glasses are not high-class ones, but--" and he smiled,
"they would answer Mr. Jake's purpose. He said he only wanted them for
just about a mile."

They left the shop and then Larose whistled. "Now that makes things much
easier," he exclaimed. "Only a mile! Great Scot! I must get that
situation."

They were at Smith & Rattery's in another hundred yards. It was quite a
fair-sized establishment in a side street just off the main one, and it
was faced in front by a large shop, in the window of which were
displayed a selection of baths, basins, fireplaces and other articles
appertaining to the building trade.

"Let's walk by first," said Larose quickly. "I want to see what it's
like outside. Go slowly, please."

They walked by as the Australian suggested, and then when turning to
retrace their steps, Stone asked curiously, "What the devil was that for
now? One builder's shop is much the same as another, isn't it?"

"But I wanted to see if it was a lockup one," replied Larose, "and it
is."

"Well, we'll go in now," he said. "We've a lot to do, and we mustn't
waste time."

But Larose suddenly laid his hand upon the detective's arm.

"Look here," he said hurriedly, "is it absolutely necessary, do you
think, that we take these men into our confidence? They may mean to act
quite all right with us, but they may be indiscreet and give the whole
thing away." He spoke with great earnestness. "You see, we're risking
everything, letting them know anything at all."

Carter regarded him with a frown. "But what else can we do, young man,"
he said, "if we are to get the information that we want?"

"Well, I thought--" replied Larose, and he hesitated, "I thought perhaps
I might be able to act on my own without troubling anybody." He inclined
his head in the direction of the builders' shop. "That's only a lockup
place, you know, and I could get in to-night and go through the books.
They're certain to keep proper wages lists, a big firm like that."

"But how get in?" asked Carter aghast. "Break in, do you mean?"

"Well, not exactly," replied Larose, looking slightly embarrassed, "but
you see, I'm rather handy with a bit of wire, and as there's a skylight
over the shop, I notice, I shouldn't have much difficulty in getting in.
I could----"

"Thank you, young man," interrupted Carter, sharply, "but that's not our
way over here." He smiled grimly "I don't doubt your capacity for a
moment, but----" he shook his head, "we can't let you do that," and he
started to walk back in the direction of the shop.

Stone winked at Larose. "You're a nice prize-packet," he whispered, and
then he buttoned up his coat tightly and pretended to look alarmed. "Now
I hope you haven't taken a fancy to my watch, by any chance, thinking it
may keep better time than yours." He nodded his head vigorously. "Well,
if I miss it I shall know where it's gone."

But Larose did not laugh; he sighed instead. "You're slow over here,"
was his only comment.

The three detectives advanced into the shop and enquired for the head of
the firm.

"This way," said an assistant, and he led them to a comfortably
furnished office at the back of the shop.

"Mr. Rattery," he called out, "gentlemen, to see you," and with no
further ceremony he ushered them into the office and closed the door
behind them. A stout man immediately rose up from a desk and at once
came forward. He was bright and happy looking. He had a round face with
a good fresh complexion and big blue eyes. His expression was open and
frank.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" he asked respectfully.

"You're one of the heads of the firm?" queried Carter, sharply.

The stout man bowed. "I am the head." He smiled. "Mr. Smith's been dead
many years. I'm the firm."

Carter handed him his card. "Well, we're from Scotland Yard," he said;
and then, to soften down the shock he saw he was undoubtedly giving, he
smiled affably and added, "We've come on a very confidential mission,
Mr. Rattery, and to ask a great favor of you."

The builder looked nervous. "From Scotland Yard!" he ejaculated. He
shook his head. "I've no idea why you've come." He motioned towards some
chairs. "But please sit down, gentlemen."

"Now, Mr. Rattery," said Carter very solemnly when they were all seated,
"we're trusting you a lot in coming here, for we're putting you in
possession of information that, as yet, no one in all England knows,
except we three. You understand?"

"I'm honored," said Mr. Rattery, recovering a little, "I'm honored, I'm
sure."

"And we're nothing to do with the Essex police," went on Carter. "We're
headquarters' men, and we've come direct from London, here."

"Oh!" said Mr. Rattery, and he opened his blue eyes very wide. "It's
something grave, then."

"Yes, the trouble is this," said Carter, and he lowered his voice to
quiet and confidential tones. "We're on the special investigation of
those crimes that have been occurring recently about here. The robberies
and murders at those country houses--at Layham Hall, for instance, at
the Manor House in Sudbury, and at White Notley Towers."

"I know them all," said the stout builder, now very pale in the face,
"I've been doing work there, at every one of those places."

"Of course you have," smiled Carter, "and that's why we've come to you.
That's the very reason why we're here now. You see, it's like this, Mr.
Rattery," and he raised his hand to emphasise his point. "When these
houses were robbed they were done so by wretches who knew exactly how to
find their way about. They were gone through by robbers who knew all the
situations of every room, who knew every staircase and every corridor,
who were acquainted as to how the doors and windows opened and also as
to where the alarms were set. In brief, these men must have been
supplied with plans somehow, and what we think----" the detective's
voice grew very stern, "what we have reason to believe is, that it was
one of your men who furnished them with these plans."

The builder looked frightened.

"But I can't believe," he said shakily, "that any of my employees would
act like that. I'm so particular whom I employ and I've never had any
complaints before." A note of pride crept into his voice. "I have had a
very large connection in the district for many years, and I work for
some of the best people in the shire."

"We know you do," said Carter warmly, "and we know the respect, too, in
which your firm is held, but still----" and he smiled sadly, "I'm afraid
a black sheep must have crept somehow into your flock." His voice became
brisk and matter of fact. "Well, Mr. Rattery, what we want of you is
this. Now, you employ a good many men, don't you?"

"From fifty to a hundred in the busy times," replied the builder, "but I
haven't so many on my books just now."

"Well, can you tell us," said the detective, "can you give us the names
of any men who worked at all those three houses I mentioned? At Layham
Hall, in Sudbury, and at White Notley Towers."

"Certainly, I can," replied the builder, "if indeed any of my men
happened to have been sent to all of those places in turn which, for my
sake, I hope not, and which I think also is wholly improbable, for I had
a great rush of work in the early months of the year," and he rose from
his chair and took down a big ledger from off a shelf.

He began looking from one page to another in the book, and there was
complete silence in the room.

Larose hardly breathed. His theory was about to be put to the test, and
if it were found wanting he would be toppling from his little pedestal
at once. He watched the builder's face with anxious eyes.

For a few moments Mr. Rattery looked quite undisturbed; he was smiling,
even, with a confident air. But suddenly he frowned; then it was obvious
that he was uneasy, and finally his jaw dropped and he gave a great
sigh.

"Well, I'm sorry to say you're right to begin with," he said. "Two of
the same men were on all those three jobs. Tom Rutley and Fred Duke." He
smiled wanly. "But one of them's quite impossible at all events. Old
Tom's worked for us for over thirty years, and I would stake my life on
his honesty. He's a most respectable family man."

"Tell us where he lives, then," said Carter, "and we'll make some
enquiries on our own. But about this other man, Duke--what of him?"

"He's a good workman," replied the builder slowly, "and very
intelligent, and I've been employing him now, on and off, for over a
year. He's about thirty, and a single man, I believe."

"Well, we must have a look at them both," said Carter. "Are they working
for you now?"

The builder gave a quiet laugh. "Yes," he replied, "and funnily enough,
they're both working together close here at the present moment." He
looked at his watch. "Yes, if you go to the Mid-Essex bank just opposite
the Cups Hotel, you'll find them both on the outside of the building
there. They're painters, and you can't mix them up." He smiled.
"Rutley's stout like me, and Duke is a slight dark man, quiet and rather
refined looking."

The detectives rose up to go, and then Carter said very solemnly---

"But we can depend on you, Mr. Rattery, can't we? Not a word even to
your wife, you promise?"

The builder nodded. "Quite all right, sir," he said quietly. "No one
shall get a word out of me."

"But I distrust that man," remarked Larose when they were out in the
street. "I wish you had let me do as I wanted to, and find out in my
own."

Carter turned on him in a flash. "Distrust him!" he snarled. "Well,
you're not much of a judge of character then. Why, one look at the man
and you can see he's as open as the day."

"That's just what I meant," replied Larose meekly. "He won't be able to
look this Duke in the face now, and if Duke's got an uneasy conscience,
he'll see there's something up at once."

Carter snorted, but made no comment. Stone chuckled, and on the quiet
gave the Australian a dig in the ribs.

They were at the Bank in a very few minutes, and there right enough they
saw the two men, painting. The latter were suspended in a cradle from
the coping of the roof, but as the cradle was not far off from the
ground, the detectives could take in everything about them quite easily.
The street was the main one in the town and wide, and full of people, so
there was no danger of their quarry noticing them as they watched.

They picked out Duke at once. He was slim and wiry-looking, and was
smoking a cigarette. He had big brown eyes, and as he plied his brush,
they roved interestedly from side to side upon the passers by on the
pavement beneath him.

"He doesn't miss much," growled Stone, "and he's got the restless look
of a man who knows he's got to step carefully wherever he goes."

"He's a painter," remarked Carter drily, "and as he often has to work at
heights, that would naturally make him careful, wouldn't it?"

"Now don't you be jealous, Elias," said Stone reprovingly, "because the
idea came to me before it did to you." He grinned at Larose. "We're all
in co. on this job, remember."

They watched the two men at their work for a minute or so and then Stone
said suddenly:--

"Now, I've got another brain-wave and I'm going to try it out. You two
get to the other side of the road and keep an eye on our friends from
there. I'm going up the street a bit but I'll be back in two shakes and
you'll see what I mean," and taking it for granted that they would
follow his directions, he left them at once and moved off among the
pedestrians.

"Better do what he says," grunted Carter, "as I told you he's got more
sense than you'd think and there's probably something in what he's going
to do," and they crossed the road and took up their station just in
front of 'The Cups' Hotel.

With a better point of view of the whole street now, they saw Stone go
up to a policeman about a hundred yards away. A short colloquy followed
and then the big detective rejoined them, looking as if he were very
amused about something.

"Smart chap, that constable," he grinned. "He recognised me almost
before I made myself known, and he took his instruction without any
explanations, like a lamb. Now you watch. He's going to walk three times
past that bank in as many minutes and I bet you, friend Duke never takes
his eyes off him once. If he's a crook, he'll know the police are his
natural enemies and he'll be interested in any one of them, at any time,
accordingly, and he won't be able to keep himself from showing it."

And three minutes later Charlie Stone rubbed his hands together and
chuckled.

"There--wasn't I right?" he said. "The beggar never took his eyes off
him once after he'd caught sight of him. And did you notice he dropped
his cigarette even, in his excitement when Robert went by the third
time."

"If I had that man," commented Carter solemnly, "for ten minutes to
myself, I'd turn him inside out and see down to the very bottom of his
soul. He's got a weak chin and----" the lanky detective squared his jaws
together "by Gad! I've half a mind to try."

"No, no, Elias," objected Stone hastily, "not yet. We must be deeper in
it before we show our hands. He might be harder to deal with than you
think, for if he's a member of this gang, you can bet your life that
they wouldn't be trusting their skins to a man who was too much of a
fool. Besides, if he has got a weak chin, which I grant you, he's not
got a bad facial angle, and he's got good eyes. No it'd be too much of a
gamble to tackle him straight away now. We must shadow him first."

"Well," said Carter grudgingly, "we know where he lives, and we'll put
Stevens on him before night." He thought for a moment. "Yes, Stevens
would be best. He's been in the building line himself, once."

They returned to the police station and picking up their car, five
minutes later were proceeding at a rapid pace towards London.




CHAPTER V.--THE NEW BUTLER


That same evening, a few minutes before 5 o'clock, the two detectives,
Carter and Stone, followed at a respectful distance by a quietly dressed
man, who exhibited all over him the unmistakable stamp of 'gentleman's
servant,' entered the palatial vestibule of the Elite Service Bureau in
South Audley-street, and enquired of the uniformed attendant for the
proprietor.

"Appointment at five," said the lanky detective curtly. "Name of
Carter."

"Take a seat, gentlemen, will you please," replied the attendant, "and
I'll inform Mr. Channing at once."

The detectives seated themselves upon a rich tapestry-covered divan, but
their companion was content to remain standing a short distance away.
There were a few other callers waiting, and they eyed the newcomers
interestedly.

"Whew!" whistled Stone, looking round at the beautiful decorating and
smart furnishings of the place. "What a swanky show! They must make some
money here to keep up all this. Nothing cheap about, anywhere."

"The swellest registry office in London," grunted Carter. "They cater
only for the aristocracy and the big county families, and they charge
like hell. Run by an ex-service man and a bit of an aristocrat, too,
himself, they say." His eyes in turn wandered round. "Yes, and by gosh,
he's got some taste."

Stone chuckled suddenly. "But look at that young devil," he whispered,
pointing to their silent companion, "he was born in some pantry, I'll
swear, and he's been kept all his life polishing forks and spoons. Did
you ever see anything like him now, and the way he looks the part?"

"He's an actor, Charlie," sighed Stone, "and he beats you and me there.
We've no one to come up to him in the Yard."

The attendant re-appeared. "This way, please, gentlemen," he said. "Mr.
Channing will see you at once," and the detectives, now closely followed
by their sedate companion, were conducted along a thickly carpeted
passage to a large room.

A man was seated before a big desk of many pigeon-holes, but he rose at
once when his visitors were announced. He was good-looking and of an
aristocratic appearance. He had a strong, reliant face, with big, calm,
grey eyes. He was about forty years of age, and he held himself like a
soldier.

The two detectives, with no ceremony, advanced briskly to the desk, but
their companion, who had apparently now lost all his recent alertness,
remained standing deferentially by the door. An acute observer, however,
would have noticed that he had unobtrusively made quite sure that the
door was securely closed behind him.

"Mr. Channing?" asked Carter, and the man at the desk inclined his head
gravely.

"At your service, gentlemen. What can I----" he began, and then his eyes
stared wonderingly behind Carter. His lips parted, a wave of surprise
seemed to surge over his face, and then he suddenly darted forward with
outstretched hand.

"Quartermaster," he exclaimed delightedly, "how do you do, Charlie
Stone?" He laughed merrily. "Now don't say you've forgotten me. You
haven't, surely?"

"Good Lord! No, Major," gasped the big detective, and his voice
trembled. "But fancy you're being here," and they gripped hands
together, as if they would never leave go.

"Never seen you since that day before Amiens," went on Stone huskily.
"You remember that time, sir?"

"Bless your heart, yes," laughed the grey-eyed man. "We were in that
dugout, and you gave me a bottle of beer."

"No, no," laughed back Stone, "only half, Sir, if you recollect. We
shared the bottle together."

"Ah! so we did, Quartermaster," said the ex-major, and then his face was
suddenly very solemn, "and we both nearly went West directly after!"

"And it would have been 'quite'--not 'nearly,' Sir," said Stone with
equal seriousness, "if you hadn't been so ready with your pistol." He
nodded his head gravely. "Four, with four shots wasn't bad, you know.
You were on the mark every time."

The grey-eyed man laughed again. "And as my memory serves me,
Quartermaster, you were pretty handy too, with that bayonet you picked
up. You didn't give the other three much chance, now did you?"

They talked on animatedly for a couple of minutes or so, with both of
them, apparently, quite oblivious of their surroundings, but then Mr.
Channing stopped suddenly in the middle of a sentence and turned
apologetically to the other detective.

"Forgive us, Mr. Carter," he said, smiling. "We are old
comrades-in-arms, you see, and such a rush of memories stirred through
me when I recognised him just now." He beamed once more on Stone, and
then resuming his seat, his voice became at once cold and
matter-of-fact. "But now to business, gentlemen, what can I do for you?"

Carter came at once to the point. "You are sending down a butler to Dr.
Shillington, of Oakley Court, to-morrow," he said, sharply. "Are you
not?"

"A temporary one," Mr. Channing replied, "until the permanent one I have
selected for the post is free." He frowned. "But how do you come to know
it?"

Carter ignored his question. "And are you aware," he asked, "exactly
under what circumstances this unexpected need for a temporary butler has
arisen?"

Mr. Channing nodded. "Yes, Dr. Shillington informed me that his butler
had died very suddenly last night."

Carter sniffed. "Yes, very suddenly," he remarked drily. He looked the
ex-major straight in the face. "The man was murdered, sir."

"Good God!" ejaculated Mr. Channing. "And why didn't the doctor tell
me?"

"But haven't you seen this evening's paper, then?" asked the detective.

"No," was the reply, "not yet. I don't get one generally until I leave
the office."

Carter spoke in a quick, decisive tone. "Yes, Mr. Channing," he went on,
"the butler was murdered last night, and it is that, that brings us
here. We are concerned now with the discovery of the murderer, and with
that object in view we want to substitute one of our own men for the
butler you are sending down to Oakley Court to-morrow."

"Oh!" commented Mr. Channing, "if that be all, it should easily be
arranged. We have only to get Dr. Shillington's permission, and then I
am completely in your hands," and he stretched towards the telephone
upon his desk.

"But one moment, please," exclaimed Carter hastily, and his jaws went
together in a snap. "Dr. Shillington is the last man on earth that
should know what we are doing."

Mr. Channing frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"I mean," said Carter quietly, "that the identity of the man who goes
down to the asylum must be kept from the doctor at all costs."

Mr. Channing looked puzzled. "I don't understand," he said. "Will you
please explain?"

The detective's voice was very stern. "It's like this, Mr. Channing," he
said. "Murder has been done in that house and we have formed very
definite suspicions about someone. We are pretty sure we are on the
right track, but in order to verify our suspicion we want to get one of
our men into the house so that he can carry out certain investigations,
unknown to any of the inmates. Now we learnt by chance that you are
sending a temporary butler down for three weeks." Carter smiled
persuasively, "and we thought it would give us the very opportunity that
we wanted."

The handsome face of the proprietor of the Elite Service Bureau was
quite expressionless. "And so, as I understand it, Mr. Carter," he said
very quietly, "you suggest that I shall take a fee from Dr. Shillington
for furnishing him with a servant suitable to his requirements, and--" a
note of scorn crept into his voice, "and plant a spy into his household,
instead." He shook his head indignantly. "No, sir. It can't be done.
It's against all my principles. That's not the way in which I conduct
this bureau."

"But, Mr. Channing," said Carter sternly, "you don't understand----"

"Put all the cards on the table, Elias," broke in Stone abruptly. "The
major's as white as they make 'em, and we can trust him all the way.
Half confidences are no good here."

For just a moment Carter hesitated, but then apparently realising that
there was no help for it, he did as his colleague had suggested and
frankly put the Service Bureau proprietor in possession of all that had
happened that day.

Mr. Channing seemed at first inclined to hold to his indignation, but as
the recital wore on, the hard look on his features relaxed, and in the
end he was regarding the detective with amiability again.

"My word," he exclaimed when Carter had finished, "but what a charge to
bring against Dr. Shillington, with the position that he holds in his
profession. He is easily the foremost mental specialist in the kingdom,
and although I admit I've never liked the man, there can be no doubt as
to his importance in the medical world."

"He's mad probably." said Carter. "They say you can always pick out an
asylum doctor from among any number of his brethren. From living so much
among crook people, they get mental themselves."

Mr. Channing looked thoughtful.

"Well, I suppose I shall have to agree," he said reluctantly, "although
I very much dislike the part you are making me play," he smiled again at
Stone, "and I think, if it were not for my old quartermaster here, I
really should even now refuse."

"But you're not compromising yourself dishonorably in any way," smiled
back Stone, "for if Dr. Shillington is guilty you've rendered a distinct
public service, and, if he's innocent,"--the big man shrugged his
shoulders--"well, you're helping us to clear him of a very serious
charge."

"And in the latter case," added Carter, "we promise you he shall never
know that you have intervened. He will never learn who the temporary
butler was."

"But, look here, gentlemen," said Mr. Channing, and he frowned, "if
under your importunities I am willing to throw my own private honor into
the melting pot, please understand that I am not willing at any cost to
belittle the reputation of this service bureau of mine." He smiled
drily. "So I tell you, frankly, that the man whom you select to go down
to Dr. Shillington's must be an efficient one and fully capable of
carrying out all his duties or else--he does not go down at all." He
spoke most emphatically. "One thing I always do guarantee to my clients
and that is--capacity. So I'll have no clumsy amateur, please, with
false whiskers representing the bureau. The doctor is a shrewd man and
would fire any bungler at once, and then I should have done violence to
all my principles and injured my business without any compensating
results whatsoever."

"Oh! you needn't worry there, Mr. Channing," said Carter confidently.
"This man we've brought here with us will do you credit, I promise you,
and you can put him through his paces now."

"Hum!" muttered Mr. Channing, and for the first time since his visitors
had arrived he bent his gaze reflectively across the long room towards
the man who was standing by the door. "So that's he, is it?" he said
very quietly. "Well, I must say, he doesn't look too intelligent. He
doesn't appear to me to have much kick."

"I've not known him yet 12 hours, sir," sighed Carter mournfully, "but
I'd exchange my brain for his, any day. He's most extraordinary."

Mr. Channing beckoned with his hand and the man who had been standing so
quietly by the door, came deferentially forward. The service bureau
proprietor took careful stock of him for a long moment, and the
inspection was apparently satisfactory.

"So you are a gentleman's servant?" he snapped. "You're a butler,
already?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man with great respect.

"Know all your duties?" asked Mr. Channing. "Understand pantry-work and
cellar-work, beside waiting on table? Can valet as well?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man.

"Where was your last place?"

"In Sydney, New South Wales, with the Chief Commissioner of Police."

"Ah! An Australian. Then how long have you been in England?"

"A fortnight since yesterday, sir."

Mr. Channing frowned. "Then who over here can speak for your
efficiency?"

Carter broke in quickly. "We'll stand for his character, Mr. Channing,"
he said. "He's well known to headquarters here."

"But his capacity, Mr. Carter?" said Mr. Channing with irritation. "I
must know something about that."

"Sir," interrupted the man himself very gravely, "I should not be
offering myself if I were not quite capable, for I am aware it is a
dangerous house I am going into and that I am running considerable risk.
I do not forget how the last butler met his death, and if our suspicions
are correct, then the slightest slip on my part and I may come to the
same end."

"So, so," said Mr. Channing with a suspicion of sarcasm in his voice,
"then you have dabbled in crime work, too."

"Yes, sir," replied the man.

Mr. Channing stared hard for quite a long time, and then he rapped out--

"Well, what's your name, anyhow?"

"William Wilkin----" began the man, but Carter broke in sharply.

"No, no," he said sternly, and he addressed himself direct to Mr.
Channing, "that's not his name. It's Gilbert Larose."

The ex-major sat up with a jerk, his eyes opened wide, and he stared
wonderingly at the shabby-looking man in black. Then for the second time
that evening he stepped impulsively forward and held out his hand.

"Gilbert Larose, the detective, of New South Wales!" he exclaimed, and
his face was now all wreathed in smiles. "Delighted to meet you, I'm
sure. I know a lot about and of the marvellous things you've done. I was
in Sydney four years ago, just after you'd caught the Botanical Gardens
murderer, and everyone was talking about you then." He turned
reproachfully to Carter--"But why didn't you tell me at once who he was
and I'd have accepted him as a matter of course, without demur. His
reputation in Australia is so good that I could not have refused."

"But we never knew that you were likely to have heard of him," frowned
Carter. "He was a fairy tale to me even before yesterday."

"Well, we'll get everything ship-shape now," said Mr. Channing briskly,
"without any further delay. Sit down, please, Mr. Larose, and I'll tell
you about the man whose place you will be taking to-morrow. There are
several things it will be necessary for you to know."

And so it came to pass that Gilbert Larose caught the Colchester express
at Liverpool-street next day, to embark, had he only known it, upon one
of the most dangerous expeditions of his adventurous career.




Chapter VI.--THE HOUSE WITH A SECRET.


It was a sad-eyed and very meek-looking man who the following afternoon
stood waiting by the bookstall at Colchester Station, and no one who
paused to regard him critically could possibly have been very far out in
determining exactly what he was. He was a man accustomed to receive
orders, to do what he was told, and to watch, without envy, whilst
others partook of the good things of life. 'In service,' was surely how
he earned his daily bread and to be at someone's beck and call was
undoubtedly the only vocation meet and proper for the temperament that
was so obviously his.

"A regular turnip," was how Jameson, Dr. Shillington's chauffeur, summed
him up when he first caught sight of him and guessed it was the man he
had been sent to meet.

"Your name Fred Mason?" he asked roughly. "You're going to Oakley
Court?"

"Yes," replied the meek and mild man gently. "I was told to wait here."

"Right-o!" said the chauffeur, "you're set. Follow me," and he strode
off to a big limousine that was parked in the station yard. "Get in," he
added laconically, "throw your luggage into the back." He looked
surprised. "But is that all you've got, that parcel there?"

"Yes," replied the man. "I've only come for three weeks, and I haven't
brought much."

"Three weeks!" echoed the chauffeur and he laughed coarsely, "It mayn't
even be as long as that. Butlers don't live long down here." He eyed the
man intently. "You've heard something, I expect."

"Yes," replied the man meekly. "I read the newspaper this morning."

"And you're not afraid?" asked the chauffeur, puckering up his eyebrows.

"No," replied the man, "I don't expect it will happen another time, and
the wages are good."

The chauffeur grinned and seemed inclined to modify his first opinion.
"Well, you've got some pluck in you, old bean; more than I would have
said from the look of your dial." He became more friendly. "No, I was
only joking. You'll be quite safe with us. The police are too darned
busy, now the birds have flown."

They drove leisurely through the crowded streets and were well out of
the town before the chauffeur spoke again.

"Teetotal?" he asked, looking round at the silent figure by his side.

"No-o," replied Larose, "not exactly."

"Nor me either," affirmed the chauffeur emphatically. "I take a drop
when I feel inclined, which usually happens when there's any about." He
smacked his lips. "We'll have one now."

They pulled up at a little village inn, and the chauffeur ordered two
beers, which they each consumed in their own different ways. The
chauffeur as if it were a duty to be got over quickly, and the new
butler timidly, and as if it were an unaccustomed treat.

"Now, will you have one with me," said the latter gently, noticing that
the chauffeur was staring gloomily at the empty glasses.

"Too right I will, and we'll sit down, if you don't mind. My pins is not
too steady to-day. I had a skinful last night. There's no hurry. Old
Shillington always has a snooze after lunch, and we'll be home long
before he's awake."

They sat down in a corner of the tap-room, and Larose eyed the chauffeur
covertly. He was not prepared to take any risks unduly, and he had to be
deadly sure as to how far the man might be in his master's confidence.
But if the detective were cautious he was no laggard in making up his
mind, and a very few minutes sufficed to convince him that the chauffeur
was harmless. Here was no plotter, he told himself; no finely tempered
steel out of which to fashion a dagger for intrigue. No, no one would
trust great issues to this fellow. He was good-natured, but weak and
alcoholic, and all the acting in the world could not simulate that
trembling mouth and those tired bleary eyes.

So Larose opened the ball promptly, and, bringing up the murder, was
quickly in possession of all the local gossip.

The doctor was not a bit upset about what had happened, he was informed;
and, indeed, seemed to regard the butler's death almost as if it were an
ordinary everyday affair, but then Shillington was always callous,
accustomed as he was to knocking the loonies about. But he wasn't a bad
master, and left you alone as long as you did your work. He never took
much notice of anyone. He was a little god inside the asylum walls, and
everybody was afraid of him. No, it hadn't been found out how the
robbers had got in, but the general opinion was they had come quietly
through the lodge gates with a faked key, after the lodge-keeper and his
missus had gone to bed. They hadn't got over the walls anyhow, because
the damned police had been all round with magnifying glasses and had
found no scratchings anywhere. Jakes wasn't a bad fellow, quite a simple
chap, and the Lord only knew what had taken him out into the drive where
he was killed. No, no one heard noises, but he, the chauffeur, imagined
now that he had heard a rat moving about in the garage sometime during
that night. Yes, he slept over the garage and had quite a decent room.
Shillington often had visitors in to lunch, and occasionally in to
dinner. The lunch visitors were mostly those who were relations of the
loonies. Shillington always did things in style, and had the best of
foods and wines, even when he was alone. The three girls at the house
weren't bad, but they thought a lot of themselves, and Smithers, the
parlor-maid, had boxed his ears once when he got a bit spoony with her.

All these and many other interesting little bits of information were
poured into the willing ears of Larose, and, indeed, he proved so
intelligent a listener that it was with extreme reluctance when, after a
fourth glass of beer, the chauffeur announced finally that they must go.

The journey to the asylum was then continued in great heart, and
following apparently upon their refreshment at the inn, of so swift and
fearless a nature was their progress through the narrow lanes that the
detective really began to believe that by far the most hazardous portion
of his investigations must surely have been accomplished when he was
deposited safe and sound at the asylum door.

Smithers, the parlor-maid, then at once took charge of him and having
been instructed during the afternoon as to his various duties, at dinner
time, his intimate association with Dr. Shillington began.

The doctor was dining by himself that night and after a brief word and a
hard stare at his new menial, he sank into a contemplative silence as if
he were quite alone in the room.

Deftly and noiselessly Larose ministered to his wants and so quiet and
peaceful and orderly was the whole atmosphere of the room that many
times the detective found himself wondering if his suspicions could
possibly have any solid foundation of fact.

Here was a room where everything spoke of the refinement of life. The
expensive Jacobean table and chairs, the shining silver and bright
cutlery, the crystal glasses and the beautiful flowers, the dainty mats,
the pictures upon the walls, the carpet into which one imagined one sank
ankle deep--everything struck the right note and contributed to suggest
a perfect harmony of content and peace.

And then the man himself. A gentleman--cold, dignified and proud, with
the ease and confidence inherited from many forebears who in their
times, too, had possessed qualities and advantages that had lifted them
above their fellows. A man of education and culture, a man of eminence
in his profession, a man--but Larose blinked his eyes hard and reminded
himself brutally how often had not the most criminal of minds been found
in association in just such surroundings as these.

And the detective would no doubt have congratulated himself upon the
practical commonsense of his conclusions had he been the fly upon the
wall in Dr. Shillington's study later in the evening.

At half-past eight a visitor called to see the doctor. He was a
well-dressed man about five and thirty, and he had a handsome, but
rather dissipated face, with bright flashing eyes. He did not look in
over strong health, however. He regarded Larose interestedly.

"I'm Colonel Jasper, a friend of Dr. Shillington," he said in a
pleasant, even voice, with a slight drawl. "He'll see me if you tell him
that I'm here."

"Very good, Sir," replied Larose and he bade him wait a moment while he
informed the doctor.

"Show him in," said Dr. Shillington, "and then put out the spirits and
some glasses. I shan't want you any more to-night after that."

The colonel was ushered in and he and the doctor greeted each other in a
friendly way. They chatted in ordinary conversational tones whilst
Larose was getting out the tantalus and arranging the glasses upon the
table, but the instant the door was closed behind him, the colonel
sidled up to Dr. Shillington, and, dropping his voice to a whisper,
demanded quickly--

"And what the hell's been going on here?"

Dr. Shillington's eyes were round as saucers. "I had to do it," he
whispered back hoarsely. "The man knew about us, and he was as dangerous
as a bomb."

Colonel Jasper's face blanched a little under his tan. "Knew about us?"
he echoed frowningly. "What do you mean? What did he know?"

Dr. Shillington lifted his hand. "You needn't worry," he said quickly,
"it's all right now. The danger's gone." He looked intently at the
colonel. "But he'd guessed something and I had to silence him--in the
only way I could."

The colonel sank into an armchair. "I'm not frightened," he said slowly.
"Nothing frightens me, as you ought to know. But to-day's not one of my
good days, and I'm feeling chippy, somehow."

"Have some brandy, then," said Dr. Shillington, and he poured out a
stiff measure and handed it over. "Now I'll explain," he went on, "and
although I know I ran some risk in getting rid of Jakes as I did, yet
I'm sure you'll all agree that I acted rightly."

"It rattled us," drawled the colonel, his color now coming back, "and
Sarle cursed like hell when we got the papers this afternoon. We'd not
heard a word about it before, and then--good God! to think that the
damned 'tecs had been ferreting about within half a mile of us. Yes, it
rattled us, and I've come over to find out everything."

Dr. Shillington drew his chair up close to his companion's.

"Jasper," he said in some excitement, and his eyes roamed round into
every corner of the room, "you tell them we were living in a paradise of
fools, and it was imagination only that made us think no one could find
things out." He leant forward and laid his hand upon the colonel's arm.
"Jakes found things out. Yes, Jakes, the simple fool, stumbled blindly
upon what the police would give their right hands to know. He guessed I
had something to do with the Iron Man, and that you and Sarle and
Edgehill were mixed up in it, too."

"But how, man?" asked Colonel Jasper irritably. "Did you talk in your
sleep?"

Dr. Shillington glared at the speaker.

"Don't be a fool, Jasper," he said testily, "the matter's been far too
serious I tell you." He pursed up his lips. "And even now things may not
turn out to be too pleasant for us. There's the inquest to come yet, and
the police surgeon saw at once that some technical knowledge had been
used in getting rid of Jakes. I knocked him down and tried to suffocate
him when he was stunned. But he began to come to and struggled, and in
consequence he was slightly cyanosed when he died. There was a bluish
tinge about him that looked ugly."

"But how had he found anything out?" scowled the colonel. "You haven't
told me that yet."

Dr. Shillington lifted his hand again. "He kept a diary, Jasper. A
silly, childish book of everything that happened in his humdrum life and
alongside what occurred here, he put down things too that he read day by
day in the newspapers. He put down every date when I went away and every
time when it was recorded that there had been raids at those different
country houses." The doctor lowered his voice again to a whisper. "And
one day about two months ago, he suddenly noticed certain strange
coincidences. He became aware that I was always away from home when
these attacks had occurred, that you had always come for me in your
motor car the day before, and that you and Sarle and Edgehill invariably
visited here a day or two after I got back. And then--his suspicions
awakened, he took to watching round your house. He watched you and Sarle
and Edgehill across the marsh yonder, and he noticed that the motor
launch had never been in the boat house whenever a raid had been made.
Then one day again, he was lying hidden among the reeds, and he saw me
leaving with you in the launch, when I was supposed to be up in London
at my consulting rooms, and the next day he read that the Iron Man had
been at work again. All these things he put down in his wretched book--I
found it and burnt it when he was dead--and then he got frightened that,
in his own words, he was living in a den of crime, and he gave notice to
leave. He wouldn't say why, although I pressed him. He was obstinate in
his refusal to give any explanation, and he continued obstinate until
the night before last, and then----" the doctor glanced round again at
the windows and the door, "he blurted everything out. He had brought in
my cocoa as usual, and put it on the table. I was writing at the desk
here, but, looking up suddenly, I saw he was staring at me with an
extraordinary expression upon his face, so extraordinary that I asked
him sharply what he meant. He pulled himself up with an effort and said
'Nothing.' Then I told him he was lying, and he burst out, 'Better be a
liar than a criminal or a murderer anyhow.' I stared at him
thunderstruck, and he went on excitedly that he knew what he was saying.
He kept a diary, he said, and everything was written down. This was an
evil house. Crime was being hatched here, and either you or I or Sarle
or Edgehill were the Iron Man. He wasn't going to stay on any longer, he
should leave the next morning and it was his duty to tell the police. I
heard him out in silence and then, when shaking all over, he turned to
leave the room, I struck him down. It didn't kill him, but----I was
taking no risks and three minutes later he was dead."

Dr. Shillington paused to wipe the perspiration from his forehead.

"It was unfortunate that I had to do it here in this room, for it messed
up the carpet, and I was a long time getting out the stains."

"Your methods were rather crude, doctor," drawled Colonel Jasper
frowning, "though they were certainly effective. But go on."

"They were not crude," snapped the doctor irritably. "Another 30 seconds
of unconsciousness and there would have been no certain indication as to
exactly how he had died. He wouldn't have been cyanosed at all then, and
it would have been assumed that he had died from shock following upon an
ordinary common blow." He looked with some reproach upon his companion.
"Remember, I had to decide everything on the instant, without any time
for reflection, and it's easy enough for you to criticise me now."

"Sorry, Doctor," drawled the Colonel. "I apologise. I am sure you are a
great artist in dispatching butlers, and did everything that was best."

"Then," went on Dr. Shillington, as if he were totally oblivious of any
sarcasm in his companion's remark, "I carried him out into the drive, as
you must have read, and, returning, searched his room. I had to be quick
about it, however, for I heard one of the maids stirring, and it would
have been fatal for me to have been found up there. But I took his
diary, as I say, and burnt it. It was damning in its simplicity, and
would have hanged us all. Then I hid away some pieces of my silver,
and--" the doctor sighed as if he were very sorry for himself, "passed a
sleepless night."

"Naturally," said the Colonel sympathetically, "after all you had been
through. It was enough to have shaken anybody." He looked intently at
the doctor. "And then yesterday you had the cream of England's
detectives up here. Two of the Big Four, I see." A note of slight
anxiety crept into his voice. "And how did you get on with them at close
quarters?"

"Oh! they were all right," said Dr. Shillington, frowning, "at least
Carter and Stone and the Chief Constable were. Them I could easily
manage." His frown deepened, "But there was another one with them I
didn't like. He was younger than they were, and I admit he made me feel
a bit uneasy. I thought all the time that he was watching me--without
looking at me, though--as I am accustomed to watch a patient when I am
determining if I shall certify him as insane." The doctor shook himself
as if he were feeling cold. "Yes, curse him--it was imagination, of
course--but I thought, I thought somehow that his was a master mind like
mine."

The Colonel smiled covertly. "Nerves, my dear friend, and a conscience
that was not wholly innocent, so to speak." He helped himself to some
more brandy. "But who was he, did you learn?"

"No," sighed the doctor thoughtfully. "I know nothing about him except
that I heard the Chief Constable once call him 'Mr. Larose.'"

Colonel Jasper started to his feet. "Larose! Larose!" he exclaimed
hoarsely "if it's the Sydney man it couldn't be worse. He's a terrible
one to have on your track." His drawl dropped from him in his
excitement. "Why, the C.I.D. chap in Sydney who got Sarle's brother
hanged three years ago, was called Larose. Gilbert Larose, and it's been
the dream of Sarle's life ever since to go over to Australia some day
and wipe him out." He sank back into his chair. "No, no, it can't be the
one, but still--" He nodded his head. "I'll tell Sarle, and if they're
not keeping it secret we'll soon find out. Then if it turns out to be
the same man--" he dropped back into his drawl, "Heaven help the poor
wretch if Sarle gets him, for Sarle is not over nice in his ways of
killing, as you know."

And at that very moment, all unknowing of the interest he was
occasioning to Dr. Shillington's visitor, Larose was enjoying a fragrant
and satisfying meal of bread and cheese and onions in the kitchen not
fifty yards away.

He had soon installed himself in the good graces of the maids, and the
cook had already given it as her opinion that he was a most gentlemanly
man.

"About forty, I should say, dear," she whispered to the parlor-maid,
"and you mark my words, he's been crossed in love. Very quiet, and he's
got such a sad gentle smile. He's single, he says."

Larose accepted the offer of a glass of ale and the generous liquor
appearing in part to soften his reserve, he began to enter more into
their conversation.

"It was a Colonel Jasper I opened the door to just now," he remarked, "a
friend of Dr. Shillington, he said he was."

"A great friend," smiled the cook, "Colonel Jasper lives at the Priory,
on the island just across the marshes, about a mile from here. He's such
a nice man, but, poor fellow, he's consumptive, and some days he's got
an awful cough."

Larose pricked up his ears at once. He had been already wondering why
the doctor and his visitor had so suddenly dropped their voices the very
instant he had left the room. As a matter of pure routine he had stopped
to listen for a few moments at the door directly he had shut it, but all
he had got for his pains was a very faint muttering of their voices,
although he had plainly heard the sound as if one of them in the room
had moved in his chair. He had not dared to remain listening long.

"Yes, I noticed that he didn't look strong," he replied now to the cook.
"But does he live by himself?"

"Dear me, no," laughed the cook. "There are three other gentlemen there,
with an old woman to cook for them. You can see the house from your
bedroom window. It's a very old one, and they say some monks used to
live there once."

"How interesting!" remarked Larose.

"Yes, it is interesting," said the parlor-maid. "You can, of course,
only get to the house by boat at high water, but at low water you can
drive a car over the stone causeway at the bottom of the river. It's
most romantic, I think."

"But it must be very awkward," said Larose, "for them to get home when
the tide's high. How do they manage it in a car then?"

"Oh! there's a shed on this side," replied the girl, "and they leave the
car there then and cross over in a rowing boat. They've got a fine motor
launch, too, on the other side."

"It must be very lonely," said Larose. "What do they do?"

"Oh! shoot and fish, and they've got a golf course over on the island."
She laughed. "Yes, they enjoy themselves right enough, and Colonel
Jasper's always in the open-air, for his consumption."

Larose soon dropped into the ways of the house, performing all his
duties deftly and in a fashion apparently quite satisfactory to Dr.
Shillington. At any rate, the great man made no complaints, and, indeed,
he hardly ever took any notice of his servant at all. He never said good
morning or good night, never spoke to him except in the curtest manner
possible, and accepted all his ministrations without thanks and as if he
were an automaton or a thing of wood.

And Larose took it all in good part, and did not repine. For were not
all butlers supposed to be of different flesh and blood from their
employers, and had not Nature in her own wise way ordained all down the
ages that there should be always be orders such as they two. The one who
ordered and the one who served. The great and the small. The master and
the man.

For three days then, he seemed to get no further. He got nothing
definite for his role of service. There were plenty of things that added
to his suspicions, however, and the belief in him strengthened almost
with every hour that there was some dark undercurrent of mystery running
through Dr. Shillington's life.

The man was by no means the intensely preoccupied student of mental
diseases that the world imagined, and he was not absorbed only in the
consideration of broken minds. Instead, he was a restless and uneasy
person, and he always seemed to be waiting for something, Larose
thought. He seized on the morning newspapers directly they arrived, and
then he would rapidly run down the columns of the principal pages,
apparently reading the headings only, just as if he were on the look-out
for some particular item of news. Added to that, and contrary to all
usual custom, so Larose heard, the chauffeur was now sent into
Colchester every night to obtain the evening papers--a journey of eight
or nine miles each way.

Another thing, too, the doctor was always on the alert when the
telephone rang, and when Larose went in to his room to give him a
message or to tell him he was wanted, he was invariably ready, and
waiting, sometimes only just across the threshold. He always had a
troubled look of expectation, too, then, as if he were prepared to hear
some unpleasant piece of news.

On the third night a very significant thing happened. He ordered his
cocoa at 9 o'clock, an hour earlier than was his wont, and upon Larose
taking it in, he informed him that he should not be requiring him any
more that night, as he was going to do some writing, and did not want to
be disturbed. If the telephone rang, he added, Larose was to say he was
away from home, no matter who the caller was, and the same answer was to
be given to anyone who came to the front door.

He did not look at Larose when he gave these orders, and the detective
was at once suspicious. Therefore, just after 10 o'clock, and when the
maids had gone up to their rooms, Larose tiptoed to the study door and
listened. The lights were burning, he could see from underneath the
door, but not the slightest sound came from inside the room. So Larose
set fire to a small piece of rag in the hall to create the smell of
something burning, and then knocked at the door with the excuse ready
that he was afraid something was on fire--a spark, perhaps, that had
jumped from the grate on to the carpet which the doctor hadn't noticed.

But there was no answer to his knocking, so after a moment or two he
boldly opened the door, to find that the room--was empty. He did not
dare to wait long, not knowing how soon the doctor might be returning,
but, at any rate, he waited long enough to see that there was no sign of
any writing material upon the desk, that the ink on all the pens was
dry, and that the long French window behind the thick curtains was
unbolted both at the top and the bottom. The doctor had undoubtedly gone
out that way.

Then for three solid hours Larose waited in the dark at the top of the
stairs until he saw the doctor finally come out of his study and tip-toe
to his bedroom, and the next morning there were traces of black mud
under the instep of his shoes. The uppers appeared to have been given
some attention to make than look passably clean.

After breakfast Larose was sent round to the garage to tell the
chauffeur to be ready with the car at 9.30 sharp, and he found his
bibulous friend cursing and swearing because his best screwdriver was
missing.

"Blarst someone," the man swore. "How the hell am I to have everything
all right when my tools are sneaked? That's the only screwdriver I can
tighten my windscreen with."

"Where are you going to to-day, mate?" asked Larose.

"London," growled the chauffeur. "There'll be a room full of loonies
waiting for us up there by eleven o'clock."

"What a tiring journey!" sympathised Larose. "What time'll you be back?"

"Six o'clock," said the chauffeur, and he returned to the grouch about
his missing screwdriver.

Larose's heart beat high with hope as he returned to the house. At last
the coast would be clear for him to go through the doctor's rooms. Ever
since he had arrived his hands had been itching to introduce certain
cunningly fashioned little bits of wire that he had brought with him
into the keyholes of the drawers of the doctor's desk but hitherto he
had had no chance. He was basing everything upon finding somewhere in
some hiding place the missing silver that the doctor had made out had
been taken upon the night of the murder, and he was confident he would
find it, too, not far away.

The doctor went off sharp at half-past nine as he had ordained, and
Larose returned to the carrying out of his usual morning duties. He knew
it would not be safe to tackle the doctor's study until after lunch,
when the parlor-maid would have finished turning out the room, and his
absence from the kitchen could be accounted for by his being no longer
on duty.

So, lunch over, he announced that he was going out for his usual breath
of fresh air and leaving openly by the back door, he walked round the
house, to double back when he saw there was no one near, to the French
windows of the doctor's study.

In two seconds he was inside the room, and to prevent surprise was
inserting a wooden wedge underneath the door.

"Better that, anyhow," he muttered, "than being caught red-handed. If by
chance Smithers does try to come in, she'll think something's gone wrong
with the lock, and then, ten chances to one, she'll wait for me." He
grinned to himself and sighed. "Really, if I stop here long I can see
complications in the kitchen. Cookie gave me the best rasher of bacon
this morning, and Smithers distinctly pushed her foot against mine at
lunch."

He produced a stout piece of wire from his pocket and bent down before
the big Cutler desk, but the first drawer was unlocked and his eyebrows
almost clicked together directly he opened it.

"Whew!" he ejaculated, "an oily screwdriver!" He stared at it with
dilated eyes and then added, nodding his head slowly, "perhaps--perhaps
the very one that the chauffeur lost."

He chuckled happily. "Yes, yes, it must be so. The doctor crept into the
garage and borrowed it that night. He was the rat that the teetotal
chauffeur said he had heard moving about." His eyes wandered swiftly
round the study. "Now this should simplify matters a lot. Where are
there any screws to undo?"

He wrenched up one corner of the carpet, and ran his hand along the
floor-boards. "Nails, nails," he muttered, and he quickly stamped down
the carpet again. He crawled round the wainscotting. "Still nails," he
went on. He examined the table, the sideboard, the desk, and the chairs,
one by one. "Plenty of screws," was his frowning comment, "but none of
them have been touched lately. I am sure of that."

He stood perplexed, with one finger on his lips, in the middle of the
room.

"Perhaps he did not hide them, here," he said slowly, and then he shook
his head. "But I should have done so and he would also have done so
surely, if possible, for it would have been dangerous to move about too
much at that time of night, when lights on anywhere but in this room
would have seemed to anyone who might have noticed them outside, as most
unusual."

He stared round for a long time, and then suddenly his face lightened.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "those little windows. Now, their framework will be
screwed."

In two seconds he was standing before a little window above the doctor's
desk, and softly but swiftly lifting up the lower part.

"Ah!" he exclaimed again, "screws and scratches round the woodwork." He
felt the screw heads with his finger. "They've been turned rather
clumsily, too, and this dust round them now is much too thick to be
natural."

He snatched up the screwdriver, and went quickly to work upon the lower
part of the window-frame. The screws turned easily, and he was soon able
to lift out the panel. Then, thrusting his hand down in the space
between the bricks, he gave vent to a low whistle. He pulled out some
small but weighty articles tied up in an almost clean dinner napkin.

A delighted smile crossed his face. "Good old Australia!" he muttered.
"They turn out some fine policemen there, anyhow." He felt through the
napkin. "My King Charles's salt cellars," he grinned pompously, "my
candle-sticks of Louis Quatorze and my two valuable snuff-boxes of
George the First."

But his merriment was short-lived, and putting back the napkin and its
contents as quickly as possible he screwed down the panel again, and
covering up all traces of his work, tiptoed softly from the room.

"Exactly ten minutes," he remarked to himself as he was passing through
the window, "and that isn't a bad time for putting a halter round any
man. Now, I must think what I must do next. I'll get in touch with the
Yard soon, anyhow."




CHAPTER VII.--"AT NIGHT ON THE ISLAND."


Two days later, Carter and Stone were closeted together in the room of
the former at Scotland Yard.

