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Title: The Golden Bat Author: Fred M White * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1200171h.html Language: English Date first posted: January 2012 Date most recently updated: April 2012 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy. HTML version by Roy Glashan. 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
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The big clean-shaven man with the florid, humorous face and mobile lips would have passed anywhere for a barrister in prosperous practice, or perhaps, a cabinet minister, well-dressed, assured, and certain of himself, and it was his business to convey that impression, because Lytton Barle was head of the Secret Squad at New Scotland, a position not to be proclaimed on the house-tops. He was seated at a desk in his private room, with a big cigar in his mouth, like some gentleman of leisure, and his younger companion, in his neat, well-cut lounge suit, might have just stepped out of his club in search of a congenial way of passing an idle morning.
"Uncommonly glad to see you back in England again, Ray," Barle was saying. "And more pleased still to know that you are ready to take a hand at the old game. Tired of New Guinea, what?"
"Well, not exactly that, Harry," Ray smiled. "I'm looking for Edward Keen, the man who robbed me of something like £40,000, and, like the boy in the advertisement, I shan't be happy till I find him. But that's a long story of tropical adventure, and, as the last chapter is rather crude still, I don't propose to go into it now. A slender clue led me from New Guinea to London, and here I am. Been golfing most of the summer at Hunstanton, and came on here last Monday ready to take up the clue I spoke of in earnest. Then I thought of you and the early days here before the war claimed me. You know how one thing leads to another in criminal investigation. The man I am after is in London, unless I am all out, and if he isn't a master criminal, I never met one. And I don't even know him by sight. But for the last three years of the war I was in the military secret service, pottering about South America, thanks to my training here, and I thought if I came back and offered to take on the old job, you might give me an assignment, and in between I could perhaps drop on the thread missing from my tangled skein. Follow me?"
"Excellent," Lytton Barle cried. "You are the very man I want as second in command of my Secret Squad. Nobody knows you, at least nobody in the clever gang I am after, and you happen to be a gentleman, which is more important than it seems at first blush. The Secret Squad is a new development, not officially attached to the Yard, and yet acting under my instructions. All done by letter and telephone, no calling here, you understand. We are up against the cleverest gang of burglars I ever struck, with big brains behind the scheme, and they know me and my lot too well."
"What, the lot who cleaned out Lord Barlington's place at Larchester the other night?" Ray asked. "Got away with everything, and no trace behind. I read all about that."
"That's the firm," Barle said grimly. "Motor car robbery quite up to date. But not exactly in the general way. They haven't a car of their own, more or less disguised and carrying a sham number plate. They borrow a car from some private garage—old lady who never has her limousine out at night, and so forth—and return it before daylight. Possibly some chauffeur is in their pay and turns a blind eye on things. At any rate, we do know where the Larchester car was borrowed, because the thieves dropped a spare cover on their way back, and we traced it by the number stamped in the rubber. Elderly gentleman in Bolton Gardens, owner and driver under observation. But I am afraid that he is an innocent party."
"And you want me to take this on, eh? Nothing I should like better. Any special features about the robbery? Odd little incidents that I attach much importance to? You know my peculiarities in that direction. If so, please put me wise."
"All right, Monsieur Dupuin," Barle laughed. "The Edgar Allan Poe model is not a bad one after all. Now, let me see. Um, yes. Do you know anything about tropical butterflies?"
"As it happens, I do," Ray explained. "It was in the last year of the war that I met the great authority on foreign entomology at San Salvador. Man named Moon—John Everard Moon. It was in the leading hotel there, and I was in disguise as a sort of prosperous peon farmer on the spree, regular Spanish-American dog. Moon was out there after a sort of mythical bug called the Golden Bat. Was searching the whole continent for it. Only one of the species ever captured, and thats in some private English home. Wonderful insect, as big as a hawk, and all powdered with gold dust and a peacock blue on the edges of the wings. I was told that the natives in the forest worshipped it, though none of them had ever seen the moth. Sort of fetish, you understand. Why are you asking?"
"Well," Barle said, drily, "the insect you mean was not quite unique because Lord Barlington had one in a glass case on the wall in his library. Not that he valued it in the least, sort of trophy brought home by some globe-trotting relative. But it was a Golden Bat all right, and it was stolen by those burglars, though why they wanted it beats me. Sheer curiosity, perhaps."
Ray drew a long, deep breath. His eyes gleamed oddly.
"Mr. Barle," he said, earnestly, "you have given me a clue worth its weight in diamonds. And some unthinking folk prate of what they call trifles! Trifles, by gad! With any luck, I am going to get my money back and lay your gang by the heels at the same time. All I ask is a free hand here. Give me an introduction to the superintendent of police at Shepperton or in that district and leave the rest to me. Call your men off, and let me have the run of my intellectual teeth for a month, and if I fail then count me out altogether."
Lytton Barle was wise in his generation, and knew whom to trust and the psychological time to trust him. Moreover, he had known Ray in the past, and had a profound respect for his methods.
"Then be it so," he agreed. "I'll get Shepperton on the phone and make that all right for you. Good luck."
Ray drifted out thoughtfully on to the Embankment. The product of Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, born with a fair competency, and possessed of the true adventurous mind plus a subtle intellect, he had drifted almost unconsciously into the paths of criminal diplomacy. To him languages came almost naturally, and two years' training at Scotland Yard gave him all the groundwork he asked to know. Then the war came, and with it his big chance. The South American Republics became his hunting ground, and there he remained during the years following Armageddon. And there in Brazil he stumbled on a fortune, and lost it again in circumstances which will be seen all in good time. And when the hour came for the thief who robbed him to render his account, Ray swore that the reckoning should be a stern one. Now fate was throwing a searchlight across the dim path.
But there had been another lure this perfect summer in the shape of a few months' golf at Hunstanton, which lure had not been altogether unconnected with the eternal feminine. But just as Ray began to regard his dreams, as not entirely visionary, the lady in the case had mysteriously vanished from the Norfolk coast without a sign, and Ray had been looking for her ever since. And three days before he had caught sight of her crossing Regent-street.
Had he been the average man, he would have spoken to her there and then. Being Harry Ray, diplomat and hunter of criminals, he did nothing of the sort. He followed the slim, graceful figure home, and saw her safely into Silverdale Mansions, which is not far from the Marble Arch, and a tip to the discreet porter in the vestibule did the rest. Ray strolled away in an exulting mood and a wild excitement which was not visible on his calmly immobile features.
"Well, I'm hanged," he murmured to himself. "Actually under the same roof as the man Keen, a member of his household! The plot thickens. And now to get in touch with the fellow."
A little later Ray turned into the United Universities Club, and proceeded to consult the telephone directory. He found the name of Edward Keen both in Silverdale Mansions and in a block of offices in a court leading off Lombard-street. In the telephone booth he took up the receiver and called up the latter number.
"That 0057?" he asked. "Mr. Keen? Quite so. May I speak to him for a moment? No, he doesn't know my name. It is not exactly a matter of business. I have a message for him."
"He's very busy just now," the voice at the other end of the wire said. "Hold on a moment, and I'll put you through."
Ray waited for quite a little time. Then a response came in a cold, metallic tone, a suggestion of something like suspicion.
"Yes, I am Mr. Keen. What can I do for you?"
"My name is Ray, Harry Ray, speaking from the United Universities Club. I am deeply interested in tropical butterflies, especially Brazilian ones. Only as an amateur, please understand. I was in Brazil for two years, and know something about the subject. Also I have made a close study of all Mr. John Everard Moon's works on the science. Is he not an intimate friend of yours?"
There was quite a pause before any response came.
"I certainly look after his affairs when he is on his frequent travels," the voice said. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Moon is in Brazil at the present moment, collecting matter for his next book. I am also an enthusiast on butterflies, and my exhibits are only second to those of my distinguished friend. Almost complete."
"With the exception of a Golden Bat," Ray murmured.
He paused, for an exclamation of surprise came from the other end of the wire, and it came sharp, staccato, and rather hoarse.
"What, do you mean to say you are on the track of one?"
"I believe so. I shouldn't have troubled you but for the fact that your name is so frequently mentioned in Mr. Moon's works as an Anglo-Brazilian, whose assistance was most valuable, but when I heard yesterday that a friend was shortly arriving home from Brazil with what sounded like a Golden Bat for me, I ventured to ring you up. Perhaps one of these early days we might meet and have a chat over the matter, I could call at Silverdale Mansions, and—"
"Yes, yes, Mr. Ray. I am leaving for Manchester shortly, and shall not be back before Friday evening at about half-past 7. Suppose you look round at about that hour, and have a mouthful of dinner with me? I may be a bit late, but you won't mind waiting?"
"Excellent!" Ray cried, and he meant it in a way that the man at the other end of the wire little realised. "I'll be there. Good-bye."
So far everything had fallen out splendidly. Moreover, Ray had two valuable days in which to lay the train which he hoped and believed would lead to the exposing of a great conspiracy and a set of daring robberies which for months had baffled the shrewdest brains in Scotland Yard. By the merest accident Ray had lighted on a clue which possessed a double thread—to get even with the mysterious individual who had robbed him of those Brazilian diamonds and force him to disgorge, and to link the scoundrel in question with the alarming burglaries which were setting the police by the ears. Moreover, there was nobody in London who knew more of the secret past of Mr. Edward Keen than himself. And now they were going to meet, face to face, in circumstances that should be utterly disarming, so far as any suspicions on Keen's part were concerned.
It was, therefore, with an easy mind that Ray set out on Friday night to keep his appointment. He was nearly half an hour early for Keen's little dinner, but that was all part of the programme. He would be at Silverdale Mansions before Keen's cab left Euston station. He did not give his name to the manservant who admitted him, but merely stated that he was expected. As he entered the drawing-room a girl seated before the fire rose and came forward.
"Harry!" she gasped, "Harry! Really you?"
Ray took both her hands in his and held them fast.
"Yes, Angela," he said. "Darling, tell me all about it."
They were alone together in the warm intimacy of that perfectly-appointed room, and alone in the world, so far as they two were concerned. Ray placed the girl's hands on his shoulders, and smiled down masterfully into her eyes. Then he took the white face in his grip, and kissed her lingeringly on the trembling lips.
"There," he murmured, "now you understand. You belonged to me from the first, Angela, and I think you knew it. And so you really thought that you could run away from me like that!"
"But you don't understand," the girl murmured. "When I was staying with those friends in Hunstanton, and you came into my life——"
"And we fell in love with one another, darling."
"I did not think, I was too happy to think, Harry. Of course I knew—a girl always knows. And then suddenly, as I realised everything one night, I had to go. I told my friends I had had a telegram calling me back, and I hoped you would be too proud to ask them for my address. And—and that was the end of it."
"And, that was the end of the first chapter," Ray laughed. "I did not ask for your address because I knew I could find you, which I did in the end, quite by accident and followed you here. Then I managed, by a polite fiction, to get invited here this evening. It will be just as well to let Mr. Keen think, when he comes in, that we have just been making ourselves acquainted; in fact, I have powerful reasons for not taking him into our confidence. Angela, you will trust me in this matter? It will not be for long."
"Oh, there can be no other way," Angela cried. "I hate this vile deception, but it must be. Harry, I am more or less a prisoner here. I go out, I attend concerts and have my own friends, but I am a prisoner all the same. I am the mouse, and my guardian, Mr. Keen, is the cat. I don't even know who I am, I have no name I can claim as my own. I am called Angela Nemo, but nemo means nothing. And Mr. Keen will tell me nothing as to my parentage. I have no parents, he says. And when I press him, he laughs, and says it would be wiser for me to remain in ignorance, and hints at dreadful things. How could I let you go on loving me in the face of what I am telling you?"
Ray listened gravely. There was something wrong here, he told himself, some rascality which would have to be fathomed. What was the connection between Keen and this lovely, helpless girl, and why did a man like that allow her to become a member of his household, and treat her lavishly like a daughter? And what devilish cunning prompted him to the fiction that there was something disgraceful and sinister surrounding her birth?
"Darling, I had no idea it was like this," he said. "Not that it makes the slightest difference to me. I could not love you any more if you were the daughter of a duchess."
"Oh, I know, I know," Angela murmured. "But it might be worse, even, than it seems. It might be that there is madness in my family. Or some inherent curse. Why did we ever meet, Harry?"
"So that we might be happy," Ray said smilingly. "So that I could take you out of this mysterious bondage that darkens your innocent life. Ah, I am going to show you presently. Yet I gather you are not being badly treated here."
"No, I am not," Angela agreed. "But I am treated as a child, I am watched and followed. It frightens me, boy."
Ray soothed her tenderly; he could see that her nerves were all awry. Yet she was happier than she had been for months, as if the mere unburdening of her heart had released some mental pressure.
"And so you know nothing about yourself?" Ray said presently. "No little treasures, no photographs or things of that kind. And you can't remember anything of your parents?"
"Nothing," Angela said sadly. "I have been here and in Brazil with Mr. Keen when on his travels sometimes, ever since I was five—15 years ago. I have a confused memory of a dreadful accident in a rocky country where there was machinery and mines, and of some strange man saying somebody was dead. I think it must be that my mother had died before then."
Ray turned it all over rapidly in his mind. The plot was thickening in a manner he had not expected. He looked thoughtfully around the luxurious apartment, and for the first time noticed the cases of tropical butterflies on the walls. With his more or less superficial knowledge of the subject he saw that there were few rarities though the collection was by no means a bad one. Evidently Keen shared his distinguished friend's love of these wonderful moths. That was probably the bond between him and the eccentric John Everard Moon. Perhaps there was some other bond between them, and if so Ray was not going to rest until he found it out. It was likely to be a long job, because Moon had been for a very long time in the wild forests of Brazil, and anyway it was hard to identify that savant with anything savouring of crime or dishonour. However.. ..
"We must get to the bottom of this," Ray said. "Angela, you will have to be brave and resolute. There is a time of danger and peril coming which involves our future happiness, and most likely you will be called upon to play your part. But if you are in the least afraid or if you think that your courage is not——"
She smiled up bravely into Ray's face. There was a steady resolution in her wide grey eyes. He read no fear there.
"Never when I have you," she murmured. "If you think that, Harry, you are mistaken. I would do anything to——"
She drew back hastily as a step was heard on the landing outside. Then the door opened and Edward Keen came in. He discovered the lovers on each side of the fireplace, seated, and apparently engaged in casual conversation. Ray rose and bowed.
"It is very good of you to ask me here in this informal way, Mr. Keen," he said easily. "I came, perhaps, a little too soon, but Miss, er, Nemo—is not that right?—was good enough to entertain me till you came. You had a pleasant journey?"
The other man inclined his head rather formally. Evidently on guard, Ray thought. His host was a man apparently about fifty years of age, though he did not look it until the infinitely fine lines round the eyes and mouth came under observation. He was dark enough to suggest foreign blood, with hair cropped close and shaven high up the back of the neck and over the ears, and on his upper lip was a small black moustache very fine and silky.
"On the contrary, it was very good of you to come," he said. "As you can see by looking round, I am also an enthusiastic collector, and share my friend, Moon's, hobby. Not, of course, that I compare myself with him. But being a Brazilian produce merchant, and having spent half my life in that country, I have had some humble part in those wonderful books of his, and he has been so kind as to acknowledge the fact in print. So you know the country, too?"
"I was there for over eighteen months," Ray explained. "For the benefit of my health. Crocked up in the war, and managed to get out there in a destroyer by a little influence. Having much time on my hands and wanting some recreation, I took up butterfly hunting none too successfully. I have never met the great man, but I was in the same drawing-room with him one night after a big dinner in San Salvador. A fine old gentleman with grey hair and long beard and spectacles. I had no opportunity of an introduction, which was very disappointing, as I wanted to talk about that unique Golden Bat to him. I don't think even he had a specimen."
"Nobody has," Keen replied. "There is a legend to the effect that one was brought to England twenty years ago by some diplomatic individual, but it has yet to be proved. And you really think that you are in touch with one, Mr. Ray?"
"Well, I am sanguine," Ray smiled. "Novices' luck, you understand. A friend of mine up in the mines. He wrote me that he had secured a Golden Bat and was bringing it home for me. He may be back this month or by the end of the year for certain. That's why I took the liberty of ringing you up, seeing that you are an enthusiast and more or less a partner of Mr. Moon's. And if I might venture to ask you to put me in touch with him——"
"Dinner is served, Miss," the butler announced.
It was a pleasant meal well served and cooked, and the wines were all that the most fastidious could desire. It was not until Angela had gone and the two men were alone over their liqueurs and cigars that the subject of the Golden Bat cropped up again.
"My friend Moon will he delighted to meet you," Keen said. "He is very exclusive, at a rule, but any one who is really interested in entomology has his ear. Quite a recluse, you understand, and a bit eccentric. Where he is exactly at the present moment I know no more than the dead. Been away in South America for ages. But liable to reappear at any moment with material for another of those priceless books of his. When this happens he stays at home till the book is ready for the press; buries himself away in his cottage until it is finished; a cottage in the heart of the country with only a dour old man to do everything for him. Even I have to write for an appointment when I wish to visit the Thatched House at Shepperton."
"That's a very strange thing," Ray cried. "Thatched House at Shepperton. Closed for years at a time and nobody allowed to go inside. Kind of mystery in the neighbourhood—what?"
With narrowing eyes Keen looked up uneasily.
"It is as you say," he muttered. "Nobody down there knows that Moon is the great Moon. When he goes away the place is closed. But why does the fact surprise you?"
"Because the Thatched House at Shepperton was burgled last night. By the merest chance I read the meagre details in the 'Evening Mail' just before I came out. There was quite a lot about the lonely house, and the newspaper man had made the most of it—what they call a 'story' in Fleet-street. Wonderful how those chaps get hold of things. And that is where Moon lives when he is in England. Funny I should read that paragraph when I was practically on my way here. I hope no valuables were kept there."
Ray spoke slowly and with his eyes on the man on the other side of the table. Keen half rose to his feet with a strangled cry, and then dropped back again as if suddenly deprived of his strength. He struggled up and rang the bell violently.
"Go out and get me a copy of the 'Evening Mail'," he said hoarsely, as the butler entered. "Get it quick!"
Keen was badly frightened, there could be no sort of doubt about that. It was not alarm or surprise or uneasiness that Ray could read in those darkly glittering eyes of his, but real fear. For the moment he had forgotten all about his dinner companion; then slowly he managed to get himself in hand. As he glanced uneasily at Ray he grew assured, for Ray's face bore an expression of curious innocence that was almost childish in its mute inquiry.
"Has something upset you?" the latter asked ingenuously.
"Well, just for the moment, just for the moment," Keen responded casually. "You see, I am more or less responsible for the custody of the house at Shepperton, and my conscience is uneasy, mainly because I haven't been near the place for over a year. It isn't as if there were any valuables on the premises. But you know what these people are, if they can't find what they expect, they think nothing of turning a house inside out and destroying valuable stuff for the mere sake of doing it. And if they have wrecked their vengeance upon the poor old chap's butterflies——"
At that moment the butler came in with a copy of the 'Evening Mail,' and Keen snatched it impatiently from his hand. For the next ten minutes he was deeply engrossed in the story. It was by no means badly told, and the newspaper man had made the best of it. He described the lonely house at Shepperton, standing in its neglected, weedy garden, remote from the road, and empty for many months, during the absence of the eccentric proprietor, whose name the writer gave, though it was quite evident that he had no idea that he was weaving a newspaper story around a celebrity. He spoke of the old man and his taciturn servant, and how, on and off, for years, the place had been locked up, and left deserted without even a word to the local police.
"All very clever," Keen muttered. "What journalists call a stunt, I suppose. Something to make a splash on the front page, and hint at a sensation, which probably will never come to anything. Now, tell me, Mr. Ray, why should people burgle a place like that? It's only a small bungalow, with one large room, which is a library and museum combined, and three small bedrooms, with kitchen and offices. Electric light and gas and all that kind of thing, but nothing more than that. Looking through the account, there is not even a suggestion that my friend Moon is a man of means. As a matter of fact, he isn't. However, I suppose I shall have to go down there tomorrow and spend the day fooling about with the local police. But if the moths are all right, I shan't worry. It's an awful nuisance, because, I was going north—I mean into Devonshire to-morrow—and now I am afraid I shall have to put it off. However, let us talk about something else."
Ray went his way presently, without any further chance of a word with Angela. Not that it mattered much, because there was a perfect understanding between them, and he had not the least fear that she would say anything likely to rouse the suspicions of the man whom she regarded as her guardian. It was not late yet, and Ray went straight back to his rooms, where he took the telephone receiver off the hook and called up Lytton Barle. He gave a code number, and almost immediately a quiet voice at the other end of the wire gave a number in reply. No more than that, but it was quite sufficient for Ray, who responded with another number, and, after an interval of a few seconds, he recognised the voice of Barle, as it came over the line.
"Ray speaking," he said. "Where are you?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I am in my own quarters," Barle responded. "It's all right, you can speak quite freely. I have given orders I am not to be disturbed, and you can talk as long as you like. Is there anything doing?"
"I really begin to believe there is," Ray responded cheerfully. "I have just been having a most entertaining evening with a man called Keen, who lives at Silverdale Mansions, and has offices as a Brazilian produce merchant in the City."
"Ah, not very illuminating," Barle murmured.
"Wait, my friend, wait. You remember telling me about that unique butterfly which was stolen from Lord Barlington's place in the big burglary the other night? The little incident you mentioned as of no importance, but which struck me as being of great significance. Well, as a matter of fact, it is. You see, this man Keen is a great friend of John Everard Moon, the greatest living authority on entomology, in fact, Moon frequently mentions Keen in his books. Now, it is a subject I am rather keen on myself, and, for reasons which I don't want to go into at present, I made an excuse to ring up Keen at his City office, and told him that I was in touch with a Golden Bat, and, as I expected, he rose to the bait. You see, I wanted to get into his house."
"Why?" Barle asked.
Ray was silent just for a moment. There was no particular reason why he should tell his chief all about Angela, because it was more or less of a sacred nature, and, up to the present, at any rate, had nothing whatever to do with the business in hand.
"Don't press me on that point, please, will you?" he asked. "I wanted to get into the home, or rather the flat, where Keen lives, and I managed it. Now, let's get hack to the essentials, shall we? Last night, there was a burglary at a little establishment called the Thatched House at Shepperton, and, strangely enough, the house belonged to a man called Moon."
"What, the great man in question?" Barle cried.
"Certainly. And it wasn't a coincidence, because, between you and me, I burgled the house myself. With that permit of yours I had not any trouble with the authorities at Shepperton. I merely broke in through the closed shutters of the big room there and left the windows wide open. I knew that the police would find them in that state, and they did. Mind you, I didn't take anything out of the house, I didn't want to. What I really wanted to do, I shall tell you in due course. I managed to convey a hint as to what had taken place to a young journalistic friend of mine, and he made quite an interesting story of it for his paper. If you will get a copy of the 'Evening Mail,' you will see it for yourself. Quite a good story."
"You are too subtle for me," Barle laughed.
"Oh, I don't think so. You will see when next we meet what I am driving at. Now, after dinner this evening, I told Keen all about the burglary at his friend's house, and I never saw a man more frightened in my life. It was only for a minute or two, but there was no mistaking his terror. There is something very sinister hidden in that lonely old bungalow, which is frequently shut up for years at a time, and Keen knows all about it. And I know a good deal about Keen—I wasn't out in Brazil all those months for nothing. Now, I want to have a free hand in the investigations of that burglary. I want to come and go as I like, but I don't want Keen to know that I am interested. The best thing, I think, is to have him watched, and, when he is safely out of the way, I can go down to Shepperton and potter about there to my heart's content. I know Keen is up to some mischief, because he told me tonight that the whole thing was a nuisance, because he has important business just now that calls him to the North. And, I didn't fail to notice that when he said 'North' he suddenly switched off into 'Devonshire.' I feel sure he is going North at the first available opportunity, and I am going to ask your men to track him, and see him safely out of London, so that I can have a free hand at Shepperton. I haven't the least idea what I am going to find in the Thatched House; perhaps nothing, but I am rather more sanguine than that."
"All right," Barle said. "It shall be as you say. And now for a bit of news. There was another of those baffling robberies the night before last, between York and Scarborough, and a pretty fine haul the rascals got away with. They actually had the impudence to travel from York to just outside Scarborough in the big Rolls Royce belonging to the man who was robbed. It had gone into York for a little tuning up, and they got it from the garage by a forged letter, delivered by a man dressed as a chauffeur. Then when they had laid hands upon the plunder they drove back and left the car on the roadside. Now, what do you think of that!"
"Well, I think we have got our work cut out. It seems pretty evident to me that it is the work of the same lot who raided Lord Barlington's house. And that brings me back to the point. Do you think you could get me a few minutes' interview with his lordship? It must be done very quietly, and in such a way as not to attract attention. Come about naturally, do you understand? I think he will be able to tell me one or two facts of more than ordinary interest. Now I know he is a member of my club, the United Universities, though he very seldom goes there. But if you could arrange for him to drop into the small library there about tea time to-morrow we should not be wasting his time or mine."
"Very well," Barle agreed; "I will do what I can, and if it's all right I will call you about lunch time."
With that, the conversation ceased, and Ray went thoughtfully to bed. It was just on the luncheon hour the next day when a message came from Barle to the effect that the interview had been arranged, and that Lord Barlington would be on the spot at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and in due course Ray found himself alone with the tall, distinguished-looking diplomat who had spent most of his life in the service of his Sovereign.
"Very good of you to see me like this, Lord Barlington," Ray said. "I won't detain you long, but there are just a few questions I would like to ask, because I may be on the track of the clue to the robbery at your house. I dare say that Mr. Barle has told you all about me——"
"Oh, yes," Barlington said. "Really most interesting. A secret squad of educated men, quite unknown to these scoundrels. An excellent idea! And I understand that you spent some years in the English Army Secret Service.
"In Brazil and other parts of South America. But particularly in Brazil," Ray said, significantly. "Most of my time was passed at San Salvador. At other times I was at Monte Video. I think your lordship knows those parts."
"God bless my soul—yes!" Barlington exclaimed. "I was Minister-in- Charge at both places."
"Quite so!" Ray smiled. "And may I ask your lordship if you were in any way interested in tropical butterflies?"
"Butterflies!—butterflies! Certainly not."
"Ah!—that is rather disappointing," Ray said. "I hoped perhaps you were, seeing that you had an almost unique specimen in a case in your library. I am alluding to an insect called the Golden Bat, which, I am informed, was stolen from your house, though why the burglars wanted to take that is a mystery."
Lord Barlington looked a little grave. His benign expression had given way to one of cold austerity.
"There are some questions," he said, "that I would rather not answer—questions relating to painful incidents in one's life which are best forgotten. And surely the freak idea of taking away that worthless handful of dried fluff cannot possibly have any bearing on the problem which you have to solve."
"I am afraid your lordship must allow me to be the best judge of that," Ray said firmly. "You never know what the faintest clue is likely to lead to. I believe that I am on the track of big things—in fact, I know I am. But I should never have got as far as I have if Mr. Barle had not happened to mention to me the incident of the stolen butterfly. Now, Lord Barlington."
The old diplomatist hesitated for some little time.
