Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Mystery of Crocksands
Author: Fred M. White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1200101.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2012
Date most recently updated: January 2012

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

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

Title: The Mystery of Crocksands
Author: Fred M. White

*

Author of "The Secret of the Sands," "The Devil's Advocate," "The Man
with the Vandyke Beard," "The Edge of the Sword," &c.

*

Published in The Brisbane Courier in serial form commencing Thursday 21
June, 1923.

*


CHAPTER I.


The spirit of Spring was in the air. Out in the parks the lilac hung in
fringed tassels of pallid mauve and feathery white, and filled the air
with its fragrance. Even there, in the dusty desolation of Martin's Inn,
with its dreary old houses given over to the law and a monotony all its
own, the sun was shining through the dusty windows and mocking the
clerks and typists chained there with no thought beyond the task of the
hour. In the square a dingy sycamore, with blackened, smoke-grimed
trunk, was struggling into leaf; a warm wind drifted languidly from the
west; and the girl in the small office behind that of her employer, Mr.
James Melrose, the eminent head and only partner in the firm of Melrose
and Clapstone, had allowed her thoughts to wander for moment.

Very good to look at was Miss Ellen Marchant, confidential clerk and
typist to James Melrose. Certain clients outside the dull routine of
city conventions would glance at her and wonder what so dainty and
refined a girl was doing there. For she was quite young, not more than
twenty-three at the outside, with a complexion of ivory and delicate
rose, and a throat like milk, rising from a neck like a tall lily in the
morning mist.

She had stumbled upon those letters quite by accident when looking for
something else. And the sight of her dead father's handwriting after all
these years had strangely affected her. Of course, she knew that in the
days of Gordon Bland's prosperity he had occasionally enlisted the
services of James Melrose in his professional capacity--indeed, Melrose
and Clapstone had represented the family of Bland for generations; but
here was a suggestion of a matter that had all the flavour of a sacred
confidence about it. How, then, had these private papers found their way
into an ancient deed-box pushed away into a dusty, almost forgotten
cupboard?

In the office beyond James Melrose was closeted with a client of
importance, and Ellen could hear the drone of their voices. A door
opened and closed presently, and Ellen knew that her employer was alone.
With her head held slightly high she walked into the sacred precincts
and laid her packet on the table.

"I have just found these, Mr. Melrose," she said. "They were with a pile
of papers of no consequence. They appear to be letters written by my
father to my mother at a time when--I mean when they were not on very
good terms, private letters, which----"

"Quite so, Miss Bland--I mean Miss Marchant," Melrose murmured.
"Criminal carelessness on the part of somebody, no doubt. I will lock
them up in my private safe."

Ellen was always 'Miss Marchant' to the client and the office staff, and
nobody in the establishment had the least idea of her real identity.
None guessed that she was the only daughter of the late Gordon Bland, of
Belgrave-square, and at one time, next in succession to the historic
estate called Crocksands Abbey, in North Devon.

There were plenty of folk ready to smile cynically at the idea of that
brilliant rascal Chris. Wrath, making a fortune in Australia, or
anywhere else for that matter, and who hinted pretty broadly that he
could say a good deal about the tragic and mysterious death of Gordon
Bland, which had occurred on Wrath's yacht in the Mediterranean off
Monte Carlo; but, of course, this was so much scandal, and only spoken
of in clubs and such places where Bland's own intimates foregathered and
spoke regretfully of the fine fellow who was nobody's enemy but his own.
Still, there was no getting away from the fact that Gordon Bland
committed suicide, or was drowned, as Wrath said, in the nick of time to
save himself from a disgraceful prosecution for fraud and forgery, and,
therefore, Wrath came into the title and family property, a circumstance
which would have caused old Sir George Bland-Merton to turn in his grave
had he only known it.

All this had happened two years ago, and now Ellen Bland, in the name of
Marchant, was a typist to James Melrose, the solicitor to the family.
She had practically no relations. Her father had been the last of the
line; and Crocksands Abbey could only come to her by will, and only then
if her father had lived. But he was long since dead, and Christopher
Wrath reigned in his stead. So she had decided to put her pride in her
pocket and get her own living. When she had mastered shorthand and
typewriting she had gone to Melrose and asked for employment in his
office on her merits, merely stipulating that the old name should be
dropped, and after some hesitation Melrose had consented. Whereby he
secured the best secretary he had ever had, and the secret was
faithfully kept.

There was one man who knew, and he was the last in the world to betray
his knowledge. This was old Peter Gabb, an aged clerk long past work,
and honestly entitled to his pension which Melrose practically gave him,
though he came to the office still under the impression that the
business of the firm could not do without him, a delusion that James
Melrose did nothing to dispel, for Gabb had been a faithful clerk in his
day, and he did no harm in Martin's Inn. He was a queer, dry old man, a
deep repository of office secrets; and he had his own reasons for his
affection for Ellen. From the first she had lodged with Peter and his
wife at Dalston, and as a rule he and she went home together at nights.
But never yet had he hinted at any knowledge of the girl's secret, and
it was sure that Mrs. Gabb had never been taken into his confidence. At
the very moment that Ellen was discussing the matter of those letters,
Peter Gabb was making frantic search for them. But this Ellen was not
destined to learn for some time to come.

"I am so sorry to trouble you, Mr. Melrose," Ellen said. "I mentioned it
on the spur of the moment. But if you don't mind, as these letters refer
to no particular business, and are from my father to my mother, I should
like to keep them."

"Um! rather unusual, perhaps," Melrose said, "I remember. Still, you can
keep the letters if you like, Miss Ellen."

Melrose spoke abruptly, as he generally did when alluding to his
deceased partner Clapstone, for there had been much that was bad and
wrong in Clapstone, and after his death it had taken Melrose all his
time and the greater part of his fortune to put the old firm on its high
footing again. Even now queer things were constantly cropping up, in the
way of shady clients who levied something like blackmail on Melrose, and
they came from all parts of the country.

"Thank you very much," Ellen said. "It is only a matter of silly
sentiment, perhaps, but I should like to keep those letters. I think you
knew my mother well, Mr. Melrose?"

"From childhood," Melrose said, a little gruffly. "By all means keep the
letters. You might tell Gabb that I am ready to see those conditions of
sale from Minter and Sons."

It was the man of business speaking now, and Ellen hastened away, quite
the confidential clerk again. In the outer office Gabb was pottering
about, after his way, with an assumption of energy that always amused
Ellen. He was a little, spare man, with bent shoulders and features like
a dried walnut, and his faded, tired eyes still had a certain shrewdness
of their own. He seemed somewhat alert as Ellen delivered her message,
then his whole aspect changed as he noted the parcel of letters in the
girl's hand.

"Where did you get those from?" he asked, angrily. "If papers are wanted
from the stock-room it is my work to hunt them up. I have been looking
for those myself. Hand them over."

"I think not," Ellen said, coldly, for she had never heard the old man
speak like that before. "I found them quite by accident, and Mr. Melrose
knows it. Besides, in a way they belong to me. I--I can't explain,
Peter, but I assure you----"

Peter Gabb looked furtively around, it was as if he had something on his
mind that he did not want any one to share. The office was empty, save
for him and his companion, but he dropped his voice to a thrilling
whisper.

"Let me have them, dearie," he coaxed, "Let old Peter have them. They
will only trouble you and make you unhappy; but I understand, yes, I
understand, and in time, old as I am--look here, miss, I'll be quite
candid. I know those are letters from your mother, and when I found
them----"

"Then you know," Ellen exclaimed. "My secret is no secret so far as you
are concerned. How long since, and how many more----"

"Only myself and Mr. Melrose," the old man went on; "and I guessed it
from the likeness to your father. Ah, a rare good friend he was to me in
the old days when he came here on business and before he ran through all
his money. But the Blands were always like that. And the first time you
came into this office I knew. And I was an honoured man when you came
under my roof. I wouldn't tell you this now if you hadn't found the
papers I laid aside for a moment after only coming on them myself an
hour ago. Like fate it was. But as you value your future happiness, Miss
Ellen, leave those to me for the present. They shall go to Dalston with
us this evening, and when the proper time comes you shall come into your
own again. If----"

Acting on an impulse wholly illogical, Ellen held out the papers to
Gabb, and as he hastily stuffed them into his pocket a junior clerk
bustled into the room. He held a card in his hand.

"Sir Christopher Wrath wants to see the governor," he said.

"Ask him to sit down," Gabb mumbled, with a strange light in his eyes.
"Give him something to read, give him prussic acid, give him any deadly
poison. What am I talking about? Sometimes my poor head gets that queer
I don't know what I am saying. Tell Sir Christopher that he shall see
Mr. Melrose immediately."

The clerk, with a wink at Ellen, disappeared from the room, and Gabb
collapsed into a chair.

"The hand of Providence," he murmured. "All in God's time."




CHAPTER II.


The City office of a respectable family solicitor is hardly the place to
find mystery and romance, and Ellen Bland went back to her own room with
her head in a whirl. No doubt Peter would explain all in good time;
meanwhile the mystery remained. Why had he been so madly keen on
retaining those letters, and why had he spoken so strangely when Sir
Christopher Wrath's name was mentioned. The man who more or less had
ousted Ellen from the succession of Crocksands Abbey was a client of her
employer's, though she had never known him to come to the office before.
Not that it was any business of hers so long as Wrath knew nothing of
her identity. But why did Peter Gabb hate him so, and what did he mean,
by his allusion to what might happen in God's good time? Why had the
placid air of Martin's Inn so suddenly become charged with electricity?

All this was still uppermost in Ellen's mind as she put on her hat
presently and went out to lunch. As she turned into the quiet place just
off Carey-street where she usually ate her modest meal, she was
conscious of a young man coming in her direction. He smiled something
more than a welcome as he swept off his hat and showed a set of even
white teeth in a face singularly open and honest, and tanned with the
brown of a hard, open-air life. He was beautifully turned out, and his
grey tweeds fitted him to perfection. He looked just a little out of
place in the City.

"Now this is really jolly, Miss Marchant," he smiled. "Backed a winner
this morning, don't you know, what?"

If Rollo Bly was under the impression that he had conveyed to his
companion that a chance meeting had materialised he was pleasantly
deceiving himself, for this sort of thing happened too often for that.
Still, Ellen had not encountered Bly for over a month now, so that her
greeting was a little more cordial than usual. Rollo Bly was one of the
fortunate youths blessed with a more than sufficiency of this world's
goods, and James Melrose had at one time been his trustee, so that he
came occasionally to the office in Martin's Inn, hence his acquaintance
with Ellen. She liked him well enough for his transparent honesty and
his charming manners, but she rather despised his idle, butterfly life,
and regarded him as a modern product not particularly gifted in the way
of brains. Still, it was good to see some one connected with her old
world again.

"Just going to peck a bit," Bly explained in his breezy way. "Had to
trickle into the good old City on business--what? So, as we are both
going the same way home, and all that, I thought perhaps we might sit at
the same table, what?"

There was almost a plea behind the casual suggestion, and an entreaty in
Bly's blue eyes that Ellen could not resist. And the magic of spring was
in the air. That he would not offer to pay for her lunch Ellen knew--he
had done that once before, and the lesson had not been wasted. That this
young man with the fine connections and ample fortune was deeply in love
with her Ellen did not realise--he was merely a nice young man with the
instincts of his class making himself agreeable to a typist in the City.
She had a good deal to learn yet, had Ellen.

Still, it was good to be there with one of her own class, and read the
frank admiration in his eyes, and note the air of deference he paid her.
They sat talking for quite a long time over their coffee until Ellen
realised with a start that her hour was up.

"You are not living in London now?" she asked, as they walked out
together. "Somehow you look like the country."

"Right on the target," Bly cried. "Fact is, I am spending the summer
with a friend in Devonshire. Chap gassed in the jolly old war, and only
just pulling round. With me on the French front over three years, and
one of the best. He's got a sort of summer house-bungalow affair in the
grounds of a place called Crocksands Abbey that he got hold of before
the war, and the new landlord, Sir Christopher Wrath, can't rout him
out. Awful bounder, Wrath, but one of these days, if I'm not altogether
a fool--but that's another story, as good old Kipling says. Regular
paradise of a place the bungalow, in the most glorious scenery. I
suppose you don't happen to know that part of North Devon, Miss
Marchant?"

Ellen stammered something by way of reply. The whole world seemed to be
shouting about her beloved Devon this bright spring morning. Those
letters, the visit of Sir Christopher Wrath to Martin's Inn, and now
here was Bly actually living under the shadow of the lovely old house
where she had spent some of the happiest days of her life, when her
grandfather was alive, and her parents were on one of their long trips
around the world before the trouble had arisen and the sinister
misunderstanding shown itself.

There was a mist before Ellen's eyes as Rollo Bly talked on in his
simple way of the glories of Crocksands and the bungalow on the wooded
headland overlooking the sea. She could see every inch it as he
spoke--the sloping park trending down to the bay, the green banks where
the primroses made a carpet in the Spring. There were times when she
positively ached for Crocksands, that fair domain that was to have been
hers, and would have been had her father lived, for Crocksands, though
entail property, was to have been barred of its entail, and Gordon Bland
could have done what he liked with it. But then he had died before that
happened, disgraced, and now the man called Sir Christopher Wrath
reigned in his stead.

Her mind was full of that fair picture as she wended her way back to
Martin's Inn presently, and she had said good-bye to Bly. He had held
her hand a little longer than necessary, and had wondered,
sentimentally, when he would see her again. It made Ellen smile, but,
all the same, there was a little warm glow about her heart and a nice
feeling that she had a friend there.

She was still dreaming about Crocksands and the wonderful afterglow of
the sunsets over the western ocean as she arrived at Dalston that
evening with Peter Gabb by her side. The little mean street, with its
shabby houses all exactly alike, looked more depressing and sordid than
ever in the evening mist. Then there was the frugal meal and the putting
to bed of Peter Gabb's more or less bedridden wife. It was only when she
was safely bestowed away for the night that Peter lighted his pipe and
laid the packet of letters on the sitting room table under the shaded
lamp.

"Now we can talk," he said. "I didn't mean to speak yet, Miss Ellen, not
yet. But I have known ever since you came into the office. No mistaking
your father's daughter--no, no. And a good friend to me and my dear wife
he was in the old days. And when they told me as Mr. Gordon Bland had
gone and disgraced his name I laughed. And why? Because I knew
something. Ay, there's few secrets in the firm of Melrose and Clapstone
as I don't know. Been a faithful servant, too. That's why they let me
hang about the office, so as not to hurt my feelings and make me delude
myself as I am earning my money. But I don't do anybody any harm, and I
look for a thing as Mr. Melrose says don't exist. And I know better. A
good man, Mr. Melrose, and a gentleman. Nearly ruined by his rascally
partner, Clapstone, he was, but he pulled through and saved the old
firm, and nobody any the wiser but me. And Christopher Wrath--Sir
Christopher he is now--was at the bottom of it all. When his friends and
relations thought he was safe in Australia he was in the city under an
assumed name, and wanted by the police. I know, I know. And one night,
three years ago, when I fell asleep and was locked in the office after
they had all gone, I saw Mr. Clapstone and Wrath----"

Gabb had been maundering on with his head sunk on his breast and his
fingers in his sparse, grey hair before he sat up suddenly and regarded
Ellen with a sudden shrewdness in his eyes.

"But we'll come to that presently," he said. "I shall get to the bottom
of the damned conspiracy before I die. I believe that's what Providence
is keeping me alive for, Miss Ellen. And just as I found what I have
been looking for all these years you stumble on it, too, and find it
where I had placed it for safe keeping only this very morning. And so
you forced my hand, as it were."

"But those are my father's letters to my mother, Peter," Ellen
protested. "How they got into the office----"

"Well I can tell you that, anyway," Peter mumbled. "It was Christopher
Wrath who made all the mischief between your father and mother. Your
lady mother came near to marrying that scamp at one time. Very fond of
him she was, surely. But her mother stopped that, and Wrath went away to
Australia in disgrace. I'll tell you the whole story some time. Then
Wrath comes back from Australia, as he said, with money and his own
yacht, though it was only hired, and your father goes in it on a voyage
to the South of France. That was not long after your mother died. She
and your father were parted then, and I believe that Wrath was at the
bottom of it. He knew how pure and good your mother was, and he could do
nothing in that way, if you will pardon me, miss, but he was always a
revengeful devil, and he preyed on your father's quick temper and easily
aroused jealousy. We shall find it all in those letters which came into
the hands of Melrose and Clapstone, who had to settle the deed of
separation and pay over your mother's allowance."

Ellen sighed a little impatiently. The night was hot and stuffy, and the
sordid atmosphere of the mean little house was more than usually trying
to the girl.

"Clapstone had the business in hand," Peter went on. "It was at the time
when Mr. Melrose was so ill--ah, well I remember it. And your mother had
sent on those letters to the office. Clapstone was under the impression
that he had destroyed them, but I took care of that. Then somehow they
were lost for years, till we both found them, simultaneous like. We
shall see daylight yet."

Ellen was hardly listening. A little group of factory hands went noisily
past the house, a drunken man, cheerfully vocal, roared his way along.
And down in Devonshire at Crocksands the spring breezes were whispering
to the primroses in the park. Ellen could feel the call of it, and her
heart grew heavy and restless.

"Those two, Wrath and Clapstone, were conspiring together to ruin your
father and separate him from your mother, and nobody knew it but poor
old Peter Gabb. And the owner of Crocksands--that's your late
grandfather, my dear--was arranging with your father to cut off the
entail, so that, there being no son to succeed, your father could leave
Crocksands to you. I know that was so, because I managed to have a read
of the draft deed before it was engrossed. And Clapstone sent it to be
engrossed outside the office so that none of the staff should see it.
Oh, it was all right, because your grandfather was on his death-bed, and
Mr. Melrose so ill that he knew nothing of what was going on between
those two rascals. God only knows what price Sir Christopher Wrath paid
Clapstone for his share of the plot. And now he's dead, too, and Wrath
thinks he is safe."

"But how does this benefit me?" Ellen asked.

"We shall come to that presently," Gabb chuckled. "Wait till we have
gone over those letters. Then just at that critical time your father
must needs go yachting with Wrath, who professed to have just come back
from Australia with a fortune, and him hiding in London all the time
under an assumed name, and borrowing money from his accomplice,
Clapstone. Then came all that business of the forged cheques on Lord
Maberley and your father's supposed suicide. Off Monte Carlo, that was.
Do you remember the date, miss?"

"Of course I do," Ellen said, brokenly. "How could I forget it, Peter?
It was a dreadful business, and Lord Maberley was most kind. He told me
afterwards that if he had only known the world would never have been any
the wiser."

"What was the date?" Peter whispered. There was a strangeness in his
manner that set Ellen's heart beating faster. "When was it that your
father disappeared off the yacht Starshine and his body picked up next
day. Try and think."

"Three years ago on the third of next September," Ellen said, under her
breath. "The date is burnt into my mind."

"That's right," chuckled Peter, horribly. "Now look at the last letter
of the packet--the last one written by your father to your mother--and
tell me what is the date of it."

"The fifth of September," Ellen gasped "Peter! And on that day my father
was supposed to be buried out there! What does it all mean? What strange
mystery is here?"

"That," Peter whispered, "that, my dear young lady, is what we have got
to find out. Ah, I thought I should interest you."




CHAPTER III.


Ellen stared at Peter Gabb in blank amazement. The sordid, mean street
and the weight of trouble on her mind lifted now as she began to grasp
the possibility of what the old man was saying.

"What does it mean, Peter?" Ellen asked breathlessly.

"Ah! that we have to find out," Gabb grinned. "There's a vile conspiracy
somewhere, and we have got to get to the bottom of it. And what does it
prove in the first place?"

Gabb leant eagerly forward and placed his face close to that of his
companion.

"If it has any meaning at all, it proves that my father was alive three
days after he was supposed to have made away with himself."

"You have hit it exactly, miss," Peter muttered. "And this particular
letter isn't one of those written to your mother, but one sent long
after her death. Look and you will see that it is addressed to the firm
of Melrose and Clapstone. That was at the time when Mr. Melrose was very
ill, and the matter must have been attended to by Clapstone. He put this
letter away with the rest of the packet, and lost sight of it--probably
did not require them again. We have a long way to go yet, but one thing
we know now--your father was alive three days after his body was alleged
to have been taken out of the Mediterranean. That's something, isn't
it?"

"It frightens me," Ellen confessed. "But possibly my dear father made a
mistake in the date. It was just the careless sort of thing that he
would do. If we had further proof----"

"And we've got it," Gabb hissed. "That letter, like the rest, is in its
original envelope. Look at the postmark."

"You are right again, Peter," Ellen said, after a brief inspection of
the cover. "What do you make of it?"

"I don't make anything of it yet," Peter said, cautiously. "We are only
groping our way at present. Now let us go over the ground. Your father
was next in succession to the family title and the estates called
Crocksands Abbey that went with it. If he had lived, to-day he would be
Sir Gordon Bland, and the owner of one of the finest properties in
Devonshire. If he had had a son instead of only one
daughter--yourself--all this trouble would never have happened. You have
been long enough in the employ of Mr. Melrose to know something about
the law of entail, and Crocksands is entailed property. Do you know what
that means, miss?"

"I--think so," Ellen said. "Property that descends in regular succession
and cannot be left to anybody outside the family."

"Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. But entail can be broken and the
property disposed of, provided that the owner of the property and the
next heir, if he is of age, agree on that course and sign a deed to that
effect. And I happen to know that some sort of arrangement was on foot
between the late Sir George Bland-Merton and his heir, your father. And
why? Because your father had no son and, as you were nineteen at the
time, did not look like having one. The next in succession to your
father was Christopher Wrath, and the old gentleman hated him like
poison. Of course, if your father died without a son nothing could
prevent Wrath from succeeding to the title, but if the entail was broken
then your father could leave Crocksands to you, and Wrath could only
have the barren honour, with nothing to keep it up on. I know that deed
was actually drafted, because I once had it in my hand, and if it was
ever executed then you are mistress of Crocksands to-day."

"What are you saying?" Ellen asked wildly. "I cannot possibly grasp it."

"And yet it might be," Gabb went on. "If that deed was ever executed,
Sir Christopher Wrath is now living in your house and spending your
income. And mind, the deed was drafted by Mr. Clapstone during the two
years Mr. Melrose was getting over his bad motor accident. And I am
pretty sure the old baronet put his signature to it. Probably the
document was sent out to your father to sign when he was in the
Mediterranean, which would be soon after Sir George Bland-Merton died. I
can find that out at the office to-morrow by looking up the old letter
books. And now, miss, I am going to ask you a few impertinent questions.
You have met Sir Christopher, and----"

"There you are wrong," Ellen said. "I have never seen the present head
of the family. He was smuggled out to Australia in disgrace about the
time I was born, and so we never met. His name was taboo at Crocksands,
you understand."

"I had forgotten that," Gabb muttered. "Not that it matters very much
either way. I want you to remember what sort of a character Sir
Christopher enjoys. The man is a thorough scoundrel. And he was the
friend of another scoundrel, Walter Clapstone. I found out that Sir
Christopher and Clapstone were up to some game at the time the former
was supposed to be in Australia when all the time he was hanging about
the city under an alias. What the game was I didn't know, but I do know
that Clapstone was in it. This was at the time when Mr. Melrose was in
hospital nearly two years over that motor accident of his, and Clapstone
was making ducks and drakes of the old business. Then all of a sudden it
was announced that Wrath had come back from Australia with a fortune,
and he swaggered about the place giving himself no end of airs. This
happened just about the time the old baronet died. Wrath and Clapstone
were as thick as thieves, and they were always together in the office
before Wrath got hold of his so-called yacht, and the next thing I heard
was that your father was off to Monte Carlo with him. Lord only knows
what evil spirit persuaded Mr. Gordon Bland to place himself in the
hands of that ruffian, who wanted to get him out of the way, because he
was not only at his wits' end for money, but also because if anything
happened to your father the whole of the family property went to the
black sheep of the flock, to say nothing of the title. Now, miss, do you
begin to see the risk your father was running?"

"It is like a nightmare." Ellen shuddered. "But if you thought there
might be trouble, why didn't you----"

"I didn't realise it at the moment," Peter said. "Besides, I had the
office on my mind. Everything had been kept from Mr. Melrose during his
illness, and at last I went to the nursing home where he was
recuperating and told him everything. Ill as he was, he came back and
kicked Clapstone into the street, and for nearly two years he fought for
the good name of the firm. Luckily, he was a bachelor and had saved
money, or he never could have pulled round. By that time your father was
long since dead, and not until I found out who you were, miss, did I
give another thought to Wrath. And I had nothing to go on until I found
those letters."

For the moment there was nothing to be said or done. It was a restless
night that Ellen passed, and she was pale and tired and listless over
her work the next day. In her honest way she did her best to put this
whirlwind of revelation out of her mind, and she was sitting in the
private office busy over some correspondence when the announcement of
Sir Christopher Wrath's name, followed by that individual himself,
brought it all back again.

He came, big and black and swaggering in, a fine figure of a man, with
more than his share of the family good looks, and his frank glance of
admiration brought the blood flaming to the girl's cheeks. Chris. Wrath,
as he called himself, was a popular figure with a certain type of woman,
and he was quite sure of his ground where the sex was concerned.

"I beg your pardon," he smiled. "I had no idea Melrose had a lady here.
It is not all business in the City, I see."

"I am Mr. Melrose's private secretary and typist," Ellen said, coldly.
"I will tell him that you are here."

Sir Christopher Wrath bowed and smiled, not in the least rebuffed by
Ellen's manner. He was not that sort of man. He lounged in a chair until
Melrose came in and over-civilly received him.

"Egad, Melrose," he said, offensively, "but you know a pretty girl when
you see one. Quite the angel unawares, what? Looked like a real
thoroughbred to me, you sly dog."

"I suppose you are alluding to Miss Marchant," Melrose replied,
frostily. "She is a lady, and perhaps when I tell that you will be good
enough to stop and come to business."

"Oh, you need not get on your hind legs like that," Wrath said. "I know
you city men are not all you pretend to be. Still, she is a devilish
pretty girl, and--oh, all right. Now, look here, Melrose, I came to see
you over that Crocksands business. The fact is I am infernally hard up,
though I told you that when I called the other day. I want you to raise
me, say, twenty thousand pounds on the property."

Melrose looked up at his visitor sourly. He was a fine figure of a man,
was Sir Christopher Wrath, in his beautiful town clothes, but it seemed
to Melrose that the pirate was hidden away behind the perfect morning
coat and immaculate tie.

"Oh, indeed," he said, drily. "It is no business of mine, of course, but
for a man who has comparatively recently returned from Australia with a
fortune----"

"You can cut all that out," Wrath said. "Things are devilish bad in
Australia just now, and I don't want to realise. If I do, it will be at
a big loss, and I prefer to mortgage Crocksands Abbey for the money I
need."

"Well, you can't do it," Melrose said, with an air of satisfaction that
he took no pains to conceal.

"The devil!" Wrath exclaimed. "And why?"

"Because you are merely the tenant for life. Oh, I know you are Sir
Christopher Wrath and all that, but don't forget that the property is
strictly entailed. You have no more right to mortgage it than I have. Of
course, if you were a married man with a son of age, then between you
the two of you could cut off the entail and sell the place, if you
liked. But until that happens you can only enjoy the income. Of course,
you might borrow money from the Jews by insuring your life for a large
sum and securing the payment of the policies on the revenue. But that
would be a very costly affair. Oh, you need not swear--any lawyer in the
city will tell you exactly the same thing."

"But it seems ridiculous," Wrath cried. "Of course, I shall marry some
day, and in all probability have a son. But suppose anything happens to
me, who takes my place?"

"Miss Bland," Melrose explained. "I mean the daughter of the late Gordon
Bland, the man who committed suicide on your yacht in the Mediterranean.
It's rather a strange thing, Wrath, that your predecessor, Sir George
Bland-Merton, had made arrangements with his heir, Gordon Bland, to cut
off the entail not long before the younger man took his life. And, to be
quite plain, that was being done so that Crocksands Abbey might go to
Miss Ellen Bland. The old gentleman couldn't prevent you coming into the
title of course, but he could prevent you coming into the family
estates."

"The old blighter always hated me," Wrath growled.

"Well, hadn't he good reason?" Melrose retorted. "Let us be quite
candid, Wrath. You robbed him and forged his name, though he had helped
you a score of times; and after you were more or less deported to
Australia on the understanding that you didn't come back, Sir George
made up his mind what to do."

"But the deed was never signed," Wrath exclaimed.

"Ah, that I cannot say. I know it was drawn up, and I have every reason
to believe that Sir George's signature was appended to it. Very possibly
it was sent out to the Mediterranean for Gordon Bland to sign. But,
unfortunately, this happened just at the time when I was at death's door
over that motor accident of mine. For two years I lay in a hospital,
during which time my late partner, Walter Clapstone, was ruining the
business. But you know all about that. I came back just in time to save
the honour of the old firm, and it cost me every penny I had to do it.
Then I kicked Clapstone out into the street----"

"By the way, what became of him?" Wrath interrupted.