"But he was too secretive with me, Charlie," said the lanky detective
frowningly, "and he didn't even tell me where he'd found Shillington had
cached the missing silver. He just said he had located it and had left
it undisturbed where it had been placed. Of course, I knew he had to be
very guarded in what he said, speaking as he was from Manningtree, not
seven miles from Shillington's place, but he left me quite in the dark
as to his reasons for wanting us to stay our hands everywhere, and let
him remain on at Oakley Court. All he said was, that he was flying at
much higher game than Shillington now, and that he believed Shillington
to be only playing quite a minor role." Carter shook his head. "I don't
like it, Charlie. It's irregular to leave so much responsibility to one
man."

Stone hesitated a moment before he spoke. "And I don't like it either,
Eli," he said thoughtfully. "That lone hand business is not the safe
thing when dealing with a gang. It may be all right, man to man, but
when there's a parcel of them to be wiped up, it's piling up the odds
against us unnecessarily." His face brightened, and he put his hand
affectionately upon his colleague's shoulder. "But come, Eli, don't
let's be old women and start worrying, now. That lad won't let us down,
I've an instinct. Remember, he's been right every time so far, and we
are surely quite justified in giving him his head a bit. But what else
did he tell you about Oakley Court?"

"Only that the wine was very good," replied Carter drily, "and that if
he didn't take care he was afraid the cook would be making him an offer
of marriage before very long."

"Excellent," exclaimed Stone, rubbing his hands, "then he's being well
fed, and remember, Elias, as Napoleon said, an army marches on its
belly. But any word from Colchester yet?"

"Yes," replied Carter, and his face lost a little of its worried look.
"Stevens seems to be getting at grips with something there, and although
he reports no definite discovery as yet, still he appears to be quite
convinced there was justification for us sending him down." He picked up
a paper off the desk. "Here is what he writes; it came this morning."

"Have now had Fred Duke under observation for five days, and am certain
he is on the crook. His actions are highly suspicious. He is difficult
to follow, for he never walks far anywhere, without turning, to look
back, and whenever he stops, he gives the once over most carefully to
everybody standing by. He lives a quiet life, hardly speaks to anyone,
and appears to have no friends. When he leaves his lodgings every
morning, he goes straight to work, and when his work is finished, he
goes straight home. But sharp at a quarter to seven every night he comes
out again and walks up the High-street to Cole's Book Arcade. There he
stops, looking in the window until the Town Hall clock has struck seven.
Then immediately, to the tick, he starts to walk home again. It seems
he's got a date there with someone who hasn't turned up as yet. He's
posted two letters, one last Monday and the other tonight, and each time
he's posted them at the head office, although he'd have caught the same
mail if he'd used the pillar-box in the street where he is living. I
noticed, too, that both times he waited until other people were posting
letters until he put his own into the slit. He acts all the time as if
he was suspicious of being watched and I should like another man sent
down to help, for if he does meet someone outside the bookshop, then one
of us will be ready to trail number two. According to instructions I
have made no attempt to speak to him and have made no enquiries at his
lodgings. He is a shy bird and must be very carefully approached.'

"Quite a solid man, Stevens," was Stone's comment, "and this fellow Duke
is acting just as we might expect. If he's one of the Iron Man gang,
he'll be wary and suspicious, exactly as Stevens reports." The big
detective looked troubled. "But I confess I'm a little anxious about
Larose, for if Shillington, with a cold-blooded murder to his credit, is
only, as Larose puts it, in a minor role, then what the hell must the
parts of the other actors in this little play be like?" He shook his
head. "And the boy'll be all on his own, as I say, with no help at hand
if he should make one single slip." He looked intently at his companion.
"And those marshes are lonely, remember Elias, and that black mud could
keep its secrets well." He sighed with resignation. "Still, now we can
only wait and see. One thing, however, the lad's a quick worker and our
suspense will not be for long."

And certainly Larose was a quick worker, for although he had been only a
few days at Oakley Court and was now absolutely certain that Dr.
Shillington was the murderer of the butler, Jakes, yet he had definitely
dismissed that discovery as being in no wise the termination of his
quest and was simply regarding it as a stepping-stone to further
discoveries that might turn out to be of a much more important nature
than this single crime against one man.

That he was at the gates of some black underworld of crime had become
the obsession of his mind, and certainty was avalanching upon suspicion,
that if he could only uncover it, there was some dark conspiracy of evil
close at hand.

Oakley Court sheltered one criminal, he knew, and everything pointed to
there being sympathy and understanding between that criminal and the
inmates of the house across the marshes, on the island.

Something was going on between them and something that demanded
elaborate precautions should be taken, too, to prevent its being brought
to light.

He had learnt a lot about the island people from the maids, and it had
struck him at once as being most peculiar that although all of the four
men there were supposed to be great friends of the doctor, yet three of
them had never at any time come up to the Court except at night, and,
indeed although they lived so near and all their tastes and inclinations
were supposed to be to the direction of sport and recreation in the open
air, yet never once had they been known to cross the river except during
the hours of darkness.

They had been up to the court several times to dinner and often to spend
the evening, but the cook and the housemaid did not even know them yet
by sight.

Colonel Jasper they all knew, but then another singular thing there.
Although the colonel was a most presentable sort of man and of so
obviously companionable a nature, yet whenever he had come up
unexpectedly and there had been strangers about the Court, he had always
been bustled away quickly or else had been put into a room by himself to
wait until the visitors had gone.

Larose was certain there was some mystery about these men upon the
island, and that they all in a greater or lesser degree had good reasons
for keeping out of the public eye. Added to that, he was quite certain
again that it was to them Dr. Shillington had been paying a visit when
that night he had secretly left the house through the window of his
study, leaving the lights, however, to burn on there during the whole
time he was away, in order, no doubt, to give the illusion that he was
still working in his room.

Larose had not forgotten either the black mud upon the doctor's shoes
the next morning, black river mud he was sure, and the obvious attempt
that had been made to give them an ordinary every-day appearance by
scraping the excess mud off.

Then why all this secrecy he asked himself, and what was this mystery
that was going on?

To those whose life work it was to deal with crime, secrecy and mystery
were suspicious at any time, but when they were persisting when dreadful
murder had just been done then--good God! it meant that the waters of
violence had not yet subsided and that the end of evil had not yet come.

So, full of these ideas, Larose set about making a closer
acquaintanceship with the island and he set off for there openly, one
afternoon when he was off duty.

He heard the village butcher mentioning to the cook just after their
midday meal, that he had been delivering meat there, so he knew the tide
must be low and the causeway uncovered.

He walked slowly along the marsh road as if he were only out for an idle
constitutional, and approaching the river bank, he glanced interestedly
at the small shed where, he had been told, Colonel Jasper garaged his
car when the water was too high for him to cross over. The shed was
substantially built he saw, with the door secured with a big padlock.

"Quite easy to open," was his comment, "but there'll never be anything
suspicious to be found there."

The river bank dropped steeply down and he reckoned the causeway would
be covered twelve feet deep at high water. When on the causeway itself,
he was out of sight of all habitations, and at the bottom, as it were,
of a broad deep ditch with long vistas of black slimy mud everywhere. He
wondered at the presence of so much mud so near the sea until he noticed
upon the landward side of the river quite a number of small riverlets,
trickling into the river bed.

"And then that's why there's always some water here," he ruminated. "The
marsh land is drained through those dykes. I don't wonder old
Shillington got his boots muddy the other night, for, even with a torch,
on these slippery stones it would be difficult in the darkness to cross
over perfectly dry."

Gaining the farther bank, he gave one long and naturally interested look
at the big house about a couple of hundred yards distant, but then as if
his curiosity were quite satisfied, he turned off along the river bank,
as if he were intending to take a walk round the island. He had seen two
men sitting in deck chairs, just before the house, but they were too far
away for him to form any idea as to what they were like.

He walked slowly on in the direction of the sea, and then when about
half a mile away from the house, stretched himself down between two low
hummocks as if to enjoy a rest. Out of sight then, as he believed, from
all prying eyes, he produced a small, but powerful pair of binoculars
from his pocket and many, many times, went carefully over every yard of
the long straggling buildings before him.

The house was undoubtedly very old, for the brickwork was weather beaten
and fretted and much of the mortar in it had crumbled away. It was two
stories high, but the upper one was to all appearances unoccupied, for
all the windows of it were boarded up. Fifteen boarded windows Larose
counted on the side of the house facing him. There were a few small
outhouses scattered about, but they were obviously quite modern and in
much better condition.

The whole island appeared to be lifeless, except that there was a cow
grazing not far from the house and a horse was enclosed in a small
paddock.

"No dogs," sighed Larose with satisfaction, "and I could approach quite
safely in the dark. Good, then," he went on, "and as there's no time
like the present. I'll do it to-night." He looked out towards the sea.
"And if Smithers is right and the tide goes out almost to that buoy,
then with it receding as it is now, it should be a very long while
before it flows in high enough again to make the causeway impassable.
The wind's off shore, too, and that will tend to hinder the water
banking up." He looked at his watch and made a rapid calculation. "Yes,
I shall easily have until eleven o'clock."

Making his way back by the other side of the island he had a good look
at a commodious boat house that he passed. Here the structure looked of
very recent date.

"Not been put up six months yet, I'll swear," he muttered, and then his
breath began to come a little quicker. "Oh! how everything can be made
to fit in with my idea as to the surroundings of where the gang of the
Iron Man are hiding. A lonely spot right out of the world, a place where
no one would ever be watching, and a good approach at high water, too."
He looked thoughtfully at the steep banks of mud on either side. "Yes,
only at high water, for I'll swear again that there'll be only very few
minutes at the extreme top of the tide when they can get a launch in, in
safety here." He frowned. "Well, I must have a good look at that launch,
but I'm afraid I shan't have time to-night."

Returning leisurely home, he resumed his duties at the Court, and just
before 10 carried in the doctor's cocoa, receiving then the usual curt
information that his services would be no more required that night.

He went up to his bedroom at once then, as if he were intending to go
straight to bed, but bed was the last thing in his mind.

Waiting a few minutes to make certain that the maids were finally
settled in their rooms, he crept downstairs and without a sound let
himself out of the back door and made straight for the gardener's shed.
He picked the padlock there, and then, helping himself to a pair of
pincers and a screwdriver from the gardener's tool box, he laid hands on
a 12-foot ladder, which he proceeded to carry to the foot of the asylum
wall. Then, in less than two minutes, he was over the wall and walking
briskly towards the island, still, however, carrying the ladder with
him. It was a dark night, but there were faint stars overhead, and with
his eyes now accustomed to the blackness, he could pick his way easily,
as he had anticipated, along the marsh road.

Reaching the causeway over the river bed, he saw that he would not have
very much time before him, as the tide was beginning now to flow in
steadily.

Walking warily upon the grass, he approached the house and was at first
inclined to believe that its inmates had all gone to bed, for even at a
short distance away the whole place appeared to be in pitch darkness,
but arriving before the window nearest to the front door, he heard
laughter and the sound of talking, and at once grasped how things were.
There were thick curtains before the windows, and only at the very top
of one of them could there be seen a single ray of light.

Losing not a moment of time, he lifted up his ladder and leant it upon
the brickwork high above the middle of the window. Then climbing swiftly
up he was delighted to find that the window was open for about four
inches at the top. Hesitating just a second, he took the screwdriver he
was carrying out of his pocket and leaning over, he thrust it forward
very gently and slowly parted the curtains inside the room. At once he
got a clear view of everything.

It was a very large room, oak-panelled and oak-ceilinged, and it was
very lofty, almost to the height of the two stories of the house. It
looked as if it had been the banquetting hall of the Priory, once. It
had a very big fireplace, and there was a bright fire burning in it now.

Three men were playing cards at the far end, a fourth was reading in a
big armchair, and a bent old woman, with her head done up in a shawl,
was arranging a table in the centre for a meal.

The three players were intent upon their game. One, Larose saw, was
Colonel Jasper, and the other two he guessed were the men whom the
parlor-maid had referred to by the names of Sarle and Edgehill. There
was no doubt about the fourth man; he was Broome.

Sarle was easy enough to pick out from the parlor-maid's description. A
cynical, thin-lipped man with a fine, clean-cut profile, and
dreamy-looking, almond-shaped eyes. A handsome man with an air of
distinction and refinement about him, but cruel--very cruel. He was of
medium size, but gave the impression of strength and of being as lithe
as a panther.

The third player, Edgehill, was of much bigger build. He looked coarse
and rather of the swaggering type, but he had a strong capable face, and
was undoubtedly every inch a fighter. He had a bold and insolent
expression.

The fourth man, the one reading in the chair, was very different from
the others, and looked like a scholar. He was tall and thin, with a high
forehead and deep set eyes. His mouth was like a straight line, and he
held his lips tightly shut.

"Three men there who would stick at nothing," was the comment of Larose,
"and a fourth who would look on and say nothing. Four nice beauties for
Shillington to be mixed up with. Two fine gentlemen of crime, a one-time
varsity man who has gone to the devil, and a callous-looking crank with
a grievance probably against all the world. But I'd like to get their
fingerprints," he added thoughtfully, "especially those of that
thin-lipped chap. He looks a man with a prison history, and that
complexion of his has got a smack of prison walls."

"Damn you, Sarle," suddenly he heard Edgehill call out, "but it was
risky playing that queen."

"And I like risks." replied Sarle coolly, "or I shouldn't be here."

"But I didn't know you'd got the nine of hearts left," said Colonel
Jasper. "I thought the nine was the card you played when you played the
seven."

"Then you should wear your glasses, man," sneered Edgehill. "And then
you'd see the cards properly. It's only because of your damned vanity
that you don't use them always."

"My worthy Edgehill," sighed the colonel carelessly. "I don't mind
thinking that I shall die of T.B. sometime, but I do object to the idea
that I am getting old."

Edgehill thumped violently upon the table. "Where's the syphon of soda,"
he shouted loudly. "Damn that old hag of yours, Jasper, she forgets
everything now."

"Don't rouse at her, Edgehill," said the colonel quietly. "The old
woman's not been looking at all well lately." He smiled drily. "No,
she's not heard you, so you'd better get up and get it yourself. There's
a fresh one in the cupboard." He frowned. "She's deafer than ever
to-day, and, as I say, she doesn't look well."

"She makes me feel sick," growled Edgehill, "and I never look at her."

"Nor I either," added Sarle, in his cultured voice. "A close scrutiny of
her would put me off my food." He turned towards the man in the chair.
"And isn't it the same with you, Broome?"

The reader looked up with a frown. "The same with me?" he asked
irritably. "What's the same now with me?"

"I have just remarked," said Sarle, calmly, "that a too long
contemplation of Mother Heggarty does not conduce to appetite, and I
suggested that perhaps it might be the same with you?"

Broome scowled as if he were annoyed at his reading being interrupted.
"I never noticed her at all," he said sharply. "To me she doesn't
exist," and he turned back instantly to his book.

"Really," drawled Colonel Jasper; "but how could one expect such a great
mind to notice common people. I think----"

But Larose did not wait to hear any more. He slipped down the ladder,
and laying it gently upon the grass, proceeded on a quick tour of
investigation all round the house. With all its known inmates gathered
in the big room, he felt quite secure from observation outside, and he
used his electric torch freely.

"Only the ground floor in occupation, as I thought," he muttered, "and
every window thickly curtained. They're not afraid of burglars
evidently, by the look of the fastenings, but they're taking darned good
care no one shall get a glimpse inside anywhere. Now for the upper
story, it would make a fine place for keeping an eye on them from, if
they never go up there."

He brought his ladder round to the far end of the building, and propped
it up so that he could climb up on to the sill of the window nearest to
the sea. Then very quickly he was prising up the bottom end of one of
the long pieces of planking that for many years, apparently, had been
nailed down across the gutted window frame. It came up easily, for the
salt-laden air had well and truly rusted the big nails, and the wood was
soft and rotted where they held.

Lifting up the board only just sufficiently to allow of him squeezing
under, he was soon standing inside the room. A dank and mouldy smell
filled the air, and flashing his light round he saw that he was in a big
empty room given over everywhere to layers of thick dust.

"No one been here for donkey's years," was his comment, "and the
flooring may be pretty shaky, too, so I must be careful that I don't
fall through."

He tiptoed across to the door, and found it was unlocked. Opening it
very gently, and waiting until his eyes were again accustomed to the
darkness, he saw that a long passage ran before him, with rooms opening
out on to it on either side. He heard the sound of voices in the
distance.

Not daring to proceed farther until he knew exactly where he was going
to plant his feet, he chanced it and flashed his light again. It was all
right. The flooring was quite sound, and everything was still covered
over thickly with dust.

Mindful of the slowly rising water on the causeway, he knew that
whatever he was going to do, he must do quickly, so with no hesitation
at all he proceeded farther into the passage, keeping all the time,
however, very close to one side of the wall and taking good care at
every step to make sure that the flooring beneath him was quite sound.
The talking became louder and more distinct with every foot that he
advanced.

The passage was a long one, about seventy or eighty yards, he judged,
and he passed thirteen rooms on his way. Then he was brought up against
another door. It seemed that he was very near to the big room below,
now, for he could hear quite plainly the clatter of knives and forks.

Holding his breath in his excitement, and unmindful of the soiling of
his clothes, he dropped gently down and placed his ear upon the floor.
Yes, he must be very close to the living room, for not only could he
hear distinctly what they were saying, but also there was a strong smell
of cooking, and with his eyes at that level he could see a thin line of
light, too, under the wainscotting.

He rose very quietly to his feet, and flashing his torch up saw that
there was a trapdoor in the wall, about eight feet above where he stood.

"Good," he smiled gleefully, "and that will lead to under the roof. I
could get up there and through the cracks between the beams see
everything that was going on below. One couldn't want for a better spot,
for one could see and hear there as well." His face became serious. "But
now for a quick getaway before I am obliged to swim for it."

He was soon on to his ladder again, and pushing to the board so that no
sign of his visit should remain. Then suddenly a thought struck him.

"But how shall I get up here if I come again?" he asked himself, and he
flashed his torch against the brickwork. "Yes, yes, the mortar's pretty
rotten and there's plenty of room for fingers and toes. At any rate, I
could get up, somehow."

He had a quick look into three of the nearest outhouses. One was a
stable with a hayloft above it, another was filled with bundles of
straw, and the third, a large tool shed, contained six bicycles.

"Whew!" he ejaculated, "it gets clearer and clearer. Now I wonder if
anyone round here ever saw any of these fine gentlemen using a bicycle?"
He shook his head and grinned. "No, I don't think so, but at any rate, I
can soon enquire."

He ran back, and picking up his ladder, very soon reached the causeway
again, to find, however, that the water was flowing with alarming
swiftness, and was now not very far off three feet deep.

"No help for it," he muttered, "I'll get a soaking, but still it might
have been worse. It'll be all right as long as I don't get the upper
part of me wet, too."

Taking instant action, he whipped off his coat and waistcoat and hung
them on the top of the ladder, then steadying himself with the other
end, he waded boldly in. The current was very strong, and he had great
difficulty in escaping being swept off his feet, but he gained the other
side at last, and thankfully climbed up on to the road, although by this
time he was well soaked through.

"Ah! but I'm wet," he grimaced. "What a good thing it was I took my coat
and waistcoat off. No, I'll not put them on again just yet. I'll wait
until some of the water has dripped off me or they'll quickly be both
soaking, too. Now I'll run all the way home and then I shan't catch
cold," and with the ladder balanced high up upon his shoulder and with
his coat and waistcoat dangling at the top, he set off at a quick trot
along the marsh road.

And then suddenly he heard the sound of a motor car behind him, and
instantly everything in front was bathed in a beam of ghostly light.
Only for a few seconds, however, and then the beam swerved round in
another direction. He threw himself down flat upon the ground, with his
ladder dropped anywhere, and the beam snapped out and the roar of the
motor stopped. Then another light appeared, a smaller one, but very
mobile. It swept slowly round and lingered, and swept slowly round
again. It did this several times, and then its movements were
accelerated and it stabbed the darkness spasmodically in every
direction. Finally it went out, and after a moment, the motor roared
again.

With eyes that were almost starting from his head, Larose stared back
upon the island. A motor car was crossing along it lengthways, in the
direction of the sea. He watched fascinated. Slowly the car proceeded,
rising and falling over the uneven ground, then it turned at right
angles, and winding between some low hummocks dropped all at once out of
sight and the lights went out.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Larose, "what a scare!" His teeth were
chattering, and groping hurriedly for his coat and waistcoat, he hustled
them quickly on.

"But I guess what happened," he continued. "They were getting out their
car, and as they came out the garage their lights picked me up. Only for
a second, however, and they weren't certain what they saw. So they
dashed on the searchlight and tried to get me again. But they evidently
didn't see anything then and so probably they're thinking now that they
didn't see anything at all."

He picked up the ladder and then, turning for a last look, he frowned
heavily.

"But what the devil were they doing now with the car out at this time of
night and where on earth could they be going?"

He stood staring for a long minute, and then realising that he was
shivering violently, he swung the ladder again upon his shoulder and
started at a sharp run for home.

Half an hour later he was in bed, and lying with his eyes wide open was
trying to sum up the situation.

"Well, I've quite made up my mind now," he told himself, "and I'm going
to shadow those four chaps straight away. I'll ring up the Yard
to-morrow and have an urgent message 'phoned to me here that somebody is
dying and I am to leave at once. Then I'll get a few things together--a
fingerprint camera will be the first one--and go back to the island by
night. I ought to soon find out what's wrong, if I can get into the
place again. Yes, yes, that's what poor Jakes bought his binoculars for.
He found out something and started to watch, and he got a blue-black
face and six feet of earth for his pains." The detective gritted his
teeth together. "But I'm not minded for such luxuries yet and they won't
get me as easily, I'll take care." He frowned in the darkness. "But I
must be careful. If they're what I think, I mustn't underrate them.
They're not mugs by any means, and one false slip--" he grinned, "the
eels will have me and I shall be swapping news with Jakes."

He turned over on to his side and, making his mind a blank, composed
himself tranquilly for sleep.




Chapter VIII.--THE PERIL OF LAROSE.


The next morning, discussing a succulent plate of ham and eggs, but with
the cook bustling round him and disposed to be so very friendly that at
moments he could not really tell whether it was egg or ham that he had
got in his mouth, Larose was groping about in his mind for a tale good
enough to pitch to Dr. Shillington.

"Darn the woman," he frowned to himself, "hasn't she learnt yet that
breakfast is the one meal at which no one ever does any courting? It's
much too early in the day for love, and she's taking all the taste out
of my food. I wish to goodness she'd leave me alone."

He wanted to get away from Oakley Court as speedily as possible, and as
he had just heard that the doctor was unexpectedly to start for London
at half-past nine, he was hard put to it to determine exactly what he
should say.

Then, suddenly, the advent of the parlor-maid into the kitchen, in ten
seconds made him alter all his plans and caused him to discard the idea
of leaving, for at least another forty-eight hours.

"Dinner party to-morrow, cook," she announced briskly, "four coming, and
as it isn't until half-past eight, I expect it's the gentlemen from the
island. Doctor wants to speak to you at once, please."

Smoothing down her apron, the cook went out, to return, however, in a
very few minutes. She beamed at Larose.

"Good dinner, Mr. Mason," she said. "Now, you'll see what we can do.
Turtle soup, turbot, saddle of mutton, and lots of nice things." She
smiled indulgently. "And there'll be a snack of everything for us, too."
She looked round in a motherly way at the others. "There generally is,
girls, isn't there?"

The day was almost an uneventful one for Larose. In the afternoon he
walked round the grounds and had a chat with some of the patients who
were out taking the sun. He was considerably flattered when one
gentleman asked him if he were the Emperor of Russia, but was a little
bit downcast when an old lady was sure that she remembered him as one of
the cowmen in the Chelmsford Agricultural Show.

He waited as usual upon Dr. Shillington at dinner in the evening, and it
made him a little thoughtful afterwards that it seemed the great man had
been rather more interested in him than hitherto. The meal had been
conducted in perfect silence, but several times he would have sworn that
covert glances had been flashed at him, and he was almost positive that
the doctor had deliberately shifted his chair a couple of inches or so,
to bring himself in line with the mirror over the fireplace, from whence
he could command the reflected view of his butler, as he was standing
like a statue by the sideboard.

"Nerves, Gilbert," he told himself. "You're getting old and imagine
things. Except for that little weakness of murdering his butlers your
master is probably as innocent as a baby."

But as the doctor, having finished his meal, rose up to leave the room,
he favored his servant with a long and searching stare.

"There'll be five of us for dinner tomorrow, Mason," he said very
slowly, much more slowly than the occasion warranted, Larose
thought--"and we'll have the burgundy from No. 18 bin. Serve it in the
cradle, of course, and six bottles should be enough. Also well have two
bottles of the '47 Port."

"Very good, sir," replied Larose.

The following night a few minutes before half-past eight, the four
guests duly arrived in a car, and taking their coats, Larose ushered
them into the study and proceeded at once to serve cocktails. Dr.
Shillington was not in, he informed them, having been called over to the
asylum on a very urgent matter, which would, however, only occupy a few
minutes.

They were all in evening dress, and if the detective had not masked his
face with an expression of such respect and servility, he would have
frowned in perplexity. They all looked so distinguished and so
gentlemanly, and there was about three of them, at least, that subtle
air of refinement that is invariably associated with good birth.

The four of them eyed him interestedly, and when he had left the room
the tallest of them said thoughtfully--

"Good physiognomy, but very stupid expression. A combination I have
often noticed in the lower classes."

"One there for you, Broome," laughed Colonel Jasper. "That was the very
opinion I formed when I saw him the other night." He grinned at the
other. "Really, this is one of your good days to-day."

"Oh!" said the tall man complacently, "very little escapes me when I
give my mind to it, as you ought to know already."

Just when the cook was beginning to despair, Dr. Shillington hurried in
and dinner was served immediately.

Now in the dark and meagre days that followed, Larose thought often of
that dinner, and contrasted it with the surroundings that were holding
him then. It was like a glorious Hallelujah Chorus, followed later by
silence of the tomb.

All was harmony and happiness at that moment, and the bringing together
of beautiful and desirable things.

There was the sumptuously furnished room, with its appointments of ease
and luxury on every side. There was the long table with its wealth of
silver and crystal ware, and the soft lights that the candles threw,
accentuating the restful shadows in the corners of the room. There were
the flowers that gave suggestion of refinement, and of minds that would
appreciate the ennobling influences of life. There was the aroma of rich
foods, and finally, the incense of old wine, whose fragrance was the
love story of some vineyard, where the sun had told its passion to the
vines in the summer of those years of long ago.

And then there was the joy and happiness in men's hearts. There were the
smiling countenances of men at peace with all the world. There was the
hum of care-free conversation, the lightning flash of wit, and the roll
of laughter as the jest went home. Five English gentlemen enjoying their
ease and comfort as five such fortunate gentlemen should.

The dinner was a lengthy one and it was quite late before Larose had
left the diners to the nuts and port.

"I'm sorry for you, Mr. Mason," smiled the cook when he came back into
the kitchen. "We girls shall all be in bed in three-quarters of an hour,
but they'll keep you going until one or two o'clock in the morning." She
laughed meaningly. "I wonder who'll be driving the car home? I suppose
they're getting quite jolly now."

But in the dining-room, had the cook been only there to see, the jollity
had all suddenly died down. The host and his guests had all at once
become different men.

They had pulled their chairs up close together. Their faces were serious
and Colonel Jasper had thrown away his cigarette.

"Now for business," had said Dr. Shillington sharply. "We've a lot to
arrange. But one thing first," he frowned, "this man of mine, here, I'm
doubtful about him."

"And so am I," said Sarle promptly. "So are we all."

"What!" exclaimed Dr. Shillington with his eyes opened very wide. "What
do you know about him?"

"Nothing much," was the reply, "but we're suspicious, that's all," and
Sarle's lips snapped together like a trap of steel.

"Suspecting what?" asked the doctor quickly. "Suspicious, why?"

Sarle spoke very deliberately. "Yesterday, Dr. Shillington, your butler
came on to the island intending undoubtedly to give the impression that
he was wandering about in quite an aimless manner, but he dropped
between two hummocks on the east side and for twenty minutes by my
watch, in a most businesslike way, searched everything within his view.
I was looking at him with my glasses, standing upon the kitchen table,
well back in the room, and I saw his face quite plainly between the
tufts of grass. He appeared very much in earnest."

"Ah!" exclaimed Dr. Shillington, and there was a wealth of expression in
his "ah."

"Yes," went on Sarle evenly, "and shortly after eleven last night
Edgehill says he had an experience." He glanced over his shoulder with
just the suspicion of a smile. "But tell him yourself, Edgehill."

"I went out in the car after supper to look at my rabbit traps," said
Edgehill gruffly, "and as I was coming out of the shed, the lights
picked up the marsh road and I saw a man walking on stilts, there." He
looked straight at Sarle and there was a note of challenge in his voice.
"I'm certain I did. The lights picked him up distinctly, but the car was
turning in a half circle and I lost him before I could stop. So I put
the search light on and--he was gone."

"A man on stilts!" exclaimed Dr. Shillington, looking very puzzled.
"What's the idea?"

"I don't know," replied Edgehill with some heat, "but I'm sure I saw
him. He was eight or nine feet high, I'm certain of it."

There was a dead silence, and then Colonel Jasper drawled, "It was after
supper, of course, Doctor."

"You damned fool!" snarled Edgehill. "You're never----"

"Oh don't argue, you two," interrupted Sarle sharply, and he turned
again to the doctor. "You see, Shillington," he went on, "in the
ordinary way, we shouldn't have thought twice about it, but this morning
Broome noticed some peculiar markings on the top of the bank above the
Causeway, and we are sure they are not ours. They look as if a pole or
two poles have been dragged along and there are faint footprints, too,
at one side." He regarded Dr. Shillington intently. "These things coming
immediately upon your man's curiosity in us are naturally making us
think."

Again there was a silence, and then Colonel Jasper asked--

"And this chap, doctor, where did you pick him up?"

Dr. Shillington came out of a reverie. "At the usual place," he said, "a
registry office in North Audley-street, where I've been going for years.
A Major Channing's the proprietor, a most reliable person."

"Then what are you suspicious about?" asked Sarle.

The doctor frowned. "I met this Channing by chance yesterday," he said
slowly, "and his manner was peculiar. He wouldn't look straight at me,
and he seemed nervous about something. It was so marked that I've been
thinking about it ever since."

"But, good Lord!" ejaculated Colonel Jasper, "do you imagine, then,
they've planted a 'tec on you because of that Jakes business?"

"Mason, a 'tec!" sneered the doctor, "why, out of his work he's only a
fool. He was reading a boy's penny dreadful the other day. He'd left it
on one of the garden seats, and I picked it up after he had gone."

"Where was he in his last situation?" asked Edgehill.

"I made no enquiries," replied the doctor. "He's come to me only for
three weeks until another man I've engaged is free. I took it from
Channing that he was all right. Channing told me on the 'phone that he'd
been with Sir John Dyce-Brown for five years, until the baronet died."

"Then your Channing's a liar," broke in Colonel Jasper with some
vehemence. "This chap has never been near the Dyce-Browns, I'll swear. I
can tell by the way he served the wines just now. He filled the port
glasses too full for one thing, and for another he walked too quickly as
he brought in that vintage burgundy. Every time I could see that he was
shaking up the wine." The colonel sat up stiffly in his excitement.
"Why, Shillington, Dyce-Brown had one of the finest cellars in the
kingdom, and the serving of the wine was a ritual with him." He laughed
scoffingly. "He wouldn't have kept this man a week. This chap knows
nothing about old wine."

Dr. Shillington addressed himself to Sarle. "Well, what shall we do?" he
asked, frowning, "I don't like this."

"Have him in again," snapped the thin-lipped man, "and we'll look him
over in earnest this time."

Hesitating just a moment, the doctor touched the bell and then began
talking loudly. "But then I tell you, Nature always takes with one hand
as she gives with the other. She endowed woman with the gift of
maternity and at the same time she took from her in other ways. Woman
has no initiative. Man is the seed and woman but the soil through which
life filters. Plant an acorn and up will come an oak, plant a cabbage
seed and----" the door opened and Larose came quietly in. No one looked
at him, he saw. All eyes were fixed upon his master.

"Bring-me-that-box-of-cigarettes-upon-my-desk," said the doctor, very
slowly, and with the first word Larose sensed that there was some new
atmosphere in the room. All eyes had clicked towards him instantly and
Colonel Jasper, now, had got his glasses on. No one moved a muscle, and
they all sat stiffly in their chairs.

"Ah!" thought Larose. "Now, they've been talking about me, and what the
deuce does that mean?"

He fetched the cigarettes, and upon the doctor's instructions handed
them round. No one's eyes were upon him now, but Sarle he noticed,
looked hard at his hands. He went back very thoughtfully to the kitchen.

"Well," said the doctor very quietly, the moment the door was closed,
"and what do you think of him?"

"I believe he is dangerous," said Sarle emphatically, and he looked
round at the others. "He's no ordinary butler. Didn't you see the tan on
his hands?" He snapped his teeth together. "Well, we'll talk of him
later. We've got some other things to think of now. I've rather
disquieting news."

He drew his chair up to the table and took a letter out of his pocket.
"This is from Duke," he said. "We got it this morning," and he at once
commenced to read.

"I send you the plans of the bank. There are alarms on the windows I
have marked 'A,' but there is a skylight over the room G., and there are
no wires there. It could be approached easily from the roof of the
fishmonger's shop at the back. The manager lives over the bank, and
sleeps in the room M. He is a small man, and lives alone. He sleeps
badly, and there are white tablets in his room in a phial marked 'Dial
Hypnotic.' There are two servants, but they never go out at the same
time, at night. The housemaid has Wednesdays off, from two o'clock, and
comes home at eleven. The cook goes off on Sundays. She drinks. There
are two locks on the strongroom door. The chief clerk is Edgar Young. He
is unmarried, and boards at 17, Jeffer-street. There are two other
people in his house, and it is lonely, at the end of a road by some
waste lands. He goes out every night alone, and generally takes a walk
by the river. He is young and strong. There is no dog there. Now for
something that worries me. I believe I am being watched. A man is
shadowing me. At least, I think so, for I have three times seen him in
our street at night, and he was in the High-street when I went to work
this morning. Also, the boss at the shop is very funny. Rattery, I mean.
He stares at me a lot, and never looks at me now when I am looking at
him. Yesterday he asked me where I had worked before I came to him. I
don't think I'd better come down for a week or two. If anyone is keeping
an eye on me, I'll wait until things clear up. I'll go up to the usual
place every evening, however, but if I've got my hat on one side let
everyone keep away. They'll know something's up, then. If you want to
speak to me urgently, write and make a date for very early one morning
and then I'll meet you, say, just before five, by the King's statue in
the park. I can give anyone the slip then who's watching my house, by
getting over the back fence in the dark. There's nothing they can find
here if they search, but I've got the wind up and feel nervy."

"Exactly," said the doctor drily, "and at the first pressing he'll give
us all away. If he got into the hands of the police, he'd break like a
rotten stick."

"I know that," said Sarle frowning, "but I know also that he'll never
squeak voluntarily. He's got too much on his own account to hide. He's
still wanted for his wife's death, don't you forget!"

"We ought never to have used him," frowned back Dr. Shillington; "I was
against it from the first."

"He's very intelligent." said Sarle, "and he's been a great help."

"Well, he's dangerous now," growled the doctor, "and if, as he thinks,
he's attracted the attention of the police, then we must get him right
away at once from this part of the country, or else----" he shrugged his
shoulders.

"Or else?" asked Sarle, and his eyes were narrowed to two slits.

"We must silence him as I did Jakes," finished the doctor, stubbornly.
"Half measures are no good when we are threatened like this."

Sarle looked thoughtful. "But I don't possibly see how Duke can have
aroused any suspicion," he said. "He's been kept absolutely clear of
everything and he's never had a finger in any of our work. It's
incredible that the police can be trying to link him up with us."

"I'm of the opinion," said Edgehill, idly flicking the aches from his
cigarette, "that he's been doing some job on his own, and the police are
after him for that. He's a sly little beast, and we mayn't know half of
his dirty little life. At any rate I'm in with Shillington, the matter's
serious, and Duke's number is up."

No one spoke for a moment, and then Sarle turned and as if he were
slightly amused, looked questionably at Edgehill.

"And what's your proposal, then?" he asked.

Edgehill nodded. "Oh! I'll do it," he said carelessly. He frowned. "But
I wish the park were nearer the river. There'll be a devil of a row when
his body's found." He looked round scornfully. "But I get all the dirty
work."

Sarle shook his head. "No, not all, Edgehill," he said quietly. "There
are three kills out against me, and both Jasper and Shillington have got
one." He smiled sarcastically. "Broome's the only maiden here."

Broome laughed. "I do my work in a different way," he said, "and there's
been no need for unpleasant episodes with me. I'm the scientific mind of
this firm." A note of resentment crept into his voice. "But don't you
forget, I've never shirked anything, and I've been in as much risk as
anyone here. And I'm not squeamish either. Didn't I offer to break in
and put cyanide of potassium in that whisky at Chelmsford, and didn't
I----"

"Oh! shut up, Broome," reproved Colonel Jasper, frowning. "Sarle's only
making fun of you, and you never can take a joke. You're most useful to
us, and you can be sure if you hadn't been," he smiled drily, and his
voice dropped into a drawl. "Friend Edgehill here would have been making
a date with you by the river, and you wouldn't be so full of burgundy as
you are now. Yes, yes," he went on irritably, "you're quite as big a
degenerate as any of us, only you're not quite as sane."

Broome subsided into silence as if quite satisfied, and then Sarle said
quietly--

"And now we'll discuss those two other matters we've got in hand."

For nearly two hours then they talked earnestly with their heads close
together. They consulted memoranda from a sheaf of papers that Sarle
produced from his pocket, and for a long time they poured over a large
ordinance map spread out upon the table. Then gradually the conversation
waned, the interjections grew fewer and finally Sarle got up and threw
nearly all the papers into the fire.

"Then that's that," he announced, as he vigorously broke up the ashes
with the poker, "and we've got everything cut and dried!" He resumed his
place at the table and looked intently at Dr. Shillington. "And now
about this butler of yours; what are we going to do?"

It was Edgehill who answered. He looked flushed, as if he had had plenty
to drink, and with very little provocation would become quarrelsome. He
took out his watch. "It's a quarter past one," he said rather thickly,
"and it's as good an hour as any in the twenty-four to do a job neatly.
The actions of the man are suspicions, and we cannot allow for any
risks. Therefore he must vanish." He waved an arm round dramatically.
"Exit butler No. 2. R.I.P."

Sarle frowned and shook his head. "Shillington's under a cloud already,"
he said sharply, "and we mustn't have the police here again--of all
places. Besides, when I consider it, although I admit I am uneasy, I
really don't see that we've got anything very definite against him. It
may have been only curiosity that made him watch us through his glasses,
and Shillington may be quite mistaken about the peculiar conduct of the
registry office man." He looked sternly at Edgehill. "Now, we don't want
to use a sledge-hammer on a fly."

"But, damn it all, Sarle," protested Edgehill, angrily. "Jasper's caught
him out already about the Dyce-Browns. He's here under false pretences
at any rate, and it wants looking into." He sneered. "You're getting
weak now, but I'm for instant action."

"Then get him in again, Shillington," said Sarle brusquely. "We'll make
up our minds this time."

In the meantime Larose had spent a very thoughtful two hours alone in
the kitchen. Every sense in him was acutely on the alert, for he was
sure evil was brewing under that very roof, and he had deduced it to his
own satisfaction in a very simple manner.

Shillington was a man of crime, and invariably birds of a feather flock
together. Shillington had four friends with him, and they had been
closeted uninterrupted in the dining-room for more than two hours. They
had been talking all the time in very low voices--Larose had crept to
the door twice and listened--and moreover they had hung something over
the keyhole so that no one should see through.

Therefore they had some very good reasons for secrecy, and secrecy was
the natural environment of crime. They were busy hatching something.

And Larose himself had not been altogether idle.

He had carefully examined all their overcoats and hats, and one very
significant thing had struck him. Every mark of identification
everywhere had been taken out. All the tags from every one of the coats
had been unstitched and torn away, and even the maker's names in the
hats had been removed.

He had turned out the pockets of the overcoats and in the right-hand
ones of those of Sarle and Edgehill he had noticed two similar things.
They both smelt slightly of oil, and on the linings there were faint
grease marks, also it was plain that the pockets sagged a little.
"Machine oil and pistols," had been his comment. "They've been carrying
automatics."

He was sitting before the fire and thinking of these things when
suddenly the bell pinged.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, getting up, "and I suppose that means they're going.
Now I expect they'll want another good stare at me." He frowned. "But
I'd like to know what's in their minds. They're thinking something, I'm
sure." He looked at the kettle simmering on the hob. "Well, I'll have a
cup of tea before I go to bed. I shall be back in a minute."

But he was mistaken. It was not destined that he should ever come back.

He knocked at the dining-room door and entered and instantly he sensed
rather than saw that all eyes were upon him. Edgehill was nearest, and
he was lolling back with his chair against the table, with his legs
sprawled out.

"Bring some more glasses," said Dr. Shillington curtly, "and the hot
water and lemons."

"Very good sir," replied Larose, and he turned to go out.

"Oh! one moment," continued Dr. Shillington, "you were in service with
Sir John Dyce-Brown, I understand?"

"Yes, sir," replied Larose, and his heart gave a great bound.

"Where were his horses trained then, do you remember?" frowned the
doctor.

The face of Larose was bland and open as a little child's. "No, sir," he
replied promptly. "I was not interested in racing Sir, and I didn't
hear." He regarded the doctor without the flicker of an eyelid. "I'm
sorry, Sir."

There was a short silence, a silence crowded for Larose with a hundred
lightning thoughts, and then--the avalanche swept upon him.

A fierce blow struck him behind both knees, his legs sank under him, and
he crashed backwards, as if he had been shot. His head impinged upon the
floor with a resounding thud.

"Seize his legs, quick," he heard someone shout, and a great weight
descended on his chest and his arms were pinioned to the ground.

A horrible nausea came upon him, everything for the moment was black
before his eyes, and the voices he heard were very far away. But he did
not lose consciousness, and soon, very soon, his brain began to function
in its normal way.

"Trapped!" was his first thought. "I've been trapped. I was ham-strung
by that beast Edgehill, just like a horse. They were too smart for me."

Then he heard Sarle say. "You dammed fool what have you done?"

"Damned fool, yourself," came the voice of Edgehill. "I tell you I felt
the beating of his heart against the table. It was going like a piston,
and I knew then he was a 'tec."

A violent tug came at his trousers, and there was a hoarse chuckle from
Edgehill. "Ha! a pistol. A Bayard automatic!" A note of triumph swelled
into his voice. "Now, who's the damned fool, Sarle, you or me?"

A minute later Larose opened his eyes weakly. He had been dragged away
from the table, and there were faces all about him. Edgehill was holding
him down, Colonel Jasper was elevating his legs up in the air, and
Sarle, with a grim smile, was tying his ankles with two table napkins
knotted together. Dr. Shillington was looking at him with hate, and
Broome was regarding him curiously as a rare sort of animal that had
just been caught. Then he was jerked violently to his feet and thrown
rather than lifted into an armchair.

"Make a sound," gritted Sarle, between his teeth, "and I'll wind you in
the stomach. So keep quiet, it will be best for you. Turn him over," he
went on, "we'll tie his wrists now behind his back. No, you don't," he
snapped, and he shook Larose violently. "He was making his muscles
taut," he explained to the others. "He's an old hand, sure enough. You
were right, Edgehill, for once."

And then Larose was turned round to face his adversaries, and Sarle drew
a chair up close to him and lit a cigarette.

"Plenty of time," he laughed suavely, "we've all the night before us."
His expression changed and a deadly note crept into his voice. "We're
going to get at the bottom of this." His hand shot out and he pointed
his finger at the bound man. "Now, who are you?"

Larose swallowed hard. He felt sick and giddy, and his head was singing
from the effects of the blow he had received, but his mind was quite
clear and he made no mistake at all to the peril he was in. At the dead
of night and with no help near he was now a prisoner in the hands of a
gang of crooks. He was completely at their mercy and they were of that
type of men, he knew, to whom murder would be a very small matter where
their safety was concerned.

His condition could not be more desperate, but hopeless though it
seemed, he told himself he would not lose hope. He had been in corners
quite as tight before, he remembered, and he had yet lived to see the
sun rise and to triumph over his enemies. He would grip the situation
and continue to play the game. He would admit nothing.

He blinked his eyes and looked round stupidly.

"Who are you?" reiterated Sarle savagely and he drew back a hand that
was clenched tightly.

Larose blinked harder man ever. "Frederick Mason, sir," he replied. "I'm
Fred Mason."

"You're a liar," returned Sarle, and his voice was low and menacing.

Larose looked very frightened. "Yes, sir," he replied as though he had
not understood. "My name's Fred Mason."

Sarle breathed hard as if he were restraining himself with an effort.

"What are you?" he asked.

"A butler, sir," Larose replied shakily. "Dr. Shillington's butler,
here."

Sarle snatched at the automatic that was lying on the table and held it
up.

"And you were carrying this gun!" he sneered. "A butler carrying a gun."

"Yes, sir," replied Larose, and his voice quavered. "It's mine."

"And what were you carrying it for then?" was the instant question.

Larose looked very apologetically at Dr. Shillington. "I had heard there
had been trouble here, sir," he replied hesitantly, "and I brought it
down to protect myself."

Sarle regarded him with steely eyes. "You're lying," he said slowly
between set teeth. "You're not a butler. You come from the police.
You're a spy."

Larose's lips quivered. "Dr. Shillington engaged me, sir," he said
tremblingly, "from the service bureau. I'm here for three weeks, I'm
only the butler and I don't know why you're doing this to me." His voice
choked. "It frightens me."

A scowl crossed into Sarle's face and he looked puzzled.

"How long have you been a butler?" he asked sharply.

"Sixteen years, sir," replied Larose.

"How old are you?"

"Forty-two, sir."

Broome interrupted suddenly. "That's not true," he said emphatically.
"He's much younger than that, you can tell by the skin on his neck. He's
not yet got a crease or a wrinkle there. I should say he's not yet
thirty."

Edgehill picked up a napkin and dashing some water upon it, rubbed it
roughly over Larose's face. Then he held it up for inspection.

"A butler!" he sneered. "And look at his makeup. Why, he's got no crows
feat now. He's ten years younger."

"Who sent you here?" asked Dr. Shillington sternly.

"Mr. Channing, sir," replied Larose, and his voice shook in earnest now.
He felt the ground was in truth slipping from under his feet.

"And you were butler at Dyce-Hall for five years, you say?" snorted the
doctor.

"Yes, sir," replied Larose.

Colonel Jasper thrust himself forward. "Leave this to me," he said
quickly. "I'll settle things in two minutes. Now, Mr. Mason," and his
voice was very suave and polite, "you were five years with Sir John, you
tell us?" He paused a moment until Larose had nodded "Yes."

"Well, what was he like?"

"Very tall, sir. He was Scotch and he had red hair."

"And he spoke with a Scotch accent?"

"With a very slight one, sir," replied Larose promptly, but for all his
promptitude he had not the remotest idea as to whether he was stating a
fact or not.

"And what is Dyce-Hall celebrated for?"

Larose looked puzzled. "It had very many beautiful things, sir," he
answered slowly. "It was a show place and----"

"I know that," interrupted Colonel Jasper irritably. "I have been there
myself. Now, no prevaricating. I asked you what it was specially
celebrated for? Come, come," for he saw Larose was hesitating, "what
does everyone notice directly they come into the hall?"

"Oh! the paintings, sir," hazarded Larose, believing that any answer
would be better than none.

Colonel Jasper turned round to the others.

"That settles it," he said quietly, "the man's never been near Dyce
Hall. Everyone knows that the marble staircase there is the most
beautiful one in England, and Sir John has no Scotch accent at all." He
looked back at Larose with no feelings of antagonism and smiled. "You're
an impostor, Mr. Mason. That's plain."

A moment of intense silence followed, and for Larose it was as if a
blast of icy air had entered the room. It was a chamber of death, and
they were only considering the method of execution. The end was very
near.

"Slit his gizzard!" exclaimed Edgehill coarsely. "He's fairly caught out
and we're wasting time."

"Shooting's a dainty death," said Colonel Jasper reflectively. "It's
nicer for everyone, and leaves no unpleasant memories behind."

"I vote for the hypodermic," said Broome, "and the way he dies will add
to our scientific knowledge, too."

Dr. Shillington made a motion with his head, and he and Sarle moved up
to the end of the room.

"He's got to go," said the doctor in a low tone, "but you can't do it
here. You must take him away. I can't have any more trouble in this
house."

"Of course not," agreed Sarle readily. "We'll finish him but we've got
to get his secret first." His eyes glinted with the cruelty of a devil.
"I'll make him speak. If he's from Scotland Yard we must get to know
exactly why he came here."

Dr. Shillington looked rather white. "Then it's serious if they're on my
trail."

"It's you they're after," said Sarle confidently. "It's about Jakes that
he's come here. They can have no idea of us. I'm not worrying."

"Then he must disappear," said Dr. Shillington emphatically. "I'll get
all his things together at once and you must take them away with him.
Then to-morrow I'll ring up the registry office and complain that he's
left without notice. Come up with me to his room now and help." He
sighed heavily. "I shall be glad when I'm in bed."