"Oh, well!" he sighed heavily. "If I must—I must. But it is a painful business and relates to a son of mine who died out in Brazil in tragic circumstances some seventeen years ago. And when I say tragic, I mean disgraceful."
"I want you to understand," Barlington began. "That I was left a widower with two children, both of whom were quite young. My elder son has never caused me the least anxiety, and of him I say nothing. But Charles was different. I had to leave him to strangers, because, after the death of my wife, I threw myself, heart and soul, into my work, which kept me for the best years of my life abroad. So you will understand that my boys had largely to bring up themselves. Charles ought to have been all right; he was in perfect surroundings with the right sort of people, and at Eton he was a popular favourite. A good sportsman, and all that sort of thing. But I suppose there was a weakness somewhere, and at quite an early age he began to go astray. It was after one particular, disgraceful episode that I determined to have him with me out in South America. He came sullenly enough, but he did come, and for a year or two everything went well. Then, during one long leave of mine, he broke out again, and got himself into the most serious trouble with the authorities. The affair was too grave for me to interfere, and he fled up country with the girl he married. I never saw her, though I believe that she was a lady who had come out there as English governess to a wealthy Spanish-American family, but when Charles got mixed up with some sort of revolutionary business up in the hills where the Brazilian mines are, it was too late to do anything, and my unfortunate boy was shot as a spy, or betrayed into the hands of some murderous gang, and those miscreants not only shot him, but murdered his wife as well. I should never have known this, if it had not been told me a year or two later by a man who had come down country, and had been very nearly an eyewitness of the deplorable affair. He brought with him my boy's belongings in the shape of some packing cases, and when I came to open them, I found amongst them a little case that contained the Golden Bat. And, for some reason, I kept it, perhaps because it was rare, perhaps because it was extraordinarily beautiful, but I suppose mainly for sentimental reasons. At any rate, it was very good of Keen to take all that trouble."
"Who?" Ray almost shouted. "Who?"
"Keen, a man named Keen," Barlington said, looking up in mild surprise. "Edward Keen. He was a perfect stranger to me, and I have never seen him since. But I thought it was very nice of him to saddle himself with all those things."
Ray nodded absently. He was lost in a whirl of speculative thought, and out of it was gradually crystalising a stupendous idea. He was like a man who, in searching for an emerald, had suddenly blundered upon a great, shining-diamond. And the light of it dazzled him. But he put all this sternly out of his mind now, for there were other things to think of.
"I am indeed sorry to rake up all this unpleasantness," he said. "And all the more so, because I cannot even tell you why I am asking the questions. But you have given me a really valuable piece of information, which ought to lead to great results."
With that, they parted, and for the next few hours, Ray was free to pursue his own line of thought. The more he pondered over the problem, the more confused he grew. But somewhere in the back of the gloom, he could see a ray of light. Then, next morning, came one of those mysterious messages from Barle to the effect that Keen had left London by way of Paddington Station, as if on his way to the West, and that he had left the train at Reading, and had proceeded North, via Didcot and Oxford.
"Oho," Ray said softly to himself. "Well, I was right after all. And now, I think I will just run down to Shepperton, and have a good look over the Thatched House."
Armed with the proper credentials, there was no trouble whatever in reaching the Thatched House without attracting attention. He took with him an intelligent constable that he picked up in the police station, after a chat with the sergeant in charge there.
"Now look here," he said. "I want you to understand that I am a stranger to you people, and that I never heard the name of Barle mentioned. I am merely in here now asking a casual question. If any of your constables meet me in the street, they are not to speak to me, mind, that is, unless I give them the sign first. I should be down here frequently, and most of my time will be spent in the Thatched House. But I shall let you know when I am coming and it will be your duty, sergeant, to detail one of your men to keep an eye on the bungalow and give me the alarm in case anybody approaches it, whoever he is. I know there is no danger to-day, and that is why I am taking this man with me. No, you are not going to walk with me through the village, oh dear no. You will lag at a respectful distance behind, and see that we are not watched. Then, when the coast is clear, join me inside the house. By the way, have you had any journalists hanging about here during the last day or so?"
"No, sir," the sergeant grinned. "They have all cleared off. When they found there wasn't much in it, they stopped troubling us. But, if anything big turns up——"
"If anything big turns up," Ray said shortly, "they won't know anything at all about it. I will see to that all right."
He strode out of the police station into the sunlight, stopping just for a moment to light a cigarette, then, in an aimless sort of way with the policeman loitering a hundred yards behind, he drifted out into the country and across the footpath over the fields leading to the bungalow. It was a low, thatched building, standing all by itself, with nothing more than a cart-track on the far side, by which tradesmen had been in the habit of approaching the house. The bungalow itself had evidently been fenced off in the corner of a field, and within recent memory, somebody with a decided taste for gardening had made a successful effort to create a floral oasis there. The lawn was ragged with unshorn grass, the paths weedy, and the wide herbaceous borders choked with docks and nettles. But here and there flowers held up their heads, dahlias and stocks, and delphiniums struggling hard to live in the choking undergrowth. With a little care and attention, and by the employment of a couple of men for a week, the garden would have been a smiling paradise again. But, as it was, with weeds and flowers mixed, it presented a melancholy appearance of desolation and decay. Beyond it was a small orchard with broken frames here and there, and, in the far corner a wired enclosure which evidently had once contained poultry. Ray had a feeling as he looked round that the world was very far off just then. But it was just the sort of place where a recluse and a man of science would hide himself from the public gaze, and devote himself exclusively to his work, and from that side Ray could see nothing sinister about it. In front of the bungalow itself was a wide flagged terrace, and in the centre an antique leaden pump, which probably at one time had been over a well in the field, a well obviously used for the purpose of watering cattle. Some one had planted a Dorothy Perkins in a fissure of the pavement, and under this the pump was half hidden.
But all this troubled Ray not at all. He waited for the officer to come up and admit him, and, once inside, and secure behind the shuttered windows, he switched on the light, wondering, meanwhile, how much it had cost Moon to have the cable taken from the main road as far as the bungalow, and why? But this, for the moment, was of little matter. He was standing presently in the middle of the big library, the walls of which were literally covered with cases of butterflies and insects, probably the finest collection in the world. There were but a few books in one dark corner, and in the centre of the room a long writing table, every drawer of which was empty. Search as he would, Ray could find nothing in the shape of papers or documents to identify the house with its owner. He wandered aimlessly from room to room, looking for something, he knew not what, in the hope of stumbling on some clue, however small, by which he might establish a link in the chain which was slowly forming in the back of his mind. But, so far, nothing.
Everything was perfectly neat and tidy, the cooking utensils in the kitchen, the ashes in the open grate, which had not been removed, though the hearth was tidy enough; even the kitchen sink was sweet and clean. And yet, over everything there was that faint film of almost invisible dust that gathers in a house even when it is deserted and no one comes inside the front door for months. It was the same in the two plain bedrooms, where the beds were made, the pillow slips in their place, and the white linen bedspreads with their fancy borders just as they had been left when Moon last turned his back upon his bungalow and locked the front door. Nothing here to strike the most vigilant eye.
Then suddenly, in the better bedroom of the two, Ray came up all rigid, like a pointer in a turnip field. Very gently, with his little finger nail, he touched the bedspread and examined a minute speck of dust under the pink tip. From his pocket he produced a magnifying glass, and bent over four twig-like brown stains in the centre of the white linen cloth. He shut off the light, and threw back the shutters so that the brilliant sunshine fell exactly athwart the bed. He turned to his companion.
"Go out in the garden and get me a feather," he said. "A small, light feather. You will be sure to find one in that old fowl house. A white feather for choice. Be quick."
With the feather he lightly brushed the brown twigs, then bent over with his glass again. He smiled to himself as he scratched delicately at one of the stains, and, almost daintily, nibbled at his finger tips. It was like a mouse nibbling cheese.
"Found anything, sir!" the policeman asked.
"Yes, I have found a good deal," Ray smiled gently. "I have found that somebody has been here within a comparatively short time, and that this somebody, whoever he is, had a meal cooked in the house, and, moreover, partook of it in bed. I should say that it was breakfast, because a man does not usually indulge in eggs and bacon at any other time. Anyway, it is not long ago that somebody sat up in this bed and had a meal of eggs and bacon, and obviously somebody else cooked it, because a man doesn't get up and go back to bed to breakfast. Besides, what are those cinders doing in that very neat kitchen, otherwise? I shouldn't be at all surprised if two people have been living here for quite a long time."
The police constable looked at Ray with a certain puzzled admiration, and was evidently anxious to know what all this deduction meant. And Ray was in the mood to tell him.
"Now, look here," he said. "Quite between ourselves, and it doesn't go any further, you understand. We are on the verge of a very big thing here, and if you do exactly as I tell you and keep your mouth shut, you ought to get something out of it for yourself. Look at those four brown marks, like the twigs of a tree. Close together, aren't they? Now, what do you make of them? But, of course, you don't know. Well, to my mind, they are the marks of a greasy fork."
"So they are, sir?" the constable cried. "Precisely. A four-pronged fork."
"Yes, a four-pronged fork that has fallen off a plate. A greasy fork probably with bacon fat on it. But that is a detail. You will notice that, save for a little fine dust settled on them, the lines are quite distinct and clean. Therefore, they must have been made within recent memory. Somebody has been living here, or hiding here, almost under the eyes of you local police, and you haven't been any the wiser. Oh, I know. This is a lonely spot, and if these people have been using the Thatched House for a hiding place, or as a rendezvous for a big robbery gang, it would not be easy to spot them, and they could come and go almost as they liked. At any rate, they have been here lately, feeling quite sure that they were safe in Mr. Moon's prolonged absence. Not a bad idea, either. Come along, we will go and have a look round the house, and see if we can find anything."
For an hour or more, Ray searched the place from top to bottom without coming on anything further in the way of a clue. There were no provisions in the house, from which he deduced the fact that whoever was using the bungalow for illicit purposes was taking no risks. Probably they brought their provisions with them each time they came. He had more then a shrewd notion whose was the master mind behind the whole business. But that, for the moment, was quite a small issue. Apart from the clue in the bedroom, there was nothing to suggest that the house had been used for months, everything was nearly put away in its place, there were no papers or documents, nothing so far as Ray could see, beyond the hundreds of cases of tropical insects on the walls. He knew something about these, and a close examination of them was a work of unadulterated satisfaction. And then, when he had almost finished his search amongst that mass of brilliant colouring, he pulled up with a start presently in front of a certain case.
It was only a small box, some twelve inches square, with a front of glass, but behind it was an undoubted specimen of the Golden Bat. Here was something, at any rate, that was more than worth the trouble he was taking in the matter. The Golden Bat was supposed to be unique, the loveliest insect in the world, and one which even Moon, the greatest authority on the subject, confessed in his latest work that had, up to now, successfully evaded him. And yet, here it was, tucked away amongst his collection as if it had been there for a number of years.
But Ray knew better than that. He knew perfectly well that this case had only recently been placed in position, and, moreover, that it was the specimen which had been taken away from Lord Barlington's place during the recent burglary. But who had caused it to be put there? Why had it been added to this collection without loss of time? If Moon had been in England, it would have been a different matter. There was only one man who could have had a hand in this, and that was Keen. By some means or other, the Golden Bat had come into Keen's possession, following the sensational burglary, and here it was, in damning evidence against him.
But this, for the moment, was of minor importance. Ray laid his hand on the case, and, with a little patience, managed to detach it from the wall. As he expected, it was not fastened to the plaster, but had been forced into a space which, by sheer accident, more or less fitted it. Very carefully, so as not to damage the beautiful insect inside, Ray laid the case on its edge.
"There you are," he said to his companion. "Now, I don't suppose you attach much importance to this exquisite butterfly, but it is going to prove of vital consequence to some people. That, my friend, is called a Golden Bat, and is probably the only specimen in the world. If you should ever come across another one, I shall be glad to hear about it without delay. However, that is very remote. Now, look here. You will notice that the side of this case is made of thin sheets of mahogany, which, up to lately, were highly varnished. If you look closely, you will see that the varnish has been sandpapered off, and even planed at the edges. Have you any idea why?"
"I think so, sir," the officer said cheerfully. "I should think that it has been pared down to fit that space."
"That is one up to you," Ray said. "Quite right. And I should say—Hello—what have we here?"
Without waiting for an answer to his own question, Ray lifted the next specimen case from its hook on the wall. It was a large case, and disclosed the wall paper behind, which showed up, not clean and unfaded as it should have done, but stained and discoloured, with here and there broken patches which had been gummed down again by strips taken from the edge of a sheet of stamps. To the ordinary eye, there was nothing here out of the common, but those shiny fragments seemed to interest Ray to an extraordinary degree.
"Ah, now we are getting on," he said. "Go as far as the local post office, and bring me back a few pieces of that sort of stamp paper. When you return, I will show you something."
The officer departed, obviously unwillingly, and the door had hardly closed behind him when Ray got to work. With a thin-bladed knife he removed the almost transparent paper, taking infinite pains not to disturb the surface below. Then, when this was finished, he removed the large square of wallpaper in its entirety, and disclosed a square cavity beyond. Into this, he thrust his arm as far as it would go, but even then he had not reached the far end of the opening. Presently on the table lay a complete set of house-breaking implements, together with the tools used in the opening of safes. It was far the most complete and elaborate plant that Ray had ever seen, and he felt really enthusiastic on the subject of the finish and workmanship. He was a connoisseur in such things, and for quite a long time he stood there looking almost lovingly at the shining steel, tempered to perfection, and the gas plant which was a model of neatness, and compactness, which left nothing to be desired.
But the secret hiding place was by no means exhausted yet. The next thing that came to view was a small parcel of uncut Brazilian diamonds, some specimens of platinum, and what appeared to be a sort of legal document, in Spanish, which Ray proposed to read, in due course, at his leisure. Last of all, he removed a large registered envelope, containing a mass of papers, and some faded photographs, which were evidently amateur work, but which Ray, with his knowledge of the subject, felt sure had been taken in the light of some foreign sun. It was impossible, in the time at his disposal to go through the whole of these, and very reluctantly Ray was on the point of abandoning the idea. At the same time he was sure that he had stumbled upon a really important clue, which clue might slip through his fingers altogether. It would be bad luck if the people he was after decided to remove the whole of them to another place, but the contingency was there, and on the spur of the moment Ray had to decide what he was going to do about it. Then the solution flashed into his mind.
"Yes, I think I can do that," he told himself. "These people would not have any suspicions, and I should have the original documents in my own hands, without their being any the wiser. I think this is a job for my friend, Martin Cranston, that is, if I can only find him. Well, I am going to take the risk, and if Cranston happens to be out of London, I will put these back to-morrow. Yes, I think that in the right thing to do."
A few minutes later the local constable returned and laid the thin strips of paper on the table. His eyes opened wide, and he gave a gasp of astonishment as he saw the litter there.
"Mean to say you have found all that, sir?" he asked.
"That, and a great deal more," Ray smiled drily, as he placed the registered envelope in his pocket. "Now perhaps you begin to understand what we are up against here. I don't suppose you have had much experience with up-to-date burglars, but let me tell you that is the finest set of house-breaking and safe-breaking implements that I have ever seen. Scotland Yard contains nothing like it. That little collection on the table there must have cost every penny of £5000. Now perhaps you begin to understand what we are up against."
"Good lord, sir," the policeman gasped. "Not the big gang? Not the lot that the Chief was telling me about?"
"It looks like it, the cleverest lot in England. And this is their headquarters. Not a bad idea, eh, for them to come here and hide themselves in the empty house of an innocent old gentleman, who devotes his life to collecting butterflies? About the last place in England where anybody would look for them."
"Ah, you are right there, sir. But we'll keep a watch. Now that we know where to look for them, we'll——"
"You will do nothing of the kind," Ray said curtly. "That is the last thing in the world I want. Neither you nor any other officer must come near this place, except in the ordinary course of duty. I don't want any bungling amateurs getting in my way. If it is necessary for the house to be placed under observation, it will be done from London. You tell your chief that I don't want to see him again if I can help it, because one never quite knows who is hanging about. Now, come along and help me to put these things back where they came from."
It was rather a long job, but presently the sheet of wallpaper was replaced and the bits of gummy substance put back again exactly as they had been before. Then the cases were restored to the wall, and at length Ray professed himself to be satisfied.
"I think that is all for the present," he said. "You go quietly back to your station, and I will get away across the fields. And mind, not a word of this to anybody but your chief. I shall probably want you later on, and if you show yourself discreet and alert, I won't forget to put in a good word for you with the people of Scotland Yard when the time comes."
Ray made his way back to London again by a somewhat circuitous route, and once in his rooms, got on the telephone to Barle, whom he was fortunate enough to find in his office. He gave him a brief comprehensive account of what had taken place, and the great man professed himself to be satisfied.
"Well, you haven't been wasting your time, anyhow," Barle said. "We shall know exactly what to do when the right time comes."
"But that won't be yet, surely?" Ray asked uneasily. "For heaven's sake don't get in my way now. Of course, we could lay the whole lot of them by the heels if we raided the place when they were there, but I want a good deal more than that. There is something more than mere burglary behind this business, which has a great deal to do with my future. Please don't take any steps in this matter without consulting me first."
"Oh, you can make your mind easy on that point," Barle laughed. "I will leave it entirely in your hands, and if you fail, your blood will be on your own head."
"I am not going to fail," Ray said doggedly. "This is going to be a big sensation. One of the biggest of our time."
It was an hour later before Ray ran the man he wanted to earth. He found him at length in a big attic over a shop in Bloomsbury, a wide, bare room, almost devoid of furniture, with a long deal table in the middle, and a ragged apology for a bed huddled away in one corner. On a chair stood a tray, with the remains of a meal, and by the large table sat a man with a thin, gaunt face, and a lean head, the hair of which was silver grey, quite prematurely grey, for, despite the ravages of dissipation and disease, the solitary occupant of the garret could not have been much more than forty. Ray marked the shaking hand and the bloodshot eyes, to say nothing of the little, brown scars upon the wrist, which were scored, over and over again, with the marks of a hypodermic needle.
As Ray knocked and entered, the man sitting there in his shirt-sleeves growled something, and looked up with a sullen scowl on his thin sensitive face. Then he changed colour slightly, and forced a laugh to his lips.
"Well, this is quite an unexpected pleasure," he said. "Fancy an old acquaintance looking me up. Sit down. I am afraid I can't offer you anything very comfortable in the way of a chair, but if you like to remove those grizzly fragments of what I humorously term my breakfast, you will find some sort of an anchor, even if it only stands on three legs. And now, Harry Ray, what the devil do you want with me?"
"It's not the least use your taking that tone," Ray said coolly. "I have known you a good many years, Cranston, both at home and abroad, so I am quite used to your moods. Now, you are not particularly busy at the moment, are you?"
"Well, I am, and I'm not. I have got a job here which may take me the best part of a week, and the hard-hearted scoundrel of a publisher, who at present has a mortgage on my soul, declines to find a penny on account before the task is finished. I haven't a cent in the world, and my clothes will have to be taken out of pawn before I can cross the street, and I haven't had anything to eat, with the exception of the offal you see there, since yesterday morning. And also, what's a sight worse, I haven't had a drink since Monday. For heaven's sake, go out and get me a spot of something that will pull me together. I am an absolute wreck."
The man seemed to be almost at his last gasp, and Ray knew it. Also, he knew that he would get nothing out that perverted genius, Martin Cranston, until the latter had satisfied in some measure the craving for drink, to say nothing of the food which he so sorely needed. Here was a man who, a few years before, had all the world before him. There was nothing he touched that he did not adorn. He had had a brilliant career at Oxford, men spoke highly of him, and then, suddenly, the crash came.
It had been a light sentence, as Cranston was a first offender, and then influential friends had found him a place in a foreign consular service. But all to the effect. Almost immediately another scandal had followed, and Cranston had disappeared into the wilds of South America. Some years afterwards he had turned up in London again, where Ray had met and helped him. And after that the unfortunate man settled down to a sort of hack-work for firms of publishers whose business lay in the way of facsimile reproductions of rare and curious documents. It was his fatal, easy facility with a pen which had first brought about his downfall. There was nothing in the world he could not copy. Given the necessary pigments and paper, he could reproduce ancient manuscript, or even modern ones for that matter, in a way which would deceive the eye of any one but a trained expert. And this sort of work he was engaged upon on behalf of a firm of art publishers, when Ray had intruded upon his tortured solitude.
Ray came back a few moments later from a hurried visit to a firm of caterers, and for some minutes he watched his unfortunate friend voraciously devouring certain tempting delicacies, and washing them down with the contents of a flask of whisky which had accompanied the impromptu meal. Then, after a brief space Cranston rose and stretched himself, and proclaimed the fact that he was his own man again. Indeed, the change was marvellous.
"Here, give me a cigarette, old man," he said quite cheerfully. "Ah, that's better! I know I was infernally rude when you came in, but I can't help it. It's those damned drugs, Harry. And now I can't get them. Every now and then the demon seizes me, and drags me down to hell. A doctor pal of mine says it will be the making of me, now that I can't lay my hands on any cocaine or morphia. He thinks if I could get six months in gaol for buying that sort of stuff I would come out cured. But it is too late, my boy, it's too late."
He dropped into his seat, and, covering his face with his hands, wept silently for a few moments. Then, when he looked up again, his face was quite clear and tranquil.
"I haven't done that for years," he said with a smile on his thin, haggard face. "And I feel all the better for it. It isn't the drink that hurts me so much, it's those cursed drugs. However, I said that before. I don't want your charity, old man; but if you can put an honest job in my way——"
"Well, as a matter of fact, that it exactly what I came for," Ray admitted. "I haven't thought of you for ages. Now look here. You were always discreet, whatever your other faults, and in that respect I know I can trust you. At the present moment I have a big case in hand for Scotland Yard."
"Oh, you're back to it again, are you?"
"Yes, in what is called the Secret Squad. Working quite independently, if you understand me, never going near the place, and in touch with the chief by telephone and correspondence. It's those big burglaries the papers are all hollowing about. I have got something like a clue, and I want you to help me. More or less by accident, I stumbled upon what may prove to be documents of the last importance. In fact, I have got them in my pocket at the present moment. But there is a danger in retaining them, because if the scoundrels find out that they have been robbed it may spoil the whole thing. And yet, at the same time, I don't want to part with the originals. See what I mean. I want to keep these things, and replace them by ingenious copies which would pass muster with the ostensible owners. They won't be suspicious. They will never dream that the things have been stolen and shams put in their place. Then the happy idea occurred to me to look you up knowing that this was your line. But I shan't be easy in my mind till the copies are put in their hiding places. I wonder if you could manage to do this job by dark to-morrow? It you could, I will pay your own price."
"Ah, that sounds the sort of thing I am after," Cranston exclaimed. "Make it twenty pounds. That money will be a godsend to me. Keep me a fortnight and enable me to get my wardrobe out of pawn. Come on, let's have a look at the stuff."
He cleared a space on the big table, and for quite a long while inspected the mass of papers that Ray laid before him with the aid of a strong magnifying glass.
"Ah, this is going to be quite a simple job," he said. "More a matter of steady plugging than anything else. I can work it both with a pen and by photo-lithography."
"And what about the paper," Ray asked.
"Oh, that's all right, old chap. I have got hundreds of different specimens of paper, old and new. You needn't worry on that score. Besides, there is nothing very particular about the sheets this correspondence is written on. Look here, what do you think of that for a match."
Cranston dived into a drawer and produced a mass of paper which seemed almost identical with that which Ray had brought.
"Excellent," he cried. "Oh, it will be all right in your hands I know. But can you deliver it to-morrow?"
Cranston went over the sheets with an ivory scale. He made certain calculations on his blotting pad, at the end of which he appeared to be quite satisfied in his own mind.
"I can do it," he said. "If I sit up all night I ought to be through by six o'clock to-morrow. I think I can hold myself in hand for that time. Let me have enough food to carry me through, together with another flask of that excellent whisky you brought, and all will be well. You needn't be afraid I shan't stick to it, because I shall. I particularly want to go out of London for a few days next week, but I can't very well turn up at a friend's house in a pair of ragged bags and this shirt, which is the only one I have at the present moment."
He was speaking now like a child who has just been presented with a new toy. There was something pathetic about this wreck of a brilliant intellect, and the destruction of a once promising career, which touched Ray very deeply. But it was no time for sentiment now, and he knew how disastrous a little pity always is to an abnormal mind like that of his unhappy friend.
"Very well," he said, "I will get you everything you want at once, and then I will call round to-morrow night at six o'clock for the copies. You shall have your twenty pounds, and I hope that your little holiday will do you good."
No reply came from Cranston. He was turning over the papers before him with a strange gleam in his faded eyes. He had come upon the three photographs at the bottom of the pile, and one by one he passed them as if dazed by the sight of those more or less colourless impressions with their yellow tinge.
"What's the matter?" Ray asked. "Do those pictures convey anything to you? Have you seen any of them before?"
"Good Lord, yes," Cranston said hoarsely. "That's Charlie Barlington, and his little missus. Probably the kid, too, but I won't say that for certain. But it's good old Charlie all right. I'd swear to him anywhere."
"What?" Ray asked. "Charles Barlington, the son——"
"The son of Lord Barlington. Precisely. A man I have known for years. Knew him out yonder, too. Topping chap, Charlie."
From the expression of Ray's face it would have been hard to have guessed that he was listening to something of the last importance. But, all the same, as much by good fortune as anything else, he had blundered on to a clue which promised to take him a long way. Just for the moment it occurred to him to keep this discovery to himself, but in his strange way, he knew that Cranston was to be trusted; and there and then made up his mind to take the latter to a certain extent into his confidence.
"Now, that is very strange," he said. "Do you know that in nearly half our cases we come across a valuable clue when looking for something quite different. I came to you this morning because you were the very man I wanted to copy those documents for me. I felt certain that you would do it with secrecy and despatch, and that you would regard the transaction as entirely confidential."
"Well, naturally," Cranston smiled. "I am not puffed up over my occupation, and the less anybody knows about it the better. If I hadn't been a fool, I should have made a big reputation for myself by this time as a decorative artist. As it is, I am a mere copyist, and when hard driven, not in the least above lending myself to a palpable forgery. Lots of silly old men of antiquarian tastes have my work in their libraries under the impression that they are genuine papyrus. However, we need not go into that. I can see you are half inclined to confide in me, and if you like to unbosom yourself, you can rely upon my keeping my mouth shut."
"I think I can," Ray said. "Now, as it happens, I want all the information about this Charles Barlington I can get. Listen and I will tell you the story."
In a few words, Ray gave an epitome of his recent adventures, not forgetting the episode of the Thatched House and the unexpected finding of the Golden Bat.
"And now you know all about it," he concluded. "What I want is to identify young Barlington with the man Keen, and it seems to me that you can help."
"Help!" Cranston cried. "I should think I could! Charlie Barlington and myself were great friends at one time—birds of a feather flock together, arcades ambo, and all that sort of thing. You know what I mean. Boon companions, not caring much what we did or how we got our money. I am speaking now of something like seventeen years ago, when we had both come a mucker in England, and met more or less by accident in San Salvador. We were pretty well at the last gasp then, and desperately in need of ready cash. Then Barlington got very thick with some half-breed swell, who put him on to a diamond mine up in the back country. It was one of those secret touches, after the manner of Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad. You know the flair—old mine worked ages ago by the Indians, and the secret of it lost, dangerous country full or hostile tribes, and so on and so on. Do you follow!"