"I neither know nor care. The man was an utter scoundrel, and I was glad
to see the end of him. I told him if he showed his face in London again
I would have him struck off the rolls, and all I know is that he didn't
take out his certificate again, so that he is no longer entitled to call
himself a solicitor."

"And Cousin Ellen Bland, where is she?"

Melrose looked up into the face of his companion.

"I can't tell you," he said. "She felt her father's disgrace terribly.
She refused to see or receive help from friends who would have done
anything for her. I suppose she is getting her living somewhere. And
besides, if I knew where she was, I certainly would not tell you."




CHAPTER IV.


Wrath laughed unpleasantly. It seemed to him that he could see exactly
what was passing in the mind of James Melrose.

"Ah, you think, perhaps, I should make some sort of arrangement with
her, I suppose?" he said.

"You could not do that," Melrose retorted. "Miss Bland would only come
into the Crocksands property if anything happened to you, and not then
if you were married and had a son. But if that deed cutting off the
entail has been signed by both parties, then, Sir Christopher--then you
are no more the master of Crocksands than I am. If Gordon Bland had
signed it on the very day of his sudden suicide, and the deed can be
found, then Miss Bland is the owner of the property. It would come to
her as her father's representative. In that case you would merely be Sir
Christopher Wrath, without a penny from the family estates, and you
would have to fall back upon that property of yours in Australia. But
surely Clapstone warned you that this might happen? I know you used to
correspond with him, and I know that you were both at Rugby together.
Didn't Clapstone write and tell you that there was every chance of the
entail being barred?"

"Certainly he didn't," Wrath said, and Melrose knew by instinct that the
man was lying. "Why should he? Until that unfortunate affair in the
Mediterranean which nobody regrets more than I do, I never had the
slightest suspicion that I should come into the title and the property.
Gordon Bland was a young man with a young wife, and, though his only
child was a girl, there was no reason why he shouldn't have half a dozen
sons. Why, when I came home three years ago I never gave the Crocksands
succession a single thought. Bland and myself were fairly friendly, and
as to his wife, I might say----"

"You might say nothing," Melrose interrupted, sourly. "I may be your
family solicitor, or I may not. You are a damned scoundrel, and you were
the cause of all the trouble that led up to Gordon Bland's domestic
unhappiness, and, indirectly, that poor woman's death lies at your
door."

In spite of his bravado, Wrath winced.

"Well, that is pretty plain speaking," he said, with a forced laugh. "If
you know so much, probably you can tell me what it was that caused
Gordon Bland to take his own life."

"Perhaps I can," Melrose retorted. "At any rate, I may have my own
suspicions. They are only suspicions, and I am too busy a man to follow
them up. But I can tell you this--there was a good deal of talk in the
clubs at the time, and there are several of Bland's old friends who do
not scruple to say that Sir Christopher Wrath could throw a light on
that tragic Monte Carlo story if he chose. But I am not going to waste
my time arguing the point. I am delighted to be able to tell you that
you cannot raise any money on the Crocksands property. There is not a
solicitor in London who would lend you a penny on it, and, what's more,
I don't believe it belongs to you at all. I feel convinced that if Miss
Bland had her rights she would be mistress of that fine old place in
Devon. If you don't believe me, find where Clapstone is hiding himself,
and he will tell you the same thing. However, I can't help you, and
there is an end of the matter."

With this somewhat contemptuous dismissal Wrath turned on his heel and
left the office. Outwardly he appeared to be the easy, prosperous man
about town, with not a single trouble in the world; but, inwardly, he
was boiling with rage, and full of murderous feelings against the man
who had used him so despitefully. He had come there that morning
perfectly sure of his ground, and certain that the next few days would
see him in possession of the money that he so sorely needed. He posed
amongst his friends and acquaintances as a reformed character, who had
made a huge fortune in Australia, which he had come home to enjoy when
once he had settled himself down to the life of a country gentleman. But
when old Peter Gabb had told Ellen that Wrath had crept back furtively
from Australia years ago with hardly a rag to his back, he had stated no
more than the truth. By some dark means, or it might be by pure good
fortune, Wrath had become Sir Christopher and the owner of one of the
finest estates in North Devon; but beyond that he was without a penny in
the world. Moreover, he was deeply in debt in connection with one or two
sinister speculations of his, and, unless he could find a large sum of
money within a comparatively short time, then the situation was ugly
indeed.

Therefore, he had come in his swaggering fashion that morning to James
Melrose with the intention of raising a mortgage on the family property,
and what the lawyer had told him had been something in the nature of a
knockout blow. Not that he doubted the truth of Melrose's statement for
a moment. The statement of the case was much too plain for that. It was
clear enough, therefore, that he had nothing to expect so far as the
revenue of Crocksands Abbey was concerned.

And then, again, there was the disturbing information with regard to
Gordon Bland's daughter Ellen. Wrath had never seen her; he had no idea
what she was like; and, moreover, she seemed to have vanished. No doubt
she was getting her own living somewhere in some obscure capacity,
perhaps as a governess, or possibly in some business office. Girls were
very independent nowadays, and most of them capable of getting their own
living. If this girl could be found then possibly something might be
done with her. That deed cutting off the entail might be in existence,
as Melrose had suggested, and, if so, Ellen Bland might know where to
put her hand upon it. It was more than probable that she had no idea of
its value, and if Wrath could get it into his own hands then he would
know how to deal with an ignorant girl.

As he walked moodily along the streets in the direction of his town flat
in Merton-gardens he was going over the series of events which three
years ago had ended in the disgrace and suicide of Gordon Bland in the
yacht off Monte Carlo. Ostensibly, it was Wrath's own yacht, which he
had hired in one of his fleeting periods of prosperity, with the idea of
impressing certain simple rich people with whom he had scraped
acquaintance and robbing them at his leisure. This he had duly
accomplished, about the same time that he persuaded his cousin Gordon
Bland to join him soon after the death of the latter's wife, and what
happened afterwards Wrath did not care to dwell upon. He was an utterly
abandoned scoundrel, but there were things that even the vilest criminal
does not care to remember, even in his most reckless moments.

He sat in the luxuriously appointed dining-room of his flat late that
evening after he had dined at home. It would take all his cunning and
cleverness to get himself out of his present mess, and no one realised
it better than he did. On the table in front of him was a pile of
documents, mostly bills, and all of them pressing for immediate
attention. And yet a few hours ago, he had regarded these as mere
trifles. He would raise a large sum of money by a mortgage on Crocksands
Abbey, and with this in his possession would discharge his pressing
need, and launch out into a speculation which promised a wonderful
return. Your criminal is always sanguine, and Wrath was no exception to
the rule.

If he could only get hold of that girl! He was a man usually successful
where the fair sex was concerned, and, besides, with that intimate inner
knowledge of his he could persuade her to do almost anything, especially
if she in the least resembled her mother. For there had been a time when
the late Mrs. Bland and he had been on more than friendly terms, and if
there had been a woman in his selfish life for whom he cared more than
himself, that woman had been Ellen's mother. But the family had
interfered. Wrath had been packed off in disgrace to Australia, and Mary
Mallory had married Wrath's rival. All that was many years ago, but it
rose clearly enough before Wrath's mind as he sat there late into the
night moodily drinking and smoking. And presently it seemed to him that
he could hear a bell ringing somewhere in the remote part of the flat.
The servants had long gone to bed, and with a muttered oath, Wrath rose
to answer the call himself. He did not want to see anyone at that time
of the evening, and if the man at the front door proved to be one of his
own associates, then he would make short work of the late caller.

He threw open the door and looked out into the lighted corridor. A man
was standing there, tall and gaunt and haggard, pale of feature, and
ragged as to his hair, with a once well-made suit of clothes, which now
hung about him in greasy rags. But there was a sort of uneasy, jaunty
impudence about him, stamped on the pinched features, and a smile at
once insolent and fawning.

"Well, Chris, how goes it?" the nomad asked. "For God's sake let me come
inside and give me a drink."

"Good Lord!" Wrath cried. "Good Lord, it's Wal Clapstone! The very man I
wanted to see! Come inside, and I will give you as much to drink as you
want. Never did I think I should be as glad to see anybody as I am to
see you."




CHAPTER V.


Christopher Wrath led the way across the hall of his flat into the
inviting dining-room beyond. It was a little chill and dull after a warm
day, and the log fire in the grate was welcome. So too, were the glasses
and spirit decanter on the table, and the syphon by the side of a big
silver box of cigarettes. Clapstone dropped into an armchair and warmed
his thin hands at the grateful blaze.

"My God, how good it is after the last year or so to get back to this!"
he muttered, with a comprehensive wave of his hand. "If you want to
appreciate it, then go through what I have lately."

Wrath studied his companion under his brows. Evidently fortune had not
dealt kindly with the once prosperous lawyer, for his air was one of
profound dejection, and the wolfish gleam in his dark, moody eyes
bespoke of a body suffering from sheer lack of nourishment. Evidently
Clapstone had lived and fed and slept in the garments he was wearing for
months. In all Wrath's experience--and it was not a small one--he had
never seen a man nearer the extremity of all things.

"Help yourself to a drink," he suggested.

"Not yet," Clapstone muttered. "It is not a nice thing to have to say,
but I haven't tasted food for two days. My God! I have had a time. Give
me something to eat; anything will do. I will drink with you afterwards;
but if I took anything now it would go straight to my head and you would
have me on your hands all night, and you wouldn't like that."

It was not a pleasing prospect, so Wrath bustled about in the domestic
part of the house, and reappeared presently with part of a cold chicken
and some cheese and butter. He sat in his chair looking at the wreck of
his former friend, whilst the latter ate wolfishly until his appetite
was satisfied. Then a little colour crept into his thin cheeks, and
those semitransparent hands of his ceased to tremble. He rose presently.

"I am feeling another man now," he said, as he poured himself out a
stiff whisky and soda and took a cigarette.

"And now we can talk. Tell me what has happened in the last 18 months."

"Do you mean to say you don't know?" Wrath asked.

"Not a thing," Clapstone replied. "You see, soon after that old chap
down at Crocksands died, and Gordon Bland thoughtfully put himself out
of the way, I had a bit of a shock. You know what a lot of money I found
for those schemes of yours all the time my late partner was laid up, and
how badly we fared in connection with those various stunts. And I think
you can guess where I got the money from."

"It was no business of mine," Wrath said, brutally.

"Oh, wasn't it?" Clapstone cried, with a sudden spurt of anger. "At any
rate, you would have been in a pretty tight place if I hadn't found the
cash. It was clients' money, and you knew it as well as I did. Over a
hundred thousand pounds altogether, and don't you forget it. Oh, I know
we did well at times, but, on the whole, we lost heavily. I had great
hopes over that Monte Carlo scheme of yours, and I should have joined
you there if Melrose hadn't come back to the office unexpectedly. That
old fool Peter Gabb fetched him. He literally took me by the throat and
threw me out into the street--I mean Melrose did. He told me that if I
tried to take out my solicitor's certificate in future he would lay the
whole thing before the Incorporated Law Society, and have me struck off
the rolls. He offered to pay me two pounds a week provided I gave him my
promise not to come within fifty miles of London. So I went off to
Manchester, working that business you know of, because I hadn't the
ready cash to follow you to Monte Carlo. And there I went a bit too far.
Somebody gave me away, and under the assumed name I was using, I got two
years at Chester Assizes. And there is the story in a nutshell. I can't
get any more money from Melrose for the next three months at least, so I
have to fall back upon you."

"How did you get here?" Wrath asked.

"Walked," Clapstone said, curtly. "Tramped it from Strangeways Gaol
after seeing your name in the paper. I have starved, I have slept under
hedges, I have spent several nights in a workhouse. At the present
moment I haven't the necessary copper to pay for my bed at a Rowton
House. If I hadn't been lucky enough to have found you this evening I
should have slept on the Embankment."

"Well, what do you expect me to do?" Wrath asked.

"It isn't a question of expecting," Clapstone laughed, unpleasantly. "I
am not going to want a meal or a decent suit of clothes so long as Sir
Christopher Wrath of Crocksands Abbey is alive."

There was an underlying threat in this, and Wrath did not fail to notice
it. But he had not the slightest feeling of compassion for this
fellow-rascal of his, and he would have ordered him out of the flat
without a single pang of regret in ordinary circumstances. But then,
Clapstone knew a great deal, and it was just possible that he could give
Wrath certain priceless information if he were properly treated.
Therefore, the more prosperous scoundrel of the two affected a
friendship he was far from feeling.

"No occasion to put it in that way, my boy," he said. "I am sorry that
things have turned out like this, and if there is anything I can do you
can count on me. But if you think I am rolling in money you are devilish
well mistaken. I may be the great swell you say I am, but I am up
against it nearly as badly as you are. At the present moment, I would
give my soul for twenty thousand pounds. If I can't find it before long,
then I shall be in serious trouble. I have spent every penny of my
income for the next six months, and the bank won't let me overdraw
another cent. I tell you, it is a desperate business. I was an infernal
fool not to leave it alone; but I never could resist a good thing if the
profits were big enough."

"Yes, I think I understand," Clapstone sneered. "But why don't you
mortgage the family property?"

"Ah, that is a question you may be able to answer for me," Wrath said.
"I saw Melrose this morning with the very idea of doing that same thing.
He told me with every sign of satisfaction, that I couldn't do it. He
said I was only tenant for life, and that I couldn't touch the property
in any way without the next heir agreeing to it. Now, there is no next
heir, because I am not married. As I told you before, I am the very last
of my family, just the same as Gordon Bland was the last of his, with
the exception of his daughter."

"His daughter?" Clapstone exclaimed. "In that case----"

The speaker stopped suddenly, as if he were conscious of the fact that
he was saying too much, and Wrath did not fail to notice it. He had
never trusted a man in his life, nor was he going to begin with this
dubious acquaintance of his.

"Well, go on," he said. "What are you going to say?"

"Oh, never mind that for a moment, I suppose you know that if anything
happened to you Ellen Bland would come into the estate?"

"Of course I know that," Wrath said, impatiently. "But show me some way
out of the difficulty. Now, look here, quite candidly, was that deed
barring the entail between the old baronet and Gordon Bland signed by
both parties? Oh, you need not hesitate. I know that such a deed was
drawn up, and, what is more, you were responsible. It was during the
time that Melrose was in hospital in consequence of that motor accident
of his. The old man signed it; then what happened afterwards?"

Again the derelict in the armchair hesitated. He was wondering how much
Wrath really knew, and how far he could be deceived, because somewhere
here was a thing that Clapstone hoped to turn to his own pecuniary
advantage. He knew just how far he could trust his companion in crime;
he knew that Wrath would let him die like a dog in a ditch if it suited
his purpose. Therefore, it behoved him to walk carefully and keep a
close guard on himself.

"I can't tell you," he added. "I know the old baronet signed the deed,
because he came to town for the purpose, and I witnessed his signature
myself. And I know that the document was posted to Gordon Bland, Poste
Restante, Monte Carlo. But whether he got it or not, I can't say. Three
day's later he was a dead man. He certainly didn't send the deed back to
me, though he might have signed it and left it with some friend in Monte
Carlo, or perhaps deposited it in the safe of an hotel there. If you ask
me, I should make a guess that he did sign it, if only for the sake of
his daughter. And if that is so, my friend, then you have no more claim
to Crocksands Abbey than I have."

Wrath frowned ominously. All this he already knew, and he only made the
inquiry by way of testing the accuracy of the disturbing information
given him by James Melrose.

"Then you think the document still exists?" he asked.

"I couldn't say so," Clapstone replied, cautiously. "But it is just
possible. On the other hand, it may have been destroyed, in which case
you are all right. But why not look up Miss Bland and see if you can't
come to some sort of arrangement with her? She is of age, and as heiress
to the property therefore in a position to execute a deed barring the
entail."

"Now, that is not a bad idea," Wrath said. "Do you know her? Have you
any idea where she is to be found? According to Melrose she has
disappeared entirely. Perhaps she felt her father's disgrace, perhaps
she had some romantic idea of getting her own living; anyway, nobody
knows where she is, and it is more than likely she has gone abroad under
an assumed name. But still, if you have any information----"

"Not I," Clapstone said. "I have never seen the girl, and I have never
been down to Crocksands Abbey. You will have to give up the idea up,
anyway. And now, what are you going to do about me?"

"Well, I suppose I must help you," Wrath said, grudgingly. "Have you got
anything in the back of your mind? Any real good scheme whereby we can
make a bit?"

"Well, that is all a question of ready cash," Clapstone said. "If you
could find a few hundreds we could go on with those bogus racing
lotteries that we dropped just before you came into the title. We could
work them from an office in Manchester easily enough. I can get an
accommodation address there where no questions will be asked, and we
could have all our correspondence sent to us by train. My word, you
could do the whole thing from Crocksands. The ideal place. Nobody down
there would ever suspect that the bogus company in Manchester is being
run by Sir Christopher Wrath. Look here, I will do all the work, and
take all the risk, so long as I share in the profits. But I don't want
my handwriting to be recognised, in case some bygone victim identifies
it. You provide me with an office down at Crocksands and a typist, and I
will do the rest. Why, it's as safe as houses."

Wrath smiled evilly behind his cigarette.

"The very thing," he said. "I think I can find the typist you want.
She'd come fast enough if I gave her money enough. I will put an
advertisement in the London papers to-morrow and see that one of them
reaches her. Then we will go down to Crocksands next week. But what
about your wardrobe?"

"Oh, that's all right," Clapstone said. "I have got a stack of pawn
tickets in my pocket. You can give me ten pounds now, and I will come
back here in a couple of days, when you will hardly recognise me. Let's
have the cash."

Wrath handed over the notes and a few moments later he was gazing
thoughtfully into the fire.

"It is a risky game," he muttered. "But there's money in it, and perhaps
something a little more romantic. If I can induce that girl to accept my
offer, why, then----"




CHAPTER VI.


It was only Ellen's business training and the restraint she had learnt
to put upon herself during the two years she had been in Melrose's
office that enabled her to go about her work as if nothing had happened.
But she was shaken to her soul with the revelations of the past few
days, and gradually she was coming to a certain determination. She
seemed to feel by a sort of instinct that somewhere or another in the
world the document that meant so much to her still existed, and if it
did she was not going to rest until she found it. It seemed almost
incredible to her that her father would have neglected to sign a
document that meant so much to his only child, especially when he knew
the reputation of the man who would become head of the family if
anything happened to himself. Therefore somewhere or another in some
forgotten place that deed existed.

Still, the work had to go on, and for the moment, at any rate, Ellen was
compelled to put the great problem out of her mind. She was unfeignedly
glad when the Saturday morning arrived, and was looking forward to a
quiet afternoon after the office had closed. She would lunch in the City
at the usual place, and then walk as far as Waterloo Station and go by
train to Hampton Court. She could stroll along the river's bank in the
sunshine and have tea at a little place she knew of, and get back to
Dalston in the cool of the evening. It would be good to be away by
herself and get her disturbed thoughts into something like order. And
yet when she was accosted inside the restaurant by Rollo Bly she found
herself almost unusually glad to see him.

"Now, this is quite an unexpected pleasure," Bly said. "I never hoped to
meet you here on a Saturday morning. I had come into the City on
business, and I dropped in here for a mouthful of lunch before going up
the river. I am off into Devonshire on Monday, and I shall not be back
for months. Now, Miss Marchant will you be very much annoyed if I make a
suggestion? If you have nothing better to do, why not spend the
afternoon on the river with me and have tea at the Mitre? I must be back
by seven o'clock. Awful cheek, and all that, isn't it?"

"No, I think that it is very kind of you," Ellen said. "I will come with
pleasure."

It was the first time in her life she had ever been out with a man, and
she was rather inclined to blame herself for having so readily fallen in
with his suggestion. She knew by instinct that here was a man she could
trust and she knew by the same instinct that his feelings for her were
something more than friendly. But she did not know as yet how
dangerously near she was to reciprocating the feeling, so she walked
along by his side and travelled with him in the first-class carriage
quite happy in the knowledge that for one afternoon at least she was
going to spend a few pleasant hours with one of her own class and
breeding.

It was very peaceful and quiet there on the river in the sunshine, for
it was early in the season yet, and there were not many boats out.
Still, it was beautifully mild and balmy, and by common consent they
drifted presently into a backwater, where Bly tied up the boat and
lighted a cigarette.

"Now, this is what I call really fine," he said. "Just you and I
together apart from the world with no one to worry us, and no stupid
people to ask questions."

"I often come this way," Ellen said. "I love the river; but it isn't
nice to be always alone."

"Do you mean that you have no friends?" Bly asked. "Sorry, but that is a
rotten way of putting it isn't it?"

"Well, it happens to be true," Ellen smiled. "Do you know, Mr. Bly, I
haven't got a relation in the world. I am the very last of my family.
For some reasons I am glad. You see I have no one to worry me, and I
earn quite as much as I want."

"Yes, but you haven't always done this sort of thing I am sure," Bly
said. "You weren't brought up to getting your living tapping a
typewriter in a lawyer's office."

"No, I wasn't," Ellen smiled. "But when my father died there was nothing
left for me, and I had to fend for myself. Please don't imagine that I
regret it. All the same my childhood was a quiet one, so that I never
had the chance of making any friends. I think you are the first I have
ever had."

"Ah, I am real proud for you to say that, Miss Marchant," Bly said. "If
ever there is anything that I can do for you, if ever I can help you in
any way, I shall be really hurt if you don't let me know. Like you, I
have not many friends, and I have more money than is good for me. At
least, that is what people say. So if ever you want me, please write to
me at The Crag, Crocksands Abbey, North Devon. I am going to stay down
there for the summer with a friend of mine called Evors--John Evors, who
is an Australian chum of mine. He came to England the year before the
war on business of a none too pleasant character, and by chance found
himself in Devonshire. There he managed to scrape the acquaintance of
Sir George Bland-Merton, who then owned Crocksands Abbey. In the grounds
amongst the woods is a kind of glorified summer house fitted with all
sorts of modern appliances including electric light, which the old
gentleman had built for himself not far from his own residence, and this
he let on lease to my friend Evors. It's a topping place Miss Marchant."

"Yes, I know it is," Ellen said, thoughtlessly.

"Then you know it?" Bly cried.

"Yes; I might just as well tell you that I know it very well I--I spent
some time there in my younger days. Mr. Bly, I wonder if I might confide
in you."

Bly looked up with a smile in his blue eyes.

"I shall be more than honoured," he murmured.

"And yet I can't tell you everything," Ellen said. "The secret is not
entirely my own. But strangely enough, it concerns Crocksands and
certain people who used to live there. What I want to ask you is this.
If you see me at Crocksands Abbey I want you to pretend that you have
never met me before. If I am introduced to you it will be as a stranger.
There may be occasions when we shall meet alone, and then it won't
matter, but for the first time we come together it is as if we had never
seen each other before."

"That is a solemn compact," he said. "I can't tell how delighted I am to
hear that there is a chance of your coming down to Crocksands; and as to
the rest, I am going to possess my soul in patience. But something tells
me that you are going to need a friend, and I am that friend to the
death."

With that he took the hand that Ellen placed in his, and carried it to
his lips. He could see a certain embarrassment in her eyes, so he went
on talking.

"You will like Evors," he said. "He is a really splendid chap, besides
being a first class sportsman. He was badly gassed in the war, and is
only just getting fit and well again. Like me, he is a great enthusiast
on the subject of moths and butterflies. We go about at nights with
lanterns sugaring the trees, and already we have obtained some rare
specimens. But that blighter Sir Christopher Wrath doesn't like it. He
calls us infernal poachers. He has tried three or four times to get
Evors out of the bungalow, but he can't do it, so he makes himself as
unpleasant as possible. Do you know, there is something wrong with that
chap."

"In what way do you mean?"

"Well, I couldn't quite tell you," Bly said, vaguely. "But I feel
convinced he is a bad egg. Evors met him once, many years ago in
Australia, and I am sure Evors could say a good deal if he liked. Now
let's go and have some tea."

Ellen went back to Dalston in the cool of the evening, more easy in her
mind and contented than she had been for some days. She felt now that
she had made the friend which before long she knew that she would need.
And, moreover, if circumstances did carry her as far as Crocksands Abbey
within the next week or two then she would have no fear that any sudden
surprise on Bly's part would betray her. Moreover, she had been making a
few inquiries on her own account and had discovered that not one of the
old servants remained at Crocksands Abbey. They had all drifted away or
been discharged since Christopher Wrath had taken over the reins, and
even the housekeeper, who was more or less part of the freehold, had
given place to a modern importation from London. There was nothing,
therefore, now, that Ellen need be afraid of. It was a big enterprise
that she had in her mind, and she would need all her courage to carry it
through.

There were two or three letters waiting for her when she got back to the
mean house at Dalton, and she smiled to herself as she read one of them.
To this she scribbled a hasty reply which she posted personally a little
later. Everything was going well now, and her mind was fully made up.

It was just before lunch on the Monday morning when she entered the
private office of her employer, and asked if she might have a few words
of private conversation with him.

"Why certainly," Melrose said. "What is there that I can do for you? No
trouble, I hope."

"Not exactly," Ellen said. "I am afraid I am going to disappoint you,
Mr. Melrose. But I am sure I am acting for the best. I am going to leave
you--reluctantly, it is true, but really I must go. As a matter of fact,
I have already taken another situation, which is subject to a reference
from you. Will you kindly give me one?"

"Of course," Melrose said. "I shall be exceedingly sorry to lose you,
Miss Marchant. But tell me, where is this new situation? Somewhere in
London, I suppose?"

"No," Ellen said. "It is at Crocksands Abbey. I have arranged to act as
private secretary to Sir Christopher Wrath, and I may remind you that I
go not as Ellen Bland but as Miss Marchant. You will respect my secret,
I know."

"Good heavens!" Melrose gasped. "Are you mad? Oh, my child, you must
have taken leave of your senses."




CHAPTER VII.


The first stage in the passage to the goal was passed and Ellen was back
at Crocksands once more. Just at first the mere joy of living the old
scenes over again sufficed, and Ellen revelled in the ancient house that
had stood in the golden valley long before the spacious days of Queen
Elizabeth--for there was no more ancient family in Devon than the Blands
and they had made history there. They had had their ups and downs, too,
sometimes on top of the wave and again on the verge of ruin. A hundred
years ago they had been noted as smugglers of the most daring type with
an evil repute almost equal to that of the Doones; then the head of the
house had allied himself to money made in trade, and since then the
Blands and Bland-Mertons had come back into the fold of probity and
respectability. Still the legends remained, and Ellen had absorbed them
in her childhood's days with all the eagerness of a boy reading his
first copy of 'Robinson Crusoe.' She knew the history of the Hundred
Steps that led up from the beach to the ledge on the cliffs where the
smuggled treasures were hidden, and the perilous path above that, which
finished five hundred feet higher up in the old tower, which had once
been a beacon light for ships passing up and down the Bristol Channel.
The path was still more or less intact, and plain enough for anybody who
once knew its secret, and more than once in days gone by Ellen had
climbed it herself. It was a dangerous and hazardous undertaking
requiring a cool head and a firm nerve, for one slip would have meant
destruction on the rocks below. And once since she had been here this
time Ellen had ventured to make that climb again. She saw by the moss
and undergrowth straggling over the half obliterated path that it had
not been used probably since she had essayed the climb herself, and she
had been quite thankful when she came to the top.

She had counted up all the risks in her mind before she answered the
advertisement that Wrath had more or less cunningly placed in her way,
and it seemed to her that they were negligible. To begin with, she had
found out that not one of the old servants, man, woman, or boy, remained
at Crocksands, for Wrath had quarrelled with them all in the early days
of his reign, and had dismissed them as a set of lazy incompetents,
replacing them by a staff which he had engaged through an agency in
London. There was no chance, therefore, that she would be recognised by
any one on the premises. Moreover, it had been nearly five years since
she had seen Crocksands last, and in that time she had altered almost
out of recognition. She judged, too, that few of the old country
families would call on the new owner of Crocksands, knowing his past
reputation as they did, and in this Ellen was right.

There had been one or two formal visits to Crocksands out of respect for
the late owner but these had not been followed up by any interchange of
hospitality, so that, as far as the county was concerned, Wrath had no
friends there. Moreover, he heartily despised his neighbours for a set
of old fossils hopelessly out of date and wrapped up in the
contemplation of their own dignity. Two days at Crocksands had convinced
Ellen that her secret was safe.

Meanwhile, she had not much to do. There was a fair amount of letters to
write, most of them to some mythical correspondent in Manchester, and
these letters for the most part apparently had to do with racing
matters. Ellen was not long in coming to the conclusion that Wrath was
engaged in some dubious enterprise which might sooner or later bring him
in contact with the law. Not that Wrath took a direct hand in the
business, which appeared to be managed by an elderly friend of his whom
he called Stone. This was a man with pale face and bent shoulders, a man
with a ragged black beard streaked with grey, whose furtive manner
conveyed the impression that he was in some way under a cloud. He crept
about the house, appearing at unexpected moments much as a cat might;
and, though his manner towards Wrath was one of deference there were
moments when Ellen detected a certain truculent spirit which did not
tally with Stone's position in the household.