Sarle turned to Edgehill and Broome.

"You two go and get the car ready and don't make any noise. Push it down
the drive for fifty yards and don't start the engine until we come. You,
Jasper, look after that fool, and if he makes a sound, stun him. Don't
hesitate, hit him with the poker."

And so Colonel Jasper and Larose were left alone together, and the
latter sighed with relief that even for a few brief moments at least, he
was free from the malignant glances of Sarle. Sarle he judged rightly,
was the leader of the gang and he it would be, who later would be the
arbiter of his, Larose's, fate.

And Larose had no illusions at all as to what that fate would be. He
would be put to death after he had been tortured to disclose what he
knew. Then the black mud would be his winding sheet and the deeps of the
sea his tomb.

He looked round the room. It had a dissipated air as if it were all
suddenly turning from the decency and respectabilities of life. The
candles were guttering in their holders. There were cigar ends and
tobacco ashes spilt upon the table. The chairs were disarranged anyhow
and there was broken glass upon the floor, from a decanter that Edgehill
had knocked over when he had struck his lightning blow.

Larose sighed heavily, wondering exactly how the end would come, and
then looking round, he found that Colonel Jasper was regarding him
intently.

"Sorry, young fellow," drawled the colonel, and he smiled in quite a
friendly fashion. "I regret I had to bowl you out, but you're a danger
to us and in consequence you've got to go." He spoke in matter-of-fact
tones. "You came after Shillington, of course, but unluckily for you,
you extended your enquiries, and your meddling has involved you in
consequences you must now be prepared to face." He shook his head
reprovingly. "You made a grave error, my friend, in using your glasses
on the island, just as if we had not got glasses too. We were watching
the same as you were." He laughed. "Yes, that was a bad slip for a
detective from Scotland Yard, and it made us suspicious at once. Then
Edgehill took too much to drink and happened to score a bull's eye by
his brutality in knocking you down. We were intending only to keep a
fatherly eye on you until then for we were dubious about you--you were
acting so well." He shrugged his shoulders. "But, of course, you know
now what's going to happen, and as a brave man, which I can see you are,
it won't unduly distress you." He paused a moment and suppressed a yawn
with difficulty. "You're going to die."

There was along silence, and Larose regarded him with burning eyes. The
fate that he now heard was intended for him, was, after all, only the
fate he was expecting, but yet the announcement of it so baldly and in
such an offhand manner, struck a chord of dreadful horror in him, and
almost froze his blood to ice. He moistened his dry lips with his
tongue, and in spite of all his self-control, could not repress a
shudder. He knew too, that his cheeks were already blanching to the
sickly hue of death.

Colonel Jasper turned his eyes away from him, but in a moment began to
talk in a quiet, conversational manner.

"And you take my advice, young fellow, and just you don't give any
trouble. You're a beaten man and so just give in, and when Mr. Sarle
questions you, tell him all we want to know. It will be better for you
in every way, although, of course, it won't make the slightest
difference in the end." He looked back at Larose. "I mean you'll snuff
it just the same, but you'll die quietly, then. Just a prick of the
hypodermic and you'll drop off to sleep with your last thought perhaps
that you've got the 2,000 reward for the discovery of the Iron Man." He
dropped his voice warningly. "But if you're stubborn and won't speak,
then it'll be damned rotten for you, for Sarle has lived in the East and
there are ways that he knows of, of unloosening the tongue. I tell you,
Sarle's inhuman sometimes, and the cruellest beast I've ever met." He
looked pityingly at Larose. "Poor devil! I'm sorry for you. Have a
drink?"

Larose nodded. Thirst was assailing him now, and he felt rather faint.

"Whisky or brandy?" asked the Colonel.

"Brandy," replied Larose, and mixing a stiff dose, the Colonel brought
it over and held it up to his lips.

"Steady, don't gulp it," he said. "Ah! that's right. Feel better? Now
would you like a cigarette? No, no," he went on quickly, "I'd better not
do that. It might make Sarle vindictive. He can be very spiteful,
sometimes."

The door opened softly and Sarle and Dr. Shillington came in; the latter
was carrying Larose's suitcase.

"Look here, Jasper," laughed Sarle sardonically, "a nice innocent butler
this!" and he held up various articles for the Colonel's inspection. "A
bunch of skeleton keys, steel wires for opening locks, half a box of
pistol ammunition, and a little memorandum book in code, with entries
for every blessed day that he's been here." He glared evilly at Larose.
"It will be interesting when he tells us what these entries mean--" he
nodded his head slowly, "in about half an hour when we get him over at
our place."

"I'd better give him a fiftieth of hyosine," said Dr. Shillington
thoughtfully. "That will keep him quiet."

"No, no," exclaimed Sarle instantly. "I don't want him fuddled in any
way. I want him mentally alert and----" a devilish expression crossed
into his face, "as sensitive to pain as possible. We'll gag him before
we go out."

Dr. Shillington suddenly strode over to Larose and bending down, stared
hard into his face.

"Why! I believe," he gasped in astonishment, "I believe--no, damnation,
I'm sure. It's the man that came down with Carter and Stone the other
day. He's the other detective from Scotland Yard, and the one whom they
called 'Larose.' Jasper says he's an Australian." Dr. Shillington's eyes
blazed with fury, and he seized viciously at a handful of Larose's hair.
"Look he can alter the shape of his face."

Larose wilted under the pain and kicking violently at the doctor's shins
made him leave go, but the latter, livid with rage, swung up his fist
for revenge when Sarle leaped forward and pushed him violently back.

"No, he's not yours," he panted, and he could hardly get his breath. "If
he's Larose, he's mine. He got my brother hanged in Sydney, and the only
hands that hurt him shall be mine. But are you sure," he asked
anxiously, "are you sure this is the man they called Larose?"

"Perfectly," snarled Dr. Shillington. "I recognise him plainly now that
the lines are off his face."

Sarle sighed very gently, he was evidently holding himself in with a
great effort.

"This is wonderful," he said slowly, "he's come twelve thousand miles to
meet me, and now----" He narrowed his eyes gloatingly and wreathed his
features in the smile of a mocking devil. "I shall torture him until
life will seem the cruellest thing on earth and sudden death the highest
form of ecstasy." He snapped his teeth together, and clenching his fist
drew back his arm with slow deliberation.

But Colonel Jasper pulled him roughly to one side.

"Don't strike him here, you fool," he cried sharply. "If he calls out,
the maids may hear him and remember. Shillington's got to bear the brunt
of this to-morrow. All Scotland Yard will be here within two hours when
it's known this man is missing. Larose is not an ordinary policeman, and
they'll not take his disappearance kindly by any means."

"Then we'll gag him," snapped Sarle. "Get another napkin."

"But you'll do nothing here," persisted the colonel doggedly. "I won't
have it. Damn it all man, before you take your private vengeance, you've
got to consider the rest of us. We want you to find out what this fellow
knows, why he came down, and what they're suspecting at the yard. Don't
you forget we're all in it up to the neck, and it's not your private
affairs by a long chalk."

Sarle hesitated a moment. "All right," he said suddenly. "Have your own
way." He flashed a baleful glance at Larose. "My business will wait."

The door opened and Edgehill appeared. "All ready," he said. "We've
pushed the car down the drive."

Sarle inclined his head curtly towards Larose. "Gag him, Jasper," he
said, "and you and Edgehill bring him along. Nip his throat if he makes
a sound. He can walk with short steps if you hold his arms," and picking
up the suitcase and followed by Dr. Shillington, he very quietly left
the room.

Tying a large knot in the middle of a napkin, Colonel Jasper approached
Larose.

"Open your mouth," he said sharply, "and bite on this. Don't monkey
about, and I won't tie it too tightly." He adjusted the napkin to his
satisfaction. "Now, up you come, and mind--no tricks. We're not going to
carry you, and you won't stumble if you go slowly."

But apparently it was not as easy for Larose to walk as the colonel had
predicted, for the detective had not taken a dozen steps before he
slipped and fell heavily upon his back. Edgehill jerked him to his feet
with a curse.

"Damn you for a clumsy fool. Do that again when we're in the hall and
you'll have a kick that'll make you wince."

But Larose did not fall a second time, and gripped on either side the
journey was safely negotiated until they reached the hall door.

The night was almost pitch dark, and his guards stood still for a moment
to get their bearings.

"There's the car," said Edgehill at last, and he began to tug Larose
roughly forward.

"No, I think we'll carry him now," said the colonel. "We don't want any
shuffle marks on the gravel to be seen when it gets light." His voice
was hoarse in his earnestness. "No, by gosh, we don't. We shall have
some of the sharpest eyes in England round this place within twenty-four
hours."

"But Shillington needn't say anything," growled Edgehill. "Let those who
are interested in the brute find out."

"Oh! that won't do," replied the colonel emphatically. "Shillington must
ring up the registry office people at once, for it'll look suspicious if
he doesn't. He must get in first. Come on, you take his shoulders, and
I'll have his legs. You're stronger than I."

And so Larose was carried to the car and bundled down roughly on to the
floor at the back.

"Yes, I'll ring up," he heard Dr. Shillington say, "and complain of the
way I've been treated. I'll say he got intoxicated last night and was
insolent when I reproved him. Then I'll tell them he stole the key of
the gates--I'll leave it in the lock after I've shown you out--and
decamped with all his things before anyone was up."

"That'll do," replied Colonel Jasper; "but be sure you make a great
fuss. Curse them like hell for sending such a chap down; tell them they
ought to have known better."

They all got into the car with Sarle at the wheel, but it was some
minutes before the car would start. The self-starter was ineffective,
and finally Edgehill had to get out and swing the handle.

"Damn," swore Sarle, "there's water in the carburetter and we're making
enough noise to wake the whole asylum."

They got away at last, and after Dr. Shillington had seen them through
the lodge gates, the car crept slowly along the marsh road. A mist had
risen, and they had to proceed carefully.

Larose's head was just by Colonel Jasper's feet, and the latter, bending
down at a moment when the others were talking loudly, whispered to the
detective.

"Now, you do as I tell you, and answer every question that we ask you,
then if Sarle is making you suffer too much, I'll pistol you, I promise
you." He patted Larose on the cheek. "I won't see you badly tortured."

But with Larose there was no certainty at all that he was going to be
tortured, for he was very hopeful that he had not as yet, by any means,
exhausted all the possibilities of the situation.

He was wondering, in which pocket Edgehill had got the little automatic,
and he was gently slashing at the napkin round his wrists with the piece
of broken decanter that he had picked up when he had deliberately thrown
himself down upon the dining-room floor.




CHAPTER IX.--THE RESOURCE OF LAROSE.


It was little more than a mile from the asylum gates to the bank of the
river, but their progress was slow, for Sarle was obliged to drive most
carefully. The road was narrow, and the surface so slippery, that even a
slight skid might have landed them instantly axle-deep into the soft
marshlands over the side.

No one spoke for a minute or two, all of them being apparently engrossed
in peering ahead for the incidence of some possible mishap. A slight
rain was falling, and it was very dark inside the car.

Then suddenly Broome, who, along with Colonel Jasper, was occupying the
back seat, flashed his torch upon the prostrate figure of the detective
on the floor of the car.

"What's up?" asked the colonel sharply when the scrutiny had persisted
for quite an appreciable number of seconds.

"Oh! nothing particular," replied Broome carelessly. "But I was only
just wondering whether his shoes would fit me. They look in good
condition, and the stitching's come undone in one of mine."

"And what about his trousers?" sneered the colonel. "Why not take them,
too?"

"They'd be much too short," said Broome, appearing to take his
companion's remark quite seriously, "and I don't fancy them, either.
It's funny," he went on meditatively. "If he were a real butler now, the
very idea of his shoes would be quite unthinkable, but with a detective,
I shall have no compunction. Something of the idea of the spoils of war,
I suppose."

The colonel made no comment, but bending down over Larose untied the
napkin about his mouth. "You can shout as much as you like now, young
shaver," he remarked, and he tossed the napkin over to Broome. "And
here's another thing you can have, Broome," he sneered. "It'll do for a
pocket handkerchief."

They reached the river bank at last. It was just after high tide, and
the swollen waters were rushing back towards the sea. Edgehill got out
to open the doors of the shed.

"Damn!" swore Sarle, "the engine's stalled. We'll push the car in, and
take off the carburetter to-morrow. I'm not going to be bothered with
any more trying to start the engine now at this time of night." He
turned to Colonel Jasper. "Get the boat ready and take that brute down
with you. He'll never undo those knots I tied, but still, don't let him
out of your sight for a second. He's got the reputation of being a
monkey for his tricks. So look out."

The colonel and Broome pulled Larose out of the car, and the former was
for making him walk the few intervening yards between them and the boat.

"No," protested Broome quickly; "let's carry him. It's no good getting
those shoes muddy. They're indoor ones, remember."

Colonel Jasper snorted, but with no remark, picked up Larose's legs
while Broome took the weight of the shoulders.

The detective was bumped roughly into the bottom of a boat that was
drawn up out of reach of the water. It was a large, roomy boat, built
for sea work, obviously. Its sides were high and it smelt strongly of
fish.

"We'll push it down," said Colonel Jasper, "and get out the oars. Then
it'll be all ready and Sarle will have nothing to work himself into a
temper about. He's just crazy to get his hands on this chap. You shall
row across."

They pushed the boat into the water and Broome got in ready, whilst the
Colonel stood holding the painter. The water was running strongly and
the latter twisted the rope round a mooring post.

"Hell," he exclaimed, "but the old river's high to-night. I shouldn't
like to have to swim across."

And then suddenly they heard Edgehill shout. "I say, one of you chaps
come up and help. We can't get the car out of the mud."

"You go, Broome," said the Colonel, "I'm not feeling too good. Late
hours don't suit me and I'm fagged out." He grinned. "I won't pinch his
shoes."

Without a word then Broome got out of the boat and walked leisurely up
in the direction of the car with the Colonel watching him with an amused
smile. Up to now Larose had been lying quite still at the bottom of the
boat. He had got his hands free at last, at the price of one slightly
cut wrist, but he had been hesitating about any attack upon the napkin
that bound his ankles because of Broome's torch and the fear that it
might be flashed again.

But now with Broome out of the way, he sat up instantly and began to
slash feverishly at the napkins, to realise, however, that his piece of
glass was an altogether ineffective instrument now. He had broken the
edges and it was too blunt to be of any service at all. He drew in a
deep breath of disappointment. It was no good, he was quite certain, to
attempt tackling the knots in the dark. They were true sailor knots, as
he had seen when they were being tied, and would take much longer to
undo than the short time that he was sure would be allowed him.

His thoughts coursed like lightning through him.

He reckoned that he had at most about three minutes to act before they
would have got the car shut up in the shed and be down themselves by the
boat. He must throw himself into the river, of course, and if he could
not unshackle his legs, then he must risk it and take to the water as he
was.

Ah! But he couldn't expect to get into the riven even, without the
Colonel seeing him and the alarm being given. The Colonel was barely
twelve feet away and with his face turned sideways as it was, any
movement above the boat level would draw his eyes round at once. Yes,
he, Larose, would have time to jump in the river right enough, but
then--what would happen?

They would all come rushing down and there could be but one end to his
venture.

They would know for certain the only possible direction in which he
could have gone, for no one could swim upstream against that current,
running as it was now. They would be sure then that he must be escaping
down the river.

So, instantly they would put out in the boat to follow after him, and in
that narrow stream, with Broome's electric torch, and with his own
pistol in the possession of Edgehill, what possible chance had he of
escaping discovery, and at best, a sudden death?

There seemed to be no hope at all for him, he thought, but then all at
once his heart began to beat furiously, as another idea swept like an
avalanche into his mind. Whatever they might do, they should not follow
him in the boat, at any rate.

Very softly he groped for the oars. He passed his hand along and gripped
one in the middle, then crouching down he lifted it just above the side
of the boat, and dropped it gently over into the river. It fell with a
sound that was hardly perceptible above the gurgling of the water. Then
he did the same with the other.

Then with his burning eyes fixed intently upon the silent figure by the
mooring-post, he began feeling for the plug that he knew such a boat as
he was in would have. He found it at once, where he expected it, and
with a vigorous twist it came out into his hand. Instantly the water
began rushing in, and he shuddered to feel how chilly it was. He whipped
off his coat, and with his heart beating more fiercely than ever, was
about to rise to his feet and plunge into the river when yet another
thought struck him.

No, he would still do nothing for a few moments. He saw that they had
now got the car on the move, and he would wait, if possible, until it
was safely garaged in the shed. He remembered the searchlight and the
fierce beam it had thrown the other night. It would pick him out easier
than a hundred torches when he was floating down the liver, but if the
car were in the shed, then they would not be able to turn it on in time
to be of any use.

He waited one minute--two--and the boat was now settling down so quickly
in the water that in another sixty seconds almost, he reckoned, he would
be able to slip over without being seen. Then suddenly Colonel Jasper
turned his head. Perhaps it might have been that he just looked round
casually to see how the prisoner was getting on, or, perhaps, it came to
him that there was no pull now on the rope round the mooring-post, and
sub-consciously he was wondering why. At any rate, he looked round, and
he was galvanised into action at once.

"Quick, quick!" he shouted, "the boat's sinking," and he sprang forward
to make sure of Larose.

But he was just two seconds too late, for Larose, retaining his presence
of mind, and intending to give the impression that he was still held
fast by his bonds, with his hands clasped tight behind him, had rolled
over the boat-side into the river. The icy waters closed over him
without a sound, and with all the air expelled from his lungs he sank
like a stone.

"Quick, quick!" shouted Colonel Jasper again. "He's got away. He's
thrown himself into the river."

Instantly there were loud answering shouts from the direction of the
shed, and the others came tearing down.

"Hell!" shouted Edgehill. "Give me the torch, quick. Quick, you damned
fool," and he snatched it from Broome. He flashed it all round the
fast-filling boat, and then down upon the river.

But there was no sign of Larose anywhere. Only the black, sullen waters
and the oily banks of mud.

"Follow him down," roared Sarle, and his voice was hoarse with fury. "He
must come up in a moment, and we'll see him then."

Larose held his breath until he felt that his chest was almost at the
bursting point, and then he rose gently to the surface. He found that he
was close to the bank on the marsh-side, and he heard shouting and
hoarse voices behind him. He dived again instantly, to make diagonally
now across the river, and, as before, remained under as long as he
could. When he came up this second time he was well under the island
bank, and he saw dim figures running along the marsh, led by one who was
flashing the torch. To his delight they had passed him, and were now a
good fifty yards lower down the river.

He was chilled to the bone, and a feeling of faintness was coming over
him, but with a great effort he pulled himself on to the bank, and
tottering a few yards, dropped down exhausted upon the grass.

Then suddenly he heard a shout of triumph, and then the sound of rapid
firing. Six shots he counted and then came loud excited voices.

"It's my coat they've shot," he grinned weakly, "and of course they're
thinking I'm inside it." He closed his eyes again for a few seconds, but
then sat up shakily and drew in a deep breath.

"Come, come, Gilbert," he murmured, "this won't do. You must make a move
quickly, or you'll catch your death of cold. Besides, they may be back
any minute now, and if they happen to flash their torch this way, they
may catch sight of you yet." He sighed heavily. "Now for these darned
napkins. They'll be the deuce of a job to untie with my frozen fingers."

But to his surprise the knots came undone quite easily. The soaked linen
was soft, and yielding, and in a minute he was standing up, freed from
his bonds.

"Now for a quick run," he told himself, and at first, very falteringly,
but with increasing strength every moment as the blood began to
circulate more strongly, he ran in the direction of where he knew the
island house must lie.

It seemed to him quite a matter of course that he should make for this
house, for with his enemies, at any rate for the moment, out of action,
all its contents would be at his disposal, and he would be able to get a
change of dry clothes straight away.

He had a great horror of catching cold, and, indeed, he feared pneumonia
far more than he did any automatic pistol. Even when he had been many
feet down in the muddy water of the river, he had been speculating as to
where later, if he escaped, he should be getting dry clothes, and as he
ran now his chief thought was as to whose spare garments, Sarle's or
Colonel Jasper's, would fit him the better. The idea of either
Edgehill's or Broome's he had dismissed at once. The former was too
stout, and the latter too tall.

And then suddenly he burst into a hearty laugh. How completely were the
tables turned, and how surely now was he holding them all in the hollow
of his hand.

And yet--on the surface how dreadful everything seemed for him.

He was on a lonely island in the dead of night. A bitter wind was
blowing, and he was hatless and coatless, with soaking garments clinging
to him and with the water squelching in his shoes at every stride. He
was slimed all over in black mud from head to foot. He was surrounded by
enemies, and he had no weapon, and his fingers were so frozen that he
could not possibly have made use of one if it had been there. There was
no help near; he had no friends, and any salvation that would come to
him he must work out for himself.

Ah! but there was the other side of the picture, and how different it
was to look upon.

He was close near a nice comfortable house, and big warm fire. There was
no one in the house but a deaf old woman, and she would certainly have
been in bed and fast asleep, hours ago. The house had a massive
iron-studded door, but he was not expecting that it would be locked, for
its occupants, from the lonely nature of their surroundings, were living
in fancied security, as he had already seen by the flimsy nature of the
fastenings upon their windows. Well, he would creep into that house, he
would shoot the heavy bolts upon that door, and he would take off his
awful garments before that big, warm fire. He would be quite safe for a
little, for that very water that had soaked him and that very mud that
had slimed him, now stretched like an inviolate girdle between him and
those who wished him ill.

Well, he would warm himself deliciously; he would mix himself a stiff
brandy and soda, and then he would creep round into the bedrooms and
find come nice warm clothes somewhere.

Yes, and he would arm himself, too. He would no longer be without a
means of defence. There would be pistols there in plenty,
one--two--three--he was sure. And he would take them all, and he would
see that they were loaded, and then--then he would unbolt that massive
door and in the shadows of the room await the coming of his enemies.

When the river had gone down, in two hours, perhaps three, in the
ghostly light of the grey dawn his enemies would walk into an ambush,
and his only regret would be that he would not be able to let them
linger in their horrible surprise.

He reached the house, and for a few moments stood outside, squeezing as
much of the water as he could out of his clothes. It was in his mind
that there should be as few indications as possible that any stranger
had crossed the threshold. He looked back over the river, and saw that
the flashlight was now bobbing up and down almost opposite to where he
now stood. His pursuers were evidently now returning to the jettisoned
boat.

He gently turned the handle of the door, and as he expected the door
yielded to his hand.

Pushing it open only just sufficiently to admit of his body squeezing
in, he passed inside and pulled it to behind him.

He found himself in a small porch with another door opening from it into
the house. There was a streak of light showing underneath this door.

The front door boasted two massive bolts which, however, from their
appearance, looked as if they had not been used for many years, and an
enormous key in a big lock. He turned the key with some difficulty.

"Now, at any rate, I'm safe for the moment," he muttered, "and they
won't come upon me unawares. In this charming little drama we are
playing, it will be for me to speak next. Now what's behind this other
door?" and with a quickly beating heart he turned the handle. The door
opened outwards, and pulling it towards him he was faced by a large
curtain. He stealthily pulled the curtain aside, to find that the room
was untenanted.

He smiled to himself. There was the bright fire that he had anticipated,
and there was the spirit tantalus upon the table.

In a few seconds he had stripped off his soaking garments, and was
luxuriously bringing back the warmth to his frozen body. It had
evidently been washing day in the house, for in one corner of the room
there was a big clothes horse and upon it, amongst other things, was
hanging a large bath towel.

"Excellent," he exclaimed gleefully, "they might almost have been aware
that I should come," and he began to rub himself down vigorously,
looking round intently at the same time upon everything in the room.

Now that he came to take it in fully and his attention was not
distracted by anybody in it, he saw that in spite of its large size it
was essentially a cosy room. All draughts everywhere were excluded by
thick curtains, and the stained wood flooring was covered generously
with thick rugs. In addition to a large sofa, there were half a dozen
big armchairs, and the whole appearance of the place was one of solid
comfort rather than of show.

He dried himself quickly, and after the stiff brandy and soda that he
had promised himself, he thought it time that he should begin to look
about for some clothes.

"I mustn't underrate them again," he frowned, "and it's quite likely
they may raise the boat and then one of them swim over and get another
pair of oars. They are sure to have spares in the boathouse, and
there'll be a dinghy, too, belonging to the motor launch. No, I mustn't
underrate them. They may turn up at any moment, now."

He wrapped the bath towel round him and, picking up one of three
electric torches that he saw upon the mantelshelf, he tiptoed to the
other curtain on the far side of the room and pulled it to one side.

A long, dark passage stretched before him, with many rooms opening out
on either side.

"Now I wonder which is Sarle's bedroom," he whispered, "and where the
old woman sleeps."

He crept down the passages. Some of the doors were ajar, but he dared
not use his torch, so after a few yards he stood still, listening, and
then--he smiled. He had heard the unmistakeable sound of a snore.

"Now I'm all right," was his comment. "I know where she sleeps," and he
quickly pushed open the first door, opposite to him, and flashed his
light.

It was quite a well-furnished bedroom that met his eye. A good carpet,
dainty modern furniture, and pictures on the wall. A shining brass
bedstead, a big roll-top desk, and a wardrobe of capacious size. Nothing
of the hermit-bachelor type about it, it was as comfortable a bedroom as
any man could wish.

There was a row of bottles on a shelf and a large box of cough lozenges
on a table before the window.

"Jasper's," exclaimed Larose gleefully, "and his clothes will just about
fit me," he pulled open the wardrobe door, "and there are tons of them
here to choose from, too."

A thought struck him. "But I must have a pistol first!" he frowned. "I'm
like a rat in a trap until I get that."

He tried the desk, but it was locked, and then the chest of drawers, but
he had no luck, and at once he became anxious.

"I'll find Edgehill's room," he muttered. "He'll be more careless,
perhaps," and he darted into the passage.

But the next room, equally as well furnished, was undoubtedly Sarle's.
The clothes there belonged to a man whose figure was slim, there was a
plug of tobacco upon the table, a sextant and a telescope upon the chest
of drawers, and two pictures of ships up on the wall.

"My sailor-man," he ejaculated, smiling, "and the leader of the gang,
the Iron Man."

There was a desk here, as in the other room, before the window, but it
was open, and he began to pull feverishly at the drawers. The first
contained only papers, but with the opening of the second, his heart
leaped. There were more papers, but right on top of them was lying an
automatic. He snatched it up thankfully. It was loaded.

"Now, for the spare ammunition!" he whispered. "It isn't likely to be
far away."

But it was not anywhere in that drawer nor in the next, but in the
lowest one, the largest, he was amply rewarded, for, in addition to the
ammunition he was looking for, he found to his astonishment a perfect
armory of lethal weapons. Three brand new automatics in their cardboard
boxes, three others that evidently had seen service, and a large cavalry
revolver.

"Whew!" he whistled, "and I suppose he doles them out to the gang when
they're going into action, and perhaps he takes on extra hands, like a
contractor, when he's got a big job on." He frowned thoughtfully. "Now
what the devil am I going to do?" He began to shiver. "But I'll think
when I'm dressing. I'm getting cold."

He darted back into Colonel Jasper's room and was quickly selecting some
clothes. The colonel was evidently most extravagant in his habits, and
there was a wide profusion of garments at his choice. "He's got more
than he can keep count of," was Larose's comment, "and he'll not notice
if any of them are missing. Now for the shoes, and here, I think----" he
smiled grimly. "I'll call on friend Broome for a pair. It seems we take
about the same size."

He picked out Broome's room without difficulty, for an indoor shoe with
an unstitched seam was one of a pair by the bed that immediately caught
his eye. He quickly found what he thought would suit him and then
grinned to himself. "He'll miss these, of course, but then he appears to
be so darned untidy that he'll probably think he's mislaid them
somewhere." He looked round the room. "Oh! but I'd like to have half an
hour here. Chemicals, fuses, and books on explosives! Then he's the bank
expert of the firm. I was wondering what use they could have for him.
He's quite a different type of criminal to the others."

He was back in the big living-room the next minute and then he paused
and frowned.

"But what am I to do?" he asked himself. "I've got to make an instant
decision now, and what's it going to be? I can get away without
difficulty and bring the Yard down upon them like a pack of wolves, I
know that. But what's going to happen then? What's going to be the
charge we have against them. They seized me and meant murder, but
where's the proof? My bare word against theirs, and even then, what
could we do?" He screwed his eyes up in perplexity. "And if we make a
search here what shall we find? Pistols and ammunition, but their
possession doesn't constitute a crime. And what else? Nothing that will
actually incriminate them, I'm sure, or they wouldn't be leaving this
place open like they do. No, any booty that they may have taken will
have been parted with to the fences at once, quick and lively. It's not
likely to be hidden here. And then the men themselves? It's all
supposition as yet on my part when I say they've got a history, and when
we do find out exactly who they are, we may be no better off. Sarle may
certainly turn out to be an old lag--he looks it more than any of the
others, but then he may have served his time, and as far as the law's
concerned, may have entirely purged the offence. Jasper may be a swell
mobsman, but there may be no charge now hanging over him, and the same
with Edgehill and Broome as well. They may be all suspect, all known bad
characters--but I can hardly think that of Broome--and that is simply
why they are lying hid. That may be the sole reason for their living in
this lonely place. Each of them, singly, they may be arguing, will not
be unduly interesting to the authorities, but once it is known that they
are all together, then they are perhaps afraid that suspicion may be
aroused at once that they have some job on."

Larose shook his head, and a stern look came into his eyes.

"No, no, it's not the time to strike now. This is a house of evil, and
we must uncover its guilty secret for the world. I must not ring down
the curtain upon this little drama, yet. The play has only just begun.
I'll watch them and see what they are at, so I'll stay and live with
them for a little while. I'll be their star boarder, unbeknown." He
rubbed his hands gleefully together. "And I could not surely be going to
be taken into the family under more agreeable conditions. No references
demanded, no payment in advance, and no suggestion that my luggage is
inadequate in any way."

A clock upon the mantel-shelf struck two, and the amusement died
instantly from his face.

"Ah! but I must be quick, and run to earth now." He glanced round the
room. "Yes, I'll have to sleep here to-night at whatever risk. I can't
go out into the cold again. Behind that sofa will do for me. It'll be
nice and warm, and it's in the shadows, too. They'll never dream of
looking anywhere. They'll come home like bears with sore heads, and
after more drink, they'll tumble into bed. I know them and their kind."

He took off his shoes again. "But I must see first if I can get upstairs
without having to go outside. It will simplify matters a lot if I can
manage it."

He ran into the passage and up the staircase, but found, to his
disappointment, that the stout door at the top was locked, and there was
no sign of any key.

"Ah!" he sighed, "but if only I had time! The key is probably somewhere
quite handy, if only I knew where. And that door will be always a menace
to me while they've got the key. I shall think of them creeping upon me
when I'm asleep."

Three minutes later he had completed all his preparations for the
remainder of the night.

He had made a bundle of the wet things he had taken off, and tucked them
behind the sofa. He had taken a large blanket, one of many that were
there, from a big linen cupboard, and a pillow from one of the several
beds in what was obviously the spare room.

He had annexed one of the automatics in the cardboard boxes, leaving,
however, the box still there to retard any discovery of the loss. He had
helped himself also to a spare fifty rounds of ammunition and loaded the
pistol. Then he had gone back everywhere and as far as possible had
removed all traces of his having touched anything. Finally he had taken
a couple of Colonel Jasper's aniseed cough lozenges to ease his throat,
that he now imagined was beginning to feel sore. Then he unlocked the
front door again and prepared to ensconse himself snugly down behind the
sofa.

He paused for one moment, however, when passing before the fire,
reluctant to withdraw even a short distance away from its genial warmth,
and then suddenly--his hair stood up on end and his heart almost stopped
beating.

He heard a sound coming from somewhere in the passage. It was a slow,
shuffling sound, just behind the curtain, and he acted like lightning.

There was not time to gain his hiding-place behind the sofa, and so he
slid down into a high-backed armchair that was close near him. He
whipped out his automatic and, in a crouching position with hard,
staring eyes, peered out round the chair towards the far end of the
room.

The oil lamp hanging from the ceiling was turned very low, and it was
the firelight mainly that lit up the room. There were shadows
everywhere.

He heard the sound again, and slowly, very slowly then, a gnarled hand
came round the curtain and pulled it aside. A bent old woman came
limping into the room. She was attired in a faded old dressing gown and
her head was wrapped round in a big shawl. Her eyes were screwed up
tightly, and she walked falteringly as if she were not very sure of her
steps.

"Old Mother Heggarty," whispered Larose, and he slipped the automatic at
once back into his pocket.

The old woman walked unsteadily to the mantelshelf and peered closely
into the face of the clock. Then she picked up a lump of coal and
dropped it on the fire.

"It's cold, it's cold," she crooned, "but I'm always cold now."

She suddenly lifted up her head and sniffed, then she took a step
forward and bent down over the chair that was sheltering the huddled-up
Larose.

"You're late, Master Alan," she muttered thickly. "Better be in bed,
like me." She began to shuffle away slowly, "I'm always tired."

"Whew!" murmured Larose. "She smelt the cough lozenge." He sighed
heavily. "Really, I'm making a lot of mistakes."

Waiting only just until the old woman had disappeared behind the
curtain, the detective sprang up and crossed over to his improvised bed
behind the sofa.

"But no more chances, Gilbert," he frowned. "You're up to the neck in
trouble as it is." He pulled the blanket round him and closed his eyes.
"And I'll have just a little sleep now until my family come home."

And then silence fell upon the house, the long lonely house in its evil
setting of rain, darkness, and the moaning sea.

Larose slept for about half an hour, a quiet, refreshing sleep, made all
the sweeter by his last waking memory of the uncomfortable conditions
outside.

Then he awoke with a start. He had heard voices in the distance, and
instantly he was on the alert. From his position under the sofa he could
command a good view of the greater part of the room.

The front door was opened noisily, and the four men tramped in.

"Damnation!" swore Edgehill. "Shut that door quick, Broome, and don't
let the draught in. You're looney again to-night and quite off your
nut."

They took off their dripping overcoats and flung them anywhere. Then the
lamp was turned up and they all helped themselves to a drink. After that
they sat down and pulled their chairs up to the fire. Three of them at
any rate, were in a vile temper, and they each showed it in a different
way.

Sarle was ghastly pale and his lips were compressed tightly. Edgehill
was scowling sullenly, and Colonel Jasper was flushed and with a
sneering devil-may-care expression on his face. It was only Broome who
looked quite imperturbable, and it was he who spoke first.

"I say, Jasper," he said, "that old woman of yours has been
appropriating your cough lozenges. Aniseed has at all times a very
overpowering smell and it is obtained from an annual plant whose
leaves----"

"Oh! shut up!" burst out Sarle angrily. "You go to bed, Broome. It's
nearly three o'clock, and we've got something important to talk over. If
we don't look out, you'll be in Dartmoor within a month."

"Climate salubrious in summer," commented Broome, "but too unpleasantly
rigorous in winter. I've seen the prison there," and then as if Sarle's
words had accidentally reminded him that bed was a desirable place at
that time of the night, he sauntered carelessly from the room.

There was silence for a few moments, and then Sarle, speaking obviously
with a great effort at restraint, said slowly:--

"Well, what are we going to do? In my opinion, the position's serious."

Edgehill had gulped down his second whisky and seemed now in a slightly
more cheerful frame of mind.

"It's no good us grousing," he said judicially. "The thing's done, and
we've got to make the best of it. We're all to blame a bit. I ought to
have given Jasper the pistol. He ought never to have taken his eyes off
the bird, and you oughtn't to have frightened the beggar so, that he
preferred suicide to the torture you were promising him." He shook his
head emphatically. "But he's dead now, so what does it matter?"

"But can we be sure that he's dead," sneered Sarle, "You've told us that
several times, but----" he looked thoughtfully into the fire, "you've
not convinced me."

"But I tell you again," ejaculated Edgehill irritably. "I saw his legs
jerk up as he went down, and I distinctly saw then those damned cloths
that you'd tied round his legs." He turned back in his chair. "And
didn't you, Jasper, too?"

"Yes," replied the colonel wearily, and as if he were tired of
discussing it, "you hit him twice, and by now he's well out to sea."

"And, good Lord!" protested Edgehill, turning back again to Sarle, "you
know what I can do with a pistol, and do you think that I could possibly
have missed? Why, man, it wasn't an inch above ten yards."

The angry face of Sarle relaxed and he looked more amiable.

"Well, we'll leave it at that," he said. "Perhaps you may be right." He
turned to Colonel Jasper. "Sorry, Jasper," he went on, "but you can
understand why I was riled. I've never been more disappointed in all my
life."

"You've got a rasp of a tongue, Sarle," replied the colonel coldly, "and
there's nothing of the gentleman about you when you're in a rage." He
looked contemptuously at him. "So, in future, please, when I offend you,
I shall esteem it a favor if you do not apply the adjective diseased to
me. All the other things you mentioned, I may quite possibly be. I don't
complain there, but my state of health," he yawned wearily, "is a
private matter for me alone, and does not add to the force of your
arguments in any way."

"All right," said Sarle tersely. "I repeat, I'm sorry." He smiled again.
"I can't afford to quarrel with you. We shall both be hanged together
one day. But now," he went on sternly, "this business to-night is, as I
say, serious, and we must change all our plans."

"We shall have to lie low," said Colonel Jasper carelessly, "at any rate
for a while."

"Yes," added Sarle quickly, "and it'll be a miracle almost if we're not
dragged in now." He shook his head frowningly. "As you said, Jasper, the
Yard won't take this lying down, and directly it is known that Larose
has disappeared, they'll spread their net far wider than Shillington and
his damned asylum."

"Shillington bungled," growled Edgehill, "and he's let us in for all
this."

"Yes, he bungled right enough," agreed Sarle, "but we don't know where,
and I'm sure they can have no suspicion at present of Shillington
himself. They only sent their crack man down to the Court because the
butler was killed in this marked area of Essex. Then, something
Shillington or the servants said or from something Shillington had done
which he hasn't mentioned to us, their suspicions were aroused that the
man's death was a local affair, and so they straightaway planted Larose
in the house to find out. What I mean is that up to now they can have no
suspicion of either Shillington or us, and so----"

"But Larose had suspicions," interrupted Edgehill, "or what made him
come spying here?"

"But we can wipe Larose out now," replied Sarle irritably, "if he's dead
as you say, and bother ourselves about him no longer. Whatever
suspicions he had, died with him, and what I'm trying to weigh up now
is, how shall we stand at nine o'clock this morning when Scotland Yard
learns that Larose has disappeared. How shall we be affected?"

"They'll be down within two hours," said Colonel Jasper calmly. "They
won't lose a minute, for they'll know perfectly well what the
disappearance means." He spoke with no trace of emotion. "They'll know
he's dead."

"So I think," said Sarle gloomily, "although they won't dare to say so.
Until they find out something more, they won't show down a card."

"Then they'll cross-examine Shillington," went on the colonel as if
Sarle had not spoken, "pretty severely, and then they'll come over to
us. Ostensibly their visit will be quite friendly and they'll make out
perhaps that they only just want us to corroborate what Shillington
said, but in reality--their coming will mean that they intend to find
out what sort of people we are."

"And we shall have to see them," said Sarle, frowning.

"I shall," corrected Colonel Jasper "as the owner of the place. But you
and Edgehill can be away to-morrow. Edgehill's got to go into Colchester
anyhow, and he'd better leave here early before they arrive. You can go
fishing, and Broome--" he smiled drily "well, Broome doesn't matter."

"But you're dangerous, too," said Sarle thoughtfully. "They may remember
your name."

"Hardly likely to," replied Colonel Jasper, and then he added
carelessly, "You see, a so-called 'Society Card Scandal' does not
particularly interest the police. It was a private matter entirely."

"But there were other things, too," frowned Sarle. "You forget them."

"No, I don't," said the colonel sharply, "but I was never charged there,
and I am not even aware that the police were ever approached. So that,
at any rate----"

"Oh! That's enough, Jasper," broke in Edgehill impatiently. "You'll
bluff them all right if they come, I'm not afraid of that, but what I
don't like is the prospect of the increased reward that the damned
police will be offering now one of their own number is scragged. They're
bound to believe Larose tumbled up against something, and be certain
that these two last deaths in Essex, and the disappearance of
Shillington's damned candlesticks, are all the work of the Iron Man. So
they'll offer something big now, and I'm not sure we're safe." He looked
significantly at Sarle. "Duke's not our only danger now."

Sarle nodded. "I was coming to that," he said, grimly, "and I tell you
straight, I'm out for a clean sweep." He paused for a moment.
"Isaacstein must go."

"And Tilley and his wife," added Edgehill, with emphasis, "and that man
who did our car."

"And the doctor in Epping who dressed my cuts," went on Sarle calmly.
"He saw the tattoo marks on my wrists, and I've been uneasy about him
ever since."

Colonel Jasper gave a low chuckling laugh.

"You devils!" he exclaimed. "But you're losing your heads now, and
wanting to strike everywhere in a panic."

"No, we're not," said Sarle angrily, "but we recognise, as you
apparently don't, that now the danger's real." He raised his hand in
emphasis. "For the first time in all that we have done, to-day we shall
be at grips with the police. We shall be in actual contact with them,
and although they can't realise how near they are, yet the slightest
slip on our part and their eyes will be opened with a vengeance."

"All right, all right," said the colonel, "have your own way," and then
he added flippantly. "Let 'em all die, I say."

"I shan't go fishing to-morrow," said Sarle sharply. "I shall go up and
deal with the Jew myself." He turned frowningly to Edgehill. "What have
you done with my sharpening hone?"

"It's back in your drawer," replied Edgehill, "and I put it there, days
ago."

"But the best fence in London," exclaimed the colonel, lifting his
hands, "and we've always found him so reliable."

"He'll sell us though," said Sarle, gritting his teeth, "if he gets the
chance, and the price is good enough. I'm sure of it, and an instinct
tells me, too, that he knows more about us than we think." He scowled,
"Yes, he was curious about me last time I went to him. Too curious for
my liking, in several ways, and he turned his eyes down when he asked me
if I lived by the sea. I'd got my old fishing jacket on. Also, as I've
told you before, I'm not certain I didn't hear a camera click somewhere
when I was in his room. He'd have got my finger prints too, if I hadn't
wiped round the glass I'd been drinking from. He was annoyed and showed
it. Yes, he must go."

"But you'll be running a damned risk," said Colonel Jasper warningly.
"His line of business will keep him always on his guard."

"But he won't be on his guard with me," said Sarle sharply and then he
laughed a mocking laugh. "I'll take twelve drops of belladonna, and
he'll think I'm doped. That's why I won't shoot. His room looks almost
sound proof, but I can't use a gun with eyes dilated like an owl's."

"And about the others?" asked Edgehill.

Sarle thought for a moment. "I'd best see Bull," he said slowly. "He'll
do anything if we pay heavily enough and he's as deep in it as any of us
already, so there'll be no worry there." He clenched his fist viciously.
"I tell you no risk is too great to take now to make sure that there are
no traces they can follow. We are safe and undisturbed to-day, but it's
in my mind that within forty-eight hours, this island may be like a
beleaguered city and not even a bird will fly over it then without being
marked." He sighed gloomily. "I hope I'm wrong."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Sarle rose to his feet and
announced that he was going to bed.

"We can have about three hours' sleep," he said, turning to Edgehill.
"I'll set the alarm for seven and we must be off by eight, and remember,
you've got to take down that carburetter, first."

Edgehill rose to accompany him, but Colonel Jasper pulled his chair up
closer to the fire and settled himself down again.

"I shall stay here a little while," he said, "and get warm. I was
chilled to the bone. I think I've taken cold. I'll put the light out. I
feel damned bad."

"Oh! and one thing more," said Sarle turning back suddenly. "We must
lock that damned door in future, every night," and to the mortification
of Larose, the big key was turned noisily in the lock.

"Lord!" whispered the detective breathlessly, "what devils and what a
den of crime!" He clicked his tongue very softly. "But what a catch for
the Yard if we can only draw the net in!" He shivered. "But this means I
must go out into the cold again, and not a wink more sleep. I, too, must
alter all my plans. I must get away at once and 'phone up the Yard
within an hour. Sarle and Edgehill must both be shadowed and there'll be
plenty of time to arrange everything if I'm quick." He frowned in
perplexity. "But how am I going to get out? I can't use the door for the
noise of that key turning would wake the dead. No, no, my only chance
now is a window in one of those back rooms, but it'll be a deadly
business working without a light." He peered scowlingly round the edge
of the sofa. "Now, when the devil is that Jasper going to bed?"

But the Colonel showed no signs at all of going to bed. He was lying
back, huddled up in the big armchair, and was staring thoughtfully into
the fire. There was quite a gentle expression upon his face, the
detective thought, but he looked ill and every now and then he wrinkled
up his forehead and pressed his hand upon his chest as if he were in
pain.

The minutes crept by--five, ten, a quarter of an hour, but the colonel
sat on. Half an hour passed and then he got up, but to the mortification
of Larose, it was only to replenish the fire.

"Damn," swore the detective softly as he looked at the clock. "It's
twenty minutes to five, and it'll be light before half-past. Why doesn't
he go off to bed?"

But the strange vigil went on. The watcher by the fire and the watcher
in the shadows of the room.

Sarle and Edgehill slept peacefully in their comfortable beds. They had
no thoughts of the peril that lurked within a few yards of them, no
dreams probably of prison nor of the condemned cell, and no knowledge,
surely, that their guardian angel was just a tired consumptive man who
could not sleep because of the pains stabbing through his chest.

And so the night passed. The darkness waned and slowly light began to
struggle through the chinks above the curtain.

Larose chafed like a wild animal caught in a trap. In his life's work he
was always prepared to take all reasonable risks and the imminence of
danger never cowed him, but he was not reckless, and he realised most
painfully now, that any movement in the present circumstances meant
disaster both for himself and all his plans.

And so he lay still and watched the grey dawn filter into the room.

Just before six the curtain by the passage was pulled aside and the old
woman came in. She replenished the fire and in a prefunctory manner
tidied the room and then proceeded to lay the table for a meal.

Larose thought that at last the colonel was asleep, but he saw him
stretch presently for the brandy and then, after a drink, relapse into
stillness again.

Shortly after seven, Sarle and Edgehill came in, and with a grunted good
morning, the colonel got up and left the room.

The old woman brought in the breakfast.

"None too good, poor old Jasper, this morning," commented Edgehill,
sitting down. "He looks very crook. That Burgundy of Shillington's was
all right when you were drinking it, but it makes one feel damned seedy
now." He pressed his hand feelingly to his forehead. "And Broome's gone
quite dotty this morning. I went into his room for a boot-lace just now
and he cursed like hell, and told me to go and get his trousers
pressed." Edgehill grinned. "He thought he was back in the asylum
again."

Sarle smiled carelessly. "Sometimes, I think," he said slowly, "that
Shillington ought not ever to have let him come out. He's never quite
normal, and the cold last night has probably upset him."

The detective behind the sofa pricked up his ears and could not resist
looking furtively round the sofa, and in a way he was rewarded for his
daring.

Both Sarle and Edgehill now looked very different from the men he had
waited upon the previous evening. They were roughly dressed in poor
quality working clothes. Sarle had a smutted face, and looked like a
motor mechanic, and Edgehill would have passed anywhere for a casual
laborer or as a porter in one of the markets. There was nothing
conspicuous about either of them, and there would have been nothing to
pick them out by in a crowd.

Larose frowned disapprovingly. "Very difficult to describe," he
muttered. "One might pass them a hundred times without noticing them."

Colonel Jasper came in as they were finishing their meal. He had washed
and shaved, and looked more like his usual self, except that his eyes
were heavy and there were dark rings under them.

"Broome's a bit off his nut this morning," he remarked carelessly. "He's
complaining no one's pressed his trousers yet."

"Edgehill's just said he's queer," replied Sarle, frowning, "and it's
worrying it should happen at this time." He eyed the colonel intently.
"Do you think it will be safe for those men to see him if they come
to-day?"

"Certainly," laughed the Colonel, "in fact, it will be better if
anything. He'll be as close as an oyster with all strangers, and
devilish haughty if they speak to him."

The object of their remarks came in at that moment. He favored them with
a cold stare, and then demanded truculently why his breakfast wasn't
ready.

"Sorry, my lord," said Edgehill grinning, "but the menials of the palace
are at present otherwise engaged. Old Mother Heggarty's gone out to feed
the chickens, and your majesty will have to wait."

"Come across and help us with the carburetter, Broome," said Sarle,
evidently with the intention of mollifying the aggrieved engineer. "You
understand it better than we do," and he made a motion with his head to
Colonel Jasper to follow. "Better not anger him," he whispered to the
latter. "We can't afford to give away any chances to-day."

A minute later and they all went out. Larose sprang instantly from his
hiding place, and, rolling all his things into a bundle, tucked them
under his arm.

"The back door will be all right," he whispered, "and with the old woman
feeding the chickens, I shall be able to climb up to that window without
being seen. I'll go up there and think what I must do next, it's not
safe for me down here."

He paused for a minute by the table and helped himself to a long drink
of milk.