"I think so," Ray said. "Queer characters on parchment, and perhaps a few skulls and crossbones mixed up with it."
"Well, more or less. Matter of fact, there was a shy sort of half-desperado at the far end, to whom the property belonged. Before we could do anything else we had to get his consent to the expedition, and this we managed by offering him part of the plunder, and in a moment of inspiration I suggested that we should have it all down in black and white."
"Here, hold hard a minute," Ray cried. "Before we go any further, have a look at those documents. I mean the agreement in Spanish. I shall be rather disappointed if you don't find that you have seen the thing before."
Cranston turned over the paper in front of him, and eagerly began to read. Almost at once he looked up with an amazed expression on his thin, lined face.
"Good Lord, you are right," he exclaimed. "This is the original agreement between Lon What's-his-name and my poor old friend, Barlington. And here is an endorsement at the end of Barlington's writing, transferring his rights to Edward Keen. Stop a moment, I must have another look at this."
With a magnifying glass at his eye, Cranston went over the endorsement meticulously.
"Ah, just as I thought," he said. "This is a forgery. Oh, you can't deceive me where a forgery is concerned. Rather cleverly done, but a flaw all the same. Upon my word, Ray, this business is most infernally complicated. But I am beginning to understand. After we got that agreement, Barlington went up country taking his wife and child with him. Mind you, I was dead against that idea, because I know the danger of it."
"Half a minute," Ray said. "Did you know Keen?"
"Oh, I knew the swine all right. Called himself a Brazilian merchant. But that was all swank. He was anything so long as he made money—swindler, smuggler, gun-runner, anything you like. And he was very anxious at one time to marry the girl who became Barlington's wife. I didn't know much about her, except that she was a lady of quite good family, who had gone out to South America as governess to the children of some Brazilian swell. However, she fell in love with Charlie Barlington and married him. I don't suppose this has got anything to do with your business——"
"Oh, hasn't it!" Ray said drily. "However, I need not go into that just at present. Was Keen what you might call one of those revengeful type of men?"
"I don't know," Cranston said thoughtfully. "He was a nasty man to cross, and never forgave an injury. He and that man of his, a sort of body-servant——"
"I must interrupt you again," Ray said. "I should rather like to have a thumbnail portrait of that fellow."
"Meaning Keen's familiar, eh? Rather a big chap. Very smug-looking and outwardly respectable, with a clean-shaven face and a wide, tight-lipped mouth."
"Ah, that will do," Ray said. "I don't mind telling you that Keen at the present moment is living in London, and that he has a butler in his employ whose description tallies exactly with what you are telling me. But go on."
"Well, I don't think there is very much more to tell you. Poor old Charlie went up country with his wife and child, and none of them were ever heard of again. I always had my suspicions, but it was impossible to prove anything, though I feel sure that Keen could have told me a lot about it. But just about that time I got into a heap of trouble, entirely through my own fault, and I had to leave that part of the world in rather a hurry. But it is strange to come across traces of that old story in this extraordinary way. Is there anything more I can tell you?"
"Not for the moment," Ray said. "You have given me a lot of really valuable information which I shall be able to use when the time comes. But in another direction you can help me. You do a good deal for publishers of high-class work, and I suppose you have been in contact at some time or another with every bookmaking house that produces technical volumes. Now, have you ever heard of a great entomologist called Moon!"
"Of course I have," Cranston said. "Once I designed a title page for his firm. They are very good people, and their offices are at Minerva House, Charing Cross road. The name is Cotter and Lee. If you like, I will give you an introduction to them, though it would be no great recommendation."
Ray went off presently in the direction of Charing Cross road and turned eventually into a fine suite of offices where he asked to see the junior partner in the firm. It was some little time before he found himself in a large, luxuriously furnished apartment, lined with books. At a big desk in the window sat a benign looking gentleman with Ray's card in his hand.
"Well, what can I do for you, sir!" he asked.
"Ah, that for the moment, I cannot say," Ray smiled. "As a matter of fact, I am one of the confidential heads of Scotland Yard, and I am going to ask you to give me certain information which will, of course, be regarded as absolutely confidential."
"Oh, really," the old gentleman said. "I am afraid that this is rather out of our line. However——"
"You never know," Ray said. "Mr. Lee, would you be good enough to tell me everything you know with regard to one of your most important clients? I mean Mr. Moon."
The publisher polished his spectacles thoughtfully.
"Now, that is rather odd, Mr. Ray," he said. "Most of our clients are personal friends of ours. We only publish high-class literature, and we are rather proud of our list of authors. Amongst others, Mr. Moon, of course. But, really, I don't know anything more about the gentleman in question than you do yourself."
"Am I really to believe that?" Ray asked.
"Indeed you are, sir. I have never seen Mr. Moon in my life. Nobody on the premises has ever seen him."
"He deals through an agent, perhaps?"
"No. He writes to us direct, from addresses all over the world, evidently typewritten, dictated letters, and they are always signed with the initials of his typist. When we have royalties to forward, they are sent as directed. But I need not tell you, Mr. Ray, that there is very little money in Moon's type of work. The people who buy books published at two guineas and upwards are few and far between. They are mostly collectors and advanced students, and I need not remind you that reproductions of moths and butterflies in colour render such works exceedingly dear. Mr. Moon is a very great man, but evidently rather eccentric, and, no doubt he has his own reasons for keeping himself to himself. So you see that it is impossible for me to help you."
But Ray did not seem to be in the least disappointed. He had rather expected something like this, and it merely served to confirm certain suspicions which were already growing up in his mind. There was a long way to go yet, and much time must elapse before that suspicion became a certainty, and there were many things to do in the way of clearing the ground. On the face of it, there was nothing very extraordinary in the fact of an eccentric scientist keeping to himself. And, no doubt, John Everard Moon was prone to this sort of secrecy. Not that it mattered much.
Therefore, Ray strolled back to his own quarters and from thence called up Barle on the telephone. He gave him a general outline of what he was doing, and how far he had gone, to all of which Barle listened with frank delight.
"Well, certainly, you have not been wasting your time," he said. "Now, what do you want me to do?"
"Well, in the first place I want you to put somebody on to keep a close watch upon Keen. I have no doubt, whatever, now that he is the moving spirit in these big robberies, and that the whole programme is arranged, and carried out at the Thatched House behind drawn blinds. But that is not sufficient. I want to know all about Keen and what sort of business he is doing in the city. I shall be greatly surprised to find that he is doing any real business at all. Of course, you could arrest him on the information already given you, but if you did that the rest of the gang would slip through our fingers. I think you will agree with me that ours is a waiting game, and that it will pay us to have Keen shadowed very carefully for the next few days. And whilst I am about it, I should also like to have a watch kept upon his butler at Silverdale Mansions. The man's name is Easton, Thomas Easton. At least, that is the name by which he is known at present."
"All right," Barle replied. "I will give the necessary instructions. Meanwhile, what are you going to do?"
"That," Ray said, "will depend on circumstances."
For the first time for some days, Ray felt himself justified in taking an hour or two off and devoting that opportunity to his own more or less private affairs. In the first place, he was particularly anxious to see Angela again, and that for more reasons than one. But he was not going to call at Silverdale Mansions. He might have done so but for his conversation with Cranston a little earlier in the day. On the occasion of his visit to Silverdale Mansions he had used his eyes to the best advantage and had been no less suspicious because he already had some sort of a grip on the character of the man he was approaching. And, therefore, when he had found himself confronted at the door of the flat by the butler, he had taken a swift mental photograph of that individual. And, sooth to say, the impression on his mind had been anything but a favourable one. And now he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this same man Easton had been Keen's right hand man in all the former's rascalities on the other side of the world.
It would, therefore, be somewhat rash on his part if he called at the flat to see Angela and was confronted on the doorstep, as he would be, by Thomas Easton. He had gone there once merely as an enthusiastic amateur in entomology intent on imparting information to the great John Everard Moon himself, and there, apparently, the business had ended. He had no sort of pretext now for knocking at Keen's front door, and, perhaps, identifying himself with Scotland Yard. You never know how much these sort of people guessed, and the slightest slip might prove fatal to all his plans. So he would have to hang about in the neighbourhood, mostly in a bookseller's shop, under pretence of buying something, and keeping his eye open on the street. He knew that Angela had no friends, but on the other hand, he knew that, on most fine afternoons, she walked for an hour or so in Kensington Gardens, and on this fact he was proceeding. Then, after a delay of an hour or so, his patience was rewarded. He saw Angela pass the shop, and followed her at a discreet distance until she reached one of her favourite spots in the gardens, and sat down. It was rather a secluded corner, and, anyhow, Ray knew that he had not been followed.
She gave a little cry of pleasure when she saw him coming, and held out her hand.
"I thought I was never going to see you again," she said. "I have been hoping that you would call."
"Nothing I should like better," Ray said. "My dearest girl, I should like to call every day. I should like to take you out to matinees and little dinners, but I am afraid that would never do. I want your guardian, or whatever he calls himself, to regard the incident between us as closed. Angela, I think that our happiness is very dear to you."
She looked up with glowing eyes and a tender smile that went straight to Ray's head. She was very sweet and desirable just then, and her pathetic loveliness touched him deeply.
"There are reasons why these little meetings of ours must be kept a secret," he continued. "I am not going to suggest that you are in danger, because I have already seen to that. You are being watched carefully as if you were royalty, but you are more or less in the hands of a most unscrupulous man. Not for long, of course, but there it is for the moment. Now, I want you to keep a close eye upon Keen, and let me know everything he does. No little thing that he does is too small. Write to me every day to the address which I will give you, and post the letters yourself. And when I have time to see you, I will meet you here. What newspapers do you take at the flat?"
"Most of them," Angela said. "The 'Morning Post' and the 'Times' and some of the illustrateds."
"The 'Times' will serve admirably," Ray said. "Read the agony column every day, and when you see an announcement that says, 'K.G. this afternoon' you will know that it is from one, and that you are to meet me here at this hour. And, whatever you do, mind that you don't incur the suspicions of that man, Easton. Never let him see you with a letter in your hand, and never appear to be under the impression that he is watching you."
"It all sounds very dreadful," Angela murmured.
"Well, as a matter of fact, it isn't in the least dreadful," Ray smiled. "Nobody dreams for a moment that I am in any way connected with the man from Scotland Yard."
"As bad as that?" Angela cried. "Do you mean to say that my guardian, Mr. Keen——"
"I prefer to say nothing about Mr. Keen for the moment. All I can tell you is there is something very wrong going on, and that you may be able to help when the time comes; indeed, your own happiness depends upon it. Do you have many visitors at the flat?"
"Very few," Angela explained; "Not more than four or five gentlemen who dine, occasionally. But I am quite sure that they are all highly respectable people."
"I don't doubt it for a moment," Ray smiled grimly. "Sound, substantial men of business, who give the house a sort of air. But doesn't any one else come?"
"I don't think so," Angela said. "Oh, yes, late at night. You see, it is rather dull for me in the flat, and I can't spend all my time playing the piano and reading novels, so I generally retire early. And now you come to mention it, I remember several occasions when Easton has let people in before midnight. Of course, I never saw any of them."
"Of course, you wouldn't," Ray smiled. "Now, tell me, does Easton sleep on the premises?"
"No, he doesn't," Angela said. "It isn't a large flat, at least, the bedroom accommodation is rather limited. There are only four of them altogether. That is, mine and Mr. Keen's and two servants' rooms, one occupied by the cook, and the other by the two housemaids. I believe that Easton sleeps in the basement, where the night porter has his quarters."
"What time does he go?" Ray asked.
"Somewhere between eleven and midnight; never later, as far as I know. Why do you ask?"
"Um, yes," Ray muttered. "He leaves the house pretty regularly, and occasionally Keen has late visitors that he turns out himself, and the place is a flat. Now, I wonder if you would have the courage to do a little eavesdropping? I mean, forget things in the library, and get out of your bed and fetch them? It is not a very pleasant suggestion, I know, but it is of vital importance. I wonder if you would mind?"
Angela looked into her lover's face with steady, level eyes, and a compression of her lips.
"I would do anything to get rid of this terrible mystery," she said. "Oh, Harry, you don't know how I hate the flat and the terrible air of wrong-doing that hangs about it. Of course, I am a nameless nobody——"
"Of course, you are nothing of the kind," Ray said. "I am going to prove that to you before long. But you will have to help, my dear, you will have to help. Will you?"
No reply came from Angela's lips, but the expression in her eyes was quite enough for Ray. He knew, without being told, that he was going to have a trusty ally there. And so they sat for a time in close companionship, whilst Keen and all his works were forgotten. Then Ray suddenly woke to the fact that it was five o'clock, and jumped to his feet.
"Good Lord, how the time slips on," he said. "I must be going. No, I am not going to walk a yard from here with you. And now, don't forget what I told you as to the agony column of the 'Times.' And when I meet you in a day or two, I hope that you will have some real live information for me."
With that they parted, and Ray went on his way. It was nearly seven on the next evening before he came away from Cranston's dreary attic with the facsimilies of those precious papers in his hand. He took a taxi back to his own rooms, where he deposited the originals in his safe and then, with the others on his person, went round to his club and dined. He played a couple of rubbers of bridge afterwards, and, shortly before ten o'clock, hailed another taxi and drove down to Shepperton.
"You will wait here for me at the corner of the road," he instructed the driver. "I may be half an hour, I may be two hours, and I may not come back at all. But mind, you are engaged on official business—Scotland Yard. And if I am not here in four hours' time go back to my headquarters and report the matter. Here is a pound note for you on account of your fare."
The man touched his hat with an understanding grin, and Ray disappeared across the fields in the direction of the bungalow. He knew the way perfectly well in the darkness, and a quarter of an hour later crept cautiously across the flagged terrace until he was standing outside the library window. He was taking no risks, he had no intention of entering the house until he was absolutely satisfied that it was empty. Knowing what he did of the people who had taken possession of the place he was quite prepared to discover a number of people there. He stood waiting quite a long time, hardly daring to move, and with eyes now accustomed to the darkness made out the big window frame that gave on the terrace. He knew that there were thick curtains across it, which kept out every ray of light, save from somewhere under the ill-fitting casement of the French window. Then he congratulated himself upon his caution, for he knew now that somebody was there in the room.
He crept round to the back of the house and through the pantry window made his way into the darkened corridor. The library door was open, and a strong beam of light came from it. Very quietly Ray looked in. He saw an elderly man with a grey beard and spectacles, and facing him the butler, Easton.
Ray almost fell back in his astonishment.
"Moon," he said, in a voiceless whisper. "The great man himself. Now what on earth is he doing here just now?"
Ray stood there in the dense shadow looking into the lighted room for a moment so surprised that he forgot to take the necessary precautions. In a way it was natural enough that Moon should be in his own house, but he had certainly gathered from Keen that his friend was on the other side of the world. Still, the great scientist was notoriously eccentric in his movements, a law unto himself, a man who came and went just as he liked, without consulting anybody. It had only been for a few minutes some years before that Ray had met the great man at an evening crush just outside San Salvador, but the clear impression of that rather fine head with its grey beard and thick glasses remained in his mind, and not for a moment did he doubt that he was practically face to face with one of the objects of his search.
So he stood there, in the velvety blackness of the hall, looking into the room where Moon was seated at a table, and more or less engaged in writing some thing. Opposite to him stood Keen's rather mysterious butler, who, as far as Ray could judge, was waiting for orders. His attitude was respectful enough, and there was nothing between the two men to suggest the slightest familiarity.
Was Moon in any way connected with these daring robberies? Or was he merely being used by Keen as a pawn in the bold game that he was playing? It would have been just the sort of audacious move that a man like Keen would conceive. Ray could see clearly enough that such a piece of strategy would appeal strongly to a man of Keen's undoubted intellect. Nor would it be very difficult, either, with an old gentleman who lived with his head in the clouds, and thought of nothing but his beloved butterflies. Still, one could never quite tell. Ray had read of too many notorious criminals who devoted their spare time to scientific and intellectual hobbies, both by inclination and also as a cloak to divert attention from their predatory activities. These incidents were too numerous to be recapitulated.
Ray waited there, minute after minute, for one or the other of the men inside the room to break the silence. He felt more or less safe, unless some third person came along and turned on the light, in which case his position would be a trying one. He had an exit one way, but if that source was cut off, then he might find himself in a serious position. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to stand there, on the off chance of hearing something which he might presently turn to advantage. It would be exceedingly awkward if Moon made up his mind to remain in the bungalow for the night, and still more awkward if it turned out that Easton the butler was sleeping there also. Perhaps it would be just as well to get back into the garden and wait there for an hour or so, until the lights were turned down, and the two men in the library had retired for the night. But Ray was a little unwilling to miss what was taking place in that lighted room.
Presently Moon looked up from his table and spoke.
"You have carried out my instructions?" he asked.
"I have done that, sir," Easton replied. "I don't think there is anything further that I can do. I don't know whether you want me to stay here to-night, sir, or not. Of course, if you do, I shall be very pleased to help."
"No, I don't think so," Moon said thoughtfully. "I can manage by myself. It will only be for a day or two at the outside, indeed perhaps less than that. You can light the fire in the kitchen, and put the kettle on, and after that I can manage for myself. On the whole, Easton, I think it would be far better if you went back to the flat."
This was rather good hearing in a way, and Ray breathed a little easier. He retired further into the shadows and stood crouching there whilst the butler went along to the kitchen and turned up the lights there. Presently Ray could hear the crackling of wood and the drawing of water, and then the man came back into the library and informed Moon what he had done.
"Yes, I think that will be all," the great man said. "And now, you be off at once. You will be able to catch the last train back if you don't delay, and if I want you in the morning I will let you know in the usual way. Go out by the back door, and don't trouble to fasten it."
A few minutes later, and Ray knew that he and Moon were alone in the house. Very softly he moved from room to room to make sure of this, using his electric torch for the purpose. So far as he could ascertain, there was nothing to fear in that direction, and, therefore, he came back again to his observation post, and for a long time stood there intently watching the old man who appeared to be deeply engrossed in his correspondence. He rose presently and Ray shrank back again, but it was only for a moment, when it became apparent that Moon had no intention as yet of leaving the warm seclusion of the library. He crossed the room with a small sheet of paper in his hand which he appeared to be comparing with certain books on the shelves. Then a handful of volumes were withdrawn and from behind it Moon produced a long black cylinder, not unlike those used for the purpose of containing oxygen, indeed just for a moment Ray took it to be oxygen, until he realised that it possessed no weight, for Moon lifted it with one hand quite easily, and laid it on the table where it dropped with no more sound than a roll of paper would have made. When the scroll was open a huge sheet of paper was disclosed which Ray could see was some sort of a map, and this the scientist proceeded to spread out and attach to a bookshelf with a handful of drawing pins. Then Ray could see that it was a large scale map of Brazil, marked here and there with splashes of red that conveyed nothing to the onlooker. For some little time Moon studied this closely, then, putting the whole thing back in its case, and replacing it from whence he had produced it, threw his correspondence into a drawer and then cheerfully advanced in the direction of the door. He passed Ray so close that the latter could have touched him. After that, he was doing something in the tiny kitchen, and appeared once more carrying something that smelt like a cup of cocoa and a plate of sandwiches. He was a long time consuming them, and after what seemed to Ray to be an interminable period, he yawned, wound up his watch, and went sleepily into his bedroom.
Then followed another dreary vigil, with Ray crouched outside the bedroom door until Moon's regular breathing denoted the fact that the latter was fast asleep. It was now long past midnight, and Ray got to work with a sense of relief. Anything better than standing there waiting for the unexpected to happen. Very swiftly he removed the case containing the Golden Bat and its companion from the wall, and stripping away the piece of discoloured wallpaper, thrust the packet of forgeries into the space from which he had purloined the original. The strips of stamp paper were restored again, and the cases carefully fitted into their places, and Ray had turned to go when a sudden laugh broke on his ears.
It was a sort of low chuckle, followed by another, evidently from some one else, and then a word of caution in a third voice and after that silence. Ray shut off his electric torch and stood there tense and eager, waiting for some indication as to the direction from which the sound came. Then the kitchen door was thrown open and a long shaft of light struck into the gloom of the corridor. Ray drew back against the wall.
There were three men in the kitchen which opened directly on to the corridor, so that Ray, from his hiding place, could watch every movement. He saw a trio of entire strangers to him, young men, strong and vigorous, and from the expression in their faces recklessly ready for anything. So far as he could make out, they were all in a sort of uniform. Not military kit exactly, but attired in the short livery jackets and black leggings which one is accustomed to see in the case of a gentleman's chauffeur. They had gathered round the fire, which was still burning brightly, and on the little table before them was a freshly-opened bottle of whisky. Ray crept up closer, so that he might not miss anything that was said. But, before doing this, he noiselessly slipped the latch on the front door, so that if anything happened he would have a means of retreat, for he had no wish to try a game of violence with those reckless-looking men seated by the fire.
"Well, here we are again," the first of them said. "Safe and sound once more, and on the whole the best night's work we have ever done. This is the life! Far better than going round the country telling everybody that we are the heroes that the country was going to be made fit for, and getting snubbed for our pains. Oh, there is nothing like being a soldier in wartime."
It was a reckless speech enough, but made by a man who is evidently not born to the criminal classes. Ray recognised the refined accent and the stamp of the public school.
"Yes, that's right enough," the second man said. "But don't speak quite so loud. I happen to know that the old man is here, and we shan't gain much by disturbing his beauty sleep."
"Confounded nuisance," the third man observed. "Now what on earth possessed him to come back just at this time? Keen must have been pretty mad when he heard about it."
"Oh, I don't know," the first speaker said. "He's a downy bird, is Keen, and you never quite know what he'll be up to next. I have been in this show now for a year or two, and I haven't had much cause to regret it from the cash point of view. But I don't trust Keen, and if it paid him to do so he would give away the lot of us to-morrow."
"Here, steady-on," the next man said. "What a reckless devil you are, Bill. You never know where Keen is, and who may be listening. If he heard one word of that you would be sorry for it—for about five years. Come on, lads, let's have a drop of whisky and a biscuit or two and get back to our own quarters."
"That's all right," another of the gang said. "But what about the stuff?"
"Oh, chuck it on the table. Easton will be here before morning, and he will see to that. I am not going a yard from here with the goods in my pocket. One runs risk enough in getting the boodle, without carrying it about."
With that, the speaker put his hand in his pocket, and carelessly threw half a dozen jewel cases on the big deal table behind him. The others followed his example, and presently a dozen or more cases lay there in a huddled heap. The bottle of whisky was more or less emptied, and then, as mysteriously as they had come, the three men vanished into the night.
"Well, I don't seem to have been wasting my time," Ray said to himself. "Now, I wonder where that lot came from? Evidently the gang had made a big haul to-night. I suppose I shall have to leave it where it is."
Indeed, there was no alternative, if the desperate characters Keen had gathered about him were to be laid by the heels in their entirety. Obviously their plans were perfectly laid, and obviously also there was some secure hiding-place within a few yards of where Ray was standing where the stolen property could be laid aside until such time as the leader could dispose of it. Keen was not the sort of man to sell the proceeds of crime to the first 'fence' who offered him a few pounds for it. No doubt the stolen property lay snugly hidden until such time as it could be disposed of to advantage, and perhaps if he stayed there long enough Ray thought he might get a clue to the treasure house. He had heard one of the three say that Easton was coming back again, but that was merely a surmise, and there was much to do in the meantime.
So Ray rather reluctantly crept out of the house and across the fields to the place where his taxi was awaiting him. An hour later, and he was back in his rooms again.
Ray had slept well and breakfasted at his leisure, after which he used the secret telephone number and got in touch with Barle again. He gave the latter a concise account of the happenings of the previous night, to all of which the great man at the other end of the wire listened with flattering interest.
"You are certainly not wasting your time, my young friend," he said. "Moreover I think you did quite right to leave those jewels where you found them."
"I couldn't very well do anything else," Ray said.
"In the circumstances, no. I agree with you that there is a hiding place somewhere, and it will be our business to find it. But don't you trouble about that side of the affair, because you have far more important work to do. There is not the slightest doubt that Keen's is the master brain in this undertaking, and that Keen is the man you have got to watch."
In the course of the morning Ray sent one of his messages to the 'Times' and passed the time as best he could till the following afternoon, when he went off in the direction of Kensington Gardens to meet Angela. She had already arrived when he got there, and he could see by her sparkling eyes and heightened colour that something had happened.
"Well," he asked. "Well, anything new?"
"Really I don't know," Angela smiled. "I have done exactly what you told me, and I have kept my eyes open. It has been all the easier because Easton has been away from the flat for the best part of two days."
"Oh come, that's interesting," Ray said. "I suppose you don't happen to know where he has been?"
Angela shook her head. It had not occurred to her that the doings of a butler would arouse any sort of curiosity.
"Oh, of course I don't know," she said. "But I think something has happened. Mr. Keen has been very restless and irritable the last day or two, and quite different from his usual self. I think that the night before last something that came through the post upset him. He was in the drawing-room with me, and I was playing to him when Easton came in with the late letters. I wasn't watching particularly, but I heard him give an exclamation, and then there came an expression over his face which was positively dreadful. He seemed to realise that I was looking at him, because he turned it off with a laugh, and muttered something about those fools of clerks. But he went out a few seconds later, and for quite a long time I heard him talking in a low tone with Easton in the kitchen. Then I saw Easton leave the flat, carrying a despatch case in his hand, and with an overcoat on his arm."
"What time did that come about?" Ray asked.
"Somewhere near half-past 9 I should think. You know the hour when the last post comes in."
"And what happened then?" Ray asked.
"Oh, then Mr. Keen went out himself. He told me he should be late, and that if he were not back by morning I was not to worry about him. But he didn't say anything about Easton. And when he had gone some little time I went down into the hall and saw the night porter. I told him I wanted to speak to Easton for a moment, and he informed me that Easton had come down to his room to get something, and had afterwards gone in in a taxi. And Easton had not been back since."
"What excuse does Keen make for that?"
"He doesn't make any excuse at all. He has said nothing whatever about Easton, and I didn't ask for fear Mr. Keen should think I was prying. Of course, we can do without Easton, because we have a cook and two other servants in the flat; but I thought it was funny my guardian should not allude to Easton, not even to tell me he had gone for two days' holiday. It rather frightens me, Harry; I hate all this mystery."
She snuggled closer to him as if for protection, and Ray saw that she was greatly disturbed.
"I am very sorry, dearest," he said. "But I am afraid you will have to put up with it for a little longer. I dare not tell you too much, because what I know might tax your strength too far. You have no idea what a brilliantly clever man your guardian is. If he had the slightest inkling that you knew anything of what is going on, he would twist you round his little finger and get it out of you before you realised that you had told him anything. And he wouldn't show it either. He would probably be more pleasant to you than ever. But you would suffer in the long run. And he would get away with everything. All I can say is that he is one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. He is utterly unscrupulous, and would not even stick at murder. I don't for a moment mean that he would lay violent hands upon you, but there are others, and those others must be protected. Now, Angela, what is the dearest wish of your heart?"
