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Title: The House on the Island
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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The House on the Island

by

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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