"Plenty here," he remarked, "and they wont miss it. I'll take something
to eat as well," and he cut off a chunk of bread and two slices of ham.
Then with a bottle of beer which he snatched hurriedly from a case as he
was passing through the kitchen, he ran outside.

As he had anticipated, he had no difficulty in climbing up the window,
and he soon prized up the board again. He thrust his bundle in
underneath, and then proceeded to squeeze in himself. He was almost
inside when suddenly the board swung in towards the window sill and
jammed his foot. He fell forward into the room, and all the weight of
his body was thrown upon the imprisoned ankle. The pain was
excruciating, and a faint cry escaped him. For the moment he could not
free himself, but then, with a great effort, he regained the window sill
and pushed the board back. He drew in his leg and then almost fainting,
dropped down on to the floor. He was down and out for the time.




CHAPTER X.--THE SILENCE OF THE DEAD.


At exactly twelve minutes past nine that same morning Elias Carter, in
his room in Scotland Yard, received a communication over the 'phone,
and, hardened campaigner though he was, his face paled. His voice was
quite steady, however, and he snapped out instantly--

"His exact words. Give me his exact words, please. Well, give me them as
near as you can. One moment, please, and I'll write them down. Now----"
and he wrote slowly "That man Mason you sent me has behaved abominably.
He has left here without a word of apology or explanation. After a
dinner party I gave last night I found he had been drinking heavily, and
when I remonstrated with him he was insolent. This morning it was found
out that he had taken himself off bag and baggage during the night. He
used disgusting language."

Carter lifted his pencil. "And you received this message three minutes
ago? Ah! he seemed very angry. Of course, of course, he would. What do I
think?" the detective's voice hardened grimly, "I think Larose is dead."

There was a moment's silence, and then Carter went on quickly. "Well,
thank you, Major Channing, I am much obliged to you. You shall hear from
us again. We may come round shortly," and he hung up the receiver with a
jerk.

A minute later and he burst into Stone's room. The big man was reading a
newspaper, and the frown which he had assumed upon the unceremonious
breaking in upon his privacy changed instantly to an indulgent smile
when he perceived who was interrupting him.

"You're in a deuce of a hurry, Eli," he said. "What's up?"

Carter made no attempt now to steady his voice, and gasped out, "They've
got him, Charlie, they've got Gilbert Larose. Shillington's phoned that
he's disappeared."

"What!" ejaculated Stone, and his face paled, even as Carter's had done,
"What's happened to him?"

Carter steadied himself with an effort. "Major Channing's just had a
'phone from Shillington, and this is what he said. They are the exact
words, as near as possible," and he thrust over the notes that he had
jotted down.

The face of Stone was a perfect study of self-control. Cold, calm and
emotionless he seemed quite unperturbed, and yet a close observer would
have noticed that the hand that held the paper was trembling.

"Good," he said after a moment, and his voice was strained and husky.
"We'll go down at once." He looked intently at his companion. "We'll
take a search warrant, of course."

He glanced again at the paper in his hand and sighed. "It means, Eli,
that in all human probability now we shall hear no more of Larose. If
Shillington had simply said that he had disappeared then we might have
hoped, but with the information tacked on that Larose was drunk, we know
that Shillington is lying, and if he considers it necessary to lie, then
he is endeavoring to cover over something he has done with that lie, and
that something can only be that he is responsible himself for the
disappearance."

He snapped his jaws together, and there was suppressed fury in his
tones. "Damn him. He's done in Larose in some way, and it's all over and
finished."

"Well, we'll take Tony and Williams," said Carter viciously, "and get
away at once."

"Tony and Williams!" echoed Stone, and his eyes blazed like red hot
coals. "We'll take a dozen men, the big car full of them, and we'll
search every hole and cranny of that vile place. We'll----" and then
suddenly he paused, the fury died from his face, and he put his finger
to his lips. "Hush! Wait a moment, wait." He glanced round as if to make
sure that they were quite alone, and lowered his voice to a whisper.
"What was it the boy told you? He was flying at something higher than
Shillington, he said. He had discovered more, than only about him." The
big man glared into his companion's face. "You remember, Eli?"

Carter's voice shook. "Yes," he nodded slowly. "He said that Shillington
was only a pawn in the game."

"Well," exclaimed Stone fiercely, "we're not going to let his work die,
are we? We're not going after the carrion crow when the vultures are
about? No, no, Eli, we are going to pick up that trail that he found,
and we are going to follow until it leads us to where his genius would
have led him." He gripped his companion by the arm. "Why man, we have
grown old together in the ways of crime, we are old dogs for the trail,
you and I, and we are not surely going to be false to the memory of that
boy by stopping when we know he would have gone on."

"And you mean?" asked Carter frowning, "that we are going to get at the
greater criminal unknown, through the lesser criminal, known,
Shillington?" He turned up his eyes piously. "And the Lord help us to
find a criminal greater than Shillington."

"But we'll go after the men of that dinner party," went on Stone
quickly. "Shillington's friends. That's where we must start now." He
thought for a moment. "And it won't be much good searching Shillington's
house, for if their suspicions have been aroused we can bet our lives
there'll be no evidence there now." His voiced choked a little. "And we
shan't find the body anywhere, either. Those black marshes would have
been the devil's own pit for a hurried burial of the dead. But let's go
off quickly now, and we'll talk over things going down, and on second
thoughts I suggest we only take one man beside the driver. We shan't be
making any arrests this journey."

"All right," said Carter, "but I think, anyhow, I'll telephone
Shillington that we're coming down. He's sure to be expecting it, and it
can't do any harm. I'll say we'll arrive about one, but----" he looked
at his watch, "we'll get there by eleven, and hope perhaps he may be in
the asylum doing his rounds. Then we'll have a talk with the maids,
first."

It was an almost silent drive down to Oakley Court. The two detectives
were full of their own thoughts, and both seemed disinclined to talk.

The big car wound swiftly through the traffic, and once in the open
country, roared like a thing possessed. Thirty, forty, fifty, and with
the hood down, the keen air stung like a thousand flicking whips. Only
once in the first hour was a word spoken, and then, just before they
were approaching Chelmsford.

"I feel psychic, Eli," Stone shouted in Carter's ear. "I feel we are
very near our enemies now."

Carter nodded and smiled. He was watching a car that was approaching
them at a great pace. It flashed by like a bullet from a gun. It was a
low, black car, and the hood and side curtains were up, but he had time
to see that there was only one man in it.

Sarle was in a hurry. He had had trouble with the carburetter again, and
reckoned he was nearly an hour late.

Just after 11 the police car pulled up before the big iron gates of
Oakley Court.

"We won't take the car in, Jarvis," Carter said to the driver. "Pull
back and wait under those trees. I have no idea how long we shall be,"
and he rang the bell.

The gatekeeper came out at once from the lodge, and admitted the two
detectives and their assistant.

"You remember us!" smiled Carter. "We are from Scotland Yard."

"All right, sir," smiled back the man, and he proceeded to close and
lock the gates behind them.

"Now, what's this about the butler going off?" asked Carter, frowning.
"We want a word with you."

"One moment, sir," said the gatekeeper, and he made to move back into
the lodge.

"But where are you going?" asked Carter sharply.

"Only for a moment, sir," replied the man; "I'm just going to telephone
through to the doctor. He is in the asylum, and I had orders to tell him
directly you arrived."

"Oh! never mind about that," said Carter. "We'll go up and see him
ourselves in a couple of minutes."

"But I must obey orders, sir," smiled the man; "I'm an old soldier."

"Well, don't be an old fool," broke in Stone brusquely. "Here, have a
drink with this," and he passed over a piece of silver. "If the doctor
hears you didn't ring up at once, say we wouldn't let you." He looked
very sternly at him. "We're policemen, you understand?"

The man made a gesture of reluctance but all the same proceeded promptly
to pocket the money.

"Now, then," said Carter sharply, "we've come, as I say, about the
disappearance of this Fred Mason. After the murder of the other butler
it's a very serious matter in our opinion, and you are all involved." He
glared menacingly at the gatekeeper. "What do you know?"

The man's face paled. "Nothing, sir," he said stoutly. "I've only seen
him about half a dozen times, and we were quite good friends."

"You didn't let him out during the night?"

"No, sir, I didn't leave my bed here between just after ten last night
and nearly seven this morning, and the wife can tell you so."

"Could he have climbed over the gates without you hearing him?"

The man hesitated. "Yes, he could. We sleep with our window open, but if
he had been quiet, we shouldn't have heard him."

"Didn't you hear any noises at all then during the night?" asked Carter.

"Only when a car went out with some visitors who had been spending the
evening up at the house, just before half-past one," replied the man.

"Who opened the gates for them then?"

The gate-keeper shrugged his shoulders. "Dr. Shillington, I suppose." He
paused a moment. "Yes, of course, it was the doctor, for I heard him
afterwards going back up the drive. I know his step."

Carter frowned. "And this dinner party," he asked, "did you let them in
last night?"

"Yes, sir, just before half-past eight."

"And who were they?" asked the detective.

"The doctor's friends from the Priory, over on the island." replied the
man, "Colonel Jasper, Mr. Sarle, Mr. Edgehill and Mr. Broome."

"What are their occupations?" asked Carter. "What do they do?"

"Nothing," replied the gate-keeper, "they are all private gentlemen and
don't work at all. They shoot and fish. They're very great on fishing,
and go out in their launch for days together at a time sometimes." He
hesitated a moment. "Colonel Jasper's not very strong. He's got
consumption, people say."

"Do they come here often then, these chaps?" asked Carter.

The man shook his head. "No, only Colonel Jasper," he replied. "I've
never seen the others, except when they've come up to spend an evening
here." He nodded his head. "They're very rich, I believe."

There was silence for a moment. "And that's all you can tell us then?"
said Carter.

The man nodded.

"Very well," went on the detective, "and now we'll go up to the house."
He took out his watch, "You'll give us twenty minutes, my friend, and
then you can ring up the doctor." The man grinned. "In the meantime
we'll leave this gentleman, our assistant, here--" the man's face fell,
"to ensure that you keep to the contract."

Three minutes later and the two detectives were standing in the hall of
Dr. Shillington's private house and interviewing the smart parlor-maid,
Smithers.

"Yes, young lady," said Carter smiling genially, "we know quite well
that the doctor is out, but it's you and the other girls we want to see
first, and we'll go into the kitchen I think, so that we can talk to you
all together." The girl hesitated, and he went on sternly. "The matter
we want to speak to you about is a very, very grave one, and we mustn't
waste a minute. We're afraid there's been another death here."

The girl's eyes opened very wide, and her face went white as a sheet,
but without a word she led the way into the kitchen. The two other girls
were sitting there with cups of tea before them, but they rose up at
once when they saw whom their visitors were.

Carter put on his best smile again. "Very sorry to disturb you," he
said, "but as I've just told Miss Smithers, the matter is very urgent."
The smile died from his face. "We think something dreadful has happened
to poor Mr. Mason."

The cook gasped and looked terrified, and the housemaid sank back into
her chair as if she were going to faint.

"Yes," went on Carter, "we're police officers, as you know, and
following so quickly upon what happened to Mr. Jakes----" his voice was
grave and solemn, "we are very worried about what may have come now to
Mr. Mason."

"But why did he go away?" asked the cook tremblingly. "Why did he leave
here at all, like this?"

"That's what we want to find out," snapped the detective, and all his
genial manner had disappeared, "and I'm going to ask you some questions
about it. Please answer quickly." He looked round at the three maids.
"Now when was it that you first learned he had disappeared?"

The parlor-maid took it upon herself to be spokeswoman. "At half-past
eight this morning," she said. "He hadn't come down to breakfast, and we
thought he had overslept himself. I knocked several times on the door,
and then opened it. I saw the room was empty and the bed hadn't been
slept in and that all his clothes were gone."

"Was the room disarranged?" asked Carter sharply.

"No," was the reply, "you can see it for yourself. Nothing's been
touched."

"And then?" asked the detective, "what happened next?"

"I came down and told cook, and then went into the master. He was having
his breakfast."

"And what did he do?"

Smithers gave a nervous laugh. "He just glared at me, and then swore. He
said 'damn,' and then he was going on with his breakfast, when he asked
me if any of the silver or anything was missing?"

"And was it?" asked Carter sharply.

The girl shook her head. "No, everything was quite all right." She
paused a moment. "But I found later, that four of the table napkins had
gone."

"Table napkins?" echoed Carter, frowningly. "What table napkins?"

"The ones that the gentlemen had used," replied the girl. "The ones that
they had at dinner last night."

"Ah!" exclaimed the detective, and he looked thoughtfully upon the
ground. A short silence followed, and then he went on quickly. "And did
you tell the doctor that?"

"No," she answered. "I only found it out a short time ago."

"Well," went on Carter, "and who amongst you was the last one to see Mr.
Mason last night?"

"We all saw him together," was the reply. "We said 'good-night' to him
just after 11, and went off to bed."

"And was he quite sober when you left him?" was the next question. "Was
he in any way under the influence of drink?"

The three girls gasped.

"Sober!" exclaimed the cook indignantly, "of course he was." She glared
angrily at the detective. "Mr. Mason was always a most proper man. A
real gentleman he was."

"So I have always heard," exclaimed Carter warmly, assuming indignation
too, "but Dr. Shillington told the Registry Office people over the
'phone this morning that Mr. Mason got drunk last night, and used
disgusting language to him as well."

The cook went scarlet in her anger. "It isn't true, Mr. Detective,
whoever said it. It's quite impossible." She laughed scornfully. "Why,
it's far more likely that the master himself had taken too much. You
should see the empty bottles that Miss Smithers put in the scullery this
morning."

Carter grinned covertly to himself. He was quite sure that all the maids
would be on his side now.

"Well, when you came down here into the kitchen this morning," he went
on, "you found no evidence of any drinking at all?"

"Certainly not," replied the cook. "There was no glass or bottle about.
Mr. Mason had evidently been intending to make himself a cup of tea, for
he had got a cup and saucer, and the milk and sugar and everything ready
on the table." She looked a little bit embarrassed. "And he had put the
small tin kettle on the fire." A choke came into her voice. "Poor man,
something made him forget it, and the kettle boiled dry. It was still on
the fire this morning, and it's quite ruined."

"Ah!" came again from the detective, and there was a long silence now.
Presently he said, very slowly--"So, it would seem he was called away
suddenly, and----" he paused dramatically--"he never came back."

The cook began to cry softly.

"But, come now," said the detective sharply, and he tactfully addressed
himself to the parlor-maid--"Did any of you hear any noise in the night,
any sound of voices or of people quarrelling?"

The girls looked round at one another, and then all shook their heads.

"I'm sure I didn't," said the parlor-maid. "I know I was dead tired, and
dropped off the moment I touched the pillow; besides, our rooms are a
long way from the rest of the house, and anyone would have to shout for
us to hear."

Stone spoke for the first time.

"Now, I want to ask you all something," he said. He beamed on them with
his big, kindly smile. "You see, you've had Mr. Mason with you here for
nine days, and we can be quite sure from what you've been telling us
that you've summed up his character and habits pretty accurately.
Well----" and the big man became very serious--"now what would you say
had interested him most since he came down here? I mean, of course, what
seemed to him to be most interesting among the persons and things that
he would be hearing about or seeing in this place? What did he talk to
you about, what was he most curious of and about what did he ask the
most questions? Come, come," he smiled, as none of the girls seemed
ready to answer him, "I'm sure you can tell me, if you only think."

A moment of silence followed, and then the young housemaid said shyly,
"Well, I remember one thing, Sir. He often asked us about the house on
the island here. He seemed very interested about that."

"So he was," exclaimed the cook quickly. "Of course, I remember now, and
he used to ask us a lot about Colonel Jasper and the other gentlemen who
lived there, too. And he went over on to the island himself one
afternoon. Now let me think when it was." Her voice quavered a little.
"Why it was only three days ago. Not yesterday, but the day before that.
He came home with his boots so muddy and he took them off in the
scullery." Tears came into her eyes. "He was always such a considerate
man and so thoughtful."

The parlor-maid smiled. "Yes, he told us he had been on the island, but
we would have known it, if he hadn't said a word. You can always
recognise the black marsh mud."

"And he was always so sympathetic, too," added the cook tearfully. "He
used to ask a lot about Colonel Jasper and his consumption."

"So he was really interested in these people?" asked Stone. "He often
talked about them to you?"

"Yes," replied the parlor-maid, "when I think about it now, I can see he
was. He was interested in them I suppose because we had told him they
were the master's greatest friends."

"Well, well," again said Carter after a long moment, "and how did you
find the dining-room this morning, Miss Smithers? Was anything in it
disarranged?"

"No," replied the girl hesitatingly, "except that a decanter had been
knocked on to the floor and broken and some wine spilt."

The detective looked at his watch and then immediately walked to the
kitchen door.

"If you please, Miss Smithers," he said, "you can take us to the
dining-room now. We only gave ourselves twenty minutes, and a quarter of
an hour has already gone." He smiled grimly. "Dr. Shillington will be
here like a raging lion almost any moment now, and we want to see things
for ourselves before he comes." He turned back to the other two girls.
"And if you don't mind, young ladies, keep as much as you can of our
little talk to yourselves, will you? It will help us such a lot if you
do, for we want to find this poor Mr. Mason, or if we can't find him--"
his voice hardened sternly, "we want to punish those who are responsible
for his death."

"Now, Miss Smithers," he said, when half a minute later they were in the
dining-room, "I see everything's been nicely tidied here, but I want you
to tell me exactly where things were when you came in this morning. What
was on the table, where the chairs were, and all about that broken
decanter? And be very quick, please. But, first of all, tell me what
these gentlemen who had dinner here last night are like." He smiled all
over his face. "I always trust a woman's intuition you see, especially
if that woman happens, as in the present instance, to be a most
intelligent one."

The girl blushed and looked very pleased with the compliment. "But what
do you want to know, sir?"

"Well, what's your impression of Colonel Jasper, to begin with?" he
asked. "Give me all your ideas? I'm sure they'll be worth listening to."

She hesitated just a moment. "Well, sir, he seems to me to be a very
kind sort of man and quite a gentleman, but I don't think you'd call him
a good man. He's a real soldier and very brave and all that, but
still----" she shook her head, "he's not a good man, I'm sure."

"And this Mr. Sarle, what about him?"

"I don't understand him at all. I think he's been a sailor, for I saw a
tattoo mark once just above his wrist. He's very clever, but he's got a
cruel face and would be very unkind, I am sure, if you offended him.
Somehow, I think the others always do what he tells them, even Mr.
Edgehill." She made a little grimace, "I don't like Mr. Edgehill at all,
although he's a gentleman, too, like Colonel Jasper. He was at Cambridge
University, I heard him say once, and had played cricket for them there.
But he would do anything wicked, I think, and he's cruel, too. He killed
their pig the other day, on the island, when the butcher was ill and
couldn't come."

"And Mr. Broome?" asked the detective, smiling, amused at her
descriptions.

"Oh! he's like a schoolmaster, and half the time doesn't seem to be
listening to what the others say." She lowered her voice. "I believe he
was a mental case once, but he wasn't at this asylum."

Five minutes later and the two detectives were seated in the morning
room, awaiting the coming of Dr. Shillington.

"A clear case, Charlie," whispered Carter, "but how the devil can we
bring it home to them? We've no direct proof anywhere unless we start
off with the supposition that they're guilty and work backwards. Then
everything we touch, strengthens our hands. Shillington's lie about him
being drunk, that boiled-out kettle, that decanter knocked over in some
struggle, and then those four table napkins, used to gag and bind him
whilst they took him away."

"But he's not a prisoner anywhere, Eli," said Stone gloomily. "They're
not that kind of men. They took him and finished him off away from here.
There would be no reason at all for their keeping him either, and from
what we know of Shillington ourselves, and from the simple descriptions
that girl just gave us of the others, we can guess they're all killers."
He leant forward and placed his hand upon his companion's arm. "But
you've no doubt, Eli, have you?" His eyes blazed. "We're at grips at
last with the Iron Man. This sinister part of Essex--this house upon
that lonely island--the sea and river for those untracked paths to
crime--this little gang of men--Sarle with his tattoo marks, the sailor
man----" the big detective rose up in his excitement. "By Gad, the boy
was right every time. He told us----"

"Hush, hush," interrupted Carter, "Shillington's here. He's talking to
the girl in the hall."

"Well, pitch it into him hot, Eli," whispered Stone. "Make him believe
it's only him we suspect, and then he won't be worrying about the
others."

The door was flung open, and the doctor burst in. He glared at the two
detectives with the animosity of a wild animal about to charge, and made
no pretence at any preliminary politeness. Neither did they.

"So you're here again," he blustered, and his small eyes blinked
viciously. He looked round the room and sneered. "But only two of you
this time."

"Yes, we're here again," said Carter calmly, "and I warn you at once
that our mission is a very serious one this time."

"Oh, oh!" the doctor remarked sarcastically. "It is, is it?"

"It is," went on Carter, "for I tell you frankly that we view with very
grave suspicion the disappearance of this man, Mason." His voice
vibrated a little. "We are not satisfied with the information you are
furnishing to the Service Bureau."

"Ah!" sneered the doctor again, and he looked at his watch as if he were
in a hurry, "then let me tell you it does not interest me one little bit
whether you are satisfied or not."

"But it will interest you, Dr. Shillington," continued Carter coldly,
"when I suggest to you that we may be in possession of certain
information that will justify us in applying forthwith for a warrant for
your arrest."

"Arrest!" gasped the doctor in amazement, and all in a second his face
paled to a sickly hue. "Arrest! What the hell for?"

"We are not quite children up at the Yard," replied Carter quietly, "and
you don't surely think that our enquiries with regard to the murder of
Edmund Jakes stopped with our last visit here." His face was very stern.
"We were not satisfied with what you told us then, and now, with this
second trouble here, our doubts have become intensified at once." He
spoke with the utmost sternness. "We are suspicious about you, sir."

"Suspicious!" bellowed the doctor, with his face twitching violently.
"Confound you, what do you mean? Suspicious about me?"

"Yes," replied Carter firmly, "and we may have some awkward questions to
ask you when the adjourned inquest is resumed."

It seemed that the doctor could hardly get his breath.

"But, you damned fools," he panted, "what interest should I have in my
butler's death, and what the hell is it to do with me that the other man
took himself off? Damn you, I say."

"Dr. Shillington," said Carter quietly, "in our time we have been often
sworn at by men such as you, and yet," he shrugged his shoulders, "we
have lived later to see these same men having their last talk with the
chaplain just before eight o'clock." His voice was cold and
contemptuous. "So abuse does not affect us in any way."

"Who said it did?" replied the doctor truculently, and now beginning to
recover himself. "Men of your trade can have no finer feelings at all."
He calmed down all at once and reverted to his former sneering tone. "I
swore for my own satisfaction, not for yours. Damn you, I say again."

"Well, now, perhaps," said Carter grimly, "you'll please answer some
questions we're going to ask you or else----" His voice hardened. "I
tell you frankly we shall go straight into Colchester and discuss with
the Chief Constable there, the advisability of effecting your immediate
arrest."

The doctor took out a cigarette--he was now apparently quite at his
ease. "You don't frighten me in the least," he smiled scornfully. "On
the strength of some tittle-tattle you may have heard, there's no
magistrate in the kingdom who would dare sign a warrant for my arrest."
His anger began to rise again. "Why, man, do you know I'm a justice of
the peace myself, besides being,"--he dropped his voice to staid
professional tones--"an educated man and a man of the world as well?"

Carter frowned in annoyance. The doctor was calling his bluff, and he
realised instantly that it would be unwise to continue in that direction
any further. He spoke very quietly.

"And that being so, doctor," he said, "as an educated man and a man of
the world, you will, of course, see the desirability of assisting the
preservers of law and order in every possible way. I repeat, after what
happened to your butler, Jakes, the disappearance of your butler Mason
suggests to us foul play as well."

Dr. Shillington looked bored. "And how then can I help you?" he asked
condescendingly.

"You said he was drunk," said Carter frowning.

"Not at all," snapped the doctor quickly. "Under the influence of
liquor, was the expression I used, he was not drunk, he was only fresh."

There was silence for a moment, and then carter asked, "And what had he
been drinking then?"

"Good gracious!" ejaculated the doctor, as if astounded at the question.
"And how on earth should I know?" He sneered derisively. "Surely you
don't imagine that I am cognisant of all my servants' taste in liquors,
do you?"

"Well, what time was this," asked the detective, "when you found he was
what you called 'fresh?'"

The doctor appeared to consider. "Some time after midnight, I should
say," he replied. "I had been giving a dinner party, as, of course, the
service people told you, and I rang for Mason to show my guests out. But
he didn't answer the bell, and, going into the servants' quarters later,
I found him in the condition I have mentioned. He was abusive to me."

"And then?" asked the detective.

"Then," replied the doctor, "I left him."

"And that's all you can tell us?" said Carter.

"Yes," answered the doctor. "I never saw him again."

There was silence for a moment, and then Carter asked--"And had any of
your guests noticed his condition then?"

"How do I know?" snapped the doctor sharply. "Guests don't usually make
remarks about the servants to their hosts, do they?" He sneered. "They
don't in the circles in which I move, anyhow."

"And who were those guests, Dr. Shillington?" he asked quietly.

The doctor instantly bridled up again. "What's that to do with you?" he
asked angrily. "You don't think they took the man away in their pockets,
do you?"

"But we shall have to see them," said the detective firmly. "As police
officers we shall have speech with everybody who was brought in contact
with him before he disappeared." He took out a pencil and a small
memorandum book from his pocket. "Now, who were they, please?"

The doctor sighed in resignation. "Friends of mine," he said wearily,
"from the Priory across on the island, here. Colonel Jasper, Mr. Sarle,
Mr. Edgehill, and a Mr. Broome."

"And their occupations?" asked Carter, making some notes.

"Colonel Jasper, retired army man, but I should hardly say it was the
Salvation Army one; Messrs. Sarle and Edgehill do nothing, and Mr.
Broome, engineer--generally a very uncivil one."

Stone suppressed a grin, but there was no humor on Carter's face.

"And one thing more?" he asked. "Did you find the man a good servant?"

"Quite good," replied the doctor instantly, "and until last night I
could not have wished for a better one." His old sneering tone returned.
"And now my final remark is--" he held open the door for the detectives
to go out. "I consider it perfectly ridiculous that you should have
bounced down here just because an angry fuddled butler upon being
reprimanded took himself off in a huff." He laughed scornfully. "Why,
the man is probably back in his own home by now."

The detectives made no comment, but nodding curtly to him, passed out
through the hall and left the house.

"He recognised Larose," sighed Stone when they were some way down the
drive. "They knew he was Larose. I'm quite sure of it." He swore softly
to himself. "Did you notice the brute could not keep the triumph out of
his voice when he said there were only two of us here to-day, instead of
three. He was absolutely gloating."

"Yes," scowled Carter, "and the elaborate way in which he pretended to
look round gave him away as well. The instant he came in, he could have
seen we were alone." The lanky detective nodded his head grimly. "But we
can wait, Charlie, can't we. We've done it many a time before and yet
come out on top in the end."

They picked up their assistant at the car. "Find out anything," asked
Carter laconically.

"Only that we shan't catch all the birds over on the island at home
today," replied the man. "The gatekeeper told me he saw their car go by
about a quarter past eight this morning. The side curtains were up, but
he thought there were two men in it, and he says from the way it was
being driven that the owner wasn't there. That Colonel Jasper owns it,
and he drives very carefully."

"All right," said Carter, "and you got a description of the car?"

The man nodded and with no delay they drove off over the marsh. It was a
delightfully sunny day, and the surface of the road was nearly dry.

Stone looked round and sighed. "What a difference the sun makes," he
exclaimed. "This looks quite a nice spot now, and one could weave
romance about everything instead of brooding over the secret that these
foul marshes probably hold."

They soon reached the bank above the causeway, and the car was pulled
up.

"This is only a shed," the third detective explained, "and the
gatekeeper told me the island people only use it for their car when the
causeway is under water. We can drive across now."

"But I don't think we will," said Carter thoughtfully. "We'll go the
rest of the way on foot. It will give us time to look about a bit. You
cross over with us and then leave us and have a squiz all round."

The two detectives walked leisurely up to the house. Broome was lying
back in a big deck chair just outside, and was reading a book. He took
no notice, however, of their approach.

"Good day," said Carter, "we want to see Colonel Jasper, please."

Broome just lifted his eyes for one moment from his book. "Go round to
the back door," he said brusquely, "if you've anything to sell." He
dropped his eyes again. "But we're not requiring any coal, wood or
potatoes, so it's waste of time if you have come about them."

"Quite a good actor," whispered Stone.

"No," whispered back Carter, "he's the dotty one."

The detective raised his voice. "Can we see Colonel Jasper, please?"

Broome put down his book and regarded them insolently. "I suppose you
can," he said slowly, "that is, of course, if your eyesight's all right.
As far as I know----"

A voice came from inside the hall, "Don't be rude, Broome," and
immediately Colonel Jasper appeared in front of the door. "What is it
you want?" he asked politely of the detectives.

"Colonel Jasper?" asked Carter, and his eyebrows straightened suddenly
into a frown.

"At your service," replied the Colonel, and then he in turn frowned as
he glanced down at the card that the detective immediately presented.

"From Scotland Yard!" he ejaculated, and then he smiled whimsically.
"What's up?"

"We want a word with you, please," said Carter, "if you can spare us a
minute or two."

"Certainly," replied the Colonel, "come in, will you," and he stood
aside for them to pass. "Take a seat now, and don't mind the old woman,
she's quite deaf."

Mother Heggarty was busy tidying up the room, but she took no notice of
the detectives and continued on with her work.

"And what can I do for you?" asked Colonel Jasper when they were seated.

The detectives eyed him very intently.

"We understand," said Carter in staccato policeman-like tones, "that you
and some friends were dining at Oakley-court last night?"

Colonel Jasper frowned as if he were puzzled. "Yes," he replied, "all
four of us residing in this house were there."

"Well," snapped out the detective, "and did you notice anything peculiar
about the butler there?"

"The butler," ejaculated Colonel Jasper. "How--peculiar about him?" and
then a startled look came into his face, and he gasped out. "Good God!
but you don't say he's done Shillington in?"

Carter looked annoyed, the surprise seemed so genuine, and the startled
appearance so real that they in no wise fitted in with the almost
certainty of guilt that they, the detectives, were entertaining.

"No," replied the detective sharply. "Nothing's happened, except that
the butler has disappeared." He paused for a moment. "But we regard this
disappearance as being so sinister that we have come down immediately
from London to investigate."

The Colonel took out his handkerchief and wiped over his forehead. "But
I don't understand," he said quietly. "What do you know has happened,
and why do you come to me?"

"We know nothing," said Carter quickly, "but following upon the violent
death of Dr. Shillington's former butler, we expect anything, and----"
his frowning eyes were fixed sternly upon the colonel's face, "we
approach you because you and your friends were the last persons to be in
contact with the man before he disappeared."

"But I know nothing," said Colonel Jasper, looking puzzled. "He waited
upon us at dinner, and that is all either I or my friends can possibly
tell you."

"What time did you leave Oakley-court this morning?" asked the
detective.

"Somewhere about one, I should say," was the reply, "but I'm not quite
certain."

"And the butler waited upon you up to the very last?"

The colonel thought for a moment. "Yes, I should say so," he replied,
"at any rate, as far as I remember." He smiled slyly at the detective.
"You see, we had been spending a very pleasant evening together, and
towards the end----" he looked rather embarrassed, "I really don't
remember what happened." He sighed and passed his hand up to his
forehead. "The doctor had some perfectly wonderful burgundy up there,
but I fancy now it must have been devilish strong."

"Well," asked Carter sharply, "did you notice anything at all strange in
the butler's manner? Dr. Shillington says the man had had too much to
drink."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the colonel, smiling in amusement, "and so had we
all. That was what I was trying delicately to explain to you. Why,
Shillington himself was so dopy that he could hardly get on his hind
legs to help us on with our coats. And my friend Mr. Sarle, who was
driving us home, nearly bogged the car by the shed over there." He
laughed in the most friendly manner possible. "Boys will be boys, you
see." His merriment sobered down instantly, however, and he passed his
hand against his chest. "But by gad, it doesn't suit me. I've got a bad
lung here."

The two detectives looked most sympathetic. "But we should like to see
Mr. Sarle and your other friends," said Carter politely. "They may have
noticed something about the man that you didn't." He frowned. "You
understand, it's just on the cards he may have committed suicide. Yes,
we should like to have a word with your friends."

Colonel Jasper looked amused. "You've already had a word with one of
them," he smiled. "That was Mr. Broome, outside." His smile broadened to
a grin. "He's always like that the morning after the night when he's
been doing himself well."

"But this Mr. Sarle," said Cartel, "and your other friend?"

"Oh! I'm very sorry, but they're away to-day, and won't be back until
to-morrow," said the colonel. "They're motoring on a visit to some
friends, but you shall hear what Mr. Broome says at once."

"Broome, Broome," he called out. "I want you for a minute," and after
quite an appreciable delay, Broome appeared. He came in walking very
slowly, with one finger between the pages of his book. He seemed annoyed
at being disturbed.

"Well, what do you want?" he asked peevishly. He looked with suspicion
at the detectives. "I don't want to buy anything, I tell you."

"They're not asking you to," said the colonel frowning. "They're
detectives from Scotland Yard, and want to know about Dr. Shillington's
butler. He's disappeared."

"We want to ask you," said Carter very politely, "if you noticed
anything at all peculiar in the man's demeanor last night."

"No, I didn't," snapped Broome rudely, "and what's more I never notice
servants at any time. They don't interest me," and he turned on his heel
and walked out.

"Sorry," said the colonel apologetically, "but he's often like that.
He's a very temperamental man."

"An engineer, Dr. Shillington told us," said Carter.

"And one of the cleverest," replied the colonel. "If he hadn't had money
left him he'd have made a great name." He rose from his chair. "But have
something to drink, will you? I've got some fine old whisky here."

Carter hesitated a moment, and then smiled his acquiescence. The colonel
placed a tantalus and a syphon of soda before them.

"And what do you think of the murder?" he asked carelessly, when they
were sampling the whisky. "Found out anything?"

Carter was non-committal. "We're busy," he said, "but Rome wasn't built
in a day." He smiled. "What do you think of it, yourself?"

The colonel lit a cigarette before he replied. "I've a theory," he said
slowly, "although it's perhaps hardly fair to Shillington to mention it.
I believe----" he lowered his voice to a whisper--"I believe one of his
damned lunatics did it. He's got some awful cases up there."

They chatted for a few minutes and then the detectives rose to go.

"Well," said Carter, "we shall be down here again, I expect, and then
perhaps we may call in and see your friends."

"Any time," said the colonel heartily. "We're nearly always about,
unless we're out fishing." A note of enthusiasm came into his voice.
"We're great fishermen, all of us here. We've got a dinghy, a sailing
boat and a motor launch and another boat out on the beach to use when
the river here is low."

They went outside and Carter remarked carelessly--

"If you don't mind, we'll go for a little walk round your island. It'll
stretch our legs a bit and give us a breath of the sea air."

"Certainly," said the colonel. "Go wherever you like and if you pass the
boathouse, just squint your eye over my little launch. She's a real
beauty in fine weather, but as dirty a little devil as you could want,
when it's rough. We never dare to take her more than a mile or two from
here. She's positively dangerous in a bad sea."

They shook hands and then the two detectives walked over towards the
sea.

"Well, Eli," said Stone when they were well away from the house, "and
what do you think of it now?"

"I know the man," said Carter grimly. "I recognised him instantly. He's
a cousin of Lord Wain, and he's that Colonel Alan Jasper who was mixed
up in the Hatherleigh card scandal, about four years ago. Don't you
remember he had to resign his commission in the army and there were all
sorts of rumours about other things he'd done."

"Whew!" whistled Stone. "Of course, of course. I can place him now. Why,
he was said to be a blackmailer and there was an ugly tale about him and
the suicide of Lady Tudor Wills."

"That's the man, Charlie," said Carter, "and how right that parlor-maid
girl was. A real aristocrat and a fine soldier--he ought to have
received the V.C. many times over, so people said, in one of those
Indian border wars--and yet what a blackguard he is at the same time!"

"But let's sit down in a minute or so," said Stone, frowning, "when we
get to a quiet spot. I want to take this all in and sum up exactly what
it all means."

They found a suitable place just near the sea-shore and throwing
themselves down, for a long time then there was silence between them.

"It's a hard case, Eli," said Stone presently, with a big sigh, "and
never have I been so certain that we are near our goal, and yet never so
puzzled as to how actually to reach it."

"Same here, Charlie," said Carter gloomily. "We've all the good cards in
our hands, and yet we daren't put down one."

"The worst of it is," said Stone, "they know we're after them and
they'll make no move now in any direction."

"Except to cover their tracks," added Carter instantly. He frowned
thoughtfully. "And there must be a devil of a lot of tracks to cover if
we only knew." He nodded his head slowly. "You see, these chaps here
won't constitute the whole of the gang. No, not by a long chalk. They
must have confederates and helpers somewhere, and now they'll all have
to be warned. Sarle and Edgehill probably scuttled off to-day to pass
the word along that we had come into the picture, leaving Jasper here to
hold the fort."

"And he held it damn well," said Stone, with a grim smile, "although
he'd got the wind up at first. I heard a glass clink inside the house
when we were talking to Broome, and man, he just reeked of brandy when
he asked us to go in."

"He was acting all the time," said Carter. "He was much too familiar
with us for a man of his class."

"Yes," agreed Stone; "and did you notice how he went out of his way to
lie to us when he said they daren't take their launch far away, and yet
the lodge-keeper said they went long voyages and were away for days
together."

Carter sighed. "It's a sure thing, Charlie, but how the deuce are we
going to prove it now? Where are you going to begin?"

There was another long silence, and then he rose briskly to his feet.

"Well, well," he said, "we'll set a watch round this place at once, and
chance we may pick up some trail from someone who visits here. In the
meantime, we'll get hold of that man Duke at once. We must risk
everything now, and I shall be very much astounded if he's not easy to
squeeze. But we must get hold of Stevens first, for there's just a
chance he may have found out something that may strengthen our hands.
He's not reported for two days now."

But it was not destined that they should get hold of Stevens that day,
for proceeding into Colchester with no delay, they found he was not at
his lodgings, and had been away from the early morning.

They hung about until three o'clock, and then reluctantly set out upon
their return journey to the city.

At the Mansion House there was a block in the traffic, and a paper boy
came rushing by, flourishing a big contents-bill.

"TWO MORE MURDERS IN ESSEX," it ran, and Stone, leaning out of the car,
snatched a paper from the newsboy's hand. There were large, startling
headlines on the front page.

"THE TOLL OF CRIME CONTINUES UNCHECKED," he read. "A DOCTOR MURDERED IN
EPPING, AND A PAWNBROKER ON STRATFORD BROADWAY, BLUDGEONED TO DEATH.
DREADFUL DETAILS."

"Good God, Eli!" he exclaimed hoarsely, "this is our doing. We've scared
them, and they're striking before they run to earth. They're making sure
to cover up their tracks." His voice shook. "But this is not the end, I
feel it. There'll be more murder done, yet."

And next morning news came through from Colchester that a man had been
stabbed to death there, in the park. Later it was announced that he was
a painter by trade, and that his name was Fred Duke. His murderer had
not been apprehended.




CHAPTER XI.--THE DREADFUL ISLAND.


In the meantime it would speedily have become apparent to any watcher
upon the island that a veritable nest of hornets had been stirred into
activity by the discovery of the gang that Dr. Shillington's new butler
had been Gilbert Larose.

Colonel Jasper had seen the two detectives, Carter and Stone, pass back
over the causeway, and had breathed a great sigh of relief when at
length their car had disappeared into the distance.

"Well, thank goodness, they've gone," he remarked to himself, and then
he nodded his head thoughtfully. "They're shrewd men, for policemen,
those fellows, especially the stout one. He's got eyes all over his
head, and is as wary as an old fox. He was untrusting, too--very. He
didn't touch that whisky until I'd had a drink first. Thought there was
poison in it, probably." He sighed again. "Well, I'll go and get a bit
of sleep now. Damn this rotten lung of mine!"

He passed back into the hall, and then noticed Mother Heggarty who was
sitting back in an arm-chair in the corner. Her attitude was one of
great weariness. He put on his glasses and regarded her critically.

"What's the matter, Nan?" he shouted. "Aren't you well?" She shook her
head feebly. "I've a pain here," she replied, and she pressed her hand
to her left side.

"Pooh!" he shouted, "that's nothing, only wind." He patted her shoulder
kindly. "But I'll get Dr. Shillington to give you a tonic. He'll be
coming down to see us soon."

She smiled tremulously. "You always were good to me, Master Alan," she
said, and her old eyes filled with tears.

He passed slowly into his room, and pouring himself out a dose of
medicine from a large bottle that stood upon the mantelshelf, dropped
back wearily upon the bed and closed his eyes. He tossed uneasily for
quite a long time, but then his restlessness gradually subsiding, he
sank off to sleep.

It was late in the afternoon before he came out of his room again, and
then it was with very shaky steps that he walked into the hall.

"Whew!" he muttered with a wry smile, "the old girl and I are going to
croak together. We must go slow." He glanced out through the window.
"But, by James! How dark it's getting. There's going to be a hell of a
storm soon."

He walked out to the doorway, and stood idly regarding the scene before
him. The beautiful morning had given place to an afternoon of quite a
different character, and a storm was on the verge of breaking.

Big angry clouds had banked themselves up over the marshes, and the sky
was black as night. All sounds of life were hushed, and an oppressive
stillness filled the air.

"Thunder coming," was his comment, and even as he spoke the lightning
flashed. Then, as the thunder pealed, he saw a motor car shoot out like
a bullet upon the marsh road. It was travelling at a great pace, the
evident intention of its driver being to gain shelter before the storm
broke. But he was a few seconds too late, for just when the car reached
the river bank the wind rose with an enormous sigh, and then the rain
crashed down like a solid sheet of water.

He sprang back into the house and slammed to the door.

"Stiff luck," he muttered. "Brother Sarle has got it in the neck." He
shook his head frowningly. "A bad homecoming, an omen of evil for us
all."

A couple of minutes later and Sarle entered. He flung off a dripping
coat and cap and then, with a curt nod to Colonel Jasper, mixed himself
a stiff brandy and soda and tossed it down with a gulp.

"An unpleasant ending to a pleasant day," he remarked quietly as he put
down the glass. "The damned rain caught me just on the causeway, and I
had to drive blind up the bank, couldn't see a yard." He began to unlace
his shoes. "And my feet now, are soaking."

"Well?" asked the colonel after a moment.

"All's well," replied Sarle, and he moved across the hall towards the
passage. "But I'll talk to you in a minute. I must wash my hands first.
They've been annoying me all the way home." He grinned. "They're
sticky--or at least the right one is." He laughed with enjoyment at the
look of disgust that he saw at once spread over the colonel's face, and
then added sharply. "But put a match to the fire, will you? I shall have
to burn this coat now. One of the sleeves has got a stain on it that
would be difficult to explain if I were questioned," and he disappeared
behind the curtain.

The colonel sighed, but lit the fire as he had been requested, and then
sat staring as the sparks from the burning wood flew up the chimney.

The room was still in semi-darkness, and the rain lashed fiercely upon
the windows. Another flash of lightning and another peal of thunder
followed, right over the house this time, it seemed.

"And I hope he likes it," muttered the colonel grimly. "He is afraid of
thunder, although he'll never own it, and he's damned superstitious,
too, like all sailors. He'll believe this storm means bad luck, coming
now as it has."

Sarle appeared again in a few minutes, and rolling up the coat that he
was carrying, placed it carefully at the back of the fire.

"Well, that's done with," he remarked with satisfaction, "and there's
one strand less in the rope that's going to hang me." He looked intently
at Colonel Jasper. "And you've had them here, I see. There are big wheel
marks on the road."

The colonel nodded. "Three of them," he replied, "but only two came up
to the house." He held Sarle's eyes with his own. "They were that Carter
and that Stone, the ones who called on Shillington with Larose."

"Ah!" exclaimed Sarle, and he frowned uneasily as another flash of
lightning lit up the room. He did not speak for a moment, and then went
on. "So, they honor us. Two of the Big Four again." He nodded his head.
"Yes, I thought they'd take it seriously. But did you have any
unpleasantness with them?"

"No," replied the colonel carelessly, "not a bit. Just a few questions,
and then they had a drink and went." He spoke very quietly. "But what
happened with you?"

"Oh! everything was quite all right," replied Sarle. "They are both
dead, and I got clear away. I'll tell you about it in a minute, but I
want to hear first about these men." He frowned again. "Although we
expected it, I confess I don't like it that they came down here so
quickly. It looks as if they thought they knew exactly where to put
their hands."

"You devil!" ejaculated the colonel, who had apparently only just taken
in the first part of Sarle's remark. "You'd have no qualms in murdering
anyone."

"No, none whatever," returned Sarle lightly, "and it's lucky, too, for
all of you that I haven't. I do and act when you would only talk and
dream. I'm thorough." He laughed contemptuously. "Why, Edgehill and I in
a crisis are worth a dozen of such as you."

Colonel Jasper sighed. "There are deaths--and deaths, Sarle," he said
solemnly, "and although I, in my calling, have put paid to more poor
devils than you, still I like to think sometimes that the other fellow
always had some sort of a chance." He shook his head. "But with you, he
never gets any."

"Oh, shut up," said Sarle rudely. "I know, of course, that you're always
a paragon of chivalry. You're----" but something in the expression on
the colonel's face made him cut short what he was going to say, and he
went on in quite a conciliatory tone. "Now, don't let's argue. I'll
justify everything I've done in a few minutes, but I want to know first,
exactly what these men said when they came here. I'm anxious, I tell
you, as to what happened to-day."

For the moment it looked as if the colonel were not going to accept the
olive branch that Sarle held out, but he evidently thought better of it,
for he smiled coldly, and settled himself back in his chair.

"Nothing much happened," he replied. "They came and introduced
themselves, and then stated that following upon the death of one butler,
they naturally viewed with suspicion the disappearance of the other.
They had got word from Shillington that we had dined at the Court last
night, and they wanted to know if we had noticed the man was drunk."

"And you told them?" asked Sarle.

The colonel looked amused. "That as we were all of us more or less in
that condition, we should not have particularly noticed him if he were
so as well."

"Was that wise?" asked Sarle frowning.

"Egad! yes," replied the colonel with a sigh. "I was sodden with brandy
when they came this morning, and must have just looked the part. My lung
had been giving me hell, and I had had four drinks after you left."

"And they asked for us, of course?" commented Sarle.

"Yes, and I told them you were out for the day. They spoke to Broome,
however, and he was just decently off hand to them without being
downright insolent." The colonel laughed. "If they had had any suspicion
of us Broome would have disarmed them, I am sure. He was in one of his,
I'm a-gentleman-and-you're-not-moods, and looked as innocent as a
child."

"And do you think they had any suspicion then?" asked Sarle
thoughtfully.

"Might have had at first," replied the Colonel, "but they soon thawed,
and, as I say, had a drink with me." He frowned. "But they looked shrewd
men, who would never say much. The thin man, Carter, did all of the
talking, but the stout one was all eyes and ears and I should fear him
the more. I could see he was taking in everything. They said, by-the-by,
that as they were likely to be in the neighborhood, they might call
again."

"Oh! will they?" snapped Sarle, "then I'll be away, as I was to-day. I'm
not afraid," he added, scornfully, "but it's foolish to run any
unnecessary risks." His face brightened. "Well, we've got over two
dangers today. Isaacstein sleeps, with his fathers, and the doctor from
Epping will poison no more patients. They are both----"

But there was a loud peal of thunder, and the walls of the house seemed
to shake, and then for the time the roar of the wind and the lashing of
the hail against the windows made further speech quite impossible.

Colonel Jasper leaned forward in his chair and stared out wide-eyed
across the darkened room, but Sarle sat back with his hands clenched and
his eyes tightly closed.

Several minutes followed, and then the hail ceased, the wind died down,
and the violence of the storm began to abate.

"Gad! what a wind!" Colonel Jasper exclaimed. "I thought the windows
were coming in."

Sarle nodded carelessly. "Pretty rough, certainly." He yawned, as if he
were bored. "But it's a good thing it didn't happen earlier in the day.
It would have upset all my plans."

The Colonel regarded him curiously. "And you killed them both?" he asked
slowly, "and got away without being seen?"

"Certainly," replied Sarle, and he flicked the ashes from his cigarette.
"Both quite neat jobs, too. Isaacstein died within ten seconds of us
being alone and the doctor within half a minute. For just one second the
Jew knew that he was going to die--I saw it in his eyes--but the doctor
had no idea at all. I struck him behind the ear, and then finished him
when he was upon the ground." He smiled grimly. "Both happy deaths. Just
exactly what I would wish myself, Jasper. No suffering, no tedious
anticipation of disease, none of the unpleasant incidents of sickness.
Just one lightning stroke, and it was all over." He puffed at his
cigarette. "Really, I was doing a kindness. I am a benefactor of my
kind."

"What happened?" asked Colonel Jasper, curtly.