The girl looked up with a wistful smile.
"Oh, I think you know that," she murmured. "First of all I should like to know who I really am. It's a horrible thing to go through the world with a name like 'Miss Nemo.' I must have, or had, parents somewhere, and if I knew where they were, life would be different altogether. Oh, Harry, do you think you can help me in this matter? I would give anything, anything to have the mystery cleared up. How can I possibly marry you under such a ridiculous name as Angela Nemo?"
"Quite easily," Ray laughed. "You could marry me under the name of Clytemnestra if you liked. Or Miss Beelzebub. You don't seem to realise that it is you I want."
But Angela was apparently not satisfied.
"Oh, I know, I know," she said. "But put yourself in my place. Suppose that you had no name, and that you wanted to marry a girl, well, a girl——"
"Named Nemo, for instance, eh."
"Harry, I am quite serious," Angela went on. "You would have to tell her, of course, and I don't think you would like that. I am quite sure you wouldn't."
"Well, perhaps not," Ray admitted. "But suppose that in the course of my investigations I have discovered something of the greatest possible importance to the girl you are talking about? Suppose I could take her from where she is at present and place her outside Keen's reach for ever? Suppose when I had laid Keen and his tools by the heels I could come along with proofs that you were not Miss Nemo. But Miss——"
"Is that possible?" Angela asked. "Do you really mean that, or are you only encouraging me?"
"My dearest little girl," Ray said solemnly. "There is no supposing about it. I am perfectly certain that I shall be able to do what I suggest if you will only place yourself entirely in my hands. Go on in the way you are going, pick up all the information you can, and try and behave as if things were as they were before we met in London. That is what I want you to do. You may not think you have accomplished much, but even in this short time you have given me some really valuable information. You are not Miss Nemo, and I hope before long that I shall be able to show you who you really are. But we have a long way to go first."
They sat there for some time in a blissful silence, heedless of the passers' by, and living for the moment in a world of their own. For that shining hour, at any rate, Ray quite forgot that he was a detective, and that he had come there with one single purpose at the back of his mind. They talked about themselves, to the exclusion of everything else, until a distant clock, chiming the half after four, brought Ray back to realities again.
"I am afraid I shall have to be going," he said. "I should like to meet you like this every day, but that is impossible. You can write to me whenever you like, because it will be perfectly safe to do so, and you can give me every little detail. You never know in my profession how important details sometimes are. They may seem trivial to you, but on the other hand they may be simply vital to the case I am building up. The first opportunity I have of seeing you again I shall take, of course, but it will have to be through the Agony Column of the 'Times' as usual."
"I won't forget," Angela whispered.
"That's right. And now are you quite sure you have told me everything? No detail left out?"
"I have already told you so," Angela protested.
"Yes, yes, but I don't think you have, all the same. You told me that Easton was away for a day or two; and you also informed me that, on the night he left, Keen went out, saying that he might be very late. But you didn't tell me what hour he came back. And you haven't told me if he is at the moment in London."
"No, I didn't," Angela exclaimed. "How stupid of me. He didn't come back that night, and the next afternoon he went off on one of his mysterious journeys and is still away. It was rather unfortunate, because Mr. Moon——"
"Mr. What?" Ray almost shouted. "Oh, I know who you mean. The great entomologist. Do you mean to say that you have seen him? Has he been to the flat?"
"He is at the flat now," Angela said.
Ray held his breath for a second or two.
"Staying in that flat?" he asked.
"Why yes. He came late last night, and told me that he was expected. I think he said he had just returned from Brazil, and that he would only be in England for a day or two. Such a dear old man, Harry, with his long beard and glasses. So I put him into Mr. Keen's bedroom and there he is. He and I are quite friendly. I suppose he means to stay till Mr. Keen comes back. It's wonderful how he seems to know the place. If he wants a book, he doesn't ask for it, he goes to the right spot and takes it."
Ray sat there just a little dazed with a blinding illumination that suddenly dazzled him.
"Oho," he said. "We are getting on."
Ray sat there, so deeply plunged in thought, that he was quite lost to what Angela was saying. If his brain was not playing him some fantastic trick, he was on the edge of a clue which, a few hours ago, he would have discarded as a figment of a distorted imagination. But here was Angela practically confirming it. He stole a glance at her sweetly-serious face, with its rather proud glory, and its soft sadness, the face of one who carries a secret grief which has to be hidden from the world at any cost. But the lips were firm and the eyes denoted courage, and Ray was going to trust her.
"I am very sorry, darling," he said, "but something you said set me thinking, and I heard nothing. A chance remark of yours gave me an inspiration so great that I am almost afraid to go on with it. However, it's no use talking like that. What I want to know is whether you can tell me anything about your past. I mean, have you got a scrap of paper, a letter, a photograph, anything of that sort that one could go on? Even a ring?"
Angela shook her head gently.
"I am afraid not, dear," she said. "There it nothing amongst my childish treasures that has come to me since I came to England. Oh, I have been thinking about it."
"Yes, but how did you come to England? You must have been quite a tiny child at the time. Who looked after you?"
A sudden light leapt into Angela's eyes.
"Oh, is that what you mean?" she cried. "But you don't suppose that my old nurse——"
"Ah," Ray said. "Now we are getting to it. You did have an old nurse, then? Is she dead?"
"Not as far as I know," Angela replied. "She comes to see me occasionally, at very long intervals, and she is on quite friendly terms with Mr. Keen. She keeps a little shop down at Poplar. I have only been there once, because it is a rough neighbourhood, and not altogether safe. It is a queer little place in one of the old-fashioned streets with the back windows looking on the river, and no doubt at one time was inhabited by prosperous tradespeople. Now it is falling into decay, and the houses on both sides are empty. Roffy is her name, Jane Roffy, and her husband used to be a fireman on one of the South American liners. She was a stewardess on his boat, and that is how she came to be a sort of nurse of mine on the way home. You can see her if you like, not that I expect she can tell you anything, but she might. You never know, do you?"
"No, you don't," Ray said, significantly. "Now I want you to do something. I want you to give me a letter of introduction to that woman, so that I can call upon her with it, and explain things, as far as it is necessary to do so. I suppose that she is more or less trustworthy?"
"Oh, indeed, yes. She is remarkably fond of me, indeed; she couldn't be more so if I was her own daughter. But I can foresee one difficulty—she thinks rather highly of Mr. Keen, and you don't want him to know anything."
"That is quite right," Ray said. "But I am not going down to Poplar in my present guise. I am going to be a South American sailor, on whom you wish to confer a favour, and in your letter you can hint, perhaps, that I have got into some sort of trouble. You need not mention my name, but imply that this is a secret between your old nurse and yourself. If she is as fond of a romance as most women, then I take it that she is not likely to mention the matter to anybody else. You know what to do. Write this letter as soon as you get home and post it yourself to my private address. And do it to-night."
Without asking any further questions, Angela fell eagerly enough in with Ray's suggestions. They parted at the usual place, and Ray went thoughtfully homewards. In the morning the letter came—just a few lines, saying enough, and yet not too much, and with this Ray went on his way.
He did not go direct to Poplar, but called in at a shop in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, where he was well known, and thence emerged, half an hour later, in the guise of a Dago sailor. It was by no means the first time he had used the establishment in Covent Garden, and the people there were well paid to keep his secret; in fact, it was part of a scheme that he had worked out in connection with the officials of Scotland Yard. It was an excellent disguise, and Ray had every reason to be pleased with it. He looked to the very life one of those South American seafaring men, most of whose lives are passed deep down in the bowels of some great, ocean-going ship, in fact, a stoker or a fireman who was rather down on his luck. Thus guised, he would have no difficulty whatever in acting the part he was about to assume, and, at the same time, secure the object of his journey, and not let the old nurse know too much. He walked the whole way to Poplar, where he had no difficulty in finding the object of his search. It was a little, beetle-browed shop in a dingy street adjoining the river, with two stories over it, and from what he could judge most of the inhabitants of that silent byway eked out a living by letting lodgings to the floating seafaring population that drifted there from time to time, for most of the windows bore an 'apartments' card, and here and there some foreign-looking person shuffled along the street.
The shop was a tiny one, down two steps, and, in its dingy interior Ray could make out a more or less modest tobacconist's shop, and, on the other side of the counter, a big deal tressle, upon which daily and weekly papers were spread out. Behind the counter stood a big, fair, untidy woman, with an honest enough face, and a kindly look in her blue eyes. In the grimy window, Ray had not failed to note a small, hand-written notice to the effect that letters could be left there, and received at a charge of one penny each. This, he decided, might be of some use to him in the course of the coming campaign. He shuffled up to the counter, and, without a word, placed the letter in the woman's hand.
"This for me?" she asked. "Yes, I see it is. Where did you get it from, young fellow?"
"A lady gave it to me," Ray said. "A lady who has been my good friend. She say to me, 'You come down here, and my old nurse, Jane, she will help you.'"
"Oh, I will help you all right," the woman smiled. "When you sailors get into trouble, you always come to Jane Roffy, and this looks like the handwriting of my young mistress as was. Just hold on till I finds me glasses."
The glasses were found at length, and the big woman leisurely spelt out the contents of the letter. It was quite a long time before she had finished this, so that Ray had ample leisure to study his surroundings.
She looked up presently and smiled. Evidently the letter had not been without its effect.
"It is from my young mistress. God bless her," she said. "She wants me to keep an eye upon you, and help you all I can. Got into trouble, seemingly?"
Ray inclined his head silently.
"Ah, well, you can't put old heads on young shoulders. You look like one of them sailor lads from South Ameriky, but things very often isn't what they seems, and, unless I have lost by commonsense, you are something more than a stoker. Well, it's no business of mine, and I was never one to ask silly questions. But if Miss Angela wants me to help you, I will. Now, tell me, young fellow, what is it as you do want?"
Ray winked at the woman behind the counter. It was a plain English wink, and she recognised it as such. If there was some romance or mystery behind this disguise, it did not in the least concern her, but, if the entanglement concerned her beloved mistress, then that was a different matter altogether.
"Ah," she said, "I know'd you weren't what you seem. I've been young myself, though perhaps you wouldn't believe it, and I have had my own little affairs, long before I met my old man. And he wasn't half a bad 'un, neither, 'cept when the drink was in him, and then 'e were a holy terror. But never mind that. What can I do to help you and that young missus of mine?"
"We will come to that presently," Ray said, speaking in his natural voice. "You've guessed it, Mrs. Roffy. I am just as English as you are, but there are reasons why I don't want to be seen either here or elsewhere in London just now under my own identity. Miss Angela and myself——"
The old woman nodded her head knowingly.
"Ah, I can guess all about that," she said. "Didn't I tell you just now as I had been young myself? Ah, I can keep my mouth shut as well as most people. But look here, young fellow, before we go any further. I wouldn't have anything happen to Miss Angela, no, not if I had to cut my right hand off to save it. You see, she's got no proper people, no one to look after her, such as a mother or father, and she don't know nothing about the world, poor lamb. It's girls like that as falls in love with the first 'andsome scamp as comes along, and regrets it all their lives after. Ah, I know, I've seen that sort of thing 'appen over and over again, and 'ow can I tell as you ain't one of them good looking rascals as fools a girl with an oily tongue and well—you know what I mean. And you comes here in disguise, suggestin' that you are in a bit of trouble, and you wants me to 'elp you. So does she, for that matter, which don't make it no better, because she is only a child after all."
"Your sentiments do you credit, Mrs. Roffy," Ray said earnestly. "I am deeply concerned in the future happiness of Miss Angela, and, like you, I would do anything to save her. One of these days I am going to marry her. There is a big trouble hanging over her head, and that trouble I want to avert. I can't do it openly, and that is why I am here in this disguise. But if you want me to prove to you that I am an honourable man—well I don't think that would be very difficult."
Apparently, it was not difficult to convince Jane Roffy, even without credentials, for at the end of five minutes, she was quite sure that she was doing no harm to the girl she loved so well.
"And now, what is it as you do want?" she asked.
"Ah, now you are talking," Ray said. "I want you to tell me all you know about Miss Angela's early days. I want to know how you first came in contact with her, and in what circumstances Mr. Keen appointed you her nurse. Did you know her father or mother by any chance? When you took the child over and brought her to England from San Salvador, did she have any sort of a wardrobe, any sort of clothing by which you could identify her with her parents?"
"Ah, they was both dead," the woman said.
"Yes, so I gathered from what Miss Angela told me. But amongst the child's belongings, was there any jewellery, any trinkets, letters, or photographs——"
"Photographs," the woman interrupted. "Ah, there was more than one of them. I'll——"
She broke off abruptly as a stranger entered the shop. He threw the woman a curt nod and disappeared up a flight of steps in the gloom beyond. Ray gave a little gasp of astonishment, and then his face set in its usual expression.
For the man who had come in, as if familiar with the place, was none other than Keen himself.
Ray said nothing until Keen's footsteps had died away in the distance, and the shop was silent again.
"Is that gentleman a friend of yours?" he asked.
"Well, I can't exactly say that, sir. He is very good to me, and he comes here sometimes on some sort of business which ain't no concern of mine. He has a room upstairs where 'e sees seafaring men like yourself, and from what I can gather 'e is writing a book about them. What he calls local colour, whatever that may mean. But if you are as friendly with Miss Angela as you say you are, surely you know Mr. Keen by sight."
"Certainly I do," Ray said promptly. "I knew it was Mr. Keen, but he doesn't know anything about me. I don't go to his house, and if he knew only half what I have told you, then it would be a serious matter for Miss Angela and myself, so I have put this affair in your hands with every confidence."
"And it shan't be betrayed, neither," Mrs. Roffy said vigorously. "Mr. Keen is very friendly and nice to me, but I don't like him and never did. And if you asked me why I couldn't tell you. What them writer chaps calls woman's prejudice I suppose. Well, he comes here, and I takes in his letters and he drifts about the neighbourhood in them funny old clothes of his, all of which is no business of mine, so long as he pays me 'andsome and regular, which he allus does, mind you. I dare say I am an old fool, and probably shall get all of us into trouble, but my 'eart always governed my 'ead, and allus will."
She maundered on in this strain for some considerable time, and Ray made no effort to check her. At the end of ten minutes Keen came down the stairs again, changed out of recognition, so changed, indeed, that Ray almost let him pass without a challenging glance. It was only his professional instinct that prompted him to turn and look after the retreating figure at the last moment. And Keen might have slipped out unnoticed had not Ray been thoroughly master of his business. You can change a man's body out of all semblance to the real thing, you can alter a face so that the owner's own mother would not know it again, but you cannot disguise a man's ears, and Ray was somewhat of a specialist in ears. His quick eye took in the heavy lobe and the flattened top which he had noticed instinctively the first time he and Keen had met, and he smiled to himself as Keen disappeared.
"Oh, he drifts about East in disguise too, does he?" Ray asked smilingly. "That was Mr. Keen, wasn't it?"
"That's right," the woman said. "But there is nothing wrong, is there?"
"Why should there be?" Ray asked. "I know lots of writers do that sort of thing, I mean the conscientious writers who want to have everything absolutely correct. It is rather dangerous for a man in a good position to go prowling about East End slums, day and night, dressed like a gentleman. He might want to see the inside of one of those Chinese opium dens. He might want to spend the night in what you call a doss house; a score of reasons. If I were you I wouldn't worry about Mr. Keen's disguises. Don't be too curious, it doesn't pay. So long as he treats you well, and you can make money out of his presence here, the rest matters nothing. So you let lodgings, do you? Do you think you could take me in for a few days? I would pay you in advance, and get all my meals out."
"Don't you worry about that," Mrs. Roffy said. "I will do for you gladly enough, because there is no fortune in this business, and the money would be a godsend. I will get your breakfast, too, but I couldn't promise no more than that. And now, sir, what about them photographs?"
"Presently," Ray said. "Presently. Perhaps you would not mind my looking over the house first."
Mrs. Roffy waddled to the door and shrilly summoned a small child who was playing by herself in the gutter.
"Here, Liza Ann," she said. "You come in and mind shop for five minutes. You knows what they wants and where I finds it. Here's twopence waiting for you afterwards."
It was a larger house than Ray had anticipated, and one which, no doubt, in the old spacious days, had been the residence of one of the Flemish cloth merchants who flourished in that neighbourhood back in the time of Charles II. A broad, shallow oak staircase, with carved ballusters—quite a work of art in its way—led to the upper floor, out of which three rooms opened. They were plainly yet comfortably furnished as sailors' bedrooms and Ray saw that he might be quite at home there. He saw something more than that when he came to look out through the window of one of the back rooms. He saw that the house hung several feet over the river, and that it would be possible to moor a boat against the piles on which the house stood so that it would be hidden away safely in the darkness without any danger from passing traffic. There was nothing wonderful in this on the face of it, but it struck Ray that this advantage might have something to do with Keen's choice of a hiding place, where he could lie low, and no doubt meet his confederates in circumstances not calculated to rouse the suspicions of the local or river police. It was just possible, too, that the proceeds of Keen's daring robberies might be conveyed out of the country through the medium of Poplar and the river. It was only an idle speculation of the moment, but there might be something in it, and Ray pigeon-holed the passing idea in his mind with a view to further developments.
The room in which he stood was an ancient one, the walls of which were covered with fine napkin panelling, so fine indeed that it would have fetched a great deal of money had it found its way into some West End auction room. The panels here and there were cracked with age, and with gaping seams, so that it was possible in places to see through them.
"That would be rather awkward with the neighbours next door," Ray said, as he pointed this out to his companion. "If anybody was in the adjacent bedroom with a light——"
"Oh, don't you worry about that," Mrs. Roffy laughed. "As it 'appens, there ain't any next door neighbour. The 'ouse 'as been condemned and will be pulled down soon to make room for some of them there model dwellings. And so my shop would have been too, only my landlord is on the local council, and 'e knows 'ow to manage things. It you take this bedroom, mister, you needn't fear as any Paul Pry's looking at you."
"I think the room will suit me very well," Ray said. "And I will take it for a week anyhow. I will send a few things in to-night. And now that that's settled, I think I would like to see those photographs."
"I will go and fetch 'em," Mrs. Roffy said. "Or perhaps you would like to come down in the shop."
"I would much rather see them here," Ray replied. "To begin with, we are not likely to be interrupted by Mr. Keen if he comes back, and the light is so much better here."
"All right, sir; all right. I'll get 'em. But mind you they will take some little time to find, because they are up in the attic, and I have got a whole heap of rubbish up there to go through, before I can lay my 'ands on them."
Ray intimated that he was in no hurry, which indeed was no more than the truth. He rather welcomed the opportunity of exploring the old house, which he proceeded to do the very moment that he found himself alone. Here, obviously, was Keen's bedroom, for on the couch lay the clothes he had discarded, and beside it a bunch of coloured bunting which Ray had no difficulty in recognising as the house flags of certain lines of steamers. He was still studying these when Mrs. Roffy came down the stairs with a small parcel in her hand.
"I've got 'em, sir, I've got 'em," she said. "You see. I first met Mr. Keen when I was laid up in San Salvador. I didn't go back with my boat that trip, and Roffy 'e more or less deserted and ran the risk of losing 'is job rather than leave me alone in foreign parts. So when I got better we goes up country and there Mr. Keen finds us. He tells us of a gent and his wife and little girl who had gone up in the mountains huntin' for diamonds or some such trash, and how they'd got killed by some native tribe and that the child had only been saved by a mere accident. So 'e takes us to a native hut where the poor little girl was lyin' looked after, by the wife of a Peon, and hands her over to me. It was only out of mere curiosity as I asks that native woman if there was any belongings of the child, and she gives me a bundle of clothes and an envelope with some sort of drawings in it and them two photographs. You see, I wasn't much interested in anything but the child and the clothes, so I shoves the envelope into my pocket, and forgets all about it. And I never did remember till long after I was back in England, and I had seen Miss Angela properly looked after in Mr. Keen's house. Said 'e was going to adopt her, and seems that 'e did. So seein' I had had them photographs so long, I said nothing about them, and I don't suppose I ever should if you hadn't come along just now."
There was a lot more of this that Ray did not interrupt, because there was just the chance that, out of this ocean of chaff, some grain of priceless corn might emerge. But, apparently, there was nothing, and a moment later Ray had the photographs of a man and a woman in his hand. They were faded almost to extinction, and yellow with exposure, but they were quite enough to tell him that he had made a startling discovery.
They were the same photographs that Ray had taken from behind the case containing the Golden Bat in the Thatched House, the same photograph that Cranston had exclaimed in astonishment over when they had lain on the table in his attic. The photographs of the father and mother of Angela beyond the shadow of a doubt. The secret of Angela's birth was laid bare!
Ray turned over the photographs in his hand after the casual fashion of one who is not particularly interested. At the same time, he knew that his discovery was of the greatest possible importance. In the first place, he had identified Angela as the only child of Lord Barlington's unfortunate son, Charles, and, so far, he had not been wasting his time. But for the present at any rate, he had no intention of telling Angela this, and that for many reasons. It was all very well to establish the secret of her birth and presently bring her in contact with her elderly relative, but it was not for that purpose that he had come into the tangle at all. In front of his love affairs he was a policeman, and before he could think of himself he had to place the duty which he owed to his employers. He knew perfectly well what effect this discovery would have upon Angela, and how difficult it would be for her to keep her joy and surprise a secret from the sharp eyes of Keen. And it was his intention to make use of Angela in bringing to justice one of the leading criminals of his day. And so far Ray was a long way from that.
He had made a great discovery, it was true—a discovery that went very far in the way of simplifying the problem, but there was still a great deal to be done.
"You are quite sure as to the identity of those photographs?" Ray asked. "I mean they are Miss Angela's father and——"
"So far as I know. At any rate that was what the Peon woman told me, and I don't doubt it, Mister. And there's nothing in the world as I wouldn't do to help that sweet young lady."
"That I quite believe," Ray said. "And you are doing it a deal better than you think. Now tell me all about Mr. Keen and for how long he has been studying human nature down here. Does he have any friends to see him here, any letters, and so forth?"
A few people, it seemed, were in the habit of calling on Keen at the little shop. Mrs. Roffy, of course, had no idea as to the identity of these persons, who appeared to belong to all classes of life. They came and went as they liked, and she confessed to hardly noticing any of them, for she had her shop to look after.
"And that is all I can tell you, sir," she said. "It isn't many letters that Mr. Keen has addressed to him here."
"Addressed under his own name, eh?"
"Well, no, they are not. 'E calls 'isself Grover in these parts. That is the name as comes on his letters. But, lor bless you, I 'as lots of letters left here, mostly to do with betting. I ain't got no sympathy with them as says poor people 'asn't got no right to put money on a 'orse, so I takes in letters for a bookmaker friend of mine, well knowing that if I get into trouble he'll pay the fine."
There was but little information to be obtained here for the moment, so Ray went his way towards the place in Covent Garden which served him as a dressing room. He had paid Mrs. Roffy a sum of money in advance, and told her to expect him when she saw him. He was going down there in the same disguise, and he particularly wanted the back bedroom looking out over the river. An hour later he stepped out of the Covent Garden shop and made his way towards Fleet-street, where he spent a few moments in getting through one of his newspaper calls to Angela. He wanted to see her the following afternoon, and she duly appeared at the accustomed spot.
It was not much he had to tell her, because he was not going to inform her yet that he had identified her with Lord Barlington's second son, for he feared that this startling intelligence might cause her to betray herself to the sharp, suspicious eyes of Keen. And that might lead to disaster. It must not be forgotten, moreover, that Ray was something more than a lover—he was an official high up in the Intelligence Department of Scotland Yard, and his duty to the State came emphatically first.
"Yes there is news," he said in reply to Angela's question "I am on the track of a very big thing, which may lead to all sorts of amazing developments. And I want you to help me."
"Oh in any way I can," Angela replied.
"Yes, that is just what I expected you to say. I think you have gathered by this time that the man, Keen, is by no means what he professes to be. He is, to say the least of it, an adventurer with a past. Oh, I know he has been very good to you, but he has the strongest reasons for being so. I want you to regard him as a man who cares about nothing but himself, and one who is using you merely as a pawn in the deep game he is playing. In fact, he is the leading spirit in one of the most dangerous gangs of criminals working in England to-day. And, unless I am greatly mistaken, the butler, Easton, is the second in command. You must keep this fact before your eyes if you are going to be of any assistance to me. I don't say they suspect you, because there is no reason why they should, but they don't trust you, and any little act of yours is sure to be carefully watched. You must go about as if you are quite in ignorance of all this, and at the same time know everything that goes on, even to the smallest detail. Keep a special eye upon Keen. And, by the way, is Mr. Moon still staying at the flat?"
"Oh yes," Angela explained. "He says he may be going at any moment. He is waiting to see Mr. Keen first."
"Oh, really," Ray exclaimed. "Then I am to understand that Mr. Keen has not met his old friend yet."
"No, he is still away, though he may be back at any moment. He explains his movements to nobody."
Ray smiled to himself as if something pleased him.
"This all bears out what I thought," he said. "Now you go back to the flat and keep your eyes open. Don't let anything escape you. And meet me here again at the same time on Thursday afternoon. That will be three days hence. And now I must be off, because time is pressing."
It was not a particularly loverlike interview, but Angela could see that Ray had a great deal upon his mind, and, indeed, the little he told her was decidedly impressive. She went back to the flat again, striving to appear as if nothing had happened, and went about her business smilingly and cheerfully. So far, she had seen very little of the great scientist who spent most of his time in the library over his manuscripts, and only putting in an appearance at meal times. When he came, he was pleasant enough, but always absent-minded, and from what she could see of him, he created quite a good impression upon her. He declined to come in to tea, saying that he was pressed for time, but that he hoped to enjoy the pleasure of her society at dinner. So far, there was no sign of Keen, so that it seemed to Angela that she could relax her vigilance, and all the more so because the idea of keeping watch on this amiable old gentleman with the benevolent white beard and thick spectacles seemed almost superfluous.
But then you could never quite tell, and in that direction Ray's instructions had been almost imperative. So, therefore, Angela watched for any sign that might be of use, seated in the drawing-room with the door slightly open in case her visitor should make any sort of a move. But so far as she could gather, he remained in the library until the gong went, and then he came in in his absent-minded way and sat down to dinner with a few mild remarks on the subject of the weather. Easton waited upon them during the meal, and after it was over the professor smoked a mild cigarette and sipped his glass of claret.
"It must be very dull for you here, my dear," he said. "But, I suppose you have your own friends?"
"Indeed, I have few I should call by that name," Angela said. "But, you see, I have my books and my music, and I am frequently away in the country. Mr. Keen is very good to me, and he realises that I want a change sometimes."
The Professor ambled off presently, and Angela heard the library door close behind him. She sat in the dining-room until after the women-servants had gone to bed, and the clock over the mantelpiece struck the hour of 11. With that, Easton came in asking if there was anything else he could do before he left the flat, according to his custom, to which Angela replied as usual that there was nothing, and presently she heard the front door softly close. So far as she knew, the Professor had retired for the night, in which she found herself presently to be wrong, because she could see a thin thread of light under the library door. She snapped off the electrics in the drawing-room and went to her own room. She closed the door rather noisily, but softly opened it a moment later just an inch or so wide, so that she could watch anything that took place out of the darkness of her room without being seen herself.