There was a lady housekeeper, too, who had been introduced to Ellen as
Mrs. Amberley. She was a tall, spare woman, with black hair and eyes,
and the remains of what at one time had been great personal beauty. She
was cold and distant, very firm with the servants, and yet in Wrath's
company her behaviour was much like that of a beaten slave in the
presence of her master. There were times when the dark eyes flashed and
the thin lips compressed with a sudden half-smouldering passion, but
these intervals were rare. So far as Ellen was concerned, she found the
housekeeper friendly enough, and, in any case, the secret understanding
between Mrs. Amberley and Wrath was no business of hers. Still there
came one morning in the library when Wrath's manner to Ellen was a
little more caressing and insolently familiar than it had been before,
and Ellen was about to show her resentment when Mrs. Amberley came into
the room. Just for an instant the dark eyes gleamed and the thin lines
of the mouth grew rigid. It was quite evident that the woman had both
seen and overheard.

"I am sorry to interrupt," she said, "but I must have a word with you,
Sir Christopher."

Wrath turned and followed her out of the room.

"Well what's the matter now?" he demanded, roughly.

"Don't you try me too far," the woman said under her breath. She was
quivering from head to foot, and her breast was heaving with a passion
she could hardly suppress. "Don't you push me too far, Christopher. I
tell you I won't have it. You leave that girl alone, or by heaven I will
pull the whole fabric down about your feet! Have you no respect for your
own class? Can't you see that Miss Marchant is a lady? Surely any
ordinary typing girl would have been sufficient for your purpose. Now,
don't interrupt me. It isn't often I venture to speak, but if I see or
hear you say one word or make one gesture to that child that is in the
least questionable, then I go into Barnstaple next day and tell my story
to the nearest magistrate."

"What, you are not tamed yet?" Wrath sneered. "Don't talk nonsense.
There never was a pretty girl yet who didn't appreciate a compliment
from a man like me. Oh, very well, have it your own way then. That will
do."

Mrs. Amberley said no more, but went her way, and Ellen resumed her work
without further trouble from her employer. This was the sort of thing
she had been rather afraid of; and it was a long time before she
realised what she owed to the mysterious housekeeper in the way of
freedom from Wrath's attentions.

Meanwhile, the days went on, with a certain amount of work and a good
deal of leisure on Ellen's part, and she kept her eyes open. She was at
Crocksands for a definite purpose and she never allowed herself to
forget it. And then there came one afternoon when, quite unexpectedly,
she overheard a fragment of conversation between Wrath and the man
called Stone, that set her suspicions all ablaze. It was a slighting
reference to James Melrose, and it fell from the lips of Stone. It was
only a few words, to tell her that Stone knew all about Melrose, and
bore him some sort of a grudge. She began to wonder if Stone was
connected with the conspiracy that had enabled Wrath to take up his
position there as the master of Crocksands. But how to find this out?
For an hour or two Ellen walked about the grounds trying to work out
some scheme which would enable her properly to place the man called
Stone and then her inspiration came. Perhaps Peter Gabb would know.
Peter knew a great deal more than she did herself, and possibly, if she
could send him a description of Stone, he might be able to help her. It
was at this moment that the idea of a photograph came into her mind.

Next morning she stood under the big entrance gate to the Abbey, and
just outside the shadow of its tower with her camera in her hand. She
was waiting for Stone to appear. He came presently, strolling down the
drive so that she was able to snap him just as he emerged into the full
flood of sunshine. Before the day was out the photograph had been
developed and was on its way to Dalston, accompanied with a letter to
Peter Gabb.

"I want to know who this man is," she wrote. "He is a creature of
Wrath's, and evidently engaged in some very shady work for the latter in
connection with what looks to me like a racing swindle. I don't know
much about these things, but it is some sort of a lottery. However, that
doesn't matter for the moment. I am keeping my eyes open, and picking up
a lot of information, and I am quite safe, my deal Peter. You need not
worry about me, nobody has the least idea who I am, and when I go into
the village of Lyndale, some two miles away, I am never recognised,
though I meet people whom I knew when I was a child here. Now as to this
man Stone. He is exceedingly nervous as to his own signature. He never
writes a line himself, though some of his correspondents are evidently
intimate friends. When a letter has to be signed it is my place to do
it. Strangely enough no letters in reply come down here, though every
day there arrives a large hamper which I know contains letters, which
are opened in a room at the top of the house, where I am never allowed
to go. But I am getting off the subject again. This man Stone knows Mr.
Melrose quite well, a fact I gathered by overhearing a conversation. I
want to know who the man is because I have a feeling that he is in the
conspiracy against me. So I managed to take his photograph this morning
and I am sending the development on to you. If you know who it is please
let me know. Don't address your letter here but to the Lyndale Post
Office, to be called for. I will arrange for a medium by which we can
correspond, meanwhile do as I ask you. I have an uneasy sort of feeling
that I am being watched, and perhaps my correspondence, small as it is,
has been tampered with. I know you will do this for me, Peter, and
anything else I ask."

Ellen walled into Lyndale and posted the letter herself. She allowed two
days to elapse before she visited the village again, and there found an
envelope in Peter Gabb's straggling handwriting awaiting her. It was not
till she was alone on the way back to Crocksands in the valley leading
up to the lodge gates, where there was no chance of being overlooked,
that she opened the envelope. There were only a few words inside, but
these were pregnant enough, in all conscience.

"My dear young lady," Peter wrote, "I was very glad to hear from you,
and to know that you are quite safe. You are right in saying that the
man called Stone knows Mr. Melrose well. It would be far better for my
master if he had never met him. The man at your end is changed, but I
should recognise the scoundrel anywhere, because, my dear Miss Ellen,
the two great rogues in the play have come together again, as you will
realise when I tell you that Stone is no other than Mr. Melrose's late
partner, Walter Clapstone, and what mischief they are up to I leave you
to find out. Now as to other matters.. .."

Ellen tore the letter up into minute fragments and scattered them over
the green shoots of the bracken. She had learnt a piece of valuable
information, and, at the same time, began to realise what she was really
up against.




CHAPTER VIII.


All this time Ellen had been at Crocksands without catching sight of
Rollo Bly or his friend Evors, though their bungalow on the side of the
cliff looking over the west bay was not more than three hundred yards
from the big house itself. But she knew that it was only a question of
time. She had heard Evor's name mentioned, of course, by Wrath, who
spoke contemptuously enough about him, because the two men were at
daggers drawn, and Wrath had done his best to get rid of his tenant, so
far without avail.

"He is an impudent scoundrel, Miss Marchant," he said. "One of the worst
type of Australians. Why he should elect to settle himself down here
heaven only knows. But he managed to get round my predecessor, and until
his lease is up I can't shift him. The brute wanders all over the place
trespassing in the woods after moths and butterflies. Some of these
nights when I catch him I shall shoot the bounder. And now he has got
another man staying with him who is almost as mad as he is himself. Last
night I caught them fooling about the Tower with their lanterns and the
stuff they smear on the trees. If they hadn't cleared out pretty quick
we should have come to blows. I have got some machinery in the
Tower--it's an invention of mine--and I don't want anybody to know
anything about it until I am perfectly satisfied the thing is perfect."

"Oh, is that so?" Ellen asked. "I was wondering why the lower windows of
the Tower were all boarded up, and the door locked. Somebody in the
village told me that the Tower was used at one time as a sort of
bachelor dormitory when this house was full. Is that right, Sir
Christopher?"

Ellen asked the question innocently enough though she knew quite well
that what she said was fact. As a child she had been in the Tower many a
time. It stood right on the edge of the cliff, a thousand feet above the
sea, just beyond the fringe of woods, and on the ground floor were two
well-furnished sitting-rooms, with four bedrooms overhead. In the time
of the old baronet the Tower had its own supply of electric light
conveyed by wires from the house, and many an hour had Ellen spent there
in that lonely place looking out over the sea.

"Yes, I believe that is a fact," Wrath said. "But at the present moment
I don't allow anybody to enter it but myself. Oh, I see you are curious,
my dear young lady, but I want you to remember so far as you are
concerned. You won't forget, will you?"

"I will try and restrain my curiosity," Ellen said, demurely. "Do you
know, Sir Christopher, it is rather a favourite spot of mine. I go there
most afternoons."

"Oh, well, you can't do any harm, so long as you don't make any attempt
to burgle the place," Wrath smiled. "Some day I will escort you over the
Tower myself."

Ellen rose from the dinner table, over which the desultory conversation
had taken place, and strolled out into the garden. The light was
beginning to fade now, and a wonderful glamour lay over the sea. It was
a perfect early summer evening, unusually hot for the time of year, so
that Ellen made her way through the overhanging woods with the high
ground under the shadow of the Tower so that she could catch the evening
breeze. She was wondering in her mind how true Wrath's statement had
been. For some reason or another he was concealing something in the
Tower. It might or might not have something to do with Ellen's quest,
but that she would know all in good time. Crocksands was beginning to
become a house of mystery--so different from what it had been in the
time of the old baronet. There was the mystery of the man called Stone,
to begin with, the mystery of Mrs. Amberley, with her faded beauty and
frightened air, and the unmistakable terror with which Wrath filled her.
There were times when she answered him boldly enough, but, on the other
hand, there were times when she cringed and cowered before his very
gaze. And there were other mysteries, too, of which Wrath evidently knew
nothing. He did not know, for instance, that a hundred years ago the
owners of Crocksands had been daring and unscrupulous smugglers. Of the
secrets of the house he knew nothing, because Ellen had elicited that
fact by means of a few adroit questions. He did not know, for instance,
that there was an underground passage from the vaults beneath the Abbey
to the big stone basement in the Tower. This was all to the good,
therefore; and the knowledge might come in useful in the course of time.
It was pleasant, also, to realise that there was an ally so near at
hand. Ellen felt a comfortable assurance that she could count upon Bly
when the time came.

It was at that moment, turning a sharp corner in the pathway through the
woods, that she ran into the man she was thinking of. He took off his
hat silently, and stood there, waiting for her to give him a lead. It
was possible that she might not want to speak to him; on the other hand,
she might require his assistance. Ellen hesitated just a moment. She
knew by experience that Wrath was not likely to turn out again, and,
besides, from where she was standing she could command a full view of
the house.

"We have been a long time meeting, Mr. Bly," she said.

"Well, upon my word," Bly said. "I have been keeping out of the way, and
all that sort of thing. Waiting for you to give the sign. Don't want to
intrude, don't you know."

He stood there, pleasantly smiling. In one hand he carried a net, and in
the other a bottle of some dark fluid, evidently used for the purpose of
smearing trees.

"I have just been thinking," Ellen said. "I think I made rather a
mistake in asking you to assume that you had not met me before. Please
don't ask me to explain. I shall probably take you into my confidence in
due course, but for the moment I must play my own hand. I think it would
be far better if I told Sir Christopher that you and I are acquainted."

"Absolutely delighted," Bly exclaimed.

"Yes. You see, you are a client of Mr. Melrose's, and we did meet in
Martin's Inn on business. We will let it go at that, if you don't mind.
When I get back to the Abbey to-night I shall tell Sir Christopher that
I have met you, and that I had no idea of running against a client of my
late employer's at Crocksands. I suppose I shall have the pleasure of
seeing Mr. Evors one of these days."

"He is somewhere about now," Bly said. "He is a perfect maniac on the
subject of moths and butterflies. But see here, Miss Marchant, I don't
think your employer will be particularly pleased to know that you have
run up against Evors."

"Oh, I have heard all about their quarrel," Ellen said. "I can't
understand why there should be any objection to Mr. Evors being here. He
is evidently a very quiet man."

"It is a personal matter, I think," Bly explained. "As a matter of fact,
I am not allowed to say anything about it. All I can tell you is that it
concerns a man called Gordon Bland, who, if he hadn't died, would be
master of Crocksands today."

Ellen stiffened suddenly. This plain matter-of-fact statement that
evidently concerned Bly little or nothing left her standing there almost
frozen. She was thankful enough for the gloom of the night that hid her
white face from her companion. She was on the verge of saying something
that might betray her, then she managed to collect her scattered senses.

"I hope you don't think I am vulgarly curious," she said. "But any
friend of yours----"

She broke off suddenly as the bushes parted and a tall, powerful-looking
man in a rough tweed suit appeared. He waved his hand excitedly, and at
the same time flashed a path of light across the trees from a small
torch.

"Got him!" he cried. "Got him! At least, I don't mean exactly got him,
but I saw the beggar distinctly. There he is, Rollo, there he is. Just
over your head. If that isn't a Death's Head moth I'll eat my whole
collection."

A big, feathery brown shadow trembled and fluttered at the end of the
ray of light and then suddenly shot upwards. Without a word of apology,
or even a glance in the direction of Bly's companion, the excited
naturalist broke through the trees, and sprinted upwards in the
direction of the Tower.

"Now you know what Evors is like," Bly laughed. "I am a bit keen, but I
am an icicle compared with him. Personally, I don't believe it is a
Death's Head moth at all. Much too early in the year, I fancy. But let's
follow him."

They pushed their way up the slope to the open piece of cliff on which
the Tower loomed brown and gaunt against the darkness. The Australian
was standing there gazing upwards at the brown shadow that presently
disappeared under the broad, open beams that overhung the upper rooms of
the Tower.

"The beggar has gone in there, Rollo," Evors cried. "There, just behind
that big beam. I am going to climb after him."

With that the speaker, still ignoring Ellen's presence, proceeded to
swarm up the Tower by means of window-frames and ledges and protruding
ends of timber. He managed to scramble up under the eaves, and presently
a muttered sound of triumph came from his direction. Then the cry broke
off short as the flashlight shot out again, and Evors dropped heavily to
the ground with some dusty-looking object held in his hand.

"There!" he cried. "If you think----"

"Here, what the devil's the meaning of all this?" a passionate voice
broke out. "What are you two blackguards doing here? If I catch you on
my property again I will shoot both of you!"

Wrath stood there, white and passionate, in the rays of the lamp. There
was nothing for it but for the two trespassers to slink away with
muttered apologies.

"What a brute!" Evors muttered. "And, by the way, who was the girl you
were talking to when I came up? But never mind about that for a minute.
I have made a discovery. When I flashed that light on just now it shone
through one of the windows in the top of the Tower. It's a bedroom,
Rollo, a beautifully furnished bedroom, with a man lying asleep there.
At least, if he wasn't asleep he was dead. An old-looking man, with a
beard tinged with white--a sort of face that haunts one. What do you
think is going on here? Don't you think that the secret of the Tower is
why Wrath wants this place all to himself?"




CHAPTER IX.


Ellen was more than grateful for the shadows of the night that hid her
agitation from the gaze of Christopher Wrath. She was shaking from head
to foot with an agitation that she was perfectly powerless to conceal.
She was conscious of the trembling of her limbs and the whiteness of her
cheeks, though mercifully all this was hidden from the one man whom she
had most reason to fear, and so long as she could keep her voice steady,
then she would probably get through without losing everything that she
had already achieved. It had been indeed a startling revelation which
had fallen quite unconsciously from Rollo Bly's lips. He had told her,
as if it had been a piece of ordinary information, that his friend
Evors, was actually on the Crocksands Estate in connection with a man
who was Ellen's own father. It was such an amazing statement that she
had almost collapsed, but mercifully she had managed to control herself,
and now she was dizzily rejoicing in the fact that Providence had placed
in her way another ally in working out the tangle that lay before her.
But all that would have to come presently; she would have to wait
patiently until an opportunity arose for meeting Evors in a perfectly
natural manner and hearing his side of the story, probably from the
Australian point of view.

Now, for many years the late Gordon Bland had been a great traveller,
usually accompanied by Ellen's mother, but occasionally he had gone to
the other end of the world alone. Ellen knew that he had been in
Australia, where, doubtless, he had met Evors, and apparently they had
become friends. All this, however, would have to wait until the proper
moment. But one thing was certain--the Australian was here for some
purpose, some sort of reckoning with Wrath, and in a strange manner
Ellen's father seemed to be at the bottom of the whole business.

All this flashed through her mind as she walked down the path from the
headland, accompanied by Wrath. She was thankful for that suspicious,
surly silence of his, because it gave her the breathing space which she
so sorely needed. She knew that the man was consumed with passion, and
in the few seconds that she had seen his face in the rays of Evors's
flashlight she had read there something that seemed to her like fear.
She must be alone to think over this strange revelation which had
dropped so naturally from Bly's lips, and this, in conjunction with what
she had learnt as to the identity of the man who called himself Stone,
would give her something to reflect upon for some time to come. However,
she was quite ready for Wrath now when he chose to speak.

"Curse those scoundrels!" he broke out, presently. "What do they want,
hanging about my private property at this time of night? You may depend
upon it, they are up to no good."

"I don't think they mean any harm," Ellen said, demurely. "So far as I
could gather, they are enthusiastic collectors of moths and butterflies.
I think I can vouch for Mr. Bly's respectability, at any rate."

Wrath turned upon his companion suspiciously. "Ah, I was going to ask
you that," he said. "I happen to know that that man Evors is a bad lot.
I knew something of him in Australia, and nothing to his credit. Would
you mind telling me, Miss Marchant, how long you have known these men?"

"As to Mr. Evors, I don't know him at all," Ellen said, coldly. "I was
talking to Mr. Bly when his friend burst through the bushes in mad
pursuit of what he said was a Death's Head moth. I don't know anything
about it, but I certainly saw a large moth that flew under the eaves of
the Tower. Mr. Evors climbed to get it, and, I believe, succeeded. But
you came up at that moment, and the two naturalists promptly
disappeared."

"You are quite sure there was nothing else?" Wrath asked.

"Really, Sir Christopher, I hardly understand you," Ellen went on, in
the same cold tone. "The whole incident was perfectly natural. Of
course, if there is something in the Tower that you have to conceal----"

"I don't like your tone at all," Wrath said, angrily. "I have already
told you that I am by way of being an inventor, and that certain secret
processes of mine are locked up in the Tower. I feel myself more or less
responsible for you. Surely you must see how unwise it is for you to
scrape acquaintance with men as you have done in this case."

"I beg your pardon," Ellen said, warmly, "I have known Mr. Bly nearly
two years. If an explanation is necessary, I may tell you that he is a
client of my late employer, and he used to come to the office
frequently."

"Still, you never can tell," Wrath muttered.

It seemed to Ellen that here was the moment to assert herself. She had
come down to Crocksands for her own purposes, of which Wrath knew
nothing. She had pretended to jump eagerly at the chance of taking
employ in the service of a country baronet; but the real reason why she
was in that part of the world was something utterly outside Wrath's
calculations.

"I think I had better speak plainly, Sir Christopher," she said. "I am
quite capable of looking after myself and earning my own living. If I do
my work to your satisfaction, there is nothing more to be said. I like
Mr. Bly; he has been very good to me on several occasions, and in my
spare time I claim the right to do what I like. If that does not suit
you, then we can part. I don't wish to be in the least off-hand, but
that is my considered point of view."

"Oh, all right, all right," Wrath muttered. "Please yourself. But why
didn't you tell me that you knew this man Bly? You have already heard
his name mentioned."

Ellen fenced with the question. "Surely there is more than one Bly in
the world," she laughed. "Probably I did not connect the man who was
sharing the bungalow here with the Bly that I knew."

Wrath pressed the point no further, and Ellen was thankful when at
length the house was reached. She passed up the flight of steps into the
hall door, and entered the great room beyond. It was a large square
apartment, with a gallery overhead from which the main bedrooms opened,
and a magnificent lantern roof of stained glass. A log file smouldered
in the open grate, over which a portrait of the founder of the house
hung, surrounded by a trophy of arms exquisitely carved. There were fine
Persian rugs on the floor, and some priceless suits of armour gleamed on
the walls. Here the man who called himself Stone was seated with a
newspaper in his hands, and opposite him, quiet and watchful as usual,
the housekeeper, Mrs. Amberley.

It had occurred to Ellen more than once how strange it was that Mrs.
Amberley dined with the rest of them, and spent her evenings mainly in
the great hall. She sat there hour after hour, hardly speaking, with a
world of silent introspection and unhappiness in those dark eyes of
hers. Her fear of Wrath was ever present, and yet behind that timidity
was a certain menace that Ellen could not fail to notice. Mrs. Amberley
was in deadly fear of her employer, no doubt, but, at the same time,
Ellen was sure that she had some secret hold upon the man, and if once
she gave way to the smouldering wrath that spoke so eloquently in her
eyes, then it would be a bad day for him.

Wrath threw himself down into a chair and gazed moodily into the fire.
It was too early to go to bed yet, so Ellen cast round for a book to
read. Then she recollected that she had left the volume in question
upstairs in the musicians' gallery, overlooking the great hexagon room
which was now, for some occult reason, called the music room, so she
crossed the floor and went up the broad, carved staircase to fetch it.
Leading out on the left was a wide corridor, which had been turned into
a billiard-room, with heavy curtains at either end, and beyond the
further pair was the musicians' gallery itself, half-screened from the
big hall below by a sort of pierced open barrier, through which it was
possible to look into the music room and hear and see all that went on
there. Ellen's book was lying on one of the ledges there, and presently
she returned with it under her arm.

When she got back to the hall again Wrath had vanished.

"Where has Sir Christopher gone?" Ellen asked. "There was something I
wanted to ask hint before I went to bed."

"I think he has gone out," the man called Stone explained. "He said
something about a visit to the Tower. Have you ever seen inside there,
Miss Marchant?"

It was on the tip of Ellen's tongue to say that she had been there many
a time, but she managed to restrain herself in time.

"I cannot say I have," she said. "Though I must confess that the place
rather fascinates me. Wasn't the Tower at one time a landmark for
smugglers, and also a lure for merchantmen coming up the Channel? You
see, I have been reading the history of Crocksands, Mr. Stone, and I
know a great deal about it. There is a tradition to the effect that at
one time there was an underground passage from the vaults at Crocksands
to the Tower. Do you happen to have heard anything about it?"

"Not I," Stone said, indifferently. "Those old stories don't interest
me. You had better ask Sir Christopher. I should say that the story is a
very improbable one."

Ellen let it go at that. She had had a motive in asking the question,
because she felt that this man was in Wrath's confidence, and if the
latter had been aware of any such underground passage then Stone would
most assuredly have heard of it. There was nothing furtive in his
manner, no suggestion of waiving the subject airily on one side, and
Ellen was happy in the knowledge that she had gained another point.

"Do you know, I am rather sorry to hear that," she laughed. "I am
intensely interested in these old legends, and I had imagined myself
exploring those underground passages. However, if you say they don't
exist there is an end of the matter."

"I am quite sure of it," Stone said. "Unfortunately, we cannot ask any
of the old servants, because Wrath got rid of all of them. Still, it is
a beautiful old house, and I should be happy enough here if it belonged
to me. Mrs. Amberley, did you ever hear of an underground passage to the
Tower?"

The woman addressed seemed to come out of a brown study, much as if the
question had reached her from a long way off; then the ghost of a smile
trembled on her lips, and she shook her head.

"Never," she said, in that faded voice of hers, that nevertheless had a
certain hard metallic ring in it. "Such things do not trouble me. I
think I will go to bed."

She rose, and in that slow feline manner of hers crossed the hall and
disappeared up the staircase. Stone followed her with his shifty, watery
eyes, then turned them on Ellen.

"There is a story behind that woman," he said. "Don't you think so, Miss
Marchant? I wonder where Wrath got her from."

"I don't think it is any business of ours," Ellen said. "She is a
strange woman, but I am rather attracted by her all the same, and I
think I will follow her example. Good-night, Mr. Stone."




CHAPTER X.


So far as Wrath himself was concerned, Ellen's work at Crocksands was
more or less of a sinecure. At his dictation she wrote a few letters
occasionally, but her real employer appeared to be Stone. It was with
him she sat in the library from shortly after breakfast till lunch-time,
engaged in a voluminous correspondence with certain people in
Manchester, to most of whom she sent money in varying amounts, and
always in Treasury notes or postal orders, which Stone himself procured
in Lyndale and handed over to Ellen for transmission. The girl had been
engaged in business long enough to realise that there was something
sinister going on here. She wondered why as much as fifty pounds at a
time was forwarded to a certain correspondent in Manchester, obviously
for the purpose of inserting advertisements in papers published in the
North of England. Then there were other remittances to printers of
various coupons, all of which pointed to some big lottery in which Wrath
and Stone were concerned. Occasionally, there were instructions to other
members of the partnership in Manchester with regard to branch
organisations on the Continent. Then there were other letters alluding
to certain racehorses, so that very gradually the whole thing began to
make itself plain to Ellen, until she had some sort of a grasp of the
conspiracy.

From time to time large hampers arrived by train at Crocksands, always
consigned from Manchester, and the contents of these Ellen was not
permitted to see. She merely knew that they were carted up to a room at
the top of the house, the door of which was rigidly locked, and that
Wrath and Stone spent a large amount of time in going over them.

But the very next morning after the affair of the Death's Head moth
three of the hampers had been delivered by cart from Lyndale station,
and one of these had been badly damaged in transit. From it a shower of
unopened letters fell out, all of them bearing a Manchester address, and
before Wrath could come on the scene Ellen had managed to conceal some
half-dozen of these. She was fully aware of Wrath's annoyance, and the
quick way in which he had the hampers conveyed upstairs before Ellen
could ask any questions. It was her obvious cue to appear absolutely
indifferent; but presently, when she had the opportunity of opening the
letters and noting the fact that each of them contained a postal order,
she smiled to herself to realise that her conclusions had been warranted
by events.

She could see now exactly what was going on. Stone and Wrath were
running a big racing lottery on fraudulent lines, and the whole of the
plunder would go into their pockets. She went back to her typewriter,
and sat patiently down till Stone should return. He came back presently
looking very disturbed and angry, and Ellen could see that his hands
shook rather more than usual. It was always an unsteady hand, and Ellen,
watching him at the lunch and dinner-table, had no trouble in guessing
the reason why. She had never seen the man actually the worse for
liquor, but no ordinary individual could drink what Stone did and not
suffer the necessary consequences.

"Just half a minute, Miss Marchant," he said. "I am a bit upset. To tell
you the truth, I have been having a few words with Wrath. Mind you, I am
not complaining of him; he is quite a generous employer, and we have
been working amicably for years. But he is a bit inclined to be brutal
when he is upset, and there are times when I don't feel inclined to
stand it."

With that Stone crossed the library, and, taking a bottle and a syphon
from an open cabinet, helped himself liberally, after which he gradually
cooled down and became his natural self again. The generous liquor
seemed to loosen his tongue, and instead of going on with the usual work
he lighted a cigarette and began to talk to Ellen in quite a friendly
fashion.

"You are the smartest girl at your work that I ever came in contact
with," he said. "You know, I rather wonder that one as capable should
care for a humdrum job like this. You have no opportunities, whereas if
you were in London still----"

"But I hate London," Ellen smiled. "I hate getting up at a certain time
every morning and going to the dingy city day by day for eleven and a
half months in the year. You see, Mr. Stone, I love the country. I was
brought up in it, and it was only sheer necessity that drove me to town.
Here in this lovely place I work about three hours a day, and I wander
about in the sunshine for the rest. I feel a different girl altogether."

"Still, you have got your future to think of," Stone said, with a
benevolent air that caused Ellen to smile. "Let me see, you were with
Mr. Melrose, I think?"

"That is right," Ellen said. "Melrose and Clapstone; only there didn't
happen to be any Clapstone."

"So I understand," Stone said, absently. "At least, I mean--you see,
Miss Marchant, I used to know something of the firm. Very good people, I
believe. Didn't I hear rumours to the effect that Clapstone had left the
business? Something shady--what? As far as I remember, Clapstone got
into trouble during the long illness of his partner, and
afterwards--well, had to make himself scarce. Or perhaps I am thinking
of some other firm."

Ellen kept her head well down, apparently busy in fixing a new sheet of
paper into her machine. She did not want Stone to see her face just
then, and she was wondering if this talk was merely coincidence, or if
the man who called himself Stone was fishing for certain information.
Did he suspect, for instance, the real reason why Ellen was there? Then
she put the suspicion out her mind as absurd and groundless, and looked
Stone in the face. He was smiling quite benignantly, and still blandly
amiable, under the influence of his drink.

"Yes, I think you are right," she said. "Of course, Mr. Melrose did not
tell me this. In the office our relationship was strictly that between
employer and employed. But Mr. Melrose was very good to me, and I was
exceedingly sorry to leave him. As a matter of fact, my information came
from a man called Gabb."

"Ah!" Stone cried. "Peter Gabb, do you mean?"

He checked himself almost before the words were out of his lips, but at
the same time he looked suspiciously at Ellen from under his brows. Then
he made more or less a wild effort to recover himself. He laughed a
little artificially.

"Poor old Gabb," he said. "I remember meeting him once on a matter of
business--a queer creature, who ought to have been pensioned off years
ago."

"I lived with him," Ellen explained. "I had lodgings in Mrs. Gabb's
house at Dalston. It is very strange, Mr. Stone, that you should happen
to know him."

"Oh! I don't," Stone said, hastily. "But Gabb was quite a figure in the
city, a sort of survival. I suppose somebody pointed him out to me in
the street one day. But let's get on with our work. We are wasting the
whole morning."