"Very little beyond what I've told you," replied Sarle. "The Jew took me
into his private room and as he turned from closing the door I struck
him. Then, within a minute I was out through the window and walking away
along the back street." He frowned. "I would dearly have loved, however,
to stop and look over his room a little--I heard his keys jingle in his
pocket as he fell, but it wouldn't have been wise and I left well alone.
As for the doctor, I saw no one but him at his house. I went into the
waiting room and sat down, and then after a minute or two, he came out
of his surgery and beckoned me in. He was just sitting down when I saw
his eyebrows come sharply together. He had recognised me. 'Oh, beg
pardon, one moment,' he said. 'I've got to speak to a patient on the
phone.'" Sarle's eyes glinted venomously. "I knew what he was going to
do. It was to the police he was going to speak. No rotten patient."
Sarle pursed up his lips. "But he didn't speak on the phone. He never
spoke again. I got him as he passed me, and it was all over in ten
seconds."

Colonel Jasper stirred uneasily in his chair. "And you came away
unseen?" he asked slowly.

Sarle nodded. "Just rode off on my bicycle, picked up my car again in
the forest, had an uneventful journey down, and here I am." A note of
enthusiasm crept into his voice. "Yes it has been a great day, a great
artist and his work."

A long silence followed, and then the colonel sighed heavily. "We are
all mad, every one of us," he said slowly. "We are mentally and morally
warped. You take human life as a normal man would swat flies.
Shillington murders as if it were a matter of duty. Edgehill kills with
the complacency of a butcher felling an ox, and I----" he shrugged his
shoulders, "just drift along in the evil company I am in." He sank back
in his chair. "We are beasts of the jungle, nothing more nothing less."

Sarle laughed in amusement. "Well, very capable beasts, at all events,
for we escape capture every time."

"But what do we get out of it?" asked the colonel sharply. "What rest or
peace shall we ever have now?"

"What do I get out of it?" echoed Sarle and a rapt expression crossed
his face. "I get a lot, I tell you." He nodded his head vigorously.
"Why, never before has life given me such a thrill as it gave when I got
Isaacstein to-day." He raised his voice in his enthusiasm. "Listen. I
have killed four robbers single-handed on a lonely track in the Punjab,
withheld my fire until a charging tigress was within a dozen feet of
where I stood, and dived in shark-infested waters to rescue a man who
was my friend, but never was there that intense ecstacy of achievement
as when the Jew fell down at my feet this morning, and--I got unscathed
away." He bent forward and touched the colonel on the arm. "Why just
think of it, Jasper. I snatched him up with unlocked doors only between
me and three of his servants, not fifty feet away. Through the open
window came the roar of the traffic as I struck, and on the pavements
outside were hundreds of people passing. The police station was within
shouting distance, and I had seen there was actually a police officer
standing outside the shop as I went in." He laughed scornfully. "Yes,
the might of the law was everywhere, and under its protection the common
herd were living out their little humdrum lives--and yet I made a mock
of everything. I just walked info the Jew's place, gave him sleep
everlasting, and then just walked out again. I was above them all. I was
the master."

Colonel Jasper shook his head. "You are mad, Sarle," he repeated. "We
are all mad, we are beasts of the jungle, everyone of us, I say."

Sarle rose to his feet. "Well, I'm a hungry one," he smiled. He looked
round the room, and then his smile turned into a scowl. "But why isn't
the table laid and where's the old woman?"

"She's not well, and has gone to her bedroom," replied the colonel. "We
shall have to get our meal ourselves to-night."

"And why the hell don't you get rid of her?" asked Sarle.

"She has nowhere to go to, and she's old," replied Colonel Jasper.

"There's the workhouse," said Sarle brutally. "Dump her there to-morrow
and get someone else. It'll be quite safe now. We shan't be doing
anything for some while."

"Thank you," said the colonel very quietly; "but she's been in our
family--as I believe you know--for over fifty years. She is dependent
upon me."

"Well, what is there to eat?" grumbled Sarle. "I've not had a bite since
I left here this morning."

"Broome caught some whiting this morning. I saw a dishful in the kitchen
just now. He'll cook them for us." The colonel raised his voice.
"Broome," he called out, "come here, will you? I want you."

A moment's silence followed, and then they heard a door open, the
curtains parted, and Broome came into the room.

"What do you want?" he asked crossly. "You're always----" But he
suddenly stopped speaking and sniffed hard. "What's that burning?" he
asked sharply. "Something's on fire."

"Only some pieces of old rag," replied Sarle carelessly. "I threw them
on the fire."

"Oh!" exclaimed Broome, and he looked curiously at him. "But it's a
jacket you're burning. I smell the bone buttons. There's never any
mistaking that characteristic smell. I always know----"

"Never mind now what you know," interrupted Colonel Jasper, glancing
with some amusement at Sarle, "but Mother Heggarty's ill, and we want
you to cook those whiting you caught."

"I'm not a cook," snapped Broome haughtily.

"But you are," smiled the colonel, "and a far better one than anyone
here. Come on, now," he went on persuasively, "and be a good chap.
You've had a beautiful catch to-day."

"I caught an eel, too," muttered Broome, as if speaking to himself, "and
it was over six feet long."

"Over six feet long!" ejaculated Sarle frowning. "Where the devil is
it?"

"I let it go," replied Broome calmly.

"Let it go!" repeated Sarle with his eyes screwed up. "What the devil
for?"

"I didn't want it," said Broome. "It smelt fishy." There was a dead
silence, and then he turned to leave the room. "All right, I'll cook the
whiting."

The curtain fell behind him, and Sarle and the colonel looked meaningly
at each other.

"He caught no six foot eel," scoffed Sarle. "He's going dotty to lie to
us like that."

"Yes," replied the colonel, and he frowned thoughtfully, "we'll have to
speak to Shillington about him. He was strange too this morning. He told
me he'd seen a fox go into the woodshed and when I went with him to
look, of course there wasn't one there."

"Do you think he's dangerous?" asked Sarle quickly. "If he goes mental
again he might tell everything."

"No, no," exclaimed the Colonel hurriedly as if he sensed further
violence. "Shillington's always told us that he'd been a melancholic and
they never open their mouths, so we're quite safe there."

They had their meal in silence and with it over, Broome immediately got
up and retired into his room.

"The storm's all gone," remarked Sarle looking out of the window. "It's
beautifully clear now and I'm half inclined to go out and set some night
lines. The tide'll just be right."

Suddenly they heard the noise of a car and in a minute a motor horn
sounded outside.

"Shillington," exclaimed Colonel Jasper. "I thought we'd see him. I
suppose the storm kept him from coming earlier."

The door opened and the doctor entered the room. Twilight had begun to
fall and the place was full of shadows.

"For God's sake light the lamp," he exclaimed irritably. "The place is
like a cellar," and when Sarle had compiled, he asked eagerly--

"Well, what happened here? They came to bluster with me. Did they see
you, Sarle?"

Sarle shook his head. "No, I was away," he replied grimly. "I only got
back this afternoon just as the storm began."

"Well what happened?" repeated the doctor, and then Colonel Jasper once
more related all that had taken place.

"I had to give your names," explained Dr. Shillington, "but later, I
found they knew them before they asked me. They had been cross-examining
Barton at the Lodge." He frowned. "They are very suspicious about
something." He looked uneasily at Sarle. "These two men are very
dangerous. They are the very best they've got at Scotland Yard."

"Exactly," commented Sarle coldly, "and it's you who've brought them
down upon us, Shillington. Take that in, my friend."

"Nonsense," exclaimed the doctor angrily. "I had a dreadful situation to
deal with and I handled it in the best way possible. Looking back I
don't see how I could have done anything different from what I did."

"But you bungled somewhere," said Sarle gloomily. "You did or said
something that aroused their suspicions and you've brought them down
upon us."

"But I tell you," insisted the doctor sharply, "they are not ordinary
men, these two, and it's their trade to be suspicious about everyone.
When you've met them yourself, you'll see." He puckered up his eyebrows
suddenly and lowered his voice almost to a whisper.

"But I was forgetting. What did you get out of Larose?"

There was an embarrassed silence and then Colonel Jasper laughed
uneasily--

"I got a damn bad cold," he said, "Sarle got a bout of evil temper,
Edgehill has another death to answer for, and Broome has been mental
ever since." His voice dropped to an ordinary conversational tone.
"Larose threw himself out of the boat into the river, and Edgehill had
to shoot him." He shrugged his shoulders. "No, we got nothing out of
him. We never had an opportunity to ask him a single question."

"Damn," swore Dr. Shillington in amazement, "and he got away from the
lot of you?"

"Yes," drawled the colonel, "he did us there, right enough." And he
proceeded to tell what had taken place the previous night.

The doctor's face was the picture of disgust. "And you had the key of
everything in your possession," he snarled, "and you let it slip out of
your hands. Why, we could have learnt exactly how much they suspected,
and where our danger was, and now----" he scowled angrily, "we are as
much in the dark as ever." He looked intently at Sarle. "And where were
you when those men came here to-day?"

"I was busy," said Sarle slowly, "in closing down certain other avenues
of investigation that I thought these supermen of yours might possibly
approach. In other words, I was slitting throats."

"What do you mean?" asked the doctor, scowling again. "Come down to
facts."

And then Sarle did come down to facts, detailing with ill-concealed
pride, all that had happened to him during the day.

At first Dr. Shillington sat listening open-mouthed, the only expression
on his face being that of amazement, but as the recital proceeded, it
was obvious that he was uneasy, and finally when Sarle had finished, he
rose with an oath to his feet.

"Damnation," he swore bitterly, "and you called me a bungler. Why, man,
you couldn't have done worse." His voice rose in anger. "There'll be the
devil to pay for this."

"I don't follow," said Sarle coldly.

"Don't follow!" exclaimed the doctor angrily, "why, can't you see these
fellows will regard this as a direct answer to their sending Larose down
here. They will know at once now that they scored a bull's-eye when that
damned detective was planted in my house. They'll say to themselves,
'We're right on the spot, we hit them somewhere, and they're squeaking
now.' Call me a bungler?" he snarled. "Why, you've focused a searchlight
on this house. They'll connect up all these killings together now."

"And what if they do?" asked Sarle coldly. "They won't get any good out
of it. At least, it can be only surmise on their parts. They haven't a
shred of proof."

"Oh! haven't they?" replied the doctor. "Don't you be too sure of it.
You may have been well taken stock of today."

Sarle shook his head. "No one noticed me in the shop," he replied
decisively. "I am sure of that, because when I went in all the
assistants were busy with customers, and, after a quick word with
Isaacstein, I was led instantly into the private office. It all happened
within a few seconds, and besides--no one could give any identifying
description of me as I wore those big glasses and my cap was right down
over my eyes. As for Epping----" he shrugged his shoulders, "there was
no one about to see me. I saw no one and no one saw me."

But the doctor was in no wise convinced. "And even if we're all safe up
to now," he said, with his small eyes twinkling viciously, "what about
when Bull goes for the Tilleys, as you've paid him to? He's not so
experienced a cutthroat as you are by any means, and one slip may mean
the black cap for every one of us. No, no, you're going no-trumps on a
bad club hand."

"I have every trust in Bull," said Sarle coolly.

"Trust," replied the doctor, raising his voice angrily. "Who's talking
about trust? I wasn't. It was competence I was referring to; competence,
cleverness, finesse." He sneered. "Bull is a good butcher, I grant you,
and if you truss up an animal before him, he'll kill as bloodily as
anyone could wish. But he's not a hunter. He's not light-footed, and he
can't catch the animal first. He'll make a mess of it on his own and
then----" he sighed disgustedly. "But what's the good of talking. It's
done now."

Sarle laughed contemptuously. "You've got the jumps, Doctor. Those 'tecs
rattled you this morning."

Colonel Jasper stood up between them.

"Well, that's enough," he said firmly. "What is done is done, and it's
no good arguing about it. So we'll just drop it, please." He turned to
Dr. Shillington. "There are three patients for you here to-night. The
old woman's crook, Broome's going balmy, and my damned lung hurts like
hell. Come and see Mother Heggarty first."

A quarter of an hour later and Dr. Shillington had examined all his
patients and gone off again in the car.

"Well, what did he say?" asked Sarle. "I didn't want to speak to the old
fool again. He annoyed me, tonight."

"Oh, he didn't say much," replied the Colonel carelessly. "He wasn't too
interested in any of us. Mother Heggarty's old enough to die anytime
now, he says; Broome may get better or he may get worse, and I'm to go
on with the morphia." He smiled in dry amusement. "Funny chap.
Shillington. As our host last night he couldn't do too much for us, but
as our medical adviser--he just doesn't care one little damn. He'll not
be giving us another thought."

But the Colonel was mistaken there, for had he only known it, Dr.
Shillington was giving them quite a lot of thought that night. He was
thinking about them all and about Sarle in particular, and hardened
criminal though the latter was, he surely would have shuddered not a
little if he could but have known what was passing in the doctor's mind.

The night was chilly and the great specialist sat meditating before a
big, bright fire. An expensive cigar was in his mouth and a decanter of
rare old port stood at his elbow.

The room was that of a man who delved in the beautiful and spiritual
things of life, and culture and refinement were undoubtedly the keynotes
there. The walls were lined everywhere with books, great master works of
the greatest human minds.

Biographies of great men who had been of service to the world, and whose
lives were as a shining light for the lesser ones to follow. Histories
of all the happenings of time, and with the lessons that they gave to
guide and point the way to happiness and truth. Treatises on all the
ills that flesh is heir to, and telling how best to palliate the pains
and sufferings of mankind. Books on philosophy, books on poetry, on
music, and on art.

Yes, culture and refinement were all about him, and yet, surely a brute
beast of prey could not have had more dreadful thoughts, nor have been
dreaming more dreadful dreams than he.

"I am tired of these men," was the burden of his thoughts. "They have
become a bore and a nuisance to me. Once it was excitement for me to
work with them, to organise, to prepare, and to lead them upon adventure
on the precipice side. Now, however, their coarseness palls, and they
are involving me in foolish dangers that may end finally if I do not
take care, in bringing me, in the eyes of the world, down to a common
felon's level in the dock. Therefore, I must cut myself adrift from them
before it's too late. It is a pity they are not all dead. They are none
of them healthy, and from the way they are ordering their lives, they
can none of them expect to live to a ripe old age. Sarle's blood
pressure is dangerously high; Edgehill will have a cirrhosed liver
before very long; Jasper is doomed already, and Broome has undoubtedly
strong suicidal tendencies. Yes, in any case, they will not live very
long, and there are many ways now that suggest themselves to me of
anticipating things a little, so I will consider which one would be
practical and best."

He stared thoughtfully into the fire.

"Now, where did I see those amanita mushrooms the other day, the
beautiful-looking, poisonous ones, all red-flecked and white? Ah! I
remember. By the church yard wall, when we were burying the archdeacon
last week. Now, I wonder if anybody's trodden them down. I'll go and see
to-morrow, and as an excuse I'll take some flowers to put on the old
man's grave. He was a good preacher, and if he did talk a lot of
nonsense, still, he had a fine flow of words. Yes, they are deadly,
those fungi, and Voronoff says even a small portion will kill in a
couple of hours. And it should, too, for chemically their poison is
indistinguishable from that of the rattlesnake. Certainly their outer
coloring is unusual, but if I peeled some of them, and placed a number
among some ordinary mushrooms, who would notice there was anything
wrong?"

He stared on into the fire.

"Yes, and if I can't get them, I can use hyosine. I could dose a bottle
of whisky, and change it for one of their's, one day when they are out.
Two good nips then, and they would be knocking at the doors of kingdom
come." He sighed. "But I should prefer mushrooms if I could get them; it
would excite less comment afterwards, I think," and he poured himself
out another glass of port.




CHAPTER XII.--THE HOUNDS ON THE TRAIL.


The following morning Sarle was up betimes and scanning anxiously across
the marsh road. "Seven o'clock," he muttered, frowning, "he ought to be
here by now, even if he had to take a detour round. Two hours should
have been quite long enough and he was to meet the man at five." He
swore savagely. "Damn, if anything should have gone wrong."

Colonel Jasper joined him presently and with a very wearied expression
on his face, stood blinking in the sun.

"The lamb not returned to the fold yet?" he yawned, and then he grinned
maliciously. "Perhaps the naughty butcher's caught him and cut his
little throat."

Sarle scowled but made no reply, and then walking over to the wood pile
he picked up an axe and began to hack viciously at some logs.

"Getting nervy," commented the Colonel, and then he sighed, "So are we
all." He looked out across the marshes. "Shouldn't be a bit surprised
now if a Black Maria turned up here any day. We've had a good run of
luck, but it wasn't going to last for ever, we might have known."

They had breakfast in silence, Broome having prepared the meal as a
matter of course, there being no appearance of Mother Heggarty, and then
they went outside again and sat just off the porch in the sun. Sarle
fidgetted about but made no reference to the matter that was undoubtedly
uppermost in his mind; Broome read and Colonel Jasper lay back in his
chair with half-closed eyes.

"Ah!" exclaimed Sarle suddenly when they had been sitting there for
fully an hour. "Here he is at last."

"And he's got a new bicycle," said Broome, lifting his eyes lazily from
his book, "and it's much too small for him, too."

Edgehill, riding up at a smart pace over the causeway, wheeled his
machine at once into one of the sheds and then returning to where they
were all sitting, asked nonchalantly for a cigarette.

"It's done," he said carelessly, when he had settled himself down beside
them, "but I was seen and had to run for it. I had a devil of a job to
get away and came back through Manningtree for safety." He took a
crumpled newspaper out of his pocket and tossed it over to Sarle. "But I
see you got on all right. They've given you half of the front page. Read
what they say of you."

Sarle just glanced at the newspaper and then looked back at Edgehill.

"But what happened?" he asked. "You were to meet him this morning at
five."

Edgehill nodded. "I posted the letter," he said, "so that he got it by
last night's post. Then before it was light this morning I was in the
park and hiding my bicycle behind some trees not far from the statue.
Duke came up a little after five just as it had got light. I didn't
notice anyone about and after a word or two, suggested we should talk
among the trees. He turned to go that way and I got him instantly
between the shoulders. He must have been dead in two seconds. I heard a
shout and saw a man running for me and yelling with all his might. I
didn't know that there mightn't be others about, and so decided to bolt,
but the devil of it was the man was between me and my bicycle, and in
consequence I had to bolt on foot. I daren't risk either going out of
the park by any of the gates, in case anyone coming in should hear the
shouting behind me. So I climbed the fence and got out on to the road
through some private gardens."

"A damned woman saw me then, quite close. She was in her back yard
hanging out some clothes." Edgehill gritted his teeth. "I would have
gone for her, too, but I had thrown my knife into a pond as I ran--it
was too dangerous to keep on me--and there was nothing handy to finish
her off with. So I just passed her and ran on. Well, I got on to the
road, and then, a piece of luck, a milkman drew up in his cart and
hopped up the drive of the house opposite, with his pail. Directly he
was round the corner I borrowed his turnout and drove it for a good two
miles until I was right on the other side of the city. Then I left it in
a lane and took a newspaper boy's bicycle that I saw standing outside a
house. I chucked all the papers off the carrier except that one, rode
out through Manningtree, took it quite quietly, zigzagging through all
the by-lanes I could, and here I am."

Sarle frowned. "Certain you killed him?" he asked.

Edgehill laughed scornfully. "Certain," he replied, "as certain as you
must have been yesterday after your own little jobs." He pointed to the
newspaper. "But read what they say about you there."

That afternoon, after their mid-day meal, the dwellers in the Priory
proceeded to hold a solemn council of war and take stock of their
position. Sarle and Edgehill, however, did most of the talking, for
Colonel Jasper appeared to be too tired to be much interested in
anything, and Broome was engrossed in the perusal of a book on
'Vegetable Poisons.'

"Shillington's been trying to frighten us," growled Sarle, summing up
the situation, "for he makes out the police are bound to view all these
kills together as a whole, and because the butler's death and Larose's
disappearance both took place down here, then we in consequence shall be
in the limelight in a damned unpleasant way. He argues Scotland Yard
will say, 'That butler died in Great Oakley, we sent Larose down to find
out why, and he met the same fate. Therefore some condition of dealing
out sudden death continues to exist there. We are right over the spot of
some underworld of crime. We are hot on the scent of something. We are
on someone's trail.'" Sarle frowned heavily. "That's Shillington's
idea."

Edgehill sniffed. "Don't think much of it," was his comment. "The police
are too stodgy, for one thing, and besides, if they had any imagination.
how in the name of fortune could there be any linking up the death of a
pawnbroking old Jew on Stratford Broadway with that of a house-painter
in Colchester, fifty miles away?"

"That's what I say," exclaimed Sarle eagerly. "Shillington is working
himself into a state of funk."

"Yes, he's becoming a nuisance," said Edgehill bluntly, "and it wouldn't
be a bad thing for everyone if his own wooden overcoat came along now."
He looked intently at Sarle. "I suggest we invite him to go fishing and
then scuttle the boat. The old quack says he can't swim."

Sarle trod heavily on Edgehill's foot, and flashing a quick note of
warning, frowned in the direction of the apparently half-slumbering
Colonel Jasper.

"Yes, Shillington's a fool," he said, frowning. "But we needn't worry
over him, nor, I am sure, about anybody else, either. As I take it, all
we've got to do is to sit tight. Let the damned police think what they
like, they've nothing definite against us when it comes down to
bed-rock. We can snap our fingers at them if we only keep our heads."

Dr. Shillington came over in his car in the afternoon, and contrary to
the expectations of Sarle, was amiability itself. Apparently he had
quite forgotten the unpleasantness of the previous evening, and he
listened with amusement to Edgehill's recital of what had happened at
Colchester that morning.

"Excellent," was his comment. "That man was a real menace to us, and
it's a relief to think that he's out of the way."

He had brought with him a bottle of old port for Colonel Jasper, and was
most solicitous as to how the latter felt. Broome, too, came in for some
attention, but in this latter case the attention was by no means well
received. The patient was taciturn and sulky, and hardly spoke a word.

"A little disturbing, his condition," commented the doctor to the
others, when later he was taking his leave. "I'm afraid we may have to
get him put away again. I don't like those lies he's been telling.
They're a bad sign. He may sink into profound melancholia and refuse to
take his food. He was like that for over two years, and had to be nasal
fed for the whole time. I'll come over again, however, to-morrow and see
how he is. I can come openly now, having three patients to attend, and
the more open we are the better."

That evening an air of peace and even gaiety prevailed in the Priory.
Mother Heggarty seemed better, and sat dozing in her accustomed chair in
the corner; Broome read assiduously in a world of his own; and the
others played dummy bridge, and when they were tired of that discussed
in detail their adventures of the previous months. Colonel Jasper
enjoyed several glasses of the port that Dr. Shillington had brought,
which Sarle and Edgehill, however, resolutely refused to touch.

"No, Jasper," said the former smilingly, "it's your dope, and it was
given specially to you. Whisky's quite good enough for us."

But if that evening they had been happy and care-free, the next morning
decidedly brought its disturbing thoughts.

The butcher appeared just after breakfast, and, as usual, when he made
an early delivery, he carried with him the London newspapers.

Sarle took them from him, and his face paled and his hands shook as his
eyes fell upon the middle page of the one he opened.

"Damn!" he ejaculated. "What the devil's this?" for, under big staring
headlines he read--

"MURDERER OF EPPING DOCTOR SEEN. FULL DESCRIPTION GIVEN TO THE POLICE.
OUR SPECIAL COMMISSIONER MAKES STARTLING DISCOVERIES."

And certainly they were startling discoveries that the 'Daily
Microphone' in great jubilation proceeded to spread over three columns
of its most important page.

A young married couple residing about a mile and a half out of Epping
had been unearthed by one of their star reporters and this was the story
that they had told.

They were on their honeymoon, and on the day of the murder they had been
roaming idly in the forest, on pleasure bent.

At five minutes to two on that afternoon, they were quite certain of the
exact time, they had came upon a two-seater Jehu car parked in a lonely
glade in the forest, less than a mile from the town. The car was not
three hundred yards distant from the main London road, but it was hidden
from view of anyone passing by upon the road by the thick undergrowth
and the trees. It could only have been left there for a few minutes
before they found it, for the radiator was almost too hot, even then,
for them to touch with their hands. They were surprised that anyone
should have chanced leaving it there unprotected, for on the back seat
there were articles of clothing spread about, and a suit case, and a
good Trilby hat. They had inspected the car interestedly, but unhappily
had no recollection at all of the figures on the number-plates. After a
few minutes' discussion as to who could have left it there, they had
come away and proceeded to walk slowly home, stopping every now and then
to gather flowers upon their way. Then just before they had reached the
house where they were residing, and now walking on the main road, they
had heard a motor car coming up behind them from the direction of
Epping, and, turning round, they had seen at once that it was the very
car they had so recently left in the forest glade. They were quite sure
it was the same car, because not only were all the curtains up, which
was peculiar upon so sultry a day, but the end one was unfastened, which
they had noticed before, and it was now flapping in the wind.

The car was coming along quite leisurely, and stepping off on to the
side of the road to let it pass, they had ample opportunity to take
stock of its driver. He was between thirty and forty years of age; he
was not a big man; he had dark eyes, and his complexion was very sallow.
He was then wearing the Trilby hat they had seen earlier lying on the
back seat. They were quite sure they would recognise him again,
anywhere.

Then the representative of the journal, very much alive to the fact that
there was a good story to be fashioned out of the information he had
received, had started to make investigations on his own, and very
quickly he had been amply rewarded for his pains.

The hiding away of the car in that lonely glade had seemed to him
suggestive, and mindful of the fact that the only clue to the doctor's
murder that the police so far possessed was the statement of the woman
in the baker's shop opposite to the doctor's house, that just about the
time when the murder must have been committed, she had seen a man ride
off on a bicycle from the doctor's surgery door--he was intrigued with
the idea that there was some connecting link between the undoubtedly
guilty cyclist and the mysterious motorist of the forest glade.

Therefore he had argued to himself that if he were right and the
bicyclist and the motorist were one and the same individual, then the
criminal and his incriminating machine would part company at the
earliest possible moment. He was sure the murderer would never have
dared to drive off with that bicycle in the back of his car, knowing
full well that the discovery of the murder could have been only at most
a matter of minutes, and with the telephones set ringing everywhere, he
would have been liable at any moment to be held up and questioned on the
road.

So the 'Daily Microphone' representative had gone back with the newly
married couple to the forest glade, and making a wide cast round, had
started upon a systematic search among the undergrowth, and within a few
minutes he had found what he expected.

Under a thick bush, not a hundred yards from where the car had been
parked, he had discovered a bicycle, and that it had been there almost
only a matter of hours was evidenced by the fact that the saddle of it
was quite dry, and there was no tarnish anywhere on the bright parts of
the machine.

"Now," said the 'Daily Microphone' in conclusion, "we leave the rest to
the authorities, and in no spirit of boastfulness we nevertheless do
take credit that amid all the dreadful mystery surrounding the
perpetration of this crime in Epping, we have been enabled to give real
help and service to the forces of law and order. We have supplied them
with distinct and definite clues to follow, for instead of an
undescribed man upon an unknown make of bicycle, we now give them a
four-seater Jehu car and an individual of medium build, dark eyes, and
sallow complexion. So let them see to it that the investigations of our
special commissioner have not been in vain."

Sarle read through the article to its conclusion, and then composing his
features to an expression of careless unconcern, passed over the
newspaper without a word of comment to Edgehill.

The latter frowned heavily, and then in turn went through the article
without speaking a word.

"Bad luck," he remarked when he had finished, and he looked quickly at
Sarle. "Do you remember passing them?"

"Perfectly," replied Sarle quietly, "the man was small and delicate
looking, and the woman was almost a child." He considered for a moment.
"Yes, and I remember their house, too. It would have been only about a
couple of hundred yards further on from where I passed them, and it
stood off well back from the road." He spoke very quietly. "It is a very
lonely house."

Colonel Jasper came up to where they were sitting, and Edgehill handed
him the paper.

"So, so, a fly in the ointment," he smiled. "A rift in the lute. Then
Sarle was seen, after he had jiggered in that doctor."

He sat down and proceeded to peruse the article. Sarle watched him
intently.

"Ah!" exclaimed the colonel thoughtfully, when he had finished; "then
for one thing, Sarle must freshen up his complexion at once. We'll have
no sallow-looking individuals here. We've got some cochineal in the
house, and artistically applied, it is better than all these modern
concoctions that women buy now. I've used cochineal myself after a thick
night when I was in the army." He looked across to Sarle. "But if we
were consistent," he added sighing, "these young people would be buried
shortly. They will be dangerous to our peace of mind."

"Exactly," said Sarle grimly, and he stared out across the marshes. "I
was thinking of that. I shall put Bull on to them. He'll do anything for
money--cash down."

"And while there's any killing on, put him on to the baker, too," added
the Colonel, sarcastically. "His bread's been damned bad lately, and not
fit for the pigs to eat."

Dr. Shillington made another appearance that afternoon and blinked his
small eyes maliciously as he handed over a copy of the 'Daily
Microphone' to Sarle.

"Seen it already," said the latter sharply. "It's annoying, but it isn't
vital. There are thousands of Jehu cars about, and it won't help them a
bit. They can't be certain of anything. I'm not the only sallow-faced
man in the country, am I?"

"Certainly not," agreed the doctor readily, and as if for some reason he
was particularly anxious to appear most friendly, "and regarded in its
right perspective, it shouldn't worry us at all." He looked curiously at
him. "But what have you been doing to yourself. What have you got on
your face?"

"Oh! I've opened a beauty parlor here," explained the Colonel with a
grin, "and Sarle is my first client. He's not going to be sallow-looking
any more. To anyone who sees him for the first time now, he's only just
got the ordinary fresh appearance of a healthy out-of-doors man. You
see, he's going to be on view for the sleuth-hounds of the law when they
next come down."

"Yes, I'm to face the music." said Sarle carelessly. "We've thought it
over and believe that will be best. We can't go on being out always; it
will make them suspicious."

"And Edgehill?" asked the doctor drily, "is he going to whiten his
face?"

"Edgehill's clipped his eyebrows," laughed the Colonel, "and he's going
about in future all togged up like the real Varsity man that he is. He's
wearing his blazer and his colors, and he's going to shave every day."
He turned up his eyes piously. "Thank goodness, Brother Edgehill wasn't
shaved yesterday when the woman who was hanging up her clothes saw him.
He looked a real hooligan when he came back here."

"And how's Broome?" asked the doctor.

"Oh, just so-so," replied the Colonel. "Hardly speaks, and when he does,
it's generally to tell us something that hasn't happened. He's become a
champion liar. The excitement of that night upon the causeway seems to
have knocked him right out. But you shall see him. He's in his room.
Broome, Broome," he called out. "Dr. Shillington wants to speak to you."

Broome appeared with the inevitable book in his hand. "What's up?" he
asked crossly; "I'm not going to do any more cooking, I'm sick of it.
Great dietists say we should eat raw food, and I agree with them. So
that's final," and he turned to go back into his room.

"One moment," said Dr. Shillington, and he crossed over and placed his
hand upon Broome's arm. "How are you feeling to-day, my friend?"

"Quite well," snapped Broome, "except----" and he glared angrily at
Colonel Jasper, "these gluttons here would keep me going all day long at
the kitchen fire. I'm not a cook, I'm a chemist and an engineer."

"And how do you sleep?" asked the doctor.

Instantly, then, the expression on Broome's face altered, his anger all
died down, and his eyes took on a puzzled look.

"Rottenly," he exclaimed, and he lowered his voice to a whisper. "I keep
waking up all night." He put his finger to his lips and drew the doctor
to one side. "There's something going on in this house that's very
strange. I hear noises when they're all asleep as if someone were
crawling overhead. I heard footsteps distinctly last night and then
there was snoring too." He put his lips close to the doctor's ears,
"Yes, there's someone living above us, here in the roof."

The doctor looked at him thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "why don't you
go up and see?"

Broome drew himself up haughtily and his old curt manner returned. "It's
not a gentleman's work," he replied. "There's too much dust. It would
spoil my clothes."

"All right," said the doctor after a moment, "then I'll give you
something that will make you sleep. Go and lie down now and read your
book."

"Any danger there, Shillington?" asked Sarle when Broome had gone out.
"Is he likely to talk, do you think."

The doctor shook his head. "None whatever," he replied. "If he gets
worse, then he'll lose his memory altogether and won't speak of anything
that's past." He looked puzzled. "But I don't understand this relapse
coming on so suddenly. Broome was perfectly normal at my place the other
night and now those noises he's been hearing are a very bad sign."

"Well, have a look now at Mother Heggarty," said the colonel. "She's
dressed and sitting in her own room, but she's looking very weak to me,
and she seems to eat nothing at all. She's not been able to work for two
days."

Dr. Shillington frowned. "I can do nothing there, I tell you. She's old
and may die any time. She oughtn't to be here." He turned back to Sarle.

"And so you've decided to see these men if they come, you and Edgehill?"

Sarle nodded. "Yes, we think it will be best. After all, they're not
likely to have seen my face, or Edgehill's either. You see, they're both
London men." He yawned as if he were quite indifferent to the whole
matter. "But, myself, I don't believe they'll come."

"Oh! won't they?" said the doctor emphatically. "I'm sure they will.
They're obstinate brutes and they must know the only clue to Larose's
disappearance is to be picked up here." He nodded his head. "Yes,
they'll come down here again before they've done."

And Dr. Shillington was quite right, for sure enough just before eleven
the next morning, the big police car was seen nosing its way over the
marsh.

"Here they are," called out Colonel Jasper. "Now pull yourselves
together and play a cautious game. Be friendly to them, but not
over-interested and whatever you do, don't appear to be annoyed because
they've come."

And then to a psychologist, had he but been a spectator of the intense
little drama that followed, would have surely come, one of the most
interesting studies of his life. There were five actors, and they were
all so efficient in the parts that they had to play.

There were the two detectives, polite and smiling, masking their dark
suspicions and deadly purpose under the careless air of men just engaged
upon some formal and unimportant mission. Carter, pleasant and almost
deferential in his speech, and Stone, big and jolly, drinking in all the
beauty of the island with the delighted joy of a jaded Londoner out upon
a holiday.

And then, Sarle, a well-travelled, educated gentleman, with smiling eyes
and an attractive courtly manner. And Edgehill, bluff and open-hearted
with the distinguished mien, however, of a man who in his days had mixed
with the best in all the land, and finally, Colonel Jasper who was a
credit both in speech and conduct to the fine traditions of his
Majesty's army.

Indeed, a goodly company, but had the truth been known, there should
have been yet another actor there to complete the cast, the hangman from
one of his Majesty's gaols.

The detectives asked a few questions about the dinner party at Dr.
Shillington's, which both Sarle and Edgehill answered frankly enough.
No, they had neither of them noticed anything peculiar about the butler
that evening, indeed as far as they remembered, he had seemed a very
capable servant and certainly up to the conclusion of the meal had shown
no signs of any alcoholic excess.

Then Carter adroitly brought the conversation round to their own lives,
and here, too, they were equally as frank. They were all friends
together on the island, they none of them now followed any settled
occupations, and they just lived the simple life and were devoted to
outdoor sports. They played tennis, they golfed, they went shooting,
they went out in their launch and they fished.

Then Colonel Jasper suggested a little refreshment, and Stone, taking
the lead for the first time, accepted with alacrity--he told Carter
afterwards that it was most important that he should see Sarle in his
home environment--and so they adjourned to the lounge hall. The Colonel
produced whisky and biscuits and lifting their glasses they all drank to
one another's healths.

"I see you've got plenty of lethal weapons here," remarked Stone
presently pointing to some rifles arranged upon the wall. "You could put
up a pretty good fight if anyone invaded the island."

Sarle smiled engagingly. "They're mostly mine," he laughed. "Shooting's
been one of my hobbies all my life. I've been a sailor you see, and
travelled a lot. I've been after big game in many parts of the world."

"And those targets there?" asked Stone pointing to a small cardboard one
whose circular markings were just protruding beyond the edges of a book
upon a mantelshelf. "You're good with a pistol, too?"

Just for one moment perhaps the ghost of a fleeting shadow passed across
Sarle's face, but instantly he was all smiles again, and, rising from
his chair, he stepped up to the mantleshelf and took down half a dozen
little targets that were behind the book that Stone had noticed.

"Yes," he said, smiling, "my pistol work is pretty good, but I'm not in
any way the equal of Mr. Edgehill here. We had a match yesterday, and I
was beaten easily." He handed over one of the targets to the detective.
"Five bulls out of six shots. An inch bullseye, I admit, but, then, the
distance was twenty yards, and it was rapid firing with a West
automatic."

"Splendid," ejaculated Stone with enthusiasm. He looked at Edgehill and
smiled. "Why, you might be the Iron Man, sir, from the way you shoot."

"So I might be," laughed Edgehill, "but then I should be much richer
than I am now." He became serious. "But, I say, why the devil haven't
you cleaned up those chaps yet? They've had a long run."

"Too long," agreed Stone readily. "But they've been too clever for us so
far. They've never left any clues."

"And do you think you'll ever get them now, Mr. Stone?" asked Sarle.

"Certainly I do," replied Stone emphatically. "We're broadcasting the
offer of a big reward to-day, and that should break them up." He curled
his lips in contempt. "There are always men is a gang like that who will
sell their own brothers if they get paid enough for it. Contrary to
general belief, there never is any honor among thieves. They're a
cowardly, despicable lot, and only brave when they've got a gun, and the
other man has not." He snapped his jaws together. "Yes, directly we get
in touch with one of them it'll mean the end of the whole lot. They'll
be all whimpering and splitting on each other then to save their own
skins. I know their mongrel kind."

A dead silence followed. Sarles rose abruptly to his feet and, turning
his back upon everyone, reached to the mantelshelf for a match and
proceeded leisurely to light a cigarette. Edgehill, with no expression
on his face, sat with his eyes cast down upon the ground, and it was
only Colonel Jasper who seemed to have taken in what the detective had
said. He looked rather amused, and he spoke presently, very quietly.

"But I don't quite agree with you there, Mr. Detective," he said. "I've
known what you call thieves who were among the bravest of the brave. On
the frontiers of India, for distance, I've met Pathans who would rob and
pillage as a matter of daily habit, and yet, however, who when detected
and caught would never, under the most dire forms of punishment, give
their comrades away. They had a code of honor that was a religion to
them and lifted them above all suffering or hope of gain."

Stone laughed scornfully. "But the law-breakers are not like that over
here," he said. "They are the scum of the population, the very dregs of
the men of depraved minds."

Another silence followed, and then, as no one seemed disposed for
further argument, the two detectives, after a glance at each other, rose
to their feet.

"Well, I think we must be going," said Carter. "Unhappily there's always
a lot for us to do."

They all went outside again, and then Sarle, showing his strong white
teeth in a pleasant smile said suddenly--

"Oh! just wait a moment, will you? We'll show you something before you
go." He turned to Edgehill and winked. "Get your automatic and two
lemons will you, old man. We'll give Mr. Stone here a little treat."

Edgehill looked puzzled. "Lemons!" he said, "what the devil for?"

"Get them," said Sarle laughing. "You'll find plenty in the dish, and
bring the pistol you were shooting with yesterday."

For just one moment Edgehill hesitated, and then, going back into the
house, returned as he had been bidden with two lemons and a small
automatic pistol.

"Now," exclaimed Sarle, taking the two lemons from him, "we'll give you
an exhibition of real skill." He spoke with great animation, appearing
for some reason to be addressing himself directly to Stone. "You see
that post there. It's exactly twenty yards away. Well, I'm going to
stand there with a lemon, and Mr. Edgehill will hit it as I hold it in
my hand. No," he went on, "I'm not going to hold it upon my outstretched
hand. I'm going to hold it pressed close against my side. One half of it
will protrude between my fingers, and Mr. Edgehill will pink that
protruding half when he fires. Of course, if my friend shoots wide, he
will miss the lemon altogether, but on the other hand, if he shoots too
close----" he shrugged his shoulders and smiled, "he will plough through
my abdomen in an unpleasant manner." A defiant note crept into his
voice. "It's a test of courage----" he corrected himself quickly, "it's
a test of nerve and skill."

"Don't be a fool," said Colonel Jasper angrily. "You may get your pelvis
smashed and your internals bored through."

"I'm content," replied Sarle calmly. "I'm prepared to take the risk."

"But we are police officers," broke in Carter sharply, "and we'll not be
party to any such foolery. We'll not countenance it."

"But I don't see how you can help it," said Sarle mockingly, "unless,
indeed, you run away. It's my stomach and my lemon, and Mr. Edgehill
here is firing at my request." He turned to the latter. "You'll shoot,
won't you?"

"Certainly," replied Edgehill with a grin, "anything to oblige."

"It's not our funeral, Eli," said Stone grimly. "There's no necessity
for us to interfere."

Sarle stepped briskly up to the post he had indicated and then stood
like a statue holding the lemon in the way he had indicated he would.
Edgehill watched him frowningly with the lowered automatic in his hand.

"Show a little more fruit, Sarle," he called out "I can only just see
the top of the damned lemon."

"But it's quite enough," said Sarle calmly, and he remained as he was.
perfectly still.

A moment's intense silence followed, and then Edgehill brought his
automatic up sharply and fired. The spectators held their breaths, but
Sarle looked down unconcernedly at his hand, and then came forward with
the lemon held out for inspection.

"Very pretty," he remarked. "See the juice all over my fingers. The
bullet went almost through the very centre." He looked reprovingly at
Edgehill. "But you fired rather close, didn't you? I distinctly felt the
wind upon my hand."

No one made any comment, and then Sarle took the second lemon out of his
pocket, and with a bow held it out smilingly to the stout detective.

"Now, sir," he said with a laugh, "it's your turn. Hold the lemon
exactly as I did. Keep quite still, and then you'll be perfectly all
right. Close your eyes if you have any doubt about being able to stand
still."

Stone got rather red. "No, thank you," he said, curtly declining the
proffered lemon. "Personally I have no interest at all in pantomime
tricks like these."

Sarle elevated his eyebrows as if in surprise.

"But, surely you're not afraid," he ejaculated, and a sneer crept into
his voice. "I thought, according to you, that it was only the criminal
classes that had no courage."

"It isn't a question of courage," replied the detective warmly. "It's
just that I don't feel justified in running a risk for no good purpose
whatever."

"Oh!" exclaimed Sarle sarcastically, "then when it suits you, you
gentlemen play for safety just like everybody else."

"We don't play at all when we're at work," snapped the detective
sternly. "We go straight ahead then and do our duty at whatever cost."

Sarle laughed mockingly, and then suddenly, his whole expression
altered. "Well, take the lemon at an events," he smiled. "It'll make a
nice soft drink for you when you get home," and he held it out again to
Stone.

Stone smiled back; he had quite recovered his equanimity, and he
pocketed the lemon with no further protest.

"Thank you," he said. "Mr. Carter and I will squeeze it into a drop of
Scotch when we get home."

They returned to the big police car, and after polite farewells, with a
wave of their hands, drove away.

"Can't place either of them," remarked Carter when they were over the
causeway. "Can you?" and then when Stone shook his head, he went on
slyly, "But he rather scored over you there, Charlie, although it was
clever of you all the same to have taken the line you did. You certainly
uncovered them by the slanging that you gave the criminal classes.
They're the gang right enough, and Sarle and Edgehill, particularly, are
the ones we want." He chuckled. "But I should be very interested to hear
the remarks that are being made about us in the Priory, now."

And the remarks of one individual there would certainly have interested
them.

A man was lying up among the rafters over the hall--a dishevelled and
grimy-looking man. His clothes were crushed and rumpled as if he had not
taken them off for many days, and he was covered almost from head to
foot in dust. His face was drawn and haggard, but the expression on it
nevertheless was quite serene.

"They're wise old dogs," he muttered, "for they've managed to pick up
the trail somehow and sure they didn't come on another journey down here
for nothing. Every word that they spoke showed that they knew who these
men are, and old Stone only slanged into the criminal classes to see how
that brute Sarle would take it." The grimy-looking man sighed heavily.
"But I'm in a difficult position now. The longer I stay here the more
evidence I am accumulating to convict the whole gang, and yet if this
man 'Bull' they keep talking about comes down, I must find a way somehow
of putting the Yard wise at once, so that he doesn't get near that
honeymoon couple. They are vital to the identification of Sarle." He
shook his head. "Yes, yes, my hand will be forced then." He shifted his
position slightly with an involuntary grimace of pain "Oh, confound this
foot of mine; I couldn't get over the causeway and crawl a mile and a
half to the village now, if the devil himself were after me." He sighed
heavily again. "Yes, things are awkward, Gilbert, very."

That evening, as dusk fell, a violent wind rose up from over sea-wards,
and by 7 o'clock it was blowing great guns. The wind roared round the
old Priory, rattling the windows like castanets, and moaning down the
wide chimneys like a beast in pain.

"A rough night," remarked Sarle frowning, "and it may prevent Bull from
coming up. I expected him at latest to-night. There'll be no water on
the causeway until after 10 o'clock."

They commenced their customary game of cards. Sarle, Edgehill, and the
Colonel. Broome read as usual, and Mother Heggarty sat dozing in the
comer.

The noise of the wind outside made it necessary for the players to raise
their voices when they had to speak, but there were long intervals of
silence during the progress of the game.

Presently Broome began to fidget, and from time to time he lifted his
eyes from his book and turned them round frowningly in the direction of
the door and windows.

"What's up?" asked Colonel Jasper presently, noticing his restlessness.
"Hear any of those spooks you were telling the doctor about to-day?"

Broome looked at him with contempt. "There's been someone tapping on the
door for quite 10 minutes," he replied coldly, "and he's been scraping
on the windows as well."

Sarle rose up in a fury. "You damned fool," he cried, "why the hell
didn't you say so before?"

"You have ears as well as I have, haven't you?" replied Broome, and he
turned again to his book.

Sarle strode to the door, and opening it against the wind, let in a man
who had his cap drawn low down upon his face, and his overcoat buttoned
up tightly to his chin.

"Thought you were all dead," growled the newcomer irritably, "but I saw
the light above the curtain there."

"We didn't hear you," said Sarle apologetically. "The wind makes such a
damned noise." He pointed to a chair. "Sit down and have a drink."

The man sat down as directed, and drained in one breath the stiff
tumbler of whisky that was handed to him.

He was a big, coarse-looking man with a big bullet head set upon his
shoulders, with a very short neck. He had a large square nose and a
strong massive jaw, and the expression of his face generally was that of
some fighting animal whom it would be difficult to frighten and quite
impossible to tame. From the lines about his eyes they seemed to be set
in one continual frown.

Sarle looked at him curiously. "How did you come down?" he asked.

"Bicycled from Harwich," was the brusque reply. "Hid my bike in the
marsh and crossed over the causeway on foot." He glanced round at the
curtained windows. "No good anybody making themselves conspicuous at
these times. You never know who may be on the look-out now. There's a
hell of a stir now among the police."

"Well," asked Sarle frowningly as the man had subsided into silence,
"any news, Bull?"

"Yes," grunted the man, "I want 200 off you." He looked significantly
at Sarle. "Tilley and his wife had bad luck. They both got drowned last
night."

"Ah!" commented Sarle, and his face brightened. "How did you manage it?"

"Took 'em down to Limehouse," replied Bull carelessly. "Said there was
some stuff we could pinch off a barge there. Got them in a boat. Thick
fog. Upset the boat as I pretended to get in. Had to hit Mother Tilley
over the head with the oar, but Tilley was damned drunk and drowned
himself. Both went under, hardly any noise, and all over in two
minutes."

"But how do you know they are actually dead?" frowned Sarle.

"Must have been," replied Bull with emphasis. "They couldn't swim. I
stunned the woman, I tell you, and Tilley was drunk. Besides, neither of
them had returned home by this afternoon. I went round there specially
to see, and found the neighbors were looking after the children." He
spat vigorously into the fire. "Yes, the brats are orphans now."

Colonel Jasper made a sharp expression of disgust, and then without a
word got up and walked out of the room.

Bull looked contemptuous. "I'd have wrung the kids' necks too, for
another tenner," he said. "It wouldn't have worried me." A thought
seemed to strike him suddenly, and tugging a newspaper out of his pocket
he handed it across to Sarle.

"Seven rewards offered," he remarked gruffly, "and each of them for a
thousand pounds. Five of them are for our jobs." He looked sharply at
him. "And that affair at Epping was yours, wasn't it?" He grunted at
Sarle's nod. "Well, I guessed so."

A long silence followed. Sarle was engrossed with the newspaper,
Edgehill stared stonily into the fire as if he were not inclined to be
too intimate with the visitor and Broome's eyes were glued upon his
book. Apparently the latter was most catholic in his tastes for he was
now perusing Drummond's 'Natural Law in the Spiritual World.'

Presently Bull spoke and he addressed himself quietly to Edgehill--

"What about that Jew in Stratford?" he asked in a hoarse whisper and he
jerked his thumb in the direction of Sarle. "Was that the gov'nor, too?"

"What Jew?" replied Edgehill without interest and yawning as if he were
sleepy.

"Bah!" said Bull snapping his massive jaws together, "then if you answer
like that--it was the gov'nor." He laughed sneeringly. "Just as if you
wouldn't have read every line about the old Jew. You can't shut me in
the dark."