Why she sat there just behind the door watching for the next hour or so she would have been at a loss to explain. Perhaps she was excited by what Ray had told her, perhaps she felt the tension in the air, but there she sat, without moving till the clock struck one, and the silence of the flat was beginning to get on her nerves. She opened the bedroom door a shade wider and looked cautiously out. As she did so, she caught a side glance of Keen's bedroom, and then, to her great astonishment, the man himself emerged very quietly and stole softly on the tips of his toes in the direction of the front door. It opened as silently, and the next moment Keen, dressed for the street, was gone.
Just for a minute or two Angela stood there half paralysed. The surprise was so great that she had to gasp for breath. She was perfectly certain that Keen had not returned before dinner, nor could he have passed her bedroom or the drawing-room without her being aware of the fact. It was obvious that Keen had been in his bedroom for hours, and that Moon had been party to this strange proceeding. Moreover the light in the library had been out for some time, so those two men must have been in Keen's bedroom together. Ray had told her that Keen was a dangerous criminal, but it seemed impossible to believe that that knowledge should be shared by the harmless old professor.
Taking her courage into both hands, Angela stole along the corridor in the direction of her guardian's bedroom. The door was wide open, and she could see the empty interior. She switched on the light and looked about her, but there was no sign of Moon to be seen. What then had become of him? What was the meaning of this apparently unnecessary mystery? Angela's keen eyes roamed round the room in eager search of some sign of its late occupant, but so far as she could see there was nothing. Then, as she moved, the play of light glittered on something lying on the shelf under the toilet glass, and she sprang towards it.
Here at any rate was some sort of a clue. Beyond the shadow of a doubt Mr. Moon's spectacles. She recognised them by their strange flatness and the fact that each side of the frame contained a double lens. Moreover, Keen wore no glasses.
She turned, almost breathless with excitement with the idea of getting back to her own room when she found herself confronted unexpectedly by the man Easton. His face was perfectly expressionless, though his eyebrows were uplifted slightly.
"Easton, how you startled me," Angela faltered. "I came in here to search for an aspirin for my headache. I suppose Mr. Moon is still in the library?"
"I had to come back, miss, for something I had forgotten," Easton said respectfully enough. But there was something in his eyes that warned Angela of some hidden danger.
Ray went off to the little shop at Poplar the following morning, and in the course of a few hours had established himself in the back bedroom looking over the river.
He was still, of course, in his disguise of a foreign sailor, and the only person who knew anything to the contrary in that shy neighbourhood was the landlady herself. But, then, Ray knew that he had established confidential relations with her, and that she was not in the least likely to betray him in any way. This was going to be rather a long job, and probably a tedious one. It might be days before he could turn his back on Poplar again, but he was not going to do anything of the sort until he had found out why Keen came down here, and who the people were that called upon him. And when he had done this, it seemed to him that he would have a fairly comprehensive idea as to the gang who were pulling off that series of daring and brilliant robberies. Also, he was fairly comfortable in his mind as to his own disguise. Mrs. Roffy was in the habit of letting lodgings to seamen of all nationality, and even if he and Keen came face to face, it should arouse no suspicion.
He knew now that Keen came down here pretty often, not under his own name or identity, but as a sort of realistic journalist called Grover, who made his headquarters in Poplar, what time he was picking up copy for his newspapers. So far, everything was in order, and with any luck the coup should come off.
For the moment, at any rate, Ray's chief ambition was to find a means of exploring the empty house next door. He knew that it had been condemned by the authorities, but that would not prevent it being used by an inventive genius like Keen. This would give him no less than four localities in which to pursue his schemes. First of all, he had his flat, secondly his office in the city, thirdly the Thatched House at Shepperton, in which places, no doubt, the plans of campaign were worked out by the real leaders of the gang in secret, and in all probability the quarters in Poplar were where the subordinates met the ringleaders. Ray had no doubt whatever about this, and the more he thought it over, the more sure he felt that the premises next door came within the purview of operations. Doubtless, Keen made use of the river as a means of disposing of the plunder. Under the beetling brows of those two houses a motor launch might be snugly hidden outside the waterway, and perhaps a small yacht further down towards the mouth of the Thames might be impressed in the service for conveying a good deal of the plunder, notably jewels, to Amsterdam, where they would be recut, and therefore changed beyond recognition.
So Ray patiently waited that day and all the next for something to turn up. He procured his own meals, he cooked his food over a primus stove, and with the aid of a readable volume or two, and a plentiful supply of cigarettes, he managed to wile the time away. It was on the second night that he set out to explore the house next door. He knew that there was no one there, at least, no one for the moment so that he would be comparatively safe. With a ripping chisel and a fine fretwork type of saw he removed half a dozen panels from the left hand wall of the sitting-room, and saw behind them an opening into the next premises. No doubt, in times gone by, it had all been one house, before some other tenant had come along and installed the panelling which served in lieu of a party wall. At any rate, here he was at length in the empty house, with an electric torch in his hand, and an easy means of escape if any interruption happened. In three minutes he would have the square of panelling back in place, and a little soap mixed with brown colouring would disguise all marks of his carpentering handiwork. The house was quiet enough, and plunged in darkness. There was no layer of dust in which to leave footprints, and Ray noticed this with a smile. Not only was the place being made use of, but somebody had taken the trouble to sweep the floors, and that not so long ago. In all probability Keen had adopted the same scheme of entering the empty house from his own bedroom, and, no doubt, from time to time those mysterious callers of his had been initiated into the hiding place by that means. And, moreover, Ray had not forgotten the bundle of house flags which gave him the clue as to the use of a yacht in the handling of the plunder gathered from time to time on Keen's marauding expeditions.
Torch in hand, he explored the premises from top to bottom. The house was not clean but the floors had been carefully swept in case of footprint trouble, and every room seemed to be empty. It was quite clear that no high revelling took place here, there were no cigarette ends, no empty bottles, and no sign of recent food. But down in the basement Ray discovered three petrol tins, one empty, and the other still intact. As he lifted these from their place, the electric torch disclosed a sort of locker under a big double window that seemed to open right upon the river. And in this locker were spare parts of machinery, evidently in connection with motor traffic of some sort, probably aquatic. The parts might have been there for years, for they seemed to be covered in red rust, and a less discerning eye than Ray's would have discarded them as possessing no significance. But Ray lifted one of these out, and rubbed it vigorously with his handkerchief. The rust disappeared as if by magic, and a vivid spot of clean white steel shone like a diamond on the oval of the cylinder.
"That's not a bad idea," Ray said to himself. "These things are brand new. Now I begin to understand."
He carefully replaced the red pigment on the gleaming metal and went back thoughtfully to his own room. The panelling was replaced and Ray sat down with a cigarette to think.
He was most certainly on the right track. He knew now that the gang possessed the last thing in the way of a motor boat, and he sensed that they had something equally up-to-date down the river in the way of a fast yacht. There was big money behind this scheme, and no doubt Keen was ready to put his hand deeply into his pocket, whenever he could see a fair return for his outlay. This would be something for the river police to take up when the right time came to expose the working of the syndicate.
There was no immediate anxiety for the moment to keep a close eye on Keen, because the ordinary sleuth hounds of the Yard had been put upon his track, and they, of course, would be following their instructions to the letter. Therefore, Ray went quietly to bed, and peacefully to sleep. It was about twelve o'clock, the following day when he met Barle by arrangement in the library of his club.
"Well," the latter asked. "Anything to report?"
"Oh, I have not been wasting my time," Ray smiled. "I have got on the track of a big thing. I have found out who the leading spirit in the great conspiracy is."
Barle composed himself to listen with the air of a man who is not easily astonished. But for once in a way he enjoyed that sensation as Ray proceeded to lay before him a series of logical deductions that seemed to have no flaw.
"By Jove, I should never have thought of that," he said, "and yet it's easily possible. And if you are correct, then we are very nearly at the end of our troubles. Yes, and I think you are right, too. Now what do you want me to do?"
"Keep your eye steadily upon Keen, and also a strict watch on the empty house at Poplar through the river police. Of course, we could easily lay hands on the subordinates, but I shall be greatly surprised if Keen handles an ounce of that stuff once his tools have got away with the plunder. The only chance of identifying Keen with the business is to catch him red-handed if you see what I mean. If he is the wise man I take him for, it isn't often that he goes to Holland himself, at least until after the stuff is landed there, and he can run over to close the deal."
Barle listened thoughtfully to all of this.
"Yes, I think you are right," he said. "Now I have a pretty shrewd idea as to where the next robbery will take place. I am bound to confess that I didn't think of this before I heard what you had to say. So I can take no credit for it myself. Anyway we will get to that later on. I will do all that you want, and you can get in touch with me any time you like. Anything else you have to say?"
Ray rather thought not. He had cleared the deck for the moment, and he was anxious to keep his appointment with Angela within the next hour or two. He turned out of the club presently and walked towards his lodgings. As he did so he almost mechanically bought an evening paper, the 5 o'clock edition, published about three as usual, and this he scanned idly over a belated lunch. Then as a flaring paragraph caught his eye he sat up with a gasp.
ANOTHER AMAZING DISAPPEARANCE.
BEAUTIFUL GIRL VANISHES.
Under the heading was a small blurred photograph, but it was not so indistinct as to deceive Ray concerning the identity of the original of this more or less muddied picture.
Ray read on with staring eyes and quickly indrawn breath.
"Another of those strange disappearances which have been the cause of considerable public uneasiness lately has just transpired in connection with a young lady of great personal charm, until yesterday residing with an elderly relative at Silverdale Mansions, Kensington. Miss Angela Nemo (photograph inset) went out yesterday morning with the intention of doing a little shopping, and has not been seen since. She has no friends in London, and so far as her guardian, Mr. Edward Keen, knows, had no trouble or anxiety of any sort. She is described as a girl of happy, sunny disposition, perfectly normal, and in no way troubled with any kind of illness. No sign was come from her since, and Mr. Keen is under the impression that she has been kidnapped."
Ray laughed sardonically.
"I don't for a moment doubt it," he told himself, "and I could guess the kidnappers in one. Well, we shall see."
Ray was not as much disturbed over this unexpected happening as he might have been, because he had more than a shrewd suspicion that no particular harm would come to Angela. That, he felt, was no part of Keen's programme. For some reason or another, the man in question was really fond of the girl, which was certainly to his credit, otherwise he would never have saddled himself with the cost of her education and maintenance, which must have been a considerable item. It was just possible that Keen might have had some sort of affection for Angela's mother; but, be that as it might, Angela had in some way touched that black heart of his, or she would never have remained all these years under his roof.
It was possible, on the other hand, that Angela was more or less a pawn in the great game that Keen was playing. Doubtless, he had smuggled her out of the way, most probably because she had been detected in some acts of espionage at a critical moment, and therefore had to be removed to some secluded spot where she was powerless from further harm until some new and startling robbery had been successfully accomplished. Nor would this be difficult to a man of Keen's infinite resource. He could make up some ingenious story in connection with Angela's parentage, and if this was plausible enough he would be ready to follow it up if it took her to the extreme end of the country. The idea that the girl had been kidnapped in London was just the sort of thing to occur to a man of Keen's subtle nature, and perhaps something had happened whereby it became necessary to throw dust in the eyes of the female servants in the flat, none of whom would have the slightest idea of what sort of life their master was leading.
Yes, Ray did not suppose for a moment that Angela was very far away. She might even be in the Thatched House at Shepperton, and once she was there it would be exceedingly difficult for her to communicate with anybody. Probably a close watch on Keen's movements might lead to the discovery of the hiding place. Anyway, Ray had to put the whole trouble out of his mind for the moment. He was a policeman first, and his love affairs would have to be relegated into the background, at any rate for the next few days. The first thing was to get in touch with Barle again, and see if he happened to know anything connected with Angela. It was a remote contingency, but quite a possible one.
An hour or two later, Barle stole into Ray's club, and there they had one of their secret conferences.
"Is there anything fresh?" the great man asked.
"Well, there is and there isn't," Ray replied. "I have stumbled upon a fresh phase of the mystery that puzzles me greatly. To begin with, I happen to know Miss Angela Nemo very well, in fact, we were acquainted some time before I ever heard of Keen and his masterly activities. To make a clean breast of it, Miss Nemo is engaged to me, and I need not tell you that Keen knows nothing whatever about it. And now she has disappeared. Of course, you saw those paragraphs in the Press."
"I did," Barle said. "And to tell you the truth, they rather puzzled me. To help you we have been keeping a very close eye upon Keen, and, of course, we know all about the domestic arrangements in the household. We know that the butler, Easton, is one of his accomplices, and we are quite convinced that the female servants are absolutely innocent. Our men took it for granted, too, that the young lady you mention is equally blind to what is going on under her nose. And, therefore, I was more than interested when I read those mysterious disappearance paragraphs in the Press this morning. Have you anything to do with it?"
"Well, indirectly I am afraid I have," Ray confessed. "You see, I took Miss Nemo into my confidence to a certain extent, and I was perhaps foolish in telling her to keep her eyes open. It is more than possible that she was caught spying, and removed to a place of safety by some artful story."
Barle shook his head gravely.
"I am inclined to agree with you," he said. "Haven't you seen this morning's papers?"
Ray confessed that he had been too busy worrying over this latest development even to think of his papers.
"Well, they were at it again last night," Barle went on. "Another big robbery, this time in the neighbourhood of Rochester and not very far from the river Medway."
"Oh, indeed," Ray exclaimed. "Now, that is uncommonly interesting, and I think you will agree with me when I tell you what I have been doing down Poplar way."
He told the story of his discovery in the empty house and his theory as to the manner in which most of the stolen property was being disposed of.
"You see what I mean," he said. "Smuggled to Holland or somewhere on the Continent by means of a yacht. The stuff is collected in the empty house, and a motor boat conveys it to the yacht. That accounts for the fact that there are so many of these robberies taking place within easy reach of some good waterway. I shouldn't be surprised if she was hidden away at this present moment in Moon's house at Shepperton. Anyway, I am going to find out, and perhaps you can help me by getting a little more information with regard to those newspaper reports. Suppose you get one of your men to call at Keen's flat and pose as a representative of some newspaper. I have no doubt a dozen have been there already, but if your man can get inside so much the better. I suggest that I wait here whilst you put the thing through and ring me up afterwards."
Falling in with this course, Barle went his way, and some hour or two later called up Ray on the telephone.
"Here is another development," he said. "The flat is shut up. The servants have gone away for a holiday if the hall porter is to be believed, and they don't expect to be back for two or three days. What do you make of it?"
"Oh, I don't know," Ray said. "It is certainly disturbing, but perhaps it may be all for the best. My idea is to get into Keen's flat and see if we can find something in the way of a clue. Do you think you can manage that?"
"Oh yes, I can manage that easily enough," Barle said. "One of our experts could quite easily open the front door as the place is not bolted inside."
"That's the idea," Ray said. "And I think if you don't mind I will go with him. But first of all, I must ascertain if Keen is really out of town. I can ring up his office and make some excuse to ask him a question with regard to that Golden Bat I told you about. If he is away, then I will meet your man outside the flat at, say, seven o'clock this evening."
They left it at that, and when Ray had ascertained that Keen was not supposed to be in London, he killed time as best he could until the hour came for him to keep the appointment made in Silverdale Mansions. If nothing came of this, then it was Ray's intention to go as far as Shepperton and see if he could lay his hands on some clue inside the Thatched House. It was just on seven o'clock when he reached the rendezvous and walked casually up the stairs until he came to the door of Keen's flat. A few seconds later a man attired like a respectable servant appeared apparently out of nowhere and joined him. In less time than it takes to tell, the door gave, and the two were inside.
"That was rather smart," Ray said, as he switched on the lights. "It's out of my line, of course, but I had no idea that you could open a lock quite as easily as that."
"Oh, a lock is nothing, sir," the man said. "Any expert could do that. You get the feel of those things, and the rest is a mere matter of touch."
"So it seems," Ray smiled. "I think you had better stand just outside the front door in a waiting attitude, as if you had rung the bell and awaited a reply. I don't suppose anybody will come along, because they are all at dinner just now. But still, it is just as well to be careful."
For the next half hour or more, Ray searched the flat from end to end without finding anything in the least significant. The servants' bedrooms, of course, were entirely negligible, nor did he expect to find anything of value in Keen's sleeping apartment. This was all in order, and showed no signs of recent disturbance. He turned finally to Angela's room in the faint hope that she might have left something behind her. But this was a very faint hope, indeed; still Ray was not going to give up yet, and for quite a long time he was turning things over, until it seemed hopeless to waste any further time there. And then, quite by accident, he seemed to come upon something definite. He noticed that the looking glass over the big dressing chest was tilted at a rather unusual angle, and that there were certain smears on it which were quite out of place in that orderly apartment. It was some minutes before he could make out what appeared to be a letter or two in the greasy smudge, and after maneuvering to get the light at the correct angle he could read the signs.
There he saw plainly enough the word 'yacht,' and following it, just below, four further letters which read 'Mele.'
Here was something to go on with at any rate, and, slight as it was, that threw a strong ray of light upon the theory that Ray had been building up. For all day long he had been more or less thinking about yachts, and here was a clue distinctly pointing to one. The message had not been quite complete, probably because Angela had been disturbed before she could finish the last word of the message. No doubt she had written in the very faint hope that somebody might read it, perhaps Ray himself, but, anyway, there it was, and it would not be long before he put the final letters to the broken word 'Mele.' Ten minutes with one of Lloyd's yachting registers, and he would know to a certainty what particular boat Angela was alluding to.
He was in the street a little later, wondering what to do next. It was impossible to get the desired information before morning, and he was not disposed to waste his time till then. He would go down to the Thatched House at Shepperton, and have a good look round there. No sooner had he decided to do this than he was on his way. In due course, he picked up his particular policeman at Shepperton, and having ascertained that the house was empty, crossed the field in its direction.
There was not a soul inside the Thatched House, and it seemed to Ray that he was likely to have his journey for nothing. Then, as he stood thoughtfully in the library with the light switched on, he remembered that queer roll of paper which he had seen Moon place so carefully in its hiding place behind a set of moveable volumes. He was rather curious to examine that map of Brazil, which was so valuable that it had to have a separate hiding place all to itself. It was in his hands at length, and he laid it flat on the table before him. Then, to his surprise, looking down at it from an obtuse angle, the coloured outline of the South American State vanished, and an entirely new map appeared. It was one of those trick pieces of printing that was quite different from what it was intended to convey. As a matter of fact, it was a large scale map of the Kent coast, with here and there certain places marked in red ink. And then suddenly it flashed across Ray that these were the spots where the daring robberies had taken place. Moreover, they were numbered in strict rotation.
The more Ray studied this amazing production, the more did its significance strike home to him. Looked at in a certain light and with the eye at an oblique angle, it was possible to make out a vast amount of information written in small letters down to a description of the principal owners of cars, and the exact positions of the various garages. Why the thieves should keep such a damning record of their activities passed Ray's comprehension, but here it was, and it's use could hardly be exaggerated.
If a photograph could be obtained and the same subsequently enlarged, then Barle would have in his hands a piece of evidence absolutely unique. Ray's first impulse was to get away with the roll of paper, and run the risk of its loss being discovered by the owners. But it was only for an instant, and he repressed this desire. He replaced the roll carefully, telling himself that it would be an easy matter to bring a photographer down during the next day, and obtain the necessary impression.
On the whole, it was an excellent evening's work, and Ray was disposed to be satisfied with it. The next thing was to find out the name of the yacht on which Angela had been smuggled, and this was easily accomplished during the following morning. The name that Ray put his finger on in the register was that of Melchior, a steam yacht of modest dimensions, which was registered with the Royal Netherlands Yacht Cub. The name of the owner did not in the least matter, because Ray knew that this was mere camouflage. The owner of the yacht was doubtless Keen, and probably his boat, at that moment, was lying somewhere down the Thames. If Ray was not mistaken, and he did not suppose he was, the Melchior had not yet left her moorings, and was probably waiting just then for the plunder from that sensational robbery in the neighbourhood of Rochester. Somewhere about there the motor boat was snugly hidden awaiting developments, and Ray was all the more sure of this because the craft in question had not been anywhere near the empty house at Poplar for a day or two. Somewhere, doubtless, on the mud flats of the Medway, the boat was lying until the hue and cry had died away, and it would be safe to get in contact with the Melchior at her anchorage. Therefore, it seemed to Ray to be logical to bank upon the fact that he had at least 24 clear hours at his disposal.
Early in the afternoon he was back again at Poplar in his foreign seaman's disguise, intent upon his double task of bringing these scoundrels to justice and releasing Angela from her more or less involuntary confinement. A few discreet questions, judiciously asked, afforded him the information that the Melchior was lying somewhere off Sheerness, and that one or two of her crew were actually in the neighbourhood of Poplar. It only needed a little tact and the display of a handful of silver to get in touch with one of these men in a waterside public house, and half an hour later he had all the information he required.
The Melchior was waiting for its owner to go on board, and Ray had a pretty shrewd idea of what would accompany that individual when he set foot on his own deck. He might not bring the plunder himself, but Keen would certainly be there, when it was delivered by his satellites. And when this happened, Ray was going to be there unless he was greatly mistaken in his calculations.
"When do you sail?" he asked his companion.
"Tide after next," the other replied. "There ain't no 'urry. It ain't a bad job, neither. Good pay, and half our time spent ashore, mate, and we don't go far neither."
"A pleasure yacht?" Ray asked.
"Yes. I think you can say that. Mostly cruising in northern waters, and only for a day or two at a time. Rotterdam, and them there Dutch ports. Out of a job, eh?"
"Well, I am and I'm not," Ray said, in his affected, broken English. "What you call lying low, and not showing myself much outside places like this. You see, friend, there's reasons why I like to get quietly away without going all over the docks looking for a stoker's job like yours."
Ray winked knowingly as he spoke, and signified to the potman to fill up the glasses again. He saw to his satisfaction, that the other man was feeling the effects of the liquor he was taking.
"That's so, is it, mate," the latter chuckled. "Ah, well, I've 'ad my little misfortunes, an' I can sympathise with you. I'm on the straight myself now, I am, because I've got a steady job with a gentleman wot's free with 'is money and the other game don't pay. But if I can 'elp you I will."
"There's only one way you can help me," Ray sighed, "and that is to smuggle me out of the country in that boat of yours. Once I get across to Holland I shall know what to do, and when I set foot in my native country again I stay there. Now, do you think you could manage it for me?"
As Ray spoke, he carelessly displayed a handful of Treasury notes to pay for the drinks, and he did not fail to notice the gleam that came into the other man's eyes.
"Wot ud it be worth?" the seaman asked hoarsely.
"Well, say ten pounds," Ray murmured. "If you can get me taken on as an extra hand——"
"I can't do that, mate," the other said regretfully.
"Very well, then; let me take your place just for this voyage. It'll only be for a day or two. I can go on board instead of you at the last moment and say you have met with a bit of an accident or something of that sort, and that you had sent me in your place. You can lend me a suit of your clothes, and your work is of the kind that anybody who has the necessary strength can do without making a mess of it."
"Aye, that's true," the other said, with an eager glance at the notes which Ray had not put back in his pocket. "Ten pounds ain't to be sneezed at these 'ard times. Why, it's a whole month's pay, and a week's fun for the askin' as you may say."
"Well, shall we call it a deal?" Ray asked. "I've got my own reasons for wishing to get out of the country, and I am prepared to pay for the accommodation. What's your name?"
"Atkins," the other man replied. "Bill Atkins. I allus calls myself that, though it weren't the name I was born to. All right, mate, I'll do it. I'll give you a suit of dungarees and a pair o' boots, and you drop down the river, tide after next, and ask for the Melchior. Say as I've 'urt meself in a street accident, and that up to the last minute I 'oped I should be well enough to jine. Say Bill Atkins sent you as a substitute."
The little sheaf of Treasury notes changed hands, and a little time later Ray found himself with the necessary outfit. All he had to do now was to wait for the proper tide, and drop down the river in search of the Melchior. It was a totally transformed Ray who climbed up the ladder of the yacht, in due coarse, and introduced himself to the chief engineer. He wad dressed in a suit of stained and blackened dungarees, his face was nearly as dark as his clothing, and his features were hidden under a bushy moustache and beard. No questions were asked by the engineer, who took Ray for granted, and, apparently, was only too glad to think that his missing stoker had had the foresight to provide somebody to take his place. The work required practically no training, though it was hard enough, and Ray knew now that he was perfectly safe to pursue his business without suspicion. Nor did it take him long to discover that the crew, from the ship's captain down to the cabin boy, were entirely ignorant of the work in which they were engaged. From their point of view, it was a soft job under an easy-going employer, whose habit it was to drift about the North Sea on short voyages. Indeed, so far as Ray could gather, the Melchior had never been further than Rotterdam.
They set off deliberately enough under half speed, and before daylight were in the open sea. And then began the most difficult part of Ray's task. He had his moments of leisure, of course, when it was possible to get on deck for a breath of fresh air, so long as he kept away from the waist of the ship and confined himself to the bows or stern. He had made a few inquiries in a casual sort of way, and had ascertained that Mr. Keen, the owner, was rarely in the habit of entertaining friends, and that he had some sort of business connection in Rotterdam, for, occasionally, the Melchior laid up there for two or three days at a time. So far as he could gather, there was no one else on board save the owner, who seemed to spend most of his time in his cabin. If there was anybody else there the fact was not mentioned.
But, on the second morning, Ray crept up on deck, and looked eagerly around him. He seemed to have the place to himself, with the exception of a sailor or two, and then, from under the canvas of one of the lifeboats, he surveyed the chart-house and the upper deck. His heart gave a great leap as he saw a female figure emerge from one of the cabins, and stand there, clear against the sky, looking towards the Dutch coast, which was plainly rising like a blue haze in the far distance. As she turned in Ray's direction, he raised a hand from behind the boat, and waved a sign. He did that three times before he saw the figure move, and come down in the direction of his partial hiding-place.
If he had had any doubts as to who it was, they were dispelled now. He could see Angela's face as she came indolently towards him, and knew that her quick intelligence had grasped the meaning of his upraised hand. Very leisurely she came along until she stood on the far side of the boat, as if intent on studying its mechanism, and then he ventured to speak.
"It's all right, darling," he whispered "Don't take any notice, and don't stay a minute. I only wanted to let you know that I was on board. We shall get our chance to talk all in good time. Leave that to me, Angela. And now go."
"How did you manage it?" Angela whispered.
"Oh, don't stop to ask that now," Ray said. "Leave it entirely to me, and have no fear."
Still Angela lingered as if loth to leave the man who meant so much to her. There was peril in this, but Ray had not the heart to order her peremptorily away.
He could not see her face, he dared not lift his head high enough to get a glance at her features, but from the tone of her voice it did not seem to him that she was suffering from overmuch anxiety. There was no one within earshot, the deck was more or less deserted, so Ray made up his mind to risk another minute or two. He whispered to Angela to turn her back upon him before he spoke again.
"Is there anything very wrong?" he whispered. "Are you in any trouble or peril? Because if so——"
"No, I don't think so," Angela said. "It is a strange story, and so bewilders me that I can make nothing of it. If we could have ten minutes together I could explain. But I know that we shall be on our way back home to-morrow night."