Left to herself presently, Ellen had time to turn this conversation over
in her mind. It was quite clear to her now that Stone had no real
suspicion as to why Ellen had chosen to come to Crocksands, and no doubt
his questions had been dictated entirely by a spirit of curiosity. But
it was good to know that occasionally Wrath and the man called Stone had
their serious disagreements, because the fact might be made use of later
on, and Stone undoubtedly was in a position to say whether or not that
deed cutting off the entail had been signed by Gordon Bland. Possibly he
was actually in possession of it, and was holding it over as a weapon
wherewith to extract a large sum of money from Wrath when the proper
time came. Ellen had seen enough of her employer and his confederate to
know that though their interests were more or less in common there was
no real confidence between them, and either would have been prepared to
throw over the other had it been to his advantage to do so. Therefore it
seemed to Ellen that this man who called himself Stone was well worth
watching. She could see at lunch time that there was a coldness between
the two, and certain angry words were exchanged that caused her to rise
from the table as soon as possible and make some excuse to get away. She
would go up to the musicians' gallery and get a book from the library
there, and spend the afternoon in one of the nooks under the Tower
overlooking the sea. But in the library she sat down, and felt into a
sort of waking dream. She was aroused presently by a suppressed scream
and the noise of voices down below in the music room. Without hesitation
she crept to the screen and looked down.

Standing there was Mrs. Amberley. She had a handkerchief pressed to her
cheek, and when this was removed Ellen could see a red mark standing out
evilly on the white flesh. A yard or two away was Wrath, in one of his
most truculent attitudes. And in a flash Ellen could see exactly what
had happened. The woman had been the victim of personal violence, and
the stain on Mrs. Amberley's pallid cheek had been caused by a brutal
blow from Wrath's fist. Sick and faint as she was with indignation,
Ellen did not scruple to listen. She was on the verge of a discovery
now.

"You cowardly, brute!" the woman cried. There were no tears in her
voice, only a hard, hopeless indignation. Evidently it was not the first
time she had suffered. "You miserable scoundrel! But you shan't do
it--if you kill me you shan't! And let me tell you this. If anything
happens to me I have left it so that other people will know what is
going on, and you will get no mercy from them. Because of the affection
I once had for you, you take this mean advantage. Why are such men as
you allowed to live? And yet, God help me, a few kind words can bring me
to your side again as if I were a dog. But you shan't do it, Chris, you
shan't do it."

"Don't push me too far," Wrath muttered. "My whole future is at stake,
and if I like----"

"Never!" the woman cried, "never! I will proclaim the whole story from
the housetops first; and what would they say if they knew that I was
your ill-treated wife?"

"Well, I know that," Wrath hissed. "Who is going to deny it? Now
listen."

Ellen crept away, through the billiard room, and down the stairs into
the open. Here was something to occupy her mind with a vengeance. She
must go away to some quiet corner and think it over.




CHAPTER XI.


So this pallid, hunted woman with the slumbering eyes and the suggestion
of the panther half-untamed despite the lash was the wife of Christopher
Wrath. Something vile and sinister was going on here, and in some vague,
intangible way, Ellen felt that it was not remotely connected with her
own case. And yet it seemed almost impossible to link Crocksands Abbey,
with its serene and ancient beauty and its old-world flavour, with
vulgar crime.

She was thinking much the same as she sat presently at luncheon in one
of the smaller dining-rooms looking out over the sea through a
bewildering picture of sweeping woodland and uplifting crag, beyond the
latticed windows, where in red and gold and pallid blue the arms of the
ancient race blazed and twinkled. It was all exactly as Ellen had known
it in the bygone days, when she had been so happy there; and the
knowledge that this beloved place should have been all hers caused her
to stir uneasily. She looked from Wrath, seated there, big and
overpowering, and in one of his very best moods, to the silent woman at
the other end of the table with that discoloured bruise on her white
face. Stone, rather pale and obviously sulky, was drinking a great deal
more than he ate, and Wrath was inclined to rally him on the point. Then
one of the well-trained London servants brought in the midday post,
which a groom had fetched from Lyndale, and Wrath turned to his
correspondence. He read one letter with a lowering brow and an ominous
frown on his face. He threw the letter across the table to Stone.

"You had better attend to that, my friend," he snorted. "And see to it
that this doesn't occur again."

Stone said nothing; but it was obvious that he resented the way in which
he had been addressed. Wrath turned to the servant who was waiting at
the table.

"Tell Johnson to have the car round in a quarter of an hour," he said.
"I find I have to go to Barnstaple."

He rose from the table at that, and gathered up Stone, so to speak, with
his eyes. The two men went in the direction of the library, and, as Mrs.
Amberley disappeared at the same moment, Ellen followed them. She knew
that Stone was going into Lyndale in the afternoon in connection with
post office business, and he would in all probability spend a few hours
there, drifting from one hotel to another. Therefore, if Wrath was going
to Barnstaple, evidently in connection with that disturbing letter, then
Ellen would have a free hand for the afternoon, without the fear of
being watched, and she meant to seek out Rollo Bly and his friend and
hear all the latter had to say with regard to her father. She might even
take them both into her confidence, but that she was rather loth to do
for the present.

She paused for a moment outside the library door as the sound of high
voices raised in a quarrel came to her ears. It was Stone who was
speaking.

"I tell you I won't have it," he screamed. "I will not be treated like a
dog, especially in the presence of the womenkind. Don't you drive me too
far, because if you do I will break you, I will smash you, I will drive
you away from Crocksands; back to the slum in Australia where you came
from--and by God I can do it, Wrath; If I go to Melrose----"

"Not so loud, you damned fool!" Wrath muttered. "Do you want the whole
house to hear what you are saying? If you have got anything up your
sleeve why don't you out with it like a man? If it's anything good I
will buy it at a fancy price."

"Yes, and cut my throat afterwards," Stone muttered. "No, you wouldn't
do that, you are too big a coward. You leave me alone, and I will leave
you alone. I am getting sick of this. Give me a few thousand pounds----"

"Yes, and where are they to come from?"

"Oh, that will be all right if our present scheme comes off," Stone
said. "Meanwhile, I don't say anything till I see the ready cash on the
table. But, mind you, I can do what I threatened."

There were sounds of movement inside the library, so Ellen crept
discreetly away. She was beginning to learn things now, and that
business training of hers enabled her to put two and two together.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Stone held some secret with which he could
keep a grip on Wrath--nay, more, he had actually threatened to disgrace
and ruin him and drive him away from Crocksands; and if Wrath had no
claim to the Abbey, as sounded probable, then the one person in the
world who was the owner of the place had overheard that threat made. Was
it possible that Stone either possessed that vital deed barring the
entail or, failing that, could place his hands upon it when necessary?

Ellen went back to the little sitting-room behind the main dining-room,
which Mrs. Amberley had made particularly her own. She wanted to tell
the lady in question that she was taking her tea down into Lee Cove, and
that she would probably be away till dinner time. But for the moment
Mrs. Amberley was not there and Ellen waited, going idly over the
various objects in the room, until a photograph in a tarnished silver
frame caught her eye. She looked at the beautiful smiling face of the
woman it represented with a consciousness that she had seen those
features before. She was still looking at it when Mrs. Amberley came
silently into the room.

"Well, do you recognise it?" she asked, with a tinge of deep bitterness
in her voice. "It was only three years ago, though you would hardly
believe it."

"Why, it's you!" Ellen cried. "I--beg your pardon, but I can see the
likeness plainly enough now."

And yet it seemed almost incredible to believe that that fresh, bright,
smiling face represented the broken, faded creature who stood there by
Ellen's side.

"Yes, that is my phonograph," Mrs. Amberley said----"and taken barely
three years ago. How old do you think I am?"

Ellen hesitated, and the woman smiled bitterly.

"Oh, I am not going to press the question," she said. "It is not fair. I
am just over thirty, Miss Marchant, though you wouldn't think it, and
when that picture was taken I was a happy women, free from all care. You
see what three years' misery and unhappiness can do for one; and the
man--but I won't go into that. Perhaps some day I will tell you the
truth. Before long I know that I shall want a friend, and I have seen
enough of you to feel sure that you are both brave and reliable. But not
a word of this to a soul. You go off for your little picnic, and leave
me to myself. The trouble is not very far away."

With her thoughts more or less in a maze Ellen left the house and walked
up the winding path between the sweeping woodlands that led presently
downwards to the shoulder of the cliff on which the bungalow was
perched. She had seen Wrath drive past the lodge gates through the
sombre valley where the rocks rose majestically on either side, with the
spectre of the White Lady on the left and the Devil's Cheesewring
opposite, so that she knocked on the door of the bungalow without fear
of spies. She knocked again, but no reply came. Then, looking down over
the edge of the cliff, she could see the figure of Rollo Bly on the
sands busily engaged with a sailing boat that he and Evors kept there.
She made her way down the winding path, and presently stood by Bly's
side. He looked up with a glad smile.

"Delighted to see you, Miss Marchant--delighted," he said. "I began to
think you had forgotten us."

Ellen smiled in reply. There was something almost boyish about Bly that
attracted her in that sort of motherly fashion that girls so often
assume before other and more intimate feelings are aroused by daily
contact.

"I have been very busy," Ellen said. "By the way, was that a Death's
Head moth after all?"

"Well, no it wasn't," Bly admitted. "It was one of the Poplar Hawks. I
am afraid you thought we sneaked off the other night, rather like a lot
of boys caught stealing apples, but we really had no business by the
Tower, and Evors was annoyed to find that he had placed himself in the
wrong. You see Wrath hates him so; indeed, I should not have been
surprised to hear that you were forbidden to speak to us."

"I think I should have been if I hadn't been firm," Ellen smiled. "But I
took the opportunity of telling Sir Christopher that you were a friend
of mine, and I let him know that my leisure is my own to do with as I
please. I don't think he liked it--but, still, I was perfectly firm, and
he had to give way. As a matter of fact, he has gone to Barnstaple this
afternoon, so I am free to do as I like. I wanted to see Mr. Evors,
because I think he can give me some information that I require."

"I am very sorry, and all that sort of thing, you know," Bly went on in
his boyish way. "But he isn't here. He has gone off to Woods Bay to look
after some lobster pots we have got there. But he will be back in an
hour or so, and if you will honour us we shall be delighted if you will
let us give you some tea in the bungalow. It's a topping place."

"Yes, I know," Ellen said, quite innocently.

"You are pulling my leg," Bly cried. "You have never been inside the
bungalow."

"Well, as a matter of fact, I have," Ellen said. "I hope you won't ask
me any questions, because I don't want to say too much. Perhaps later on
I may ask you to help me."

Bly turned his clear blue eyes in her direction.

"I would do anything in the world for you, Miss Marchant," he said. "I
am rather a simple sort of johnny, who can't do much outside sport, but
I am not perhaps such a fool as I look, and I don't think I am afraid of
anything. Now, if there is anything I can do for you just say the word."

"Later on, perhaps," Ellen said, gratefully. "Mr. Bly, did it not strike
you as rather strange that I should give up my job in London and come
into this quiet corner of the world?"

"Well, it did," Bly admitted. "Not that it is any business of mine.
Vulgar curiosity ain't in my line. But I was real glad to hear that you
were coming. It sort of bucked me up and gave me--but it would be
frightful cheek to say any more."

Ellen discreetly let it go at that, the more so because she had a pretty
shrewd idea of what was on the tip of Bly's tongue. She knew without
being told that his feelings for her were something more than ordinary
friendship, and just at that moment the knowledge filled her with a warm
glow of something like happiness.

"Just give me a few minutes," Bly said, "and then we will walk up to the
bungalow together."

"There is another way up," Ellen said----"the smugglers' way, by the
steps that end at the Tower. It is not an easy ascent, but I have tried
it once, and I should like to try it again."

"Oh, so you have found that out, have you?" Bly cried. "I thought those
steps were only a legend. I have asked lots of the old people about
here, and not one of them really believes that the steps exist. You must
have been here before----"

"Never mid about that," Ellen said, gaily. "And please don't comment on
my local knowledge. I will just sit down here on the sand till you have
finished your work, and then we will climb the steps together."

"Where beauty leads I am content to follow," Bly said, more or less
fatuously. "I hope we shan't get into any trouble, Miss Marchant, it
seems to me this is my lucky afternoon. I am going to embrace my good
fortune with both hands."




CHAPTER XII.


They skirted round the fringe of the frowning cliff's where the Atlantic
swell beat incessantly until they were lost to sight under the headland
that towered up the best part of a thousand feet over their heads, and
feathered almost to the water's edge with the great forest trees. How
they had planted themselves and flourished there on the precipitous
slope with its thin soil was a mystery, but there they were, and their
luxuriance concealed the fact that the climb through them was a rather
hazardous undertaking, and that if one of those ancient steps gave way
or a boulder shifted the adventurers might be dashed to pieces on the
rocks below.

So far as Bly could see, there was no sign of a foothold anywhere, till
presently Ellen pushed a mass of growth on one side and disclosed what
at one time had evidently been a rough step hewn out of the cliff side.

"There you are," she said. "That is the beginning of the path. I hope
you have a strong head, because you will want it."

"I am not afraid," Bly said, quietly. "You had better go first, because
you know the way, and if you happen to slip then I shall be able to
catch you."

It was a fatiguing and laborious task in the blazing sun, and long
before they were half-way to the top Ellen was heartily sorry that she
had suggested the adventure. Since she had last climbed the steps the
growth of spring vegetation had burgeoned wonderfully, so that it was
quite a task in itself to find the way from one foothold to another.
They came out presently on the side of the cliff at a spot where the
trees had died away and where there was an open space of broken stone
and shale which was almost perpendicular. Bly glanced down, and his
heart came into his mouth as he did so. If he had been alone he would
have feared nothing, but the fact of being there with the one woman in
the world by his side seemed to take all the courage out of him and
render him singularly weak and shaky at the knees. He felt convinced at
the back of his mind that in some way Ellen had got off the beaten
track, owing, doubtless, to the thickness of the undergrowth on the
steps. He looked doubtfully at the crumbling expanse of shale overhead,
and as he essayed to climb it the friable mass, literally crumbled under
his feet, and set loose a hanging boulder that went crashing down the
hillside and thundered into the sea. And, then, as Ellen looked at her
companion, she realised for the first time that here was no frivolous,
inconsequent boy, but a real man, face to face and ready to cope with a
living danger. His lips were closely set, and there was a grim
determination in those blue eyes of his. He spoke presently between his
set teeth.

"Miss Marchant," he said, "we are in great danger here. If anything
starts that shale going again we shall be carried down into the sea. We
have evidently got off the track. Don't look down, whatever you
do--don't look down."

"I am not in the least afraid," Ellen said, quietly. It seemed almost
impossible to fear, with this new man by her side. "What do you think we
had better do?"

"Let me think a minute," Bly said. "I must get you to a place of safety.
I must manage to get a few yards back, so that you can be behind that
boulder there. Then I will endeavour to reach the Tower and bring Evors
with a couple of ropes from the bungalow. With luck I can manage it."

He was taking his life in his hands for her sake, and Ellen knew it. He
slipped by her feet presently, and with great courage and daring managed
to crawl along the top of the great boulder, which seemed to him to be
firmly embedded in the side of the cliff. Just for a moment he hung
there, clinging desperately, with his feet touching nothing, and then he
managed to secure some sort of foothold.

"Yes, you will be safe down here," he said. "Let yourself slide, and I
will catch you."

Without the slightest hesitation she obeyed. She could feel herself
gaining momentum before a pair of arms gripped and held her like a vice.
Then she was safely perched on the top of a big boulder and Bly's arms
were around her.

"Thank God," he whispered between his teeth. "Ah, but that was a close
call. When I think what might have happened to you, Ellen, I feel like a
child. My dearest girl, my very dearest girl--but I can't say any
more--I really can't."

He was looking at her with all his heart in his eyes, and all that was
loving and tender in Ellen's womanhood went out to him. She swayed a
little dizzily, and then she was conscious that Bly's lips were pressed
to hers. It was only for an instant, and then he laughed in that boyish
way of his.

"Well, I have fairly done it now," he said. "But I don't care. You were
bound to know sooner or later, and I don't think you are very angry,
Ellen, are you?"

"I wish I knew," Ellen whispered. "I don't seem to have any feeling at
all just now. You are a brave man, Rollo, and I never cared for any one
as I seem to care for you. And yet only a few minutes ago----"

"Oh, bother a few minutes ago," Rollo cried, joyously. "Let us think
about something else. You have just got to sit where you are while I
manage, somehow or another, to get to the top. You are not afraid to be
left alone?"

"I don't think I am afraid of anything in the world," Ellen said. "But I
don't think that you can manage it."

Bly rose to his feet. He knew too well the peril that lay before him,
but he was going to risk it. He managed to skirt the treacherous bed of
shale, holding on desperately to gorse bushes and patches of heather,
until at length he gained the fringe of the woods beyond. And Ellen sat
there lost in a whirl of thoughts for an hour or more, until Bly
appeared, followed by Evors, carrying ropes between them, and a few
minutes later the three of them were seated round a tea-table in the
bungalow.

Ellen looked curiously at the tall, well-knit figure of the Australian.
Here was a man who possessed a fund of information which before long she
meant to share. She had managed to convey to Bly that he was to say
nothing of what had happened during those few vivid moments on the edge
of the cliff, and Rollo had agreed without a moment's hesitation.

"This is rather a romantic meeting, Miss Marchant," Evors said. "I
understand from Bly that you are an old friend of his. I hope you did
not think my manner was too abrupt the other night when we met outside
the Tower, but Sir Christopher Wrath and myself are not exactly on
friendly terms, and I was very much annoyed to think that I had given
him the opportunity of ordering me off as if I were a common poacher.
Not that it matters very much; it will be my turn next, because, as it
happens, Miss Marchant, I have a score to settle with Wrath, and when
the time comes he will realise it to his sorrow."

"Then he is an old acquaintance of yours?" Ellen asked.

"Oh, yes, I met him years ago in Australia. Up to a certain time we were
friends, because he knew a lot of people in the other country that I
knew, and he came with good credentials. But I am sorry to say, Miss
Marchant, that your employer is a thorough scoundrel. I could tell you
things about him that would set your teeth on edge. And the way he
served a friend of mine was absolutely scandalous. Perhaps I ought not
to tell you all this, seeing that you are living under the same roof as
Wrath."

"Oh, you need not be afraid," Ellen said. "You are merely confirming
certain suspicions of mine. I had more than suspicion when I took my
present situation of the character of the man I engaged myself to. I
came down here with my eyes wide open to right a certain wrong, and I
was prepared to take any risk to do so. I know that there is danger in
the air, but that is not going to deter me."

"I am quite sure it wouldn't," Bly cried. "Evors, if you had seen the
plucky way in which Miss Marchant behaved herself this afternoon you
would have been delighted."

"Please leave me out of the question," Ellen smiled. "Mr. Evors, would
you mind telling me what you know about Sir Gordon Bland? Mr. Bly told
me that he was a friend of yours."

"The best friend I ever had," Evors replied. "He helped me out of more
than one tight place. I didn't know him before I went to Australia, but
I met him there. I was a bit of a headstrong fool in those days, and I
was always in trouble. As a matter of fact, my people sent me 'down
under' to rough it and learn a certain amount of worldly wisdom. I took
a long time over the lesson, and if it had not been for Gordon Bland I
should not be here now. It was a bad day for my old friend when I
brought him in contact with Christopher Wrath."

"Won't you tell me the story?" Ellen asked.

"Well, I would much rather not. You see, it is not altogether my secret.
I have not even told Rollo Bly. The thing began in Australia, and was
continued years afterwards at Monte Carlo. You see, I was at Nice
getting over a bad wound just at the time of the Armistice. And there I
saw Gordon Bland, who had come through the Mediterranean in Wrath's
yacht. But, really, I am afraid that I had better say no more for the
present."

Ellen sat there, alert in every nerve. All this was confirming exactly
what she expected to hear, and yet she could not ask any more without
taking Evors into her confidence. And so far she had not done that, even
with Bly.

"As you please," she said.

"That is very good of you," Evors said. "Most women would have been
annoyed with me. But it will all come out in the end, and you shall hear
the story when I am ready to tell it."

With that he rose and opened a drawer in a writing-table. He came back
with what appeared to be a photograph in his hand, and passed it over
for Ellen's inspection.

"There," he said, "that is my late friend Gordon Bland, actually taken
at Monte Carlo, and a really good likeness. Did you ever happen to meet
him, Miss Marchant?"

Ellen came to a sudden conclusion.

"Yes, I have," she said. "Oh, yes, hundreds of times. Perhaps, Mr.
Evors, you will be inclined to tell me a little more when I inform you
that that is my father."




CHAPTER XIII.


The words slipped from Ellen's lips almost before she was aware that she
had uttered them. She had not intended, even in the light of recent
events, to tell her new friends who she was, but the sight of those
well-known features had strangely affected her, and the words she had
uttered had come straight from her heart. She possessed no photograph of
her father that had been taken in recent years, and the likeness that
Evors produced was a wonderfully good one. It caught the expression of
Gordon Bland exactly--the easy smile, the pleasant, rather weak face,
and the amazing good nature of the man. Ellen gazed at it for some
minutes whilst the others waited for her to speak.

"It is a truly wonderful likeness," she said, "and I hope that you will
let me keep it, Mr. Evors."

"Certainly, if you put it in that way," Evors said. "But this is a most
amazing thing, a most extraordinary coincidence, that your father's
daughter should be down here acting the part of private secretary to Sir
Christopher Wrath. I suppose he has not the remotest idea who you are?"

"I hope not," Ellen smiled. "It would upset all my plans if he did; and,
after all said and done, there is no coincidence about it at all. Sir
Christopher was in search of a private secretary, and I saw his
advertisement--indeed, I think I should be justified in saying that he
put the advertisement in my way."

"What do you mean by that?" Bly asked.

Ellen found some difficulty in explaining. She did not want to go into
details on that point, but she had known--and women always know those
things--that Wrath had taken a fancy to her at their first meeting. She
had seen it in those bold, audacious eyes of his; she had noticed the
frank admiration which in some men would have been flattering; but in an
individual like that, from whom she shrank naturally, the animal side of
Wrath had filled her with a certain amount of wholesome detestation. But
then at the moment when she met him first she had known all about that
mysterious letter of her father's, and she had already made up her mind
to get to the bottom of the mystery. And when she had decided to answer
Wrath's advertisement she had felt in her heart of hearts that the post
was as good as hers. In a way she had been trading upon a man's natural
weakness where woman is concerned; but she did not want to discuss this
even with Bly.

"I don't think it much matters," she said. "The fact is, I am here in
the old place where I spent some of my happiest days whilst my parents
were travelling round the world, and I can assure you that I am not here
entirely on sentimental grounds."

"You mean that you know something?" Evors asked, eagerly.

"I know a great deal," Ellen replied. "I know, though I cannot prove it,
that if justice had been done I should be mistress of Crocksands Abbey
to-day."

"You interest me more than I can tell," Evors said. "Would you mind
taking me into your confidence? I don't mind telling you, Miss
Marchant--I mean Miss Bland----"

"I don't think that name had better be mentioned for the present," Ellen
smiled. "It might slip out at a highly inconvenient moment, and if that
happened I should probably have all my trouble for my pains. But this I
can tell you: After my father died, and I found myself practically
penniless, I decided to go out into the world, and, get my own living.
You see, I hadn't a single relative left. I am absolutely the last of my
line, and, strange to say, the same remark applies to Sir Christopher
Wrath. You must understand, Mr. Evors, that Crocksands is, or was,
entailed property. My father was next in succession to Sir George
Bland-Merton, and if he had lived he would have owned the Abbey to-day.
Of course, Sir George knew the position of affairs, and made up his mind
to cut off the entail, so that the property would become mine in case
anything happened to my father. But it was put off from time to time,
mainly because Sir George was a casual man, and my father was nearly
always abroad. But there came a time when something had to be done. If
my father had had a son it would not have much mattered, because that
fact would have stood between Sir Christopher Wrath and the estate. I
knew nothing at all about this when my father died in such tragic
circumstances, but I picked up a good deal of law during the two years I
was with Mr. Melrose, and I learnt that the deed barring the entail had
actually been signed by Sir George, and subsequently sent to my father,
who was in the South of France at the time, for his signature. That is
an absolute fact."

"But did he sign it?" Evors asked, eagerly.

"Ah, that I cannot tell you," Ellen said. "I am pretty sure that he did;
but if the document found its way back again to the office of Melrose
and Clapstone, it must have been mislaid. You see, Mr. Melrose, who is a
very good friend of mine, was laid up for a long time in consequence of
a motor accident, and for over eighteen months he never came near the
office. During that period everything was done by his partner, Mr.
Clapstone, whom Mr. Bly of course, remembers perfectly well."

"Oh, I knew the blighter all right," Bly, said----"a real bad egg he
was. He played ducks and drakes with the old practice, speculating and
swindling clients out of their money, until Jimmy Melrose came back and
kicked him out. If Melrose had not been a bachelor and a careful man the
firm would have gone phut. But that has nothing to do with the case."

"Ah, there you are wrong," Ellen smiled. "It has a great deal to do with
the case. At the time you speak of Mr. Clapstone was robbing the firm in
connection with some doubtful speculations he was interested in,
together with the man who to-day is called Sir Christopher Wrath."

"But he was in Australia," Bly cried.

"So every one thought," Ellen went on. "You see, Christopher Wrath was
the black sheep of the family. He was sent abroad years ago with an
allowance made him by Sir George strictly on the understanding that he
did not come home. He broke his promise, and for some years was in
London under an assumed name leading an exceedingly dubious life. Mr.
Clapstone was in the secret, and it would probably never have come out
but for a certain Peter Gabb, an old clerk in Mr. Melrose's employ. You
see I lodged with Peter and his wife, and he was the only man who knew
who I am, with the exception of Mr. Melrose. It was he who told me all
about that deed, because he had actually seen it with Sir George's
signature attached, and knew that it had been sent to the South of
France for my father to sign. Whether he signed it or not is the
important question. I am inclined to think that he did, and returned it
to London. If I am correct, then it must have fallen into Mr.
Clapstone's hands. You can see what a weapon it gave him. He was on the
verge of bankruptcy, he dreaded the return of his partner, knowing what
the consequences would be, and if he had that deed he would keep it to
bargain with."

"Upon my word, you are a wonderful young lady," Evors smiled. "Your mind
is as logical as that of a man. I take it that you came down here in
your assumed name to see if you could find anything out. Have you had
any luck?"

"I think I may say that I have had a great deal," Ellen said, "I know at
any rate, that Mr. Clapstone is living at Crocksands."

"What!" Bly cried. "Living here?"

"Yes, and calling himself Stone. I had never seen him previously, but
something about the man attracted my attention, and I managed to get a
snapshot of him on my camera. I sent this on to Peter Gabb, hoping that
he might be able to help me, and he wrote, saying that the man who
called himself Stone really was the late partner of the firm. He is down
here now living at Sir Christopher's expense, and, unless I am greatly
mistaken, they are engaged in some racing swindle."

Ellen went on to explain exactly what she had discovered in that
direction, and then supplemented it with an account of the quarrel she
had overheard between Wrath and his confederate.

"I think that proves what I say," she went on. "This man Stone has a
hold on Sir Christopher, some instrument by which he could turn Sir
Christopher out of the place to-morrow, and he is not going to part with
it unless he can see his way to making a lot of money in hard cash. And
now I come to another point. I have a letter in my possession which
proves conclusively that my father was alive two days after he was
supposed to have taken his own life at Monte Carlo. It matters very
little how that letter found its way into my possession but it was the
chief reason why I answered Sir Christopher's advertisement and came
down here. What does it mean, Mr. Evors? You knew my father because you
told Mr. Bly so. Can you help me in any way?"

"I begin to think I can," Evors said. "Why, I was at Monte Carlo, and
saw your father the day before his death."

Ellen drew a long breath.

"That is amazing," she said. "Mr. Bly told me that you were a friend of
my father's and that you were down here looking for certain information.
But perhaps you will explain."

"Well, it's like this," Evors said. "Not long before the Armistice I was
rather badly gassed in France. When I got better the authorities sent me
to the South of France to recuperate. A month later at Monte Carlo I ran
into your father. I had met him several times in Australia, where we
were on the best of terms, and I was delighted to see him. But I noticed
at once that he was a very different man from the one I had known. I
thought perhaps it was your mother's death that had made the difference,
but after a short time I could see there was something deeper than that,
and when your father told me that he was visiting the coast on board
Wrath's yacht, the Sunstar, I began to have my suspicions. Of course,
Wrath was not Sir Christopher then, and, so long as your father was
alive, was not likely to be. And knowing as I did what happened in
Australia, I was amazed to know that your father had so far forgotten
certain incidents as to be even seen in Wrath's company, let alone been
a guest on his yacht. I knew Wrath was posing as a rich man, and I knew
too, that he was a mere adventurer. I was also aware of the fact that he
was next in succession to this beautiful property, and that constituted
living danger to Gordon Bland. Why, if Wrath had only dared, he would
have killed your father and thrown him overboard. But in a way, I am
putting the cart before the horse. Let me start at the beginning."