Sarle looked up suddenly--

"You read what was in the 'Daily Microphone,' Bull," he asked sharply,
"after I'd been to Epping that day?"

"My oath, yes," replied Bull, "every damn word, and that's why I thought
it was you." He ticked off on his fingers. "Dark eyes--sallow skin.
Trilby hat, Jehu car. It fitted in exactly. Every word that married
couple said, and----" he added significantly, "it would be awkward," he
said slowly, "if they got the chance to identify me, and----" he added
significantly, "it might be bad for us all."

"Damned bad," agreed Bull. "If the police get you, they'll be nosy about
all of us. Anyone who's had anything to do with you, anyone who's spoken
to you, anyone who's seen you, almost." He leant back in his chair and
growled. "It won't be healthy for any of us."

Sarle reached down for a writing pad that was on the mantelshelf and
then took a pencil out of his pocket.

"I'll draw you," he said slowly, "the exact position on the London road
of the place where the couple live." He looked straight at Bull. "It's a
very lonely house."

Bull frowned harder than ever. "Oh! you mean that, do you?" he said,
blinking his eyes. "Well, it'll be very risky and I shall want more than
200 this time."

"What are the couple like?" asked Bull presently. "What sort of chap is
the man?"

"Small and weak," assured Sarle, "and the girl can't be over twenty.
Neither will put up a fight. You should have no trouble at all. You
could shoot through one of the windows away from the road. As far as I
remember, the forest comes right up to the back of the house. I'll lend
you an automatic, and close up you can't miss."

Bull shook his head. "No, no," he said, sharply; "I never carry a gun.
It's dangerous and makes too much damned noise. I do my jobs in a
quieter way." He looked thoughtful. "Probably I'll club them and then
burn down the house."

They talked on for some time, and then Bull, looking at the clock, rose
up to go. The wind was still blowing hard, and as he buttoned up his
coat he glanced apprehensively at the curtains swaying before the
windows.

"I shall have a devilish ride back to Harwich," he said. "The wind'll be
dead against me the whole way." He turned to Sarle. "Well, I'll be back
here in a couple of days or so. If it's got to be done, then the quicker
the better. Keep an eye on the newspapers." And with a curt nod to
Edgehill he walked to the door.

Sarle went with him to let him out, and then, closing and bolting the
door behind him, returned to his armchair and sank back into it without
remark.

Silence then again prevailed in the hall, with Sarle staring
meditatively into the fire, Edgehill lying back with closed eyes, as if
he were asleep, and Broome reading assiduously on. And outside, the wind
continued to sweep thunderously round the building, and the roar of the
sea came up across the marshes like some wolf mother calling to her
cubs.

Suddenly, then, Broome started, and his book fell with a loud thud upon
the floor. His mouth gaped, and with a tense expression on his face he
sat bolt upright--listening.

Sarle looked round angrily.

"And what the hell's the matter with you now?" he sneered. "Has another
ghost bitten you?"

"I heard something," replied Broome, with dignity; "something outside."

"And so did everybody, you damn fool!" said Sarle. "The wind's loud
enough to wake the dead."

Broome picked up his book. "But it wasn't only the wind I heard," he
remarked quietly, and then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he resumed
his reading.

"He gets on my nerves," Sarle muttered to Edgehill, "I shall speak to
Shillington to-morrow and see if he can't take him away."

But the next afternoon, upon his arrival at the Priory, the doctor
altogether pooh-poohed the idea. "He's not bad enough for that yet," he
said; "and I could never get another practitioner to certify him with
me. Besides----" and he looked curiously at Sarle--"he's quite
inoffensive and won't do anybody any harm."

"But he annoys me," insisted Sarle, "and I've got sick of the sight of
him."

"We've all got the jumps here," remarked Colonel Jasper gloomily; "and
old Broome happens to be the scapegoat just now." He smiled whimsically.
"But if it really came to the point, I'm sure we should all be sorry to
lose him; he's such a darned good cook."

"Ah! That reminds me," exclaimed the doctor genially; "I've got a dish
of mushrooms for you in the car. They are all cleaned and peeled, ready
for cooking, too. I had them given to me but I've got some faint gastric
disturbance and daren't think of touching mushrooms to-day."

"Many thanks to you doctor," replied the colonel heartily. "We're all
fond of mushrooms, and we'll have them this evening. Broome, Broome," he
called out and he grinned round at the others. "Here's another job for
you. Mushrooms, this evening for tea."

Broome appeared in the hall and took the dish that the doctor in the
meantime had brought out from the car. The dish was tied round with a
linen cloth and placing it upon the table, Broome nonchalantly started
to unwrap it.

But the doctor thrust himself forward. "Don't uncover them, man," he
exclaimed hastily. "Keep the air from them to the last moment until
you're actually ready to start cooking them. They're peeled, you
understand, and they'll go stale now, directly they are exposed to the
air. Stew them in milk, I should. Tip them in a saucepan two hours
before you want them and let them simmer slowly. Don't boil them. Then
serve them in the milk just as they are."

Colonel Jasper laughed. "And fancy telling Broome that! Why, he's as
good as a chef any day and a real artist in cooking mushrooms anyhow."

Broome looked scornfully at the doctor, and whisking up the dish,
disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

The doctor chatted amiably for a few minutes and then took his leave.

"And he annoys me too, now," said Sarle, looking frowningly after the
departing car. "What the devil's made him so polite lately. Butter
wouldn't have melted in his mouth this afternoon, and yet, generally,
he's such a boor."

Colonel Jasper frowned too. "He seemed nervous to me," he said
thoughtfully, "as if he'd got something on his mind."

"And why wouldn't he hear of taking Broome now?" went on Sarle. "He's
changed right around from what he was the other day. Then, he said----"

Edgehill stood up and stretched himself. "Oh! damn you both," he
interrupted rudely. "You're getting like a couple of old women with your
ideas. I saw nothing funny about Shillington this afternoon except that
he was a good sort to bring those mushrooms down. As for Broome, I can't
see why you want to get rid or him. He's darned useful and interferes
with nobody."

"But he may become a danger to us," said Sarle, "and I look ahead."

"Ah!" exclaimed Edgehill, "talking about danger. I wonder what Bull's
been doing to-day. He might be back with news, even to-night."

"Yes," replied Sarle, his mind turning instantly upon the new train of
thought. "To-night or to-morrow, we shan't have to wait long. Everything
may have happened to-day."

And Sarle was not the only one who was expectant of unusual happenings
that day.

That night at nine o'clock Dr. Shillington was sitting again in his
study, and although the room was warm and cosy, there were beads of cold
perspiration upon his face. He imagined that he was smoking, but the
cigar had gone out and he was chewing viciously at a cold butt.

He looked up at the clock.

"Three hours," he muttered hoarsely, "then--they are all dead. There
were enough amanita among the other ones to ensure that they would all
get a lethal dose." He counted with his fingers. "They would have
started their tea at six, they are always very punctual. Sarle sees to
that, and then within an hour--by seven," he took out his handkerchief
and mopped over his face, "the symptoms would commence." His hands shook
and his mouth was very dry. "Yes, they are all dead, and it would be
Jasper who would have died first. He could have stood very little in his
condition, and the end would have come very soon. Then Edgehill would go
next. He was strong and muscular, but his resistance to the toxins would
be bad. Then Broome. He would not complain much, but his self-repression
would take it out of him and his heart would fail the quicker. Sarle
would be the last. Yes, Sarle was wiry, and he would fight and struggle
to the last. I can see how he would look. His face would be drawn up
horribly, his eyes would blaze, his forehead----" But the doctor made a
gesture of repugnance and abruptly closed his meditations.

He rose up from his chair, and for a long while paced restlessly up and
down; then hearing the clock strike ten and almost immediately after,
the maids go upstairs to bed, he waited a few minutes and crept up to
his former butler's room.

There he stood in the darkness, straining his eyes across the marshes
towards where the house on the island stood. He could just see the house
as a faint blur against the background of the sea, but there were no
lights in any of the windows, and all was still and silent as the grave.

"And a grave it is," he muttered, as he turned away, "for if the old
woman didn't have any of the mushrooms herself she has, nevertheless,
almost certainly died of shock. She was fond of Jasper, I know."

He put himself to bed about an hour later, but found it impossible to
sleep. Then just before midnight, he looked at his watch--he thought he
heard the faint sounds of gunshots, two in quick succession, from the
direction of the island. He was up and out of bed in an instant, and
creeping upstairs again to the butler's room. But then as before he saw
nothing unusual, except that now a hazy moon had risen, and the outline
of the Priory was more distinct.

He stood listening for quite ten minutes, but there was no repetition of
the sounds, and once again he put himself to bed.

"Perhaps Sarle may be lingering on," was his thought, "and he fired
those two shots to bring him help. The poison may take longer to kill
than Voronoff said." He shook his head. "But he'll be dead before
morning comes in, anyhow."

It was hours before he sank off to sleep, and then only after he had
given himself an hypnotic. Then he slept heavily, and it was the
parlor-maid who awoke him by tapping on the door at 8 o'clock.

"Damn," he swore angrily, "and I meant to have gone up and looked to
make sure that there were none of them about. Now, when shall I know
exactly what has happened?"

He thought of what must be his next move whilst he was dressing, and he
was still thinking about it as he made the pretence of eating his
breakfast.

"Now I must be very careful," he told himself, frowning, "for those
fellows from Scotland Yard will be down again, and there must be nothing
to bring me in, in the remotest way. No, I must find out nothing,
myself. I must learn everything from outsiders."

He had just finished his meal when he saw the butcher's cart go by the
window, and half a minute later the parlor-maid came in.

"If you please, sir," she said, "may Mr. Harkness speak to you. He says
he's got a message for you from the island."

Dr. Shillington's heart beat wildly, but he drew in his features to the
expression of a mask.

"Show him in then," he replied curtly.

Some dreadful moments for the doctor followed, and with a mighty effort
only, was he able to assume an appearance of equanimity.

Smithers ushered the village butcher in. He had a round smiling face,
and he touched his forehead respectfully when he saw the doctor. He was
carrying two wild ducks.

"I've just come from the Priory, sir," he said. "Mr. Edgehill's
compliments, and he's sent you these ducks. He shot them last night on
the marshes. He told me to give them to you himself, and say they're a
return for the mushrooms which they enjoyed very much."

Dr Shillington's face was the picture of incredulity and amazement.

In the meantime, all unconscious of the bomb that the butcher had thrown
at the doctor's feet, the inmates of the Priory were going about their
usual daily occupations.

They had breakfasted early as was their wont, and then Broome had been
dispatched to go and get some fish, for in spite of his superior ways,
he was undoubtedly the best fisherman of the party, possessing as he did
an almost uncanny sense of determining the exact places where the fish
would bite.

Colonel Jasper, who had sent him off, expected him to be away at least
an hour, but he was back in less than ten minutes, and appeared in the
living room where Sarle, Edgehill and the colonel were talking together.
They saw that he was carrying a pair of boots.

"And what's up with you now," called out Sarle angrily, "and where are
those damned fish you were sent for?"

Broome ignored the question. "Bull's come back," he said quietly. "He's
on the sands now by the black rocks."

Sarle snapped his jaws together. "And why the hell then doesn't he come
in?" he asked.

"He can't," replied Broome, "he's been shot in the head."

Sarle flared up in a fury, and springing forward, shook his fist in
Broome's face.

"You're lying," he shouted. "It's another of your damned lies."

"It isn't," said Broome stoutly. "I've got his boots on. I thought
they'd fit me, but----" and he looked down at his feet. "I find they're
too big."




CHAPTER XIII.--THE BRAINS OF SCOTLAND YARD.


Three days later, and in the morning, early, the Chief Commissioner of
Police received an important visitor in the person of the Secretary of
State for Home Affairs. He was a dapper looking little man with a
pleasant smile, and he wagged his finger playfully at the Chief
Commissioner as he came in.

"No, sir," he said laughing, "I have not come to order you to instant
execution, but I have had notice of a question that is going to be asked
in the House tonight, and I want to be in the position of being able to
say that I've been in communication with you personally."

"Very pleased to see you," replied the Chief Commissioner, smiling. "I'm
always at your service, as you know."

"Of course it's about these murders that I've come," said the Home
Secretary, and the smile dropped on his face. He hesitated just a
moment. "I want to be able to assure the House that all that is possible
is being done, and that you are not insensible to the uneasiness of the
public generally."

"Quite so," replied the Commissioner, and his voice hardened coldly,
"and you can assure them that with perfect truth."

"You see," went on the Home Secretary, and there was apology in his
tone, "the public are very disturbed at the immunity these wretches are
enjoying, and there is a feeling among the ignorant and unthinking that
there is bad management somewhere that something should not have been
found out by now. Of course," he added quickly, for he saw a frown
deepening upon the face of the Commissioner, "they don't understand the
difficulties under which you gentlemen labor."

"No, they certainly don't," replied the Commissioner shortly, "England
is a big country to hunt about in, and when a crime has been committed
the perpetrators of it unkindly omit to leave their names and addresses.
We police have to find out everything for ourselves."

"But six months is a long lime," said the Home Secretary, his face
reddening a little, for he did not quite like the tone of the
Commissioner's voice.

"A very short time," corrected the Commissioner coldly, "when we are
faced with such an organisation as these men possess."

"But what am I to say tonight?" asked the Home Secretary rather
irritably. "What could I tell the House?"

"You could tell them, sir," replied the Commissioner slowly, and his
voice was even and emotionless, "you could tell them that we know who
the criminals are."

"What!" exploded the high official, and he almost bounced out of his
chair. "I can tell them you know who they are." He rose to his feet in
his excitement. "Then you've arrested them just now?"

The Commissioner waved him back. "Not at all," he said quietly. "Not at
all. They're still quite free and undisturbed and living the lives of
respectable country gentlemen. They golf and go fishing and play tennis,
and to all appearances have the best of everything to eat and drink."

The dapper-looking little man sank back into his chair. It was his face
that had hardened now, and he looked all at once the fighting animal
that had won a half score of fiercely contested elections and forced its
way by sheer grit on to the Treasury Bench.

"But I don't understand you," he said curtly. "Please explain."

"I said you could tell the House," smiled the Commissioner pleasantly,
"but, of course, you won't, for what I am disclosing is for your private
satisfaction alone, and if the slightest inkling of it leaked out----"
he shrugged his shoulders, "all our grip of the situation would be
gone."

"But you actually know them?" gasped the Home Secretary. "You know the
gang of the Iron Man?"

"Yes," nodded the Commissioner, "four of them are living in an old
Priory on an island just off the Essex Coast, about ten miles from
Colchester, and it is from there that they have made their raids. We
know for certain it is they."

"And why haven't you arrested them then," commented the Cabinet Minister
quickly.

"All in good time, Mr. Mortlock," said the Commissioner, completely at
his ease. "We are not quite ready yet." He smiled confidently. "You must
understand that, although we are quite sure it is they, yet up to the
present moment the only evidence we have against them is all purely
circumstantial, and we cannot act until we obtain direct convincing
proof."

"And in the meantime," exclaimed the Minister, disgustedly, "they may
get away."

The Commissioner shook his head. '"No, no," he said emphatically. "We
are sure about that." There was a grim look upon his face. "Not a rat
could leave that island now without being seen, not a bird, almost, fly
over it without being marked down, and certainly not a man or woman
could pass on to the mainland without being intercepted directly they
were out of sight of the island itself."

"But do these men then know they are being watched?" asked the
bewildered Home Secretary.

The Commissioner frowned thoughtfully. "We are not quite sure about
that," he replied, "and that's why we have to be so careful." His face
brightened. "But at any rate we are certain that they can have no idea
how much we have found out. They are entirely in the dark, for instance,
that we know them to be the gang of the Iron Man."

"And these last murders were theirs?" gasped the Home Secretary again.
"All three of them?"

"Yes, all three," replied the Commissioner gravely. "The men they killed
knew more about them than was safe, and they struck in consequence, to
close their mouths. They found out we were moving, and they left nothing
to chance." He sighed and added very slowly, "Only the dead do not
speak."

"But, good God!" exclaimed the perspiring Cabinet Minister, "are there
really monsters about like that?"

"Plenty, in the underworlds of all great cities," smiled the
Commissioner, "and it requires only some particular combination of
circumstances to bring them out." He lifted up the receiver of the
telephone upon his desk. "But just wait a moment. You may be able to
learn at first hand something of how we poor incompetent police go about
our work, and what we have discovered in these present cases." He spoke
into the receiver. "Are either Mr. Carter or Mr. Stone in the Yard, do
you know, please? Oh! only Mr. Stone, then put me through, please." A
moment's silence followed, and then he spoke again. "Chief speaking. I
have a visitor here--Mr. Mortlock, the Secretary of State for Home
Affairs. He would like to have a word with you, please. Bring the
dossiers of the Isaacstein, the Dr. Logan and the Fred Duke cases. Yes,
at once, please," and he hung up the receiver with a humorous smile upon
his face.

"Now you're going to have a treat, Mr. Mortlock," he said. "Our Mr.
Stone is not only one of the ablest detective officers we have, but he
is a fine racounteur as well, and with a great sense of the dramatic. He
is in part charge of all these cases and everything about them has
passed through his hands." His face was mildly amused. "Yes, you will
learn now about what we police have to do."

A minute later and Stone entered the room. He was carrying a thick
portfolio, and he bowed gravely to the Home Secretary when he was
introduced.

"Sit down," said the Chief Commissioner, and when the big man had pulled
forward a chair, he went on quietly:--"Now, Mr. Stone, the position is
like this. Tonight, Mr. Mortlock is going to be interrogated in the
House regarding the many outrages and homicidal acts that have occurred
lately, and the immunity that their perpetrators are still enjoying. He
maintains that the public are becoming very restless, that what is
popularly known as the gang of the Iron Man have not been apprehended,
and he puts it to me very delicately and very nicely, and indeed without
actually mentioning it, that if this condition of things continues much
longer, he fears there will be such an outcry of public opinion that a
change in the personnel of the Yard here, must inevitably follow."

"Oh, no, Sir Francis," broke in the Home Secretary, getting red; "I
didn't exactly say that at all, I----"

"But it was in your mind, Mr. Mortlock," smiled the Chief Commissioner
good humoredly, "for no doubt you yourself, to some extent, share in the
general idea of our incompetence." He turned again to the big detective.
"So now, Mr. Mortlock has come direct to me in the hope that I may be
able to tell him of some real progress we are making, so that tonight he
may be able to assure his interrogator truthfully that we are not
standing still but are getting a grip of the situation, unsatisfactory
although everything may appear to outsiders."

"But," glared Stone, and he unconsciously hugged the thick portfolio
closely to his chest, "not a whisper of what's here must get out or all
our work will be lost. We are not prepared yet----"

"Oh! don't think about that for a moment sir," interrupted the Home
Secretary hurriedly. "Whatever you tell me will not pass to anyone, you
may be perfectly sure of that." He suddenly drew up his small body to a
pose of importance and authority, and smiled with quiet dignity. "If
what I hear from you in any way detracts from my uneasiness, then I
shall send at once privately for the member who is asking the question
and suggest to him, in the interest of the public generally, that he
postpone his interrogation until it will do no harm. He is quite a
sensible fellow, and will do what I ask at once, I am sure."

"Very good, then," said Stone solemnly. He turned to the Chief
Commissioner. "But where am I to begin, sir?"

"I have told Mr. Mortlock," said the Commissioner, "that we know who the
gang of the Iron Man are, and where they are living, but that we are
unwilling to strike yet, because we lack certain material evidence that
will carry conviction in a court of law." He nodded his head. "Yes, I
have spoken to him quite openly, so you can go straight ahead and
withhold nothing,"--he hesitated just a moment--"except, of course,
names." He went on quickly. "But it's about these last three outrages
particularly that I have called you in. I want Mr. Home Secretary to
learn something of police methods and the difficulties of our work." He
smiled. "Take your time, Mr. Stone, and tell the story in your own way."

"I am a shipowner, you see, Mr. Stone," smiled the Home Secretary, he
shrugged his shoulders, "and quite an innocent where you gentlemen of
the police are concerned."

The big detective eyed him solemnly. "Well, it's quite an interesting
story, I can tell you, sir," he began in his rich, deep voice, "and it
is certainly as involved a one as we have ever had here before us at the
Yard." He put his portfolio down upon the table before him. "But, to
begin with, as far as these three last murders are concerned, you must
first postulate four miscreants of the gang of the Iron Man living on a
lonely island just off the coast of Essex and another malefactor, the
fifth, living close by. For six months and more, as you are aware, these
men have been ravaging the countryside, and so clever have been their
methods and so well arranged their organisation, that with all the
resources at our command, until a couple of weeks or so ago we could not
pick up one single clue. On no occasion have they left the ghost of a
trail behind them. Then, thanks to the self-sacrifice of a
comrade,"--his voice vibrated here just a little--"who paid for his
temerity with his life, we at last got upon their track and got upon it,
too, without them knowing we are after them."

He nodded his head emphatically. "Yes, they are not aware that we know
them to be the gang of the Iron Man, and they can have no idea that we
are identifying them with the outrages committed at those country houses
in Essex and the other two eastern counties. They do know, however, that
we are interested in them, but they believe only in connection with that
murder of Dr. Shillington's butler at Oakley Court, and there, as these
four on the island had nothing whatever to do with it,"--he smiled
enigmatically--"They know they are quite safe. But eight or nine days
ago they guessed we should be enquiring about them, and alive at once to
where our enquiries might possibly lead us, they instantly took measures
to silence certain persons who could possibly furnish incriminating
facts about them in other ways. Those big rewards and the free pardon
that you offered frightened them, too, and so at once the reign of the
knife and the bludgeon began."

"But if you were watching them." interrupted the Home Secretary, "how
could they get away to do these things?"

"They were just a few hours ahead of us," replied the detective sadly,
"and they struck before we were on guard. They had the advantage of
knowing we had picked up the beginning of their trail before we knew
that trail was going to lead us to them."

There was silence for a moment, and then Stone went on--

"Well, a week ago yesterday we were called, one after another, within a
few hours, to those last three murders, and from the places where they
were committed and from other things as well we knew practically at once
that they were the work of the same gang. Abe Isaacstein, the
pawnbroker, was killed at Stratford, Essex, Dr. Logan in Epping, and the
painter, Fred Duke, in Colchester."

He took a sheaf of papers from the portfolio. "We will take the case of
the pawnbroker first, and if I tell you things which, of course, you
already know, you will understand that I only do so in order to make my
general statement the more clear. The public are so often told things
that are not true. Now, Abe Isaacstein was a jeweller and pawnbroker in
a good way of business on Stratford Broadway. He kept three assistants,
all of whom had been with him over a number of years. The head one,
Thomas Bloxham, is an ex-pugilist, and was undoubtedly engaged on
account of his fighting ability, for Stratford Broadway is a rough place
at times. All of these men had a real affection for their master, for he
had all along been most considerate and generous in his treatment of
them. There is no doubt as to their genuine horror at what happened.
Well, last Tuesday week just about half-past eleven, a man came into
Isaacstein's shop, and, going straight up to him, he was standing near
the door at the time, said a few words very quietly. The pawnbroker
evidently knew the man, for without replying, he nodded, and at once led
the way into his private office at the back of the shop, and the door
closed behind them.

"Then nothing happened, Bloxham says, for quite half an hour, until
another visitor arrived to see the pawnbroker.

"Bloxham went at once to acquaint his master and knocked loudly at the
door. I must here explain that there are two doors to the office, the
outer one is just an ordinary wooden door, but the inner one is thickly
padded over with felt, making the office, as far as ordinary speaking
voices are concerned, practically soundproof. Well, Bloxham knocked
loudly on the outer door, but waiting for longer than a minute and
getting no answer, he suddenly became uneasy and so, opening it without
more ado, and the other door as well, he burst into the private room. He
found his master murdered, one of the windows open, and the visitor
gone. Our men were quickly on the scene and the investigations began."
The detective shrugged his shoulders and pursed up his lips. "But there
was at first sight absolutely nothing to tell us who the assassin was or
why the murder had been done. Nothing had apparently been taken, nothing
had been disarranged. The pawnbroker had simply been murdered, and that
was all."

"He had been stabbed in the neck, a ghastly circular gash that had
severed the main vessels, and the assault had all signs of having been
of so furious a nature that the victim had probably never cried out. As
I say, the murderer had apparently taken nothing, but his work
accomplished, he had dropped out of the window into a small yard, and
scaling a low wall there, had escaped along a back street. There were no
finger marks anywhere, and the weapon used had not been left behind."

"Dreadful!" commented the Home Secretary, "dreadful!"

The detective went on--

"We got a good description of the assassin from Bloxham, the only one,
apparently, of the assistants who had particularly noticed him. He
described him as being dark, of medium height, of slight build, wearing
a cap and colored glasses, rather shabbily dressed and looking as if he
were a working man."

"As far as all outward appearances went, as I say, we could see no
motive for the crime and indeed according to all report, Isaacstein was
by no means the type of man one would associate with such a grim tragedy
of such a mysterious kind. Of excellent reputation, he had been in
business there on the Broadway for more than twenty years, was respected
by all who knew him and was noted for the honest and straightforward
nature of his dealings. The local police spoke highly of him and upon
several occasions when stolen articles had been pledged with him, he had
gone out of his way to give them all the assistance that he possibly
could."

"To our surprise, however, we found that his private life was an unknown
quantity to everybody, even to his assistants who had been with him for
all those years. He was a most reserved and secretive man and they knew
nothing at all as to what he did or where he went after business hours."

"He did not live on the premises for all the rooms were used in the
business, but where his home was, they had no idea. They left him in the
shop every evening when they had put up the shutters a few minutes after
six o'clock and they found him waiting for them every morning when they
came to work at half past eight. The place was particularly well
protected against burglars, it is not a hundred yards distant,
by-the-bye, from the police station, there are burglar alarms fixed
everywhere, and there are massive steel shutters to all the windows and
the doors."

Stone paused again and then a slow smile crossed into his face.

"Well, as I have told you," he went on, "directly we heard of this
outrage we put it down at once to the gang of the Iron Man, but I must
admit that when we went down, personally to investigate, my colleague
Mr. Carter and I, we did not at first see how things fitted in. A
respectable tradesman, there was nothing on the surface to associate him
in any way with wrongdoing of any kind. Yes, we police were stumped
again." He looked humorously at the Home Secretary.

"But in a little while we began to have doubts about this Isaacstein.
Those double doors were peculiar. There was no necessity for them that
we could see, and the inner one was so padded with thick layers of felt
that as I say, as far as voices were concerned it made his office quite
sound-proof. Such secrecy in our opinion did not suggest above-board and
honest transactions. Then there was a stout bolt on this inner door too,
we noticed, that could be operated from a wire under the desk. It could
be operated either way when Isaacstein was seated at his desk and
ensured when he do wished it, that no one could break in upon his
privacy."

"Then, the position of one of the chairs made us think a bit, and the
fact that its legs were clamped down on to the floor so that it could
not be moved. It was slightly to one side of the desk where Isaacstein
was accustomed to sit, and whoever would be occupying it would be in the
strong clear light of a window above. Just where we would place a man,
we thought, if we were take his photograph."

"And then we examined a row of books above the desk and found, as we
were half-expecting, that one was no book at all, but simply a
camouflaged camera. And the ball that operated the shutter had been
carried down until it was just under the knee-hole of the desk, so
Isaacstein had only to squeeze it quickly at the right moment and then
the camera above would give him a photograph of whoever at that moment
was sitting in the chair. The camera was fully loaded when we found it."

"Then we cross-examined the assistants again, especially the
pugilistic-looking one, and we wrung from him reluctantly that his
master did, from time to time, receive visitors in his private office
about whose business, he, the assistant, knew nothing. He would not,
however, admit the possibility of anything unlawful in the visits, for
his master, he averred, was always so scrupulously straight-forward in
all his dealings with everyone that it was unthinkable that he could be
connected with anything dishonest in any way.

"His own idea was that Isaacstein, who was of Russian extraction, was
secretly helping political refugees, and we left it at that because it
was obvious that Bloxham was not an individual of very keen
intelligence, and besides, had no imagination at all.

"But we badly wanted the photographs we knew the pawnbroker had been
taking, and after a long search we found them. They were in a
cunningly-contrived secret drawer at the bottom of his desk, and there
were thirty-four of them."

Stone stopped speaking, and began turning over the pages of the
portfolio before him.

"Yes," he went on after a moment, "there were thirty-four of them, and
some of them are quite good snaps as you shall see. Twenty-three of the
gentlemen they portray have not been recognised by any of us up to now,
but eleven of them we know quite well, and no less than five of them, at
the present time----" he paused a long moment, "are undergoing penal
servitude in various of his Majesty's prisons."

"Good God!" exclaimed the excited Home Secretary, "then this pawnbroker
was a member of the gang, himself."

Stone shook his head. "No, I don't think so," he said. He thumped his
fist upon the table. "But he was the most enterprising receiver of
stolen goods in the kingdom, and we have been looking for him for
years."

The Home Secretary mopped his face with his pocket handkerchief, and
Stone went on.

"We showed the photographs to the assistant, Bloxham, and he at once
picked out one of them, although, unfortunately, it is not a very clear
one, as that of the man whom his master had taken into his office just
before he had been killed. One of the other assistants, too, says he
remembers the Face as that of a visitor who had called upon at least two
occasions previously, the last time, he thought, being about a month
ago. Upon the back of the photograph was pencilled in Isaacstein's
handwriting the name 'White,' with a note of interrogation, however,
after it."

"Very interesting," commented the Home Secretary. "Most interesting, I
am sure."

"Well," went on Stone, "we were convinced then that Isaacstein had been
a fence in a big way, but, search as we did, there was not the very
slightest trace of evidence to support that conviction. Every piece of
jewellery we found on the premises had its perfectly recorded history,
was numbered and ticketed, and the date of its purchase or pledging put
down in the ledgers, in black and white. Naturally, then, we were of the
opinion that the proceeds of the illicit side of his business would be
cached in his private residence, and we at once took energetic steps to
find where that residence was."

The detective smiled grimly at the Cabinet Minister.

"And then here, sir," he said, "we were faced with one or those ordinary
easy problems with which we poor, unthinking police have so often to
grapple. With apparently nothing to help us, we had yet to find out
which particular one among the hundred thousand and more houses in the
surrounding districts of Stratford Broadway sheltered the private life
of the pawnbroker Isaacstein and----" he took and lighted a cigarette
from the case that the Chief Commissioner held out to him--"we found it
within eight and forty hours."

The Home Secretary made a wry face.

"Don't rub it in, Mr. Stone," he said. "I don't insist on your
incompetence, remember. I'm not the general public. How did you find it
now?"

"Well," replied Stone, "the position seemed very hopeless at first.
Stratford Broadway, surrounded by densely populated districts, is one of
the busiest traffic centres to be found anywhere in the kingdom. Five
lines of tramway converge there, and hundreds of motor buses pass every
hour, so Isaacstein had every facility for getting away in any direction
he might choose; and we agreed, too, that he would live quite a distance
away from Stratford in order that in the vicinity of his private
residence he would minimise the chances of his being recognised by any
of the people who had dealings with him on the Broadway. So we realised
we must set about enquiring from all the tramcar and motor bus
conductors, most methodically.

"But first we must have a photo of Isaacstein to show them, and we set
out to prepare one at once.

"We propped up the body of the dead man, we took off his
spectacles--they were only of plain dark glass, and although he was
never seen for one moment without them in Stratford, they were obviously
of no service to him, except as a help to a disguise; we washed the
blood off his face, and then we pigmented him up generally to the color
of a living man, painting in new eyes upon the eyelids that were closed.
Then we took out the set of false teeth that he was wearing and inserted
a second set that we found in the bag that from its other contents, he
was apparently in the habit of carrying daily to and fro. The teeth in
these plates were much more prominent and would, we saw, entirely alter
the shape of his mouth. Then we put on his hat and as I say, took a
photograph of him."

"Good God!" ejaculated the Home Secretary for the fourth time, "what a
horrible performance."

"Yes, it was unpleasant," remarked Stone carelessly, "but then we often
have to do unpleasant things. Well, we got a number of these photos
printed and within a couple of hours or so, had nearly a score of our
men interviewing every tramcar and motorbus conductor who passed through
the Broadway. But all that day we had no success. No conductor from
citywards or from Ilford, or Leyton, or Leytonstone, or Upton Park
recognised the photographs as being that of a man who was in the habit
of riding with him. But we were not disheartened and at once began
trying the tram and bus routes farther away, the routes I mean that did
not touch Stratford at all. And almost immediately we were rewarded. A
tram conductor on the Barking-Aldgate service recognised the photograph
as that of a passenger he was in the habit of picking up every morning
at 7.25 at the first stop, about 250 yards from the Barking terminus and
whom he always dropped later, at the comer of Greet-street, Upton Park.
Then, we saw the cunning of the man. He never touched any public
conveyance until he was well over a mile and a half from the Broadway.
Well, the rest was easy. The tram conductor said the man was carrying a
newspaper every morning, and at the first paper shop we enquired at, the
photograph was recognised again. It was that of a Mr. Heber we were
told, a commercial traveller, and his house was pointed out down the
street."

"We knocked at the door and were received by a middle-aged woman who
announced herself as the housekeeper. She was tremendously shocked when
she learnt who we were, and what our mission was. Her emotion was quite
genuine, and we were soon assured that like the newsagent, she genuinely
believed her master to be Mr. Solomon Heber and a commercial traveller
who worked for a firm of tea merchants in the city. She had been with
him for about four years."

"We then proceeded to search the house and were very disappointed. It
was just an ordinary modern house, comfortably furnished and with no
suggestion about it anywhere of secret hiding places. We went through
everywhere most carefully for we were certain that there was a hidden
safe somewhere, one of the keys on Isaacstein's bunch, a Yale one, being
unaccounted for, but--we found nothing."

"Then suddenly we noticed some large empty paint tins in the yard, and
the color of the paint they had contained, we saw, was different to the
color of anything about the house. We asked the housekeeper what they
had been used for and her reply was that Mr. Heber had been touching up
one of his other properties. It was the hobby of his Sundays and
Saturday afternoons."

"We were on the alert at once, and learnt then that Isaacstein was the
owner of two houses in the adjoining street. One was let to the local
superintendent of police, but the other had been vacant ever since his
housekeeper had been with him. There had been many applications for it,
she explained, but her master had required too high a rent for it, and
so it had remained empty. The house agents had become tired of sending
people to go over it."

"Asking where the keys were, she said she had them in her bag, but had
strict orders never to give them up to anybody unless they came with a
written order to view from the agent."

"We were soon inside the unoccupied house, and here again it seemed at
first we were going to be disappointed. The house was an old one, but in
perfectly clean and well-kept condition, and everything appeared
innocent about it. But, realising that this was our last hope, we made a
most exhaustive search, and, to cut a long story short, we found at
last, in a cupboard in one of the back rooms, behind some odds and ends,
principally pieces of old wallpaper that looked quite out of place in
accordance with the general tidiness of the house, a small sliding
panel, and, pulling it to one side, we found what we were after."

"And what was it?" asked the Home Secretary, for the detective had taken
a moment's rest.

"We found," replied Stone solemnly, "a large safe, the contents of which
furnished the most damning evidence about everything that we wanted.
There was convincing proof that Isaacstein had been the
receiver-in-chief of the gang of the Iron Man, for the safe contained
many articles of the proceeds of their raids. The diamond necklace of
Lady Ponsford was there, the pearls taken from Mr. Ratton in the raid at
White Notley, the emeralds that were snatched from Miss Whiteford across
the dead body of Colonel Holt at Witham Court, and a host of other
valuables that have not been identified yet, and perhaps never will be."

"And the silver candlesticks of my friend, Dr. Shillington?" asked the
Home Secretary, rubbing his hands together delightedly, "and the other
things he lost at the same time?"

The detective smiled a slow inscrutable smile. "No. They were not
there," he replied, and then he frowned, "but maybe we shall get hold of
them yet." He turned to his portfolio and picked out another paper. "And
now we come to the next outrage, and here the facts are very
straightforward and plain. Isaacstein was murdered about 11.30, and the
Epping doctor met his death just before two o'clock upon the same day.
Dr. Logan had been in practice there for about two years. He was a
bachelor and kept two maids. One of them, the house parlor-maid, says
that about twelve o'clock she answered an enquiry on the 'phone as to
what time the doctor was generally to be found in after lunch, and she
replied that he could be seen in his surgery about two o'clock. Just
before two, then, she heard the surgery bell ring, and, glancing through
the glass panel of the waiting-room door, saw a man sitting in there
alone, with his face tied up in a scarf. She could give no description
of him afterwards except that he was not very big, and was wearing a
light dust coat. She went and informed the doctor that a patient was
waiting, and shortly afterwards she heard the doctor speaking and then
the closing of the surgery door. Then at that moment the back door bell
rang and she went along the passage to answer it. It was the butcher who
had called, and she tells us that she stood chatting for a couple of
minutes or so before she went back into the kitchen. The other maid was
out in the wash-house at the time. Then nothing more happened for about
ten minutes, until the telephone rang with a message for the doctor to
go out at once to High Ongar. She knocked at the surgery door and
received no answer, and hearing no sound of voices, thought the doctor
must have already gone out. Thereupon she went into the surgery and
found her master lying upon the floor in a pool of blood, dead. He had
been first bludgeoned with a fearful blow upon the head, and then
obviously to make sure, his throat had been cut as he was lying upon the
floor. The local police were upon the scene in less than five minutes,
but all they could learn was that a woman in the baker's shop
opposite--the doctor's house is situated right in the main street--had
seen a man ride off upon a bicycle in the direction of London about ten
minutes before they had arrived. She could give no description of him at
all, except that he was not a big man. Of course the roads were at once
scoured in every direction, but no man on a bicycle nor any suspicious
person was encountered, and so here again the assassin got away
unfollowed."

The detective took out another paper from his portfolio and frowned
angrily.

"And then, as of course you know, next day that honeymoon couple came
forward, and the devil of it was, that instead of going off to the local
police, they wrote first to a newspaper and it was broadcast everywhere
that they had seen the murderer. Their tale was, you will remember, that
about a quarter to two on the afternoon of the day of the murder, they
had come across a black Jehu motor car parked in a sheltered glade of
Epping Forest about three hundred yards off the London road, and about a
mile from the town of Epping itself. There was no one in the car, and
they had wondered at the time that anyone should be so trustful as to
leave it and its contents unprotected there, for amongst other things,
they had remarked a suitcase inside upon the back seat. They walked on
slowly to return home to the cottage where they were living, it is a
lonely one upon the side of the London-road, and then about half an hour
later they heard a car coming up behind them, and, turning round,
recognised it as the one they had seen in the glade. They are quite sure
it was the same car, for the curtains were all up and it struck them as
peculiar, it being such a lovely day. The car was coming at quite a
moderate speed, and they got a good look at the driver. They described
him as dark and sallow-looking, and both say they would know him again."

The detective looked impressively at the Home Secretary. "You know also,
of course, about the finding later of the bicycle. Well, so much," he
went on, "for the murder of Dr. Logan, and we know quite well why he
died."

"Not one of the gang surely?" queried the Home Secretary incredulously.
"He was only a young fellow I read, just fresh from hospital."

Stone shook his head. "No, not one of the gang," he replied gravely,
"but one evening in June last he was returning home in his car late at
night from Maldon, where he had gone for a bathe, and midway between
that town and Hatfield Peveral, in turning a sharp comer, he ran into
and upset one of two bicyclists who were coming in the opposite
direction. The bicyclist was half-stunned and badly cut about one wrist,
and in spite of the strenuous and even angry protestations of his
companion, the doctor would insist on taking the wounded man in to
Hatfield Peveral to get the hurts attended to at the surgery of another
medical man, a friend of his, who lived there. But the other doctor was
out and so Dr. Logan dressed the cuts in the surgery himself. The man
then said he felt quite all right again, and, remounting his bicycle,
rode off with his friend. He left Dr. Logan thinking hard, however, for
the doctor was suspicious about two things; the impatient hurry of both
men to get away and the fact that when he, the doctor, had lifted the
half unconscious man into his car, he had distinctly felt a heavy, bulky
object in the fellow's pocket, that he was sure afterwards could have
only been a pistol of some kind. The next evening the doctor read in the
newspapers of the raid at Witham Court, the previous night, and he wrote
at once to us here at the Yard an account of his adventure, stating that
he should be able to recognise the men at any time, and also that his
patient was tattooed upon both forearms about two inches above the
wrists. The description, too, that he gave of the wounded man tallied
almost exactly with that which Bloxham gave of the murderer of
Isaacstein, and the honeymoon couple gave of the man they saw driving
the Jehu car."

Stone sighed. "Yes, Dr. Logan died because they knew he would have been
a damning witness against them if ever they were put on trial.
Unhappily, he told them his name and where he lived."

"But I want to know," interrupted the Home Secretary frowning, "do the
descriptions that Dr. Logan gave of the cyclist he knocked down, that
the pawnbroker's assistant gave of the man who murdered his master, and
that the honeymoon couple gave of the man they saw in the car, all tally
with that of one of the gang whom you say are now upon that island?"

"Sir," replied the detective impressively, "there is a man there who, if
the color went out of his face, and his figure were much slimmer, would
exactly fit the bill. He is dark-eyed and of a medium height, and, if I
am any judge of temperament and physiognomy--" Stone gritted his teeth
here, "there are all possibilities of his being the cool-headed and
murderous creature who carried out these crimes. He is the leader among
them there, too. There is no mistake about that."

"Then you have been there?" asked the Home Secretary, opening his eyes,
"to the house upon the island? You have visited them in person,
yourself?"

"Twice," replied Stone calmly. "My colleague, Mr. Carter and I,
together. We had to go twice because upon the first occasion, this
particular gentleman, along with another of them living there, was not
at home. They had gone motoring for the day, we were told." He added
drily. "That was last Tuesday week, sir, the day you will remember, upon
which two of the murders were done."

The Home Secretary frowned again. "But if the man's appearance as he
looks now," he asked, "does not exactly answer to that of the one we
want, how does all this help us in any way?"

"But his appearance might answer, sir," the detective smiled back, "if
his face were washed over with alcohol and any surplus undergarments
removed, for even now he is not unlike the photograph that the
pawnbroker took."

The Home Secretary was silent for a moment, and then he asked, "But how
do you know in the first instance that these men are the gang? You
haven't explained to me." The tone of his voice became a little
petulant. "And that's the main thing I want to know."

"One minute, sir, and I'll satisfy you," said Stone. "I will only just
mention first, so that I don't have to hark back, that we have
established beyond all doubt that these two murders we have just been
discussing were the work of the same hand. We found that a Jehu car
containing a suitcase on the back seat was left at a garage in Ilford
just before eleven on the morning of the murders. It was called for
again just before twelve, and the description of the man who left it
tallies with the other descriptions that were given by the parties, who
we contend encountered him that day."

"But the bicycle?" asked the Home Secretary. "He rode away from Epping
on a bicycle, you said, not in a motor car."

"Exactly," replied Stone, "and the conviction is that he came up from
beyond Colchester in the morning with a bicycle in the back of the car,
hid the bicycle somewhere in some lonely country lane off the main road
before he reached Ilford, and then picked it up again before he finally
parked his car in that glade in the forest near Epping."

"Well, go on," said the Home Secretary, after a moment's thought, "the
idea is quite plausible."

"Now," went on Stone, "we come to this third murder that occurred in the
public park at Colchester just after daybreak the next morning."

He turned to his portfolio again. "Fred Duke was the man's name, he was
a painter by trade, and for more than seven months he had been in the
employ of the same building and decorating firm in Colchester. He had
been under our special observation for some days before he was murdered
because we suspected him of having supplied plans of and information
about a number of the houses in Essex that had been attacked by the
raiders." The detective's voice vibrated just a little here. "In a
general survey of the outrages that had taken place in Essex it had been
remarked that three of the houses where these outrages had occurred had
been painted and decorated within the previous six months, and enquiries
revealed the significant fact that all these renovations had been
carried out by the same firm in Colchester. That set us enquiring, and
we learnt that this man Duke had worked on every one of them. What was
more probable then, we asked ourselves, than that he had all along been
a member of the gang and supplying the information needed before the
residences could be successfully attacked? So we shadowed him and should
have been actually shadowing at the very time of the murder, if he had
not, unfortunately for himself, secretly left his lodgings that morning
before it was light. He was killed in the public park about ten minutes
to five, stabbed to the heart among a clump of trees just by the King's
statue, and left weltering in his blood. But his murderer was seen, as
it happened, and had to run for it. Ordinarily speaking, there would not
have been a soul near the spot at that time of the morning, but just by
chance a man was making a short cut across the park to the
railway-station, and at about a hundred and fifty yards' distance he saw
the murder done. He shouted out, but the murderer ran for his life and
quickly disappeared among the trees. He described the man as being
strong and athletic looking, with a square face. But we got a better
description later from a woman who came forward and said she had seen a
man getting over the park fence about a mile from the scene of the
murder exactly as the town clock was striking five. The man crossed her
back yard to get into the road and we got a minute description of him
from her.

"Well, the murdered man was speedily identified and his lodgings were
searched and all information obtained about him that we could gather
from his landlady. But she could really tell us very little, for her
lodger had been a quiet and very reserved man, with no friends visiting
him and rarely going out himself. In the past three months, except for
his work, she said, he had only been away for the day twice, and then
both times it had been on a Sunday. He had not told her where he was
going, but she remembered he had come back on both occasions with black
mud on his boots. The information we got was very meagre, and when we
came to search his rooms things seemed to be very much in the same way.
Nothing for a long time to connect him with anyone and then at last we
found out one significant thing. His candle fitted badly in the
candle-stick, and round the bottom was pinched a crushed and dirty piece
of paper that had once formed part of a paper bag. We smoothed it out
and could just decipher 'P. Helps, Baker, Great Oakley'--," the
detective paused a long moment--"and Great Oakley, Sir, is the village
nearest to the island where the gang live, about a mile and a half away,
and you cross over to it at low water by a stone causeway always
muddy--with black river mud."

The Home Secretary made no comment and the detective went on--

"Then we learned the murdered man had received a letter by post the
previous evening, but as he had taken the letter in himself and it had
not been found upon him after his death, that information was no help to
us, but asking, if to her knowledge he had himself written any letters
lately, his landlady replied, 'Yes, two days ago,' and that he had
borrowed her writing pad to write it upon. Then we at once asked for the
pad, and at first inspection it seemed quite useless to us. There were,
however, very faint marks upon it where a pen had impressed through on
to the page underneath, and smoking the blade of a knife above the
chimney of a lamp, we smutted the paper well over, and----" a note of
triumph swelled into the detective's voice as he whipped out a page from
his portfolio, "this is what we read when we held it to the light."

"Now for something that worries me. I believe I am being watched. A man
is shadowing me. At least I think so, for I have three times seen him in
our street at night, and he was in the High-street when I went to work
this morning. I don't think I'd better come down for a week or two. I'll
wait until things clear up. If you want to speak to me urgently, write
and make a date for very early one morning, and then I'll meet you, say
just before 5 by the King's Statue in the park. I can give anyone who's
watching the slip then by getting over the back fence in the dark.
There's nothing they can find here if they search, but I've got the wind
up and feel nervy."

Stone leant back in his chair, and a dead silence followed. Then the
Home Secretary turned and beamed upon the Commissioner of Police.

"Excellent, excellent," he exclaimed. "You are well served, sir." He
drew in a deep breath. "I can visualise it as a whole now. This dreadful
organisation with its tentacles spread out like an octopus and dragging
its victims down to death. And all the while you are closing in,
secretly, silently, and careless of the censure of the public, because
on you lies the responsibility not to strike until you are ready." He
smiled apologetically. "Really, I'm ashamed I came to worry you."

"Not at all," laughed the Commissioner. "It's each one to his own trade,
you see, and in our work we simply can't tell the public how we are
getting on. It would spoil everything."

"Indeed it would," agreed the Home Secretary. He screwed up his face and
looked very puzzled. "But why was this man Duke killed if he were a
member of their own gang?"

"He let them know that he was under police surveillance," replied the
Commissioner, "and they realised then that he could never be of any
further service to them in consequence. Worse than that, he had become a
positive danger, for by following him they probably argued we might find
them. They were in retreat, so to speak, and he was just like a wounded
man who was hampering their flight, so--they just killed him."

"It was sound policy," growled Stone, "for this Duke was a weak-natured
chap and we would have got everything out of him. You saw in his letter
that he said he was nervy."

"And this man who killed him?" asked the Home Secretary, "have you
identified him with one of them on the island?"

Stone nodded grimly. "There is a man there, sir," he said, "who would
answer exactly to the description that the woman in the garden gave, if
he did not shave for a few days, and were dressed in working clothes."

"Then, good God!" burst out the Home Secretary, "why haven't you raided
the place already and taken the lot?"

The Commissioner shook his head. "We are not ready, Mr. Mortlock," he
said. "We want more than these two men; we want the whole of the gang."

"But there are the others there," exclaimed the bewildered official,
"and surely they would turn out to be incriminated in some way."

"We have no evidence against them," replied the Commissioner, shaking
his head, "and as things are at present, we are not in the position of
being able to bring home to any person any single one of those outrages
committed by the gang of the Iron Man at those country houses."