All this with Angela standing looking towards the Dutch coast, and Ray lounging on the rail behind the lifeboat in an easy attitude, as if he was merely gazing down into the sea.
"Yes," he said. "I think I am beginning to understand. Do you happen to know where you are staying in Rotterdam to-night?"
"Oh, yes, at the Kerrhaus Hotel. I have been here on the yacht before, and we always put up there."
"And what generally happens?"
"People come to see Mr. Keen on business, or he goes out to see them. I know he has an appointment with a Dutch merchant at about 3 o'clock this afternoon, and after dinner he always goes to call upon a friend of his named van Rooden. He lives in the place called Hague Square."
"That is all right, then," Ray said, with a sigh of relief. "I also shall be staying the night at the Kerrhaus Hotel. You won't recognise me, but if you will be in the lounge about tea time I will come and sit by you, and we will drift into conversation. You can tell me everything then, but now you really must go. I have no business on deck at all—it is no place for one of the stokers on board the yacht."
Angela vanished immediately, and Ray lounged along in the direction of the stokehole. He had not come altogether unprovided for an emergency of this kind, and in his sailor's canvas bag he had stowed away a complete change of clothing. With this, and his present disguise, he would be able to pass unnoticed, and, in the course of time, book a room at the hotel.
It was still quite early when the 'Melchior' came to her moorings, and there was no difficulty for Ray to obtain shore leave from the chief engineer. They would be anchored up, so that individual said, for one night only, and Ray was warned to be back on board by dusk the following evening. Then, with his sack under his arm, he drifted away through the dock gates. He was in no great hurry. He had been there more than once during the Great War, and he spoke the language like a native. Indeed, he would have been of little use in the Secret Service had it been otherwise. He stayed just outside the gates long enough to see Keen and Angela drive away in a taxi, followed presently, to his surprise, by Easton, who seemed to be particularly anxious with regard to a big iron-bound box which it took two porters to lift on to the carrier of his own conveyance. Ray smiled to himself as he saw this, which he knew would have caused great astonishment to the authorities if it had been opened there and then.
But this, for the moment, was of little matter; that would come in good time. Meanwhile, it was up to Ray to make himself presentable so that his appearance would cause no comment when he applied for a room at the Kerrhaus Hotel. He turned into a barber's shop, where he had a trim and a shave, and afterwards, in the public baths, changed into his ordinary clothing, leaving the discarded kit to be called for in due course. Then, with a second-hand attache case which he purchased near the docks, he walked as far as the hotel and registered for the night. He was still wearing his false moustache and beard, so that he was quite prepared to meet Keen face to face with no chance of recognition.
It was just before five when the coast became clear. He watched Keen off the premises before he went down into the lounge to find Angela seated there, a little apart from the rest of the guests. He was not troubling in the least about Easton, because he knew that a mere servant would not be likely to show himself in that part of the hotel. In his own natural easy way he seated himself close to Angela and began to talk.
"Now then," he said. "Let's be businesslike. We are far enough away from the rest not to be overheard, and Keen might be back at any moment. What does it all mean?"
"Ah, there you are in the dark as much as I am," Angela replied. "I am supposed to have vanished from my home, leaving no trace behind me."
"So I gathered from the papers," Ray smiled.
"Yes, that was Mr. Keen's idea. He pretended to believe that I had been mysteriously spirited away, at least, that is what he told the police, and the men from the newspapers who came clamouring for all the details. Then he had a photograph of mine published. I daresay you saw it, Harry."
"Most assuredly I did," Ray said. "And a most ghastly production it was. I knew it was intended for you, but even I had some difficulty in making out your features."
"Ah, that was part of the scheme. I don't know what happened, but the next morning after I saw you, Mr. Keen came to me in a great state of agitation and told me that I was in great danger, in fact, that we were both in great danger. It was something to do with South America and a sort of vendetta which had been formed against my guardian. It was such a rambling statement that I couldn't make head or tail of it. I know that in some way it had to do with my parentage, and that if I only consented to the scheme Mr. Keen had in his mind, it might in the long run be greatly to my peace of mind and future happiness. He also told me that I was in considerable danger for the next day or two, at the end of which time he would be able to take such steps as would entirely baffle the ruffians behind the conspiracy. He was so convincing that I agreed. I was to go out shopping in the ordinary way and somewhere in Regent-street a car would pull up and I should be hailed by somebody inside. I was to enter the car, leaving the rest to circumstances. Well, rightly or wrongly, Harry, I did it, and an hour or two later I found myself on board the 'Melchior.' And that's about all I can tell you. It may be true or it may be part of some deep scheme on Mr. Keen's part. But perhaps you know a great deal better than I do."
"I think I do, my dear girl," Ray smiled. "I think that you also know too much and Keen is aware of the fact. There are urgent reasons why you should be kept out of the way for a day or so, and the man in question invented that ridiculous scheme to lull your suspicions to sleep. I wouldn't mind making a small bet that you found something out in the flat, and that you were detected either by Keen or Easton in the act of doing so."
"You really are very wonderful, Harry," Angela cried. "Why, that is exactly what did happen. And, unfortunately, Easton detected me coming out of Mr. Keen's bedroom. I thought that Easton had left the flat for the night, but it seems that I was wrong. You see, I watched Mr. Keen leaving by the front door——"
"Stop a minute. You told me he wasn't there."
"So I thought. He certainly wasn't there at dinner, which I shared with Mr. Moon, and I know he hadn't come in when I went to bed, because I left my door slightly open, and sat up till long after midnight, watching. Then, to my amazement, Mr. Keen came out of his bedroom, and left the flat. The library light was out, so I naturally concluded that Mr. Moon was in my guardian's room, but he wasn't, he was not in the flat at all. The door of the bedroom was open, and I looked in to find it empty. All I could discover was Mr. Moon's spectacles, without which he is as blind as a bat. I came out to find myself face to face with Easton. I told him some story about looking for an aspirin for a headache, but I could see that he didn't believe it, though, of course, he was civil enough. Then, next morning, Mr. Keen told me that extraordinary story."
"It's all just as I thought," Ray said. "Those men were under the impression that you knew something, and that is why they wanted to get you out of London for a day or two."
"I am sorry I failed," Angela said.
"I am not quite so sure you have failed," Ray replied. "At any rate, you have established a suspicion in my mind which has now become a certainty."
"Then I have not been without my uses," Angela said. "I had a vague suspicion that I was being deceived, and therefore I left you a sort of message. It was an idea I picked up from a novel I have been reading—writing a line or two on the looking glass with a piece of soap. Of course, I knew you would never believe I had been kidnapped or that I had gone away on my own accord, so on the mirror in my bedroom——"
"Yes, I know," Ray said. "I burgled the flat, feeling that perhaps you had left a clue behind you, and I found it. Hence my presence here at this moment. I looked up the name of the yacht and I managed to bribe one of the firemen to turn his place over to me for one voyage only. Everything is going excellently, and before very long——"
Ray moved suddenly away with a warning glance at Angela, as Keen came in through the revolving doors. But Ray had said all he wanted to, and he could afford to wait now for the next act in the drama. He sat there, reading the papers and smoking, until dinner time. Then, towards nine o'clock, he followed Keen into the hall, where Easton was awaiting him. From the lift two porters emerged, carrying the big, iron-clamped box. This they conveyed to a waiting taxi, which drove away, closely followed a minute later by another vehicle in which Ray had thrown himself.
"Keep that taxi in view," he commanded. "But don't get near enough to excite suspicion. If you manage that all right, I will give you treble your fare."
The driver grinned understandingly, and the chase began. It was not a very long one, for presently the taxi in advance pulled up on one side of the Hague Square in front of a tall gloomy house, and Keen alighted. He had hardly reached the pavement before Ray had dismissed his own cab and paid the fare he promised. Then he moved along in the gloom, exactly opposite Keen's cab, and sauntered carelessly across the road as his quarry stood on the doorstep of the big house, impatiently ringing the bell.
Ray timed it to a nicety. He could have touched Keen as the latter stood there just as the door opened and a sort of man-servant came out on the step and lifted up his hand.
"You must not make that noise, mein Herr," he said.
"But dammit, you know me," Keen blustered.
"Yes, yes," the old man said. "But my master, mein Herr, van Rooden has met with a serious accident. He is on the point of death. Run down by a motor wagon. You could not see him to-night if you were the Queen of Holland."
A savage curse leapt to Keen's lips. He turned to Easton, still seated in the cab.
"Nothing doing here to-night," he said. "We must get back to our hotel as soon as possible."
Ray grinned to himself under cover of darkness. Here was a fine check to the conspirators who had come all this way from England with the cream of the loot hidden in that iron-bound box which was obviously destined to pass into the possession of the man called van Rooden. Ray had not the remotest idea who van Rooden was, but he did not doubt that he was one of those notorious international 'fences' whose business it is to deal in stolen treasures and transport them across the Atlantic where they find a ready sale. Half an hour later, and the transaction would have been complete, but as it was, Keen's plans had been blown to the winds, and in all probability he would now have to look for a fresh outlet for the results of his audacious enterprises. A less astute officer than Ray would have gone straight to the Rotterdam police and laid his information. But Ray knew better than that. He was going to accompany that iron-bound box back to England and take the whole gang red-handed when the proper time came.
Meanwhile, he had plenty to do. He certainly wanted to have a few words with the head of the detective staff in Rotterdam, where he knew he would find some one who spoke English, and very probably an international officer who was more or less under the instructions of Mr. Barle himself. He knew exactly where to go, and who to ask for, and a little while later, he was closeted with an official who could talk English just as well as Ray. And, moreover, he had known the individual in question during the few months he was in Rotterdam early in 1915.
"Ah, Mr. Ray," he said. "I am pleased to see you again. What may I have the pleasure of doing for you? I was quite glad when one of my men brought your card in. Is it something serious? Otherwise you would not be in that guise."
"We are rather in the early stages yet," Ray said. "But before I do anything else I want you to put through a long message in the code to my chief, Mr. Barle, in London."
"Ah, anything I can do for Mr. Barle is a pleasure. You will sit at that desk and write your message, please."
It was rather a long message, but it was through at length, and then Ray turned to his companion.
"I am on the track of a very daring set of thieves," he explained. "The gang who are sweeping all before them in England. Two of them are in Rotterdam at the present moment."
"Then you want my assistance, is it not?"
"Well, not exactly in the way of making an arrest, though that may come later on. I have been close behind these people all the way, in fact, I am a fireman on board their yacht. I have every reason to believe that they have a lot of the loot with them here. Indeed, I have seen it. Can you tell me anything about a man named van Rooden, who lives in Hague Square? I believe he has an important antique shop on the ground floor."
"Is that so. So you think he is the man?"
"I am almost confident of it. At any rate, the people I am after drove up to his front door just now with a big iron-bound box, doubtless containing valuables. Mind, they don't come in the daylight when the shop is open, but long after it is closed. Have you any reason to suspect van Rooden?"
"Well, no," the officer said thoughtfully. "He bears rather a good name and people come from all over the world to see him. During the early years of the war he was more or less ruined, and I know it was with the greatest difficulty that he managed to survive his misfortunes. Now, again, he is quite prosperous."
"Ah," Ray said significantly. "Ah. Now you may be able to guess as to whence this new prosperity has come. You will greatly oblige me by having this man watched. It won't be difficult, because he has just met with a serious accident in connection with a motor of some sort. This was a tremendous shock to the men I am after, and I know this, because I was within a yard or two of the house in Hague Square where they had come to unload the spoil. And now they will have to take it back again. If anything transpires I will ask you to let Mr. Barle know without delay. I can't stop for anything more."
Ray went back to his hotel, perfectly satisfied with the progress of affairs. The accident to van Rooden had been a terrible shock to Keen, who would be compelled now to retrace his steps and take the iron-bound box with him. It seemed hardly possible to believe that in the short time at his disposal Keen could make other arrangements in Rotterdam and, therefore, he would be bound to get back home with the property more or less on his person. It would not be safe to take it to the flat, and in all probability it would be concealed for the time being in the Thatched House at Shepperton. This would take the best part of three days, and meanwhile, in the absence of both Keen and Easton, Barle would be about to carry out the instructions Ray had given him without the least fear of being disturbed, in other words, he would be able to visit the Thatched House almost openly, and make use of certain things there which Ray had introduced to his notice in the course of his long cypher message. Meanwhile, there was nothing for it but to go quietly to bed and wait developments.
By the middle of the following afternoon Ray was back again on the Melchior in his fireman's kit, and presently had the satisfaction of watching Keen and Easton arrive, together with Angela and what was equally important, the iron-bound box. When the tide turned the yacht was warped down the river, and presently stood out in the open sea.
Where were they going? Ray wondered. Would it be back to the old anchorage, or in some secluded spot where the iron-bound box could be landed without attracting undue attention? It was Ray's business to find this out. The opportunity came his way a little later in the course of a chat with the chief engineer.
"No, we are not going up the Thames this time," the latter explained. "Sheerness or Chatham, I believe. The latter place for choice. At least, those are my instructions."
Ray pondered this over in his mind a few minutes, and then it seemed to him that the matter became plain. Evidently another robbery was in progress, or imminent, and the Melchior was to lie up in one of the muddy reaches between Sheerness and Chatham to take the loot off as soon as it fell in the hands of the gang. Once this was done, the yacht would sail away again to some rendezvous where the valuables would be taken off by some other individual selected to take van Rooden's place. And then, as he thought it over, something like an inspiration came to Ray. If he could only detain the vessel within a few miles of the place on the North Kent coast, where all these robberies took place, he might so cripple her as to render the gang an easy prey. If the Melchior broke down outside the three mile limit with the iron-bound box on board, then the work of the subordinates under Barle would be made much easier, and perhaps, when the time came for the raid, the results of the next burglary might be brought to light within a few hours of their being removed from the owner's premises.
Ray went about his work thinking out the details until they seemed to be complete. He had found out by this time that Keen intended to land at Chatham and proceed thence to London. He was, of course, going to take Angela with him, but no doubt by this time he had concocted some story of the girl's disappearance which would be calculated to satisfy the police. For some reason or another, Keen had wanted Angela to accompany him to Rotterdam, and close the flat. Probably this precaution was no longer necessary, but in any case that was a mere detail.
They were within four miles of the harbour at Chatham when Ray put his plan into execution. He stole very gently into the empty engine-room, and, taking a small spanner from a rack, dropped it quietly into the midst of the gleaming bed of machinery. He was back again before he was missed, and waited on events. They were not long in coming, for a minute later the yacht slowed down almost to a standstill, and in the engine room was a grinding, tearing noise, followed by the snap of a piston-rod, and then silence.
In a minute the whole yacht was in confusion. Keen came storming down to the engine-room, cursing everybody, and shouting to know what had happened. It was some time before the alarmed staff could ascertain the extent of the damage. Then it became clear that the main shaft had buckled, and two of the piston rods were out of action altogether.
"And that's torn it, sir," the chief engineer said. "We can't get a yard further, and we shan't till the damage has been made good. That means the best part of a week."
Keen ran up raging on deck, and threw his instructions about right and left. There was nothing for it but to summon a boat, and get away without further delay. There was a long whispered conference between Keen and Easton, and eventually the latter was left on board to keep an eye on things, whilst Keen and Angela went ashore in a motor boat which they had signalled for.
"No reason for us to remain," Ray asked the chief engineer. "Looks like a week's holiday, don't it, boss?"
"Oh, you can go to the devil as far as I am concerned," the worried officer said. "Yes, at least a week."
Taking this as an intimation that his services were no longer required, Ray tumbled over the side into one of the waiting boats, and a little later landed on the quay. As he turned his face in the direction of the town, he found himself facing Barle.
"I have been waiting for you," the latter said. "I knew you were expected about this time. But what's this I hear about an accident to the machinery?"
"I was the god in the car there," Ray grinned. "Of course you got my message. Have you been to the Thatched House? Did you find the map and get a photograph?"
"I got everything," Barle replied briefly. "And now come with me, for there is a whole lot to be done. A few hours more, and we have them all in the net."
"But how on earth did you get here?" Ray asked.
"Need we go into that for the moment?" Barle retorted. "Still, if you must know, I got my inspiration from that very ingenious map at the Thatched House."
Ray nodded approvingly. Evidently Barle had lost no time in getting down to Shepperton and laying hands on that clever map, which a stroke of good fortune had thrown into Ray's way.
"I am very glad about that," he said. "I sent you that cypher message from Rotterdam at the earliest possible moment, because I wanted you to get the photograph whilst the coast was clear. The only two people we had to fear were Keen and that man Easton, who acts as his butler. And, as they were on the other side of the North Sea, I thought I would get in touch with you."
"It was quite all right," Barle explained. "I sent down to Shepperton at once, and in an hour or two the map was in my hands. Directly we had the photographs I sent it back and replaced it behind the panel in the library. The photograph was a great success. I have got a copy in my pocket, and will show it to you presently. Come along with me."
"Delighted," Ray said. "But how on earth did you find out that the Melchior would lie up off Chatham?"
"Oh, that is a matter of what the swell detectives in fiction call obvious deduction," Barle laughed. "But I don't mind telling you that the famous map inspired me. I gathered from that that the next robbery would be not very far from here. In fact, I am banking on the certainty of knowing the particular house which is marked down for plunder. And when my spies here told me that the Melchior was in sight, I was certain of it. Funny thing that the machinery should break down, wasn't it?"
"It would have been, only I happened to be responsible for it," Ray said. "I had some sort of suspicion of the same kind myself, so when I knew where we were coming I chucked a spanner into the engine bed, with what result you know. My idea was to hold the boat up here for a week or so, and keep a close eye on those chaps. Anyway, there it is, and, so far as I can gather, everything is going our way. But what about Miss Angela Nemo? How was that squared up? You see, I found her on board the Melchior, and I managed to get half an hour's conversation with her in the hotel where she and Keen were staying. In fact, I put up there myself. What I want to know is, how Keen explained the disappearance to the police."
"Oh, that was easy enough," Barle said. "He came round to the Yard, and explained that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. He said that Miss Nemo had gone into the country for a day or two, and that a letter that she left behind her, explaining, had, quite by accident, found its way into the fire. Of course, we accepted that statement, and the sensational Press was only too glad to drop it when they found that there was no story behind the business. It is quite forgotten by this time. What I want to know is why Keen started the trouble at all."
Ray went on to explain. He told Barle all about the incident of the looking-glass and the message thereon, but just for the moment he had no desire to go into further details. There would be time enough for that when the proper moment came.
"What do you want me to do now?" he asked.
"Well, I want you to come along with me," Barle explained. "I can appear openly in this matter, because there is not a thief in London who can identify me with Scotland Yard. I can move about the district freely, perfectly easy in my mind. But you are rather different. You will have to change your makeup. I take it that both Keen and Easton know you as you are."
"I don't think they do," Ray said. "I am perfectly sure Eastern doesn't. Still, if you think there is a risk through Keen, I can easily fake up some other disguise."
"That is my idea," Barle said. "I have been round to your rooms, where I took the liberty of going over your wardrobe, and I have all the clothing you need in the next two or three days. Dress jacket, and so forth."
"Oh, we are going into society, are we?" Ray chuckled.
"Something like that. But I can't tell you any more till you have seen the map. I am staying quietly in a little country hotel, a mile or two away, in a village called Hadlow. I am supposed to be something of a motor expert, and am making trial with a new two-seater. As a matter of fact, I am keeping an eye upon a garage not far off, belonging to an old lady who lives more or less alone, because I am convinced that it will be from this garage that the car will be stolen for the next robbery. The chauffeur comes to the 'Ship' most evenings—that is the name of the hotel I told you about—and, unless I am greatly mistaken, he has agreed to see nothing, in exchange for a considerable bribe. Do you see what I mean? The old lady's car goes out very, very seldom, and on the chosen night the chauffeur will be away when the car is wanted. At least, that is my theory. I may be wrong, because, in the circumstances, it would be an easy matter to lure the chauffeur away by a bogus telegram. However, all this in due course. Now, come along with me, and I will show you that map. I have got the two-seater not very far off, and I have all your necessary clothing in the bedroom which I have taken for you."
They came presently to the quiet little village of Hadlow and the old-fashioned inn where Barle was putting up. So far as Ray could see, as they drove along, the neighbourhood was an exceedingly prosperous one, for in the course of four miles they passed at least a dozen great houses, which obviously belonged to people either of rank or considerable wealth.
"The place seems to swarm with them," Ray said.
"Yes, one of the richest nooks in England," Barle laughed. "Famous city men, members of the aristocracy, and all that sort of thing. Do you see that red brick place down the hollow there? One of the finest Tudor houses in England. That's Abbotsfield, the Kentish seat of the Duke of Abbotsfield. I need not ask if you have ever heard of him."
Ray nodded. The name was a famous one, both in statesmanship and science. The Duke of Abbotsfield at one time had been high up in the service of the nation, but at a comparatively early age had abandoned his political career for the science that he loved so well. More than that, he was a great collector. Indeed, his museum of historic valuables was almost unique. He spent most of his time down there in Kent with a few intimate friends around him, and these he was never tired of entertaining. It was no wonder, then, that the name was quite familiar to Ray.
"I am beginning to understand," he said. "Are you hinting to me that Abbotsfield Park is going to be the next field of operations for our friends, Keen and Co.?"
"That's right!" Barle chuckled. "I am perfectly certain of it. Not that I take any credit to myself for the knowledge, because if I hadn't seen that map I should still be as much in the dark as ever. Now, come and look at it."
They were in Barle's sitting-room presently, pouring over the enlarged photograph of the famous map. Evidently the camera had been placed at a particular angle, because there was no trace of Brazil to be seen—nothing but a large scale presentment of the North Kent coast worked out in detail. There were marks here and there, circled round certain properties, and beneath these a mass of exceedingly fine writing, which, however, became plain enough under a powerful magnifying glass. Some of the details given were very elaborate indeed, so much so that Ray expressed his astonishment. Anything more perfect in its way it would have been difficult to imagine. And yet there was something almost childishly daring about the whole thing.
"What a set of infernal fools!" Ray exclaimed. "Fancy putting all this on record! I should never have dared to have done such a thing, even if I had found the most secret hiding-place in the world. You never know when luck is going to be against you, and there is no getting away from the fact that it was the blindest good fortune that brought this into my hands."
"Yes, but if the cleverest criminal wasn't always a sanguine creature, we police would have rather a thin time of it. But your criminal always overlooks something, and that is where Scotland Yard scores."
"Yes; and that is not all," Ray pointed out. "Look at numbers one, two, three, four, and five on that map. In every instance they represent big houses where successful robberies have been achieved. Enough evidence to send the whole gang of them into penal servitude. We could arrest Keen and Easton to-morrow on the strength of that map alone."
"Very likely!—very likely!" Barle said. "But we should have to produce a good deal more material than that. This time I am going to take the scoundrels red-handed. I will tell you all about it presently. Meanwhile, I am going to become a guest under the Duke's roof. He is giving a big party in honour of his 50th birthday, and the house will be full for the next week or two. Never mind how I managed to get an invitation—we shall come to that in due course. But I am going, and have the privilege of taking a young friend with me. Need I say that that young friend will be yourself! You are going there under your own name as a scientist from Brazil, who is more or less an authority on tropical butterflies. You will find that the Duke is very keen on that subject. Oh, yes, we are going to enjoy ourselves."
A sudden thought flashed through Ray's mind, a gleam of humour came into his eyes, then he closed his lips and said no more with regard to that, but all the same he was not going to abandon the brilliant thought that had come to him.
"And now, what next?" he asked.
"Well, I suppose the next thing is to have something to eat," Barle said. "But, before you do that, I think you had better go up to your room and remove that beard. I told the people here I was expecting a friend from abroad, and if you make yourself less hairy it will excite no suspicion. I suggest a slight moustache, and perhaps a pair of intellectual-looking pince-nez. You will find everything in your suit case."
Ray came downstairs a little later changed beyond all recognition. He was young Oxford to the life, the intellectual scientist, brilliant, clever, and, indeed, just the counterfeit presentment that Barle would have chosen.
"Excellent!" the latter said. "The day after to-morrow we go to Abbotsfield Park, and stay there, awaiting developments. Before the end of the week I am convinced that a big robbery will be attempted on the premises in question. But it won't be for three or four days, because Keen will await until the machinery of his yacht is in order again. How long do you think it will take to repair the damage you caused?"
"Four days at least," Ray said. "I am speaking on the authority of the chief engineer. The yacht is only three miles from a big dockyard, and you may depend upon it that no time will be lost. I should say that in all probability the raid will take place next Saturday night."
"Yes," Barle said, thoughtfully. "That is just how I figure it out myself. Not that it makes much difference, because the trap is already baited."
"Oh, then the Duke knows all about it, eh? Excellent!"
Barle mounted on the driving seat of his little two-seater, and the superior-looking young Oxford man hopped up beside him before they set out for a leisurely tour of the neighbourhood. Barle drove along the London road for three or four miles until he came at length to a big white house lying well back from the road, and surrounded by a high stone wall.
"This place belongs to a Miss Seddon," he said. "She is a wealthy old lady who lives entirely for herself, and, having nothing else to think about, imagines herself to be a confirmed invalid. As a matter of fact, she is as strong as I am. All the same, she is entirely in the hands of her servants, and when they want a quiet time they persuade her that she is not looking her best, whereupon she retires to bed and sends for her doctor. Of course, he naturally plays up to a rich patient, and lets her do anything she likes. I have found out all this through my local intelligence department, and when I discovered that the lady is the owner of a big Daimler car, which only goes out once a month. I began to see where Keen would borrow his next conveyance when he came a-marauding in this locality next. You know what I mean. The gang stop within a few miles of their objective and borrow a car. When the raid has finished, and the stuff is hidden, they leave the car on the roadside, and thus get rid of what might otherwise be an important piece of evidence. But you know all about that. The chauffeur in this case is a man named Grimm, and the garage and his quarters over abut on the back lane. I will drive you round that way and show you."
Barle turned his car into a side road and drove slowly over the broken surface till he came to a building all by itself, situated on the edge of the lane.
"There you are," he said. "There is the garage, and between it and the old lady's garden is a large paddock. I suppose from here to the house is over half a mile. The whole thing might be made for Keen. He either bribes the chauffeur, or lures him away for a night, and the rest is as easy as shelling peas. It is only a matter of pushing the car into the lane. No chance of breaking into the garage and of being overheard, because there isn't another residence within a mile. It is any money that the Daimler snugly hidden in there is one which Keen will use to get his plunder away from Abbotsfield. Every night from now on the garage will be watched by officers hidden in the hedge opposite, and they will follow at a discreet distance in a car of their own. This, however, is a mere side line, what the law calls corroborative evidence in case my plans go astray. I have taken every precaution I can think of, and, as the bishop said in the story, I leave the rest to Providence."
Three days later saw Barle and Ray driving up the noble avenue that led to Abbotsfield Park. They found themselves presently in a great hall, lined with priceless pictures and tapestries, gleaned from every part of Europe. Ray was not easily impressed, for he had seen many great houses in the course of his adventures, both at home and abroad, but it seemed to him that he had never seen anything quite so artistically priceless as Abbotsfield Park. On every hand were works of art, statuary, old carvings, and gold-inlaid armour, perfectly ranged and all forming a storehouse of treasure calculated to bring water to the mouth of any thief who was fortunate enough to find himself there. It was the same all over the place. Every room boasted its treasures, which seemed to be scattered about with utter disregard to safety. So far as Ray could see, nothing was under lock and key.