"Is it necessary?" Ellen asked, a little impatiently.

"I think so," Evors said. "It must have been eight or nine years ago
when I first met your father in Melbourne. I was quite a soldier of
fortune in those days, reckless and careless, and only living in the
moment. Then I met your father and your mother. Of course, both of us
being Englishmen, we foregathered, and were getting on very nicely when
Wrath appeared on the scene. I am treading on rather dangerous ground
now, Miss Marchant but I think I am justified in saying, that before
Wrath was sent to Australia he was more or less engaged to your mother."

"Yes, I think that was so," Ellen said.

"But she subsequently married your father. I think they were perfectly
happy, though I am going to suggest that your mother's only real love
was that engaging and handsome scoundrel, Christopher Wrath. One could
see it. Nothing wrong, of course, but there are some women who love
admiration, and--well--perhaps I had better not say any more on that
particular point. But I do know that there was a sort of estrangement
between your parents, and that Wrath, though pretending to be the friend
of your father, deliberately fostered it."

"I can't deny it," Ellen said, sadly. "My parents were estranged for
some time before my father died. And if they hadn't been I should never
have found the letter to which I attach so much importance."




CHAPTER XIV.


"It is just as well, I think, to speak plainly," Evors went on. "I can
prove to you, if you like, that Wrath was the deliberate cause of all
that domestic unhappiness. He pushed his way into your father's life for
the double purpose of getting money from him and seeking a certain means
and petty revenge. Well, he was successful in both instances. But I did
not know all that at the time. Wrath came along ostensibly with a
proposal that your father and myself should share with him in the gold
mine he had got hold of. This had been brought to him by a young man
called Akers, an Englishman whose great hobby was acting. He was on the
Australian stage, as was his sister Mary, who was really a talented and
beautiful girl, and because of her popularity her brother was rarely out
of an engagement. And it didn't take me long to realise that she was
infatuated with Wrath. He could do almost what he liked with her. There
are some women who cannot resist the great, strong, handsome animal of
that type, and I am afraid that Mary Akers was one of them.

"Not that he cared two straws about her however, that has very little to
do with the story. We scraped together a certain amount of capital and
went up country--that is, your father and myself and Akers, leaving your
mother at a Melbourne hotel. Wrath was to have joined us but at the last
moment something prevented it, and he remained behind. The gold mine was
a swindle from start to finish, and all the money found its way into
Wrath's pocket. But that was not the worst feature of the case. We were
deliberately lured into a desert country without food and without water,
and we nearly died of thirst. There was not an ounce of gold in the
mine, so we turned back and should assuredly have died on the way if we
had not happened by great good luck to run into a lunatic Englishman who
was trying to cross the desert in a motorcar. If he had gone another ten
miles we should have missed him, and he would have perished as miserably
as we looked like perishing. It was touch and go, any way, but we just
managed to run the car back to the fringe of civilisation, and the
situation was saved. When we got to Melbourne Wrath had vanished. So, by
the way, had Mary Akers, though whether he had anything to do with that
I don't know. The man was a thorough blackguard, but I have to give him
the benefit of the doubt. And that is one score I have got against
Wrath. A year or so later, by a bit or good luck, I came into my share
of some family property, and I returned to England. Fortune brought me
to Devonshire, where I met Sir George Bland-Merton. The old gentleman
took rather a fancy to me, and he allowed me to take a long lease of
this bungalow. Of course, in those days I had no thought of ever meeting
Wrath down here--in fact I had forgotten all about the scoundrel, and
was quite content with this little paradise of mine until the war broke
out. Well, you know all about that. And now I am coming to the real
point."

Evors broke off to light a cigarette.

"I met your father in Monte Carlo, as I told you. He seemed to be a
broken man, anxious and worn out, with a shadow of some ever-present
fear in his eyes. And then, because we had been old friends in the past,
and he was bound to confide in some one, he told me. You know, my dear
young lady, what an easy-going, kind-hearted man he was, and how
careless he was about money matters. It appears that he had got mixed up
with some sort of adventuress in Monte Carlo and was doing his best to
shield her. Of course, it was a madly quixotic thing to do, but he would
not even mention her name. It appears that this woman, or more likely
some cunning scoundrel behind her had got hold of an acceptance drawn by
a certain Lord Maberley in favour of some friend of his, and your father
had managed to get it discounted at a Monte Carlo bank by endorsing it
and paying it through his own account. Then, a few days later, the bill
was pronounced to be a forgery, and Lord Maberley repudiated his
signature. Instead of your father taking the right course, and telling
the bank people how he had been deceived, he did nothing of the kind. I
suppose that infernal woman got round him with a flood of tears, and all
that sort of thing, and persuaded him not to bring her name into the
case. At any rate, your father took the whole liability on his shoulders
and acted as if he himself were to blame. In his careless way he offered
to find the money as soon as he could rouse it, and no doubt thought
that this would be all right. It seems almost incredible that a man
could be such a fool, but so long as there are pretty adventuresses in
the world this sort of stupendous folly will go on. Then a morning or
two later your father awoke to the fact that there was a warrant out for
his arrest on a charge of fraud and forgery which meant a certain five
years in a foreign gaol. I implored him to go to the authorities and get
them to confront him with the woman in the case. But he said no; he had
given his word of honour; the woman was not to blame, because she was
shielding somebody in her turn; and if gaol stared him in the face to
gaol he would go. And the next thing I heard was that your father had
committed suicide by jumping into a stormy sea from the deck of the
Sunstar--and there the tragedy ended, so far as I was concerned. I saw
Lord Maberley, and offered to pay him the money for the sake of my
friend's name, but he would not hear of it. He was greatly shocked and
distressed, and told me that if he had been consulted in the first place
he should have acknowledged that forged signature as his own. He knew
and liked Gordon Bland and would have done anything for his sake."

"That is true enough," Ellen said with tears in her eyes. "I saw Lord
Maberley myself, and he told me much the same thing. But then, you see,
my father did not commit suicide on the day when he was supposed to have
thrown himself into the sea. And that is the mystery I have to solve."

"We must do our best to help you," Evors said. "I am convinced that
there is one man who could tell us all about it if he would and that
man, of course, is Christopher Wrath. There is some secret here which I
have suspected for a long time, but what you have just told me in
connection with what I know convinces me of it. But we can't do any more
at present."

"I am afraid not," Ellen said. "And now, really, I must be getting back.
Past 7 o'clock! Probably Sir Christopher has returned by this time, and
if he misses me----"

She broke off, and rose to her feet. She walked up the woodland path
towards the Abbey with Bly by her side.

"Upon my word, my dear girl, this is a most extraordinary thing," the
latter said. "It would be a topping business if you turned out to be
mistress of Crocksands Abbey after all. And whatever happens, you have
two friends here you can rely upon. But look here, Ellen"--he went on,
with a sudden change of manner. He was no longer the inconsequent boy,
but the hard, tight-lipped man of the world he had proved himself
earlier in the afternoon--"I don't like the idea of you being under the
same roof as that blackguard. Oh, I know why he wanted you down here.
Perhaps you don't quite realise what an attractive and beautiful girl
you are. I hate to talk like this, but----"

"Oh, I am perfectly safe, if that is what you mean," Ellen said, calmly.
"And I have a friend at the Abbey--and that's the housekeeper, Mrs.
Amberley. I can't tell you too much, because the secret is not entirely
mine, but Mrs. Amberley has a hold over Wrath, and she will use it if
necessity arises. And now I really must fly. Don't detain me any longer.
No, you mustn't kiss me, in case any one happens to be looking."

Wrath had not returned when Ellen got back to the Abbey, neither did he
do so until it was nearly dark. When he came back he was in one of his
blackest moods, so that Ellen was glad to make an excuse and seek the
seclusion of her own room a little earlier than usual. She sat there in
the darkness for quite a long time, thinking over the amazing and
exciting events of the afternoon. How long she sat there she hardly
knew, until the big clock in the Tower droned out the hour of midnight,
and the whole house seemed to be steeped in slumber. She arose and
turned down one of the electric lights, as she proceeded to undress, but
she was feeling anything but tired still, and looked about her for a
soothing book to read for an hour or so. There was nothing in the room,
so, throwing a long, dark cloak over her night attire, she crept along
the corridor in the direction of the musicians' gallery, where there was
something in the shape of a library.

She knew every inch of the way in the dark, she had been there a hundred
times before, so that she was not in the least afraid of coming in
contact with the works of art and the old oak chests with which the
corridor was lined. In an alcove in the gallery she turned on one light,
and, having found the volume she required, pushed up the switch and in
her bare feet walked along until she came to her bedroom door. Then she
looked over the balcony into the hall below and saw that some one had
flicked on one solitary spot of electricity there. Secure in her black
guise, she leant over the carved oak rail to see what was going on. A
moment later Wrath appeared, carrying in his hand a large basket which
he placed on the table, and then disappeared, returning a little later
with a cold chicken on a dish, some bread, butter, and salad, and a
bottle of wine which he carefully placed in a basket and covered with a
napkin. He was no longer wearing his evening dress, but a suit of shabby
old tweeds, and on his feet were rubber soled tennis shoes, so that he
did not make the slightest sound. He took up the basket and, crossing
the hall, turned into the vestibule, and very silently left the house.

Where was he going and what did it all mean? Ellen asked herself. On the
impulse of the moment she had half a mind to follow him, but in her
scanty attire that was impossible, though the night was warm enough.
Where was he carrying that food, and for whom was it intended? Ellen
made up her mind that she would wait there until Wrath came back. Then
she drew back as another figure crept furtively across the hall,
evidently bent on keeping Wrath under close surveillance. The new-comer
glanced over his shoulder, and the feeble light fell on the face of the
man Stone. Then he vanished in Wrath's direction, and Ellen, greatly
wondering, turned in to her own room.

At any rate, she was getting on, for here was one more mystery to add to
the many with which she was surrounded.




CHAPTER XV.


Ellen had every reason to be satisfied so far with her enterprise, but,
much as she had discovered, she was beginning to realise that there were
other factors in the case with which she would have to reckon. In the
excitement of revisiting Crocksands, and in pursuit of her own
particular aims she had forgotten that Wrath had troubles of his own,
and now she was beginning to remember certain things she had heard. Her
work in St. Martin's Inn had told her that Wrath was in desperate need
of money, and she knew, of course, that he had tried to mortgage
Crocksands Abbey. And there were other letters, besides those she wrote
at Stone's dictation, that brought a scowl to Wrath's face and an angry
gleam into his eyes. Letters from all parts of the country were there,
but mostly with a London postmark, and all of them asking for money. For
the next week or so Wrath was away a good deal, generally in the car,
and on each occasion he returned more morose and ill-tempered than ever.
He even forgot to pay Ellen any compliments, for which she was
sufficiently grateful.

And then there came one morning towards the end of the first week in
June, when Wrath opened a letter at the breakfast table and threw it
across to Stone with an oath that he was at no pains to conceal. He rose
from the table and strode into the library, signifying to Stone that he
needed his company.

"Here is a pretty nice business," he growled. "A fine hash you seem to
have made of that concern in Manchester. As far is I can make out the
police have raided Cotter's shop, and have gone off with a mass of
correspondence from there. How on earth did you manage to blunder like
this?"

"I don't see how you can blame me," Stone said, white and shaky. "I have
followed out your instructions carefully; and, in any case, neither of
us can be identified with the business. I have taken precious good care
of that. Of course, I know that this lottery of ours is absolutely
illegal, but then, you see, we are not running it from England. The head
office of the syndicate, as you know, is supposed to be at Bucharest.
The draw for the Derby took place there, or, at any rate, it was
supposed to, and the winner will be announced in the London papers
to-day."

"But, confound it, man, that's just the trouble," Wrath cried. "Read
that letter again. Who is this man Goss, whom our friend alludes to as
the man who claims to have drawn the winner?"

"Why, what on earth does it matter?" Stone asked. "The whole thing is a
swindle from start to finish, and every penny of the thirty thousand
pounds we raked in in reply to our advertisements goes into our
pockets."

"It goes into my pockets, you mean, I suppose?" Wrath sneered. "Don't
you forget that I put up all the money for the advertisements and
circulars and the lottery tickets, and paid all the expenses. It's my
show, run with my money, and don't you forget it. Oh, you shall have
your pound of flesh when the time comes for dividing the booty; but it
won't be quite so meaty a joint as you seem to anticipate. Still, we are
getting off the track. Who is this man Goss?"

"Upon my word, you talk like a child. Dash it all, we must put up
somebody as the ostensible winner of the big sweep. You wouldn't have
anything to do with it, and I had to find a man who would tell everybody
that he won our Derby sweep and be content with five hundred pounds for
his trouble. I found Goss, a man under my thumb, and I arranged with him
that he should pose as the winner and show his ticket. Then he was to go
abroad with his share of the swag and give out that he intended to buy
himself a ranch in South America. What more could I do?"

"Oh, don't ask me. You see what the letter says. It's from a
correspondent of mine in Manchester--in fact, my agent Blatton, who runs
a sort of banking concern in connection with the South Australian
Produce Company, which I mean to float as soon as I have any spare
capital. As you know, the mythical Blatton calls himself a banker, and I
allowed you to use his firm and pose them as the representatives of the
syndicate which acts as treasurer for the lottery money. And now
Blatton's successor tells me that Goss has been arrested by the police
in Manchester on a charge of fraud and forgery. Do you suppose anybody
will believe after that that he really is the winner of our Derby sweep?
Dash it, you might have got hold of some outwardly respectable man, at
any rate."

"Yes, and what respectable man would be a party to such a transaction?"
Stone retorted. "And how was I to know that Goss would make a fool of
himself just at the moment when he was going to draw five hundred pounds
simply for telling a lie and sticking to it? I admit it is a nasty mess,
and for the present I don't see how we are going to get out of it. If
the police make inquiries, as they are sure to do, then it will be
awkward for us, because they will be certain to investigate into the
past of Blatton and Co., and once they do that they will realise that
the business is a mere fraud. And that brings you in, because you can't
get out of the fact that you really are Blatton and Co. The authorities
will come to the conclusion that the whole thing is a fraud, and, at the
very best, we shall only get out of it by handing over all the money
that came from the sale of those tickets."

Wrath's heavy jaw set into a firm line.

"Not if I can help it," he said. "There is over 30,000 locked away
upstairs, mostly in Treasury notes, and that is going to be my
salvation. If I have to give it up then my creditors will make me
bankrupt, and they will take the revenue of Crocksands out of my hands.
It is most infernally hard luck, just when everything is going so
smoothly; and if it hadn't been for Goss making a fool of himself
everything would have been all right. As it is, we have got to bluff it
out, Stone. I suppose Goss won't give the game away?"

"I don't think so," Stone said. "He wouldn't gain anything if he did. In
that case he would lose the 500 which would come to him after he gets
out of prison, and Goss is not that sort of a fool."

"Well, I suppose I must take your word for it. I think the best thing
you can do is to go to Manchester and see Goss. You won't have any
difficulty in getting an interview with him, and I will tell you what to
say. In the meantime there is nothing to be done but wait upon events."

"It will want some doing," Stone said. "If Goss gets bail the thing is
easy enough, because I can slip up to Manchester in some sort of
disguise and put him wise."

"Well, bail must be found," Wrath declared. "I daresay we can manage to
arrange that with some man of straw who will go bail if it is made worth
his while. Now clear out and let me think a bit. This business wants
consideration."

It was three days later, after Stone had departed for Manchester, that a
footman came into the library to Wrath with an intimation that Inspector
Wilder of the North Devon Police wanted to see him on a matter of
business. Just for a moment Wrath's face changed, then he was himself
again.

"Quite so," he said. "Ask the inspector in."

Wilder walked into the room--small, alert, perfectly self-possessed, and
entirely easy in his manner.

"Sir Christopher Wrath, I think," he said. "I have come to see you, sir,
on rather unpleasant business."

"I am sorry to hear you say that," Wrath said in his best manner. "Sit
down, inspector. Is there anything I can offer you? Perhaps a cigar, or
a whisky and soda?"

"I am much obliged to you, Sir Christopher," Wilder said. "But if you
don't mind, I think not."

"As you will," Wrath said. "Would you mind telling me in what way I can
be of service to you?"

"Well, it's like this, sir," the inspector went on. "I understand that
you are in some way connected with a firm in Manchester called Blatton
and Company."

"Quite right," Wrath said. "They are colonial merchants, and also act as
bankers to syndicates more or less connected with agrarian enterprises
in South America and Australia. As a matter of fact, I have a
controlling interest in the company, though I take no part in the
management. You see, inspector, I have large interests in Australia as a
stock breeder, and I am thinking of floating a big company to open out
in the Argentine. That company, which you may have heard of, will be
offered to the public as soon as I can make necessary arrangements.
Meanwhile it is quite a small syndicate. All the machinery is run
through the office of Blatton and Company, under my direction. As a
matter of fact, there is no such name as Blatton left, for you see I
have bought the name and the small business attached to it for the
purposes I have indicated. But I haven't been near the place myself."

"So I understand," the inspector said. "Then I take it that you don't
know that your firm has been acting as a sort of treasurer to a lottery
which has its headquarters in Bucharest, and that they were the
depositories of funds, mostly subscribed in this country, towards a
Derby sweep."

Just for the fraction of a second Wrath hesitated.

"Well, I did hear something about it," he said. "As a matter of fact, my
consent was asked. Do you mean to say that there is anything wrong about
it?"

"Well, it's absolutely illegal," the inspector explained. "And I cannot
understand why the authorities in Manchester allowed those
advertisements to appear in the Northern papers."

"Ah, I am afraid you must blame me to a certain extent," Wrath said,
with one of his most charming smiles. "I never realised that there was
anything wrong about it. You see, I have been out of England for so long
that I have forgotten; and, besides, such things are permitted in
Australia. If I am right, the money was subscribed from England and sent
to Bucharest with the idea of it being transferred eventually to
Manchester, and paid out by Blatton and Company to the fortunate
winner."

"Yes, that is quite right, perfectly right," the inspector said. "But
when we came to place an embargo on the money we were informed by
Blatton's manager that it was not there."

Wrath laughed in the heartiest possible way.

"Ah, well, inspector," he said, "perhaps the men who were behind the
lottery knew a little more than you think. I should think it extremely
likely that that money has not yet been transferred to England."

"Oh, I admit that we are rather in a quandary," the inspector said,
frankly. "And I don't suppose we should have gone any further in the
matter if a certain shady individual in Manchester had not been boasting
in dubious public houses that he was the owner of the winning ticket.
Rather strange that a man who hadn't a penny in the world could find
five pounds for a ticket in a Derby sweep, especially when the owner of
the ticket that drew the winner took the whole amount of the sweep."

"Oh, I don't know," Wrath said. "A gambler would do anything. I have
known a gambler put the last penny he had in the world on a horse, even
when he was starving."

"Yes, but this man I am speaking about, Goss by name, is a very shady
character. He has been in gaol more than once, and we have strong
evidence for believing that he is only the tool of certain people who
are running this lottery. In other words, the whole thing is a gigantic
swindle, and Goss was to have a certain amount of money paid him on
condition that he pretended to be the winner. It's rather a serious
matter, Sir Christopher."

Wrath lay back in his chair smiling, with the air of a man who is
enjoying an exquisite joke.

"All this is very diverting," he said. "Now, I happen to know, as a
matter of fact, and I am prepared to prove to you, that this man Goss,
whoever he is, does not hold the winning ticket. I shrewdly suspect that
Goss is a little more brainy than you anticipate. If he was on his last
legs, and in desperate need of a few shillings, can't you see how he
could make quite a little pile by telling people that he had won the
Bucharest Derby lottery? Why, he could borrow pounds on the strength of
it. He could have got credit in all the shady public houses; and it
would not be difficult for such a man even to forge a lottery ticket
with the same number as that on the winner's. Of course, it could only
last a day or two, until the actual winner's name was announced in the
paper, but it would be worth a good deal of money to Mr. Goss in the
meantime."

"Ah, now there is something in that," the inspector admitted. "I have
heard of it being done before."

"Very well, then," Wrath said, with a sudden change to seriousness.
"Don't you think you had better make sure on this point before you go
any further? And this I can promise you, my friend, that whatever
happens, Blatton and Company will come out of it all right. I shall see
to that, even if only for my own sake. I can't afford to have my name
blown upon. It would never do for Sir Christopher Wrath, the owner of
this place and the fifteenth baronet to be mixed up with anything shady.
I would sacrifice half my fortune first."

Inspector Wilder was obviously impressed.

"Oh, I quite understand that, Sir Christopher," he said. "You see, I had
to come and see you----"

"Naturally," Wrath interrupted. "And now I am going to show you
something that will astonish you. An amazing coincidence that could only
happen usually in the pages of fiction. If you will excuse me one moment
I will fetch the thing I want."

Wrath left the library, and reappeared a minute or two later with a
scrap of paper in his hand. It was a printed form with a perforated
edge, and had evidently been torn out of something in the semblance of a
cheque book.

"Now look at this, inspector," he said. "It is a ticket in the Bucharest
Derby lottery, and you will see for yourself that the number is 23,004.
Now, I paid 5 for that ticket, and I was informed by telegram last
night that 23,004 had drawn Hazeldawn, the winner in this year's Derby.
So, you see, I am the fortunate man, and Goss was merely pulling the
legs of his friends. It is rather an extraordinary coincidence, isn't
it?"

The inspector said nothing. He gazed at the strip of paper much as a
bird gazes at a snake. Then he set his lips tightly, and a few minutes
later left the house.

"An extraordinary story," he told himself. "But, all the same, I am not
quite satisfied yet."




CHAPTER XVI.


Naturally while all this was going on Ellen found herself with a good
deal of time on her hands. But it was not until the afternoon of the
morning on which Inspector Wilder had paid his visit to Crocksands Abbey
that she had the chance of seeing Bly again. But now that Stone was away
in Manchester and Wrath had gone off in the car to Barnstaple on one of
his mysterious errands, Ellen felt it safe to go as far as the bungalow.
She found Bly sitting outside smoking his pipe, whilst Evors was in the
sitting-room busy over some correspondence.

"Now, this is fine," Bly said, eagerly, as Ellen came forward. "I began
to think that something had happened to you. Is there any news? Anything
fresh in the air?"

"Not very much," Ellen smiled. "There is something going on at
Crocksands Abbey that I cannot understand at all. I know Sir Christopher
is in great trouble about something, because he has hardly spoken to any
of us for days. And early in the week Mr. Stone departed mysteriously
for Manchester. Sir Christopher doesn't know I know he has gone to
Manchester, but Mr. Stone told me himself. Then he hesitated, and said
he was going to Scarborough, I believe there is some trouble over that
lottery business, and yet I can't understand it, because Sir Christopher
dropped a mysterious hint at lunch time to the effect that he himself
had won a large sum of money over the Derby. But I am strongly under the
impression that the money he speaks of is the proceeds of that lottery
swindle. I told you about that, didn't I?"

"My word, so you did!" Bly cried. "Depend upon it, you are right, Ellen.
Didn't you tell me that you had found some letters containing Treasury
notes?"

"I did," Ellen said. "They came out of a hamper readdressed to the Abbey
from Manchester. My idea is that all that money from the lottery is in
the house at the present moment. Most of it, no doubt, is in Treasury
notes, and these will be disposed of a few hundreds at a time in
different parts of the country."

Evors came out of the bungalow just in time to hear what Ellen was
saying. He stood there, smiling grimly and nodding his head, until she
had finished.

"You seem to be amongst a choice set of friends," he laughed. "A
blackguard baronet, a discredited lawyer, and a mysterious woman whom
nobody knows anything about. You know, I have never seen this mysterious
housekeeper of Sir Christopher's."

"She never goes out of the house," Ellen said. "She has not been outside
the Tower gate since I came here. I am exceedingly sorry for her,
because I know she is a woman who has suffered deeply. But I don't want
to talk about her this afternoon. I want to tell you something that I
saw a night or two ago."

Evors brought out a chair; and Ellen sat there presently drinking her
tea in the warm sunshine. Then she went on to tell her interested
friends the story of her visit to the music room in search of a book,
and what she had seen afterwards in the hall at Crocksands. Evors
listened without comment until the narrative was finished, then he rose
and paced restlessly up and down.

"Now, that is very strange," he said. "It looks very much as if Wrath
was hiding somebody here. Probably one of his scoundrelly confederates
who has come in contact with the law. By Jove! this would be a fine
place to hide anybody. Here are hundreds of acres of woods, with any
amount of ancient outbuildings, and all absolutely private. It was
rather a pity, Miss Marchant, that you couldn't have followed."

"Yes, it was," Ellen said. "But I couldn't very well. And by the time I
had dressed myself Sir Christopher would have been far away. But doesn't
it seem to you that this is his own secret? I mean that Mr. Stone knew
nothing about it, or he would not be following Sir Christopher in that
stealthy way. He had some sort of suspicion, no doubt; but he evidently
was quite uncertain as to what Sir Christopher was up to."

"We will find out," Bly declared. "I don't suppose it would help us
much, but, dealing with a man like Wrath, knowledge is always power. You
may depend upon it that he makes frequent visits in the dead of night to
the hiding-place of this mysterious stranger. We must follow in our
turn."

"Yes, but how are we to know?" Evors asked.

"I think I can help you in that respect," Ellen said. "I don't go to bed
very early, because I am rather fond of sitting up and reading at night.
I need not quite close my door, and I can listen. You must wait up on
that little knoll at the top of the hill till just after twelve. From
there you will be able to see my bedroom window. It is the third in the
west gable, so that you cannot mistake it. If you see my light go out
suddenly and come on again in two flashes, you will know that Sir
Christopher has just set out on one of his midnight expeditions. You can
wait and intercept him by the path that leads to the Tower on one side
and down to your bungalow on the other."

"The plan sounds feasible enough," Evors said. "And we can let it go at
that, Miss Marchant."

It was two nights later before the watchers, seated just after midnight
on the shoulder of the hill, saw the flashes from the window in the
Abbey, and a little later on heard the sound of stealthy footsteps
coming along one of the main drives through the woods that led up to the
Tower. It was Evors's quick ear that first heard the sound of a breaking
twig. He put his pipe in his pocket, and touched Bly on the arm.

"Somebody coming," he whispered. "Be ready."

It was fairly dark under the gloom of the trees, but they could make out
a dim figure presently, and they followed discreetly until Wrath turned
upwards, evidently on the way to the Tower. It was not so easy to shadow
him now, because he had reached open ground, but with a little patience
they kept Wrath in sight until they saw him pause just under the Tower
and look around him carefully to see that he was not followed. They then
heard a key grated in the lock, and the sudden closing of a door.

"Come on," Evors whispered. "We can get right up to the door, and
perhaps with any luck we can hear what is going on inside."

But in that Evors was mistaken. For a long time there was no sound but
the breaking of the surf on the rocks hundreds of feet below, and no
sign of a light inside the Tower. For more than an hour they stood
there, until the creaking of the door came again, and the watchers had
barely time to drop into the heather before Wrath reappeared swinging an
empty basket in his hand.

As he vanished at length, Evors tried the door of the Tower. But it
yielded nothing and it looked as if the two men were going to have all
their trouble for their pains. True, they had established the fact that
somebody was occupying the Tower, but that did not help to any material
extent..

"Lord, what a fool I am!" Evors said. "I had quite forgotten. You
remember the night when I thought I had found a Death's Head moth, and I
told you that some one was asleep in the Tower? That's the man that
Wrath comes here to see, and we are going to find out who it is, come
what may. Meanwhile we have not wasted our time, and Wrath is none the
wiser."




CHAPTER XVII.


Stone arrived back quite unexpectedly from Manchester with a budget of
news for his employer. Everything had gone well so far but the ex-lawyer
was not a little uneasy and disturbed as he listened to Wrath's boastful
statement of the way he had managed to deceive Inspector Wilder. It was
no doubt a most heroic thing to do, but Stone's trained legal mind could
see pitfalls and dangers where Wrath could only see his own amazing
strategy and bold diplomacy. If the thing came off, all well and good,
but supposing that Wilder had not been deceived at all!

"Oh, you can make your mind quite easy on that," Wrath laughed. "He was
like a child in my hands. Besides, they can't do anything. I was quite
candid over my connection with Blatton and Company, and I told Wilder
that if there was any scandal I would make it good out of my own pocket.
You see, they haven't been able to lay their hands on the money which
they think is still in Bucharest, and Wilder must know that the
Bucharest people are not in the least likely to play into his hands by
consigning any cash to Manchester now. When I told him that I was the
winner of the sweep, and showed him the ticket, which I had filled in
myself in my bedroom, he had nothing more to say. You never saw a man
more startled and astonished in your life."

"Well, let us hope it will be all right," Stone said, dubiously. "But we
are not past the danger-mark yet. A good deal depends upon Goss, and
don't you forget it."

"What happened about him?" Wrath asked.