"Yet you are sure, you say," frowned the Home Secretary, "that you have
now marked down the wretches who have been harrying us all this year."

"Quite sure," said the Commissioner confidently. "We have no doubt about
it at all." He pulled his chair forward and leant over across the desk.
"To sum up the whole position, it is like this. We are confident that we
are right upon the trail of the gang. These men upon the island, knowing
that our attention is being focussed upon them, but we are sure,
imagining it to be quite accidental and only because of the murder of
that butler of Dr. Shillington's happening in their neighborhood," he
held up his hand to emphasise his point, "are yet almost in a state of
panic as to where our investigations may lead us and are striking right
and left to silence all who might possibly become sources of danger to
that gang." He leant back again in his chair. "You see what I mean,
don't you? We strike at those men on the island, but it is the gang of
the Iron Man who instantly strike back, for in each of those three last
murders we see unmistakably the bloody fingerprints of their hand.
Everything dovetails in together. They kill Isaacstein, who was their
fence--the Epping doctor because he knew two of them by sight--and Duke,
the painter, who was in their employ, because he was a weakling and had
fallen under our suspicion." The Commissioner was most emphatic. "So we
can afford to wait, I insist. We are justified in waiting, and, more
than that, it is our duty, in spite of the anxiety the public are in, to
hold our hands."

"But on that island," asked the Home Secretary as if still only
partially convinced, "couldn't they escape by sea? Have they no boats
there?"

"A dinghy," replied the Commissioner carelessly, "a sailing boat, a
small rowing boat on the shore, and a most serviceable looking motor
launch."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed the Home Secretary. "Then they have an open
get-away by the sea, any time."

"No, hardly," said the Chief Commissioner shaking his head. "Harwick is
not ten miles away, and they could not get a boat out of the river
without being marked down, besides," and he smiled drily, "I fancy that
launch of theirs is not in good nick just now. We had an expert working
on it for half an hour one night, and it's just possible when they next
use it, there may be trouble in several ways."

The Home Secretary made a wry face again. "And we fancy you police have
no imagination."

"We've too much," laughed the Commissioner. "I was imagining I should
lose my job just now." His face grew serious again. "And there's another
thing that we must consider and indeed one that we can never lose sight
of. These men are desperate men, remember; men who will glory in
fighting to the death before being taken, and so when we decide to
effect their arrests, the element of surprise must be wholly on our side
or the community will again suffer heavily. Our best men only, will be
relegated for the work, and it will be a bloody business if we bungle
anywhere. We must take them completely by surprise, and that is why we
are so chary now of occasioning them alarm." He spoke very sternly.
"Yes, we must still wait, but I don't somehow think it will be for very
long now."

"But what do you expect to gain now by waiting?" asked the Home
Secretary.

"The uncovering of some of their outside members," was the instant
reply. "They must have a biggish organisation to have done what they
have done so successfully, and if we don't alarm them any further, we
shall probably soon find them communicating with one another by their
usual channels. There will be visitors most likely to the island, and
then we may find these visitors easier to deal with than the gentlemen
we have already seen." He smiled drily. "We may then recognise some old
friends perhaps, and be able to put the screw on straight away." He
laughed. "In our work, Mr. Mortlock, we often get the heads--through the
tails."

They talked on for some time and then the Home Secretary rose up to go.

"Well, I think I am quite satisfied," he said, "and I shall get that
question postponed." He smiled genially at Stone. "You are a great
detective, my friend."

"Just sixteen stone, sir," was the reply delivered with the utmost
gravity. "Not an ounce more nor an ounce less."

A minute later when they were alone the detective said to his superior
officer:--

"I was just coming to you, sir, when you rang me. The body found near
the East India Dock on Tuesday was identified. It is that of a man in
Barking-road, and we learn now that his wife also is missing under very
suspicious circumstances. I am going straight away to enquire about it."

"Essex again!" signed the Commissioner. "Shall we ever get a clean bill
of health there again? A reign of terror and a rain of blood. God have
mercy on us all!"




Chapter XIV.--AT BAY.


There were days of gloom that followed now for the inmates of the house
upon the island, and even the confident and thick-skinned Edgehill lost
something of his equanimity and of his indifference as to what the
future might be holding in store for him.

The return of Bull as a sea-soaked corpse upon the sands with a bullet
through his head and with his pockets picked had fallen like a bomb
among them, and had left them numb and almost speechless in their
bewilderment.

Who was it who could have killed him? they asked themselves, and what,
possibly, could have been the killer's motive for his action? It was so
inexplicable from whatsoever angle they regarded it; for hardened
law-breakers themselves, they were apparently now confronted with a
contempt for law in every way the equal to their own, and with a
ruthlessness, moreover, that they themselves had never exceeded in the
perpetration of all their dark episodes of dreadful crime.

It could not, on the face of it, be Scotland Yard, they contended, and
yet who else, they argued, could be interested in them to the extent of
inflicting a sudden and violent death upon one of their associates.

The face of Sarle was one continual frown, Edgehill gnawed his
fingernails to the very quick, and Colonel Jasper was weighed down with
presentiment, like a fighter who was fighting hopelessly with his back
against the wall.

But in spite of their depression, they were prompt and businesslike in
their disposal of the body.

"We can't leave it lying here for anyone else to see," said Sarle
savagely. "An inquest would be unthinkable, so we must get rid of it at
once. We must sink it out to sea. We'll take it out beyond McKinnon's
buoy. There are a hundred fathoms of water there."

And so Sarle and Edgehill, jumping hastily into their boat, towed the
body to a mile and more distant from the shore. Then they lashed to it
part of the shaft of a disused plough, and let it go.

It was a strange enough burial for any human being, and no beast of the
jungle would have been disposed of in a more heartless and summary
manner.

There was no sorrow expressed that a comrade had passed away, and no
word of regret spoken that a life had been cut off in so untimely a
manner. The mourners mourned only that they had had to pull so far out
to sea, and the dead man was consigned with curses to his eternal rest.
He was handled roughly, and was grudged even the piece of rope that was
attached to the iron that was to drag him down.

"Our best piece of manilla," snarled Sarle, "and I bought it in
Colchester only a couple of weeks ago. Damn him, he ought to have seen
that someone was after him, and not allowed himself to be butchered like
a sheep." He frowned angrily. "Now we shall always have to face the risk
of that Epping couple recognising me whenever they see me."

They went back into the Priory and with jerky sentences, between long
intervals of silence, spoke of the dangers that were now so obviously
encompassing them.

One thing stood out clearly, they agreed. They were no longer, as they
had hitherto so confidently imagined, the masters of the situation; they
were no longer in complete control of the forces that were surrounding
them.

They were being watched it was now certain, but by whom and with what
object, rack their brains as they might, they could not determine.

Broome was sent up to the village for the London newspapers, but there
was nothing there of any particular interest to them, and indeed, it
seemed now that all the excitement about the three murders had died
down. There was no further reference to them, and instead, the 'Daily
Microphone' in big headlines was now frantically tickling the palates of
its readers with well-spiced details of an abortive attempt to poison
the favorite for the Manchester November Handicap.

The next day, however, Harkness, the Great Oakley village butcher,
brought down some rather disquieting news.

A holiday camp, he said, had been set up on the village side of the
marshes, and a dozen or more individuals were there under canvas, living
the simple life.

"Mad, I call them," had been his comment. "The end of October's no time
for anyone to be sleeping out in tents, and besides," he sneered, "they
don't look as if they are the kind of people to be enjoying that sort of
holiday. Great, hefty chaps, more like policemen than folks out for a
bit of fun." He grinned. "But the village pub's doing well, and so am I.
They eat a devil of a lot of meat, and it's all good for trade."

"They're Scotland Yard men, of course," said Sarle frowning, when
Colonel Jasper brought in the news, "and they're there to watch us." His
voice took on a contemptuous tone. "Well, let them watch and wait until
they all get pneumonia in these damned fogs." He puffed complacently at
his cigarette. "It's perfectly clear, however, that they have nothing
definite against us or they wouldn't be wasting time by watching. They'd
have struck long before now if they had evidence at all. They're just
suspicious for some reason, and if we stick tight, our position is quite
unassailable." He looked thoughtfully at Broome. "The citadel can be
only betrayed from within."

But in spite of his brave words, as day by day went by, the gloom over
the Priory deepened, and in the end the nerves of Edgehill as well as
those of Sarle and the colonel became obviously on edge. They were
irritable and jumpy, and swore at one another upon the slightest
provocation. The most trivial disagreement brought them almost to the
verge of a serious quarrel. They had no inclination either for their
nightly game of bridge, and instead, sat staring moodily into the fire
and listening, although they would never have admitted it, for any
sounds outside heralding the arrival of the police.

Only Broome was unperturbed, and he seemed to be living in a world quite
of his own. He listened abstractedly to the conversation of the others,
but took no part in it, indeed he hardly ever spoke, and then when he
did, it was only to report some event that had apparently never
happened. There was no sense in a lot of what he said, but, uncannily
enough, every remark that he made was pointed with some barb to rankle
in and further excite the already highly strung Sarle.

"An aeroplane had alighted upon the sands behind the house," he told
them. "It was a fighting one and carried two machine guns. Every night
he heard the sound of muffled oars; there were boats patrolling round
the island. He had seen huge dogs among the reeds upon the other side of
the river and they looked like bloodhounds to him. They had enormous
ears. There were people hiding night and day upon the marshes, for the
wild ducks flew very high and never now came down to rest."

All this was bad enough to annoy his companions, but at meal times he
made things much worse. He had taken to making noises as he ate his
food, unpleasant gurgling noises that were half like snores.

Sarle cursed him with every bad word that he could lay his tongue to,
and ultimately made him sit at another table, but Edgehill laughed a
mirthless laugh, as if anxious to find distraction in anything.

"He thinks he's back in the loony house," he guffawed, "and taking his
tucker again through his nose."

"But I shall end in killing him," said Sarle viciously once, when Broome
had left the room. "When he's in the boat I'll knock him over and let
him drown."

Colonel Jasper made no comment; he was looking very ill and listless,
but Edgehill said meditatively:--

"And I don't understand the beggar at all. He's taken to stealing things
now and eating them on the sly. Quite a lot of that ham, for instance,
went yesterday after breakfast, and every day we're using more bread
now. Also I'll swear he's helping himself to the eggs and putting water
in the milk to make up for what he's drunk. Then my cigarettes go much
more quickly--he only smokes Virginians--and he had a big nobbler of
whisky the other day when we were out. I happened to notice it because I
had only recently opened a new bottle."

"Curse him," swore Sarle. "Something'll happen if Shillington doesn't
take him. We're not going to be annoyed like this."

One morning early, the river being high, the three went fishing on the
causeway. Mother Heggarty was ill again, and they left Broome with
orders to clear up and do the housework. Strangely enough, with all his
dignity and assumption of fine airs, the latter accepted as a matter of
course that most of the menial jobs should fall to him, and accordingly,
without comment, he set about the work in an expeditious and experienced
manner.

Within an hour everything was finished to his satisfaction, and then
taking down a fishing rod, he, too, disappeared outside.

A few minutes after and Mother Heggarty came into the hall. She was in
her ordinary every-day clothes and her head, as usual, was enveloped in
a shawl. An onlooker would have had difficulty in determining how she
looked, for the shawl covered most of her face, but her walk was
tottery, and it was with very feeble steps that she groped her way to
the fireplace and took the kettle off the hob. She disappeared into the
kitchen to return very shortly with a cup of tea. Placing the cup upon
the table, she sank into an armchair nearby and held her hands out to
the warmth of the fire. Then she leant back and apparently forgetting
altogether about the cup of tea, in a few seconds was fast asleep.

Five minutes passed, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, and then there
was the sound of a faint movement upon the stairs, and a few moments
later, the curtains by the passage parted, and a man peered cautiously
into the hall.

He stared for a long time in the direction of the recumbent Mother
Heggarty, and then apparently satisfied at last that she was really
asleep, passed across the hall behind her to the window facing the
causeway. He limped a little with his left foot, but his movements were
quite silent, and even if the old woman had not been very deaf he would
not have disturbed her.

Looking out of the window, he saw Sarle, Edgehill, and the Colonel
fishing from a boat just near the causeway, and about a hundred yards
lower down, Broome fishing from the river bank.

He went into the kitchen and helped himself to a good portion of ham and
bread and butter. Then he ladled out two cupfuls of milk from a big pan
in the cool safe, afterwards putting in two cupfuls of water. Then, he
borrowed a few cigarettes from a large box that he saw on the kitchen
dresser, and finally, he picked up a newspaper and sat interestedly
reading upon the edge of the table.

He read for quite a long while, but was then about to put the paper
down, when suddenly he heard the front door open sharply and quick
footsteps passing across the hall.

His jaw dropped and the pupils of his eyes dilated, but he acted
promptly, and slipping off the table, glided, rather than crept to
behind the kitchen door. Notwithstanding his lame foot, his movements
again made no sound.

"Damn," he swore swiftly, "but I've been caught napping, and this is the
only place I could have got to in time." His face brightened suddenly.
"But thank the Lord, it's only Broome. I'd know his footsteps anywhere."

Flattening himself against the wall he looked through the chink of the
door and saw Broome pass through the curtains and march towards his
bedroom. Then suddenly the engineer stopped dead in his tracks, and with
a puzzled frown upon his face and with his head lifted high up in the
air, sniffed deeply three or four times. He was then not half a dozen
feet from where the hidden man was standing.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated the latter, "he's smelt the dust upon my
clothes. He's great on smells, confound him."

Broome stood still, sniffing hard, and then he turned abruptly into the
kitchen and walked with long strides to a big dresser there. He pulled
open a drawer and from the sounds that followed, was evidently choosing
among some keys.

Then apparently having found what he was seeking, he slammed to the
drawer, and with his eyes straight before him marched out of the kitchen
and up the stairs.

The man behind the door wiped over a grimy forehead with his sleeve.

"And now I'm in the soup," he panted. "What's going to happen?"

Three or four minutes followed, and he heard Broome going through all
the rooms upstairs. Then there was a short silence, and finally the door
at the top of the stairs was clanged to, and with easy measured steps
Broome came down again. He went straight into his bedroom, reappearing,
however, almost immediately with a little bundle of fishhooks, which he
scanned interestedly as he walked along the passage. He crossed the
hall, without looking up from his hooks, and opening the front door,
went out and closed it to gently behind him.

In a flash, the man behind the kitchen door was out from his hiding
place, and darting along the passage, and across the hall, was standing
peering breathlessly through the window. His face was white and tense in
its excitement.

"Now it all depends on what he does," he muttered hoarsely. "He's loony,
and may have taken nothing in. If he goes and speaks to the others
straight away, then with my lame foot, it will be all up with me; but if
he doesn't----" he shrugged his shoulders and smiled grimly--"then I
shall have a couple of hours or so to consider how to get out of one of
the worst messes I have ever been in, in all my life."

But the watcher through the window had but few seconds of immediate
anxiety.

"Good!" he muttered to himself; "he's not going anywhere near them. He's
going to fish again on his own. Then I've got probably until this
evening before they know, and even then he mayn't say anything at all."
He shook his head frowningly. "No, no, knowing all I do, I daren't risk
it. I must make for that police camp directly I can get over the
causeway without being seen, however awful a journey it'll be for me
with my bad foot. Surely my work's done here. I've got heaps of
evidence. I've----" he hesitated. "But I'd have loved to have been able
to see things out to the very end, and I ought to, too. I ought to be
here when they make the arrests, for I might save a lot of useful lives.
Sarle and Edgehill will fight like tigers, and they'll never give in, if
once they are warned. Yet, from outside it will be quite impossible to
get them unawares." He turned away from the window. "But what the devil
am I going to do now? I think I'll hide among the reeds somewhere until
it gets dark. I'll get some things together and quit. I can get out
without being seen through the door at the back." He sighed. "Oh! If I
had only someone here to take a message now."

He started to limp noiselessly across the hall, and then just when he
was passing behind the sleeping Mother Heggarty, he noticed the
untouched cup of tea.

He paused with a puzzled look upon his face, and then creeping up, he
stealthily dipped one finger into the cup. The tea was stone cold.

He hesitated for a long moment, and then, holding his breath, he bent
down and gently tapped the old woman upon the arm.

* * * * * * * * *

It was nearly 5 o'clock before anyone came home, and then it was Sarle,
Edgehill, and the colonel who appeared first. Edgehill threw down a
heavy basket of fish, and at once shouted for Broome.

"Damn him, where is he?" he growled, as he received no answer. "I
thought he'd come in long ago."

"Try his bedroom," said Sarle, "perhaps he's sulking and won't come
out."

Edgehill flung open the bedroom door, but the room was empty, and then,
as he was hungry, after a vindictive glance at Mother Heggarty, who was
dozing placidly in her accustomed chair in the corner, he flung himself
into the kitchen and proceeded to clean and cook the fish.

They had their meal in silence, Sarle and Edgehill eating with good
appetites, but Colonel Jasper taking practically nothing at all.

"You look chippy, Jasper," said Sarle presently, noticing that the
colonel was only picking at his food.

"And I feel it, too," replied the latter listlessly. "I feel damned
bad."

"I wonder why Shillington's not been here lately," frowned Sarle. "We've
not seen him for nearly a week."

"Not since that day when he brought us the mushrooms," added Edgehill.
"I wonder if the old quack's ill?"

"He ought to have come," said the colonel, angrily, "and I don't
understand why he hasn't. He can't do me any good, but he ought to have
seen Mother Heggarty." A thought seemed suddenly to strike him, and
turning round he called out loudly, "How are you to-night, mother? Feel
any better now?"

But apparently the old woman had not heard him, for she made no
response, and so, with a shrug of his shoulders, he subsided into his
chair.

Broome came in at that moment, and bumping down his fishing basket,
proceeded to hang his rod upon the wall.

"Do any good?" asked Edgehill. "We got seventeen."

"Twenty-one," replied Broome, "and I threw five big ones away. I thought
they would be coarse."

"Liar," said Sarle, and he spat contemptuously into the fire. Broome
made no comment, but sitting down at the end of the table, helped
himself to some of the fish remaining in the dish and commenced to eat.

For once he ate silently, and Sarle, who from his attitude and the
expression on his face, was only waiting to work himself into a rage,
could find no excuse for further invective.

Conversation languished, and then Edgehill, who was feeling bored, asked
suddenly--

"Any adventures, Broome?"

Broome looked up with an important air. "I saw nine geese----" he began,
when Sarle burst out savagely. "Oh! Shut up, you fool!" and snatching up
a book from the mantelshelf, he threw it point blank at him.

With a resounding thud, it caught Broome squarely on the face and the
pain or the indignity of receiving the blow made him go white as a
sheet. He put his hand up to his lip and found that it was bleeding. At
once then his pallor passed and he got very red, and for just one second
it looked as though he were going to retaliate in some way, but he
evidently thought better of it, for his face instantly calmed down, and
picking up his knife and fork again, he tranquilly resumed his meal as
if nothing had happened.

"Stop it, Sarle," said Colonel Jasper angrily. "Damn it, man, keep
yourself more under control."

Broome ate on steadily without further molestation, stopping, however,
every now and then to wipe the blood that trickled from his lip. Then,
his meal finished, he got up and as a matter of course began to clear
away, and a few minutes later from the sounds that came from the
kitchen, he was washing up.

"A damned good servant," sighed Colonel Jasper, but the others made no
remark.

Finishing his work in the kitchen, Broome went into his bedroom,
reappearing, however, in a few minutes in the hall with the inevitable
book in his hand. It was seen then that he had had a wash and brushed
his hair and changed his coat. He looked like a university professor.

He sat down in the chair he usually occupied and at once commenced to
read.

Edgehill eyed him lazily. "Look at the beggar's shoes," he said
presently. "We've not seen them before."

"They're new ones," remarked Broome, at once glancing up, "the stitches
in my old ones had come undone."

"But where did you get them from?" asked Edgehill curiously. "You've not
bought any lately."

"From a dead man I found," replied Broome. "I only got them to-day."

"Oh!" remarked Edgehill, grinning, "and where's the dead johnny you took
them from?"

"He was offensive," replied Broome, "and I threw him in the sea this
morning. He must have been dead some days. He died in one of the rooms
upstairs." He looked down upon the shoes. "But they fit me beautifully,
as I told Jasper they would, the night when we shot Larose."

The colonel, hearing his name spoken, opened his eyes dreamily. For one
moment he looked half asleep, but the next he started up, his eyes
blazed, and his voice came like a shot from a gun.

"Where the hell did you get those shoes from?" he shouted. "They were on
that man Larose when he was drowned. Where did you get them from, you
fool?"

"I found them on the man upstairs," replied Broome, quite unconcerned,
"this morning, when you were all out."

"But they're Larose's," almost shrieked the colonel. "I know them by the
red linings and the wide laces there. I saw them on him when he was
lying in the car."

"Quite possibly," said Broome coolly, "and the dead man then, was
Larose. I thought his face seemed familiar to me, but there's dust
everywhere upstairs and the body was thick with it."

Colonel Jasper sat back exhausted into his chair, the emotion had been
too much for him, and he looked on the verge of collapse.

Edgehill took up the tale.

"Look here, Broome," he said quietly, "we all know you are the biggest
liar that any old hag could have ever foaled, but I ask you straight, is
there any truth in this? If there isn't----" and his voice hardened, and
he rose up menacingly from his chair, "I'm going to give you as big a
hiding as any man ever had. Now, say yes or no."

Broome looked at him without flinching. "Go upstairs," he said quietly.
"The door's unlocked and you won't want a key. There's been a man living
there for days. You'll find his clothes, some empty bottles of beer, the
remains of the food he's eaten, and a lot of cigarette ends." He paused
for a moment and all at once the sane expression seemed to go out of his
face. His mouth twitched, his eyes opened very wide, and he drew himself
up haughtily as if he were speaking to an inferior. "Yes, Thomas
Edgehill, it's you and Jasper and that brute Sarle who've been the fools
all along, and it is I who have been always right. I have heard the man
moving above us day after day, and night after night, and I told Dr.
Shillington so." He dropped his voice suddenly to an awed whisper. "And
I heard the shot, too, that killed Bull on that night of the storm. I am
sure of it."

Edgehill glared as if he were restraining himself with an effort. "And
if you're lying," he said slowly, "you understand what I'm going to give
you." he paused to let his words sink in. "A bit of hell."

"I'm not lying," replied Broome indignantly. He made a gesture of
contempt. "If I am, where did I get these shoes from?"

"Very good, then," snapped Edgehill. "Well go up and see." He picked up
an electric torch from the mantelshelf and turned to the others.
"Coming, both of you?"

Colonel Jasper shook his head. "Too tired," he said weakly. "Sarle will
go."

"But I'm damned if I will," came from the latter angrily. "I'll wait
here until you come down again, and then I'll see you half kill Broome."

Edgehill turned without a word and disappeared through the curtains and
complete silence then reigned in the hall. Broome had resumed his book
as if he had no interest at all in any subsequent proceedings, and Sarle
and Colonel Jasper just leant back in their chairs as if they were not
aware that anything was happening.

They heard Edgehill walk leisurely up the stairs, they heard him open
the door at the top and then his quick footsteps as he walked up the
passage. Then for perhaps ten seconds there was no sound. Then an
excited shout came--

"Come up, you chaps, come up, at once."

Sarle's face went ashen grey. Colonel Jasper sighed heavily and with an
effort uplifted himself from his chair then they both in turn passed
through the curtains and Broome and Mother Heggarty were left alone.

Broome smiled--a slow inscrutable smile, but he did not lift his eyes
from his book; he was now reading 'The Confessions of a Thug.'

A minute passed and Mother Heggarty got up from her chair and shuffled
into the kitchen. She cut herself a piece of cheese and some bread and
butter.

There was the sound of low voices upstairs, a tramping of feet from room
to room and the buzz of a long, intent confabulation.

A quarter of an hour later, Sarle, Edgehill and Colonel Jasper came
down. The two first walked back in a decidedly subdued manner to their
chairs, but the Colonel planted himself deliberately in front of Broome.

"Now look here," he said sharply, "we are going to get to the bottom of
this. You must tell us all you know."

Broome looked up with a frown. "I've told you everything, haven't I?" he
asked. "There's nothing more to tell."

"Nonsense," exclaimed the Colonel curtly. "You've told us hardly
anything as yet." He looked very sternly at him. "Now did you really
find a dead man upstairs?"

Mother Heggarty came back from the kitchen and shuffled again into her
chair.

"Certainly I did," replied Broome as if surprised that the question had
been asked. "I told you so, didn't I?"

"Yes," answered the Colonel, "and I ask you then, did you really throw
him into the sea?"

"I did," replied Broome. "He was offensive and going bad."

"Whereabouts did you throw him in, then?"

"Over by the black rocks, exactly where I found Bull. The tide was going
out and he was swept away at once."

"How did you carry him all that way'"

"In the blanket that he had got in the room where I found him. He was
emaciated and very light."

"What clothes had he got on?"

"A shirt, his pants, his socks and his shoes. His other clothes are
lying about upstairs now--as he left them."

The Colonel frowned. "And what made you go up there at all?" he asked.

For the first time Broome looked really annoyed. "I tell you, man, he
was offensive," he snapped. "My sense of smell warned me and I knew
something must be wrong."

Colonel Jasper paused as if he were thinking what further question to
ask, when Sarle broke in roughly.

"Well, you go off to your room now, Broome. You're a damned fool anyhow
and we're sick of you. So just make yourself scarce."

For a moment Broome made no attempt to obey and then without a word, he
got up quickly and left the hall.

"Now," said Sarle scowling, "we'll consider what it all means." But no
one spoke for a long time, and then Colonel Jasper sighed--

"It was Larose, of course," he said wearily. "He escaped somehow that
night, when we thought he was drowned, and found his way to the rooms
above." He shook his head slowly. "But how he managed it, God only
knows."

"But I hit him," insisted Edgehill sharply, "and he died ultimately from
his wounds. Yes, he was hurt somehow, and could not get away to bring
the police down upon us."

"Damn!" swore Sarle sullenly. "Was there ever such a mess up? And it all
comes from that old fool, Shillington, strangling his butler. We've had
nothing but trouble ever since."

"But think of Larose being there above us, all that time," sighed the
Colonel again. "And what he must have seen and heard." He lowered his
voice to a whisper. "I'm not convinced yet that Broome really threw
anybody into the sea, and the devil of it is, we have no means of
finding out whether he did or not. Larose may not be dead at all. He may
not have been wounded either, but may have just been biding his time
until he could clear off safely and bring the police down upon us."

"Well, we shall soon know that," said Sarle viciously, "and one
thing--from this moment, I can tell you my gun's never going to leave my
pocket." He snapped his teeth together. "I'm never going to be put on
trial again, and I'll give anyone who tries to take me quite a hell of a
run for his money."

They talked until long into the night, and finally it was a very weary
trio who sought their beds. Mother Heggarty had shuffled into her
bedroom hours before, and the light in Broome's room had been
extinguished very early.

And so sleep came at last to all within the Priory, but sleep with
disturbing dreams, for most of them who were sleeping there.

Sarle dreamed that he was arguing with someone who wore an odd-looking
black cap; Edgehill dreamed that he was carving a ham with a knife that
had dried blood upon the hilt; Colonel Jasper felt stabbing pains in his
chest, even though he was asleep; and Broome tossed in his slumbers
because he could remember no sure antidote for the rattle-snake bite.

Larose, too, was uneasy all night long, and woke up many times to see if
daylight were not yet come. Only old Mother Heggarty had no dreams. She
slept deeper than them all, calmly and in perfect peace.

The next morning they were all up late, but the old woman was the first
about, putting them all to some semblance of tidiness, and then going
into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. Broome came in while she
was there and lifted his head disdainfully as he passed her. He had come
for the pail, preparatory to going out and milking the cow.

After breakfast Sarle and Edgehill had a short conversation in low
voices, and then called to Broome and ordered him peremptorily to take
them to the exact spot upon the rocks from where he said he had thrown
the body in, the previous morning. They suggested that Colonel Jasper
should come too, but he declined without interest, declaring that he
felt too ill.

After they had gone, Mother Heggarty disappeared into her room, and the
colonel was left alone in the big hall. He leant back in an arm chair
drawn up close to the fire, and closed his eyes as if he were going to
have a sleep. But his chest hurt him and he fidgetted about, trying to
fit himself into a comfortable position. He gave it up presently,
however, and picking up a newspaper stood up to get his glasses from the
corner of the mantelshelf, where he usually kept them. But he found
someone had put a heavy ash tray on them and they were broken.

"Curse," he swore weakly, "it's that fool Edgehill. He's like a clumsy
cart horse everywhere."

He turned to sink back into his chair, and then suddenly, without the
slightest warning, a violent fit of coughing seized him, and instantly
he was almost suffocated with a gush of blood. He slipped down
helplessly upon the floor, and the paroxysms continuing, in a few
seconds his head was lying in a crimson pool. An expression of mortal
terror held his face, his eyes were wide and starting from his head, and
he clenched his hands together until the veins in them stood out like
knotted cords. His pallor was accentuated by the brightness of his
blood.

A minute passed, and then the fit of coughing passing, his eyes closed
and his breathing almost stopped, as if he were on the verge of death.
The room was very still.

Then suddenly the curtains by the passage parted, and Mother Heggarty
came into the hall. She shuffled quickly, and without hesitation up to
where the colonel was lying upon the floor and then stood over him, half
bending down. Her attitude was one of horror. Colonel Jasper opened his
eyes.

"Help me," he said faintly. "I'm bleeding to death. Get me on to the
bed, if you can."

The old woman's limbs were shaking, but clasping him by the shoulders
she half carried and half dragged him to his room.

She got him on the bed somehow, and then dipping a towel in water she
wiped the blood away from his mouth. He opened his eyes and looked
intently up into her face.

"Good old Nan," he whispered. "You'll be sorry if no one else is.
You'll----" a scared and startled look leapt into his face, to be
replaced almost instantly, however, by an amazed smile. "Good God! The
jest of life," he stuttered. "The jest----" His eyes bulged in terror
again. "Oh! it's coming back. I shall die now. I shall----"

His body shook with another paroxysm, there was greater hemorrhage even
than before, and instantly--his head fell back, and he was dead.

The others returned presently, and breathlessly tracked the bloodstains
across the hall and down the passage to the colonel's room.

They stood in awed silence for perhaps a quarter of a minute, and then
Sarle went out and mixed himself a stiff brandy and water. Edgehill
followed suit, but Broome lingered a little longer and covered the dead
man with a sheet. Mother Heggarty was lying down in her room.

"Well, that's that," said Sarle when he had gulped down his drink, "and
it's good business for us that he has gone. He's weakened a lot in the
last week, and he'd have been no use any more to us." He looked
significantly at his companion and lowered his voice. "Now if Broome and
Shillington went off, too, we'd be quite set." A thought seemed to
strike him suddenly. "What's that damned Broome doing now?"

Edgehill disappeared through the curtains to return, however, very
quickly.

"In his own room," he informed Sarle. He grinned. "The beggar's
pretending to be reading, but he's holding his book upside down and I
believe he's crying. I've told him to clean up the floor at once."

"Well," said Sarle, frowning, "we must tell Shillington immediately, and
then he'll arrange about the funeral." He smiled grimly. "And directly
that's over, the old woman'll go, too. She'll be cleared out to the
workhouse quick and lively now. She's a filthy encumbrance here."

Edgehill made himself tidy and went up to Oakley Court, but he found it
was one of Dr. Shillington's consulting days in London, and that the
great man would not be back until evening, so he wrote a brief note
explaining what had happened, and handed it to the parlor-maid with
strict injunctions to give it to the doctor, the moment he came in.

They passed a very subdued afternoon then at the Priory, and in spite of
the opinions of Sarle and Edgehill that it was a good thing that Colonel
Jasper was dead, although the day was cold and cheerless, they both took
care to remain as little as possible inside the house. Instead, they sat
on the bench outside, speaking very little to one another. Broome went
out fishing as usual, and Edgehill grinned when he noticed that he was
now wearing a black tie.

Mother Heggarty remained in her room during the whole of the day, and no
one apparently thought it was worth the trouble to go and inform her
that her master was dead.

About seven in the evening Dr. Shillington was driven down and he jumped
out of the car in a great hurry, almost before his chauffeur had brought
the car to a standstill.

His manner was rather constrained, and it almost seemed as if he were
annoyed because the death of Colonel Jasper had been so sudden.

"I shall have to get another medical man to come with me to certify the
cause of death," he said irritably, "for after all that's happened, it
would not do for me to appear in the matter by myself. So I'll come down
again with Dr. Bellhouse, of Kelvedon, early tomorrow, and I'll arrange
with my usual undertakers, Samuelson & Beane, of Colchester, to make all
proper arrangements for the funeral. We want as little fuss as possible,
and they shall take away the body to their own mortuary after dark
to-morrow. They shall be here, say, at 7 o'clock sharp." He addressed
himself particularly to Sarle. "You've been through all his papers, of
course?"

Sarle shook his head. "No, we've not touched anything," he said. He
frowned as if he were rather embarrassed. "As a matter of fact, we've
not been in the bedroom again since we discovered he was dead."

"But Good Lord! man," exclaimed the doctor testily, "it's the first
thing you should have done. There may be his will, and it's vital to
know where he's left his property. We can't keep his death secret any
time at all, for he had relations and was in constant communication with
one niece, I know. He has lawyers too in London, and they may come
nosing about, as well. Besides----" and Dr. Shillington appeared quite
angry now, "we don't know what dangerous documents he may not have been
hiding. He might for instance have been keeping memoranda about the
places we have raided, and after that fool butler of mine keeping a
diary, I should never be astonished if he had one as well." He glared at
Sarle and Edgehill. "Yes it was very thoughtless not to have gone
through his things at once. I don't understand you."

The two seemed quite taken aback at the doctor's vehemence. They had
passed a very unpleasant day and their nerves were not by any means up
to concert pitch.

"I did think of it," Edgehill said sullenly, "but his keys are in his
pocket and he's too damn messy to go over. His clothes are stiff with
blood."

The doctor looked at him in astonishment.

"Messy!" he sneered, "and you, who knifed that poor painter in
Colchester the other day are afraid of a little blood! You--afraid?"

"We don't mind the blood of our own kills, Shillington," said Sarle
calmly, "but it's your damned trade to fiddle among the clothes of a
diseased wretch who's coughed himself to death. Yours and that of the
police." His voice rose a sudden fury. "So stop your ranting and do your
dirty work if you want to, yourself."

The doctor calmed down instantly. There was a menace in Sarle's face
that he did not like.

"All right," he said curtly. "I'll do it straight away," and he walked
at once to the direction of the dead man's room.

And outside, Bob Jameson, the doctor's chauffeur sat fidgetting in the
car. It was a cold and bitter night and he wanted his tea badly. He had
done the fifty and odd miles from London since five o'clock, and then
just when he had put away the car and been in the very act of opening a
bottle of beer, round to the garage had come Dr. Shillington and ordered
this instant journey to the island. It was so inconsiderate of his
employer. He would never wait a moment when he wanted anything for
himself, everything must be done at once.

And now, his master was over here on this blinking island, it might be
an hour and more before he would be ready to return home. He would have
no thoughts for his hungry chauffeur. He would be only thinking of
himself again.

The chauffeur kept glancing round at the massive door of the Priory. He
longed ardently for the sight of a wide widening gleam of light. It
might mean his master coming out or it might mean--it had happened once
or twice before--a stiff dose of good whisky from the generous Colonel
Jasper, who always treated everyone as a perfect gentleman should.

But no--no light came from the front door, it was as dark and gloomy as
the entrance to a cellar--preferably to the imagination of Bob Jameson,
a wine cellar, or a cellar where big cool casks of beer were kept.

And then--suddenly from the darkness on the other side of the car came a
low voice, and the chauffeur heard someone say--

"Dim your lights down, old man, will you? I've got a particular message
to give you in the dark. Dim them down, quick."

Astonished at being addressed from the darkness, the chauffeur
nevertheless did as he was bidden, and then a face thrust itself through
the window of the car.

"Recognise who I am?" asked its owner, and then as the chauffeur started
back, it went on quickly, "No, don't move, old chap. I'm Fred Mason, and
it's quite all right. I wouldn't harm a mouse, let alone a good pal like
you. Look here," and the voice was now only a hissing whisper, "do you
want to earn 50?"

"Gord!" exclaimed the astonished chauffeur. "It's you, is it? And why
the blazes did you bunk away? The police have been looking all over the
place for you, and they say there's a reward out, too."

"And 50 of it is yours," snapped the supposed Mason quickly, "if you
only do as I tell you, and it's as easy as opening a bottle of beer."

The delicious comparison went home like the scoring of a bull's eye, and
the chauffeur of Oakley Court was instantly at his ease.

"And I'll do it," he swore earnestly. "I'll do it, I promise you."

"Well, listen," whispered Larose, "and remember every word I say. You're
free directly you get back, aren't you?"

"Yes, directly I've had my tea," admitted the chauffeur cautiously, "I
shall be free then."

"Oh! damn your tea," said Larose, sharply. "What's your tea compared to
fifty quid?" He put his lips close to the chauffeur's ear. "Go into
Colchester on your bicycle instantly after you get back and put a London
call through from the General Post-Office there. It's a deadly secret
I'm trusting you with and you mustn't breathe a word to a single soul."
He thrust a paper through the window. "Ask for that number, and when you
get it, ask to speak to either of the two men whose names are at the top
of the paper there. If they are not in, leave the message written
underneath for them, to be given them the instant they come in. Give the
message slowly, word by word, and for God's sake don't you make a
mistake." Larose made his voice quiver. "I'm calling for help, old man,
and if I don't get it, I shall be cold meat by this time to-morrow
night. It all depends on you."

"But what's up?" asked Jameson, rather frightened. "Why don't you come
back with the governor and me, now?"

"Good God," exclaimed Larose in real consternation. "If he knew anything
about me I should be as good as dead already." A stern note crept into
his voice. "He's a bad man, Jameson, that master of yours."

"Too right he is," exclaimed the chauffeur fervently. "A regular swine."

"Look here," said Larose sternly, and his words rapped out now like
bullets from a machine gun, "I'll be quite frank with you, Jameson, I'm
not a butler at all. I'm a detective from Scotland Yard, and I am down
here looking for the murderer of poor Jakes." He gritted his teeth
menacingly. "I'm a detective, you understand, and by gosh, now, after
I've told you that, it'll be ten years penal servitude for you if you
let us down." He gripped the chauffeur fiercely by the arm. "Take that
in, you're one of us now, and if you fail us, it's treason against the
Crown."

"All right, all right," said the chauffeur trembling. "I'll play fair.
I'll do everything you tell me?"

"Well," said Larose sternly, "not a drink now--not a drop until after 7
o'clock to-morrow night, and then you can swim in it. And not a word, I
tell you, to a soul. If you speak, then I shall be murdered and you will
be responsible for my death, and a murderer in the eyes of the law.
There will be no mercy for you, there----" but the door of the Priory
opened suddenly, and like a shadow he glided away.




CHAPTER XV.--THE MARSH GIVES UP ITS DEAD.


Dr. Shillington was very thoughtful as he was being driven away from the
Priory, and many times his small eyes blinked frowningly under his bushy
puckered brows.

"Well, it's a good thing at any rate that Jasper's gone," he mused, "for
there's one less of them now to deal with, but I don't understand at all
why there were no papers of importance in that safe. On the face of it,
it looked to me as if it had been hurriedly rifled directly he was dead,
and yet I don't believe for a moment that either Sarle or Edgehill did
it. They were not acting when they denied touching the body, for they're
both obviously bound by that strange mental kink that one sees in so
many people of their kind. No fear of the living, but an absolute terror
of the dead." He stirred uneasily in his well-padded seat. "Well, if not
Sarle or Edgehill, was it Broome or the old woman." He shook his head.
"No, quite unthinkable with both of them. Broome in his present state is
incapable of any secretive actions, and the old hag's mentally dead
already." He sighed heavily. "Yes, it's very mysterious and there's
another mystery there, too,----" He was scowling blackly now. "Why the
devil didn't they all die last week when they ate those mushrooms.
Edgehill's message was that they had eaten them and enjoyed them, and
he's much too heavy minded to be sarcastic. Then if they ate them, why
didn't they die? There were enough poisonous ones there to kill a dozen
people. I'm sure I got the right ones, for there's no mistaking those
red spots, and churchyards are always the favored places where they
grow." He shook his head again. "And they certainly can have no idea
what I intended for them, either. They never discovered anything for
they showed no animosity against me just now. Sarle was only rude and
irritable because his nerves are upset, and Edgehill was just the same
as usual. Broome never spoke to me, but then I didn't expect he would.
Broome----" The doctor's thoughts were turned suddenly into another
channel. "Now, why didn't Sarle say anything about Broome's mental
state, and why didn't he bring up again about his being put away.
Sarle's as obstinate as a mule when he's got any idea to his head, and
he can't have forgotten it. And why, too, didn't he give me any news
about Bull? Well, well, I suppose he can't think of nothing now but
Jasper's death. A man who has followed the sea hates to have a corpse to
the house. He's got the superstitions of a servant girl."

Suddenly the doctor scowled again. "But I'm tired of them, and they're a
menace to me. I must find some way of getting rid of them quickly. I
should be quite safe then, but as it is, with them here, there are
several things that make me uneasy. What are the Scotland Yard people
doing, and why is the resumption of the inquest being postponed for so
long? Why doesn't the chief constable ever ring me up now, and why have
all the newspapers with one accord ceased any reference to everything
that we've ever done? Why does Smithers stare at me when she thinks I'm
not looking----"

The car gave a sudden swerve to one side of the road, "and why the hell
does the fool here drive like that? He wobbles about as if his nerves
were all unstrung, too."

The car drew up at last before the front door of the court and Dr.
Shillington got out.

"Don't leave the garage, Jameson," he said coldly, "I may want you again
tonight."

"Very good, sir," mumbled the chauffeur, but his master could certainly
not have thought it 'very good' if he had seen his servant's face.

The man was ghastly, and his lips were tremulous as if he were in drink.

He drove the car into the garage without mishap, however, but then made
no attempt to get out, continuing to sit on where he was.

"And what the blazes am I to do now?" he asked himself hoarsely. "The
old swine says I'm not to leave the garage, and yet I swore to that 'tec
chap I'd go straight into Colchester at once."

He sat thinking for some minutes, and then, as if still uncertain what
to do, he got out of the car, and walking shakily over to a cupboard,
took out a bottle of beer and a glass.

"Can't please both of them," he remarked with a sigh, "but at any rate
I'll have a drink before I do anything. Blow the damned 'tec, he'll
never know."

He had one glass, then another, and finally he finished the bottle.

The generous liquor upon an empty stomach made a different man of him.
His face lost its pallor, his lips ceased trembling, and a confident and
assured air took possession of him.

"Fifty quid," he remarked cheerfully, "and I'll be a rich man. I'll risk
it, anyhow, and old Shillington can go to hell if he wants me. I'll slip
away at once before he gets the chance of finding me."

So he wheeled his bicycle quickly out of the garage and in such a hurry
was he to get away that he forgot to turn out the lights of the garage,
and instead left them all burning.

His dinner over, Dr. Shillington went to the telephone and rang up
Kelvedon. It was his intention to drive over there and see Dr. Bellhouse
straight away, but he wanted to make sure first that the latter was at
home.

He was told, however, that Dr. Bellhouse had motored up to London that
afternoon, and would not be back until after midnight, so leaving a
message that he would be obliged if his friend would ring him up early
in the morning he went into his study and started to read before the
fire.

Presently, however, he had a call to go over to see one of the patients
in the asylum, who had been suddenly taken ill, and walking across the
drive he noticed that the lights were on in the chauffeur's quarters by
the garage. He smiled grimly to himself.

"Good," he remarked, "then by making him stay in, I've probably saved
his pocket several shillings. He'd have been down at the public-house
all the evening, otherwise."

It was well after 11 before the chauffeur returned, and his condition
then was such that, had Larose but seen it, he would have been
desperately worried as to how the mission he had entrusted to him had
been carried out.

The man was covered in mud, was minus his bicycle, and drunk. He had
wanted to fight the sleepy gatekeeper when the latter had been roused
reluctantly from his bed to let him in, and long after the lodge door
had been banged to in his face, he had carried on a noisy and one-sided
argument as to who was the better man, imparting at the same tine many
strange and varied items of startling information.

He was a 'tec now, he had shouted, a blooming Scotland Yard man, and he
was arresting him, the gatekeeper, on the morrow at seven p.m. sharp.
Old Shillington had corpsed it, and it was a damned good thing for
everyone, too. The butler, Freddy Mason, had come back, and was being
buried in the morning, and he (Jameson) was to be the best man. He must
set a couple of bob somehow to buy a wreath and he wasn't going to spare
any expense either, because he had got ten fifty-pound notes in his
other trousers up at the garage. He was a blasted millionaire.

He had banged and shouted until happily for the gatekeeper's desire for
sleep, it had suddenly commenced to pour with rain, and disconcerted
then by the drenching he was receiving, he had zig-zagged home to the
garage and finally rolled just as he was into bed.

The paper Larose had given him he had dropped in the last of several
public-houses he had visited upon his way home, and the curious publican
and his wife had puzzled over it for quite a long, long time after the
house was closed. But they could make nothing of it, and in the end had
come to the conclusion that it must have something to do with some
crossword puzzle or some society treasure hunt.

In the meantime Detective Inspector Carter had received one of the
greatest shocks of his life, and with the least possible delay had
passed on that shock to his friend and colleague, Detective Inspector
Stone.

Entering his room in the Yard a few minutes after nine that night, he
had found a message for him lying upon the desk, and as he read it he
had stood speechless and dumbfounded in his amazement.

"Message 'phoned at 8.53 p.m. from a public call office in Colchester,
it ran. 'Given by man who refused to furnish any name, and who seemed
from his voice and speech to be slightly under the influence of liquor.
Man asked for Mr. Eli Carter or Mr. Charles Stone, and then upon being
informed they were unavailable, had left message to be given to either
of them at the earliest opportunity. Insisted message was urgent.
Message as follows':--

"Written in haste by young man who had not taken out a licence for his
gun, and is now lame in one foot but full of pep. Consumptive broke
blood vessel and died this morning. Undertakers, second and eighteenth
letters of the alphabet, coming tomorrow evening at seven sharp.
Finalise matters boldly at same time. Lunatic and old woman harmless,
but others very dangerous. Remember lemons. No suspicion, however, as
yet, and no watch kept. Back door will be unlocked and all O.K. if you
see milk pail outside. Pounds will take care of themselves, but reason
backwards and seize other coins without hesitation. Have evidence all
complete. Stratford, Epping and Colchester. Hope it will be your
chauffeur's lucky fortnight. Fifty pounds cash for the man who 'phones
this. He is a fine fellow. Message ends."

"My God!" he exclaimed. "It's from Larose and he's alive."

Clapping on his hat, he rushed out of the building, and in half a minute
was being driven furiously to where Stone lived in Finsbury Park.

He found his colleague in the bosom of his family and just finishing a
savory supper of tripe and onions.

"Quick, Charlie," he exclaimed breathlessly, "I must speak to you at
once," and accustomed to all sorts of interruptions, without a word
Stone led him immediately out into another room.

"Now, Charlie," said the lanky detective, "I found this on my desk,"--he
looked at his watch--"just twelve minutes ago." An anxious look crossed
into his face. "What do you make of it?"

Stone took the paper that was held out; and instantly, as his eyes fell
upon the first words, his face hardened to a frozen mask of immobility.
He stood like an image, and it seemed almost that he hardly breathed.

For a long time then there was silence, and Carter sank down into an
armchair, without, however, for one second taking hie eyes off his
companion's face. He watched with the intenseness of a man who had a
great issue at stake.

Presently Stone looked up, he drew a deep breath, nodded his head
gently, and then smiled a slow, dry smile.

"He's risen from the dead, Eli," he said, with a suspicion of a choke in
his voice. "It's the boy, all right, of course."

"It's no fake, Charlie?" queried Carter, frowning. "You think it's all
right?"

"Certain," replied Stone emphatically. "Note the personal touches which
only you and I can understand. 'Young man who had not taken out a
licence for his gun'--remember how I chipped him that first day when we
were going down to Oakley Court in the car? And then, 'Hope it will be
chauffeur's lucky fortnight'--that refers to what I told him about our
man running over someone every other seven days. Both things put in on
purpose to convince us of the genuineness of the message." the big man
frowned as if he were very puzzled; "but how he comes to be alive to
send it to us, God only knows."

Carter looked very puzzled too. "Well, give us a cigarette, old man," he
said, "and sit down. We'll go through it word by word and think what it
all means."

Stone sat down beside him and then, with their heads very close
together, they went through the message again.