For the moment, at any rate, the other guests had not made their appearance, so that they had their host to themselves. The Duke was a fine-looking man, a little prematurely aged, perhaps, with white hair and moustache, and, though his face was lined with thought, the merry twinkle in his dark eyes showed that at any rate his spirit was young enough. He led his visitors into a small cedar-panelled room looking out on the Park, and with a wave of his hand indicated the silver box of cigars and cigarettes that lay hospitably open on a Louis XIV table.
"Now we shall be quite comfortable," he said. "I am delighted to see both you gentlemen here. Of course, I know who you are and why you have come, but I am none the less pleased on that account. Really, I am quite looking forward to the adventure. I don't mind telling you, Mr. Ray, that one of my favourite relaxations is reading sensational literature."
"Ah, there you are not altogether alone, Duke. The late Sir Henry Hawkins, the famous criminal judge, had a similar weakness, and so had the great Lord Coleridge; in fact, I heard him make that confession one night when I was dining with a friend in the Savage Club."
The Duke laughed pleasantly. It seemed as if all at once he had shed 10 years of his age.
"Now, tell me all about it," he demanded.
"I don't think there is very much to tell," Barle took up the thread. "I might say that I know an attempt will be made upon the house during the course of the next few days, and my young friend here is my inspiration. He has worked out the whole thing very cleverly; in fact, I couldn't have done it as well myself."
"But what is it they want?" the Duke asked. "They can't take away pictures or armour, or statuary, and I don't see your modern thief getting away with a car full of carpets."
"No, perhaps not," Barle said. "But I was under the impression that your Grace had a perfectly priceless collection of engraved stones; diamonds and rubies, and so on."
"Perfectly correct," the Duke said. "They are my greatest treasures, and I have no finer delight than in showing them to my friends. But I don't keep them lying about. I have a sort of strong room leading out of the library, where I spend a good deal of my time. In there I have an instalment of electric light, and I amuse myself on wet days in pottering about and rearranging the shelves, and all that kind of thing. But I don't say it is burglar proof, because it isn't. Two or three years ago I got shut in there by accident, and if my own man had not come into the library at the opportune moment I should have been suffocated. So I had the front plating lining taken out, and some air holes bored in the top of the door. Still, it would be a big job for the burglar to get into that."
"I don't think so," Barle smiled. "Our safe makers are a clever lot, but your modern safe breaker leaves them standing. Would you mind showing us the room?"
Smilingly the Duke led the way into the magnificent library, with its priceless first editions, and on one side indicated a steel door, over which five holes were bored in the shape of a diamond. This he proceeded to unlock with a key which he took from a hiding place, and threw the door open.
"There," he exclaimed. "On those shelves and in all those little drawers is, perhaps, the most perfect collection of engraved stones in the world. All the family jewels are there as well. They are heirlooms. You see, as a childless widower, all I have to do is to take care of them, and hold them in trust for my successor. Of course, I know I ought to keep them in my bank, but some of those jewels are of great historic interest, and when some American or Continental connoisseur comes along I like to show them to him. But you don't think they are safe?"
"I am perfectly sure they are not," Barle said frankly. "I know a score of burglars who would be inside that door at the end of a quarter of an hour. They have got a new sort of matrix, a kind of acid poultice, which they spread on asbestos, just as you put mortar on a brick, and plaster this on, all down the hinges of the door, and in ten minutes the acids have eaten through it as easily as a mite eats into a cheese. If they come here late at night and overpowered your watchman, they would be miles away within half an hour of their advent. Oh, no, you mustn't rely upon anything in the way of bolts and bars these days."
To all of which his Grace Abbotsfield listened with something like alarm. However, forewarned is forearmed, and if these men could not protect his treasures for him, then, indeed, the case was hopeless.
"That is very disturbing," he said. "If anything goes wrong with your plans, then in all probability——"
"I think you can make yourself easy on that score," Barle said. "You see, we know what is coming, and the thieves have not the least idea that we are expecting them. If you leave it to us, you may be quite sure it will be all right."
There was nothing more to be said for the moment, and so the subject was allowed to drop. The next day the Duke's guests began to arrive, one or two at a time, so that by Friday evening the house was comparatively full. Nothing, of course, had been allowed to transpire as to the threatened danger, so that the presence of Barle and Ray, under the roof of Abbotsfield, passed as a matter of course. Barle was merely a polished man of the world, taking a languid interest in the subjects that intrigued the other guests, whilst Ray, the travelled man, and an authority on the subject of tropical butterflies, was quite at home from the first. He came down into the big drawing-room, with Barle on the Friday night to find the house-party complete. There were men whose faces were known wherever notables gathered together. Indeed, it was a collection of celebrities in which Barle, at any rate, felt himself more or less lost. He wandered over into one of the deep windows, and was interested in a portfolio of sketches when Ray came across and squeezed his arm.
"Well, I'm hanged," he murmured under his breath. "Who do you suppose is here, actually as one of the guests?"
"Haven't a notion," Barle said briefly.
"Well, nobody less than Edward Keen himself."
Barle glanced round the great, blue drawing-room, with its noble proportions and vast spaces, and a grim, humorous light came into his eyes. This was the sort of intricate problem that his soul loved. He whistled ever so softly between his teeth.
"So, ho!" he murmured. "Then we really are getting to grips at last. Which of these notables is the fair unknown?"
"I hope you don't mind," Ray said. "But I have taken you into my confidence as far as I dared go without being absolutely sure of my ground, and now I must tell you everything. Keen is here, in this room. Can't you recognise him?"
"Give it up," Barle said. "Tell me."
"The man with the white beard and with spectacles," Ray said. "The one talking to Lord Barlington."
"Yes, but that is Moon, the great entomologist."
"Precisely," Ray said drily. "And also Edward Keen, the great criminal. Oh, I am quite sure of my ground. I have known it for some time, but Miss Nemo proved it for me. Don't you remember my telling you how she went into Keen's bedroom the night before she was 'abducted,' and found nothing there except Moon's spectacles? That was confirmation of what I already suspected. It was Moon whom I saw in the bungalow examining that map, and then the happy idea that they were one and the same man came home to me. Nothing could possibly be plainer."
"But, really, my dear fellow——"
"Yes, yes, I know what you are going to say. But why not? You know all about the Golden Bat, and how it was stolen from Lord Barlington's house and placed on one or the walls in the bungalow. You know that Keen is almost as fine a judge of tropical butterflies as Moon himself. And don't forget that Moon's publishers have never seen him—very few people have seen him for the matter of that, and they have never been in the same room together. Even out in Brazil there is nobody who has seen Keen and Moon together. I don't see in the least why they should not be one and the same. However, if you don't believe me, go across the room and pull Moon's beard off. You will be convinced then."
"Rather dramatic, eh, what?" Barle smiled. "But we must not sacrifice our big final scene for a sudden effect. However, what you have just told me confirms me in my impression that this place will be the scene of the next robbery. Here we have the principal character under the roof of the man who is to be bereft of his treasures, and I have no doubt he has his confederates fairly close at hand. Rather funny, isn't it, that Lord Barlington, another of Keen's victims, should be under this roof. And, moreover, invited especially to meet that distinguished scientist, Mr. Moon. What you call dramatic retribution."
"Yes, it is strange, isn't it?" Ray said. "I shall have a few words with Lord Barlington before long, in connection with a certain young lady I have told you about, because, you see, Miss Nemo, who in supposed to have no relatives in the world, is the only child of Lord Barlington's second son. This is by way of being a side show, and more of less remotely connected with the main issue, but it is of the greatest interest to me, and I intend to see it through. Now, unless I am altogether mistaken Keen, or Moon, or whatever he calls himself, is here for the week-end, and I have not the slightest doubt that he has brought his man with him. And if that man doesn't turn out to be the butler, Easton, I shall be very much mistaken. Do you happen to have a valet of your own? I mean, have you got one down here?"
"Oh, dear, yes," Barle said. "I am doing the thing in style, of course. My man is somewhere about."
"Then get hold of him before we go in to dinner and ask him if Moon has a body-servant with him. Of course, the man who comes down here with you is one of your own staff."
"Well, naturally. I will see what I can do."
Barle strolled casually from the room and came back presently with the information that Ray needed.
"You are quite right," he said, "Moon's man is called Easton, so that's that."
"Nothing could be better," Ray said. "We have the two principal characters in the conspiracy down here, and they will be safely under our eye until the big coup is pulled off. That will probably be to-morrow night, after dinner. No doubt it will be late in the evening, when we are all playing bridge in the smoking room. And now, if you don't mind, I will take a few hours off tomorrow morning and go up to town. I want to visit the Thatched House and bring all those papers and documents with me. They will be very useful when we come to confront the rascals, and, besides, there are certain items, notably the Golden Bat, which I am making use of for purposes of my own."
It was no difficult matter for Ray to borrow a car next morning and run up to town. But first of all he wanted to go as far as the small hotel in Hadlow and pick up a few odds and ends which he required, and he drove through Chatham for this purpose. He was passing down one of the main streets of the town, when, to his immense astonishment, he saw Angela on the pavement. There was no reason for secrecy, he had no one to fear, so he ordered the car to be pulled up, and got out.
"Now, what on earth are you doing here?" he asked.
Angela looked around somewhat fearfully.
"Oh, it's all right," Ray went on. "It is perfectly safe. Keen and his familiar, Easton, are far enough away, and much too busy to think about either you of me. Now, tell me, my dear, what on earth are you doing in Chatham?"
"Oh, merely obeying orders," Angela smiled. "I am to remain here until the machinery of the Melchior has been repaired, and then we are going off somewhere in the yacht. I don't know quite what our destination is, but I think it is somewhere North. I am told that all will be ready late to-morrow night, and that I shall be picked up here somewhere about midnight, so that we can catch the morning tide."
Here was confirmation, if Ray needed it, that the raid on the Duke's treasures would take place late on the following evening. But of that he said nothing.
"I am beginning to understand," he said. "You are staying at some hotel here until Keen comes back."
"Yes, that is quite right." Angela explained. "I am staying at the Mermaid. But how are you getting on? Where is my guardian and his man? They told me they were going up to London. You see, the flat is shut up, and the servants on board wages, so I suppose the idea is that we are going off for quite a long time. I don't in the least want to go, Harry; I dread the idea of it. If you can only stop it——"
"Oh, I am going to stop it right enough," Ray said, confidently. "You can make your mind quite easy on that score. If there is one thing certain in the world, it is that Keen will not pick you up here to-morrow night. On the contrary, I think it is I who will have the pleasure of doing so. So you can just kill time till then as best you can, and comfort yourself with the knowledge that your travels are over."
"It is very comforting to hear that," Angela murmured. "But that is not everything."
"Oh, I know, I know. You are thinking about that mysterious name of yours. Well, we are going to put that all right. Keen robbed your father, and, unless I am greatly mistaken, sent him to his death. He also robbed me through much the same business that was so fatal to your father. I shall never see that money back again, but it is no great matter after all. Still, it was a bad day for him when he first came in contact with me, and he is going to realise it before long. But I can't stand talking here any longer because matters are pressing. You go back to your hotel, and don't move until you hear from me again."
With that, Ray climbed back in the car, and within the next couple of hours reached Shepperton. He was busy for a little time in the Thatched House, and then turned his face towards the coast, together with a little box with a glass front of which he seemed to be extra-ordinarily careful. He was back again at Abbotsfield Park not long after lunch, and lost no time in getting in touch with Barle. He told the latter what he had been doing, and how he had been passing his time, and when he had finished, Barle rose from his seat and moved towards the door.
"Come along," he said. "I want you. We are going as far as Hadlow. I have a few inquiries to make there, so we will drop in to our little hotel there and have tea."
Ray waited in the parlour of the tiny hotel whilst Barle disappeared on his errand. He was away perhaps half an hour, and then he came back with the air of a man who is not dissatisfied.
"It goes," he said gaily. "It goes. I have been talking to one or two of my scouts who are in close contact with the chauffeur I told you about—I meant the man who drives the old lady's car—and they have given me some very valuable information. I was wrong in suspecting the chauffeur. He is innocent enough, but not long ago he had a telegram telling him that his mother was seriously ill, and asking him to go and see her at once. He told one of my men this; in fact, he showed him the wire. Now, as the chauffeur happens to live at Newcastle and can't possibly reach there before to-morrow afternoon, you will see how easy it is for Keen's subordinates, whoever they are, to get hold of the car. Of course, that is exactly what they are after. When the chauffeur reaches Newcastle and finds he has been hoaxed, he will get back an soon as possible, which, at the earliest, will be some time on Monday. It will never occur to him that anything is wrong. He will merely think it is the act of some enemy of his, and long before he gets back the mischief will be done. The car will be taken out of its place late to-morrow night, and will be driven somewhere near the side lodge of Abbotsfield Park, and there wait till Keen and Easton turn up with the plunder. Then they will all get in and drive to Chatham, and be on board the yacht long before anybody suspects that a sensational robbery has taken place. Then the car will be driven away by the subordinates and abandoned in some country lane, after which the smaller fry will go mostly back to London and lose themselves in the crowd. It's rather a pretty scheme, and I have no doubt that Keen regards it as flawless. So it would be but for you. And who on earth would suspect that benevolent-looking old scientist, Professor Moon, of being a party to one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the public."
"Yes, I quite see that," Ray said. "Then you think that it will be comparatively early to-morrow night. Why not in the early hours of the morning?"
"I think not. There is always the chance of running into the night watchman, and the possibility of having to put him out of the way. Besides, Keen will go on the assumption that so long as the Duke's guests are still downstairs, everything will be secure. That will be Keen's chance. You see, the smoking room, where everybody plays bridge, is some way from the library, and whilst the gambling is going on, Keen will sneak out, and the deed will be done. Easton will be there, waiting for his master, and half an hour will be all they want. The stuff will be conveyed through the library window to the men who come up from the car, and—well, you don't want me to tell you any more."
"Very well," Ray said. "I think you are right. And now would you mind telling me where I come in?"
It was somewhere in the middle of the following afternoon, which was Saturday, before Ray found an opportunity of speaking alone with Lord Barlington. He found the old diplomatist by himself in the library, and lost no time in getting to work.
"I have something to say to you, sir," he said. "Something of an exceedingly private nature, which I am afraid will detain you for some little time. Not here, if you don't mind."
"Bless my soul," Barlington said. "All this sounds very mysterious. Suppose you come up to my bedroom. I have a fire there, and we shall not be interrupted."
They walked up the broad marble staircase together, and turned into Lord Barlington's room. From his pocket Ray produced a mass of papers and laid them on a table.
"I want to speak to you about your son, Charles," Ray said. "I understand that he died in rather unhappy circumstances, and I believe the subject is a sore one with you."
Lord Barlington's eyes grew a trifle hard.
"I would rather not discuss it at all," he said. "I don't know in the least who you are, except that you are a guest of my friend, Abbotsfield, and apart from that——"
Ray's reply was to produce one of the faded photographs which he had procured during his adventures at Poplar under the roof of Mrs. Roffy. He handed it silently to his companion. The old man looked at it with a softening of his expression.
"Yes," he said, at length. "That is my unfortunate lad. I presume you know something about him, or you would not have dragged me here to talk about these almost forgotten matters."
"I did not know him, if that is what you mean," Ray said. "But if I may be pardoned for saying so, he was not as black as he was painted. At one time, out in Brazil, he was doing his best to make good, and would have done so but for the treachery of a scoundrel whose name I don't want to mention. Your son had a pleasant, easy manner with him, and was very popular with the masses. By accident he got hold of some plans connected with a diamond mine which was supposed to be worked out, and he went up country to develop it. He was murdered by some natives, who, I believe were put on for the very purpose. At the same time his wife suffered the same fate, and——"
"Did you know his wife?" Barlington cried.
"No, I didn't," Ray said. "But I know of her. She was a lady, if that is what you mean, the daughter of a Colonel in the British Army, who had gone out to San Salvador as English governess to a wealthy Brazilian of position. I have a photograph of her here, taken at the same time as the other one."
Barlington sat there for some little time poring over the faded features there under his eyes.
"A pretty face," he murmured. "A refined face, and, as you say, evidently a lady. But you have more to tell, I think."
"There was a child," Ray went on. "A girl."
"God bless my soul, was there?" Barlington asked. "Can you tell me what became of her?"
"She is in England at the present moment," Ray explained. "I suppose that the scoundrel in the play had some sort of a conscience, for he looked after her and brought her up. I may be wrong, but my idea is that the man I speak of was in love with your son's wife. At any rate, the way he looked after her child was the one bright spot in a black character. Now I daresay, Lord Barlington, that you imagine that we are meeting for the first time. But that in not so. I came to see you once at a certain club, soon after the robbery at your house."
With that, Ray removed his glasses and the smooth, dark moustache from his upper lip.
"Oh, I know you now," Barlington exclaimed. "But why all this ridiculous theatrical business? Didn't you tell me the last time we met that your name was Ray?"
"Certainly I did. And, as a matter of fact, that is true. To make a clean breast of it, I am connected with Scotland Yard. Why I am down here will be plain enough before long, meanwhile, I am going to ask you to respect my confidence. The Duke knows all about it, and so long as he is satisfied I don't see that it matters to any one else. At any rate, the whole thing will be public property in a few hours."
"Dear me, dear me," Barlington murmured. "We seem to be in a perfect atmosphere of crime and mystery in this part of the world. Of course, I will say nothing, not even to my old friend, our host, until you give me permission to do so. And so I have actually a granddaughter alive, have I?"
"You have, indeed," Ray said. "And a most beautiful and charming girl she is, a grand-daughter for any man to be proud of. She has lived with a scoundrel for years without knowing it, but nothing can contaminate the girl who knows herself as Angela Nemo. The man, Keen, I am alluding to, for reasons of his own, has always pretended that there is some mystery about his ward's birth, mainly, I believe, to prevent her breaking away from him. But he has had her educated splendidly, and surrounded her with an atmosphere of wealth and refinement. But the fact remains that he is a scoundrel, and the time has come when she must be removed beyond his reach, and placed where she ought to be. When you see her, Lord Barlington, I am sure you will agree with me."
"Of course, of course," Barlington said a little hoarsely. "I shall be only too delighted to do the right thing. That unhappy boy of mine caused me endless anxiety and worry, but he was my favourite, and I have never forgotten him. When shall I be allowed to see my granddaughter?"
"Within a few hours," Ray said. "Probably to-morrow morning. I think she had better come over here, and I hope to have the pleasure of fetching her. At the present moment she is staying in an hotel at Chatham, at the command of the man who calls himself her guardian, but unless things go very much astray the individual I speak of will be in the hands of the police before daybreak. He is practically in the trap now."
"This is terrible, very terrible," Barlington muttered. "The idea of a granddaughter of mine actually living under the same roof as a criminal is really distressing. But why do you take such an interest in the matter?"
"I was rather hoping you would ask me that question," Ray smiled. "You see, I am in love with Miss Barlington, as I must call her now, and my affection is returned. I shall be able to satisfy you, when the time comes, because I am something more than a mere policeman, and I am perfectly capable of keeping your granddaughter in the position to which she is entitled. You knew my father—he was Sir John Ray, of Hillsdon."
"Dear me, dear me, so I did," the old gentleman said fussily. "So you are his son, eh? I remember you as quite a little lad, when I used to come over for the shooting. And so you young people have come to an understanding, eh? Well, I don't see how I can interfere, even if I would. But I am a lonely old man since my elder son married and went off to India with his regiment, so you see how happy I should be to welcome——"
His voice trailed off into a murmur, and Ray rose to his feet. For the moment, at any rate, he had finished.
"Let me leave it here, Lord Barlington," he said. "And not a word of this for the next day or so."
The day dragged on; tea was a thing of the past, and the evening shadows began to fall in. It was in the hall, just before the dinner bell rang, that Ray had a chance of a few word with Barle. He told him hurriedly the result of his conversation with Barlington, and how he had met Angela that morning.
"There is one little thing I want you to do," he said. "When I came back just now I brought with me the Golden Bat, which I took the liberty of moving from its place in the Thatched House. I want you to give it to the Duke, and ask him to put it in his strong room. It is only a little joke on my part, but I think it will considerably astound Keen when he comes to raid the treasure house. I will give it you presently."
"There is no objection, so far as I can see," Barle replied. "And now, just listen to me. The trouble will begin to-night, probably between eleven and twelve, when we are all playing bridge. Everybody here seems to be keen upon the game, which fact, no doubt, Keen regards as a great asset in his favour. But I am not going to play. I shall make some ingenious excuse, and I want you to do the same. You must be handy when I give you the sign, and do exactly as I tell you. I have got some pressing business which will keep me dangling on the end of the telephone. A call from London, you understand. I shall announce this at dinner in a casual way, and, when they move to the card-room, shall sit in the hall with a book. As a matter of fact, the telephone message I am waiting for is from my watchers outside the garage at Hadlow, and they will run over to the little hotel there and call me up directly the car has left the garage. When I get that message, I shall go straight back into the card-room, and clamour to cut in. You will be in the little room leading off the library, in the dark, waiting on events. Before that, and until I come into the card-room, you must be there, smoking or watching, or something, ready to get my signal directly I come in. Then vanish quietly, and I shall come to you when I think it safe to do so."
It all fell out exactly as Barle had suggested, so that shortly after eleven, when the household had retired, Ray wandered about the card-room, watching the play, as if he were waiting for his opportunity to cut in. The door opened and Barle entered. He raised a finger, and Ray moved towards him.
"It's all right," he whispered. "Everything is going splendidly. The Daimler has just left the garage with two men, and is now on its way here. It should reach the outer lodge in twenty minutes easily. Fade away."
Blissfully ignorant of the fact that the aim of the law was reaching for him, Keen was making his final plans for the biggest coup of his hitherto successful career. So far as he could see there was no flaw in his armour anywhere, and if this thing was accomplished as he hoped, then he was prepared to lie up in the odour of sanctity and respectability for the rest of his life. He had managed, after a deal of scheming, to obtain an invitation to Abbotsfield Park on the occasion of the birthday celebrations under the cloak of his fame as a well-known naturalist, so the rest should be easy. This was something in the way of a masterstroke, and probably quite new in the way of criminal strategy.
He was perfectly safe, because, so far as he knew, there was not a single individual in the world who could connect the City man Keen, with the entomologist, Moon, who had made such a great reputation for himself during the last few years. As a matter of fact, the rising of Moon's fame had been a comparatively recent one, and synchronised, more or less, with certain events which happened in Brazil about 17 years ago. He was supposed to be an exceedingly shy and retiring man, and this was all in his favour. But be that as it might, here he was, an honoured guest under the roof of the man he had set out deliberately to rob. And he had not been wasting his time either. Absolutely sure of his disguise, and with Easton to help him, he had studied every inch of the ground both inside the house and out, so that when the raid came to be put in active operation he would have been almost able to have taken his part blindfold. He spent a good deal of time in the library, where the strong room was, and in the hours when he was alone, had made a close investigation of the door of the safe and the way in which it opened. It was entirely an old-fashioned affair, and Keen had smiled to himself as he studied it. With the aid of certain picklocks and a cake of wax, he had made a mould which he felt pretty sure could be turned into a key in the skilful hands of his man, Easton. And Easton, in the security of his bedroom, provided with a simple bag of tools, had done his share in his own masterly fashion.
So apparently everything was ready for the raid some hours before midnight on that fateful Saturday. And then, just after lunch, he received a shock. It came to him in the form of a telegram handed in to the chief post office at Rotterdam through some mysterious agency, and contained just half a dozen words in cipher. When Keen translated it, he learnt that the Rotterdam police had made a raid upon Van Rooden's premises in Hague Square and that the owner thereof was practically in custody.
This brought Keen upstanding. He had not expected anything of the kind, and he would have given a good deal at that particular moment to know exactly what was happening on the other side of the North Sea. He had been careful enough with his transactions with the Dutchman to cover up his track completely, and so long as Van Rooden maintained silence, then all should be well. But suppose the 'fence' had confessed! Not that it looked much like it, or Keen would not have had that telegram. The whole thing was a great nuisance, because hitherto Keen had had no difficulty in disposing of his plunder in Rotterdam, and now he had to bring back the proceeds of the last raid which at that moment were hidden on board the 'Melchior.' It was rather a disturbing thought in case the Scotland Yard people knew anything, and if they searched the yacht, then anything might happen.
But on the other hand the 'Melchior' was ready to sail soon after midnight, and by that time the store of valuables in her lockers would be doubled. Then it only remained to pick up Angela and start off for South America, where Keen knew that he could dispose of everything at its full value. He had already arranged to transfer the lease of his flat and sell the furniture just as it stood. He had practically passed his city office over to somebody else, and there would be no difficulty whatever with regard to the Thatched House at Shepperton.
With the telegram in his hand, he went off in search of Easton. Then in his bedroom the two sat for some little time discussing that most disturbing message.
"What do you think of it, sir?" Easton asked.
"I don't know quite what to think of it," Keen replied. "It is most confoundedly annoying. Another day and it would not have mattered in the least. I can't make up my mind whether this is a trap or a warning from one of van Rooden's confederates. Sent to put me on my guard. At any rate we have got to risk it now. Is everything absolutely in order?"
"Everything," Easton said. "The car will be here to the minute, and you have the key of the strong room. Now, what do you want me to do, sir? Am I going to commit the actual robbery, or are you? I mean, wouldn't it be better for you to stay in the card room with the other gentlemen and keep watch over them when the right moment comes? You could give me the signal if anybody moved. Or would you like to do it yourself?"
"I shall be there just at the very last moment to see everything is all right," Keen said. "But it will be only for a moment. You see, most of the Duke's guests are very keen bridge players, and it will be difficult to move them unless something very extraordinary happens. I shan't be playing myself, I shall take very good care of that. But whether you see me or not, you know exactly what to do. Get away with the stuff and take the yacht as far as Sheerness. I am banking on the fact that the robbery will not be discovered for some days, unless the Duke has occasion to open the strong room, which I don't anticipate, so long as the house is full of people. Then on Monday I shall make my regretful adieux and taxi as far as Sheerness, where I can join you. A few hours after that we shall be beyond reach. I can't see a flaw in it anywhere. But I am not taking any risks, Easton. There only remains Miss Angela, I think I will go into Chatham and see her myself. She must not go to bed to-night. She must be told that she will be fetched from her hotel and taken on board the 'Melchior.' You had better see the stuff on board, and then go over to the Mermaid and tell Miss Angela that you have come from me. I will go in and tell her this, so that she will regard it as absolutely official. But before I do that, I want to make sure that the ground is properly clear. I want to know definitely that the chauffeur person is on his way to Newcastle. Go round to the garage and tell the head man that I want to borrow one of the Duke's cars for the afternoon. You had better come along."
They drove first of all to the lonely house outside the town, and there at the little inn where Barle had put up, they met two men lounging in the hall. At a sign from Easton, they slipped quietly outside and stood within earshot of the car.
"Well, how is it?" Keen asked abruptly. "What have you two fellows got to report?"