"Well, I haven't seen him myself yet. I went up to Manchester and hung
around picking up what information I could. It is not a very serious
case against Goss, and in all probability he will ask to have the matter
dealt with summarily, which will probably mean six mouths at the
outside. He had no money, so I managed indirectly to engage a lawyer for
him. Goss was remanded for a week, and I'm going up to Manchester again
to-morrow to put matters right. I think I shall do this: apply for a
remand for another week, and ask for bail. I don't see how the
magistrate can refuse to grant it, and I can so manage it that his own
solicitor will offer to become security for the appearance of his
client. I shall have to guarantee the amount in case Goss makes a bolt
for it; but I think it would look rather well for the the man's own
lawyer to offer bail on his behalf."

"Yes, that is not a bad idea," Wrath said. "I think I can leave it
entirely in your hands."

Accordingly, a few days later, Stone was in Manchester again, and sat in
a dingy police court, listening to the proceedings which had been
instituted by the police against the man Goss. Stone had made all his
preparations and retired discreetly into a dim corner of the court, not
in the least anxious to make himself prominent in any way. He could not
know, of course, that not far from him Inspector Wilder was taking notes
of what was going on, and that he had prompted certain questions which
would be asked presently by the solicitor representing the prosecution.

Then the little Jew lawyer, called Mostyn, whose forebears had been
quite content with the name of Moses, rose at the proper time and asked
for bail on behalf of his client. From his point of view Goss was the
victim of petty persecution. He had innocently fallen into evil hands,
and been made a tool of by cleverer men than himself. It was absolutely
necessary, in the cause of justice, that the case should be remanded for
two or three days, so that the speaker might be enabled to perfect the
absolute defence which he had to this more or less preposterous charge.
Whereupon the magistrate looked inquiringly at an inspector of police,
and asked if the latter had any objection to the proposed course.

"Oh, no, your Worship," the policeman said. "If you think it necessary
the authorities are prepared to grant a remand till Saturday, or perhaps
Monday. But we take rather a serious view of this case, which is likely
to lead to other prosecutions."

"Very well," the magistrate said. "Mr. Mostyn, the case is adjourned
till Saturday morning at ten o'clock."

"Very good, your Worship," the little man smiled. "Now as to the
question of bail?"

"It ought to be heavy," the police officer interrupted.

"I quite agree," the magistrate said. "Say the prisoner himself in a
hundred pounds, and one or two sureties for at least five times that
amount."

"That will do excellently," Mostyn cried. "I myself am so convinced of
my client's innocence that I am prepared to become his surety to the
extent of five hundred pounds."

Five minutes later Goss left the court a free man for the time being,
and that same evening a meeting took place between himself and Stone in
an obscure public house where certain arrangements were made and a sum
of money passed.

"Oh, that will be all right guv-nor," Goss said. "I shall know what to
do now, and, whatever happens, I shall keep my mouth shut. It won't be a
matter of more than six months, and I am quite sure of my five hundred
quid when I come out."

Punctually at ten o'clock on the Saturday morning Goss stepped jauntily
into the dock, and the proceedings recommenced. Police evidence was gone
through, and when the prosecution had finished the solicitor in the case
asked that the prisoner might be committed for trial. Against this
Mostyn issued a vigorous protest. The police case was the flimsiest he
had ever heard; it was impossible that a magistrate so learned and
enlightened as the stipendiary on the bench should send a man for trial
on the testimony before the court. He asked for the case to be dealt
with summarily, and wound up by saying that he intended to put his
client into the witness box to give evidence on his own behalf.

"As you please, Mr. Mostyn," the magistrate said. "But I don't think you
will do your client much good by such a course. I have practically made
up my mind to commit the prisoner; but possibly he may be able to bring
forward evidence that will put another complexion on the case."

With that Goss entered the witness-box, and underwent a long examination
at the hands of his solicitor. Then when he had finished the
representative of the prosecution got up. His first question came rather
in the nature of a surprise, and Stone wriggled uneasily in his obscure
seat.

"You are a racecourse tout, I think?" the lawyer asked.

"No, I am a sportsman," Goss said, jauntily. "I follow racing, if that
is what you mean, as a professional backer of horses."

"Yes, a profession that requires capital, I believe. Now, for the last
three months you have been entirely without means; at least, you have
found it hard to get a living. Perhaps you will be good enough to tell
me where you found the five-pound note which you spent on the purchase
of a lottery ticket."

"What lottery ticket!" the witness asked, impudently.

"Oh, come, you know what I mean. The Derby lottery which eminated from
Bucharest, and was advertised in all the Northern papers. You purchased
a ticket, and I am not going to suggest that anybody made you a present
of it."

"You are quite wrong," the witness grinned. "I bought no ticket, because
I hadn't got the money to do it with."

The questioner was evidently taken a little aback by this reply, and
pondered over his notes for a minute or two. He had not expected such a
response to his query, and he was just a little annoyed with Inspector
Wilder for having lured him on upon what looked like being the wrong
track.

"But that won't do," he said. "You are not going to deny that you
publicly boasted of having drawn the winner of the Derby sweep, and,
moreover, you showed the ticket to some of your friends. Of course, if
you deny that----"

The speaker shrugged his shoulders, and Stone breathed a little more
freely. He was the one man here who knew that if another twenty-four
hours had elapsed after the race for the Derby, Goss's name would have
been announced in all the leading papers as the absolute winner of the
great sweep. It was therefore, only by a bit of blind luck that this
danger had been averted.

"I am not going to deny it," Goss grinned. "But I was only pulling the
legs of my friends. I forged that ticket myself because I was
desperately hard up, and I managed to borrow a few pounds on the
strength of it."

"Oh, is that a fact?" the lawyer asked. "Am I to understand that you had
no holding in the sweep?"

"Not a bob, sir," Goss laughed. "Lor' bless you, it's an old dodge, been
worked a score of times."

The questioner dropped into his seat and conveyed that he had no further
questions to ask. Five minutes later Goss was committed for trial, and
left the court under the same bail as had been previously granted. There
was no occasion for Stone to see him any more, and, with a feeling that
the situation was saved, that individual left the court and made his way
light-heartedly enough in the direction of his hotel. He would go back
to Crocksands Abbey with an easy mind now.

But perhaps he would not have felt so assured had he been in a position
to overhear a conversation that was taking place in a solicitor's office
not far from the courthouse. There, Inspector Wilder was seated in a
little back room talking over the events of the last hour or so with the
lawyer who had prosecuted in the case of the Crown v. Goss.

"Well, what do you think of it, Inspector?" the lawyer asked. "Are you
satisfied or not?"

"Emphatically not, Mr. Walton," Wilder said. "I don't doubt for a moment
that Goss was telling the truth when he said that he had no ticket in
that lottery. That he boasted he had is beyond all doubt, and I have no
reason to disbelieve his statement that he made money out of his boast.
But that is not the point. I feel perfectly certain that there is a big
swindle here somewhere, and that Goss was to have been paid a huge sum
of money for acting as the ostensible winner of the sweep. If
circumstances had not played us false, Goss's name would have appeared
in the public press as the actual winner. Still, we can't prove that
now, and I don't suppose we ever shall. But I have seen the winning
ticket, and I have talked with the holder of it. He lives down in
Devonshire, in a fine place called Crocksands Abbey, and he is a baronet
of ancient family. Outwardly, at any rate, he is very rich; but I have
been making a few inquiries into his past, and I find that before he
came by a stroke of luck into the estates he was desperately needy, and
that in Australia he had the very shadiest reputation. Mind you, all
this I have found out since I interviewed him at Crocksands. At the
present moment he is up to his neck in debt, and as he cannot mortgage
the estate he hardly knows where to turn."

"God bless my soul!" Walton cried.

"And that is not everything," Wilder went on. "Wrath has a sort of
satellite and hanger-on called Stone. Now this Stone is really a
disgraced solicitor, whose proper name is Clapstone, and for a good many
weeks past Clapstone has been sending large sums of money to Manchester,
in the form of postal orders and so on, which I suspect were despatched
to pay the expenses of the sweep up here and advertise in the Northern
papers. As Stone is practically penniless, Wrath must have found the
money. He posed to me as a man of wealth and honor, and he said if there
was any question of the integrity of Blatton and Co.--which, in other
words, is Wrath himself--he would see that everything was made good. My
belief is that the whole thing is a barefaced swindle, and that Wrath is
at the bottom of it. But I shall know more about that in a few days;
and, meanwhile, you had better continue your investigations on the lines
that I suggested. I am going back into Devonshire to-night, and if there
are any further developments I will keep you properly posted."

Meanwhile, Stone was on his way back to Crocksands, fully convinced that
the whole danger was averted. In the course of time Goss would be
sentenced to at least a year's imprisonment, and it would be greatly to
his advantage to take his punishment, and say nothing, secure in the
knowledge that at the end of his sentence he would be the better by five
hundred pounds. It had been a very narrow shave, and Stone had quite
made up his mind that he would have nothing to do with racing sweeps for
the future. It was late that night when he sat in the library at
Crocksands discussing the matter from all points of view with his
employer, who had been inclined to take a sanguine view of the case from
the start. In that arrogant way of his he did not doubt for a moment
that Wilder had believed every word he said.

"So that's all right," he concluded, as he pitched his cigar into the
fire and rose from his seat. "The next thing is to get rid of all that
money we have upstairs, and get shut of those confounded creditors of
mine. You have done very well, Stone, and I am not going to forgot it.
If you only kept off the drink you might become a useful member of
society even yet."




CHAPTER XVIII.


It was two days later before Ellen had the chance of meeting her friends
at the bungalow again. She had watched Wrath drive away to Barnstaple on
one of those mysterious errands of his, and she had walked as far as
Lyndale with Mrs. Amberley, who had told her that she also was going a
little way up the line to see an old acquaintance of hers who lived in
the country. Then, with the coast clear, Ellen went as far as the
bungalow.

"I am sorry I couldn't get here before," she said, as the two men rose
to greet her. "Everything has been very quiet, and I have nothing to do.
But I am very curious to know what happened the other night when you
followed Sir Christopher."

"Ah, that was rather disappointing," Evors said. "But perhaps I had
better explain. We followed Wrath as far as the Tower, which he entered,
and where he remained for a hour. He took with him a full basket of
provisions, and came empty away. You may say that that proves the fact
that somebody is hiding in the Tower. Possibly a friend of Wrath's who
is under a temporary cloud."

"Then you saw and heard nothing?" Ellen asked.

"Not a sound," Bly said. "We tried the door after Wrath had gone, but it
was quite fast, so we had to come away with our trouble for our pains.
But we have established the fact that some one was in the Tower, and it
won't be our fault if we don't find out all about it. Evors has actually
seen the man."

"Seen the man!" Ellen exclaimed. "How do you mean?"

"I shall have to go back a bit," Evors explained. "You remember the
night when I thought we had found a Death's Head moth? I climbed up to
the top of the Tower and looked in through a window there. I flashed my
light on, hoping to locate the moth under the eaves, and I saw a man
lying asleep on a bed. The blind was not quite pulled down, and I had a
good view into the room. It was beautifully furnished, and I should say
that the Tower boasts of every sort of convenience."

"What kind of a man was he?" Ellen asked.

"Well, from a casual glance; I should say an elderly man, with grey hair
and a long beard. I can't tell you any more. Now, is there any other way
of getting into the Tower besides the ordinary door? Didn't you tell me
something about smugglers and an underground passage?"

"Certainly I did," Ellen said. "I have been along it more than once. In
the old days, there used to be a beacon light on the Tower, which, I am
afraid, was lighted for the purpose of luring ships ashore. Occasionally
the Tower was used as a storehouse for smuggled goods, which were
afterwards conveyed to the house by means of the passage I speak of."

"That is interesting," Evors said. "I should like to know how many
people besides yourself are aware of the existence of the underground
way to the Tower?"

"I don't believe anybody on the premises knows except myself," Ellen
said "You see, when Sir Christopher came here he discharged every one of
the old servants, and they all seem to have left the neighbourhood.
There might have been one or two of them who knew about the passage, but
I doubt even that. Certainly Sir Christopher doesn't. I don't think he
was ever at Crocksands before he came into the property. It is quite a
large passage, and opens out of a vault which is now used as a wine
cellar. It leads up to the Tower, and a flight of steps takes you to the
sitting-room. There is an oak panel by the side of the fireplace, and if
you know the secret of the spring you can open it and gain access to the
Tower in that way. I used to think it great fun when I was a child, and
played all sorts of imaginary games. You see, the secret was practically
mine and I revelled in it. Do you think we could possibly make use of
the knowledge?"

"Oh, I think so," Evors said. "I have an extraordinary theory about that
man in the Tower, so strange that I am not going to mention it to
anybody yet. But, if I am correct, then we are on the verge of amazing
events. Don't you think you could smuggle us into the house late one
night when everybody is asleep? Isn't there some old entrance to the
domestic apartments whereby we could get to the vaults without
disturbing anybody?"

"Yes, there is," Ellen said. "I don't think there will be any
difficulty. Perhaps some night, when Sir Christopher is away----"

"Why should we wait for that?" Bly asked, in his impulsive fashion. "Why
not play the real conspirators' game? I mean, a few judicious drops in
the whisky-and-soda of those choice scoundrels just before they go to
bed. By Jove! it would be an adventure after my own heart. What do you.
say, Evors?"

"Well, it's worth consideration," Evors said, with an indulgent smile.
"But--hello! what's this?"

A small boy in uniform with a peak cap of a telegraph messenger appeared
before the bungalow and handed an envelope to Evors. He ripped it open
and read; then, dismissing the boy with a shilling and the information
that there was no answer, he turned, with a sudden change of manner, to
his companions.

"Now, here is a remarkable thing," he cried. "This is a telegram from
Akers. That is the man I told you about who was with Miss Marchant's
father and myself in that mining swindle when we nearly lost our lives
and Wrath escaped having our blood on his head by something like a
miracle. It is an extraordinary thing that he should turn up at this
particular time. He says that he is with a theatrical company filling a
date that has fallen through with a week in Barnstaple. By some means or
another he has found out my address, and he is motoring over here to see
us this afternoon."

"By Jove!" Bly cried. "It's a good thing that Wrath is not here. If he
met Akers, all the fat would be in the fire. Does he realise that Wrath
is so close?"

"I should say not," Evors replied. "He has been knocking about the world
all this time with various companies and I don't suppose that he is
aware of the fact that Wrath is now a baronet with a fine property. But
those two must not meet, Bly. We had better go towards Lyndale, and meet
Akers. Let me see, this telegram was despatched nearly an hour and
a-half ago, and he says he is motoring over at once. He may be here at
any moment. Let's strike across to the road through the park and walk
along in the direction of the valley. We ought to cut him off before he
reaches the lodge gates."

With that Evors jumped to his feet, and the three of them made their way
down through the woods until they came to the road. There was not a soul
in sight; indeed, there seldom was at this time of the afternoon, so
that they reached the lodge leading to the pretty, romantic valley quite
unperceived. Here they sat on a lofty pinnacle of moss-clad stone and
waited patiently for the first sign of a car coming along the winding
road.

"Upon my word," Bly said. "This is quite a romance in its way. I wonder
if your friend Akers has ever seen his sister since the time you told me
of in Australia. You remember who I mean--the pretty actress who was
infatuated with Wrath."

"Ah! that I can't tell you," Evors said. "I know that the two were
greatly attached to each other, and when Mary Akers disappeared it was a
sad blow for her brother. He is probably looking for her still. She was
such a pretty girl in those days; so full of life and vivacity, and as
an actress would, no doubt, have gone very far. It is very strange how
some people unwittingly wreck their own lives."

As Evors finished a car shot round the corner of the valley and came
rapidly in the direction of the spot where the trio were seated; then a
youngish-looking man, with an eager, clean-shaven, pleasant-looking
face, jumped out.

"You needn't come any further," he said to the chauffeur. "You wait for
me here. I shan't be more than an hour at the outside. Why, good lord!
here's Evors himself!"

He came forward with outstretched hands, and after greeting him Evors
made the necessary introductions; but he seemed to be almost blind to
the fact that he was speaking to strangers, one of whom was a woman,
for, after muttering something almost incoherently, he turned agitatedly
to Evors.

"A most extraordinary thing," he murmured. "Just before I started,
coming out of a shop in Barnstaple I saw a woman pass me in a taxi. You
could have knocked me down with a feather. I could not possibly have
made a mistake."

"What are you freaking about?" Evors asked.

"My sister. It was my sister whom I saw in that cab."




CHAPTER XIX.


Despite what appeared to be his absolute lack of manners, there was
something about this pleasant-looking stranger that appealed to Ellen.
Apparently, he had not caught her name, and for some reason he seemed to
be unaware of the fact that she and Rollo Bly were standing there. Akers
had eyes only for Evors, and the latter seemed to be considerably
impressed with what his new-found friend was saying.

"Are you quite sure?" he asked. "It seems almost incredible that your
sister should be in this neighbourhood; and yet perhaps, when I come to
think of it----"

Evors broke off suddenly, as if some startling idea had occurred to him.
Then he turned to the man Akers again.

"I don't think you quite realise that I have introduced you to Miss
Marchant and my friend Rollo Bly," he said. "Perhaps in the excitement
of the moment you overlooked the fact."

The actor seemed to realise his responsibilities.

"I beg ten thousand pardons," he said. "I think if you understood, Miss
Marchant, you would forgive me. You see, not more than an hour ago I saw
a relation of mine whom I have been seeking for a long time. It was a
dramatic sort of meeting, and I am afraid it has rather upset me. But,
Miss Marchant, haven't I met you somewhere before?"

"I am afraid I don't recollect it," Ellen said.

"But, surely--just about the time of the Armistice, I was in town at the
time, enjoying myself after all the trouble, and one afternoon I walked
into the Piccadilly to tea. There I ran against a man named Tennent, who
was in the same regiment as myself. He was having tea with a relative of
his, a young lady, whose name I am sorry to say I have forgotten, and if
I had met you casually in the street I should have said that you were
the lady in question. I should probably have come up and spoken to you."

Ellen smiled a little vaguely. Now she realised where she had seen Akers
before, but just at the moment she did not want in the least to be
reminded of the fact. She had been having tea that particular afternoon
with a distant relative, one Captain Tennent, and she recollected
perfectly well that they had been joined at the table by a brother
officer of Tennent's, who had been introduced to her in a name which had
escaped her memory. But for the present, at any rate, she was loth to
acknowledge this.

"Yes," she said. "I can quite understand. We are always meeting people
who remind us of others and being astonished by the likeness. And yet,
with so many millions of people in the world, these things are not so
very strange, are they?"

Akers bowed and murmured something, that it was quite plain that he was
not altogether satisfied. He had to let the explanation pass, then he
turned to Evors again.

"Can I speak quite plainly?" he asked.

"Of course you can," Evors replied. "Bly is a particular friend of mine,
and Miss Marchant lives here at Crocksands Abbey where she is engaged as
private secretary to Wrath--I mean Sir Christopher Wrath, to give him
his proper title."

"What?" Akers shouted. "That blackguard here? But I don't quite
understand! Why 'Sir' Christopher Wrath?"

"Ah! there I shall have to explain," Evors said. "Unless I am greatly
mistaken you have arrived here at a most critical time. But, perhaps, if
Miss Marchant and Bly will excuse us----"

Ellen was listening to all this with the deepest interest. Then there
flashed into her mind a sort of inspiration--a kind of knowledge that
she alone possessed. It was no time for her to interfere in the
conversation; but perhaps a little later on she would take her part in
the unraveling of what appeared to be another side of the Crocksands
mystery. She glanced at Bly, who seemed to understand something of what
was passing in her mind.

"Shall we go a little further?" she said. "Let us walk round the valley
and back by the Castle Rock. We can leave Mr. Evors and his friend to
their confidences."

Bly was nothing loth. His opportunities for being alone with Ellen had
been exceedingly limited, and here was a chance that he was not in the
least disposed to lose. Just as they were about to part from the others
a telegraph boy came hurrying up the valley on his bicycle. He could
only be going to one place, so Ellen took it upon herself to detain him.

"You have got a wire for the Abbey?" she asked.

"That's right, miss," the boy said. "Name of Amberley."

"In that case you had better give it to me," Ellen said. "Mrs. Amberley
is away for the afternoon, and I will deliver it."

She tore open the envelope and glanced over the contents. It was just a
brief message from Wrath, to the effect that he had been detained in
Barnstaple on important business and would not be back till late, or
possibly not before morning. Then on the spur of the moment, Ellen
turned and addressed Akers.

"I don't want to be in the least curious," she said, "but I gathered
from what you said just now that you saw a relative of yours in
Barnstaple whom you had not seen for a long time."

"I have not seen her for years," Akers said. "She is my sister. She
disappeared in Australia in mysterious circumstances, and I have been
looking for her ever since. Mary is very dear to me, Miss Marchant, and
if you could only put me in communication with her again I should be
more than grateful."

"I think I can do that," Ellen said, quietly. "That is, of course, if
you don't want to get back to Barnstaple within the next hour or two."

"Yes, that would suit me very well," Akers said. "We are not playing
tonight, and I am in no hurry."

"In that case you had better send your driver to put up in the village."
Ellen suggested. "If you don't mind sitting here in the sunshine with
Mr. Evors, and going without your tea, you will, I think, see your
sister coming along the road, and if I am right--well, there is no more
to be said."

Evors looked up with a startled expression his face.

"What do you mean, Miss Marchant?" he asked. "Are you actually
suggesting that Aker's sister is in Lyndale?"

"Well, not at the present moment, perhaps," Ellen said. "But I think she
will be. It is only a wild idea of mine, of course, but it is my
impression that Mr. Akers sister and Mrs. Amberley, the housekeeper at
Crocksands, are one and the same person."

Ellen turned away with that, leaving Evors to make the best of what she
had said. She and Bly walked down the valley together, and, turning
presently, were lost to sight on the grassy slope below the Castle Rock,
where they sat in the sunshine looking out across the blue waters of the
Channel. Bly was quite content to lie at Ellen's feet and look up into
her face. There had been nothing normal between them in the way of an
engagement--he had not given her even so much as a ring; but there had
come a perfect understanding between them in that hour of deadly peril
on the cliffs under the Tower, so that there was nothing to be said in
the way of an explanation. An hour or two before that dramatic event
Ellen had regarded Bly merely as a rather nice boy who was likely to
prove a good friend in case of emergency. But all his fine manhood and
sense of responsibility had come to the front at the first touch of
danger, and quite clearly had come into her own heart the knowledge that
she had cared for him all the time. She liked to hear him talk in that
boyish way of his now that she knew how much strength and manhood lay
behind it, and she was quite prepared then and there, to give herself up
to the happiness of the moment. It was good to feel that Rollo Bly was
by her side ready to protect her from all sorts of dangers, and that if
the worst came to the worst, and she had to turn her back upon
Crocksands baffled and defeated, she had found a haven against all the
perils and trials of the world. She could never go back to the drudgery
of an office again, because Rollo, with all his wealth, could give her
something much better than that. But it was only for a moment that the
material side of the question was uppermost.

"My word," Bly said; "It is good to have you alone like this. It's the
very first time. And now that Wrath is out of the way we can stay here
for hours."

He looked up into her face and took her hand in his. Then he put his arm
about her, and drew her lips down to his.

"I'm a lucky beggar," he said, joyously. "I can't think what you can see
in a chap like me."

"Can't you?" Ellen smiled. "You see Rollo, I didn't know. I always liked
you of course; but if anybody had told me a month ago that I was going
to marry you I should have laughed. Then came that afternoon on the
cliff, and I learnt a great deal. Oh, yes, we are going to be very
happy; but there is a good deal to do first, Rollo, and we must not lose
sight of the fact."

"That's true," Bly said seriously. "We have got to get even with that
blighter Wrath, and see that you come into your own. Which reminds me.
What did you mean by telling that good-looking actor chap that his
sister was here?"

"Because I believe she is," Ellen said. "You see, I am rather fond of
Mrs. Amberley. She and I are quite good friends, and though she looks
old and faded now, three years ago she was beautiful--far more so than I
am."

"Ah, that's impossible," Bly declared, emphatically.

"Silly boy! But don't interrupt me. I have seen a photograph of Mrs.
Amberley, taken three years ago, which would startle you if you saw her
to-day. But then she never goes outside the house and I am sure that you
have never met. This afternoon, after Sir Christopher had started for
Barnstaple, she left the house to walk into Lyndale and take the
afternoon train between there and Barnstaple. She said she was going to
visit a friend up the line; but I believe now that she was going to
Barnstaple itself. She wanted to keep her visit a secret and she told me
to say nothing about it. You remember the story Mr. Evors told us about
Mr. Akers, and that sister of his who was infatuated with Wrath. Of
course, I may be wrong; but I feel pretty sure that Mr. Akers's sister
and Mrs. Amberley are one and the same. I could tell a little more than
that if I liked; but the secret is not altogether mine, and I am not
going to betray it unless it's absolutely necessary. If I am wrong, we
shall soon know, because before seven o'clock Mrs. Amberley will be back
again, and will come this way. And if Mr. Akers does not recognise her
then I am mistaken. If he does, Mr. Akers will have a chance to talk to
her now that Sir Christopher is out of the way. But, come what may, Sir
Christopher must be kept in ignorance of all this."

"It all sounds very thrilling," Bly said.

"At any rate, it is all part of the same mystery," Ellen said. "The one
thing that troubles me is the fact that Mr. Akers and myself have met
before. When he said he had come across me in a restaurant with my
cousin, Captain Tennent he was perfectly right. He had evidently
forgotten my name, but he did meet me, and I was rather disturbed to
realise it. Still, I daresay we can take him into our confidence. I
don't quite see how he is going to help us. But then you never can
tell."

"Well, never mind about that for the present," Bly said. "Let's make the
most of this beautiful afternoon. Whatever happens, your future is
assured."

"Yes," Ellen said, dreamily. "You can't tell how happy that fact makes
me. But if I can stay at Crocksands and call it my own, then I shall be
happy indeed."

"And so you shall!" Bly cried. "So you shall, my darling, if it costs me
every penny of my fortune!"




CHAPTER XX.


Meanwhile, Evors and his new-found friend were seated on the rocks just
outside the lodge gates of the Abbey, trying to make something of the
tangled skein which had found its way into the hands of the man from
Australia.

"My mind is all in a maze," the latter said. "When I got up this morning
I had no idea of what was going to happen in the course of the day. Now,
here have I been looking for my sister Mary all over the world, and I
come in contact with her, above all places, in a sleepy little town in
Devonshire.

"You are quite sure you are not mistaken?" Evors asked.

"Oh, there is no mistake," Akers declared. "I saw her plainly enough in
the taxi. I called out to her and waved my arms, but she did not see,
and the street was so deserted that there was no one who saw me and
attempted to stop the cab. So she vanished in the distance, and I was
left there helpless on the pavement. But it was Mary right enough. The
sun was shining on her face, and I was only a few yards away. But the
thing that touched me most, Evors, was the extraordinary change. You
remember what she was only a few years ago--a beautiful, smiling girl,
full of charm and vivacity, and the joy of life. One of the happiest,
sunniest creatures that ever breathed, and absolutely certain to make a
big mark in her profession. But the woman I saw in the cab was old and
faded, with pale face and melancholy eyes, and the air of one who has
suffered terribly. She reminded me of a friend of mine who once did
wrong and got into gaol. He was a happy, careless, handsome creature;
but when he came out his hair was white and 30 years had been added to
his age. Well, Mary reminded me of that. I tell you, it was terrible,
Evors. What has happened to her since we last met, Heaven only knows.
But I am going to find out, my friend; I am going to find out. You
remember her infatuation for Wrath, and how she refused to hear a word
against him, even when we practically proved to her that he tried to
murder Gordon Bland and yourself over that gold-mining business. But
when Wrath vanished I had an uneasy feeling that Mary followed him. If
she did, then God help her."

"I am afraid you are right," Evors said. "You heard just now that Wrath
is living here?"

"Yes, I did. What on earth does it mean? And where does the title of Sir
Christopher come in?"

Evors proceeded to explain at some length whilst Akers listened with
rapt attention. And Evors took upon himself to tell his friend the story
of Ellen's dual identity. He knew that the fact would be safe with
Akers, and he began to see how the latter was likely to prove a valuable
ally in exposing this conspiracy which lay at the back of Crocksands
Abbey.

"Ah I was quite certain that I had seen the young lady before," Akers
said. "But what does she mean when she tells me that I shall probably
meet my sister here this afternoon?"

"Ah, that I can only partly surmise," Evors said. "You see, Miss
Marchant, as we call her, is by way of being Wrath's private secretary.
She very pluckily came down here to try and get to the bottom of the
mystery of her father's death, and expose the man whom she regards as an
impostor. And, incidentally, to regain possession of Crocksands Abbey,
which, by every law and right, belongs to her. Now, in the Abbey there
is a lady housekeeper who calls herself Mrs. Amberley. From what Miss
Marchant tells me, Mrs. Amberley features your sister in every way. A
few years ago she was young and beautiful, and now she looks old and
wretched. It does not want any vast amount of acumen to see that Miss
Marchant has jumped to the conclusion that Mrs. Amberley and Mary Akers
are one and the same."