"You see, Eli," said Stone after a few moments, "it's as clear as
daylight that Larose didn't hand in this message himself, and it's
perfectly certain that the man who handed it in was not in his
confidence. In everything he's wanting to tell us, he's covered up his
meaning so that it will convey as little as possible to any chance
person who may get hold of it. He tells us he is lame to explain to us
why he is not able to get in touch with us himself. The consumptive is,
of course, that Colonel Jasper. The undertakers are a firm whose names
commence with the second and eighteenth letters of the alphabet--that
means B and S, of course, and he leaves it to our gumption to find out
whom the firm are. The medical man who attended Jasper would naturally
suggest which undertakers to call in, and so they will be Shillington's
without doubt, and either in Colchester or Chelmsford, or somewhere
near, we shall find the 'B and S' firm we want. Then he tells us to get
into the Priory as the undertakers' men and make the arrests. Also, that
reference to pounds taking care of themselves and reasoning backwards to
seize other coins, means--" the stout detective hesitated, "means----"

"Arrest Shillington at the same time," snapped Carter. "Shillings come
behind pounds, don't they?"

"Exactly," exclaimed Stone, smiling. "We are to seize all the gang."

"But it's a great risk our striking now in this way, Charlie," said
Carter thoughtfully. "We are trusting everything to that young man. As
far as our knowledge goes, up to the present, there are many links in
the chain of evidence to be picked up before we are sure."

For a few moments Stone made no reply. He drummed restlessly with his
fingers upon the table, and was evidently thinking hard. Then he looked
round at Carter and said very slowly--

"Now, look here, Eli. Let you and I just try and get a good grip of the
whole situation. With that message of Larose before us, let us try and
determine in some way what his surroundings were when he wrote it; why
he left so many blanks for us to fill in ourselves, and finally whether
we are justified or not in staking both our reputations as he advises us
to, upon this one single throw."

The stout detective paused as if to weigh his words most carefully, and
then went on. "Now Larose has been missing for exactly sixteen days, and
the first thing we shall ask ourselves is, where has he been all the
time. Has he been held as a prisoner or has he been voluntarily
absenting himself from us? Take this latter supposition first."

"I don't think he's kept away on purpose," commented Carter promptly,
"for when he tells us he is lame, as you say, he is giving us the reason
for his inaction."

"Exactly," exclaimed Stone again; "it can't mean anything else. Then if
he's not communicated with us before, simply because he wasn't able to
do so on account of a lame foot, then he's not been the prisoner of
these men. That's clear. The two things can't have been preventing him
at one and the same time. Now, can they?"

Carter shook his head, and Stone went on. "No, I'm certain he's not been
a prisoner, and yet it's impossible for us from the information at
present in our possession to in any way surmise what actually can have
happened to him to make everything fit in with that message. That gang
were responsible in some way for his disappearing, we have agreed long
ago, if only on account of the lies that Shillington told us as to what
happened on the night of the dinner party." He frowned in perplexity.
"Well, if they didn't kill him, and he's not been their prisoner, then
what the devil has happened?"

There was a long silence again, and then suddenly Stone's face cleared,
and he rubbed his hands together like a delighted child.

"Ah! it comes to me," he exclaimed triumphantly. "I'm beginning to see
light." He grinned across to his companion. "This gross body of mine is
functioning properly now, and my old brain has got the right
wave-lengths at last." He leant forward and tapped his colleague
confidently on the arm. "He's not a prisoner, Eli, and, what's more, the
gang don't know either that he's alive or where he is."

"Oh," commented Carter, rather sarcastically, "they don't know where he
is, and you do?"

"Sure," replied Stone, in great good humor. "I can locate him within
fifty yards." He looked round as if to make sure they were alone, and
lowered his voice to a whisper. "He's living there in the Priory among
them--in one of those empty rooms."

Carter spoke very quietly. "You're no fool, Charlie, and no one knows
that better than I do." He frowned irritably. "But what the hell do you
mean?"

"Look here," said Stone sharply. "Why is his message so mysterious, and
why doesn't he start off at once by telling who and where he is? Why
doesn't his message read, 'I'm Gilbert Larose, I'm speaking from
such-and-such a place, and I've got Sarle, Edgehill & Co. all boxed in
and ready for you to come and truss them up?' Now why doesn't he speak
to us like that?" Stone glared impressively at his colleague and slowly
punctuated every word. "Simply because if his message had miscarried,
Eli, if it had fallen into wrong hands, the plain and naked information
it would have conveyed would have come boomeranging back, and everything
would have been all up with him at once." He thumped on the table. "Yes,
he's too near the gang to risk anything, and he gave them no chance of
enlightenment if the message went wrong. It was to be made impossible
for them to learn who was speaking, and where he was speaking from if
the message were thrust even under their very eyes." The detective's
voice was very solemn. "They believe Larose is dead."

Carter looked doubtful. "And you mean, Charlie," he said slowly, "that
if the gang had got hold of this message they would have been no wiser
as to who had sent it or where the sender was? They would have no idea
in either case?"

Stone smiled. "Yes, that's what I mean," he replied, "and also, that his
hiding-place is so near to them that the utmost precaution had to be
taken."

"But how do you know he's living with them in the Priory," asked Carter,
frowning, "in those shuttered rooms, above?"

"By the information that he gives us," replied Stone, without an
instant's hesitation. "To tell us what he does, he must be in some
position where he can both see and hear everything that is going on, and
that can surely only be in the very house among them."

"Humph!" remarked Carter drily, "you've a very nimble brain, Charlie
Stone."

"He knows Jasper is dead," snapped Stone quickly, "and how he died. He
hears the names of the undertakers given, and the time when they are to
come for the body. He is aware of the murders at Stratford, Epping and
Colchester, and also we may confidently presume from his mentioning
these places, who committed them. He warns us Sarle and Edgehill are
dangerous, and Broome and the old woman harmless." The big detective
raised his hand impressively. "Well, that means continued observation,
doesn't it, and a good knowledge of their habits and dispositions for a
man of Larose's caution to speak with such assurance. Then what else
does he say? Remember lemons. Now what can that mean but that he was an
actual eye-witness somewhere of the whole shooting incident? And then he
tells us that the back door will be unlocked for us when we come and he
will put a pail outside to assure us that all is right. He adds also
that the gang have no suspicion as yet, and that moreover they keep no
watch." Stone thumped again with his hand upon the table. "Why, it's as
clear as daylight that he's been shadowing the gang all this time, and
in that case he can only have been doing it from those empty rooms
above. Now, can you think of any other place?"

Carter sighed. "It's deducing a great deal from a very little, Charlie,
isn't it, but then--" and his face broke into an approving smile, "I
wouldn't like to say you're very wrong."

"I'm not wrong at all," said Stone emphatically, "so we'll go straight
ahead now and make all arrangements to do as he says. We shall know at
once if we're on the right track directly we get in touch with those
undertakers. We shall see then----"

"But one moment, Charlie," interrupted Carter quickly. "One thing I will
not agree to, and that is arresting Shillington, yet." He shook his head
emphatically. "We have not enough evidence to justify us there, and must
wait first and see what cards Larose holds. Shillington's far too big a
man to lay hands upon until we're quite sure. The Chief was telling me
this afternoon that he'd just been talking over the 'phone to the Home
Secretary, and the Secretary had mentioned incidentally that
Shillington's name would probably be found in the forthcoming honor's
list, for eminent services rendered to the State. They had been talking
about the butler's murder at Oakley Court."

Stone looked rather crestfallen. "Whew!" he whistled, "that's awkward."
He snapped his fingers together. "But all the same, I have every faith
in Larose, and after two words with him, I am sure we shall be able to
add the great man to our bag." He looked at his watch. "But now to
details, Brother, we have a lot to arrange and I guess it will be late
before either of us get to bed."

Exactly twelve hours later, Sarle and Edgehill were standing outside the
Priory awaiting Dr. Shillington's car that at that moment was coming
down over the marshes.

"Yes, he's got another man with him," said Sarle as the car reached the
farther bank, "and I suppose it's the other doctor from Kelvedon." He
turned sharply to his companion. "Now, mind, not a word to Shillington
either about Bull or Larose. He ignored us for a whole week for some
reason and I'm not disposed now to tell him anything more than we can
help. He'd only have another of his blue funks, and--damn him--I don't
somehow trust him any longer. I'm sure he'd like to get rid of us. He's
a danger to us now."

"Well, you know my views," said Edgehill carelessly, "and when Broome's
back in an asylum, we must do in the old quack in some way." He waved
round to the long vistas of glistening mud on either side of the
causeway. "Was there ever a better dumping ground anywhere to dispose of
a body?"

The car drew up before the Priory, and Dr. Shillington and another man
got out. The latter carried the usual professional black bag.

"My friend, Dr. Bellhouse, of Kelvedon," introduced the doctor. "He's
very kindly come over at once."

The men shook hands and Sarle led the way into the house.

"Anyone cleaned up the body?" whispered Dr. Shillington to Edgehill, as
they followed behind. "I meant to have told you last night to have it
done."

Edgehill nodded curtly. "The old woman's done it, I believe," he
replied. "I heard her whimpering in his room this morning, and I shouted
to her to give him a wash. I heard her pouring water into a basin later,
so I expect she did it."

The two doctors went into the dead man's room.

"One of Shillington's flunkeys," sneered Sarle. "You can see he's
frightened of him; he'll do anything he says."

The two medical men came out in a few minutes, and Dr. Bellhouse
referred sympathetically to what had occurred.

"It must have been a shocking hemorrhage," he said, "and he couldn't
have lived for more than a couple of minutes afterwards. Dreadful thing,
tuberculosis. Your friend was a fine man, once."

They stood chatting together for a few minutes, and then all went
outside.

"Very lonely place you've got here," remarked Dr. Bellhouse, looking
round. "It must be very bleak in the winter."

"Plenty of fresh air," remarked Sarle grimly. "Come and look at the sea
at the back. You don't often find big rocks on the Essex coast," and the
four strolled round in the direction suggested.

In the meantime Jameson, Dr. Shillington's chauffeur, had been left
waiting in the car in anything but a happy frame of mind. He'd got a
splitting headache, the legacy of the previous night's debauch; but
apart from that he was very worried.

In spite of his continual grumbling he was quite aware that, all things
considered, he had got a very comfortable situation at the court, and he
was fearful now that in taking in that message to Colchester the
previous evening he had done something that would imperil his position,
should it become known.

Fred Mason, the one-time butler, had said bluntly that the doctor, of
all people, was not to know about the message, and that meant without a
doubt that it was something of which the doctor would not approve.

Well, then, was he, Bob Jameson, being made a catspaw of, and would it
end in him getting the sack with nothing to show on the other side? Of
course, he had not forgotten the promised fifty pounds, but that was
only a promise, and when he came to think of it, he doubted if Fred
Mason were worth fifty pounds. He had never looked like it, certainly,
and he had never, indeed, looked like a 'tec, either; he had always
looked to him, Bob Jameson, a regular softy and worth, at the most, a
couple of pints of beer.

Yes, the chauffeur was very worried, and he was half-inclined to make a
clean breast of everything to his master the very next time when he got
him alone.

Broome came out of the house at that moment and interrupted his train of
thought. He came straight up to the car and spoke curtly.

"Got a newspaper?" he asked.

"No, sir," replied the chauffeur, and he stared curiously, wondering if
this man, too, were in the plot.

Broome made no comment, but he did not go away. Instead he sat down on
the footboard on the far side of the car, away from the house, and
picking up a piece of string, began twiddling with it with his fingers.
He stared out over the marshes and blinked his eyes as if he were very
tired.

Then suddenly another shock came to the worried chauffeur, as he heard a
stern hard voice speaking from somewhere behind the car.

"Don't move," it said sharply. "Don't turn your head. Keep exactly as
you are and when you answer me don't move your lips. It's Fred Mason
speaking." There was a second's pause, and then the voice went on. "Now
did you take that message I gave you last night?"

The chauffeur shivered. He was a weak man, and when sober the slave of
the last person who got hold of him.

"Yes," he mumbled. "I took it in."

"And did you speak to either of the men I wanted?" went on the voice.

"No," almost groaned the chauffeur. "But the chap I spoke to said he'd
see they would be told at once."

"And did you repeat the message exactly?" came next, "word for word as
it was written down?"

"Yes," whispered, the chauffeur, "I never made one mistake."

"All right then. You'll get fifty pounds to-morrow," and the voice faded
away.

The chauffeur knew that Broome must have heard every word, and a
horrible sick feeling came to him in the pit of his stomach. He wiped
over a clammy forehead with a clammy hand, and wondered tremblingly what
was going to happen next. But he was not given much time to consider for
his master and Edgehill at that moment came sauntering round the corner
of the house, whereupon Broome got up at once and strolling over to the
form by the porch, seated himself there in a bored and absent-minded
manner. He was still twiddling with the piece of string.

Dr. Shillington and Edgehill brought themselves to a standstill, but
they made no attempt at conversation. Edgehill yawned an immense yawn.

"Heard anything from Bull yet?" asked the doctor presently, and he
frowned as if some unpleasant memory had been stirred in his mind.

"No," replied Edgehill slowly, "things have been very quiet here."

The conversation languished, and then Edgehill said suddenly, "What's
the matter with that damned chauffeur of yours? He's staring at us as if
he were terrified about something."

"He was drunk last night," replied the doctor drily, "and I expect
that's his trouble. It is extraordinary," he added, "but his potations
never make any difference to his driving. I found that out soon after he
came to me, or I shouldn't have continued to employ him."

Edgehill frowned and walked up to the car; the doctor followed after
him.

"What are you glaring at me for?" asked Edgehill truculently. "Is there
anything about me you don't like?"

Broome rose up quietly from the form and stood close near to the open
door of the Priory. He seemed hesitating whether to go inside.

The chauffeur was very shaky. "No-o, sir," he stammered, and he looked
anxiously at his master.

"Well, what are you afraid of then?" asked Edgehill. "You're frightened
about something?"

"Yes, sir," replied the chauffeur.

"Then what the devil is it, man?"

"It's Colonel Jasper, sir," and Bob Jameson looked as if he were almost
going to slide out of his seat. "I'm always afraid when anyone dies."

Instantly then Dr. Shillington thrust himself up close to the car. "And
how do you know colonel Jasper is dead?" he asked fiercely. "Who told
you he was, now?"

The chauffeur took a good grip of the door of the car. "You've got your
book of death certificates with you, sir," he said faintly. He pointed
behind him. "It's on the seat there. Colonel Jasper looked very ill when
I saw him the other day, and these two last times when we've called here
he's not come out, so I thought--" he almost broke down, "I thought----"

"You're lying," broke in the doctor savagely. "Someone's been gossiping
here. Now, who is it? Say, at once."

The chauffeur's voice shook. "I don't know, sir. I really--" his voice
wavered. "I was took all of a heap last night when----"

Dr. Bellhouse and Sarle appeared round the corner, and the former was
holding his watch in his hand.

"If you don't mind, Dr. Shillington," he said, speaking very hurriedly
and with an apologetic air. "But I ought to be going at once. I'm due at
Mark's Tey at Eleven. I have an anaesthetic case there then. I had no
idea the time was getting on so."

For the moment Dr. Shillington could not restrain a gesture of annoyance
at being interrupted, but instantly again he wreathed his face in
agreeable lines.

"Certainly," he said smiling, and he opened the car door. "We don't
delay another minute."

Broome moved back to the form and sank down again.

"Good-bye," called out Dr. Shillington, "I'll come in to-night." Dr.
Bellhouse raised his hand and off the car went across the marsh road.

"Damn!" swore Edgehill, as he and Sarle returned into the house, "that
Kelvedon chap's left his box of tricks behind," and he picked up the
black professional bag.

It was unlocked, and opening it curiously, he saw that amongst other
things it contained a large bottle of ether, almost full, and a much
smaller bottle labelled 'Chloroform.'

"Gee-whiz!" he exclaimed in heavy humor, "now what about putting Broome
and the old woman to sleep and adding them to the undertaker's bag
tonight. We've got all the dope here."

"Bah!" replied Sarle, scornfully. "It wouldn't be worth it. We'll be rid
of them both as it is in twenty-four hours. I'll put the screw on
Shillington this evening, and it'll be the asylum and the workhouse for
them tomorrow. I'll stand no nonsense now Jasper's dead." He took down a
rod from off the wall. "Come on, and let's go out and fish. This damned
house smells like a butcher's shop to me."

They went outside and passed Broome, who was still sitting on the form.
Sarle gave him a vicious kick on the shin as he went by, and Edgehill
supplemented it with a hard pull on the ear, but the object of their
indignities took not the slightest notice. His face had a stupid, vacant
look, and he continued to play on with his piece of string.

"It's funny," remarked Edgehill, as he walked away, "but as Shillington
says, a lunatic never feels much pain. You should have kicked harder if
you wanted to make any impression."

"I did my best," replied Sarle carelessly, and then suddenly he scowled
and gritted his teeth. "But I'm thinking I'll black his eyes for him
tonight when they've all gone. I'll get back some of my own and make the
idiot squeal."

"Good!" remarked Edgehill. "I shall enjoy it. It'll be a bit of fun."

He looked back over his shoulder. Broome was still playing with the
piece of string.




CHAPTER XVI.--BROOME SPEAKS.


At twenty minutes to seven that night Dr. Shillington 'phoned sharply
for his car, and five minutes later was being driven down to the Priory.

He had not referred again to the matter of his chauffeur's knowledge of
the death of Colonel Jasper on the island, and the latter was devoutly
hoping that he had forgotten it. At any rate, Bob Jameson, fortified now
with a hearty tea which had included a heady bottle of strong beer, was
quite a different being from the panicky and empty-stomached creature of
the morning. He was inspired again, too, with faith in his old pal, Fred
Mason, and in consequence was prepared now to father as many more lies
as might be necessary. Already he felt a crisp 50 note rustling in his
pocket.

The night was warm and muggy, and a ghost-like mist steamed up from the
marshes and wrapped round the island. There was a faint moon showing,
but, seen through the haze it accentuated the dreariness and desolation
of everything.

"The very night for carting stiff 'uns away," was Mr. Jameson's mental
comment, and he thanked his gods for the comforting qualities of good
beer.

"A quarter to seven," he added, looking at the clock upon the dashboard,
"and now we shan't be long. Something's going to happen, and Bob
Jameson, Esquire, will be in the front row."

The tide was off the causeway, and the tyres squelched unpleasantly in
the mud as the car crossed over.

"Hoot once," said Dr. Shillington sharply, "and then park away from the
door. There'll be another car here almost at once."

The door of the Priory opened, and a beam of light shot through the
mist. Dr. Shillington entered the house, and the door was closed to
behind him.

"I thought it would look better if I came," he said. "It was not
necessary, but people talk; and, after all, Jasper was one of my
friends; also I want Dr. Bellhouse's bag. He's 'phoned me he left it
here this morning."

"It's there," grunted Edgehill, pointing to a side table. "There is a
bottle of ether and a bottle of chloroform in it. They are stinking the
room out now."

Dr. Shillington opened the bag and took a perfunctory look at its
contents. Then he put it down upon the floor against the wall. "Well,
mind I don't forget it," he said, and sitting himself down, he lit a
cigarette.

A strained silence followed.

Sarle fidgeted about in his big armchair, Edgehill threw himself back
upon the settee, changing his position uncomfortably every moment, and
the old woman in the corner sat with bowed head, as if she were saying
her prayers.

There was no fire and the only illuminant was the big oil lamp suspended
by a long chain from the ceiling.

Suddenly the curtains by the passage parted, and Broome walked into the
hall. His appearance, among the untidied surroundings of the place was
startlingly incongruous for he was in immaculate evening dress. His coat
was cut in the latest fashion, the crease of his trousers was exactly in
the middle, and his collar and tie were of the most recent styles. As
far as his clothes were concerned, he looked the perfect type of a
refined and courtly English gentleman.

His face, however, belied his otherwise general attractiveness, for its
expression was vacant and almost that of an imbecile. His eyes were
heavy and half closed, his mouth gaped, and he looked altogether in the
grip of a profound melancholia.

He walked slowly to the chair he usually occupied, and sinking down into
it, folded his hands together and stared listlessly before him.

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Edgehill, leaning upon his elbow in his
excitement. "Now, just look at that. Did you ever see anything like it,
and to think that he'll be frying fish in a few minutes."

Sarle turned his head away in contempt, but Dr. Shillington regarded
Broome with an interested professional stare.

"What's he been like lately?" he asked after a moment's hard scrutiny.

"Getting worse and worse every day," Edgehill replied. "He does some
work sometimes when we kick him to it, but he doesn't speak much now.
Today I don't think he's said a single word."

"Very well, then," said the doctor after a pause, "I'll get him
certified. He shall be taken away."

Sarle looked round at once. "But not tonight, Shillington," he said
quickly. He flashed a meaning look at Edgehill. "Tomorrow will be soon
enough."

"Of course, of course," said the doctor, with his eyes still upon
Broome. "I shall have to get Dr. Bellhouse in again. He'll sign the
certificate with me." He looked round at Edgehill. "But how did he get
that cut on his lip, do you know?"

"That cut on his lip!" repeated Edgehill, as if he had not noticed it
before. "Oh! Yes, I remember. He hit himself against the door yesterday.
He's been very clumsy lately, and is always knocking himself about." He
winked slily at Sarle. "He must be covered with bruises, especially on
his shins, but he doesn't seem to feel any pain, for he never
complains."

"Ah!" remarked the doctor, and he stared hard at Broome again.

The minutes passed in silence, and then Sarle, looking up at the clock
exclaimed irritably----

"Ten minutes past seven, Shillington, and I thought you said they would
be here at seven, sharp."

The doctor looked at his watch. "You're thirteen minutes fast, my
friend," he remarked calmly. "It is still three minutes to the hour.
They are a most reliable firm, and never fail me. I am confident they
will be here on time."

Sarle glanced over his shoulder and scowled. "Well, some damned fool's
left the back door open," he said. "I can smell the mist coming in," and
he rose up sharply from his chair and passed out through the curtains.

"He's jumpy," remarked Edgehill with an uneasy grin. "He doesn't like a
corpse being in the house."

"Death is a very natural thing," remarked the doctor ponderously, "and
it is a mistake to regard it as anything unusual."

"Oh! is it?" replied Edgehill, with an attempt at jocularity. "Well, it
hasn't struck me in that light yet, and when it happens to me I shall
regard it as the most unusual episode in all my life." He jerked his
thumb in the direction of Broome. "That damned fool said the other day
that there was a death coming here because he'd seen a rook upon the
window sill."

"Really!" smiled the doctor contemptuously. "The angel of death, I
presume, about to flap its wings. Well, there was a rook at my study
window yesterday, and----" he shrugged his shoulders, "I am still alive.
The superstitions of even intelligent men are often----" He broke off
suddenly and lifted his hand, "Hark! here they are."

The droning sound of a motor was heard in the distance; it grew louder,
its note changed as the car dropped into the causeway, it increased in
volume again, and finally the grinding of brakes announced that a car
had come to a standstill outside.

Edgehill flung open the doors and the light shone upon quite a big sized
black van.

A solemn looking man stepped briskly down from the seat next to the
driver, and taking off his hat, approached respectfully to where Dr.
Shillington was standing in the doorway.

"To the minute, sir, as you ordered," he said, "and we've brought the
closed van. It will attract less attention as you wished."

"All right," said the doctor, "we don't want any fuss."

The driver dimmed his lights and got down, there were sounds of
movements at the back of the van, and a minute later, a big coffin was
being borne in slings into the Priory. It's four bearers walked with
their heads bent down, and in the slow and measured footsteps of their
trade.

An awed silence, the awed silence of death gripped upon everybody in the
hall, and the old woman in the corner bowed her shawled head lower than
ever.

Then suddenly there was a startled exclamation, and the voice of
Edgehill rang out like a clarion call--

"Look out, Sarle," he roared, "they're not undertakers. Mayer, the
detective's here," and in the splitting of a second he had put the table
between him and the bearers of the coffin, and was tugging at his hip
for his automatic.

But if he had been quick, the solemn looking man who had been following
behind the bearers was quicker. He literally flung himself across the
table, and impinging sideways upon Edgehill with great violence, brought
him down upon the floor. Edgehill was unbalanced by the imprisonment of
his right hand in his hip pocket.

Then for a few seconds pandemonium reigned. The coffin was lowered to
the floor with a celerity that suggested careful rehearsal, and the four
brawny men were upon Edgehill, too. He had no chance at all. He was
gripped as in a vice, he was jerked to his feet, his wrists were
handcuffed behind him, and one of the detectives, producing a length of
cord, proceeded deftly to tie his ankles.

Carter and Stone came rushing in. "Got them?" shouted the former
anxiously.

"One," replied the solemn looking man, breathing hard. "He spotted Mayer
and was drawing his gun. We had to go for him."

Stone took a lightning glance at Edgehill.

"Guard the door, one of you," he shouted, "and the rest of you follow
me; the other man's in the house in the back there," and with his
automatic ready, he started to rush across the hall.

But a voice of thunder came from behind the curtains that concealed the
entrance into the passage.

"Stop!" it cried fiercely. "Stop, everyone of you, and hands up, or I
fire. Stop, I tell you. I've got you all covered, and you're dead men if
you take another step."

Stone gasped in consternation, but instantly he pulled himself up with a
jerk and stood stock still. The other detectives followed suit. They
were all brave men and proved in danger, many times, but they measured
with their eyes the twenty and odd feet or so that stretched between
them and the curtains, and in a lightning flash reckoned up the odds
against them.

They would have to go round the big table, they were in the full light
of the lamp; their enemy was in darkness, and, moreover, they did not
know exactly where he stood.

Stone went ghastly in his rage. His eyes glared, his nostrils dilated,
and his face exhibited the baffled ferocity of a wild beast that had
suddenly found itself caught in a trap.

"Hands up!" roared the voice again. "Hands up, or I fire. One--two----"

"Put 'em up, boys," called out Carter briskly. "He's got the drop on us,
and it'll be only wasting good lives; besides----" and his voice was
stern and menacing, "he can't get away, the place is surrounded
everywhere by now."

In obedience to his command, but with scowling faces, they all held up
their hands, and then the voice came sharply--

"Drop that gun, Stone. I see you. Drop----"

Stone's automatic fell on to the floor with a crash.

Quite a long silence followed, and then the curtains parted slowly and
Sarle stepped into the hall.

His face was deathly pale and glistened in perspiration. His lips were
tightly closed, his eyes burnt like live coals, and he looked the very
incarnation of a devil without mercy. He held a large automatic pistol
before him, a little above waist high.

"Gentlemen," he sneered, "the Iron Man and the unrepentent perpetrator
of many crimes!" His tone changed, and his words rapped out like
shrapnel. "Unloose my friend instantly. You, there, with the red hair,
and no tricks, or I'll shoot you in the stomach."

And then suddenly the amazing thing happened.

Old Mother Heggarty sprung up from her chair. "Rush him!" she shrieked,
"rush him, his gun's no good." and tearing off the shawl that enveloped
her head, she darted forward to suit her action to her words.

But in her eagerness she tripped up in her skirts, and crashing heavily
to the ground, her head struck the leg of the table and she lay still.

Two seconds followed, not more, and then a wild exultant shout came from
Stone.

"It's Larose, boys," he roared, "and it's all right if he says so; come
on."

He dropped his hands and leapt forward in one movement, charging round
the table to reach Sarle.

Sarle's arm came up like lightning, and he pressed on the trigger of his
automatic. Once, twice, and then a look of blank consternation crossed
into his face. He pulled on the trigger a third time, and then in
furious rage he hurled the useless weapon point blank at the head of the
oncoming detective. But Stone ducked, and it missed him, and the next
second the two were grappling together.

But it was an unequal struggle, and soon over, for the other detectives
had followed hot-foot after Stone, and quicker almost than it takes to
tell, Sarle was handcuffed and trussed up in the same way as Edgehill.

Immediately then, Stone rushed over to the prostrate Larose, and gently
lifted him up on the sofa.

"Poor lad," he said, with a suspicion of huskiness in his voice, "but,
good God! how ill he looks."

"I'm not hurt much," said Larose faintly. "I'll talk to you in a
minute." He tried to lift up his head. "But look after Shillington," he
muttered. "Don't let him go."

"All right, laddie," nodded Stone. "We're seeing to that. We've got our
eyes on him." He bent down and whispered, "But are there any more in the
place now? Have we got them all?"

Larose gave a faint smile. "Yes, Charlie," he whispered back, "you've
cleaned up the lot."

And in the meantime Dr. Shillington had been an astounded spectator of
all that had happened. The appearance of the police and the arrests of
Sarle and Edgehill had been like the fall of a thunderbolt before him,
but the resurrection of Larose had for the moment bereft him entirely of
coherent thought, and all he could do now was to stand blinking
furiously and biting upon his lips.

But the voice of Carter roused him from his stupor. "Don't go, please,
Dr. Shillington," called out the detective sharply. "We want to speak to
you first."

Instantly then he pulled himself together. His life's work among the
insane had trained him to act quickly in all emergencies, and now with
the first shock over, thought rushed back furiously into his numbed
brain, and he was at once the cold and clear-thinking doctor of the
asylum again.

He reddened in anger at the peremptory tone in which the detective was
addressing him, but he sat down coolly into a chair and took out a
cigarette.

"I had no intention of going," he replied calmly, "for I shall be
interested, without doubt, when I am enlightened as to what this all
means." He added with dignity--"I am here, I would beg you to
understand; purely in my capacity as a medical man."

"Very good," replied Carter drily, and then he turned and pointed Broome
out to one of the detectives. "Well take him, too. He's half a lunatic,
I understand, but we may be able to get something out of him for all
that. Handcuff him, as well."

And then came another surprise, and a surprise that this time included
everybody in the hall.

Broome rose up from the chair where he had been sitting, a calm
spectator of all the proceedings, and smilingly approached the tall
detective.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Carter," he said, with a polite bow, "but I
would have you know that I am quite as sane as you are at the present
moment. It is unhappily a fact that I was a mental case last year, but
there has been no relapse since. I assure you, and to-night----" He
looked round and smiled---"I am in as perfect possession of all my
faculties as any of you here." He drew himself up with dignity. "There
is no need to handcuff me. I shall be quite quiet, and it is my
intention to help you all I can."

Carter started in astonishment at him, and half suspecting some trick,
was at first minded to repeat his curt order to his assistants, but
Broome's appearance was altogether so gentlemanly and so prepossessing
that he hesitated, being unwilling to inflict unnecessarily the
indignity of the handcuffs. Glancing round then to find what Stone's
opinion might be, his eyes happened to fall upon the bound prisoners,
and then instantly his thoughts were switched off into quite another
direction.

He saw that both Sarle and Edgehill were looking so surprised.

They were staring fixedly at Broome, and the incredulity upon their
faces were now super-imposed, even upon the expressions of sullen fury
that had hitherto possessed them. Edgehill, in particular, looked the
very picture of astonishment. He had got his mouth wide open like a
dumbfounded child.

"Good," thought Carter, "then, at any rate, they are not in the joke,"
and he turned back again at once to Broome.

"Yes," went on the latter quietly, "I admit I have been acting lately
with the express purpose of making everyone believe that I was
qualifying again for the asylum, and I've certainly had to put up with a
very unpleasant time in consequence." His voice rose in anger, and he
pointed sternly to Sarle. "That man there is one of the cruellest
criminals unhanged, and he was thinking that he would inflict dire
physical sufferings upon me after the undertakers had gone to-night.
He's been gloating over the idea all day."

"Oh! And you were going to submit to it?" asked Carter curiously, and
sparring for time, because he could not still make up his mind.

Broome laughed scornfully. "I didn't believe I was in any danger," he
replied, "for I didn't think he'd get the chance. I expected something
was going to happen to him tonight, as I knew your Mr. Larose had sent
out a message for help by Dr. Shillington's chauffeur. I heard them
talking about it this morning and the man said then, that the message
had got through. He's going to receive fifty pounds for taking it."

The silence in the room was almost painful, and Broome was the centre of
all eyes. Larose was in a sitting position now, and was staring at him
as if he were a ghost.

"And besides," went on Broome in an even conversational tone. "I was
sure that things must be happening very soon now, for Mrs. Heggarty's
been dead more than forty-eight hours and her body under the straw
behind the wash-house is beginning to be unpleasant. It couldn't remain
undiscovered much longer."

The veins on Sarle's forehead stood out like knotted cords and it looked
almost as if he were going to have a fit.

"Good God!" groaned Larose audibly, "but what a fool I've been."

"Not at all, Mr. Larose," smiled Broome politely, turning round. "You
impersonated the old woman very well. But you made two mistakes. I smelt
you had been smoking once when I passed you, and again, I saw you put
sugar in your tea, which Mrs. Heggarty never did." He shrugged his
shoulders. "Little things, of course, but they helped to give you away."

He stopped speaking for a moment, and again a hush fell upon everyone.
The face of Sarle was now as inscrutable as that of a sphinx, but Dr.
Shillington was gnawing savagely at his lower lip.

"Well," went on Broome briskly, "I'm going to turn King's evidence now
and earn some of those thousand pounds rewards. I've done no violence
anyhow, and the worst you can lay to my charge is the blowing up of a
few safes. Oh! one thing," he added quickly. "Don't let Dr. Shillington
go. He's as deep in everything as any of them. He murdered his butler
right enough, and only last week he tried to kill us all here with
poisonous mushrooms. He brought down a dishful for our consumption, but
I was suspicious about them, and picked out the dangerous ones. I've got
them in my bedroom, still. He's a very bad man."

"And you've been with the gang, then, all along?" said Carter sternly,
breaking into the further silence that followed.

"Yes, most of the time," admitted Broome quite frankly, "but upon the
night when they were going to murder Mr. Larose--Sarle here would have
tortured him if he hadn't escaped--I made up my mind to break with them.
Things were getting too bad, even for a man whose finer feelings had
been blunted in an asylum, and as I have explained to you, I laid my
plans accordingly." He nodded towards Sarle and Edgehill. "Now, I can
put you in the way of securing evidence enough to convict those
gentlemen many times over." He hesitated a moment. "I might perhaps have
been inclined to hold my tongue but they've been so brutal to me that
I'll keep back nothing now."

"And who are they, then?" asked Stone quickly. "Are Sarle and Edgehill
their real names?"

"No," replied Broome at once. "I'm certain of that, although I can't
tell you who they are. But Sarle's been in prison in France for five
years, and Edgehill's been convicted for some offence in Carlisle. I've
heard them talk about the prisons they've been in."

Stone regarded him very sternly. "And where has that big man gone who
came here on the night of Tuesday of last week?" he asked. "He came on a
bicycle which he left in the marshes, and he never went back. We took
his bicycle, and we are sure he's not left the island since."

"That was Bull, another murderer," replied Broome instantly. "He came to
tell them that he'd drowned a man and woman called Tilley, and he
claimed a hundred pounds each, which Sarle was to give him for the
murders."

"Well, where is he?" asked Stone.

"But didn't one of your men shoot him?" exclaimed Broome, looking
surprised. "We found his body upon the sands two days afterwards, and
he'd been shot through the back of the head."

"Found his body upon the sands!" ejaculated Stone incredulously. "Two
days after he'd come here, and he'd been pistolled, you say."

"Yes," replied Broome, "and we all thought it was one of your lot who
had shot him."

"Nonsense," said Stone. "We don't do things in that way." He jerked his
head round in the direction of the handcuffed men. "Now didn't they kill
him?"

"Certainly not," replied Broome emphatically. "He was working for them
and left here that night, after all details had been thought out, with
the avowed intention of killing a married couple at Epping who had seen
Sarle after he had murdered a doctor there. Sarle was to give him 200
if he got rid of them, and he and Edgehill were both terribly frightened
when they saw his body."

"Oh! they were, were they?" said Stone thoughtfully.

"Yes, very frightened," replied Broome. He looked questioningly at the
stout detective. "Then if you didn't kill him, somebody else did."

Stone flashed a quick glance at Carter and then lowered his eyes. "What
did they do with the body then?" he asked after a moment's pause.

"Towed it out to sea and sank it," replied Broome. "Sarle said there
must not be an inquest at any cost. They took----"

But suddenly Dr. Shillington sprang to his feet and, swinging up his
arm, dashed something with great violence to the floor in the middle of
the room. There was a crash of broken glass.

"Look out!" he shouted excitedly. "That's ether vapor and it will catch
fire. It's worse than petrol. Put out the lamp instantly or we shall all
be burnt to death. Quick--quick!"

The sickening smell of ether filled the air, and with a curse Carter,
who was nearest to the lamp, pulled down the extinguisher, and the room
was plunged immediately into total darkness.

"Flash your torches," he roared. "Look after the prisoners and grab
Shillington, someone. Open the door and windows and there'll be no
danger then. We shan't be sent to sleep."

But the surprise had been so sudden that they none of them had got their
torches ready, and they all shouted directions and got in each other's
way.

When finally order had been restored and the lights were flashed, it was
found then that the asylum doctor was nowhere to be seen.




CHAPTER XVII.--THE WAYS OF DEATH.


The mist had closed down and it was very thick outside, and Dr.
Shillington had no difficulty in getting away unseen from the precincts
of the house.

He knew the lie of the land quite well, and, plunging confidently into
the solid wall of vapor, was swallowed up immediately. Three yards away
he would have been invisible to anyone who had tried to follow, and so,
with no apprehension that he was in danger, and clutching tightly to a
bottle of chloroform that a minute before had been reposing in Dr.
Bellhouse's bag, he ran at an easy pace in the direction of the sea.

A couple of hundred yards or so from the house, however, he slackened
down to a quick walk.

"And so this is the end," he said with a choke in his voice. "I must
destroy myself." He spoke quietly and with no bitterness. "With the
evidence of that man, Larose, corroborated as it will now be by Broome,
it would be madness for me to harbor the slightest hope that I could
evade complicity in most of what has taken place." He tried the cork of
the chloroform bottle to make sure that it would come out easily, "Well,
I am fortunate in having this. Chloroform narcosis is a pleasant form of
dying, and five minutes now should see the end of everything." He
frowned angrily. "But what an ignominious phase of my career! A man of
my attainments to be running hatless from uncultured policemen like a
common thief. But I deserve it. I ought to have cut myself adrift from
the Priory people long ago. I see now that I have been out of my element
among them all along." An unpleasant thought came into his mind. "But I
suppose any brother alienist becoming aware of my association with them
at all, would have considered me as mental any time during the past
year." He sighed. "Well, perhaps he would have been right. Possibly I
have been mental and am still. Certainly, my powers are failing or I
should not have been deceived as I was by that clown, Broome. It was
terrible judgment on my part to be taken in, and quite unpardonable in a
man of my experience." He sighed again and more heavily this time. "Yes,
with my reputation as the greatest alienist of my generation as yet
unchallenged, it is best that my life's work should be done. I will end
off here."

He reached the sea shore; the mist was much thinner there, and a hundred
yards away he could see the outlines of some big rocks. He looked
stealthily round, but he was quite alone.

He quickened his pace again, and at a sharp run reached the rocks. Then,
knee-deep, he waded into the sea and climbed up upon the rock that was
farthest from the shore. It was a long flat one standing about a foot
out of the water.

"Now, let me make no mistake," he muttered. "There must be no scandal
brought upon my profession, and I should not like my sister to know
either, that I have been the companion of men who are going to be
hanged. I must just disappear and with any good fortune my body will
never be found. The water is low now, but the tide is coming in. In half
an hour it will take my body and the undercurrent should sweep me out to
sea." He went quickly through his pockets. "No, there is nothing here
that can give any clue to my identity, and two days among the conger
eels should make me quite unrecognisable."

He took off his coat and folded it up quickly into the shape of a square
cushion. Then he undid his braces and, slipping them off, tied the coat
close upon his face. Then stretching himself down at full length upon
the rock, he uncorked the bottle of chloroform and, without a second's
hesitation, poured out its whole contents upon the folded coat.

"Now for it," he muttered, and his heart beat quicker. He drew in deep
heavy breaths as if he were eager to get everything over. "Only a man
who has not used his reason," he went on, "is afraid of death, for death
is peace and rest, and there is no pain there." He smiled grimly. "But
how easily are we all brought to an equality, the great ones and the
small. A few whiffs of synthetic vapor, a few grains wrung from the
metallic substances of the earth, a few minims distilled from the common
flowers of the field, and we are at once all stiffening flesh together,
like the felled ox or the sheep after the knife." His voice became
drowsy. "But to think of a man of my distinction having to die like
this--I who am the greatest master in my field of work. I have been a
benefactor to human kind. I----" a swift spasm wrinkled up his face,
"but I have been their enemy as well and, judged by common standards, I
suppose my decease is overdue." His thoughts came much more slowly, but
with an effort he shook his head. "Yes, of course I have been mad--mad
to have touched crime and lawlessness at all. It is clear to me now. I
have lived all my life among madmen and I have become as they are,
myself." His voice sank lower and lower. "Yes, I have touched pitch
and--I--am--defiled."

His muttering ceased, his breathing became more shallow, and finally he
lay quite still. His jaw dropped and all his muscles relaxed.

He was as motionless as the rock upon which he lay.

The sea came up presently and flowed over him. It washed him from the
rock and he disappeared.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The following morning Larose had a long interview at Scotland Yard with
the Chief Commissioner of the Police. Carter and Stone were present, and
the Chief had a report of the former before him.

"Well, I must say, Mr. Larose," smiled the Commissioner presently, "that
you have done yeoman service for us. We shall be able now to trace back
everything that the gang have done and arraign these two men upon many
more charges than are necessary to ensure that they shall suffer the
extreme penalty." He looked thoughtful. "But are you quite sure that the
evidence of this third man, Broome, will be reliable?"

"Perfectly," replied Larose at once. "He will make an excellent witness,
too, for he is the most intelligent of them all." The detective sighed.
"It will always rankle in me how I was deceived there."

"And you had no idea then at any time," smiled the Commissioner, "that
he was aware the woman was dead, and that you were impersonating her?"

"No, none whatever, sir," replied Larose ruefully. "You see, I took him
all along for exactly what he intended the others should take him for, a
man with a bad mental history, gradually reverting to his old condition
again, and when the woman died and I was in her place I felt more secure
with him than with anybody else."

"You ran a great risk," said the Chief Commissioner shaking his head.
"Your life would not have been worth a moment's purchase if they had
found you out."

"But not so great a risk as you might think, sir," answered Larose,
"Sarle and Edgehill detested the old woman, and never looked at her.
They said she put them off their food when they did, and besides," and
he grinned cheerfully, "I had the only serviceable automatic in the
Priory. I had filed the hammers of all the other ones, so that they were
quite useless."

The Commissioner laughed heartily. "You are a great artist, Mr. Larose,"
he said, "and put in some very finished work. Your sojourn in that house
as an uninvited guest is almost an epic in its way, and I admit quite
frankly that I cannot think of one of our men here who would have had
the imagination to have undertaken it."

"But I had to, sir," Larose laughed back. "It was forced upon me for as
I have told you I was too lame to get away."

"Well, you were ready to make of each set-back some great achievement,"
said the Commissioner. "I'll put it that way. Every misfortune that Fate
handed to you, you made a stepping stone to some success." He suddenly
became thoughtful "But I'd like to know now who killed that man, Bull?"

Larose was serious at once. "But he deserved to die, sir," he said
slowly. "He was a murderer twice over upon his own confession, and his
mission when he left the Priory that night was to murder again. He was
beyond the pale of any pity."

"Yes, yes, I know that," commented the Commissioner sharply, "but your
support of Broome's story that neither Sarle nor Edgehill killed the
man, leaves us with an unsolved mystery." He frowned in perplexity.
"Now, who could have killed him, then?" He turned round to Carter. "Our
men heard a shot fired that night, you say, at the time mentioned by Mr.
Larose?"

"Yes, sir, at twelve minutes past ten," replied the tall detective, "but
it was very misty, and they saw no pistol flash."

"Exactly," said the Commissioner. "Then it all fits in." He turned back
smilingly to Larose. "You see what intrigues me, don't you? Thanks
mainly to you, we have done so splendidly that I am unwilling there
should be even one single problem left unsolved." He shrugged his
shoulders. "We can explain everything except the death of this man, and
it is in my mind that one force for violence is still at large and
unaccounted for. I should like to wind off the whole business so that we
have complete understanding everywhere. Now, what do you say?"

But Larose said nothing. He just looked innocently at the Commissioner
and blinked his eyes.

"And you, gentlemen?" asked the Commissioner, turning to the other
detectives, "have you no ideas, either?"

Carter shook his head, and Stone looked away without meeting his
superior's eyes.

"Well, one thing more," said the latter after a few moments' pause, "I
should not be sorry--" he hesitated. "I should not be sorry if Dr.
Shillington never fell into our hands." He sighed. "The scandal would be
so great."

"But he's dead, sir, I am sure," said Larose earnestly. "He's had twelve
hours of freedom, and as many minutes would have given him sufficient
time to take his own life." The detective spoke with supreme confidence.
"You see, sir, when I was acting as butler at Oakley Court I had
complete opportunity of forming an estimate of Dr. Shillington's
character, and of one thing I am certain, he would go to any lengths
rather than fall into our hands. He was quite mad, of course, in his
association with the gang, but he was sane enough in other things, and
he was very proud. He would never face disgrace."

"And you think that he never escaped from the island, then?" asked the
Commissioner.

Larose shook his head. "It was impossible, sir, that he could have
crossed the river," he replied. "Mr. Carter will tell you that."

Carter nodded. "Yes, quite impossible," he said. "He got a bare minute's
start, and the causeway was closed to him even before that--long before
he could have had time to run as far. There were two service cars
stationary on the further bank, with lights full on, and even with the
fog, not a dog could have got by. Then in ten minutes the fog had lifted
and we were able to flash lights over the surface of the whole river
bed. The mud was quite unbroken, and as he would have had to wade waist
high to get across, we should have seen clear indications of his
passing." The tall detective was emphatic. "No, there was only one way
he could have escaped, and that was by the open sea. All night there was
a cordon round the island on the river side and at daybreak every foot
of the island itself was gone over."

"And you are quite certain," asked the Commissioner, "that he didn't get
away in a boat?"

"Quite," said Larose, answering this time. "I know there have never been
more than three boats on the island, and they are still all there now."

"And your suggestion of self-destruction," asked the Commissioner, "what
of that?"

"Sir," said Larose, "there is a bottle of chloroform missing from that
Kelvedon doctor's bag, and it could be only Dr. Shillington who took it.
He knew it was there along with the bottle of ether, for after Edgehill
had mentioned it, not a quarter of an hour before, everything happened,
I saw him open the bag and glance at its contents." The detective
lowered his voice impressively. "Then if he took the chloroform he could
only have done it in those few seconds of darkness after the lamp had
been extinguished and before the torches were flashed, and if he did
take it then, he took it at the dreadful risk of not being able to get
away with it afterwards."

"You mean," said the Commissioner, frowning, "that he considered it so
vital to get possession of the chloroform that, risking everything, he
delayed his flight until he had groped for the bag in the dark and got
out the bottle."

"Yes, sir," replied Larose, "that's what I mean."

"With the purpose in his mind, of course," added the Commissioner, "that
he was going to bring about his own destruction immediately."

"Yes, sir," replied Larose again. "He risked everything for that."

The Commissioner's eyes twinkled. "And mightn't he have had the bottle
in his pocket all the time, Mr. Larose? Mightn't he have snatched it out
of the bag at the same time as he took the ether?"

"No, sir," replied Larose emphatically. "Talking it over, we are all
agreed that when he shouted to us to put out the lamp he was standing
empty-handed. Besides, Detective Mayer, who was nearest to him, says
that when the doctor first opened the bag he bent down to make only one
lightning grab and then he sprang erect and hurled the ether."

"Humph!" remarked the Commissioner, "then upon this eagerness of Dr.
Shillington at all risks to obtain this chloroform, you base the
certainty that he is not now miraculously in hiding, but is dead?"

"Upon that and my knowledge of his character, sir," replied Larose.

"Very good, then," said the Commissioner, "and now where's his body?"

"I have thought of that, too, sir," replied Larose, "and am sure it must
have been carried out to sea. The tide was just on the flow last night
at the time when he escaped, and if he put himself to sleep by the
margin of the waves, long before the tide was high it would have swept
him round the point and into the big deeps out to sea." The detective
made a wry face. "I have not lived for a fortnight above three
enthusiastic fishermen without learning something about the currents
round that coast. They are very strong, and there is a great undertow."

There was a silence for a few moments and then the Commissioner said
thoughtfully. "Well, we'll hope for the best, and for the sake of his
profession, that Dr. Shillington does not turn up again, alive or dead."
He shook his head. "He was a great doctor, but a very bad man."

And the Chief Commissioner of the Police had no further anxiety on that
score, for nothing more was ever heard of the master of Oakley Court.
The sea was faithful to it's trust, and the conger eels did not give up
their dead.

In due time both Sarle and Edgehill were tried, convicted, and hanged.
Sarle for the murders of Isaacstein the Jew, and the Epping doctor, and
Edgehill for the murder of the painter at Colchester.

They received the extreme penalty of the law within a few days of each
other.

Sarle met his death in contemptuous silence. He gave neither a good word
nor a bad one to anyone, and appeared up to the very last to be bored
with the whole proceedings.

But Edgehill went out in a very different way. Laughing and joking with
the warders, he ate heartily and enjoyed his breakfast as if he were in
a restaurant instead of the condemned cell, and with his last breath he
sent his kind regards to "that prince of crime-trackers, the mug-faced
looking Gilbert Larose."



THE END



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