The taller of the two laughed, and his companion smiled, like one who is enjoying a joke. They might have been a couple of week-end holiday makers of the better class, undoubtedly they were men of education, and not in the least like one might expect in connection with professional crime.
"Oh, that is all right, Keen," the tall man said. "I don't think you will find that Peters and myself have left anything undone."
Keen listened grimly. He had discarded his beard and glasses for the time being, because the only person in the world who knew of his dual identity was Easton, and Easton was a man to be trusted, because it had always been made well worth his while.
"That's all right, of course, Magness," he said. "Now touching that chauffeur. Has he really gone?"
"Really and truly," the tall man said. "I arranged all about the wire, and I know that he got it. Moreover, I followed him to the station, and heard him asking the booking clerk if he could book straight through to Newcastle. I saw the train start, and after I got back here I walked down the lane and satisfied myself that we should have no trouble in getting the car when we want it. It's a very simple lock, and one that any ordinary expert could open in two minutes. Oh, you can rely upon us, if you will tell us exactly where to go."
"Haven't you been all over the ground already?" Keen demanded. "I told you to do so."
"Oh, we know the road all right, and the gap in the park wall just past the lodge where the car is to pull up. Then I understand that we are to creep through the shrubbery and Easton will hand us the loot through the library window."
Apparently satisfied at last, Keen curtly nodded to his accomplices, and the car was once more turned in the direction of Chatham. There arrived at the Mermaid, Keen got out and walked into the hotel. He was not particularly anxious to be seen now that he had slipped off his beard and spectacles, and placed them under one of the seats in the car. But he had not long to wait, and a minute or two later found himself in the little sitting-room, where Angela sat with a book.
"Ah, here we are," he said. "I dare say you wonder what this all means, and where I have been. I have had a lot of very pressing business to do, and have only just come down from London. I can't stay with you many minutes, because I have friends waiting for me. Now I want you to listen carefully. The repairs to the 'Melchior' are complete, and she is ready to sail now at any moment."
"Where to?" Angela asked, concealing her anxiety as best she could. "Where are we going this time?"
"Well, not across the North Sea, at all events," Keen smiled. "Perhaps through the Bay and along the Mediterranean. I haven't made up my mind. And even at the very last moment it may be postponed. I am hoping for the best, however, and that is why I came here to warn you to be ready. You have money?"
"Oh, yes," Angela said.
"Then you had better pay your bill after dinner, and tell the people here that you are leaving very late in the evening. I shall not be able to get back myself, but will send Easton for you. He ought to be here shortly after midnight. I am sorry to put you to all this inconvenience, but in a way it is for your own benefit. And, perhaps, however, who knows, before long we may be able to throw some light upon a matter that concerns you deeply. I mean regarding your parentage."
Angela looked up half hopefully. Was this man telling her the truth, she wondered, or was it part of some deep game he was playing. In the knowledge of what Ray had told her, she no longer trusted this man, and anything he said she felt bound to regard with the deepest suspicion. Still, he might have been telling the truth, and his manner was sincere enough.
"Oh, if you only could," she cried. "In that case I would do anything you asked me. But aren't you going to tell me a little more about this voyage?"
"I can't," Keen said plausibly. "There are reasons which I cannot discuss even with you. Perhaps in the course of a few hours I shall be able to speak with confidence. But cheer up, don't look so disturbed, and leave everything to me."
"Very well," Angela said. "I will trust you. And when Easton comes, I shall be ready for him."
"Spoken like a good girl," Keen cried gaily. "I am sure you will have no cause to regret it."
Within a moment of Barle's whispered confidence in Ray's ears with regard to the progress of events, the latter had faded from the card-room and was sauntering across the hall in the direction of the library. The great hall was more or less in darkness, with only one branch of electrics turned on, and much the same state of affairs obtained in the library. For the Duke was highly considerate as far as his servants were concerned, so that they retired early, and if the guests wanted anything after their departure, they would have to get it themselves. Doubtless Keen had counted on this, but, at any rate, there it was, and Ray made his way into the very dimly-lit library without hearing a sound or seeing a face anywhere. It was very much as if he had the house all to himself, as he stepped softly across the huge Persian carpet and entered a little room that led out of the larger apartment and formed a sort of snuggery where a guest could sit and write if he wanted to be altogether alone. There was no light in there, so that Ray pulled up a chair by the side of the door and sat down to possess his soul in patience until such time as he would be called upon for really vigorous action. He slipped his hand down his right hip-pocket to make sure that his revolver was there. He knew perfectly well that if anything happened to upset the plans of the thieves, they would never be taken without a fight.
At that moment, however, the atmosphere of the card-room was singularly peaceful and placid. Under the shaded lights, five tables had been set out, and round the green cloth as many games were in progress. On the sideboard stood the drinks which the servants had brought in, the cigars and cigarettes, and over everything hung a drifting atmosphere of blue smoke. They all seemed to be very keen on their game, including the host himself. They were good players for the most part, and just then they were thinking about very little else.
The only three outside the charmed circle were Barle, who drifted from table to table, watching the various hands, with Keen, white and benevolent behind his spectacles, lounging in a deep window seat talking to a very elderly gentleman on some abstruse subject which Barle could just faintly catch. And so the minutes drifted on until the clock on the mantelpiece struck the half-hour after eleven, and as it did so, Barle, watching from under his eyebrows, saw Keen look up swiftly.
But still the placid minutes flowed on, and nothing happened. There was just a hum of voices here and there, and little friendly disputes following the conclusion of a hand, such as one hears where bridge players are gathered together. Then Barle, moving aimlessly in Keen's direction, caught the thread of what he was saying. He drew a sharp breath.
"I can assure you, Professor, you are wrong," Keen murmured. "I have made a study of the subject all my life, and I can speak from practical experience. But let me convince you. There is a copy of Franz' Comparative Philology in the library which I was glancing at only this afternoon. If you will wait a minute I will hunt it up and show you the paragraph."
"Certainly, my dear sir—certainly!" the aged gentleman said. "I am only too ready to be convinced."
Keen rose from his seat and drifted quietly out of the room. Just for an instant Barle had an impulse to follow him, but he checked that, because he had the greatest faith in his subordinate, and in addition, there were some half-dozen of his own men hidden away there, outside the library window. And if anything had gone wrong, Ray would assuredly have given him the signal.
Meanwhile, Ray, seated there in the darkness, waited patiently for the beginning of the drama. It was just as the clock struck the half-hour after eleven that Easton came cat-like into the library. He looked about him for a few moments to make sure that the ground was clear, and then advanced towards the strong room door. Ray held his breath, a little fearful lest Easton should enter the little room to make sure that it was empty. But he did nothing of the kind, and Ray breathed again.
He heard the quick flick of a key in the lock, and his trained ear told him that the bolts had been withdrawn. It was a clever piece of work on Easton's part, and Ray was not disposed to deny it. He saw the great door flung back, and then one of the French windows leading to the terrace outside was softly opened, and Easton murmured something that Ray could not catch. Almost immediately a reply came from outside. It was in the quietest of whispers, but Ray's trained ears caught the words.
"Oh, we are all right," the voice said. "No trouble whatever. We have been here ten minutes, wondering when the play was going to begin, and we got from Hadlow here without meeting a soul. Now hand it out."
"All in good time," Easton said. "There is no hurry whatever. The servants have all gone to bed, and the house party is in the card room playing bridge. And here we are, me, the gentleman's servant mixing with the household staff, and the gov'nor staying in the house. Never anything quite like it before. Now, just drop out of sight again, and lie doggo whilst I draw the blind. If one of the farm hands did happen to be out as late as this, and he saw your shadow, there would be the devil to pay. Nothing to worry about, it's the easiest thing we ever struck, and the biggest. Now, then, fade away."
The blind dropped again, and then silence. Evidently Easton was waiting for something, for he stood there by the door of the strongroom, without even turning on the electric lights in the room. It was at that instant when Ray's ear caught the sound of a soft footfall, and Keen came silently in.
"Oh, here you are," he said. "And you have got the door open, too. Excellent. You seem to have made a splendid job of it. But then you have never been known to fail at that game. The others turned up yet?"
"They are just outside the window at the present moment," Easton explained. "The car is in the lane, and Peters tells me that they were fortunate enough to get here without meeting a soul on the way, not even a solitary policeman. But don't you think it is a bit risky leaving the others?"
"I am quite sure it isn't," Keen said coolly. "They are all deep in their game, and they play for pretty high stakes, too. It would take an earthquake or an explosion to move those follows from the card tables. And I take it that you saw all the servants off to bed before you moved."
"I did that," Easton muttered. "But——"
"There is no but about it," Keen said a little irritably. "I tell you it is all right. There are only two people not playing, and one of them is prowling about like a cat on hot bricks looking for a chance to cut in. The other is a harmless old idiot, who is waiting for me whilst I look up a reference in one of the books here. I am going to see everything out of that strongroom, so that I shall know exactly what we have to deal with."
"Ah, you are a confiding one, you are," Easton snarled. "After all these years you don't trust me a yard."
"I don't trust anybody," Keen said coolly. "You are a valuable servant to me, and I pay you well. If there is anybody in the world I have faith in, it is you, and perhaps because you know so much. But this faith idea isn't business. But, come on, don't let us stand bickering here. Let's go on with it. Flick on those lights inside the safe."
Without further remonstrance, Easton touched the switch, and instantly the interior of the strongroom was a blaze of light. Then Easton advanced towards the shelves and the little pigeon-holes, only to fall back a second later with a cry of surprise that brought Keen to his side.
"What's the matter?" the latter asked hoarsely.
"Matter!" Easton croaked. "Matter! Look for yourself. What's that lying on the shelf there? That little case, I mean. The case with the glass top."
Keen bent over it eagerly, and the hand that he laid on the small object trembled strangely.
"Good Lord," he whispered. "It's a Golden Bat. Seems to be raining Golden Bats these times. I thought the thing was extinct, and then I get hold of one at Lord Barlington's place, and now the devil fly away with me if we haven't found another. What do you make of it?"
"Another nothing," Easton cried impatiently. "It is the same one. The one we got from that old Lord. Can't you see for yourself? Look at the sides of it. That is where I planed them down to fit in the space of the wall in the Thatched House, near the place where we kept our tools."
"My God, so it is," Keen whispered. "Here, let's get out of this. There is something wrong here."
He turned towards the door, closely followed by Easton, who was now as greatly alarmed as his master. They were just the fraction of a second too late. Ray crept quietly from his seat, and slammed the heavy iron door to, at the same time turning the key in the lock. It was a pretty little plant which he had laid for those two scoundrels, and it had come off to a nicety. They were trapped in there as securely as they would have been inside a prison cell. Very coolly, Ray strolled across the library, through the hall, into the card-room, feeling quite at his ease and secure as to the future. Barle looked up at him with a questioning glance, and Ray nodded reassuringly.
"I am sorry to disturb you," Ray cried, "but there are burglars in the library, Duke. I have them both locked up in the strongroom, so they are perfectly safe. Perhaps your Grace would like to come along and interview them yourself."
Ray's almost placid statement that he had trapped two burglars in the library fell on the ears of those in the smoking room like a bombshell. In an instant the games were forgotten and every man there was on his feet. There was a move towards the door, led by the Duke himself, but, at a sign from Barle, Ray intervened. He saw what Barle meant by the significant way in which he pointed to his own breast and shook his head. Even in that select company, Barle had no intention of proclaiming his identity with the Secret Squad at Scotland Yard. He came across the room and whispered a few words in his subordinate's ear.
"You carry on this thing," he said. "I don't want to be in it at all. You know exactly what to do, and as you will be the principal witness against these people at the trial there is no object in your keeping secrecy. You know what the signals are. I suppose the rest of them are outside?"
Ray nodded, and pushed his way through the crowd standing about the door.
"One moment, if you please," he said. "I must ask you to all stand back. Perhaps I had better tell you that I have this case in hand, and that I am head of a department at Scotland Yard. Would you all mind waiting for a few minutes whilst I go as far as the library with the Duke? There is not the remotest chance of these men getting away, and if there is going to be any excitement, then I promise, you shall all be in it."
"Yes, that's right," the Duke said. "Now come on, Mr. Ray, I am quite looking forward to this. Do you mean to say that you have got those fellows actually locked up in my strong room?"
"Nothing less," Ray smiled. "I set a bit of a trap for them, and they fell into it. I had baited the trap with a butterfly. But you shall know all about that presently."
The library, was in absolute silence. No doubt the two principal characters in the drama had realised their position and were more or less quietly waiting on events. Ray stood by the door and turned on all the lights, then he pushed up the switch once more, and almost immediately from outside in the darkness came the sound of a whistle, followed distantly by three revolver shots. As Ray and his host stood, there they could hear the sounds of strife outside, and then the whistle again, after which everything grew silent once more.
"Those are the confederates outside, waiting for the spoil," he explained. "Our men were all round them, only they didn't know it. The switching on of those lights was a signal, and that second whistle tells me that all is well. However, it would be just as well perhaps to make sure."
Ray crossed the library and pulled aside the blinds.
"Are you there, Evershed?" he cried.
"Quite right, sir," a voice replied out of the darkness. "We have got both of them, and the car they came in. Nobody hurt. Are we to stay, sir?"
"Not for the moment," Ray said. "There are one or two things to be done at this end first. You get those two fellows over to Chatham, and see that they are properly looked after. Then come back in half an hour's time, all of you, and I will hand over the leaders to your custody. That is all."
"What's the next move?" the Duke whispered excitedly. "Sutton, what are you doing down here?"
A white-faced servant stood in the doorway.
"I am very sorry, your Grace, but two or three of us who were not yet in bed heard the sounds of shots, and naturally we came to see what was the matter."
"Oh, well, you will know all about that in the morning. Burglars, Sutton, burglars. All captured and properly looked after. You can tell the women servants that, and perhaps you had better be handy in case I ring for you."
The man-servant withdrew as requested, and then the Duke turned eagerly to his companion.
"And now for those other men," he said. "But hadn't you better be careful? If they are armed——"
"I am quite sure they are not," Ray said. "Your master criminal is not that sort of melodramatic ass. The smaller fry have a weakness for automatics, but the big man at the top, never. You see, our judges take a serious view of that sort of thing, and the mere carrying of firearms always means an addition to the sentence. I am not a bit afraid of weapons. I will just fasten that window, and then we will get on with it. Would you mind asking Mr. Barle to come this way?—not the rest."
"They will be rather disappointed," the Duke suggested.
"Oh, they can come in later on, but there is something more than mere burglary here, something that affects the happiness of a certain young lady, and one of your guests. I am alluding to Lord Barlington."
"Barlington! Bless my soul, what has he got to do with it? However, I will do as you suggest."
Barle came into the library a moment later, alone.
"I think I know what you want, Ray," he said. "But don't you think that Lord Barlington ought to be here as well?"
"Of course," Ray said. "Of course. I had forgotten just for the moment. Perhaps you will fetch him."
Barlington came into the room, leaving the rest of the guests in a state of puzzled excitement and wondering why they were excluded from what they regarded as an unusual entertainment. Barle locked the door, and Ray turned the key in the strong room.
"Now come on out," he said. "It is all up as far as you are concerned. And the rest of your gang is now on the way to Chatham. You might just as well throw up the sponge."
But Keen was not finished with yet. He emerged with an assumption of ruffled dignity which rather roused Ray's admiration. His eyes gleamed angrily behind his spectacles. Easton stood behind his master with hands folded and in an attitude of respectful attention.
"I demand to know what this all means," Keen cried. "I come in here to look for a book, which contains a reference I need in connection with an argument which I have been having with Sir Charles Henderson. He will confirm this if you ask him. When I got here I found the door of the strong-room unlocked. My man happened to be crossing the hall at the time, and I called him in to confirm my statement. We looked into the strong-room, and suddenly the door was slammed to, and——"
"I think you can cut that all out," Ray said. "It is very clever, but, you see, I happen to know too much. I am one of the Scotland Yard officials, and perhaps when I tell you that my real name is Ray, and that I once had the pleasure of dining with Mr. Keen in Silverdale Mansions, you may decide to take up some other line. Now then, Mr. Keen."
With that, Ray removed his glasses and moustache, and stood out, confessed in his own person. It was a jolt for Keen, but after an instant he was himself again.
"Who do you mean by Keen?" he asked.
Ray crossed the intervening space between himself and his questioner swiftly, and tore away the long, white beard. He whisked off the spectacles, and Keen stood confessed.
"Allow me to introduce you, gentlemen, to Mr. Keen," Ray went on. "The South American produce merchant, who has an office in the City, where he transacts a more or less phantom business. His real occupation is high-class burglary, and he is the leading spirit in the series of robberies which have taken place in this neighbourhood during the last few months. He has a flat in London, Silverdale Mansions, to be correct, and also a secluded retreat at Shepperton called the Thatched House. But in the latter place he is known as Professor John Everard Moon, the great entomologist. As a matter of fact, there is no such person as Moon."
"Then who writes his books?" the Duke cried.
"Why, the man you see before you, of course. There never has been any Moon. Keen is a great authority on the subject, and his dual identity has enabled him to pose as two people, so that, as an Irishman might say, he can accomplish the art of being in two places at the same time. Nobody has ever seen Keen and Moon together. It was left to me to discover the secret, and I don't mind telling our friend here that I should never have tumbled to it if he hadn't behaved in that exceedingly foolish manner with regard to the Golden Bat, which he was idiotic enough to remove from Lord Barlington's house and place in his own collection, on the walls of the bungalow at Shepperton. I never knew a criminal yet, who hadn't some weak spot, and our friend here is no exception to the rule. With all his cleverness and research, he had no specimen of the Golden Bat, and he could not refrain from taking away the only butterfly of the species ever caught. So I brought over the case containing the insect from the Thatched House, and I placed it inside the strongroom, knowing that Keen would find it there. He did find it, and very astonished he was. I know that, because I was in that little dark room, listening, and——"
"How much more of this?" Keen cried, throwing aside all pretence, now that he saw the game was up. "What's the charge? I don't want to stay here all night."
"I think you know perfectly well what the charge is," Ray said. "We have caught you red-handed, and the same remark applies to your confederates who came over here in the car which they borrowed from a garage at Hadlow. We know all about your ingenious device for borrowing cars from other people and leaving them derelict. And, more than that, the Daimler you picked up was intended to convey the proceeds of to-night's robbery to Chatham, and thence take them to your yacht, the 'Melchior,' which is lying just off the harbour. Her machinery is all in order now, and before daybreak you anticipated getting away with a mass of plunder, and carrying it off to South America. At the present moment, the proceeds of all your recent robberies are on the 'Melchior' because you were unable to dispose of it in Rotterdam. It was rather unfortunate for you that your chief ally, van Rooden, should have met with an accident at a very critical time, and still more unfortunate that his premises were raided by the Dutch police. And, as misfortunes never come alone, it was a bit of a blow when your machinery went wrong. But that was not an accident, I was responsible for it. I was a stoker on board the 'Melchior' on her voyage to Rotterdam and back, and——"
"The devil you were," Keen snarled. "Oh, I wish I had known, I wish I had known."
The mask had fallen from his face now, and he looked like the evil, trapped beast that he was. He glared about him, as if seeking for some way of escape, but there was something in Ray's cold, hard eye and the stern lines about the corners of Barle's lips that kept him from any outburst of violence. Easton stood behind with his hands folded and a blank expression on his face. So far as he was concerned, the game really was up, and he was quite prepared to take what was coming to him.
"You seem to know all about it," Keen went on. "Ah well, it has been a good time, and a very paying one. But for real bad luck, I should have got away, and you would never have heard of either Keen or Moon again. Now call in your men, and hand us over to them. I am not going to make any pretence at being sorry, but if you've got no more to say——"
"So far as you are personally concerned," Ray said, "I have finished. But there is another matter which I am sure will be of the greatest interest to Lord Barlington here. And if you like to confirm certain suspicious I have, I may be able to help you when your trial takes place. You need not answer unless you like, because my proofs are pretty clear. But didn't you know Lord Barlington's son, Charles, years ago?"
"Oh, that's all right," Keen said recklessly. "I know exactly what you are driving at. We did know one another, and a precious bad lot he was, until he fell in love with a girl that I wanted to marry, and took her over my head. But for that, I believe I should have been a different man. I never realised what it was to be in love till I met the girl I am speaking of. And I lay low, I said nothing, but waited for my revenge. I robbed Barlington of what was a really valuable property, and one which I have never been able to develop, because I haven't had the time. But there is a fortune in it for the right people. I sent Barlington up country, knowing that he would never come back, but I didn't know till too late that he was taking his wife and child with him, and when I discovered that, I did my best to save them from the natives into whose hands they fell. But all too late. They were both murdered, and you can believe me or not as you like, but I cannot get the business out of my mind to this day."
"There was a child I think you said," Ray went on.
"Oh, yes, and that child I looked after. She has been living with me ever since. There is nothing I would not do for her. My affection for her is the one white spot in rather a black past."
Ray drew from his pocket a mass of papers, which he had taken from the Thatched House and laid them before Keen.
"Those are the photographs, I think, of Mr. Charles Barlington and his wife, and these are the documents you stole from him. And they relate to the property which one of your agents sold to me in Brazil knowing perfectly well that he was obtaining my money by false pretences. Incidentally it was this little transaction that first put me on the track of Keen. However, we need not go into that. You are sure that that is Mrs. Barlington?"
"I wish I were as sure of my freedom," Keen growled. "I can tell you when those two were married, so that you can obtain a copy of the certificate if you want it. Lord Barlington, your grand daughter at this very moment is in the Mermaid at Chatham, waiting for me to pick her up and take her on board the 'Melchior.' But circumstances over which I have no control prevent that, and I suggest that you send for her yourself instead. If you will give me pen and ink and paper, I will write down the name of the place where your son and his wife were married. I can't do more than that, though I am not quite sure in my mind that I don't owe my present position to the girl on whom I lavished what affection I had, and whom I treated as if she had been my own daughter. Unfortunately she will have to know all about this wretched business, but you can tell her that I did my best at the last to provide her with a good honourable name, which is all her own, though I had to pretend for years that she was—well, let us say anonymous. And I think that is about all."
Keen turned his back upon the rest of them, and refused to say another word. A minute or two later, a footstep sounded on the terrace outside, and Ray crossed to the window and drew up the blind. Four officers in uniform were standing outside.
"You can come in," Ray said. "There are your men. You had better take them this way, instead of the front door, because the servants are hanging about and the more privately these proceedings are conducted the better."
The handcuffs were snapped on the wrists of the two criminals, the window blind dropped again, and they were gone. The Duke turned eagerly to Lord Barlington.
"Well, upon my word, this is a most extraordinary romance," he said. "I never heard anything like it. Criminals and yachts and Golden Bats and missing grand-daughters all jumbled up together like a sort of nightmare. I suppose I shall be able to iron it all out presently? But look here, Barlington, what about this grand-daughter of yours? The poor child can't be left where she is, sitting up all night waiting for some one to turn up, and wondering what has become of them. Why not have her over here?"
"That is very good of you, Abbotsfield," Barlington said, gratefully. "But I am too utterly confused at present even to be able to think. You see, I have never met the child, and if I turned up unexpectedly she would probably refuse to believe that I am her grandfather. But I should like to have her here, though I can't fetch her—I am much too upset and agitated for that."
"Allow me to go, my lord," Ray said boldly. "As a son of an old friend of yours, as the affianced husband of Miss Angela Barlington, I think I could——"
"Good Lord!" the Duke cried. "Another romance! Is there no end to them? Here, Barlington, come along with me and have a whisky and soda. It seems to me that we both need it. Let this young fellow go if he likes, and bring the child back with him. And in the meantime, we can try and make the other people understand all that has happened. It's positive cruelty to keep them chained up in the card-room till this time. Ring the bell, Ray, and ask my man to have a car round. You can gamble on the fact that not a single servant is in bed yet. Off you go. You may be a policeman, but that doesn't prevent you being a man and a lover. I will see Mrs. Everton before you come back and explain things to her."
It was all very irregular, of course, but there are times when the proprieties have to take second place, and this was evidently one of them. Ray slipped along the dark road presently in the luxurious interior of a big limousine, and in the course of time reached his destination. It was not yet so late that the Mermaid was all in darkness, and in less than five minutes the car was on its way back to Abbotsfield Park with the trembling and bewildered Angela inside, wondering what had happened, and what all this strange proceeding meant. Her belongings were on top of the motor, and she was inside with the one man in the world who mattered. She turned to him with a question in her eyes.
"What does it all mean, Harry?" she asked. "What has happened since I saw you last, and why are you taking me to Abbotsfield Park at this time of night?"
"You trust me, don't you?" Ray smiled.
"Oh, yes, my dear—oh, yes. If I can't trust you, who in the world can I confide in?"
"Yes, that's right," Ray said. "I am taking you to Abbotsfield Park, because you are going to be the guest of the Duke for a day or two, and because you are also going to meet your grandfather before you sleep. What do you think of that, Miss Barlington? May I kiss you, Miss Barlington?"
"Of course you may, Harry," Angela whispered. "Something very wonderful must have happened, or there would not be that happy look in your eyes. Now, tell me, please!"
"Well, in the first place, your name is Barlington, and Lord Barlington is your grandfather. You are the only child of his son, Charles. He seems to have been rather a trial to his parents, but he had his good points or your mother would never have married him. But, you see, Keen wanted to marry her, too, and that was the cause of all the trouble."
Ray went on with his story, softening points down, here and there, that told too heavily against Keen, for with all his duplicity he had been genuinely fond of Angela, and she had always received every kindness at his hands.
"And now you know all about it," he concluded. "You know that Keen and Moon are one and the same person, in fact—you told me that before you realised it yourself. You gave me the idea that I worked on, and I was convinced I was right when you informed me of Moon's mysterious disappearance the night when you were watching in the flat. Of course, there is no reason whatever that you should be dragged into this business, and I will see that you are not. People will be told that Lord Barlington's son, Charles, left a child behind him; it will be a nine days' wonder and then forgotten. At any rate, you are never likely to see Keen again. He will take his sentence like the philosopher that he is, and when he comes out of gaol will go abroad and be lost sight of. I shall be very much mistaken if he hasn't discounted the future right enough. I mean, he is certain to have a lot of stuff put away somewhere with a view to a catastrophe like this. But don't let's talk about him any more. Let's think about the future. Lord Barlington knows all about us——"
"Us!" Angela echoed, with questioning eyes. "Do you mean to say you have informed him——"
"Even so, my lady. And he is quite prepared to take me into the family. You see, after all, I am something more than a mere policeman. Lord Barlington used to know my father in the old days, and came to shoot at our place. More than that, it looks to me as if your future is provided for. My idea is to leave Scotland Yard and go out to Brazil and look into those mines there. They belong to us right enough, and I really think you will enjoy a honeymoon in a lovely country like that."
Angela nestled up to the man at her side. His arms went round her and their lips met in a long, clinging kiss.
"Anywhere with you," she whispered. "Anywhere, because you have given me not only love, but the name that I lost. Ah, you cannot tell how I longed for that."
They swept along the avenue up to the house, and there on the doorstep stood Barlington, eagerly awaiting them. He took Angela in his arms and looked down into her eyes with more than content.
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