"Well, we shall soon know," Akers murmured. "It is almost providential
that Wrath is out this afternoon. Evors, I have got a big score to
settle with that man when the time comes. I have been hoping against
hope all this time, but what I have heard today confirms my worst fears.
If this Mrs. Amberley turns out to be my sister, then I shall take her
away from there----"

"Note quite so fast, please," Evors said. "I make every allowance for
your natural feelings, my dear fellow, but there are other people to be
considered besides yourself. If you do anything rash now you will put
Wrath on his guard, and all the elaborate plans we have made for his
undoing may fall to the ground. I implore you not to be rash. I am
almost sorry that you have found out where I am. How did you manage it?"

"Oh, that was easy enough," Akers explained. "I met Benton in London,
and he told me where you were living. Then, quite by chance, a confusion
of dates threw us out for a week, and, on the principle of any port in a
storm, we elected to put in a few days at Barnstaple on our way to the
Plymouth theatre."

They sat talking there idly for some time till the sun began to go down,
and just before seven o'clock a solitary figure appeared at the end of
the valley and came along the road in the direction of the rock on which
the two men were seated. Evors indicated the woman, then rose to his
feet and walked towards the slope on the edge of the cliff.

"I have an idea that that is Mrs. Amberley," he said. "If I am wrong,
you can follow me, and if you want me call out, and I shall hear. And
good luck to you."

Akers sat there like a graven image until the slim figure in black came
within a few yards of him. He looked at the white, weary face with
narrowing eyes, and stepped out into the road.

"Mary," he said, gently. "Mary, I have found you at last."

The woman looked him in the face a moment, then swayed towards him, and
would have fallen had he not caught her in his arms. Her limbs had
turned as water under her, so that he almost had to carry her and set
her down in an angle of the rocks where they could not be seen from the
road.

"Now, tell me all about it, Mary," he said, gently.

For a time the woman could only sit there with the tears running down
her face and sobs shaking her from head to foot. But after a time she
grew calmer, and something like a smile trembled on that white,
despairing face of hers.

"So you have found me after all this time," she said. "I hoped you never
would. I hoped that none of the people who knew me in my happier days
would ever meet me again. I had made up my mind to live here until the
finish, which I prayed would not be long, but then one's sins always
find one out, and I am no exception to the general rule. How did you
manage it?"

"It was a pure accident," Akers said. "I happened to be in Barnstaple
this morning and I saw you passing in a taxi. Good heavens, Mary! you
have changed, and yet I knew you at a glance."

"Then you followed me, I suppose?"

"No, I didn't. I lost sight of you, and had to give you up. Then I came
over here to see Jack Evors; you remember him----"

"Of course I do. I knew that he was actually living under the shadow of
Crocksands Abbey long before I came down here with Christopher, and,
because of that, I never go outside the house. But it was a case of
necessity to-day, and I had to risk it."

Akers's face grew dark. "I must know the facts, Mary," he said. "You are
posing here in the name of Amberley and acting as housekeeper to the man
who is now Sir Christopher Wrath. I won't trouble you again with my
opinion of that scoundrel, because you know it already. If you had never
seen him you would be a happy woman to-day."

"Ah! God knows that is true," the woman cried.

"But then I suppose no man could ever understand a woman's infatuation
for a rascal. You elected to go away with him, I suppose, without saying
a word to me?"

"But you don't understand," the woman exclaimed. "There were reasons why
Christopher should not remain in Australia. Perhaps, if I had realised
what they really were, I should have stayed behind, and perhaps not. But
surely, Gilbert, you don't imagine that I--why, Christopher Wrath is my
husband."

"I suppose that ought to make all the difference," Akers said, bitterly.
"But it doesn't. And if he is your husband, and you are Lady Wrath of
Crocksands Abbey and the wife of a baronet of old family, why are you
posing as his housekeeper? Why doesn't he properly acknowledge you, and
allow you to take your place in society like any other wife?"

The woman shook her head sadly.

"Ah! that I cannot tell you," she said. "There are reasons, powerful
reasons, of which I know nothing, why for the present Christopher cannot
recognise me publicly as his wife. When he came into the title and the
property he made me consent to come down here as his housekeeper.
Gilbert, if you had lived the life I have for the last few years you
would consent to anything for the sake of a little peace and quietness.
I am absolutely alone in the world; I haven't a friend I can turn to, or
any creature who cares in the least for me. Beyond Christopher's
secretary, Miss Marchant, there is absolutely nobody."

"And you don't know who she is?" Akers said, quite forgetting himself in
the excitement of the moment. "She is not Miss Marchant at all; she is
the only daughter of Gordon Bland, who would be master of Crocksands
today if he had not died so mysteriously at Monte Carlo. It was he who
stood between Wrath and the succession, and there are lots of people
to-day who believe that Wrath put him out of the way. It is a nasty
accusation, is murder, but Wrath is quite capable of it. You say you are
his wife--were you at Monte Carlo when that tragic affair happened?"

Mrs. Amberley rose to her feet and stood like a frozen statue
confronting her brother.

"Is this dreadful thing true?" she whispered.

"Aye, it's true enough," Akers said. "And I firmly believe that if Miss
Bland had her rights she would be mistress of Crocksands to-day, and
possibly you know it."

The woman threw up her hands despairingly. "My God!" she cried. "My God!
what have I done? I never realised this. Blind, foolish creature that I
am. Would that I had died before this dreadful thing had happened!"




CHAPTER XXI.


For some time Ellen and Bly sat there in the sunshine, quite unheedful
of the flight of time. It did not matter much now with Wrath away, and
as likely as not to be absent until morning, and Ellen had taken it for
granted that by this time Gilbert Akers must have met his sister,
because there was only one train she could return by, and only one
method of reaching the Abbey, and that was by way of the valley. But
there came a moment at length when it was necessary to come back to the
affairs of life, so that Ellen rose in due course, and turned her face
in the direction of the Abbey. On a ledge of rock just outside the gates
they saw Evors sitting there alone, smoking his pipe thoughtfully.

"Well, what happened?" Bly asked, eagerly.

"It was just as Miss Marchant thought," Evors replied. "I waited until
the lady turned up, and I saw quite enough to know that she was Akers's
sister. So I left them discreetly, and I have just parted with Akers. He
has gone back to Barnstaple; but before he went he gave me his address,
and he says if we want him he can easily arrange to come over here at
any moment. If I telephone him from the village he will start at once."

"And was I absolutely right?" Ellen asked.

"Absolutely. Mrs. Amberley is not only Akers's sister, but,
unfortunately, Wrath's wife as well. That is why she kept out of my way
when she heard I was down here. She admitted freely enough that she had
been keeping out of my way; but there is no occasion to do that any
longer. I never saw a woman so terribly changed. She was quite candid
about the life she had been leading lately, and she has no illusions
about Wrath left."

"I knew this," Ellen explained. "I knew it, because I overheard a
conversation between those two; but I could not speak about it--I could
not tell even either of you what I had heard. But now that she has told
you I can speak freely."

"I think if I were you I should tackle her on the subject," Evors
suggested. "From what I can gather she knows a great more than she cares
to say. There is something mysterious going on at the Abbey; but that
you already know. You might have an opportunity this evening, now that
Wrath is away."

They walked along the drive together, and presently separated. Evors and
Bly going to the bungalow, whilst Ellen turned in under the big gates of
the Tower and presently entered the house. It wanted still half an hour
before it was time to dress for dinner, so that Ellen made her way in
the direction of the library with a view of clearing up her work and
having the evening to herself. She had barely finished when the
telephone rang.

She took down the receiver and made the usual inquiry. Then she heard
Wrath's voice at the other end of the wire. It seemed to her that
something had disturbed him terribly.

"Is that you, Miss Marchant?" he asked, in a hoarse whisper. "Can you
find Stone for me--at once?"

"If you will hold on I will go and see," Ellen said. "I rather fancy he
is down in the bay fishing. But I have only just come in, and perhaps I
am mistaken."

However, Stone was nowhere to be found. She conveyed this information to
Wrath over the line, and she heard him mutter something to himself that
sounded like an oath.

"You must go and find him," Wrath said. "You must find him. There is no
time to be lost. And give him a message. Tell him there is trouble at
this end, which has come quite unexpectedly. A real live danger that
threatens his liberty. Tell him something has happened in Manchester. I
can't be more explicit, and I want to impress upon you that if any
questions are asked you have heard nothing over the telephone. You
understand?"

"Perfectly," Ellen said. "You can rely upon my discretion, Sir
Christopher. I shall not say a word."

"That's good," Wrath whispered. "Tell Stone to clear out at once. It
doesn't matter where he goes as long as he is not seen, and remind him
that he knows how to get at me if he wants any money. But he must not
sleep at Crocksands tonight. You may possibly have a visit from the
police. If so, you have seen nothing of Stone and are quite ignorant of
his whereabouts. It's a most unpleasant business, and I am taking a
certain amount of risk in shielding a man who has no claim upon me. It
is no concern whatever of mine, but Stone has been very useful to me,
and I want to help him even if I get myself into trouble. I will explain
when I see you in the morning."

So Wrath had no intention of coming back that night, Ellen told herself
as she replaced the receiver. Something had gone wrong with the plans of
those two rascals, and Ellen had very little difficulty in realising the
source of the trouble. Beyond a doubt something had happened with regard
to that lottery swindle, and the police had got upon the track. Still,
she had made a promise and she would do her best to carry it out. She
was still pondering over this new and dramatic development when Stone
came into the library. In a few words she told him what had happened.
Stone listened with much agape and face as white as chalk, for here was
no hardened criminal of the same type as Wrath.

"What shall I do?" Stone stammered. "Where can I get to? I have no
money. From what you tell me I should say that the police might be here
at any minute I have done nothing."

"That is not for me to judge," Ellen said coldly. "From what Sir
Christopher said this trouble has something to do with those
transactions of yours in Manchester."

"What do you know about them?" Stone asked

"Nothing definite," Ellen said. "But please remember Mr. Stone, that I
am not quite a child in business matters. I have done a great deal of
correspondence for you and I am bound to say that I drew my own
conclusions over it."

Stone ducked down suddenly. He fairly grovelled on his hands and knees
as he caught sight of a man in uniform striding past the window of the
library on his way to the front door. There was no mistaking the
identity of the newcomer, for he had policeman written all over him.

"They are after me already," Stone moaned. "What can I do? Where am I to
go?"

Ellen's mind was moving rapidly. There was something here much more
important than the hiding away from the authorities of the man Stone. If
she could hold him in her power a little longer she might play on his
gratitude and induce him to give her certain information which she felt
that he possessed.

"Did anybody see you come into the house?" she asked.

"Not a soul," Stone whispered. "I came along the avenue and through the
window of the little morning-room straight here without meeting one of
the servants. I must get away; I must have money. Upstairs in one of the
rooms----"

"Yes, I know," Ellen interrupted. "In one of those locked rooms upstairs
is practically the whole of the money you plundered from your victims
over that Derby lottery."

"How did you know about that?" Stone said.

"For the moment what does it matter?" Ellen asked. "Come with me
quickly. You shall have money when the time comes, but that time is not
yet, and if I can help it, you will take nothing from that locked room
in the Tower. This way."

She turned from the room, and walked across the hall until she came to a
door in one of the passages, which she opened and disclosed a flight of
steps leading from it into the great stone basement of the house.

"Now, go down there and wait for me," she said. "Feel your way carefully
in the dark, and remain there till I come back. Don't move a yard when
you get to the bottom of the steps."

In less than a minute Ellen was back in the library again, before a
servant could enter the room with the information that somebody was at
the front door asking to see Mr. Stone.

"I don't think he is in the house," Ellen said. "It is just possible he
went to Barnstaple this morning with Sir Christopher. At any rate, he
wasn't in to lunch."

The servant knew that this was true, and so far Ellen felt satisfied
with the trend of events. Then, quite coolly, she walked across the hall
into the portico where the man in uniform was standing. He touched his
hat respectfully enough, and asked if he could see Mr. Stone.

"I am afraid you can't," Ellen said. "Can I give him any message if he
happens to come back?"

"I really must see him personally, miss," the man said. "If you can
assure me that he is not on the premises----"

Ellen shook her head. She did not want to tell a downright untruth, nor
was she particularly anxious to shield the trembling wretch who was
standing at the bottom of the stairs. A little later on she would care
nothing as to whether Stone fell into the hands of the police or not.
But it would not be her fault if that happened before she had wrung from
Stone the information she required. That he held it she did not doubt
for a moment.

"I am afraid I can't help you," she said. "You will probably find that
Mr. Stone is in Barnstaple together with Sir Christopher. Sir
Christopher won't be back until morning; but when he returns to-morrow I
will tell him what you said."

But is was not quite so easy to shake off the man in blue as Ellen had
anticipated. He had a great many questions to ask before at length he
reluctantly departed, saying that he would return in the morning and
hinting that he would probably not come alone. Once he had gone, and
Ellen had furtively watched him disappear under the shadow of the Tower,
she flew down the stone stairs into the vault below. She had a box of
matches in her hand, and an electric torch she had taken from the
library. She flashed the light on to Stone's white, wet face, and he
gave a deep sigh of relief as she came towards him.

"Well?" he demanded, breathlessly. "Well?"

"I have got rid of the man for the moment," Ellen said, coldly. "But I
had to tell him a great many lies before he was satisfied that you are
not on the premises. I think I gave him the impression that you had
already had a warning, and that you were not in the least likely to
return. It was a horrible and degrading business, Mr. Stone, and perhaps
you will tell me why I should have perjured myself to save you from
arrest?"

"Arrest?" Stone stammered. "Arrest?"

"Oh, please don't try and deceive me," Ellen said, icily. "I am
perfectly certain that the policeman had a warrant for your arrest in
his pocket. And you know it. I am not a child, and if Sir Christopher
Wrath's message to me meant anything it was that I should see you at
once, and warn you to get out of the way. He knows. If the matter hadn't
been urgent, he would never have confided all that to me. I think we had
better understand one another, Mr. Stone. The time for plain speaking
has arrived. I know perfectly well that you and Sir Christopher have
been engaged in a disgraceful swindle and that the proceeds, amounting
to thousands of pounds, are concealed in the locked room of the Tower.
If I had done my duty I should have told the policeman so this
afternoon."

"You are very good," Stone whined.

"I am nothing of the sort," Ellen said. "Please don't imagine that you
owe me anything, because you don't. You regard me as just the ordinary
mechanical typist who writes letters and copies documents without in the
least understanding what they mean. But in this instance you are wrong.
And, what is more, I happen to know your proper name."

"My proper name?" Stone stammered. "What----"

"Your proper name," Ellen repeated coldly. "You are Mr. Melrose's
discredited partner, Walter Clapstone. And now I am going to make a
bargain with you. If I can keep you securely hidden here for a day or
two, and get you safely out of the country with enough money in your
pocket to support you comfortably until you can find something to do
abroad, will you hand over to me the deed signed by the late Sir George
Bland-Merton and Gordon Bland whereby the entail of Crocksands Abbey was
cut off? I know that you possess it, and that is the hold you have on
Sir Christopher Wrath. You need not reply at once, you need not ask me
why I am interested in this matter, because I should decline to tell
you. But if I can hide you away in the Tower----"

"The Tower?" Stone cried. "Why, there is already----"

He broke off abruptly, as if he were saying more than he intended, then
he turned his white, despairing face towards Ellen.

"Why not?" she asked. "I can show you the way; I can show you the secret
passage that opens into the basement of the Tower. Take this torch and
go along till you come to what appears to be an oak barrier. In the
centre of it is a piece of carving with a rose prominently displayed.
Press the centre of this, and you will find yourself in the Tower. There
you can stay until my friends here can smuggle you into their motor boat
and land you on the Welsh coast. It is only a matter of five-and-twenty
miles, and they will supply you with money. And now Mr. Clapstone, do
you agree or shall I turn my back upon you altogether? It is entirely
for you to decide."




CHAPTER XXII.


Ellen felt too sure of her ground to press her advantage unduly. She
knew that Clapstone, otherwise Stone, was as wax in her hands now, and
she had by no means lost sight of the fact that he had made no attempt
to deny her suggestion that the vital document not only existed but was
somewhere in his possession. He had hinted to her before in his more
valiant moments that he held a certain secret power over Wrath, and she
knew now that this had been no idle boast. When the time came, she felt
sure that she could compel Clapstone to speak the truth. The man knew,
moreover, that Wrath would throw his confederate over without the
slightest hesitation, and that he would deny having taken any part in
the big lottery. And on the face of it there was nothing to prove that
Wrath had had anything whatever to do with it. But then, Ellen was not
aware of the fact that Wrath, in his arrogance and impudence, had
overreached himself during his interview with Inspector Wilder, when he
had told the official in question that he was the actual winner of the
prize. And this was going to count very heavily against Wrath when the
day of reckoning came.

Any way, Clapstone was safe in the Tower by this time, and Ellen had
agreed to see later on to his creature comforts. And early next morning
she would see Evors and Bly and tell them what had happened. Before
Wrath could return to Crocksands her friends would interview Clapstone
in the Tower and compel him to agree to any course they cared to adopt.
Whatever Clapstone might have at the back of his mind, his desire to
preserve his liberty would override everything else. He must save that
at any cost, and the price he would have to pay for his personal safety
and a swift passage across the Channel would be either the surrendering
of the vital document or the secret of its hiding place. Between the
three of them the truth would be forced from Clapstone. Meanwhile, he
was safe enough in the Tower, and Ellen went down to dinner presently
with a comparatively easy mind.

It was the first time she had ever dined alone with Mrs. Amberley, so
that there was a certain amount of constraint between them. When the
meal was over at length and the two women were alone in one of the
smaller drawing-rooms, Ellen felt free to speak.

"Is there any way I can help you?" she asked. "I want to be quite
candid, if you don't mind, Lady Wrath."

The woman opposite half rose to her feet. "'How did you know that?" she
whispered.

"I can only tell you the exact truth," Ellen said. "I overheard a
conversation a little time ago between yourself and Sir Christopher when
you were in the music-room. I was up in the gallery overhead, and I
could not help listening. I think that on that occasion Sir Christopher
rather forgot himself."

"Ah, that is nothing new," the woman said, bitterly. "It as a very
shameful confession to have to make, Miss Marchant----"

"Please don't say another word about that," Ellen replied. "I cannot
tell you how sorry I am for you. Ever since I came into the house you
have had a certain attraction for me, and when you told me that that
portrait in your room was your own, I began to understand. It seems
almost incredible to me that any one could change so in so short a time.
But why do you remain here? Why do you put up with such treatment at the
hands of a man whom you must hate and despise from the bottom of your
soul?"

"I wonder if I do," Lady Wrath laughed, mirthlessly. "My dear child, we
women are strange creatures. You have on the one side a woman who has
every kindness and consideration at a man's hands, and treats him as if
he were merely made to provide her with money and pleasure. And the
kinder he is to her the more she despises him. And, then, you have the
other kind of woman, like me, who love to kiss the rod. She is neglected
and ill treated, even beaten, and yet one kind word from her taskmaster,
and she crawls back to his feet like a dog. I never dreamt that I
belonged to that class; but I am afraid I do."

Ellen listened with tears an her eyes. It seemed almost impossible to
argue with a despair like this.

"But surely you have friends?" she said. "Indeed, I know you have. There
is your own brother, for instance--the man you met this evening. You see
I know all about it. Why don't you get him to interfere, why don't you
ask him to take you away from here altogether? Your life here must be a
misery."

"This is a very strange conversation," Lady Wrath murmured. "I am
wondering where you got your information from. Of course, you learnt
quite by accident that I am Sir Christopher's wife, but how could you
possibly know that Gilbert Akers is my brother? I know quite well that
Mr. Evors and Mr. Bly are friends of yours, but that does not explain
everything. And yet I suppose it is impossible to keep these things
concealed for ever. Ever since I have been here, I have been keeping out
of Mr. Evors's way, in terror lest I should meet him and be recognised.
If he had met me, I know that he would have found out where my brother
was, and told him what sort of a life I was leading."

"But why shouldn't he?" Ellen asked. "You must have known that your
brother was looking for you everywhere, and you must have known that he
was fearing the worst. Why does Sir Christopher keep his marriage a
secret? Why should he bring you down here, pretending you are his
housekeeper, Mrs. Amberley? I am quite sure that you have done nothing
wrong."

"Have I not?" Lady Wrath whispered. "Have I not? Ah! if you only knew.
But one thing I can assure you. I really am Lady Wrath. I was married in
Australia before we came back to England. We came in an assumed name for
some reason which I cannot understand, and my life has been one constant
misery ever since. And yet I did not go into it blindfold. I knew
perfectly well what was the character of the man I was marrying. All my
friends were dead against him, and, without exception, they warned me of
what sort of a future I was likely to lead. But in those days, I was
wilful and headstrong, and I refused to listen. I was a popular figure
on the stage, and the admiration I was getting from all sides quite
turned my head. And even when I knew that Sir Christopher had made an
attempt upon the life of his cousin, Gordon Bland, I refused to draw
back. But I suppose Mr. Evors has told you all about that."

"Yes, I have heard that story," Ellen said. "From what I can understand
Mr. Gordon Bland stood between Sir Christopher and the title. It was a
horrible business altogether, and nothing could be proved, of course;
but it is quite clear that when Sir Christopher sent those people
up-country in search for gold, he never expected to see them back
again."

"Ah, I did not realise that at the time," Lady Wrath said. "I did not
really realise it till long afterwards. It was only when we got to
England, and were living in a sordid way, that I learnt bit by bit my
husband's past. He will not tell me even now why I am not allowed to
assume my proper name and title. No doubt there is some disgraceful
reason why, but I think, Miss Marchant, you have a good deal more to
tell me yet."

"In what way?" Ellen asked.

"Well, to begin with, the reason why you came here. Why did you give up
a good situation in London to come down to Crocksands Abbey and become
private secretary to a man who must have offended all your nice feminine
instincts the first time he ever spoke to you? Oh, I know Christopher's
way with a pretty girl. I have watched it a score of times. Still, we
need not go into that. You must have had some powerful reason for coming
here. You said just now that you wanted to speak candidly. If that is
so, then perhaps you will tell me what is your proper name?"

Ellen looked up swiftly. "I believe you know it already," she cried.

"My brother told me this evening. It slipped out quite casually that you
are the daughter of Gordon Bland--the man who was supposed to have
committed suicide at Monte Carlo rather than betray a vain and foolish
woman who allowed herself to be dragged into a crime and did not realise
it until too late."

"Yes, that is true," Ellen said. "And when I find that woman my task
will be nearly complete."

Lady Wrath looked up with a queer expression in her eyes. It was some
time before she spoke again.

"Let me find her for you," she said. "Let me introduce you to the woman
who sent your father to his death. Mind you, she did not realise till
too late what she was doing, because she was a mere tool in the hands of
a clever and unscrupulous scoundrel. Because I am the woman who gave
your father that fatal paper!"




CHAPTER XXIII.


It was some little time before Ellen grasped the full purport of her
companion's confession. It had come so unexpectedly, this confirmation
of all she had anticipated for so long, that it was some minutes before
she could gather its full significance.

"Do you understand what you are saying, Lady Wrath?" she asked. "I must
call you Lady Wrath now because that is your proper name. Do you mean to
say that it was you who was responsible for the trouble that led up to
my father's death?"

"Yes, that is exactly what I do mean," Lady Wrath said. "Directly my
brother told me who you were, I saw that there was only one course for
me. I made up my mind to tell you the truth. But before I go any further
there is one thing I must say for myself. I want you to believe that
what I did was done quite unwittingly. I never dreamt for a moment that
your father would suffer so terribly for a mere act of kindness."

"You mean that you were being made use of?" Ellen asked.

"Oh, I was. You really must believe that."

Lady Wrath spoke with her eyes full on Ellen's face. There was
unhappiness and misery in her glance; she was like a woman in the last
grip of despair, and yet it seemed to Ellen that she was telling no more
than the truth.

"Perhaps I had better explain," she went on. "It is rather a long story,
and takes me back for some years. When your father was out in Australia
all that time ago, I met him more than once. Your mother I hardly knew,
but this fact I was aware of: In all his selfish, idle life there was
only one woman that Christopher Wrath ever cared for, and that was your
mother. I knew that the first time I ever saw them together. It was not
what they said, or even the way they looked at one another, but I knew
it, and the knowledge was like a dagger in my heart. There was nothing
wrong, you understand--your mother was too good a woman for that--but I
knew that Christopher had been her first choice, and that she had not
married him because her family had stood in the way. She would have been
terribly unhappy if she had, though that is not the point. I could see
that she was a good wife, and that she cared a lot for your father in a
quiet sort of way, but never as she had once cared for Christopher, and
I knew that Christopher was doing his best to come between those two.
Not because he ever hoped to re-establish his previous relationship, but
because he hated Gordon Bland, and would have done anything to hurt him.
If you ask me how I knew all this, I cannot tell you. Put it down to a
woman's instinct, if you like, but it made me unhappy, because I loved
Christopher in that blind, unreasoning way of mine, and I would have
done anything he asked me to do. The time came when he did bring about a
misunderstanding between your father and mother, though I never heard
any of the details."

"That is perfectly true," Ellen murmured.

"Ah, so I thought. Mind you, my child, I had no illusions when your
father and Mr. Evors and my brother went off on that gold-seeking
excursion. I had an uneasy suspicion that something was seriously wrong.
But even then I was fascinated by the man who has ruined my life. He
told me that he had to return to Europe, and he asked me to go along. As
his wife I went, and I have been deeply sorry for it ever since. And yet
I would do it all over again, even with the knowledge of what I was
destined to suffer. Ah, that is the way of some women!"

"You went to live in London, I think?" Ellen asked.

"Yes, we lived in London under an assumed name, in obscure lodgings off
Russell-square. Sometimes we were well off and sometimes we did not know
where to turn for a penny. I knew that my husband was engaged in
underhand practices, and that he was concealing our presence in England
from his family. Also, he was hand in glove with the man Stone. Stone is
not his proper name."

"Yes, I am quite aware of that," Ellen said. "His name is Clapstone, and
he used to be a partner with Mr. Melrose who was my employer before I
came here. And perhaps, Lady Wrath, you can guess why I threw up my
appointment in London and came down to Crocksands Abbey where I have
spent some of my happiest years."

"I can make a pretty shrewd guess," Lady Wrath said. "You wanted to find
something out. Wasn't there a sort of deed whereby you might have
succeeded to this property? I don't know myself, but I have heard
conversations----"

"We will come to that presently," Ellen said. "I want you to tell me all
about my father."

"I had quite forgotten that," Lady Wrath said. "Will you please remember
that when I went to Europe with Christopher I was not supposed to be his
wife? We travelled in different boats, and it was given out that I had
accepted an important engagement in London, and it was made to appear as
if there were no connection between us. I have never been able quite to
ascertain why Sir Christopher wanted to keep our marriage a secret, but
he was very firm on the point and I always give way to him. Well, the
time came when he went off to Monte Carlo. About that time he seemed to
be quite prosperous, and he hired a yacht called the Sunstar, which he
represented as his private property. I went to Monte Carlo overland and
met him there, and there I was supposed to find your father. I was told
that he was no longer living with your mother; in fact, she had died
some time back, and they had never met after leaving Australia. I was
induced to meet your father, merely as a friend of Christopher's, and he
knew me as an actress who was taking a holiday. Then I saw a good deal
of him, and we were quite friendly. But, except as a guest, I was never
on the Sunstar. And then there came a day when Christopher informed me
that he was desperately in need of money, and in danger of arrest for
debt. He gave me a document which I did not understand, a long, blue
slip of paper, which he called an acceptance.

"I know nothing about business, so I was quite ready to believe the tale
that he told me. He said that Gordon Bland had a banking account with
the Credit Foncier at Monte Carlo, and I was to ask him to get that
acceptance changed into money. I was also to say that it was a personal
matter of my own, and that I wanted the transaction kept a dead secret.
Your father asked no questions, but in that impulsive, kind-hearted way
of his obtained two thousand pounds in cash in exchange for that slip of
paper, and handed it over to me. In all good faith, I gave it to
Christopher and then I learnt afterwards that the thing was a forgery,
and that the name of Lord Maberley had been used for the purpose of
obtaining that sum by false pretences."

The speaker paused for a moment or two.

"You can imagine my distress," she said. "I dared not speak; I could not
bring my husband into the matter without ruining him, and I asked your
father to keep my shameful secret. Oh, I knew quite well that I had been
made a tool of to rob him, but I was still so infatuated with the man
who had brought all this about that I would have gone to any length to
save him. I thought your father was a rich man, and that he would have
found the money himself--oh! God knows what I thought. But instead of
that the bank people discovered the forgery and, without waiting for a
chance of getting their money back, they issued a warrant against your
father. And rather than I should suffer, he fled on board the yacht and
a few hours afterwards put an end to his own life. It was a horrible
business altogether, and it changed me from a fairly happy creature,
full of life and gaiety, and, I may say, good looks, to the dreary wreck
you see before you. But that is the truth, and if you want me to say it
openly, I will do my best to make amends for the crime, which has been
haunting me for the last two years or more. My only excuse is that I was
quite innocent of what I was doing when I took that paper to your
father. And now you know that he was guiltless of any crime."

Lady Wrath ceased to speak. She lay back in her chair white and
exhausted, and just for the moment Ellen was conscious of no feeling
except one of the deepest pity for her. So far there was nothing more to
be said. Sooner or later Evors and Bly would have to know this; but for
the present there was nothing but to wait until Wrath returned to
Crocksands Abbey.

Ellen went up to her room presently with her mind in a whirl and a
feeling that it was utterly useless for her to go to bed. She sat for a
long time with her bedroom door slightly open and a book in her hand,
which she strove in vain to read. Then an hour or so afterwards it
seemed to her that she could hear voices in the corridor, and then
someone tapped at her door.

"Are you asleep, Miss Marchant!" Lady Wrath asked.

"No, indeed," Ellen said. "I am not even undressed."

"Then perhaps you would not mind coming downstairs. Christopher is back,
and he wants to see you."

Ellen ran down the stairs and into the library, where she found Wrath
pacing restlessly up and down the room. The man seemed to be oppressed
and worried, for there was a scowl on his face, and deep lines were
engraved on his forehead.

"Ah, here you are," he said. "You see, I have got back. Where is Stone
to be found?"

"Does it matter?" Ellen asked. "I gave him your message, and he has
gone. I told him that he would know where to write to you if he wanted
money, and that was the last I saw of him."

As Ellen spoke she gazed rather apprehensively at her employer. It was
not clear yet as to whether Lady Wrath had told her husband the secret
of her identity; but if that had been the case, then Wrath's manner
would have been different. Ellen decided that he did not know.

"Look here, Miss Marchant," Wrath burst out. "I am in the very devil of
a mess. I told you that the police were after Stone in connection with
some racing fraud, and that a warrant had been issued for his
apprehension. And now it seems that I am in the same box with him. I had
a telephone message in Barnstaple an hour or two ago to say that the
Manchester police were after me, and for the present I am going to keep
out of the way. Of course, I don't know anything at all about it, but I
have decided to lie low until I am in a position to prove my innocence.
I am going almost at once in the car to Exeter. Upstairs in one of the
turret rooms are all those hampers that came from Manchester. I want you
to get them all down to-morrow, and forward them by passenger train to
an address in London which I will give you."

"I am afraid I cannot do anything of the sort," Ellen said. "You must
not ask me to do that, Sir Christopher. I decline to make myself party
to this conspiracy. By chance I happen to know what is in those hampers.
You must not forget that I have had a good business training, and
recollect that I transacted all the correspondence. I have felt for a
long time that there was something wrong with regard to that Manchester
business, and quite by chance I found out that thousands of postal
orders and Bank of England notes were coming in those hampers from
Manchester. I am not going to be brought into the business at all."

"You will do exactly as you are told," Wrath blustered. "Otherwise you
are no longer in my employ."

"That will suit me very well," Ellen said, quietly. "But again I decline
to handle those hampers."

Wrath blustered and stormed; but Ellen listened to all that he had to
say quite unmoved.

"You are only wasting your time," she said. "If you want me to leave
Crocksands Abbey to-morrow I shall be quite willing to do so, but I
shall come back--oh, yes, I shall come back, because--well, never mind.
And now, if you have nothing more to say to me, I think I will go back
to my room."

Wrath turned upon her furiously. Then with a gesture he signified to
Ellen that the interview was finished.




CHAPTER XXIV.


Wrath strode across the hall into the small dining-room, where his
unhappy wife was awaiting him. It was well into the dead of night now,
and the house was strangely silent. Lady Wrath looked at her husband
with a certain dumb docility in her eyes.

"Now, listen here," he said. "I have been talking to Miss Marchant. She
knows all about it--she knows the story of the swindle from A to Z. I
was an infernal fool ever to have had her down here, but I didn't think
a pretty girl like herself would have any real business head. Still, she
will be out of the house in the course of the day, and she can go back
to old Melrose, for all I care. Now, listen. I am in a devil of a mess.
If I stay here I shall be arrested. The fact of the matter is I have
been too clever. Clapstone and myself put up a very pretty swindle, and
it would have gone all right if one of our subordinates had not opened
his mouth too wide. It was a racing lottery, and the proceeds are in the
house at the present moment. About thirty thousand, in notes and orders.
But a man named Goss got into trouble, and he was the man we picked out
as the ostensible winner of the big prize. He is in gaol now, and he
would have had five hundred pounds when he came out, but he took
somebody into his confidence, and that somebody went to the police. And
now you know all about it. You stay here for a day or two, and at the
end of the week pack up all your traps and go to the house off
Russell-square where we used to hang out. I will send you some money in
a few days, and you had better lie up there for a month or two and then
join me in my hiding-place. So far as Crocksands Abbey is concerned, the
game is up. I shall never come back here again, and neither will you. If
those people find anything out they will understand why--but never mind
that."

Wrath strode up and down the room smoking furiously, and muttering
incoherently to himself.

"I was too clever," he said. "A jolly sight too clever. I thought I
could fool the police, and I was wrong. I tried to bluff Inspector
Wilder, and I thought I had succeeded. It was a mad thing to do, but it
looked like good business at the time, and I fell headlong into my own
trap. Otherwise, I could have put the whole thing on to Clapstone's
shoulders and sworn that Clapstone was working the swindle from
Crocksands Abbey without consulting me. But when I told Wilder that I
myself was the winner of the big prize I delivered myself straight into
his hands. It is extraordinary the mad things even a clever man will do
on the spur of the moment. And yet I was quite pleased and ever, it is
no use crying over spilt milk. You do as I tell you, and get that girl
out of the house. Of course, she will tell the police all about that
stuff upstairs, but that can't be helped now. I had a bit of luck last
week, and got hold of a thousand or two, so that I shall be all right
for the moment. But I am wasting my time chattering like this. You quite
understand what you have to do?"

"Yes, Christopher," said the woman, meekly. "I am to pack up and go to
London at the end of the week. But what about the servants? And who is
to look after the house?"

"Oh, curse the servants and the house, too," Wrath broke out, furiously.
"Leave them both to look after themselves. Say you are only going to
London for a day or two."

And with that, and not another word, Wrath strode out of the room and
into the drive, where the motor was awaiting him. The unhappy woman he
had left behind him threw herself face down on the couch, and gave way
to a passion of grief. Meanwhile, Ellen, in her room, was trying in vain
to sleep. She was up betimes in the morning, long before the household
was awake, and made her way through the silent, dewy woods to the
bungalow. She had a few minutes to wait there until Evors and Bly
appeared from the beach below, where they had been having their early
bathe. They listened with the deepest interest to all that Ellen had to
say, and it was evident that her story had greatly impressed them.

"Won't you come inside?" Evors said. "It won't take me many minutes to
get breakfast, and perhaps you would like to have some with us? It is no
time to stand on ceremony."

"What's the first thing to be done?" Bly asked.

"Well, that is rather difficult to say," Evors replied. "There is so
much to do. I gather from what Miss Bland tells me that nothing is
likely to happen for the next day or two. At least, not before Saturday.
Of course, the police will be over here looking for Wrath, and the
neighbourhood will be humming with scandal before the day is out. In all
probability the servants will leave Crocksands Abbey as soon as they
realise what is in the air, so that Miss Bland and that unfortunate
woman will be left alone in the house. That is pretty certain to
happen."

"Perhaps that would be just as well," Ellen suggested.

"Yes, perhaps it would," Evors agreed. "It seems to me the first thing
we have to do is to interview the man Stone, or rather Clapstone, to
give him his proper name."

"Yes, I think you are right," Ellen said. "But don't forget that I
promised him safe custody across the Channel. I said that you would take
him over in your motor-boat. After all is said and done, he is a poor
sort of scoundrel, and had benefited very little by what he has done. It
was Sir Christopher who directed everything and had most of the spoils.
You see, I have an idea that Clapstone could tell us all about that
deed. Can't we make it a condition that we don't do anything for him
unless he tells us all about it?"

"What a splendid idea," Evors cried, "We will go and see him. You must
smuggle us into the house, and take us along the underground passage as
far as the Tower. I suppose by this time he is wondering where he is
going to get any food from."

Ellen went off presently in the direction of the house, having arranged
that her friends should join her later and accompany her on a visit to
the Tower. So far nothing had happened, nor had Lady Wrath come down to
breakfast. She sent a message to Ellen to the effect that she was
utterly prostrated with a nervous headache, and intended to stay in bed
for the present. It was about 11 o'clock before Evors and Bly appeared
at the front entrance, and presently, when the servants were out of the
way, Ellen admitted them to the house, and conducted them along the
underground passage until they came at length to the oak barrier, in the
centre of which was the carved rose, which concealed the spring that
opened the door into the ground floor of the Tower.

A slight pressure on this, and they were well inside. They found
themselves in a large, comfortably furnished apartment, fitted with
electric light and a small electric cooker, which was driven by a cable
connected with the plant at Crocksands Abbey. In a big armchair by one
of the windows, Clapstone was seated, half asleep, and in an attitude of
deep dejection. He looked up eagerly as the trio entered.

"You can pull up that blind behind you," Evors said. "There is no
occasion for further concealment."

"But if anybody sees me?" Clapstone stammered.

"Oh, no one is likely to see you. Nobody ever comes up here, and the
servants are still in happy ignorance of recent events. We have brought
some breakfast for you, little as you deserve it. Now sit down and eat
that, and we will talk when you have finished. There is a good deal to
be said."

Clapstone resigned himself to the inevitable. He seemed to understand
that everything was finished so far as he was concerned, and the one
thing he had to think of now was his own safety. He ate the meal that
had been brought him, and quite thankfully accepted a cigarette offered
him by Bly.

"Now we can get to business," Evors said. "I may tell you, to begin
with, that the whole story is public property. The police are after you,
and they are after Wrath as well. Allow me to introduce to your notice
Miss Bland. You have hitherto known her as Miss Marchant, but now there
is no reason why you should not know that she is the only child of the
late Gordon Bland. Don't interrupt, please. Moreover, Mrs. Amberley--or,
to give her her proper name, Lady Wrath--has told the whole story of
that vile conspiracy at Monte Carlo. That will be public property in a
few days. We know now that Mr. Gordon Bland was an innocent man, and his
name must be cleared. We also know that, probably on the day of his
death, Mr. Bland signed that deed barring the entail of Crocksands
Abbey, and returned it to the offices of Melrose and Clapstone, where it
came into your hands, and as Sir George Bland-Merton had already
appended his signature the document was complete. Now we want to know
where it is. We know that you kept it as a hold over Sir Christopher
Wrath, and unless you deliver it into our hands you can go hang, so far
as we are concerned. But if you consent to do as we ask, then at dusk
to-night we will run you across, and land you on the Welsh coast."

It was a mere piece of bluff, a bow drawn at a venture, but the arrow
went home to the feather.

"Oh, all right," Clapstone gasped. "You shall have it. I kept it because
I never trusted Wrath, and because I hoped to sell that document to him
for a good many thousand pounds. It is in my bedroom at the Abbey. There
is a compressed cane suit-case there with a false lining. Under that you
will find the agreement, and you can make what use you like of it. It
was signed by Mr. Gordon Bland the day before--I mean it was signed,
anyhow, and was sent back to Martin's Inn, where it fell into my hands.
It was hard luck upon me, but still----"

Clapstone stopped, as there came a step upon the stair leading to the
upper room, and a man walked in. He was tall and thin, with a vacant eye
and a pallid face, and a long, straggling beard that reached almost to
his waist.

Ellen jumped to her feet, and moved forward. There was a strange light
shining in her eyes as she crossed the room and impulsively laid her
hands upon the newcomer's shoulders.

"Daddy," she whispered. "Daddy, don't you know me?"'

The man with the slumbering eyes and ragged beard crept slowly forward,
like one who walks in his sleep. In his shabby clothing and neglected
outer man he might have been some derelict recently picked up on a
desert island. Ellen's words were evidently lost upon him, for he took
no heed of them, and dropped into a chair quite vacantly. Then presently
he seemed to make an effort to grasp what was going on around him, and a
thin, uncertain smile trembled for a moment on his lips. The only one of
the group there who seemed to retain a proper grip of the situation was
Evors, who crossed over to the two windows in the room and threw up the
blinds. They were the only windows on the ground floor at all, and they
looked out on the Channel, that flashed and trembled in the sunshine a
sheer thousand feet below, for the Tower was built on the very edge of
the cliff, and, with the exception of one bedroom, there was no window
that looked inland.

For some little time the strange apparition sat there with his head sunk
on his breast, until Ellen laid a hand upon his shoulder and whispered
something in his ear.

"It's Ellen," he murmured. "My child!"




CHAPTER XXV.


The others stood awkwardly looking on. Bly wanting to say something, but
unable to think of an appropriate phrase; Evors more cool and collected;
and Clapstone red and ashamed and longing to be anywhere but in the
presence of the man he had helped to injure. For the moment, however,
Clapstone was thinking entirely of himself. He was wondering what this
new development would mean to him personally, and whether, in the face
of it, Evors would go back upon his promise to see him safely on the
Welsh coast. Once there he would know what to do; but if this boon were
not granted him, then assuredly before many hours were over he would be
in the hands of the police.

Ellen turned upon him with flashing eyes. "You knew all about this!" she
cried.

"I didn't!" Clapstone protested. "Upon my word and honour, I didn't! At
least only quite lately. I had no idea whatever that Wrath was hiding
any one in the Tower. He told me a lot of lies about the place, and I
saw no reason to disbelieve him until one night, not long ago, I
happened to see something suspicious going on in the Abbey, and I
followed Wrath here. Then I knew; but I swear it was the first time!"

Ellen let it pass, all the more so because she was inclined to believe
that Clapstone was telling the truth. She herself, it will be
remembered, had been watching Wrath on the night in question. She had
seen Clapstone following, and therefore, she was giving the man the
benefit of the doubt.

"It was all a surprise to me," Clapstone went on. "Of course, when you
showed me the way into the basement of the Tower by that underground
passage, I knew that Sir Gordon was here; but previous to the time I
mentioned I had no idea that he was any longer alive. No wonder Wrath
wanted to keep the secret quiet."

"Let me understand what all this means," Bly asked. "If this is really
your father, Ellen----"

"Oh, he is," Ellen cried. "Changed almost beyond recognition, but my
father, all the same, thank Heaven."

"Oh, then Wrath is not Sir Christopher at all."

"Perhaps I had better be allowed to explain," Clapstone said, fawningly.
"So long as Sir Gordon is alive Wrath was merely an outsider. He had no
claim to Crocksands Abbey, and no right to spend the income. But, now
you know where that deed is, everything is all right. If your father,
Miss Bland, were to die at this moment you would be mistress of
Crocksands."

But Ellen was not listening. She was too busy attending to her father,
and trying to win some recognition from him of what was going on. Very
gradually a weight seemed to be lifting from his shoulders; then he
stood up and smiled.

"This is a strange thing," he said. "A very strange thing. Goodness
knows how long I have been here, because I have lost all idea of time.
It seems a lifetime, and all to no purpose, because the truth must come
out, and I shall have to undergo the punishment I was cowardly enough to
try and avoid. It was Wrath's scheme, and weakly I agreed to it."

"But there is nothing to be afraid of," Ellen urged. "You did nothing
wrong, and, besides, Lady Wrath----"

"And who is Lady Wrath?" Sir Gordon asked.

"I almost despair of being able to tell you," Ellen said. "It is all
such a dreadful tangle. But presently you will come face to face with
the woman who called herself Lady Wrath, and you shall hear her
vindicate your good name. But I don't understand, father--how did you
get here?"

Gordon Bland passed his hand across his eyes as if trying to clear the
mist from them. When he spoke at length his voice was clear and strong
enough, and it was evident that he was fast coming back into his manhood
again.

"Let me try and explain," he said. "Out at Monte Carlo I did something
wrong. Not knowingly, if you will believe me, my child, but because I
was asked to do so by a woman whom I liked and respected. To oblige her,
I induced my bankers to discount an acceptance endorsed by Lord
Maberley. That was for two thousand pounds. The acceptance was a
forgery, and the bankers caused a warrant to be issued for my arrest. I
could easily have cleared myself, but by so doing I should have
condemned a beautiful woman to a long term of imprisonment. I preferred
to face that punishment myself. And when I realised what was before me,
I was afraid. I did not know what to do. I went on board Wrath's yacht,
and there I thought it all out. I had made a mess of my life, I had lost
the affection of my wife----"

"You didn't," Ellen cried. "It was all a dreadful misunderstanding, and
Christopher Wrath was at the bottom of it."

"Well, at any rate, I thought so, my dear," Bland went on. "And that was
just the same thing so far as I was concerned. We had parted in
anger--at any rate, on my side--and before we could come together again
your mother died. You were in England all the time, my dear, and you
cannot know how her death affected me. I seemed to be absolutely alone
in the world, caring nothing what happened, and in a fit of despair I
decided to take my own life. By doing that I removed myself from a world
I had ceased to care for, and the woman's reputation was saved. Mind
you, I don't think she had lured me into that trap deliberately; I
believe she was being made use of by others. But what did that matter?
If I jumped overboard that rough night and was drowned, then the whole
thing would be straightened out. And I did it."

Bland paused a moment before he went on.

"But I was not destined to be drowned, Ellen. I was picked up by a
fishing boat and taken to a village about fifty miles further down the
coast, which was inhabited by a handful of simple people who never saw
in the papers anything that was going on in the world. By some means or
another Christopher Wrath managed to find out, and came to see me. He
suggested I should allow him to smuggle me back to England, and because
I did not care what happened, I agreed. And that, in a few words, is how
I come to be here; goodness knows how long. It is not so very difficult
when you come to think of it; nobody ever comes inside the Abbey
grounds, and my wants are few. Besides, all the old servants are got rid
of, and Wrath posed as Sir Christopher, the owner of Crocksands. I think
I heard you mention a certain deed, Ellen. That, I suppose was the
document signed by Sir George Bland-Merton and myself, whereby the
entail was cut off, and if I died without a son the property would go to
you."

"That's right," Clapstone broke in, eagerly. "The deed came back to me
at the office, and I have been keeping it ever since. So long as it did
not fall into the hands of Wrath----"

"Good heavens, man, you are not taking any credit to yourself, are you?"
Evors cried.

"I have done my best, sir," Clapstone whined. "I have told you where the
deed is to be found, and if anything happens to Sir Gordon, then this
young lady here is the mistress of Crocksands. You won't forget what you
promised, Mr. Evors.

"Oh, that's all right," Evors said, contemptuously. "We will come and
fetch you after dark to-night and run you across the Channel to the
Welsh coast. It's a criminal offence to aid and abet a fugitive from
justice, but I am going to risk that, because I have given you my word."

Clapstone heaved a deep sigh of relief, and took no further part in the
conversation.

"But I cannot stay here now," Sir Gordon said.

"Nobody wants you to," Ellen replied. "You have got to come out in the
light of day and assume your proper name and position once more. The man
who has done all the mischief, the man who deliberately planned the
conspiracy that brought you face to face with prosecution, is at this
moment keeping out of the reach of the police. A warrant has been issued
for his arrest and sooner or later he will be found. But the woman in
the case is at Crocksands at the present moment and she is quite willing
to make the facts public."

"Do you know, I am almost sorry to hear that," Bland said. "Isn't there
some other way?"

"I am afraid not, Sir Gordon," Evors put in. "The truth must be told. I
want you to cast your mind back a few years to the time we were in
Australia together. You remember the infamous way in which Wrath behaved
to Akers and ourselves over that gold mining business. It was his
deliberate intention to send us all to our death. That was his way of
getting rid of you and coming into the title and the family property.
And when we got back out of that death trap I made up my mind that I
would get even with Wrath if it cost me all my fortune. That is why you
find me living down here. But it so happens that your daughter has
forestalled me. Just before she came here she was getting a living as a
typist in the office of your solicitor, Mr. Melrose, and when Wrath
wanted a private secretary she applied for the post and got it. She will
tell you why later on. But she found a letter written by yourself to Mr.
Clapstone here, which was on a date subsequent to that of your death.
And when I knew that somebody was being hidden in the Tower I jumped to
the illogical conclusion that that somebody was yourself. What Miss
Bland really was after was the deed we are speaking of. She felt sure
that you had signed it, and that Clapstone was concealing it for his own
purposes, and events proved that she was right. But, of course, you are
not aware of the fact that Wrath married Mary Akers, though he insisted
upon keeping the marriage a secret, and the same woman who was the cause
of all the trouble is at Crocksands at the present moment, calling
herself Mrs. Amberley, and acting as her own husband's housekeeper. I
know she will be glad to meet you, and I am sure she will not rest until
she has told her story and cleared your name."

"Yes, that's right," Bly urged. "Why shouldn't she tell the story? She
is a deeply injured woman who was made the innocent victim of a
dastardly conspiracy, which she probably might have exposed at the time,
only she thought that you had taken your own life. And I don't think she
had any idea that you left a family. She would probably argue that the
mischief was done and that nothing could be gained by betraying her own
husband. But she will be anxious to speak now, I know."

"Why shouldn't we go to the Abbey and see her?" Ellen suggested. "Think
what a weight all this knowledge will take off her mind. Let us go at
once."




CHAPTER XXVI.


But Evors had a suggestion to make first.

"I think it would be better, Miss Bland," he said, "if you went on and
prepared Mrs. Wrath as we must call her now, for this visit. Besides,
your father will probably like to change his clothing before he comes
down with us. And I might also venture to suggest a visit to the
bungalow and a shave."

Bland laughed for the first time. "Oh, I have got quite a wardrobe up in
my bedroom," he said, "though I never use it. There are occasions on
dark nights when I creep about the woods for the sake of a little
exercise, and I have not cared to worry much about my personal
appearance. As to my razors, they must be all eaten up with rust by this
time."

"Oh, we can manage all that," Evors said. "Just run upstairs and change,
and we will valet you at the bungalow. As a matter of fact, I am quite
good at haircutting. You remember how I used to trim the rest of you
when we were in the bush. Now, Clapstone, you stay where you are till
this evening. Then, at nine o'clock creep cautiously down into the bay
where the motor boat will be awaiting you."

They left the Tower a minute or two later, and Ellen made her way in the
direction of the Abbey, there to tell Mrs. Wrath all that had happened
in the last crowded hours. It was a long story that Ellen had to tell,
and when she had finished at length she saw that the tears were running
down the listener's face. But they were not altogether tears of sorrow,
there was joy mixed with them, and a look of relief on the pinched
features that was very good to see.

"It is all marvellous," she murmured. "You cannot understand how glad I
am to hear that things have turned out so well. Of course, I will tell
the story. It must be made public from one end of the country to the
other. Not one single shadow shall remain on Sir Gordon's name when I
have finished. Nothing matters to me now. My husband is a fugitive from
justice, and as likely as not I shall never see him again. But I am
anxious to meet your father and ask his forgiveness."

Ellen explained that Sir Gordon would be along in a few minutes; but
before he came the shadow of a further trouble presented itself in the
shape of a message over the telephone. Somebody wanted to speak to Mrs.
Amberley and when she came back a few minutes later Ellen could see
disaster written in her eyes.

"What is it?" she asked. "What is it?"

"Christopher," the woman said, dully. All the life and strength seemed
to have gone out of her. "He is dead."

"Dead?" Ellen echoed. "I don't understand."

"An accident," the woman went on. "In his car. Not very far from Exeter,
as far as I can understand. He was being followed by the police in
another car, and going down a steep hill a tyre burst. The chauffeur was
unhurt but Christopher's neck was broken, he died instantly. They are
bringing him back here. Perhaps it is as well. Perhaps I shall feel the
weight of it later on, because, with all his faults, I cared for that
man, and there was nothing I would not have done for him. And yet I am
bound to feel that it is all for the best."

"It is very terrible," Ellen murmured, sympathetically. "But perhaps you
would prefer to wait. There is no reason why you should see my father
for the next two or three days."

"No, no," the other said, emphatically. "I will see him now. My child, I
have had so much suffering and misery the last three years that a little
more or less makes no difference. See, I am quite calm and collected
now. Sit down and tell me the whole of the story, so that when your
father comes along I shall know exactly what to do and what to say."

The narrative was finished presently, and it was hardly concluded before
Sir Gordon came into the room. He had elected to come alone, a decision
which the other two men applauded. His change of dress, together with
the removal of his beard and the shortening of his hair, had made all
the difference in the world. It was as if 20 years had fallen from his
shoulders. There was something of the boyish, sanguine smile and the
eager, youthful look that Ellen remembered so well. A few weeks and her
real father would be back with her once more.

"This is a most extraordinary meeting," he said. "But, my dear Mary,
what have you been doing to yourself? I should never have recognised
you."

He spoke with genuine pity and sympathy, so that the tears rolled down
Mrs. Wrath's cheeks freely.

"Can you ever forgive me," she murmured.

"I am not going to say another word," Bland said. "You were a victim of
a plot, the same as I was, and because the author of that plot is your
husband, I will say no more."

"I am glad to hear you say that, father," Ellen murmured. "Because
Christopher Wrath is dead."

They talked this new phase over for some time, until Wrath's widow grew
calm and collected once more. It was her idea to leave the Abbey at
once, but Bland would not hear of it. After all is said and done,
Christopher Wrath was one of the family, and therefore he would have to
be buried in the vault in Lyndale churchyard, and after that it would be
Bland's business to see to Mary Wrath's future. The story would have to
be told, of course; it must appear in every paper in England, until the
whole world knew the amazing story of the disappearance of Gordon Bland
and his return to Crocksands Abbey.

"I don't know why you should do all this for me," Mary Wrath said. "I am
quite capable of getting my own living. Don't forget I am still young,
and that with a few months' rest and peace, I shall probably get my
youth and perhaps a portion of my good looks back. Then I shall return
to the stage."

Four days later the remains of Christopher Wrath were interred in
Lyndale churchyard, and within a week the whole flaming story was
ancient history. It seemed to Ellen very much as if there had been no
break in the pleasant tide of her life, and she was trying to realise
that Crocksands Abbey had not been hers from the very first. It was all
so quiet and peaceful there, all so tranquilly beautiful, when a week or
so later the old servants were back again, and the life of the place
moved once more on oiled wheels. And once again the Abbey gates were
thrown open to the county, so that the neighbours who had never come
near the place in Wrath's time flocked the Abbey to offer their
congratulations. Meanwhile, Mary Wrath had gone off with her brother to
a watering-place on the south coast, where she intended remaining for
some months, hoping that fresh scenes and surroundings would bring back
something of her youth again.

During the time all this was settling down, and things were growing
normal again Evors and Bly remained discreetly in the bungalow, until
such time as they might be invited to join the family circle at the
Abbey. They had carried out their promise to Clapstone, and had been
successful in landing him on the Welsh coast under cover of the night,
and from that moment they had heard nothing from him again. He had
dropped out of their lives altogether, and his name was never mentioned.

And then there came a beautiful summer evening when Ellen sat in the
great drawing-room at Crocksands awaiting the advent of Evors and Bly,
who were coming up to dinner. Sir Gordon stood, a handsome figure in his
evening dress, looking at his daughter with a humorous twinkle in his
eyes.

"I have been hearing things," he said. "You are a wonderful girl, Ellen,
and I am exceedingly proud of you. But have you been altogether candid
with me?"

"Oh, I won't pretend to misunderstand you," Ellen said, with a touch of
colour in her cheeks. "You are speaking of Rollo Bly. He will probably
have something to say to you to-night; but that is no reason why we
should not have a little talk first. You see, dad, I have had rather a
different training from most girls, and I have learnt to think for
myself."

"Quite right, my dear, quite right," Bland said. "I don't mind telling
you I have made inquiries through Melrose, and I hear nothing but good
of that fortunate young man. As a matter of fact, when I was down at the
bungalow last night he did speak to me. But, my dear child, I am not
going to lose you as soon as we have come together again. Some of these
days you will be mistress of the Abbey, and the wife of a man who, I am
told, is almost sinfully rich. This is a big place, with room for us
all, and I don't suppose I shall spend more than half my time here. The
wander blood in my veins is beginning to call again, which you can't
wonder at when you realise that I have been a prisoner for so long. That
is why I want you and your husband to live and make your home in the
Abbey."

"I could ask nothing better," Ellen said. "But I hope you won't be away
more than you can help."

Before Bland could reply, the two guests were announced, and, as Evors
stood talking with his host, Bly drew Ellen aside so that they stood in
one of the deep mullioned windows behind the shadow of the heavy silken
curtains, and they were practically alone in that fine old drawing-room.

"Do you know, Ellen," Bly said. "I was talking to your father last
night, and he promised----"

"Yes, I know he did," Ellen laughed, happily. "We were discussing the
same important topic when you came in. He is going travelling again
presently, and we are to live at the Abbey."

"So, that's all settled," Bly smiled. "Do you know, Ellen, that you have
never yet kissed me? Now, perhaps, as the other two can't see us,
maybe----"

She raised her lips to his freely and willingly as a child might do, and
he caught her in his arms.

"It's all been very wonderful," he said. "And yet I think the most
wonderful part is still to come."



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia